And he had two wives.
Abraham's domestic peace was embittered, so that he was at length compelled to dismiss Hagar; and Jacob saw much strife arise amongst his household whose interest polygamy had divided. It is probable that the same feeling which operated with Abraham for taking Hagar influenced Elkanah in taking Peninneh, for Hannah seems to have been the first wife. There was doubtless an impatient desire of children; but in this case, as in those already alluded to, Elkanah's deviation from the original law of marriage, though in a manner then tolerated, conduced not at all to his domestic peace and comfort.
There can have been no polygamy when as yet there was only a single pair, or when there were several single pairs widely separated from each other. The presumption, if not the certainty, therefore, is that primeval man must have been monogamous. It is a presumption supported by the general equality of the sexes in respect to the numbers born, with only just such an excess of the male sex as tends to maintain that equality against the greater risks to life arising out of manly pursuits and duties. Thus the facts of Nature point to polygamy as in all probability a departure from the habits of primeval times.
The name of the one was Hannah.
Outraged and disgraced by the crimes of its ministers, religion sank into public contempt, and, almost mortally "wounded in the house of its friends," seemed ready to expire. At first indignant, and in the end demoralised, the people deserted the house of God. and abandoned the profession of a religion which the crimes of its priests had made to stink in their nostrils. "Wherefore," alluding to Hophni and Phinehas, it is said, "Wherefore the sin of the young men was great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord." But even in those days God did not leave himself without a witness. There were some who felt that His, like other good causes, has never more need of support than when it is betrayed by its supporters. Such an act closed the life of Colonel Gardener, the grand old Christian soldier, who, deserted by his own regiment on the fatal field of Prestonpans, and seeing a handful of men without an officer bravely maintaining the fight, spurred his horse through a shower of bullets to place himself at their head, and fall a sacrifice to truth and loyalty. Such an act also was the women's who openly followed our Lord with tears when no disciple had the courage to show his face in the streets. We cannot perhaps apply to the father of Samuel and husband of Hannah the saying, "Faithful among the faithless only he"; yet to Elkanah certainly belongs the honour of resisting the current of popular opinion, and, in an age of all but universal defection, clinging to the cause and the house of God. When its ministers had brought dishonour on the service of God, and their crimes had made the people abhor it, he felt that there was the more need for him to stand by it. He was not the man to desert the ship. To divine grace, his steadfastness to duly against the popular influence and amid almost universal defection was mainly due. Yet I cannot doubt, that in the bold and faithful part he acted, Elkanah owed much to Hannah. When adherence to principle involved painful sacrifices, men have found such support in gentle women as I have seen the green and pliant ivy lend the wall it clothed and clung to, when that, undermined or shaken, was ready to fall. Such was the spirit of Hannah.
I. HER PATIENCE — "There is a skeleton in every house!" The grim monitor that stands in every house to teach us that unmingled pleasures are to be sought in heaven, Hannah found in here. Happier than some that have been unequally yoked with unbelievers, she had a pious husband. Never was wife more prized and more loved than she. In what esteem Elkanah held her, how fondly he cherished her, and how kind he was to her, appears in the very strong and tender terms with which he essays to soothe her grief, saying, "Why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? Am not I better to thee than ten sons?" As is indicated by that question, her great trial was to be childless. But her trial, like a wound into which cruel hands rub salt, or some other smarting thing, turning ordinary pain into intolerable torture, wan greatly aggravated by the happier fortune and insolent reproaches of a rival. Elkanah was a polygamist. To his own misfortune, not less than to Hannah's, he had another wife besides her. In some kind and gentle women Hannah's misfortune would have excited feelings of sympathy. But the other wife, who had children — a rude, coarse, proud, and vulgar woman — turned it into an occasion for triumphing over her, and embittering all the springs of her life. In these circumstances — circumstances to which the adage, so generally true, applies with peculiar force, "Speech is silvern, but silence is golden" — Hannah teaches us how to bear our trials, whatever their nature be; and how to seek, and where to find relief.
II. HER MEEKNESS — A singular phenomenon has sometimes been noticed at sea. In a gale, when the storm, increasing in violence, has at length risen into a hurricane, the force of the wind has been observed to actually beat down the waves, producing a temporary and comparative calm; and similar is the effect occasionally produced by overwhelming trials — these, by their very power and pressure on the heart, abating both the violence and the expression of its feelings. But what is equally remarkable and still more observable in trials is, that we can more easily bear a heavy blow from God's hand than a light one from man's. Smarting under the cruel reproaches of her rival, to use the very words of Scripture, "in bitterness of soul," she lingers in the temple behind the rest, and there alone, as she supposed, pours out her tears and prayers before the Lord. His eyes dim as well as his head grey with years — Eli — too much accustomed in these evil times to see abandoned women — thought she was drunk; and more ready, like other indulgent fathers, to reprove sin in others than in his own sons, he addresses her sharply, saying, "How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee:" A very offensive accusation! Under such a charge, and in the rapid alternation with which the mind passes from one passion to another, who would have been astonished had her grief suddenly changed to anger? The meekness of Moses has become a proverb; and justly so. But did he, did any man or woman, ever show a milder, gentler, lovelier spirit, a more magnanimous example of how to suffer wrong, than Hannah? No wonder that Eli, perceiving the wrong he had done, should have turned his reproaches on himself; and touched with Hannah's grief, answered and said, "Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of Him."
III. HER FAITH — I know an island that stands crowned by its ancient fortalice in the middle of a lake, some good bow shots from the shore With the walls of the old ruin mantled in ivy, and its tower rising grim and grey above the foliage of hoary elms, it serves no purpose now but to recall old times and ornament a lovely landscape. But once that island and its stronghold were the refuge and life of those whose ordinary residence was the castle that, with gates, and bulwarks, and many a tower, and floating banner rose in baronial pride on the shore. When in the troublous times of old that wait beleaguered, and its defenders could hold out no longer against the force and fury of the siege, they sought their boats, and, escaping by the postern gate over waters too deep to wade and too broad to swim, threw themselves on the island — within the walls of the stout old keep to enjoy peace in the midst of war, and safe beyond the shot of cross bow, to laugh their enemies to scorn. In their hardest plight, and against the greatest numbers, this refuge never failed them. Such a refuge and relief his people find in God. Hence the confidence and bold language of the Psalmist, "Truly my soul waiteth upon God; from Him cometh my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my salvation: I shall not be greatly moved." Hence, also, in allusion to the security such strongholds offered in the East, as well as here, in olden times, the Bible says, "The name of the Lord is a strong tower, into which the righteous runneth, and is safe." And thus, as prayer is our way of access to God, and the means by which we place ourselves under His protection, it is a resource that never fails. There is no burden too heavy for the back of prayer to carry, nor wound too deep for its balm to heal. Hannah sought her comfort in prayer. Let her case teach us that the way to get anything is first to get faith — "all things are possible to him that believeth." There are people, who claim to be philosophers, that laugh such hopes to scorn. According to them God leaves all events to the operation of what they call "the ordinary laws of nature," without guiding, controlling, or interfering with them in any way whatever. No wonder that with such views the Divine Being is to them neither an object of reverential worship nor of filial affection. How should they fear, or love God? Their God is a Sovereign, who, parting with his sceptre though he retains his crown, is denuded of all authority — a Father who, careless of their fate, casts his children out on the world, like the poor babe a guilty mother exposes, which, though it may perchance be pitied and protected by others, is cruelly forsaken by the author of its being. How dark and dreary such a philosophy! All nature, and every religion, Pagan as well as Christian, revolts against it. Someone has said of prayer, It moves the hand that moves the world. A grand truth! to a poor conscience-stricken sinner, to an alarmed soul, to an anxious, weary, trembling spirit, a truth more precious than all science and philosophy. Hannah behaved it.
But Hannah had no children.
Inside Elkanah's house we see two strange arrangements of Providence, of a kind that often moves our astonishment elsewhere. First, we see a woman eminently fitted to bring up children, but having none to bring up. On the other hand, we see another woman, whose temper and ways are fitted to ruin children, entrusted with the rearing of a family. In the one case a God-fearing woman does not receive the gifts of Providence; in the other case a woman of a selfish and cruel nature seems loaded with His benefits. In looking round us, we often see a similar arrangement of other gifts; we see riches, for example, in the very worst of hands; while those who from their principles and character are fitted to make the best use of them have often difficulty in securing the bare necessaries of life. How it this? Does God really govern, or do time and chance regulate all? If it were God's purpose to distribute His gifts exactly as men are able to estimate and use them aright, we should doubtless see a very different distribution; but God's aim in this world is much more to try and to train than to reward and fulfil. All these anomalies of Providence point to a future state. What God does we know not now, but we shall know hereafter. In many cases home affords a refuge from our trials, but in this case home was the very scene of the trial. There is another refuge from trial, which is very grateful to devout hearts — the house of God and the exercises of public worship.
Abraham and Sarah had no children. Isaac and Rebekah had no children. Jacob and Rachel had no children. Manoah had no children. Hannah had no children. The Shunamite had no children. Zacharias and Elizabeth had no children. Till it came to be nothing short of a mark of a special election, and a high calling, and a great coming service of God in Israel to have no children. Time after time, till it became nothing short of a special Providence, those husbands and wives whose future children were predestinated to be patriarchs, and prophets, and judges, and forerunners of Jesus Christ in the house of Israel, began their married life having no children. Now, why was that? Well, we may make guesses, and we may propose reasons for that perplexing dispensation, but they are only guesses and proposed reasons. All the more — Why is it? Is it to spare and shield them from the preoccupation and the dispersion of affection, and from the coldness and the rudeness and the neglect of one another that so many of their neighbours suffer from? And is it to teach them a far finer tenderness, and a far rarer honour, and a far sweeter solicitude for one another? Or, on the other hand, is it out of pure jealousy on God's part? Is it that He may be able to say to them, Am I not better to thee than ten sons? Or again, is it in order to make them meet, long before His other sons and daughters around them are made meet, for that life in which they shall neither marry nor be given in marriage? Which of all these reasons, or what other reason, has their God for what He does with so many of His best saints? But all this time we have been intruding into those things of which He says to us — What is that to thee? And, then, those whose concern this is, and those who are deepest down in God's counsels, they are just the men and the women, they are just the husbands and the wives, who will not once open their mouths to publish abroad to a world that fears not God what all this time God is doing for their souls.
You must remember, that at the time when Elkanah was living, there was but one temple or church for all the worshippers of the true God; and those who lived at a great distance from this temple could not have the privilege of worshipping there, at most, above three times a year. Have you ever considered the mercy of being born in a country where there are so many places of public worship? places which have that honourable and blessed name of "the house of God"? When you draw near to a town, you see several of these precious buildings, higher than all the houses prepared for man to live in, beside many other smaller places of public worship: and you can scarcely find a village without some building in it where the people of God may assemble together. Now, you observe, that pious Elkanah and his family have to take a long journey once a year for the privilege of the public worship of God. What does all this say to you who have God's house standing open for you within a very, very little distance, perhaps within a few steps, and yet you think it too much trouble to get there! You would not treat a nobleman so, if he invited you to his house; particularly, if you were very dependent upon him; and if you saw him standing at the door of his house, watching to see who accepted his invitation, and who slighted it. I have heard many people say, "I can read my book at home, and I don't know but I get as much good as by going to church or meeting." But let me tell you, I do know that you cannot. If, indeed, you are confined at home by sickness, and your heart is right with God, He can and will be a little sanctuary to you, and will enable you to say, "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want": but when you idly stay at home, from the idea that you can get as much good there so in a place of public worship, you trample upon God's express command, and expect that which He has not promised.
