And the boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli. Now in those days the word of the LORD was rare and visions were scarce.
I. THE CHARACTER OF ELI ILLUSTRATED.
1. His good points. The Lord had ceased to speak to or by Eli; but when the old priest perceived that the Lord had spoken to the child, he showed no personal or official jealousy. On the contrary, he kindly encouraged Samuel, and directed him how to receive the heavenly message. He did not attempt to interpose on the ground that he, as the chief priest, was the official organ of Divine communications, but bade the child lie still and hearken to the voice. Nor did he claim any preference on the ground of his venerable age. It is not easy to look with complacency on one much younger than ourselves who is evidently on the way to excel us in our own special province. But Eli did so, and threw no hindrance whatever in the way of the young child. Let God use as his seer or prophet whom he would. Eli was anxious to know the truth, and the whole truth, from the mouth of the child. He had been previously warned by a man of God of the disaster which his own weakness and his sons' wickedness would bring on the priestly line (1 Samuel 2:27-36). But the evil of the time was too strong for him; and having effected no reform in consequence of that previous warning, the old man must have foreboded some message of reproof and judgment when the voice in the night came not to himself, but to the child. Yet he was not false to God, and would not shrink from hearing truth, however painful. "I pray thee hide it not from me." He meekly acquiesced in the condemnation of his house. Eli had no sufficient force of character or vigour of purpose to put away the evil which had grown to such enormity under his indulgent rule, but he was ready with a sort of plaintive surrender to Divine justice. It was not a high style of character, but at all events it was vastly better than a self-justifying, God-resisting mood of mind.
2. His faults. No meek language, no pious acquiescence in his sentence, can extenuate the grievous injury which, through indecision and infirmity, Eli had brought on Israel at large, and on the priestly order in particular. His virtues may almost be said to have sprung out of his faults. He was benevolent, submissive, and free from jealousy because he had no force, no intensity. He could lament and suffer well because he had no energy. So he commanded little respect because, instead of checking evil, he had connived at it for a quiet life. "There are persons who go through life sinning and sorrowing, sorrowing and sinning. No experience teaches them. Torrents of tears flow from their eyes. They are full of eloquent regrets. But all in vain. When they have done wrong once they do wrong again. What are such persons to be in the next life? Where will the Elis of this world be? God only knows "(Robertson).
II. THE CHILD CALLED TO BE A PROPHET. We may discern even in "little Samuel" the beginnings of a great character, prognostics of an illustrious career. The child was courageous, not afraid to sleep in one of the priest's chambers alone, no father or mother near. And he was dutiful to the aged Eli, hastening to him when he thought that he had called in the night; and considerate to his feelings, reluctant to tell him in the morning the heavy judgments of which God had spoken. From that night he began to be a prophet. Very soon were the hopes of Hannah for her son fulfilled, nay, surpassed. "Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground." The nature of the first communication made through Samuel gave some indication of the future strain of his prophetic life and testimony. He was not to be one of those, like Isaiah, Daniel, and Zechariah, whose prophecies and visions reached far forward into future times. His function was more like that of Moses, Elijah, or Jeremiah, as a teacher of private and public righteousness. He was destined to maintain the law and authority of God, to rebuke iniquity, to check and even sentence transgressors in high places, to withstand the current of national degeneracy, and insist on the separation of Israel from the heathen nations and their customs. The pith of his life ministry lay in his urgency for moral obedience.
