10 For the first time it is said that the Lord “came” and “stood” before he called. Until now, only “calling” has been mentioned. Does this mean that the Lord had been calling from a distance and now, finally, came close and called? Probably so. It is possible that “the revelation to Samuel involved a vision as well as an audition,” but the vision was not so overwhelming and frightening that Samuel could not listen to God’s aural message and comprehend its meaning.
Samuel! Samuel!: see “Abraham! Abraham!” (Gen. 22:11); “Jacob! Jacob!” (Gen. 46:2); “Moses! Moses!” (Exod. 3:4). Such repeated pronunciations of a person’s name may have a special significance. God called them at crucial times in their lives.
Speak!: this verse lacks “Lord!” unlike v. 9; repetition with variation is typical of narrative; verbatim repetition is not necessary.
Ver. 10.—And Jehovah came, and stood, and called as at other times. It is something more than a voice; there was an objective presence; and so in ver. 15 it is called, not hazon, a sight seen when in a state of ecstasy, but mareh, something seen when wide awake, and in the full, calm possession of every faculty. As at other times simply means as before, as on the two previous occasions. But now, instead of hurrying to Eli, Samuel obediently waits for the revelation of the Divine will, saying, “Speak; for thy servant heareth.”
Ver 10. Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth.—The pupil of God:—
- As the auditor of God. “The Lord came and stood.” The Great Father speaks to man in nature, in history, in moral reason, as well as in special revelations. This He does as in the case of Samuel.
- Personally. Samuel’s name was mentioned. God speaks to man, not in the mass, but in the individual.
- Earnestly. Samuel’s name is repeated, “Samuel, Samuel,” indicating earnestness. God is earnest in His communications with men. “Doth not Wisdom cry? and Understanding put forth her voice?” Alas! though all men are “auditors,” all men are not “earnest” listeners. We have humanity presented here—
- As the pupil of God. “Samuel answered, Speak; for Thy servant heareth.” Samuel’s conduct suggests three things—
- He became a pupil after having heard the Divine voice. The voice had spoken to him thrice before, but it is only now he has heard it as the voice of God. Before he thought it was the voice of Eli—the mere voice of a man. No man will ever become a pupil of God until he hears His voice as His voice. It is God’s voice that rouses men to spiritual study.
- He heard the Divine voice after having put himself in a right posture.
- Having heard the Divine voice, he craved for further communications. “Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth.” The man who really takes in one word from God, craves for another. God’s word, really taken into the soul, does two things,
(1) Intensifies its thirst for further communications. One sip of the stream leads to desires that only the ocean will satisfy. The other thing which God’s word does when taken into the soul,
(2) Widens his capacity for reception. Not only the more you have the more you desire; but the more you are capable of receiving. Conclusion.—Here are the relations which we all ought to sustain to God—auditors and pupils—listeners and students. (Homilist.)
The reality of revelation and the preparation for receiving it:—
Why did the Lord call Samuel four times before He told him what He had to tell him?
- The plan which God adopted was well calculated to convince both Eli and Samuel that the call was no delusion. When God makes any important revelation, He always gives to the people concerned some means of assuring themselves that it is indeed He who is speaking. He takes care there shall be no reasonable ground for saying that the revelation is a mistake, a fancy, a delusion.
- The call of Samuel would have failed in one of its objects, if Eli had not been convinced that it was from God. Eli was to be censured by it. The call of Samuel was therefore the first step towards superseding Eli, and putting another and more faithful person in his room. It was absolutely necessary therefore that Eli should be assured that Samuel’s call was from God, and that it was the beginning of the fulfilment of God’s threatenings against himself. And how could this be done more forcibly or more naturally than by allowing Samuel to mistake God’s voice for Eli’s, end bringing him to Eli’s bedside in unsuspicious simplicity three times in the course of the night?
- There was this great object in the delaying of the message communicated to Samuel, until he had been three times called by name,—that he was duly prepared to receive the message. If God had given him the message on the first occasion of calling him, Samuel might not have known what to make of a thing so utterly new and strange to him. (Dean Goulburn.)
Voices of God:—
Samuel was called to be a prophet of God in a great crisis of Jewish history. His appearance was quieter and less dramatic than those of Moses and Elijah, but it was almost as momentous.
- The commonwealth established by Moses came to an end with the weak administration of Eli. The pure theocracy of the government was superseded.
- The religious revolution was equally decisive and momentous. The religious supremacy of the priest was superseded by that of the prophet. No change could be more momentous in its religious influence. The function of the prophet differs fundamentally from that of the priest, and appeals to entirely different feelings. Samuel was the first of the order of the prophets. Hence the call of Samuel was of exceptional significance and importance. Samuel was clearly one of those great men of manifold gifts and functions whom God raises up in great crises and for great services. He was not, like Moses, the founder of the economy, nor, like Elijah, its restorer. But he was its preserver through a revolution that had become inevitable.
- Life is full of voices of God, only we lack the spiritual faculty which discerns them—The responsibility of life lies in listening for Divine voices, and in the response to them that we give. We may cultivate the spiritual faculty that hears God’s call, or we may make it obtuse. We may cherish God’s call, or we may silence it; obey it, or rebel against it.
- When we think of God’s voice, we English Protestants probably think first and most spontaneously of God’s revelation of His will in the Bible. Be the Bible whence it may, it is the highest spiritual authority we possess. It reveals God as nothing else does. More distinctly, unequivocably, and emphatically than through any other medium, God appeals to us by it. The history of Christianity is mainly a history of the impressions and transformations which the teachings of the Bible have produced upon men.
- There are again voices of God’s providence, which, if we have docile hearts, if we listen for the “voice behind us,” and watch for the guidance of God’s eye, we shall not fail to recognise.
- The instincts and yearnings of our own spiritual nature, again, are an unmistakable voice of God. Every faculty has its function, every yearning its satisfaction. What then is the satisfaction provided for my religious soul? Christianity loudly and eagerly replies, God, and Christ, and salvation, and heaven. This voice of God within tells us that we are more than the brutes that perish, that we are more than mere intellectual machines. A man has to do gross violence and outrage to his own nature, debauch it by sensual excesses, reason it down by hard logic, before he can disable or overpower its spiritual elements. Nay, when he has done his utmost, he has not destroyed, he has only over-borne them. Out of the very constitution of our nature a still small voice of God testifies to our spiritual and immortal being.
- And to this religious nature God speaks by the motions and monitions of His Holy Spirit; awakening solicitudes, exciting desires, touching impulses. These we may either cherish or quench.
- In moments of intellectual perplexity, for example, when speculative reason has baffled herself in trying to think out the mysteries of being and of God—amid this tempest and earthquake of intellectual strife the still small voice of the religious soul is heard—God’s voice within us. So that the spiritual soul itself disallows the reasonings that would deny it.
- In quieter and more thoughtful moods of life we hear the voice of God. In solitary ways, in quiet evening hours, in the sequestered chamber of sickness.
- God has voices that reach us in crowds; distinct, perhaps loud, above every din of business, or clamour of strife, or song of revelry.
- In moments of temptation, even, God’s voice finds a tongue. In some lingering power of conscience, in some sensitive remnants of virtue, in some angel memories of a pious home and an innocent heart.
- In times of sorrow God’s voice comes to us, summoning us to faith in His rule, His purpose, His presence, and to patience and acquiescence in the sacrifice demanded of us.
- Most terrible of all is it when the first voice of God that we seriously listen to is a sentence of doom. “I will judge thine house for the iniquity which thou knowest.” Such voices of God have come to men. Our lives are full of voices of God, if we would but listen to them. It is not God’s silence, it is our deaf ear that hinders every place from being eloquent with Divine meanings.
- Again, at what unlikely times and in what unlikely places God may speak to us. Not always in churches, or in formal acts of worship, or on Sabbath days.
- To what unlikely persons God’s call comes. The lesson is not an easy one for the Church to learn. God will choose His own instruments.