To know persons completely, it is necessary to view them in various situations and conditions. Character is not only displayed by trials, but it very much results from them. Both prosperity and adversity are states of acknowledged temptation; and few can equally encounter such opposite dangers. Hannah first comes before us in circumstances of disappointment and mortification. Her affliction was aggravated by reproach, for "her adversary provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb" But who was this adversary? She was one of her own household, for Elkanah, her husband, had two wives. And in the case before us was the conduct of Elkanah justified by the result? Let us read and see. In the days of Malachi this evil practice abounded; and observe how the prophet speaks of it. "The Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet she is thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet, had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed." Here we find that marriage was originally confined to a single pair: end we see the reason. It was not from want of power or kindness in God. He could have made more than one Eve for Adam, and would have done it had his welfare required it. But it was because of the advantage derivable from individual union, especially with regard to the children who should arise from it, and be trained up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Hannah's adversary seems peculiarly unprincipled and ill-disposed. A noble mind is always generous and sympathising. if it possesses any exclusive advantages, it will not be forward to display and boast of them; and if it sees a fellow creature in a humbler situation, it will not labour to increase his sense of deficiencies, but rather to diminish and soften it. "The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy." But we may observe, that though envy loves to expose the defects of another, it springs from his excellencies or advantages, end feeds upon some real or imaginary privilege. Accordingly, we are born informed of the occasion of this woman's present malevolence. At this season Elkanah treated Hannah with peculiar attention and distinction. "And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions; but unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion." There is a considerable difference between the feeling and the expression of partiality; the one is much more in our power than the other. The display of it is commonly prejudicial to the object. Who does not remember the "coat of many colours"? The blame we attach to a man is not always so much for acting wrong, as for bringing himself into circumstances and conditions which will hardly allow of his acting right. Piety says, "In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths"; and Prudence says, "Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established." Elkanah forgets this, and his folly fixes him in a state that leaves him not the possibility of escaping evil and reproach. What could Peninnah think of approaching the altar of the God of peace and love with a temper full of envy and malice, and a tongue "set on fire of hell"? How much better is omission than perversion, and neglect than inconsistency? Shall blessing and cursing proceed out of the same mouth? "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil" "Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." Year after year Hannah had been accustomed to bear ell this provocation, and till now she seems to have endured it patiently But where is the mind that always continues in one frame?
Patience is of two kinds. There is an active, and there is a passive endurance. The former is a masculine, the latter, for the most part, a feminine virtue. Female patience is exhibited chiefly in fortitude; in bearing pain and sorrow meekly without complaining. In the old Hebrew life female endurance shines almost as brightly as in any life which Christianity itself can mould. Hannah under the provocations and taunts of her rival, answering not again her husband's rebuke, humbly replying to Eli's unjust blame, is true to the type of womanly endurance. For the type of man's endurance you may look to the patience of the early Christians under persecution. They came away from the Sanhedrim to endure and bear; but it was to bear as conquerors rushing on to victory, preaching the truth with all boldness, and defying the power of the united world to silence them. These two divers qualities are joined in One, and only One of woman born, in perfection. One there was in whom human nature was exhibited in all its elements symmetrically complete.
A garden has a great many flowers in it. Some of them are weeds, some of them are purslane, and some of them are nettles, which are not very desirable for bouquets. In the garden, however, we can take our choice; but in the family we cannot. There we have to take all. If there is a complaining one, we have to take that one; if there is a weak and dull-eyed one, we have to take that one; if there is a moody and morose one, we have to take that one; and it takes but one bitter lemon to spoil the whole of your lemonade. If of half-a-dozen lemons five are perfectly good, and the other is bad, the whole mixture is bad; for the nature of this one bad lemon enters into it. So one person may spoil the pleasure of twenty. A mother may keep a cloud resting on the whole household from morning till night; thank God she sleeps at nights. A father may fret and worry the whole household; and therefore Paul says, "Fathers, provoke not your children." They are apt to make the children cross, or to create in them an unrestful, unquiet disposition. It does not take more than one smoky chimney in a room to make it intolerable.
The remarkable thing is: A religious use of a daily provocation. Peninnah persecuted Hannah daily; laughed at her, mocked her. It was a religious use. She prayed unto the Lord; she rose up and went forward that she might pray mightily before God; she spake in her heart and she poured out her soul before God. That was conquest, — that was victory! There is a possibility of having a daily annoyance, and yet turning that daily annoyance into an occasion of nearer and nearer approach to God. Let us then endeavour to turn all our household griefs, family torments into occasions of profound worship and loving homage to God. It was in human nature to avenge the insult; to cry out angrily against the woman who delighted in sneering and in provoking. But there is something higher than human nature, something better.
And she was in bitterness of soul and prayed unto the Lord. 1.
Both Jacob's prayer and Hannah's prayer are very short. Hannah's consists of a single verse. It is quite clear that the much speaking has nothing to do with being heard.
2. Both Hannah's prayer and Jacob's were offered when the offerer was in trouble. Jacob was flying from the face of Esau. Now observe the wonderful graciousness and tenderness of God, that He makes a special promise to prayer offered up in distress, whether of mind, body, or estate. "Call upon me," says He, "in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me." Hannah mixed tears with her prayers, for she "prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore." Christ mixed tears with His prayers in the garden, "Who in the days of His flesh offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him from death."
3. Again, Hannah's prayer was secret. It was not spoken in articulate language. "Now, Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard."
4. Hannah fully looked for and expected a result from her prayer. I gather this from the fact of her making a vow. When you are vexed, anxious, thwarted, troubled about anything, try to tell the story in the simplest words to God, asking deliverance from the trouble, if it be His good pleasure to grant it; if not, asking patience under it, and to be kept from going wrong, and acting in any way contrary to His will. Seek to be perfectly open, and to tell everything that is upon your mind, — your temptations, the difficulties you find in keeping your temper and conduct right, and what your special wishes are under the circumstances. Our Heavenly Father, our Divine Friend, is pleased and honoured by the confidence we repose in Him. He would have our prayer to be not only an act of homage, but an act of confidence; not only an abase. meant of the heart before His majesty, but a pouring forth of the heart before His fatherly goodness.
Understand what prayer is; prayer is the utterance of agony. There is a flippant way of praying, which means nothing, which God never hears. We cannot always pray at the point of agony. There are indeed some whole days upon which I cannot pray at all. I can say my prayers, I can put myself into a certain reverent attitude; but all power of prayer has gone away from me; and then upon other days I could pray from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, and have conscious influence with God. Hast thou ever an hour in thy poor, blank, barren life, when thou seemest to have influence in heaven? Employ every golden moment of that hour, and in the strength of God's answer thou shalt go many days.
You know, when you have been walking out with your father or mother, if you come to a pretty meadow, you can leave their side, run about, pick flowers, and hardly care whether your father and mother are near you or not. But if you should run a thorn into your finger, or hurt yourself in any way, how eagerly would you run to tell them all your trouble, and to seek their help! Now God has just such children: when all is smooth and easy around them, they care not much for their Father's company; but let pain or trouble come, they are glad to run to him, and to pour out their hearts before him. If it had not been for Hannah's trouble, Hannah would never have known so much of prayer and praise.
And she vowed a vow.
And Hannah, — what shall we say of her passionate longing and prayer for a child? Was this sinful, like the longing of the Israelites for gross and stimulating food? or was it foolish, and wanting in judgment, like good King Hezekiah's prayer for a longer life? There are traces in the story of its having been neither the one nor the other. In the first place, the granting of her request turned out thoroughly well; it turned out not only for her own happiness and honour, but for the good of the Church and people of God, which does not look as if God was displeased with it. Then look at the mind of the woman herself — what a holy and good woman she seems to have been. Then observe, too, how little of herself there is in her petition, as it is expressed in her vow. She vows that she will give the child Unto the Lord "all the days of his life." Her child, as being a Levite, would, in the ordinary course of things, be bound to the service of the tabernacle from the age of twenty to the age of fifty; but Hannah vows that she will give him up to the service of the Lord from his earliest childhood. And so she did. It was clear that she had great, disinterested, patriotic views for the child, altogether distinct from any consideration of her own comfort in him; and probably in making her vow she must have been guided by some intimation from the Holy Spirit that a great honour was in store for her, but that she must seek it in the appointed way in which all blessings are to be had — in prayer and sacrifice of the mere natural inclinations.
Now Hannah, she spake in her heart.
The strength of Hannah's moral character is manifested in her temple service. She possessed a force of soul which lifted her above trouble. Many in her circumstances would have hid the tears of their graceful nature in attic solitude; but Hannah goes to the temple to supplicate the aid of Heaven, and where so likely to be obtained as at its Shiloh Porch?
1. Hannah was a tearful worshipper. "Wept sore" (ver. 10). The worshippers of modern days scorn the idea of weeping in the sanctuary; they call it "sentimentalism," an "immoderate display of feeling," which should be concealed from public gaze.
2. Hannah was a soulful worshipper (ver. 11). Trouble had intensified her feelings, and rendered her capable of more fervent volition. Her prayer was a vow which bound to duty and to God. Her soul was in its deepest action, stretching out its hand for blessing
3. Hannah was a silent worshipper. "Spake in her heart" (ver. 13). Her prayer was so pungent that it savoured more of emotion than voice. Yes! inside the temple at Shiloh there was a smaller sanctuary, whose floor echoed not to the unhallowed footsteps of Eli's wicked sons — that temple was Hannah's heart; Christ was its Ruler Priest.
4. Hannah was a constant, an observed, and a slandered worshipper (ver. 12-14). We should be careful in censuring the devotions of others. People are too ready with "enthusiast," or "zealot."
5. Hannah was a successful worshipper (ver. 17-18). Upon the next festival Hannah remained from the temple on account of domestic duties (ver. 22). Women were not obligated to attend any of these feasts, and that Hannah went with her husband before shows their earnest piety. Never remain from the temple unless, like this good mother, duty demands you to. In this chapter we find home life and temple worship in very intimate association. The one greatly influences the other. When the homes of the world are one with the temple in the nature of its sacrifices, and the purity of its life, the great object of redemption will have been accomplished. At length Samuel is born, and Hannah performs her vow (ver. 24) And all who come to the Christian temple must come through sacrifice, through the death of Christ. The mother felt that her all was due to God for the child. Wows made in sorrow must not be forgotten in song. What a motto for mothers, "I have lent him to the Lord." God pays good interest for the loan of young children. Hannah made a good investment both for herself and her son — today she is known not as the wife of Elkanah. but as the mother of Samuel. Why? Because she lent him to the LordLessons:
1. Never deride personal affliction. It is from the Lord. (ver 5)
2. Families living at Rama should remember the temple at Shiloh.
3. Children taken to the temple in youth are likely to turn out prophets, as Samuel did.
4. The discord of home may be hushed by a visit to the temple.
The sufferings of Elizabeth Fry as she drew near her end were sometimes very great, and once she said that if it was to last no one could wish for her life. In her worse pain, however, her faith and hope burned clearly. "Prayer is always in my heart, if I may say so, it is my life," was among her sayings.
