Heeding the Word, And Losing It

In 1734 Edwards preached this convicting and practical message at his church in Northampton during the awakening of the Connecticut River Valley and beyond. His text was Hebrews 2:1. More background information and the sermon are found at The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. Edwards' original manuscript can be seen and studied at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The first page is pictured here:


The entire sermon is reproduced here with minor aesthetic edits for an online environment.

 

Heeding the Word, And Losing It


Hebrews 2:1 Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.


This verse, beginning with the word therefore, shows that there is a dependence on the word, on something that the Apostle had been before saying: "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard"; i.e. for some reason that had been already mentioned, and the Apostle refers to what he had been insisting on through the whole preceding chapter, which was the different manner in which God had spoken to us now in the days of the Gospel, from what he did to his people under the Old Testament.


The Apostle observes in the Hebrews 2:1–2 of that chapter, that God spake to them by the Prophets, but that to us, in these last days, God hath spoken to us by his Son. And then from thence to the end of the chapter, he sets forth how great a person this Son of God is, that God has spoken to us by, as that God had appointed him heir of all things, and had made the worlds by him, the brightness of his Father's glory; and that he was far greater and more worthy than the angels, that God had never spoken to the angels in the same style that [he] had to his Son. He had never said to any of them, "Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son"; and that the angels are but "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister from them who shall be heirs of salvation."


And now in this chapter, the Apostle comes to the application, and begins with our text, seeing that God has spoken to us by his Son, that is so great a person. "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard."


We may observe in the words, first, a duty to be done, viz. giving earnest heed to the things that we have as to the word of God. The Apostle says we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that we have heard i.e. the more earnest heed for their being spoken to us, by so great a person as the Son of God. Second, to what purpose we should do, lest at any time we should let them slip. The manner of expression seems to denote [the] danger of our losing the things that we have heard. They will be apt to slip from us unawares, if we ben't exceeding watchful, and don't earnestly take heed.


The words intimate that we shall be in continual danger of losing of them, and therefore the Apostle directs us to give earnest heed, lest at any time we should let them slip.


DOCTRINE.


When we have heard the word of God, we ought to give earnest heed that we don't lose what we have heard.


I. [Show] when a person, that has heard the word of God, may be said to lose what he has heard.

II. Give the reasons why, when we have heard {the word of God, we lose what was heard}.


I. {Show when a person, that has heard the word of God, may be said to lose what he has heard}.


First When persons hear the word of God, and give no heed to it. Those that come to the house of God, and sit and hear the word preached, as though it were a thing of no importance [and] did no way concern them, hear it only as they hear any other noise that happens to be made within their hearing, as the whistling of the wind, or the roaring of the water, or lowing of cattle, or barking of dogs. They hear such noises, but not as any way regarding them. So there are many that hear the word of God after the same manner.


They are present when the word is preached, and sometimes they happen to hear what is said, and oftentimes their thoughts are so busy about other things, that they don't so much as do that. If it should be asked them, what the minister was speaking of the minute before, they would be able to give no account, no more than if they had [been] at home all the while.


And what they do hear, they hear without taking any serious notice, without any care, or so much as design to learn, or to get anything by it, with any kind of sense of what is spoken, without any manner [of] impression made upon their minds.


These wholly lose the word of God that they hear, though indeed it can scarcely be said that they ever have it to lose: they never take hold of it, or anyway regard it.


They have it no otherwise than only as their outward sense has it. They do hear it with their bodily ears, and that is all; but they lose it immediately as soon as they have heard it: it goes as it were in at one ear and out at t'other. They let it slip as soon as ever they have [it], if it can be said that they have it at all: it does but as it were pass by them.


They may be said to lose not as a thing that they ever properly possessed, but as they have lost an opportunity of having of it; as a poor man may be said to lose money or food that is offered him, and is put into his hands, but lets fall right through them, because he refuses to take hold of it. 'Tis to be feared that there are many such hearers of the word of God in our assemblies, who get nothing at all by the word, neither for the present, nor for the future, neither moral good, nor spiritual good. The word can't be said to have any good effect upon them that can be called good in any sense, either because it is [a] saving effect, or because it is any effect that tends to a saving effect.


Second. They may be said to lose what they have heard, that lose the knowledge and instruction they have received by it. A person may not be able to remember the words that were delivered, and yet may not be said to lose what he has heard; for he may retain the instruction that was given him. He may have gained in knowledge and understanding by it, and not have lost what he gained.


