How To Hear a Sermon (Watson)

 Since I’ve read quite a few books on preaching, I’ve always wanted to write a book for Christians called, “How To Listen,” since listening well is an art.  I think the generalization is true: people just don’t listen well today.  Our attention spans are miserably… (now I forgot what I was going to say…).  Anyway, here are some good words from Thomas Watson on how to listen to a sermon for profit.

1) Give great attention to the word preached.  Let nothing pass without taking special notice of it. ‘All the people were very attentive to hear him’ (Luke 19.48).  Give attention to the word, as to a matter of life and death.

2) Come with a holy appetite to the word.  The thirsting soul is the thriving soul.  Come with hungerings of soul after the word, and desire it, that it may not only please you but profit you.

3) Come to it with tenderness upon your heart.  O come to the word preached with a melting frame of heart!  It is the melting wax that receives the stamp of the seal; so, when the heart is in a melting frame, it will better receive the stamp of the preached word.

4) Receive it with meekness (James 1.21).  Meekness is a submissive frame of heart to the word – a willingness to hear the counsels and reproofs of the word.

5) Mingle the word preached with faith (Heb 4.2).  Believe the word, and so believe it as to apply it.  When you hear Christ preached, apply him to yourselves.  This is to put on the Lord Jesus.  When you hear a promise spoken, apply it.

6) Be not only attentive in hearing, but retentive after hearing (Heb 2.1).  Satan labors to steal the word out of the mind (Mark 4.15).  Our memories should be like the chest of the ark, where the law was put.

7) Reduce your hearing to practice.  Live on the sermons you hear.  It is obedience that crowns hearing.

8) Beg of God that he will accompany his word with his presence and blessing.  The Spirit must make all effectual.  God’s Spirit can produce grace in the most obdurate heart.

9) Make it familiar to you.  Discourse of [speak about] what you have heard when you come home.  “My tongue shall speak of thy word’ (Ps 119.172).  One reason why some people get no more good by what they hear, is that they never speak to one another of what they have heard; as if sermons were such secrets that they must not be spoken of again; or as if it were a shame to speak of the matters of salvation.

Watson concludes this section with a few other words.

“The word will be effectual one way or other; if it does not make your hearts better, it will make your chains heavier.  Dreadful is their case who go loaded with sermons to hell.  But …’I am persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation’ (Heb. 6.9).”

Taken from Thomas Watson’s exposition of the 10 commandments (in part 4, “The Way of Salvation”).

shane lems

sunnyside wa

2 thoughts on “How To Hear a Sermon (Watson)”

  1. Quite agreed that employing the ear in worship is under-valued as opposed to applying the hand (as in the ubiquitous habit of note taking, even in Reformed churches). There is a big difference between making disciples and making students, to say nothing of how listening seems like gospel and note taking like law.

    Speaking of which: “Believe the word, and so believe it as to apply it…when you hear a promise spoken, apply it.” I thought promises were to be believed and lived in light of, not applied. Doesn’t this sound a lot like “Live the gospel”?


    1. Thanks, Zrim.

      About your last note there on “apply,” I perhaps should have noted better that I summarized Watson’s points. So in this context, Watson also mentions Rom 13.14 and Heb 4.2 in this way: “Believe the word, and so believe it as to apply it.” This is the old-school meaning of “apply,” that is, “take it to heart,” or “put on like a dressing for a wound” or perhaps something like the assent aspect of faith.

      To use Paul’s words, if I may, I think Watson means that when you hear “Christ Jesus died on the cross…,” apply/believe it by saying in your heart “…for me” (Gal 2.20).

      Thanks for the clarification; we don’t want to make make hearing the gospel into a new law!



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