A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Evening, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. 12/29/2012
Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit.” [1Sa 1:15]
1. The special reason for Hannah’s sorrow arose from the institution of polygamy, which, although it was tolerated under the old law, is always presented to us in practical action as a most fruitful source of sorrow and sin. In no one recorded example in Holy Scripture is it presented as admirable; and in most cases the proofs of its evil effects lie open to the sun. Lamech leads the way, and he is a homicide descended from the murderous house of Cain, and the father of Tubal-cain, or Vulcan, the fashioner of weapons of destruction: this institution was never the harbinger of peace, but the promoter of strife. We ought to be grateful that under the Christian religion that abomination has been wiped away; for even with such husbands as Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon it did not promote happiness or righteousness. The husband found the system a heavy burden, grievous to be borne, for he soon found out the truth of the wise man’s advice to the Sultan, “First learn to live with two tigresses, and then expect to live happily with two wives.” The wife must in nearly every case have felt the wretchedness of sharing a love which ought to be all her own. What miseries eastern women have suffered in the harem no one can tell, or perhaps imagine. In the case before us, Elkanah had trouble enough through wearing the double chain, but still the heaviest burden fell upon his beloved Hannah, the better of his two wives. The worse the woman the better she could get along with the system of many wives, but the good woman, the true woman, was sure to smart under it. Though dearly loved by her husband, the jealousy of the rival wife embittered Hannah’s life, and made her “a woman of a sorrowful spirit.” We thank God that no longer is the altar of God covered with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, by those wives of youth who find their husbands’ hearts estranged and divided by other wives. Because of the hardness of their hearts the evil was tolerated for a while, but the many evils which sprang from it should suffice to put a ban upon it among all who seek the welfare of our race. In the beginning the Lord made for man only one wife. And why one? For he had the remnant of the Spirit, and could have breathed into as many as he pleased. Malachi answers, “So that he might seek a godly seed.” As if it was quite clear that the children of polygamy would be ungodly, and only in the house of one man and one wife would godliness be found. This witness is from the Lord, and is true.
2. But enough sources of grief remain; more than enough; and there is not in any household, I suppose, however joyous, the utter absence of the cross. The worldling says, “There is a skeleton in every closet.” I know little about such dead things, but I know that a cross of some kind or other must be borne by every child of God. All the true-born heirs of heaven must pass under the rod of the covenant. What son is there whom the Father does not chasten? The smoking furnace is part of the insignia of the heavenly family, without which a man may well question whether he stands in covenant relationship to God at all. Probably some Hannah is now before me, smarting under the chastening hand of God, some child of light walking in darkness, some daughter of Abraham bowed down by Satan, and it may not be amiss to remind her that she is not the first of her kind, but that in years gone by there stood at the door of God’s house one like her, who said of herself, “No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit.” May the ever-blessed Comforter, whose work lies mainly with the sorrowful, fill our meditation with consolation at this time.
3. I. In speaking of this “woman of a sorrowful spirit” we shall make this first remark — that MUCH THAT IS PRECIOUS MAY BE CONNECTED WITH A SORROWFUL SPIRIT.
4. In itself, a sorrowful spirit is not to be desired. Give us the bright eye, the cheerful smile, the vivacious manner, the congenial tone. If we do not desire mirth and merriment, yet give us at least that calm peace, that quiet composure, that restful happiness which makes a home happy wherever it pervades the atmosphere. There are wives, mothers, and daughters who should exhibit more of these cheerful graces than they now do, and they are very blameworthy for being petulant, unkind, and irritable; but there are others, I do not doubt, who labour to their utmost to be all that is delightful, and yet fail in the attempt, because, like Hannah, they are of a sorrowful spirit, and cannot shake off the grief which burdens their heart. Now, it is pointless to tell the night that it should be brilliant as the day, or tell the winter to put on the flowers of summer; and it is equally vain to chide the broken heart. The bird of night cannot sing at heaven’s gate, nor can the crushed worm leap like a hart up on the mountains. It is of little use exhorting the willow whose branches weep by the river to lift up its head like the palm, or spread its branches like the cedar: everything must act according to its kind; each nature has its own appropriate ways, nor can it escape the bonds of its fashioning. There are circumstances of constitution, education, and surroundings which render it difficult for some very excellent people to be cheerful: they are predestined to be known by such a name as this — “A woman of a sorrowful spirit.”