The end of the word of God is to teach and instruct us. If persons therefore carelessly lose that knowledge and instruction they received, they may be said to have let the word of God slip.


The word of God is to help us against our ignorance and errors. If persons don't lay up the instruction they have received, but though they seem to get knowledge by it in the time of it, yet when they go, think no more of it, and divert their minds wholly from it, and spend their thoughts about other things, and forget the things that they were taught; in a very little time the whole sense and substance of what is delivered is gone from them, and they are never the wiser for it; they may be said to lose what they have heard.


Third. When a person, that has heard the word of God, loses the conviction that he received by it. 'Tis often so that persons, while they are hearing the word of God, they are in some measure convinced by it. When they hear the arguments, by which the truth of divine things is established, their assent is in considerable gained, and they think 'em to be true. But through carelessness, and want of endeavors to maintain the remembrance of what they have heard, they presently lose all the conviction they have had: they lose that belief and sense of the truth of things that they had. Sometimes persons, while [they] hear the word, are in some measure convinced of their own sin and misery, and seem to be awakened. Their consciences are struck with fear, and they have some sense of the awfulness of God's anger, and the greatness of the things of another world. But they go away, and soon drown all convictions with the cares, and pleasures, and vanities of this world. When they are gone, they don't think much more about [them]: they soon engage themselves in other things, so that they lose this effect, that the word has had upon them. Such as these may be said to let slip those things that they have heard.


Fourth. When persons that hear the word, have impressions made upon their hearts, but soon lose these impressions, they lose the things that they have heard. Those that while they heard the word, seemed to be wrought upon, and their affections to be stirred, and they for the present are brought to a seeming good disposition, but when they go away have all impressions that were made soon rased3 out by earthly cares and diversions, and lose all those good affections and motions that were in [them], while they were hearing the word, they lose the word. When natural men hear the word, and have religious impressions made by it, but when they are gone [they] soon become as dull and as sensual [as before], and wickedness prevails as much as ever. Matthew 13:20, "[But he that received the seed into] stony ground, [the same is he that heareth the word, and] anon with joy receive it."


Godly persons may lose many of those things that they have heard, by losing the gracious impressions that were made upon their minds by them, when their graces have been enlivened, and they have relapsed again into carnal and worldly frames of spirit.


Fifth. Persons may be said to lose, or let slip the word of God, when they soon lose the good designs and resolutions that were occasioned by the word they heard. 'Tis often so that men, while they hear the word, and are affected by it, will resolve to amend their lives, and to practice such and such duties, as are urged upon them; but their resolution soon dies, when they are gone out of the meetinghouse, and they return again to the world, and drown their resolution with the cares and diversions thereof. This sort belong to those that are represented by the thorny ground (Matthew 13:22).


I proceed now, in the


II. [Second] place, to give the reasons why persons, when they have heard the word of God, ought to give earnest heed that they don't lose what they have heard.


First. When we have heard the word of God, we ought to {give earnest heed that we don't lose what we have heard}, as we would manifest a suitable regard to the greatness of that being whose word it is. It is but a suitable respect that we pay to our earthly superiors to regard what they say to us, when they instruct, or warn, or counsel us; and shows contempt, when we do but just give 'em the hearing, but give no heed to what they [say], and take no care to lay it up, or remember it, or in anywise to retain [it]. It shows a wicked contempt in a child, when he is no way careful to retain the counsels and admonitions given him by a father. How much more when men thus treat the infinitely great God, when he in a solemn manner directs himself to us, and gives us his holy counsels and instructions.


When persons take no care not to lose counsels given, they show that they esteem them little worth. Even our neighbors and equals look upon it as a contempt, when we show that we don't regard what they say, and count it not worth the laying up {or remembering}. That may well be a sufficient inducement to any to hear with the greatest reverence, and care, and regard, that it is God that speaks. Isaiah 1:2, "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken." When we hear the word of God preached by his messengers, those that have been authorized by him to speak in his name, we are to hear it "not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God" (1 Thessalonians 2:13).


What the true ministers of Christ preach, are but the same things that are contained in the Holy Scriptures, the things that God himself has immediately taught to men. Their work and business is to promulgate, explain, and apply that word; and this they do [by] special authority committed to them to speak in his name, as though God spoke by them (2 Corinthians 5:20). The heed that we give to what God says, and the care we take to retain it, ought to be, as far as may, in proportion to the greatness and honorableness of the being that speaks.


