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fore. Indeed, from our Lord's general character and manner of preaching, they might naturally enough presume something more than this was intended; but his saying thus at the close, Who hath ears to hear, let him hear ; or in other words, Remember all this is a parable, was putting the matter beyond a doubt.
2. By this mode of expression they were further reminded, that the several truths veiled under this parable were most interesting and important.
It is as much as if he had said, “ Think not I have been trifling with you. No. The instruction just given you is of the last consequence to your present and future welfare. I am a divine teacher. I come to inform your understandings, and do good to your hearts. And be assured, if it is of importance to the preservation of animal life, that your grounds are cultivated, and bring forth fruit at the proper season; it is of infinitely greater importance that your souls are renewed by the grace of God, and that ye are rich in good works.”
3. The direct purport of the exhortation was, to persuade them to consider what they had heard.
“ Think not," as if he had said, “it is enough that ye have heard my words. There is a further duty lying upon you. Recollect my sayings. Meditate upon them. Consider the truths couched under them. Lay them up in your memories and hearts. Endeavour to get the better of your prejudices. Pray to God to open your understandings, and change your hearts. And reduce what has been said to practice.” Thus does our Lord teach his hearers the absolute necessity of se- . riously considering the word, in order to their profiting by it.
4. He in effect tells them, that if they were not benefited by what they heard, the fault was rather in their will than their understanding. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Here is a clear distinction observed between the natural and moral powers
of the soul, that is, the understanding and judga ment on the one part, and the will and affections on the other. As to the former, enervated and broken as our reasoning powers are, men in general cannot pretend that they are absolutely incompetent to consideration. If indeed they were wholly des
titute of a capacity of perceiving, comparing, and reflecting, it were as great a folly to reason with them, as it would be to utter-articulate sounds in the ear of him who is irrecoverably deaf. How absurd to say to him that has lost the organ of hearing, hear! And how absurd to say to him that is absolutely insane, understand! But this is not the case. Men can affix ideas to what we say. They can lay them together, and infer from them. They can think of the facts and doctrines of religion. They can consider of their evidence and importance. And they can examine themselves upon the question, how they stand affected towards them. Yea, more than this, they for the most part presume that their faculties are clearer and stronger than they really are. So that to exhort those who thus have ears to hear to hear, is by no means irrational. And it is upon ground the many expostulations and admonitions of the Bible, addressed to men in their sins, stand.
But then it is as evident, on the other hand, that the will and affections are miserably depraved. Men are stubbornly averse to receive the truth in the love of it. But will any say there is no fault in this ? If they will, they deny that there is any turpitude or guilt in human actions, and of consequence, that man is an accountable creature. It is therefore fit men should be reasoned and expostulated with, because this, agreeably to the original construction of their nature, is the proper mode of moving and inclining their will. And as it is the method God has appointed, such reasonings and expostulations we may hope will be accompanied with a divine energy, and so become happily effectual.
The text thus explained, we proceed to the grand point we have in view in this discourse; which is,
1. To represent to you the duty which men owe to the word they hear; and,
II. To enforce it with suitable motives.
I. Let us consider the duty our Saviour inculcates on those to whom the word is preached.
Here, in order to do justice to our subject, it will be necessary, previous to our entering upon it, to say a few things respecting the duty of those who preach. Ministers ought themselves surely to consider what they say, if they expect the people to consider it. What right has any man to obtrude the wild indigested reveries of his own wandering imagination upon others, and to insist upon their hearing him with attention and patience? There is no law either of God or man to authorize the levying so heavy a tax upon any audience. Certainly if we would have others hear us, we should say something worth their hearing. To this end,
1. Let us take care to digest properly in our own minds the subjects on which we mean to discourse to others.
The apostle's advice to Timothy is directly in point to what I am here recommending :-Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth a. How can we make that plain to others of which we have no clear idea ourselves? And how can we get clear ideas upon any subject, without duly considering it? If this be a dictate of common sense, as it certainly is, with what decency can he who pours' out his extemporaneous effusions upon the people, say at the close of his unmeaning harangue, Who hath ears to hear, let him hear? This is little better than adding insult to folly.
