Frequently Christ cautioned His hearers to take heed how they heard. Sometimes multitudes were listening to what He was teaching, and ofttimes they were a mixed multitude, representing peoples from nearly all stations in life. Some were seekers after truth, desiring light; others were anxious to find error in what He said, that they might have some excuse for rejecting His teaching; still others were curious, caring little for truth, and having no respect for the Great Teacher. Christ understood the common people, who "heard Him gladly." He understood the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who sought to find in His words something for which they could accuse Him. He understood the motives of all who came to listen, and thus He gave warning to all when He said, "Take heed therefore how ye hear." Luke 8:18.
The manner of hearing, as well as the motive that leads to listening, is important. If one has a sincere desire to know the truth, and seeks after it, he will find it. On one occasion Christ said to His hearers: "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself." There is a great difference between listening in order that we may know the truth and obey it, and listening in order to quibble and pick flaws. The Pharisees had little intention to obey Christ. When they listened to His teachings, they were prejudiced against Him; for He taught not as their rabbis, and Jewish tradition was in their favor. Thus their eyes were holden, and they did not comprehend the truth in the sayings of Christ.
Prejudice is ever a hindrance to good listening. One whose mind is filled with hate and prejudice cannot comprehend the teachings of such a great teacher as Christ. That was the trouble with the Jews who heard the Master. They came to His teachings with their minds so prejudiced against Him that they could not hear the truth. They hated and despised this humble Galilean from Nazareth. He was an innovator; His teaching was strange to their ears because it was contrary to what they had been taught by the rabbis. Though they listened to Jesus, they were so embittered that they did not comprehend His meaning, and they misunderstood and misapplied nearly everything He said. Instantly they wanted to combat what He was saying, and often they perverted His words, making Him say what He had no intention of teaching. When these scribes and Pharisees heard Him, they not only did not accept His messages of truth, but they were so infuriated against Him that they went about, while He was talking, devising how they might kill Him. Thus the scribes and Pharisees represent one type of hearers of the Word. Another type is represented by Nicodemus. Such may be sincere, and desire to know the right way, and yet may misunderstand. Nicodemus misunderstood Christ. His mind wholly failed to comprehend the spiritual truths to which Christ gave utterance when He said, "Verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Nicodemus applied the words of Christ physically, and asked, "How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" Patiently Christ explained to this honest heart the meaning of His words:
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it corneth, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, How can these things be?" Never could a teacher set before a hearer spiritual truth more plainly than Christ set such truth before Nicodemus.
The Samaritan woman at Jacob's well misunderstood Christ, and applied His teachings literally to physical things. Jesus said to her: "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." She did not understand the meaning of these words of Christ at first; but she followed on, and all became plain to her because she had a heart to believe and obey.
On another occasion Christ said, "Take heed what ye hear." Mark 4:24. This admonition is as important as the other, "Take heed how ye hear." One must never forget that his own soul is all-important to himself. If he is lost, it matters not what he may have gained, he has lost everything. Nothing else matters. "Take heed what ye hear," is the command. Often people say they can listen to error and escape harm. They can study the questionings of infidels and arguments against what they know to be truth, thinking that they are strong enough to keep their faith regardless of what others may say. If such reasoning is true, what is the meaning of the command, "Take heed what ye hear"? Does it grant license to listen to false teachings that destroy faith, and uproot the very foundations on which our faith rests?
"Take heed what ye hear" has a deeper meaning than many suppose. It is not a license to hear error and to listen to the scorner or apostate ranting against the truth and the humble believer, destroying the Word of God and the truth. "Take heed what ye hear" means that we should not listen to untruth and error argued and the Word of God torn to pieces by the blasphemy of infidels and unbelievers. It means what it says, "Take heed what ye hear." The New Testament command is: "Now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat." 1 Cor. 5:11.
Suppose an unbeliever or an infidel wishes to present his views in order to convince you that what you believe is not true, and insists that what he teaches, which is contrary to what you know to be truth, will open your eyes. Shall you listen to him? Every man must, of course, be responsible for his own soul. It is his individual gain to receive eternal life, and his own personal loss to lose it. We know that error cannot save, and that the man who destroys our faith is our very worst enemy. Can you listen to error, and still keep the same implicit faith that you now have? Have you not weakened the foundations and removed the pillars that have made you what you are?
When I was a young man, in the conference where I was living a man much older than I wanted to pitch his tent in a place where the Spiritualists were encamped and holding forth strongly. He was advised not to do this. But he asserted that he wanted to come in contact with the Spiritualists, that he might destroy their teaching. He followed his own course, and the ultimate result was that he gave up preaching the truth in the midst of his effort, and joined the Spiritualists. Later, in a meeting, he confessed that he was a lost man, and exclaimed, "I have tried to repent, but repentance is taken from me, and I am. lost."
When Christ said, "Take heed what ye hear," He meant that we should keep our faith. Simple faith in God and His Word is something to be prized. Once I was on a boat with a businessman as a roommate. This man was brought up as a Christian, and attended a college not twenty miles from where I attended school. We were talking about faith. He had lost his faith. After being together for many days and talking repeatedly, he said to me, "I would give all the money that I have accumulated, and all that I ever hope to have, for your simple faith in God's Word."
Every Christian must keep his own faith. Many cast away their faith for some professedly "new light," some teaching of those who try to attract disciples unto themselves. In every age apostates have drawn away disciples after themselves. We need not be of such unless we so choose. But in order to avoid these delusions, every Christian must follow the injunctions of the Master: "Take heed how ye hear," and, "Take heed what ye hear."