If therefore it be no more than suitable for us to give heed to retain what an earthly parent, or an earthly sovereign, speaks to us directing, commanding, [or] counselling of us, what earnest heed should we give not to let slip the things that we have heard, when [the] infinitely great God has spoken to us, to whom all earthly powers and sovereigns are less than the meanest insects.


We ought to give earnest heed that we don't let slip what God says to us not only because 'tis God that speaks, but he speaks to us in the exercise of his divine authority. 'Tis the holy commands of God that we hear. God speaks to us to reveal his holy will to us, that we may know and obey: and we hear also the great sanctions of his commands, the glorious promises and awful threatenings. We ought to give earnest {heed that we don't let slip what God says to us} also, because he speaks to us in the exercises of his goodness and mercy, to give us gracious instructions, and counsels, and warnings. The word of God that is preached to us is an unspeakable treasure. 'Tis precious because 'tis the word of God, more precious than gold and all earthly treasures. When God sends us from heaven such treasures, when he gives into our hands a cabinet of precious jewels, what contempt shall we cast upon his kindness, if we take no care to keep it. If one of our earthly friends should make us a valuable present, and we should take no care to keep [it], but cast it away, or let it drop out of our hands, and leave it as a worthless thing, they would look upon it as great ingratitude and contempt cast upon their kindness.


Second. When we have heard {the word of God, we ought to give earnest heed that we don't lose what we have heard} out of regard to the honorableness of the person that speaks to us, viz. the Son of God. The word of God is not communicated [to] us from God the Father, by an immediate voice from heaven, but he has made use of other persons that he has sent, that brought his word to us. Of old, God spake to men by Moses and by other Prophets; but now, in these last days, God has spoken to us by his Son, by one infinitely more honorable than all the Prophets, and whose servants Moses and the other Prophets were.


He speaks to us by his Son that "he has appointed heir of all things, and by whom also he made the worlds; who is the brightness of his glory," is not only above all the Prophets, but far more honorable than the angels, "being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they," and whose servants and ministers the angels are [Hebrews 1:2–4].


God expected that men should hearken to his Prophets, when they speak to them, and highly resented it, when they did not. But he especially expects and requires us to hear his Son. This appears by Deuteronomy 18:15, "To him shall ye hearken"; Deuteronomy 18:19, "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him"; and so by the words proclaimed on the Mount, when Christ was transfigured. Matthew 17:5, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him."


God often sent his servants to us to reveal his will to us. "But last of all, he sent his own Son, saying, Surely, they reverence my Son. They will regard such a messenger as he" (Matthew 21:37).


This is the argument the Apostle is upon in the text and context, and 'tis from hence that he urges that "we ought to give earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip," because God has spoken to us by his Son. And therefore the Apostle says in the two following verses, "For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him?" God of old made use of angels in speaking to men: he made use of the ministry of angels in the giving of the Law at Mt. [Sinai], and so in those visions and revelations that the Prophets had. But now, in these last days, he has made use of a more honorable and glorious messenger. God's wrath was dreadfully incensed by the contempt that some cast on his word that he spoke by Moses. "He that despised Moses' Law perished without mercy" (Hebrews 10:28). God executed terrible judgments upon them that disregarded him. Some the earth opened and swallowed up; some [were] consumed with fire from heaven, some [by] plague; {some were} slain by God's command, every one by the hand of his brother; {some were} bitten with fiery serpents and died; their carcasses fell in the wilderness, and God swore in wrath, "And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years." But of how much sorer punishment shall we be thought worthy, if we despise the gospel of Jesus Christ, and make light take no care to keep and improve these things that Christ has spoken?


Third. When persons have heard the word of God, {they ought to give earnest heed that they don't lose what they have heard}, because the things contained in the word of God are the most excellent things in the world. There is nothing that tells us of such glorious things as the word of God. These things are above all that could be found out by human reason, more excellent than man can obtain the knowledge of, or communicate by, human learning, more excellent things than either men or angels could reveal to us. They are precious things that God has brought forth out of his own treasures. The word of God is as it were a cabinet of most precious jewels that God has sent from heaven down to man.


The word of God contains the most noble, and worthy, and entertaining objects of man's most noble faculty, viz. his understanding, the most excellent things that man can exercise his thoughts about. The word of God is full of wondrous and glorious things. Psalms 119:18, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law."


The word of God is therefore most worthy on the account of the excellency of the subject matter of it, that we should keep it with all diligence, and give earnest heed, {that we don't lose what we have heard}.


