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Shiloh, at the great yearly festivals. The law commanded the attendance of the males only, on such occasions; but whether it were a higher sense of piety induced him to appear before Jehovah rejoicing with all that were his, or whether he hoped to allay the ferment of fierce and angry spirits, in the soul-composing exercises of devotion, both his wives attended him to the service of the sanctuary, and sat down together with him at the sacrifice of peace-offering. It was wisely and well intended, the fire of malignity fades and dies in presence of the pure flame of love divine, as material fire is absorbed and extinguished when exposed to the rays of the glorious orb of day. It was well intended, had he not reason to hope that Hannah, would forget her misery, and Peninnah her pride in the presence of God; that the power of religion, and the prospects of immortality might haply unite those whom passion and interest had severed. But if such were his intention, he succeeded not. And that he succeeded not, is to be imputed, in part, to his own weakness. The beloved wife must be distinguished by a worthy portion," and to render it more insulting, at a public festival, and before envious, watchful eyes, those of Peninnah, and her sons and daughters. Thus, through some mixture of folly in ourselves, through the craftiness and malignity of another, or through some untowardness of arrangement, over which we had no power, and neither could foresee nor prevent, the best designs miscarry, medicine is converted into poison, and religion is made a minister of wrath and unrighteousness.
Who does not here recollect a certain "coat of many colours," which cost so dear to him who gave, and to him who wore it? Who is not warned to guard against, or at least to conceal partial affections, where claims are equal? Who does not feel the importance of bringing to the altar of God, a spirit elevated above all temporal considerations.
Not only was the good natured intention of Elkanah frustrated, but the worship of God was profaned; and wretched indeed must be the state of that family where religion not only fails to conciliate, but tends to alienate, irritate and inflame. "Elkanah loved Hannah, but the Lord had shut up her womb." -The absence of one desired blessing renders the possession of a thousand others tasteless and insipid. The moderating hand of eternal Providence rectifies the disorders, and counteracts the violence, of human passion; preserves the balance from a preponderancy too great, or too lasting, on either side; and conducts all to the happiest issue at length.
But an evil which comes immediately from heaven is by that very consideration rendered both tolerable and salutary. The Lord can do nothing but what is right; in wrath he remembers love; "he afflicts not willingly nor grieves the children of men, not for his pleasure, but their profit." But alas, there was mingled in Hannah's cup, an ingredient which converted the whole into wormwood and gall; "her adversary also provoked her sore to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb." What relish had now the double portion, though the token of a fond husband's unabated kindness? The insulting words and looks of her pitiless" adversary" are as vinegar upon nitre. How dreadful to have a calamity which was incessantly, though secretly preying upon her vitals, incessantly thrown in her teeth; home rendered a burthen; the place of sacrifice, a habitation of discord; fire snatched with unhallowed hands from the altar of Jehovah to kindle the gloomy fire of hell! There needs no tormenting fiend to ascend from the bottomless pit, armed with scorpions, to plague and torture wretched mortals; see, they are armed like furies one against another, they exult in one another's pain; relentless, remorseless, they "say not it is enough."
Dreadful to think, this angry vengeful spirit continued to agitate and torment these unhappy women for many years together; and what is hell, but a
state of unabating, growing animosity and hatred ? "As he went up year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, so she provoked her." In female bosoms can such malignity dwell? Ah, what so bad as the good corrupted, perverted! Behold a rancour which no time could enfeeble, no sense of shame restrain, and which the sacredness of the sanctuary served only to embitter and inflame! Can it be possible, merciful Father, can it be possible, that such a fell spirit should ever have accompanied any of us to thy house of prayer? Can "the same tongue utter blessing and cursing?" Dare we love God, whom we have not seen, while we hate" or despise we say brother" a sister "whom we have seen?" "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."*
It is greatly to the honour of Hannah, that all this cruel and insulting treatment drew from her no indecent return. Though grieved in spirit, provoked, fretted beyond all enduring, we hear of no furious appeal to the partial tenderness of her husband, no railing for railing, no rash malediction, no furious threatening of revenge. It is not easy to govern the spirit; it is not always possible to command the temper under offence and insult; but the tongue is in every one's power, improper words admit of no defence, and rage is but a poor apology for abuse and blasphemy. But she pines away in silent sorrow. "She wept and did not eat." These seasons of rejoicing before the Lord, these times of refreshing to every other daughter of Israel, were to her days of heaviness and woe. What signifies a large portion to one who has no appetite? What is the prosperity of her people, to one, who, like a dried branch, is cut from all interest in posterity, who sees the name and honours of her beloved husband passing away to the children of another, the children of one who hated her? Alas, the spirit of devotion itself is checked and repressed by the incessant, unrelenting stings of envy and jealousy; life is become a burden to her.