- How then do we respond to God’s call?—Is not Samuel’s answer, “Speak, Lord, Thy servant heareth,” in the childlike simplicity, faith, and submissiveness of it, a most beautiful and perfect type of what our answer should be? He did not demur or remonstrate, as even Moses did when sent to Pharaoh. Humility is seen as much in the implicit acceptance of a great mission as in apologetic excuses for not accepting it. True fidelity of service is simply to do whatever may seem to be duty. The responsibility is with him who calls us. How variously men respond to God’s call! Even in those who obey it, what gradations of faith and submissiveness there are! Men may deal with God’s call so insincerely that they may destroy their very power of recognising it, and come to confound it with mere human suggestion. Or else, recognising it to be such, they parley with it, pervert its meaning, resist it, silence it. How God speaks to individual souls! Our neighbours cannot hear His voice to us. Eli did not hear the call to Samuel. It is addressed only to our personal consciousness, He who sits by my side does not hear it. Sometimes we ourselves fail to recognise it at first. Samuel thought it the voice of Eli, as we may think it the mere word of a preacher. It may not be even a message, but only a call; “Samuel, Samuel;” vague and inciting. Upon our response to it, our inquisitiveness and our docility, it depends whether more shall be revealed to us. Oh, these voices of God, how they fill our life and make it solemn and great! What forms they take! What things they say! Upon our capability and willingness to hear Him our spiritual life depends. So to dull and deaden our souls by evasions and evil passions, so that it becomes incapable of discerning voices of God, is to destroy its finer spiritual sense, to degrade and carnalize it. Of all the voices of human life none are so great and inspiring as voices of God. Nay, even grant them illusions,—the mere imaginations of spiritual feeling,—they are dreams of noble and inspiring things. For practical uses of life it is better to be led by imaginary voices to noble virtue, Divine sympathies, and immortal aspirations, than to be led by real voices to carnal indulgences. It was because Samuel so responded, that He who thus spake to the child, feeding the morning lamp of his life with the oil of piety and gladness, continued to speak to the man through all his after years, to be with him in every after experience, to preserve him in every after temptation and peril; very largely, no doubt, by the very memories and spiritual forces of his childhood.
III. The religious importance of the passive or receptive side of our spiritual life.—There is an active side of spiritual life which exerts power, and there is a passive side that receives it; just as the body receives food for its nourishment, and puts forth energy as the result of it. I kneel down to pray; I put my soul into a receptive attitude: I open my heart to spiritual influences; I surrender myself to quiet musings; I cherish thoughts about Divine things; I nurture spiritual affections; I solicit into strength and fruitfulness the seeds of things that I have received. This is the passive side of my spiritual life. These are the vital processes that make me a spiritual man, holy, devout, loving. But I also go forth to do things; to teach, to work, to serve, to speak to others the thought that is in me, to proffer to others the help that love prompts, to embody before others the holy principles and feelings that have been generated within me. This is the active side of my spiritual life. The one is God working within me, filling me with His presence and love; the other is my working for God, filling the earth with the godliness that I have realised, ministering the grace I have received. Every true life realises both. If either be wanting, life is impossible; if either be in excess, life is maimed. The religious history of the world is full of instances of mere zeal and self-will, working, even in God’s service, extremest evil. The Church needs Christian workers, consecrated lives, vigorous hands; “the harvest is plenteous, but the labourers are few.” In a thousand forms evil has to be encountered and counteracted. It is a great grace for a man to be willing to serve God in any way, for him to be converted from the service of the devil to the service of Christ. It is an eventful crisis in a man’s history when he first submits himself to Christ. But it is not all at once that he subordinates to Christ all his feelings and purposes. His excited zeal would fain be doing. He has no conception that is not doing. He can scarcely be kept from abandoning business altogether. He does not wait to hear God speak. He takes for granted that God has only one thing to say to him—to bid him throw himself into the thickest of the fight. Young life is characteristically energetic. Its strength is not to sit still. Different states of society, different ages of the Church, have different characteristics and perils. Our fathers developed the thoughtful, reflective side of the Christian life. We fill the world with our Christian agencies, and our life with strenuous endeavours. Nor may we say that too much is done: the world needs it all. But perhaps we suffer in the completeness of our spiritual life. The balance inclines unduly. Are we not too busy for thoughtfulness—almost for quiet communion with God. There is therefore a sense in which we need to preach, not so much activity as the lessening of it. Our life runs to leaf. How much is said in Scripture about this devotional side of spiritual life, its aspect towards God, its vital union with Christ, its dependence upon Him! “As I live by the Father, so ye also shall live by Me.” This, then, is the conclusion of the whole matter—that in the activities of our zeal we do not forget its inspirations in God; that we keep open the heavenward gates of our souls; that while with one hand we do battle with evil, or build the temple of God, with the other we clasp the cross. The more entire our spirit of dependence, the more effective the work we do. Our greatest sanctities, our greatest elevations of thought and feeling, our greatest impulses, come from our communion with God. The nearer to Him we live, the fuller we shall be of His light and goodness and love. The men who have done the most for God are men who have stood in Samuel’s attitude, and said with Samuel’s submissiveness, “Speak, Lord, Thy servant heareth.” (H. Allon, D.D.)
Childhood a prophecy:—
- As expressing the cry of the human heart for a revelation of the Divine.—Sooner or later that cry will be heard in us all. The thirst for happiness, the desire for certainty, the craving for fuller life, the thinker’s search for uniting general ideas, are all longings for God. This cry cannot be satisfied by nature and its teaching, or by the voice of authority, or tradition, or reason, or the church.
- We are sinful beings. How shall we know that we are personally forgiven and accepted, unless the voice of God speak in us?
- We are solitary beings. We need a Divine Presence. How know that Presence is with us unless God’s voice speak in us?
- We are students of truth. How shall we be convinced that Christ is Divine, and ever the Leader and King of men, unless the voice of His spirit in us attest His claims?
- We are undeveloped beings. The highest and best energies of the soul only utter themselves as God’s voice calls them into consciousness, and service, and co-operation.
- We are responsible beings.
- We are immortal. In life, in death, in duty, in joy, our hearts cry, “Speak, Lord.” “Be not silent unto me.”
- God answers this cry, but in an unexpected manner.—We settle upon persons, places, times, and modes for God to speak. He upsets the folly of our pre-judgments.
- Samuel’s cry is the result of the Divine voice to him first.
- God calls the child, not Eli. He speaks to life, not years. The child has a right to hear God. He speaks ever to the childlike.
- He calls the child in the night. Samuel must go into the solemn night, alone to hear the voice. How brave and fearless is the child-heart.
- He calls him by a human voice. He cannot tell it from Eli’s. There are tones of love, and sorrow, and tenderness in it. So with Christ, the form of the voice is human, its substance is Divine.
- He calls the child to receive the message of law and judgment. A good discipline to begin with. Law, stern and inflexible, yet beneficent, pervades love. Duty first, then privilege and comfort.
- Eli has to complete the attitude of Samuel to God. The best part of Eli appears here—his unselfishness, his sympathy with Samuel. This is the use of all teachers, churches; not to demand our listening to them, but to send us to solitary converse with God. Often the representative of an outgoing school of thought has denied to the new voices the Divinity of which they are full. Eli was better.
III. The Divine voice is audible only to lowly obedience. (J. Matthews.)
God’s call to Samuel:—
- The sleep.—You may think of Samuel as now a boy about twelve years of age. The night was far advanced. The golden candlestick with its seven lamps, in the Holy Place, had not yet gone out, as it usually did about the time when the morning began to dawn. Its light shone on all the sacred things. That night God was present in a special manner. He was near to Samuel. But to Samuel it was as if none of these things had been; he was all unconscious of them—for he was asleep. There is,
- The Sleep of Carelessness.—Some mothers tell me about their boys, that they are not bad-hearted, and that what they have to complain of, is not so much want of heart, as want of thought. They never seem to think. And the consequence is, everything goes wrong. I cannot tell how bad, how dangerous that is, what damage it has done—want of thought. Though their eyes are open, their minds are asleep. It is the sleep of carelessness. Some young people go to church who never listen to what is said—who never hear what is said. I very much fear there are many young people who never think about God, or the soul, or their pressing danger, or the way of salvation.
- There is what I might call the Sleep of Sin. This is in some respects worse than the other. At first, conscience is uncomfortable, uneasy, and they think they will never do the wrong thing again. But when the sin is repeated time after time, conscience becomes quiet, the heart gets hard, and at length there is sound sleep, so that nothing frightens, nothing alarms.
- There is the Sleep of Security. Security does not mean safety. It means the sense of supposed safety, and is sometimes the most dangerous state of all.
- God’s awakening call.—There are various ways of awaking sleeping people. Sometimes a call will do it; sometimes a gentle tap at the door; sometimes a loud knock.
- There is God’s call in the Word. This is what most, and most effectually, He uses. Strange and unlikely messages have proved words of awakening to some, rousing the sleeper thoroughly out of his slumbers. Often it is the simple story of Jesus’ love—His coming and dying for sinners.
- There is God’s call in Providence.