5. Notice well the precious things which went in Hannah’s case with a sorrowful spirit. The first was true godliness; she was a godly woman. As we read the chapter, we are thoroughly convinced that her heart was right with God. We cannot raise any question about the sincerity of her prayer, or the prevalence of it. We do not doubt for a moment the truthfulness of holy joy, the confidence of her faith, or the strength of her consecration. She was one who feared God more than many, an eminently gracious woman, and yet “a woman of a sorrowful spirit.” Never draw the inference from sorrow that the subject of it is not beloved by God. You might more safely reason in the opposite way, though it would not be always safe to do so, for outward circumstances are poor tests of a man’s spiritual state. Certainly the rich man, in his scarlet and fine linen, was not beloved by God, while Lazarus, with the dogs licking his sores, was a favourite of heaven; and yet it is not every rich man who is cast away, or every beggar who will be borne aloft by angels. Outward condition can lead us to no determination one way or another. Hearts must be judged, conduct and action must be weighed, and a verdict given otherwise than by the outward appearance. Many people feel very happy, but they must not therefore infer that God loves them; while certain others are sadly depressed, it would be most cruel to suggest to them that God is angry with them. It is never said, “whom the Lord loves he enriches,” but it is said, “whom the Lord loves he chastens.” Affliction and suffering are not proofs of sonship, for “many sorrows shall be to the wicked”; and yet, where there are great tribulations, it often happens that there are great displays of the divine favour. There is a sorrow of the world that works death — a sorrow which springs from self-will, and is nurtured in rebellion, and is therefore an evil thing, because it is opposed to the divine will. There is a sorrow which eats like a canker, and breeds even greater sorrows, so that such mourners descend with their sorrowful spirits down to the place where sorrow reigns supreme, and hope shall never come. Think of this, but never doubt the fact that a sorrowful spirit is in perfect consistency with the love of God, and the possession of true godliness. It is freely admitted that godliness ought to cheer many a sorrowful spirit more than it does. It is also admitted that much of the experience of Christians is not Christian experience, but a mournful departure from what true believers ought to be and feel. There is very much that Christians experience which they never ought to experience. Half the troubles of life are home-made, and utterly unnecessary. We afflict ourselves perhaps, ten times more than God afflicts us. We add many thongs to God’s whip: when there would be only one, we make nine. God sends one cloud by his providence, and we raise a score by our unbelief. But taking all that away, and making the still further abatement that the Gospel commands us to rejoice in the Lord always, and that it would never tell us to do so if there were not abundant reasons and arguments for it, yet, for all that, a sorrowful spirit may be possessed by one who most truly and deeply fears the Lord. Never judge those whom you see sad, and write them down as under the divine anger, for you might err most grievously and most cruelly in making so rash a judgment. Fools despise the afflicted, but wise men prize them. Many of the sweetest flowers in the garden of grace grow in the shade, and flourish in dampness. Truly, there are children of the tropical sun, whose beauty and fragrance could only be produced by having bathed themselves in the golden flood, and these, in certain respects, must always stand in the forefront yet there are choice flowerets to whom the unshaded sun would be death. They prefer a sheltered bank, or a ravine in the forest, under the shadow of the thick boughs, where a softened, mellowed light develops them to perfection. I am persuaded that he “who feeds among the lilies” has rare plants in his flora, fair and fragrant, choice and beautiful, which are more at home in the damps of mourning than in the glaring sun of joy. I have known such, who have been a living lesson to us all, from their broken-hearted penitence, their solemn earnestness, their jealous watchfulness, their sweet humility, and their gentle love. These are lilies of the valley, bearing a wealth of beauty pleasant even to the King himself. Feeble with respect to assurance, and to be pitied for their timidity, yet they have been lovely in their despondencies, and graceful in their holy anxieties. These are not pearls with the mild radiance of peace, nor rubies with the ruddy hue of ardour, nor sapphires with the bright blue of joy, nor emeralds with the restfulness of confidence; but diamonds of the first water, incarnate drops of sorrow, clear and transparent, and soon to be set among the brightest gems in the Redeemer’s diadem. Hannah, then, possessed godliness despite her sorrow.