Fourth. When persons have heard the word of [God], they should give earnest heed that they don't lose what they hear, because it is what infinitely concerns their own interest. The word of God that we hear, don't treat about things of an indifferent nature, or that are only points of speculation, but about things that do, above all other things, concern our interest; things that are of infinite weight and importance unto us, ten thousand times more nearly and greatly concerning us than if they were what our estates, and our reputations, and our lives, and the temporal lives of all our families, depended upon; more than if they contained directions for our obtaining the greatest temporal good, or necessary directions for the escaping the most terrible temporal calamities.


The word of God that we hear contains the most awful things in the world, and also the most desirable things. The things ben't trivial things, or things of an indifferent nature. Hosea 8:12, "I have written unto them the great things of my law." Here are things that do nextly concern our main interest, our true and only happiness. The things that are the subject of the word of God are eternal things, not the eternal things of others, but our eternal things, our eternal misery and our eternal happiness. Here we are told the state of misery that we are in, and the eternal misery that we are exposed to by nature: here are contained the denunciations of the eternal wrath of almighty God: and here we are told of the way that leads to this destruction. Here we have the news of eternal salvation, and have the way set before us, and have the offers of it, and calls and invitations to accept of it, and directions how to obtain it.


And the word of God is the great means of our eternal good. 'Tis the means by which we must obtain spiritual good: 'tis the most necessary means, and without which our souls must famish: and 'tis a most precious means. And if, when we have heard the word of God, we lose it, and let it slip, it will be in vain to us. It will be no way profitable to our souls. We shall be never the better for it. This treasure that is so precious in itself, will do us no good. Our great interest that it so nearly concerns, won't be promoted by it at all. So that when we have heard {the word of God}, we should {give earnest heed that we don't lose what we hear} not only out of reverence to God, and honor to Christ, but love to ourselves, and as we are concerned for our own good. And if we do otherwise, we shall not only be chargeable with wickedness but madness by {God}. We may dishonor God, and cast contempt on Christ, but we shall hurt ourselves only. More foolishly than a man that is famishing in poverty would do, in casting away a precious jewel that is given into his hands, by which he might purchase a kingdom, though without it, he must die for lack of bread.


Fifth. God has as it were given earnest heed to communicate to us his holy word; therefore surely we ought to give earnest {heed that they don't lose what they have heard}. God speaking of himself, after the manner of men, thus represents himself in Scripture as sending his word to us, with earnest concern for us that we mayn't be destitute of that which is so beneficial and necessary, in such expressions as these: Jeremiah 7:13, "And I spake to you, rising up early and speaking"; and so in Jeremiah 25:3, Jeremiah 35:14, and many other places. When men are greatly engaged in their spirit in any affair, and are much concerned about it, they are wont to rise up early to attend it, and apply themselves to it.


So God has as it were given earnest heed that we might have his word, that we might have it plainly, and clearly, and fully revealed to us. He has sent to us his Prophets one after another, and at last sent his own Son. He has given abundance of revelation of his will in the Holy Scriptures, in various ways and manners. He has appointed an order of men on purpose to preach his word to men, and inculcate the great things of it on their minds. He has given earnest heed in providing suitable means for the good of our souls. And shall we, after all, lose it through our own negligence and carelessness of it? When God has been so earnestly concerned for our good, shall we be careless about our own, and frustrate all the means that he has provided, and is using with us?


Sixth. When we have heard {the word of God}, we ought {to heed it}, that we don't lose it; for we don't know whether we shall ever hear the word of God preached to us any more. When the sabbath ends wherein we have been to meeting, and have been hearing the word of God preached, or when we have heard it preached on a lecture day, we don't know whether ever we shall live to hear another sermon.


And if we live to another sabbath, it may be we may be then ill with our last sickness, and shall not be able to go to the house of God to hear the word preached. It would be nothing strange if it should be so. How often is it so, when persons go from the house of [God] on a sabbath day, or a lecture day, and feel as well as any of us do, and yet 'tis the last time that ever they hear the word of God preached. They have heard the last sermon that ever they will hear. There are many, yea, and many in this land without doubt, that will go home this evening from [this] house of God, that never will come to his house no more. Persons ought therefore to give earnest heed that they don't lose what they have heard.


