IV READING OR HEARING THE WORD OF GOD
Reading and hearing the word of God are instrumental especially to faith,
but consequently to all other graces of the spirit. It is all one to us
whether by the eye or by the ear the Spirit conveys his precepts to us.
If we hear St. Paul saying to us, that ‘whoremongers and adulterers God
will judge’ or read it in one of his epistles, we are equally and sufficiently
instructed. The Scriptures read are the same thing to us which was preached
by the disciples of our blessed Lord. There are many that cannot read the
word, and they must take it in by the ear; and they that can read find
the same word of God by the eye. The word of God is all those commandments
and revelations, those promises and threatenings, the stories and sermons
recorded in the Bible; nothing else is the word of God that we know of
by any certain instrument. The good books and spiritual discourses, the
sermons or homilies written or spoken by men, are explications and exhortations
but of themselves they are not the word of God. In a sermon, the text only
is in a proper sense to be called God’s word: and yet good sermons are
of great use and convenience for the advantages of religion. He that writes
that sermon in a book, and publishes that book, hath preached to all that
read it a louder sermon than could be spoken in a church. This I say that
we may separate truth from error, popular opinions from substantial truths.
For God preaches to us in the Scripture; good men preach to us when they,
by popular arguments and human arts and compliances, expound and press
any of those doctrines which God hath preached unto us in His holy word.
First, the Holy Ghost is certainly the best preacher in the world, and
the words of Scripture the best sermons.
Secondly, all the doctrine of salvation is plainly set down there, that
the most unlearned person, by hearing it read, may understand all his duty.
What can be plainer spoken than this, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; ‘Be not drunk
with wine’; ‘Husbands, love your wives’; ‘What-soever ye would that men
should do to you, do ye so to them?’ The wit of man cannot more plainly
tell us our duty, or more fully, than the Holy Ghost bath done already.
Thirdly, good sermons and good books are of excellent use; but yet they
can serve no other end but that we practise the plain doctrines of Scripture.
Fourthly, that Abraham in the parable said concerning the brethren of
the rich man, is here very proper: ‘They have Moses and the prophets, let
them hear them; but if they refuse to hear these, neither will they believe
though one should arise from the dead to preach unto them.’ (Luke
xvi. 29, 31.)
Fifthly, reading the holy Scriptures is a duty expressly commanded us.
(Luke xxiv. 45; Matt. xxii. 29; Acts xv. 21; 2 Tim. iii. 16; Rev. i. 3.)
But this duty is reduced to practice in the following rules.
Rules for hearing or reading the word of God
1. Set apart some portion of thy time, according to the opportunities
of thy calling and necessary employment, for the reading of Holy Scripture;
and if it be possible, every day read or hear some of it read.
2. When it is in your power to choose, accustom yourself to those portions
which are most plain and certain duty, and which contain the story of the
life and death of our blessed Saviour. Read the gospels, the psalms of
David; and especially those portions of Scripture which by the wisdom of
the Church, are appointed to be publicly read upon Sundays and holidays,
viz., the epistles and gospels. In the choice of any other portions, you
may advise with a spiritual guide, that you may spend your time with most
3. Fail not diligently to attend to the reading of Holy Scriptures upon
those days wherein it is most publicly and solemnly read in churches; for
at such times, besides the learning our duty, we obtain a blessing along
with it; it becoming to us, upon those days, a part of the solemn divine
4. When the word of God is read or preached to you, be sure you be of
a ready heart and mind, free from worldly cares and thoughts, diligent
to hear, careful to mark, studious to remember, and desirous to practise
and to live according to it: do not hear for any other end but to become
better in your life, and to be instructed in every good work, and to increase
in the love and service of God.
5. Beg of God that He would, by His Spirit, write the word in your heart,
and that you describe it in your life.
Concerning spiritual books and ordinary sermons (take in these
6. Let not a prejudice to any man’s person hinder thee from receiving
good by his doctrine, if it be according to godliness; but (if occasion
offer it, or especially if duty present it to thee — that is, if it be
preached in that assembly where thou art bound to be present) accept the
word preached as a message from God, and the minister as His angel in that
7. Consider and remark the doctrine in any discourse; and if the preacher
adds anything to comply with thy weakness, or to put thy spirit into action
or holy resolution, remember it, and make use of it. Though thou beest
a learned man, yet the same thing which thou knowest already, if spoken
by another, may be made active by that
application. The word of God does not work as a natural agent, but
as a divine instrument: it does not prevail by the force of deduction and
artificial discoursings only, but chiefly by way of blessing in the ordinance
and in the ministry of an appointed person. At least obey the public order,
and reverence the constitution, and give good example of humility, charity
8. When Scriptures are read inquire with diligence and modesty into
the meaning; but if homilies or sermons be made, consider whether all that
be spoken be conformable to the Scriptures; for you must practise nothing
but the command of God, nothing but the doctrine of Scriptures.
9. Use the advice of some spiritual or other prudent man for the choice
of such books, as may be for the edification of thy spirit in the ways
of holy living; esteem that time well accounted for, ever remembering that
God, by hearing us in prayer, obliges us to hear Him, in His word, by what
instrument soever it be conveyed.
A Prayer to be said before the hearing or reading the word of
O eternal Jesus, let thy Holy Spirit be present with me in
the reading or hearing
Thy word, that I may do it humbly, reverently, without prejudice, with
ready and desirous to learn and to obey; that I may be readily furnished
instructed to every good work to the glory of Thy holy name. Amen.