Therefore Eli thought she was drunken.
This was not the first time, nor will it be the last. that God's true servants have been mocked and falsely accused for actions which have been really pious and devout. They are "a peculiar people" — peculiar, that is, to the world, who cannot understand their ways If you resolve to be a Christian, indeed, you must be prepared to be misunderstood, and to have things said about you which are not true. Eli's judgment of Hannah was a rash one. He should not have censured her for intemperance, without much better grounds to go upon. And the fault was all the worse in him, because he was high priest; and, as God's minister, he ought, even supposing her to have gone astray. to have shown some pity and gentleness in reproving her. If Eli had judged himself and his own house, seriously taking himself to task for his weak partiality to his sons, and giving them such a rebuff for their vileness as should have restrained them, he would not have been judged by God. The sin of rash judgment and censoriousness is a very serious one, however lightly we may be disposed to think of it. This is evident both from reason and from the Bible. As we have plenty of faults to find at home, it must be the height of presumption to go out of ourselves, and to pass judgment upon our neighbour. — Then, again, we have not the material for judging our neighbour fairly, His conduct, indeed, is under our eyes; but how can we know what have been his motives and intentions? Lastly, judgment, like vengeance, belongs to God, and to God only. Having committed himself to a false accusation, Eli did the best thing he could to repair it.
The ordinary cannot judge the extraordinary. A man when he has all his senses about him, and would therefore feel himself in his most judicious mood, cannot reach certain cases — they lie mile on mile beyond him. Only grief can understand grief; only poetry can understand poetry; only love can interpret love; and only a woman in Hannah's mood can understand the trembling of Hannah's lips. We should be careful how we judge one another. Priests do not always understand people. Official persons seldom do understand extra officials. Eli had been accustomed to look upon persons, and to see them behave themselves under certain limits; he had observed them displaying certain decorums when they came into the neighbourhood of the holy place. But here is something he never saw before; and the priest of the living God, ordained and consecrated — who ought to have had a word of charity for the lowliest creature beneath his feet — instantly, with that little remnant of devil that is in the best men, says, "Thou art drunken!" Oh, when will priests be charitable! When shall we put the better and not the worse construction on extraordinary signs and tokens! When shall we speak hopefully! "Men would be better if we better deemed them."
The following circumstances attending this prayer are recorded, and worthy of attention: —
1. It was accompanied with a vow, expressed in language the most suitable and pious, Are we desiring anything of God? We ought to think of Him, as well as of ourselves. It is thus we pray according to His will, and then we may know that He heareth us.
2. Observe the manner of her devotion. "Now Hannah, she spake in her heart," etc. There are things which we may not be at liberty to communicate to the nearest relation, or to the dearest friend; but to God only. Hereby she testified her belief that God was omniscient. She knew that words were not necessary to inform a Being to whom all hearts are open It is better to want language than disposition when we address Him, Who "seeketh such to worship Him as worship in spirit and in truth." It showed also that in dealing with God, she desired the notice of none besides Him. Jehu said, "Come. see my zeal for the Lord of hosts." The Pharisees prayed in the corners of the streets, and to be seen of men. "But," says the Saviour, "thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet," etc.
3. Observe the misconception and censure to which it gave rise. This was the very reproach which Peter and his fellows met with on the day of Pentecost. The multitude "mocking, said, These men are full of new wine." But this reproach came from enemies But here we find a good man, even the priest of the Most High God, issuing an equally rash censure Some err in judging by the effects of constitutional temperament They find a man of great vivacity, and loquaciousness, and ready to speak on all occasions, and to every one he meets, concerning his own experience and the things of God; and they set him down as a very lively Christian, and of great spirituality They see another shrinking from observation, and seemingly afraid to open his lips, lest he should utter more than he feels; and they consider him as a lifeless soul, and under the fear of man. But if they duly reflected, and judged properly, they would ascribe much to the mercury of the one and the phlegm of the other, which affect them in all other things as well as in religion. Many are too much biased in their judgment by real faults and failings. These need not be pleaded for; but through natural infirmity there may be much irregularity, where there is also not a little share of sincerity. Especially let us guard against vilifying or censuring the devotion of others, or the mode of their worship; lest we deem as hypocrisy, or fanaticism, or superstition, what is truly conscientious and accepted of God. It is probable that Eli had seen many abuses of this kind, some even in his own family, and he may have stationed himself by a part of the temple to observe, and endeavour to repress such scandals. The guilty often occasion suspicions and reproaches with regard to the innocent. When a disease is epidemical, many are feared who are not infected.
4. Observe the manner in which Hannah received the sad and insulting rebuke. She makes no rash appeal to Heaven, such as is often the effect and proof of hardened guilt. She utters no bitter complaint against her accuser. She does not bid him to look at home, and upbraid him with the conduct of his own sons. She does not tell him how ill and unbecoming it was for one, in his place and office, to abuse a poor disconsolate woman at the footstool of divine mercy. She knew that a proper representation of her condition and conduct in respectful language would be the best argument in her favour. Eli was an imperfect character, yet there were in him traces of real excellencies, and his ingenuousness is one of them. He is open to conviction, and willing to acknowledge himself mistaken, and ready to make amends for the injury he had done her, by his blessing and his prayers. A lively writer has said, "I was mistaken" are the three hardest words to pronounce in the English language. Yet it seems but acknowledging that we are wiser then we were before to see our error, and humbler than we were before to own it. But so it is; and Goldsmith observes that Frederic the Great did himself more honour by his letter to his senate, stating that he had just lost a great battle by his own fault, than by all the victories he had won.
5. Observe her relief and satisfaction. "And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad." Her satisfaction arose from two things. First, the rectifying Eli's mistake concerning her, and the blessing he had pronounced upon her; for whet can be more consoling than to stand fair in the judgment of those we value? "To live in the estimation of the wise and good," says Robinson, "is like walking in an eastern spice grove." Secondly, the confidence in God, which is derived from prayer.
Ah! how different is the eye of God and the eye of man! While Eli rebukes Hannah as a drunken woman, God is holding secret communion with her as a praying saint. I was once passing by the seaside, where there was a great variety of beautiful and valuable stones. I understood little or nothing about them, and was for picking up those which appeared the prettiest to me. I took them to a person who understood stones; he smiled, and told me they were only fit to mend the road with; and then he showed me some which he had been cutting asunder, and which were indeed beautiful: but when I took them in my hand and examined the outside, I could not but acknowledge that they were almost the last that I should have thought of picking up. These stones then preached a useful sermon to me, and their text seemed to be this, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." (John 7:24
chanced to espy a poor man meanly apparelled, he would say to himself, 'Truly, Bernard, this man hath more patience beneath his cross than thou hast;' but if he saw a rich man delicately clothed, then he would say, 'It may be that this man, under his delicate clothing, hath a better soul than thou hast under thy religious habit!'" This showed an excellent charity! Oh, that we could learn it! It is easy to think evil of all men, for there is sure to he some fault about each one which the least discerning may readily discover; but it is far more worthy of a Christian, and shows much more nobility of soul, to spy out the good in each fellow believer. This needs a larger mind as well as a better heart, and hence it should be a point of honour to practise ourselves in it till we obtain an aptitude for it. Any simpleton might be set to sniff out offensive odours; but it would require a scientific man to bring to us all the fragrant essences and rare perfumes which lie hid in field and garden. Oh, to learn the science of Christian charity! It is an art far more to be esteemed than the most lucrative of human labours. This choice art of love is the true alchemy. Charity towards others, abundantly practised, would be the death of envy and the life of fellowship, the overthrow of self and the enthronement of grace.
Hannah answered and said, No, my Lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit.
The special cause of Hannah's sorrow arose from the institution of polygamy, which, although it was tolerated under the old law, is always exhibited to us in practical action as a most fruitful source of sorrow and sin. The worse the woman the better she could get on with the system of many wives, but the good woman, the true woman, was sure to smart under it. But enough sources of grief remain; and there is not in any household, however joyous, the utter absence of the cross. The worldling say, "There is a skeleton in every house." I know little about such dead things, but I know that a cross of some sort or other must be borne by every child of God. The smoking furnace is part of the insignia of the heavenly family, without which a man may well question whether he stands in covenant relationship to God at all. MUCH THAT IS PRECIOUS MAY BE CONNECTED WITH A SORROWFUL SPIRIT. Note well the precious things which went in Hannah's case with a sorrowful spirit. She was a godly woman. As we read the chapter, we are thoroughly certified that her heart was right with God. Many of the sweetest flowers in the garden of grace grow in the shade, and flourish in the drip. True, there are children of the tropical sun, whose beauty and fragrance could only be produced by having bathed themselves in the golden flood, and these, in certain respects, must always stand in the forefront, yet are there choice flowerets to whom the unshaded sun would be death. They prefer a sheltered bank, or a ravine in the forest, under the shadow of the thick boughs, where a softened, mellowed light developes them to perfection. I am persuaded that he "who feedeth among the lilies" has rare plants in his flora, fair and fragrant, choice and comely, which are more at home in the damps of mourning than in the glaring sun of joy. I have known such, who have been a living lesson to us all, from their broken-hearted penitence, their solemn earnestness, their jealous watchfulness, their sweet humility, and their gentle love.
2. Hannah was a lovable woman.
3. In Hannah's case, too, the woman of a sorrowful spirit was a very gentle woman.
4. There was more, however, than I have shown you, for Hannah was a thoughtful woman, for her sorrow drove her first within herself, and next into much communion with her God. That she was a highly thoughtful woman appears in everything she says. The product of her mind is evidently that which only a cultivated soul could yield.
5. Remember, also, that though she was a woman of a sorrowful spirit, she was a blessed woman. It is now clear that much that is precious may go with a sorrowful spirit.MUCH THAT IS PRECIOUS MAY COME OUT OF A SORROWFUL SPIRIT: it is not only to be found with it, but may even grow out of it.
1. Observe, first, that through her sorrowful spirit Hannah had learned to pray. In too many cases ease and health bring a chill over supplication, and there is a needs be for a stirring of the fire with the rough iron of trial. Many a flower reserves its odour till the rough wind waves it to and fro, and shakes out its fragrance. As a rule the tried man is the praying man, the angel must wrestle with us in the night before we learn to hold him, and cry, "I will not let thee go."
2. In the next place, Hannah had learned self-denial. This is clear, since the very prayer by which she hoped to escape out of her great grief was a self-denying one. She desired a son, that her reproach might be removed; but if her eyes might be blessed with such a sight she would cheerfully resign her darling to be the Lord's as long as he lived.
