« PreviousContinue »
ELI AND HANNAH. Old Eli sits on a stool, by one of the posts of the tabernacle : where should the priests of God be, but in the temple; whether for action or oversight? Their very presence keeps God's house in order; and the presence of God keeps their hearts in order.
It is often found, that those, which are themselves conscionable, are too forward to the censuring of others : good Eli, because he marks the lips of Hannah to move without noise, chides her as drunken; and uncharitably misconstrues her devotion. It was a weak ground whereon to build so heavy a sentence. If she had spoken too loud, and incomposedly, he might have had some just colour for his conceit; but now to accuse her silence, notwithstanding all her tears which he saw, of drunkenness, it was a zealous breach of charity.
Some spirits would have been enraged with so rash a censure : when anger meets with grief, both turn into fury; but this good woman had been inured to reproaches, and besides, did well see the reproof arose from misprision, and the misprision from zeal; and therefore answers meekly, as one that would rathet satisfy than expostulate; Nay, my Lord, but I am a woman troubled in spirit.
Eli may now learn charity of Hannah: if she had been in that distemper whereof he accused her, his just reproof had not been so easily digested : guiltiness is commonly clamorous and impatient, whereas innocence is silent, and careless of mis-reports. It is natural to all men, to wipe off from their name all aspersions of evil; but none do it with such violence, as they which are faulty. It is a sign the horse is galled, that stirs too much when he is touched.
She, that was censured for drunken, censures drunkenness more deeply than her reprover; Count not thine hand-maid for a daugh. ter of Belial. The drunkard's style begins in lawlessness, proceeds in unprofitableness, end's in misery; and all shut up in the deno. , mination of this pedigree, A son of Belial.
If Hannah had been tainted with this sin, she would have denied it with more favour, and have disclaimed it with an extenuation; "What if I should have been merry with wine? yet I might be devout: if I should have overjoyed in my sacrifice to God, one cup of excess had not been so heinous :' now her freedom is seen in her severity. Those, which have clear hearts from any sin, prosecute it with rigour; whereas the guilty are ever partial : their conscience holds their hand, and tells them that they beat themselves while they punish others..
Now Eli sees his error, and recants it; and, to make amends for his rash censure, prays for her. Even the best may err, but not persist in it: when good natures have offended, they are unquiet, till they have hastened satisfaction. This was within his office, to pray for the distressed : wherefore serves the priest, but to sacria fice for the people? and the best sacrifices are the prayers of
She, that began her prayers with fasting and heaviness, rises up from them with cheerfulness and repast. It cannot be spoken, how much ease and joy the heart of man finds in having uploaded his cares, and poured out his supplications into the ears of God; since it is well assured, that the suit which is faithfully asked is already granted in heaven. The conscience may well rest, when it tells us, that we have neglected no means of redressing our affliction; for then it may resolve to look, either for amendment or patience.
The sacrifice is ended ; and now Elkanah and his family rise up early to return unto Ramah : but they dare not set forward, till they have worshipped before the Lord. That journey cannot hope to prosper, that takes not God with it. The way to receive blessings at home is, to be devout at the temple.
She, that before conceived faith in her heart, now conceives a son in her womb: God will rather work miracles, than faithful prayers shall return empty. I do not find that Peninnah asked any son of God, yet she had store; Hannah begged hard for this one, and could not till now obtain him. They, which are dearest to God, do oft-times with great difficulty work out those blessings, which fall into the mouths of the careless. That wise disposer of all things knows it fit to hold us short of those favours, which we sue for; whether for the trial of our patience, or the exercise of our faith, or the increase of our importunity, or the doubling of our obligation.
Those children are most like to prove blessings, which the parents have begged of God; and which are no less the fruit of our supplications, than of our body. As this child was the son of his mother's prayers, and was consecrated to God ere his possibility of being; so now himself shall know, both how he came and whereto he was ordained ; and lest he should forget it, his very name shall teach him both; She called his name Samuel. He cannot so much as hear himself named, but he must needs remember, both the extraordinary mercy of God, in giving him to a barren mother; and the vow of his mother, in restoring him back to God by her zealous dedication; and by both of them learn holiness and obedience. There is no necessity of significant names; but we cannot have too many monitors to put us in mind of our duty.