Seventh. When the word of God is carelessly lost, 'tis not merely lost, but is worse than lost. 'Tis not only frustrated, and fails altogether of being any way for [the] persons' good or benefit, but it turns to their hurt. When the word of God is neglected after 'tis heard, and is choked with worldly cares, and pleasures, and diversions, so that they wholly lose it, it is for the hurt of them that have heard it. It is a "savor of death unto death": it increases their condemnation: it will rise up in judgment against them. Such men's souls, who often hear the word, and lose it when they have heard it, is like the barren heath that has the rain falling often upon it, but brings forth nothing but thorns and briars (Hebrews 6:8). 'Twill either bring forth herbs, or briars and thorns.


The word that they have heard will have its effect. If it don't profit them, it shall hurt. It will be either food or poison. It shall not return to God void. It will either profit or harden [them]. God said to Isaiah 6:10, "Go make the heart of this people fat."


If persons have had convictions, while hearing the word, and good impressions have been made on their minds, and they have taken up good resolutions; if they again by carelessness, or sin and vanity, soon drown these things, and lose the good effects of the word; the heart won't only be no better than it was before, but bad effects will succeed in the room of the good impressions that are raced out. There will be some effect remaining.


The word of God kept and improved, will promote men's salvation; but the word of God lost, treasures up wrath, and kindles and blows up hellfire.


Eighth. And lastly, we are very apt to lose the word of God. If we have instruction in [it], we are apt to forget instructions; if we have had good impressions made, we are very apt to lose them; if we take up resolutions, while we are hearing the word of God, we are very prone to let them fall.


Our minds are very retentive and tenacious of that which is evil, but very apt to lose what is good. Our hearts are prone and bent to evil, and there is an opposition in them against what is good.


And besides the depraved dispositions of our own hearts, there are many other things that increase the danger of our losing [the word of God]. Satan is a watchful adversary, and will labor to his utmost to deprive us of the word that we have heard. Matthew 13:19, "Then cometh the evil one, and catcheth [away that which was sown in his heart]."


And we live amongst so many temptations, have so many things that tend to choke the word, and destroy any good impressions. The text represents it thus, that the word of God is very apt to slip out of our minds; that if we would not lose [the word of God], we must give earnest heed [to it].


APPLICATION.


The Use of the doctrine is of Exhortation, to exhort you, when you have heard the word of God, to give earnest heed that you don't lose it. And here I would mention several things, as showing in what way persons, when they have heard the word of God, ought to take heed that they don't lose what they have heard.


First. Persons, if they would not lose what they hear, should give good attention to what they hear, and lay it up in their hearts. They should take good notice of what is said, labor to keep their thoughts from wandering to other objects, and keep their minds intent upon the message of God that is delivered. They should hear with a diligent endeavor to learn and gain instruction, and to receive some profit and advantage by what they hear, and as they hear should take good notice what instruction there is offered, and what is applicable to them and suitable with their case, and is proper for their particular practice.


They should well observe when any divine truth is set in a clear light, and endeavor to lay up the instruction they got by it.


When doubts and difficulties that they have been exercised with are explained, they should endeavor to lay it up on their memories, that they mayn't again be perplexed with the same difficulties. When anything is offered that tends to help them against temptation that they have been exercised with, they should labor to impress it upon their minds, that they mayn't lose the benefit of it. Without taking good notice of what is heard, and carefully and diligently receiving of it, 'tis not to be expected but that persons should lose it. Lay it up in your heart.


Second. If you would not lose what you have heard, let the next thing you do be to practice. There are no truths of the word of God but what some way or other relate to practice, and have their proper improvement in life and behavior.


The Christian doctrine is a doctrine "according to godliness" (1 Timothy 6:3), and the end of the word is practice. And therefore the surest way not to lose the word, is immediately to put it in practice; because when we put the word in practice, we improve it to its proper purpose and end. And if we obtain the end of it, then we don't lose it.


If you without delay put the word in practice, then you do as it were make sure of some benefit of it. The word of God is what we are apt to let slip; we are much exposed to have it stolen away. Therefore 'tis the prudent way to improver it now the first thing we do, while we are sure of it; as if a beggar has a price given him to purchase bread with, that is in danger of being stolen from him, 'tis his prudentest way to improve it forthwith, while he is sure of it.


There is nothing that nourishes and cherishes the word of God in the heart so much as practice: it fastens it in the memory. There is nothing that so much tends to keep alive any good effect that is had in the hearing.


If we delay the practice, and put it off till another time, this is almost a sure way to lose the word; for whilst we delay, the impressions die and vanish away.


Third. Labor to keep in mind the things you have heard, with a view to continuing in the practice. Think of the things that you have heard from day to day, and with that view that you may practice them from day to day.