III. The lying down again.—In Samuel’s case, this was all right and good. He was an unusually dutiful child. Whenever he was called, up he sprang, and that again and again. In the case of most the lying down again is fatal. The second sleep is likely to be sounder than the first, and to lie down again, when once awakened, is of all things the most foolish. Sometimes, when God awakens, and there is much anxiety and fear—a desire to be saved, and a willingness to do anything to get salvation. We get quit of our anxiety and fear, and try to throw off our good impressions, and are ashamed to have been so much concenred. Friends often say to us, “Go, lie down again:” not that they would do us any harm, but, like Eli at first, they do not know that the voice that is calling us is the voice of God. Satan always says, “Go, lie down again;” for he does not wish us to be saved. And many yield to the temptation.
- God’s call recognised and answered.—All the three earlier times, “Samuel did not yet know the Lord.” (J. H. Wilson.)
The call to Samuel is an extreme and vivid instance of a truth of which the Bible is full; the truth that we are all called of God to our several places and occasions of action or of passion, of working or of waiting in the world; in a word, that we all have a vocation. We hardly need the Bible to tell us this, for it is one of the simplest truths of natural religion. The evidences of providential purpose in the world have been criticised in every age. But they have proved too strong to be upset by criticism, and still remain as they have ever been, among our most necessary forms of thought. And as man is the climax of the visible creation, we naturally expect the purpose which is so abundantly visible elsewhere, to obtain also in the life of man. He too must have a purpose, and to be created for a purpose is, in the case of a free being, to be called to its fulfilment. The New Testament takes up and intensifies this thought; addressing Christians as “the called of Jesus Christ,” “called to be saints,” “called according to God’s purpose,” “called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord,” “called out of the darkness,” “called to liberty.” Now it hardly needs saying that, for all its naturalness and scriptural authority, we are too apt to forget this thought. Let us consider the details of the call of Samuel to his life’s work. Circumstances, as we say, but circumstances of which a mother’s prayer was part, determine the sphere in which that work is to be done. “The child did minister unto the Lord before Eli the priest.” Then comes the Divine voice calling him by name; calling him out of the many possibilities of an office which he shared with such men as Eli’s sons, to his own especial and high prophetic destiny. We are not all called to be prophets, but we are called, in our varying ways, to minister to the Lord; and we may learn from this typical history how to recognise and answer our call. We are apt to lead aimless lives, and shift the blame of them on to our circumstances; but circumstances, to a believer in God, are providential, and meant to determine and not to divert our aim. Parents’ wishes, constitutional temperament, intellect, rank, wealth, poverty, obscurity, the books we read, the friends we form, family claims, or unexpected opportunities in the opening days of life—these are the things that decide for us the main outlines of our career. And it is very easy to imagine that they are all happy or unhappy accidents, importing at the very outset a character of chance into all that we do. But such a view is only born of the shallow philosophy that sees nothing in the universe but a chaos of shifting sand. And it is in the presence of such feeling that a belief in vocation comes to our help. For that belief gives us a clue to the right interpretation of our circumstances, and leads us to ponder over them with prayer. As we do so we are no longer content to drift idly before them, or to turn and go away in a rage because we are not bidden to do some great thing. But external circumstances need for their interpretation the inner guidance of the voice of God; and to hear that voice we must be listening with the obedient expectation in which Samuel said, “Speak; for Thy servant heareth.” It is too readily assumed that such interior calls come only to the favoured few who are predestined to exceptional careers. They are ways in which God, the Holy Ghost, chooses the weak things of the world to confound the wise; flashing on the mind in an instant, through some chance thought, or sight, or sound, the conviction of His nearness, and the message of His will. But real as these inner intimations of the Divine purpose often are, they need to be received with care. And here again the case of Samuel comes before us. The voice which called him was interpreted by Eli. “Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child.” And all our secret inspirations need a similar process of testing, in the light of our own experience or that of others. What, then, is a divine vocation? It is a call from the world, in its evil sense, to God. These are its two essential characteristics. First, detachment, or sacrifice. When the rich young man was bidden to sell all that he had and give to the poor, the involved sacrifice was obvious. But though less obvious, the sacrifice need not be less real in the case of those whose undoubted vocation is to accept the responsibility of a great inheritance. Secondly, attachment. Vocation is a call to God, and not merely a call to labour. It is a common mistake to regard our work as leading us to God, rather than God as leading us to our work. But the latter is the true order of vocation. God calls us to himself, and then sends us to labour in His vineyard. If we sever our moral life from its spiritual root—its root is the Father of Spirits—and confine our thoughts to any kind of merely moral practice, however noble, we are liable by degrees to be too absorbed in our work, to over-estimate its importance and our own importance as its agents, to be unduly discouraged by failure or sudden avocation. Meanwhile, our work itself will lack the note of perfectness which spirituality alone can give, and be either outwardly ungracious or inwardly unreal. Whereas if we regard morality as a function of the spiritual life, and conduct as the consequence and not the cause of character, the natural and necessary outcome and expression of the inner man, all things will fall into their proper place. For the work which flows instinctively from character is not only more perfect in kind; but there is, in reality, more of it. It has a wider and more varied scope. In fact, it is incessant; since a character is always working. And, further, while action divorced from character contains no principle of growth, and at best can only increase in quantity, remaining monotonously same in kind, a spiritual character is for ever growing in refinement and intensity and grace, and consequently issuing in a higher quality of conduct. “My son, give Me thy heart” is the universal form of all vocation. This is the essence of vocation; and it naturally issues in a reality and earnestness of life which nothing else can give. Without it men may be in earnest for a time, but their earnestness will rarely survive failure, much less such repeated failure as is our common human lot. But the man with a sense of vocation is beyond all this. For he neither depends upon success or failure, nor doubts the real value of his work. Like the Pompeian sentinel, come what may, he will stay on duty till his guard is relieved. He works not for achievement, but for obedience, and rests not when he is tired, but when he is told. Nor does this temper of mind, as is sometimes thought, lead to dull and mechanical working. On the contrary, the man with a vocation is the truest individual. For in his degree he reflects God, and no two beings can reflect God in the same way. Indolence is always commonplace. Imitation is its favourite method. And the more selfish men become either in their personal or collective aims, the more drearily they resemble one another. No two saints were ever alike. And this the man with a true sense of vocation feels. He gives himself up to God in confidence that the Maker of the human soul alone knows the capabilities of His own instrument, and can alone bring out its music. And he is justified by the result. Native individuality alone will not do this. It may start with a flash and a lustre, but succumbs in time to the deadening custom of the world, “the set gray life, and apathetic end”—one more instance of the epigram that “we are all born originals and die copies.” But vocation, while it emphasises our originality, supports us under its loneliness with the sense of being upheld from above. Again there are degrees and stages of vocations—vocations within vocations. Theology is a matter of vocation. And then there is the missionary call, of which we hear from all sides of the need. (J. R. Illingworth, M.A.)