3. Another precious thing had come to this woman, and that was, she had learned faith.
4. Still more of preciousness this woman of a sorrowful spirit found growing out of her sorrow: she had evidently learned much of God. Driven from common family joys she had been drawn near to God, and in that heavenly fellowship she had remained a humble waiter and watcher. In seasons of sacred nearness to the Lord she had made many heavenly discoveries of his name and nature, as her song makes us perceive.(1) She now knew that the heart's truest joy is not in children, nor even in mercies given in answer to prayer, for she began to sing, "My heart rejoiceth in the Lord" — not "in Samuel," but in Jehovah her chief delight was found. "Mine horn is exalted in the Lord."(2) Next, she had also discovered the Lord's glorious holiness, for she sang, "There is none holy as the Lord."(3) She had perceived His all-sufficiency; "There is none beside thee; neither is there any rock like our God."(4) She had found out God's method in providence, for how sweetly she sings, "The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength."(5) She had also been taught the way and method of his grace as well as of his providence, for never did a woman show more acquaintance with the wonders of divine grace than she did when she sang, "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory."(6) She had also seen the Lord's faithfulness to his people.(7) She had foreseen, also, somewhat of His kingdom, and of the glory of it. Her prophetic eye, made brighter and clearer by her holy tears, enabled her to look into the future, and looking, her joyful heart made her sing, "He shall give strength unto his King, and exalt the horn of his Anointed."MUCH THAT IS PRECIOUS WILL YET BE GIVEN TO THOSE WHO ARE TRULY THE LORD'S, EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE A SORROWFUL SPIRIT.
1. Hannah had her prayers answered.
2. Not only did there come to Hannah after her sorrow an answered prayer, but grace to use that answer.
3. Hannah had acquired another blessing, and that was the power to magnify the Lord.
4. Moreover, her sorrow prepared her to receive further blessings, for after the birth of Samuel she had three more sons and two daughters, God thus giving her five for the one that she had dedicated to him. This was grand interest for her loan: five hundred per cent. Last of all, it was by suffering in patience that she became so brave a witness for the Lord, and could so sweetly sing, "There is none holy as the Lord, neither is there any rock like our God."
Hannah still found prayer and patience the best anodynes and antidotes for assuaging her grief; cold patience must quench her corrival's fiery contumely, and hot fervent prayer must quicken and prevail with God to grant her desire; and to animate her devotion the more she adds warm tears thereunto, and, as if all this were not enough, she subjoins likewise her solemn vow to God, saying, If thou wilt give thine hand maid a man child, then will I give him to the Lord all the days of his life. The judge misjudged, and misconstrued her true devotion, as was that of those Primitive Christians (Acts 2:13
). Thus also both ancient and modern martyrs have been misjudged in all ages, and if we be so in our age, God is not leading us through any untrodden paths; many better than we have tons before us in that way, but our comfort is the day of judgment will judge over again all that are misjudged. (Psalm 37:6
). Hannah is silent, touching the taunts of Peninnah, that was so peevish to her; and though she could not be so to Eli's taunts here, but answers them, yet she setteth not up a loud note at him, calling him a false accuser; nor doth she twit him in the teeth, with bidding him to look better to those drunken whoremasters, his own sons, saying vies corrects sin, as many pert dames would have done in her circumstances; but she gives him a milder answer to his reproaches than the blessed Apostle could scarcely give to the High Priest in his day (Acts 23:5
) calling him a whited wall, etc., but she here gives the high priest good words, patiently bearing his unjust censurings of her.
3. Here is her prudence, as well as patience, she seeketh to satisfy him against his false judgment. Saith she, I am a woman, in whom drunkenness is more abominable than in men; and thereupon the Romans punished it with death, as well as adultery, and that she was a woman of a troubled spirit, so more likely to be drunk with her own tears (whereof, good soul, she had drunk abundance) rather than with any intoxicating liquors.
4. Behold here, her humility and modesty together with her patience and prudence, none of which could have shined so forth in her, had she been really drunk according to Eli's over-severe sentence; notwithstanding Eli's rash severity in so misjudging her, yet she useth no railing accusation against him, as is said of Michael against the Devil (Jude ver. 9) in calling him an unjust judge.
Thy petition that thou hast asked of him.
To make prayer of any value there should be definite objects for which to plead. We often ramble in our prayers, we chatter about many subjects, but the soul does not concentrate itself upon any object. Imagine an archer shooting with his bow and not knowing where the mark is! Would he be likely to have success? Conceive a ship, on a voyage of discovery, putting to sea without the captain having any idea of what he was looking for! Would you expect that he would come back laden either with the discoveries of science or with treasures of gold? In everything else you have a plan. You do not go to work without knowing that there is something that you designed to make. How is it that you go to God without knowing what blessing you designed to have?
And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the Lord.
The fragrance of the morning prayer lingers with us throughout the day. A man cannot free himself from the farewell kiss of his wife and little one throughout his day of toil. They urge him to his best endeavour. In the moment of peril they haunt him like a guardian angel. In like manner the fragrant protection of God's morning kiss upon the soul lingers with and fortifies it for its duties, be they never so varied and exacting. His blessing rests upon us from our morning prayer, and quickens our homeward footsteps when the day is done, for we hunger for His more immediate presence again.
And Elkanah her husband said unto her.
It is a poor manhood and a dishonourable, neglectful fatherhood that leaves all the religious life and devotion of children to the mother or to others, and it must be disreputable before the Lord. Nor is the blameworthiness avoided by the habit of urging the claims of the busy life of our days. If any father thinks that saving a little more money for the children, or in order to give them better social position and appearance, is of greater importance than his own careful nurture of them in the love of Christ and in consecration to the Lord, then to God he will have to answer for the folly of his judgment and the evil of his practice and neglect. If the father does not hope in God for the children, as well as the mother tend them for the Lord, life must have sorrowful mistakes, if not miserable wrecks. The mother at home watches over the child for the Lord's sake in many homes, stud what does the father do? Is it only careless, irreverent agreement that he gives to the life plans of the mother for the souls of the sons and daughters; or, recognising in the mother's love and devotion the will of God, does he at least lift up all his heart in prayer to God that the Lord would establish His word of promise by accepting, for all rims and eternity, the little ones whom He has given? We — men and fathers — have our part in the consecration of the children as well as the mothers who watch them through the perils of their infancy; and if our hands do not touch the children so often as do the mother's, in watchfulness and guidance, yet should our hearts the more wait on God in longing for the establishment of His word of hope. No father can without sin delegate all the spiritual nurture of his children to their mother; still less can he, without guilt, hand it over to a stranger in school or church.
He would be a foolish gardener who never pruned or nailed up a delicate fruit tree till the branches carried their young leaves and open blossoms. No! train and guide for the coming blossoming time; and when it comes the sweet growth of hearts accepted in the Beloved and in the covenant will be provided by the Spirit of life. Thus Hannah trained her little Samuel to recognise himself as dedicated to the Lord; and, as we shall soon see, she had not long to wait for the child's ratification of her vow.
And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks.
There is nothing more characteristic of Christianity than the tenderness and sympathy which it inspires. The Bible delights in domestic scenes; and it presents to us the pious mother in her anxieties, in her prayers, in her vows, and then in the dedication of the child obtained by prayer to the Lord her God.
I. The first question we purpose to consider is, AT WHAT AGE DO WE PROPOSE TO COMMENCE THE EDUCATION OF CHILDREN? And I answer, at the age at which Samuel was brought by Hannah to the Lord; "when she had weaned him" — when "the child was young." Now, the reason why we begin with children so early, even under the age of seven years, is important. The reason, therefore, why we begin so early is, because their depravity begins to manifest itself so early: the disorder begins early, and we must begin early to apply the remedy.
2. And, also, because habits are early formed.
3. Because, also, in early age they are most susceptible.
4. Also, because in this age juvenile depravity abounds.
5. But it may be asked, not only at what age do we begin, and why do we begin so early; but, how do we apply ourselves to the work? I answer, we seize on the natural vivacity and buoyancy of children, and aim to improve it to good purposes.
II. THE OBJECT WE HAVE ULTIMATELY IN VIEW. And that is, their dedication to God; we lend them to the Lord, that, as long as they live, they may be His.
1. Instruction in the elements of the Christian religion. The first thing that Eli would probably do with the young Samuel, would be to instruct him in the history of the Old Testament.
2. But there would be a danger, even in religious instruction, if the children were not early taught to deny themselves; if they were not duly disciplined, and made to practise self-government.
3. But beside this, due regard must be paid to the great sacrifice of the Christian system. I gather this from the first verse of the text. When Hannah took the young child to the house of God, she took with her "three bullocks."
4. There is the hope that these children will be brought to dedicate themselves to God all the days of their lives. "As long as he liveth, he shall be lent unto the Lord."
5. And then, all this must be accompanied by fervent prayer.
III. THE MOTIVES WE HAVE TO ENCOURAGE US. The first is gratitude, looking back to the past; the next is hope, looking forward to the future.
And the child was young.
In the Hebrew of this passage, the word translated "young" is the same as that translated "child," so that the literal rendering of the words is, "and the child was a child." This may have two meanings, both of which are very instructive. The first meaning is that the child was young in age, when he was dedicated to the Lord by his parents. Very likely the words before us, "the child was young," are put in as a sort of explanation, as much as to say: "He was entirely dependent upon his mother and father; so young that he could not have gone up to Shiloh by himself; if he could walk a little, it was all he could do; he could not have brought himself to Eli, or into the house of the Lord." But the words, "and the child was young," may bear another and perhaps a more satisfactory meaning. It would be high praise if it were said of a man, "and the man was a man"; we should understand by it that he was brave, outspoken, fearless, upright, possessed of all manly virtues. And when it is said, "the child was a child," perhaps we are to understand that the little Samuel had all childlike graces, was gentle, teachable, humble, submissive to his parents, and those set over him. And this may lead us to think how the young people of our own days have too often none of those graces, which should distinguish young people; the children are too often children no more — in forwardness, in conceit, in insubordination, in want of respect for parents and elders, they are like persons three or four times as old as themselves: a very bad sign of the times, and only matching too well with others which we see around us.
For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition.
