How should we prepare ourselves to hear the Word?
1. From faith, hope, and love, the virtues of religion referring to God, there arises a double act which bears on the spiritual communion exercised between God and us; the hearing of the word and prayer.
2. The reason or basis for this division is that in religious worship we relate ourselves to God when we give him due honor either by receiving what he offers or by offering what may be received by him in his perfection. In both respects we do what is immediately and directly honorable to God.
3. The first act of religion, therefore, concerns those things which are communicated to us from God. The other concerns those things which we yield to God.
4. Hearing the word is the devout receiving of the will of God.
5. Hearing here, therefore, means any receiving of the word of God whether it be communicated to us by preaching, reading, or any other way. God is accustomed to work in his own way and by his own institution by the preaching and hearing of the word.
6. The word hearing ought not to be taken so literally and strictly as to mean always necessarily the outward sense of hearing; it denotes any perceiving of the will of God, and especially inward receiving and submission.
7. The receiving of the word, of two parts: attention of the mind and intention of will.
8. Attention is applying the understanding to perceive the revealed will of God. Acts 16:14, The Lord opened the heart of Lydia that she might attend to the things spoken by Paul: It is often called in the Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, a seeking of the will of God or a seeking of God himself. It refers to the great desire we should have to know God's will, as though it were something we could not at all do without. Isa. 58:2, Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as...a nation which does righteousness and does not forsake the judgment of its God; they inquire of me the ordinances of justice, they delight in approaching God.
9. In this attention we need that prudence which will discern what the will of God is. Rom. 12:2, That you may prove what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. When this is perceived, we must not deliberate further whether it be good or is to be obeyed or not, for the will of God is itself the final end of all religious inquiry. Gal. 1 :15, 16, When it pleased God to reveal his sign in me...I did not consult with flesh and blood.
10. Intention is the application of our will to the devout observance of the will of God now known. Ps. 119:106, I have sworn...and will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgment.
11. The purpose of the intention ought to be so strong and firm that we are ready without exception to obey whatever God commands. Jer. 42:5, 6, The Lord be a true and faithful witness between us if we do not act according to all the things with which the Lord thy God sends you to us. Whether it be good or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God.
12. In the form of this intention, the law of God itself is said to be in the heart of a believer, Ps. 40:8, 9; 119:11; Jer. 31 :33; Heb. 8:10.
13. In order to be correct, the hearing should come from faithful observance, bringing submission of the inward acts and inclinations of the mind. Rom. 6:17, From the heart you obeyed that form of doctrine to which you were committed.
14. To be truly religious, it is necessary, first, that it arise from faith, for by faith we believe the word of truth is that which God reveals to us and are accordingly influenced by it. Heb. 4:2, The word in being heard did not profit them, for it did not meet with faith in them that heard it; Luke 24:32, Did not our hearts burn... while he spoke to us?
15. By this faith we cling to the word, Ps. 119:31, and the word itself clings to us and is engrafted for salvation. Jas. 1:21, The engrafted word.
16. Second, this hearing must come from the hope by which we embrace what God has promised as the word of life and from it also expect life. Deut. 32:47, It is your life, and you shall live long in the land; John 5:39.
17. In hope the faithful bring forth fruit with patience, Luke 8:15.
18. In like manner, there must be joined to it love, with which we cleave to the word or to God revealing himself to us in the word as absolutely good. Ps. 119:97, How I love thy law; 2 Thess. 2:10, They did not receive the love of truth in order that they might be saved.
19. Because of this love, the word of God dwells bountifully in the faithful, Col. 3:16. And they are transformed into its form and pattern, Rom. 6:17.
20. Such a hearing of the word of God is the true and proper worship of God. First, it bestows spiritual honor on God immediately and directly. For although the act of hearing is most properly directed to our receiving of the will of God, yet because we subject our consciences to God in so receiving we honor him as the possessor of power and divine truth, the acknowledgment of which is the basis of religious worship. Second, it contains a direct and immediate exercise of faith, hope, and charity in which the essential worship of God is chiefly found.