Present day inspiration:—
Does God speak to our children to-day as He did to this lad Samuel? I do not ask does God speak to us in an audible voice, and in dictionary English. For you know well enough that the form is not, and never can be, of the essence of a message. Methods are details. Spiritual impulse and enlightenment, life and power, are all in all, the Alpha and Omega of Inspiration. “There are,” says Goethe, “many echoes in the world, but few voices.” Revelation is rare. Inspiration is common. Revelation is unique and original. Inspiration may issue only in an echo to him who listens, but in what is a living and new experience to him who speaks. So far as I can gather, Samuel, though inspired so as to become the first in the regular succession of the prophets of Israel, received no new truth, saw no facts going beyond the first principles of religion taught by Moses; but he grasped those truths with a reality and clearness all his own. With deep solicitude, then, we enquire, what are the facts? Is there, or is there not, a Present Day Inspiration? No doubt the prophets of God were exceptional men. All are not apostles. All are not prophets. All do not work miracles. All have not gifts of healing. Every Greek is not a Plato in philosophical insight, an Aristotle in reasoning, or a Pericles in eloquence and political capacity. Every Italian is not a Dante in song. Every Englishman is not a Shakespeare in dramatic genius, a Macaulay in historical portrait-painting, or a Pitt in statesmanship. Every singer is not a Beethoven or a Mozart. Every Christian is not a Luther. Even amongst the prophets of the Old Testament there are greater and lesser lights. But in God’s world, the exceptional is always the evangelistic. Divinely-anointed men preach the Gospel to the poor, heal the broken-hearted, deliver the captives, and herald the arrival of the acceptable year of the Lord. God never makes any man for himself, least of all a prophet. But supposing we had a lingering doubt as to the teaching of the Older Testament, we cannot have any misgiving as to the fact that Christ asserts over and over again the doctrine of the continuity of Inspiration. It is His consolation among the irritations and disquiet of opposition and defeat, that His Father reveals the truth of His Kingdom, to the open, clinging, and trustful hearts of “babes” like young Samuel. A third line of inquiry is open to us, taking us back in some sense upon our first and second. It is this. Are the results of Samuel’s Inspiration possible to us, or is there anything forbidding us to entertain the thought of entering into the goodly fellowship of the prophets? We know we may walk with God as did Enoch, preach righteousness with Noah, become the children of Abraham in heroic faith and total surrender of will, fight against ourselves with Jacob, battle for social purity with Joseph, assist in building God’s house with Moses, share the strength of Samson, and drink the pure streams of domestic joy with Ruth and Naomi; is it likely then we are shut out from the enjoyment of the sublimest issues of the inspiration of the Spirit of God? Those issues, as seen in the life and work of Samuel, are these four; an enlarged and purified conception of God; a strong and governing sway for ethical ideas of God and of life; a contagious impulsion of others towards God and righteousness; and a fine susceptibility of advance in religious, social, and national activity. Samuel knew the Lord through the word of the Lord revealed to him. God spake to him, and the speech was a revelation of the Speaker. To know God—not so as to define Him, but to enjoy Him; not so as to demonstrate His being, but to live in and by His love and power; not so as to comprehend Him, but to trust and follow Him; this is the gift of the Spirit. Next in gravity and in fruitfulness, we see in this inspired hero a moral illumination, an inflexible fidelity to his vocation, and an uncompromising adherence to eternal ethical principles, which infallibly assert his intimate fellowship with a righteous God. He begins his youthful ministry by the delivery of a pain-filled message, asserting the unrelaxed operation of the laws of God on the rapacity and profligacy of the sons of Eli, a man of saintly devoutness and religious fervour, but a father of foolish leniency and unpardonable weakness. Samuel, young as he is—a mere lad—tells his story every whit, omits not a word from fear for himself, or weak consideration for the feelings of Israel’s Judge. So noble a courage has its fitting crown in the stern demand for absolute obedience to God he makes on King Saul, and his intrepid refusal to accept any shuffles and excuses for a self-willed defiance of the authority of the God of Israel. “To obey,” says he, rising to the loftiest heights of the sun-filled realm of truth, “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” “The Lord let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground,” for they were a part of that truth which, however slowly it be revealed, when once here, endureth to all generations. Samuel, like his successors, was a prophet-politician. His chief care was the common weal. He saw a people weak and disunited, foolish and fractious, licentious and profligate, idolatrous and corrupt; and with glowing intensity of emotion and ringing eloquence he sent out his manifesto against the reigning idolatry, re-asserted the second great commandment against the worship of images, urged repentance and searching of heart, and confederated the tribes together on the basis of a true idea of God, a spiritual worship, and a faithful keeping of the law of righteousness. Every true and consecrated prophet is an earnest patriot, acutely alive to the real perils of his country, sympathetic with all its struggles for a purer morality, a higher culture, and a richer joy; and heartily co-operates in every effort that illumines right, extends liberty, and brings men to God. Love of men, evinced in practical service of their wide interests, is the sign and proof of the anointing of God. Hence the inspired man is always in the van of progress. He does not and cannot lag behind. Even though it be against his immediate interests, and in the face of his cherished methods and associations, yet he triumphs over himself and carries forward movements in which “the old order changeth, yielding place to new.” No inspired man can be a frozen pendant, a blind dry-as-dust, a galvanized corpse, frantically clutching at yesterday as though it were better than to-day, and talking of God as though He had revealed Himself as the “I was,” instead of the “I am.” The breath of the Almighty lifts him out of the darkness of a selfish stagnation and makes him the harbinger of the coming day. Therefore, not even our depressing sense of mistake, our mist-bound ideas, our feeling that God has cramped dwelling in our souls, should hinder us from believing in, working for, and hastening to, a present-day Inspiration. Each element of this four-fold result bears witness to a universal need, and to a possible universal experience: prophesies that “when He is come, He will convince the world of sin, and righteousness, and judgment;” be “poured out on all flesh,” so that all flesh may see the full salvation of God. Irresistible as this answer is, it only forces on us a further question, scarcely less perplexing, viz., how may we be sure that the voice that speaks within us is the voice of God, and not of self; that the impressions, ideas, and convictions are the result of Divine inspiration, and not the subtle temptations of evil, or the disguised promptings of a foolish and fevered fancy? Ay, there’s the rub! That’s the insuperable difficulty! Fortunately for us this is not a new problem. It is as old as the other. The Jews of Berea had to face it with less light than we have, for they were invited to pass into a new realm of thought and action, and required an unerring guide. Paul and Silas preached the Word concerning Christ to them, and they received it with all openness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily whether these things were so; many of them, therefore, believed. They went at once to the best test they had; used the supreme verifying process then in existence, looked into the Hebrew accounts of the manifestation of God in the past; compared them with that which was reported to them by the missionaries, and entered into rest and power. Now we have this advantage over the Bereans, that the Scriptures are larger for us than they were for them. We can take all the movements of the Spirit of God in our hearts to-day to Christ, to see whether they are in accordance with His Spirit and teaching, with His redeeming purpose and kingdom, with His sacrifice and ethics; with His character and Ideal. He is our infallible test. Yet another question. If this gift of the Spirit be open to all souls, and this test be so easy of application, why is it that Samuel, of all the lads in Israel, hears the Divine Voice, and no one else; that Isaiah and Paul are inspired, and so many of their contemporaries are not? Why? Well, why did mathematics and colours speak with such captivating sweetness to the mind of Clerk Maxwell? Why did music penetrate and sway the soul of young Mozart? Why could not Flaxman rest in his father’s shop without modelling and sketching? Why did Augustine hear the summons falling on his ear as he walked in the orchards at Tagaste; “Take and read, Take and read”? Look into their minds, and you will find the same law at work. Scientific things are scientifically discerned; musical things are musically discerned; artistic things are artistically discerned; and spiritual things are spiritually discerned. Their natures and training offered the appropriate organs and conditions, and the inspiration followed. To the fitting organ for hearing there comes the guiding Voice of God. Few “cases” more vividly illustrate this law than Samuel’s. At least six signs of fitness show themselves: his godly descent: his devout dedication for life to the service of God; his early spiritual training; his pre-eminent prayerfulness; his glowing love of God; and his unfaltering obedience to the Divine will. If, then, any of us lack the strength of a daily inspiration, and who does not? let him ask of God, with a fully dedicated spirit, an intense yearning to glorify God, a total suppression of selfish desire, and a sustained doing of all the Will of God, and He will do exceeding abundant above all we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, even the power of the risen Christ, Who hath already given us of His Spirit. (J. Clifford, M.A.)
Spiritual surrender for children:—
- To begin with, there is indicated here, as a part of this boy’s experience, the exercise of unquestioning obedience.
- In the experience of Samuel we observe, in the second place, there was the attitude of listening.
- Then next in the experience of Samuel we observe there is a spirit of reverence.
- There is the apprehension of obligation. So whenever Christ comes by His Spirit into contact with a young life there is the bending of the will into desire for service.
- There is the temper of submission. The entire surrender of the soul is reached in that word “heareth.” This young child was offering himself most unconsciously to a duty immediate and pressing, but indescribably hard. (C. S. Robinson, D.D.)
God’s calling of Samuel:—
- With respect to the circumstances of this Divine call, there are, it is true, some differences, whilst there are certainly also some resemblances, between his case and yours. We may refer to,
- Some of these differences.
(1.) It is quite true that none of you are called in a miraculous way like Samuel.
(2.) It is also true that God now calls none of you by name as he did Samuel.
(3.) Nor are you called, like Samuel, to be inspired prophets. The code of Revelation is finished.
- Resemblances between the circumstances of the call of Samuel and yours.
(1.) Are not some here, like Samuel, childran of many prayers.
(2.) Like Samuel, “lent unto the Lord.”
(3.) You are all young like Samuel
(4.) Called like Samuel at an important crisis in the history of the church of God.
- Have not all of you, like Samuel, been called repeatedly?
- With respect to the reality of the Divine call there is a perfect parity in both cases.—
- The Bible you allow to be the Word of God.
(2.) It contains appeals addressed to you. “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say I have no pleasure in them” (Eccle. 12:1). (Evangelical Preacher.)
Obedient to the voice of God:—
- The Lord speaking. “But does God speak to me?” you ask.
