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to be fed with milk, being unskilful in the word of righteousness, and, as it were, babes in knowledge, Heb. v. 12,-14. whereas others, that he compares to strong men, were fed with meat, that was agreeable to them. By which he doth not intend, as I apprehend, a difference of doctrines, as though some were to have nothing preached to them but moral duties while others were to have the doctrines of justification, and faith in Christ, &c. preached to them; but rather a different way of managing them, respecting the closeness and connexion of those methods of reasoning by which they are established which some are better able to improve and receive advantage by, than others.
2dly, Some must be supposed to be wavering, and in danger of being perverted from the faith of the gospel; for their sakes the most strong and cogent arguments are to be made use of, and well managed, in order to their establishment therein, and those objections that are generally brought against it, answered.
3dly, Others are lukewarm and indifferent in matters of religion; these need to have awakening truths, insisted on with great seriousness and affection, suited to the occasion thereof.
4thly, Others are assaulted with temptations, and subject to many doubts and fears, about the state of their souls, and the truth of grace; or, it may be, their consciences are burdened with some scruples, about the lawfulness or expediency of things, and some hesitation of mind, whether what they engage in is a sin or duty. Now, that the word may be adapted to their condition, the wiles of Satan are to be discovered, cases of conscience resolved, evidences of the truth of grace, or the marks of sincerity and hypocrisy are to be plainly laid down, and the fulness, freeness, and riches of divine grace, through a Mediator, to be set forth as the only expedient to fence them against their doubts and fears, and keep them from giving way to despair.
5thly, The word of God is to be preached zealously, with fervent love to God, and the souls of his people. Thus it is said, in Acts xviii. 25. concerning Apollos, that being fervent in the Spirit, he spake and taught diligently in the things of the Lord. This zeal doth not consist in a passionate, furious address, arising from personal pique and prejudice; or, in exposing men for their weakness; or expressing an undue resentment of some injuries received from them; but it is such a zeal, that is consistent with fervent love to God, and the souls of men. The love which is to be expressed to God, discovers itself, in the concern they have for the advancing his truth, name, and glory, and the promoting his interest in the world, which is infinitely preferable to all other interests; and their
love to the souls of men induceth them to preach to them, as. considering that they have not only the same nature in common with themselves, in which they must either be happy or miserable, for ever: But they are liable to the same infirmities, difficulties, dangers, and spiritual enemies, which should incline those that preach the gospel, to express the greatest sympathy with them in their troubles, while they are using their utmost endeavours to help them in their way to heaven. They are to be considered as being, by nature, in a lost, undone condition; and the success of the gospel, as being the only means to prevent their perishing for ever. And, with respect to those, in whom the word of God is made effectual for their conversion, ministers are to endeavour to build them up in their holy faith, as those who, they hope, will be their crown of rejoicing in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, at his coming, 1 Thess. ii. 19.
6thly, The word is to be preached sincerely, aiming at the glory of God, and the conversion, edification, and salvation of his people. Accordingly,
1st, Ministers must firmly believe the doctrines they deliver, and not preach them because they are the generally-receiv ed opinion of the churches; for that is hardly consistent with sincerity; at least, it argues a great deal of weakness, or want of judgment, as though they were wavering about those important truths, which they think in compliance with custom, they are obliged to communicate,
2dly, They must have no by and unwarrantable ends in preaching, namely, the gaining the esteem of men, or promoting their own secular interest. Though what the apostle says be true, that the labourer is worthy of his hire, and, they that preach the gospel, must live of the gospel, 1 Cor. ix. 14. Yet this ought not to be the principal end inducing them hereunto; for that is like what is threatened against the remains of the .. house of Eli, who were exposed to such a servile and mercenary temper, as to crouch for a piece of silver; and to say, put me, I pray thee, into one of the priest's offices, that I may eat a piece of bread, 1 Sam. ii. 36. The glory of God is to be the principal end of the ministry; and, accordingly, they are to endeavour to approve themselves to him in the whole of their conduct therein. Thus the apostle speaks of himself, as not seeking to please men; which, if I do, says he, I should not be the servant of Christ, Gal. i. 10. This method of preaching will be a means to beget, in the minds of men, the highest esteem of him. And, more especially, the glory of God is to be set forth as it shines in the face of Jesus Christ, or discovers itself in the work of salvation, brought about by him. This
is the only expedient to render the preaching of the gospel conducive to answer the most valuable ends.
And, inasmuch as next to the glory of God, the conversion, edification, and salvation of men, is to be aimed at; such a method of preaching is to be used, as is best adapted hereunto. Therefore,
(1st,) In order to the promoting the conversion of sinners, they are to be led into a sense of their guilt and misery, while in an unconverted state; together with the necessity of their believing on Christ, to the salvation of the soul; as also the methods prescribed in the gospel for their recovery, and escaping the wrath they are liable to. They are to be made acquainted with the gospel-call, in which sinners are invited to come to Christ, and his willingness to receive all that repent and believe in him. And, since this is the peculiar work of the Spirit, they are to pray and hope for his grace, to give success to his ordinances, in which they wait for his salvation. And if God is pleased to set home these truths on the consciences of men, and enable them to comply with this call, then the word is preached in a right manner, and their labour is not in vain in the Lord,
(2dly,) As for those who are converted, their farther establishment, and edification in Christ is designed, together with the increase of the work of grace that is begun in them. Accordingly they are to be told of the imperfection of their present state, and what is still lacking to fill up the measure of their faith and obedience; and they are to be warned of the assaults that they are like to meet with from their spiritual enemies, of the wiles and devices of Satan, to interrupt the actings of grace, overthrow their confidence, or disturb their peace. They are also to be directed how they may improve the redemption purchased by Christ, for the mortifying of sin, obtaining the victory over temptation, and increasing their faith in him. And, in addressing themselves to them, they are to explain difficult scriptures, that they may grow in knowledge, and discover to them the evidences of the strength and weakness of grace, tending to promote the one, and prevent the other. Also, the promises of the gospel are to be applied to them for their encouragement, and they excited to go on in the ways of God, depending on, and deriving strength from Christ, for the carrying on the work that is begun in them. This leads us to consider what is contained in the last of the answers we are explaining, viz.