6. In connection with this sorrowful spirit of hers Hannah was a lovable woman. Her husband greatly delighted in her. That she had no children was to him no depreciation of her value. He said, “Am I not better to you than ten sons?” He evidently felt that he would do anything in his power to remove the gloom from her spirit. This fact is worth noting, for it so happens that many sorrowful people are far from being lovable people. In too many cases their griefs have soured them. Their affliction has generated acid in their hearts, and with that acrid acid they bite into everything they touch; their temper has more of the oil of vitriol in it than of the oil of brotherly love. No one ever had any trouble except themselves, they brook no rival in the realm of suffering, but persecute their fellow sufferers with a kind of jealousy, as if they alone were the brides of suffering, and others were mere intruders. Every other person’s sorrow is mere imagination, or make-believe, compared with theirs. They sit alone, and keep silence; or when they speak, their silence would have been preferable. It is a pity it should be so, and yet so it is that men and women of a sorrowful spirit are frequently grieved by those who are unloving and unlovable. All the more heartily, therefore, do I admire in true Christian people the grace which sweetens them so that the more they suffer themselves the more gentle and patient they become with other sufferers, and the more ready to bear whatever trouble may be involved in the necessities of compassion. Beloved, if you are much tried and troubled, and if you are much depressed in spirit, entreat the Lord to prevent your becoming a kill-joy to others. Remember your Master’s rule, “And you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting.” I do not say that our Lord spoke the word with the exact meaning I am now giving to it, but it is a kindred sense. Be cheerful even when your heart is sad. There is no need that the world should be hung in black because I wear crape on my hat. It is not necessary that every heart should be heavy because I am burdened; of what use would that be to me or to anyone else? For my own part, for the sake of sick and sorrowful people, I am sorry when I hear the knell from the church tower intruding a death note into every mourner’s ear, and all perhaps because some heir of glory has risen to the throne of God and of the Lamb. That bell with solemn toll, no doubt, to the careless, and so far so good, but as the stern voice of melancholy, it is an offence against Christianity, implying that all death is doleful, and causing the sick upon their beds to feel more mournful than needs be. Publish good news. Ring the joy-bells as loudly as you wish; but there is no particular need to be everlastingly pestering everyone with your griefs. No, let us try to be cheerful so that we may be lovable, even if we still remain in a sorrowful spirit. Self and our own personal woes must not be our life psalm, nor our daily discourse. Others must be thought of, and in their joys we must try to sympathise. Patience must put self into the background, and love must bring our friends to the forefront. We have a God to serve, an age to bless, a family to train, a circle of friends to benefit; and none of these things must be neglected. So if we put duty before complaining, and the doing of good before the craving for sympathy, we shall win much love, and among those who are prized and sought after none will be preferred to the man or woman of a sorrowful spirit.
7. In Hannah’s case, too, the woman of a sorrowful spirit was a very gentle woman. Peninnah with her harsh, and haughty, and arrogant speech vexed her severely to make her fret, but we do not find that she answered her. At the annual festival, when Peninnah had provoked her most, she stole away to the sanctuary to weep alone, for she was very tender and submissive. When Eli said, “How long will you be drunk? Put away your wine from you,” she did not answer him tartly, as she might well have done. Her answer to the aged priest is a model of gentleness. She most effectively cleared herself, and plainly refuted the harsh imputation, but she made no retort, and murmured no charge of injustice. She did not tell him that he was unkind in having thought so harshly, nor was there anger in her grief. She excused his mistake. He was an old man. It was his duty to see that worship was properly conducted, and, if he judged her to be in a wrong state, it was only faithfulness on his part to make the remark; and she took it, therefore, in the spirit in which she thought he offered it. At any rate, she bore the rebuke without resentment or repining. Now, some sad people are very tart, very sharp, very severe, and, if you misjudge them at all, they inveigh against your cruelty with the utmost bitterness. You are the most unkind of men if you think them less than perfect. With what an air and tone of injured innocence will they vindicate themselves! You have committed worse than blasphemy if you have ventured to hint at a fault. I am not about to blame them, for we might be as rough as they if we were to be too severe in our criticism on the sharpness which springs from sorrow; but it is very beautiful when the afflicted are full of sweetness and light, and like the sycamore figs are ripened by their bruising. When their own bleeding wound makes them tender less they wound others, and their own hurt makes them more ready to bear whatever hurt may come through the mistakes of others, then we have a lovely proof that “sweet are the uses of adversity.” Dear friends, whether you are men or women of a sorrowful spirit, will you kindly remember that your infirmity is likely to be peevishness, and that your temptation will probably be towards sharpness of temper? Therefore, watch against these things, and ask God especially to give you a gentle spirit and a quiet tongue. Look at your Lord. Oh that we all would look at him, who when he was reviled, did not revile again, and who, when they mocked him, did not have a word of upbraiding, but answered by his prayers, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Do you not see that much that is precious may go with a sorrowful spirit?
