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HISTORY OF HANNAH.
MOTHER OF SAMUEL.
1 SAMUEL 1, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28.
And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh. And the child was young. And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli. And she said, O my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him. Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord as long as he liveth; he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there.
"LORD, what is man, that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou visitest him?" Every serious reflection on the nature, and perfections, and works of God, suggests this rapturous meditation of the holy psalmist. Every view of Deity is at once humiliating and encouraging to the soul. We seem to shrink into nothing, while we contemplate the regions of unbounded space; while the eye wanders from orb to orb; and the mind loses itself in calculating their number, distances, magnitude, lustre and harmony; while imagination wings its daring flight to the world of spirits, and surveys myriads of angels adoring before the throne of the Most High: and "the spirits of just men made perfect," rejoicing" with joy unspeakable and full of glory." But man rises into greatness and importance, when we reflect that "God created him in his own image ;" that eternal Providence exercises an unremitting solicitude about him; and that for his redemption the Son of God suffered and died.
The little concerns of individuals, and of private families, acquire value and dignity when we consider them as stamped with the seal of omnipotence, as the operation of infinite wisdom, as links in the great chain of divine administration, and as extending their influence to eternity. But destroy this connexion, and we perceive only a strange and unaccountable scene of vanity, folly and confusion.
The holy scriptures, which exhibit the justest representation, and enable us to form the justest estimate of human life, keep this continual interposition and commanding influence of Divine Providence constantly in view. We meet with domestic feelings and occurrences exactly similar to our own, and we find a proof that the Bible is the word of God, in our own personal daily experience.
The transactions which led to the scene represented in the passage now read, have been too recently submitted to your notice, to need repetition. In
the spirit and deportment of Elkanah and Hannah to each other, we have an useful example of conjugal complacency and affection. In the character of Hannah, we behold the feelings of the woman sweetly blended with the piety of the saint; and the child of sorrow seeking and finding refuge in the power and mercy of God. We are now to contemplate one of the most pleasing objects that human life presents--a good and honest heart in possession of its wish, and making the proper use of the expected blessing; the spirit of prayer changed into the spirit of praise, and vows formed in the hour of distress faithfully performed.
Let our first meditations turn on the wisdom and goodness of that great Being, who has established human felicity on such a solid foundation; or rather has drawn it from so many combined sources. How manifold and how tender in particular, are the ties which unite a mother and her son? She carried him in her womb with solicitude and uneasiness, and brought him into the world at the hazard of her life. She sustained his infant days with the blood of her own veins, and slumber was a stranger to her eyes, that he might sleep in tranquillity. The first object which he distinguished was the smiling face of his guardian angel, the first sound that struck his opening ear was the murmur of maternal affection: the first idea he formed was that of seeking refuge from want, and pain, and danger in the fond bosom of a parent. The very anguish and trouble which she endured on his account, but endear him the more to her; a sense of early assured protection, "grows with his growth and strengthens with his strength," and forms a bond of mutual attachment, which on one side is hardly to be dissolved, and on the other, is one of the most powerful securities against the inroads of vice, and is the last convulsive grasp of expiring virtue.
Nature has laid upon you, mothers, the heaviest and most important part of education. The good or the evil is already done, before the child is taken out of your hands. Happily the weakness of your constitution is strengthened and upheld for the arduous task, by the force of affection, and your very labour thereby is rendered your delight. And, O how glorious is your reward! you desire, you can desire none higher, than to see your son, the son of your womb the son of your vows, remembering and practising the early lessons which his mother taught him.
How happy was Eli in having for a pupil a child sucked, and weaned, and instructed in early life, by a Hannah! How great the goodness of the compassionate and merciful Father of all, who by means so simple, so pleasant, so powerful, so effectual, makes constant provision for the comfort, the protection and improvement of man!
