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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ 1-samuel-2.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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1 Samuel 2:1-10
And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the Lord.
Modern criticism has decided, to its own satisfaction, that the noble hymn here attributed to Hannah, cannot possibly have been uttered by her lips as a thanksgiving for the birth of Samuel. It breaks the obvious connexion of the narrative: its real theme is the rout of the nation’s enemies, and the triumph of the national armies: above all, the concluding words, which speak of Jehovah’s King, and pray that He may exalt the horn of His anointed, unmistakably stamp it as a product of the regal period, when the kingdom was already established. Some critics, of no mean reputation, go so far as to name David as the true author, and assign the slaughter of Goliath, and subsequent defeat of the Philistines, as the real occasion. Let us examine the hymn in detail. It is called a prayer; yet, with the exception of the concluding words, which should be rendered as a petition, it is wholly occupied with praise and thanksgiving. Prayer is not limited to supplication. It embraces all address of the human soul to the Most High: it includes all forms of worship. Praise and thanksgiving are true and necessary parts of prayer. And what are the thoughts which fill Hannah’s heart, and will not be repressed? A deep and holy joy for the salvation which Jehovah has wrought for her. Her reproach of barrenness is taken away. She is now a mother in Israel: and mother of what a child! She is exultant; yet in the midst of triumph there is no vindictiveness, no uncharitable recollection of the taunts and unkindness which she had had to endure. Her heart is full, not of herself, but of God. He alone is holy: He alone is self-existent: He alone is the Rock of Israel, secure, unchanging, faithful in His covenant. From contemplating the character of Jehovah she passes to a survey of His dealings with men. In her own individual experience she sees an illustration of the laws which regulate the Divine economy. The most casual observer cannot fail to notice sudden vicissitudes of fortune in the lives of individuals and the history of nations. Whence these sharp contrasts? It is Jehovah who is “the God of life and death and all things thereto pertaining”; poverty and wealth, promotion and degradation, proceed from Him. The vicissitudes of humanity are not fortuitous; Jehovah created the world; Jehovah sustains the world; Jehovah governs the world and all that is therein in righteousness. He defends His saints: He silences the wicked: and who can resist His will? “By strength shall no man prevail.” Her prophetic vision grows clearer as she proceeds. We are now in a better position to estimate the worth of the hostile criticisms.
I. Can it be seriously maintained for a moment that this hymn interrupts the narrative and is obviously out of place? What could be more natural than that Hannah should join in her husband’s worship, and pour out her full heart in the energy of a prophetic inspiration? What place could be more fitting for this than the tabernacle where Jehovah had fixed His visible dwelling place? What moment more appropriate than that of which she restored to Jehovah the gift she had received from His hands for His service?
II. Nor, secondly, can we agree with the assertion that the tone and contents of the hymn mark it to be an old war song, a thanksgiving for victory over enemies. There is no direct mention of an Israelite victory: the defeat of the mighty warriors is but an incidental illustration: it is but one of the contrasts introduced to show how Jehovah’s government is exercised in the world.
III. The third objection is at first sight more forcible. The mention of a king might seem to argue a later date. But even this difficulty is only superficial. Why should not Hannah have spoken of a king, the anointed of Jehovah? The promises made to Abraham pointed to the eventual establishment of a kingdom for the chosen people. “I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.” “I will bless Sarah, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.” And at this period the desire for a king was manifestly stirring in the national mind. Already the men of Israel bad proposed a hereditary monarchy when they said to Gideon, “Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son;” and though he refused, saying, “The Lord shall rule over you,” it must have been felt that the establishment of a monarchy could not be far distant. A monarchy, indeed, was not the ideal form of government for the chosen people. In demanding it they were actuated by unbelief and mistrust of Jehovah, and therefore it was displeasing to Him, for it was a “rejection of Him.” Yet it bore its part in the preparation for Messiah’s coming; it was incorporated as an element in the evolution of the divine purposes. And why should not Hannah be inspired with a prophetic foresight to see that at length the king was inevitable, and to pray that Jehovah would make his rule effectual? The review of the Divine character, and the Divine government of the world is a theme which would most naturally suggest itself to one who felt that she had just experienced a manifestation of those principles in her own case. Let us turn to a consideration of the leading idea of the hymn. The problem of the mysterious and incalculable vicissitudes of fortune is one which has presented itself to all ages. What is the cause of them? It is Φθόνος the Νέμεσις, said the Greek. The Envy of the Gods, drags the over-prosperous down to the abyss of ruin, and smites down the pride of man in middle course. He counted the Gods to be beings of like passions with himself, slaves of jealousy and spitefulness. Some, in the spirit of a truer creed, denied such a degrading hypothesis: and saw Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance, dogging the footsteps of the sinner, and exacting from him to the utmost the penalty of his transgression. It is Necessity, answered the ancient Roman, stern, inexorable, heartless Necessity, before whose fiat we must bow, whose decisions we cannot investigate. It is Fortune, laughed the sceptical Horace: “Fortune exulting in her cruel task, And bent on playing out her heartless game.” But centuries before Greek or Roman faced the problem, its solution had been revealed to the Hebrew mind. The Hebrew prophetess sees no angry, spiteful deity, jealous of man’s prosperity: no stern and pitiless fate: no fickle and capricious Fortune at the helm of the universe; but a personal Ruler, holy, just, omniscient, almighty, governing in truth and righteousness. It was a truth which had an especial value for the Israelite of that age. He had no clear revelation of a future life: and without the knowledge of a future life the mystery of human existence is a thousandfold more perplexing. His faith was often sorely tried, because “he saw the wicked in such prosperity.” The unmerited chastisement of righteous men like Job seemed almost like a flaw in the justice of the Almighty: and he had need to brace his moral consciousness by recourse to a confession such as this, declaring in no equivocal terms the universal rule of Jehovah, founded in righteousness and truth. For us the reiteration of this truth is valuable for a widely different reason. The study of second causes, the formation of laws, physical, social, moral, tend to obscure our view of the Great First Cause, and to obliterate our conception of the direct personal control exercised by the ruler of the universe. “Jehovah bringeth low and lifteth up. By strength shall no man prevail.” There is a personal and a national lesson in this. We are forced, all of us, some time in our lives, to learn our own impotence, our littleness, our dependence on a power not our own. There is a lesson for nations here too. It is God who lifteth up, it is God who gives national prosperity; the continuance of that prosperity is surely conditional upon the observance of His laws, and those laws will be best observed when the national conscience acknowledges that its prosperity springs ultimately from a higher source than its own genius or industry. Pride and self-confidence have ever been the parents of corruption and degeneracy. (A. F. Kirkpatrick, D. D.)
Hannah’s song of thanksgiving
The emotion that filled Hannah’s breast after she had granted Samuel to the Lord, and left him settled at Shiloh, was one of triumphant joy. In her song we see no trace of depression, like that of a bereaved and desolate mother. Some may be disposed to think less of Hannah on this account; they may think she would have been more of a true mother if something of human regret had been apparent in her song. But surely we ought not to blame her if the Divine emotion that so completely filled her soul excluded for the time every ordinary feeling. This was Hannah’s feeling, as it afterwards was that of Elizabeth, and still more of the Virgin Mary, and it is no wonder that their songs, which bear a close resemblance to each other, should have been used by the Christian Church to express the very highest degree of thankfulness. Hannah’s heart was enlarged as she thought how many lowly souls that brought their burden to Him were to be relieved; and how many empty and hungry hearts, pining for food and rest, were to find how He “satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.” But it would seem that her thoughts took a still wider sweep. Looking on herself as representing the nation of Israel, she seems to have felt that what had happened to her on a small scale was to happen to the nation on a large. May not the Holy Spirit have given her a glimpse of the great truth--“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given?” And may not this high theme have been the cause of that utter absence of human regret, that apparent want of motherly heart stoking, which we mark in the song? When we examine the substance of the song more carefully, we find that Hannah derives her joy from four things about God:--
I. His nature (vv. 2-3). In the second and third verses we find comfort derived from
(1) God’s holiness,
(2) His unity,
(3) His strength,
(4) His knowledge, and
(5) His justice.
(1) The holiness, the spotlessness of God is a source of comfort, “There is none holy as the Lord.” To the wicked this attribute is no comfort, but only a terror. Left to themselves, men take away this attribute, and, like the Greeks and Romans and other pagans, ascribe to their gods the lusts and passions of poor human creatures. Yet to those who can appreciate it, how blessed a thing is the holiness of God!
(2) His unity gives comfort--“There is none beside Thee.”
(3) His strength gives comfort--“Neither is there any rock like our God.”
(4) His knowledge gives comforts--“The Lord is a God of knowledge.” He sees all secret wickedness, and knows how to deal with it. His eye is on every plot hatched in the darkness. He knows His faithful servants, what they aim at, what they suffer, what a strain is often put on their fidelity
(5) His justice gives comfort. “By Him actions are weighed.” Their true quality is ascertained; what is done for mean, selfish ends stands out before Him in all its native ugliness, and draws down the retribution that is meet.
II. God’s holy government (verses 3-8). The main feature of God’s providence dwelt on here is the changes that occur in the lot of certain classes. And these changes are the doing of God. If nothing were taught here but that there are great vicissitudes of fortune among men, then a lesson would come from it alike to high and low--let the high beware lest they glory in their fortune, let the low not sink into dejection and despair. If it be further borne in mind that these changes of fortune are all in the hands of God, a further lesson arises, to beware how we offend God, and to live in the earnest desire to enjoy His favour. But there is a further lesson. The class of qualities that are here marked as offensive to God are pride, self-seeking, self-sufficiency both in ordinary matters and in their spiritual development.
III. His most gracious treatment of his saints.
IV. Hannah rejoices in that dispensation of mercy that was coming in connection with God’s “king, His anointed” (5:10). Guided by the Spirit, she sees that a king is coming, that a kingdom is to be set up, and ruled over by the Lord’s anointed. Did she catch a glimpse of what was to happen under such kings as David, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah? Did she see in prophetic vision the loving care of such kings for the welfare of the people, their holy zeal for God, their activity and earnestness in doing good? And did the glimpse of these coming benefits suggest to her the thought of what was to be achieved by Him who was to be the anointed one, the Messiah in a higher sense? We can hardly avoid giving this scope to her song. What is the great lesson of this song? That for the answer to prayer, for deliverance from trial, for the fulfilment of hopes, for the glorious things yet spoken of the city of our God, our most cordial thanksgivings are due to God. (W. G. Blaikie.)
As the odours and sweet smells of Arabia are carried by the winds and air into the neighbouring provinces, so that before travellers come thither they have the scent of that aromatic country; so the joys of heaven are by the sweet breathings and gales of the Holy Ghost blown into the hearts of believers, and the sweet smells of the upper paradise are conveyed into the gardens of the churches. Those joys which are stirred up in us by the Spirit before we get to heaven are a pledge of what we may expect hereafter. (T. Manton, D. D.)
1 Samuel 2:2
Neither is there any rock like our God.
God compared to a Rock
I. God is here described as a rock. God frequently compares himself to a rock, and that for his people’s encouragement.
1. He is compared to a rock, because, as a shelter, defence, refuge, every perfection of His nature is as their bulwark round about His people.
2. He is likewise spoken of as a rock, because in ancient days also they oftentimes made rocks their habitation. There are the inhabitants of the rocks (Jeremiah 48:28). “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge, and my fortress: my God, in Him will I trust.” They dwell in His love and in his attributes, and find them the place of abode and the place of happiness too.
3. But He also bears the name of a rock because He is the shade of His people. Thus we read in the fifth verse of the one hundred and twenty-first Psalm, “The Lord is thy keeper; the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.” So are God’s perfections the shade of His people, which preserveth them from the searching heat; and they are just as grateful to their souls.
II. In what peculiar sense is it, that God stands related to His people as their rock, as they pass through this poor desert world.
1. I might first of all say, it is because of His everlasting love towards them, in that He has made Himself to be their rock--in that He has given Himself to be their portion--in that He has made Himself over them to be their God, even unto death.
2. And as the Spirit of God leadeth the soul onwards, then it begins to see the great mystery of justice in salvation. Thus we see in what point of view it is that the Lord God Almighty is the rock of His people, and how He becomes so in their passage through this poor vale of tears. First of all, by the sovereign gift of Himself, according to His everlasting love, and then by the effectual power of the Holy Spirit in drawing poor souls out of the world’s population through His beloved One, that they may take rest in Himself.
III. There is no rock like our God, “neither is there any rock like our God.” A Socinian’s God cannot be compared to our God--a God that forgives from mere pity--A God that suffers His own law to be trampled on, and His own justice to be set at nought, in order to make way for the display of His own mercy--that God cannot be compared to our God. The man who talks about the gospel, and liven in sin, who talks of being happy in God, and mistakes accurate notions for conversion of heart, and a well-balanced creed for the love of Christ to the soul, that man’s God cannot be compared to our God; for our God is holy. The self-righteous Pharisee in looking to his God, cannot think that he can be compared to our God. The God that can take his poor formal services--the very idea at once not only shows his folly, but exhibits the tow character of the God he worships. Oh, there is no rock like our God!
1. There is no rock so secure as is this rock. Oh, how blessed is that security which does not admit of one crevice, of one opening for the storm to enter!
2. Oh, the breadth of this blessed rock! Is there one case now so bad, is there one circumstance in itself so desperate, that we cannot say there is in that rock a breadth for all comers?
3. And oh, who shall say what there is inside this rock? The God of our salvation is a satisfying portion. (J. H. Evans.)
1 Samuel 2:2-3
There is none holy as the Lord.
The four perfections of God
1. She speaks of his holiness; “There is none holy as the Lord.” St. Mary the Virgin echoes her, when in her song she says: “Holy is his name.” This would be a very sad thought for sinners, whose thoughts, and words, and actions, are so unholy, were it not that our Lord Jesus Christ has atoned for our sins by His death, and has also in our nature led a perfectly holy life; and that, if we join ourselves to Him by faith, God looks at us through Him, and accepts us for His sake.
2. Next Hannah speaks of the power of God. “Neither is there any rock,” says she, “like our God.” So St, Mary in her song calls God, “He that is mighty;” and says, “He hath showed strength with his arm.” So the people of God may securely trust in Him because of His great power. And now observe what particular exercise of God’s power both Hannah and St. Mary celebrated. It is this, that when men grow proud and ambitious, He immediately, to however great a height of power they may have reached, strikes them down. God’s favourite way of displaying His power in the kingdom of Providence is to cast down the proud and lift up the humble.
3. The third attribute of God which Hannah speaks of is His wisdom. “The Lord,” she says, “is a God of knowledge,” and she gives this proof of it, that “by him actions are weighed.” His knowledge reaches to the depths of the character; He is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” He does not take an action for a good one, because it looks good outside. It is interesting to observe that St. Mary in her song does not make any explicit mention of God’s wisdom or knowledge, though she does mention twice over another attribute, of which Hannah makes no explicit mention. This is the fairest and most smiling of all God’s attributes--His mercy, that is to say, His goodness to the undeserving and ill-deserving. Hannah’s song was delivered unto the Law, while God’s people were yet under that sterner and more severe dispensation, which designedly made them more acquainted with His holiness, and power, and wisdom, than with His love. But St Mary’s song, ushering in as it did the birth of Christ, could not possibly be without an allusion to the tender mercy of our God,--the mercy which led Him to give His Son out of His bosom for the salvation of the lost. (Dean Goulburn.)
1 Samuel 2:3-4
Talk no more exceeding proudly.
The different forms of pride
1. The pride of conquest. “The bows of the mighty men are broken.”
2. The pride of abundance. There may be pride in any and every condition of life. Children, as well as grown people, may be very proud; and God hates pride in the young as much as in the old. Some children,--nay, and some grown people, too, are proud of fine clothes, and like to strut about while the gloss is new on their wearing apparel. Others are proud of being clever; whereas they should regard their talents as a trust given them by God, of which they will have to render an account. Others are vain of their beauty; and then perhaps their beauty is taken away by some loathsome complaint, or worse still, it becomes a snare to them, as Absalom’s fine long hair was the means of bringing him to his end. (Dean Goulburn.)
The Lord is a Lord of Knowledge.
The knowledge of God
Knowledge considers things absolutely, and in themselves: wisdom considers the respects and relations of things one to another, and under the notion of means and ends. The knowledge of God, is a perfect comprehension of the nature of all things, with all their powers and qualities, and circumstances: the wisdom of God, is a perfect comprehension of the respects and relations of things one to another; of their harmony and opposition; of their fitness and unfitness to such and such ends.
I. For the proof of it, I shall attempt it two ways.
1. From the dictates of natural light and reason. Unless natural reason assures us, that God is endowed with knowledge and understanding, it is in vain to inquire after Divine revelation. For to make any revelation credible, two things are requisite on the part of the revealer, ability and integrity. The Divine perfections are not to be proved by way of demonstration, but by way of conviction, by showing the absurdities of the contrary.
(1) It is a perfection, and therefore belongs to God.
(2) Knowledge is to be found in some of the creatures, and therefore is much more in God the Creator, because it is derived from Him. “Understand, ye brutish among the people; and ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall He not hear? He the formed the eye, shall He not see?”
(3) The denial of this perfection to God, argues many other imperfections in the Divine nature. Nothing would more eclipse the Divine nature, than to take away this perfection from it; this would bring an universal obscurity upon God’s other perfections; this would be to put out the light of heaven, and to turn the brightness of the morning into the shadow of death. If we remove this perfection from God, we deny His wisdom. And we weaken His power. What an impotent and ineffectual thing would power be without knowledge! What irregular things would it produce! And, consequently, we take away His providence; for without knowledge, there can be no counsel, no provision for the future, no government of the world. And that is not all; for without knowledge there could be no such thing as goodness, for He is not good that does good out of ignorance, or from a blind necessity. There could be no veracity, nor justice, nor mercy in God; for all these suppose knowledge.
2. From Scripture, and Divine revelation. I will only instance in two or three: (Job 36:4) “He that is perfect in knowledge, is with thee.” (Job 37:16) “Dost thou know the wondrous works of Him who is perfect in knowledge?”
(1) That God takes notice of all our actions. The Scripture frequently mentions this: (Psalms 129:1, etc. Proverbs 5:21) “The ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He pondereth all his goings.” (Jeremiah 32:19) “Thine eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men, to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”
(2) He is a curious observer, one that takes exact notice of all that we do.
(3) He taketh notice of those actions which are most secret and hidden, the good as well as bad.
3.God knows the hearts and thoughts of men; which implies these two things: God perfectly knows the hearts of men (Jeremiah 17:10). (1 Kings 8:39) “For Thou, even Thou, knowest the hearts of all the children of men.” (1 Chronicles 27:9). “He knoweth the secrets of the hearts” (Proverbs 15:11).
(1) The reason of every man’s mind tells him, that the supreme Being whom we call God, is endowed with all perfection, and among His other perfections, that He excels in knowledge.
(2) The natural fears of men are likewise a secret acknowledgment of this.
2. That to have a perfect and thorough knowledge of men’s hearts, is the peculiar prerogative of God.
3. God’s knowledge of future events. This God proposes as the way to discern the true God from idols (Isaiah 41:21, etc.)
(1) That God knows future events.
(2) That He only knows them.
Objection the first: The impossibility of the thing. The certainty of all knowledge depends upon the certainty of the object; therefore there cannot be a certain and determinate knowledge of any thing, but what is certainly and determinately true; but future events, which may or may not be, have no certain and determinate truth; that is, it is not certain either that they will or will not be, because they have no certain cause; therefore there can be no infallible knowledge concerning them.
1. I might say, with a very fair probability, that the certainty of knowledge doth not depend upon the uncertainty of the cause, but of the object, which may be certain, though the cause be contingent.
2. Though we could not explain the possibility of God’s knowing future contingencies, much less the manner how; yet we are sufficiently assured that God doth know them.
3. It is very unreasonable to expect we should know all the ways which infinite knowledge hath of knowing things. We have but finite faculties and measures, which bear no proportion to infinite powers and objects.
Secondly, It is objected, that if we can admit such a knowledge in God as seems contradictions and impossible to our reason, why may we not allow and frame such notions of His goodness and justice. To this I answer, There is a great difference between those perfections of God which are imitable, and those which are mot. Knowledge of future events is a perfection wherein we are not bound to be like God; and if we are assured of the thing, that He doth know them, it is not necessary that we should know the manner of it, and disentangle it from contradiction and impossibility: but it is otherwise in God’s goodness and justice, which are imitable; he that imitates, endeavours to be like something that he knows, and we must have a clear idea and notion of that which we would bring ourselves to the likeness of; these perfections of God we are capable of knowing, and therefore the knowledge of these perfections is chiefly recommended to us in Scripture (Jeremiah 9:24). The third objection is made up of several inconveniences that would follow from God’s knowledge of future events.
1. It would prejudice the liberty of the creature. Answer.--God’s foreknowledge lays no necessity upon the event; in every event, we may consider the effect in itself, or with relation to the cause, and the manner how it comes to pass; considered in itself, it is future--with relation to its causes, it is contingent. God sees it as both.
2. If God infallibly foreknows what men will do, how can He be serious in His exhortations to repentance, in His expectation of it, and His grieving for the impenitency of men? Answer.--All these are founded in the liberty of our actions. God exhorts to repentance, and expects it, because by His grace we may do it: He is said to grieve for our impenitency, because we may do otherwise, and will not. Exhortations are not in vain themselves, but very proper to their end. Having answered the objections against God’s foreknowing future events, I proceed to show that God only knows future events (Isaiah 44:6-7). I have now done with the first general head I proposed to be spoken to from these words; viz., To prove that this attribute of knowledge belongs to God. I proceed to the
II. To consider the perfection and prerogative of the Divine knowledge; which I shall speak to in these following particulars:
1. God’s knowledge is present and actual, His eye is always open, and every thing is in the view of it. The knowledge of the creature is more power than act.
2. God’s knowledge is an intimate and thorough knowledge, whereby He knows the very nature and essence of things. The knowledge which we have of things is but in part, but outward and superficial.
3. God’s knowledge is clear and distinct. Our understandings in the knowledge of things are liable to great confusion; we are often deceived with the near likeness and resemblance of things, and mistake one thing for another.
4. God’s knowledge is certain and infallible. We are object to doubt and error in our understanding of things.
5. The knowledge of God is easy, and without difficulty. We must dig deep for knowledge, take a great deal of pains to know a little.
6. The knowledge of God is universal, and extends to all objects. We know but a few things; our ignorance is greater than our knowledge.
III. I come now to draw some inferences from the several parts of this discourse.
1. From the perfection of God’s knowledge.
(1) The perfection of the Divine knowledge calls for our veneration.
(2) We may hence learn humility, and that on this double account--as we have all our knowledge from Him: “What have we that we have not received?”
(3) This is a matter of comfort and encouragement; He knows our wants and our weaknesses.
2. From God’s knowing our secret actions, I infer,
(1) If God sees our most secret actions, this discovers and confutes the secret atheism of many. He that commits the most secret sin, denies the omniscience of God.
(2) Live as those that believe this: be continually under the power of this apprehension, that God takes a particular and exact notice of all thy actions.
3. God’s knowledge of the heart teaches us,
(1) The folly of hypocrisy: how vain is it to make a show of that outwardly, which inwardly, and in our hearts, we are not; to put on a mask of religion, and paint ourselves beautifully without.
(2) If God know your hearts, then endeavour to approve your hearts to Him; charge yourselves with inward purity and holiness.
(3) This is matter of encouragement to us in many cases: in our secret troubles (Psalms 142:3).
(4) This renders all the deep and profound policies of wicked men a vain thing: “The Lord knows the thoughts of men, that they are vanity” (Psalms 94:11): because He knows them, and can defeat them.
