1 Samuel Chapter Three
1 Samuel 3
The word of the Lord first revealed to Samuel. (1-10) God tells Samuel the destruction of Eli's house. (11-18) Samuel established to be a prophet. (19-21)
Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:1-10
(Read 1 Samuel 3:1-10)
The call which Divine grace designs shall be made effectual; will be repeated till it is so, till we come to the call. Eli, perceiving that it was the voice of God that Samuel heard, instructed him what to say. Though it was a disgrace to Eli, for God's call to be directed to Samuel, yet he told him how to meet it. Thus the elder should do their utmost to assist and improve the younger that are rising up. Let us never fail to teach those who are coming after us, even such as will soon be preferred before us, John 1:30. Good words should be put into children's mouths betimes, by which they may be prepared to learn Divine things, and be trained up to regard them.
Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:11-18
(Read 1 Samuel 3:11-18)
What a great deal of guilt and corruption is there in us, concerning which we may say, It is the iniquity which our own heart knoweth; we are conscious to ourselves of it! Those who do not restrain the sins of others, when it is in their power to do it, make themselves partakers of the guilt, and will be charged as joining in it. In his remarkable answer to this awful sentence, Eli acknowledged that the Lord had a right to do as he saw good, being assured that he would do nothing wrong. The meekness, patience, and humility contained in those words, show that he was truly repentant; he accepted the punishment of his sin.
Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:19-21
(Read 1 Samuel 3:19-21)
All increase in wisdom and grace, is owing to the presence of God with us. God will graciously repeat his visits to those who receive them aright. Early piety will be the greatest honour of young people. Those who honour God he will honour. Let young people consider the piety of Samuel, and from him they will learn to remember their Creator in the days of their youth. Young children are capable of religion. Samuel is a proof that their waiting upon the Lord will be pleasing to him. He is a pattern of all those amiable tempers, which are the brightest ornament of youth, and a sure source of happiness.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on 1 Samuel》
1 Samuel 3
 And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.
Before Eli — That is, under his inspection and direction.
Word — The word of prophecy, or the revelation of God's will to and by the prophets.
Precious — Rare or scarce, such things being most precious in mens' esteem, whereas common things are generally despised.
Open vision — God did not impart his Mind by way of vision or revelation openly, or to any public person, to whom others might resort for satisfaction, though he might privately reveal himself to some pious persons for their particular direction. This is premised, as a reason why Samuel understood not, when God called him once or twice.
 And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see;
His place — In the court of the tabernacle.
 And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep;
Went out — Before the lights of the golden candlestick were put out in the morning.
 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him.
Did not know — He was not acquainted with God in that extraordinary or prophetical way. And this ignorance of Samuel's served God's design, that his simplicity might give Eli the better assurance of the truth of God's call, and message to Samuel.
 And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.
Came and stood — Before, he spake to him at a distance, even from the holy oracle between the cherubim: but now, to prevent all farther mistake, the voice came near to him, as if the person speaking had been standing near him.
 In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end.
In that day — In that time which I have appointed for this work, which was about twenty or thirty years after this threatning. So long space of repentance God allows to this wicked generation.
When I begin, … — Tho' this vengeance shall be delayed for a season, to manifest my patience, and incite them to repentance; yet when once I begin to inflict, I shall not desist 'till I have made a full end.
 For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.
Restrained them not — He contented himself with a cold reproof, and did not punish, and effectually restrain them. They who can, and do not restrain others from sin, make themselves partakers of the guilt. Those in authority will have a great deal to answer for, if the sword they bear be not a terror to evil-doers.
 And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever.
Have sworn — Or, I do swear: the past tense being commonly put for the present in the Hebrew tongue.
Unto — Or, concerning it.
Purged — That is, the punishment threatened against Eli and his family, shall not he prevented by all their sacrifices, but shall infallibly be executed.
 And Samuel lay until the morning, and opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel feared to shew Eli the vision.
Doors — Altho' the tabernacle, whilst it was to be removed from place to place in the wilderness, had no doors, but consisted only of curtains, and had hangings before the entrance, instead of doors; yet when it was settled in one place, as now it was in Shiloh, it was enclosed within some solid building, which had doors and posts, and other parts belonging to it.
Feared — The matter of the vision or revelation, partly from the reverence he bore to his person, to whom he was loth to be a messenger of such sad tidings; partly, lest if he had been hasty to utter it, Eli might think him guilty of arrogancy or secret complacency in his calamity.
 And he said, What is the thing that the LORD hath said unto thee? I pray thee hide it not from me: God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide any thing from me of all the things that he said unto thee.
God do so, … — God inflict the same evils upon thee, which I suspect he hath pronounced against me, and greater evils too.
 And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good.
It is the Lord — This severe sentence is from the sovereign Lord of the world, who hath an absolute right to dispose of me and all his creatures; who is in a special manner the ruler of the people of Israel, to whom it properly belongs to punish all mine offences; whose chastisement I therefore accept.
 And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.
Fail, … — That is, want its effect: God made good all his predictions. A metaphor from precious liquors, which when they are spilt upon the ground, are altogether useless.
 And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the LORD.
From Dan, … — Thro' the whole Land, from the northern bound Dan, to the southern, Beersheba; which was the whole length of the Land.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on 1 Samuel》
03 Chapter 3
And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli.
The child prophet
This white flower blossomed on a dunghill. The continuous growth of a character, from a child serving God, and to old age walking in the same path, is the great lesson which the story of Samuel teaches us. “The child is father of the man,” and all his long days are “bound each to each by” true religion. There are two types of experience among God’s greatest servants. Paul, made an apostle from a persecutor, heads the one class. Timothy in the New Testament and Samuel in the Old represent the other. An Augustine or a Bunyan is made the more earnest, humble, and whole-hearted by the remembrance of a wasted youth and of God’s arresting mercy. But there are a serenity and continuity about a life which has grown up in the fear of God that have their own charm and blessing. It is well to have “much transgression” forgiven, but it may be better to have always been “innocent” and ignorant of it. Samuel’s peaceful service is contrasted, in the second half of the first verse, with the sad cessation of Divine revelation in that dreary time of national laxity. A demoralised priesthood, an alienated people, a silent God,--these are the outstanding features of the period, when this fair life of continuous worship unfolded itself. This flower grew in a desert.
What Samuel’s call resembles in modern times
The call of Samuel was not a call to become a servant of God,--that call Samuel had received when he was first brought to the tabernacle, and there solemnly dedicated to God’s service,--but to be a prophet of God, and a great reformer of the Church and nation. Moreover, in bad times of the Church, and in evil days, whatever shape the evil takes, whether it shows itself in the form of profligacy and a relaxation of wholesome discipline, or in wide-spread superstition, or in doubt and unbelief, Almighty God even now-a-days raises up men who are fitted to grapple with the evil, and to set right (with His gracious assistance) the things that are wrong This is the way in which all great changes for good have been made in the world--they have been all brought about by one or two strong characters, suited by God’s Providence to the times in which they lived, who have been vividly impressed with the sad state of things around them, and have resolved, it may be very early in life, to devote their whole time and energy to mending it. But now observe what are the conditions of such a thing happening. Little Samuel, when the call of God reached him at the age of twelve was found not doing anything remarkable or extraordinary, but engaged in the ordinary commonplace duties of his station. It is wonderful how many cases there are in the Bible of persons called to be or to do something great, when they were engaged in doing the common everyday duties of their station. Gideon, Moses, David, Elisha. What do these and several other instances of the same sort teach, but that in order to be called by God to something good and great, people need not travel out of the high-road of their commonplace everyday occupations, but rather should be found busied in these occupations? (Dean Goulburn.)
A reformation beginning in the soul of a child
In the days when the High Priest Eli was judge of Israel, there appeared in the sanctuary of Shiloh a wonderful child: his name was Samuel. It was a dark and stormy time; there were fears within and fightings without. Israel was climbing a steep hill--arduously, painfully. Her progress was slow; she was alternately worsted and victorious. And the struggle was more arduous from the fact that there was no prophecy. It was an age of materialism. The hands of Moses were no longer uplifted on the mountain; the eyes of Moses no longer gazed on a promised glory. Religion had become a form; its spirit had fled. There were few remains left of that heroic time when Joshua had fought for God, and Deborah had sung for God. The nation had lost its poetry, and had lost its faith, these had to be rekindled anew at the lamp of heaven. Where was the new kindling to begin? Where was the Divine spirit to touch the world once more? In the heart of the sage? No. In the breast of the old man? No. In the leaders of the Jewish armies? No. It was to begin in the soul of a little child. Out of the mouth of a babe in knowledge, God was to ordain strength. (George Matheson, D. D.)
The child prophet no miracle
Was he a miracle--this little Samuel? No--in the view characteristic of the Bible he is the real and normal aspect of humanity. So normal is he that Christ says we must all return to his state before we can become seers. What, think you, does Jesus mean when He declares that we can only realise the beauty of the Kingdom through the eyes of a little child? Is it not simply this, that to see the beauty of anything we require a first eye? Take the Bible itself. To see the beauties of the Bible, one would require to say to us what the prophet said to Hezekiah, “Let the shadow go back ten degrees.” We should need to be transported back into life’s morning, to divest ourselves of all preconceived opinions, to imagine that we were reading the record for the first time. That is precisely the standpoint which Christianity promises to create. It professes to make old things new, in other words, to let us see the old things as they looked when they were new, and so to give us a true sense of their power and beauty. What is this but to recreate in us the life of Samuel l What is this but to say that the true seer must ever be a child, that, however grownup he be, it is by the survival of his childhood that he sees the Kingdom of God. Little Samuel is no miracle. He reveals the normal law of faith. (George Matheson, D. D.)
And the Word of the Lord was precious in those days.
The Word of the Lord precious
From Moses to Samuel, a period of several hundred years, there was no prophet regularly appointed; particular revelations were made to individuals; but there was no acknowledged prophet. The natural consequence was, that such intimations of the Divine will, as were then given, made a deeper impression: they were more highly valued and more eagerly sought for, than when the gift of prophecy, in after ages, became more common. Such is the perverseness of man; blessings of every description are estimated, not according to their excellence, but their rarity; not according to the ease, but the difficulty, with which they are to be obtained. And further, when in possession of a blessing, we are often utterly insensible of its value; we abuse it in thoughtless excess, and are ready to squander it away; but the moment it is departed, we discover our blindness and folly. Meat and drink and raiment, the air we breathe, the sun and the shower, excite no spirit of gratitude, and by many are scarcely received and remembered as blessings; but in the days of famine and pestilence, amidst the warfare and desolation of raging element, these benefits and mercies are painfully acknowledged, and ardently desired. And thus it is of domestic happiness and comfort: the value of home is frequently not appreciated until it is forsaken and lost; the worth of a friend is sometimes but lightly considered, till he “goes hence and is no more sees.” These observations are also illustrative of the feeling and conduct of men, in regard to their spiritual privileges and blessings. We are apt to express a wonder at the obstinate indifference of the people of Israel to their religious advantages and instructions; we are astonished, that they could forget their miraculous deliverances by the hand of Moses, and the manifold revelations vouchsafed through him for their knowledge and guidance: yet in truth, the history of Israel is but too faithful a picture of the people of God in other times and other countries; by no means excluding our own. Before the age of printing, when the copies of the sacred word were comparatively few, the Christian, who was so happy as to possess one, commonly regarded it as a treasure. The value set upon the word of God, its preciousness in the heart of man, is not proportioned to the frequency and the fulness of its communication. It is in almost every dwelling, but not in every dwelling esteemed and loved. The Bible is grievously neglected both by rich and poor. From this lamentable neglect of the word of God, we may readily account for the want of religious principle, for the decay of religious character, for the overspreading of corruption and vice, so notorious in the Christian world. Let us suppose that it should please God, for the heedlessness of this nation, to deprive us of the privilege and blessing of the Bible; and to declare, that the neglected ministry of His word should be continued no longer: we should undoubtedly regard this as the direst calamity which could possibly befall us. Then let us be consistent; and whilst we do enjoy this invaluable favour of heaven, let it be cherished and improved. Let the Gospel, instead of being less precious to us, on account of its universal publication, and its facility of attainment, be therefore prized the more. (J. Slade, M. A.)
The preciousness of the word of the Lord in the day of evil
I. The Word of the Lord--To this high honour the Bible professes to aspire: it claims to be nothing less than the word of the Lord What does the Christian believe, compared with the man who believes that the Scriptures are a cunningly-devised fable? It is to him we plainly apply the exclamation, “O man, great is thy faith.” We indeed believe difficulties; but he believes absurdities: we believe mysteries; but he swallows absolute impossibilities. O Christian, your faith does not stand in the wisdom of man but in the word of God: yet the wisdom of man has always been on your side. Take up your Bible now, and examine it internally--is it not worthy of God? Upon the same principle that when I survey the works of creation I exclaim, “This is the finger of God;” so when I peruse the Scriptures, I feel the impress of the Divine agency: I am perfectly sure, that whoever was the author of the Book, he was a holy being, he was a wise being he was a benevolent being; I am sure he knew me perfectly, and was concerned for my welfare
II. Its preciousness.--“Precious” means valuable; something of great worth and importance. You will observe the preciousness of a thing is very distinguishable from the truth of it, in the former argument. Nothing can indeed be valuable and important that is not true; but a thing may be true without being valuable and important. But here both these are conjoined--the veracity and the excellency. This may be inferred, not only from the Author, but the design. What is the design now of the word of God, but the restoration of man from all the effects of moral evil, and placing him in a condition superior to that in which he was originally created? The most precious book in the world to me ought to be that which contains “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord:” and this volume does contain it. How precious is it to have a standard of doctrine with regard to our belief; so that if we feel perplexities we may call in the judgment of God the Father Himself. How satisfactory is it to have a rule of duty with regard to conduct. How wretched we must feel if we had been left to conjecture what God would have us to do, and how he would have us to walk. As to matters of moment, here everything is so legibly inscribed, that he may run that reads it. We must not, before we dismiss this part of our subject, overlook its influence and efficacy. We do not mean now with regard to the illumination of the mind, or the relief of the pardoned conscience, or the setting of the man’s poor heart at rest, so that he shall no longer run up and down this wide world, crying, “Who will shew us any good?” but we refer now to his moral transformation. “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature.” And we must also observe the value of the Scriptures, as it appears not only when personally, but relatively considered. You will observe that where it is not available to renew, it restrains: where it does not sanctify it civilises. The Jews had the Oracles of God committed to them; this it was which humanised them. How precious should the Scriptures be that have closed so many avenues of wretchedness, and opened so many scenes of comfort.
III. The season of its preciousness. It would be precious in itself, if no one ever regarded it: just as the jewel is equally valuable though the swine trample it under its hoofs But it is with the word as it is with the Author of it; “to them that believe He is precious,” and to them that believe it is precious. “The word of the Lord was particularly precious in those days.”
1. The days of destitution. Such were the days of Samuel: this Was the case also in after times with the church, when they said, “We see not any signs; there is no more any prophet; neither is there among us, any that knoweth how long.” How precious were the Scriptures before their translation; how many were there to whom the sacred treasure was inaccessible. Suppose now the word of God was remaining in the original Hebrew and Greek, what would it then be to you? Why, it would be like a spring shut up, a fountain sealed; like so many fine paintings hung up in a dark room. In the days of Queen Mary the use of it was absolutely prohibited; we read of one farmer who gave a whole load of hay for a single leaf of one of the epistles. “The word of the Lord was precious in those days.” There may be something like these days of destitution existing in some instances now: they may be produced by accidents, by diseases, by deafnesses, and so on. One is deaf, so that he cannot hear the word; another is blind, so that he cannot see. I remember, some years ago, a farmer in the country, a very pious man, he was advancing in years, and his eyes were growing dim: I often saw him reading the Scriptures at his window, and he seemed to be musing as well as reading; he seemed to be committing it to memory: and when I asked him, I found this was the case: “O,” said he, “I am making provision for a dark day, that when I can no longer read, in the multitude of my thoughts I shall have comfort left to my soul.” We all know best the value of a thing by the want of it. “The word of the Lord was precious in those days.”
2. The days of conviction.
3. The days of affliction. Said Bolingbroke under his affliction, “my philosophy forsakes me in my affliction.” But did Sir Philip Sidney’s philosophy forsake him, when, after a battle, he having to undergo a dreadful operation, said to the surgeon, “Sir, you are come to a poor timid creature in himself; but to one who, by the grace of God, is raised above his own weakness: and therefore, do not dishonour your art in sparing the patient.” “The word of the Lord was precious in those days.” What days?
4. Dying days. I was one day called in to see a poor man on his dying bed; and he began, the moment I entered the room, to address me in these words: “Sir,” said he, “I have a long journey before me, and I don’t know one step of the way.” Hobbes of Malmesbury, when he was dying, said, “I leave my body to the grave, and my soul to the great Perhaps. I am taking,” says he, “a step in the dark.” This was not the worst of it; he was not only taking a step in the dark, but a step into the dark. (W. Jay.)
The precious word
Precious or rare--for the word may be translated so--precious because it was translated so--precious because it was rare. Like the long dry season, the heavens seemed to be sealed; and the coming of Samuel was the beginning of a new era. The Word of the Lord was rare! We have got to speak of the Bible as being the Word of the Lord, and, speaking broadly, the Bible is a store of messages from God. I question sometimes whether the Bible has gained anything by being no cheap. It was rare once, and it is sure that it was precious when it was rare. When the City of London had but one Bible chained to the reading desk of St. Paul’s Cathedral the citizens of London crowded to hear it read. The Word of the Lord was precious in those days. Now this implies several things.
1. First of all, that God does speak to men. Deism, the coldest thing, perhaps, in the shape of a religion that man has ever believed--Deism says it is beneath God to have any longing to come into personal intercourse with men. A man may write a book and inspire you with his ideas, yet he may resent it very much if you propose to bring yourself into personal intercourse with him. Mr. Haweis speaks of the astonishment with which Mr. Tennyson received him when, as a young fellow something like eighteen years of age, he ventured to call upon the poet to thank him for what the poetry had been to him as a young man; and perhaps, who knows! to ask the poet’s exposition of one or two particular passages; but the poet seemed to think the youth was very eccentric, if not very impudent. So the Deist might study the laws and phenomena of Nature--the great book which carries upon it the signature of the Author, the signature of God; but, he says, it would be irreverence for him to presume for a moment that he could be of concern to the great Author, that the Almighty should send special messages to him. God was to him what the Sphinx was to the Egyptian worshipper--there was a light in its face which suggested that it could tell the worshipper wonderful things if it cared to tell, but that it would keep it all to itself. So to Deism God was a sphinx; He never spoke.
2. Finding by seeking. It is a matter of greatest importance that we should believe that. Many men never see God, never hear His voice, because they de not expect to do so. They never look for Him, they never hush themselves to listen for Him. Darwin was always discovering some fresh fact in Nature, but then he was always looking for them; he was always making experiments, always giving Nature an opportunity to show how she did her work. He knew that Nature was always speaking if he only gave her a chance. But he never expected God to speak to him. He gave up praying because he had persuaded himself that God never spoke to man.
3. The many voices of God. Let me add be that, God speaks in many ways. The voices of God are many--the voice of reason, the voice of conscience, the voice of material nature. Why, science is getting to protest that as emphatically as anybody ever did. We often sing, “So God is here, let us adore,” and “How awful is this place.” If there is any place where that might be sung with propriety, it is the laboratory where the chemist and the physicist are at work. This gives an entirely new meaning to nature. A barrel organ may give correct music: the barrel organ does not make a mistake. The violin gives you the same music, yet not the same. There is a man’s soul in the violin. Nature, as the materialist talks about it, is a mere barrel organ. Nature is a violin to the man who knows that every note of it is produced by the finger touch of God, the mind of God, the heart of God, the delight of God in the world that He has made, is in it. I heard a phonograph the other day sing a song of Adelina Patti. It was not absolutely Adelina Patti, but it was correct. There was not one missing note in it, every word, every intonation, the liquid clearness of the beautiful voice; why it was absolutely human. I have heard of a General taking a leaf out of his pocketbook on the field of battle, handing it over to a messenger, and sending the message to someone somewhere in the rough battle. It was a rough missive; the man to whom it was sent kept it, though, as a memorial of the battle. It conveyed the commander’s message as effectively as if it had been written an embossed paper. So people nowadays make a great to-do about the numerical or the technical mistakes which are said to be found in the Old Book. Do not be foolish; it is a message written on poor paper if you like, here and there, but the message is none the worse for that. Do not demean yourself to talk of the paper--what of the Message? Robert Browning speaks of a musician who had music in him that no instrument that he had ever tried had been able to reveal. It haunted him, it pained him, it was a burden to him; and he must tell the music out. So he built his own instrument, and had the supreme joy of uttering the music that was in him. God had told Himself in the words of seer, and prophet, and psalmist, but He had never told Himself thoroughly yet. But He will find a voice for Himself; the love of God, the law of righteousness, which must not be insulted, even though the world be wrecked. He told it by the cross. Glorious is the cross; God’s last voice, the Word of the Lord.
4. Deaf to the Word. Now let me add to that. The direst misfortune, the direst calamity that can happen to man is that God’s Word should cease to come to him. It is not that the Word ever ceases for the matter of that. Science has been making the most wonderful progress during our day. Nature seems to have taken the veil from off her face; but Nature has always been doing this, Nature has always been willing to tell her secrets. But in these days our ears are opened, and we are ready to hear. The misery of the world has always been making an appeal; but philanthropy, in the sense in which we understand philanthropy today, has only just been born. The world is only just beginning to understand that it owes pity end help to the poor, to the criminal, to the wicked one. We may bury our souls in frivolity and never take the trouble to think: but literature is here, art and science are here, and the bread which maketh the soul of man hale and strong--this is here. The Word of the Lord is always here; it is only that we drown it in the din of frivolities and material ambitions. Never read and never think, and no new ideas will ever come to you. The spirit of truth and understanding never thrusts itself upon those who never seek it.