III. LIGHT THROWN ON THE EARLY TRAINING OF GOD'S PUBLIC SERVANTS. It is acknowledged that some who have been eminently useful in Christian times have been converted in manhood, and their earlier life may seem to have been lost. Paul was so converted. So was Augustine. But these really form no exception to the rule that God directs the training of his servants from childhood. Paul had a good Jewish Rabbinical education, and, besides this, an acquaintance with Greek literature and forms of thought. Having been brought up a Pharisee, he was the more fitted after his conversion to estimate at its full force that Jewish resistance to Christianity on the ground of law righteousness which he above all men combatted. At the same time, knowing the world, and being from his youth up cultivated and intelligent according to the Greek standard, he was prepared to be, after his conversion, a most suitable apostle of Christ to the Gentiles. A similar process of preparation may be traced in Augustine. His early studies in logic and rhetoric prepared him, though he knew it not, to become a great Christian dialectician; and even the years in which he served his own youthful passions were not without yielding some profit, inasmuch as they intensified his knowledge of the power of sin, and ultimately of the sin vanquishing power of grace. By far the greater number of those who have served the Lord as prophets, preachers, or pastors of his flock, have been nourished up for such service from early years, though they knew it not. Some of them went first to other callings. John Chrysostom was at the bar; Ambrose in the civil service, rising to be prefect of Liguria; Cyprian was a teacher of rhetoric; Melancthon, a professor of Greek. Moses himself grew up a scholar and a soldier, and no one who saw him in the court of Egypt could have guessed his future career. But in such cases God guided his servants in youth through paths of knowledge and experience which were of utmost value to them when they found at last their real life work for his name. There is danger, however, in sudden transitions from one walk of life to another, and from one mould of character to another. It is the danger of extravagance. There is a proverb about the excessive zeal of sudden converts; and there is this measure of truth in it, that persons who rapidly change their views or their position need some lapse of time, and some inward discipline, before they learn calmness, religious self-possession, and meekness of wisdom. It is therefore worthy of our notice that God gave Moses a long pause in the land of Midian, and Paul also in Arabia. We return to the fact that the great majority of God's servants in the gospel have grown up with religious sentiments and desires from their very childhood. So it was with John the Baptist, with Timothy, with Basil, with Jerome, with Bernard of Clairvaux, with Columba, with Usher, with Zinzendorf, with Bengel, and many more. So it was with Samuel. His first lessons were from the devout and gifted Hannah in the quiet home at Ramah. From his earliest consciousness he knew that he was to be the Lord's, and a specially consecrated servant or Nazarite. Then he was taken to Shiloh, and his special training for a grand and difficult career began. Early in his life he had to see evil among those who ought to have shown the best example. He had to see what mischief is wrought by relaxation of morals among the rulers of what we should call Church and State, so that an abhorrence of such misconduct might be deeply engraved on his untainted soul. But at the same time Samuel grew up in daily contact with holy things. The sacred ritual, which was no more than a form to the wicked priests, had an elevating and purifying influence on the serious spirit of this child. And so it was that Samuel, conversant day by day with holy names and symbols, took a mould of character in harmony with these - took it gradually, firmly, unalterably. It gave steadiness to his future ministry; for he was to retrieve losses, assuage excitements, re-establish justice, reprove, rebuke, and exhort the people and their first king. Such a ministry needed a character of steady growth, and the personal influence which attends a consistent life. So the Lord called Samuel when a child, and he answered, "Speak; for thy servant heareth." May God raise up young children among us to quit themselves hereafter as men - to redress wrongs, establish truth and right, heal divisions, reform the Church, and pave the way for the coming King and the kingdom! - F.
And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli.
(George Matheson, D. D.)
(George Matheson, D. D.)
And the Word of the Lord was precious in those days.