(5) If God only knows the hearts of men, then “what art thou, O man, that judgest another’s heart?”
4. From God’s knowledge of future events, we may learn,
(1) The vanity of astrology, and all other arts that pretend to foretell future events, things that depend on the will of free agents.
(2) Refer future things to God, who only knows them; trust Him with all events; “cast your care upon Him.” (J. Tillotson, D. D.)
By Him actions are weighed.--
Actions weighed by God
In all God’s dealings with us there is one thing of which we may be perfectly sure,--they will be done deliberately; delicately, by measurement, with accuracy, in proportion. We are quite safe there from all hastiness and inconsideration--those two banes of human judgment. Job’s prayer is always answered, “Let me be weighed in the balance.” Alike the greatest and the leash--from those giants of nature, the everlasting hills, down to the dust of the earth, and to the smallest thought which ever flashed through a man’s mind--all are weighed.
I. Let us be sure that we give actions their proper place in the plan of our salvation. Actions never save a man. Actions have, strictly speaking, nothing to do with our salvation. But actions occupy four parts in the great scheme of our redemption.
1. They are the tests of life--“He that abideth in Me, the same bringeth forth much fruit.”
2. They are the language of love--“If ye love Me, keep My commandments.”
3. They glorify God before men--“Let your light so shine before men that they, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father which is in Heaven.”
4. And although they are not the meritorious causes of our final rewards, yet they determine the degrees and proportions of our final state--“He will reward every man according as his work shall be”
II. It would be the greatest presumption on our part to say how God weighs our actions. It is sufficient to know that He does weigh them. That hand cannot err But we may carry out God’s own metaphor a little way and conceive it thus:
1. On the one hand is the action; on the other, what that action might have been, and ought to have been, and, but for our sin, would have been.
2. On the one side the action we did; on the other, the action we meant to do, and promised to do.
3. On the one side, what we have received; on the other, what we have rendered.
III. When God holds the scales of his children’s actions, He puts in something of His own over and above, and when He puts that in, the beam that had preponderated against us, turns the other way, and “mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” We should be careful not to usurp an office which only Omniscience can rightly exercise.
IV. We must all feel that when we are weighed in these Holy scales the verdict can only be, “Tekel; thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting.” But the Lord Jesus Christ died upon the cross. That death is on the one side, and the whole world’s guilt is on the other. God is “weighing them”--the blood of Christ and the sins of all mankind. God has balanced you and your substitute, and God is satisfied for His sake forever and ever (J. Vaughan.)
The King’s weighings
It is very beautiful to see how the saints of old time were accustomed to find comfort in their God. Thus Hannah thinks of the Lord, and comforts herself in His name. Like others of God’s instructed people, Hannah was very happy in the thought of God’s holiness. Hannah also turned her heart to celebrate the power of Jehovah. Hannah touched, in her rapturous hymn, upon the wisdom of the Lord. Hannah also derived comfort from the fact that God is strictly just.
I. The staple of our discourse will consist of a consideration of the process of Divine judgment, which is continually going on: “The Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed.” The figure of weighing suggests a thorough testing, and an accurate estimating of the matters under consideration.
1. Our first note here shall stand thus,--this is not as man dreams. Consider, next, that this form of procedure is not as man judges. By men actions are judged flippantly, but “by God actions are weighed.” Men are exceedingly apt to measure actions by their consequences. How wrong it is to measure actions by results, rather than by their own intrinsic character! A man upon the railway neglected to turn a switch, but by the care of another no accident occurred. Is he to be excused? Another man was equally negligent, certainly not more so; but in his case the natural result followed--there was a collision, and many lives were lost. The last man was blamed most deservedly, but yet the former offender was equally guilty. If we do wrong and no harm comes of it, we are not thereby justified. Yea, if we did evil and good came of it, the evil would be just as evil. It is not the result of the action but the action itself which God weighs. He who swindles and prospers is just as vile as he whose theft lodged him in prison. He who acts uprightly, and becomes a loser thereby, is just as honoured before God as if his honesty had led on to wealth. If we seek to do good and fail in our endeavour, we shall be accepted for the attempt, and not condemned for the failure. If a man gives his life to convert the heathen, and he does not succeed, he shall have as much reward of God as he who turns a nation to the faith. I would now have you note that this weighing is a very searching business. “By him actions are weighed.” A man enters a goldsmith’s shop and says, “Here is old gold to sell. See, I have quite a lot of it.” “Yes,” says the goldsmith, “Let me weigh it.” “Weigh it? Why, look at the quantity; it fills this basket.” What is the goldsmith doing? Looking for his weights and certain acids by which he means to test the metal. When he has used his acids, he puts the trinkets into the scale. “You are not going to buy by weight?” “I never buy in any other way,” says the goldsmith. “But there is such a quantity.” “That may be, but I buy by weight.” It is always so with God in all our actions: he estimates their real weight. We may hammer out our little gold, and make a great show of it, but the Lord is not mocked or deceived. Every dealing between us and God will have to be by a just balance and standard weight. And in what way will He weigh it? The weights are somewhat of this sort. The standard is His just and holy law, and all which falls short of that is sin. Any want of conformity to the law of God is sin, and by so much our acts are found wanting. Remember this, ye who would justify yourselves. The Lord also enquires how much of sincerity is found in the action. The Lord also weighs actions according to their motives. Another mode of judging is by our spirit and temper. Sometimes actions may be weighed by the circumstances which surround them. Multitudes of men are honest because they never had a chance of making a grand haul by setting up a bubble company--which is the modern mode of thieving. The lieu in the Zoological Gardens is very good because he is behind iron bars, and many a man’s goodness owes more to the iron bars of his position than to his own heart and motive. Another weight to put in the scale is this,--Was there any godliness about your life? Once more--have we lived by faith? for without faith it is impossible to please God; and if there be no faith in our life then are we nothing worth.
4. This weighing of our lives must be exceedingly accurate because it is done personally by God himself. I once heard a story (I do not know if it is true) of an old banker who said to his son to whom he bequeathed the business, “This is the key of our large iron safe: take great care of it. The bank depends upon that safe; let the people see you have such a safe, but never open it unless the bank should be in the utmost difficulty.” The bank went on all right as long as the iron safe was fast closed, but, at last there came a run upon it, and in his greatest extremity the young gentleman opened it, and he found in it--nothing at all. That was the stock of the bank: poverty carefully concealed, imaginary wealth winning confidence, and living on the results. Are there not many persons who all their lives long are doing a spiritual banking business, and deriving a considerable income of repute from that which will turn out to be mere nothing? Beware of driving a trade for eternity upon fictitious capital, for failure will be the sure result.
5. Again, I want you to notice that this weighing is carried on at this present time--“By Him actions are weighed.” As at the Bank all moneys are put through a process by which the light coins are detected, so evermore our life passes over the great weighing machine of the Lord’s justice, and He separates that which is short in weight from that which is precious, doing this at the moment as infallibly as at the judgment day. “By Him actions are weighed.” This is true of all of us--not of open sinners only, but of those who are considered saints.
6. And one day, to conclude this point, the King’s weighing will be published--set up where men and angels shall read them
II. The humbling nature of this consideration. “Talk no more so exceedingly proudly; let not arrogance come out of your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed.” The fact of Divine judgment on ourselves should forever prevent our insulting over others. Next, I think we must give up all idea of speaking proudly in the presence of God. If ever you have had the weighing process carried on in your own heart I know you have given up all hope of being saved by your own merit or strength if conscience has been awakened, and if the law has fulfilled its office upon you, you have given up all idea of appearing before God in your own righteousness.
III. The position in which all this leaves us. If God weighs our actions and we are thereby found wanting, and can only cry, “Guilty” in his sight, what then? Then we are in God’s hands. That is where I wish every one of my hearers to feel himself to be. But who is the Lord?
1. First, according to Hannah, He is a God of salvation.
2. Next, according to Hannah’s song, tie is the God who delights in reversing the order of things. He throws down those who are on high, and sets up those that are down.
3. Once more, this God is one who delights to carry on strange processes in the hearts of His people. “The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Divine knowledge of human action.
God’s knowledge extends to--
I. The material universe. There is nothing in any part of this universe which comes not beneath His glance. Our imagination fails us as we try to think what is included in the knowledge of God in the wide sphere of the physical creation.
II. All finite intelligences. We should conclude from the exercise of our reason, and Scripture fully confirms the belief (Colossians 1:16), that beside and above our own, are many grades of spiritual intelligences peopling the vast spaces of the heavens. The all-embracing wisdom of God must include a perfect knowledge of these--of their nature, of their capacities, of their habits, of their life. But let us rather pursue that which practically concerns us, our Father’s knowledge of His human children. God knew from the beginning--
1. The possibilities of our nature; how high we could rise and how far we might sink, how much we could enjoy and how much we could endure.
2. The course of human history. He saw what use and what misuse of his great opportunity man would make, how he would be overcome in the day of trial, and what long and dark course of sin and suffering he would pursue.
3. Our capacity to rise.
III. The worth and the unworthiness of human life and action. By the God of knowledge “actions are weighed.”
1. What is included in human action? We must not take a restricted view of those “actions” which are weighed by the Judge of all. They include--
(1) All visible movement, all overt deeds; the things which our hands execute, the paths which our feet tread, the activities of the busy world, the discharge of household duties, our indulgences, our studies, our devotions. But they include very much more than this; they embrace
(2) all utterance, both premeditated and casual. The distinction between words and deeds is only true in part. It is often the case that speaking is the finest and noblest action.
(3) All thoughts, feelings, and determination are the actions of the soul. The spirit of man is constantly at work when no sound is heard and no deed is witnessed. We may go so far as to say that human action includes
(4) our fixed attitude of soul--especially that which we deliberately take toward the Father and the Saviour of our spirit.
2. Weights in the Divine balance. By what does God determine the worth or the guilt of an action?
(1) By the purity or impurity of our motive (Matthew 6:1; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:16; Matthew 23:15; 1 Corinthians 13:1).
(2) By the measure of difficulty to be mastered. God “knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” He requires of us “according to that we have, and not according to that we have not.”
(3) By the presence or absence of privilege. Far more was expected from those who had “the law” than from those who had it not (Matthew 5:46-47; Romans 2:12). (W. Clarkson, B. A.)
The even balance
“Great is our Lord, and of great power: His understanding is infinite.” He who “hath weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance weigheth the spirit:” and by Him actions are weighed. Looking forward, faithful Abraham said: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
I. The truth itself. “By him actions are weighed:”--
1. Unerringly. “The Lord is a God of knowledge;” and all of us may say with the Psalmist, “Thou understandest my thoughts afar off: Thou are acquainted with all my ways.” “We are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth.”
2. In connection with and having regard to their antecedents. When the Israelites provoked the Lord at the Sea--“even at the Red Sea”--their sinfulness was aggravated by their want of remembrance of “the multitude of His mercies.” On the other hand, the moral value of worthy actions is enhanced by relation to unfavourable antecedents. To the Canaanitish woman Jesus said: “O woman, great is thy faith.”
3. In connection with the degree of knowledge at the time possessed. That Abraham obeyed and went out, “not knowing whither he went,” and that “he offered up Isaac,” quite in the dark as to the Divine design. On the other hand, the sin of Saul of Tarsus, when he was “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious,” great as it was, was far below what it would have been had he then believed that Jesus was the Christ.
4. In connection with and having regard to the circumstances under which they are performed.
5. In connection with and having regard to the motive from which they spring. When Hezekiah displayed “all that was found in his treasures” it was the character of his motives, so peculiarly unbecoming amid such great and tender mercies from the Lord, that had specially to do with his subsequent humiliation under the providence of Him who “weigheth the spirits” (Proverbs 16:2). “It was the loving motive of Mary, who took very costly and precious ointment” and anointed the feet of Jesus, that led to the signal honour conferred by our Lord.
1. In view of the great truth, that “by Him actions are weighed,” how forcible trod full of suggestiveness the words: “Many that are first shall be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31).
2. How differently should different minds be affected by the truth now under consideration. “I know thy works and where thou dwellest, oven where Satan’s seat is; and thou holdest fast My name.”
3. What gratitude should be enkindled by the assurance that the Lord, by whom actions are weighed, “delighteth in mercy.” “A false balance is not good”: and “they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 3:2). It is well to feel with Job--“Let me be weighed in an even balance.” (J. Elliot.)
The true valuation of men’s actions
The man of science has electrometers, spectroscopes, gossamer gauges, fairy balances, magic tests; he can do the most wonderful things in the way of analysing physical bodies, in measuring subtle natural forces. But all this delicacy of criticism is mere barbarism compared with the criticism of God. “The Lord weigheth the spirits.” He puts thoughts, tastes, emotions into the scales; with severer tests than we dream, the hidden qualities and principles of every heart are made manifest in his sight. It is reported that an American physician, Dr. Upham, of Salem, Massachusetts, recently demonstrated to an audience to whom he was lecturing the variations of the pulse in certain diseases by causing the lecture room to be placed in telegraphic communication with the City Hospital at Boston, fifteen miles distant; and then, by means of a special apparatus and a vibrating ray of magnesian light, the pulse beats were exhibited upon the wall. There is not a throb of our heart but it makes its sign on the great white throne. “He knoweth our thoughts afar off.” “Thou hast set our sins before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance.” And what stands thus revealed is bound to meet with just retribution. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Actions revealed in their true light
Men forget their sinfulness in their prosperity. If the soldier wins the battle he concludes that his cause was right; if the politician wins his election he concludes that his policy is right; if the merchant accumulates a fortune he considers that heaven has endorsed his principles, whatever they may be. And yet this line of argument may be, and often is, utterly false. A man may be a conqueror, and yet his glory be his shame; he may attain honour, and his scarlet robe be the firing sign of his scarlet sins; he may grow rich, and every coin in his coffers witness against him; he may possess every means of happiness, and yet have forfeited all right to happiness itself. “His honour rooted in dishonour still.” Many a man has a certain sense of self-respect who ought to have none, for his self-respect is based on his wealth and position, not on his personal merit; on his clothes, not on his character. So by various methods men disguise their sins from themselves and from others; villains before heaven, they are gentlemen, moralists, salts before their fellows. In Venice, Quinet was shown a helmet of studied beauty, constructed to crush the heads of the accused. “Thus,” the philosopher remarks, “Venice was artistic even in her tortures.” How many men are artistic in their sins. Cleverly disguised as sin may be, it will inevitably suffer detection. (W. L. Watkinson.)
1 Samuel 2:6
The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.
Killed, then made alive
We must be emptied of self before we can be filled with grace; we must be stripped of our rags before we can be clothed with righteousness; we must be unclothed that we may be clothed; wounded, that we may be healed; killed, that we may be made alive; buried in disgrace, that we may rise in holy glory. These words, “Sown in corruption, that we may be raised in incorruption; sown in dishonour, that we may be raised in glory; sown in weakness, that we may be raised in power,” are as true of the soul as of the body. To borrow an illustration from the surgeon’s art: the bone that is set wrong must be broken again, in order that it may be set aright. I press this truth on your attention. It is certain that a soul filled with self has no room for God; and like the inn at Bethlehem, crowded with meaner guests, a heart preoccupied by pride and her godless train, has no chamber within which Christ may be born in us “the hope of glory.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
From death to life
This sentence has its own plain and natural meaning, which lies upon its surface like dust of gold; it has, moreover, a spiritual meaning, which needs to be digged for like silver in the mine.
I. In reference to its first and most manifest meaning, “The Lord bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.” Here the agency of God, in life and death, is clearly revealed to us. How well it is to discern the Lord’s hand in everything. We ascribe events to second causes, to the laws of nature and I know not what. I think it were better far, if we could go back to the good old way of talking and speaking of the Lord as being in everything. While we donor deny the laws of nature, nor decry the discoveries of science, we will suffer none of these to be hung up as a veil before our present God.
1. First of all, it should awaken gratitude. What a mercy it is that we are here this evening!
2. While it causes gratitude, it should compel consideration. “The Lord bringeth down to the grave,” and it is his rule never to do anything without a purpose. “He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men for nought.” There is always a “needs be.”
3. The Lord’s bringing us law and raising us up again, should cause great searching of heart. Suppose I had died when last I was sick: was I then prepared to die?
4. To those of us who are believers in Christ, restoration from sickness, and the privilege of again coming up to God’s house after an absence from it thorough illness, should suggest renewed activity. Haste thee! for behind thee are the flying wheels of the chariot of death, and the ashes thereof are growing red hot with speed. Fly, man, if thou wouldst accomplish thy life work, for thou hast not a moment to sparer Be watchful, brethren, for tits Lord bringeth down to the grave, and from that grave he bringeth us not up again to work, though he will bring us up to the reward and to the rest which remain foe the people of God.
II. Our text seems to indicate a state of heart through which those pass who are brought to God. I shall speak new experimentally, for if there breathes one soul on earth that can speak experimentally here, I am that man.
1. The sinner is led, first of all, to hear his own sentence pronounced.
2. Further than this: the convinced sinner is often made to feel, not only the sentence and the justice of it, but the very horror of death itself. You may have read in the narrative of the old American war, of the execution of deserters. They were brought out one bright morning, while yet the dew was on the grass, and were bidden to kneel down each man upon his coffin, and then a file of soldiers stepped forth; the word was given, and each man fell upon his coffin in which he was to be buried. Such things as the punishment of deserters are common in every war, but what must he the horror of the man who stands there, knowing that the bullet is waiting to reach his heart? In the old wars, they used to have a black heart sewn on the man’s breast, and all the soldiers were to take aim and fire at that. Why, the man must suffer a thousand deaths white he stood waiting for the word of command. I have stood there, spiritually; and there are hundreds here who have thus faced their eternal doom.
3. Then there is a yet further death which the convinced sinner is made to feel, and that is the death of inability. He feels himself brought into a perfect state of death, as if a stupor had gone through every nerve, and frozen every muscle rigidly in its place, so that even the lifting of his little finger to help himself appears to be beyond his power. The climax of your disease is just the dawn of my hopes; your direst poverty is the time when I expect to see you enriched, for when you are completely emptied and have nothing, then Jesus Christ win be your strength and your salvation.
4. No doubt, the man now sees death written upon all his hopes. There was a door through which I had hoped to enter eternal life. I had spent much time in painting it, and making it comely to look upon. It seemed to me to have a golden knocker, a marble threshold, and posts and lintels of mahogany, and I thought it was the door of life for me. But now what do I see? I see a great black cross adown it, and over it there is written, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” This door is the door to heaven by my own good works, which I thought full sure would always be open to me; but lo, I see that all my best works are bad, and “Lord, have mercy upon us,” is the highest thing my works can produce for me. The death of legal hope is the salvation of the soul. I like to see legal hope swung up like a traitor. There let him hang to rot before the sun, more cursed than any other that was ever hanged on a tree. No more, then, concerning this death--“The Lord bringeth down.” But now a word or two of comfort for any of you who are brought down to this spiritual grave. There are many precious promises for such. “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” “Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.” Remember the experience of Jonah. Let the hope of Jeremiah be your consolation: “But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude o(his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.” And now notice that where God has thus killed and brought down, we may rest assured He will certainly bring up again. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Samuel 2:7
The Lord maketh poor.
The rich and the poor
Everything created is taught by God a lesson of dependence; the earth upon which we tread is subject to continual wants; the sea requires replenishing from its tributary streams. Man is a volume of wants, as is recorded in every page of his history.
I. Let us consider the real wants of the poor and of the rich. For the most cogent reasons, the truths of the Gospel are of unspeakable advantage to the poor man; his mind is as a great field wanting cultivation. The rich man has a certain advantage on this point; by education and literary opportunities, as well as by’ intercourse with men of information and well-regulated minds, he has the void supplied, and is generally preserved from the ready and fearful consequences to which the ignorant are a prey. But the rich man has this fearful counterpoise upon him:--The more his hand is filled, the more he is likely to forget the Giver of all gifts. The promoters of Socinian, Deistical, end even of Atheistical doctrines, are ever found among the merely intellectual and educated, rather than among the poor. The rich man too often is encircled by a glittering fence refusing entrance to all that have not the key to his heart, or who are not auxiliary to his enjoyments. The rich man does, indeed, want the Gospel: he needs a restraint upon his enjoyments. But if the rich man is thus a pauper in many things, how great a pauper is the poor man! Speaking in a sense, the poor man’s mind requires to be occupied with subjects of thought; reasonings connected with morality must be encouraged there, or else, under temptations from lust, he will forget to reason like Joseph (Genesis 39:9). When once he has found it easier to gain a shilling by fraud or mendicancy, than by industry and toil, farewell, a long farewell, to honest and painstaking exertion! The poor man needs to feel his true position; the general opinion with regard to the relative condition of the poor man is, in many respects, wrong. The poor man generally feels as if he were hardly dealt with, especially if he cannot trace his privations to any indiscretion of his own. He feels as if the rich man only was happy. He feels as if his condition were altogether disreputable--that he may be utterly and legitimately selfish, and that there is no sympathy demandable save from rich and poor. Assuredly, whatever would correct such mistakes, would teach man his true position--giving him independence amid poverty, peace under privation, and contentment under adversity--such is true philosophy, worthy of being purchased at any price: Man, in poverty and neglect, wants resources. The uncultivated mind is often restless, and the tendency of the heart is, to explore the mysteries of sensual gratification, which, once tasted, are often resistless evermore. He flies to low excitements. Were a mind taught to seek luxury within itself, to be happy from some self-possessed and ever-flowing fountain, what a blessing would be conferred! Resources of a merely intellectual kind fall short of the mark. Higher and holier teachings must be introduced.
II. The adaptation of the Gospel to the poor. The greatest mistake, as concerns this life, into which any man may fall, is that of not knowing or of overlooking his true and indispensable friends. How true is this of the “poor man and the Gospel!” for, strange to say, there is no want which the Gospel will not either supply, mitigate, or convert into a blessing. A change of a most remarkable kind, and one which requires no little delicacy of delineation, is that which the reception of Gospel knowledge bestows upon the poor man, in unfolding to him the actual position in which he stands with regard to the rich man. He is not his superior, nor his equal, and yet there is a sense in which he is not his inferior. He sees the rich man occupying his proper station before God and man: he sees him in rank or office, and envies him not; he blesses God for every link in the chain, from the monarch on the throne to the beggar at the crossroad. He is not so curious to know in what exact part of the chain he, as a link, may be assigned a place: he knows it is a subordinate place, but he also trusts it is a useful one, and he knows that in the eye of his heavenly Father it is not an obscure or despised one. Vast and varied are the resources which are opened out to the poor in his “searching of the Scriptures.”
III. Lastly, let us consider the poor man’s peculiar blessings. He that must go daily to the fountain, cannot forget that such a fountain exists; and if it be a fountain of purity and pleasantness, it becomes all the dearer, as life extends. And he whose wants send him hourly to the Giver of living waters, is less likely to forget his benefactor. It is not matter of surprise, if the poor be called “rich in faith,” seeing that they must live by faith. It is to him a blessing to be thus main-rained in a spirit of continual liveliness and dependency. The bruised reed is ever a tender one, end the object of heavenly regard end compassion; so he is not left for a moment to himself. If the poor man is often tried and tempted, yet, his temptations are all of a character of urgency, to drive him to God; whereas, his neighbour, possessed of wealth, is often assailed by temptations, where influence is powerful, to lead him farther and farther from God. Amidst all these things, the heart is wound around the Gospel. Take this away, and whet is life? (Thomas Drew.)
1 Samuel 2:8
He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill; to set them among princes.