"The Hand of God in History" might be the appropriate title of many of the hooks of Scripture, for the sacred records largely illustrate the agency of God in the affairs of men. As an engineer adjusts all the parts of his machine to accomplish one result, and by a touch of his hand can direct their motion; so has God arranged the events of time, harmonised their diversities, and gathered into unity their manifold influences. Great events have often been originated by most trivial causes, and great men have been developed in most unlikely ways. The stain left on paper by the bark in which Lawrence Foster had rudely cut his name, led to the invention of printing — a power of mightiest influence on the world. The fall of an apple in the garden of Sir Isaac Newton suggested to that great philosopher the law of gravitation, till then unknown, but which is now recognised as the security of creation. To the Ishmaelite merchants, and to the captain of Pharaoh's guard, it was an ordinary affair of commerce to buy or sell a slave, yet from the Hebrew boy, the subject of their traffic, what marvellous events transpired, of vast importance to the temporal welfare of a nation, and to the Church, in whose memory Joseph is forever embalmed! That child, at the mercy of the Nile and its crocodiles, found so timeously by Pharaoh's daughter, was to attain a greater eminence than the king who fostered him, and to become the first historian and lawgiver of the world. In Israel of old it would excite no wonder that a wedded wife longed to be a mother; for, by the promise of Jehovah, the woman's seed was to be the great Deliverer. Nor would it seem unbecoming that a godly wife should cry to God for offspring; yet that simple Hannah on her knees became the link of a chain in the revival of piety and patriotism in the Promised Land. Though by no means without light, the Church of Israel had been favoured with no direct prophecy since the death of Joshua. Religion during the long interval had its ebbings and flowings — less and less marked, and had evidently declined. There was a lack of patriotism in the decline of piety; for among the Hebrews, religious and patriotic sentiments were essentially conjoined, and mutually stimulative. The ritual of the chosen people had become formal, and their worship often idolatrous. True worshippers were isolated during this dark age of the Church of Israel. Though they kept the candle of the Lord from going out, they did not arrest the national degeneracy. To keep religion lively, it is not enough for individual souls to wait upon the Lord. Activity is one of the most salutary means of spiritual health. Unless we become the means of reviving others, they will deaden us. Like bodies in nature, where the heat of one either warms the other or is cooler by the contact, so a living piety raises the standard of others, and a languid devotion is lowered to the level of the contiguous death. The true worshipper was not called upon to absent himself, or separate, though ministers of the sanctuary were unworthy. The priesthood then was by descent of blood, not by piety. In the New Testament dispensation it is otherwise. There has been occasional necessity for protesting and seceding from the professing Church. When Christianity was established, the Church seceded from the Jewish Temple; when it was reformed, it was by a protest against the errors of the Papacy; and when it has been purified still further, there have been secessions from Establishments for conscience sake. But Elkanah was obedient to the divine call when he went to Shiloh. He honoured the ordinances that were appointed by God, and waited at the place where Jehovah had put his name, and where he met his people. Let us now turn to Samuel's mother. Hannah was a pious and prayerful woman. Year after year, at the solemn feasts, did Peninnah reproach the sensitive Hannah. With intense earnestness of soul did she cry to God and wrestle at the throne of grace, though not a word escaped her lips. Hannah went home without her sadness, and buoyant with the expectation of answered prayer. Faith triumphed over nature, and in this earnest realised the blessing. Nor was her faith misplaced or unrewarded. She saw the Divine gift in the child of her affection, and received a lesson of gratitude and dependence in his every smile and tear. Hannah's piety did not cool when her wish was gratified. She regarded her child as a sacred deposit to be returned to God. She had asked him from Heaven; and, ere he saw the light, she had written many prayers on his behalf in the book of God's remembrance.
1. This family scene speaks to all Christian parents. In the diary of a mother who lived in a secluded spot of Long Island, America, was inscribed this record some forty years ago: "This morning I rose very early to pray for my children, and especially that my sons may be ministers and missionaries of Jesus Christ." Her life corresponded with her piety, and her influence upon her children was blessed. Her prayers on their behalf were abundantly answered. Her eight children were all trained up for God. Her five sons became ministers and missionaries of Jesus Christ. The others are well known in the American Church. The Rev. Henry Ward Beecher is another of these fruits of a mother's prayers. Begin the dedication and Christian training of your children early, and continue them with earnest prayer, confiding faith, and hopeful perseverance. "Hold the little hands in prayer, teach the weak knees their kneeling. Let him see thee speaking to thy God; he will not forget it afterward. When old and grey he will feelingly remember a mother's tender piety; and the touching recollection of her prayers shall arrest the strong man in his sin." Train their imitative powers — so strong in childhood — to copy a good example seen in your own daily life. Watch the first growth of grace with eagerness as intense as the first step, or the earliest articulation of a father or a mother's name.
2. This family scene speaks to sons and daughters. It shows the blessed estate of children who have been dedicated to the Lord by parental prayer, and whose careful training has been the improvement of that privilege. Such is the testimony of an American statesman, who was exposed to much spiritual danger at the period of the French Revolution in the eighteenth century when a strong tide of unbelief rolled over the civilised world: "I believe I should have been swept away by the flood of French infidelity if it had not been for one thing — the remembrance of the time when my sainted mother used to make me kneel by her side, taking my little hands in hers, and cause me to repeat the Lord's Prayer." Nor is the case of John Randolph a solitary example. It is the blessing promised to all praying and believing mothers.
3. This family scene speaks to those who remember with bitterness their neglect of youthful opportunities, and their sad misimprovement of a mother's fondest wishes, and a father's solid counsels.
Nor are we to marvel that the Book of God should concern itself here and elsewhere with matters that are sometimes the occasion of silly smiles in the unreverent, or meet only with profane disregard in the shallow. Rather, let us in our hearts and homes thank God for a Book that, coming from Him, so hallows our human affections, deals so reverently and tenderly with a woman's disappointments and a man's affection, and also with his pity for her sadness, as that it opens the history of the first, and in some things the greatest of the prophetical order, with the story of Hannah's grief and Elkanah's effort at consolation. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ does not laugh any human hope or grief to scorn. Now, this earnestness, this very agony of deep desire in Hannah, is an instance of God's forerunning grace; the grace that blesses us even before we see the light of this world; that blesses us in our ancestry, in our homes and kindred, in our father and mother — the grace that sanctifies us by a mother's piety, and by the prayers offered to God before she knows a mother's joy. God's best men and women have been from mothers' prayers and vows, and from fathers' solemn consecration. Blessed unspeakably is, or ought to be, that life of man or woman, boy or girl, that has been heralded into the world not only by pain, but also by prayer, and its advent into these "lower parts of the earth" prefaced by the hand of father or mother laying hold upon God. God's forerunning, preparing grace is not the cold supervision of an Almighty One who deals with human tears or joys only as incidents in the outworking of His inscrutable will; but it is the loving, gentle touch of a Father who takes a woman's tearful longings, or a man's joys and hopes; and by the longing and the hope, by the tears and joys of father and mother, prepares greatly consecrated men and saintly women of God. So was it with Samuel the asked and heard of God. Thus was it with Jeremiah and Timothy and , and that other early teacher of the Church of whom it is told that often, when he slept the sleep of babyhood, his devoted father would bend over him and reverently kiss the little breast that by consecration of father and mother had become the temple of the Holy Ghost. In her grief she was a reproach to the feast of tabernacles, at which all were to be happy. Her grief was no nobler than ours is ofttimes, but just as human; and like ours, too, in this — that a strain of fretfulness ran through it. Yet there is in Hannah's grief one feature that more than redeems it from commonness. After years of repining she has at last dared to share her trouble with the God of Israel, and pour it forth as into the bosom of the Lord of Hosts. That is now a blessedness in her bitterness. She has, at length, gone where alone it is well to weep, grieve, regret, or be bitter; to the mercy seat. For it is safe and blessed to pour out life's bitterness only where you can pray: and that is not to the sympathy of men and women, but to the heart of God, at the feet of Jesus, before the Ark of the Covenant. There we may weep, grieve, mourn, and pray about anything. What do we pray for? Is it possession or consecration? Is it selfishly to hold earth's blessings and heaven's gifts on earth, and with them minister as much as we can to our own satisfaction and delight, or, behind and deeper than our own longings and cravings for self, have we a wish to truly serve the Lord with His own blessings, and "gladly give up all to Him to whom our more than all is due?" Oh! pray not for mere possession; pray that the more you have of anything, the more you may be able to consecrate to God; and pray, too, that you may not have anything without devotion of it to God. If you long for life here, and there is no reason why you should not, let it be that you may the longer live to Christ's praise. If you ask for this world's good, let it be that you may devote the more to Jesus. If you long for the love and light of this world, for the home lights that may be denied you, for the lamps of love to shine about you that have never yet been kindled for you, let it be that with fuller heart and wider reach of affection you may the more reveal and illustrate the love that passeth knowledge. If you seek for pardon, let it be under the quick impulse of love to Christ, and in order to glorify His cross. The high priest's words might have fallen on this distressed soul like a blast of frosty winter over the blossoms of the early spring time. How often tender hearts run risk from the ignorant hardness of others; who, perhaps, mean well enough, but are regardless of "wringing or breaking a heart." Nay, the more tender the heart's experience is, the more it hazards from intercourse with men at such times. God alone, Christ alone can be trusted for the right understanding, the gentle treatment of our griefs and wants and prayers. Many a time — God grant unwittingly — they wound where the Lord would heal, or heal but slightly when the Lord would wholly save. We are not fit to take care of one another; "who is sufficient for these things?" I have known of souls alienated from life and full consecration by the ill-judged or lightly-weighed utterance of a minister of Christ, who has thought as wisely when he has spoken to heart's experience as Eli did when he looked at Hannah, and told her to cease from her drunkenness. She had prayed, therefore she might go in peace. She had poured out her heart to the Lord, why should she, then, be sad any more? She had made her cares the Lord's, she had cast her burden upon the Lord, and might now be at rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. Nor should we ever be other than calm after prayer, even though the answer be for a while ungranted. An ungranted petition is no warrant for not abiding calmly after we have tried to make our cares God's; for either He will, at the best time, give us what we ask, or at the proper time give us something better than our prayers. Thus it came about that Samuel was "asked of the Lord," as in later days he was known as the "heard of the Lord."
It was heard prayer.
2. It was based on a new name for God. She appealed to Jehovah under a new title, "Jehovah of Hosts," as though it were nothing to Him to summon into existence an infant spirit, whom she might call child.
3. It was definite prayer. "Give unto thine handmaid a man-child." "For this child I prayed." So many of our prayers miscarry because they are aimed at no special goal.
4. It was prayer without reserve. "I have poured out my soul before the Lord."
5. It was persevering prayer. "It came to pass, as she continued praying before the Lord."
6. It was prayer that received its coveted boon.
7. The workings of sorrow. In this prayer we can trace the harvest sown in years of suffering. Only one who had greatly suffered could have poured out such a prayer.
Hannah emptied her heart of its sorrow, and had it filled with peace. She could eat her meat with a merry heart, and was no more sad. Nor did she forget praise after prayer. She rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the Lord. Little grace can pray; but only great grace can praise. Any child can ask for what it wants, or cry out when he is in pain; but it is not every child that has a heart to be grateful for kindness received; or that will even be at the pains to say, Thank you for it, though told day after day that he ought. Children of God! do you not plead guilty here? Where is the same earnestness in praising that there was in praying? When have you been so thankful for the mercy received, as you thought, when you were begging for it, you would be, if you might but have it? Oh that our hearts may be better tuned for that happy place where every breath is praises The prayers of Hannah were nigh unto the Lord continually: he remembered her, and gave her a son; and that she might never forget how she had obtained him, she called him Samuel, that is, Asked of God; so that every time she heard or uttered the name of the dear child, she might remember her prayer answering God, and be stirred up to renewed praise. What is this grateful woman preparing as an offering for her God? No less than the much loved child she has received from him! "Hannah said, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord and there abide forever." And is this the way, Hannah, in which you mean to enjoy the much longed for treasure? O woman, great is thy faith! great is thy wisdom! Yes, it is just in proportion as we reader back unto the Lord that which he hath given us, and place it at his disposal, and under his care, that we enjoy it. You know when anyone wants to make the most of his money, he puts it into the bank. Now, if you want to make the most of a mercy or a comfort, place it in the Lord's hands, and be welt assured that you shall receive your own with usury. Earthly banks may fail and disappoint, but you will never meet with one who has been a loser by putting into the Lord's bank. I mean by devoting any thing to Him, as Hannah devoted her darling child. He promises you a hundred fold even in this present life, and you know he is always as good as his word. And now, while Hannah was weaning her infant, she had the yet more difficult task of weaning her own heart: you may be sure that every day tended to endear him more to her; and you will expect that her resolution at last failed her; but Hannah knew where her great strength lay, and she found the truth of her own sweet song, "He will keep the feet of His saints." As soon as ever she had weaned the child, she set out on her first and last journey with him, taking offerings and sacrifices for the temple service, and especially, the calves of the lips, even praise unto her God. "He worshipped the Lord there." How very beautiful is this acknowledgment to the praise of a prayer answering God! Ah! how many an answer is unheeded by us when we ought to be inscribing upon it in letters of glowing gratitude, "For this mercy I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him." Nay, my children, were our eyes properly opened to discern between good and evil, we might inscribe on many a thing with which we are inclined to quarrel, "For this I prayed."
