I recently invested in a used copy of John Newton’s complete works (6 volumes). Therefore, throughout the winter I’ll be blogging on the writings of Newton from time to time. Here’s an excerpt from a letter called “On Hearing Sermons” (Vol. 1 p. 218ff). This is pretty applicable to our situation today, when Christians hop from church to church and flock to celebrity pastors. I haven’t thought it out completely, but the words below also have something to do with (not) listening to sermons online.
Newton starts by saying that one should stick with the pastor and church where his soul is best fed: “You will do well to make a point of attending his ministry constantly…the seldomer you are absent the better.”
“A stated and regular attendance encourages the minister, affords a good example to the congregation; and a hearer is more likely to meet with what is directly suited to his own case, from a minister who knows him, and expects to see him, than he can be from one who is a stranger.”
“Especially I would not wish you to be absent for the sake of gratifying your curiosity, to hear some new preacher, who you have perhaps been told is a very extraordinary man; for in your way such occasions might possibly offer almost every week. What I have observed of many, who run about unseasonably after new preachers, has reminded me of Prov. 27:8, ‘As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.’”
“Such unsettled hearers seldom thrive; they usually grow wise in their own conceits, have their heads filled with notions, acquire a dry, critical, and censorious spirit; and are more intent upon disputing who is the best preacher, than upon obtaining benefit to themselves from what they hear.”
“If you could find a man, indeed, who had a power in himself of dispensing a blessing to your soul, you might follow him from place to place; but as the blessing is in the Lord’s hands, you will be more likely to receive it by waiting where his providence has placed you, and where he has met with you before.”
I have to admit that, for a short time when I was a younger Christian, I was an example of an “unsettled hearer” that Newton described. Therefore, I’d encourage our younger (20-something) readers and seminarians to reread these words of Newton and follow his wise counsel (though maybe older Christians can identify too!). And, for the rest of you, read that last paragraph again where Newton ties together God’s sovereignty and providence as they have to do with preaching and the means of grace.