Obviously we’re not speaking about storming out of church or even primarily the way in which we walk. The question is how we respond to what we have heard. Out of all that we have heard, what stays with us? Scientists believe that walking through a doorway makes us forget things. The church door is probably the most important doorway through which we walk. Even when we do remember what we have heard we must respond in the right way. That means meditating on it and living according to it.
The Larger Catechism says we need to hear with “diligence, preparation, and prayer” (Q160). We must also examine what we hear “by the scriptures”. While hearing it we need to “receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God”. But the same answer (Q160) speaks about what happens after we have listened to a sermon.
We must “meditate” on it. The Word will not yield its benefit if we only receive it in our minds during the time of the sermon. We must spend time going over it in our minds and applying it to ourselves. Another way of doing this is in company. We should “confer of it [discuss it together]”. Usually others have remembered things that we did not. Things struck them which did not make the same impression with us. These things water and fertilise the good seed of the Word. We must also “hide” the Word sown in our “hearts” so that we “bring forth the fruit of it” in our “lives”. Like any seed, it is intended to be fruitful. If the Word is not bearing fruit in our lives we have little evidence of a genuine profession.
It is such a vital means of grace that we must not lose such a precious opportunity. The seed will be snatched away easily or choked from getting root in our hearts. We must not sin through failure to respond to the Word in the right way. How many thousands of sermons have we heard? What have we done with all of them in terms of impacting how we live? The Lord Jesus Christ gives much instruction about this in the parable of the sower. He also said that we must take heed how we hear (Luke 8:18). Do we? James Durham speaks in a searching way about how we need to respond to the Word after hearing it. The following is an updated extract from his exposition of the Ten Commandments.
1. Remember the Word with Meditation and Prayer
- We must not forget what we have heard.
- It is sinful to have little delight in remembering it.
- We must beware of letting our hearts return unnecessarily to other things and other thoughts.
- We must not fail to meditate on what has been heard.
- We must compare what we have heard with the rest of the Scriptures.
- We must not neglect to follow the Word with prayer for it to be watered.
2. Profitable Discussion after Church
- We must avoid needlessly discussing things other than the sermon immediately after the hearing of the Word.
- We should avoid murmuring at or complaining about some things that have been spoken.
- We also need to avoid spreading around our criticisms of the sermon afterwards.
- When discussing the sermon we should not simply commend what was preached or the preacher and stop with that as if that was everything.
- Clearly, we must also avoid irreverently abusing the words of Scripture or phrases that were used in preaching in common conversation. It is even worse when they are blasphemously mixed up with disrespectful or careless language and joking.
3. Submit to the Word
- We must not seek ways to evade or avoid the instruction or challenges of the Word.
- We must avoid applying these challenges to others rather than to ourselves.
- We must not put a wrong interpretation on the intention behind the minister urging those points.
- We must likewise avoid misinterpreting, misreporting or misrepresenting his words.
4. Put it into Practice
- Entirely neglecting to put the Word preached into practice is condemned by Scripture (Psalm 50:16-23; see James 1:21-25).
- We must following hearing the Word with self-searching prayer. Endeavouring to practise what is required by so that we may bring forth appropriate fruits.
- We must not fail to tremble at the threatenings of the Word. We must cease doing that which it forbids.
- It is also sinful to fail to help others make use of the Word preached.
- Our failure to repent of faults committed during the time of hearing the sermon is also sinful. We should be troubled and repent for our fruitlessness in hearing and having made no use of it. This is like being as a stone without sense or feeling in relation to the Word.
- We must never depend on merely hearing the Word, as though having been in Church produced holiness even though there was no fruit follow on from it.