8. There was more, however, than I have shown you, for Hannah was a thoughtful woman, for her sorrow drove her first within herself, and next into much communion with her God. That she was a highly thoughtful woman appears in everything she says. She does not pour out what first comes to hand. The product of her mind is evidently what only a cultivated soil could yield. I will not just now speak of her song, further than to say that for loftiness of majesty and fulness of true poetry it is equal to anything from the pen of that sweet psalmist of Israel, David himself. The Virgin Mary evidently followed in the wake of this great poetess, this mistress of the lyric art.
9. Remember, also, that though she was a woman of a sorrowful spirit, she was a blessed woman. I might fitly say of her, “Hail, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” The daughters of Belial could laugh and make merry, and regard her as the dust beneath their feet, but still she had with her sorrowful spirit found grace in the sight of the Lord. There was Peninnah, with her quiver full of children, exalting over the barren mourner, yet Peninnah was not blessed, while Hannah, with all her griefs, was dear to the Lord. She seems to be something like him of another age, of whom we read that Jabez was more honourable than his brothers because his mother bore him with sorrow. Sorrow brings a wealth of blessing with it when the Lord consecrates it; and if one had to take his position with the merry, or with the mournful, he would do well to take counsel from Solomon, who said, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting.” A present flash is seen in the mirth of the world, but there is vastly more true light to be found in the griefs of Christians. When you see how the Lord sustains and sanctifies his people by their afflictions, the darkness glows into noonday.
10. It is now clear that much that is precious may go with a sorrowful spirit. Let none of you despise the downcast, and never think harshly of those who are sad. If we are sorrowful ourselves, let us not write bitter things against ourselves, but hope in God under all discouragements; for we shall still praise him who is the health of our countenance and our God.
11. II. We come now to a second remark, which is that MUCH THAT IS PRECIOUS MAY COME OUT OF A SORROWFUL SPIRIT: it is not only to be found with it, but may even grow out of it.
12. Observe, first, that through her sorrowful spirit Hannah had learned to pray. I will not say that she did not pray before this great sorrow struck her, but this I know, she prayed with more intensity than before when she heard her rival talk so very proudly, and saw herself to be utterly despised. Oh! brothers and sisters, if you have a secret grief, learn where to carry it, and do not delay to take it there. Learn from Hannah. Her appeal was to the Lord. She did not pour out the secret of her soul into a mortal ear, but spread her grief before God in his own house, and in his own appointed manner. She was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord. Bitterness of soul should always be sweetened like this. Many are in bitterness of soul, but they do not pray, and therefore the taste of the wormwood remains: oh that they were wise, and looked upon their sorrows as the divine call for prayer, the cloud which brings a shower of supplication! Our troubles should be steeds upon which we ride to God; rough winds which hurry our bark into the haven of All-Prayer. When the heart is merry we may sing psalms, but concerning the afflicted it is written, “Let him pray.” So, bitterness of spirit may be an index of our need to pray, and an incentive for that holy exercise. When a live coal from off the altar touches our lips we should preach but when a drop of gall falls on the lips we should pray. I fear, my brethren, that our best prayers are born in the house of mourning. In too many cases ease and health bring a chill over supplication, and there is a necessity to stir the fire with the rough iron of trial. Many a flower reserves its odour until the rough wind waves it to and fro, and shakes out its fragrance. As a rule the tried man is the praying man; the angel must wrestle with us in the night before we learn to hold onto him, and cry, “I will not let you go.”
13. Oh daughter of sorrow, if in your darkened room you shall learn the art of prevailing with the Well-Beloved, you bright eyed maidens, down whose cheeks no tears have ever rushed, may well envy you, for to be proficient in the art and mystery of prayer is to be as a prince with God. May God grant that if we are of a sorrowful spirit, we may in the same proportion be of a prayerful spirit; and we need scarcely to desire a change.