The poor raised out of the dust
I. By these “poor” some understand those who are literally beggars. One cannot doubt but that Hannah’s heart did bear on the remembrance of her own comparatively obscure condition; I cannot doubt for a moment, that she had in her mind the consciousness that this Samuel was to be a judge, and a prophet in Israel; I do not for one moment doubt, that she remembered Gideon taken from his threshing floor by the wine press to be a judge in Israel. It is not generally true that God “takes the poor out of the dust, end lifts the beggar from the dunghill.” The instances are rare in which He “sets them among princes, and makes them inherit thrones of glory.” And I think the next verse takes us something above the mere letter; “He shall keep the feet of His saints” Some understand by it the Church of God in its low and lost condition; as fallen children of a fallen father. No doubt there is great glory in that interpretation. A sinner is poor man; be is indeed one of the needy, in his poverty. A debtor? owing ten thousand talents. But there is an expression that will not allow me to think this to be the mind of God in this passage. He is spoken of, not only as poor, but as a “beggar.” It is one thing for a man to be in “the dust,” and on “the dunghill;” but it is another thing to know and feel it, and to cry to the Lord on account of it. A sense of beggary is wrought in the soul by the Holy Ghost only. This is the life appointed of God for His saints on earth; it is their vocation. A very painful life it is. The more a man begs, the more he has; the more he has, the more he wants; the more he wants, the more he receives; and the more he receives, the more he begs. But one may say, it is also a happy life. Oh! the relief of a throne of grape! Great is the blessing connected with it.
II. But observe now what is said of the Lord concerning His treatment of these “poor,” these “beggars.” Now before we consider what the Lord does, consider for a moment what the Lord is. He is described here as “high above all nations, and His glory above the heavens.” I believe God is Love; yet when one looks into the infinite, the eternal God centering His love in one’s self, one so mean, so worthless, so below all His consideration, who that looks into it does not see there are lengths and depths and breadths and heights, that seem at once above the mind? In the consideration of all that God does, I would never desire to forget what God is. All that God does springs from what God is. His doings are great; but His nature is greater. The Lord looked on His poor suffering Israel in their Egypt state, and heard their cry; their miseries went up before Him and He remembered them. There is infinite pity, too, in it; for “He raises up” this poor man; we find, He raises him up. The Lord always goes beyond your desires; He never falls short of them But I see, not only infinite pity, but marvellous grace in it. When He takes these beggars, where doth He seat them? Is it amongst delivered beggars? He sets them in the midst of “princes,” and causes them “to inherit a throne of glory.” (J. H. Evans.)
The riches of humility
The rain runs off the mountains into the valleys and low-lying meadows. Elevated regions, therefore, do not profit by it so much as the lowlands. The natural fact suggests a spiritual truth. “God’s sweet dews and showers of grace,” says Leighton, “slide off the mountains of pride and fall on the low valleys of humble hearts, and make them pleasant and fertile.” This accounts for the fact that you occasionally see persons of high intellect and much culture destitute of the peace and contentment possessed by those of meaner attainments; lacking, too, in richness of moral nature, and usefulness of life. (W. Welters.)
Humility a source of honour
In the evening of the day that Sir Eardley Wilmot kissed the hand of his Sovereign, on being appointed Chief Justice, one of his sons, a youth, attended him to his bedside. “Now,” said the father, “I will tell you, my son, a secret worth your knowing and remembering. The elevation I have met with in life, particularly this lash instance of it, has not been owing to any superior merit or abilities, but to my humility, to my not having set up myself above others, and to a uniform endeavour to pass through life void of offence towards God and man.”
Elevation of the lowly
Edward Smith, in his most interesting book, “Three Years in Central London,” tells of a poor working man coming into the church exclaiming, “Before the Mission started I was a nobody here; but now I am a somebody.” Yes, it is the mission of Christianity to make the lowliest man feel his personal dignity and his great importance as one of the workers of the world. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Poor rising to distinction
So also it pleases God to give conspicuous proofs from time to time that qualities that in poor men are often associated with a hard-working, humble career are well-pleasing in His sight. For what qualities on the part of the poor are so valuable, in a social point of view, industry, self-denying diligence, systematic, unwearying devotion even to work which brings them scanty remuneration? By far the greater part of such men and women are called to work on, unnoticed and rewarded, and when their day is over to sink in an undistinguished grave. But from time to time some such persons rise to distinction. The class to which they belong is ennobled by their achievements. When God wished in the sixteenth century to achieve the great object of punishing the Church which had fallen into such miserable inefficiency and immorality, and wrenching half of Europe from its grasp, he found his principal agent in a poor miner’s cottage in Saxony. When he desired to summon sleeping Church to the great work of evangelising India, She man he called to She front was Carey, a poor cobbler of Northampton. When it was his purpose to present His Church with an unrivalled picture of the Christian pilgrimage, its dangers and trials, its joys, its sorrows, and its triumphs, the artist appointed to the task was John Bunyan, the tinker of Elstow. When the object was to provide a man that would open the great continent of Africa to civilisation and Christianity, and who needed, in order to do this, to face dangers and trials before which all ordinary men had shrunk, he found his agent in a poor spinner boy, who was working twelve hours a day in a cotton mill on She banks of the Clyde. In all such matters, in humbling the rich and exalting the poor, God’s object is not to punish the one because they are rich, or to exalt the other because they are poor. In the one case it is to punish vices bred from an improper use of wealth, and in the other to reward virtues that have sprung from the soil of poverty. “Poor and pious parents,” wrote David Livingstone on the tombstone of his parents at Hamilton, when he wished to record the grounds of his thankfulness for the position in life which they held. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, He has set the world upon them.
The God of nature also the God of Providence and of grace
Verse 6 sets forth that God has absolute power over human life. He it is who makes pale with mortal disease the once ruddy cheek of health and beauty. He it is, again, who snatches a man from the jaws of death, when his recovery seems beyond all hope. The seventh verse and the first part of the eighth set forth God’s absolute power over human circumstances. He it is who gives a fortune to one, and reduces another to beggary. He who brought Joseph out of the dungeon and made him ride in the second chariot which King Pharaoh had. All these are instances of God’s power in Providence--in the management of human affairs. And now observe how Hannah passes on to speak of the power of God in Nature; “for,” she adds, “the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he hath set the world upon them.” The earth is spoken of as if it were a great temple or palace, held up by pillars like the house of Dagon--firm and settled, so long as those pillars remain unshaken, bus sure to fall into ruin the moment the pillars are thrown down. Now we may take Hannah’s expression in the same way, as a figurative one, meaning not that the earth does literally stand upon pillars, but that the mighty God, who created it, upholds it every instant by an act of His will, and that, if that act of will were for a moment withdrawn, it would drop at once into that nothingness, out of which it was drawn by creation. Hannah, then, according to this view of her meaning, adds to the instances she has given of God’s power in Providence this wondrous instance of His power in Nature. Science since Hannah’s time has taught us the way in which God does this--namely, by She law of gravitation, which, as the earth pursues its course in space, pulls it in every moment towards the sun; but assuredly the operation is not lees wonderful, because we happen to have found out the principle on which it is conducted. And now observe the force of the for in the words--“for the pillars” (the sustaining, preserving power) “of the earth are the Lord’s, and he hath set the world upon them.” No wonder, she means to say, that God does such great things, brings about such strange vicissitudes in the life and fortunes of feeble men. For only, see what tremendous irresistible forces He is always exerting in Nature. Now this gives rise to one or two edifying thoughts. The God of Providence, Hannah asserts, is the God of Nature also; and His ways in Nature, she implies, seem us to be more amazing and stupendous than His ways in Providence. I say seem to us to be--not that in reality they are so. Why do God’s works in Providence strike us with much less wonder than His works in Nature? I suppose because we are comparatively so familiar with His works of Providence; life and death, health and sickness, the rise in one man’s fortunes and the fall in another’s, are around us on all sides; and, being matter of every day’s experience, make slight impressions. Another reason is that we ourselves have some part in bringing about results in Providence; a man can bring himself to the gates of the grave by carelessness of his health, or may recover by the skill of the physician--may make a fortune by assiduous industry, or may lose one by neglect of his accounts and wasteful expenditure; but no man can arrest the sun in his course, or shake the earth to its foundations. The lesson is that we should try more and more to regard the God of Nature and of Providence as one, and to throw those notions of magnificence and power, which we derive from Nature, into other spheres of God’s action--into the sphere of God’s Providence and also of His Grace. Do I see design on every side of me in Nature, wise contrivance for the well-being of the creatures? Let me be assured that in human affairs also this same wise design is contriving and arranging all things, with a moral aim, for the exaltation of the humble, the humiliation of the proud, and the highest good to them that love God. (Dean Goulburn.)
1 Samuel 2:9
He will keep the feet of His saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail.
The security of the saints and the ruin of the wicked
I. The security of the saints of God.
1. The title, saints, although used by a profane world as a term of contempt, is of all names the most honourable. It literally signifies the Holy Ones. And must not that be indeed an honourable title which associates the servant of God with his Maker, “whose name is Holy?” with his Redeemer, “the Holy One of Israel?” and with “the Holy Ghost?”--not to mention those holy angels, who veil their faces before his throne.
2. The security of all such is here declared: “He will keep the feet of his saints.”
(1) It is a security from outward distress. Like the three children, they may enter the fiery furnace: but the Son of God will be with them in the fire.
(2) It is a security from spiritual evil, which forms their greatest privilege.
II. The certain rule of the wicked. They “shall be silent in darkness.”
1. The persona here intended are manifestly all such as do not come under the former description of “saints.”
2. Awful portion! “They shalt be silent!” Here on earth, the wicked have a great deal to say for themselves, but in the world to come all their present high language will be mute as death. Moreover, they shall be silent “in darkness.” And what is darkness? It is the absence of light--of comfort,--of hope--of all possibility of deliverance. (J. Jowett, M. A.)
Alpine guides often blindfold the traveller who seeks to ascend to those awful heights where dwell eternal frost and ice. When the danger is past the bandage is removed, and the traveller sees for the first time the slippery path along which he has been led. In like manner our Heavenly Father mercifully conceals the future, with its trials and dangers, till we are safely past. All that He hides is hidden in mercy; and all that He reveals is revealed in love. I would not know all, my Father. It is known to Thee, and that is enough. “We walk by faith, and not by sight.” (C. Perren.)
The custody of God over His people
I. The state and condition of the persons consisting of two branches. “He will keep the feet of His saints.” And first of all to consider it in spirituals, ye shall see God’s custody of His people in protecting them from those sins and temptations, and snares which they are subject unto. (Psalms 121:7.) (2 Timothy 4:18.) (Psalms 37:28.) For the opening of this a little unto us we may take it in these explications. First, by the prevention of evil and sinful occasion, God keeps the feet of His people. Secondly, by preventing of the occasions of sin, so by fortifying and strengthening the heart and mind against closing with them. (Luke 22:32.) (2 Corinthians 12:9.) There are four graces amongst the rest, which are especially conducing hereunto. First of all, the grace of fear, and spiritual watchfulness. Blessed is the man that feareth always. Secondly, the grace of faith, that’s another supporter likewise. Faith lays hold upon all the promises of assistance, and strengthening. (1 Peter 1:5.) Thirdly, God keeps the feet of His saints from progress and proceedings in sin, when they fall. Thus (Psalms 94:18). Lastly, He keeps the feet of His saints from relapse, and returning to sin again. Now to make this point pertinent indeed to ourselves, we must have a care of two things. The first is the qualification of our persons. Observe here whose feet it is that He here keeps. They must be saints whose feet God will keep. Saints, and His saints too, saints of His making, and saints of His calling, and saints of His owning. Secondly, it is not enough for us to be right for our persons in the general qualifications of them; but we must be right likewise for our carriage and the behaviour of ourselves. Those which are the saints of God may sometimes by their own wilful heedlessness provoke God for a time at least to suspend this safeguard of them. But so much of the first reference of these words, as they may be taken spiritually, and in relation to the inward man. Now further, secondly, we may likewise take them in reference to temporals, and God’s Providence as to the things of this life. First, He will bless them in their ways. Take notice of that. This is one way to keep their feet. (Psalms 121:8.) Again, further, He names the feet, as those which are most exposed to danger, and hurt of all other. Secondly, in regard of their works, whatsoever they do. This is said of a godly man. (Psalms 1:3.) (Genesis 39:8.)
II. The second is the state of the wicked in these. But the wicked shall be silent in darkness. As there’s a difference betwixt the wicked and the godly in regard of their disposition, so is there likewise in regard of their condition. First, a state of darkness. First, for this life present as the way. Wicked men they are here in darkness. First, in the ignorance of their minds. (Ephesians 4:18.) Secondly, in the inordinancy of their affections, there’s darkness in them from thence also. (1 John 2:11.) Malice shades the mind, and so any other unruly passion in them. Thirdly, in the practice of all other sins whatsoever, besides works of wickedness, are works of darkness, and so they are still called. The unfruitful works of darkness. (Ephesians 5:11.) Lastly, in that spiritual blindness which they are given up to. The second is the darkness of the end. That darkness which they are subject unto in another world. This is of two sorts, either the darkness of death, or judgment. The second is the state of silence, in order to this darkness. “They shall be silent in darkness.” First, that grief, and horror, and perplexity of mind, which shall seize upon them in this condition. Silence is an attendant upon grief and atonement in the extremities of it. Secondly, silence is a note of conviction. They shall be silent, that is, they shall have nothing to say for themselves. Wicked men, as they shall be full of grief, so likewise of confusion. Thirdly, it is a note of abode and of continuance in this miserable condition. They shall be kept and bound up in it. Now (to join them both together) they are such as do very fitly agree to such kind of persons. Both darkness and also silence in it are very suitable to wicked men. First, the darkness of condition answerable to the darkness of sin. Wicked men they abhor the light, because their deeds are evil. Secondly, silence in evil, answerable to silence from good: Wicked men they care not to speak anything which may be to the honour of God. We begin with the first, viz., as it refers to the first clause. “He shall keep the feet of His saints,” that is, by taking it exclusively, He and He alone. We’ll reduce it briefly to three heads. First, the strength of body and human power with the appurtenances thereof. Secondly, the strength of parts and the improvements of wit and understanding, the strength of grace in the mere purpose of it. Therefore, let none trust to this, whosoever they be. Secondly, not by strength against Him, in reference especially to the second clause. The wicked shall be silent in darkness. Ungodly men shall not escape punishment, because they cannot be too strong for God, who is a God of power and might. First, thankfulness and acknowledgment of the great mercy and goodness of God to us in this particular. Secondly, as to matter of faith, we are to improve it to that likewise, having had experience of God’s goodness hitherto, to be ready to expect as much from Him for time to come. Thirdly, and specially, to fruitfulness and obedience. God having done so great things for us, we should endeavour to do somewhat for him. Now further, secondly, for the wicked’s silence in darkness, in the disappointment of his enemies, we may observe the parallel in this also. Here was both darkness and silence in darkness. Darkness there was in the very letter. It was a work in the dark. And that both as to place, and time, in which it was wrought. (T. Herren, D. D.)
The conduct of the Lord towards saints and sinners
I. The Lord will keep the feet of his saints.
1. The word saint signifies a holy one.
2. Saints are on a journey through this world of sin and sorrow to a better country. (Hebrews 11:14-16.)
3. The Lord Himself keeps their feet. He guides and directs them by His counsel. (Psalms 73:24.)
II. The wicked shall be silent in darkness.
1. The wicked are without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12.)
2. These are noisy and clamorous, boasting of themselves, and prone to speak evil of God and religion; but the time is at hand when they shall be put to silence. (Psalms 31:17.)
3. Darkness shall encompass them about on every side. They are sometimes brought into darkness in the present world, by the judgments of God. (Isaiah 8:22.)
III. For by strength no man shall prevail. Wicked men fight against God, and truth, but they cannot prevail. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
1 Samuel 2:12-17
Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial.
Indulgent home life
I. The sins it induces. The sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are the more prominent, so we will contemplate,
1. Their conduct and character. They appear in an official capacity; but the official must be viewed in its association with the personal, A degenerate priest is but the natural outgrowth of the degenerate man. The evil is in the moral constitution of these men, and whatever they do, wherever they go, it will appear.
(1) They were audacious. (Ver. 12.) The children of Satan, and yet in the temple of God. They knew not the Lord. There are certain qualifications needful to the right discharge of every occupation, and he is a bold man who will undertake the duty without the fitness. What verdict would society pass upon anyone who should pursue the career of a doctor, without having studied the principles of anatomy, ignorant of the laws of medicine? Death to the patient would in all probability be the result. Much more criminal he who will engage to remedy the malady of the immortal soul when ignorant of its antidote. “They knew not the Lord.” They were in the very place surrounded by indications of the Divine--how wilful their ignorance! The history of their religious life was embodied in the ark; they could not look upon its ancient timbers without seeing in every board the mercy and providence of God. But their hearts were out of sympathy with these holy associations, and instead of stimulating to devotion, habitual contact with such sanctities led to criminal familiarity. When it is said that they knew not the Lord, it cannot mean that they doubted the reality of His existence. Faint gleams of His essential life had shone upon their intellects. Though in the sunlight, they saw not the beauties it revealed. Probably when at first they entered upon the Temple duties it was with feeble steps--the pallor of a revealed dread would blanch their cheeks; but now fear had lost its tremor in the cool hardihood of habitual sin. What a degree of defiance does their conduct disclose!
(2) They were covetous. (Vers. 18, 14.) What a contradiction is an avaricious priesthood! how strangely out of harmony with the royal beneficence of its Institutor, and the noble munificence of its intended exercise. A devoted ministry looks more to the Divine remuneration than to the human, and does not strike its “fish hook” into the “caldron” of the worshipper. So instead of stimulating the religious sentiments of penitent souls, and lifting them to God, they perverted the design of their office by making themselves the object of its toil. “The priest took for himself.” Such a class of men have almost unlimited scope for the exercise of their purpose. The strongest instincts of the soul are those which pertain to God and His worship. Hence when claims are presented to the mentally weak and morally credulous, such demands have but to be uttered to be obeyed. How mean thus to make religion a means of personal gain!
(3) They were despotic. (Ver. 16.) Coercion is operating without its sphere when brought to bear on matters of religion. Spiritual life and devotion are essentially free, both as regards the principle of its action and the form of its homage. “I will take it by force” of these wicked priests. A religion that cannot establish its claim by motive must be weak. Force is always the weapon of the morally imbecile.
(4) They were adulterous. (Ver. 22.)
(5) They brought contempt upon religion. (Ver. 17.) Men failed to make a distinction between the priests and the religion whose interests they wore pretending to serve. Nature is inherently beautiful, but if viewed through a piece of stained glass its perfection would be marred by an unnatural tint. So if we desire to behold the loveliness of piety we must not regard it as presented through any coloured media, but by direct contact and inspection. Religion to be correctly estimated must be felt; it is not a thing for the eye to admire, but for the heart to appreciate. Still, ungodly men have their ideals of rectitude, often sharply defined, and such, seeing the sacrilege of the priests,” abhorred the offering of the Lord.”
(2) The conduct and character of Eli. As a parent he was over-indulgent (1 Samuel 13:18). This statement is demonstrated even by his rebukes. Eli was “very old,” and the slightest vexation would be harassing to his feeble energies, but especially when occasioned by the ill conduct of his sons. What a sad reality!--the father old in years, the sons old in sin!
What a reflection upon his discipline and example!
(1) The method of Eli’s reproof. He reproves them
(1) Collectively--“Ye.” Should not each have been taken to the private chamber, that correction might have been adapted to disposition and age. The reproof was, therefore, indiscriminate. He reproves
(2) By interrogation (Ver. 23);
(3) By assertion (Ver. 24);
(4) By argument (Ver. 25).
(2) The Effect of his reproof. “They hearkened not.” Eli would be reminded that correction had come too late; though the plastic nature of childhood might have yielded to his touch, he had now to deal with sterner material. God’s controversy with an indulgent parent (Ver. 27). Eli is held responsible for the sins of his family. “Unto Eli.” He is charged with
(1) Ingratitude (Ver. 28);
(2) With insult (Ver. 29).
II. The sorrows it entails.
1. God revokes the mandate of Eli’s election, and asserts the universal principle of his action (Ver. 30). Eli’s election was not unalterable, or irrespective of personal conduct. A motto for the warehouse, “Them that honour Me I will honour.” The punishment predicted. This was the cloud before the storm.
(1) It was humiliating (Ver. 31). The once priestly family is to be divested of all authority or power. “I will cut off thine arm.”
(2) It was irreparable (Ver. 32).
(3) It was eternal. A new line of priests was to be established which should be “forever.” How the prophetical becomes historical! It is a page of war which issues in
(1) National defeat (1 Samuel 4:10);
(2) Social consternation--“All the city cried out.”
(3) Spiritual declension (Ver. 22).
(4) Family extinction (Vers. 17-20). While Eli sat on the gate, above it sat the Eternal God. So one evil family contained the germ of the nation’s overthrow.
(1) Parental discipline should be firm as kind.
(2) The welfare of the nation and church depend upon family training.
(3) A respect of God the truest way to promotion.
(4) The sorrowful termination of even a good man’s life.
(5) The awful extinction of an impious priesthood. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The notices of little Samuel, that alternate in this passage with the sad accounts of Eli and his house, are like the green spots that vary the dull stretches of sand in a desert; or like the little bits of blue sky that charm your eye when the firmament is darkened by a storm. We see evil powerful and most destructive; we see the instrument of healing very feeble--a mere infant. Yet the power of God is with the infant, and in due time the force which he represents will prevail. It is just a picture of the grand conflict of sin and grace in the world. It was verified emphatically when Jesus was a child. It is to be noticed that Eli was a descendant, not of Eleazar, the elder son of Aaron, but of Ithamar, the younger. Why the high priesthood was transferred from the one family to the other, in the person of Eli, we do not know. Evidently Eli’s claim to the priesthood was a valid one, for in the reproof addressed to him it is fully assumed that he was the proper occupant of the office. From Eli’s administration great things would seem to have been expected; all the more lamentable and shameful was the state of things that ensued.
1. First our attention is turned to the gross wickedness and scandalous behaviour of Eli’s sons. Hophni and Phinehas take their places in that unhonoured band where the names of Alexander Borgia, and many a high ecclesiastic of the Middle Ages send forth their stinking savour. They are marked by the two prevailing vices of the lowest natures--greed and lechery. It is difficult to say whether the greater hurt was inflicted by such conduct on the cause of religion or on the cause of ordinary morality. As for the cause of religion, it suffered that terrible blow which it always suffers whenever it is dissociated from morality. The very heart and soul is torn out of religion when men are led to believe that their duty consists in merely believing certain dogmas, attending to outward observances, paying dues, and “performing” worship. What kind of conception of God can men have who are encouraged to believe that justice, mercy, and truth have nothing to do with His service?
2. It is often very difficult to explain how it comes to pass that godly men have had ungodly children. There is little difficulty in accounting for this on the present occasion. There was a fatal defect in the method of Eli. His remonstrance with his sons is not made at the proper time. It is not made in the fitting tone When disregarded, it is not followed up by the proper consequences. We must not forget that, however inexcusable their father was, the great guilt of the proceeding was theirs. How must they have hardened their hearts against the example of Eli, against the solemn claims of God, against the holy traditions of the service, against the interests and claims of those whom they ruined, against the welfare of God’s chosen people! Could anything come nearer to the sin against the Holy Ghost? No wonder though their doom was that of persons judicially blinded and hardened. They were given up to a reprobate mind, to do those things that were not convenient.