- Yes, he does, in His Providence. In this land of Sabbaths, and churches, and Bibles, and Christians, God is always speaking to you. Did He not speak to you in the first human voice that reached your infant mind? And did not God speak to you in that illness?
- And God speaks to you by His word. For His word is not like the word of a man in a book, a dull, dead thing: but in it you may hear God’s living voice.
- And God speaks to you by His Spirit.
- The child hearing. Your ear is one of the main gateways of the soul. A man of science calls it “a harp of three hundred strings,” and it is made up of many wonders. But far more wonderful is the inner ear of the heart, or the conscience, by which you hear the noiseless voice of God. You have great power over the ear of the body; you may spoil it, close it, or improve it. Oh, have you a good ear for this music? It is astonishing how quick the ear grows to hear anything we wish to hear. An Indian, by laying his ear to the ground, and hushing his breath, can discover the approach of a horseman at the distance of miles. His ear is as quick as the ear of the hare, or of the deer. A sleeping mother will hear the gentlest movement of her suffering child, and awake to help it. Her mother’s love calls her listening soul into her ear: her heart makes her all ear. Thus the ear within the soul may be trained to know even the gentlest whisperings of God’s voice.
III. The child serving. “Thy servant,” he called himself.
- His obedience was prompt. He might have said, “Oh, I’m frightened in the dark: there must be some mistake: I’ll keep my warm bed this cold night.” He was prompt in obeying Eli’s voice (as he thought it) and God’s.
- Samuel’s obedience was also hearty: he put his whole heart into it. The trembling slave obeys promptly, but not heartily. He does his task at once, but would gladly not do it, if he dared. We cannot obey God till we really love Him.
- Notice also that Samuel’s obedience was life-long. There is the closest connection between the heartiness and the continuance of our service. (J. Wells, M.A.)
In order to distinguish the voice and message of God there is requisite—
- A disengaged mind. When the attention is absorbed by one object there is no room for another.
- An unbiassed intelligence. Our own selfishness, conceit, and prejudice, both collectively and individually combine to prevent our hearing and regarding the truth, in its fulness and entirety. We want to speak and argue, as well as hear.
III. An earnest expectation.
- A sense of humility. “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” This implies that we hear in order to do. God will never give His counsel to the haughty and the proud.
- A personal individual communion. It is the want of the personal union to God that keeps us in the dark and hides His light from our souls. (Homilist.)
Listening to God:—
Or, rather, “Thy servant is listening.” If, as we have read this story, I wonder if we have thought of the strange feeling of awe that was beating in that little heart that night? I wonder if there is any significance in the fact that Samuel did not say just what Eli told him to? Eli said, “Say, speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth;” but Samuel could not get quite courage enough to say Lord; he was not quite sure that it was the Lord that was speaking to him, and so all he says is, “Speak; for Thy servant heareth.” How that heart must have beat, how that awe must have possessed him, as it came to him that he was really face to face with Jehovah! And yet, familiar as we are with this story, I do not think its lesson has sunk down very deep into most of our hearts; for that lesson seems to me to be this: That there are times when we are not to talk to God, and not to do anything for God, but just to listen to God. A great proportion of you are doing some work for God; most of you, I hope, more or less regularly pray to God; but how many of you have ever formed the habit of listening to God? You see the difference. We know the full man, the ready man, the overflowing man whom we meet in social intercourse, who is so full of his message to us that he has no time to get our message back again; who talks with such a stream of conversation that it is hardly possible for us to get in a word in reply. There is no conversation with such a man, there is only listening to him. You have met that man; perhaps you are that man yourself. He is a very full man, but he does not know how to get the message of the world. He does not know how to take in as well as to give out. The wise man carries both minds with him, the giving mind and the receiving mind, and the wisest man makes more of the receiving even than the giving. But at other times you do not take up a theme for study, but you sit down in your easy chair and light your evening lamp; the wind is howling and you are sure that you are going to have that night no interruption; and you take your Browning, or your Shakespeare, or your Carlyle, or your Tennyson, or your Whittier, and you do not study, you simply let your favourite author talk to you, and after he has spoken to you for ten or fifteen minutes the book drops into your lap and you begin to think his thoughts. These hours in which we simply listen to what the men of genius have to say to us, are they not the most fruitful hours of our life? Have we not received more in those hours than we received when our dictionary and our grammar and our treatise were before us and we were digging for wisdom as for a hid treasure? Yes, these receptive hours are our best hours. I know there are persons who think that God speaks no more to men: He did speak once to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Isaiah, to Paul, but there came a time when the canon was closed, and inspiration was stopped, and God became silent, and man lost his power of hearing. Strange, was it not, if it were true, that God should have spoken to one little section of the race and no other section, to one little epoch and to no other; strange, if He is the Father and we are the children, that He should have talked to those children in far-away times and have nothing to say to us children in this present time! I do not believe it. I believe God speaks to His children now. I cannot see how there can be a true, real religion without this faith. This faith underlies obedience. How can I obey the will of God if God never shows His will to me? How can I have faith in a present, living God, who never speaks to me? Sometimes He comes to us as He came to Balaam. We have set our own purpose before us; we have resolved what we will do; we have not been careful to take counsel and consider whether this is the thing God wants us to do. A great reward, a great honour, a great advantage, beckons, and we start out on our path to do our will, resolved to reap our reward, and we come against some obstacle, something that stops our way, and we are angry, vexed—we will sweep it out of the way and all the time it is the Angel of the Lord standing before us, barring our progress. And we cannot, do not, will not, see or listen. Sometimes He comes to us as He came to Saul of Tarsus; conscientious, really thinking he was doing God’s service, and yet so bent on his own notion of what’s God’s service was. Sometimes He comes to us as He came to Elijah. We have tried to do God’s will—tried, but have failed; all our work has come to naught, and we are utterly discouraged. Sometimes it comes to us as it came to Moses; comes in the voice and ministry of nature, in some wonderful phenomenon in nature. Sometimes He comes to us as He came to Isaiah in the Temple. Sometimes He comes to us as He came to Peter and James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. I wish I could carry you back to your childhood; I wish I could make you remember the school desk and the teacher, or the mother instructing you out of the primer or out of the Bible; and when I had made those memories pass before you in a panoramic vision, I would bring, last of all, the evening hour when the mother took you. (Lyman Abbott, D.D.)
