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TEXT: Revelation 1:3
SUBJECT: Watson on Reading and Hearing the Word #4
Every one of you is greatly blessed by God. Whatever your age, your health, your income, or your family situation is, you are greatly blessed of God. Why? Because you can read His Word every day and hear it preached as often as you want to. How blessed we are to have Bibles to read and sermons to hear! The Lord once said,
"Blessed are your eyes for what they see and your ears for what they hear, for I tell you, many kings and righteous men desired to see what you see and to hear what you hear-and did not!"
We all pay lip service to this honor, but do we feel it in our bones? When did it last occur to you that you're more blessed than Moses or David or Solomon John the Baptist or most believers in the History of the Church because-unlike them-you have everything God wants you to know at your fingertips!
The Apostle was right: How happy is he who reads and they who hear the Words of this prophecy-not just the Book of Revelation, we should add-but the whole Word of God.
But with blessings go obligations. The man who's been blessed with a good wife is obliged to be a good husband. In the same way, the believer who has the Word to read and hear, is obliged to be a good reader and hearer.
This is what the study for the last few weeks has been about: sharpening our reading and hearing the Word of God. The book we're using to guide us is The Ten Commandments by Thomas Watson, an English pastor who lived in the Seventeenth Century. Unlike many other Puritans, Watson can be read without much effort. His chapters are short and clear and well worth your time!
This part of his book is made up of three parts: first we have teaching on how to read the Word better than we do; then we have a longer section on better hearing the Word preached; finally, we have a couple of uses. The Puritans never just put the Word out there to think about. They always go on to tell us what to do with it! How to use it-or, more to the point-how the Word should use you.
His applications are woven in all over the chapter, of course, but he spells them out for us on the last page. Here's the first one:
DO NOT ALLOW THE WORD OF GOD TO BE WASTED ON YOU!
"Take heed, as you love your own souls, that the Word become not ineffectual to you. There are some to whom the Word preached is ineffectual. (1) Such as censure the Word, who, instead of judging themselves, judge the Word. (2) Such as live in contradiction to the Word. (3) Such as are more hardened by the Word-for when men harden their hearts willfully, God hardens them judicially. The Word to these is ineffectual. Would it not be said if a man's meat did not nourish him, if it should turn to poison? Oh, take heed that the Word preached be not ineffectual and to no purpose!"
The command is to take heed, that is, to wake up and pay attention. It is easy to walk through life in a stupor. It's not that you're willfully missing the opportunities God gives you, but you're letting them pass you by by neglect-by not paying attention!
You went to church on Sunday or you read your Bible today-good! You ought to do these things. But did the Word read or preached get inside of you? Do you remember what you read this morning or what last Sunday's sermon was about? You sat, you read, your heard, maybe you smiled and nodded your head, but did the Word of God do you any good? These are questions that don't always occur to us. We feel convicted when we skip a day of Bible reading or stay home from church without a good cause, but do we feel the same unease when we read and hear without profit? Watson says we ought to-for the Word of God can be lost on us. This dear gift may be worthless to the ones who read and hear it all the time.
Are you taking heed? Does it bother you when the Word does you no good? Have you gotten so sleepy that you don't even notice any more? To nodding readers, the Word says,
"Awake you who sleep, rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light!"
Being a good Puritan, Watson won't leave it here-with generalities. He gets particular about what kind of person gets nothing out of his Bible reading and the sermons he sits in on every week.
The first is a critic of the Word. He goes to church to find fault with the preacher-and going with that attitude, the faults are not hard to find. Too long, too short, too loud, too quiet, too shallow, too deep, to.something else. Or not enough something else!
If he's Evangelical, this sort of person will never blame the Word itself-that would make him look bad. And so, he munches on the preacher, like a cow chewing its cud, every fault is chomped on over and over again! No wonder he gets nothing out of the Word-he hasn't come for anything but to feel superior! He has his reward.
The second is a rebel to the Word. He likes to go to church and he may well like the sermon and agree with it in a way. But he has no intention of doing anything about it. He's good at hearing the Word-perhaps talking about it too-but he's not so good at doing the Word. The Word is wasted on this person because it is not meant chiefly to inform, but to transform. Not to fill our heads with knowledge, but to make us like Christ.