Be often meditating on what you have heard, and realizing of it, for this practice, that you may have it with you; that it may be your companion and guide, to guide you in your continual walk; that it may be to you continually a light to your feet, and a lamp to your path.


Fourth. Be especially, be frequently, renewing your meditations on those things you heard that made the greatest impressions on your mind, if there was anything delivered that was sent home with conviction, anything that was accompanied with a special sense upon your heart of the truth of it, or weight of it, that affected your mind, any impressions of a beneficial tendency.


Labor to your utmost to maintain that sense and impression. To that end, often realize what was delivered that made the impression upon you. Revolve it in your mind. Labor to keep up the lively remembrance of it. Endeavor to have those things still maintained in the same advantageous light that they were set before you in.


Fifth. Make much use of those things, that you have heard, in prayer, if you have heard of the anger of God and awful threatenings of his holy Law. Make improvement of it in your closets, in your secret transactions with God, in praying to God to give you a lively sense of the awfulness of his displeasure, and how you deserved {his anger, and how he should not} save you from it. {Make much use of those things, that you have heard, in prayer}, if [you have] heard of the happiness of saints in heaven; if [you have] heard of the sinfulness of men, [and their] wickedness of heart; [if you have] heard of the work of redemption, [and God's] glorious grace. And let it not only be on sabbath-day night, when you first go home from meeting; but from time to time, which will be a good expedient to keep it in your memory, and keep it alive in your affections.


Sixth. It would be very advantageous to this purpose to make what you have heard, the subject of your talk and conversation with others. If persons would dwell on the subjects they have been hearing of in their conversation together, it would greatly tend to fasten it in their memories, and fix their thoughts. That which is much the subject of persons' discourse and conversation, will be the subject of their thoughts.


Seventh. Avoid those things that have a direct tendency to frustrate the word of God. If we ought to give earnest heed, lest by any means we should lose the word, then certainly they are very much to blame, and are as wide from their duty in this matter as can be, that willfully run themselves into those things that have the most direct tendency.


Doubtless there are such things. Nobody will deny but that persons, when they have been hearing the word, may so employ and behave themselves presently after it, and tends very much to frustrate the word preached; and that those things that tend wholly to divert the mind from it, and take it off from all things of that nature, and to fill it with other things most alien and remote from it, are of this kind. And here I would particularly mention a practice that is prevailing amongst us, especially among young people, viz. the making sabbath evenings and lecture days to be especially times of diversion and mirth, taking of these times to get together in companies, and spending of them from time to time, as though they were times most fit and suitable of any times whatsoever to be devoted to divertisement.


Certainly their spending the time thus, immediately after persons have been attending the holy and solemn public worship of [God], and hearing his word preached, is not agreeable to what is so strongly recommended in the text: to give earnest heed to those things that they have heard, lest at any time they should let them slip. There is no need of any arguing to prove this. Everybody knows that it has very much of a contrary tendency. Those that make this their practice not only don't give earnest heed, lest they should let slip what they have heard, but act as though they would contrive as soon as possible to get rid of it, and wholly to race all remembrance and remaining impressions of it out of their minds.


This is the very method that men take when they have anything [that] exercises their minds that they desire to get rid of: to sequester and devote themselves as much as may be to diversion, to go into company, and the like. Hence are such things called diversions: they have their very name from hence, because they tend to divert and take off the mind from any fixed thought or intense application. But why should times immediately succeeding the solemn worship of God, and hearing of his holy word, be improved, as if they were the most fit of any for the diversion of the mind, when we don't want to have the mind diverted? But on the contrary, then above all times whatsoever, [we] need to have it fixed and settled. Then, if ever, is a suitable time for some serious meditation and consideration. Then we should rather seek for means to fix our minds than to what tends to divert them.


And these things especially tend to take off the mind, and set it at a great distance from religious subjects, and those things that are of a more solemn nature, because they are as much as can be of a contrary nature. It tends to lead off the mind from everything that is of a serious and solemn nature.


If the way to keep the word, and retain the benefit of it, and keep alive the impressions it has made, be to meditate on it, and ponder it in our hearts, then certainly it has a contrary tendency immediately to take a course to divert the mind wholly then, and to fill it with objects of the most remote nature; besides the unsuitableness of going from things of the most sacred, solemn nature, when one has [been] spending an holy day in the solemn worship of God, and hearing the word of God, suddenly into things that are extremely different [in] nature, that are furthest [of] all from anything serious or solemn.


If any still plead they can't see any hurt, I would say three things to them.