21. Therefore, no word or sentence of men ought to be mingled with the word of God or transmitted in the same manner lest by chance we worship men instead of God.
22. Most definitely opposed to hearing is, first, the pride by which one dwells on his own excellence. Such a person does not wish to submit to the will of God. Pride is always contrary to the humility of religion and to religious observance or obedience in general but it seems most surely opposed to them in this act of religion. A proud man is so far from subjecting himself to the will of another as to a law that he wants to have his own will in place of the law. Jer. 13:15, Hear and give ear; be not proud, f or the Lord has spoken; Jer. 5:5, T hey have broken the yoke, they have burst the bonds.
23. The real act of pride is a contempt of either God or the will of God and its observance. 2 Sam. 12:9, Why have you despised the word of the Lord in doing what is evil in his eyes?
24. Pride is said to be the cause of all other sins for two reasons. First, all sins have something to do with that occupying of first place which pride has, as it were, for an end. Second, pride casts aside contemptuously the authority of the word in which alone the power of sin is to be avoided.
25. There is something of pride in every sip but especially in those which are committed deliberately.
26. Opposed to the hearing of the word is, second, all taking advice from the world, the flesh, or wisdom of the flesh in the things of religion, Rom. 8:7; Gal. 1:16.
27. As in pride men refuse to submit themselves to the will of God; so in taking counsel which is not of God they seek other gods, as it were, to whom they may be subject.
28. Third, the most wicked opposition to the hearing of the word is consultation with the devil. Isa. 8:19; Deut. 18:11-15. Herein religious faith and hope due only to God is transferred in a way either explicitly or implicitly to the enemy of God.
29. Hence it is that faith is likely to be required in those who indulge in such consultations by those who are the masters of these arts.
30. By virtue of this faith there is a certain covenant and a kind of religion entered into with the devil - if not openly and expressly, at least secretly and implicitly.
31. One may not have a direct intention to ask counsel of the devil, yet he is made a partaker of such a sin, if he does something that implies, either in its own nature or in its practical application, a calling on the devil for help or counsel.
32. Therefore, all arts introduced by the influence of the devil for the knowing of secrets are in this respect to be condemned.
33. All divination which is not grounded upon the sure revelation of God or the course of nature ordained by God in creation is to be condemned.
34. All application of things or words to prediction or any functions to which they are not appointed by either nature or God's ordinance is to be condemned.
35. If the help of the devil is sought in such ways, he is in a certain way invoked, and the invoking of God is shut out. And since a kind of revelation is expected, or a submission of mind to receive and execute his commands, this is opposed to the hearing of the word of God.
36. Communion with the devil, therefore, is not only unlawful because it is connected with fraud and seduction, but also because in its own nature it is contrary to true religion.
37. We do not have human communion or fellowship with the devil. And we cannot have religious communion, as formerly some had with the good angels who were ministering spirits sent by God for our good.
38. Therefore, any association with the devil, apart from resistance to him as the enemy of our souls, leads to the violation of true religion and is itself a kind of perverse religion.
39. If he appears at times to be subject to the command of men by some kind of enchantment, it is only a facade of submission so that he may more easily rule them. This does not prevent but only colors the religious submission which men render him in such association.
40. All participate in such sins who by words, images, and other similar things of no sufficient virtue try to cure diseases in others, or who tolerate such doings to that end on behalf of themselves or their families.
41. Sympathies, antipathies, and the special virtues which are found in some things differ from such enchantments in that, as the common experience of all men shows, some faith is required for the former but none for the latter.
42. In many people a strong imagination may perhaps reinforce the efficacy of the media of enchantment, and even this often arises from a kind of religious faith; but it cannot transmit any effect from parents to children or from men to cattle unless a diabolical force is operative.
43. They who most care for the hearing of the word care least for these arts and see the least fruit in them.