3. But it is time we should look at the message brought to Eli by the man of God. The house of Eli would suffer a terrible degradation. He (this includes his successors in slice) would be stript of “his arm,” that is, his strength. No member of his house would reach a good old age. One word respecting that great principle of the Kingdom of God announced by the prophet as that on which Jehovah would act in reference to His priests--“Them that honour Me I will honour, but they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.” It is one of the grandest sayings in Scripture. It is the eternal rule of the Kingdom of God, not limited to the days of Hophni and Phinehas, but, like the laws of the Medea and Persians, eternal as the ordinances of heaven. However men may try to get their destiny into their own hands; however they may secure themselves from this trouble and from that; however, like the first Napoleon, they may seem to become omnipotent, and to wield an irresistible power, yet the day of retribution comes at last; having sown to the flesh, of the flesh also they reap corruption. What a grand rule of life it is, for old and young. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
The sons of Eli
Eli was high priest of the Jews when the ark of the Lord was in Shiloh. His two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. Their office was holy, but their character was corrupt. They touched sacred things with unworthy hands. The incident shows but too plainly the vital difference between the spiritual and the official. Hophni and Phinehas were officially among the highest men of their day. They bore a holy name, they pronounced holy words, they were clothed in emblematic robes. Yet Hophni and Phinehas were men of Belial. The outside was beautiful; the inside was full of corruption and death. Is there not a lesson here to teachers of Christian truth? It is possible for a man to have a pulpit, and to have no God; to have a Bible, and no Holy Ghost; to be employing his lips in uttering the eloquence of truth, when his heart has gone astray from all that is true and beautiful and good. Is there not a lesson here to professors of Christ? We bear the holy name, and men have a right to expect the holy deed. We need instruction upon the great question of spiritual discipline. When a man who professes to know Christ is found drunk in the streets, we expel him from the Church, and call that discipline; when a man is convicted of some heinous crime, we cut him off from the fellowship of the Church, and call that the discipline of Christian fellowship. It is nothing of the kind; that is mere decency. There is not a club in the world that cares one iota for its own respectability that would not do the same thing. Ours is to be Christian discipline. Yet even here is a mystery--a strange and wondrous thing. Hophni and Phinehas, officially great and spiritually corrupt; minister after minister falling, defiling his garments, and debasing his name; professor after professor pronouncing the right word with the lips, but never realising it in the life. Such is the history of the Church. In the face of all this, God still employs man to reveal the truth to other men, to enforce his claims upon their attention. Instead of in a moment of righteous anger sweeping the Church floor, so that not a footstep of man might remain upon it, end then calling the world around him, and speaking personally face to face--he still employs men to teach men, to “allure to brighter worlds and lead the way.” The incident shows the deadly result of corruption in influential quarters. All quarters, indeed, are influential; yet some are known to be more influential than others, therefore we adopt this form of expression. The priests were sons of Belial. What was the consequence? The people abhorred the offering of the Lord. The minister is a bad man. What is the consequence? His character is felt through all the congregation. We should remember three things in connection with this advice.
1. The natural tendency of men to religious laxity and indifference.
2. The effect of insincerity upon doctrine. Sincerity is itself an argument. Is it possible to speak the truth with a liar’s heart? If his lips pronounce the truth, if his heart contradict it, and his life blaspheme it, what wonder if men--who have a natural tendency towards religious indifference--should believe the life and deny the teaching!
3. The peculiarity of moral teaching in requiring personal illustration. Men cannot understand merely theoretic morals; they must have them personified; they must have them taught by incarnation, and illustrated in daily life. The artist may teach you to paint a beautiful picture! yet he may have no regard for moral truth, His non-regard for moral truth may not interfere, so far as you can see, with his ability and earnestness as a mete artist. It is not so in the Church of God. A man’s character is his eloquence; a man’s spiritual reality is the argument that wins in the long run. The lesson is to Churches. What are we in our corporate capacity? Are we holy? If’ not we are helping to debase and ruin the world; we have taken God’s leverage to help to undo God’s work! The terribleness of a moral leader falling! On the other hand, we cannot admit the plea that bad leaders are excuse enough for bad followers, when that plea is urged in relation to Christian teaching and life. Nor can we allow that exceptional inconsistency should vitiate the whole Church. We go into an orchard and point to one bit of blemished fruit, and say, “Because there is a blemish upon that piece of fruit the whole orchard is decayed and corrupt.” Who would believe it? There can be found a light coin in every currency in civilisation. Suppose we took up a standard coin under weight and said, “Because this is not of the standard weight, your whole currency is defective, and, as a nation of financiers, you are not worthy of trust.” Who would believe it? Such a theory is instantly destroyed by the fact that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. We do not say, “Look at Christians.” We say, “Look at Christ.” Then, such a theory is never urged but by men who are in search of excuses for their own corruptness. We are not to be followers of Hophni and Phinehas. The priest is not God; the minister is not Jesus Christ; the professor is not the Redeemer of the world. We must, therefore, insist upon the honest investigation of great principles on the one hand, and specially insist upon the calm, severe scrutiny and study of our Saviour’s own personal life and ministry. We have a written revelation. To that revelation our appeal must be made; to the law and to the testimony must be our challenge. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The sons of Eli
We may justly regard this as affording the motto for a very instructive and mournful history, left to give warning of the weakness into which even good men are apt to fall, and of the manner in which a righteous God often punishes the failure of His servants in duty, through the consequences arising out of their own neglect. It is not, accordingly, said, nor is it to be supposed that Eli’s weakness, however blameable, furnished excuse for the wickedness of his children.
I. The aggravated guilt with which Eli’s sons were chargeable. Hophni and Phinehas are, in this portion of sacred history, marked out as examples of what is vicious and depraved. Not contented with committing wickedness in secret, they had reached a state of regardlessness, sinning against the Lord publicly, and with a high hand. Nor was it a time in the history of Israel when the conscience of the people was peculiarly alive. The fervour of grateful feeling for the past kindness of God had passed away; there seemed instead to be prevailing forgetfulness of the great purpose, for the advancement of which they had been so favoured, namely, the keeping alive of God’s worship amidst surrounding ignorance and idolatry. Both the civil and religious polity of the nation were in a state of disorder. In Eli’s person the two highest offices then existing in the state were united--for the long space of forty years he occupied over Israel the position, not of judge alone, but of high priest also. But defective as Eli’s conduct towards his family appears to have been--many as were the temptations to which they were exposed, the guilt of Hophni and Phinehas was marked by peculiar aggravation; they had misused great advantages. To know the truth and yet to reject it; to be told of God’s claims on our obedience, and to refuse compliance with them, is to begin in youth a course which often leads to a rebellious and profligate manhood, conducting, perhaps, to a premature grave, or prolonged to an unhonoured and miserable age. Such appears to have been the case with Eli’s sons. They had abused great advantages, and incurred no small measure of responsibility. They were not ignorant of Jehovah’s claims, nor of the holiness of heart and life which He required; their guilt accordingly was conspicuous and undeniable. The lives of Eli’s sons, who were so near to the altar, might have been dedicated to Heaven. The “sons of Eli were sons of Belial:” had reached a frightful ripeness in depravity and maturity in crime. They seemed to have lost sight of the distinction between good and evil, to have forgotten the existence of a God, who “judgeth righteously.” That wickedness was indeed great. There is applied to them in the text such a title as indicates no ordinary proficiency in what was offensive to God, and opposed to His law. They are called “sons of Belial,” as though distinguished on account of the spirit of evil which they manifested. But can we suppose that depravity to have been at once attained? On the contrary, may they not have trembled with the fear and struggled with the reluctance of the less experienced transgressor?
II. We proceed to notice the ineffectual reproof of his sons on the part of Eli, and the punishment with which their wickedness was followed. At this stage of the history mention is first made of Eli as having reproved the shameful conduct of his sons. He was old; his faculties may have failed, and his perception have been dulled, yet surely he could not have been altogether unaware of what was going on. Instead of using his official power to put a stop to their enormities, his duty both as a father and a legislator--instead of the severity of censure and reprimand that were called for, all that Eli said was quite disproportioned to what was demanded by the exigencies of the case. They were his sons, but dear as they had been, if reprimand were fruitless, should they not have been removed, considering the sacred office they held, from the possibility of further transgressing? In this respect also Eli failed, adding to past neglect what was in effect equivalent to a betrayal of that cause to which, with all his faults and failings, he was strongly attached.
III. Let us now attempt to draw from the text one or two practical lessons.
1. We have here a lesson for parents and others, having a sphere of authority and influence. The service of the Lord is still that from which the corrupt heart recoils with unwillingness. How often has the tyranny of evil habit been suffered, as in the case of Eli’s household, to become confirmed, without adequate attempt to check its growth. How frequently is the period allowed to pass, during which a “good foundation” might have been laid, in habits of piety and the fear of God.
2. We have also here a more general lesson of warning to such as persevere in conduct denounced by Scripture, alike by positive precepts, and by means of warning examples. (A. Bonar.)
File priests and the pure child
The change in Samuel’s daily life and circumstances, when his mother left him behind in Shiloh, must have been like that which many a boy is brought to when he first leaves the shelter of home, and begins to find his way in new associations, among new faces, without the old supports and protection. Samuel, however, was too young when his mother first left him to become much stained by the sin that was round him in Shiloh, for the iniquity was too vile, too mature, too gross for him at that early age to know its real meaning and horror; but the danger of infection, of his very life blood, his inmost soul being poisoned and all his future life defiled, was, if we look with only human expectation, most imminent and sad. Between the tabernacle of the Lord at Shiloh and his father’s house at Ramah, there was a difference great and bad enough to blight any life. In place of Elkanah there was Eli; in place of his mother’s pure faith and tender love there were the sons of Eli and the women who came to the tabernacle; instead of home sanctity there was the misery of priestly, official religion, together with the almost inevitable degradation of holiest things. The Lord keeps the feet of His saints when they are surrounded with vile dangers and sad spiritual perils. I can easily understand how Luther, in his dark days of conflict and battle for truth and purity and Christ against apostacy and formalism and a priesthood as dark and vile as that of the two sons of Eli, should often turn to those early chapters of the first book of Samuel, and should rise strengthened for the Lord and the struggle against spiritual wickedness in high places and impure error.
I. Samuel was endangered by priestly profanation of Divine ordinances. Just as some of the sweetest flowers smell the foulest when dead, so it was found that these men and their sacred office became rank and foul, defiling all that came to the sanctuary, and depraving even the most sacred things of the Most High. The priesthood, the sacrifices, the holy seasons, the holy places, the bright feasts that God had appointed, they turned to their own vile uses. Those things and offices of religion that Samuel had been taught to regard as most sacred he must have found, if old enough to think at all, systematically outraged and violated; and religion, sooner or later, would be thought by him to be an imposition and its services deceptive. Not that for him or for any young mind to reason or think so would have been or would now be wise; but it would have been human, natural, and not to be wondered at. For it ever has been a common error of young lives to confound principles with persons. Sometimes I have heard the evil lives of the children of pious parents, or of ministers of the Gospel, accounted for by the grim comment--“they are behind the scenes of church life,” and of Christian life. But there ought to be no seeing behind the scenes. If truly in Christ, ye are children of the light and of the day, and ought to walk in the light, as He is in the light. Here it may be well to distinctly, recognise the greater danger there is of the profanation of holy things and sacred duties where there is a ceremonial system than where there is a steady and consistent recognition of the belief that the religion which is most acceptable to God and most consistent with the mind of Christ is that which is least ceremonial, least ritual, least priestly, which, having the smallest possible sanctity in institutions and days and offices, must, if it would be consistent and worthy the name of a religion, insist to the very utmost on the greatest possible purity and holiness in hearts and souls.
II. Another of Samuel’s dangers was from priestly sensuality. In thus arranging the risks of Samuel at Shiloh I wish be keep in our minds the perils that souls as dear to us as Hannah’s child was to her may and do have to encounter when they leave the immediate protection of home. I would not say any more on this part of the subject if it were not for the great, the gross dangers that even children’s lives now meet in the impurities of the streets, the vile sensuousness, bordering on sensuality and licentiousness, of much popular literature, and, with some, in the daily pollution in business places and elsewhere of those who already carry the plague spot about with them, and, like the plague-maddened wretches of old, delight in staining and contaminating others. It is such pernicious associations, such horrid perils, that so frequently lead to the deepest profanation of parts of our life that should be regarded as the most sacred and dealt with most purely. It is such infection that in many cases utterly destroys the influence of a mother’s parting counsels, or a father’s almost divine commands.
III. Another danger of Samuel rose from the priestly rapacity of the sons of Eli. There have been covetous, worldly, rapacious ministers of religion in all ages, but there never have been so many as when and where a priestly system has gone its own way and developed its own life. Earthly greed and rapacity press as closely on the attention of the young in modern business and social life, as did Samuel’s life on him. The judgment of most things and men by a money standard; the public unscrupulousness of so many as to the ways and means they adopt so long as the end of gain is reached; the social customs that increasingly make money the principal thing; the prodigious wealth of our times, and the infatuated efforts of the rich to become richer, to add house to house and field to field;--all these things produce an atmosphere, if I may so say, that is charged with danger. No man’s vileness will warrant you failing away from the truth. No hypocrite’s sin, no minister’s unworthiness, will acquit any young life of guilt in backsliding from the hope and promise of early, pious days. It will now, perhaps, help us to see how Samuel lived in the midst of the sins of Shiloh.
1. And we know, first of all--That Samuel lived uncontaminated by the profanity, the covetousness, and the lust that were so near him. Now learn from this history, that there is no necessity to sin put on anyone anywhere. You cannot help running the risk, but having allowed this much, all has been allowed. If you have sinned it is because you have been careless or wilful, and not because you could not help sinning. Egypt, Shiloh, and Babylon put greater pressure on the young heroes who there fought for the Lord than we have to bear; yet they did not sin. Neither need we.
2. Again: We are told that Samuel grew in Divine grace and human favour with such vile surroundings. God gives this to you that are tempted as a hope and a promise to check our laments over unfortunate circumstances and temptations. You may grow in grace anywhere, just as you may sin anywhere. You may grow in grace on the borders of the pit; and you may sink into the pit from the house of God. Samuel grew in grace: what shall we do?
3. Moreover, Samuel grew thus by grace that we may have. The strongest of us will live as helplessly as a child that cannot yet walk, if we go forth in our own strength, and will utterly fail; while the weakest of us and those of us whose lot in life is full of spiritual hazard and care may have all the more the full and strong confidence that the Lord will keep the feet of His saints and will strengthen us with every kind of might, while the wicked shall soon be silent, in darkness. (G. B. Ryley.)
Degradation at the altar
As garments to a body, so are ceremonies to religion. Garments on a living body preserve the natural warmth; put them on a dead body and they will never fetch life. Ceremonies help to increase devotion; but in a dead heart they cannot breed it. These garments of religion upon a holy man are like Christ’s garments on his own holy body; but joined with a profane heart, they are like Christ’s garments on his crucifying murderers. (Ralph Brownrig.)
Sons of Eli, Sons of Belial
That would seem to be impossible. Eli was a holy man; Eli was a priest. Eli was not intellectually a strong man, but morally he was righteous and faithful up to a very high degree, tie was not much of a ruler at home; still he was substantially a good man. Belial represents corruption, darkness, the devil, the unholy genius of the universe; anything that indicates selfishness, baseness, or corruption of character. Now read the text:--The sons of Eli the holy priest were sons of Belial the bad spirit, the evil genius. We are always coming upon these conflicts, ironies, impossibilities. At the same time there is the fact, solemn, tragical, tremendous, that the sons of a good man may be bad men, and that good men themselves may be surprised or insidiously led into the deepest, gravest evils. Unless we live and move and have our being in God we cannot realise all our privileges and turn them into solid and beneficent character. There may be something in physical descent, and there ought to be in spiritual descent. Eli ought not to have had bad sons. Bad people ought never to come out of good homes. The danger is that Eli himself may be charged with the responsibility. It is so difficult for an ill-judging and prejudiced human nature to distinguish between cause and effect. Do not suppose that you will be a good man because your father was a good man, and your mother a good woman. You may upset the whole process of heredity; you may create a point of departure in your own development. It lies within the power, but not within the right, of every man to say, From the date of my birth there shall be black blood in our family; I will live the downward life, I will make hospitality in the house of evil spirits. So easy is it to destroy, so tempting is it to make bad fame. We see thin not only religiously, in the distinctive sense of that term, but we see this inversion and perversion of heredity along all the lines of life and within all the spheres of human experience. A civilised man, a son of civilisation, may be the most barbarous man upon the face of the earth. It does not lie within the power of a savage to be so barbarous as a civilised man can be. The sons of Eli were sons of Belial. The corresponding sentence in the lower levels of history is, the sons of civilisation are sons of barbarism. So we might proceed to further illustration and say, The sons of education are sons of the greatest ignorance. Who can be so ignorant as a well-informed man when he has given himself up to the service of evil?” It is not ignorance of the base and vulgar type that can be excused on the ground of want of privilege and want of opportunity, but it is that peculiar ignorance which knowing the light hides it, which knowing the right does the wrong. His education is an element in his condemnation. Sometimes we can say the sons of refinement are sons of vulgarity. The whole point is this: that our heredity may be broken in upon, our ancestral privileges may be thrown away,--sons of Eli may be sons of Belial. We hold nothing moral by right of ancestry. Every man should hold his property by right of labour, by right of honest moral conquest. Whatever you have, young man, take it at the spear point. You cannot hand a good character to others. You can set up a good reputation for goodness, and that ought to be a suggestion and a stimulus and a direction and a comfort, but you cannot hand on your character as you band on your acres and your pounds sterling. Every man has to conquer the alphabet as if no other man had ever conquered it before. Why not amplify that idea and carry it throughout the whole scheme of character, and see how we are called upon to work for what we have, and not to depend upon ancestral blessings and privileges. Do not then say, My father was good, my mother was good, therefore I need not take any interest in these matters myself: part of their virtue is laid up for me, I may draw upon it by-and-bye. All that reasoning is vicious, false, and spiritually destructive. A double damnation is theirs who had great advantages to begin with and who did not rise to the nobleness and greatness of their opportunities. What some men had to begin with! how much! They had such roomy homes, such libraries, such kindness and love on the part of parents and friends; they were born to all manner of social advantages so called. Where are they today? What have they done? Did they not begin with too much? Were they not overburdened? Possibly some of you may have begun too well. You are not altogether to be blamed for having fallen as you have done. I have applicants for bounty now from men whose fathers were worth a hundred thousand pounds. These are men who have wasted a whole inheritance of ancestral repute for wisdom and goodness. Yet I cannot altogether blame them; the parental Eli cannot altogether wholly escape responsibility. They had too much, things came too easily; “Easy come, easy go,” is the motto which experience has tested and endorsed. With how little have some other men begun, and yet look at them today. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Corrupt lives contagious
Men of corrupt lives at the head of religion, who are shameless in their profligacy, have a lowering effect on the moral life of the whole community Down and down goes the standard of living Class after class gets infected. The mischief spreads like dry rot in a building; ere long the whole fabric of society is infected with the poison. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
They knew not the Lord.--
Sinful and childlike ignorance of God
(compare with 1 Samuel 3:7):--Hophni and Phinehas did not know the Lord; their lives showed it. Samuel did not know the Lord, and his actions showed it also. But as between the illustrative acts, so also between the meaning of the words in the two cases, there is as wide a difference as it is possible to conceive. It will help us if we here remember how wide a ground in Scripture this expression “to knew” or “not to know the Lord” coverses The first form is at times a synonym for salvation, for the whole course of perfect redemption and complete sanctification. The second, the negative form, is one of the intensest expressions that Scripture uses to state the condition of a sinful soul, and for showing the origin of some of the darkest enormities that have ever degraded the name of religion. The New Testament puts this before us very definitely. When Christ would express His perfect Albion and intercourse with the Father even on earth, He said, “I am not come of Myself, but He that sent Me is true; whom ye know not, but I know Him.” “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent. O righteous Father, the world tins not known Thee, but I have known Thee, and these have known that Thou hast sent me.” John accounts for worldly antagonism to the saints of old in this way--“The world knoweth us not because it knew Him not.”
I. That the expression “not knowing the Lord” may imply and account for every kind and degree of sin. This is sinful ignorance of God. In the case now before use, it explains some of the most degrading transgressions of which man can be guilty.
1. But this sinful ignorance of God may co-exist with full knowledge of the truth of God--that is, intellectual knowledge, received by means of education, by example of others, by home training, by social custom or general habit. You may see this in the example of the two young priests. It is certain that they knew the law of the Lord which is perfect. They knew the truth of God, the ways of the Lord, the expectation and hopes of the Almighty that were associated with their priesthood and the offering of sacrifice. They knew the truth, but they knew not God. Their hearts and His were at enmity. Let us make the same distinction for ourselves, between knowing the truth of God and knowing the Lord; between knowing what God has said and knowing God Himself. Is it not one of the saddest facts that some of the worst lives are those that like Hophni and Phinehas know the way of the Lord, have had holy training and gentle nurture, many associations with God’s house, much hearing the Word, and still show that they know not God? Not the knowledge of truth or forms of truth, not correct beliefs or anything of such kind can be depended on to put us right with our God.
2. Notice, again, that there is an ignorance of God that is sinful in its consequences, but is at the same time not guilty. We can understand the vast transgressions of great cities, the brutal tendencies of so large a mass of the population by remembering their inheritance of gross ignorance and animalism in body and mind, their entailed heritage of utter ignorance of God, of inability almost to realise or even to recognise a God and Father of love, or see any meaning in the cross whereon their sins were borne. Is not some of the responsibility resting with Christians, on whose part there has been neglect of extending the light of the glory of God.
3. We must further note that there are cases in which ignorance of the Lord is in it, self a greater transgression than the worst sins that it may beget or account for. These two priests ware as evil in some things as men could be. But more shameful than their deepest impiety was that which was the cause of it--even their wilful ignorance of God. There is practically no restraint left that can touch the heart. To know God is to have now the root of eternal life within us; not to know God is to have the seed of eternal death growing in us now, and in the world to come to be altogether defiled.
II. Not knowing the Lord may comprise and account for every degree of immaturity in the spiritual life. There is a sinful ignorance, as we have seen; and now we have the ignorance of immaturity, of the childlike state. Of this state Samuel the child is the illustration. Samuel had had the preparatory training of his mother’s love, the reverent guiding of his life along the way that literally leads to God; but still the moment of intelligent revelation of God to him had not yet come. His love to the Lord had grown like a little seedling plant; now it was to be transplanted into fuller soil, freer air--to have snore root room, more life room altogether. Stronger and more vigorous and bracing winds were to breathe their blessing upon it; hotter sunshine was to stimulate it; elements snore maturing were to lie about the roots. Soon the day of revelation, the night of the opening of heaven in solemnity to his young soul, came; but in prospect of that visitation by which his life was fixed forever, Samuel did not know the Lord. He rested till then as in the arms of God; he lived on God as once he had hung upon his mother’s breast--not knowing the love that held him though he lived in it and by it; not seeing clearly the face that bowed over him in unspeakable affection, though his own features bore the same lines and carried the same marks. He did not yet know; but this was the ignorance of imperfect growth, of incomplete development. To some there may be a special need of considering this aspect of Samuel’s life, and a particular advantage in noting its obvious meaning. For this certainly means that there may be life in God before there is intelligent recognition of it. The father sees his image in the child before the little one recognises it. The Lord was in our life, and we knew it not; nor did we know Him till He Himself drew aside the veil. Or, as it seemed at times, we rambled, as a child might in the tabernacle, into that which is within the veil, into the very Holy of Holies, and there, instead of mighty glory and awful power, we found One gentler than any of earth, a voice speaking more softly than a loving woman, saying, “My son, give Me thy heart!” and, as to presences, we could not see in the Holy Place, “This is My beloved Son.” We knew not God, but he knew us as His. “I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known Me. I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me.” “Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord.” It may be Chat we are all involved, to some extent, in blame, for we have not attained that knowledge which depends on earnest seeking after God. God will not teach the souls that will not wait on Him. God cannot show His beauty to eyes that are turned away from Him. He can reveal His secret only to those that fear Him. If we give up life’s strength, and all the power of our days, to one or to many inferior earthly things, giving to the Lord none of our strength, how can we expect the Lord’s light and knowledge, with the consequent blessing of our advance in holiness, to be ours? (G. B. Ryley.)
