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"But that is not all I do."
"Perhaps not quite. You used to go out to work sometimes, and plough and hoe a little, just enough to keep off actual starvation; and about as much as this you do in religion. But suppose you were to make a business of it, as you did of your farm when you took the right turn; suppose you were now to make the most of these religious means, as resolutely as you did of your goodly lands; do you think you should find reason to complain any longer that you get no good from them?"
They walked on for some moments in silence. John was evidently getting a little new light on the dark subject, which inclined him more to muse than to speak. But he presently felt the silence to be growing awkward, and he therefore broke it, somewhat at a venture, by saying, that, after all, he did not perceive that he was so very negligent; he could not see but that he did as much as other men.
"As other men!" cried David. "There is the rock on which so many are lost; they compare themselves to 'other men.' But you have already said, that they are not profited by preaching; how, then, can their case be any guide to you? It only shows how they are lost, not how you may be saved. Look to yourself for the present. One at a time, as I said before. Let us settle the case of John Smith, before we undertake any other. And now, to begin at the beginning, let us just remember what preaching is for. Is it to be listened to, or to be practised upon?"
"To be practised upon, certainly." "Very well. Which do you do? not practise."
You listen, but do
"Why, there, now," said Smith, " that is the very thing I am lamenting, — that I do listen, and yet my practice is not affected."
"To be sure," said David; "you expect the practice to come of itself; you take pains to go and hear, which is the least part of the business, and take no pains to return and act accordingly, which is the essential thing. You think this is to come of itself; just as you used to fancy that looking at your fine farm, and talking and boasting about it, would do as well as working upon it. You recollect what we were saying, the other Saturday evening, about the improvement of that season? Well, you acknowledged that it never occurred to you to use it as a preparation for public worship. The same of Sunday morning. Without any preparation, then, you go to church and hear the sermon. How? That you may really learn something? that you may receive some wholesome advice? that you may be raised to a better way of living? No. You merely hear. You just sit and listen ;- in at one ear and out at the other, as the saying is. Do you think about it afterward, muse on its truths, try to recall and re-impress its doctrine, and turn its advice into real practical rules? I suppose you never pretended to do this. You have not dreamt of any thing more than just to hear the sermon. So it is with thousands; therefore no wonder that they are none the better. It would be a wonder indeed if they were. Why, the plain fact is, neighbor Smith, that you and they are doing all you can to prevent preaching from doing you any good. If the devil had hired you to help him defeat the ordinances of God, you could not have contrived a more effectual means. Το enter on them without preparation, to attend them without any purpose or effort of self-application, to think no more of them afterward, and to spend the rest of the day in visiting, talking, eating, riding, or thinking, just as on any other day; all this seems as if expressly designed a careful plot to destroy the impressions of God's house, and to
prevent the two hours of worship from interrupting the dominion of earth in the soul."
"That's rather a long sermon, husband," said Jane.
"And a pretty close one, too," added Smith, soberly. "But it is all true, every word of it. Yet I do not see how I can help it. What can I do? What shall I do?"
"I can tell you what rules helped me," replied David, "and I dare say that by observing them you will find yourself essentially benefited. Will you try?"
"Let me hear them, and I will tell you."
"They are three. First, listen to the preacher religiously; that is, in a devout frame of mind, as if you had just said your prayers, and were holding out your hand to receive the blessing you had asked. Secondly, apply it to yourself all along; say Amen to every truth, and say Yes, I will, to every good advice. This will excite a strong interest in the matter. Thirdly, think it over afterward. Don't go at once about other things, and forget it all, but retire by yourself, and recall what you heard and felt; consider what you ought to do in consequence; and lay out a distinct plan of doing accordingly during the week. Then, make it a regular part of every day's business to think over and act upon that particular lesson, and so mix it up with all your prayers and all your work. Follow these rules, and you never will say again that preaching does no good."
"I believe so," said Smith; " and I will try them. But I am afraid I never shall have resolution enough to succeed."
"Do it in faith, nothing doubting; or, if you doubt yourself, do not doubt God, but pray for his blessing till you receive it."
They had for some time reached David's house, and were
pausing at the gate to finish their discourse. As they now turned away to separate, Smith stopped, and cried out, "One word more, neighbor; pray tell me if you observe these rules yourself.”
David hesitated a moment, and then, with an expression of countenance that was half sadness and half a smile, he said, "The question is a very fair one, though I do not see that the answer can affect the goodness of the rules."
"But then I shall have the more courage to undertake them, if I find that they are real things, and not mere words."
"Very well; I told you that they had helped me; and they have unspeakably; but I do not live up to them fully,
I do not fully live up to any of my good purposes. But this I can tell you, solemnly, that it is only by living by them that I ever gained any thing, and I have always found myself a loser just in proportion as I have slighted them."