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mighty concerns of judgment and of mercy, have left no traces on that memory. No advance towards obedience has been made by him thus occupied in gleaning wherewith to exercise his critical acumen. These, in their idle diversion, like the prophet's hearers, have not perceived that a herald from God has been among them. I would by no means undervalue the graces, the accomplishments of pulpit discourse. But he who refuses a truthful message because of their absence, does a thing not less preposterous than he, who needing to have a limb amputated to prevent mortification, should object to the surgeon's knife because its polish did not equal its sharpness; or, sinking in deep water, should refuse a rescuing hand, because not decorated with a perfumed glove.
JI). The captious hearer.
Here, the attention is excited, only to be turned against the teachings of religion. There are those who occasionally attend upon God's worship, as they sometimes read his word, for no other end but to cavil, to deny, to oppose. Their errand, prompted by a deep hostility to Christian doctrine, is to find occasion for blame, to detect inconsistencies, or to invent them, in the statements of the preacher. They come, armed in the panoply of skepticism, to retute, to their own satisfaction at least, what. ever may conflict with their loose notions of what is, and ought to be. Their business is just what was that of some in former days, in whose hearts Satan reigned ; who followed Christ's ministrations for the-shall I say, magnanimous or pitiful purpose – to catch him in his words! And they achieve their desire, if some defective exhibition of truth, some unguarded expression, or imn. proper act can be carried away from the sanctuary, to be added to their stock of small vituperation against the faith of Jesus.
But sometimes, where the mind likes not to confess itself skeptical upon the subject of Christian doctrine, it covers its hostility to this, by a very ingenious, not ingenuous transfer of its dislikes to the announcer of this doctrine. “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth ?" was the haughty inquiry of certain of Christ's hearers, who would as surely have rejected an evangelical Christianity, though Christ had preached it from the throne of David, Yes, how often does the rebellious will refuse to be instructed, on like frivolous pretences, because of some causeless offence against the accredited ambassador of God. Such feelings of opposition to the principles and claims of piety will utterly destroy all profitable results from an attendance upon the ministry of the Gospel.
IV. The fushionable hearer.
Of all tyrants, public taste is the most capricious. Though oftenest it holds the services of the purer churches of Christ as
quite outside its domain, sometimes it extends its patronage even to these, and brings around their altars its obsequious servants. Under certain causes, the house of Jehovah's true worship becomes the thronged resort of those whose haunts of pleasure lie in widely diverse directions. The popularity of the preacher, the tastefulness or splendor of the edifice, the charms of music, or because some family of wealth or distinction has led the way; these influences have given bent to public feeling; and as the Sabbath bell announces the opening of God's temple, thither flows a willing multitude, whose remotest wish it would be to meet a present Deity. They have arrayed themselves, not in a meek and heavenly temper, to commune with God—but in the decorations of vanity, to be observed of men. Their preparation was not of the closet, to gain access to the mercy-seat, but of the toilet, to bear comparison with others as vain as they. The Sabbath is welcomed, as it helps them to show off an equipage more elegant than some rival's; or to display to advantage their personal attractions. Their own proud selves are the centres round which every thought revolves. What matters it to them what theme employs the preacher's powers ; in what strains of devout supplication Divine goodness and majesty are invoked ? Not one imagination soars higher than their own appearance ; not one weightier reflection crosses their minds than the impression which their presence is making on the beholders. Will this kind of hearing the words of God, profit aught the soul?
V. The speculating hearer.
I use this phrase in its mercantile sense, to indicate those whose selfishness leads them to make a pecuniary gain of godliness. Do not regard me as bearing false witness against my neighbor, when I say that they have many imitators, who anciently bought and sold in the Temple, whose covetous greed Christ rebuked, saying—“Take these things hence; make not my Father's house a house of merchandise.” These visit the sanctuary to further their business facilities. It is respectable to attend divine worship. He is marked with distrust who complies not with the established custom. The influential, the wealthy, the intelligent, are found there, at least once on the Sabbath. He must stand fair in the eyes of such; his commercial or professional success requires it. And he submits to the irksomeness of a weekly visit to this uncongenial spot, as a cheap price for the custom, the patronage of the community. On the whole, it is to him a fair business transaction. For the same reason, in a different society, he would frequent the theatre and the race-course, and with far more congeniality of taste.
A similar conduct is theirs, who sustain the gospel because of the pecuniary value of churches and ministers to any community. These have their secular advantages. But to uphold the institutions of religion merely to enhance the value of property, to lure thitherward the enterprising, and roll here or there the tide of wealth and population, is to cast great disrespect upon religion and its great object. Truth and piety should be prized for more spiritual reasons than these. They refuse their choicest blessings to such sordid calculators. He, whose attachment for Christianity has no higher spring than his own emolument thereby, who is a friend of the sanctuary no further than this befriends his secular interests, may get gold by his outside devoutness, but never that wisdom which is more precious than rubies.