1 Samuel 2:18-19
But Samuel ministered before the Lord.
I. the mother’s devotion.
II. Samuel’s early piety.
1. It arose first from a mother’s piety. It was the mother’s act by means of which all his early impressions were of sacred things. It has been said that the secret of greatness is ordinarily to be traced to mothers. The influence of the mother is the most powerful upon the young life--it springs from purest love. We owe Augustine to Monica’s prayers, and in modern times there are those who have bold us what was the source of their success--a mother’s training.
2. But influence has its limits. Samuel, as a child, “ministered before the Lord.” He accepted his vocation, and rose to its demands.
3. Samuel ministered to God as a Levite. Some have thought he was a priest, because he offered sacrifices; but he offered sacrifice by “a special commission” from God, because of the degeneracy of the priesthood. In the same way, sacrifices were offered in different places, instead of one, not because the Levitical laws were unknown, but because it was not possible to keep to one spot until the ark was recovered and settled in its final resting place. God is not bound by His own laws or ordinary modes of acting, whether in the sphere of nature or of grace, and sometimes directly asserts His supremacy.
4. That Samuel was a Levite is seen from the fact that his father was a Levite (1 Chronicles 6:27). He is described as an Ephrathite, because his family resided in Ephraim. Further, he was not of the sons of Aaron. And the “linen ephod,” according to some writers, was a Levitical vestment. This, however, seems doubtful. Both the ephod and the “little coat,” which was a long outer garment, were not exclusively sacerdotal vestments, so that it cannot be gathered from the mention of them that Samuel had an “irregular priesthood.” In the Psalms he is not included amongst priests: “Moses and Aaron among His priests;” but “Samuel among them that call upon His Name” (Psalms 99:6).
5. Samuel, besides being a Levite and a Nazarite, was the first of a new order, “the goodly fellowship of the Prophets.” St. Peter puts him first (Acts 3:20): “all the prophets from Samuel.” The stream of communication between God and man had almost dried up (1 Samuel 3:1).
1. Parents may learn from Hannah’s devotion the blessedness of offering their children to God, and that in no grudging spirit, but as realizing with Hannah the nobleness of a life consecrated to God, and the blessings which were brought thereby to His people.
2. Children should learn from Samuel never to put off the service of God to later life, when it is more difficult and less enthusiastic. Samuel, when he was gray-headed, had the happiest reflection when he looked back upon early faithfulness (1 Samuel 12:1-25.)
3. Repentance after a youth misspent is a means of return to God, and may be the basis of future holiness; but preserved innocence has a beauty, and a greatness, and a buoyancy, and a likeness to Christ, the “Holy Child,” which the penitent prodigal knows not. (Canon Hutchings, M. A.)
The ministering child
One of our poets has beautifully remarked that “the child is father to the man;” and the remark is as true as it is beautiful. Just as youth is characterized, so will manhood be distinguished. Youth is the period of impressions, when the heart is tender, and the features begin to be developed. Like the tree which grows as it was influenced when a sapling, man is moulded by the bias of his childhood. “The boyhood of great men” illustrates this in a striking degree. In the days of his romping boyhood, it is said Cromwell had so little respect for dignity that he struck prince Charles while they were playing together at Hitchinbrook; at which hospitable mansion rested the royal caravan which conveyed James to the throne of England. And in after years no sanctity of royalty could restrain the triumphant Oliver from bringing Charles to the scaffold. When Nelson in his eager birds’ nesting had placed himself in a position of danger, near a river which he could not cross, and had caused much alarm to his relatives, his reply to an angry grandmamma, who expressed her wonder that fear had not driven him home, was, “Fear, grandmamma! I never saw fear! who is he?” And this is the most expressive character of that great Admiral, whose career was so brilliant, and whose death was so brave. Mozart, when a child of seven years, composed a concerto for the harpsichord, and died when only thirty-five, with immortality on his memory and his music. Though piety is not a birthright, and has been frequently ingrafted on a wild career, yet none will wonder that Samuel’s childhood, so beautiful in piety and promise, should result in a godly manhood, a blessing his parents, his country, and his Church. Let us, then, contemplate Samuel in this interesting period of his history, and mark how the good seed took root and evinced its verdure, and how parental godliness sought to bless and comfort a young man from home. It would be no small trial to Elkanah and Hannah to leave their cherished son in the tabernacle of Shiloh, where abandoned priests were ministering. God cared for Samuel, and kept him from the evil of his times. He was “one of the cares of Providence,” and never wanted any good thing. Resident in the sanctuary, he was to be trained for the ministry; and though a child, he was clad with a linen ephod. In the Levitical dispensation the ephod, which the priest wore, attested the same great truth. Whenever he drew near to consult the Lord and to offer sacrifice, he put on the linen ephod (1Sa 14:3; 1 Samuel 23:9.) Then he could plead on behalf of men, and act as mediator. It sanctified his person, and made him a type of Him who was to come. In the New Testament Church there is an ephod for all to wear who would approach God. It is the spotless robe of the Redeemer’s righteousness. This is the symbol of acceptance, and guarantees admission at all times to the presence chamber of Jehovah. Samuel was young in years. He could not know much of divine things; but he was capable of experiencing the divine blessing. He was more than a dedicated child He was born from above. An illustrious ancestry did not so much ennoble him as did this heavenly birth. It exalted him to a place in that family whose names are written in heaven. Samuel ministered before the Lord. He was occupied in the tabernacle service. Levites did not usually begin their service until they were twenty-five years of age, but Samuel was taken into active office in his very childhood. The son of his adoption seemed better than Eli’s sons by blood. It revived the hearts of all the godly throughout the land, when Samuel in his youthful beauty was seen in the holy place. It is ever interesting to see youth in the service of Christ. “Perhaps,” says Matthew Henry, “he attended immediately on Eli’s person--was ready to him to fetch and bring as he had occasion; and that is called ministering to the Lord . . . He could light a candle, or hold a dish, or run on an errand, or shut a door; and because he did this with a pious disposition of mind, it is called ministering to the Lord, and great notice is taken of it.” We have not now a tabernacle such as was in Shiloh, nor have we such services as Samuel was called upon to render; but in the Church of God there is a sphere wide enough for the most active energy, diversified enough for many workers, and simple enough for the youngest to undertake. The hearts of parents often beat anxiously for their absent children. Hannah’s prayers would also often follow him, and her hands were busily occupied with providing for his wants. As a prudent wife, “she sought wool and flax, and wrought willingly with her hands,” and made a coat for her boy to wear at Shiloh. Her heart was with him in the tabernacle; and as she wrought with her distaff, or wove her web, or plied needle and thread, she thought of her absent son. You may have absent children who, amidst the business and sin of great cities, are much exposed. Have a care over them. Remember their case every day at your family altar. Write often to them words of truth and soberness. It is specially useful to see them often. Some who have been early from home and separated from friends may read these pages. You had in the beginning of youth days to rough “life’s tempestuous sea.” Think often of home. There is a charm in that little word. Think of a parent’s yearning heart on behalf of the absent. Letters are the electric wires of families; “they bear in their bosoms some message of love,” and make the heart thrill. Hannah was an industrious wife and mother. Among the many virtues of female character this is not the least. In the portrait of a virtuous woman sketched by King Lemuel in the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs, out of twenty-two verses descriptive of female excellence, eleven refer to industry; and of these eleven scarcely one points to labour that is net useful. Many fritter their time away in labours that bring no profit, but she whom the Bible delights to honour is industrious in well-doing. It is to be remembered, however, that the duties of a house and family have proved snares to many who, like Martha, have been cumbered with such serving, and distracted with many cares. Where there are habits of order and of prayer, these evils may be avoided, and while “not slothful in business,” the Christian matron may be also “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” Hannah was not so occupied with domestic duties as to be absent from the sanctuary and the feast of the passoverse The loan which Elkanah and Hannah gave to the Lord when they left Samuel at Shiloh was not lost. It had its blessed recompense. God is never in debt to His people, and he has graciously promised a recompense. It may not be always realized in this life, but it shall be at the resurrection of the just. What an encouragement to well-doing, and to sacrifice for the Lord’s cause! (R. Steel.)
Childhood and service
A sweet picture! Here is a child who came into the world, as it were, through the very gate of prayer. So to speak, he was the direct creature of intercession. His mother went immediately to God’s house for him; actually went straight up to God, and asked Him for the child. Here, then, is a child-prophet, and that fact is pregnant with the deepest signification. That a child should have any place in God’s temple, and especially that a child should hold office in that temple, is a circumstance which should arrest our attention.
1. God’s interest in human life begins at the earliest possible period. When does God’s interest in human life begin? When does Christ’s heart begin to yearn in pity over all human creatures? Is it when they are five years old, or ten; does He shut up His love until they are twenty-one? The question may appear quaint, but I press it. When does Christ’s interest in human life begin? I contend that His interest relates to life, not to age; to birth, not to birthdays. As soon as a child is borne that great redeeming heart yearns with pitying love. I do then encourage all parents to bring their children early to the temple; to lend them unto the Lord before they can give themselves away; and what know we, but that the mother’s loan may be confirmed by the man’s own gift!
2. “Moreover his mother made him a Little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.” Great rivers bays often Little sources. The river of a whole year’s joy came out of making this little coat. It seems a very simple circumstance to put down in the world’s great volume that Hannah made Samuel a little coat every year! Mark, then, how age must work for childhood, strength must toil lovingly and helpfully for weakness. The resources of life must be expended on the children of need. This is the way to obtain happiness; namely, by making those mound us happy. He who sends joy down to the roots of society, shall find that joy reproducing itself in the solaces and comforts of his own life. The making of this little coat caused the hours to fly speedily; and the gift of it, at the appointed time, enriched the giver more then it enriched the wearer. So it is that giving is getting, and that scattering may, be the truest consolidation of wealth.
3. Now let us advance a step, and see how this child proceeds. In the ensuing chapter he is still called a child--a ministering child. Experience has taught me to have more faith in children than in adults! Children are more like God than men and women are. Children are unsophisticated, straightforward, simple, trustful, joyous, loving; adults are often crooked, crafty, double-minded, selfish, moody, rancorous, and vile. I sympathise with the poet when he wishes that he could go back to God through his “yesterdays.” Alas, there is no way to heaven except through our tomorrows; and as we get older by travelling through these tomorrows, we often lose the simplicity and beauty of childhood, and engross ourselves with engagements which tend rather to degrade and unfit us for the high society of heaven.
4. According to the opening verse of the third chapter, “the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” That which is rare is precious. The word of the Lord did not shine forth in noon-day glory; it was like a glimmer on the horizon. God’s kingdom on the earth begins with small demonstrations. It is small as a mustard seed. Oftentimes in the Gospel narrative it is likened to all minutest things. In our day there is open vision. The whole heaven is blazing with light. But who cares today, when England is flooded with the celestial glory? We, as a nation, being exalted to heaven with multitudinous privileges, are not unlikely to be cast down into hell, through our perversion and personal neglect. It is a beautiful picture this of Eli and Samuel engaged in temple service. Here we have extreme age and extreme youth united in the same labour. It is as if sunrise mud sunset had found a meeting point; here is all the brightness of the one and all the gorgeous colouring and solemn pomp of the other. What is the lesson? The lesson I see is that God has work for all classes.
I. Looking at this scene, we have, first of all, almighty God calling man at an unlikely time. The time is night: deep sleep has fallen upon man, and in the time of rest and unconsciousness the voice from heaven sounds. Why not in the temple, and why not in open day? This is like God, the darkness and the light are both alike unto Him.
II. In the next place we have almighty God calling an unlikely person. We should have thought that it would have been more probable that God would have called the aged prophet rather than the ministering child. But the first shall be last and the last first. (J. Parker, D. D.)
A child’s ministry
Samuel was very, very young; but Samuel’s little efforts to minister to the Lord were precious; and are here recorded by God Himself. Is it only the grown up, strong children in a family, who are noticed, and approved of, by their parents? Do not your father and mother love the little infant that can but just creep about? and if it does but put forth its little arm, to show its affection for them, do they not notice it, and look very pleased? Oh, yes, you know they do; nay, you sometimes imagine that they think more of the little ones than of you great ones, and take more notice of any feeble effort that the youngest makes, than of all your great doings; and I could almost think that if our heavenly Father has Peculiar favourites in his family, it is his little infants, whom he has taught to stretch out the desires of their souls after him. It is his Samuel and his Timothy, who from childhood have known and loved the Scriptures and the God of the sacred Scriptures. But, perhaps you think, Samuel could not help being devoted to the Lord and serving him, when he was left so young at the temple, with good old Eli and good people around him. My dear child, if you were to get a bramble, and plant it in some very good ground, and put good trees all round it, would you expect your bramble to become a good tree likewise? You smile at the very idea. But does not God tell you in his word, that our hearts are like thorns and brambles, and that no power, short of his, can make a myrtle or a rose grow up instead of the thorn? Nay, does not daily experience teach us the same lesson? While we look at the holy child Samuel with delight and love, our hearts ache while looking at the two wicked sons of Eli; abusing the office of priest, and causing the way of truth to be evil spoken of. You are none of you fond of a thorn or thistle, I dare say; if they catch you when you are walking or running, they will prick or scratch you--and you get no fruit from them: but when they get in among your favourite fruit trees or flowers, and choke them up, and hinder their growth, they make you doubly angry with them. Now this was the state of things with the wicked sons of Eli: they were not only like worthless thorns, but, by growing up among the people of the Lord, and ministering in holy things, they stopped the growth of the faithful, and even caused the Lord’s people to transgress. We gladly turn awhile from so awful a subject to look at the dear child Samuel. “Samuel ministered before the Lord, being a child, girded with a linen ephod. Moreover, his mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband So offer the yearly sacrifice.” We have here the tender affection of the mother pointed out, with the blessed firmness of the Christian. While she brings him his little coat of her own making, as a token of her love, she expresses no desire to take back the loan which she had lent unto the Lord--the loan of her only child--it, it cheerfully leaves him time after time, and returns to her home, where she had not a child to receive or to cheer her. But who was ever a loser by lending unto the Lord? look l whatsoever he layeth out in cheerful, humble confidence, it shall be restored a hundredfold into his bosom. (Helen Plumptre.)
Moreover his mother made him a little coat.
A talk to mothers
We have three separate statements of the nature of a little child. The first is that, in some way, it is utterly depraved and lost; not capable of conceiving one good thought, saying one good word, or doing one good thing. This statement, to my mind, is untrue. It clashes with the loftiest revelation ever made to our race about the child-nature. Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come auto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” If the child is utterly depraved, and of such is the kingdom of heaven, wherein does the kingdom of heaven differ from the kingdom of hell? The second theory is one that I have heard from some liberal Christians--that the heart and nature of a little child are like a fresh garden mould in the springtime. Nothing has sprung out of it: but the seeds of vice are already bedded down into it; and we must plant good seeds, and nurse them until there is a strong growth of the better promise--carefully, all the while, weeding out whatever is bad as it comes to the surface. At the first glance this seems to be about the truth. Still, I fear it has not come so much out of that true philosophy which is founded on a close observation of our nature, as it has come out of a desire not to differ so very far from those who denounce us heartily as unchristian. Such an idea of the child-nature is, after all, a moderate theory of infant depravity; and as such I reject it, so far as it gives any preoccupation and predominance to sin, and accept the third theory, as the true and pure gospel about the child-nature; namely, that the kingdom of heaven, in a child, is like unto a man that sowed good seed in his field; but afterward, while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away; and when the blade sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. The good seed is sown first. The good is primary, and purely good; the bad is secondary, and not totally bad. And every little child ministers before the Lord, and every mother makes his garments from year to year. I propose to speak briefly on the nature and possibilities of this mother influence, what it is, and what it may be.
1. And note, first of all, that while in afterlife the father may come to an equal or even stronger influence over the child--in the plastic morning of life, when the infant soul puts on its first robes of joy and love and faith and wonder, the hand of the mother alone is permitted to give them their rich quality and texture.
2. Then, secondly, while it is eminently true that the little child has such rich endowment, and you have such a wonderful preeminence, it is also true that the possibilities open out two ways--you may greatly blight his life, or you may greatly bless it. The garments that mothers fit on to the spirits of little children, like the garments that they fit to the outward form, only more certainly, have a great deal to do with that child’s whole future life. Let me give you instances that are kept in the archives of the world. What would you judge to be the foremost thing in Washington? The obvious answer is, his perfect, spotless, radiant integrity. Now it is an instructive fact for mothers that of the few books that have come down to us with which the mother of Washington surrounded her boy in early life, the one most worn and well used is a book on morals, by that eminent pattern of the old English integrity, Sir Matthew Hale; and the place where that book opens easiest, where it is most dog eared and frail, is at a chapter on the great account which we must all give of the deeds done in the body. Before that boy went out of his home his mother took care to stamp the image and superscription of integrity deeply on his soul. What, after his great genius, would you mention as the most notable thing in William Ellery Channing? We answer at once, his constant loyalty to a broad, free, fearless examination of every question that could present itself to him; a frank confession of what he believed to be true about it, no matter what was said against it; and an active endeavour to make that truth a part of his life. Channing testified, with a proud affection, of his mother: “She had the firmness to examine the truth, to speak it, and to act upon it, beyond all women I ever knew.” And so it was that, when her frail boy must go out into the battle, she had armed him with the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation. And so one might go reciting instances almost endlessly, if it were needful, to show how true it is that the mother makes the man. What, then, positively, shall the mother do who will do her best? I will answer this question first by noting what she shall not do. And I cannot say one thing before this--that the spiritual garment she fashions for her little ones from year to year shall not be black. All mothers know how long before their children can utter a word they can read gladness or gloom in the mother’s face. Let her smile, and the child will laugh; let her look sad, and it will weep. Now, some mothers, if they have had great troubles or are much tried in their daily life, get into a habit of sadness that is like a second nature. They talk with unction of who is dead, and how young they were, and how many are sick, and what grief is abroad altogether on the earth. And the child listens to all that is said. The mother may think he does not care; but, if my own earliest memories are at all true to the common childhood, he does care. These things chill him through and through. Then I would ask that the garment of spiritual influence, which you are ever fashioning, shall not be of the nature of a straight jacket. Has your boy a heavy foot, a loud voice, a great appetite, a defiant way, and a burly presence altogether? Then thank God for it, more than if your husband had a farm where corn grows twelve feet high; your child has in him the making of a great and good man. The only fear is that you will fail to meet the demand of this strong, grand nature and try to break where you ought to build. The question for you to solve, mother, is not how to subdue him, but how to direct him. Dr. Kane was a wonder of boisterous energy in childhood, climbing trees and roofs, projecting himself against all obstacles, until he got the name of being the worst boy in all Branch town; but time revealed the divinity of this rough life, when he bearded the ice king in his own domain, and made himself a name in Arctic exploration second to none. I shall not speak in any material sense; but, when the child begins to think, he at once begins to question. He is set here in a great universe of wonder and mystery, and he wants to know its meaning and the meaning of himself. But some mothers, when their children come to them with their questions in all good faith, either treat the question with levity, or get afraid, and reprove the little thing for asking. Mothers, this is all wrong. This is one of your rarest opportunities to clothe the spirit of your child in the fresh garments that will make him all beautiful, as he stands before the Lord. Then, as this primitive woman would be evermore careful to meet the enlarged form of her child, as she went to see him stand before the Lord from year to year, will you be careful to meet the enlarged spirit of your child? I do fear for the mother who will not note how her child demands and needs ever new and larger confidences. (R. Collyer.)
A coat for Samuel
1. Hannah stands before you, then, today, in the first place, as an industrious mother. There was no need for her to work. Elkanah, her husband, was far from poor. She is industrious from principle as well as from pleasure. God would not have a mother become a drudge or a slave; He would have her employ all the helps possible in this day in the rearing of her children. But Hannah ought never to be ashamed to be found making a coat for Samuel. Most mothers need no counsel in this direction. The wrinkles on their brow, the pallor on their cheek, attest that they are faithful in their maternal duties. Indolent and unfaithful mothers will make indolent and unfaithful children. You cannot expect neatness and order in any house where the daughters see nothing but slatterness and upside-downativeness in their parents. The mothers of Samuel Johnson, and of Alfred the Great, and of Isaac Newton, end of Saint Augustine, and of Richard Cecil, and of President Edwards, for the most part were industrious, hardworking mothers.
2. Again: Hannah stands before you today as an intelligent mother. From the way in which she talked in this chapter, and from the way she managed this boy, you know she was intelligent. There are no persons in a community who need to be so wise and well-informed as mothers. O, this work of culturing children for this world and the next. This child is timid, and it must be roused up and pushed out into activity.
3. Again: Hannah stands before you today as a Christian mother.
4. Again, and lastly: Hannah stands before you today the rewarded mother. For all the coats she made for Samuel; for all the prayers she offered for him; for the discipline she exerted over him, she got abundant compensation in the piety, and the usefulness, and the popularity of her son Samuel; and that is true in all ages. Every mother gets full pay for all the prayers and tears in behalf of her children. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The little coat
I. We have here--the sacred toil of a mother.
1. House labour consecrated by love and worship. Serve God, then, in toiling for your children. Offer to the Lord the sacrifice of your weariness for them and you will find that God will not be “unrighteous to forget your work of faith and labour of love” in your ministering to those whom you have tried to make His saints.
2. We have here not only labour blessed by love and worship, but also household love consecrated by religion. “Love is of God;” and that home affection is not worthy the name, of which the beginning, continuance, and end are not in God.
3. And now in a return of blessing we have religion beautified by loving labour. Religion and common labour are not only not incongruous, they give to one another added dignity, blessedness, and comeliness.
II. The dutiful, pious memorial of a son, I have already presumed what we have fair warrant for:--that we have this story either by Samuel’s own writing in this book, or through his communication of the story to others. Either positron implies on Samuel’s part a tender remembrance that must not be lightly passed by. Though you can think only of a lowly home and homely people as your life’s guides; yet, if like Samuel you can remember common work done lovingly for you, it is worth your remembering and honouring. The same truth is to be held by fathers and mothers. No man or woman can leave to children a more honourable memory than that of hard work, of faith, and diligent labour of love in or for the home, in and for the Lord. (G. B. Ryley.)
1 Samuel 2:21
And the child Samuel grew before the Lord.
Growth the best test
“Where there is life there will be growth, and if grace be true, it will surely increase. A painted flower keepeth always at the same pitch and stature; the artist may bestow beauty upon it, but he cannot bestow life. A painted child will be as little ten years hence as it is now” What need there is to observe the wide distinction between the picture and the living thing! Of painted likenesses of Christians we have more than enough; nor is the manufacture of portraits a difficult operation: what we want is the real thing and not the artistic imitation. Manton saith well that growth is the test. Many professors must be forever beginning again: they stick where they were, or thought they were. They were anxious about their souls, and are so still. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Samuel 2:23-24
Nay, my sons: for it is no good report that I hear.