Samuel, the young prophet:—
Samuel has just completed his twelfth year. Against this portrait of young Samuel our lesson unveils the picture of the age in which he lived. It was one of priestly corruption and spiritual dryness. To worshipping shepherds, to praying Johns, to kneeling Stephens, to clinging Jacobs, to repentant Davids, to obedient Samuels, God communicates his truths. Do not find fault with God because He seems to withhold truth from you. Do not criticise the preacher for commonplace utterances nor call your prayer-meeting stupid. First look into your own heart and life and know whether or not you are in condition to see the truth when presented. The responsibility of the preacher of Christ and of Christian bodies for a spiritual drought is very evident from the story before us. We need heavenly living to receive heavenly visions. In this day of withheld revelation, when the lips of prophecy were sealed and the people heard no sounds from the heavens, God called Samuel. If it seems remarkable that he should select one so young in years, we are to remember that God never gives one a duty until he is fitted to perform it. He saw in this Hebrew youth the qualities of mind and spirit which he desired in his prophet. Years do not qualify men for great deeds. Holy living is the first condition of honour from God. God wants men, holy men. He asks neither for youth nor age. He does ask for holy manhood. Samuel met this condition, and therefore God called him. He was glad to be a servant in the tabernacle. He had the spirit of service. He chose God’s service, not a place in that service. That he left God to decide. Samuel was usable of God. His spirit of obedience is evident. When the voice called, he cried: “Here am I.” There is something unusual in this spirit. He was ready to try, with God’s help, to do what God wished. He was trustfully obedient, like Abraham and Joshua and Paul. His was the obedience that ran. The obedience that lingers with leaden feet never receives the prophet’s rod and mantle. It is interesting to note that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him.” He certainly knew God as every trustful, loving heart knows Him, and God’s word was his law. He did not, however, know him through the medium of a special revelation. Before he could enter upon his special work as a prophet or even know it was to be his, a special communication from God to him was necessary. No man ever yet succeeded who took up a special work for God on general principles. We are called to the work He desires us to do. In some way God draws near us in special revelation, communicating His will. In this special revelation God “came.” The word means “presented Himself.” The calling was not a mere impression or dream of Samuel’s. He heard a voice and then beheld the vision. He recognised his God. “Speak; for thy servant heareth.” There was no doubt, no confusion in his mind regarding the nature of the occurrence. In God’s service we are not left to act upon impressions nor to the guidance of dreams. We meet a living presence. God came, and God comes to men. He meets us at every turn on life’s road. He gives us such special revelations of Himself as we may require. We talk not into a mysterious darkness, but in the ear of our God. We are left not to the mercy of fancies, but are guided by an all-wise and loving Father. In sharp contrast with the exaltation of Samuel to this prophetic life and his vision of Jehovah is the picture of Eli’s house. His sons are dissolute. They have degraded their important office and brought reproach in some way upon the name and worship of God. For Samuel to disclose to Eli the sad future of himself and his family was no easy task. It was the beginning of his cross-bearing as the prophet of God. It is worthy to be noticed, as an illustration of the frankness of God’s dealings with us, that he never deceives us as to the nature of our duties. On the very threshold of his new life Samuel met this delicate and trying task. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Samuel; or, God’s wrath upon His Church:—
We may look upon this Divine call of Samuel as the beginning of a new order of things in Israel. The high priest had, from the occupation of Canaan, been the medium of communication from God to the people. He wore the Urim and Thummim in the breastplate, and from these was able to receive answers from God to questions concerning duty. But the degeneracy of Israel, in which the high priests seem to have participated to a degree, rendered a change necessary. The high priest is made secondary, and the prophet is raised up as the primary authority in Israel. The prophet will now be the mouth of God to the people. If the Church makes a god of its forms, he breaks those forms to pieces. When the ritual priesthood failed in their duty, he punished them, and set up an order of prophets above them to be the interpreters of his will. Samuel is thus a witness to God’s demand for a spiritual religion in contrast to mere form. God is a holy God, and He will have His people holy; and if they substitute a ceremonial for holiness, His holy wrath will certainly fall upon them; and in this blow not only those will fall who, like Eli’s sons, commit gross wrongs, but those also who, like Eli, through indulgence or apathy, fail to rebuke and resist the evil. The Church of God is to-day courting the world. Its members are trying to bring it down to the level of the ungodly. The ball, the theatre, nude and lewd art, social luxuries with all their loose moralities, are making inroads into the sacred enclosure of the Church. God will not bless a Church that drags down His heavenly things into the dust—that gilds vice, calls it Christian, and then indulges in it. But His holy vengeance will assuredly come and strip such a Church of its pride and make it eat the bread of affliction. (H. Crosby, D.D.)
Youth the repository of Divine judgment:—
- Night visions. We might suggest several reasons why night was selected as the season of this vision:—
- It was calm and silent.
- It would lend impressiveness to the call. It being unusual to hear a voice at midnight, earnest attention would be secured, and reverent awe inspired.
- It was also consistent with the event announced. What time more appropriate for the utterance of tidings so terrible as darkness, whose gloom would also be prophetic of the future?
- To show that God works at the most unlikely times, independent of external and natural aid.
In fact, when we look upon the dead horses and unblown trumpets of Sennacherib’s defeat, on the desolation caused in Egypt by the withering breath of the destroying angel, we feel in the presence of this principle that when nature and mortals slumber, God is most active.
- In what the vision consisted. “And the Lord called” (ver. 4). What a deep impression would this night’s transaction make upon Samuel’s mind! Hence, by this vision, he was conducted to advanced experiences, of which the two most prominent thoughts would be the woeful destiny of evil, and the judicial majesty of God. These communications were
(2) of widespread interest (ver. 11); not merely was the lightning to scathe a willow by the stream but an oak near the palace. The doom predicted was
(3) Inevitable. Rendered so
(a) By Divine oath (ver. 14)
(b) By a strict refusal of compromise (ver. 14).
- To whom entrusted. The Lord called Samuel (ver. 4). Childhood vocal on the lips of God. Devoted childhood honoured by God. Compare. “In those days there was no open vision” (ver. 1). “And the Lord called yet again, Samuel.”
- Honestly mistaken. “And he ran unto Eli” (ver. 5). Have we not in the cheerful obedience of this young servant a pattern for all stations of service?
(1.) It was prompt; “he ran.”
(2.) It was responsive; “Here am I.”
(3) It was deferential; “for thou calledst me.” Samuel mistook the Divine call for the human; this is the greatest tendency of the present day, to expunge the miraculous, not only from the records of inspiration, but also from the events of general life. Mistaken childhood instructed (ver. 7). It is the duty of old persons, and especially old priests, to instruct the young.
- Obediently received (ver. 10). “Speak, for thy servant heareth.” Samuel omits the word “Lord,” which Eli had instructed him to use. His youthful nature had not yet grasped its meaning; the doctrine of the Divine Lordship was too deep a mystery, he stood before it in silence, daring not to vocalize such an attribute of majesty. Every impulse of his heart cried out, “Speak,” and Samuel signified himself attentive to the message; “thy servant heareth.”
- Morning disclosures. Samuel enters upon the duties of the day with a heavier heart than usual, trying as much as possible to avoid contact with Eli, lest he should be questioned respecting the call of the previous night. What contrasts do the Christian life present! He “opened the doors of the house of the Lord” (ver. 15). The revelation of woe had not caused him to forget his duty, or filled him with pride to disdain it. Here we catch a glimpse of the greatness of his young nature, that it could walk amidst this splendour with such unconscious simplicity. The vision was:—
- Timidly retained (ver. 16, 17). “And Samuel feared to show Eli the vision.” Probably he had received no command from God to disclose it, and feared lest he should intrude upon the threshold of the Divine prerogative. Perhaps he discreetly considered that the tidings would be too astounding, that Eli’s feeble energies, like the drooping plant, would succumb to the fury of the storm; feeling also a respect for and a sympathy with the unfortunate Priest, knowing that God had irrevocably signed his death warrant, Samuel did not wish to embitter the final hours by heedless, useless sorrow. However Eli suspects that the call of the night had reference to himself, and importunately asks for its message.
- Faithfully disclosed (ver. 18). “Samuel told him every whit.” Faithful to God, and respectful to Eli, he unfolds the solemn secret of the future, in language not softened by omission or nullified by misrepresentation.
- Reverently acknowledged (ver. 18). “And he said, It is the Lord.” Lessons:
- Childhood taken to the tabernacle as likely to be called by God.
- The tabernacle is the place for the instruction of youth.
- The punishment of parental indulgence is both certain and fearful.
- The secrets of Divine Providence are ever entrusted to faithful souls.
- Moral rectitude honoured by God and respected by man (ver. 19–21). (Joseph S. Exell, M.A.)
Samuel, the model of early piety:—
- In the first place, Samuel’s early piety made him—a model of usefulness. Samuel became a prophet of the Lord, and was very useful in this way He made known to the people of Israel what God wanted them to do, and taught them how they were to serve and please Him. And then he was a judge, as well as a prophet. He went out at stated times among the people, and settled their disputes and quarrels, and so he was the means of promoting peace and happiness among them. He did a great deal of good to the people of Israel in this way.
- Samuel’s early piety made him—a model of happiness. Religion is intended to make us happy. Loving and serving God is the secret of true happiness.
III. Samuel’s early piety made him—a model of perseverance. To persevere means to keep on doing whatever we begin to do without giving up. One reason why some people never succeed in what they begin to do, is that they do not persevere. They soon get tired and give it up. But this was not the way with Samuel. When he began to serve God he persevered in it. He kept on trying without getting tired.
- Samuel’s early piety made him—a model of honour. (R. Newton, D.D.)
The still small voice in the night:—
- The Divine call; or, the revelation by a human voice.
- Now consider—Samuel’s perception of only the human voice.
- That when young hearts do not recognise God’s voice calling them, or His purpose with them, it is not a proof or a sign that God is not with them, or that they are not under religious influence.
- Again, when repeated special calls are not intelligently responded to by the young we are not justified in thinking that the Lord is not leading them.
- But let me say to the young, What may seem to you only a human voice may be God’s, is God’s, if it asks you to love Him. (G. B. Riley.)
Divine calls verified:—
The call of Samuel is very different in its circumstances from the call of St. Paul; yet it resembles it in this particular, that the circumstance of his obedience to it is brought out prominently even in the words put into his mouth by Eli in the text. The characteristic of all Divine calls in Scripture is:
(1) to require instant obedience, and
(2) to call us we know not to what; to call us on in the darkness. Faith alone can obey them.
- Those who are living religiously have from time to time truths they did not know before, or had no need to consider, brought before them forcibly; truths which involve duties, which are in fact precepts and claim obedience. In this and similar ways Christ calls us now. He works through our natural faculties and circumstances in life.