Let us proceed to meditate, for a moment on the amiable and instructive pattern here set before us, of a faithful and obedient heart. Distress naturally dictates wishes, and prayers, and vows; it makes us sensible of subjection and dependence; but when the blessing is obtained, the load removed, and the hour of performance come, men are as forgetful and as niggardly as once they were attentive and liberal. Ten lepers were cleansed, but "where are the nine ?" Has one only returned to give thanks? Ingratitude is one of those crimes which no man is either bold or depraved enough to defend, but with which all men are justly chargeable. How few earthly benefactors but have reason to complain of an ungracious return? How few parents but have that bitterness of bitterness, filial ingratitude, mingled in their cup? How verily guilty is a whole "world lying in wickedness," before God, in this respect? There is really no merit in gratitude, but what arises from its rarity; and that rarity stamps it one of the highest of moral virtues. Would it be doing injustice to the other sex, to say, that gratitude is a quality more frequently to be found in the female character? I have no hesitation in affirming, that it is
one of the most powerful attractions in any character, and that all other attractions whatever are good for nothing without it.
We observed formerly in the conduct of Hannah a happy mixture of picty and prudence. While the state of her child confined her to Mount Ephraim, it would have been the reverse of a religious service to repair to the feast at Shiloh; when he could with safety be removed to the place of God's presence, to keep him back had been unfaithfulness and impiety. Prudence without piety will quickly degenerate into selfishness and the love of this world; will harden the heart, and lull the conscience asleep. Piety without prudence will inspire pride and intolerance; will lead to idleness and irregularity in conduct; and, out of an affected zeal for the first table of the law, will erase the characters of the second, or through negligence and disuse, suffer them to be disfigured by filth, or corrupted and impaired by rust, so as to become at length wholly illegible. Where piety and prudence are found united, the love of God and man will perfectly consist; both tables of the law will be equally clear and distinct, and their combined influence will instruct the person by whom it is felt and unde tood, to "use the world so as not to abuse it."
At length the time of presenting herself before the Lord, and of performing her vow arrives. The precious child must be no longer hers, but God's. And did he indeed cease to be the parent's by being dedicated to the Most High? Surely no, he became theirs by a firmer and more sacred tie, they have an interest in him unknown, unfelt before. Their treasure has acquired infinite value from the place in which it is deposited; and attendance at God's altar has conferred nobility on the little Levite, which all the possessions on Mount Ephraim could not countervail.
Hannah presented herself before the Lord at a former solemnity with bitter crying and tears; she "went forth then weeping, bearing precious seed, she cometh again rejoicing, bringing her sheaves with her; for they that sow in tears shall reap in joy." She presents herself before the Lord, but neither with a contracted heart nor an empty hand. The law demanded for God the first-born of every creature. The whole tribe of which Samuel was a son, was accepted in place of the first-born of all Israel, and the firstborn of her family might be redeemed by the substitution of a victim. Thus clearly was the spirit of the gospel inculcated by the institutions of the law; and the doctrine of the atonement through the blood of the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," was taught unto them as it is taught unto us. Throughout we see the innocent suffering for the guilty; from the sacrifice of Abel down to the sacrifice on Mount Calvary, of "the just suffering for the unjust, that he might bring us unto God."
With what mixed emotions must an Israelitish parent of any sensibility, have presented this sacrifice? Behold the darling child, the first-born led to the altar, but not to bleed and die: no, that innocent lamb, that bullock in the prime of life, is to bleed and die in his stead; and, mournful to reflect, though religion does not now demand such sacrifices, necessity and the appetites of men constantly require them, and we behold the whole brute " creation groaning and travailing in pain together," to perform the drudgery, minister to the pleasure, or with their flesh to satisfy the need of a creature much more criminal than themselves; and, as if that were too little, subjected to the cruelty and caprice of rational beings, become greater brutes than themselves.
