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is his imprecation sanctioned by that tremendous signature? why are the emotions of anger, of pain, of surprise, of joy, enforced by the names and attributes of Deity? The wretch who thus tramples on his law, insults his authority, defies his power, is in these very acts of horror paying an involuntary homage to the God of truth and justice, and obliquely confesses that divine perfection which he has the boldness to violate.
We turn from the dreadful practice with holy indignation, to contemplate the desponding mourner fleeing for rest and relief in the bosom of a Father and a God; and to learn lessons of piety, and derive nourishment to hope, from the experience of others.
We have seen the disorder of a family in Israel occasioned by the foolishness of man; we are now to consider that disorder rectified, and turned into a source of domestic joy and public felicity through the wisdom and goodness of God. The solemnity of the yearly sacrifice, and the cheerfulness of the feast, had been continually embittered and destroyed to Hannah by reflection on her state of reproach among the daughters of Israel, and the merciless insults of her rival and adversary. The kind attentions, and affectionate remonstrances of a beloved husband, soothe for a moinent, but cannot remove the anguish that preyed upon the heart. She looks with impatience through the tediousness of the entertainment, to the hour of retirement ; and, as soon as decency permits, she exchanges the house of mirth for the house of prayer.
" If any one is afflicted let him pray.” And who is not ready to give testimony to the salutary influence of this hallowed employment? The suppliant thus disburthens the mind of a load, before intolerable ; the effusion of tears cools and refreshes the heart. Prayer does not always bring down the grace that is solicited, but verily it has produced its effect when the spirit is moulded into the will of the Most High. Prayer prevails not to obtain that particular blessing, but behold it is crowned with another and a greater benefit. The expected good comes not exactly at the time and in the way it was entreated, but it is conveyed at the most proper season, and in the fittest way; and how much is the enjoyment heightened and sweetened by the delay! Thus, whether the wrestler "as a prince has power with God, and prevails,” or by a touch is made sensible of his weakness and inferiority, God is glorified, and the divine life is promoted in him.
The memoirs of this good woman's life comprehend but a very short period, a few years at most. Herein consists one of the excellencies of the sacred writings. Other biographers drag you with them into dry, uninteresting details of events which had much better been forgotten. You are wearied out with the laborious display of childish prattle, the pretended prognostic of future eminence, or the doting, imperfect, distorted recollections of a wretched old man who has outlived himself. There are in truth very few particulars in any man's life worthy of being recorded ; and of those who really have lived, a very short memoir indeed will serve all the valuable purposes of history.
Every thing of importance for us to know respecting Hannah is what related to the birth of her son Samuel; and to that accordingly the scripture account of her is confined. She is the fourth, as far as we recollect, on the face of the sacred history, represented in nearly similar circumstances, and she is not the least respectable of the four. “ Sarah laughed,” staggering at the promise of God through unbelief. Rebekah seems to have borne her trial with listlessness and indifference; and Rachael, irritated with her's, loses all sense of shame and decency, and exclaims, “Give me children, else I die." Hannah feels her calamity as a woman, deplores it as a woman, and seeks deliverance from it as one who believed in the power and grace of God.
Observe the more delicate shades in her character. She rose not up till " after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk.” She had patience and self-government sufficient to carry her without any apparent disquietude, through the formalities of a public assembly, which must have been very painful, irksome, and disgusting to her. She would rather constrain herself, than make others uneasy; and pine in secret, rather than permit her private griefs to spread a gloom over the innocent communications of society. Tell me, if you will, that the remark is frivolous, and the doctrine unedifying. I shall neither feel mortified nor complain, provided you permit me to think that nothing is frivolous that tends to unfold the excellence and importance of the female character, and nothing unedifying which serves to improve the better part of our species in the knowledge of the means whereby both their respectability and importance may be effectually promoted. I repeat it therefore confidently, that Hannah is here represented as exemplifying a hard lesson, but one of high importance to all her sex. Who does not know, my female friends, that your condition and place in society necessarily subject you to many cruel privations, many mortifying constraints ? What heart but sympathizes with you, obliged, as you are, to bear and to forbear, in patience and silence, and to practice painful duty, without so much as the poor reward of notice and approbation. But trust me, you have often, when you little think of it, the admiration and esteem of the more attentive and judicious; you have the sweet consolation of reflecting that you are endeavouring to act well ; you can look up in humble hope to that God who seeth in secret'; who observes and records what the world overlooks or forgets.
How pitiable, on the other hand, are those unhappy females, who dream of deriving consequence from vexing and disturbing all around them, by perpetually bringing forward their personal vexations, as if the world had nothing to mind but them, and their real or imaginary grievances.
