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THE subject on which we addressed you at our last anniversary was the proper method of reading the Word of God; as a natural sequel to which, we beg leave on the present occasion to suggest a few hints of advice respecting the duty of hearing it.

Preaching is an ordinance of God not entirely confined to the Christian dispensation. From the Old Testament history it appears that Ezra, upon the return of the Jews from Babylon, assembled them in the streets of Jerusalem, and ascending a stage or pulpit for the advantage of being better seen and heard, read the law in the ears of the people, and gave the interpretation thereof. It is probable that he did little more than, agreeable to the natural import of the phrase interpretation, translate, paragraph by paragraph, the Hebrew original into the Syriac or Chaldee, which had become, during a captivity of forty years, the vernacular language of the Jews. From that time, however, synagogues were erected in all the cities throughout Judea, and regular officers appointed to read, first the Pentateuch, and after the persecution by Antiochus the Prophets, and explain them in ample paraphrases or comments. Such was the origin of preaching.

When the fulness of time was come for God, in his infinite mercy, to send forth his Son, his appearance was first announced by John's proclaiming in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord; which, after a short time, was succeeded by the personal ministry of Christ and his apostles, with whom the dispensation of the gospel, properly speaking, commenced. After his resurrection, our Lord extended the commission of the apostles to all nations, saying, Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; or, as you have it in Mark, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

Upon the formation of Christian churches, an order of men was appointed in each society for the express purpose of preaching the Word and administering the sacraments: wherein the wisdom and kindness of the Great Head of the church is eminently conspicuous; for such are the necessary avocations of life, so little the leisure most Christians possess for the acquisition of knowledge, and such the deficiency of many in the elementary parts of education, that they will always, under God, be chiefly indebted to this appointment for


any extensive acquaintance with divine truth. The privilege of reading the Scriptures in our native language is of inestimable value; but were it much more universal than it is, it would not supersede the necessity of hearing the Word: for there are not only difficulties in the Bible which require to be elucidated, and seeming contradictions to be solved, but the living voice of a preacher is admirably adapted to awaken attention and to excite an interest, as well as to apply the general truths of revelation to the various cases of Christian experience, and the regulation of human conduct. When an important subject is presented to an audience, with an ample illustration of its several parts, its practical improvement enforced, and its relation to the conscience and the heart insisted upon with seriousness, copiousness, and fervour, it is adapted, in the nature of things, to produce a more deep and lasting impression than can usually be expected from reading. He who knows how forcible are right words, and how apt man is to be moved by man, has consulted the constitution of our frame, by appointing an order of men whose office it is to address their fellow-creatures on their eternal concerns. Strong feeling is naturally contagious; and if, as the Wise Man observes, as iron sharpeneth iron, so doth the countenance of a man his friend; the combined effect of countenance, gesture, and voice, accompanying a powerful appeal to the understanding and the heart, on subjects of everlasting moment, can scarcely fail of being great.

But independently of the natural tendency of the Christian ministry to promote spiritual improvement, it derives a peculiar efficacy from its being a divine appointment. It is not merely a natural, it is also an instituted means of good; and whatever God appoints, by special authority, he graciously engages to bless, provided it be attended to with right dispositions and from right motives. The means of grace are, as the words import, the consecrated channels in which his spiritual mercies flow; and as the communication of spiritual blessings always implies an exertion of divine power, so these become the stated instrument or occasion of its exercise. These are emphatically his ways in which he is wont to walk with his people. Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways. Though the Spirit bloweth where it listeth, where the gospel is not preached the effects of his operation are rarely to be discerned, and we witness few or no indications of a renewed character out of the bounds of Christendom. From the history of religion, in all ages, it appears that the Spirit is accustomed to follow in the footsteps of his revealed Word; and that, wherever his work lies, he prepares his way by first communicating the Oracles of God. When he proposed to take out a people for his name from among the gentiles, the first step he took was to commission the apostles to preach the gospel to every creature. To this St. Paul most solemnly directs our attention, in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, as the grand instrument of human salvation:-When, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom

Isaiah Lxiv. 5.

knew not God, it pleased him, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe. So intimate, by divine appointment, is the connexion between the salvation of man and the ministry of the Word, that the method of salvation under the gospel derives from the latter its distinguishing appellation, being denominated the hearing of faith. St. Jude, in like manner, asserts it to be the instrumental cause of our regencration. Of his own will begat he us by the Word of Truth. And to the same purpose St. Peter reminds the Christians whom he was addressing, that they were born not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, by the word of God; which word, he adds, is by the gospel preached unto you. The written Word, we are told, indeed, from the highest authority, is able to make us wise unto salvation, and many pleasing instances of its saving efficacy might be produced to confirm this position; but as the gospel was preached before it was penned, it is certain that most of the passages which speak on this subject are to be referred to its public ministry, and that, in subsequent ages, God has put a distinguishing honour upon it, by employing it as the principal means of accomplishing his saving purposes. There is every reason to suppose that the far greater part of those who have been truly sanctified and enlightened will ascribe the change they have experienced principally to the hearing of faith.