Intercessory prayer for your children is necessary, as an evidence of the earnestness of feeling and purpose with which you have entered upon your office.
2. Earnest intercessory prayer will eminently contribute to prepare and qualify the mind for more effectually dealing with the children. Successful teaching, in so far at least as the cultivation of the religious element of character is concerned, depends, I am convinced, much more upon moral than intellectual qualifications.
3. Prayer for the children will infuse strength, promptitude, and energy to your mind, amid the manifold difficulties and discouragements of your office.
4. And, lastly, earnest intercessory prayer will bring the blessing of God down upon your children.
What a succession of transmutations these verses present! The bitterness of a woman's grief is transmuted into earnest, believing, importunate prayer; this prayer returns to her in a precious gift: this gift, so earnestly sought, causes in its receiver a deep sense of gratitude; this gratitude leads to the willing consecration of the divine gift to its Giver; this sacrifice of Hannah's darling son is transformed into an unspeakable national blessing. Out of a woman's sorrow comes a nation's reformation and salvation. All the great works of God for man begin in man; in some one heart which He visits with trials and comforts, with conflicts and victories. And He will use the commonest means along with the most sacred to bring to pass His purpose. Hannah was in that state of mind which turns everything into fuel to feed its own consuming passion. That there may have been something of self-will, perhaps of discontent and envy, in her feelings, we may not be able to deny. For, in point of fact, you never, or very rarely, do obtain from our poor humanity a desire which is absolutely pure, without mixture of selfishness of some sort. And God, who is rich in mercy, forgives the sin, and accepts the desire as the germ of a higher life. If the strength of holy desire disturbs sin, and sin defiles the stream of our prayers and services, yet it is only by the continual flow of our better feelings that we attain to a greater purity; the stream cleanses itself by movement, whereas stagnation is increase of pollution. Hannah, then, was discontented with life as it was, how far with a holy, how far with an unholy, discontent we cannot say. She was burdened and miserable. And in such a state of mind she might have become chronically depressed, dissatisfied, wretched. She might have turned from God, and shut herself in upon herself. She might have allowed her grief to corrode her heart, and poison all her life. Instead of this, it was transmuted into prayer. Concentrated, continuous, importunate prayer, in which the suppliant was quite oblivious of all observers — such was the way in which she pleaded her case before the Lord. And, in a similar manner, God wishes us all to transmute and transform the evils and sorrows of life into prayer. The worst thing we can do is to be silent about them toward Him, though it will, perhaps, be the best to be so toward men. And, even if we are sometimes so confused that we know not how to frame a petition, then let us simply go to God, and talk to Him about it, as we might talk to our dearest friend. It will give us some measure of relief to know that it is shared by Another, and He the wisest and the best; it will bring the mind into that partial repose which comes from leaning, if only in a small degree, upon faithful love. Turn trouble, disappointment, bereavement. anxiety — aye, even sin — into prayer. These are like the dark, hard, rough ore, which is put by the smelter into the fire, and from which comes a bright stream of precious metal. Turn your sorrows into prayer, and prayer will transmute them into gold. Hannah's prayer was transmuted into a gift, the very gift she had prayed for. "For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him." She might have loved the child had she not prayed so specially for him; but she loved him all the better for prayer and for the answer that he was to it. "For this child I prayed." Thus the prayers of God's people often take concrete form, and stand round about them as unmistakable evidences of His remembrance of them and interference for them. "For this home I prayed," one can say. "For this situation, this business, I prayed," another can say. "For this mission, its establishment, its maintenance, its usefulness, I prayed," a third can say. "For this poor man, for this unhappy woman, that I might get food, shelter, aid for them, I prayed," a fourth can say. "For this man's conversion I prayed," a fifth can say. Yes; God hears and answers prayer. The fervent wish sent up to Him, like Hannah's prayer, without vocal words, comes back in rich visible gifts, as the invisible vapours are drawn up by the nun, and return in fertilising showers. The transmutation was again repeated when the answer to prayer was changed into gratitude. It is possible to pray when we are in great trouble, and to be answered, and then forget God who helped us. Complaining comes easier to human nature than thanksgiving. And, unlike Miriam's song, it was not an outburst caused by excited feeling which spent itself in words, but a sign of a permanent condition of mind. The gift never became more to her than the Giver, never shut God out from her consciousness, never tempted her to act and think as if now she could do without Him. This was a distinct and great advance in her spiritual life. The sense of need was good, so was prayer for help, but the unfailing thankfulness of her heart was better still. She had come out to walk with God in the sunshine. And now we coma to observe how gratitude rose to the still higher level of sacrifice. "For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him: Therefore, also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be long to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there." She did not forget her vow as so many do. The one and only child whom she had gained by a great wrestling, the jewel of her heart, she surrendered. Hannah is greatest and is nearest to God in sacrifice. Her spirit is now exquisitely pure; her loyalty to God is absolute. Here is a vital difference between a soul which is truly devout and one which only calls upon God in trouble for the sake of what he can get. God so comes into the first as that the gift he seeks makes him loving, trustful, self-forgetful; he passes beyond it into a quiet acquiescence in the perfect will of the Father; he comes to God with such fulness of faith that, like Abraham, he would surrender even the coveted gift again. It is sacrifice, and yet not sacrifice; for there is no wrench of the heart, no struggle of the will. Hannah was happier after she had left her darling at Shiloh. And now, finally, let us observe how this sacrifice of her motherly heart, this voluntary and happy surrender to God of His best gift, was transformed into a national blessing. Hannah's consecrated child became the judge and saviour of his people. But how much wider was that service than ever he or his praying mother had imagined! They thought of him as a life-long attendant in the tabernacle, where he would be sheltered from the noise and battle of life; but God designed him for a man of action, for a judge and ruler of His people You never know what honour God may put upon your sacrifice. He sees more value in it than you do. The poor widow who gave her mite, gave, all unknown to herself, a lesson in true sacrifice and in loving trust in God to all the world When Moffat's mother entreated him to give his heart to God she never thought that God would enter that heart with such love and zeal for the salvation of the heathen, and would crown her boy with such distinguished usefulness.
The desire of Jewish women to be the mothers of families was connected with religious feeling: children were regarded as a blessing from the Lord, and the withholding of them was considered a token of the Divine displeasure. That this was the fact, we might bring many instances from the Old Testament to prove. Rachel, on the birth of her firstborn, said, "God hath taken away my reproach." Here, then, she felt her only resource was prayer; "she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore." This sort of supplication never fails: "thus saith the Lord, I have heard thy prayer; I have seen thy gears." Tears and prayers! happy is it for the mourner when these are united. Tears are barren in themselves; they express sorrow, but not humiliation — not faith. We have only to remark, further, the humility, with which she offered her most precious treasure to the Lord: she brought a large additional offering of her substance, and immediately before the presentation of her son to Eli she caused a bullock to be slain as a burnt offering. This was the Jewish sin offering, foreshadowing the blood of the Atonement: in her case,. it clearly proved that she was deeply conscious there was nothing meritorious in her surrender of her son; that, as a sinful mother offering a sinful child, she had a favour to seek, rather than one to offer; and that she only hoped for acceptance, either for herself or her child, through the blood of the atonement.
1. With regard to THE OCCASIONS OF PRAYER. "Is any among you afflicted? let him pray; I called upon the Lord in trouble, and the Lord heard me at large." Far be it from me to imply that the time of trouble is the only time for prayer. But, whether or not they can understand the reason of God's dealings with them, let me impress upon their minds that the time of trouble is the special time for prayer; let them, in this respect, mark Hannah's example. There is a temptation to flee from God in trouble; the disinclination to prayer is, in many cases, never greater than then; the natural inclination is to wrap up the heart in the sullenness of its own grief — to seek a morbid pleasure in excluding everything that tends to comfort. I would take this opportunity of saying a word upon a subject, perhaps too little thought of; I mean, the suitability of God's house for private prayer.
2. Let us say a word about ITS CONDITIONS. Hannah vowed a vow unto the Lord, "if Thou wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life." What we desire you to gather from this is, that we must never ask for anything which we cannot, or will not devote to the service of God. Lot us examine the case of Hannah as a fair example. She wished for a son: the wish was natural; but was it safe? was she not wishing for an object of affection, that would too probably, if granted, prove an idol? We cannot deny the likelihood: see, then, how in making the request she recognised and provided against the danger; Give me a son, O Lord; and I will give him back to Thee: I dare not trust myself to ask the unqualified gift; my present feelings tell me how dangerous it would be. Now all prayer, in order to be acceptable to God or profitable to ourselves, must be associated with this kind of condition. In asking for spiritual grace, the condition cannot be separated from the prayer; we only ask for greater ability to devote ourselves to God, and to "glorify him in our body and in our spirit which are God's."
3. And, lastly, we are taught a lesson respecting THE ANSWER OF PRAYER. With the answer to prayer will always come the temptation to forget the vow that accompanied it. I need not tell you that there may be a wide difference between a gift and a blessing. Children are gifts, but sometimes no blessings; look at Hophni and Phinehas, the wicked sons of Eli. Wealth is a gift; intellectual and physical power, friends, good health and spirits are all gifts, but very often no blessings: we cannot but desire them; we are permitted and encouraged to ask them; but, if we get them, let us remember the condition: the condition and the blessing are bound together; without the one, there is no acceptable prayer; without the other, there is no profitable answer. Everything that relates to our happiness depends upon God's favour; unless we have this, we may have all our natural desires gratified, but leanness withal in our souls. Let us, then, seek this first, and all things else shall be added unto us. And, above all, in seasons of affliction do not let us suppose that everything depends upon a change of circumstances; do not let us resolve not to be happy, until something is given, or something is withdrawn: but let us, in humble trust, put our case in God's hands.