But this, as was said, is only a shade in the character ; the great, striking feature, is a fervid, importunate, aspiring spirit of devotion. Sighs and tears are the language of nature sinking under its own woe, of a "heart that knows its own biiterness;" prayer is the language of faith in, and hope toward God, the exertion of a soul struggling to get free, casting its burden upon the Lord, and acquiring strength from exercise. There is a beautiful and affecting copiousness in her expression. She addresses God as the Lord of universal nature, who “ doth according to his will, in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth;" as “the Lord of Hosts," who has all creatures, all events in his hand and at his disposal. The repetition of the word " handmaid” is emphatical, and powerfully expresses her humility, submission, and sense of dependence; and it is humility that lends energy to every other principle of the divine life. “ From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," and accordingly we find her diversifying her petition into all the various modes of address ; .“ If thou wilt indeed look on my affliction, and remember me, and not forget me.” Is this the vain repetition of the hypocrite, who thinks he shall“ be heard for his much speaking ?" O no, it is the honest effusion of a heart filled with its object, persisting in the pursuit, and rising gradually into confidence of success. It is a happy anticipation of the Saviour's doctrine, " that men ought to pray always, and not to faint:" a happy example of clearness and precision in the subject matter of prayer, of confidence in, and reliance on the Hearer of prayer, of holy resolution to make a suitable return to prayer heard, accepted, and answered.
But what was here the expression of a devout, a praying spirit ? The noise of the Pharisee, the pomp of words, the correctness that courts the applause of men ? No, but the ardour of a gracious spirit which neglects forms, which never thinks of appearance, or the opinion of others, which, occupied with God overlooks man. What need of words, to him who reads the secret recesses of the heart, who hears the half breathed sigh of the prisoner in his dungeon, who collects the falling tears of the mourner, and has already granted the pious request before it is formed in the anxious breast? Strong inward emotion will of necessity imprint itself on the external appearance. The voice may
be suppressed, but the features will speak; what bushel will confine the lightning of the eye? The lips will move involuntarily; the hands will raise themselves to heaven, without an admonition from vanity, and the bosom will swell to make room for the expanding heart, though no eye is present to see it, and regardless whether there be or no.
How equivocal are the signs of human passions, and how liable to mistake is the most discerning human eye? What was in the sight of God an indication of faith believing against hope, of a fervent piety which totally absorbed the senses, of a heavenly mind which wrapt the very body up to the throne of God, is, in the sight of Eli, the disorder of a distempered brain, the effect of excess, the lowest, the most deplorable, the most disgusting exhibition of degraded humanity. Alas, the good man, as we shall presently find, had “a beam in his own eye ;” and thereby was led to discern " a mote” in that of another, where there was none. In reflecting on the rash judgements of men, the choice of David, when in a great strait, presses itself upon us with redoubled force ; “ Let me fall now into the hand of the Lord, for his mercies are great ; and let me not fall into the hand of man.' “If God justifieth, who is he that condemneth ?" But ah! what signifies the applause of the world to him who is condemned of his own conscience, and who trembles every hour at thought of the righteous judgement of God!
I like the defence of Hannah almost as well as her prayer; it argues conscious innocence and integrity. Not a single particle of gall enters into her reply, not even a particle of honest heat and indignation, at an imputation so odious. A female charged with a breach of decency so gross as excess of wine, and not break out into a flame! Ah, her calmness and temper refute sufficiently the infamous aspersion, infinitely better than a torrent of intemperate abuse would have done. How calm, how beautiful, how lovely, how dignified is innocence! It seeks the light, it shrinks not from the eye of inspection, it defies calumny, and wraps itself up in its own pure mantle; but disdains not, at the same time, to satisfy the honest inquiry, and to remove the hasty suspicion of true goodness; it is always ready to render a reason, always ready to prevent its good from being evil spoken of.
The conduct of Eli is estimable in two points of view. Observing, as he thought, the temple of the Lord profaned, and the female character dishonoured, he honestly speaks out his suspicion and censure to the party concerned ; instead of whispering them in the ear of a third person ; and thereby affords an opportunity of explanation, and of coming to a right understanding ; and, once satisfied of his having been mistaken, he retracts his hasty judgement, and exchanges reprehension into blessing, and supplicates Heaven in favour of her whom he had rashly condemned.
To what a happy serenity is the mind of Hannah now restored! She has poured out her soul before the Lord, and vindicated her innocence to man. The tranquillity and joy of her spirit shine in the whole of her outward deportment; her countenance brightens up, she partakes in the festivity of the season, and " is no more sad.” What a different figure does the same man present to the eyes of the world, inflamed with rage, torn with envy, stung with remorse, distracted with anxiety, degraded with debauchery; or with a visage beaming benevolence, eyes animated with love, a form firm and erect from conscious integrity. Would you wish to appear to advantage before others, take care to cleanse
the inside of the cup. Purify thyself " from all filthiness of the spirit.” Let order and peace reign within ; no artificial daubing applied on the outside, no splendour or elegance of apparel, no studied arrangement of the features, will do it half so well.
