In the language of today this directive of Jesus means, “Take care how you listen!” How do you listen? How do you listen to preaching of the Word of God? For we never leave the service in God’s House exactly as we entered it. Every sermon we hear has either a hardening or a softening influence. The Word either proves a savor of life or a savor of death. The Word is either a cause of life or a cause of death. The Word is either a fragrance which invigorates, or a miasma which kills. Therefore, “Take heed how ye hear, for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be takes even that which he seemeth to have” (Luke 8:18).
How do you hear – with discrimination? Many cannot tell the difference between a Seventh Day Adventist speaker and an orthodox preacher, the former are so apparently frank and earnest. Some are not able to distinguish the difference between the preaching of Peter Elderveld and that Harry Emerson Fosdick. They lack spiritual discernment. We must learn to know the Word of God, and how to judge all things according to it. Learn to discriminate. Do not set yourself up as a sermon-critic, nor as a self-styled expert in theological matters. But learn to think your way through Scripture. To hear well you must think! The preaching is not a convenient opportunity for a little dozing, nor a moment of ease where one may be relieved of the necessity of thought. Of course, this is to presuppose that the pulpit gives you something to think about! When it does, take care how you listen, and be a thinking listener. The Bible is our absolute, infallible standard of faith and conduct. Accept it not only as God’s revelation, but base all your thinking on it. Test all your sentiments, feelings and opinions by this divine standard. “Prove all things: hold fast that which is good” (I Thes. 5:21). Reject whatever cannot be undergirded with a “Thus saith the Lord!” Make this year practice: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, by try (prove) the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (I John 5:1). Refuse the pretenses of those who mutilate, belittle or adulterate the infallible Word of God.
How do you listen – with attention? Listen assiduously. Why should you be distracted with inattention? Would you be inattentive during the reading of a will that concerns you? Why then be inattentive while an elder is reading a sermon? The Word of God is Christ’s last will and testament to us. The preaching of it should be to us infinitely interesting. Some of you older young people have received love-letters. Ever have trouble reading some? How do you read a love-letter? The same was you would a bill or an invoice? So the preaching of the Word should be irresistibly attractive. Give the people of the world the opportunity to read a modern novel, to hear a lecture on “flying saucers” or to see one of the denizens of Hollywood, and note with what avid delight they lose themselves in such a curiosity. But with what heavy and dull eye they view the pages of Scripture, and with what untrained ear they hear the Gospel! Brought up on candy and pastries, they have no stomach for solid food (Heb. 5:12-14, ASV). So this generation of young people (not all of them, of course), brought up on the husks of “superman” comics, and a certain caterwauling dignified with the term “music”, is so shallow that is has no taste for the Bread of Life. Hear well. The preaching of the Word deserves the deepest attention. Hear well, and you shall live well. He who hears well, works well. Hear often. Waste no Lord’s Day, nor any of its services. What opportunities God gives for Bible study, diligently use.
How do you listen – with reverence? Pray in the secret place for God’s blessing on the public ministry. Then you will come to His house expecting a blessing. Come with that specific object in view. Many come to church mechanically, indifferently, with no particular object in mind. They hardly know why they are there; unless perhaps they attend as a heresy-hunter, or scout around from church to church as a sermon-taster, or listen sharply for what they believe to be a stern rebuke of some wrong their neighbor committed. They do not listen to be spiritually fed. Why is it that some places of worship do not have a spiritual atmosphere? Is it not because, before the service, the atmosphere is loaded with a buzz of chatting? Or that the minister is regarded as a pulpit-thumper, and the people as pew holder? Or that the worship time is endure painfully or spent unconcernedly? Listen with reverence and godly fear.
What profit is there in this sort of listening? “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given.” To those who have, and to those only, more shall be given. Men with thankful hearts shall receive more. Then hear with thanksgiving. These evil days the devotees of the bars, race-tracks, dance-halls, night-clubs and gambling dens throng beyond capacity these places. How much more then we owe it to God to throng His house with becoming solemnity, joyous worship and so hold fast that which we have. The promise of gifts from God is to those who have. Listen retentively. Desire to retain the truth you hear. Whosoever has to him shall be given. They who retain the truth shall be furnished with the truth.