(J. Slade, M. A.)I. THE WORD OF THE LORD — To this high honour the Bible professes to aspire: it claims to be nothing less than the word of the Lord What does the Christian believe, compared with the man who believes that the Scriptures are a cunningly-devised fable? It is to him we plainly apply the exclamation, "O man, great is thy faith." We indeed believe difficulties; but he believes absurdities: we believe mysteries; but he swallows absolute impossibilities. O Christian, your faith does not stand in the wisdom of man. but in the word of God: yet the wisdom of man has always been on your side. Take up your Bible now, and examine it internally — is it not worthy of God? Upon the same principle that when I survey the works of creation I exclaim, "This is the finger of God;" so when I peruse the Scriptures, I feel the impress of the Divine agency: I am perfectly sure, that whoever was the author of the Book, he was a holy being, he was a wise being. he was a benevolent being; I am sure he knew me perfectly, and was concerned for my welfare
II. ITS PRECIOUSNESS. — "Precious" means valuable; something of great worth and importance. You will observe the preciousness of a thing is very distinguishable from the truth of it, in the former argument. Nothing can indeed be valuable and important that is not true; but a thing may be true without being valuable and important. But here both these are conjoined — the veracity and the excellency. This may be inferred, not only from the Author, but the design. What is the design now of the word of God, but the restoration of man from all the effects of moral evil, and placing him in a condition superior to that in which he was originally created? The most precious book in the world to me ought to be that which contains "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord:" and this volume does contain it. How precious is it to have a standard of doctrine with regard to our belief; so that if we feel perplexities we may call in the judgment of God the Father Himself. How satisfactory is it to have a rule of duty with regard to conduct. How wretched we must feel if we had been left to conjecture what God would have us to do, and how he would have us to walk. As to matters of moment, here everything is so legibly inscribed, that he may run that reads it. We must not, before we dismiss this part of our subject, overlook its influence and efficacy. We do not mean now with regard to the illumination of the mind, or the relief of the pardoned conscience, or the setting of the man's poor heart at rest, so that he shall no longer run up and down this wide world, crying, "Who will shew us any good?" but we refer now to his moral transformation. "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature." And we must also observe the value of the Scriptures, as it appears not only when personally, but relatively considered. You will observe that where it is not available to renew, it restrains: where it does not sanctify it civilises. The Jews had the Oracles of God committed to them; this it was which humanised them. How precious should the Scriptures be that have closed so many avenues of wretchedness, and opened so many scenes of comfort.
III. THE SEASON OF ITS PRECIOUSNESS. It would be precious in itself, if no one ever regarded it: just as the jewel is equally valuable though the swine trample it under its hoofs But it is with the word as it is with the Author of it; "to them that believe He is precious," and to them that believe it is precious. "The word of the Lord was particularly precious in those days."
1. The days of destitution. Such were the days of Samuel: this Was the case also in after times with the church, when they said, "We see not any signs; there is no more any prophet; neither is there among us, any that knoweth how long." How precious were the Scriptures before their translation; how many were there to whom the sacred treasure was inaccessible. Suppose now the word of God was remaining in the original Hebrew and Greek, what would it then be to you? Why, it would be like a spring shut up, a fountain sealed; like so many fine paintings hung up in a dark room. In the days of Queen Mary the use of it was absolutely prohibited; we read of one farmer who gave a whole load of hay for a single leaf of one of the epistles. "The word of the Lord was precious in those days." There may be something like these days of destitution existing in some instances now: they may be produced by accidents, by diseases, by deafnesses, and so on. One is deaf, so that he cannot hear the word; another is blind, so that he cannot see. I remember, some years ago, a farmer in the country, a very pious man, he was advancing in years, and his eyes were growing dim: I often saw him reading the Scriptures at his window, and he seemed to be musing as well as reading; he seemed to be committing it to memory: and when I asked him, I found this was the case: "O," said he, "I am making provision for a dark day, that when I can no longer read, in the multitude of my thoughts I shall have comfort left to my soul." We all know best the value of a thing by the want of it. "The word of the Lord was precious in those days."
2. The days of conviction.
3. The days of affliction. Said Bolingbroke under his affliction, "my philosophy forsakes me in my affliction." But did Sir Philip Sidney's philosophy forsake him, when, after a battle, he having to undergo a dreadful operation, said to the surgeon, "Sir, you are come to a poor timid creature in himself; but to one who, by the grace of God, is raised above his own weakness: and therefore, do not dishonour your art in sparing the patient." "The word of the Lord was precious in those days." What days?