III. What is the hearer's duty, who desires to receive spiritual advantage by the word preached; and this respects his behaviour before, in, and after his hearing the word.
1. Before we hear the word, we are to endeavour to prepare
ourselves for the solemn work which we are to engage in, duly considering how we need instruction, or, at least, to have truths brought to our remembrance, and impressed on our hearts; as also, that this is an ordinance which God has instituted for that purpose; and, as it is instamped with his authority, so we may depend on it, that his eye will be upon us, to observe our frame of spirit under the word. And we ought to have an awful sense of his perfections, to excite in us an holy reverence, and the exercise of other graces, necessary to our, engaging in this duty, in a right manner; and inasmuch as these are God's gift, we are to be very importunate with him in prayer for them. And, among other things, we are to desire that he would assist his ministers in preaching the word; so that what shall be delivered by them, may be agreeable to his mind and will; and, that this may be done in such a way, that it may recommend itself to the consciences of those that hear it; that their understandings may be enlightened, and they enabled to receive it with faith and love; and that all those corruptions, or temptations, that hinder the success thereof, may be prevented. These, and such-like things are to be desired of God in prayer; not only for ourselves in particular, but for all those who shall be engaged with us in this ordinance.
We might here consider the arguments or pleas that we may make use of, with relation hereunto, viz. such as are taken from those promises which God has made of his presence with his people, when engaged in public worship, Exod. xx. 24, Matt. xviii. 20. We may also plead the insufficiency of man's instructions, without the Spirit's teaching, or leading us into all truth; and that Christ has promised that his Spirit shall be given to his people for this end, John xvi. 13, 14. We may also plead our own inability to hear the word of God in a right manner, and the violent efforts that are made by our corrupt nature, to hinder our receiving advantage by it, and what endeavours Satan often uses in conjunction with it, by which means, as our Saviour expresses it in the parable, Matt. xiii. 19. he catches away that seed which was sown in the heart; whereby it will become unfruitful. And to this we may add, the afflictive sense we have of the ill consequences which will attend our hearing the word, and not profiting by it, whereby the soul is left worse than it was before; as the apostle says, that he was, in the course of his ministry, to some, the savour of death unto death, 2 Cor. ii. 16. We may also plead the glory that will redound to God, by the displays of his grace, in making the word effectual to salvation, and the great honour he hereby puts on his own institution, inasmuch as, herein, he sets his seal thereunto. We may also plead that this is God's usual way in which he dispenses his grace, and accordingly fe
has encouraged us, to hope and wait for it therein; and, that multitudes of his saints, both in earth and heaven, have experienced his presence with them under the word; whereby they were first enabled to believe in Christ, and afterwards established more and more in that grace, which they were made partakers of at first from him. Therefore we hope and trust that we may be admitted to participate of the same privilege, 2. There are several duties required of us in hearing the word; particularly we are to try the doctrines that are delivered, whether they are agreeable unto, and founded on scripture, that we may not be imposed upon by the errors of men, instead of the truths of God. Moreover, we are to endea vour to exercise those graces that are suitable to the work we are engaged in; and, as the apostle says, mix the word with faith, 2 Cor. ii. 16. and express the highest love and esteem for the glorious truths which are contained therein, discovering the greatest readiness to yield obedience to every thing God commands, and thankfulness for whatever he has promised to us. Moreover we are to hear the word with a particular application of it to our own condition, whether it be in a way of admonition, reproof, exhortation or encouragement, and to see how much we are concerned to improve it, to our spiritual advantage.
3. We are now to consider those duties which are to be performed by us, after we have heard the word preached. Some of these require privacy or retirement from the world; by which means we may meditate on, digest, and apply what we have heard; and, together with this, examine ourselves, and thereby take a view of our behaviour, whilst we have been engaged in public worship, in order to our being humbled for sins committed, or thankful for grace received. But this having been particularly considered under another answer, relating to our sanctifying the Sabbath in the evening thereof*, I shall pass it over at present.
There is another duty incumbent on us, after we have heard the word, which may conduce to the spiritual advantage of others, as it is to be the subject of our conversation; upon which account we are to take occasion to observe the excellency, beauty, and glory of divine truths, that are communicated in scripture: We are to hear the word, not merely as critics, making our remarks on the elegancy of style, the fluency of expression, or other gifts, which we are ready to applaud in the preacher, on the one hand, nor exposing and censuring the defects which we have observed in his method of address, on the other. We are rather to take notice of the suitableness of
See Vol. III. p. 495.