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Lord of the worlds above,
How pleasant and how fair
To thine abode
The sparrow for her young
With pleasure seeks a nest;
My spirit faints
O happy souls that pray
Where God appoints to hear !
They praise thee still;
They go from strength to strength,
Through this dark vale of tears,
O glorious seat,
BY REV. J. T. TUCKER.
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." JANES i. 22.
The necessity of good preaching is well understood among men. The importance of good hearing is not so well understood. To render the message effective, it is not enough that the former be furnished. Some most excellent preachers have been very unsuccessful. Noah was a faithful bearer of God's message to the thousands of the old world; but his own little household alone heeded his warnings. Isaiah and Ezekiel were distinguished servants of God. Endowed with prophetic vision, with splendid powers of eloquence, enkindled to supernatural brilliance and force by the spirit of inspiration, they went forth on their arduous errand well qualified to meet its high demands. Like their noble compeers and successors they were fearless proclaimers of truth. The throned monarch, the oppressor amid his servile instruments of cruelty, the faithless pastors who devoured God's belpless flock, the doers of iniquity, wherever found, each heard the accusation of his guiltiness and ill-desert, without a word of smooth palliation or mistimed excuse. But the one of these most accomplished heralds from heaven was left to exclaim, over the stone-like apathy of his hearers, “ Lord, who hath believed our report ?"--and the other, though to the children of his people “ like the very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument," was compelled to carry back to his Master the complaint, “they hear thy words, but they do them not.” And yet another preacher of salvation there was, who “spake as never man spake." From his divine lips truth distilled as the dew. The words of life were in his mouth, clothed in the perfection of clear illustration, conclu. sive argument, pointed application, melting persuasiveness. But did the crowds, who wondered after the miracles of Jesus, yield to his counsels, his claims ? How radiantly did that “light shine in darkness; yet the darkness comprehended it not.”.
Good preaching is important. It cannot be too faultless. But be it as faultless as was the preaching of the Son of God, a man may sit under it and go from it, totally unbenefitted. As in the graphic similitude of the Apostle in our context-he may be "like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass ; for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was." So with him who is merely a hearer of the word. It leaves on his heart the impression, not of the seal upon the plastic wax; but such an impression as the face makes upon the mirror which for a moment reflects its features-transient as the glancing sunbeam.
In all unproductive hearing of God's word there is a delusion, a self-deception. Thus in the text, “deceiving your own selves." That is, as the great object of the preaching of Christianity is obedience-he grossly deceives himself, who supposes that to hear and not to obey can be of any possible use to him.
It therefore, becomes an imperative duty to keep clearly before the minds of our hearers their liability to the danger of rendering the gospel ministry wholly ineffectual for good to themselves. To give definiteness and individuality to this admonition, I shall now point out several classes of persons, who hear the gospel in such a spirit as to make it inoperative, and consequently use
1. The vacant hearer.
God's word is weighty truth. Its topics are God's nature, acts, the human soul, its condition, responsibilities, destiny. The subjects of its principal concern lie not on the surface of things, to be grasped without an effort. Religion has, indeed, its simple rudiments of truth: so has it too, and that of vital moment to us, its depths—and heights of most precious wisdom. But whether simple or recondite, its teachings will teach hinn nothing, who will not meet that demand of intellectual attention which instruction on any theme necessarily imposes on the learner. Teke your place in the lecture-room of the demonstrator of some section of natural science. Will a listless, half-averted, dreamy indifference answer to the comprehending of the wonders and beauties of a material philosophy ? Are adepts thus made in the mysteries of earth ? Open a volume, profound or even superficial, and some amount of consideration you must give its pages, if you will possess yourself of its contents. But men frequent the sanctuary, as though there were some power of local, mechanical sanctification within its walls, wbich makes need less any tax upon the energies of their spiritual nature. They leave all but their bodies elsewhere. You can see it in their whole appearance-heavy, inert, now asleep, now courting slum. ber by a more easy posture, while vainly the preacher exhausts his resources to electrify their apathy with some arousing thoughts of God, of redemption, of eternity.
