“For if any be a hearer of the Word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass; for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”
There is an important relationship between pulpit and pew.
The minister stands in the pulpit as an ambassador of Jesus Christ. He is a herald. The figure appears in Scripture, reminding us of the town crier, who is sent out by the king to bring the king’s proclamations to his subjects. This herald must have a clear, resonant voice. But even more important than that, he must be dependable, trustworthy. It is his duty to speak on the authority of the king, presenting accurately the message of his sender. His tone of voice, the very inflection of his words must present the king’s word to the people, as if the king himself were speaking.
The minister is called of Christ to be His herald, His ambassador. He proclaims God’s Word to us in Christ’s name, as Christ speaking to us through him. Not we determine who and what God’s messenger must be. God determines that, just as God determines His message for each particular service!
We as audience must receive the Word we hear as Christ’s Word addressed to us and applied by His Spirit to our hearts. Sometimes we go home and say, that was particularly meant for me! I need that Word at this time! It is often even as if the divine finger is pointed at us, saying, Thou art the man! That Word never returns void. It always serves God’s purpose as a savor of life unto life or a savor of death unto death. It is the power of God, who gives the Word as a means of grace, a power unto salvation, to those who believe. That same Word works condemnation to those who do not believe. It always does God’s good pleasure. We never leave the church quite the same as when we entered. For the preaching of the Word is God’s Word!
It happens that, as far as we are concerned, the preaching strikes a deaf ear. Or it enters one ear and goes out of the other. It makes no lasting impression.
It may even be that we hear the spoken word and are impressed for the moment. In the epistle of James the Holy Spirit speaks of a man who is a hearer, but not a doer of the Word. He is compared to a man who sees his natural face in a mirror. He is not favorably impressed by his reflection at all. He is actually very ugly. But he is no more than turned away from the mirror or “he forgets what manner of man he was.”
Spiritually we find ourselves placed before the mirror of God’s Word every time we come under the preaching. Through the Word and by the testimony of the Holy Spirit in our hearts we see our spiritual face and realize what manner of person we are. We see ourselves as God sees us. Our sins stand out in bold relief. Daily sins of desires, thoughts, words, deeds, actions. Countless sins. We transgress all God’s commands! We see our depravity. Our own depravity. We had better not look at the faults of others, because we have far more ourselves! We recognize our guilt. One sin, even the smallest, if there is such a thing, deserves God’s eternal condemnation in hell! We feel very strongly that this cannot go on. This must change. A radical change must take place in my life! And that at once! From now on everything will be different!
But soon we leave the church and become involved in conversations with others. Our thoughts may be diverted to some pleasantries or difficulties of life. A passing remark may be made criticizing the sermon. In any case, the devil is busy plucking away the seed that was sown. Soon we are confronted with the same temptations, and we fall back into the same ruts of sin. The Word that was preached fell like a drop of water upon a hot stove; it sputtered a bit and sizzled, and soon it disappeared! We were hearers, but not doers of the Word. Our desires, our thoughts, our prayers, our lives experienced no change for the better.
The seriousness of this experience is that sin breeds sin. We can even become accustomed to an outward, momentary repentance during the preaching, and become content with that. We can tell ourselves, I still have my cherished sin under control. I know how far I can go, and no farther! Fools that we are, trying to convince ourselves of our will power, even while sin already has dominion within us. The devil likes nothing better than to keep us convinced that we are sin’s master, while actually sin is our master. Like an octopus, sin wraps its tentacles around us, crushing us to death. Still worse, sin is the tyrant that enslaved and destroys me!
There may even be a short spell of outward reform. Scripture speaks of the sorrow of the world, an Esau’s sorrow, which bemoans the sad and bitter consequences of my sin. How could I ever be so foolish as to do a thing like that? How could I ever get myself into such a mess? What will this do to my reputation? What will my family, my friends and others think of me? If I could only undo what I have done! Jesus speaks of the man who cleansed his house from a devil, sweeping the whole house clean with an outward reform, only to make room for seven other devils to enter in!
The way of the transgressor is hard! It is the avenue of no return, except by a sincere, hearty repentance wrought within us by the Spirit of Christ. Sinful Israel prayed: “Convert us and we shall be converted, turn us and we shall be turned, for Thou art the Lord, our God!”
The doer of the Word sees his sin, recognizes his ugly, corrupt nature, grieves over his guilt and confesses, “I am evil, born in sin. Thou desirest truth within!” Confessing his sin he forsakes it! Only then does he experience the wonderful gift of grace, that sin no more has dominion! Grace abounds! He is free, free from sin’s dominion by the law of liberty. For the law of the Spirit of life makes us free from the law of sin and death. Rom. 8:2. “If the Son shall make thee free, thou shalt be free indeed!!” John 8:36