1. We must provoke ourselves to reading of the word. What an infinite mercy it is that God hath honoured us with the Scriptures! The barbarous Indians have not the oracles of God made known to them; they have the golden mines, but not the Scriptures which are more to be desired 'than much fine gold,' Psalm xix. 10. Our Savior bids us 'search the Scriptures', John v.39. We must not read these holy lines carelessly, as if they did not concern us, or run over them hastily, as Israel ate the passover in haste; but peruse them with reverence and seriousness. The noble Bereans did 'search the Scriptures daily,' Acts xvii.11. The Scripture is the pandect of divine knowledge; it is the rule and touchstone of truth; out of this well we draw the water of life. To provoke to a diligent reading of the word, labor to have a right notion of Scripture.
Read the word as a book made by God Himself. It is given 'by divine inspiration' 2 Tim. iii.16. It is the library of the Holy Ghost. The prophets and apostles were but God's amanuenses or notaries to write the law at his mouth. The word is of divine original, and reveals the deep things of God to us. There is a numen, or sense of deity engraven in man's heart and is to be read in the book of the creatures; quaelibet herba Deum; but who this God is, and the Trinity of persons in the Godhead, is infinitely, above the light of reason; only God Himself could make this known. So for the incarnation of Christ; God and man hypostatically united in one person; the mystery of imputed righteousness; the doctrine of faith: what angel in heaven, who but God himself, could reveal these things to us? How this may provoke to diligence and seriousness in reading the word which is divinely inspired. Other books may be written by holy men, but this book is indicted by the Holy Ghost.
Read the word as a perfect rule of faith; it contains all things essential to salvation. "I adore the fullness of Scripture," saith Tertullian. The word teaches us how to please God; how to order our conversation in the world. It instructs us in all things that belong either to prudence or piety. How we should read the word with care and reverence, when it contains a perfect model and platform of religion and is "able to make us wise unto salvation" (2 Tim. 3:15)!
When you read the word, look on it as a soul-enriching treasury. Search here as for a 'vien of silver' Prov. ii.4. In this word are scattered many divine aphorisms; gather them up as so many jewels. This blessed book helps to enrich you; it fills your head with knowledge, and your heart with grace; it stores you with promises: a man may be rich in bonds. In this field the pearl of price is hid: What are all the world's riches compared to these? Islands of spices, coasts of pearl, rocks of diamonds? These are but the riches that reprobates may have, but the word gives us those riches which angels have.
Read the word as a book of evidences. -- How carefully doth one read over his evidences! Would you know whether God is your God? search the records of Scripture, 1 John iii. 24. 'Hereby we know that he abides in us.' Would you know whether you are heirs of the promise? you must find it in these sacred writings. 2 Thes. Ii. 13. 'He hath chosen us to salvation through sanctification.' They who are vessels of grace, shall be vessels of glory.
Look upon the word as a spiritual magazine, out of which you fetch all your weapons to fight against sin and satan. 1. Here are weapons to fight against sin. The word of God is a consecrated sword that cuts asunder the lusts of the heart. When pride begins to lift up itself, the sword of the Spirit destroys this sin, 1 Peter iv. 5 'God resists the proud.' When passion vents itself, the word of God, like Hercules's club, beats down this angry fury: Eccles. V. 9. 'Anger rests in the bosom of fools.' When lust boils, the word of God cools that intemperate heat, Ephes. V. 5. 'No unclean person hath any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ.' 2. Here are weapons to fight against Satan. The word fenceth off temptation. When the devil tempted Christ, he three times wounded the old serpent with the sword of the Spirit. 'Tis written, Matt. Iv. 7. Satan never sooner foils a Christian than when he is unarmed, and without Scripture weapons.
Look upon the word as a spiritual glass to dress yourselves by: It is a looking-glass for the blind, Psalm xix. 8. In other glasses you may see your faces; in this glass you may see your hearts, Psalm cxix. 104. 'Through Thy precepts I get understanding. This looking-glass of the word clearly represents Christ; it sets him forth in his person, nature, offices, as most precious and eligible, Cant.vi. 16. 'He is altogether lovely; he is a wonder of beauty, a paradise of delight. Christ who was veiled over in types, is clearly revealed in the mirror of the Scriptures.
Look upon the word as a book of spiritual receipts. Basil compares the word to an apothecary's shop, which has all kinds of medicines and antidotes. If you find yourselves dead in duty, here is a receipt, Psalm cxix. 50. 'Thy word hath quickened me.' If you find your hearts hard, the word doth liquify and melt them; therefore it is compared to fire for its mollifying power, Jer. xxiii. 29. If you are poisoned with sin, here is an herb to expel it.