- These Divine calls are commonly sudden and as indefinite and obscure in their consequences as in former times. The call may come to us:
(1) through the death of a friend or relative;
(2) through some act of sacrifice, suddenly resolved on and executed, which opens as it were a gate into the second or third heaven—an entrance into a higher state of holiness.
(3) The call may come through the hearing or reading of Scripture, or through an unusual gift of Divine grace poured into our hearts.
III. Nothing is more certain than that some men do feel themselves called to high duties and works to which others are not called. No one has any leave to take another’s lower standard of holiness for his own. We need not fear spiritual pride if we follow Christ’s call as men in earnest. Earnestness has no time to compare itself with the state of other men; earnestness has too vivid a feeling of its own infirmities to be elated at itself. It simply says, “Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth.” “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” (J. H. Newman.)
The child Samuel’s prayer:—
- First of all we shall take our text as the prayer of a little child. When we see any trace of good in our youth, then, like Eli, we should be the more earnest to have them trained up in the faith. Let the child learn the Catechism, even though he does not understand all that is in it; and as soon as the young heart can comprehend the things of Jesus, labour in power of the Holy Spirit to bring it to a simple dependence upon the great sacrifice. It is said of the Rev. John Angell James, “Like most men who have been eminent and honoured in the Church of Christ, he had a godly mother, who was wont to take her children to her chamber, and with each separately to pray for the salvation of their souls. This exercise, which fulfilled her own responsibility, was moulding the character of her children, and most, if not all of them, rose up to call her blessed. When did such means ever fail?”
- Let us now consider the words as the cry of an anxious soul.
III. We will turn to the third view of the text as the prayer of an earnest relievere. I was led to select this text, by finding it in the letter of one who has just been taken away from our classes, and from our Church. She was about to change her position in life in some degree, and the one prayer that seemed to be ever upon her mind, was a prayer for guidance, and she prayed, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” She said she felt that God was about to do something for her, but she did not know what it was; she little dreamed that she was so near the kingdom and the glory, but yet that was the prayer, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” This is a very appropriate prayer for the Christian when he is in providential difficulty. Take thy matters before the God of Abraham, and the Urim and Thummim shall yet speak to thee. Domine Dirige nos, “Lord direct us,” is a good motto, not only for the City of London, but for the citizens of heaven. In points of doctrine this desire humbly uttered may bring us much light. The same course should be adopted by every Christian in matters of practice. As melted wax is fitted to receive the impress of the seal, so let us be ready to accept the Master’s teaching. Let His faintest word bind us as with bonds of steel; and let His minutest precept be precious as the gold of Ophir. As for the matters of duty again, be ye ever ready to follow the Master and Him alone. Not Luther, nor Calvin, neither Wesley, nor Whitfield, is to be your Rabbi; Jesus alone is Master in the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it, but where you have not His warrant, let no traditions or ancient customs make you stir so much as a single inch.
- We will close by observing that our text seems to us rightly to express the spirit of a departing Christian. He sits patiently upon the river’s brink, expecting that his Master shall open the passage for him to pass over dryshod. He is praying, “Speak, Lord,” and the sooner Thou wilt speak the more shall I rejoice. Say unto me, “Come up hither.” “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Voices of God:—
- God speaks in the experiences of life. We are but children, and know so little. We can scarcely distinguish the voices which comes to us through the gloom like the murmuring of distant bells, speaking strangely and bewilderingly. There are sad hearts as well as bright ones, and we cannot make out the message of sadness always. I grope my way along the dark corridors, and I plead, “Speak, Lord, speak, for thy servant heareth.” And above the tumult I hear a voice which bids me forget the things that are behind and reach forward to those that are before. Onward, and into the future we venture, hoping, believing, knowing that though sorrow may endure for the night, joy cometh in the morning.
- God speaks to us in the inner life—to the souls of His trusting people. St. John says: “His voice was as the sound of many waters”—helpful, encouraging, loving; the life itself. (J. S. Stone, D.D.)
The listening servant:—
These were the words of Samuel.
- They reveal the attitude of attention. The man who never leaves his counting-room, the student who never lifts his eyes or his attention from his books, will never know the glories of Mendelssohn or Beethoven. The housewife in whose ears is always the clatter of pots and pans will have no time or attention for a sweeter orchestra. So the man or the woman who never listens to God’s voice will never hear it. The marginal reference makes a verse in the thirty-seventh Psalm read: “Be silent to the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.” It is a soul silent unto God that is in the best attitude for knowing Him, for hearing Him, and for holding fast the blessings which He bestows. This marks as indispensable the quiet hour, the moments of silent communion, until our senses have become so refined and our spiritual ears so attentive that, like Nicholas Herman, of Lorraine, the devout monk, better known as “Brother Lawrence,” we too can hear God’s voice above the din of the market-place and the buzz of the schoolroom and the clatter of the kitchen. As someone has well said: “The very familiarity of the voice of God in Nature or His Word may dull our accustomed ears to its sound, just as the roar of Niagara is never heard by those who live upon the banks of the Horseshoe Falls, and the whirr of the loom in the factory falls upon calloused ears. Because we are familiar with God’s message in His house, with His written Word, with His songs of praise, we need all the more to stop and listen that we may catch His individual message for our souls.” It is said that so great is the hum of business that the people in the streets of London scarcely ever hear the tolling of the bell in the spire of St. Paul’s Cathedral. But they could hear if they would stop a moment in the mad rush of trade, and listen.
- Those words reveal the attitude of obedience. “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” The hearing was in order to heeding. Some people seem to think that contemplative people must, of necessity, be very unpractical and useless people. They point to the almost barren lives lived by many monks and nuns and others, who, as they say, retired from the world to live lives of spiritual meditation and exclusion from evil. But it was in their retirement from the world, in their seclusion from life’s active duties, that they made their mistake. They listened to God’s voice, but it was not in the attitude of readiness for self-denying, active obedience. Hearing should always be for heeding. The seasons of contemplation should lead to other and longer seasons of service. In Christian contemplation the ideals of the Christian should glow luminous and living. Hearing in order to heeding; contemplation in order to service; this should be the attitude and method of the true Christian. (G. B. F. Hallock, D.D.)
The child Samuel was favoured above all the family in which he dwelt. The Lord did not speak by night to Eli, or to any of Eli’s sons. In all that house, in all the rows of rooms that were round about the Tabernacle where the ark of the Lord was kept, there was no one except Samuel to whom Jehovah spoke. The fact that the Lord should choose a child out of all that household, and that He should speak to him, ought to be very encouraging to you who think yourself to be the least likely to be recognised by God. Notice also that, while God had a very special regard for young Samuel, he had, in that regard, designs concerning the rest of the family. God’s elect are chosen, not merely for their own sake; they are chosen for God’s name’s sake, and they are also chosen for the sake of mankind in general. The Jews were chosen that they might preserve the oracles of God for all the ages, and that they might keep alight the spark of Divine truth that we Gentiles might afterwards see its brightness; and when God’s Special love is fixed upon one member of a family, I take it that that one ought to say to himself or herself, “Am I not called that I may be a blessing in this family?”
- And, first, I will speak to you upon the soul desiring—desiring to be spoken to by God: “Speak. Lord.” We cannot endure a dumb God. It is a very dreadful thing to have a dumb friend, a very painful thing to have a wife who never spoke with you, or a father or mother from whom you could never hear a single word of love; and the heart cannot bear to have a dumb God, it wants Him to speak. For what reason does the soul desire God to speak to it? Well, first, it desires thus to be recognised by God. It seems to say, “Speak, Lord, just to give me a token of recognition, that I may know that I am not overlooked, that I am not flung away like a useless thing upon the world’s dust heap, that I am not left to wander like a waif and stray.”
- More than that, this desire of the soul is a longing to be called by God. When the Lord said to the child, “Samuel, Samuel,” it was a distinct, personal call, like that which came to Mary: “The Master is come, and calleth for thee,” or that which came to another Mary when the Lord said to her, “Mary,” and she turned herself, and said, “Rabboni,” that is to say, “my dear Master.” “Speak, Lord, speak to me; call me.”
- “Speak, Lord, moreover, that I may be instructed.”
- We sometimes mean by this expression, “Speak, Lord, for our guidance.” We have got into a great difficulty, we really do not know which way the road leads—to the right or to the left—and we may go blundering on, and have to come all the way back again; so we specially need the Lord to speak to us for our guidance.
- At times, also, we want the Lord’s voice for our comfort.
