How to Listen to a Sermon
by George Whitefield (1714-1770)
Keys for getting the most out of what the preacher says
said, ‘Therefore consider carefully how you listen’ (Luke 8:18). Here
are some cautions and directions, in order to help you hear sermons
with profit and advantage.
1. Come to hear them, not out of curiosity, but from a sincere desire to know and do your duty.
To enter His house merely to have our ears entertained, and not our
hearts reformed, must certainly be highly displeasing to the Most High
God, as well as unprofitable to ourselves.
2. Give diligent heed to the things that are spoken from the Word of God.
If an earthly king were to issue a royal proclamation, and the life or
death of his subjects entirely depended on performing or not performing
its conditions, how eager would they be to hear what those conditions
were! And shall we not pay the same respect to the King of kings, and
Lord of lords, and lend an attentive ear to His ministers, when they
are declaring, in His name, how our pardon, peace, and happiness may be
3. Do not entertain even the least prejudice against the minister.
That was the reason Jesus Christ Himself could not do many mighty
works, nor preach to any great effect among those of His own country;
for they were offended at Him. Take heed therefore, and beware of
entertaining any dislike against those whom the Holy Ghost has made
overseers over you.
Consider that the clergy are men of like
passions with yourselves. And though we should even hear a person
teaching others to do what he has not learned himself, yet that is no
reason for rejecting his doctrine. For ministers speak not in their
own, but in Christ’s name. And we know who commanded the people to do
whatever the scribes and Pharisees should say unto them, even though
they did not do themselves what they said (see Matt. 23:1-3).
4. Be careful not to depend too much on a preacher, or think more highly of him than you ought to think.
Preferring one teacher over another has often been of ill consequence
to the church of God. It was a fault which the great Apostle of the
Gentiles condemned in the Corinthians: ‘For whereas one said, I am of
Paul; another, I am of Apollos: are you not carnal, says he? For who is
Paul, and who is Apollos, but instruments in God’s hands by whom you
believed?’ (1 Cor. 1:12; 2:3-5).
Are not all ministers sent
forth to be ministering ambassadors to those who shall be heirs of
salvation? And are they not all therefore greatly to be esteemed for
their work’s sake?
5. Make particular application to your own hearts of everything that is delivered.
When our Savior was discoursing at the last supper with His beloved
disciples and foretold that one of them should betray Him, each of them
immediately applied it to his own heart and said, ‘Lord, is it I?’
Oh, that persons, in like manner, when
preachers are dissuading from any sin or persuading to any duty,
instead of crying, ‘This was intended for such and such a one!’ instead
would turn their thoughts inwardly, and say, ‘Lord, is it I?’ How far
more beneficial should we find discourses to be than now they generally
6. Pray to the Lord, before, during, and after every sermon,
to endue the minister with power to speak, and to grant you a will and
ability to put into practice what he shall show from the Book of God to
be your duty.
No doubt it was this consideration that made St.
Paul so earnestly entreat his beloved Ephesians to intercede with God
for him: ‘Praying always, with all manner of prayer and supplication in
the Spirit, and for me also, that I may open my mouth with boldness, to
make known the mysteries of the gospel’ (Eph. 6:19-20). And if so great
an apostle as St. Paul needed the prayers of his people, much more do
those ministers who have only the ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit.
only all who hear me this day would seriously apply their hearts to
practice what has now been told them! How ministers would see Satan,
like lightning, fall from heaven, and people find the Word preached
sharper than a two-edged sword and mighty, through God, to the pulling
down of the devil’s strongholds!