Look upon the word as a sovereign elixer to comfort you in distress. It comforts you against all your sins, temptations, and afflictions. What are the promises but divine cordials to revive fainting souls. A gracious heart goes feeding on a promise as Samson on the honeycomb, Judges xiv. 9. The word comforts against sickness and death, 1 Cor xv. 55. 'O death, where is thy sting?' A Christian dies embracing the promise, as Simeon did Christ, Heb. xi. 13.
Read the word as the last Will and Testament of Christ. Here are many legacies given to them that love him; pardon of sin, adoption, consolation. This Wwill is in force, being sealed in Christ's blood. With what seriousness doth a child read over the will and testament of his father, that he may see what is left him.
Read it as a book by which you must be judged: John xii. 48. 'The word that I have spoken shall judge him at the last day.' They who live according to the rules of this book, shall be acquitted; they who live contrary to them, shall be condemned. There are two books God will go by, the book of Conscience, and the book of Scripture: the one shall be the witness, and the other the judge. How should every Christian then provoke himself to read this book of God with care and devotion! This is that book which God will judge by at the last. -- They who fly from the word as a guide, shall be forced to submit to it as a judge.
2. The second duty of religion wherein we must provoke ourselves, is, in hearing of the word. We may bring our bodies to the word with ease, but not our hearts without offering violence to ourselves. When we come to the word preached, we come to a business of the highest importance, therefore should stir up ourselves and hear with the greatest devotion. Constantine the emperor was noted for his reverent attention to the word: Luke xix. 48. 'All the people were very attentive to hear him.' In the Greek it is 'they hung upon his lip.'-- When the word is dispensed, we are to lift up the everlasting doors of our hearts that the King of glory may enter in.
1. How far are they from offering violence to themselves in hearing, who scarce mind what is said, as if they were not at all concerned in the business: they come to church more for custom than conscience: Ezekiel xxxiii. 31. 'They come to thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them.' If we could tell them of a rich purchase, or of some place of preferment, they would diligently attend; but when the word of life is preached, they disregard it.
2. How far are they from offering violence to themselves in hearing, who come to the word in a dull, drowsy manner, as if they came to church to take a receipt to make them sleep. The word is to feed; it is strange to sleep at meat. The word judgeth men: it is strange for a prisoner to fall asleep at the bar. To such sleepy hearers God may say, sleep on. He may suffer them to be so stupefied, that no ordinance shall them: Matt. iii. 25. 'While men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares.' The Devil is never asleep, but sows the tares of sin in a drowsy hearer.
That we may, when we come to the word, offer violence to ourselves, and stir up ourselves to hear with devotion, consider,
1. It is God that speaksto us. If a judge gives a charge upon the bench, all listen.-- If a king speaks, all pay attention. When we come to the word, we should think thus with ourselves, we are to hear God in this preacher. Therefore Christ is said, now to speak to us from Heaven, Heb. xii. 25. -- Christ speaks in his ministers, as a king speaketh in the person of his ambassador. When Samuel knew it was the Lord that spake to him, he lent an ear, 2. Sam. iii. 5. 'Speak Lord, thy servant heareth.' They who slight God speaking in His word shall hear him speaking in his wrath, Psalm ii. 5. 'Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath.'
2. Let us consider the weightiness of the mattersdelivered to us. As Moses said to Israel, Deut. xxx. 19. 'I call Heaven and Earth to record this day, that I have set before you life and death.' We preach to men of Christ and of eternal recompenses; here are the magnalia legis, the weighty matters of the law; and doth not all this call for serious attention? There is a great deal of difference between a letter of news read to us, and a letter of special business, wherein our whole land and estate is concerned. In the word preached our salvation is concerned; here we are instructed to the kingdom of God, and if ever we will be serious, it should be now: Deut. xxxvii. 47. 'It is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life.'
3. If the word be not regarded, it will not be remembered. Many complain they cannot remember; here is the reason, God punisheth their carelessness in hearing with forgetfulness. He suffers Satan to take away the word from them, Matt. xiii. 4. 'The fowls of the air came and devoured the seed.' The Devil is no recursant; he comes to church, but it is not with any good intent; he takes away the word from men. How many have been robbed of the sermon and their souls both at once.
4. It may be the last time that God will ever speak to us in His word; it may be the last sermon that ever we shall hear; and we may go from the place of hearing, to the place of judging. Did people think thus when they come into the house of God; perhaps this will be the last time that God will counsel us about our souls, the last time that ever we shall see our minister's face, with what devotion would they come! how would their affections be all on fire in hearing? We give great attention to the last speeches of friends. A parent's dying words are received as oracles. Oh let all this provoke us to diligence in hearing; let us think this may be the last time that Aaron's bell shall sound in our ears and before another day, we shall be in another world.