“Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8
That we may sanctify and hallow the Sabbath by attentive hearing, beware of these two things: distraction and drowsiness.
It is said of Bernard that when he came to the church door, he would say, “Stay here all my earthly thoughts.” Distraction hinders devotion. How often in hearing the word the thoughts dance up and down, and when the eye is on the minister the mind is upon other things. It is very sinful to give way to vain thoughts at this time because, when we are hearing the word, we are in God’s special presence. To do any treasonable action in the king’s presence is great impudence.
To have the heart distracted in hearing is disrespect to God’s omniscience. God is an all-seeing Spirit, and thoughts speak louder in his ears than words do in ours. To make no conscience of wandering thoughts in hearing is an affront to God’s omniscience, as if he knew not our heart or did not hear the language of our thoughts. To give way to wandering thoughts in hearing is hypocrisy. We pretend to hear what God says while our minds are quite upon another thing.
Vain thoughts in hearing offend God. If the king were speaking to one of his subjects, and he should not give heed to what the king says but be thinking on another matter or playing with a feather, would not the king be provoked? Vain thoughts show a great defect in our love to God. Did we love him, we should listen to his words as oracles and write them upon the table of our heart.
Take heed of drowsiness in hearing. Drowsiness shows much irreverence. How lively are many when they are about the world, but in the worship of God how drowsy, as if the devil had given them opium to make them sleep! A drowsy feeling here is very sinful. Are you not in prayer asking pardon of sin? Will the prisoner fall asleep when he is begging pardon? Is not the bread of life broken to you in the preaching of the word, and will a man fall asleep over his food? While you slept, perhaps the truth was delivered which might have converted your souls.
Sleeping is very offensive in a holy assembly. It not only grieves the Spirit of God but makes the hearts of the righteous sad. It troubles them to see anyone show such contempt of God and his worship, to see them busy in the shop but drowsy in the temple. Therefore, as Christ said, “Could ye not watch one hour?” so, can ye not wake one hour?
Each Sabbath may be the last we shall ever keep. We may go from the place of hearing to the place of judging, and shall we not give reverent attention to the word? You must give an account for every sermon you hear. “Give an account of thy stewardship,” Luke 16:2. So God will say, “Give an account of thy hearing.” How can we give a good account if we have been distracted in hearing and have not taken notice of what has been said to us? The judge to whom we must give an account is God.
Let all this make us shake off distraction and drowsiness in hearing and have our ears chained to the word. – Thomas Watson