The birth of a child is one of the most important events that ever takes place in our world. But for the frequency of the occurrence, it would be deemed little less than a miracle of nature and providence. The birth of an infant is a far greater event than the production of the sun. That infant is possessed of reason, conscience, and immortality. It is true these principles are not yet developed, but they are in embryo, and the oak is contained in the acorn, and the day in the dawn. There is also a relative, as well as a personal importance attached to the birth of a child; for who knows what that child may become, what good or evil he may occasion, what misery or happiness he may produce? The birth of Samuel was attended with circumstances peculiarly important and interesting. Hannah had prayed to be remembered, and "the Lord remembered her, and she conceived." And can she forget Him who has thus graciously remembered her?
1. The very name shall perpetuate the memory of the mercy. "And she called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord." Thus she could never pronounce the name without recalling the occasion.
2. She undertakes the early care of him in person. When, therefore, Elkanah and his family went up as usual to Shiloh, she determined to remain at home for this very purpose. In this state the utmost attention, and kindness, and tenderness, were her well-deserved due; and it is pleasing to see the exemplariness of her husband in his disposition and behaviour towards her. Though all the males were required to repair to Shiloh thrice in the year, the obligation did not extend to females. God requires mercy and not sacrifice, and dispenses with public institutions when we are obeying private and domestic calls. Hannah cheerfully bore the loss of Shiloh's privileges, in order to discharge a home obligation. Here, we have an opportunity to say a few words with regard to a common, and, we fear, increasing evil: I mean the abandonment of maternal nursing. Surely, nothing can be a more ungrateful return, than to treat with neglect and disdain the provision which the goodness and kindness of God have obviously made for the performance of this duty. Hannah not only nurses her own child, but dedicates him to the Lord. We see that the Lord will cause earnest persevering prayer, in due time, to yield matter for praise. We see that the answers of prayers ought to be observed and noticed. We should also remark that it is our duty, not only to observe, but to own and confess such returns of mercy, for the glory of God, and for the sake of others, that they also may be encouraged to trust and pray.
By the influence of her prayers, her training, her example, the Christian mother may expect to bring a blessing upon her child which shall control his life and lead to his salvation. The proof of this is to be found in the following considerations:
I. THE TIE OF NATURE MAKES THE INFLUENCE OF A PIOUS MOTHER ALMOST IRRESISTIBLE. A mother's love is the first blessing which greets the newborn heir of immortality. Deeper and more lasting even than a father's love, the mother's yearning and compassionate affection realises the description of the apostle. "It believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." With such a natural tie to hold her child, the pious mother wields a mighty influence. Her life, if it be well adorned with Christian graces, becomes a shining demonstration of the truth of God. Prayer from her lips is music; the Bible is her book. as well as God's. All that is winning in the promises becomes more winning as she utters them. This is his influence and power. Many a pious mother does not realise it. On such a basis of deep natural affection does the mother's nurture stand. The child is plastic to her touch. His heart is in her hand if she is faithful to her trust. Oh, what encouragement is this for her to train her children in the nurture of the Lord!
II. BUT WE SHOULD FURTHER NOTICE THAT THE AFFECTION OF A MOTHER FOR HER CHILD MAKES HER PRAYERS IN HIS BEHALF ESPECIALLY EFFECTUAL. What depths of meaning, what revelation of the earnestness of human intercession, lies in these words of Hannah, which might be the utterance of multitudes! — "For this child I prayed" Upon all other subjects prayer may be restrained when it has been long time unanswered, but for her children's sake she will stand and knock until the gate of hope and life is opened, or until she dies.
III. AND THIS LEADS US TO THE POINT THAT THE EVIDENCE DERIVED FROM THE PAST EXPERIENCE OF PIOUS, PRAYING MOTHERS CONFIRMS THIS PROSPECT OF SUCCESS AS THE RESULT OF FAITHFULNESS. Take another fact. In a certain theological seminary several young men who were preparing for the Christian ministry were interested to discover what proportion of their number had praying mothers. The result of this inquiry proved that, out of one hundred and twenty present, more than one hundred had been blessed by a mother's prayers and directed by a mother's counsel to the Saviour. Such evidence might be greatly multiplied. The grace of God brings salvation as the reward of a mother's faithful labours for her children of what amazing importance is it that parents and all who have to do with children should realise their trust, and fulfil it in the fear of God! When the sculptor Bacon was erecting the monument to Lord Chatham in Westminster Abbey, an observer said to him, "Take care what you are doing, for you are working for eternity." In a far higher sense should it be said ofttimes to those who train the young — Take care how you act toward the children, for you work for eternity." Receive them in the name of Christ, to take them unto Him, in never-wearying prayer.
Monday Club Sermons.
The most ancient and most sacred institution in the world is the family. Older than the church or the state, it is the foundation of them both. It is, to be sure, not the ideal of the home or the family; for it is under the curse and subject to the evils of polygamy. Some of the purest souls the world has ever seen have shone the brighter because they were surrounded only by vice and crime. The lily, lifting up its white face to the sun upon the bosom of the lake, sends its roots down into the oozing mud, and by its own power transmutes that foulness into this fragrant beauty. So Manoah's wife, and Ruth and Hannah, shine like pearls upon the surface of the cruelty and crime of the darkest period of the Old Testament story.
I. THE PRAYING MOTHER AT HOME: — The husband goes up to the Tabernacle at Shiloh. The wife stays at home with the baby. This was a division of duty recognised by the law. Let us learn a lesson of the sacredness of secular and special duties. Nay, let us rather say, of all duty; for duty is what is due from us, and He to whom it is due is God. The home is as sacred as the temple if it be recognised as the place of duty. We shall not serve God by neglecting its work or claims for what may seem to us the more spiritual service of the sanctuary. We may learn, too, that duty is not to be measured by its publicity or conspicuousness. That is most sacred and important, often, which is most, alone. They were building a stone church not long ago in one of our large cities. It was a beautiful spring day, and one who was interested in its progress was surprised to find only three men at work upon it. He spoke to the foreman, with at least a suggestion of complaint in his voice, and asked how it was that there was so small a force at work on such a day. "There are twenty-five men at work upon this building, sir," was the answer, "but twenty-two of them are working in the yard. The best stones are always polished out of sight." Let not the mother, then, undervalue her throne because it is not on the highway. The father may influence society and the state directly. Let us not think the mother's influence is less because her hand is not so evidently seen upon the helm. But, chiefly from this home life of Hannah, away from the Temple and the yearly sacrifice, may be learned the sanctification of home duties by prayer and holy motive. It is not so much what we do, as what we do it for, on which the value of our service, and its dignity, depend. Hannah stayed at home that she might prepare a worthy offering for the Lord. To fill a new young life with noble thoughts, with lofty and unselfish aims, with a sense of the blessed fatherhood of God — this is work high enough and holy enough for anyone to do.
II. THE PRAYING MOTHER AT THE TABERNACLE. For at length the quiet, happy days at home are passed. The baby boy has come to his third year. And yet the mother's heart is glad and rejoices in the Lord — glad to make the sacrifice, which it is yet no less a sacrifice to make. A joyless sacrifice is none. That which we give to God unwillingly, and only because we must, is no gift at all. She realised the privilege of sacrifice. Let us never weigh our sacrifices lest we make more than the law demands, but rather let us bring our gifts with them. The praying mother of our story recognised God's faithfulness to His word and His answer to her prayer. She had come to Him before in sorrow as she comes now in holy joy. And she gives God the glory Who maketh poor and maketh rich, Who bringeth low and lifteth up. But all that the praying mother can do, and all the ways in which the devout father can help, will avail not at all, unless the child fulfils his part.
We notice the fact of the answer to prayer. The answer was prompt, clear, explicit. It is an important question, Why are some prayers answered and not others? Some prayers are not answered because the spirit of them is bad. "Ye ask but receive not because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." What is asked merely to gratify a selfish feel. ins is asked amiss. It is not holy prayer; it does not fit in with the sacred purposes of life; it is not asked to make us better, or enable us to serve God better, or make our life more useful to our fellows; but simply to increase our pleasure, to make our surroundings more agreeable. Some prayers are not answered because what is asked would be hurtful; the prayer is answered in spirit though denied in form. Some prayers are not answered at the time, because a discipline of patience is needed for those who offer them; they have to be taught the grace of waiting patiently for the Lord. But whatever be the reasons for the apparent silence of God, we may rest assured that hearing prayer is the law of His kingdom. Old Testament and New alike bear witness to this.
Society will go to pieces if the love of children cannot be maintained. And the love of children will not be maintained if we are to prefer cheapness to the happy responsibility of rearing them. God has given us many things which were never intended "to pay," but contrariwise to tax both nerve and purse, time and patience. Among many of the things that fail to conform to commercial standards He has made lingering old age and lingering disease more than a possibility in the case of many. Now, how many families there are which cannot afford this! And if nothing is for human advantage which cannot return a two-and-a-half percentage, lingering death, among the poor, is of all things the least defensible and endurable. So thought the people of India up to a very recent date, if they do not think so now. They used to take the old people down to the Ganges, and when the tide came in, or when the alligators came up, the domestic problem of reducing expenditure was soon solved. And in Sparta, whose people attained to a civilised horror of unremunerative offspring long before our forefathers could construct a pair of shoes, the girl children were often killed as soon as they were born. Now, that was an unblushing policy; it was human life carried on upon a strictly cash basis. But Christianity is freely taught amongst ourselves, with happy results evident on every hand. The weak are cared for and cured, the old are honoured and sheltered, and children are treated as a heavy but sacred charge from the Almighty. It is a ghastly thing to see some people express pity for the loving pair who can count many curly heads on the snow-white pillows in the children's rooms. Hannah, Samuel's mother, had no such thought about children. She prayed for her child. You may hear it said, perhaps, "But all children are not Samuels;" to which it is a sufficient reply to say that, all mothers are not Hannahs. If there were more Hannahs there would be more Samuels. For children reflect the entire nature of their parents. What was it which under. lay Hannah's prayer? It was a desire, the noblest which can animate a mortal, to live for another. She wanted to train a soul for God. They who watched over our bodily growth and our education were often tried in the process. They spared no time, pains, or money in their power. And despite of all that is said by spurious philanthropists, it may be safely said that our fathers were the better for the strain to which our training subjected them. Hannah prayed that she might have such a work to fill her heart. Hannah herself had already found God, the chief gift mortals can receive, and as a gift next in value to that, she asked Him to put under her care a spirit bearing His image, that upon it, as His visible, helpless representative, she might lavish both a motherly and a religious love. And she was right. They who can ridicule such a relation as she aspired to, and afterwards filled, are to be pitied for the blindness and emptiness of their scorn They wish to improve human life, and so they begin by trying to improve the laws of God. Thinking they can trace poverty and crime to the Christian family system, under which children are treated as a blessing, they discourage it as a bad speculation, an ill-paying concern. The Infidel Millennium is to be a millennium of small families, or none. Probably the latter would be the upshot. There would be just the same logic for that as for the other result. It is not the dear children, be they many or few, that cause vice and poverty. It is the parents, who should be dear parents, and are not. I need not remind you of the noble lives that have grown up in our country districts, and elsewhere, in homes where eight or nine hungry mouths have had to be filled out of twelve or fourteen shillings a week. Of course, if half the wages had gone in tobacco or drink, the lads and lasses would have been costly enough. It is certain that children prevent, in particular families, far more poverty than they cause. When a family has struggled through the years which precede the early youth of the children, the tide begins to turn. The regular income of the home becomes greater and more secure, in most cases, especially whore parents do not mind putting their children to the noblest of all ordinary callings, some constructive trade. Hannah's philosophy transcends them all! They who live for their children, and not for cheapness, will find life both cheaper and sweeter than they who, to compass a visionary social progress, advocate the improvement of everything except personal character. The true interests of society require no unnatural and mean devices. We need not dread the growing hosts of humanity. They are not locusts — they produce more than they consume, if they live honest lives. It is a diminishing population that a virtuous nation has to fear.