4. Dying days. I was one day called in to see a poor man on his dying bed; and he began, the moment I entered the room, to address me in these words: "Sir," said he, "I have a long journey before me, and I don't know one step of the way." Hobbes of Malmesbury, when he was dying, said, "I leave my body to the grave, and my soul to the great Perhaps. I am taking," says he, "a step in the dark." This was not the worst of it; he was not only taking a step in the dark, but a step into the dark.
1. First of all, that God does speak to men. Deism, the coldest thing, perhaps, in the shape of a religion that man has ever believed — Deism says it is beneath God to have any longing to come into personal intercourse with men. A man may write a book and inspire you with his ideas, yet he may resent it very much if you propose to bring yourself into personal intercourse with him. Mr. Haweis speaks of the astonishment with which Mr. Tennyson received him when, as a young fellow something like eighteen years of age, he ventured to call upon the poet to thank him for what the poetry had been to him as a young man; and perhaps, who knows! to ask the poet's exposition of one or two particular passages; but the poet seemed to think the youth was very eccentric, if not very impudent. So the Deist might study the laws and phenomena of Nature — the great book which carries upon it the signature of the Author, the signature of God; but, he says, it would be irreverence for him to presume for a moment that he could be of concern to the great Author, that the Almighty should send special messages to him. God was to him what the Sphinx was to the Egyptian worshipper — there was a light in its face which suggested that it could tell the worshipper wonderful things if it cared to tell, but that it would keep it all to itself. So to Deism God was a sphinx; He never spoke.
2. Finding by seeking. It is a matter of greatest importance that we should believe that. Many men never see God, never hear His voice, because they de not expect to do so. They never look for Him, they never hush themselves to listen for Him. Darwin was always discovering some fresh fact in Nature, but then he was always looking for them; he was always making experiments, always giving Nature an opportunity to show how she did her work. He knew that Nature was always speaking if he only gave her a chance. But he never expected God to speak to him. He gave up praying because he had persuaded himself that God never spoke to man.
3. The many voices of God. Let me add be that, God speaks in many ways. The voices of God are many — the voice of reason, the voice of conscience, the voice of material nature. Why, science is getting to protest that as emphatically as anybody ever did. We often sing, "So God is here, let us adore," and "How awful is this place." If there is any place where that might be sung with propriety, it is the laboratory where the chemist and the physicist are at work. This gives an entirely new meaning to nature. A barrel organ may give correct music: the barrel organ does not make a mistake. The violin gives you the same music, yet not the same. There is a man's soul in the violin. Nature, as the materialist talks about it, is a mere barrel organ. Nature is a violin to the man who knows that every note of it is produced by the finger touch of God, the mind of God, the heart of God, the delight of God in the world that He has made, is in it. I heard a phonograph the other day sing a song of Adelina Patti. It was not absolutely Adelina Patti, but it was correct. There was not one missing note in it, every word, every intonation, the liquid clearness of the beautiful voice; why it was absolutely human. I have heard of a General taking a leaf out of his pocketbook on the field of battle, handing it over to a messenger, and sending the message to someone somewhere in the rough battle. It was a rough missive; the man to whom it was sent kept it, though, as a memorial of the battle. It conveyed the commander's message as effectively as if it had been written an embossed paper. So people nowadays make a great to-do about the numerical or the technical mistakes which are said to be found in the Old Book. Do not be foolish; it is a message written on poor paper if you like, here and there, but the message is none the worse for that. Do not demean yourself to talk of the paper — what of the Message? Robert Browning speaks of a musician who had music in him that no instrument that he had ever tried had been able to reveal. It haunted him, it pained him, it was a burden to him; and he must tell the music out. So he built his own instrument, and had the supreme joy of uttering the music that was in him. God had told Himself in the words of seer, and prophet, and psalmist, but He had never told Himself thoroughly yet. But He will find a voice for Himself; the love of God, the law of righteousness, which must not be insulted, even though the world be wrecked. He told it by the cross. Glorious is the cross; God's last voice, the Word of the Lord.
