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Of reading or hearing the Word of God.

     Reading and hearing the word of God are but the several circumstances of the same duty: 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 `whore mongers and adulterers God will judge,' or read it in one of his epistles, in either of them we are equally and sufficiently instructed.
     The Scriptures read are the same thing to us which the same doctrine was when it was preached by the disciples of our blessed Lord, and we are to learn of either with the same dispositions. 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. It is necessary that all men learn it in some way or other, and it is sufficient in order to their practice that they learn it any way. 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 but the words of men, or rather explications of, and exhortations according to, the word of God; 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 preaches an hour together against drunkenness, with the tongue of men or angels, hath spoke no other word of God but this, `Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess;' and 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 to this purpose, that we may separate truth from error, popular opinions from substantial truths. For God preaches to us in the Scripture, and by his secret assistances and spiritual thoughts and holy motions: 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. But,
     1. The Holy Ghost is certainly the best preacher in the world, and the words of Scripture the best sermons.
     2. 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; Whatsoever 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 hath done already.
     3. Good sermons and good books are of excellent use; but yet they can serve no other end but that we practice the plain doctrines of Scripture.
     4. What 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.'[216]
     5. Reading the holy Scriptures is a duty expressly commanded us,[217] and is called in Scripture `preaching:' all other preaching is the effect of human skill and industry; and although of great benefit, yet it is but an ecclesiastical ordinance; the law of God concerning preaching being expressed in the matter of reading the Scriptures, and hearing that word of God which is, and as it is, there described.
     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 Scriptures; and, if it be possible, every day read or hear some of it read: you are sure that book teaches all truth, commands all holiness, and promises all happiness.
     2. When it is in your power to choose, accustom yourself to such 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 holy days, 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 profit.
     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 worship.
     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 all that is commanded, and to live according to it; do not hear for any other end but to become better in our life, and to be instructed in every good work, and to increase in the love and service of God.
     5. Beg of God, by prayer, that he would give you the spirit of obedience and profit, and that he would, by his Spirit, write the word in your heart, and that you describe it in your life: to which purpose serve yourself of some affectionate ejaculations to that purpose before and after this duty.

Concerning Spiritual Books and Ordinary Sermons, take in these Advices also.

     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 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 ministration.
     7. Consider and remark the doctrine that is represented to thee in any discourse; and if the preacher adds accidental advantages, anything to comply with thy weakness, or to put thy spirit into action or holy resolution, remember it and make use of it. But if the preacher be a weak person, yet the text is the doctrine, thou art to remember, that contains all thy duty; it is worth they attendance to hear that spoken often and renewed upon thy thoughts; and though thou beest a learned man, yet the same things which thou knowest already, if spoken by another, may be made active by that application. I can better be comforted by my own considerations if another hand applies them than if I do it myself; because 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, and obedience.
     8. When Scriptures are read, you are only to inquire, with diligence and modesty, into the meaning of the Spirit; but if homilies or sermons be made upon the words of Scripture, you are to consider, whether all that be spoken be conforming to the Scriptures; for although you may practise for human reasons and human arguments ministered from the preacher's art, yet you must practise nothing but the command of God, nothing but the doctrine of Scripture; that is, the text.
     9. Use the advice of some spiritual or other prudent man for the choice of such spiritual books, which may be of use and benefit for the edification of thy spirit in the ways of holy living; and esteem that time well accounted for that is prudently and affectionately employed in hearing or reading good books and pious discourses; ever remembering, that God, by hearing us speak to him in prayer, obliges us to hear him speak to us in his word, by what instrument soever it be conveyed.

[216] Luke, xvi. 29,31.

[217] Deut. xxxi.13; Luke, xxiv.45; Matt. xxii.29; Acts. xv.21; 2 Tim. iii. 16; Rev. i.3.

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