In the life of Nollekens, the great sculptor, the following incident occurs concerning Gainsborough, the artist. Visiting him at his studio, Nollekens found him listening to a Colonel Hamilton, who was playing superbly on the violin. "Go on, go on," cried Gainsborough, with excited enthusiasm, as the Colonel appeared to have finished. Then, in a burst of entreaty, he added, "Go on, and I will give you the picture of the boy at the style, which you have so often wished to purchase." As Hamilton continued to play the tears stood in the painter's eyes, and at the end a coach was called, in which the fortunate Colonel placed the painting he had so long coveted, and so easily acquired: and he drove away with it. Gainsborough could not resist nor refuse anything to the charm of music. What music was to the artist the true faith of a penitent and loving soul, be it reverently said is to our Lord Jesus Christ, and to it He says: "Be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
I have lent him to the Lord.
There is no child explicable apart from his parentage. The foundations of one generation are in all respects laid in the antecedent generation. In an important sense the boy begins to live when his father begins to live. The child is the parent continued down into a new generation. And so Scripture biography, much of it, begins with a statement and exposition of parentage. You remember how it was with Jesus, with John the Baptist, and now with Samuel. Science today lays large stress on heredity. Revelation emphasised heredity long before science was born. Francillon says that "the lives of the mothers of great men form an important branch of biographical literature." The author of the old Hebrew chapter quietly asserts the same fact by going about to narrate to us Samuel by first acquainting us with his mother. There are numerous intimations in Scripture that in the bequest of spiritual legacies the law of heritage works with peculiar constancy and vigour. "The promise is unto you and to your children." And that occurs as a frequent and favourite thought, "I will establish my covenant with Isaac for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him." And this principle is wrought into the structure of the whole Jewish record. It is as though God held parent and child in one individual compact of grace, parental faith throwing itself forward upon the child, and working in and for the child vicariously; the faith of the parent becoming in time the child's faith, just as by a physical law the features of the father and mother reappear in time in the child's face, in growing distinctness. Of Elkanah, Samuel's father, little notice is taken. A single remark of his indicates the mutual loyalty and confidences of husband and wife, and along the course of the first chapter is shown his faithful observance of religious obligations. But Samuel was preeminently his mother's boy, as boys are apt to be. It was his mother that prayed for him; his mother that took him to Shiloh with the bullocks, the flour, and the wine; his mother that offered him in consecration. Appreciating the quality of the parentage, then, we have laid for us a basis of just expectancy touching the quality of the offspring. We must just mention Samuel's early connection with the church and the sanctuary. I suppose that this, too, had its strengthening and educating effect. It was just in the midst of the sanctuary that the Lord's presence became manifest in him, and that the Divine voice shouted clearly and intelligibly in his ears. We may gather from the fact that there is great virtue in early and affectionate association with the church, and in earnest participation in things that concern the church. But great as is the supplementary service which the church can render the child, the home is at once his physical birth. place and his proper spiritual birth place. It is a Spanish proverb that an ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy. The home is the first church, the hearth. stone the first altar, and the father and mother the first priests. And so the more home there is in the home, the more readily and completely does it fulfil its offices as a child church. And the home, for the same reason, is the child's proper Sunday school. It is not quite evident how Christian parents can ever farm out their children to the spiritual nurture of strangers.
Who can hear the name of St. — that shining light, twice on the point of being extinguished, but snatched by turns from sin and heresy, to glorify the true and living God down to the latest posterity. Who can think of his name without joining with him in recognising, in his two-fold deliverance — next to the hand of God — the influence of the tender, humble, patient Monica? , , Emmilia, , and many of those who have walked in their ways, had each their Monica; and were each proofs of the power of a mother's prayers. In later times we read of Bishop Hall, Philip Henry, and his son Matthew, Hooker, Payson, Doddridge, the Wesleys, and of many other bright stars still shining in the churches, who have had pious mothers, and who have confessed to the power of a mother's influence. John Newton learned to pray at his mother's knee; and such was the influence of her life upon his mind (and, be it remembered, that she was called to her heavenly home before her son John was eight years of age), that in after years, when at sea, and in the midst of many dangers, his agonising prayer often was, "MY MOTHER'S GOD, Thou God of Mercy, have mercy on me!" The prayer was heard, and from that time the name of "John Newton" has been a name honoured in the churches, and he will remain yet for ages as "a burning and a shining light." It was through Newton that Thomas Scott, the commentator, was led to Christ, and Wilberforce, the champion of the freedom of the slave, and the author of that "Practical View of Christianity," which brought Leigh Richmond into the ministry of Christ. And who shall now go further in attempting to estimate the probable influence of one pious mother?
Hannah's fulfilment of her vow was to be an ample, prompt, honourable fulfilment. Many a one who makes vows or resolutions under the pressure and pinch of distress immediately begins to pare them down when the pinch is removed, like the merchant in the storm who vowed a hecatomb to Jupiter, then reduced the hecatomb to a single bullock, the bullock to a sheep, the sheep to a few dates; but even these he ate on the way to the altar, laying on it only the stones. Not one jot would Hannah abate of the full sweep and compass of her vow.
Do not treat lightly, O parents, the connection between God and your children! Cherish the thought that they are God's gifts, God's heritage to you, committed by Him to you to bring up, but not apart from Him, not in separation from those holy influences which He alone can impart, and which He is willing to impart. What a cruel thing it is to cut this early connection between them and God, and send them drifting through the world like a ship with a forsaken rudder, that flaps hither and thither with every current of the sea.
In those rude times which long preceded the birth of science in our country, when there was no appliance of steam to wear vessels off the dangers of a lee shore, nor lights shone forth on sunken reef or rocky headland to guide them through the gloom of night, one of the royal family of Scotland was in imminent hazard of shipwreck. After every effort had been made, but made in vain, to wear off shore, he vowed a vow that it God would interpose to deliver them from death, he would build and endow a chapel, as an acknowledgment of God's gracious interposition and an expression of his own gratitude. They were saved. And, though a Papist, a better man than many Protestants who forget, in the day of returned health or prosperity, the vows and resolutions formed in an hour of trouble, he fulfilled his promise. In the erection of Maison Dieu
Chapel (in Brechin, Forfar), for so it is called, David, Earl of Huntingdon, paid his vow. Associated though it be with popish superstitions, it sprang from higher motives than either ecclesiastical pride or sectarian rivalry; and humble as these ruins are now, they form a venerable and interesting memorial of the simple faith, and devout piety, that ever and anon, like the blaze of a brilliant meteor, lighted up the long night of the dark ages of the Church. Such dedications and vows as those to which that chapel owed its existence, have fallen into too great disuse. The devout, but too much neglected, practice which these famous saints observed, Hannah also recommends to our imitation. It was in the performance of such a vow that she returned to the house of God, not empty handed; but to earn, if I may say so, the high encomium pronounced on her of whom our Lord said, "She hath given all she had." In that child of prayer, her only son, the boy whom she leads lovingly by the hand, Hannah presented to God a gift more beautiful and costly, more precious far, than Jacob's tithe of corn and cattle, or David's richest spoils of war. A blessed contrast to another woman, the unhappy partner of Ananias' guilt and also of his doom, who, pretending, while a part was withheld, that the whole price had been given, lied to the Holy Ghost, Hannah, in going to perform her vow, like a martyr marching to the stake, "walks in her integrity." Hannah's case was peculiar. She might, repenting of her vow, have kept back not a part of the price, but the whole; nor thereby laid herself open to challenge or censure; to the taunts of Peninnah, her enemy, or of anyone else. When she vowed that if God would give her a son, he should be the Lord's, Eli saw her lips move; but no more — and hearing nothing took her for a drunken woman. Only God and she herself knew what these lips had said. That was enough for Hannah. It should be so for us. "Thou God seest me," should place us in circumstances of greater restraint than broad daylight, the public street, the eyes of a theatre of spectators; even so it was a sufficient reason for Hannah performing her vow that God had heard the words of her noiseless lips, and that the vow, though a secret to others, was none to Him. It is to the honour of Hannah's sex that the only two offerings on which Jesus, He who offered himself for her and us on the cross, ever bestowed the meed of His applause, were both made by women. The one was a widow. Poor, and meanly clad, in her offering as much as in her dress, she presented a remarkable contrast to many who, sweeping into the house of God, attired in all the gaieties of changing fashions, give a wide berth to the plate at the door, or drop into the offertory, without a blush of shame, the merest, meanest pittance. Though but two mites, hers was a munificent gift, being her little all. The other woman, praised by Him whom all heaven praises, was one — strange as it will appear to such as have not reflected on the blessed truth, that a fallen is not necessarily a lost woman — from whose touch decency and decorum shrinks. As the phrase went, "she was a sinner." Lying, where all have need, and the purest love, to lie, at Jesus' feet, she washes them with a flood of tears; and, taking an alabaster box of precious ointment, pours its fragrance on the feet that for her, and us, were ire be nailed on Calvary. Beside these women Hannah deserves a place. In her dedication of Samuel, in giving him up who was the light of her eyes and the joy of her home, she parted for God's sake and his service with the costliest, the most prized and precious, thing in her possession. Before turning the dedication of Samuel to a practical use, let me observe, that though we may have to wait for the reward and recompense in heaven, Hannah had not so long to wait. She says of Samuel, "I have lent
him to the Lord;" and God paid her good interest for the loan. Ages before the great words were uttered by the lips of Jesus, she proved the truth of His saying, "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." "There is that scattereth," says the wise man, "and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat." Such was Hannah's experience. She gave away one child, and God paid her back with five; and promptly too. To turn the dedication of Samuel to a seasonable and important use, let me ask why so few parents now follow Hannah's example? why so few either dedicate themselves, or are dedicated by others to the Christian ministry? When other professions are overstocked, why is it that almost all the churches, both in this country and in America, are complaining of a hack of candidates for the sacred office, and especially of such as possess not only the piety, but the talents and culture which it requires? Why should not our Christian youth come forward to embrace this noblest, though meanwhile poorest, of all professions? Some years ago, leaving titles, estates, luxurious mansions, kind fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and blooming brides, many threw themselves on the shores of the Black Sea, to face frost and famine, pestilence and iron showers of death, under the walls of Sebastopol! And shall piety blush before patriotism? Shall Jesus Christ call in vain for less costly sacrifices — either of money or of men? Let those whom Providence has enriched, some with silver and some with sons, remember the touching question one wrote beneath a figure of our Lord stretched bleeding on the cross, "This Thou hast done for me, what shall I do for Thee?"
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