5. Seasons of awakening. And lastly, there are seasons when the Church awakes to a vivid sense of that. These seasons of awakening come to every high region and touch into life every high matter you can think of. We talk about the Dark Ages in England; for centuries the world was asleep; the Word of God was rare in those days. The men to whom it came were few, a rare soul now and then; a Wyckliffe heard the voice of God, but as a whole that period was a long sleep. At last England awoke. There was the richness literature; there came intellectual awakening. In the age of Shakespeare England was born again. There was a spiritual awakening. Luther shook Europe. The Reformers lit a fire which has never been put out. (J. Morlais Jones.)
Wanted: A prophet
“There was no open vision.” It was a time of stagnation and stupor. It was a time in which all men had sunk into a dead level of dulness and formality and mere routine. There was no enthusiasm, no earnestness. Men went through their work and lived their lives in a humdrum languishing sort of way, without heart and without spirit. There was a complete absence of that intensity of feeling which is ever the evidence of a strenuous life. “There was no open vision.” It was a time of deep religious depression. It was a “gelid, torpid, tortoise-like existence” that man led. New, there are people who say that we are passing through a similar period of spiritual depression now, and have been passing through it for some long time, in the different countries of Europe, and especially in our own country. Why had God ceased to speak to, and commune with, His people as of yore?
1. Well, in the first place, there was no prophet; there was no man to act as a go-between. There was no prophet who could communicate God’s message to His people. It was a lack of men with the prophetic gift. God always speaks to His people through chosen witnesses, and when these chosen witnesses are not forthcoming, God’s voice is silent. Old Eli was, indeed, a man of God, but his utter failure to rule his own house discredited him. The channel of communication was choked up in that quarter, simply owing to the weakness and imbecility of the man of God. Before God can communicate with the world there must be a chosen vessel. The vessel itself must be filled first before the world can receive the messages of God. What we need just now is a man who is intellectually head and shoulders above his fellows, and who would act as a great leader of men. We are in a kind of backwater as regards the possession of men of commanding intellect and personality just now; but I cannot help thinking, nevertheless, that our greatest need of all is a mighty prophet of God, a man with a message from the Lord, a man able to stir up the nation to its very depth in spiritual things. Musical services are all very well, and I enjoy them; but they are not our chief need. It is not a great singer that we want, but it is a great prophet, a man full of the Holy Ghost and of power, who will rouse the indifferent and the careless, and stir up the lukewarm and the half-hearted, and make the religion of Christ a power in the land once again.
2. Again, there was no open vision because the people were not in a proper mood to receive the vision. The soil was not congenial, so to speak, for the growth of prophets. It was a time of deep spiritual dearth, a time in which men and women were almost wholly engrossed in the material and the present. The supply of prophets was just exactly equal to the demand, and that was--nil! Prophesying in the sense of forth-telling--preaching--is not much in favour just now. There is this incessant clamour for extremely short sermons, which is not at all a healthy sign. “Why do not men go to church?” Why, because your immature, unsubstantial, perfunctory ten minutes’ discourse, which you falsely call a sermon, has driven them out, for, wherever the sermon is a real thing, manfully grappling with great life problems, there the men do congregate, and there they will continue to congregate, for there they receive a message from God. “And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.”
3. But, again, I am glad to be able to observe that this time of depression and lassitude and spiritual famine was not continuous and permanent. God never wholly deserts His people. Again He sends His prophets to speck to them and to reveal precious truths to them. Ah, and it is ever so. It is always when the fortune of the church is at its lowest that God sends His servants, the prophets, to rouse it and to cleanse it. It was in the darkest days of the Papacy, when Alexander Borgia sat on the throne of St. Peter, that Savonarola made his appearance. It was when the sale of indulgences had become a scandal and a menace to the very existence of religion and of the church that Luther came, and with his mighty voice initiated the Reformation. And it was in the dark and materialistic days of the eighteenth century, when our own beloved church was dying of apathy and “respectability” that Wesley and Whitefield and the leaders of the evangelical revival came, and set in motion that mighty wave of spiritual fervour and enthusiasm which has not wholly spent its force yet. And mark you! All these mighty revolutions, and revivals, and reformations have been brought about by the power of prophesying--by the foolishness of preaching. It is to preaching that even the Oxford Movement owes its origin and vitality. It was Keble’s sermon on “National Apostasy,” according to all reliable testimony, that gave that movement its birth. And it is by preaching that the next great spiritual awakening is to be brought about. Meantime, our duty is plain. We must pray God to speed the time of this awakening, to speed the time when this terrible spiritual stagnation is at an end. (R. Jones.)
There was no open vision.--
Times without vision
I. There are times of open vision. This phrase has been a difficulty to interpreters, It has been explained as referring to the times in earlier Jewish history when God appeared in the pillars of cloud and fire, and by angelic ministry. It has also been explained as referring to the opera and authoritative promulgation of Divine truth. It has been noticed as a feature of human history that it divides into alternate periods marked by the possession and the lack of spiritual insight. There are times of open vision. Heaven, then, is near to men. They are sensitive to spiritual impressions. They are inclined to attach spiritual meanings to material things. The gift of vision is diffused. The things that are unseen and eternal appear. These are periods of religious activity and progress. The happy age following the conquest under Joshua was a time of open vision. The nation had enjoyed the heavenly gift. The present century, in contrast with the past, is a period of vision. It is a characteristic of this age that the supernatural is looked for and readily believed. With all our vast material progress, we have made a spiritual advance vet greater. It has been a period of delusions, so ready have men been to listen to all voices. But it has also been an age of faith. Would that we might be spared its dreary contrast.
II. There are times without open vision--when heaven is far away, when men have faith only in what they see and handle. The eighteenth was such a century. Science and philosophy made marvellous advances; but they were atheistic. The light of the Puritan century had faded out of the sky; or the eye of the new generation could not receive its illumination. Men questioned, derided, triumphed over religion Then was the deification of the worldly spirit. The church was invaded. The clergy became unspiritual. With the loss of vision, truth is lost. This is especially true of the stern truths--our accountability to God, the guilt and doom of sin, the fixed and narrow limits of probation, the final judgment, and the eternity of its awards. In such an age there is no fear of God before men’s eyes. The picture of the times of Samuel, in the account of the wickedness of Eli’s sons, is appalling.
III. There is no time without the Word of the Lord. Though the vision is at times withholden, God is always with us in his word. Why the vision is withdrawn we may not be able to explain. God has a purpose, It is sufficient that he still speaks. Samuel represented a renewed and more extensive dispensation of the word. The spoken word, like the written, has never been lost. Visions might be interrupted, but not the continuity of revelation. It has never ceased.
IV. The word requires a human ear. Eli’s sons wanted the ear that hears God’s voice. The hearing of Eli, like his sight, was dim; Samuel had a sensitive ear. “The Lord revealed himself to Samuel.” “‘Literally,’ says Stanley, ‘the Lord uncovered the ear’--a touching and significant figure taken from the manner in which the possessor of a secret moves back the long hair of his friend and whispers into the ear thus laid bare the word that no one else may hear.”
V. The Word of God requires human lips to speak it. Samuel has received the message. He must deliver it to Eli. (Monday Club Sermons.)
And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place.
The character of Eli
Eli and Samuel.
1. They are contrasted in point of years: for the one is a boy, the other a grey-headed old man; and if it were for only this, the chapter would be one of deep interest. For it is interesting always to see a friendship between the old and the young. It is striking to see the aged one retaining so much of freshness and simplicity as not to repel the sympathies of boyhood. It is surprising to see the younger one so advanced and thoughtful, as not to find dull the society of one who has outlived excitability and passion.
2. They are contrasted again in point of office Both are judges of Israel. But Eli is a judge rendering up his trust, and closing his public career. Samuel is a judge entering upon his office. The venerable judge of forty years is sentenced by the judge elect.
3. Still more striking is the contrast in point of character. Here the difference of inferiority is on the wrong side. It is the young who is counselling, supporting, admonishing the old
4. Once more, we have here the contrast between sludge by office and a judge by Divine call. It is wise after an earthly sort to have an appointed succession. Hereditary judges, hereditary nobles, hereditary sovereigns: without them human life would run into inextricable confusion. Nevertheless, such earthly arrangements only represent the heavenly order. The Divine order of Government is the rule of the Wise and Good. From time to time, one who has qualifications direct from God is made, in Scripture, to stand side by side with one who has his qualifications only from office or earthly appointment; and then the contrast is marvellous indeed. And thus by the side of Eli, the judge by office, stands Samuel, the judge by Divine call: qualified by wisdom, insight, will, resting on obedience, to guide and judge God’s people Israel. Very instructive are the contrasts of this chapter.
I. Eli’s character.
II. Eli’s doom. Eli’s character has two sides; we will take the bright side first. The first point remarkable in him is the absence of envy. Eli furthers Samuel’s advancement, and assists it to his own detriment. God’s priest and God’s judge, to whom so fitly as to him could God send a message? But, another is preferred: the inspiration comes to Samuel, and Eli is superseded and disgraced. God’s message for all Israel comes to a boy: to one who had been Eli’s pupil, to one beneath him, who had performed for him servile offices. This was the bitter cup put into his hand to drink. And yet Eli assists him to attain this dignity. He perceives that God has called the child. He does not say in petulance--“Then, let this favoured child find out for himself all he has to do, I will leave him to himself.” Consider how difficult this conduct of Eli’s was. Remember how difficult it is to be surpassed by a younger brother, and bear it with temper. It is hard to give information which we have collected with pains, but which we cannot use, to another who can make use of it Where is the professional man, secular or clerical, who will so speak of another of the same profession, while struggling with him in honourable rivalry, or so assist him, as to ensure that the brightest lustre shall shine upon what he really is? Whoever will ponder these things will feel that Eli’s was no common act. It was easy for Eli to have instructed anyone else how to approach God. But the difficulty was how to instruct Samuel. Samuel alone, in all Israel, crossed his path. And yet Eli stood the test. He was unswervingly just. He threw no petty hindrances in his way.
2. Remark the absence of all priestly pretensions. Eli might with ease have assumed the priestly tone. When Samuel came with his strange story that he bad beard a voice calling to him in the dark, Eli might bare fixed upon him a clear, cold unsympathising eye, and said, “This is excitement--mere enthusiasm. I am the appointed channel of God’s communications; I am the priest Hear the Church. Unordained, unanointed with priestly oil, a boy, a child, it is presumption from you to pretend to communications from Jehovah! A layman has no right to bear Voices; it is fanaticism.” On the other hand, Eli might have given his own authoritative interpretation to Samuel, of that word of God which he had heard. But suppose that interpretation had been wrong? Eli did neither of these things. He sent Samuel to God. He taught him to inquire for himself There are two sorts of men who exercise influence. The first are those who perpetuate their own opinions, bequeath their own names, form a sect, gather a party round them who speak their words, believe their belief Such men were the ancient Rabbis. And of such men, in and out of the Church, we have abundance now. It is the influence most aimed at and most loved The second class is composed of those who stir up faith, conscience, thought, to do their own work. Such men propagate not many views; but they propagate Life itself in inquiring minds and earnest hearts. Now this is God’s real best work. Men do not think so They like to be guided. They ask, what am I to think? and what am I to believe? and what am I to feel? Save me the trouble of reflecting and the anguish of inquiring. And this is the Ministry and its work--not to drill hearts, and minds, and consciences, into right forms of thought and mental postures, but to guide to the Living God who speaks. To bring the soul face to face with God, and supersede ourselves, that is the work of the Christian ministry.
3. There was in Eli a resolve to know the whole truth. “What is the thing that the Lord hath said unto thee? I pray thee hide it not from me: God do so to thee, end more also, if thou hide any thing from me of all the things that He said unto thee.” Eli asked in earnest to know the worst. It would be a blessed thing to know what God thinks of us. But next best to this would be to sea ourselves in the light in which we appear to others: other men’s opinion is a mirror in which we learn to see ourselves. Therefore it is a blessing to have a friend like Samuel, who can dare to tell us truth, judicious, candid, wise. True friendship will not retail tormenting trifles; but what we want is one friend at least, who will extenuate nothing, but with discretion tell the worst, using unflinchingly the sharp knife which is to cut away the fault.
4. There was pious acquiescence in the declared Will of God. When Samuel had told him every whit, Eli replied, “It is the Lord.” The highest religion could say no more. Free from envy, free from priestcraft, earnest, humbly submissive--that is the bright side of Eli’s character, and the side least known or thought of. There is another side to Eli’s character. He was a wavering, feeble, powerless man, with excellent intentions, but an utter want of will; and if we look at it deeply, it is will that makes the difference between man sod man; not knowledge, not opinions, not devoutness, not feeling, but will--the power to be. Let us look at the causes of this feebleness. There are apparently two
1. A recluse life--he lived in the temple. And such are the really fatal men in the work of life, those who look out on human life from e cloister, or who know nothing of men except through hooks. Doubtless there is a danger in knowing too much of the world. But, beyond all comparison, of the two extremes the worst is knowing too little of life.
2. That feebleness arose out of original temperament, in sentiment Eli might be always trusted: in action he was forever false, because he was a weak, vacillating man. Therefore his virtues were all of a negative character.
Let us look at the result of such a character
1. It had no influence. Eli was despised by his own sons He was not respected by the nation.
2. It manifested incorrigibility. Eli was twice warned; once by a prophet, once by Samuel. Both times he was warned in vain. There are persons who go through life sinning and sorrowing--sorrowing and sinning. No experience teaches them, Torrents of tears flow from their eyes. They are full of eloquent regrets. But tears, heart breaks, repentance, warnings, are ell in vain. Where they did wrong once, they do wrong again.
3. It resulted in misery to others. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Then the Lord called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I.
The child Samuel
“Child” is not a precise equivalent for the Hebrew word so rendered, which is considerably wider in meaning, and includes adolescence. Samuel was probably a youth when called. He had been growing quietly in ago and goodness, while Eli’s sons were growing in licentiousness. The two growths are strikingly contrasted in the previous chapter, where, after each statement as to their wickedness, a clause comes in telling how Samuel advanced in his ministry before the Lord. His word was “precious,” which does not mean highly valued, but seldom heard, because ears were too much clogged with earth, and there was no prophetic “vision” open--that is, widely spread--because there were few eyes purged to see it. A prophet was needed to arrest the growing evil, and the needed prophet was in training. The best place for a young life to dwell is the temple of God. “They that are planted in the house of the Lord” will grow fair and straight, and be sheltered from distorting influences, and from many a gnawing enemy that works havoc among the young shoots. A youth that keeps austerely remote from the vileness of Eli’s sons will be saved from their fate, and will receive messages from the ark as authentic as that which woke Samuel. “The Lord called Samuel.” No magnificent apocalypse of divine glory shone on the youth’s opening eyes. Simply his name was spoken in the tone of one bespeaking his attention and about to give him commands. Whoever spoke knew him, claimed authority over him, and had something for him to do. In a word, the speaker was his master, and needed him. God often assimilates His call to the voices with which we are familiar. A stage comes in every young life when the sense of responsibility is wakened, when the thought of a vocation to battle for the truth starts up. Samuel’s mistake tells a great deal, both as to the nature of the voice he heard and as to his relations to Eli. Evidently he had been accustomed to be roused from sleep, to attend to the old man whose blindness would make him need kindly ministrations. As evidently, he had been accustomed cheerfully to answer the call. His loving readiness to spring from sleep and do whatever was needed, are seen in his running to Eli. No holier office can be entrusted to youth than to care for helpless age; and even if the dependent old man or woman has failings, as Eli had, which the younger hates, the duty of service is still plain, and its blessedness will be the greater, But Samuel’s mistake has another lesson; for we, too, may think that it is only Eli speaking, when it is really God. There is something very pathetic and beautiful in Eli’s quick and ungrudging recognition of God’s call to his young attendant. He had had no such communications himself, but he knew them when they came to others. Poor Eli had a bitter pill to swallow when he knew that the boy whom he had trained as his attendant was elevated to the position of a prophet; but he was not offended nor jealous. There is dignity and peace for the old when they heartily acquiesce in the Divine choice of the young to carry his work a stage farther. Samuel had no thought of anything extraordinary, and the explanation of his slowness of apprehension is given in the statement that he “did not yet know the Lord,” which can only mean that he had not received any Divine communications; for absolute ignorance cannot be supposed in one who had ministered to the Lord all his life. Youth should be slow to believe that its impressions are divine messages. They must be tested well before they are trusted as such. One test, though an imperfect one, is their persistency. When some conviction of duty keeps returning again and again, and forcing us to hear it, we should at least not dismiss it without careful consideration; for it may be the voice of the patient God, who does not let our carelessness silence him. “Thy servant heareth”--an open ear for God’s commands and revelations will never be left empty. “Speak, Lord,” is a prayer; and it is never offered in vain when it is accompanied, as Samuel’s was, by “For thy servant hears.” Such a disposition is a prevailing reason with God. If we are ready to listen and obey, He is more than ready to speak. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The call of Samuel
I. The circumstances of Samuel’s call.
1. When the state of the Church was in a very low ebb: The word of prophecy was very precious at that time (1 Samuel 3:1), a prophet was very rare then, and few or none appeared with open vision by name, though mention be made in general of a prophet ( 6:8). And of a man of God before (1 Samuel 2:27).
2. At that time (1 Samuel 3:2) when the Lord had sent the day before that Man of God mentioned (1 Samuel 2:27), with heavy tidings to Eli, then the very next day God calls and sends Samuel with the same sad message.
3. In that time of the natural day (1 Samuel 3:3), when the lamps of the golden candlestick were not yet extinguished, which had been lighted the evening before (Exodus 27:21; Leviticus 24:8, 2 Chronicles 13:11). So that this was betimes in the morning, and before day that God called Samuel. The place where, in the temple or tabernacle.
II. The substance of this word of prophecy revealed to Samuel.
III. The gracious carriage of this young prophet, when so high and honourable a preferment is put upon him by the Lord.
1. His humility.
2. His modesty, His modesty most appeared, both in his doing the former office of a doorkeeper (opening the doors in the morning), though he were now called of God to be a prophet. And likewise he was not forward, but fearful to reveal the Divine oracle to Eli, which yet he might not conceal (1 Samuel 3:15).
3. His faithfulness also here is manifest in not hiding anything (of that which God had spoke to him) from his master Eli: He told him every whirl (1 Samuel 3:18). Though there was not one drachm of comfort in the whole oracle.
IV. Eli’s reception of this rigid revelation from God by Samuel. Eli was conscious to himself of great guilt, both in his villainous sons, and in himself for indulging their villany, his conscience was a sore conscience, but theirs were seared consciences, and therefore could he presage no good from God; hereupon he advises his pupil to hide nothing from him, but to tell his tutor all that God had told him (1 Samuel 1:16-17). When Eli had heard God’s severe sentence he calmly crieth, “It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good” (1 Samuel 3:18), as if he had said the Lord Jehovah hath a sovereign absolute power over all the sons and daughters of men, and may dispose of me and mine, and of all created beings according to his good pleasure, unto which I freely submit, well knowing there be better things in God’s will than in my own. (C. Ness.)
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him.
Early religious impressions
A study of this story will show parents and teachers much which ought to be supremely helpful in their dealings with those young persons who come under their care.
I. There is, first, the period of conscientious routine. For a while every child born of Christian parents, and trained as Samuel was, will follow the traditions his father and mother have passed on down to him in course of education. What is it possible for any child now to do, as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, under the family rule? Young people can be taught to pray, to take the care of some practical schemes of usefulness, to study the Word of God diligently, to contribute money to religious causes, to become interested in the poor, to speak words of counsel and encouragement and warning to such as need direction or assistance. The grand old moralities are always within their reach; fidelities at school, courtesies to the aged consideration for the weak, keeping the Sabbath, aiding in household cares, and full obedience to all God’s commands. How far is this truly religious? Children differ extremely. Some of them become spiritual Christians quite early; some never know the date of any experience that might be considered regeneration; some are alert, imaginative, poetic, sensitive; others are slow, heavy, and run to rigid moralities with supreme delight and conscientious satisfaction. It is always right to do right, and God loves a virtuous, correct life. Of this we can be comfortably certain. As to the spiritual condition of Samuel at this period of his career, there is found one verse in the record which has given some trouble: “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him.” Evidently there passed a vivid and permanent change over this boy’s heart and history in that night’s experience: God called him.
II. Awakened restlessness in children. There is a period in the history of almost every one who, reared in a Christian land, has been more or less directly under the pressure of the truth, in which he really faces the great question of his relation to God. And the effort is often an earnest one and is directed towards a positive decision concerning a religious life. This period you may recognise in yourself, or detect in others, almost always by certain unmistakable signs. There will be outward manifestations of solicitude which will show how seriously the soul contemplates its own experience. Skill, however, and especially patience, will be needed to understand these revelations of inward struggle. They often partake of the nature of strategy, and press their advance in the line of a precise contradiction. Then they will have to be read, like Hebrew syllables, from right to left. Every individual of us, in these communities lit with truth, comes one day to see that his path to heaven is unlike that of any other person, and henceforth he must journey on alone. That thought is revolutionary. But the thing to be remembered is this: “And Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child.” Men and women may forget this, and grow as sorrowfully “amazed” as was Mary when she rebuked Jesus for not paying more attention to her feelings. They ought to recollect those calm words: “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child.
I. We may define a call, as usually understood, to be an inward conviction of the soul that such and such is the will of God concerning it, accompanied with an irresistible desire to obey the conviction. In such cases a test is required. There is perhaps no extent of self-deception to which ah individual may not be led who concentrates the whole of his thoughts and meditations upon the internal emotions of which he is sensible. Hence the necessity of erecting a tribunal without, to which may be referred the judgment of the inward conviction, and by which we may see whether the voice which is abroad in our hearts, stirring and moving, harmonises with the voice of parents and brethren and priest, that so we may, with Eli, perceive of a surety whether the Lord hath called His child.
II. There is another criterion by which men might go far to ascertain the nature of those internal sensations of which they speak, namely, the criterion of outward circumstances. In order to test feeling, we want something removed as far as possible from what is exciting. In the majority of cases it may be fairly assumed that what we are is what God would have us be; the station of life in which we find ourselves is that which He would have us fill. When, therefore, we seem to be Divinely led to an extraordinary course of conduct, it is no vain prudence which bids us inquire whether outward circumstances tend to encourage or dissuade us. (Bishop Woodford.)