Weakness is wickedness
It does not often occur to us what shame and guilt belong to mortal vacillation and weakness. Too often a man’s weakness is accepted as a sufficient excuse for his sin. Outbursts of evil passion are excused because a man has a passionate nature. Vacillation is condoned, because a man by nature is pliant and indecisive. Inconsiderateness is held to be blameless, because a man is impulsive by natural disposition. That all this is wrong in judgment and false in principle, could not be more sternly taught than in the experience of Eli. Blameless and pure, humble and devout, there is no more beautiful character, in many of its aspects, to be found in Scripture than his; yet how stern the rebuke which is passed upon him, and how terrible the retribution! Plain it is that in God’s sight moral weakness is sin. At the Bar of Judgment “I cannot” finds no acceptance as a plea against “You must.” To say that you have not the strength, the courage, the resoluteness to do right is a confession which is itself a shameful wrong. It is the plea of a weakling, and weakness in God’s sight is wickedness. It is the plea of a coward, and moral cowardice is sin. (J. Bainton.)
I. Eli’s fatal leniency.
1. He saith over softly to them, “Why do ye such things?” (v. 23). This was to reprove them, saith Jerome, with the lenity of a father, not with the authority of a magistrate: ‘Tis an old saying, “Pity spoils a city”; sure I am it did so here, for it spoiled his family, causing the priesthood to be removed from it.
2. “I hear of your evil doings.” This was too gentle, to mention them in the general only, and not to particularise them with their detestable aggravations, he should have rebuked them, cuttingly, or sharply (Titus 2:15) with all authority.
3. “By all the people:” As if it were their report only, and that he was put on by the people to say what he said.
4. “Nay, my sons.” He should have set on his reproof, by saying “Ye act more like sons of Belial than my sons, the sons of the high priests of the Most High God.”
5. “‘Tis no good report:” He should have called it, the most dismal and diabolical, if he had had a right zeal for God’s glory, etc.
6. He was not willing to reprove them, but the clamours of others forced him to do it.
7. He did not rebuke them publicly (1 Timothy 5:20) for the public sins to make the plaster as broad as the wound.
8. It was only a verbal reproof, whereas he should have put them out of their priesthood and punished them for their adultery according to the law, without respect of persons as a judge, etc.
9. He did not rebuke them in time, but let them live long in sin. 10. He soon ceased chiding them, so ‘tis said, “He restrained them not,” (ch. 3:18.)
II. Apology for Eli in this case is--That he now was very old, some suppose him to be now come to his ninetieth year, even in his dotage, so could not himself converse with his sons, so as to observe their maladministrations, and withal, he was dim-sighted, so could not so well see their sinful practices: his superannuation caused his frequent absence from the Tabernacle, which gave a greater opportunity for his sons’ wickedness, to whom the management of God’s worship was (in their father’s retirement) be trusted, and ‘tis not improbable, his sons did not much regard his reproofs, because he was old and over-worn, but themselves, being in their vigour, had married wives, and were fathers of children. And ‘tis commonly known that old ago doth incline men to mercy, so that it is no wonder if Eli seem rather to flatter than to chastise his sons.
III. Judgement pronounced on Eli. The promise for the perpetuation of the priesthood to Aaron’s family (Exodus 28:43; Exodus 29:9) was conditional only so long as they did honour God therein, which condition the elder line of Aaron kept not in the case of Jephtah’s vow, therefore was the high priesthood transferred to the younger line, which now upon the like failure in the condition, made a new forfeiture thereof, by dishonouring God so notoriously in Eli’s sons.
1. This may be called breach of promise, as that is (Numbers 14:34) when the old generation were wasted in the wilderness, and yet the new one was brought into Canaan as God had promised.
2. This Man of God threatens the extirpation of Eli’s family (1 Samuel 2:31-32). His arm shall be cut off.
3. This Man of God threatens him with a rival in the place of the priesthood, which he or his posterity should behold with their eyes, to their great grief and regret (1 Samuel 2:32-33).
4. This Man of God threatens him with the violent, death of his sons before their father’s death (1 Samuel 2:34-35).
5. He threatens him with the poverty of his posterity (1 Samuel 2:36). They shall come crouching as Abiathar did (1 Kings 2:26) when banished to Anathoth. (C. Ness.)
Ells are out of place in this world; they are only fit for the society of angels. Place one of them over a business. Oh, he is such a good man! Trusts everybody, dismisses nobody, lets every knave and idle fellow about the premises play tricks with him. By-and-bye the end comes, and you spell it with ruin. Such a dear, well-meaning man, and so unfortunate; you all pity him. Yes, such men are to be pitied, but mainly because they are so weak and easygoing. Good men, but not fit to be at the head of anything. Not fit to rule a kingdom or a lunatic asylum, or even a church, and perhaps, least of all, a home. It is a pity when domestic government gets into their hands. Such nice meal such angelic women! But, alas! they make a pitiable business of it if they become fathers and mothers. (J. G. Greenough.)
Necessity of parental severity
When George III wished his two sons, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, to be instructed, he sent for one of the most rigid disciplinarians of the day; and when the king and the teacher stood together, one would have been at a loss to know whether to admire more the majesty of royalty or the majesty of learning. The king gave a side glance at the two boys who stood at, his feet, and said to the stern doctor who stood before him, “Sir, I wish you to teach these, my two sons.” “And, please your majesty,” replied the teacher, “how do you wish these princes to be treated?” “Just treat them,” returned the king, “as you would treat the sons of a private gentleman; if they require it, flog them; just do with them as you do at Westminster School.” And so the doctor did; he let them know by hard experience that the rod was made for the fool’s back. And when Louis XIV of France, one of the proudest kings that ever sat on the French throne, began to feel his inferiority in knowledge after he had arrived at the years of maturity, he complained to his courtiers that he was ignorant of many things which they knew. Upon which a nobleman near him ventured to hint that when a child he was wilful and wayward, and refused listen to the voice of instruction. “What!” he exclaimed, “was there not birch enough, in the forest of Fontainebleau?” (J. Hutchinson.)
Laxity of parental authority
Eli surely has his parallel in many a moral household which presents the spectacle of a father of exemplary life and character surrounded by children who, as they phrase it, take their own line in whatever form of dissipation or extravagance, or at best of aimless and frivolous living. The fault may be altogether with the child, but generally in this world when sons go wrong there are at least faults on both sides. And may it not be that in the critical years, when character was taking shape, and temptations were pressing hard with eager importunity, nothing was done, perhaps nothing was said to check, to rebuke, to guide, to encourage? The boy’s character was allowed to drift; it was allowed to drift by the man whose sense of responsibility as his father should have saved him from a mistake so ruinous. Authority need not be despotism; it may be tender and considerate to any extent, provided only that it is authority, and that its voice is not silent, nor its arm paralysed by a misplaced affection or by a want of moral courage, or by secret indifference, to the greatest issues which He before every human being. (Canon Liddon.)
1 Samuel 2:25
If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him.
The sinner’s friend
Even had we no revelation on the subject, a future judgment would be inferred by us from reason; for we should be led by analogy to conclude, that, as when “one man sinned against another the judge judged him” and awarded his punishment, so God would certainly enter into judgment with those who sinned against Him. We are taught it in God’s dealings both with individuals and nations; we are told it in the plainest terms. We see it, in the expulsion of our guilty first parents from the once happy Eden. We see it, in the fire and brimstone which consumed Sodom and Gomorrah. “If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him.” Thanks be to God for this arrangement: judges are his vicegerents on earth, and bear the sword for Him. Thankful ought we to be for this blessing; for laws and magistrates and judges--“the powers that be”--are ordained of God. Without them, the bonds of society would be broken in sunder; the bonds of iniquity would everywhere prevail. If when one man sins against another, the judge judges and condemns him, what shall be done when God cometh to judgment? If an earthly judge can punish severely a sinner on earth, how shall not God terribly judge and punish sinners in His great day! If a judge can pass sentence for the punishment of a man’s person or the taking away of his life here, how much more shall God pass sentence on the soul for an eternal hereafter! If there be none to put in an arrest of judgment for a condemned sinner now, who shall entreat, who shall save, when God shall pass judgment then? If the whole of the machinery employed for putting in force laws passed by man on earth, be of an arresting and startling nature, how much more when God shall enter into judgment with the breakers of His law! If an accused person on trial here would employ an able advocate to plead his cause, how much more shall we need and desire the help of one to entreat for us when standing at the bar of God! If we anxiously watch the chain and tissue of evidence produced before the judge in courts of assize holden here, shall we not with intense solicitude mark the evidence produced from the books which are to be opened and exposed to view in that great day. God has denounced His judgment against sin, and has passed the sentence on the sinner, “the soul that sinneth it shall die.” Now God’s truth and God’s justice are the pillars which support His throne; and these, admitting of no room for the exhibition of unconditional mercy, demand the execution of the sentence, part of which has already taken effect, the other part is hanging over our heads. In Adam we are all dead; on account of his sin in paradise, guilt and ruin were entailed upon us: we are partakers in his fall and in the consequences of his fall, he being our covenant head. And, must this be our inevitable doom--must all mankind perish everlastingly? because we have all sinned against the Lord, is there none to entreat for us? It was so once. God the Father planned the scheme of a vicarious sacrifice: God the Son, by assuming human nature and dying in its form, offered that sacrifice in the very person of the sinner. But are there any here who look to some other than Christ to entreat for them? The hope is vain. The expectation cannot be realised. There is but one mediator between God and man, and that Mediator is Christ. No creature can entreat for another: the desperateness of our case is so great, that the united force of men and angels can never reach it. Are there any, who fondly hope that they have no need of a Saviour to entreat for them? who put their trust in good deeds? This is a delusive hope. Here, then, I come to the practical part of my subject. We must all stand before the judgment seat: we shall all need Jesus Christ to entreat for us with God then. I beseech you, then, to flee for refuge to Him, that Saviour who gave Himself a ransom for all. Make Him your friend now, and you shall not lack one to entreat for you when the heavens are riven, and the Almighty Judge descends to hold that grand assize, which will award to all their everlasting doom. (E. J. Wilcocks, M. A.)
If a man sin against the Lord who shall entreat for him?--
Reasons why man cannot entreat for us
1. Man cannot entreat for you because he is of your class. We are all in the same boat. One man has sinned one way, another a different way; but they are both sinners. The difficulty is that a man thinks that because another does not sin in his way, the other is the greater sinner. That is the mischief.
2. Again, man cannot entreat for us, because the offence is not against man.
3. No man can entreat for us because he does not know what the offence is, and nobody else can help him to know. Black never looks so black as when it is against white. The sun does not make the dust, the sun reveals it. We cannot see our offence, as its far-reaching, its depth, its corruptness, its awfulness; only God knows what sin is. Who then shall entreat? Here comes the great Gospel of Grace. Jesus did not die instead of us, He died for us. He says: “I only came to meet this great problem; reconciliation must come by grace; eternity must help time; the heavens must come to redeem the earth. I have come to seek and to save that which was lost.” If one man sin against another judge and save him, but if a man sin against God, how then? (Christian Weekly.)
1 Samuel 2:26
And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the Lord, and also with men.
One of the most beautiful things that God has made in the world is growth, and the world is full of it. God did not make a great Samuel at once, but a little child Samuel, who grew before Him. I will speak of four thoughts as included in growing before the Lord.
I. Samuel grew at the Lord’s house. At this time there was no temple. There was no tabernacle, with the court round about, where the burnt offerings were consumed on the altar.
II. Samuel grew is the Lord’s sight. This means that the Lord was pleased to see Samuel grow as he did. “Grow in grace” is the Apostle’s word. Growth in love is the true progress; for love is holiness, and holiness is light, and light is God.
III. Samuel grew by the Lord’s grace. His mother had lent him to the Lord, and the Lord saw to his growing.
IV. Samuel grew for the Lord’s service.
1. Little services from little people are acceptable to God.
2. The little grows by and by to the great. (J. Edmond.)
The training of a prophet
The Bible tells us very little about the childhood of its great men. We know nothing of the early days of Abraham, or of the child life of Moses, David, St. Peter, and St. Paul. Even of Jesus there is only one beautiful picture given of His young bright days. The only exception which the Bible makes is the instance of Samuel. The account of his early life is really the only thing of the kind which the sacred pages contain. It is the story of a child’s growth, of a child’s education, of a child’s first prayers and religious beginnings, of a child’s shaping into a man of God.
I. It tells us of his mother. No biography is complete without that. The father is not of so much consequence in the story; the mother is indispensable. Paint her moral portrait for me, and I can guess what the child will be like. Samuel’s life began well, with a praying mother kneeling beside his cradle, and praying lips teaching him the first words he knew. She laid her dearest treasure upon the altar, and prayed, “Take him, O God, and make him Thine and make him worthy.” And the Lord answered, as Jesus might have answered, “O, woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” Our children will become in the main features what their mothers prayerfully and persistently determine they shall be. The picture of life which the mother always holds up before them will be the end, the ideal towards which they strive, and her daily habitual thoughts, her dominant and ruling thoughts will shape and colour their hopes and dreams.
II. We are told about his schoolmaster. He was the one pupil of a sad-hearted old man. There is a touch of pathos in that part of the story, This child became the one joy of a lonely house, the music in its silent chambers. He came to Eli as the sunbeams come into a prison, or the smell of flowers to a sick man on his bed. He was a joyless old man, wearied and disappointed, who trailed behind him the broken threads of all his life’s hopes. His own sons had become his shame, so that he wished he had buried them when they were little ones. His country was in danger, for the people had forsaken God and all good things, and were on the downgrade towards ruin. He was a gentle and kindly old man, but with no strength for the position which he filled. His hands were weak and his eyes dim. Dark was the outlook, and his life was going down with sorrow to the grave. And now see the goodness of the Lord. There comes into his house this sunbeam, this ripple of laughter on the sullen stream, this song in the night. A child whose feet ran in the way of his commandments, a child whom it was good to love and a joy to teach, a child who would take the place of his lost sons and provide new interests and create new hopes. There was something to live for and work for again. The child’s presence brought summer into the drear winter, and warmth and cheerfulness into the cold desolate heart. On that child the old man poured his affection and gave all his remaining strength, and the child took lovely shape under these worn but tender hands. He must have been a good schoolmaster though he was no great good at anything else. He was no prophet, but he helped to make a prophet. He had no greatness of his own, but he developed the greatness of another. If Israel owed him nothing else, it owed him a Samuel: and that was no small debt. His life bore that magnificent fruit in its old age, and many a successful life has far less to show at the end. Call no man or woman a failure who has sent out one brave true life to enrich the world. When you think of Samuel do not forget the gentle, tired, old man who was his schoolmaster.
III. We are told of his growth. But there are different kinds of growth. Some children grow taller and stronger, but they do not improve in other things. They get a little more knowledge, hut they do not get much wiser. They increase in stature, years, and strength; but they seem to lose, bit by bit, all their goodness, and what was beautiful in them becomes ugly, and what was kind and gentle and innocent becomes selfish and peevish and hard and unlovely. Samuel grew in favour with God and also with man. He grew by prayer. God heard him, and for every prayer gave him a little more wisdom and a little more goodness. And so he grew in obedience, in truthfulness, in modesty, in kindness of heart, in helpfulness. And everybody saw that he was shaping well. For just as we can felt from the first signs whether a tree will grow crooked or straight, and whether a plant will grow into poisonous nightshade or into a fragrant rose bush, and whether the glittering particles under the sea will form a common oyster shell or crystallise into a pearl, so can those who watch a child’s life today know what the coming man or woman will be. Samuel was steadily shaping into the life which God had designed for him.
IV. That he was the rising star in a dark sky and the hope of a godless land. It was a dreary and desperate time. The few who, like old Eli, still believed in God and righteousness were at their wits’ end. They saw no tiniest rift in the black storm cloud which darkened the sky. And yet, in the midst of all that, God was training this child as a teacher and deliverer, keeping him outside all the impurity and unbelief, giving him a big heart and a wise mind, and fitting him for great leadership. If you read these three chapters, you seem to hear two distinct voices speaking. One is a voice of groaning complaint, sad foreboding; the other, a voice of hope, promise, and good cheer. One tells of greedy priests who were robbing the people and plundering the sanctuary; and then the other voice breaks in, “But the child Samuel grew and ministered before the Lord.” Once more the doleful lips take up the strain, and tell again how the ruling men are wallowing in the filthiest sins and the people mocking at religion, and all the wisdom turned to folly; and again the other voice replies, “But the child grew on, grew in favour with God and man.” Clouds thickening above, and danger and ruin threatening on every side. Still the child grows, and God is with him. And so God is training our children today. There are always new hopes given to us when we see child life, for in every group of children, especially if they are God-taught children, there are the bright and great possibilities of the future. Instead of the fathers shall come up the children. When there is a dearth of great men there is often a larger abundance of young souls slowly growing into greatness. The seed has been sown and the harvest will be reaped further on. We shall have them again, never fear. The Samuels, the brave leaders, the men made mighty by faith and prayer, they are growing in many a godly home today. The Lord knows them though we do not. (J. G. Greenough, M. A.)
The child Samuel
I. Now, first of all, what was Samuel, as described in the Word of God? There are among others three things about him, which I want to tell you of his character, his conduct, and his circumstances. First of all, about his character. God loved him, and men loved him too; everybody that knew him could not help loving him. That was his character. The first thing was, that he had God’s love. That is of the utmost importance, dear children; because if everybody in the world loved us, and we had not the love of God, we could not be truly happy. Now, one proof of being accepted of God is, that our conduct will be that which is right. We read that Samuel had the character before men of being a good boy. He “was in favour with men.” If Samuel had been accustomed to tell lies, do yea think that men would have liked him? But I dare say you would like me to tell you something more particularly respecting Samuel’s conduct.
1. In the first place, then, Samuel was very obedient. He was obedient to Eli’s will. Eli had only to tell him what to do, and Samuel ran as hard as he could to do it.
2. The second is, respect and affection for an old man. Now, there are net many children that are disposed to find their pleasure in showing respect and affection to old people. Little children very often are inclined to treat old people with neglect--not to show them proper attention.
3. But another thing in Samuel’s conduct was his humility. It pleased God to reveal Himself to Samuel. Now, many children would have been puffed up with pride at this.
4. There is one thing more in Samuel’s conduct that you ought to notice; and that is his truthfulness. “Samuel told him every whir, and hid not the whole truth from him.” When he was examined, he kept nothing back. There was no deceit, no guile, nothing of this kind to spoil his character, or to cause him to lose that favour which he had with all that knew him. But we must say a word about Samuel’s circumstances; because perhaps there are some children present who think that he had everything to favour him--that he had no temptations to do wrong. They may think that he had a pious mother, and perhaps a pious father too, and that Eli, with whom he lived, was God’s minister, and that he was employed in God’s house, and that there were therefore around him circumstances that all tended to make him good. But, if God had not given Samuel a new heart, all these circumstances would not have made him good. But Samuel’s circumstances were not all favourable. The two sons of Eli that Samuel had to do with every day were very bad young men.
II. How are you to become like little Samuel? I think I ought to ask you, in the first place, whether you wish to become like little Samuel. In order to be like Jesus, to be in “favour with God and men,” you must have “the mind which was in Christ Jesus.” I have told you that you must pray to be like Jesus: then, secondly, you must pray to remember the truth of your Bibles. “My son, forget not my law, but let thine heart keep My commandments. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee; bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart. So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and men.” Now, in order to remember God’s Word you must know it--you must learn it. Let me advise you, then, never to let a single day pass without learning some one text of Scripture. The third thing is be go and practise what you know immediately. Our blessed Lord says, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” (W. Cadman, M. A.)
1 Samuel 2:27
And there came a man of God unto Eli.
Eli’s two messengers
That was a terrible speech to make to an old man whose life was all behind him, who was now tottering on the last edge! Ministers of God are required to come up to this point of faithfulness, now and again; to have to say these words, terrible as lightning at midnight, right to an old man, when nobody else is there to hear--to thunder to one man--to shake the universe round one poor old man! It is nothing to preach to a crowd. But when the man of God comes and talks to one auditor--and when that auditor feels, by reason of his solitude, that every syllable is meant for him alone--you go far to test the strength of a man’s character and the extent of a man’s moral capacity. Eli was a priest, the speaker was a man of God. Man first, priest second; life original, office secondary. Eli was high priest, and the man who confronted him was a man of God. There is something deeper in the human than the sacerdotal. Let us have faith in people, in humanity; not in ephods and mitres and staves of office--but in that divine, living, imperishable spirit which God has put into redeemed and sanctified beings. Surely this message was enough for one day. Who can bear such thunder from the morning even until the evening? The next messenger that came was a little child. This is how God educates us, by putting tutors on both sides, behind and before. You hear a man who tells you what to you may be evil tidings--sharp, startling messages to your judgment and to your conscience--and you say, “The man is a fanatic.” You walk away, and before you have got a mile further a little child gets up and smiles at you the same message--says it in smiles, in tender looks, in trembling child-like tone--and you begin to think there is something in it. You go further, and the atmosphere seems to be charged with Divine reproaches and Divine messages. So you go on, until the oldest, best., and stateliest men tremble under subtle, impalpable, all-encompassing, irresistible influences. (J. Parker, D. D.)
1 Samuel 2:30
For them that honour Me I will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.
The reward of honouring God
The words are in the strictest sense the word of God, uttered immediately by God Himself; and may thence command from us an especial attention and regard.
I. The reward may be considered either absolutely, as what it is in itself; or relatively, as to its rise and whence it comes.
1. For itself, it is honour; a thing, if valued according to the rate it bears in the common market, of highest price among all the object of human desire; the chief reward which the greatest actions and which the best actions do pretend unto or are capable of; that which usually bears most sway in the hearts, and hath strongest influence on the lives of men; the desire of obtaining and maintaining which doth commonly overbear other most potent inclinations. The love of pleasure stoops thereto: for men, to get or keep reputation, will decline the most pleasant enjoyments, will embrace the hardest pains. If we observe what is done in the world, we may discern it to be the source of most undertakings therein. For honour the soldier undergoes hardship. In such request, of such force, doth honour appear to be. If we examine why, we may find more than mere fashion to ground the experiment on. There is one obvious reason why no mean regard should be had thereto; its great convenience and usefulness: it being an engine very requisite for the managing of any business, for the compassing any design, at least sweetly and smoothly. But searching farther, we shall find the appetite of honour to have a deeper ground, and that it is rooted even in our nature itself. For we may descry it budding forth in men’s first infancy (before the use of reason, or speech); even little children being ambitious to be made much of, maintaining among themselves pertly emulations and competitions, as it were about punctilios of honour. It is a spirit that not only haunts our courts and palaces, but frequents our schools and cloisters, yea, creeps into cottages, into hospitals, into prisons, and even dogs men into deserts and solitudes. The reason why is clear: for it is as if one should dispute against eating and drinking, or should labour to free himself from hunger and thirst: the appetite of honour being indeed, as that of food, innate unto us, so as not to be quenched or smothered, except by some violent distemper or indisposition of mind; even by the wise Author of our nature originally implanted therein, for very good ends. For did not some love of honour glow in men’s breasts, were that noble spark quite extinct, few men probably would study for honourable qualities, or perform laudable deeds; there would be nothing to keep some men within bounds of modesty and decency. A moderato regard to honour is also commendable as an instance of humanity or good will to men, yea, as an argument of humility, or a sober conceit of ourselves. For to desire another man’s esteem, and consequently his love, doth imply somewhat of reciprocal esteem and affection toward him; and to prize the judgment of other men concerning us, doth signify that we are not oversatisfied with our own. But beyond all this, the holy Scripture doth not teach us to slight honour, but rather in its fit order and just measure to love and prize it. It indeed instructs us to ground it well, not on bad qualities or wicked deeds; not on things of a mean and indifferent nature, that is vanity; but on real worth and goodness, that may consist with modesty and sobriety. Such is the reward propounded to us in itself; no vile or contemptible thing, but on various accounts most valuable; that which the common apprehensions of men, plain dictates of reason, a predominant instinct of nature, the judgments of very wise men, and Divine attestation itself conspire to commend unto us as very considerable and precious. Such a reward our text prescribes us the certain, the only way of attaining.
