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The Art of Hearing.
Take heed how you hear. Luke viii., 18.
This is the warning of Christ to His disciples after they had heard the parable of the seed, how it fell in four grounds, and but one of the four brought forth fruit. Here Christ exhorteth His disciples to be that ground; and we
There is a hearing, and a preparative before hearing; there is a praying, and a preparative before praying; there is a receiving, and a preparative before receiving. As I called examination the forerunner, which prepareth the way to the receiver, so I may call attention the forerunner, which prepareth the way to the preacher; like the plough, which cutteth up the ground that it may receive the seed. As there is a foundation, upon which the stones, and lime, and timber are laid, which holdeth the building together, so, where this foundation of hearing is laid, there the instructions, and lessons, and comforts do stay and are remembered; but he which leaneth his ears on his pillow goeth home again like the child which he leadeth in his hand, and scarce remembereth the preacher's text. A divine tongue and a holy ear make sweet music, but a deaf ear makes a dumb tongue. There is nothing so easy as to hear, and yet there is nothing so hard as to hear well. You come not hither to learn how to hear, but you come hither to hear as you were wont; for there is none but thinks before he come to hear that he knows how to hear already. But when I have showed you Christ's meaning in this caveat, you shall judge whether you have heard or not heard before you learned how to hear. In the seventeenth chapter and the fifth verse of St. Matthew's Gospel the Father teacheth you how to hear; now the Son teacheth you how to hear, showing (as James saith) that “Hearers only” are not blessed, for many shall say unto Christ, “Have not we heard Thee in our synagogues ?” whom He will answer with, “I know you not ;" and, therefore, it is not enough to hear, but you must care how you hear; it is not enough to pray, but you must care how you pray ; it is not enough to receive, but you must care how you receive; it is not enough to suffer, but you must care how you suffer; it is not enough to give, but you must care how you give; it is not enough to believe, but you must care how you believe : for God hath appointed the way as well as the end. Because Cain regarded not the manner, God regarded not his sacrifice. It is better to do well than to do good; for a man cannot offend in doing well, but he may offend in doing good if he do not well. Therefore, Christ (whom the Father bade us hear) teacheth us not only to hear, but how to hear, in the thirteenth chapter of St. Mark, and the fourteenth verse; teacheth us not only to read, but how to read, in the four-and-twentieth of St. Matthew, and the fifteenth verse; teacheth us not only to suffer, but how to suffer, in the fifth of Matthew, and the tenth verse; teacheth us not only to receive, but how to receive, Luke xxii., verse 19; teacheth us not only to pray, but how to pray, Luke xi., verse 1; signifying that there is more sin in hearing, and reading, and praying, and suffering, and receiving amiss, than in not hearing, reading, praying, suffering, or receiving at all. Therefore, Paul takes the Christian before his race, and gives him this watchword, “So run that thou mayest obtain.” I Cor. ix., 24. That is, so seek that thou mayest find ; so ask that thou mayest obtain ; so knock that it may be opened; so give that thou mayest do good; so suffer that thou mayest have comfort, so hear that thou mayest profit.
How many have fasted, and watched, and prayed more than we, and yet lost all their devotion, because they thought not of this rule, to do good in a good sort !
Of all our senses hearing is the sense of learning; and, therefore, Solomon begins his Wisdom with “Hearken, my son,” Prov. i., 8; opening as it were the door where wisdom must enter. Therefore, except in praying, temptations never trouble a man so much as in hearing, which showeth that these two are the destroyers of the destroyer; therefore, as the tempter himself could not abide to hear the Word when Christ spake, so he cannot abide that we should hear the Word. It must needs be good for us which our enemies would keep from us.