God’s call to the child
We can recall a day of spring which began with a clear, bright morning, bathed in sunshine and song, and giving every promise of fair and steady weather. But ere noon the clouds gathered and grey shrouds covered all the blue and gold of the sky. And then the rain came and drenched well-nigh to drowning our last hope of a fair evening. But just as the sun was setting, the veil of cloud lifted in the west, and a sudden gleam of glory shot across the world before all was dark and drear again. So it was with the day of Eli’s life. Fair promise of an early manhood was belied by the failure of later years, and we welcome with joy, which yet has its pang of regret, this one gleam of light that shows up in the sad eventide of an old man’s broken day. Surely, without unduly spiritualising this simple little incident, we can see in it a parable of history. First of all, Hannah’s loan of her boy to the Lord was but the outcome of the instinct of Judaism. From the very first days of the Mosaic dispensation, the children, and particularly the first-born, were dedicated to the Lord. This recognition of the claim of God on the child is, moreover, not one of the merely fugitive elements of Judaism. Much of that great system of religion has passed away--it has been superseded by Christ’s more perfect system. All through the ages the Lord has called the children with a gentle voice that has sounded in the shrine of the child’s own heart--surely the purest and sweetest tabernacle that God can inhabit. One thing is made very clear to us as we study the Bible in its attitude to the child, and that is that child life is of untold value in the sight of God. The position of the child in Judaism was in striking contrast to that occupied by children in the religions of the surrounding nations and of later ages. We can gauge pretty accurately the value put upon child life in Egypt by Pharaoh’s edict, from the results of which Moses was so strangely preserved. Centuries later, the King of Edom sacrificed his son “for a burnt offering upon the wall.” Thus men sought to propitiate their duties by offering “the fruit of their bodies for the sin of their souls.” But, looking in the most favourable light at this sacrifice of children--and perhaps Tennyson’s “Victim” gives us the most generous interpretation, is it not a dreadful misinterpretation of the call of Jehovah to the children? It is not their sacrifice at the hands of others that He desires, but the offering of the living sacrifice of their own hearts and service at their own hands. Children have too often been made the vicarious sufferers for others in cases where the vicarious principle does not apply. When we come to more recent times we find that even the value of a sacrifice is denied to child life. The Roman father was allowed to refuse to accept as his charge any child born to him, if he thought it physically defective or even numerically superfluous. If on its being presented to him he refused to take it in his arms, it was forthwith put out of the way. In Greece it was much the same. The caves beneath Mount Taygetus were full of the bodies of infants that had been exposed by parents, who were fully at liberty to repudiate the duties of parentage. Think for a moment of the swarming crowds of children forever playing in our streets. “The shout of happy children at their play” sounds poetic until we see the class to whom the words refer most largely, and then we wonder if they are happy. You who live in your comfortable homes, and snugly tuck your own bairns up in their warm, cosy beds at seven or eight o’clock, and would not think of allowing them out after dark, what think you of the little ones who answer your call from your doorstep five minutes later for the “Latest Edition?” And yet their souls and bodies are as important in God’s sight as the souls and bodies of your own more favoured pets. Truly, the Eli of today still fails to perceive that the Lord has called the child. Our Factory Acts have vastly improved the whole matter of child labour. I remember a friend of mine in a colliery district in the North of England telling me how he was carried at the age of six (for he was too much afraid of the dark above ground to go alone) to the mouth of the coal pit in the early morning, and then, in the company of two or three other babies of the same age, he went down, clown to the dark and noisome galleries below to act as putters--that is, to open and shut the wooden doors for the trucks that passed so close to them that they dared not breathe while they passed. That is done away. Recent Temperance legislation has abolished much of the abuse connected with the serving of children with drink. But much still remains to be done before Christian England can shake off the reproach of Eli that he was so slow to perceive that the Lord had called the child The modern problem of Hooliganism is largely the outcome of dereliction of duty in this matter. We find in studying the Gospel that Jesus gives a prominent place to the child. Christ has a message for the child. Long centuries of the Christian era let that call and the child’s wistful enquiry as to its meaning go alike almost unheeded. It is one of the chief glories of the Evangelical Revival that its leaders “perceived that the Lord had called the child.” And one of the earliest outcomes of the great Methodist awakening of the religious life of England was the establishment of Sunday Schools. The ideal of the Christian Church as set before her by her Master and Lord will never be attained until she has thoroughly grasped as a principle, and applied in practice, our Lord’s teaching regarding the child. This is twofold--subjective and objective. The subjective aspect of His teaching is that in which the child is made by Him a model in character building. “Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” The objective aspect of His teaching is given us in the words, “Whosoever receiveth one of such little children in My name, receiveth Me; and whosoever receiveth Me, receiveth not Me, but Him that sent Me.” (G. Waddy Polkinghorne.)
Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth.
The pupil of God
I. As the auditor of God. “The Lord came and stood.” The Great Father speaks to man in nature, in history, in moral reason, as well as in special revelations. This He does as in the case of Samuel.
2. Personally. Samuel’s name was mentioned. God speaks to man, not in the mass, but in the individual.
3. Earnestly. Samuel’s name is repeated, “Samuel, Samuel,” indicating earnestness. God is earnest in His communications with men. “Doth not Wisdom cry? and Understanding put forth her voice?” Alas! though all men are “auditors,” all men are not “earnest” listeners. We have humanity presented here--
II. As the pupil of God. “Samuel answered, Speak; for Thy servant heareth.” Samuel’s conduct suggests three things--
1. He became a pupil after having heard the Divine voice. The voice had spoken to him thrice before, but it is only now he has heard it as the voice of God. Before he thought it was the voice of Eli--the mere voice of a man. No man will ever become a pupil of God until he hears His voice as His voice. It is God’s voice that rouses men to spiritual study.
2. He heard the Divine voice after having put himself in a right posture.
3. Having heard the Divine voice, he craved for further communications. “Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth.” The man who really takes in one word from God, craves for another. God’s word, really taken into the soul, does two things,
Here are the relations which we all ought to sustain to God--auditors and pupils--listeners and students. (Homilist.)
The reality of revelation and the preparation for receiving it
Why did the Lord call Samuel four times before He told him what He had to tell him?
1. The plan which God adopted was well calculated to convince both Eli and Samuel that the call was no delusion. When God makes any important revelation, He always gives to the people concerned some means of assuring themselves that it is indeed He who is speaking. He takes care there shall be no reasonable ground for saying that the revelation is a mistake, a fancy, a delusion.
2. The call of Samuel would have failed in one of its objects, if Eli had not been convinced that it was from God. Eli was to be censured by it. The call of Samuel was therefore the first step towards superseding Eli, and putting another and more faithful person in his room. It was absolutely necessary therefore that Eli should be assured that, Samuel’s call was from God, and that it was the beginning of the fulfilment of God’s threatenings against himself. And how could this be done more forcibly or more naturally than by allowing Samuel to mistake God’s voice for Eli’s, end bringing him to Eli’s bedside in unsuspicious simplicity three times in the course of the night?
3. There was this great object in the delaying of the message communicated to Samuel, until he had been three times called by name,--that he was duly prepared to receive the message. If God had given him the message on the first occasion of calling him, Samuel might not have known what to make of a thing so utterly new and strange to him. (Dean Goulburn.)
Voices of God
Samuel was called to be a prophet of God in a great crisis of Jewish history His appearance was quieter and less dramatic than those of Moses and Elijah, but it was almost as momentous.
1. The commonwealth established by Moses came to an end with the weak administration of Eli. The pure theocracy of the government was superseded.
2. The religious revolution was equally decisive and momentous. The religious supremacy of the priest was superseded by that of the prophet. No change could be more momentous in its religious influence. The function of the prophet differs fundamentally from that of the priest, and appeals to entirely different feelings. Samuel was the first of the order of the prophets. Hence the call of Samuel was of exceptional significance and importance. Samuel was clearly one of those great men of manifold gifts and functions whom God raises up in great crises and for great services. He was not, like Moses, the founder of the economy, nor, like Elijah, its restorer. But he was its preserver through a revolution that had become inevitable.
I. Life is full of voices of God, only we lack the spiritual faculty which discerns them--The responsibility of life lies in listening for Divine voices, and in the response to them that we give. We may cultivate the spiritual faculty that hears God’s call, or we may make it obtuse. We may cherish God’s call, or we may silence it; obey it, or rebel against it.
1. When we think of God’s voice, we English Protestants probably think first and most spontaneously of God’s revelation of His will in the Bible. Be the Bible whence it may, it is the highest spiritual authority we possess. It reveals God as nothing else does. More distinctly, unequivocally, and emphatically than through any other medium, God appeals to us by it. The history of Christianity is mainly a history of the impressions and transformations which the teachings of the Bible have produced upon men.
2. There are again voices of God’s providence, which, if we have docile hearts, if we listen for the “voice behind us,” and watch for the guidance of God’s eye, we shall not fail to recognise.
3. The instincts and yearnings of our own spiritual nature, again, are an unmistakable voice of God. Every faculty has its function, every yearning its satisfaction. What then is the satisfaction provided for my religious soul? Christianity loudly and eagerly replies, God, and Christ, and salvation, and heaven. This voice of God within tells us that we are more than the brutes that perish, that we are more than mere intellectual machines. A man has to do gross violence and outrage to his own nature, debauch it by sensual excesses, reason it down by hard logic, before he can disable or overpower its spiritual elements. Nay, when he has done his utmost, he has not destroyed, he has only over-borne them. Out of the very constitution of our nature a still small voice of God testifies to our spiritual and immortal being.
4. And to this religious nature God speaks by the motions and monitions of His Holy Spirit; awakening solicitudes, exciting desires, touching impulses. These we may either cherish or quench.
5. In moments of intellectual perplexity, for example, when speculative reason has baffled herself in trying to think out the mysteries of being and of God--amid this tempest and earthquake of intellectual strife the still small voice of the religious soul is heard--God’s voice within us. So that the spiritual soul itself disallows the reasonings that would deny it.
6. In quieter and more thoughtful moods of life we hear the voice of God. In solitary ways, in quiet evening hours, in the sequestered chamber of sickness.
7. God has voices that reach us in crowds; distinct, perhaps loud, above every din of business, or Glamour of strife, or song of revelry.
8. In moments of temptation, even, God’s voice finds a tongue. In some lingering power of conscience, in some sensitive remnants of virtue, in some angel memories of a pious home and an innocent heart.
9. In times of sorrow God’s voice comes to us, summoning us to faith in His rule, His purpose, His presence, and to patience and acquiescence in the sacrifice demanded of us.
10. Most terrible of all is it when the first voice of God that we seriously listen to is a sentence of doom. “I will judge thine house for the iniquity which thou knowest.” Such voices of God have come to men. Our lives are full of voices of God, if we would but listen to them. It is not God’s silence, it is our deaf ear that hinders every place from being eloquent with Divine meanings.
11. Again, at what unlikely times and in what unlikely places God may speak to us. Not always in churches, or in formal acts of worship, or on Sabbath days.
12. To what unlikely persons God’s call comes. The lesson is not an easy one for the Church to learn. God will choose His own instruments.
II. How then do we respond to God’s call?--Is not Samuel’s answer, “Speak, Lord, Thy servant heareth,” in the childlike simplicity, faith, and submissiveness of it, a most beautiful and perfect type of what our answer should be? He did not demur or remonstrate, as even Moses did when sent to Pharaoh. Humility is seen as much in the implicit acceptance of a great mission as in apologetic excuses for not accepting it. True fidelity of service is simply to do whatever may seem to be duty. The responsibility is with him who calls us. How variously men respond to God’s call! Even in those who obey it, what, gradations of faith and submissiveness there are! Men may deal with God’s call so insincerely that they may destroy their very power of recognising it, and come to confound it with mere human suggestion. Or else, recognising it to be such, they parley with it, pervert its meaning, resist it, silence it. How God speaks to individual souls! Our neighbours cannot hear His voice to us. Eli did not hear the call to Samuel. It is addressed only to our personal consciousness, He who sits by my side does not hear it. Sometimes we ourselves fail to recognise it at first. Samuel thought it the voice of Eli, as we may think it the mere word of a preacher. It may not be even a message, but only a call; “Samuel, Samuel;” vague and inciting. Upon our response to it, our inquisitiveness and our docility, it depends whether more shall be revealed to us. Oh, these voices of God, how they fill our life and make it solemn and great! What forms they take! What things they say! Upon our capability and willingness to hear Him our spiritual life depends. So to dull and deaden our souls by evasions and evil passions, so that it becomes incapable of discerning voices of God, is to destroy its finer spiritual sense, to degrade and carnalise it. Of all the voices of human life none are so great and inspiring as voices of God. Nay, even grant them illusions,--the mere imaginations of spiritual feeling,--they are dreams of noble and inspiring things. For practical uses of life it is better to be led by imaginary voices to noble virtue, Divine sympathies, and immortal aspirations, than to be led by real voices to carnal indulgences. It was because Samuel so responded, that He who thus spake to the child, feeding the morning lamp of his life with the oil of piety and gladness, continued to speak to the man through all his after years, to be with him in every after experience, to preserve him in every after temptation and peril; very largely, no doubt, by the very memories and spiritual forces of his childhood.
III. The religious importance of the passive or receptive side of our spiritual life.--There is an active side of spiritual life which exerts power, and there is a passive side that receives it; just as the body receives food for its nourishment, and puts forth energy as the result of it. I kneel down to pray; I put my soul into a receptive attitude: I open my heart to spiritual influences; I surrender myself to quiet musings; I cherish thoughts about Divine things; I nurture spiritual affections; I solicit into strength and fruitfulness the seeds of things that I have received. This is the passive side of my spiritual life. These are the vital processes that make me a spiritual man, holy, devout, loving. But I also go forth to do things; to teach, to work, to serve, to speak to others the thought that is in me, to proffer to others the help that love prompts, to embody before others the holy principles and feelings that have been generated within me. This is the active side of my spiritual life. The one is God working within me, filling me with His presence and love; the other is my working for God, filling the earth with the godliness that I have realised, ministering the grace I have received. Every true life realises both. If either be wanting, life is impossible; if either be in excess, life is maimed. The religious history of the world is full of instances of mere zeal and self-will, working, even in God’s service, extremest evil. The Church needs Christian workers, consecrated lives, vigorous hands; “the harvest is plenteous, but the labourers are few.” In a thousand forms evil has to be encountered and counteracted. It is a great grace for a man to be willing to serve God in any way, for him to be converted from the service of the devil to the service of Christ. It is an eventful crisis in a man’s history when he first submits himself to Christ. But it is not all at once that he subordinates to Christ all his feelings and purposes. His excited zeal would fain be doing. He has no conception that is not doing. He can scarcely be kept from abandoning business altogether. He does not wait to hear God speak. He takes for granted that God has only one thing to say to him--to bid him throw himself into the thickest of the fight. Young life is characteristically energetic. Its strength is not to sit still. Different states of society, different ages of the Church, have different characteristics and perils. Our fathers developed the thoughtful, reflective side of the Christian life. We fill the world with our Christian agencies, and our life with strenuous endeavours. Nor may we say that too much is done: the world needs it all. But perhaps we suffer in the completeness of our spiritual life. The balance inclines unduly. Are we not too busy for thoughtfulness--almost for quiet communion with God. There is therefore a sense in which we need to preach, not so much activity as the lessening of it. Our life runs to leaf. How much is said in Scripture about this devotional side of spiritual life, its aspect towards God, its vital union with Christ, its dependence upon Him! “As I live by the Father, so ye also shall live by Me.” This, then, is the conclusion of the whole matter--that in the activities of our zeal we do not forget its inspirations in God; that we keep open the heavenward gates of our souls; that while with one hand we do battle with evil, or build the temple of God, with the other we clasp the cross. The more entire our spirit of dependence, the more effective the work we do. Our greatest sanctities, our greatest elevations of thought and feeling, our greatest impulses, come from our communion with God. The nearer to Him we live, the fuller we shall be of His light and goodness and love. The men who have done the most for God are men who have stood in Samuel’s attitude, and said with Samuel’s submissiveness, “Speak, Lord, Thy servant heareth.” (H. Allen, D. D.)
Childhood a prophecy
I. As expressing the cry of the human heart for a revelation of the Divine.--Sooner or later that cry will be heard in us all. The thirst for happiness, the desire for certainty, the craving for fuller life, the thinker’s search for uniting general ideas, are all longings for God. This cry cannot be satisfied by nature and its teaching, or by the voice of authority, or tradition, or reason, or the church.
1. We are sinful beings. How shall we know that we are personally forgiven and accepted, unless the voice of God speak in us?
2. We are solitary beings. We need a Divine Presence. How know that Presence is with us unless God’s voice speak in us?
3. We are students of truth. How shall we be convinced that Christ is Divine, and ever the Leader and King of men, unless the voice of His spirit in us attest His claims?
4. We are undeveloped beings. The highest and best energies of the soul only utter themselves as God’s voice calls them into consciousness, and service, and cooperation.
5. We are responsible beings.
6. We are immortal. In life, in death, in duty, in joy, our hearts cry, “Speak, Lord.” “Be not silent unto me.”
II. God answers this cry, but in an unexpected manner.--We settle upon persons, places, times, and modes for God to speak. He upsets the folly of our prejudgments.
1. Samuel’s cry is the result of the Divine voice to him first.
2. God calls the child, not Eli. He speaks to life, not years. The child has a right to hear God. He speaks ever to the childlike.
3. He calls the child in the night. Samuel must go into the solemn night, alone to hear the voice. How brave and fearless is the child-heart.
4. He calls him by a human voice. He cannot tell it from Eli’s. There are tones of love, and sorrow, and tenderness in it. So with Christ, the form of the voice is human, its substance is Divine.
5. He calls the child to receive the message of law and judgment. A good discipline to begin with. Law, stern and inflexible, yet beneficent, pervades love. Duty first, then privilege and comfort.
6. Eli has to complete the attitude of Samuel to God. The best part of Eli appears here--his unselfishness, his sympathy with Samuel. This is the use of all teachers, churches; not to demand our listening to them, but to send us to solitary converse with God. Often the representative of an outgoing school of thought has denied to the new voices the Divinity of which they are full. Eli was better.
III. The Divine voice is audible only to lowly obedience. (J. Matthews.)
God’s call to Samuel
I. The sleep.--You may think of Samuel as now a boy about twelve years of age. The night was far advanced. The golden candlestick with its seven lamps, in the Holy Place, had not yet gone out, as it usually did about the time when the morning began to dawn. Its light shone on all the sacred things. That night God was present in a special manner. He was near to Samuel. But to Samuel it was as if none of these things had been; he was all unconscious of them--for he was asleep. There is,
1. The Sleep of Carelessness.--Some mothers tell me about their boys, that they are not bad-hearted, and that what they have to complain of, is not so much want of heart, as want of thought. They never seem to think. And the consequence is, everything goes wrong. I cannot tell how bad, how dangerous that is, what damage it has done--want of thought. Though their eyes are open, their minds are asleep. It is the sleep of carelessness. Some young people go to church who never listen to what is said--who never hear what is said. I very much fear there are many young people who never think about God, or the soul, or their pressing danger, or the way of salvation.
2. There is what I might call the Sleep of Sin. This is in some respects worse than the other. At first, conscience is uncomfortable, uneasy, and they think they will never do the wrong thing again. But when the sin is repeated time after time, conscience becomes quiet, the heart gets hard, and at length there is sound sleep, so that nothing frightens, nothing alarms.
3. There is the Sleep of Security. Security does not mean safety. It means the sense of supposed safety, and is sometimes the most dangerous state of all.
II. God’s awakening call.--There are various ways of awaking sleeping people. Sometimes a call will do it; sometimes a gentle tap at the door; sometimes a loud knock.
1. There is God’s call in the Word. This is what most, and most effectually, he uses. Strange and unlikely messages have proved words of awakening to some, rousing the sleeper thoroughly out of his slumbers. Often it is the simple story of Jesus’ love--His coming and dying for sinners.
2. There is God’s call in Providence.
III. The lying down again.--In Samuel’s case, this was all right and good, he was an unusually dutiful child. Whenever he was called, up he sprang, and that again and again. In the case of most the lying down again is fatal. The second sleep is likely to be sounder than the first, and to lie down again, when once awakened, is of all things the most foolish. Sometimes, when God awakens, and there is much anxiety and fear--a desire to be saved, and a willingness to do anything to get salvation. We get quit of our anxiety and fear, and try to throw off our good impressions, and are ashamed to have been so much concerned. Friends often say to us, “Go, lie down again:” not that they would do us any harm, but, like Eli at first, they do not know that the voice that is calling us is the voice of God. Satan always says, “Go, lie down again;” for he does not wish us to be saved. And many yield to the temptation.
IV. God’s call recognised and answered.--All the three earlier times, “Samuel did not yet know the Lord.” (J. H. Wilson.)