It is to be hoped that you are not like the way-side hearers – hard. They either resist the truth, or merely let it drop from their attention. They hear, but are not interested. If the church service happens to be uninteresting, it is very generally, if not exclusively, blamed on the preacher. Not much is said or thought about the disposition of the hearers. Criticism of the pulpit is quite common, and not always very wise. Criticism of the pew is rarely heard. We have a theological seminary where we teach men how to preach. Where shall the people learn how to hear? Let each church be a little seminary where we learn to cultivate interest in Christian doctrine and the every day practice of Christian living. (By the way, why are there not more young men attending our theological seminar? Is it because the “take heed” in the hearing of the Word is lacking?) It has been said, rather cynically, “Good preaching is one of the lost arts” Some truth in that! Yet good hearing is almost disappeared from the earth. Good hearers in the pews make a good preacher in the pulpit. Half of the pulpit’s eloquence is in the pews. A receptive, sympathetic and responsive audience adds fervor and intensity to the preacher’s delivery. Good hearing is necessary to effective preaching. Dullness of hearing makes dull preaching.
What impression does the hearing of the Word have on you? Do you feel its impress, intent and thrust? O do you never take any note of what is said by the preacher? Does the Word fall on you like water on a duck’s back, or as rain on a rock, or a seed on a footpath?
Have you ever read Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Northern Farmer”? This farmer of northern Scotland was such a hearer, as he himself testifies:
“An’ I hallus coom’d to ‘s choorch afoor moy Sally wur dead,
An’ ‘eard ‘um a bummin’ awaay loike a [june-bug] ower me ‘ead,
An’ I niver know’d whot a mean’d but a thowt a ‘ad summut to saay.
An’ I thowt a said what a owt to ‘a said, an’ I coom’d awaay.”
Then after “choorch” he and his son Sam return homeward by horse and buggy, and what is the theme of their conversation? Father turns to his favorite and almost only line of thought:
“Dosn’t thou ‘ear my ‘erse’s legs, as they canters awaay?
Proputty, proputty, proputty–that’s what I ‘ears ’em saay.
Proputty, proputty, proputty–Sam, thou’s an ass for thy pains:
Theer’s moor sense i’ one o’ ‘is legs, nor in all thy brains.”
Though his “’erse” was a nag, his son was an ass because he wanted to marry for love instead of money. But the point is, this farmer, no more used to going to church when he did go, chiefly because it please his wife, never got anything out of the preaching. The preaching was like the buzzing of a June-bug over his head, just a passing pestilent noise. He never understood what the preaching was all about. He did believe the minister had something to say, and he presumed that the “parson” said what he ought to have said, and so he came away, as empty headed as ever, except for the worldly mammon-thoughts which were always in his mind. The rhythmical beating of the horses’ hoofs on the road home from church carried more of a message to him than any sermon of his minister. The sound of those hoof-beats seemed to him to say, “Proputty, proputty, proputty!” Property! property! property! To him the great things in life were money and land! He never thought again of the words spoken in God’s house. The June-bug had flown. But when his cows came home in the evening, he heard again the same message which delighted his stony soul, a little slower in tempo, perhaps, but still “Proputty! proputty, proputty!” His horse, and even his cows, made more sense to him than either his son or the minister of the Word. Here is the type of person who loses the whole impression of a serious sermon by the idle remark of a trifling companion.
Some are like the stony-ground hearers. Outwardly, they hear much, but retain little. Impressions are quickly produced in them so that we are led to believe them, at least to begin with, sound Christians. They are very demonstrative, yet so very undependable. He is in contrast to the staunch Christian. When trouble or persecution arises the enthusiasm of one goes out, and that of the other comes out. Afflictions develop caprice in the one; constancy in the other. “Permanence is the proof of genuineness.” They seem to hear with sincerity, but sincerity without depth is like a tree trying to grow in one inch of soil.
Others are like the thorny-ground hearers. They hear the Word, and temporarily retain it, but it is not long when the impression made on them is lost when worldly anxieties impose on them. They become so absorbed over money, business and the common, every-day earthly round, that they have no time for the Lord or for spiritual things. The “cares of this world” choke out the Word. A promising young Christian mother, let us say, has this experience. There are many domestic trivialities which require her attention. She cannot be concerned either about her own or her family’s spiritual welfare. Not now. She is “careful and troubled about many things.” The housewife has shriveled down to a mere housekeeper. The management of her home takes all her time. There is none for spiritual things. All she can talk of, when she finds time for conversation, are her household problems or her family trials. She has no vision beyond her house or her kitchen sink. The dust on her furniture lies more heavily on her conscience than her sense of sin, or her sense of responsibility to God. She is spiritually choked, because meaner things have all her devotion.
How do you hear? Like the good ground hearers? They hear with an honest and good heart. They pay attention to the Word, train themselves to listen to it, will not permit themselves to be distracted by petty interferences. They meditate upon what they hear. They not only hear, but also keep. “Whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth (thinketh) to have.” “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest HEED to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let slip” (Heb. 2:1). “Take care how you listen!” “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!” For Jesus said, “My mother and My brethren are these which hear the Word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). Is that how you hear?