A beautiful picture now comes to my mind -- a picture of an ideal mother of olden time. She dwelt in Ramah of Palestine. Her lonely home nestled among the lonely hills. She loved to commune with the Lord, for deep in her bosom she carried a sorrow that only he could help her to bear. Her home lacked that sweet sunlight which innocent childhood brings. She longed and prayed for a little life to guide and direct in the ways of the Lord.
Once every year she went with her husband to Shiloh, where sacrifices were offered, and there publicly worshiped the Lord. When at the house of the Lord one day, she prayed long and earnestly that God would grant the desire of her heart. "O Lord of hosts," she prayed, "if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head."
A scene like this must have been rare even to the priest of God; for he mistook this sad woman for one drunken with wine. She begged him not to look upon her as such. When the man of God saw by her modest, earnest words that she was not drunken as he had supposed, he changed his reproof into a blessing. "Go in peace," he said, "and the God of Israel grant thy petition that thou hast asked of him." With perfect confidence that God had heard and answered prayer, the woman arose and returned with her husband to their home in Ramah.
The next year she did not go up to Shiloh; for God had granted her petition and had given her a little son. Her husband was willing for her to remain at home, but he cautioned her not to forget her promise to the Lord. He feared, perhaps, that the mother might become so attached to her child that she would be unwilling to part with him as she had promised. His warning was unnecessary.
As soon as Samuel (for this is what the mother named her son) was old enough to be useful, she took him to the house of God and presented him to the Lord. It must have sounded to the aged priest (who soon would have to cease his work upon earth) like a voice from heaven, when the happy mother, pointing to her child, said: "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 lent to the Lord."
Again the mother prays; this time not in sorrow, but from a heart filled with thanksgiving. She feels no regret because of her vow. Her child became a great blessing to many people, and the Lord gave her other sons and daughters to cheer her heart.
By reading the story we find that "the child Samuel grew and was in favor both with the Lord and also with men." Why was this? In answer to his devoted mother's prayer, the Holy Spirit hovered over that child, shielding him from the cruel darts and arrows of the enemy. He had been taught the ways of the Lord from his cradle and his life was fully consecrated to God.
A different scene comes before me now -- a scene that brings a shudder. Upon a ship sailing along the shores of France were a man and his wife on their way to join a band of villainous people in India. Being on a secret mission, they traveled slowly and carefully. It was a tedious and dangerous journey. One stormy day, on the Bay of Biscay, a child was born to them.
No loving welcome from the lips of a prayerful parent awaited this poor little innocent child; instead, curses were his portion, and, by the order of his mother, he was cast aside in a pile of rubbish to die. By chance the father passed that way and, finding his child's poor little perishing form, picked it up, took it to his wife, and commanded her to see that it was cared for.
As the child grew and developed in this atmosphere of sin and degradation, is it strange that he partook of his parents' nature and developed even worse habits than they? Unless the proper home influence is thrown around a child, he can not help suffering from the inherited sins of his parents.
When this child became a man, he knew nothing of virtue and honesty. His life was enveloped in a shroud of darkest crimes. Leaving India, he went to Europe and from there sailed to America. Each year found him better acquainted with court proceedings and prison walls. It was a common thing for him to break into a man's house and steal every valuable that he could find.
I recently met this man and heard from his own lips the dark story of his life. As he was relating an account of a desperate burglary, I asked him what he would have done if the man of the house had awakened. "Please do not ask me." he answered. "I was always armed, and a man's life was no more to me than a dog's. There are scenes that I can not, I dare not, recall, for I am a changed man now."
Thank God, he is a changed man. He had not been too vile for God to find. Jesus had cleansed his heart from all desire to do evil. Having confessed his crimes and given himself up to be punished, he had been sent to prison, but because of good behavior had been soon pardoned. He is now spending his life among the lower class, whom he understands so well and pities so much, trying to show them the way of salvation.
Note the atmosphere that surrounded the cradle of each of the babes of whom we have been speaking. In the first home we find prayer, love, hope, and tenderness; in the last, sin, hatred, crime, and villainy. Oh that mothers everywhere would take warning! If only these two pictures could be framed and hung in the recesses of every mother's heart where they might teach their silent lesson! If only mothers might see how powerful for good or evil is their influence; how the affections and the mental powers may be moulded by prayer and maternal love, and how the groundwork for the future of the child may be laid in its early training!
A sensible mother has a charm and wields an influence that takes a fast hold on the hearts of those who are dear to her. The kindly sympathy of youth, the deep affection of manhood, can be traced to influences that began at mother's knee.
What true, prayerful mother does not feel as her child closely nestles to her bosom that she is invested with a divine, mysterious power, an influence which she can not understand? Then it is that she sees her imperfections and longs for wisdom to know how to guide her child. God alone can supply that understanding. She is her child's book of wisdom, love, and, beauty, but she should be of God's writing.