The call to Samuel is an extreme and vivid instance of a truth of which the Bible is full; the truth that we are all called of God to our several places and occasions of action or of passion, of working or of waiting in the world; in a word, that we all have a vocation. We hardly need the Bible to tell us this, for it is one of the simplest truths of natural religion. The evidences of providential purpose in the world have been criticised in every age. But they have proved too strong to be upset by criticism, and still remain as they have ever been, among our most necessary forms of thought. And as man is the climax of the visible creation, we naturally expect the purpose which is so abundantly visible elsewhere, to obtain also in the life of man. He too must have a purpose, and to be created for a purpose is, in the case of a free being, to be called to its fulfilment. The New Testament takes up and intensifies this thought; addressing Christians as “the called of Jesus Christ,” “called to be saints,” “called according to God’s purpose,” “called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord,” “called out of the darkness,” “called to liberty.” Now it hardly needs saying that, for all its naturalness and scriptural authority, we are too apt to forget this thought. Let us consider the details of the call of Samuel to his life’s work. Circumstances, as we say, but circumstances of which a mother’s prayer was part, determine the sphere in which that work is to be done. “The child did minister unto the Lord before Eli the priest.” Then comes the Divine voice calling him by name; calling him out of the many possibilities of an office which he shared with such men as Eli’s sons, to his own especial and high prophetic destiny. We are not all called to be prophets, but we are called, in our varying ways, to minister to the Lord; and we may learn from this typical history how to recognise and answer our call. We are apt to lead aimless lives, and shift the blame of them on to our circumstances; but circumstances, to a believer in God, are providential, and meant to determine and not to divert our aim. Parents’ wishes, constitutional temperament, intellect, rank, wealth, poverty, obscurity, the books we read, the friends we form, family claims, or unexpected opportunities in the opening days of life--these are the things that decide for us the main outlines of our career. And it is very easy to imagine that they are all happy or unhappy accidents, importing at the very outset a character of chance into all that we do. But such a view is only born of the shallow philosophy that sees nothing in the universe but a chaos of shifting sand. And it is in the presence of such feeling that a belief in vocation comes to our help. For that belief gives us a clue to the right interpretation of our circumstances, and leads us to ponder over them with prayer. As we do so we are no longer content to drift idly before them, or to turn and go away in a rage because we are not bidden to do some great thing. But external circumstances need for their interpretation the inner guidance of the voice of God; and to hear that voice we must be listening with the obedient expectation in which Samuel said, “Speak; for Thy servant heareth.” It is too readily assumed that such interior calls come only to the favoured few who are predestined to exceptional careers. They are ways in which God, the Holy Ghost, chooses the weak things of the world to confound the wise; flashing on the mind in an instant, through some chance thought, or eight, or sound, the conviction of His nearness, and the message of His will. But real as these inner intimations of the Divine purpose often are, they need to be received with care. And here again the case of Samuel comes before us. The voice which called him was interpreted by Eli. “Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child.” And all our secret inspirations need a similar process of testing, in the light of our own experience or that of others. What, then, is a divine vocation? It is a call from the world, in its evil sense, to God. These are its two essential characteristics. First, detachment,, or sacrifice. When the rich young man was bidden to sell all that he had and give to the poor, the involved sacrifice was obvious. But though less obvious, the sacrifice need not be less real in the ease of those whose undoubted vocation is to accept the responsibility of a great inheritance. Secondly, attachment. Vocation is a call to God, and not merely a call to labour. It is a common mistake to regard our work as leading us to God, rather than God as leading us to our work. But the latter is the true order of vocation. God calls us to himself, and then sends us to labour in His vineyard. If we sever our moral life from its spiritual root--its root is the Father of Spirits--and confine our thoughts to any kind of merely moral practice, however noble, we are liable by degrees to be too absorbed in our work, to over-estimate its importance and our own importance as its agents, to be unduly discouraged by failure or sudden avocation. Meanwhile, our work itself will lack the note of perfectness which spirituality alone can give, and be either outwardly ungracious or inwardly unreal. Whereas if we regard morality as a function of the spiritual life, and conduct as the consequence and not the cause of character, the natural and necessary outcome and expression of the inner man, all things will fall into their proper place For the work which flows instinctively from character is not only more perfect in kind; but there is, in reality, more of it. It has a wider and more varied scope. In fact, it is incessant; since a character is always working. And, further, while action divorced from character contains no principle of growth, and at; best can only increase in quantity, remaining monotonously same in kind, a spiritual character is forever growing in refinement and intensity and grace, and consequently issuing in a higher quality of conduct. “My son, give Me thy heart;” is the universal form of all vocation. This is the essence of vocation; and it naturally issues in a reality and earnestness of life which nothing else can give. Without it men may be in earnest for a time, but; their earnestness will rarely survive failure, much less such repeated failure as is our common human lot. But the man with a sense of vocation is beyond all this. For he neither depends upon success or failure, nor doubts the real value of his work. Like the Pompeian sentinel, come what may, he will stay on duty till his guard is relieved. He works not for achievement;, but for obedience, and rests not when he is tired, but when he is told. Nor does this temper of mind, as is sometimes thought, lead to dull and mechanical working. On the contrary, the man with a vocation is the truest individual. For in his degree he reflects God, and no two beings can reflect God in the same way. Indolence is always commonplace. Imitation is its favourite method. And the more selfish men become either in their personal or collective alms, the more drearily they resemble one another No two saints were ever alike. And this the man with a true sense of vocation feels. He gives himself up to God in confidence that the Maker of the human soul alone knows the capabilities of His own instrument, and can alone bring out its music. And be is justified by the result. Native individuality alone will not do this. It may start with a flash and a lustre, but succumbs in time to the deadening custom of the world, “the set gray life and apathetic end”--one more instance of the epigram that “we are all born originals and die copies.” But; vocation, while it emphasises our originality, supports us under its loneliness with the sense of being upheld from above. Again there are degrees and stages of vocations--vocations within vocations. Theology is a matter of vocation. And then there is the missionary call, of which we hear from all sides of the need. (J. R. Illingworth, M. A.)
Present day inspiration
Does God speak to our children today as He did to this lad Samuel? I do not ask does God speak to us in an audible voice, and in dictionary English. For you know well enough that the form is not, and never can be, of the essence of a message. Methods are details. Spiritual impulse and enlightenment, life and power, are all in all, the Alpha and Omega of Inspiration. “There are,” says Goethe, “many echoes in the world, but few voices.” Revelation is rare. Inspiration is common. Revelation is unique and original. Inspiration may issue only in an echo to him who listens, but in what is a living and new experience to him who speaks. So far as I can gather, Samuel, though inspired as to become the first; in the regular succession of the prophets of Israel, received no new truth, saw no facts going beyond the first principles of religion taught by Moses; but; he grasped those truths with a reality and clearness all his own, With deep solicitude, then, we enquire, what are the facts? Is there, or is there not, a Present Day Inspiration? No doubt the prophets of God were exceptional men. All are not apostles. All are not prophets. All do not work miracles. All have not gifts of healing. Every Greek is not a Plato in philosophical insight, an Aristotle in reasoning, or a Pericles in eloquence and political capacity. Every Italian is not a Dante in song. Every Englishman is not a Shakespeare in dramatic genius, a Macaulay in historical portrait painting, or a Pitt in statesmanship. Every singer is not a Beethoven or a Mozart. Every Christian is not a Luther. Even amongst the prophets of the Old Testament there are greater and lesser lights. But in God’s world, the exceptional is always the evangelistic. Divinely-anointed men preach the Gospel to the poor, heal the broken hearted, deliver the captives, and herald the arrival of the acceptable year of the Lord. God never makes any man for himself, least of all a prophet. But supposing we had a lingering doubt as to the teaching of the Older Testament, we cannot have any misgiving as to the fact that Christ asserts over and over again the doctrine of the continuity of Inspiration. It is His consolation among the irritations and disquiet of opposition and defeat, that His Father reveals the truth of His Kingdom, to the open, clinging, and trustful hearts of “babes” like young Samuel. A third line of inquiry is open to us, taking us back in some sense upon our first and second. It is this. Are the results of Samuel’s Inspiration possible to us, or is there anything forbidding us to entertain the thought of entering into the goodly fellowship of the prophets? We know we may walk with God as did Enoch, preach righteousness with Noah, become the children of Abraham in heroic faith and total surrender of will, fight against ourselves with Jacob, battle for social purity with Joseph, assist in building God’s house with Moses, share the strength of Samson, and drink the pure streams of domestic joy with Ruth and Naomi; is it likely then we are shut out from the enjoyment of the sublimest issues of the inspiration of the Spirit of God? Those issues, as seen in the life and work of Samuel, are these four; an enlarged and purified conception of God; a strong and governing sway for ethical ideas of God and of life; a contagious impulsion of others towards God and righteousness; and a fine susceptibility of advance in religious, social, and national activity. Samuel knew the Lord through the word of the Lord revealed to him. God spake to him, and the speech was a revelation of the Speaker. To know God--not so as to define Him, but to enjoy Him; not so as to demonstrate His being, but to live in and by His love and power; not so as to comprehend Him, but to trust and follow Him; this is the gift of the Spirit. Next in gravity and in fruitfulness, we see in this inspired here a moral illumination, an inflexible fidelity to his vocation, and an uncompromising adherence to eternal ethical principles, which infallibly assert his intimate fellowship with a righteous God. He begins his youthful ministry by the delivery of a pain-filled message, asserting the unrelaxed operation of the laws of God on the rapacity and profligacy of the sons of Eli, a man of saintly devoutness and religious fervour, but a father of foolish leniency and unpardonable weakness. Samuel, young as he is--a mere lad--tells his story every whit, omits not a word from fear for himself, or weak consideration for the feelings of Israel’s Judge. So noble a courage has its fitting crown in the stern demand for absolute obedience to God he makes on King Saul, and his intrepid refusal to accept any shuffles and excuses for a self-willed defiance of the authority of the God of Israel. “To obey,” says he, rising to the loftiest heights of the sun-filled realm of truth, “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” “The Lord let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground,” for they were a part of that truth which, however slowly it be revealed, when once here, endureth to all generations. Samuel, like his successors, was a prophet-politician. His chief care was the common weal. He saw a people weak and disunited, foolish and fractious, licentious and profligate, idolatrous and corrupt; and with glowing intensity of emotion and ringing eloquence he sent out his manifesto against the reigning idolatry, reasserted the second great commandment against the worship of images, urged repentance and searching of heart, and confederated the tribes together on the basis of a true idea of God, a spiritual worship, and a faithful keeping of the law of righteousness. Every true and consecrated prophet is an earnest patriot, acutely alive to the real perils of his country, sympathetic with all its struggles for a purer morality, a higher culture, and a richer joy; and heartily cooperates in every effort that illumines right, extends liberty, and brings men to God. Love of men, evinced in practical service of their wide interests, is the sign and proof of the anointing of God. Hence the inspired man is always in the van of progress. He does not and cannot lag behind. Even though it be against his immediate interests, and in the face of his cherished methods and associations, yet he triumphs over himself and carries forward movements in which “the old order changeth, yielding place to new.” No inspired man can be a frozen pendant, a blind dry-as-dust, a galvanized corpse, frantically clutching at yesterday as though it were better than today, and talking of God as though He bad revealed Himself as the “I was,” instead of the “I am.” The breath of the Almighty lifts him out of the darkness of a selfish stagnation and makes him the harbinger of the coming day. Therefore, not even our depressing sense of mistake, our mist-bound ideas, our feeling that God has cramped dwelling in our souls, should hinder us from believing in, working for, and hastening to, a present-day Inspiration. Each element of this four-fold result bears witness to a universal need, and to a possible universal experience: prophesies that “when He is come, He will convince the world of sin, and righteousness, and judgment;” be “poured out on all flesh,” so that all flesh may see the full salvation of God. Irresistible as this answer is, it only forces on us a further question, scarcely less perplexing, viz., how may we be sure that the voice that speaks within us is the voice of God, and not of self; that the impressions, ideas, and convictions are the result of Divine inspiration, and not the subtle temptations of evil, or the disguised promptings of a foolish and fevered fancy? Ay, there’s the rub! That’s the insuperable difficulty! Fortunately for us this is not a new problem. It is as old as the other. The Jews of Berea had to face it with less light than we have, for they were invited to pass into a new realm of thought and action, and required an unerring guide, Paul and Silas preached the Word concerning Christ to them, and they received it with all openness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily whether these things were so; many of them, therefore, believed. They went at once to the best test they had; used the supreme verifying process then in existence, looked into the Hebrew accounts of the manifestation of God in the past; compared them with that which was reported to them by the missionaries, and entered into rest and power. Now we have this advantage over the Bereans, that the Scriptures are larger for us than they were for them. We can take all the movements of the Spirit of God in our hearts today to Christ, to see whether they are in accordance with His Spirit and teaching, with His redeeming purpose and kingdom, with His sacrifice and ethics; with His character and Ideal. He is our infallible test. Yet another question If this gift of the Spirit be open So all souls, and this test be so easy of application, why is it that Samuel, of all the lads in Israel, hears the Divine Voice, and no one else; that Isaiah and Paul are inspired, and so many of their contemporaries are not? Why? Well, why did mathematics and colours speak with such captivating sweetness to the mind of Clerk Maxwell? Why did music penetrate and sway the soul of young Mozart? Why could not Flaxman rest in his father’s shop without modelling and sketching? Why did Augustine hear the summons falling on his ear as he walked in the orchards at Tagaste; “Take and read, Take and read”? Look into their minds, and you will find the same law at work. Scientific things are scientifically discerned; musical things are musically discerned; artistic things are artistically discerned; and spiritual things are spiritually discerned. Their natures and training offered the appropriate organs and conditions, and the inspiration followed. To the fitting organ for hearing there comes the guiding Voice of God. Few “cases” more vividly illustrate this law than Samuel’s. At least six signs of fitness show themselves: his godly descent: his devout dedication for life to the service of God; his early spiritual training; his preeminent prayerfulness; his glowing love of God; and his unfaltering obedience to the Divine will. If, then, any of us lack the strength of a daily inspiration, and who does not? let him ask of God, with a fully dedicated spirit, an intense yearning to glorify God, a total suppression of selfish desire, and a sustained doing of all the Will of God, and He will do exceeding abundant above all we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, even the power of the risen Christ, Who hath already given us of His Spirit. (J. Clifford, M. A.)
Spiritual surrender for children
1. To begin with, there is indicated here, as a part of this boy’s experience, the exercise of unquestioning obedience.
2. In the experience of Samuel we observe, in the second place, there was the attitude of listening.
3. Then next in the experience of Samuel we observe there is a spirit of reverence.
4. There is the apprehension of obligation. So whenever Christ comes by His Spirit into contact with a young life there is the bending of the will into desire for service.
5. There is the temper of submission. The entire surrender of the soul is reached in that word “heareth.” This young child was offering himself most unconsciously to a duty immediate and pressing, but indescribably hard. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
God’s calling of Samuel
I. With respect to the circumstances of this Divine call, there are, it is true, some differences, whilst there are certainly also some resemblances, between his case and yours. We may refer to,
1. Some of these differences.
2. Resemblances between the circumstances of the call of Samuel and yours.
4. Have not all of you, like Samuel, been called repeatedly?
II. With respect to the reality of the Divine call there is a perfect parity in both cases.--
1. The Bible you allow to be the Word of God.
Obedient to the voice of God
I. The Lord speaking. “But does God speak to me?” you ask.
1. Yes, he does, in His Providence. In this land of Sabbaths, and churches, and Bibles, and Christians, God is always speaking to you. Did He not speak to you in the first human voice that reached your infant mind? And did not God speak to you in that illness?
2. And God speaks to you by His word. For His word is not like the word of a man in a book, a dull, dead thing: but in it you may hear God’s living voice.
3. And God speaks to you by His Spirit.
II. The child hearing. Your ear is one of the main gateways of the soul. A man of science calls it “a harp of three hundred strings,” and it is made up of many wonders. But far more wonderful is the inner ear of the heart, or the conscience, by which you hear the noiseless voice of God. You have great power over the ear of the body; you may spoil it, close it, or improve it. Oh, have you a good ear for this music? It is astonishing how quick the ear grows to hear anything we wish to hear. An Indian, by laying his ear to the ground, and hushing his breath, can discover the approach of a horseman at the distance of miles. His ear is as quick as the ear of the hare, or of the deer. A sleeping mother will hear the gentlest movement of her suffering child, and awake to help it. Her mother’s love calls her listening soul into her ear: her heart makes her all ear. Thus the ear within the soul may be trained to know even the gentlest whisperings of God’s voice.
III. The child serving. “Thy servant,” he called himself.
1. His obedience was prompt. He might have said, “Oh, I’m frightened in the dark: there must be soma mistake: I’ll keep my warm bed this cold night.” He was prompt in obeying Eli’s voice (as he thought it) and God’s.
2. Samuel’s obedience was also hearty: he put his whole heart into it. The trembling slave obeys promptly, but not heartily. He does his task at once, but would gladly not do it, if he dared. We cannot obey God till we really love Him.
3. Notice also that Samuel’s obedience was life long. There is the closest connection between the heartiness and the continuance of our service. (J. Wells, M. A.)
In order to distinguish the voice and message of God there is requisite--
I. A disengaged mind. When the attention is absorbed by one object there is no room for another.
II. An unbiassed intelligence. Our own selfishness, conceit, and prejudice, both collectively and individually combine to prevent our hearing and regarding the truth, in its fulness and entirety. We want to speak and argue, as well as hear.
II. An earnest expectation.
IV. A sense of humility. “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” This implies that we hear in order to do. God will never give His counsel to the haughty and the proud.
V. A personal individual communion. It is the want of the personal union to God that keeps us in the dark and hides His light from our souls. (Homilist.)
Listening to God
Or, rather, “Thy servant is listening.” If, as we have read this story, I wonder if we have thought of the strange feeling of awe that was beating in that little heart that night? I wonder if there is any significance in the fact that Samuel did not say just what Eli told him to? Eli said, “Say, speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth;” but Samuel could not get quite courage enough to say Lord; he was not quite sure that it was the Lord that was speaking to him, and so all he says is, “Speak; for Thy servant heareth.” How that heart must have beat, how that awe must have possessed him, as it came to him that he was really face to face with Jehovah! And yet, familiar as we are with this story, I do not think its lesson has sunk down very deep into most of our hearts; for that lesson seems to me to be this: That there are times when we are not to talk to God, and not to do anything for God, but just to listen to God. A great proportion of you are doing some work for God; most of you, I hope, more or less regularly pray to God; but how many of you have ever formed the habit of listening to God? You see the difference. We know the full man, the ready man, the overflowing man whom we meet in social intercourse, who is so full of his message to us that he has no time to get our message back again; who talks with such a stream of conversation that it is hardly possible for us to get in a word in reply. There is no conversation with such a man, there is only listening to him. You have met that man; perhaps you are that man yourself. He is a very full man, but he does not know how to get the message of the world. He does not know how to take in as well as to give out. The wise man carries both minds with him, the giving mind and the receiving mind, and the wisest man makes more of the receiving even than the giving. But at other times you do not take up a theme for study, but you sit down in your easy chair and light your evening lamp; the wind is howling and you are sure that you are going to have that night no interruption; and you take your Browning, or your Shakespeare, or your Carlyle, or your Tennyson, or your Whittier, and you do not study, you simply let your favourite author talk to you, and after he has spoken to you for ten or fifteen minutes the book drops into your lap and you begin to think his thoughts. These hours in which we simply listen to what the men of genius have to say to us, are they not the most fruitful hours of our life? Have we not received more in those hours than we received when our dictionary and our grammar and our treatise were before us and we were digging for wisdom as for a hid treasure? Yes, these receptive hours are our best hours. I know there are persons who think that God speaks no more to men: He did speak once to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Isaiah, to Paul, but there came a time when the canon was closed, and inspiration was stopped, and God became silent, and man lost his power of hearing. Strange, was it not, if it were true, that God should have spoken to one little section of the race and no other section, to one little epoch and to no other; strange, if He is the Father and we are the children, that He should have talked to those children in far-away times and have nothing to say to us children in this present time! I do not believe it. I believe God speaks to His children new. I cannot see how there can be a true, real religion without this faith. This faith underlies obedience. How can I obey the will of God if God never shows His will to me? How can I have faith in a present, living God, who never speaks to me? Sometimes He comes to us as He came to Balaam. We have set our own purpose before us; we have resolved what we will do; we have not been careful to take counsel and consider whether this is the thing God wants us to do. A great reward, a great honour, a great advantage, beckons, and we start out on our path to do our will, resolved to reap our reward, and we come against some obstacle, something that stops our way, and we are angry, vexed--we will sweep it out of the way and all the time it is the Angel of the Lord standing before us, barring our progress. And we cannot, do not, will not, see or listen. Sometimes He comes to us as He came to Saul of Tarsus; conscientious, really thinking he was doing God’s service, and yet so bent on his own notion of what’s God’s service was. Sometimes He comes to us as He came to Elijah. We have tried to do God’s will--tried, but have failed; all our work has come to naught, and we are utterly discouraged. Sometimes it comes to us as it came to Moses; comes in the voice and ministry of nature, in some wonderful phenomenon in nature. Sometimes He comes to us as He came to Isaiah in the Temple. Sometimes He comes to us as He came to Peter and James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. I wish I could carry you back to your childhood; I wish I could make you remember the school desk and the teacher, or the mother instructing you out of the primer or out of the Bible; and when I had made those memories pass before you in a panoramic vision, I would bring, last of all, the evening hour when the mother took you. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)
Samuel, the young prophet
Samuel has just completed his twelfth year. Against this portrait of young Samuel our lesson unveils the picture of the age in which he lived. It was one of priestly corruption and spiritual dryness. To worshipping shepherds, to praying Johns, to kneeling Stephens, to clinging Jacobs, to repentant Davids, to obedient Samuels, God communicates his truths. Do not find fault with God because He seems to withhold truth from you. Do not criticise the preacher for commonplace utterances nor call your prayer meeting stupid. First look into your own heart and life and know whether or not you are in condition to see the truth when presented. The responsibility of the preacher of Christ and of Christian bodies for a spiritual drought is very evident from the story before us. We need heavenly living to receive heavenly visions. In this day of withheld revelation, when the lips of prophecy were sealed and the people heard no sounds from the heavens, God called Samuel. If it seems remarkable that he should select one so young in years, we are to remember that God never gives one a duty until he is fitted to perform it. He saw in this Hebrew youth the qualities of mind and spirit which he desired in his prophet. Years do not qualify men for great deeds. Holy living is the first condition of honour from God. God wants men, holy men. He asks neither for youth nor age. He does ask for holy manhood. Samuel met this condition, and therefore God called him. He was glad to be a servant in the tabernacle. He had the spirit of service. He chose God’s service, not a place in that service. That he left God to decide. Samuel was usable of God. His spirit of obedience is evident. When the voice called, he cried: “Here am I.” There is something unusual in this spirit. He was ready to try, with God’s help, to do what God wished. He was trustfully obedient, like Abraham and Joshua and Paul. His was the obedience that ran. The obedience that lingers with leaden feet never receives the prophet’s rod and mantle. It is interesting to note that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him.” He certainly knew God as every trustful, loving heart knows Him, and God’s word was his law. He did not, however, know him through the medium of a special revelation. Before he could enter upon his special work as a prophet or even know it was to be his, a special communication from God to him was necessary. No man ever yet succeeded who took up a special work for God on general principles. We are called to the work He desires us to do. In some way God draws near us in special revelation, communicating His will. In this special revelation God “came.” The word means “presented Himself.” The calling was not a mere impression or dream of Samuel’s. He heard a voice and then beheld the vision He recognised his God. “Speak; for thy servant heareth.” There was no doubt, no confusion in his mind regarding the nature of the occurrence. In God’s service we are not left to act upon impressions nor to the guidance of dreams. We meet a living presence. God came, and God comes to men. He meets us at every turn on life’s road. He gives us such special revelations of Himself as we may require. We talk not into a mysterious darkness, but in the ear of our God. We are left not to the mercy of fancies, but are guided by an all-wise and loving Father. In sharp contrast with the exaltation of Samuel to this prophetic life and his vision of Jehovah is the picture of Eli’s house. His sons are dissolute. They have degraded their important office and brought reproach in some way upon the name and worship of God. For Samuel to disclose to Eli the sad future of himself and his family was no easy task. It was the beginning of his cross-bearing as the prophet of God. It is worthy to be noticed, as an illustration of the frankness of God’s dealings with us, that he never deceives us as to the nature of our duties. On the very threshold of his new life Samuel met this delicate and trying task. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Samuel; or, God’s wrath upon His Church
We may look upon this Divine call of Samuel as the beginning of a new order of things in Israel. The high priest had, from the occupation of Canaan, been the medium of communication from God to the people. He wore the Urim and Thummim in the breastplate, and from these was able to receive answers from God to questions concerning duty. But the degeneracy of Israel, in which the high priests seem to have participated to a degree, rendered a change necessary. The high priest is made secondary, and the prophet is raised up as the primary authority in Israel. The prophet will now be the mouth of God to the people. If the Church makes a god of its forms, he breaks those forms to pieces. When the ritual priesthood failed in their duty, he punished them, and set up an order of prophets above them to be the interpreters of his will. Samuel is thus a witness to God’s demand for a spiritual religion in contrast to mere form. God is a holy God, and He will have His people holy; and if they substitute a ceremonial for holiness, His holy wrath will certainly fall upon them; and in this blow not only those will fall who, like Eli’s sons, commit gross wrongs, but those also who, like Eli, through indulgence or apathy, fail to rebuke and resist the evil. The Church of God is today courting the world. Its members are trying to bring it down to the level of the ungodly. The ball, the theatre, nude and lewd art, social luxuries with all their loose moralities, are making inroads into the sacred enclosure of the Church. God will not bless a Church that drags down His heavenly things into the dust--that gilds vice, calls it Christian, and then indulges in it. But His holy vengeance will assuredly come and strip such a Church of its pride and make it eat the bread of affliction. (H. Crosby, D. D.)