- Now, secondly, let us think of the Lord speaking. Suppose that the Lord does speak to us; just think for a minute what it is.
- It is a high honour. The peers of the realm are not so honoured when they see their Queen as you are when you see your God, and he speaks with you. To be permitted to speak with Him is a delight; but to hear Him speak with us is heaven begun below.
- It is a very solemn responsibility. Jesus Christ spoke to Saul of Tarsus out of heaven, and from that hour Paul felt himself to be the Lord’s, a consecrated man, to live and die for Him who had spoken to him.
- To hear God speak to us will bring us many a happy memory.
- I think I must also say that it is a probable mercy that God will speak to you.
- “But how does the Lord speak?” someone asks.
- God often speaks to His children through His works.
- God also speaks to His children very loudly by His Providence.
- But the Lord speaks to us chiefly through His Word.
- But the Lord has a way of sometimes speaking to the heart by His Spirit—I think not usually apart from His Word—but yet there are certain feelings and emotions, tendernesses and tremblings, joys and delights, which we cannot quite link with any special portion of Scripture laid home to the heart, but which seem to steal upon us unawares by the direct operation of the Spirit of God upon the heart. Christians are not alike favoured. One may be a child of God, like Eli, and yet so live that God will not speak with him; and, on the other hand, one may be a child like Samuel, obedient, beautiful in character, and watchful to know God’s will, praying, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth;” and then God will speak to you. It is not to all that He speaks, but He would speak to all if they were ready to learn what He had to say.
III. The soul hearing. We have had the soul desiring, and the Lord speaking; now for the soul hearing: “Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth.”
- I think we have here an argument: “Lord, do speak, for I do hear.” “There are none so deaf as those that will not hear.”
- Yet it appears to be an inference, as well as an argument, for it seems to run like this, “Lord, if thou speakest, of course thy servant heareth.”
- “Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth,” seems also to contain a promise within it, namely, that if the Lord will but speak, we will hear. I remember being asked to see a person, and I thought that he wanted to learn something from me; but when I saw him for three-quarters of an hour, he spoke the whole time, and afterwards he told a friend that I was a most delightful person to converse with! When I was told that I said, “Oh, yes, that was because I did not interrupt the man! He was wound up, and I let him run down.” But conversation means two people talking, does it not? It cannot be a conversation if I do all the talking, or if my friend does it all; so, in conversing with God, there must be, as we say, turn and turn about. You speak with God, and then sit still, and let God speak with you; and, if He does not at once speak to your heart, open His Book, and read a few verses, and let Him speak to you that way. Some people cannot pray when they wish to do so. I remember George Müller sweetly saying, “When you come to your time for devotion, if you cannot pray, do not try. If you cannot speak with God, do not try. Let God speak with you. Open your Bible, and read a passage.” Sometimes, when you meet a friend, you cannot begin a conversation. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The listening soul:—
The story of Samuel begins before he was born, as the story of a river begins up on the mountain side, where the spring bursts forth from its rocky reservoir. The great snowdrifts on the mountain summit, and the deep caverns in the depths of the hills, are interesting chapters in the story of a river. So back of Samuel with his open ear and his open heart toward heaven are a good father and a pious mother; people who were faithful to God and who sought to do their duty. They did not lay up great wealth for Samuel, but they gave him the heritage of a good name, and above all things they gave him the heritage of faith in God, and of love for things good and pure. Let every man who had a praying mother thank God. A home that is fragrant with the reading of the Bible and musical with the sound of family worship is something to be grateful for as long as one lives. Better than gold, better than all the world’s luxuries, is the inheritance given by a Christian mother to her children.
- In the first place, it is a very interesting fact to note what is directly stated here, that up to this time Samuel did not know the Lord. Of course there was a sense in which Samuel did know the Lord. He knew what one can know about God in seeing others worship; but his own heart did not go out to God in prayer and love; and in that deep, inner, personal sense he was without God. Is that not exactly your case? You have heard about Christ since you were a little child, and you feel that you know a great deal about Him, and yet in the truest sense you do not know Him.
- I want you to notice again that God called Samuel three times before he answered. Has not God called you again and again? You heard the call and you understood it, but you did not answer. Perhaps God came to you at a time of some disgrace because of your sin. Your conscience spoke as it had never spoken before. God called you then with clanging notes of alarm; and your heart said, “I ought to kneel to God; I ought to seek the forgiveness of my sins.” You knew it was God’s call to you, but you did not answer. Perhaps it was a great joy that came, and the goodness and gentleness of God filled your heart with upspringing praise. With warm heart and tearful eyes you exclaimed, “God is so good to me, I ought to yield Him my heart, I ought to give Him my open thanks, I ought to let the whole world know how good He is to me.” It was God’s call to you, but you did not answer.
- I call your attention to the fact that God called Samuel by name. “Samuel, Samuel,” is the way the Lord talks to the boy. God spoke to Abraham in the same way. When the Lord Jesus met Saul on the way to Damascus it was a personal message he brought him, and he cried out to him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” God knows us all by name; you are not lost in the crowd to Him. No one can tell how much it will mean if you will only listen to God and answer His call to-night. It is quite possible that if some who hear me now, who are called of God through this word, would yield their hearts in response to God’s call, it would be the beginning of a life equally as useful. (L. A. Banks, D.D.)
Speak, Lord.—Use of the Divine name in prayer:—
You observe that He did not say, “Lord;” perhaps he hardly dared to take that sacred name upon his lips. He was impressed with such solemn awe at the name of God that he said, “Speak; for Thy servant heareth.” I wish that some Christian men of my acquaintance would leave out the Lord’s name a little in their prayers, for we may take the name of the Lord in vain even in our supplications. When the heathen are addressing their gods, they are accustomed to repeat their names over and over again. “O Baal, hear us! O Baal, hear us!” or, as the Hindoos do when they cry, “Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram!” repeating the name of their god; but as for us, when we think of the infinitely-glorious One, we dare not needlessly repeat His name. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
In a court of justice a number of violins were lying on the table. The ownership of one of them was in question. It did not differ in appearance from the others, but one witness said he would know it among a thousand. “I would know it,” he said, “even if I were blind.” “How?” asked the astonished judge. “By its voice,” replied the old man. “It would speak to me as no other violin can speak. It is speaking to me now.” And, listening, he bent low until his ear almost touched the instrument. Then he grasped another that lay beside it, and with his right hand swung the bow across the strings. A low, deep, throbbing, pulsing note broke the stillness of the courtroom. When it ceased, with hand uplifted and with bow pointing to the table where the other instruments still lay, the old player waited expectantly. Across the room, faint, yet clearly audible, came the same sweet, low, throbbing note, yet far richer, sweeter, and purer, as though some celestial master-player had swept the strings. “That,” said the old man, “was the voice of the violin. It has a soul, and it has speech. But a false note, rude sounds, or mere discords will not open its lips. So whenever I strike a true note, if the old violin be in the room or near at hand, it will always answer.” Thus should it be with the human soul when God, its true proprietor, speaks, answering with a glad and ready response, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.”
Lady Henry Somerset, becoming restless and unsatisfied in early life with worldly honour and gaiety, began to question in good earnest the meaning and end of life. The more she studied the Word, the more she felt that there was a reality in the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that her great need was personal consecration and an active share in the Divine effort to save the world. Still, the light was not given until one day in her garden, alone with Jehovah, questioning the existence of such a thing as Providence, she heard a voice say distinctly, “Act as if I were, and you shall know that I am.” The voice was not addressed to the material ear, but the words were distinct to the ear of Lady Henry’s soul. They made a deep impression, and the more she thought upon the mysterious matter the more she was convinced that it was really a voice from heaven, sent in answer to her pleadings for light and guidance. She resolved to follow the counsel so strangely sent, and when she put the resolve into action a flood of light dispelled all the darkness, solved every doubt, so that she exclaimed, in a rapture of conviction, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Christian Herald.)
Guides to religious experiences:—
Although God spoke to Samuel he needed Eli’s instruction to enable him to recognise the voice. He heard someone knocking at the door of his heart, but when he looked out all seemed dark until Eli told him in what direction to look for the unseen visitor. We need the direction of those who have become more accustomed to obey such voices, and have thus learned by experience the meaning of such intuitions, (R. C. Ford, M.A.)
 Tsumura, D. (2007). The First Book of Samuel (pp. 178–179). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). 1 Samuel (p. 66). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
 Exell, J. S. (n.d.). The Biblical Illustrator: I Samuel (pp. 89–106). New York; Chicago; Toronto; London; Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Company.