1. I dare appeal to universal experience in this matter, to the experience of everyone that use themselves to this practice. Everyone of you that do it either are persons that are regardless of religion, and are not wont to have any sense of the things you hear in the preaching of the word; or, if otherwise, you have found that it has that effect upon you, to destroy the sense and impressions of those things. I appeal to your consciences. I challenge anyone that uses himself to this, to say that he does not find one or the other of these.


And why will you then go on in a course so much to the prejudice of your own souls, and that you can't but be sensible, if in the least [you] consider it very unbecoming?


How often have you [had] urged upon you the necessity of doing what you can for your salvation, and improving all advantages, of using whatever means tends to promote it. And why will you willfully take a course that you know tends to hinder your soul's good, and to frustrate the means of grace?


2. When was it ever seen, but that persons when they have been under convictions, or any very considerable concern for their souls, but that it has had this effect upon them, to restrain them from such a practice, if there be no hurt, nor any ill tendency in such a practice? What is the reason that those that are under any great concern for their salvation, ben't found among those that make this their practice? Why should the awakenings of the Spirit of God restrain them from it, if it be no ways amiss, nor of any ill tendency?


3. I appeal to them that have seen times of remarkable outpourings of the Spirit of God upon the town, whether such practices have been so much prevailing at such times. Does it use to be so common [a] thing for young people to spend their sabbath evenings in such a manner then? Was there so much frolicking and going to taverns after lectures then?


And what is the reason if there be no hurt in it, if such a practice tends no way to hinder the good of souls? Why should the pouring out [of] the Spirit of God make any alteration in this matter, but that it should be as common then as at other times?


And I would here apply myself, first, to parents and heads of families, and, second, to young people concerning this matter.


I. I would beseech heads of families for the future, to exert themselves to restrain their children from such things. It properly belongs to you, and is especially your business to take care, and reform this practice. If it ben't reformed, your children indeed will be guilty, but guilt will also lie at your doors. Hophi and Phinehas were guilty, but those terrible curses that were entailed to Eli's family were chiefly for Eli's sin in not restraining them.


You would have a6 minister that earnestly desires the good of souls, and that shall lay out himself to his utmost to promote the flourishing of religion; but then how reasonable is it that you should also do your part, that you should put your hand to help forward such a design, at least in your families that are under your immediate care, and not allow of those things that directly tend to frustrate the most faithful labors and endeavors of a minister?


You would have a minister to take pains to beget, in the minds of your children and others, a sense of religion, and a concern so for their souls; and when he is so, will you take a cause to frustrate, and disappoint him to prevent any such effect upon them?


I would therefore earnestly entreat parents, to restrain their children from improving the sabbath evenings after such a manner, and not suffer them to make it a time of going abroad, and diverting, and company-keeping; and also that they take thorough care that they spend the time better than in going to the tavern and into frolics on lecture days. It is a thing that tends wholly to overthrow the design of lectures, which is to promote religion, and not to be for a play day, a day of drinking and company-keeping. Is it fit that the same day that is set apart for the house of God should also be set apart for the tavern? One would think the parents' concern for the children's welfare should be enough to make them thorough in restraining of them from [such a thing]. There is nothing [that] looks more threatening of persons' ruin than to get into [such] a practice while in youth. Though it were not on lecture days, a wise parent would be shocked at the thought of such a thing, as he would be jealous of the ruin of their children. It is certainly a thing of pernicious tendency, and of ill report, and condemned by all good through the world, for any persons to make a trade of frequenting public houses; but how unsuitable is it to go directly thither from the house of God and his solemn worship there.


If you have in any measure maintained the authority that belongs to a head of a family, 'tis in your power to restrain your children from such disorders as I speak of, on sabbath evenings and lecture days. The ordering of such things as these properly belongs to heads of families.


There is much said amongst us about the degeneracy of the times. Persons are often observing what dull times it is with respect to religion, and they speak of it as though it were lamented. But what signifies it to talk, when we won't act? When persons seem to lament the degeneracy and deadness of the times, and show a seeming zeal for the revival of religion, and at the same time allow their families such degenerate practices, and don't restrain their children from those things, to which the degeneracy of the times is very much owing, and wherein much of it consists, and tends to prevent the revival of religion amongst, does not it look as if persons were hypocritical in their talk, and as if they made a show of zeal for the revival of religion, when it is only for a show? Words are cheap. And it would be more desirable to see a man use some vigorous endeavors to restrain degeneracy once, than to hear him lament degeneracy an hundred times.