Youth the repository of Divine judgment,
I. Night visions. We might suggest several reasons why night was selected as the season of this vision:--
1. It was calm and silent.
2. It would lend impressiveness to the call. It being unusual to hear a voice at midnight, earnest attention would be secured, and reverent awe inspired.
3. It was also consistent, with the event announced. What time more appropriate for the utterance of tidings so terrible as darkness, whose gloom would also be prophetic of the future?
4. To show that God works at the moss unlikely times, independent of external and natural aid.
In fact, when we look upon the dead horses and unblown trumpets of Sennacherib’s defeat, on the desolation caused in Egypt by the withering breath of the destroying angel, we feel in the presence of this principle that when nature and mortals slumber, God is most active.
1. In what the vision consisted. “And the Lord called” (verse 4). What a deep impression would this night’s transaction make upon Samuel’s mind! Hence, by this vision, he was conducted to advanced experiences, of which the two most prominent thoughts would be the woeful destiny of evil, and the judicial majesty of God. These communications were
(a) By Divine oath (verse 14)
(b) By a strict refusal of compromise (verse 14).
2. To whom entrusted. The Lord called Samuel (verse 4). Childhood vocal on the lips of God. Devoted childhood honoured by God. Compare. “In those days there was no open vision” (verse 1). “And the Lord called yet again, Samuel.”
3. Honestly mistaken. “And he ran unto Eli” (verse 5). Have we not in the cheerful obedience of this young servant a pattern for all stations of service?
Samuel mistook the Divine call for the human; this is the greatest tendency of the present day, to expunge the miraculous, not only from the records of inspiration, but also from the events of general life. Mistaken childhood instructed (verse 7). It is the duty of old persons, and especially old priests, to instruct the young.
4. Obediently received (verse 10). “Speak, for thy servant heareth.” Samuel omits the word “Lord,” which Eli had instructed him to use. His youthful nature had not yet grasped its meaning; the doctrine of the Divine Lordship was too deep a mystery, he stood before it in silence, daring not to vocalize such an attribute of majesty. Every impulse of his heart cried out, “Speak,” and Samuel signified himself attentive to the message; “thy servant heareth.”
II. Morning disclosures. Samuel enters upon the duties of the day with a heavier heart than usual, trying as much as possible to avoid contact with Eli, lest he should be questioned respecting the call of the previous night. What contrasts do the Christian life present! He “opened the doors of the house of the Lord” (verse 15). The revelation of woe had not caused him to forget his duty, or filled him with pride to disdain it. Here we catch a glimpse of the greatness of his young nature, that it could walk amidst this splendour with such unconscious simplicity. The vision was:--
1. Timidly retained (verse 16, 17). “And Samuel feared to show Eli the vision.” Probably he had received no command from God to disclose it, and feared lest he should intrude upon the threshold of the Divine prerogative. Perhaps he discreetly considered that the tidings would be too astounding, that Eli’s feeble energies, like the drooping plant, would succumb to the fury of the storm; feeling also a respect for and a sympathy with the unfortunate Priest, knowing that God had irrevocably signed his death warrant, Samuel did not wish to embitter the final hours by heedless, useless sorrow. However Eli suspects that the call of the night had reference to himself, and importunately asks for its message:
2. Faithfully disclosed (verse 18). “Samuel told him every whit.” Faithful to God, and respectful to Eli, he unfolds the solemn secret of the future, in language not softened by omission or nullified by misrepresentation.
3. Reverently acknowledged (verse 18). “And he said, It is the Lord.”
1. Childhood taken to the tabernacle as likely to be called by God.
2. The tabernacle is the place for the instruction of youth.
3. The punishment of parental indulgence is both certain and fearful.
4. The secrets of Divine Providence are ever entrusted to faithful souls.
5. Moral rectitude honoured by God and respected by man (verse 19-21). (Joseph S. Exell, M. A.)
Samuel, the model of early piety
I. In the first place, Samuel’s early piety made him--a model of usefulness. Samuel became a prophet of the Lord, and was very useful in this way He made known to the people of Israel what God wanted them to do, and taught them how they were to serve and please Him. And then he was a judge, as well as a prophet. He went out at stated times among the people, and settled their disputes and quarrels, and so he was the means of promoting peace and happiness among them. He did a great deal of good to the people of Israel in this way.
II. Samuel’s early piety made him--a model of happiness. Religion is intended to make us happy. Loving and serving God is the secret of true happiness.
III. Samuel’s early piety made him--a model of perseverance. To persevere means to keep on doing whatever we begin to do without giving up. One reason why some people never succeed in what they begin to do, is that they do not persevere. They soon get tired and give it up. But this was not the way with Samuel. When he began to serve God he persevered in it. He kept on trying without getting tired.
IV. Samuel’s early piety made him--a model of honour. (R. Newton, D. D.)
The still small voice in the night
I. The Divine call, or, the revelation by a human voice.
II. Now consider--Samuel’s perception of only the human voice.
1. That when young hearts do not recognise God’s voice calling them, or His purpose with them, it is not a proof or a sign that God is not with them, or that they are not under religious influence.
2. Again, when repeated special calls are not intelligently responded to by the young we are not justified in thinking that the Lord is not leading them.
3. But let me say to the young, What may seem to you only a human voice may be God’s, is God’s, if it asks you to love Him. (G. B. Ryley.)
Divine calls verified
The call of Samuel is very different in its circumstances from the call of St. Paul; yet it resembles it in this particular, that the circumstance of his obedience to it is brought out prominently even in the words put into his mouth by Eli in the text. The characteristic of all Divine calls in Scripture is:
I. Those who are living religiously have from time to time truths they did not know before, or had no need to consider, brought before them forcibly, truths which involve duties, which are in fact precepts and claim obedience. In this and similar ways Christ calls us now He works through cur natural faculties and circumstances in life.
II. These Divine calls are commonly sudden and as indefinite and obscure in their consequences as in former times. The call may come to us:
III. Nothing is more certain than that some men do feel themselves called to high duties and works to which others are not called. No one has any leave to take another’s lower standard of holiness for his own. We need not fear spiritual pride if we follow Christ’s call as men in earnest. Earnestness has no time to compare itself with the state of other men; earnestness has too vivid a feeling of its own infirmities to be elated at itself. It simply says, “Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth.” “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” (J. H. Newman.)
The child Samuel’s prayer
I. First of all we shall take our text as the prayer of a little child. When we see any trace of good in our youth, then, like Eli, we should be the more earnest to have them trained up in the faith. Let the child learn the Catechism, even though he does not understand all that is in it; and as soon as the young heart can comprehend the things of Jesus, labour in power of the Holy Spirit to bring it to a simple dependence upon the great sacrifice. It is said of the Rev. John Angell James, “Like most men who have been eminent and honoured in the Church of Christ, he had a godly mother, who was wont to take her children to her chamber, and with each separately to pray for the salvation of their souls. This exercise, which fulfilled her own responsibility, was moulding the character of her children, and most, if not all of them, rose up to call her blessed. When did such moans ever fail?”
II. Let us now consider the words as the cry of an anxious soul.
III. We will turn to the third view of the text as the prayer of an earnest relieverse I was led to select this text, by finding it in the letter of one who has just been taken away from our classes, and from our Church. She was about to change her position in life in some degree, and the one prayer that seemed to be ever upon her mind, was a prayer for guidance, and she prayed, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” She said she felt that God was about to do something for her, but she did not know what it was; she little dreamed that she was so near the kingdom and the glory, but yet that was the prayer, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” This is a very appropriate prayer for the Christian when he is in providential difficulty. Take thy matters before the God of Abraham, and the Urim and Thummim shall yet speak to thee. Domine Dirige nos, “Lord direct us,” is a good motto, not only for the City of London, but for the citizens of heaven. In points of doctrine this de, ire humbly uttered may bring us much light. The same course should be adopted by every Christian in matters of practice. As melted wax is fitted to receive the impress of the seal, so let us be ready to accept the Master’s teaching. Let His faintest word bind us as with bonds of steel; and let His minutest precept be precious as the gold of Ophir. As for the matters of duty again, be ye ever ready to follow the Master and Him alone. Not Luther, nor Calvin, neither Wesley, nor Whitfield, is to be your Rabbi; Jesus alone is Master in the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it, but where you have not His warrant, let no traditions or ancient customs make you stir so much as a single inch.
IV. We will close by observing that our text seems to us rightly to express the spirit of a departing Christian. He sits patiently upon the river’s brink, expecting that his Master shall open the passage for him to pass over dryshod. He is praying, “Speak, Lord,” and the sooner Thou wilt speak the more shall I rejoice. Say unto me, “Come up hither.” “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Voices of God
1.God speaks in the experiences of life. We are but children, and know so little. We can scarcely distinguish the voices which comes to us through the gloom like the murmuring of distant bells, speaking strangely and bewilderingly. There are sad hearts as well as bright ones, and we cannot make out the message of sadness always. I grope my way along the dark corridors, and I plead, “Speak, Lord, speak, for thy servant heareth.” And above the tumult I hear a voice which bids me forget the things that are behind and reach forward to those that are before. Onward, and into the future we venture, hoping, believing, knowing that though sorrow may endure for the night, joy cometh in the morning.
2. God speaks to us in the inner life--to the souls of His trusting people. St. John says: “His voice was as the sound of many waters”--helpful, encouraging, loving; the life itself. (J. S. Stone, D. D.)
The listening servant
These were the words of Samuel.
I. They reveal the attitude of attention. The man who never leaves his counting room, the student who never lifts his eyes or his attention from his books, will never know the glories of Mendelssohn or Beethoven. The housewife in whose ears is always the clatter of pots and pans will have no time or attention for a sweeter orchestra. So the man or the woman who never listens to God’s voice will never hear it. The marginal reference makes a verse in the thirty-seventh Psalm read: “Be silent to the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.” It is a soul silent unto God that is in the best attitude for knowing Him, for hearing Him, and for holding fast the blessings which He bestows. This marks as indispensable the quiet hour, the moments of silent communion, until our senses have become so refined and our spiritual ears so attentive that, like Nicholas Herman, of Lorraine, the devout monk, better known as “Brother Lawrence,” we too can hear God’s voice above the din of the market place and the buzz of the schoolroom and the clatter of the kitchen. As someone has welt said: “The very familiarity of the voice of God in Nature or His Word may dull our accustomed ears to its sound, just as the roar of Niagara is never beard by those who live upon the banks of the Horseshoe Falls, and the whirr of the loom in the factory falls upon calloused ears. Because we are familiar with God’s message in His house, with His written Word, with His songs of praise, we need all the more to stop said listen that we may catch His individual message for our souls.” It is said that so great is the hum of business that the people in the streets of London scarcely ever hear the tolling of the bell in the spire of St. Paul’s Cathedral. But they could hear if they would stop a moment in the mad rush of trade, and listen.
II. Those words reveal the attitude of obedience. “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” The hearing was in order to heeding. Some people seem to think that contemplative people must, of necessity, be very unpractical and useless people. They point to the almost barren lives lived by many monks and nuns and others, who, as they say, retired from the world to live lives of spiritual meditation and exclusion from evil. But it was in their retirement from the world, in their seclusion from life’s active duties, that they made their mistake. They listened to God’s voice, but it was not in the attitude of readiness for self-denying, active obedience. Hearing should always be for heeding. The seasons of contemplation should lead to other and longer seasons of service. In Christian contemplation the ideals of the Christian should glow luminous and living. Hearing in order to heeding; contemplation in order to service; this should be the attitude and method of the true Christian. (G. B. F. Hallock, D. D.)
The child Samuel was favoured above all the family in which he dwelt. The Lord did not speak by night to Eli, or to any of Eli’s sons. In all that house, in all the rows of rooms that were round about the Tabernacle where the ark of the Lord was kept, there was no one except Samuel to whom Jehovah spoke. The fact that the Lord should choose a child out of all that household, and that He should speak to him, ought to be very encouraging to you who think yourself to be the least likely to be recognised by God. Notice also that, while God had a very special regard for young Samuel, he had, in that regard, designs concerning the rest of the family. God’s elect are chosen, not merely for their own sake; they are chosen for God’s name’s sake, and they are also chosen for the sake of mankind in general. The Jews were chosen that they might preserve the oracles of God for all the ages, and that they might keep alight the spark of Divine truth that we Gentiles might afterwards see its brightness; and when God’s Special love is fixed upon one member of a family, I take it that that one ought to say to himself or herself, “Am I not called that I may be a blessing in this family?”
1. And, first, I will speak to you upon the soul desiring--desiring to be spoken to by God: “Speak, Lord.” We cannot endure a dumb God. It is a very dreadful thing to have a dumb friend, a very painful thing to have a wife who never spoke with you, or a father or mother from whom you could never hear a single word of love; and the heart cannot bear to have a dumb God, it wants Him to speak. For what reason does the soul desire God to speak to it? Well, first, it desires thus to be recognised by God. It seems to say, “Speak, Lord, lust to give me a token of recognition, that I may know that I am not overlooked, that I am not flung away like a useless thing upon the world’s dust heap, that I am not left to wander like a waif and stray.”
2. More than that, this desire of the soul is a longing to be called by God. When the Lord said to the child, “Samuel, Samuel,” it was a distinct, personal call, like that which came to Mary: “The Master is come, and calleth for thee,” or that which came to another Mary when the Lord said to her, “Mary,” and she turned herself, and said, “Rabboni,” that is to say, “my dear Master.” “Speak, Lord, speak to me; call me.”
3. “Speak, Lord, moreover, that I may be instructed.”
4. We sometimes mean by this expression, “Speak, Lord, for our guidance.” We have got into a great difficulty, we really do not know which way the road leads--to the right or to the left--and we may go blundering on, and have to come all the way back again; so we specially need the Lord to speak to us for our guidance.
5. At times, also, we want the Lord’s voice for our comfort.
II. Now, secondly, let us think of the Lord speaking. Suppose that the Lord does speak to us; just think for a minute what it is.
1. It is a high honour. The peers of the realm are not so honoured when they see their Queen as you are when you see your God, and he speaks with you. To be permitted to speak with Him is a delight; but to hear Him speak with us is heaven begun below.
2. It is a very solemn responsibility. Jesus Christ spoke to Saul of Tarsus out of heaven, and from that hour Paul felt himself to be the Lord’s, a consecrated man, to live and die for Him who had spoken to him.
3. To hear God speak to us will bring us many a happy memory.
4. I think I must also say that it is a probable mercy that God will speak to you.
5. “But how does the Lord speak?” someone asks.
1. God often speaks to His children through His works.
2. God also speaks to His children very loudly by His Providence.
3. But the Lord speaks to us chiefly through His Word.
4. But the Lord has a way of sometimes speaking to the heart by His Spirit
I think not usually apart from His Word--but yet there are certain feelings and emotions, tendernesses and tremblings, joys and delights, which we cannot quite link with any special portion of Scripture laid home to the heart, but which seem to steal upon us unawares by the direct operation of the Spirit of God upon the heart. Christians are not alike favoured. One may be a child of God, like Eli, and yet so live that God will not speak with him; and, on the other hand, one may be a child like Samuel, obedient, beautiful in character, and watchful to know God’s will, praying, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth;” and then God will speak to you. It is not to all that He speaks, but He would speak to all if they were ready to learn what He had to say.
III. The soul hearing. We have had the soul desiring, and the Lord speaking; now for the soul hearing: “Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth.”
1. I think we have here an argument: “Lord, do speak, for I do hear.” “There are none so deaf as those that will not hear.”
2. Yet it appears to be an inference, as well as an argument, for it seems to run like this, “Lord, if thou speakest, of course thy servant heareth.”
3. “Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth,” seems also to contain a promise within it, namely, that if the Lord will but speak, we will hear. I remember being asked to see a person, and I thought that he wanted to learn something from me; but when I saw him for three-quarters of an hour, he spoke the whole time, and afterwards he told a friend that I was a most delightful person to converse with! When I was told that I said, “Oh, yes, that was because I did not interrupt the man! He was wound up, and I let him run down.” But conversation means two people talking, does it not? It cannot be a conversation if I do all the talking, or if my friend does it all; so, in conversing with God, there must be, as we say, turn and turn about, You speak with God, and then sit still, and let God speak with you; and, if He does not at once speak to your heart, open His Book, and read a few verses, and let Him speak to you that way. Some people cannot pray when they wish to do so. I remember George Muller sweetly saying, “When you come to your time for devotion, if you cannot pray, do not try. If you cannot speak with God, do not try. Let God speak with you. Open your Bible, and read a passage.” Sometimes, when you meet a friend, you cannot begin a conversation. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The listening soul
The story of Samuel begins before he was born, as the story of a river begins up on the mountain side, where the spring bursts forth from its rocky reservoir The great snowdrifts on the mountain summit, and the deep caverns in the depths of the hills, are interesting chapters in the story of a riverse So back of Samuel with his open ear and his open heart toward heaven are a good father and a pious mother; people who were faithful to God and who sought to do their duty. They did not lay up great wealth for Samuel, but they gave him the heritage of a good name, and above all things they gave him the heritage of faith in God, and of love for things good and pure. Let every man who had a praying mother thank God. A home that is fragrant with the reading of the Bible and musical with the sound of family worship is something to be grateful for as long as one lives. Better than gold, better than all the world’s luxuries, is the inheritance given by a Christian mother to her children.
1. In the first place, it is a very interesting fact to note what; is directly stated here, that up to this time Samuel did not know the Lord. Of course there was a sense in which Samuel did know the Lord. He knew what one can know about God in seeing others worship; but his own heart did not go out to God in prayer and love; and in that deep, inner, personal sense he was without God. Is that not exactly your case? You have heard about Christ since you were a little child, and you feel that; you know e great deal about Him, and yet in the truest sense you do not know Him.
2. I want you to notice again that God called Samuel three times before he answered. Has not God called you again and again? You heard the call and you understood it, but you did not answer. Perhaps God came to you at a time of some disgrace because of your sin. Your conscience spoke as it had never spoken before. God called you then with clanging notes of alarm; and your heart said, “I ought to kneel to God; I ought to seek the forgiveness of my sins.” You knew it was God’s call to you, but you did not answer. Perhaps it was a great joy that came, and the goodness and gentleness of God filled your heart with up springing praise. With warm heart and tearful eyes you exclaimed, “God is so good to me, I ought to yield Him my heart, I ought to give Him my open thanks, I ought to let the whole world know how good He is to me.” It was God’s call to you, but you did not answer.