2. Such a benefit is here tendered to us by God Himself: “I,” saith He, “will honour.” It is sanctified by coming from His holy hand; it is dignified by following His most wise and just disposal; it is fortified and assured by depending on His unquestionable word and uncontrollable power: who, as He is the prime Author of all good, so He is in especial manner the sovereign dispenser of honour. It is but an exchange of honour for honour; of honour from God, which is a free gift, for honour from us, which is a just duty; of honour from Him our sovereign Lord, for honour from us His poor vassals; of honour from the most high Majesty of heaven, for honour from us vile worms creeping on the earth. Such an overture one would think it not only reasonable to accept, but impossible to refuse. For can any man dare not to honour invincible power, infallible wisdom, inflexible justice?
II. There are several ways of honouring God, or several parts and degrees of this duty.
1. The soul of that honour which is required of us toward God, is that internal esteem and reverence which we should bear in our hearts towards Him; importing that we have impressed on our minds such conceptions about Him as are worthy of Him, suitable to the perfection of His nature, to the eminency of His state, to the just quality of His works and actions. In acts, I say: not in speculative opinions concerning the Divine excellencies, such as all men have who are not downright atheists. Such an apprehension of God’s power, as shall make us dread His irresistible hand, shall cause us to despair of prospering in bad courses, shall dispose us to confide in Him, as able to perform whatever He wills us to expect from Him. “This people,” saith God, “do honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Such honour is indeed no honour at all, but impudent abuse and profane mockery.
2. This bodily part consists in outward expressions and performances, whereby we declare our esteem and reverence of God, and produce or promote the like in others. First, in general, God is honoured by a willing and careful practice of all piety and virtue for conscience sake, or in avowed obedience to His holy will. This is the most natural expression of our reverence toward Him, and the most effectual way of promoting the same in others. The light and lustre of good works done in regard to Divine command, will cause men to see clearly the excellencies of our most wise and gracious Lord; will consequently induce and excite them “to glorify our Father which is in heaven.” “In this,” saith our Saviour, “is my Father glorified, if you bear much fruit.” It is an aggravation of impiety, often insisted on in Scripture, that it slurs, as it were, and defames God, brings reproach and obloquy on Him, causes His name to be profaned; and it is answerably a commendation of piety, that by the practice thereof we beget esteem to God Himself, and sanctify His ever-blessed name. Secondly, but there are, deserving a particular inspection, some members thereof, which in a peculiar and eminent manner do constitute this honour: some acts which more signally conduce to the illustration of God’s glory
1. The frequent and constant performance (in a serious and reverent manner) of all religious duties, or devotions.
2. Using all things peculiarly refuted unto God, His holy name, His holy word, His holy places (the places “where His honour dwelleth,”) His holy times (religious fasts and festivities) with especial respect.
3. Yielding due observance to the deputies and ministers of God.
4. Freely spending what God hath given us (out of respect unto Him) in works of piety, charity, and mercy; that which the wise man calls, “honouring the Lord with our substance.”
5. All penitential acts, by which we submit unto God, and humble ourselves before Him. As Achan, by confessing of his sin, is said to “give glory to the Lord God of Israel.”
6. Cheerful undergoing afflictions, losses, disgraces, for the profession of God’s truth, or for obedience to God’s commands. (As St. Peter is said “by his death,” suffered on such accounts, “to glorify God.”)
7. We shall especially honour God, by discharging faithfully those offices which God has intrusted us with; by improving diligently those talents which God hath committed to us; by using carefully those means and opportunities which God hath vouchsafed us, of doing Him service, and promoting His glory. It is a most notorious thing, both to reason and in experience, what extreme advantage great persons have, especially by the influence of their practice, to bring God Himself, as it were, into credit; how much it is in their power easily to render piety a thing in fashion and at request. For in what they do, they never are alone, or are ill attended; whither they go, they carry the world along with them: they lead crowds of people after them, as well when they go in the right way, as when they run astray. Their good example especially hath this advantages that men can find no excuse, can have no pretence why they should not follow it.
III. I should now show why the duty is required of us, or how reasonable it is. God surely doth not exact honour from us because He needs it, because He is the better for it, because He, for itself, delights therein. He is infinitely excellent, beyond what we can imagine or declare.
1. For that to honour God is the most proper work of reason; that for which primarily we were designed and framed; whence the performance thereof doth preserve and perfect our haters; to neglect it being unnatural and monstrous.
2. For that also it is a most pleasant duty. He is not a man who doth not delight to make some returns thither, where he hath found much goodwill, whence He hath felt great kindness.
3. For that likewise our honouring God disposes us to the imitation of Him (for what we do reverence we would resemble), that is, to the doing those things wherein our chief perfection and happiness consists, whence our best content and joy doth spring.
4. In fine, for that the practice at this duty is most profitable and beneficial to us; unto it by an eternal rule of justice our final welfare and prosperity being annexed.
IV. This promise He makes good several ways.
1. The honouring God is of itself an honourable thing; the employment which ennobles heaven itself, wherein the highest angels do rejoice and glory. It is the greatest honour of a servant to bring credit to his master.
2. By honouring God we are immediately instated in great honour; we enter into most noble relations, acquire most illustrious titles, enjoy most glorious privileges.
3. God hath so ordered it, that honour is naturally consequent on the honouring Him. God hath made goodness a noble and stately thing; hath impressed on it that beauty and majesty which commands an universal love and veneration, which strikes presently both a kindly and an awful respect into the minds of all men.
4. God, by His extraordinary providence, as there is reason and occasion, doth interpose so as to procure honour to them, to maintain and further their reputation who honour Him. Many are the instances of persons (such as Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Job, and Daniel), who, for their signal honouring of God, from a base and obscure, or from an afflicted and forlorn condition, have, in ways strange and wonderful, been advanced to eminent dignity.
5. Whereas men are naturally inclined to bear much regard to the judgment of posterity concerning them, are desirous to leave a good name behind them, and to have their memory retained in esteem: God so disposes things, that “the memory of the just shall be blessed”; that “his righteousness shall be had in everlasting remembrance.”
6. Lastly, to those who honour God here, God hath reserved an honour infinitely great and excellent, in comparison whereto all honours here are but dreams, the loudest acclamations of mortal men are but empty sounds. (I. Barrow, D. D.)
The principle underlying these words is, that God is jealous of His honour and glory. The great object of God still, in revealing Himself, is be get men to honour Him. When that is accomplished He is satisfied, and men are fulfilling the great end of their existence.
I. Consider some reasons why God should be honoured.
1. He should be honoured because of His power. It seems almost an instinct in the human mind to honour power. Some of the heathen worshipped the ox and the lion as the symbols of strength. In our own day, in connection with athletic sports, etc., we see what amounts almost to a worship of brute force. But perversions of the idea apart, every well-regulated mind recognises the necessity of honouring those to whom honour is due, and notably those possessed of power. Now consider the power of God.
2. He is to be honoured because of His character. Some would say that men possessed of power, if destitute of character, are not to be honoured. Without discussing this point, it will be admitted on all hands that power and character combined deserve, and will receive, all due honour. Besides this, it is to be observed that God’s character is perfect in the combination of the strong with the tender. His power is to be taken along with His goodness, His justice with His love, His holiness with His compassion. So that we have in God perfection in each attribute, and perfection in all taken together.
3. He is to be honoured because of all He is doing both in Providence grace.
II. Consider some ways in which God can and ought to be honoured.
1. We are to honour Him by trusting Him. There is nothing more dishonouring to a man of honour and truthfulness, than to doubt or mistrust him. The life of faith, from first to last, is a God-honouring life.
2. We honour God by the services of the Sanctuary, if they are performed in a right spirit. Altogether, if we are in a right frame of mind we are offering spiritual sacrifices to God.
3. We are to honour God with our substance.
III. Consider the consequence of honouring God. It is said in the 75th Psalm, “Promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the Judge: He putteth down one and setteth up another.” He is the Ruler of the Universe, and, therefore, all honour comes from Him. This truth is also brought out in: the history of Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel and many others.
IV. Consider: the principle on which God acts in the bestowing of honour.
God honours men, not for their fathers’ sake but for their own. In other words, He deals with men not representatively but individually. This principle is brought out also in, the 18th chapter of Ezekiel, the gist of which is comprehended in the statement, “the soul that sinneth it shall die.” (D. Macaulay, M. A.)
Honour and Shame
There could not be a move forcible illustration of the truth of these words than the sad story of which they form a part. Outwardly, we see nothing to blame in the personal conduct of Eli. He had never lived above his office. That God had delight in burnt offerings and sacrifice, he had impressed on himself, and these things were the summit of his estimate. He had never learned that there are things better than sacrifice, and more acceptable than the fat of rams. An amiable heart, a fine conservative feeling for all that was enjoined by God, these had kept him steady and made him respected: but alas it now appears, Mass there was no more than these. He knew not that in order to do good, a man must live above, not up to his outward duties: that influence on others is found, not where life is raised up to the routine of duty, but where that routine of duty is quickened and inspired by a life led in higher places and guided by nobler motives. He who dwells in the circumference of his life gains no sympathy from those who dwell in its centre. And none are so keen as the young to discover where central principle is wanting; none so ductile, to be drawn after, where another leads. The father reposed in the public esteem. He lived and acted as was expected of him They knew that their father’s piety was just conformity to what he saw around him: was just amiableness, propriety, acquiescence in that which he found among the servants of God in his tabernacle. And when with the passions and feelings of youth, they began to do likewise, they too find what all under the same circumstances have found. The result in this case was natural, and speedily followed. Eli, falling among the decent and the religious, knowing his duties, and having inherited perhaps a feeling of their sacred nature, did what was expected of him: his sons, falling among the unprincipled and profligate, being taught to look on their sacred duties as decent forms merely, did what was expected of them: ran riot with their ungodly companions; being destitute of leading principle, drifted onward from bad to worse; openly disgraced the solemn service of the sanctuary by their greediness and by their sensuality. The sad history ends as God had forewarned them it would--and even more terribly in its details than it had pleased Him to disclose. Most characteristic and instructive is every step of the narration: instructive, to the effect produced on a people by the long endurance of such a system as that which we have now been tracing. To what must a people have been degraded, who could look on that ark thus accompanied, and greet its arrival with shouts of triumph? And now rapidly gathers in the dark and disgraceful catastrophe. Yes, and it is thus that all glory departs--from men, from families, from nations--by leaving out God from life, and lightly esteeming Him. Turn for an instant to another example, of a very different kind, and notice the central. There never was a religious man, who gave more lamentable instances of forgetting his God and falling into sin, than did David. But when David fell, he rose again. He never indeed lost the changing consequences of his sin; it rained his peace, it broke up his family, it embittered his death bed; but it did not overwhelm him utterly. And why? Because he set the Lord ever before him, in the realities of his inward life. And therefore the one was honoured, and the other was disgraced. And now from these ancient examples, written down for our learning, let us turn to ourselves and fit them to our instruction. These are days of all but universal external accord in the great verities of our Christian faith. It is rather creditable than otherwise to maintain them: it is what society expects of men and of families, to conform to a certain amount of religious charity. And the consequence is, that such a history as this needs applying, and, its lessons enforcing on men’s minds, more perhaps than at any previous period. There is among us, it is to be feared, a vast amount of this same untoward and blameless decency, this uniform respect for the usages and ordinance of religion, subsisting without a living personal apprehension of and honour of God in the character in which He has revealed himself, and in which we profess to have received and to be serving Him. Let us set before ourselves the consequences of such a state in the individual, in the family, in the community. Do we not at once see, that it contains necessity the elements of decay and of downward progress? And corresponding to this progress will be, as we might expect, yet another, and in another direction. As Israel became acted an by the system which prevailed under Eli, superstition succeeded to the fear of God. Now superstition is the refuge of the conscience when it has lost the sense of God’s personal presence. You may measure by its prevalence, the absence of God from men’s hearts. And another result will not fail to follow, from the mere decent conservation of religion among a people: a depreciation of Truth, as truth: a refusal to entertain solemn questions reaching to our very truthfulness and genuineness as men and Christians, and falling back on expediency as a principle. I might point out many more mischiefs resulting from such a view of religion as that which I have been today impugning. I might follow the young, as its result not only into superstition, which I have done--but into even darker and more awful consequences: I might show how much of the lax belief and growing unbelief of our day is owing to this want of living reality in our religious men and religious families: but I rather hasten to what I conceive ought to be our great practical lesson from this awful history and subject. And that practical lesson is beyond all question this: that the inward reality of religion is the one thing needful, far, far above those outward expressions of it which however necessary as its accompaniments, may and often do exist willful it. “Them that honour me I will honour.” (H. Alford, B. D.)
Man honouring God and God honouring man.
“Them that honour Me I will honour” (1 Samuel 2:30).
I. Man honouring God as a duty. How can man honour God? Not by making Him greater than He is. He is infinitely glorious. Not by ascribing to Him, in song or prayer and in sublimest forms of speech, the highest attribute of being. How then?
1. By a practical reverence for His greatness. His greatness should be realised in every step of life. The world is the house of God and the gate of heaven. Life should be reverent, not frivolous.
2. By a practical gratitude for His goodness.
3. By a practical adoration for His excellence. The heavens declare His glory, yea, the whole earth is full of His glory.
II. God honouring man as a reward. “Them that honour Me I will honour.” How does God honour such a man?
1. With a commission in His service. He gives him work to do and qualification for its discharge.
2. With an adoption into His family.
3. With a participation in His glory. “Enter into the joy of thy Lord.” (Homilist.)
The duty and reward of honouring God
It is abundantly evident that God is eminently worthy of the highest honour.
I. There are special forms in which in special circumstances we may be called upon to honour God. These are various as the changing nature of our lot in Providence, and the characteristics of the age and place in which we live. But there are common forms of honouring Him which are incumbent upon all who are blessed with gospel privileges.
1. As rebellious lost and ruined creatures, it is a primary and fundamental duty that we honour God by obeying His commend, to believe on His Son whom He hath sent as the Saviour of mankind sinners.
2. Another important way of honouring God is by having a strict regard to the ordinances of His worship. And we honour Him in a special manner by strictly observing, and carefully conserving, and earnestly defending any of these ordinances., which for the time may be corrupted or neglected or denied. Those thus honour Him, for example, who “keep the Sabbath from polluting it” in a time such as this when Sabbath desecration in a variety of open and flagrant forms so generally and lamentably prevails.
3. God is also honouring in our holding fast and holding forth His revealed truths, especially those which are being ignored, made light of, corrupted, or denied.
II. It is an encouraging and animating assurance that in proportion as we in these and the like ways honour God, he will honour us.
1. God sometimes honours those who honour Him in the honour they receive during their lives from their fellowmen. He so deals with them in His providence as to mark them out as those whom He delights to honour. Many instances of this are found not only in Scripture, but in everyday life, as in the following case. There was a large mercantile firm whose annual stock taking was done on Sabbath. Mr. C--, a superior clerk in their establishment, had, without scruple always taken a principal part in this work. Having become savingly impressed with Divine things, he felt, when the first annual stock-taking thereafter came round, that he could not again dishonour God by engaging in his secular calling on the Sabbath, whatever might be the consequences of his refusal. He therefore respectfully but firmly informed his employers that he Could not again take part in the usual Sabbath stock-taking. The Saturday came, and he was finally asked whether or not he would be at his accustomed post on the morrow. He firmly declined being present, and received the ominous answer that a letter from the firm would be sent to his home in the evening. Late at night the letter came. Too excited and nervous to do so himself, he asked his sister to open it and read. It began, as he expected, viz., that in consequence of his refusal to perform accustomed duties his employers discharged him from their service; but the letter continued, “we so exceedingly admire your firm, straightforward conscientiousness, and feel so strongly that we can place implicit confidence in you, that we offer you a partnership in our firm, and feel sure that your presence with us will be a blessing.” The following stock taking, we may add, was left in Mr. C--’s hands, under whose arrangements it was satisfactorily done without encroaching on the Sabbath. And never again was the sacred day desecrated in the firm in which he bad become so valued a partner.
2. Again, God sometimes honours those who honour Him in the esteem in which they are held by after generation. “The memory of the just is blessed.” This is abundantly illustrated in Sacred and Church history. It is seen in the honourable repute in which the Patriarchs and Prophets and Apostles are held wherever the inspired writings are read and received. It is seen in the admiration felt throughout Protestant Christendom for the great leaders of the Reformation, as Luther, Zwingle, Calvin, Wickliffe, Cranmer, and Knox. It is seen in the esteem in which Knox, and Melville, and Henderson are held throughout the Presbyterian world. It is seen on a smaller scale in the honour which, in Scotland at least, attaches to the memory of the Erskines and other Fathers of the Secession, to the memory of Dr. M’Crie, the historian of the Scottish Reformation and Reformers, and to the memory of Chalmers, and other founders of the Free Church, and to the memory of many others who readily suggest themselves.
3. Again, God sometimes honours in their posterity those who honour Him. More than two hundred years ago, the Marquis of Argyle was beheaded in Edinburgh, nominally for the crime of high treason, but in reality for his eminent honouring of God as a pious Christian, a staunch Presbyterian, and a devoted Covenanter. And is it not noteworthy, as illustrative of our theme, that the Argyle family, whilst still Presbyterian, has long occupied a foremost place amongst the Scottish nobility, for talent and character and influence, and that one of his lineal descendants--the present Marquis of Lorne--has been honoured to become son-in-law to our Queen? We may give another and similar recent illustration. The celebrated John Welsh, minister of Ayr, and son-in-law to the illustrious Reformer Knox, was condemned to death as a traitor, for his firm and uncompromising opposition to the Erastian and Prelatic encroachment of King James the Sixth upon the Scottish Church. This sentence was commuted to one of perpetual exile from his native land. The unfeeling and brutal treatment given to his wife the daughter of Knox--by that vain monarch, when she sought some remission of this punishment to save her husband’s life, is well known to every reader of Scottish Church History. And what do we now find with regard to their posterity? The Royal House of Stuart has long since been banished from the throne of Great Britain. And, according to the Boston Advertiser, the Honourable John Welsh, who last month arrived in this country as Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States to the British Court, is a lineal descendant of that very Welsh, minister of Ayr, who, for fidelity to the King of Zion, was unjustly condemned for treason against his earthly king. But whether those who honour God be honoured in such respects as we have referred to or not, they are and ever will be honoured by God Himself. They have His present approbation and esteem, both in and for honouring Him And the converse of all this is equally true. Those who despise God--who despise Him by slighting or rejecting His offers of Himself in the gospel to be their God in Christ--who despise Him by neglecting or corrupting the ordinances of His worship--who despise Him by making light of, or parting with, or rejecting any of His revealed truths--“shall be lightly esteemed.” They shall be so necessarily, for there can be no true and lasting honour apart from moral excellence. Those who despise God are held in light esteem by those whose esteem is most worth having. They are at heart often despised even by wicked men, who for selfish purposes may fawn upon and flatter them in their outward prosperity. Their posterity often lose any outward honour inherited from them, and become otherwise dishonoured. “The seed of evildoers shall never be renowned.” But whether those who despise God be much or little esteemed by their fellowmen, God Himself holds them in light esteem. All the plaudits, and honours, and rewards which the world can heap upon them cannot counterbalance this. “He that sits in heaven shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision.” (Original Secession Magazine.)
The road to honour
Our chickens generally come home to roost. Our thoughts of other men become other men’s thoughts of us. According as we measure out to our fellows, so do they measure back into our bosoms, for good or for evil. So especially, in reference to the Lord himself, the God of justice sooner or later causes a man to reap his own sowing, and gather his own scattering. So does life repeat itself; so does the seed develop the flower, and the flower again produce the seed. It is an endless chain; for the thing that has been is the thing which shall be. A man may live to see a grim procession of all his old sins marching past him, robed in the sackcloth and ashes wherein justice dooms them to be arrayed. So is it also with our joys. God gives us joy after the similitude of our service. If you wish to see this exemplified in Scripture, how many instances rise before your Enoch walks with God because God pleases him, and then we find that he pleases God. Noah obediently rests the issues of his life upon the truth of God, and God gives him rest. Abraham was famous for trusting God, and it is wonderful how God trusted him. Very striking as an instance of the retaliation of providence is the case of Adonibezek’s. Samuel, when he smote Agag, told him that, as his sword had made women childless, so should the sword of the Lord that day make his mother childless by slaying him. Most memorable of all is the instance of Haman and his gallows, fifty cubits high. See how he swings thereon. He built the gibbet for Mordecai. Malice uses a sort of providential boomerang. The man flings it with all his force at the foe, and it comes back to him; not into his hand that he may use it again, but across his brow to smite him even to the dust. Take heed what ye put into the measure that ye mete out to others, and especially to God; for “with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again.” “Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.”
I. The duty incumbent upon us all, but especially upon God’s people, of honouring the Lord. As we are God’s creatures we are bound to honour God. Just notice how we ought to honour Him, and consider wherein this duty lies.
1. We should honour Him by confessing his deity: I mean the deity of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. “The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; and yet there are not three Gods but one God.”
2. Let us further honour God by acknowledging His rule.
3. Let us honour the holiness of God and the justice of God and the mercy of God by repentance whenever we feel that we have done wrong.
4. I would press upon you to honour God by acknowledging the wisdom of His teaching, and by a teachableness which accepts His doctrine.
5. We honour God when we believe Holy Scripture to be inspired--infallibly inspired; and, taking it as such, say, “It is not mine to question it, or to argue against it, but simply to accept it.”
6. Further, we honour God’s love by a daily trust in him.
7. We also honour God, when we confess His goodness by patiently enduring His will, and especially by rejoicing in it.
II. The influence upon our daily life of this habit of honouring God. A man who honours God does this practically; it is no form or farce with him, but a deep practical reality.
1. He does it often by consulting with God.
2. We honour God in our daily life when we confess him.
3. Sometimes you can honour Christ by Some distinct service that you can do for him, or by some special obedience to his will. I have always admired the example of the pious Jew who was told that a certain city on the Continent would excellently suit his business. “But,” he asked, “is there a synagogue there?” and when they said that there was no synagogue he preferred to stay in another place, that he might worship God, though he would do less business. I do not know that this is often the case among Jews any more than it is among Gentiles; and, I am sorry to say that I know many Gentiles to whom God’s worship is no consideration whatever--they would go to the bottomless pit if they could make large profits.
4. Then you can honour God with your substance when He gives it to you.
5. In a word, the man that really honours God seeks to praise Him.
III. The reward of all this. “Them that honour me I will honour.” Is not this a grand reward? It is not, “They that honour me shall be honoured,” but, “Them that honour me I will honour.” Does God honour men? He promises to do so. Compared with the honour which the Lord is able to give, there is no honour which is worth naming in the same day. When God honours a man the glory is glory indeed. One of the French kings gave to a conquering general some £500 a year, or thereabouts, for a wonderful deed of prowess, but the soldier told the king that he would have preferred the gold cross. I do not think I should have had such preference for a bauble; but honour is a precious commodity. To get honour from God is very different from getting it from a king. It was said of Alexander that, of two nobles who had served him well, be gave to one ten thousand talents, and to the other a kiss; and he that had the money envied him who received the kiss. One kiss from the mouth of God would outweigh kingdoms. Honour from God--favour from God--this is a high reward, which cannot be weighed against ten thousand worlds, and all the glory thereof. “Them that honour me I will honour.” The man who honours God shall be honoured in his own heart by peace of conscience--honoured in his own spirit by the conviction that it must be wisdom to be right and true and honest, and that it can never be under any circumstances right to do wrong, or wise to break a divine command. Such a man honouring his God among his brethren shall be honoured of God in the church. And in the world it shall be the same. I do not believe that a man truly serves God without in the long run winning the esteem of his fellow citizens. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The right way of honouring God
These words were spoken by a prophet of the Lord to Eli, upon occasion of the wickedness of his sons, and the dishonour brought upon religion thereby.