4. Deaf to the Word. Now let me add to that. The direst misfortune, the direst calamity that can happen to man is that God's Word should cease to come to him. It is not that the Word ever ceases for the matter of that. Science has been making the most wonderful progress during our day. Nature seems to have taken the veil from off her face; but Nature has always been doing this, Nature has always been willing to tell her secrets. But in these days our ears are opened, and we are ready to hear. The misery of the world has always been making an appeal; but philanthropy, in the sense in which we understand philanthropy today, has only just been born. The world is only just beginning to understand that it owes pity end help to the poor, to the criminal, to the wicked one. We may bury our souls in frivolity and never take the trouble to think: but literature is here, art and science are here, and the bread which maketh the soul of man hale and strong — this is here. The Word of the Lord is always here; it is only that we drown it in the din of frivolities and material ambitions. Never read and never think, and no new ideas will ever come to you. The spirit of truth and understanding never thrusts itself upon those who never seek it.
5. Seasons of awakening. And lastly, there are seasons when the Church awakes to a vivid sense of that. These seasons of awakening come to every high region and touch into life every high matter you can think of. We talk about the Dark Ages in England; for centuries the world was asleep; the Word of God was rare in those days. The men to whom it came were few, a rare soul now and then; a Wyckliffe heard the voice of God, but as a whole that period was a long sleep. At last England awoke. There was the richness literature; there came intellectual awakening. In the age of Shakespeare England was born again. There was a spiritual awakening. Luther shook Europe. The Reformers lit a fire which has never been put out.
(J. Morlais Jones.)
1. Well, in the first place, there was no prophet; there was no man to act as a go-between. There was no prophet who could communicate God's message to His people. It was a lack of men with the prophetic gift. God always speaks to His people through chosen witnesses, and when these chosen witnesses are not forthcoming, God's voice is silent. Old Eli was, indeed, a man of God, but his utter failure to rule his own house discredited him. The channel of communication was choked up in that quarter, simply owing to the weakness and imbecility of the man of God. Before God can communicate with the world there must be a chosen vessel. The vessel itself must be filled first before the world can receive the messages of God. What we need just now is a man who is intellectually head and shoulders above his fellows, and who would act as a great leader of men. We are in a kind of backwater as regards the possession of men of commanding intellect and personality just now; but I cannot help thinking, nevertheless, that our greatest need of all is a mighty prophet of God, a man with a message from the Lord, a man able to stir up the nation to its very depth in spiritual things. Musical services are all very well, and I enjoy them; but they are not our chief need. It is not a great singer that we want, but it is a great prophet, a man full of the Holy Ghost and of power, who will rouse the indifferent and the careless, and stir up the lukewarm and the half-hearted, and make the religion of Christ a power in the land once again.
2. Again, there was no open vision because the people were not in a proper mood to receive the vision. The soil was not congenial, so to speak, for the growth of prophets. It was a time of deep spiritual dearth, a time in which men and women were almost wholly engrossed in the material and the present. The supply of prophets was just exactly equal to the demand, and that was — nil! Prophesying in the sense of forth-telling — preaching — is not much in favour just now. There is this incessant clamour for extremely short sermons, which is not at all a healthy sign. "Why do not men go to church?" Why, because your immature, unsubstantial, perfunctory ten minutes' discourse, which you falsely call a sermon, has driven them out, for, wherever the sermon is a real thing, manfully grappling with great life problems, there the men do congregate, and there they will continue to congregate, for there they receive a message from God. "And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision."