3. I call your attention to the fact that God called Samuel by name. “Samuel, Samuel,” is the way the Lord talks to the boy. God spoke to Abraham in the same way. When the Lord Jesus met Saul on the way to Damascus it was a personal message he brought him, and he cried out to him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” God knows us all by name; you are not lost in the crowd to Him. No one can tell how much it will mean if you will only listen to God and answer His call tonight. It is quite possible that if some who hear me now, who are called of God through this word, would yield their hearts in response to God’s call, it would be the beginning of a life equally as useful. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
Use of the Divine name in prayer
You observe that He did not say, “Lord;” perhaps he hardly dared to take that sacred name upon his lips. He was impressed with such solemn awe at the name of God that he said, “Speak; for Thy servant heareth.” I wish that some Christian men of my acquaintance would leave out the Lord’s name a little in their prayers, for we may take the name of the Lord in vain even in our supplications. When the heathen are addressing their gods, they are accustomed to repeat their names over and over again. “O Baal, hear us! O Baal, hear us!” or, as the Hindoos do when they cry, “Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram!” repeating the name of their god; but as for us, when we think of the infinitely-glorious One, we dare not needlessly repeat His name. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
In a court of justice a number of violins were lying on the table. The ownership of one of them was in question. It did not differ in appearance from the others, but one witness said he would know it among a thousand. “I would know it,” he said, “even if I were blind.” “How?” asked the astonished judge. “By its voice,” replied the old man. “It would speak to me as no other violin can speak. It is speaking to me now.” And, listening, he bent low until his ear almost touched the instrument. Then he grasped another that lay beside it, and with his right hand swung the bow across the strings. A low, deep, throbbing, pulsing note broke the stillness of the courtroom. When it ceased, with hand uplifted and with bow pointing to the table where the other instruments still lay, the old player waited expectantly. Across the room, faint, yet clearly audible, came the same sweet, low, throbbing note, yet far richer, sweeter, and purer, as though some celestial master player had swept the strings. “That,” said the old man, “was the voice of the violin. It has a soul, and it has speech. But a false note, rude sounds, or mere discords will not open its lips. So whenever I strike a true note, if the old violin be in the room or near at hand, it will always answer.” Thus should it be with the human soul when God, its true proprietor, speaks, answering with a glad and ready response, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.”
Lady Henry Somerset, becoming restless and unsatisfied in early life with worldly honour and gaiety, began to question in good earnest the meaning and end of life. The more she studied the Word, the more she felt that there was a reality in the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that her great need was personal consecration and an active share in the Divine effort to save the world. Still, the light was not given until one day in her garden, alone with Jehovah, questioning the existence of such a thing as Providence, she heard a voice say distinctly, “Act as if I were, and you shall know that I am.” The voice was not addressed to the material ear, but the words were distinct to the ear of Lady Henry’s soul. They made a deep impression, and the more she thought upon the mysterious matter the more she was convinced that it was really a voice from heaven, sent in answer to her pleadings for light and guidance. She resolved to follow the counsel so strangely sent, and when she put the resolve into action a flood of light dispelled all the darkness, solved every doubt, so that she exclaimed, in a rapture of conviction, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Christian Herald.)
Guides to religious experiences
Although God spoke to Samuel he needed Eli’s instruction to enable him to recognise the voice. He heard someone knocking at the door of his heart, but when he looked out all seemed dark until Eli told him in what direction to look for the unseen visitor. We need the direction of those who have become more accustomed to obey such voices, and have thus learned by experience the meaning of such intuitions, (R. C. Ford, M. A.)
I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle.
Causes of Eli’s overthrow
There are several impressive lessons urged by God’s treatment of Eli.
I. First of all it is clear--and it ought to be made most distinct, because of a great practical delusion which exists upon this point--that it is not enough that there be many good points in a character. Character ought not to be a mere question of points at all. Character ought not to be viewed in sections and departments, in aspects and occasional moods. Character should have about it the distinctness of wholeness, entirety. Our goodness is not to be an occasional impulse or a transitory appearance of moral conscience and moral concern for others. Out of our character there is to stream continuous and beneficent influence. When our moral training is perfected we shall not have points of excellence; our whole character will be massive, indivisible, and out of it will go an influence that will constrain men to believe that we have been with God, and that we have imbibed the very spirit of his righteousness. Eli was amiable. A great many mistakes are made about amiability. A man may be amiable simply through mere want of interest or force; he may be so constituted that really he does not much care who is who, or what is what. Eli had religious impulses. What then? There is a sense in which religious impulse may be but constitutional. We must not overlook the constitutional condition. Let us clearly understand, therefore, that mere religious sensibility, religious impulse and religious susceptibility, must not be understood as proclaiming and certifying sound religiousness of character. Eli treated Samuel without official envy or jealousy. So far so good. But absence of envy may come of mere easy good nature. There are men in the world who do not care one pinpoint who is at the head of affairs. That is not magnanimity; that is not nobleness.
2. The second lesson that is urged upon us by this view of Eli’s position is--that divine discipline is keen--intensely spiritual. The inquiry is, Can you point out any vulgar sin in Eli? Sin is not measurable by vulgarity. Some men seem incapable of seeing sin until it clothes itself in the most hideous forms. Forms have nothing to do with sin. Herein we see the keenness, the spirituality of Divine discipline.
3. See further, in this case, the terribleness of God’s displeasure. But the way of the transgressor is hard; he is making a hard pillow for his head. Be he high priest or doorkeeper; be he mighty in gift or obscure in talent--God will not spare him. If judgment begin at the house of God, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? (J. Parker, D. D.)
The causes of Eli’s overthrow
Can you find one vulgar sin in the venerable high priest? We cannot see, looking at the page in the light of merely literary critics, where the great lapse was. We know not but that if Eli, as portrayed in the inspired book, were set up as the standard of determination, a great many would fall short of his lofty altitude. These considerations justify the interest of the question how Eli came to be dispossessed of the priesthood. Look at his noble treatment of the child Samuel. When did he chide the young prophet? When did he superciliously snub the child? Look at the unpriestliness of his tone when he talks to the child. Looking at some aspect of Eli’s character, what reverence we feel for the old man! We see that he was a fine interpreter of the supernatural section of life. He was not self-obtrusive; he was no mere priest; he introduced men immediately to God; he did not claim any power of exclusive or tyrannic mediation. Look, again, at the submissiveness of his tone when his doom was pronounced. Then look at the man’s interest in the ark of the Lord. Down to the very last, we see that Eli was an intensely religious man, from whom God withdrew His covenant, and on whom He pronounced such severe judgments. We would, therefore, repeat with fervour and with emphasis, that the conscience of universal man asks: “Lord of heaven and earth, is this right?” In looking at the failure of Eli as involving a moral question between the Creator and the creature, we are prepared to teach that the obligations of character must always control the obligations of covenants. All God’s covenants are founded upon a moral basis. A covenant is but a form; a covenant is merely an arrangement, if it be not established upon moral conditions. There are circumstances in which God’s faithfulness and God’s unchangeableness are seen, not in fulfilling, but actually in the annulling, of covenants. God will never maintain the letter at the expense of the spirit. There is a pedantic morality amongst men which says, “The bond must be kept to the letter,” and which cares nothing for the spirit of the engagement. God’s morality is not a morality of ink and seals and witnesses. It involves life, spirit, motive, purpose. Were God to keep to the letter at the expense of the spirit, He would be no longer God. His unchangeableness is in His righteousness, not in His formality. Our confidence in Him is this:--That He will set aside His oldest servants, His first-chosen men, His most princely vice-regents and interpreters--he will utterly destroy them from the face of the earth, and hurl after them the written covenants He has made with them--if they trifle with eternal truth, with infinite purity! To cover a corrupt life with the blessing of His approbation, simply because there is a literal covenant to be carried out, would be to deny every element which makes Him God. (J. Parker, D. D.)
For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knoweth.
The punishment of parental sins
Experience is like the stern light of a ship; it illumines only the path that is already passed overse This familiar adage is true as to our own experience; but if we study carefully the Word of God we can follow, as it were, in the wake of many other voyagers, and get the benefit of the light they cast upon the waves. By a striking concurrence we have two domestic histories unfolded side by side. One is the story of wise parental training, as illustrated in the case of Elkanah and Hannah, the father and mother of Samuel. The other is the tragic story of Eli, the father of those two “scapegraces,” Hophni and Phinehas. This latter story is a beacon of warning against parental indulgence of sins committed by those who are entrusted to us as the trustees of their spiritual welfare. The attractions of the bright side only deepen the darkness of the dark side. The clay in Eli’s composition was exceedingly frail and friable. Excellent as were his convictions of duty, he seems to have been pitiably weak in working them into practice. There was a lamentable lack of will power. There are too many such people now-a-days--men and women of good impulses, but of weak performance. They lack spiritual force and fibre; when the strain comes they snap. You cannot build a safe suspension bridge from New York to Brooklyn if the cables are half iron and half twisted tow. The one vital point in which high priest Eli broke down most disgracefully was in the management of his own household. This has given him his unhappy celebrity. By leaving the iniquities of his graceless sons to grow apace he came at last to be strangled by the serpent monster which sprang into frightful dimensions within the bosom of his own family. Devotion was prostituted to the foulest indecencies; the road to the altar became a road to hell! Heavily indeed must the tidings of these crimes of the sons have fallen upon the ears of their unhappy father. The extent of their villainies he had not fully known until now. With a broken heart the poor old man summons before him the profligate sons whom he had begotten and whom he had never attempted to govern. It is a harrowing interview. After listening to this solemn and pathetic rebuke from the aged high priest we are ready to wonder how such a man should have been such an unfaithful father. We wonder that one who talked so well should have acted so wrongly. It surprises us that this just abhorrence of what his sons had been doing did not make its appearance in time to restrain them from beginning their abominable practices. At the eleventh hour he rubs open his sleepy eyes to see what he ought to have seen ten hours before. The verdict against the suffering old man was that he did nothing effectual in the way of hindrance to his sons’ iniquities; there was no wholesome and powerful restraint. It is not by main force that the wayward son is to be kept back from sin--not by hurling terrific threats in his lace or by bombarding him with irritating censure and taunts. Restraint is the application of truth in love. It reasons as well as rebukes. It appeals to conscience, and sets God before the tempted youth. It employs authority, but authority unmixed with passion and resentment. Eli’s misgovernment of his children bad two cardinal faults. One error was that he rebuked his sons too late. This was the fatal blunder of the father who should begin to dissuade his son from the wine bottle when the young man had already become an inebriate. Eli’s reproofs and admonitions did not commence soon enough. He did not attempt, we may be assured, to “bend the twig; “but he laid vain hold with palsied hands of the deep-rooted and full-grown tree. The other error of the weak-backed Eli was that, having postponed his correction of his dissolute sons until they became hardened in vice, his words of rebuke were as weak as water. As quaint old Matthew Henry remarks, “There was no edge to his reproofs.” He was not only too late; he was too lenient. His culpable indulgence had left no respect even for his gray hairs or his tears; they had come to despise the parent who had never secured their respect nor made them feel his authority. Eli’s wretched failure was the failure of millions of fathers since his day: when his children were young he would not restrain them, and when they grew older he could not. Before we reach the catastrophe of this most; instructive story let me emphasise a few truths in regard to paternal influence. If Hannah is a model for mothers, Eli is a beacon for fathers. Many things have been spoken or written--yet not one syllable too many--about the happy and holy influence of a godly mother, But there yet remains a solid philosophy in the ancient adage, “Like father, like family.” The law of heredity decides the denominational and the political status very generally. “He is a chip of the old block,” said someone when he heard the younger Pitt’s first speech. “Nay,” replied Burke; “he is the old block himself.” But if in your houses the “old block” is worm eaten, what shall become of the chips? The grace of God is not transmitted by inheritance, yet a father’s conscientious piety is often reproduced in his children. If his footsteps are deeply indented toward God and heaven, he may reasonably hope that his children may tread in them. “He sought to the Lord God of his father and walked in His commandments,” is the Bible description of the good King Jehoshaphat. If there is a law of Christian nurture by which, with God’s help, the godly family becomes a nursery of religion, so there is a law of unchristian nurture, and by this law bad opinions and bad habits are transmitted to the next generation. Whatever “fires the father kindles, the children gather the wood.” Show me one who fences his home around with God’s commandments, and lights it up with domestic comforts and pleasures, and anchors himself to his home, and I will show you the best kind of restraint from dangerous evening resorts. A happy Christian home is the surest antidote for evil amusements. But if a father hears the clock strike eleven in the theatre or in his clubhouse, he need not be surprised if his sons hear it strike twelve in the drinking saloon or in the gaming room or the haunts of the profligate. But Eli, you may say, was a servant of God. So he was, in his way, but there are two different types of paternal religion. It is a terrible truth to declare, but I honestly believe that some professed Christians are an absolute hindrance to the conversion of their children. For the warning of such the Divine Spirit has spread out at full length the calamitous history of Eli’s awful mistake. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Eli’s family government
1.In disorderly families it is likely that both parents and children will have to divide the blame.
2. When children grow up into vicious courses, it is wise for parents to try to change the temptations which injured them.
3. When God sends a warning, it will not do just to settle down into a discouraged apathy and consider it resignation.
4. In considering the matter of home government, we must remember that the children have some rights. No one principle is lodged in a boy’s mind by nature more deeply than that of a strict and irrevocable justice.
5. Ideas are yet influential in the training of even the stubbornest of children and even the vainest. There is a power in family instruction, and parents are to teach their children what is right and honest and decent and of good report. It is folly to think that young people are without reflection. Perhaps the time will come in which people will cease foolishly to object that the hearts and habits of children ought to be allowed, especially in religious matters, to grow up unbiassed.
6. A proper measure of permissions should be mingled with the restrictions which the family sovereignty imposes. Those who are familiar with the autobiography of Goethe will perhaps recollect with what energy he exclaims, after recounting some painful frettings of parental discipline he himself endured, “If elderly persons wish to play the pedagogue properly, they should neither prohibit nor render disagreeable to a young man anything which gives him an innocent pleasure, of whatever kind it may be, unless at the same time they have something else to put in its place or can contrive a substitute.”
7. The time for making impressions upon the minds and the hearts of the children comes much earlier than many parents seem to suppose.
8. When a direct conflict of authority is reached there can be no compromise. The story that Gambetta poked out one of his own eyes when a child, because his father would not permit him to do as he pleased, is perfectly true. What is not so generally known is that the elder Gambetta remained inflexible even after this appalling display of wilfulness. The boy was being educated at the Lycee of Cahors; and conceiving a dislike to the institution, asked to be removed from it. His father refused again and again. At last Leon said, “I will put out one of my eyes if you send me back to the Lycee.” It was holiday time. “As you please,” said the father, to whom it seems never to have occurred that his boy might have inherited his own strength of purpose. The same day Leon took, not a penknife, as the popular tradition has it, but an inkstand, which he dashed such violence against his eye as to destroy it. Shocked as was the elder Gambetta, he would not give in; and Leon returned to the Lycee. There could have been no other decision with such a lad. Better the loss of an eye than the victorious defiance of law.
9. Prayer for help every instant is the one necessity for all success in family government. The devil of misrule is one of those evil spirits which cannot be cast out otherwise. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Eli and his seas
The chief lessons to be drawn from our subject are--
1. That to spoil children is not only a weakness on the part of the parents, but a positive sin, which may bring great mischief and sorrow not to the children only, but to the parents themselves; and further, that children will be spoiled, if parents, to save trouble or spare their own feelings, only remonstrate without actually punishing them.
2. That God does not leave a man unpunished for his sins and weaknesses, because he is in the main a good man and a true servant of God.
3. That people may be naturally amiable; and yet that their very amiabilities may be a snare to them, and plunge them into all sorts of spiritual mischief. (Dean Goulburn.)
The punishment of evil doing
1. It is plain in the first place, that God requires holiness in all who serve him. Why were Hophni and Phinehas dismissed with Divine reproaches? Because they were wanting in original thought? We now dismiss our ministers because they are not very original. We do not learn that Hophni and Phinehas were dismissed from the priest’s office because they were wanting in vitality and freshness of brain power. Why were they dismissed? Because they were behind the age? The age! Oh, what a ghost that age is to some people. We do not read that Hophni and Phinehas were dismissed because they were behind the age--but because they were corrupt men. Corruptness cannot be atoned for by genius. Gifts are no substitute for grace. Holiness, then, is the fundamental requirement in all persons who would interpret God and serve Him in any department of the great mystery of His kingdom. Holiness is genius. Holiness hath keen, piercing eyes that see every filament of Divine truth and holy communication to men.
2. It is evident that all the covenants of God are founded upon a moral basis. “I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, shall walk before me forever.” There is the bond, there is the covenant of God repeated by a servant. Hath he promised thee, O man, and art thou living upon that promise? Know thou, that the promise is always secondary; the character is primary--righteousness first. Go to the first line--the great line on which all true things are built, all lasting empires and monarchies are founded--and you will find that along the line of righteousness God never moves to the right band or to the left--on from eternity to eternity, never a break or a deflection in the line of infinite righteousness 3 It is evident that some of the communications of God are at first very startling and terrible. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The guilt and consequence of parental unfaithfulness
Could we trace the public and private evils, which infect our otherwise happy country, to their true source. I doubt not we should find that most of them proceed from a general neglect of the moral and religious education of children.
I. We are to consider the sin here mentioned. Eli’s sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. It is not said that he set them a bad example. It is evident, on the contrary, that his example was good. Nor is he accused of neglecting to admonish them. In this respect he was much less culpable than many parents at the present day. But though Eli admonished he did not restrain his children of the same sin those parents are now guilty, who suffer their children to indulge, without restraint, those sinful propensities to which childhood and youth are but too subject; and which, when indulged, render them vile in the sight of God. Among the practices which thus render children vile are a quarrelsome, malicious disposition, disregard to truth, excessive indulgence of their appetites, neglect of the Bible and religious institutions, profanation of the Sabbath, profane, scurrilous, or indecent language, wilful disobedience, associating with openly vicious company, taking the property of their neighbours, and idleness which naturally leads to everything bad. From all these practices it is in the power of parents to restrain their children in a very considerable degree. Nor will a few occasional reproofs and admonitions, given to children, free parents from the guilt of partaking in their sins. No, they must be restrained; restrained with a mild and prudent, but firm and steady hand: restrained early, while they may be formed to habits of submission, obedience, and diligence; and the reins of government must never for a moment be slackened, much less given up into their hands, as is too often the case. If we neglect our duty to our heavenly Father, we surely cannot wonder or complain, if He suffers our children to neglect their duty to us.
II. The punishments denounced against those who are guilty of it. It will soon appear, that these punishments, like most of those with which God threatens mankind, are the natural consequences of the sin against which they are denounced.
1. That most of his posterity should die early, and that none of them should live to see old age. Now it is too evident to require proof, that the sin of which Eli was guilty, naturally tends to produce the consequence which is here threatened as a punishment. When youth are permitted to make themselves vile, without restraint, they almost inevitably fail into courses which tend to undermine their constitutions, and shorten their days.
2. In the second place, God declares to Eli, that such of his children as were spared should prove a grief and vexation, rather than a comfort to him. The man of thine, whom I shall not cut off, shall be to consume thine eyes, and to grieve thine heart. How terribly this threatening was fulfilled in the case of Eli, you need not be told. If parents indulge their children in infancy and childhood, and do not restrain them when they make themselves vile, it is almost impossible that they should not pursue courses and contract habits, which will render them as bitterness to their fathers, and a sorrow of heart to those that bore them. If such parents are pious, their hearts will probably be grieved, and their eyes consumed with tears, to see their children rebelling against God, and plunging into eternal ruin. They that sow the seeds of vice in the minds of their children, or who suffer them to be sown by others, and to grow without restraint, will almost invariably be compelled to reap, and to eat with many tears the bitter harvest which those seeds tend to produce.
3. In the third place, God forewarns Eli, that his posterity should be poor and contemptible. Here again we see the natural consequences of Eli’s sin in its punishment. Children, who are not well instructed and restrained by their parents, will almost inevitably in such a place as this, contract habits of idleness, instability, and extravagance, which naturally lead to poverty and contempt.
4. Lastly; God declares that none of the methods thus appointed to obtain the pardon of sin, should avail to procure pardon for the iniquity of his house; I have sworn unto Eli, that the iniquity of his house shall not be purged away by sacrifice nor offering foreverse This too was the natural consequence of his conduct. He had suffered them to follow without restraint those courses which rendered them unfit for heaven, until their day of grace was past, and the door of mercy forever closed against them. They were now given up to a hard heart and reprobate mind. The terrible punishments denounced against this sin sufficiently show that it is exceedingly displeasing in the sight of God. Let us then inquire as was proposed.
III. Why it is so?
1. Because it proceeds from very wicked and hateful principles. There is scarcely any sin which proceeds from worse principles and more hateful dispositions than this. For instance, sometimes it proceeds from the love and the practice of vice. Openly vicious and profligate parents, who do not restrain themselves, cannot, of course, but be ashamed to restrain their children. In other instances, this sin is occasioned by secret impiety and infidelity. Even if such parents sometimes restrain the grosser vices of their children, they will give them no religious instruction; they will never pray for them, for they never pray for themselves; and without religious instruction and prayer, little or nothing effectual can be done. But in religious parents, this sin almost invariably proceeds from indolence and selfishness. They love their own ease too well to employ that constant care and exertion, which are necessary to restrain their children, and educate them as they ought. They cannot bear to correct them, or put them to pain There is also much unbelief, much contempt of God, and much positive disobedience in this sin Parents are as expressly and as frequently commanded to restrain, to correct, and instruct their children, as to perform any other duty whatever Now these are some of the worst principles of our depraved nature; and therefore we need not wonder that a sin, which proceeds from such sources, is exceedingly displeasing to God.
2. This sin is exceedingly displeasing to God, because, so far as it prevails, it entirely frustrates His design in establishing the family state.
3. God is greatly displeased with this sin on account of the good which it prevents, and the infinite evil which it produces. He has taught us, that children properly educated will be good and happy, both here and hereafter.
4. Lastly; this sin is exceedingly displeasing to Him, because those who are guilty of it, break over the most powerful restraints, and act a most unnatural part. He knew that it would not be safe to entrust such creatures as we are with the education of immortal souls, unless we had powerful inducements to be faithful to the trust. He, therefore, implanted in the hearts of parents a strong and tender affection for their offspring, and a moss ardent desire for their happiness, that they might thus be induced to educate them as they ought. But then who neglect to restrain their children, do violence to this powerful operative principle.
And now let us improve the subject,
1. By inquiring whether the sin does not greatly prevail among ourselves.
2. If there are any children or youth now present, whose parents do not restrain them, and who make themselves vile, by indulging in vicious or sinful practices, they may learn from this subject, what will be their fate, unless repentance prevent. (E. Payson, D. D.)
The children of religious parents
1. The life and history of Eli is full of instruction, of painful warning and sad reflection. The prominent feature of his history is the ill-success of his children. Eli failed in his children, but more than this, he culpably failed. It was no matter of commiseration; it was one of blame and severe censure.