The deep affliction with which she was overwhelmed could not escape the attentive eyes of Elkanah. Though her tongue said nothing, her eyes, her tears, her dejection, her abstinence, her sighs betrayed abundantly the anguish of her soul. “Then said Elkanah, her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou, and why eatest thou not, and why is thy heart grieved? Am not I better to thee than ten sons?" To what distress has the good man reduced himself? Now he severely feels the effect of his own imprudence, and laments his having tried the dangerous experiment, which robbed him of all domestic quiet, disturbed the festivity of the solemn rendezvous at Shiloh, and threatened to produce one day some tragical event in his family.
Sympathy, if it does not wholly dispel our miseries, pours at least a temporary balm into the wound, and "soothes pain for a while." Hannah becomes composed, and the feast is concluded. There is still one refuge left for the miserable, one remedy against despair, one friend able and ready to help in every time of trouble; and our eyes with complacency follow the mourner, not into her secret retirement, to spend her sorrow in unavailing tears, or to curse the day in which she was born; not into the round of giddy dissipation to drown reflection and anxiety, in the poisoned chalice of intemperate mirth and jollity; but to the place of prayer, but to the door of mercy, but to the dawn of hope.
We shall presently find, that what related to the externals of God's worship was at that time but badly conducted in Israel, the "sons of Eli were sons of Belial," they "knew not the Lord." But be the minister who he will, the word and service of God cannot be rendered of none effect. Not only the
spirit of piety, but a sense of common decency was now lost in the Levitical priesthood when it pleased God to make this very afflicted woman, the means in his hand, to restore the dignity, purity and importance of the sacred function, to revive the decayed interests of religion, and to bring forward the great events which are so intimately connected with the things which belong to our everlasting peace.
When we look into human life, whether as exhibited on the hallowed page of inspiration, or by our own observation and experience, we shall find that most of the "ills which flesh is heir to" may easily be traced up to some imprudence, heedlessness, or transgression of the man himself, who, before he was aware, found himself involved in difficulties and distresses, the native effects of his own misconduct, but which he foresaw not, apprehended not, and which he never could intend. I know how poor a consolation it is, to tell a man, you have nobody but yourself to blame," and to upbraid him with the warning which you gave him, and he would not take; but it is not, for that, useless for one to discover the source, cause and progress of his calamity. The case must be bad indeed, or his eyes must have been opened very late, or his "heart hardened through the deceitfulness of sin," if he cannot turn to some good account the reflections of maturer judgement, the admonitions and chastisement of experience, the pain and remorse of an ill conscience, or the mistakes and wanderings of a good one.
-There are steps in conduct which are irretrievable, and therefore ought not to be tampered with. The excessive use of the most wholesome food, will at length overwhelm the strongest constitution; the occasional application of what is doubtful or unwholesome may undermine or waste it, but poison is certain death; and the sagacity of a brute, the understanding of a child, is sufficient to distinguish between poison and food, perhaps not between poison and medicine.
-To how many gracious, social, civil and moral purposes, may not the wise and proper use of religious services be applied? The man who has performed with understanding and feeling the devotions of the closet, will issue from it in a higher state of preparation for every duty of life. Filled with veneration for his heavenly Father, "who seeth," and with whom he has been conversing "in secret," he breathes good-will to man. The emotions of every unkind, ungentle, unjust affection are stifled, extinguished, forgotten. The principles of benevolence and benignity have acquired new life and energy. He is disposed to meet the ills of life with more firmness and fortitude, and to enjoy its blessings with a more exquisite relish. Hannah having poured out her soul to God, "went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad." The devotion of the morning will prove the best assistant toward conducting the business of the coming day;_and that of the evening, the happiest review and improvement of the past. From him who habitually begins and ends every thing with God, you may reasonably expect, the fruits of a good and honest heart, "speech always with grace, seasoned with salt," and order in conduct, more than from other men : more works of mercy, more fair dealing, more steadiness in friendship: and less of the rancour of opposition, less of the self-sufficiency of pride, less of the malignity of envy; for the love of God absorbs all these baleful malignant fires.