There are many such vacant listeners in God's house. With some, it is a constitutional mental sluggishness, a mind untaught
to reflect. But with many more, it is an aversion of heart to religious thought, which arms the will against it. Add also the many who bring the world with them into Jehovah's temple, and there worship mammon instead of God. They close, it is true, their houses of merchandise, their offices, their work-shops, on Saturday night. But the worldliness of their spirit receives no check. The transactions of the former week, the plans in pros. pect, play before his vision. He is solving some problem of secular gain, while the preacher is trying to solve for him the worth of the soul and its salvation. A handful of precious seed has been cast upon his heart, but from it, hard and impenetrable as the trodden road-side, the devil has plucked it away without an effort.
II. The curious hearer.
This spirit brings the attention to bear upon a subject, but merely to dissect, to criticise. It is an active spirit, far removed from the unconcernedness of the vacant hearer, and the sanctuary affords a favorite scene for its exercise. It may employ itself upon the subject of discourse, and enjoy the pleasure of remarking the beauties, the well-timed proprieties of its presentation; or, more commonly, it may busy itself with taking exceptions at the taste, or the judgment, which has guided the selection or treatment of the theme. This, though sanctioned by inspiration, may be too trite, or unimportant, or inelegant for its cultivated sensibilites. If it be a message of Christian doctrine or daty, which will not abate its pressing hold on the conscience, or conceal the dark shadows of ruin which threaten the disobedient; if it re-echoes fearfully an unrepealed law, or cuts to the quick some cherished sin ; the hearer wonders superciliously at the exceedingly bad taste of the minister. He came to the sanctuary to be entertained by an eloquent oration, or a finely-drawn description, or a well-proportioned moral lecture. He encounters there, God's flaming sword guarding the way of holiness. He does not see why these so oft recurring, gloomy subjects might not give place to some more cheering topics, something which should interest the intellect without assaulting the heart.
Or, the attention fastens itself upon the manner of the preacher, forgetful from whose court the speaker holds his commission, and what words of life and death hang on his lips. He stands before his auditor for no higher purpose than to display his proficiency in modes and styles of elocution, his knowledge of the springs which excite and allay the passions. To such an one, he occupies no loftier ground than does the actor of an hour. He opens his theme, while the curious mind busies itself with a thousand minute matters of language, illustration, gesture, intonation, attitude. The period of worship passes. The house of God is any thing to that soul, but the gate of heaven. The mighty concerns of judgment and of mercy, have left no traces on that memory. No advance towards obedience has been made by him thus occupied in gleaning wherewith to exercise his critical acumen. These, in their idle diversion, like the prophet's hearers, have not perceived that a herald from God has been among them. I would by no means undervalue the graces, the accomplishments of pulpit discourse. But he who refuses a truthful message because of their absence, does a thing not less preposterous than he, who needing to have a limb amputated to prevent mortification, should object to the surgeon's knife because its polish did not equal its sharpness; or, sinking in deep water, should refuse a rescuing hand, because not decorated with a perfumed glove.
III. The captious hearer.
Here, the attention is excited, only to be turned against the teachings of religion. There are those who occasionally attend upon God's worship, as they sometimes read his word, for no other end but to cavil, to deny, to oppose. Their errand, prompted by a deep hostility to Christian doctrine, is to find occasion for blame, to detect inconsistencies, or to invent them, in the statements of the preacher. They come, armed in the panoply of skepticism, to refute, to their own satisfaction at least, whatever may conflict with their loose notions of what is, and ought to be. Their business is just what was that of some in former days, in whose hearts Satan reigned ; who followed Christ's ministrations for the--shall I say, magnanimous or pitiful purpose to catch him in his words! And they achieve their desire, if some defective exhibition of truth, some unguarded expression, or im. proper act can be carried away from the sanctuary, to be added to their stock of small vituperation against the faith of Jesus.
But sometimes, where the mind likes not to confess itself skeptical upon the subject of Christian doctrine, it covers its hostility to this, by a very ingenious, not ingenuous transfer of its dislikes to the announcer of this doctrine. “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth ?" was the haughty inquiry of certain of Christ's hearers, who would as surely have rejected an evangelical Chris. tianity, though Christ had preached it from the throne of David. Yes, how often does the rebellious will refuse to be instructed, on like frivolous pretences, because of some causeless offence against the accredited ambassador of God. Such feelings of opposition to the principles and claims of piety will utterly destroy all profit. able results from an attendance upon the ministry of the Gospel..
IV. The fashionable hearer.
Of all tyrants, public taste is the most capricious. Though oftenest it holds the services of the purer churches of Christ as