How to really hear a sermon

13 Dec

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the sower.  The sower sows the seed (the Word) on various kinds of soil (hearers).  For some, they receive the Word joyfully but quickly lose interest.  For others, they never receive it to begin with (their hearts are stony and Satan quickly steals the seed away before it roots).  But for a few, they receive the Word truly, which is implanted within them, and the Word takes root and bears fruit.  J.C. Ryle comments on this in terms of listening to God’s Word presented in a sermon:

Let us learn from this passage, that there are various ways of hearing the word of God without benefit. We may listen to a sermon with a heart like the hard “wayside,”–careless, thoughtless, and unconcerned. Christ crucified may be affectionately set before us, and we may hear of His sufferings with utter indifference, as a subject in which we have no interest. Fast as the words fall on our ears, the devil may pluck them away, and we may go home as if we had not heard a sermon at all. Alas! there are many such hearers! It is as true of them as of the idols of old, “eyes have they, but they see not; they have ears, but they hear not.” (Psalm. 135:16,17.) Truth seems to have no more effect on their hearts than water on a stone.

We may listen to a sermon with pleasure, while the impression produced on us is only temporary and short-lived. Our hearts, like the “stony ground,” may yield a plentiful crop of warm feelings and good resolutions. But all this time there may be no deeply-rooted work in our souls, and the first cold blast of opposition or temptation may cause our seeming religion to wither away. Alas! there are many such hearers! The mere love of sermons is no sign of grace. Thousands of baptized people are like the Jews of Ezekiel’s day, “You are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear your words, but they don’t do them.” (Ezek. 33:32.)

We may listen to a sermon, and approve of every word it contains, and yet get no good from it, in consequence of the absorbing influence of this world. Our hearts, like the “thorny ground,” may be choked with a noxious crop of cares, pleasures, and worldly plans. We may really like the Gospel, and wish to obey it, and yet insensibly give it no chance of bearing fruit, by allowing other things to fill a place in our affections, and insensibly to fill our whole hearts. Alas! there are many such hearers! They know the truth well. They hope one day to be decided Christians. But they never come to the point of giving up all for Christ’s sake. They never make up their minds to “seek first the kingdom of God,”–and so die in their sins.

These are points that we ought to weigh well. We should never forget that there are more ways than one of hearing the word without profit. It is not enough that we come to hear. We may come, and be careless. It is not enough that we are not careless hearers. Our impressions may be only temporary, and ready to perish. It is not enough that our impressions are not merely temporary. But they may be continually yielding no result, in consequence of our obstinate cleaving to the world. Truly “the heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt–who can know it?” (Jerem. 17:9.)

In the last place, let us learn from this parable, that there is only one evidence of hearing the word rightly. That evidence is to BEAR FRUIT. The fruit here spoken of is the fruit of the Spirit. Repentance towards God, faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ, holiness of life and character, prayerfulness, humility, charity, spiritual-mindedness–these are the only satisfactory proofs that the seed of God’s word is doing its proper work in our souls. Without such proofs, our religion is vain, however high our profession. It is no better than sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. Christ has said, “I have chosen you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit.” (John 15:16.)

There is no part of the whole parable more important than this. We must never be content with a barren orthodoxy, and a cold maintenance of correct theological views. We must not be satisfied with clear knowledge, warm feelings, and a decent profession. We must see to it that the Gospel we profess to love, produces positive “fruit” in our hearts and lives. This is real Christianity. Those words of James should often ring in our ears, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves.” (James 1:22.)

Let us not leave these verses without putting to ourselves the important question, “How do WE hear?” We live in a Christian country. We go to a place of worship Sunday after Sunday, and hear sermons. In what spirit do we hear them? What effect have they upon our characters? Can we point to anything that deserves the name of “fruit?”

We may rest assured that to reach heaven at last, it needs something more than to go to Church regularly on Sundays, and listen to preachers. The word of God must be received into our hearts, and become the mainspring of our conduct. It must produce practical impressions on our inward man, that shall appear in our outward behavior. If it does not do this, it will only add to our condemnation in the day of judgment.

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