2. The leading circumstance which I will dwell upon in Eli’s life is his conduct to his children and his treatment of them. It is a circumstance which must have struck many that the sons of eminently good persons often turn out ill; or that in many cases, they fall far short of the character and reputation of their parents.
3. But, singularly enough, another fault seems to have mixed itself up In the character of Eli--a yearning for and a love of family aggrandisement. There seems to have been a winking, if not more, at the mode in which his sons made a traffic of their religious position. Religion, especially family religion, has always a market value in the world. The recognition of this, and the practical use of it for a man’s own ends will rank among a man’s most perilous faults. It is a fearful thing to” deal with out position with regard to God as a medium of exchange and barter. (E. Monro.)
In Eli we have one in whom great and varied excellence is fatally marred by a single fault. And yet, even that fault was at least amiable, akin to a form of goodness, and capable of a specious apology and extenuation. It was but an excess and misdirection of parental love. “Eli,” we are told, “was very old;” and in that decay of firmness and energy which attends the decline of life, are to be found the solution and apology of this miserable weakness. Yet this did not avail with God. And why? Eli had not grown weakly indulgent first when the powers of nature were failing; nor had Eli’s sons jumped by a sudden spring from a life of virtue to such depths of profligacy and vileness. Eli had all along been educating his sons to be what they had become. He had taught and counselled and reproved them well; but he had been too fond of them to restrain and punish them. And now they were vile, and set at defiance an authority they had never been taught to honour; and he must bear the bitter penalty.
1. Let me remind you that a parent is a ruler by appointment of God, and is held at God’s bar accountable for the office and work of a ruler. A parent then is more than an example and an instructor. He is one of these “powers that be, that are ordained of God,” and, in his sphere, is appointed to be a terror to evil-doers, and for a praise to them that do well. The family is a Divine polity of which he is the head; and as such, in it he is the representative of God, with a portion of whose power he is correspondently clothed. And what is a polity without laws? and what are laws without penalties? and what are penalties without punishments? Too many are wont in this day to regard the whole subject of punishment, whether in the family or the state, under the misleading influence of a weak sensibility and a counterfeit benevolence. But He, whose love is far purer and truer than any known to man, has appointed it to man as a needful restraint and a salutary remedy; and we shall never find our wisdom or our welfare in any vain attempt to criticise or amend the ordinance of God.
2. Lastly, let me remind you that a child is a being that needs restraint and coercion. False theories of education are mainly built on the basis of a false estimate of the moral condition of human nature. Starting with the false position that the child has nothing in it but elements of good, which only need to be developed in order to the production of a pure and lovely character, and protected during their growth from corrupting influences from without, it overlooks the solemn truth, that, mingled with these elements, are prolific seeds of evil, which need to be eradicated with a firm and steady hand, and resolutely repressed upon their first shooting forth and growth. The true work of moral training is, like all other true works of men, a warfare also, undertaken and prosecuted against contrary influences and opposite tendencies, which nature does not aid, but opposes. Parents have the world, the flesh, and the devil to hinder their success. True, it is not in man’s power to change the heart. That is the prerogative of God only. But he that works by Divine rules, with faith in Divine promises and Divine methods, will not be apt to lack a Divine blessing. (R. A. Hallam, D. D.)
Eli: A warning to parents
We are sometimes tempted to imagine, that God will in mercy overlook the defects in a devoted servant on account of his distinguished position. The case of Eli is adapted to correct such a mistaken notion. Over domestic, as well as out of door sins, the judgment of God is seen to hang alike.
I. Let us consider Eli’s sin. We can be too kind and indulgent to our children is the simple, yet important lesson taught by the history of Eli. There are, then two things equally to be avoided in the graining of children--over kindness and over severity. Eli’s sin was over kindness. Now, this paternal over kindness in Eli was a sin for which he was held responsible. It is a sin, too, which, on account of the tender susceptibility of the parental instinct, requires the nicest degree of watchfulness over the treacherous emotions of our deceitful heart. There are many parents who are scrupulous to maintain a character for moral decorum, and spare no pains to instruct their children how to walk in the paths of worldly wisdom, but they have not that anxiety for their eternal welfare which the Word of God requires. They seem to imagine, that, if they take their children regularly to church every Sunday, they have fulfilled their parental duty in a religious point of view.
II. Such was Eli’s sin: Let us now consider the manner in which he is reproved for it by the most high. He who had judged Israel for nearly forty years, was now condemned at the bar of conscience by a stern reproof from the lips of a stripling. It is not usual for venerable old age to be obliged to sit to hear the voice of inexperienced youth raised in reprimanding accents. Nothing could have been more humiliating to Eli’s sense of righteousness than to have had the sin of neglecting to discharge his duty towards his children brought to his remembrance by a child. If it were wisely ordained that a child endued with such a disposition as that of Samuel should be sent to rebuke an elder, the reception given by Eli to Samuel is worthy the imitation of old age. It is worthy of remark that the same humble instrument has been employed by God on other occasions. The voice, manner, and conduct of a good child oftentimes exercise a mysterious power in not only checking the faults of old age, but in bridling the restless pride in the bosom of manhood at its prime. In the gradual training of the mind to the attainment of the perfection of its original knowledge and happiness, it forfeited through the first act of disobedience to the commands of God, our most valuable instruction in gaining our lost inheritance is not to be derived in the heated crowds of a busy and ever-vying world, but from the simple ways and unadorned sentiments of childhood. The silvery voice of childhood has ere this touched a chord in man’s complicated system that has aroused his supine nature from its prevailing tendency to apathy, and set in motion the million wheels of duty.
III. Let us consider some of the practical consequences attending Eli’s sin. Having been too fondly indulged in the days of youth, they gradually lost that filial respect for parental authority which is of the last importance to the welfare of children. The sequel of the unfortunate career of Hophni and Phinehas is soon told. In consequence of the transgressions of the Israelites, they were given up by God to the vengeance of their enemies. Finally, let those parents, whose besetting sin, like that of Eli, tempts them to make a practice of spoiling their children, of excusing their faults, and allowing them to have too much of their own way, remember that they are certainly exposing themselves to the wrath of God. If indulged children do not turn out immoral, they are likely to turn out proud, selfish, ungrateful, disrespectful, cold, distant, inattentive, disobliging, self-willed, headstrong, grasping, extravagant, unnatural. Be sure such a sin will find the incautious parent out. God says so, and who shall contradict it? (R. Jones, B. A.)
The fatal consequences of a bad education
I. Observe the crimes of the sons of Eli.
II. The indulgence of the parent.
III. Observe what terrible punishments this criminal indulgence drew down upon the guilty father, the profligate sons, and even the whole people under their direction. These threatenings were accomplished in all their rigour.
1. To neglect the education of our children is to be ungrateful to God, whose wonderful power created and preserved them.
2. To neglect the education of our children is to refuse to retrench that depravity, which we communicated to them.
3. To neglect the education of our children is to be wanting in that tenderness, which is so much their due. What inheritance can we transmit to them? Titles? They are often nothing but empty sounds without meaning and reality. Riches? (Proverbs 23:5.) Honours? They are often mixed with disagreeable circumstances, which poison all the pleasure. It is a religious education, piety, and the fear of God, that makes the fairest inheritance, the nobles succession, that we can leave our families. To neglect the education of our children is to let loose madmen against the state, instead of furnishing it with good rulers or good subjects. The least indulgence of the bad inclinations of children sometimes produces the most fatal effects in society. This is exemplified in the life of David, whose memory may truly be reproached on this article, for he was one of the most weak of all parents. Observe his indulgence of Amnon. It produced incest. Remark his indulgence of Absalom. This produced a civil war. Remark how he indulged Adonijah, who made himself chariots, and set up a retinue of sixty men (1 Kings 1:6.). This produced an usurpation of the throne and the crown. To neglect the education of your children is to furnish them with arms against yourselves. To neglect the education of children is to prepare torments for a future state, the bare apprehension of which must give extreme pain to every heart capable of feeling. A reformation of the false ideas, which you form on the education of children, is, so to speak, the first step, which you ought to take in the road set before you this day. First maxim: Delays, always dangerous in cases of practical religion, are peculiarly fatal in the case of education. As soon as children see the light, and begin to think and reason, we should endeavour to form them to piety. Second maxim: Although the end of the divers methods of educating children ought to be the same, yet it should be varied according to their different characters. Let us study our children with as much application as we have studied ourselves. Third maxim: A procedure, wise in itself, and proper to inspire children with virtue, may sometimes be rendered useless by symptoms of passions, with which it is accompanied. We cannot educate them well without a prudent mixture of severity and gentleness. Fourth maxim: The best means of procuring a good education lose all their force, unless they be supported by the examples of such as employ them. Example is always a great motive, and it is especially such to youth. Children know how to imitate before they can speak, before they can reason. Fifth maxim: A liberty, innocent when it is taken before men, becomes criminal when it is taken before tender minds, not yet formed. What circumspection, what niceties does this maxim engage us to observe. Sixth maxim: The indefatigable pains, which we ought always to take in educating our children, ought to be redoubled on these decisive events, which influence both the present life, and the future state. For example, the kind of life, to which we devote them, is one of these decisive events. Companions, too, are to be considered as deciding on the future condition of a child. Above all, marriage is one of these decisive steps in life. A good father of a family, unites his children to others by the two bonds of virtue and religion. Seventh maxim: The best means for the education of children must be accompanied with fervent prayer. (J. Saurin.)
Eli and his sons
I. Eli, let us observe, was otherwise and personally a good man. His character underwent searching tests at the most critical period of his life, and it is clear that he was resigned, humble, and in a true sense devout. If Eli had been the successor of a long line of rulers of the religion of Israel, submission would have been easier. “You can fall with dignity,” it has been said, “when you have behind you a great history.” It was easier for Louis XVI to mount the scaffold, than for Napoleon to embark for St. Helena. Eli had succeeded to a position to which his family could never have expected to succeed in the ordinary course of things. He hoped, no doubt, that his sons would secure to his family the dignity of the priesthood for all coming time; he hoped he was to be the first of a long line of priests of the house of Ithamar. The disappointment of a hope like this is much more than any but a good man can experience without repining. His fault, after all was not positive but negative; he had only done less than he ought to have done; he had sinned out of good nature, out of an easy temper, but could he have been chastised more severely had he himself sinned viciously and out of malice prepense? This is what many a man would have said in Eli’s position; but Eli is too certain that he is in the hands of One who is all just, as well as all powerful, to attempt or to think of complaint or remonstrance. And Eli’s personal goodness is also seen in his humility; he submits to be rebuked and sentenced by his inferior without a word of remonstrance. The nameless member of a prophetic order tells a man who is at the head of the religious as well as the civil state of Israel, that his conduct has been marked by ingratitude to God, and that the doom of degradation awaits his house. We know how rulers like Ahab and Manasseh treated prophets, however eminent, who told them unwelcome truths. Eli listens, he is silent; no violent word, much less any act of violence, escapes him. He has no petty sense of offended dignity that must vent its spleen on the messenger, when his conscience tells him that the message is only what he might expect to hear. This, I say, is true humility, the desire, the determination to see ourselves as we really are, to bear ourselves towards God and towards our fellow men accordingly. And, thirdly, Eli’s personal piety is especially noticeable at the moment of his death. He had to hear that the ark of God was taken. It was too much. It came to pass that when the messenger “made mention of the ark of God, Eli fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died.” This, I say, was an unpremeditated revelation of character. He might have survived the national disgrace; he might have survived the death of his children; but that the ark of the sacred presence, of which he was the appointed guardian, should be taken, this he could not survive. It touched the Divine honour, and Eli’s devotion is to be measured by the fact, that the shock of such a disaster killed him on the spot.
II. There is, then, no question as to Eli’s personal excellence, but it was accompanied by a want of moral resolution and enterprise which explains the ruin of his house. He and it were ruined “because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.” The original word might perhaps be better rendered. “They brought curses on themselves.” They are described as sons of Belial, or in modern language as thoroughly bad men. Eli only talked to his sons, and we can understand how he may have persuaded himself that talking was enough; that instead of taking a very painful resolution it was better to leave matters alone. If he were to do more, was there not a risk that he might forfeit the little influence over the young men that still remained to him? Would not harsh treatment defeat its object by making them desperate? Might they not attribute the most judicial severity to mere personal annoyance? If, after speaking to them, he left them alone they would think over his words. Anyhow, they would soon be older, and as they grew older they would, he may have hoped, grow more sensible; they would see the imprudence, the impropriety, as well as the graver aspects of their conduct; they would anticipate the need of action on their father’s part by such a reformation of their manners as would hush the murmurs and allay the discontent of Israel. And even if this could not be calculated on very seriously, something might occur to give a new turn to their occupations. In any case, it might be better to wait and see whether matters would not in some way right themselves. This is what weak people do. They escape, as they think, from the call of unwelcome duty, from the duty of unwelcome action, by stretching out the eyes of their mind towards some very vague future, charged with all sorts of airy improbabilities. If Eli had not been blinded by his misplaced affection for his children, he would have known that outward circumstances do not improve those whose wills are already on a wrong moral tack, and that there is no truth whatever in the assumption that because we are getting older, we are therefore, somehow, necessarily getting better. Years may only bring with them a harder heart, and a more blunted conscience. Nothing but an inward change, a change of will, and character, and purpose, could possibly have saved Hophni and Phinehas, and this change was, to say the least, more probable if they could have ceased to hold the offices which meant for them only every day they held them deepening guilt and ever accumulating profanation. Downright wickedness rouses opposition; something, others feel, must be done, if anything can be done, to put it down; but weakness saunters through the world arm in arm with some form of goodness, and men put up with its failures out of consideration to the good company that it keeps. Had it not been for the excellence of Eli’s personal character, Israel would have risen in indignation to chase the young profaners of the sacred priesthood from the precincts of the sanctuary; but Eli’s sons could not be treated as common criminals, and Eli failed to do for his God, for his religion, for his country, that which he only could do, if the law of God’s just judgments was not to take effect. Eli’s sin consisted precisely in this: he did not restrain his sons.
III. Let us make two observations in conclusion.
1. It is said that a refined civilisation brings with it increased softness of manners and a corresponding weakening of human character, and this, it is urged, is to be seen in public as well as in private life; but it is especially observable in the modern relations that exist between parents and children. Fifty years ago the English father was king in his household. He was approached with a kind of distant respect; he was loved, but he was feared as much as he was loved; his will was law, and he did not scruple to enforce it. Now, many a family is virtually a little republic, which assigns to the parents a sort of decorative leadership, but in which the young people, in virtue sometimes of their numbers, sometimes of their boisterous spirits, really rule. Those who know most of the change can tell us whether it works well, and especially whether fathers who have failed to assert their true authority are rewarded by the priceless gift of dutiful and high-minded sons. It may be that two generations back the relations between parents and children erred on the side of stiffness and severity. Is it certain that we in our day do not err on the side of good-natured indifference to plain moral obligations? No relationship can be more charged with responsibility: than that between a parent and the immortal being to whom he has been the means of giving life. It may be that two generations ago the relations between fathers and sons were wanting in geniality, that they were stiff, that they were formal; but let us ask ourselves this question: Is it better, when a father has gone to his account, that his son should say of him: “My father kept me in strict order, but he never knowingly let me do any wrong that he could prevent,” or that he should say, as sons have said: “My father was the most kindly and easy-going of men; but he never helped me to keep out of troubles which, alas! will not be buried in my grave?”
2. And, lastly, let us note that no outward circumstances can of themselves protect us against the insidious assaults of evil or against the enfeeblement of mind. If Hophni and Phinehas could have led honest and pure lives anywhere, it surely would have been on the: steps of the sanctuary at Shiloh; if anywhere Eli could have felt that family affections may be so displaced as to dishonour God, and that weakness in a ruler may be criminal, he would have felt it at a spot which was so charged with the memories of the heroes and saints of Israel; but, in truth, external advantages of this kind only help us when the will and the conscience are in a condition to be helped. (Canon Liddon.)
The doors of the House of the Lord.
The doors of the Tabernacle
Some think, that whereas yet the Tabernacle consisted of curtains and coverings, and so had veils instead of doors: that the House of God and the Tabernacle were not the same, as the Ark was in one place and the Tabernacle in another in the time of David and Solomon, before the temple was built; and hereunto this giveth some probability, because it is called here not the Tabernacle but the Temple of the Lord (1 Samuel 3:3), and the House of the Lord (1 Samuel 3:15). But this is not like: for the Tabernacle was set up in Shiloh in Joshua’s time (Joshua 18:1-28; Joshua 1:1-18), and so it had continued in the time of the Judges ( 21:19), and there it was now in Eli’s time (1 Samuel 1:9).
2. Therefore it is more like, that though the Tabernacle, while it was in the desert, for the better transporting and carrying from place to place, had veils only hanging in the entrance instead of doors; yet now, being settled in a certain place, it might also be made sure with doors.
3. These were the doors only of the outward court, whither the people might come in to worship, and the charge whereof belonged to the Levites (1 Chronicles 26:1-32). (A. Willett.)
I heard the Rev. F.B. Meyer say that he would consider it as great ah act of consecration for a young woman to stay at home and play her brother’s accompaniment in learning a song if thereby she could keep him at home that evening, although the doing so prevented her attending some religious meeting. I like what is told us of the young Samuel on the most eventful night in his life’s history when God spoke to him and revealed Himself to the lad; what do we read at the close? “And Samuel lay until the morning and opened the doors of the house of the Lord.” There he is, after such a night, opening the doors, sweeping the floor as usual. The Beatific Vision must not keep us from our common duties; we must pass from the seeing to the serving. (Christian Endeavour Times.)
What is the thing that the Lord hath said unto thee?
A private enquiry
I. Let us view the question as addressed to Samuel.
1. The first remark which we shall make upon it is that God does speak to men. In ways suitable to their feeble nature the Lord has spoken to men.
2. God regards not age in His speaking, but He condescends to speak with young children.
3. When we do hear the voice of God we should be deeply impressed by it.
4. We should store up in our memories whatever God says to us.
5. Looking at the text in its light toward Samuel, we learn that we should be able to tell what we hear from God.
II. Let us now view the question as it comes from Eli.
1. I understand from Eli’s question, first, that we should willingly learn, even from a child.
2. Next, learn from Eli, that we should be willing to know the very worst of the ease.
3. Next, we should desire to hear the whole of God’s word. Men aspire to be clever, and to that end they must appear to be bold thinkers, highly cultured, and far removed from the old worn out notions of orthodoxy. Many are the floral displays in sermons! Sheaves of corn are too plain and rustic. This is the age of bouquets and wreaths of rare flowers. Paul must give way to Browning, and David to Tennyson. Brethren, there are enough in the novelty business without us; and we have something better to do. Keep us right by saying to us, “What is the thing the Lord hath said to thee? I pray thee, hide it not from me!”
III. And now consider the question, to and from ourselves. I want to put a series of questions.
1. Have we ever asked the Lord to speak to us?
2. Next, have we all regarded what God has spoken?
3. A further question is this: Have we shaped our lives by what God has said?
4. Next, have we told what we know?
5. Do our children ever rebuke us? This Samuel was to Eli like a grandchild. His sons were grown up, and had left him; but here was this little one brought into the temple to minister there, and the old man came to be rebuked by this little child. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And Samuel told him every whit.
Speaking the truth in love
Samuel, so adjured, “told him every whit, and hid nothing from him.” How interesting it is to trace, at every stage of the history, the development of this holy child’s character. He had been called to be a prophet, that is, an announcer of God’s word and will to His people. And what are the leading qualifications for the office of a prophet?
1. That he should speak the whole truth fully and without reserve.
2. He must speak the truth in love. He is not to speak harshly or bitterly, as if glorying in the prospect of sentence being executed, but tenderly, and in sympathy. What a good augury of his right discharge of the prophetical office--this fidelity combined with this sympathy! (Dean Goulburn.)
Samuel’s youthful virtues
1. His submission to Eli deserves particular notice. Early grace made him anxious to do well, and to obey those over him in the Lord.
2. Samuel showed great respect to Eli’s feelings. He had a regard for the feelings of the amiable old man, and had no desire to glory over him by being preferred as the channel of Divine communication, or to embitter his gray hairs by such mournful tidings. His conduct evinced great self-command and consideration for others--features of character of great worth and usefulness, and very beautiful in one so young. It is wrong even to tamper with the feelings of anyone, or to distress a heart unreasonably. There is a cruelty in annoying the aged by wantonly abusing them for the faults of other years, or reproaching them for the vices of their sons, or bearing to them the tales which irritate their souls, and make their lives unhappy, He was not forward to utter bad news, as young persons often are, but acted with becoming caution.
3. Samuel’s candour was remarkable. Samuel’s frank and candid statement is a model to every youth. (R. Steel.)
It is the Lord: let Him do what seemeth Him good.
I. A judicious discovery from whence all evils come. “It is the Lord.” He is omnipotent, and who hath withstood His power. He is just, and will bring no evil without good cause, He is wise, and whatsoever evil He bringeth He can draw it to a good end . . . He remaineth the same God in the fire and in the earthquake which He was in the still voice; the same when He slew the Israelites as when His light shone upon their tabernacle. His glorious attributes cross not one another. His justice taketh not from His mercy, nor His mercy from the equity of His justice; but He is just when He bindeth up, and merciful when He woundeth us . . . The same God that overthrew Pharaoh in the Red Sea, that “slew great and mighty kings” (Psalms 136:15; Psalms 136:17-18) did deliver up His own people, did deliver up the ark to Dagon: for His justice, His wisdom, and His mercy “did endure forever.”
II. A well-grounded resolution. Let us learn with Eli to “kiss the Son, lest He be angry” (Psalms 2:12), nay, to kiss Him, and bow before Him when He is angry; to offer Him up a peace offering, our wills, of more power than a hecatomb, than all our numerous fasts and sermons, to appease His wrath . . . This is the truest surrendry we can make . . . ”I do not only obey God, and do what He would have me, but I am of His mind,” saith the heathen Seneca. . . . The stubbornest knee may be made to bow, and obedience may be constrained. But the true Israelite doeth it with joy and readiness, and though he receive a blow he counteth it as a favour, for He that gave it hath taught him an art to make it so. (Anthony Faringdon.)