VI. The self-forgetful hearer.
There is no more lovely grace than self-forgetfulness at the right time. But, under the searching, personal applications of the truth of God, to be thus oblivious of our own existence and state, while the whole attention is absorbed in others, this surely is a most misplaced charitableness. But thus it is. Many never listen to a sermon which “reproves, rebukes, exhorts," for their own benefit. They may indeed listen ; but it is with a keen sense of their neighbor's defects, not their own; with a keen enjoyment of the admirable fitness of this censure or that admonition to a friend here, or an acquaintance there. way, at least, they practice sufficiently by the rule—it is better to give than to receive.' Whether the preacher dilates upon the duties owed to God or man ; whether the sins or the foibles of his congregation, domestic or social, be his theme of animadversion ; from seat to seat the message is passed along with astonishing disinterestedness, scarce finding, like Noah's dove, a resting place for the sole of its foot. If these liberal bestowers upon others of truth intended for them, needed by them most imperatively, were half as liberal in imparting of their abundance of earthly blessings to the objects of a true benevolenceif, when Christian philanthropy makes its appeals, they were half as forgetful of their private wants, conveniences, luxurious indulgences, many a widow's and orphan's heart would (sing for joy; many a halting enterprize of missionary toil would move on with the tread of a giant. This is one of the inost profitless methods of hearing; and it is the more to be lamented as many a professed Christian-alas, how many! is thus putting his famishing soul in peril of utter starvation.
VII. The prayerless hearer.
God alone can make the soul wise to salvation. Intellectual application may open to you the secrets of science ; oratorical skill may suffice to sway your will to human endeavors. But where a depraved heart comes in to control that will, a greater than human power must give to right and duty the victory. By
force of mental application, you may comprehend the philosophy of religion, may perceive its object, admire its symmetry, but to inform the understanding with Christian doctrine, is by no means of course to imbue the heart with their love. Hence, theoretic orthodoxy and growing impenitency so often advance hand in hand. Hence, the hardening hearts, the sensual, godless desires, frequenting our Christian temples. We marvel not at this, when we know that the Spirit of God can alone convert the soul, and that these hearers, however intellectually enlightened, have never sincerely prayed for that renewing energy to be exerted upon their natures. Without this influence, the truths of the Gospel may teach some lessons of morals and general prudence, but they will never guide the affections to God, the soul to holiness. Without prayer, earnest, habitual, personal, God's Spirit will not visit your bosom with lifeimparting grace. A prayerless hearer of truth must, therefore, be an unblessed hearer. He turns the ministry of mercy into a ministry of condemnation. His soul, unfertilized from above, will never become a "garden of spices," like the trees of the Lord's planting.
And in this same prayerlessness of Christians in the house of God is to be found the chief cause why the faithful sermons of years advance them so little in the life of godliness, affect so feebly the character of their daily actions.
VIII. The unresolved hearer.
The communications of God to man all relate to action. They direct to duty. They aim not to amuse, to surprise, or merely to instruct, but to produce a voluntary movement of man's moral powers in the path by them indicated. They bring their unseen influences to bear upon his rational faculties to secure compliance with their demands, and in effecting, by God's grace, this object, they secure the salvation of his soul. But this they never do effect, except through his deliberate purpose of willing obedience.
This purpose of the soul to follow unresistingly wherever the truth may point, belongs pre-eminently to the hearing of the word. If it be not formed under the impressions its earnest proclamation makes on the conscience, scarce a possibility is there that this resolve will be formed under the faint and fading recollections of those solemn appeals. My hearers, a fearful responsibility rests on you, as you sit from Sabbath to Sabbath beneath the teachings and expostulations of this sacred spot. Here you are summoned to a life of conformity to God's will. On this turns your eternal state. But your will must freely meet his claim. Accident will not make you Christians. Preaching will not do it. God will not do it, without your active co-operation. It is not enough to confess the truth against yourself ; to feel its condemning force ; to weep in the prospect of impending judgments. You may have done this often, but yet your soul bows not in submission and love. You may as often repeat it, but, unless under the power of truth thus impressed, you resolve in God's strength, to do all that the Lord your God requires of you, be it to cut off a right hand, or to pluck out a right eye, your hearing will be in vain. Solemn as you may feel in the sanctuary, if you cross its threshold undecided to be a doer of the word, the first half-hour of intercourse with the world will probably drive away all your seriousness, as it has a thousand times, leaving your heart, like metal heated and cooled, harder than before.
In conclusion, beloved hearers, let me earnestly press the exhortation of my text upon each of your consciences—Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only! Involve not yourselves in the miserable self-deceptions and ultimate self-destruction of such a profitless attendance upon the ministrations of the Gospel. Bear upon your soul this thrillingly impressive thought, that whomsoever the Gospel blesses not with salvation, it will curse with a fearfully increased condemnation. If Christ had not come and spoken to you, you would have been comparatively sinless. But what will be the end of those who obey nor His words, preached to them with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven?
Remember also this, that from whatever motives, with whatever dispositions you come to the sanctuary, God has a perfect perception of them all. Upon no spot under the face of heaven does his eye rest with a closer scrutiny, than upon the congregations of his professed worshippers. Alas! what profaning of that which is holy does he behold, as that glance reads the hearts of thousands of these weekly frequenters of his tabernacles. Hearer, what has God seen, what sees he now in your bosom? Which of all these sinful methods of hearing his truth has he charged against your name, as sermon after sermon has fallen vainly on your ear, and borne up its report of failure to heaven? Fellow sinner, as you would not meet in every one of these sermons the face of an accuser at the final day to convict you of the lifelong crime of rebellion against God's tenderest mercies, his most righteous claims, I entreat you, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only."