Many hearing the Word have met with knowledge, have met with comfort, have met with salvation ; but without the Word never any was converted to God. Therefore, whensoever the Word is preached, every one may say to himself, as the disciples said to the blind man, “Be of good comfort, He calleth thee;" be of good comfort, the Lord calleth thee. When Christ heard a woman say “Blessed are the breasts which gave Thee suck," Christ replied “Blessed are they which hear the Word of God," showing that His disciples were more blessed for hearing Him than His mother for bearing Him. As Isaac gave Jacob a double blessing, so Christ blessed them again; for in Matt. xiii., 17, He saith, “ Blessed are the ears which hear the things which ye hear,” showing that the Jews were more blessed than all the world, because they had this one blessing, to hear the truth. If they be blessed which hear, then you come hither for a blessing, and he which is blessed wanteth nothing. Every privilege doth import some special good to him which hath it; but it is the privilege of man to “Hear the Word,” and, therefore, the “Word became man," because it belongeth only to man. God hath given life, and light, and food to fowls, and fishes, and beasts; but His Word is the prerogative of man. As to speak is the property of man, so to hear is the property of man. To show "The fruit which cometh by hearing,” Christ calleth the Word which we should hear Verbum Regni, “The Word of the kingdom," as though it brought a kingdom with it; to show “The fruit which cometh by hearing,” the disciples call the Word which we should hear Verbum vita, “The
Word of life," as though it brought life with it; to show “The fruit that cometh by hearing,” Christ compareth the good hearers to the fruitful ground; to show "The fruit that cometh by hearing,” Paul saith, “Faith cometh by hearing," in the tenth chapter to the Romans, there is one fruit; “ Knowledge cometh by hearing,” Matt. xv., 10, there is another fruit; “Comfort cometh by hearing,” Psalm cxix., there is another fruit ; the sense of sin cometh by hearing, there is another fruit. As Christ with five loaves and two fishes fed five thousand men, so Peter with one sermon converted three thousand souls.
Come now to the danger by hearing amiss.
Christ saith, "Take heed how ye hear :" in the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy it is said, “Take heed how ye forget that which ye hear.” This "Take heed” always goeth before some danger. Therefore, as Paul saith, that men receive the Sacrament to their salvation or to their damnation, 1 Cor. xi., so Christ saith that men hear the Word to their salvation or to their damnation. “The Word which I have spoken shall judge you in the latter day.” John xii. It is called “ The savour of life," because it saveth ; and it is called “The savour of death,” because it condemneth. An evil eye engendereth lust, and an evil tongue engendereth strife ; but an evil ear maketh an heretic, and a schismatic, and an idolater. This careless hearing made God take away His Word from the Jews; therefore, you may hear the Word so as it may be taken from you, as the talent was from him that hid it, for God will not leave His pearls with swine ; but as He saith, “What hast thou to do to take My Words in thy mouth, seeing thou hatest to be reformed ?" so He will say, What hast thou to do to take My Word in thy ear, seeing thou hatest to be reformed ? If any of you go away no better than you came, you are not like hearers, but like ciphers, which supply a place but signify nothing ; so you take a room but learn nothing; and they which are ciphers in the house of God shall be ciphers in the kingdom of God. Therefore, if thou have an evil eye, and an evil tongue, and an evil hand, and an evil foot, yet have not an evil ear too ; for then all is evil, because the ear must teach all : if the ear hearken to evil, then the heart must learn evil. Therefore, an evil ear is compared to a bad porter, which lets in every one in a gay coat, though he be never so bad, and keeps out him that goes bare, though he be never so good; so an evil ear lets all that is evil enter into the heart, but all that is good it shuts the door against, lest it should set the spirit and the flesh at variance. Oh, if the adder had not stopped his ear, how long since had he been charmed! But the shortest time in God's service is the longest time in all the day. The beasts came to the ark to save themselves, and men will not come to the church to save themselves. “It is too far,” saith Jeroboam; but it were not too far if Jeroboam were not unwilling. One thing is necessary, and all unnecessaries are preferred before it. The greatest treasure in the world is most despised, the star which should lead us to Christ, the ladder which should mount us to heaven, the water that should cleanse our leprosy, the manna that should refresh our hunger, and the Book that we should meditate on day and night, lieth in our windows, no man readeth it, no man regardeth it; the love of God, and the love of knowledge, and the love of salvation is so cold, that we will not read over one book for it, for all we spend so many idle times while we live. If Samuel had thought that God had spoken to him, he would not have slept, but because he thought it was not God, but Eli, therefore he slept; so, because you remember not that it is God which speaks, therefore you mark not. But if you remember Christ's saying, “He which heareth you heareth Me, and he which despiseth you despiseth Me,” you would hear the voice of the preacher as you would hear the voice of God. Surely, beloved, we know no other way to save you nor ourselves; if we did, how wretched were we to keep it from you which have no other calling but to show you the way of salvation. If this be the way and no other, if this be showed you and no other, and yet you will not take it, but choose another, then are