It is wont to be the father's privilege, to name his child; but, because this was his mother's son, begotten more by her prayers than the seed of Elkanah, it was but reason, that she should have the chief hand, both in his name and disposing. It had been indeed in the power of Elkanah, to have changed both his name and profession, and abrogate the vow of his wife; that wives might know, they were not their own; and that the rib might learn to know the head : but husbands shall abuse their authority, if they. shall wilfully cross the holy purposes and religious endeavours of their yoke-fellows. How much more fit is it for them, to cherishi all good desires in the weaker vessels! and as we use, when we carry a small light in a wind, to hide it with our lap or hand, that u may not go out. If the wife be a vine, the husband should be
an elm to uphold her in all worthy enterprises; else she falls to the ground, and proves fruitless.
The year is now come about; and Elkanah calls his family to their holy journey, to go up to Jerusalem, for the anniversary solemanity of their sacrifice, Hannah's heart is with them ; but she hath a good excuse to stay at home, the charge of her Samuel. Her success in the temple keeps her happily from the temple; . that her devotion may be doubled, because it was respited. God knows how to dispense with necessities; but if we suffer idle and needless occasions to hold us from the tabernacle of God, our hearts are but hollow to religion.
Now, at last, when the child was weaned from her hand, she goes up and pays her vow; and, with it pays the interest of her intermission. Never did Hannah go up with so glad a heart to Shiloh, as now that she carries God this reasonable present, which : himself gave to her, and she vowed to him; accompanied with the bounty of other sacrifices, more in mumber and measure than the law of God required of her; and all this is too little for her God, that so mercifully remembered her affliction and miraculously remedied it. Those hearts, which are truly thankful, do no less rejoice in their repayment, than in their receipt; and do as much study, how to shew their humble and fervent affections, for what they have, as how to compass favours when they want them: their debt is their burthen, which when they have discharged, they are at ease.
If Hannah had repented of her vow, and not presented her son to the tabernacle, Eli could not have challenged him. He had only seen her lips stir, not hearing the promise of her heart. It was enough, that her own soul knew her vow, and God which was greater than it. The obligation of a secret vow is no less, than if it had ten thousand witnesses.
Old Eli could not chuse but much rejoice, to see this fruit of those lips, which he thought moyed with wine ; and this good proof, both of the merciful audience of God, and the thankful fidelity of his handmaid." This sight calls him down to his knees; he worshipped the Lord. We are unprofitable witnesses of the mercics of God and the graces of men, if we do not glorify him for others' sakes, no less than for our own, ..
Eli and Hannah grew now better acquainted : neither bad he so much cause to praise God for her, as she afterwards for him ; for if her own prayers obtained her first child, his blessing enriched her with five moré. If she had not given her first son to God ere she had him, I doubt whether she had not been ever barren; or if she had kept her Samuel at home, whether ever she had conceived again: now, that piety, which stripped her of her only child for the service of her God, hath multiplied the fruit of her womb, and gave her five for that one ; which was still no less hers, because he was God's. There is no so certain way of increase, as to lend or give unto the owner of all things.
1 Sam, i
;** ELI AND HIS SONS. If the conveyance of grace were natural, holy parents would not be so ill suited with children. What good man would not rather wish his loins dry, than fruitful of wickedness ? Now, we can neither tradụce goodness, nor chuse but traduce sin. If virtue were as well entailed upon us as sin, one might serve to check the other in our children ; but now, since grace is derived from heaven on whomsoever it pleases the Giver, and that eyil which ours receive hereditarily, from us is multiplied by their own corruption, it can be no wonder, that good men have ill children; it is rather a wonder, that any children are not evil...,.' · The sons of Eli are as lewd, as himself was holy.. If the goodness of examples, precepts, education, profession, could have been preservatives from extremity of, sin, these sons of a holy father had not been wicked; now, neither parentage, nor breeding, nor priesthood, can keep the sons of Eli from the sons of Belial, If our children be good, let us thank God for it; this was more than we could give them: if evil, they may thank us and themselves ; us, for their birth-sin; themselves, for the improvement of it to that height of wickedness. ...