We meet together sometimes to confess our degeneracy, and pray for the pouring out of the Spirit of God for the reviving of religion among us. But won't it appear that we ben't in earnest, and do it but in pretense, if we at the same time don't do our part for the restraining the degeneracy we confess in our own families. Will our keeping days be anything else but mockery?


We are often speaking of the degeneracy of young people, and how it is not amongst them as it was formerly. But when all is said of the degeneracy of young people, it is certainly true that whenever there is a general degeneracy among young people, it is owing very much to parents. It lies at their door in a great measure.


This very thing that I am speaking of, the disorder of young people on sabbath-day nights and lecture days, I have heard often spoken as [a] very ill thing from year to year amongst [parents]. But how inexcusable will those [be] that are so sensible of it, and sensible what an ill thing it is, if they don't reform it? If any excuse themselves with that, that they can't restrain their children, or that you are loth absolutely to forbid them, for fear your children should be grieved, and take it hard that they may not be allowed the same liberty with others; to this I answer, then parents might be ashamed to own that they have so little authority over their families, or so little resolution. They might be ashamed to offer that as a sufficient excuse that children would be grieved and take it hard, and that therefore they ought [to] gratify them in allowing of them in an ill practice that is so dishonorable to religion, and tends much to the prejudice of their souls' want of resolution, [as] was Eli's sin. He was loth to grieve and cross his children, loth to be too harsh with them.


Or if you excuse yourself with that, that you should make yourself singular, and should be reproached for it; I answer, if that be a sufficient excuse for our not doing our duty that others don't do it, how easily may we excuse ourselves from any duty. As to others finding fault with, or our suffering reproach for it, if it be so, it is nothing to the purpose. But 'tis not probable that it would be so, but on the contrary that it would be much to your honor, and that you would be the better esteemed of for it, and the more for your being singular in maintaining such good order and government in your family against the general practice. Nothing is more honorable than to be singular in virtue.


Let me therefore earnestly entreat heads of family to resolve with one consent for the future, to restrain and put an end to these disorders in their children. You cannot but acknowledge that it is fit that it should be done, and ought to be done. I cannot but therefore hope that those of you that are rational, considerate persons that are willing to act according to plain light, and do your duty when you know it, will comply with what I now propose. I'll leave it with your consciences, and desire of everyone only this much, viz. that you would consider with yourselves whether it be a fit thing to be done or not, and to act according to your own determination, which I hope none will think an unreasonable proposal.


And I would propose that heads of families, those that have the interest of religion at heart, would confer together, as they have opportunity, and make known their minds to each other in this. And if numbers would purposely meet together, it would not be amiss that it might be a thing agreed upon amongst them. They may thus greatly strengthen one another's hands, and make the thing abundantly easier.


It can't be expected that everyone will agree to a thing of this nature, how much soever [it is] to be desired. There [will] be some that won't comply with good order: there will be some that han't the interest of religion at heart, and won't bestir themselves in a good cause. But I hope this will not discourage those that are better-minded.


Thus I leave this proposal that I have made with you, desiring only that persons should have due regard to the fitness and necessity of the thing in itself, begging of God to direct parents and assist them to do their duty.


[2.] I will conclude with a word to young people, exhorting them for the future to reform. It will be a shame to any of you, to need to have your parents to exert their utmost authority in a thing of this nature.


It is so reasonable and suitable in itself, and wherein your own good is principally concerned, especially those of you that are now grown to men's and women's estate, that you should be so much like little children, as not to be restrained from disorder, unless it [be] by severity. Any of you are to be pitied, if you have parents so negligent, and of so little government over their children, as not to be able to restrain, or won't restrain, you. And if you have parents that do maintain their authority, you may well be ashamed to set them upon exerting it in a thing of this nature, especially after you have so plainly been shown the evil of it.


But whether you are ashamed of it now or no, you will, if you go on, greatly provoke God by willfully going on in a course that tends so much to frustrate his holy word. If you refuse to hearken to the exhortation that has been now given you, you will refuse to do what you know you ought to do, and can easily do, and is a proper step to be taken for your salvation. And if you refuse now, how do you know that God will succeed you, if you should seek your salvation hereafter, when now, against so much warning, you willfully go on in a way that you know tends to hinder your soul's good? If young men would form themselves into societies, and meet together, and spend the sabbath evenings and evenings after lectures in religious exercises, it would be a much more suitable and profitable way of spending their time, and that they would have a great deal more comfort in reflecting on afterwards.

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