What a powerful motive results from thence to take heed how we hear! If we feel any concern for a share in the great salvation, how careful should we be not to neglect the principal means of obtaining it! If there be a class from whom the spiritual beauty and glory of the gospel remain concealed, it consists of a description of persons the very mention of whom ought to make us tremble. If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost. Let no man allow himself to neglect the hearing of the Word, or hear it in a careless or irreverent manner, under the pretence of his having an opportunity of reading it in private, since its public ministry possesses, with respect to its tendency to excite the attention and interest the heart, many unquestionable advantages; besides, such a pretence will generally be found to be hollow and disingenuous. If you observe a person habitually inattentive under an awakening, searching ministry, follow him into his retirement, and, it may be confidentially predicted, you will seldom see the Bible in his hands; or, if he overcome his aversion to religion so far as occasionally to peruse a chapter, it will be in the same spirit in which he hears: he will satisfy himself with having completed his task, and straightway go his way and forget what manner of man he was. If the general course of the world were as favourable to religion as it is the contrary, if an intercourse with mankind were a school of piety, the state of such persons would be less hopeless, and there would be a greater probability of their being gained without the Word; but while every thing around us conspires to render the mind earthly and sensual, and the world is continually moulding and transforming its votaries, the situation of such as attend the means of grace in a careless manner is unspeakably dangerous, since they are continually exposing themselves to influences which corrupt, while

they render themselves inaccessible to such as are of a salutary operation. What can be expected but the death of that patient who takes a course which is continually inflaming his disease, while he despises and neglects the remedy? When we see men attentive under the ministry of the Word, and evidently anxious to comprehend its truths, we cannot but entertain hopes of their salvation; for faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. It is observed of the Jews at Berea, that they were more noble than those of Thessalonica, because they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so; and the result was such as might be expected, a great multitude of them believed. Candid and attentive hearers place themselves, so to speak, in the way of the Spirit : while those who cannot be prevailed upon to give it serious attention may most justly be said to put the kingdom of God far from them, and judge themselves unworthy of eternal life. To such the awful threatenings recorded in the Proverbs are most applicable;-Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; I will laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear cometh. In such cases, the ministers of the gospel can do little more than, like Jeremiah, retire to weep in secret places for their pride.

But as we who are assembled on the present occasion consist of ministers and delegates from a number of associated churches, which we consider ourselves as addressing in these our circular epistles, we shall confine ourselves, in our subsequent remarks, to such heads of advice on the duty of hearing the Word as are appropriate to the character of professing Christians. We will consider ourselves as addressing such, and such only, as must be supposed, in a judgment of charity, to have an experimental acquaintance with Divine truth.

First. Previous to your entering into the house of God, seek a prepared heart, and implore the blessing of God on the ministry of his Word. It may be presumed that no real Christian will neglect to preface his attendance on social worship with secret prayer. But let the acquisition of a devout and serious frame, freed from the cares, vanities, and pollutions of the world, accompanied with earnest desires after God and the communications of his grace, form a principal subject of your devotions. Forget not to implore a blessing on the public ministry, that it may accomplish in yourselves, and to others, the great purposes it is designed to answer; and that those measures of assistance may be afforded to your ministers which shall replenish them with light, love, and liberty, that they may speak the mystery of the gospel as it ought to be spoken. Pastors and people would both derive eminent advantages from such a practice; they in their capacity of exhibiting, you in your preparation for receiving, the mysteries of the gospel. As the duties of the closet have the happiest tendency, by solemnizing and elevating the mind, to prepare for those of the sanctuary, so the conviction of your having borne your minister on your heart before the throne of grace would, apart from every other consideration, dispose him to address you with augmented zeal and tenderness. We should consider it as such a token

for good, as well as such an unequivocal proof of your attachment, as would greatly animate and support us under all our discouragements.

Secondly. Establish in your minds the highest reverence and esteem of the glorious gospel. Recollect the miracles wrought to confirm it; the sanction, the awful sanction, by which a due reception of it is enforced, and the infinite value of that blood by which its blessings were ratified and procured. Recollect that on its acceptance or rejection, on the effects which it produces on the heart and life, depends our state for eternity; since there are no other means devised for our recovery, no other name given under heaven by which we can be saved, besides that which it exhibits. It is not merely the incorruptible seed of regeneration; it is also the mould in which our souls must be cast, agreeable to the apostle's beautiful metaphor:-You have obeyed from the heart that form (or mould) of doctrine into which ye were delivered. In order to our bearing the image of Christ, who is the first-born among many brethren, it is necessary to receive its im press in every part; nor is there any thing in us what it ought to be, any thing truly excellent, but in proportion to its conformity to that pattern. Its operation is not to be confined to time or place; it is the very element in which the Christian is appointed to live, and to receive continual accessions of spiritual strength and purity, until he is presented faultless in the presence of the divine glory. The more you esteem the gospel, the more will you be attached to that ministry in which its doctrines are developed, and its duties explained and inculcated; because, in the present state of the world, it is the chief, though not the only, means of possessing yourselves of its advantages. To tremble at God's word is also mentioned as one of the most essential features in the character of him to whom God will look with approbation.

Thirdly. Hear the Word with attention. If you are convinced of the justice of the preceding remarks, nothing further is requisite to convince you of the propriety of this advice, since they all combine to enforce it. We would only remark, in general, that the knowledge derived from a discourse depends entirely upon attention; in exact proportion to which will be the progress made by a mind of a given capacity. Not to listen with attention is the same thing as to have ears which hear not, and eyes which see not. While you are hearing, whatever trains of thought of a foreign and extraneous nature obtrude themselves should be resolutely repelled. In the power of fixing the attention, the most precious of the intellectual habits, mankind differ greatly; but every man possesses some, and it will increase the more it is exerted. He who exercises no discipline over himself in this respect acquires such a volatility of mind, such a vagrancy of imagination, as dooms him to be the sport of every mental vanity; it is impossible such a man should attain to true wisdom. If we cultivate, on the contrary, a habit of attention, it will become natural, thought will strike its roots deep, and we shall, by degrees, experience no difficulty in following the track of the longest connected discourse. As we find it easy to attend to what interests the heart, and the

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