If they had not been sons of Eli, yet being priests of God, who would not have hoped their very calling should have infused some holiness into them? But now even their white ephod covers our foul sins : yea rather, if they which serve at the altar degenerate, their wickedness is so much more above others as their places are holier. A wicked priest is the worst creature upon earth. Who are devils, but they which were once angels of light ? Who can stum ble at the sins of the evangelical Levites, that sees such impurity before the ark of God?
That God, which promised to be the Levites' portion, had set forth the portion of his ministers. He will feast them at his own altar: the breast and the right shoulder of the peace-offering was their morsel. These bold and covetous priests will rather have the flesh-hook their arbiter, than God: whatsoever those three teeth fasten upon shall be for their tooth. They were weary of one joint; and now their delicacy affects variety. God is not worthy to carve for these men, but their own hands; and this they do not receive, but take; and take violently, unseasonably. It had been fit, God should be first served: their presumption will not stay his leisure: ere the fat be burned, ere the flesh be boiled, they snatch more than their share from the altar ;, as if the God of heaven should wait on their palate; as if the Israelites had come thither to sacrifice to their bellies : and, as commonly a'wanton tooth is the harbinger to luxurious wantonness, they are no sooner fed, than they neigh after the dames of Israel. Holy women assemble to the door of the tabernacle: these varlets tempt them to lust, that came thither for devotion ; they had wives of their own, yer their unbridled desires rove after strangers, and fear not to polute even that holy place with abominable filthiness.
Oh sins, too shameful for men ; much more for the spiritual guides of Israel! He, that makes himself a servant to his tooth, shall easily become a slave to all inordinate affections. That ark, which expiated other men's sins, added to the sins of the sacrificers: doubtless, many a soul was the cleaner for the blood of the sacrifices which they shed, while their own were more impure; and as the altar cannot sanctify the priest, so the uncleanness of the minister cannot pollute the offering ; because the virtue thereof is not in the agent, but in the institution : in the representation, his sin is his own; the comfort of the sacrament is from God. Our clergy. is no charter for heaven. Even those, whose trade is devotion, may at once shew the way to heaven by their tongue, and by their foot lead the way to hell. It is neither a cowl, nor an ephod, that can privilege the soul.
The sin of these men was worthy of contempt, yea, perhaps, their persons; but for the people therefore to abhor the offerings of the Lord, was to add their evil unto the priests', and to offend God because he was offended. There can no offence be justly taken, even at men; much less at God, for the sake of men. No man's sins should bring the service of God into dislike: this is to make holy things guilty of our profaneness. It is a dangerous ignorance, not to distinguish betwixt the work and the instrument: whereupon it often comes to pass, that we fall out with God because we find cause of offence from men; and give God just cause to abhor us, because we abhor his service unjustly.
Although it be true, of great men especially, that they are the last that know the evils of their own house, yet either it could not be, when all Israel rung of the lewdness of Eli's sons, that he only should not know it; or if he knew it not, his ignorance cannot be excused; for a seasonable restraint might have prevented this extremity of debauchedness. Complaints are long muttered of the great, ere they dare break forth to open contestation : public accusations of anthority, argue intolerable extremities of evil. i · Nothing but age can plead for Eli, that he was not the first ac: cuser of his sons; now, when their enormities came to be the voice of the multitude, he must hear it perforce; and doubtless, he heard it with grief enough, but not with anger enough. He, that was the judge of Israel, should have impartially judged his own flesh and blood : never could he have offered a more pleasing sacrifice; than the depraved blood of so wicked sons. In vain do we rebuke those sins abroad, which we tolerate at home. That man makes himself but ridiculous, that, leaving his own house on fire, runs to quench his neighbour's.
I heard Eli sharp enough to Hannah, upon but a suspicion of sin; and now, how mild I find him to the notorious crimes of his own! Why do you so, my sons ? It is no good report ; my sons, do no more so : the case is altered with the persons. If nature may be allowed to speak in judgment, and to make difference, not of sins but offenders, the sentence must needs savour of partiality, Had these men but some little-slackened their duty, or heedlessly