Peaceable fruit of righteousness
So long as things went well with Eli he had given no evidence of being one of God’s true children. But the sore pressure of God’s judgment upon him brings out the good in his character, which lay beneath the surface. The fragrant leaf must be crushed, before it will give out the perfume that is in it. The pebble must be cut and filed and rubbed by the jeweller, before the beautiful veining which runs through the heart of it can be brought to light. (Dean Goulburn.)
Archbishop Whitgift, when he was paralysed and his speech affected, could be heard to say nothing distinctly but this: “Pro Ecclesia Dei,” “Pro Ecclesia Dei,” (“For the Church of God.”) The Church of God was nearer to his heart than his own troubles and approaching death. (Dean Goulburn.)
Resignation in suffering
You are aware that in the Christian character there are what are called the active and the passive graces. It is not enough for us to ask what we do, but we must also ask how we suffer.
I. Let us attend to the nature of that submission to God of which we have an example in the memorable Eli.
1. Submission to God does not suppose insensibility to the afflictions under which we are called to cultivate it. We are allowed to mourn, though we are not allowed to murmur. Religion does not exact stoicism of its subjects.
2. This submission, in the second place, does not suppose that we are not to employ the means which are within our power, with a view to the prevention of evil. Our employment of means, with a view to prevent evil from falling upon us, is not at all inconsistent with a feeling of submission to the will of God.
3. Nor, in the third place, is prayer to God against evil, inconsistent with submission to Him under it, if He should see fit to visit us with it. We must not, indeed, open our mouth against God, but we may open our mouth to God.
But then, let us inquire what this submission actually implies.
1. Why, in the first place, it implies that we justify God in every thing that He does--that however much we may blame ourselves, we attach no blame to God. Now, this is something; and I am afraid it is more than all of us at all times experience.
2. But submission involves more than this: it involves in it, that we approve of all that God does.
3. Then, lastly, this submission supposes that we cleave to God in the midst of all.
II. Let us notice the grounds on which this submission to God rests. First, then, it rests on the sovereignty of God.
2. Then, secondly, on the ground of the righteousness and justice of God, we ought to submit to Him.
2. Then, again, the unchangeableness of God should also inspire us with a feeling of resignation and submission.
III. Some practical effects or fruits of this submission to God. Now, there are some evils which it will prevent, and there are some direct and absolute benefits which it will ensure. First, there are evils which it will prevent. It will prevent rash conclusions. Again, this submission to God will prevent immoderate sorrow. In the next place, this will prevent sinful staggerings. This is a scriptural phrase. It is said of Abraham that “he staggered not.” Sometimes a sudden affliction comes upon us; and, like a flash of lightning across our path, it surprises us. Then, as to the positive benefits which this feeling--this habit--this virtue of submission will insure to us, it will give us, in the first place, inward peace. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee.” Therefore, this will also bring along with it enduring patience--a noble virtual Patience is one of the finest moral virtues! Lastly, another positive advantage is that it will excite praise and thanksgiving. The language, the spirit of the text, is not to be attained, perhaps, all at once. (J. E. Beaumont.)
Resignation to the Divine Will
Let us see what virtue Eli manifests in the text; then, how he displayed it; and, what lessons may be drawn from the subject.
I. The virtue.
1. It was conformity to the Will of God viewed in relation to God, this virtue is based upon the realisation of His goodness, and that therefore His will is always just and good and wise.
2. Further, that nothing happens unless it is designed or permitted by Him. Eli’s instinctive expression, “It is the Lord,” reveals the habit of his soul to discern God’s hand in all things.
3. But the words express the entire resignation of his own will to the will of God. In this lies the virtue. It was not a mere emotion, but an act of that within him must have been a habit. Difficult occasions do not create virtues, but call them into operation.
4. Holy Scripture supplies us with many instances of conformity of will to God, which is a law which holds good throughout the spiritual sphere, as that of gravitation does in the natural sphere: e.g. the answer of the Shunamite, when her child had died, “It is well,” or “Peace” (2 Kings 4:26). Again, Job’s wonderful resignation, expressed by the words, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
II. How displayed.
1. Promptly. There was no hesitation or delay. We know how, when some great loss is broken to us, for a time we are apt to be overwhelmed, dazed, and bewildered with grief, and want a little pause before we can gather ourselves together again and attempt to cry, “Not my will, but Thine, be done.” But with the aged Eli, the accents of resignation followed immediately upon the announcement of the evils which would befall him and his house. He apparently sustained the shock without perturbation, though evidently a man of deep affections.
2. Humbly. Men often disdain to be corrected by their juniors, but Eli displayed no such sensitiveness. Though judge and priest, he heard with humbleness of mind the tale of woes and denunciation from the lips of the innocent child, and expressed the justice of what God was about to bring upon him. Most painful and humiliating, and, as far as this life was concerned, irretrievable; yet no word of murmuring or self-defence escaped from his mouth.
3. Absolutely. “Let Him do what seemeth Him good.” Not “what seemeth good to me.” This is true liberty of spirit. So the greatness of Eli’s prompt, humble, and absolute resignation is accentuated by the consideration of the time when he lived and the circumstances of the period.
1. We are warned, by the judgments upon Eli and his family, of the momentousness of the duty of rebuking sin, and especially on the part of parents, rulers, and priests.
2. The practice of conforming the will to God in all the events of life, and that with the same features of promptness, lowliness, and entirety as Eli manifested, is the chief lesson from the text.
3. Further, to remember that we can learn conformity from the self-surrender of Christ to His Father’s will, especially in His Passion and death, and that we are aided in the production of this grace by the presence of the Holy Ghost; so that to say, “Not my will, but Thine, be done,” is easier for us than it was for Eli.
4. The root of his conformity of will comes to view at the moment of his death. He bore up when he heard the tidings of the great slaughter of the people, and that his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were dead; but when he was told that the ark of God was taken he fell backward and died. Evidently God, and the things of God--notwithstanding his past great and culpable negligence--held the first place in his heart; hence this submission to His Will. (Canon Hutchings, M. A.)
Faith surviving sorrow
“A few weeks ago, in a city of Nebraska, I was holding meetings. There came to that city my dear friend, Commander Booth-Tucker. It was the city of Omaha. I shall never forget my talk with him there. I said to him, ‘Commander, the passing of your beloved wife was one of the things that I freely confess I cannot understand.’ He looked at me across the breakfast table, his eyes wet with tears, and yet his face radiant with that light which never shone on sea or land, and he said to me, ‘Dear man, do you not know that the Cross can only be preached by tragedy?’ Then he told me this incident: ‘When I and my wife were last in Chicago, I was trying to lead a sceptic to Christ in a meeting. At last the sceptic said, with a cold, glittering eye and a sarcastic voice, ‘It is all very well. You mean well; but I lost my faith in God when my wife was taken out of my horns. It is all very well; but if that beautiful woman at your side lay dead and cold by you, how would you believe in God?’ Within one month she had been taken through the awful tragedy of a railway accident, and the Commander went back to Chicago, and, in the hearing of a vast multitude, said, ‘Here in the midst of the crowd, standing by the side of my dead wife as I take her to burial, I want to say that I still believe in God, and love Him, and know Him.’” (Campbell Morgan, D. D.)
And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him.
It is the design of the present discourse to show what was implied in God’s being with Samuel.
I. This implied that God preserved his life and health. While other children died, Samuel lived, and grew in stature and strength. He could gratefully say, “I am old and grey-headed.” Long life is often represented as the natural effect and temporal reward of early piety.
II. God’s being with him implied that he preserved him from moral as well as natural evil. He lived in an evil day. All orders and ages of men had grown corrupt, and every kind of error, delusion, and vice prevailed. Samuel, therefore, was greatly exposed to be carried away by the torrent of moral corruption, and nothing but the presence of God could preserve him from being overwhelmed and destroyed. But God was with him and he with God; for he lived as seeing Him who is invisible. A love to God, and a sense of His constant presence, made him hate and avoid every sinful course. This was certainly owing to God’s being with him, and restraining the native depravity of his heart. It is easy for God to keep the heart of those who constantly lean upon Him.
III. God’s being with Samuel implied his constant guidance in the path of duty. Accordingly we find that God did from time to time, direct him in duty. He directed him to bear His solemn messages to Eli and his house. He directed him to comply with the voice of the people, and anoint Saul to be king over Israel. And He directed him, at the hazard of his life, to anoint David, the son of Jesse, to succeed Saul on the throne which be then claimed and possessed. Besides directing him in extraordinary cases, whither to go, what to do, and what to say, He directed him in all his common and daily conduct.
IV. God’s being with Samuel implied that he afforded him assistance in the discharge of duty. Samuel was constantly dependent on God to enable him to do his duty, after he was led to the knowledge of it. He was called to many arduous and self-denying duties, which he would have neglected to perform if God had not inspired him with courage, resolution, and zeal. He was at first afraid to deliver the Divine messages to Eli. It was a dangerous duty to anoint David king over Israel, while Saul his enemy was on the throne.
V. God’s with Samuel implied that he succeeded, as well as guided and assisted, him in duty. Men may form wise and good designs, and pursue them with activity and diligence, but without success. In all their undertakings, it depends upon God whether they shall obtain the object of their wishes.
VI. That God’s being with Samuel implied that he made him eminently useful in his day and generation. God made Samuel uncommonly useful in various ways.
1. By his predictions. He early called him and ordained him a prophet, to reveal His will to His chosen people.
2. God made Samuel useful by his instructions. Though he was not a priest, yet he was an eminent instructor. He was the first that taught the school of the prophets; which was a most excellent institution, and continued in the nation until after the Babylonish captivity, when synagogues were first established and multiplied in the land. But, beside this, he taught the people at large, and restrained them from the gross practices and errors to which they were exposed, while there was no king nor faithful priests in the nation.
3. God made Samuel very useful, by clothing him with civil authority, and giving him opportunity to administer justice through the land. We read, “Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.”
4. God gave Samuel the spirit of grace and supplication, by which He enabled him to draw down national blessings, and avert national salamities. David mentions the efficacy of Samuel’s prayers, as an example to the people of God in the days of darkness and distress. “Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at His footstool: for He is holy Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel among them that call upon His name: they called upon the Lord, and He answered them.”
5. His example crowned and established his character in the view of the nation. He was called to visit all parts of Judea, which gave the people a peculiar opportunity of seeing his holy and exemplary conduct. This constrained them to believe that God was with him, for he carried the visible appearance of living near to God, and of enjoying His gracious presence.
1. It appears from the character and conduct of Samuel that pious and faithful parents may do much to promote the piety and usefulness of their children.
2. We learn from the character and life of Samuel the importance of parents being pious.
3. The character and conduct of Samuel show the peculiar obligations of those who have been the subjects of parental dedication and instruction, to make a personal dedication of themselves to the Lord.
4. In the view of the character and conduct of Samuel we may see the great importance of early piety.
5. We learn from what has been said that it is very criminal to obstruct early piety. (N. Emmons.)
Here to grow
We are not in this world merely to do the pieces of work, large or small, that are set over against our hand. We are here to grow in strength and beauty of character. And it is not hard to see how this growth may go on continually amid life’s daily toil and cares. If we are diligent, careful, faithful, prompt, accurate, energetic in the doing of a thousand little things of common life, we are building these qualities meanwhile into our soul’s fabric. Thus we are ever learning by doing and growing by doing. There is art unseen spiritual building arising within us continually as we plod on in our unending tasks. Negligence in common duties mars our character. Faithfulness in work builds beauty into the soul. (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
The character of Samuel
I. Consider Samuel in his early advantages. He was in a special and peculiar sense a child of prayer.
II. But let us come to contemplate the results of this early training, as they soon developed themselves in the person and character of Samuel.
1. Observe his attention to all appointed duties. This is seen in the promptness with which he rises to obey the fancied summons of Eli even at midnight.
2. Let us consider next the deportment of Samuel towards others. Thus we find it was always modest, and courteous, and respectful. We never find him elated by the honourable position to which he had been advanced.
3. But once more, notice among the personal qualities of Samuel his steady, uncompromising faithfulness. Removed at so early a period from the pious overse sight of his parents; left only to the instruct, ions of the feeble, and as it would seem now careless Eli; compelled to be a witness of the fruits of his master’s sinful negligence, and even to be the daily associate of that master’s profligate and abandoned sons--we could hardly have wondered if, infected by the surrounding contagion, this plant of early and holy promise had withered and faded sway. “But the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation.”
III. But let us consider Samuel, in the last place, as he stood high in the favour of God. This is especially observable in the circumstances of his prophetic calling. The latter times of the Judges were times of great spiritual decline. Good men were scattered like two or three berries on the top of a bough. (D. Moors, M. A.)
The ministry of Samuel
These passages (1 Samuel 12:23) bring out some of the most characteristic points in the life of Samuel the prophet. The child devoutly surrendered bee sins the first and greatest of the prophets, the man chosen to close the order of judges and inaugurate the government of kings. It is as the first of the prophets that he appears before us in our text: “And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord.”
1. First, our text tells us, he grew. What a child will become depends very much on its capacity of growth. There are some who never grow, or, if they grow at all, grow feebly or imperfectly. Their body is stunted, their mind is undeveloped, their character makes no progress. But where there is full power of growth there is hardly any degree of eminence which may not be attained. Growth mainly results from two things, vigour of life, and suitable culture. Samuel enjoyed both these. But this growth was aided by culture. That culture began in infancy. He was brought to the house of the Lord; he was placed under the care of Eli--the devout, the true, though too indulgent Eli. Nor were there other influences wanting. His mother never ceased to pray for him. His mother came up every year, we are told, to offer the early sacrifice, and brought with her a little mantle, or coat, woven by her own hands. Oh! the anticipation of that yearly visit. Oh! the joy with which she folded him in her arms, and clothed him in his new dress. Oh! the love which she poured into the susceptible heart from hers, with fondest kisses and tenderest prayers. The impression of these visits lived on from year to year, and more than any other influence served to keep his heart pure, and loving, and devout. Above all, God Himself took Samuel in hand, and completed his education by His own Spirit.
2. The second thing our text tells us is that the Lord was with him. The Lord was with him, a blessing of the most comprehensive and sufficing kind, a blessing which seems to include all other blessings in itself. Only thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord, and whom the Lord delighteth to honour. The Lord was with Jacob to keep him safely in all the places whither he went. The Lord was with Joseph, and all that he did prospered. The Lord was with Moses, “certainly I shall be with thee,” and with confidence before which even Pharaoh quailed, he wrought deliverance for Israel. The Lord was with Joshua as He was with Moses, and he became strong and very courageous, and with the people took possession of the land. Paul at his first examination before Caesar was left alone, all men forsook him, nevertheless the Lord stood with him, and his preaching was so fully known that all the Gentiles heard, and he was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And so “the Lord was with Samuel, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.”
3. Thirdly, “the Lord did let none of his words fall to the ground.” Because he had the capacity which was revealed in growth, and because the Lord was with him, therefore his words were words of power and took lasting effect. His predictions came to pass because they were really the utterances of the Spirit. Perhaps we have never grown as Samuel did, never grown up to such an apprehension of Divine truth that it has become a living power in our souls, and therefore we cannot skilfully unfold it to others, Perhaps we have never felt that the Lord was with us when we spake, and so the one influence which alone could open the heart was wanting. And the other passages I have read as part of my text show us how this was. First, because he adhered to his purpose: “I will teach you the good and right way.” What Samuel taught he felt to be of the first importance, and he could not be sure that what he taught would, in the highest sense, be good and right, unless it were Divine. Like all the ancient prophets he kept his ear open to catch the words of the heavenly oracle, his heart open to receive the celestial fire. If his teaching were of God, it would be true in its substance, decisive in its affirmations, and, however severely tested, would firmly stand. When men speak of “advanced thought” in the present day, and mean by it thought which is simply human, wrought out by man’s unaided reason, and freed from the assumption of being Divine, they might be indulging in the severest irony. Thought that springs up in a feeble human mind in advance of that which flows from the Divine! Thought originating in perceptions which are dim, limited, liable to be distorted, in advance of thought originating in perceptions which are clear, illimitable, and unperturbed! Save us from such progress as this. To a noble soul there is something stimulating in the persuasion that God has spoken to man, and that we have His words. Then, secondly, our text tells that he tolerated nothing that was unreal. When Samuel saw the miserable dissimulation which Saul was practising in covering his self-will with the cloak of sacrifice, he scornfully said, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the blood of rams.” The deep sincerity of the man, his determination to unmask all that was hollow and unreal, his demand for substance, not show, was another element of power in virtue of which none of his words fell to the ground. And finally he continued instant in prayer. (J. Harrison.)
The growth of character
1. Let us reflect, first, upon this description as applying to the ancient seer of Israel. “And Samuel grew.” It was a saying of the poet Southey that, live as long as we may, the first twenty years are the longest half of our life. Why is this? There is a physiological and there is a moral reason for it. The physiological cause lies in the more vivid sensibility of youth--the soft wax is not yet set, the tender branch is not yet hardened. The moral cause lies in the greater variety of influences to which we are subject before life’s choice is made, and ere we have definitely cast in oar lot either with the good or the bad. And both these are gathered into one statement if we say that the first twenty years are the longest half of life because they are the period of vigorous and determining growth; that being the analysis of the growing process--vigour of life and determination of life. Hence the significance of the clause, “And Samuel grew.” There was the vigour of the lad’s life; wherefore the young limbs lengthened and the supple frame waxed strong, and he developed into a magnificent man. And there was the determination of the lad’s life towards wise and pure conduct; wherefore he eschewed the evil example of Eli’s sons, and set himself to walk in the good and right way. This persistent emphasis upon the growth of the prophet is intended to teach that the secret of his even and consistent life is to be found in his early piety. The visitations of God’s grace were upon him like the dews of the morning; he grew, and when he was old and grey-headed, he remained like a tree rooted in its place. Occasionally a wild, ungodly youth is followed by a consecrated manhood, for the grace of God can work miracles; and this ham been seen in such lives as Augustine’s, Ignatius Loyola’s, John Bunyan’s, and John Newton’s. But the law is that “whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap; be that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; he that soweth to the spirit shall of the spirit reap life everlasting.” And even those apparent exceptions to which I refer do really confirm the rule, since, as the greatest of ecclesiastical historians has pointed out, the men who are converted after a lawless and reckless youth usually become Christians of an ill-wrought and inharmonious type. Always the Christliest saints are those of whom it can be said, as of the first prophet, “And Samuel grew.”
2. The text goes on to speak of a second characteristic. “And the Lord was with him.” Alone, he would have fallen. Alone, his spiritual nature would have sickened in the atmosphere of unclearness; he would have learned to tolerate the crimes of his neighbours--it may have been to outdo them.
3. Once more the text tells us that “the Lord did let none of his words fall to the ground.” This was the natural and appropriate result. (W. J. Woods, B. A.)
And all Israel, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord.
From Dan to Beer-sheba
That is to say, from Plymouth to Aberdeen--all the people in the towns and villages of Israel knew that there was come a new thing on the earth, that God was now speaking by the mouth of a little child. One of the first lessons which comes from the study of this story is, that bad men and bad things are doomed. Nothing can keep alive that which God has condemned. I look upon Hophni and Phinehas as representatives of that which was bad. “All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord,” and at the same time, that Hophni and Phinehas were to be removed from the face of the earth. We are surrounded by evil; bad men and bad things are all around us. But I want those of us who believe in God to cheer ourselves with the thought that nothing will live forever but that which is good. No wrong thing can live foreverse Slavery was a giant. It is a giant yet in Africa; but its brother, American slavery, came down never to rise. Tyranny is a doomed thing. “Samuel is established to be a prophet of the Lord;” and I do not care who Hophni and Phinehas are if you will only do your duty. Be brave, and God will see you through.
2. The second lesson I want to teach today is this: Mothers, get your children ready, “that Samuel may be established to be a prophet of the Lord.” Oh! what honour came to Hannah through Samuel. We should encourage our children to have right ideas, and encourage them to propagate their ideas. Never was there a time when there was so much room for individual goodness.
3. I should say, further, that early consecration is the pathway to honour and greatness. What a great man Samuel became. (T. Champness.)
The call and prophetic work of Samuel
I. In the first place, we will consider the call of Samuel.
II. But in the second place let us consider the prophetic work or Samuel.
1. First, his work Was to announce the Divine mind by predicting future events.
2. In the second place, another pare of the prophetic work of Samuel was to revive religion and restore the worship of God among the nation. For at the time that Samuel was introduced to the prophetic office, religion was exceedingly low, indescribably low.
3. But, in the next place, another part of his work was to decide all doubtful cases, according to the will and the law of God. The most difficult of all those cases that came before him was the introduction of monarchy into the theocracy.
4. Another part of the work of Samuel was to introduce and to perpetuate a race of prophets, a series of prophets, in the Jewish church.
5. But again: another part of his work was to write a portion of the inspired volume--to communicate a part of the mind of God by inspiration.
1. Let us learn from this, in the first place, that early piety is of great influence in the Christian church.
2. And, in the second place, let us learn how a youth, in very disadvantageous circumstances, may be of great use in reviving religion in his day and generation (T. W. Jenkyn, D. D.)
Communications from God
1. What a dreary, hopeless state it is to live without any communications from God! Man did never in fact live entirely without such communications. God did reveal Himself “at sundry times and in divers manners,” sometimes dropping His communications for a long tract of time, but always renewing them again. It has indeed been said by doubters and unbelievers that God has given man a conscience and a moral sense, which speak to him in God’s name, and teach him what is right and wrong, and that this is quite sufficient communication from God to make us good and happy, and that we need nothing further. But what is it that our conscience, which is indeed the voice of God within us, teaches us first and before all things else? It is that we have gone astray from the rule of right. No man, without some better help than conscience lent him, ever lived fully up to the requirements of his conscience.
2. But again: “God revealed Himself to Samuel by the word of the Lord.” We may justly reflect that He has done this more completely to ourselves than He did to Samuel. Now, do we each one of us practically act as if we fully believed that constant revelations from God were necessary to make us holy and happy? Do we make daily devout use of the Holy Scripture, which is our great means of receiving revelations, or, in other words, communications from God? (Dean Goulburn.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》