The third bad hearer is far worse than the other two: he's a hardened hearer. He used to hear the Word and feel guilty about not acting on it, but no more! The tender heart he once brought to church is now made of iron-nothing can get into it-not the promises, not the commands, not the warnings, neither the Law nor the Gospel can made a dent in his armor.
Kids who grow up in church (as I did) are in special danger here. They've heard so many sermons that they've grown tired of them-at first-and then-they just don't care any more-and finally, they can't wait to grow up and get away from it all.
Watson says that the one who hardens his heart against God's Word may well get what he wants-and a lot more than he wants. For God is not a spectator, sitting in the audience and watching the play! No, He's the Director of the play-and those who harden themselves against His will may well have their hardness confirmed and increased. Such was the case of Pharaoh long ago and of Israel many years later.
You cannot be saved without a soft heart and only God can soften it. But what if He doesn't do that? In fact, what if He's making it harder every day? Then what?
Have you thought about that? Has it crossed your mind that-if you harden your heart under the preaching of God's Word-He has every right to agree with you and to leave you with the heart you have chosen?
II Thessalonians 2:11-12 is not pleasant reading, but it is true:
"And for this reason, God will send them a strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they may all be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness".
So, how about it? Are your taking heed to the Word of God? Or are you just reading your Bibles and listening to sermons without profit? Are you letting the Word sink in like a plowed field or bounce off you like raindrops on the sidewalk?
"Take heed how you hear!"
This is Watson's first use. In the second, he underlines the importance of taking heed.
IF THE WORD DOES NOT SAVE YOU NOTHING ELSE WILL!
"If the Word preached does us no good, there is no other way by which we can be saved. This is God's institution and the main engine He uses to convert souls."
Most of us have a Plan B. And we need one because life is unpredictable. If the star pitcher in high school doesn't make the Major Leagues, what's he going to do for a living? If I can't get my kids into this Christian school, what will I do with them? Send them to another Christian school, public school, homeschool, privately tutor them-what?
For us, Plan B's are good.but the Lord doesn't have one! If the Word of God (read or preached or witnessed) does not save you, nothing else will. This means, ignoring the Word, laughing at it, sleeping through it, or opposing it means sending yourself to hell!
Setting aside what the Lord does with infants or the mentally handicapped, this much we know: you cannot be saved without faith and faith comes by hearing the Word of God.
Under this general teaching, Watson adds a couple of particulars of how bad it is-both wicked and dangerous it is-to not pay heed to the Word of God.
"To come to the Word and not be savingly wrought upon pleases the devil. He does not care if you hear frequently if you do not hear effectually. He is not an enemy to hearing, but to profiting. The devil does not care how many sermons you hear, so long as they do not get into your conscience".
Not heeding the Word makes God unhappy, it breaks the heart of the people who love you, it hurts other Christians who are grieved at your stubbornness, but there's one person who's 100% for it-and that's the devil!
It has been said that empty churches show the devil's at work. That's true, of course, but full churches do too! Even packed churches where the Gospel is preached! For Satan doesn't give a fig how often you hear the Word, it's the quality of that hearing that's he cares about!
A couple of years ago, there was a marketing craze in the Church and everyone was wearing, WWJD things-What would Jesus Do? I thought of offering of advertising another product: WWSD? It's good to ask yourself, What would Satan have me to do? And then do the opposite! One thing we're sure of: the devil would not have you soak in the Word of God!
If bad hearing pleases the devil, it must be wicked.
It's also dangerous: Watson says,
"If the preached Word is not effectual to men's conversion, it will be effectual to their condemnation-the Word will be effectual one way of the other. If it does not make your heart lighter, it will make your chains heavier. Dreadful is the one who goes to hell loaded with sermons".
He's mincing no words here! The Gospel that does not save, sends to hell! Paul says the same Word is "A savor of life" and "A savor of death". To those who act on it in faith, it smells like blossoming flowers; to those who don't believe it, it smells like a rotting corpse! Solemn words, to be sure-but true!
If the Word doesn't save you, you won't be saved. Are you listening to it as if that is true? I hope so. Watson closes the chapter with a hope dear to him-and everyone who preaches the Word,
"I am persuaded of better things of you, of things that accompany salvation".
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