Indeed our Saviour directs his apostles, when they should be brought before rulers and kings for his sake, to take no thought before hand what they should speak, nor to pre-meditate, for it should be given them in that hour what they should speak b. But who does not see that this was an extraordinary case, and that therefore for any man to suppose he is justified by this passage in the neglect of pre-meditation, is not only to reason falsely, but in direct defiance of the apostle's admonition to Timothy just mentioned, and many others of the like nature? Let us then, my brethren, whose duty it is to instruct others, endea'vour to get all the knowledge we can, and bé conscientiously laborious in our preparations for the service of the sanctuary. This is the voice of common sense, of Scripture, and of all considerate people who wish to be benefited by our instructions.
2. Care also is to be taken about the manner, as well as the matter of our discourse.
It is beneath the dignity of his character who brings a message from heaven, and treats with men on subjects of the highest concernment, to use the enticing words of man's wisdom, or to affect the pompous language of vain rhetoricians. But, while he is careful to avoid a style that is bombast and tumid, and indeed every thing that looks like affectation, he should be cautious how he degenerates into the opposite extreme. Rude and barbarous language, ill-managed metaphors, trite stories, quaint conceits, and a long train of other trifling puerilities, too common among some in our time, not only render the man contemptible who uses them, but have a very pernicious effect upon the generality of hearers. Their judgment is perverted, instead of being informed; their ears are tickled, instead of their hearts being made better; and, to say the best, if they are not disgusted, they are yet only amused. An easy, plain, natural style, alike remote from pedantry and barbarism, best becomes the authority and importance of divine truth : sound speech that cannot be condemned a.
a 2 Tim, ii. 15.
b Mark xiii. 12.
Nor is it to edification, for the sake of pleasing a few politer hearers, to throw our discourses into a declamatory essaying form, and affectedly disguise the method we lay down to ourselves. We should ever remember we are speaking to the plainest capacities; and as the arranging our ideas properly is necessary to our being understood, so the giving each division of our discourse its denomination of number, has a happy effect to assist the attention and memory of our hearers.
And then as to voice and action, having taken pains with ourselves to correct what is manifestly improper and disgusting, it may be safely left to nature, and the kind of impulse excited by the subject on which we are treating, to guide us spontaneously in these matters. Clearly understanding what we say, and deeply feeling its truth and importance, our manner will be, not trifling, dull, and formal, but grave, sensible, and enlivening.Which leads me to observe,
3. That we should look well to our aims and views in discoursing of the great things of God.
The end we propose in any matter, will have a considerable influence on the means we use to attain it. The more interesting our object is, the more assiduous will be our endeavours to compass it. Now the glory of God, and the salvation of im
a Tit. ii. 8.
mortal souls, are the most noble and important ends we can possibly have in view. The more therefore our minds are occupied with these ideas, and the more deeply our hearts are affected with them, the greater pains we shall take to be masters of the subjects we treat of, and to discuss them in such manner as shall be to the edification of those who hear us. Wherefore the preserving a lively sense of religion on our hearts, has a direct tendency to promote both our acceptableness, and our usefulness. Animated by a pure zeal for the honour of Christ, and the success of his gospel, we shall study diligently and preach fervently. To which I have only to add,
4. That our dependance should be firmly placed on the gracious and seasonable influences of the Holy Spirit.
A growing experience of the vital power of religion, and an increasing sense of the difficulty and importance of our work, will not fail to convince us of the need we stand in of superior assistance. That assistance therefore, both in our studies and public ministrations, we should earnestly implore, encouraged by the many gracious promises of God's word to that end. Nor should our views terminate here, but extend to the salutary effect of our instructions upon the hearts of men, which is not to be expected without a divine blessing; for were a Paul to plant, or an Apollos to water, it would be all in vain, if God gave not the increase.
And now, thus prepared, we have a right, be our audience who they may, to adopt the language of our Master, and with authority to say, Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. Upon the grounds of common sense as well as religion, we may demand their most serious attention. And I have the rather chosen to be thus particular on the duty of ministers, as it gives me the better title to that freedom and earnestness which I mean to use in explaining and enforcing the duty of consideration, to which we now proceed. And here the first thing we have to recommend is,
First,-Some kind of preparation previous to our hearing the word.
If we mean to attend to an argument upon any subject, we should compose ourselves to the business; especially if the subject is important, and the discussion of it likely to take up