Looks and appearance are perhaps of inferiour consequence to one sex, but they are of much to the other. With some, appearance is all in all. In that view, it is not easy to imagine the effect which the inward temper and character produce. Beauty becomes perfect ugliness, and inspires nothing but disgust, from the moment that the face begins to wear the traces of pride, contempt, envy, fury, or insolence. On the other hand, be assured, that a very homely external may be improved into perfect loveliness, by affability, gentleness, benevolence, compassion, and, above all, by a spirit of genuine piety, the parent of every grace. If there be a human being that really deserves the name of angel, a term, for the most part, most vilely prostituted, it is a sensible woman descending from the temple, or issuing from her closet, to enter with composedness, sweetness and satisfaction on the employments of her humble, but important station in human life.
It was through the disorder of a divided family, it was through the woe of an afflicted woman, it was amidst the corruptions of a degenerate church and a disjointed state, that God was pleased to raise up a prophet, a priest, a judge in Israel to stem the torrent, to restore the lost dignity of religion, to save a sinking nation. When events flow in an even channel, when the powers of nature produce their effect in an uniform tenor, a blind chance, an irresistible fate, or an unintelligent arrangement receives the homage, which is due only to sovereign wisdom, and all-comprehensive beneficence. For this reason, God sometimes permits the great machine as it were to stand still, that men may observe by what hand it is stopt, and by what hand it is put in motion again.
Isaac, Jacob, Samson, Samuel, four of the most eminent, among the types of the great Restorer of fallen man, were introduced into the world, through the agonies of desponding nature, through the exercise of undaunted faith, and the unwearied importunity of prayer and supplication. They were the successive lights of the world, each in his day; and having every one fulfilled his day, were successively extinguished. The great Light of the world has arisen, the stars disappear, the shadows are fled away. Patriarchs and prophets bring their glory, and lay it at his feet, a voice from heaven proclaims, “ This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear Him.”
-Let not the apparently declining state of any interest preach despair ; for
every evil has its remedy, except despair. That cause must perish, which all agree to give up as lost; a dying cause may revive and flourish by the wisdom and honest exertions of one man. Impaired health often issues in death, embarrassed circumstances in bankruptcy, an irregular life, in irretrievable perdition ; because the patient, the debtor, the sinner gave himself up too hastily, and was lost through fear of being lost. While there is - balm in Gilead, and a physician there,” no wound, however grievous, is incurable. While there is friendship, while there is compassion on earth, honest distress will find sympathy and relief. While the throne of grace is accessible, there is hope for the chief of sinners.”
And if no cause of man be desperate, who shall dare to despair of the cause of God and truth? Behold in a posterior period of this sacred history, * the utter extirpation of the posterity of Abraham determined, and the plans of Providence threatened, of course, with defeat and disappointment. Behold the bloody warrant sigued, and “sealed with the ring” of Ahasuerus, and thereby rendered irreversible. Behold the vengeful Haman, like the exterminating angel, with his sword drawn in his hand ready to fall upon his prey. What can save a devoted people from destruction ? One obscure Jew; one not admitted to the king's councils, but who sat unregarded in the king's gate. He feels as a citizen and a man, he laments the impending doom of his country as a citizen and a man; but he likewise acts, and exerts himself like a citizen and a man, and leaves the issue to Him, in whose hand are the hearts of kings--and it prospered. The remonstrance of Mordecai with the queen at this awful crisis, is a masterpiece of intrepidity, piety and good sense, and furnishes an useful example for the conduct of both public and private life. 6. Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall their enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed : and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this ?'** The Roman consul, whose rashness lost the battle of Cannæ, and endangered the existence of the state, received the thanks of the senate, " because he had not despaired of the Commonwealth.” The gallant prince of Orange, afterwards William III. of England, when urged to submit to the victorious arms of France, which were ravaging the United Provinces, and when the ruin of the republic seemed inevitable, nobly replied, “there is one way to secure me from the sight of my country's destruction; I will die in the last ditch." His resolution prevailed, and his country was saved from the yoke of the invader. And if confidence in a skilful, brave and fortunate commander, can carry a handful to victory through myriads of foes, what has the christian to fear, let difficulties and dangers be ever so many, ever so great, while conscious he is engaged in a good cause, and that he is following “the Captain of Salvation ?"
* Esther iï. 8-15.
We proceed to view the character and behaviour of Hannah in the hour of success and prosperity, blessed with the answer of prayer, and exulting in the enjoyment of the purest delights, and in performing the most important duties of life and religion.—May our meditation on these things be sweet and profitable! Amen.
* Esther iv. 13, 14,