14. In the next place, Hannah had learned self-denial. This is clear, since the very prayer by which she hoped to escape out of her great grief was a self-denying one. She desired a son, so that her reproach might be removed; but if her eyes might be blessed with such a sight she would cheerfully resign her darling to be the Lord’s as long as he lived. Mothers wish to keep their children around them. It is natural that they should wish to see them often. But Hannah, when most eager for a son, asking, for only one, and that one as the special gift of God, yet does not seek him for herself, but for her God. She has it on her heart, that as soon as she has weaned him, she will take him up to the house of God and leave him there, as a dedicated child whom she can only see at certain festivals. Read her own words: “Oh Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look upon the affliction of your handmaid, and remember me, and not forget your handmaid, but will give to your handmaid a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” Her heart does not long to see her boy at home, his father’s daily pride, and her own hourly solace, but to see him serving as a Levite in the house of the Lord. By this she proved that she had learned self-denial. Brothers and sisters, this is one of our hardest lessons: to learn to give up what we most prize at the command of God, and to do so cheerfully. This is real self-denial, when we ourselves make the proposition, and offer the sacrifice freely, as she did. To desire a blessing so that we may have the opportunity of parting with it, this is self-conquest: have we reached it? Oh you of a sorrowful spirit, if you have learned to crucify the flesh, if you have learned to subdue the body, if you have learned to cast all your desires and wills at his feet, you have gained what a thousand times repays you for all the losses and crosses you have suffered. Personally, I bless God for joy, I think I could sometimes do with a little more of it; but I fear, when I take stock of my whole life, that I have very seldom made any real growth in grace except as the result of being dug around and fertilized by the stern husbandry of pain. My leaf is greenest in showery weather: my fruit is sweetest when it has been frosted by a winter’s night. Woe is me that I should have to make so humbling a confession of my own foolishness, but truth compels me to stand like this among those who ought to be ashamed. I hope that many of you are more gracious than I am, and have made much better use of your mercies, and yet I fear that many of my brethren must confess that they have made more headway in spiritual sailing amid the raging of the sea than in more halcyon times. A stiff breeze brings certain of us far more help than danger, and even a tempest is not without its benediction. If we have self-denial created in us, however costly the process, the result abundantly repays us.
15. Another precious thing had come to this woman, and that was, she had learned faith. She had become proficient in believing promises. It is very beautiful to notice how at one moment she was in bitterness, but as soon as Eli had said, “Go in peace: and may the God of Israel grant you your petition that you have asked from him,” “the woman went her way and ate, and her countenance was sad no more.” She had not yet obtained the blessing, but she was persuaded of the promise, and embraced it, according to that Christly manner which our Lord taught us when he said, “Believe that you have the petitions which you have asked for, and you shall have them,” she wiped away her tears, and smoothed the wrinkles from her brow, knowing that she was heard. By faith she held a son in her arms, and presented him to the Lord. This is a great virtue to attain. When a sorrowful spirit has learned to believe God, to roll its burden upon him, and bravely to expect aid and help from him, it has learned by its losses how to make its best gains — by its griefs how to unfold its richest joys. Hannah is one of the honoured band who through faith “received promises,” therefore, oh you who are of a sorrowful spirit, there is no reason why you should not also be of a believing spirit, even as she was.
16. Still more of preciousness this woman of a sorrowful spirit found growing out of her sorrow, but with one invaluable item I shall close the list: she had evidently learned much about God. Driven from common family joys she had been drawn near to God, and in that heavenly fellowship she had remained a humble waiter and watcher. In seasons of sacred nearness to the Lord she had made many heavenly discoveries of his name and nature, as her song makes obvious.
17. First, she now knew that the heart’s truest joy is not in children, nor even in mercies given in answer to prayer, for she began to sing, “My heart rejoices in the Lord” — not “in Samuel,” but her chief delight was found in Jehovah. “My horn is exalted in the Lord” — not “in that little one whom I have so gladly brought up to the sanctuary.” No. She says in the first verse, “I rejoice in your salvation,” and it was even so. God was her great joy, and his salvation her delight. Oh! it is a great thing to be taught to put earthly things in their proper places, and when they make you glad to still feel, “My gladness is in God; not in grain and wine and oil, but in the Lord himself; all my fresh springs are in him.”
18. Next, she had also discovered the Lord’s glorious holiness, for she sang, “There is no one as holy as the Lord.” The wholeness of his perfect character charmed and impressed her, and she sang about him as far above all others in his goodness.
19. She had perceived his all-sufficiency, she saw that he is all in all, for she sang, “There is no one else besides you; neither is there any rock like our God.”
20. She had discovered God’s method in providence, for how sweetly she sings, “The bows of the mighty men are broken, and those who stumbled are girded with strength.” She knew that this was always God’s way — to overturn those who are strong in self, and to set up those who are weak. It is God’s way to cut down and wither the high and green trees, and to cause the low and withered trees to flourish. It is God’s way to strike the strong with weakness, and to bless the weak with strength. As her great successor sang at a later day, “He has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted those of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” It is God’s particular way, and he always uses it. The full he empties, and the empty he fills. Those who boast about the power to live he kills; and those who faint before him as dead, he makes alive. Friend, do you know anything about this; for notice, this is a secret which the saints know by personal experience?