3. But, again, I am glad to be able to observe that this time of depression and lassitude and spiritual famine was not continuous and permanent. God never wholly deserts His people. Again He sends His prophets to speck to them and to reveal precious truths to them. Ah, and it is ever so. It is always when the fortune of the church is at its lowest that God sends His servants, the prophets, to rouse it and to cleanse it. It was in the darkest days of the Papacy, when Alexander Borgia sat on the throne of St. Peter, that Savonarola made his appearance. It was when the sale of indulgences had become a scandal and a menace to the very existence of religion and of the church that Luther came, and with his mighty voice initiated the Reformation. And it was in the dark and materialistic days of the eighteenth century, when our own beloved church was dying of apathy and "respectability" that Wesley and Whitefield and the leaders of the evangelical revival came, and set in motion that mighty wave of spiritual fervour and enthusiasm which has not wholly spent its force yet. And mark you! All these mighty revolutions, and revivals, and reformations have been brought about by the power of prophesying — by the foolishness of preaching. It is to preaching that even the Oxford Movement owes its origin and vitality. It was Keble's sermon on "National Apostasy," according to all reliable testimony, that gave that movement its birth. And it is by preaching that the next great spiritual awakening is to be brought about. Meantime, our duty is plain. We must pray God to speed the time of this awakening, to speed the time when this terrible spiritual stagnation is at an end.
There was no open vision.
Monday Club Sermons.I. THERE ARE TIMES OF OPEN VISION. This phrase has been a difficulty to interpreters, It has been explained as referring to the times in earlier Jewish history when God appeared in the pillars of cloud and fire, and by angelic ministry. It has also been explained as referring to the opera and authoritative promulgation of Divine truth. It has been noticed as a feature of human history that it divides into alternate periods marked by the possession and the lack of spiritual insight. There are times of open vision. Heaven, then, is near to men. They are sensitive to spiritual impressions. They are inclined to attach spiritual meanings to material things. The gift of vision is diffused. The things that are unseen and eternal appear. These are periods of religious activity and progress. The happy age following the conquest under Joshua was a time of open vision. The nation had enjoyed the heavenly gift. The present century, in contrast with the past, is a period of vision. It is a characteristic of this age that the supernatural is looked for and readily believed. With all our vast material progress, we have made a spiritual advance vet greater. It has been a period of delusions, so ready have men been to listen to all voices. But it has also been an age of faith. Would that we might be spared its dreary contrast.
II. THERE ARE TIMES WITHOUT OPEN VISION — when heaven is far away, when men have faith only in what they see and handle. The eighteenth was such a century. Science and philosophy made marvellous advances; but they were atheistic. The light of the Puritan century had faded out of the sky; or the eye of the new generation could not receive its illumination. Men questioned, derided, triumphed over religion Then was the deification of the worldly spirit. The church was invaded. The clergy became unspiritual. With the loss of vision, truth is lost. This is especially true of the stern truths — our accountability to God, the guilt and doom of sin, the fixed and narrow limits of probation, the final judgment, and the eternity of its awards. In such an age there is no fear of God before men's eyes. The picture of the times of Samuel, in the account of the wickedness of Eli's sons, is appalling.
III. THERE IS NO TIME WITHOUT THE WORD OF THE LORD. Though the vision is at times withholden, God is always with us in his word. Why the vision is withdrawn we may not be able to explain. God has a purpose, It is sufficient that he still speaks. Samuel represented a renewed and more extensive dispensation of the word. The spoken word, like the written, has never been lost. Visions might be interrupted, but not the continuity of revelation. It has never ceased.
IV. THE WORD REQUIRES A HUMAN EAR. Eli's sons wanted the ear that hears God's voice. The hearing of Eli, like his sight, was dim; Samuel had a sensitive ear. "The Lord revealed himself to Samuel." "'Literally,' says Stanley, 'the Lord uncovered the ear' — a touching and significant figure taken from the manner in which the possessor of a secret moves back the long hair of his friend and whispers into the ear thus laid bare the word that no one else may hear."
V. THE WORD OF GOD REQUIRES HUMAN LIPS TO SPEAK IT. Samuel has received the message. He must deliver it to Eli.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
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