With the confidence of true goodness Hannah now addresses Eli, and reminds him of what he had probably forgotten, but was of too much moment to herself ever to be permitted to fall into oblivion. Eli had only seen her lips move, but heard not the words she pronounced; and the violent emotion
in which she was, had conveyed very foul suspicions to his mind. These with the dignity and calmness of conscious innocence, she repelled; and assured him in general terms that what he had unkindly mistaken for the effect of wine, was the agitation of an afflicted spirit, pouring out its anguish before God; but the subject of her prayer she still kept within her own breast. There was then no witness of her vow but God and her own conscience; and that was enough; it was recorded in heaven; and an honest mind will-find itself equally bound by a resolution formed in secret, as by an oath administered in the face of an assembled world. With what holy exultation does she now declare her engagement, exhibit the sacred pledge of it, and proceed to the public and solemn discharge of it! "She brought the child to Eli, and said, O my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him."* How sweetly affecting are the effusions of nature, when aided and animated by devotion! How religion ennobles and dignifies every character, how it places every other quality in its fairest and most favourable point of view! How well it is adapted to every season and situation of life! It was this which fortified Hannah against the bitter insults and reproaches of her merciless adversary, and preserved her from rendering railing for railing. It was this which taught her self-government, so that she disturbed not the solemnity of the feast with womanish complaints, but covered a sorrowful heart with a serene countenance. It was this which carried her to the house of the Lord, for light, comfort and relief. It was this which carried her with reputation and advantage through the first duties of a mother; and exhibited, in one, the affectionate wife, the tender parent, the devout worshipper. This filled her heart and inspired her tongue, in presenting her offering, in addressing the high priest, in raising her song of praise. And this will communicate lustre, value and importance on every female character, whether known to the world · or overlooked by it; in the secrecy of the family or in the celebrity of the temple. There is a God who "seeth in secret, and will reward openly."
Eli repeats a cordial Amen to her pious purpose, accepts the precious_trust committed unto him, and bends his knees in joyful acknowledgement of that God who had been multiplying his mercy to this family, and building up the house of Israel. And it is not long before he finds that this young Nazarene was provided of God, and instructed of his mother, to rectify the disorders of his own house, and to supply the place of a degenerate race of priests, ripe for destruction and doomed to it, and ready to bring down a "father's grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.'
Hannah's song of praise, which follows at length in the opening of the next chapter, merits, on many accounts, a separate and particular consideration. It possesses all the majesty, grace and beauty of ancient oriental poetry. It is one of the happiest effusions of an excellent female heart labouring under a grateful sense of the highest obligations. It presents and impresses some of the justest and most interesting views of the Divine Providence, and what is above all, it discloses one of the clearest and most distinct prospects of the coming, person, and character of Messiah, the Prophet of prophets, King of kings, Lord of lords. Yes, christians, for this prophetess was reserved the honour of first pronouncing in sacred song, that "name which is as ointment poured forth," which angels mention with wonder and reverence, and which the whole company of the redeemed shall one day proclaim with "joy unspeakable and full of glory;" MESSIAH the anointed of the Lordwhom the world so long expected, who in the fulness of time appeared, whom
* 1 Samuel i. 25-27.
unbelieving Jews refused to acknowledge; whom they despised, rejected, crucified, and put to death: whom God has exalted a Prince and Saviour to give repentance and the remission of sins;" to whose second coming the course of nature, the evolutions of providence, the hopes and fears of every heart of man, the earnest expectation of the creature, and the handwriting of God in scripture, all, all directly point.
The next Lecture will be an attempt to illustrate, and practically to improve Hannah's song of praise. May we bring to it a portion of that spirit which inspired the lips of her who sung and directed the pen of him who wrote. Let me conclude the present, with calling on every one present, to recollect personal obligations, and to walk suitably to them. Call to remembrance vows formed on a bed of languishing, in the hour of difficulty, in the instant of danger, at the table of the Lord; and thankfully pay them: as knowing that it is better not to vow than to vow and not to pay."
Desire more earnestly the best gifts; spiritual, heavenly, eternal blessings. By all means, in your vows, stipulate for your portion of present and temporal good things, saying with Jacob, "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then shall the Lord be my God;"*—and with Hannah, pouring out the bitterness of an oppressed heart before God, and begging relief of the Father of mercies, saying, “O Lord of Hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid." But forget not withal, to stipulate, with Solomon, for "an understanding heart," to prize and to improve mercies already bestowed; and with Jabez calling on the God of Israel, saying, "Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil that it may not grieve me."
* Gen. xxviji. 20, 21.
Hannah promised to devote to the Lord the child which should be given her; and ye have solemnly engaged to yield yourselves unto God; and "ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price." "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."+
+ Rom. xii. 1, 2.