The devotions of the family, in like manner, produce the happiest effects within that sphere. How soothing, how cementing, how conciliating they are! Does common calamity press? It is alleviated, it is sanctified, it is done away, when the "care is cast upon God," when the burthen is transferred to a Father in heaven, who stands engaged to remove it, or to render it a blessing. Is domestic prosperity abounding, increasing? What an
additional lustre, value, sweetness does it derive from union, from piety, from a common sense of obligation and dependence? Have offences come? Has peace been disturbed? Are the bonds which united husband and wife, parent and child, brother and brother, master and servant, unhappily broken? The moment that the healing address, "Our Father who art in heaven," reaches the ear, every soul is peace, the spirit of love pervades the whole, and the voice of discord is heard no more. When pardon is implored from him whom all have offended, the stony heart relents, melts, forgives, for he needs to be forgiven.
The influence of public worship likewise, where it has not degenerated into mere form, is the strongest cement of society. It serves to consolidate men of various ranks and conditions, with their several talents and abilities, into one compact, efficient, well-organized body, ready to act with one heart and one soul, in the cause of God and their country. Little shades of difference, in men truly good, will unite instead of disjoining. Our great national assemblies are obliged, by law, to open their sittings for public business, by acts of public devotion. The reason and intention of the law, and of the practice founded upon it, are abundantly obvious. If the effect does not follow to the extent that might be wished-it must be concluded, that the devotional part of the sitting is neglected; that formality has extinguished the flame; or that difference of religious sentiment, or what is still worse, indifference to all religion, mar and weaken, and distract the whole. The preva lency of a worldly spirit must at length prove fatal to piety, and when piety is gone, public spirit is on the decline, and will not long survive.
-But we have in the history under review, a melancholy instance of what frequently happens to this day, and under a happier dispensation of religion seasons and places of devotion perverted into the instruments of kindling and exercising the ungracious, the unsocial, the unkind affections. How often is the sanctuary of God profaned, by being made the scene of displaying the rivalship of beauty, dress, equipage, rank and affluence? The humbling services of the meek and lowly Jesus, are naturally forced into the ministers of pride and vain glory. The tranquillity of the day of sacred rest, and its gentle, peaceful employments, give a birth, which they detest and disclaim, to the whisper of envy, and the noise of slander. The feast of love is disturbed, the sacrifice of peace is defiled by the impure claws of harpies; and "the house of prayer is turned into a den of thieves." "Surely, my beloved brethren, these things ought not so to be."
-Happily for us, the influence of the gospel, and the laws of our country, and the spirit of the times, prevent the practice which threw Elkanah's family into such a flame; and which, wherever it has prevailed, has been productive of confusion and every evil work. May a purer religion, and wiser institutions, and a more enlightened spirit produce a more perfect morality, promote domestic happiness, and extend and secure national prosperity.
We now proceed farther to unfold, from the sacred history, the character and conduct of Hannah: earnestly praying, that with "all" the rest of "scripture," which "is given by inspiration of God," it may "prove profitable for doctrine, and for reproof, and for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.”
HISTORY OF HANNAH,
MOTHER OF SAMUEL.
1 SAMUEL 1. 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18.
So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the Lord. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore. And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head. And it came to pass as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli marked her mouth. Now Hannah, she spake in her heart, only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee. And Hannah answered and said, No, my Lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord. Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto. Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him. And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.
THE support and the consolations administered by religion, are adapted to the nature and necessities of man. The exercises which it prescribes arise out of the circumstances and events of human life; and the being and perfections of God present themselves to us according as we pass from one condition to another. There are comforts which no one but God could have bestowed; there is wretchedness which God only can relieve. Hence the soul rises directly to the Giver of all good in transports of gratitude, and cleaves to him when every other refuge fails. Hence, all that is known by the name of prayer, is at once the voice of nature, the result of reason, and a dictate of religion.
What is the confession of the penitent, but the trembling hope of a guilty creature toward the God of mercy, fleeing from the judgement of unrelenting, unforgiving man; from the persecution of an awakened, an accusing conscience, to a proclamation of peace and pardon from Heaven? What is the resignation of the patient, but a devout acknowledgement of unerring wisdom, which does all things well, and afflicts in loving-kindness? What is the cry of distress, but an appeal to omnipotence for that assistance which the powers of nature cannot bestow ? What is adoration, but the faculties of an intelligent being lost in the contemplation of infinite perfection? Even the rash and impious appeals to Heaven, which are uttered by the thoughtless and profane, demonstrate, that piety and prayer are founded in the very constitution of our nature. Why does that blasphemer take the name of the Lord God in vain? why swears he by the great and terrible name of Jehovah? why