1. That their sins were of a scandalous nature, being an open affront both to the ceremonial and moral law. The offering of the Lord was that which Himself had appointed in the Law of Moses ((Leviticus 7:31; Leviticus 7:33-34). But these sons of Eli thought themselves too great to be tied up to such a strict observance of the niceties of the law. God will and ought to be served in his own way, and they, who thought to be wiser than his laws, smarted for their folly.
2. That the house of Eli was advanced to that dignity which it then enjoyed by an extraordinary method of providence.
3. That although God was justly provoked by the sins of the house of Eli; yet there was a concurrence of the people’s sins in bringing down such severe judgments.
I. The name of that honour which is due to them.
II. The rules and measures whereby God bestows honour on mankind. “Them that honour me I will honour; and they that despise me,” etc. There are three sorts of men to be considered with respect to the honour due to God.
1. There are such as despise him instead of honouring him. Such as the sons of Eli here mentioned, who are said to be the sons of Belial, who knew not the Lord.
2. There are such who pretend to honour God, but do not. He that would give true honour to another must have a just apprehension of his worth and excellency, and give it in such a manner as is most becoming and agreeable to him.
Now, there are two ways whereby men may be guilty of dishonouring God under a pretence of honouring him.
1. By false notions of God in their minds, when persons form in their minds false imaginations or conceptions of him; and so give their worship not to the true God, but to an idol of their own fancy. And when our minds are fixed herein, the next thing is to exclude all mean and unworthy thoughts of him, as inconsistent with his Divine perfections.
2. Men dishonour God, when they pretend to honour him, not according to His will, but their own intentions and imaginations.
3. But certainly there is a way left to give to God that honour which is due to Him.
What are the most likely means to be effectual--
1. An universal discountenancing of all sorts of vice and profaneness, be the persons of what rank or quality soever.
2. An even, steady, vigorous and impartial execution of the laws against looseness and debauchery.
3. A wise choice of fit instruments to pursue so good an end.
4. Lastly, a diligent inspection into the behaviour of those who are the proper and immediate instruments for carrying on so good a design.
II. The rules and measures which God observes in distributing honour among men. “Them that honour Me, I will honour; but they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.” Which may be understood two ways.
1. As to such societies of men, which have one common interest. And so it implies, that the welfare and flourishing condition of such depends upon their zeal and concernment for God and religion.. God takes care of His own honour by methods we are not able to comprehend. And if we cannot know the number and aggravation of a people’s sins we can never fix the measures and degrees of their punishment.
But, however, some things are certain;
1. That the sins of a nation do naturally tend to the weakness and dishonour of it.
2. Sometimes God steps out of his ordinary method and course of Providence, either in a way of judgment or mercy. And then he more particularly shows that those that honour him, he will honour; and those who despise him shall be lightly esteemed.
2. As to particular persons, how far this holds will appear by these things.
1. That esteem and honour naturally follows the opinion of another’s desert or excellency.
2. The sincere practice of piety and virtue doth command esteem and reverence. (Bishop Stillingfleet.)
God honouring the righteous
I. The righteous man should honour God.
1. By putting his trust implicitly in God’s words of promise.
2. The righteous man honours God by cleaving fast unto the Lord when the world is all against him.
3. Another way in which the righteous man honours God is by his ceaseless activity and enlarged benevolence.
4. By his singleness of eye, and his faithfulness unto death.
II. How God honours the righteous. God honours his saints who commit their souls to his keeping for pardon and reconciliation, by bestowing that peace which passes all understanding. (T. Myers, M. A.)
Honour from God
The desire of honour, credit, reputation, soon arises in us, because the usefulness of it soon appears to us, for, as we live in society and continually converse with others, and stand in need of them, we see how necessary it is that others should think and speak well of us. The desire of honour which is common to us all is very profitable to society, of singular use to keep men in order, to deter them from wickedness, and to excite them to many virtues. The sacred writers have also represented honour as desirable, and in some measure worthy to be sought and loved.
I. Let us explain what it is to honour God. To honour God is to frame to ourselves just and worthy notions of Him, of His perfections, of His power, wisdom, justice, goodness and mercy, to reflect upon them with pleasure and respect, to love Him, to trust in Him, to desire to resemble Him as nearly as our nature permits, and in all things to consult His will as the rule of our life. To honour God is to declare openly before men by our behaviour that we reverence Him, and would choose above all things to approve ourselves to Him. To honour God is to be constant in the performance of all public acts of religion. To honour God is to improve our abilities, and to discharge the duties of our station in a manner which shall procure respect to the religion which we profess.
II. We have see what it is to honour God, and hence we may know what, on the contrary, is meant by dishonouring Him. God is dishonoured, in general, by all kinds of moral evil, which is a contempt of His authority, an abuse of His gifts, and a disobedience to His will. But more particularly: God is dishonoured by atheism and unbelief. God is dishonoured by that kind of idolatry, in which, instead of him, many false gods are worshipped. God is dishonoured by those who reject the Gospel of Christ. Amongst those who profess the Christian religion, God is dishonoured by such as live not suitably to it.
III. Let us now proceed to consider the reward promised to those who honour God. By the honour thus promised to the righteous, the same thing is not altogether meant in the Old Testament, and in the New; for, because under the Law future rewards were not so clearly propounded, the honour there mentioned relates principally to this world, though honour in the world to come is not excluded: on the contrary, in the New Testament, where eternal life is more fully taught, the honour promised relates principally to that honour which the good shall hereafter receive, though honour even for the present is not to be excluded. The promise, therefore, contained in the text may be fairly restrained and reduced to this, that the good shall be rewarded with honour, usually in this world, and certainly in the world to come Honour is not to be obtained by those who do nothing to deserve it. All the gifts which this world can bestow upon us will not secure it. A good person will always be useful to society, as far as his station and abilities permit: he will not despise and wrong others, and he will do them all the services that He in his power so far, therefore, as he is known, he will probably be esteemed. Thus respect and honour is the natural consequence of goodness, and in the common course of things must attend it. But there is, over and above all this, a promise of God that it shall be so, and we must not suppose that He leaves the issues of things altogether to second causes, and never interposeth Himself. In the Scriptures of the Old Testament we find in how extraordinary a manner God honoured those who honoured Him. If we descend to the times when piety most flourished, and yet was attended with the fewest temporal recompenses, to the first age of Christianity, we find that the disciples of Christ, and other eminent persons in the church, though persecuted, scorned, and slandered by the Gentiles, and the unbelieving Jews, received great authority and miraculous powers from God, and the utmost duty, love, and respect from their numerous brethren in the faith. (J. Jortin, M. A.)
The service of God the only true dignity
I. What it is to honour God. I need not, I trust, use may words to show you the sole supremacy of the God of heaven and earth. In order to honour this great Being aright, He requires that we love Him with all the heart, and soul, and strength, and mind--that we entertain towards Him, supreme reverence and affection, that, whatsoever we do, we do it to His glory. To honour God then as a sinner, you must first do homage to His Son as a Saviour.
II. To illustrate the promise and the threatening in the text. Many and great are the blessings promised in the Scriptures of truth, to the righteous, to them that fear God. Of all the subordinate principles of action in the human breast, there is perhaps none of more universal influence or of more powerful efficacy than the desire of honour. There is no class of men so high as to despise it, and none so low as to be incapable of feeling it. Princes and nobles, statesmen and warriors, lawyers and merchants, philosophers and poets, peasants and mechanics, are all sensible of its influence. To obtain it they will submit to the heaviest toils, the greatest risks, the severest hardships, the most wasting anxieties, and the most alarming dangers. Under its influence have the most formidable obstacles been surmounted, and the greatest results effected. A principle, then, so universal and so powerful, may justly be considered a principle of oar original constitution, and intended to serve the most important and beneficial purposes; and yet it is not to be concealed, that being directed to foolish, vain, unsatisfactory, and forbidden objects, it has been productive of dissatisfaction, disappointment, and bitter remorse to him who was actuated by it, as well as gross injustice, cruelty, and oppression to others. To gratify it, strange as it may seem, many have been guilty of the most contemptible meanness. Though a principle of our nature, then, and capable of producing the most extensive results, it is plain that before these results can be beneficial or allowable, as means of acquiring honour, they must be such as the laws of God, the principles of justice, truth, and goodness will allow; hence God says, “Let not the rich man glory in his riches,” etc. If you seek, then, the honour that cometh from God in those pursuits which are agreeable to righteousness, truth, and mercy, which alone reason and conscience can commend, which promote the glory of Him who is all in all, the good of mankind, and the salvation and happiness of your own immortal souls, then assuredly it is a lawful, and proper, and dignified, principle of action. But if the honour that cometh from God be the object of your desire, and pursued in the way we have pointed out, you cannot be disappointed. The word of the living God is thus passed that if you honour Him, in other words devote yourselves to a life of faith and holiness, He will honour you. And He who is God over all, almighty in His power, and infinite in His resources, cannot want the means of fulfilling His promise--“Riches and honour come of Him, for he ruleth over all: in his hand is power and might: in his hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all.” It is considered an honour to be made associates of the illustrious great, and men covet, even to a weakness, to be thought persons of illustrious extraction and rank; now God promotes those who honour Him to the rank of His children, makes them “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” The Almighty so arranges His providence that at the last, and often in this world, the character of the righteous is duly appreciated. “They that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.” While there is nothing that men, especially the young, desire so much as honour, there is nothing they so much dread as disgrace and contempt--but this shall infallibly be the portion of all who neglect or despise God. But is it possible, we would ask, to despise God? (J. Gibson, M. A.)
That though it is in the power of every man, more or less, as well as it is his duty, to honour God by his words and actions; yet that this morn especially belongs to those that are in a more eminent station, and have greater advantages and opportunities for doing good than others, by their authority, power, and example
I. I shall treat of the words by themselves. “Them that honour me, I will honour.” The honour due to Almighty God is founded upon the same reason as His Being. For who can consider the wonderful power and wisdom shining through the works of the visible creation. Who can contemplate His goodness and His mercy, His mercy to the world. Who can consider God’s government of the world, and His constant preservation of mankind? Who that considers the equity and perfection of the divine law? Who can reflect upon the preservation of a church? Lastly, who is there that has made any observation of himself, and looked into the circumstances of his life in the various scenes of it, but must own a cause superior to himself, and his obligations to this Almighty Power? Surely there is no need of any other argument than the nature of the thing to induce us to honour our Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor.
1. Religion and the civil interest are closely connected. It was strictly so among the Jews, whose government was a theocracy And the law of the land being then of God’s own institution, there was a peculiar providence and blessing that was connected to their obedience by a Divine promise: And by this they were eminently distinguished from other nations. But though it was thus with them after an especial manner, yet the whole world always was, and ever will be, under the government of God’s providence. And howsoever the providence of God may vary in its motions, now turning itself this way, and then another; yet there are immovable reasons upon which it always proceeds, and that is religion, and the blessing of God; our honouring of him, and His honouring of us, in conjunction and cooperation. For religion will stand to the world’s end, whatever become of particular persons and governments. While mortals engage with mortals only, there is the like force to defend, as to assault, and the success depends upon the greater numbers, the inbred courage of the soldiery, the conduct of the commander, or some fortunate accident; but now when the Divine providence comes to be concerned, it is not what the number, or the courage, or the conduct, nay or accidents, are on the adverse side: because that’s all in itself, and becomes all wherever it is. And there it will be, where the honour of God and religion is concerned. There is a vast difference between what is done by Divine providence for our own sakes, and what for the sake of others. If for our own sakes, as it is when grounded upon religion, and the honour we pay to Almighty God, it will then continue, and last as long as the reason lasts upon which it stands. But if it be for other reasons that we succeed in a design, and not for our own sakes, then when the reasons cease our assistance that we had from the Divine providence ceases with it. Thus it was with the haughty Assyrian, who prospered in his invasion of Judea, not as he himself thought, by the wisdom of his own counsel, but as he was the rod of God’s anger, and sent by his special commission against the hypocritical nation But that service ended, there was a stop put to his victory, and he soon fell under the like calamity (Isaiah 10:5, etc.) The world is then as the Jewish state was, a kind of theocracy, God is the governor, and religion, as it were, the soul of it: And then it is that God becomes their patron, and His providence their security.
2. As these two are thus to be connected, for religion is to have the preference: “Them that honour me, I will honour.” Second causes have this advantage of the first, that they are visible, and so sooner affect us than the Supreme, who is invisible; and therefore mankind have been inclined to direct their endeavours another way. But this is an unpardonable oversight, to begin thus at the wrong end; as if because an artificer uses a pencil and colours in the various figures which he draws, and sets off by his skill to the greatest advantage; that a person should impute all to the instruments the artist uses and applaud their skill, and apply himself to them as the operator, and pass by the painter. Much so do they that apply themselves to the next causes, and to the means to the neglect of Him who is the Supreme Cause. Prayer is somewhere due, for we receive what we cannot of ourselves procure; we live as well as we begin to be, by the like Power; and if we enter upon our affairs under the influence only of our own wisdom and power, we may as well pray to ourselves, as depend upon ourselves; since where our dependence is there are our devotions due. But how ridiculous would he appear that should thus adore himself, and pray to himself?
3. According to the honour we give to God, and the regard shown to religion, we may expect to be honoured by him; such we may expect the event will be. It is an easy thing to conceive that such the event will be, forasmuch as God governs the world, and when we lay things in their proper order there is no reason to think but that prosperity, honour, and success should attend those that honour God, as heat and light do the sun. And yet if we draw near, and view the case as it is often in fact, we shall find it far different from what it is in speculation. If, indeed, this was constantly so, that those that honour God were always honoured by Him with such peculiar marks of favour as distinguished them from others, it would serve as a character by which the good might be known from the bad. But since nothing is more evident from common experience than that all things, generally speaking, come alike to all, then those that do not honour God may fare alike with such as do, end those that do honour Him fare no better than those that do not; and so the force of the argument in the text will be lost. But setting aside, for the present, what may he said in defence of the method of Divine providence in such a seeming promiscuous dispensation of things and the reconcileableness of the proposition in the text to it, as to particular persons, we are to remember what has been already said, that it is more especially to be applied to such persons that are of eminent character in respect of quality, or office, or for the advantages they have and improve to the honour of God, and promoting of religion. And surely such as these will God more especially regard. But if we raise the argument higher, and apply it to nations and communities, it improves in our hands, and we have a noble instance of this truth. It must be granted that God that has a regard to the flowers of the field, the fowls of the air, and the beasts of the earth, is as much more concerned in the good, preservation, and happiness of mankind, as these in their nature exceed the other; but yet because we see not into all the events and circumstances relating to men in this world, and that there is a reserve for them in another, we cannot so settle what relates to them, but that we are forced to suspend, and must acknowledge there are great difficulties, and that must remain so to be, till the whole comes to be disclosed. But now as to men combined together in societies, the case is not so perplexed, for there we may, generally speaking, observe, and perhaps, if a careful history of acts and events were preserved, it would appear that God doth honour those nations which honour Him, and that there is no people among whom, as well by their practice as laws, virtue, and religion have been, and are encouraged, but has a suitable blessing attending it, and the Divine providence eminently appearing in their behalf. There are some vices that in their own nature and apparent consequences root up families, make nations effeminate, and poor-spirited, and render them an easy prey to the bold invader: As was evident in the declining times of the Roman empire, declining in virtue as well as power, and declining in power, because they declined in virtue. But there are other sins that have as bearing an influence in the judgments that befall a nation, and especially a nation in covenant with God, as a church, that deprives them of their best defence, the protection of God, and exposes them to the worst of dangers; and these sins are a profane contempt or neglect of things sacred.
II. To consider the proposition in the text, with relation to the context, and to the matter of fact it is subjoined to. Eli being invested with the supreme power and authority, had an opportunity for doing the greatest good, for reforming matters in Church and State, and settling them upon a sure and lasting foundation. In which, how happily soever he succeeded for a time, and so as to have the former part of the text verified in him, “Them that honour me, I will honour”; yet afterwards there followed so great disorders, through the evil practices of his sons, and his indulgence to them, that drew upon him a severe train of judgments. And can such persons whom God hath blessed with gifts and talents above others, or raised by His providence to a state of eminence, think that there is no more required of them in their public station than if they drowsed away their time in some obscure corner, alike unknown and unprofitable to the world? (Luke 12:48.) (John Williams, D. D.)
First, here is honour residing in God. Secondly, I will honour; that is, honour communicated and diffused from God. Thirdly, honour for honour, a covenant established to the advancement of our glory, if we glorify God. Let the honour due unto God have the first place. If we were enjoined to magnify and worship that which was base and despicable, like gods of silver and gold, then cause might be shown why flesh and blood should disdain it. It is the King of Kings, and the excellency of Jacob; He sits upon a throne that is circled about with a rainbow (Revelation 4:1-11). I know it will be more profitable to instance particulars of honour and worship, wherein God especially is delighted.
1. We must magnify His name.
2. Obey His word and commandments.
3. We must give reverence to His sacraments, as to the seals of His love and mercy.
4. Obey His magistrates. Let me declare this blessing of God in particulars. The life of man is divided into three ages. First, here is our conversation upon earth, whose honours we call political promotions, but the days of this life are few and evil, and the honours are as short. The second life is the voice of fame when we are dead, according as we live in the good report of men, or be quite forgotten. And the last life is the life of glory. Thus you see God hath dispersed his blessing of honours:
1. In title and preeminence;
2. In a blessed memory;
3. In a crown of glory.
This I have spoken for the first share of honour which God giveth in this life, and that for these two ends: First, to promote the public good; secondly, to be depressed in humility. But you will say, wherewith shall we honour God? With the heart, by desiring Him; with the mouth, by confessing Him; with the hand, with the plenty of your substance by enriching God’s portion. “They that despise him shall be lightly esteemed.” Which words will best bear this division of two parts.
1. Here is a disdain much undeserved that God should be despised in the opinion of men.
2. Here is a scorn and disdain justly deserved, such a man set at nought in the eyes of God. The first sign of despising is we condemn that which we neglect to understand, as when a prudent man will not beat his brains to study curious and unlawful arts, it is manifest he doth despise them; so, whomsoever thou art, that art not painful to understand the sum of thy faith, and the mystery of thy salvation, it must be granted, that thou settest it at no price and estimation. Secondly, those things which we despise we put out of mind and easily forget, forgetfulness is a sign of contempt. Thirdly, contempt is seen in not to take it to heart, not to be wounded with compassion when Sion is wasted, and God’s honour is trampled under feet. Hearken now to the fourth sign of scorn and contempt, which consists in this, to speak ill of those things who are precious to God and of high esteem. Fifthly, to step into the observation of a judicious commentator, it is an apparent disgust of contempt; not to tremble at his anger that threatens. Sixthly, to take another arrow out of the same quiver, it is a sign we undervalue the power of another, not to fly to His help when we had need of relief.
Seventhly, let me borrow but the speech of the angry goddess, when she thought she should be condemned; that is, when sacrifice comes not in plentifully to the altar, it is an indignity second to none, and God doth greatly disdain at it.
1. The order of these parts will insinuate it unto us; for promise doth go before minacie, the affection of love before the destruction of anger. Them that honour Me I will honour. God begins at the end where there is a reward in the right hand.
2. God will honour the good, He takes it upon Him, that benediction is His proper act. Where is the advancement of the proud? Where is there honour that would be noble, and yet tush at the true nobility of virtue and religion. (Bishop Hackett.)
1 Samuel 2:31-34
I will cut off thine arm.
Judgment upon a false priesthood
“As a priest or interpreter of the holy is the noblest and highest of all men, so is a sham priest the falsest and basest; neither is it doubtful that his canonicals, were they the Pope’s tiaras, will be torn from him one day to make bandages for the wounds of mankind, or even to burn into tinder for honest scientific or culinary purposes.” (T. Carlyle.)
1 Samuel 2:33
In the flower of their age.
Premature death consequent upon, parental neglect
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 fall into courses which tend to undermine their constitutions, and shorten their days. It is, indeed, a well known fact that, in populous towns, comparatively few live to become aged, and that a much larger proportion of mankind, especially of the male sex who are most exposed to the influence of temptation, die in the flower or meridian of their days, than in the country where parental discipline is less generally neglected, and youth are under greater restraints. If parents wished that their sons should drag out a short life of debility and disease, and die before they reach half the common age of man, they could not adopt measures better calculated to produce this effect, than to cast loose the reins of parental authority, and suffer them to follow their own inclinations, and associate with vicious companions without restraint. We may, therefore, consider the premature death of ungoverned children, as the natural consequence, as well as the usual punishment, of parental neglect. (E. Payson, D. D.)
1 Samuel 2:35
And I will raise me up a faithful priest.
Rejection and election
I. The principle of Divine rejection is always the same.
1. There is nothing arbitrary in God’s dealings with men.
(1) They seem so to us--
(2) Only because we are ignorant of many of the facts with which He is acquainted.
(3) If we know the whole, we should see how entirely all His doings are referable to His eternal love and wisdom.
(4) We must never therefore justify God’s dealings by mere appeals to His power, to His right to do as He pleases, as though His pleasure could ever be at variance with the dictates of infinite love and perfect wisdom.
2. The real cause of rejection is always found in the enmity against God in the natural man. And this enmity shows itself in self-will. “Them that honour Me I will honour, and they that despite Me shall be lightly esteemed “(1 Samuel 2:30).
(1) So it was in Saul: “Hath the Lord as much pleasure in burnt offerings and in sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord?”
(2) So in the sons of Eli. They did not love God’s will or way.
(3) The most awful example in Judas.
II. God will not have His work neglected on account of our unfaithfulness. “I will raise up a faithful priest” (1 Samuel 2:35). In the Old Testament, Samuel came into the place of Eli’s family. In the New Testament, Matthias came into the place of Judas. Note here, in conclusion, two separate lessons.
1. To those who refuse God’s work. They will be rejected, but the work will not be left undone.
2. To those who offer themselves to that work in sincerity and devotion. What is their course?
(1) Fidelity: “a faithful priest.”
(2) Sympathy with the purposes of God: “Do according to that which is in mine heart.”
(3) The protection and blessing of God: “I will build him a sure house.”
(4) Endurance: “He shall walk before mine anointed forever.” (W. R. Clark, M. A.)
He shall walk before Mine anointed forever.--
Holiness becometh God’s Minister
“As precious liquors are best kept in clean vessels, so is the mystery of faith in a pure conscience.” Who, indeed, would knowingly pour a choice wine into a tainted cask? It would be no instance of his wisdom if he did so. When we hear of men living in sin and yet claiming to be the ministers of God, we are disgusted with their pretences, but we are not deceived by their professions. In the same manner, we care little for those who are orthodox Christians in creed if it is clear that they are heterodox in life. He who believes the truth should himself be true. How can we expect others to receive our religion if it leaves us foul, false, malicious, and selfish? We sicken at the sight of a dirty dish, and refuse even good meat when it is placed thereon. So pure and holy is the doctrine of the cross that he who hears it aright will have his ear cleansed, he who believes it will have his heart purged, and he who preaches it should have his tongue purified. (C. H. Spurgeon.)