21. She had also been taught the way and method of his grace as well as of his providence, for never did a woman show more acquaintance with the wonders of divine grace than she did when she sang, “He raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory.” This, too, is another of those ways of the Lord which are only understood by his people. No one except them will ever sing about this singular sovereignty of grace: as for the worldlings, they utterly abhor the doctrine.
She had also seen the Lord’s faithfulness to his people. Some
Christians, even in these Gospel days, do not believe in the doctrine
of the final perseverance of the saints, but she did. She sang, “He
will keep the feet of his saints”; and, beloved, so he will, or none
of them will ever stand.
If ever it could come to pass,
That sheep of Christ should fall away,
My fickle, feeble, soul, alas!
Would fall a thousand times a day.
23. But here is my comfort, and yours also, “He will keep the feet of his saints.”
24. She had foreseen also something of his kingdom, and of its glory. Her prophetic eye, made brighter and clearer by her holy tears, enabled her to look into the future, and looking, her joyful heart made her sing, “He shall give strength to his King, and exalt the horn of his Anointed.”
25. Have I not sufficiently shown you that many precious things come from a sorrowful spirit?
26. III. And now, lastly, MUCH THAT IS PRECIOUS WILL STILL BE GIVEN TO THOSE WHO ARE TRULY THE LORD’S EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE A SORROWFUL SPIRIT.
27. For, first, Hannah had her prayers answered. Ah! little could she have imagined when Eli was rebuking her for drunkenness, that within a short time she would be there, and the same priest should look at her with deep respect and delight because the Lord had favoured her. And you, my dear friend of a sorrowful spirit, would not weep so much tonight if you knew what is in store for you. You would not weep at all if you guessed how soon all will change, and like Sarah you will laugh for very joy. You are very poor; you scarcely know where you will place your head tonight; but if you knew in how short a time you will be among the angels, your penury would not cause you much distress. You are sickening and pining away, and will soon go to your long home. You would not be so depressed if you remembered how bright the starry diadem will shine around your head, and how sweetly your tongue shall pour out heavenly sonnets such as no one can sing except those who, like you, have tasted the bitter waters of grief. It is better ahead! It is better ahead! A short way ahead the road will end or mend! Today’s sailing is boisterous; but before the sun goes down, or, at least, when it goes down, all will be quiet, and your barque will be motionless from stem to stern. The Red Sea before you rolls uneasily, its billows threatening, but all will be as still as a stone while the Lord’s people pass over; or if a sound is heard, it will only be that over the waters come the strains of harpers strumming on their harps, and soon you shall forget your pains and fears, for you shall be for ever with the Lord. Let these things cheer you if you are of a sorrowful spirit. There shall be a fulfilment of the things which God has promised to you. Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, the things he has laid up for you, but his Spirit reveals them to you at this hour. Be of good courage, and believe that the issues of life and death are fixed and certain; eternal love has ordained them.
28. Not only did there come to Hannah after her sorrow an answered prayer, but grace to use that answer. I do not think that Hannah would have been a suitable mother for Samuel if she had not first of all been of a sorrowful spirit. It is not everyone who can be trusted to educate a young prophet. Many a fool of a woman has made a fool of her child. He was so much her “duck” that he grew up to be a goose. It needs a wise woman to train up a wise son, and therefore I regard Samuel’s eminent character and career as largely the fruit of his mother’s sorrow, and as a reward for her griefs. Hannah was a thoughtful mother, which was something, and her thought induced diligence. She had little time in which to educate her boy, for he left her early to wear the little coat, and minister before the Lord; but in that time her work was effectively done, for the child Samuel worshipped the very day she took him up to the temple. In many of our homes we have a well-drawn picture of a child at prayer, and such I do not doubt was the very image of the youthful Samuel. I like to think of him with that little coat on — that linen ephod — coming out in solemn style, as a little servant of God, to help in the services of the temple. I think I see the little man with his long hair all streaming down his shoulders, for by his mother’s vow no razor could come upon his head; see him yourselves, and notice how he rebukes the Roman shavelings. [b] He did not belong to that modern priesthood which, by shaving its head, implies its own fever or madness, but denies its own claim to belong to God. Let the priests of Rome shave on, and so cut themselves off from the true temple. I say it is pleasant to see how, even in the matter of his hair, his mother had trained him up in the way, so that he never departed from it: this was a great gift, and it was bestowed upon a woman of a sorrowful spirit.
29. Hannah had acquired another blessing, and that was the power to magnify the Lord. Those sweet songs of hers, especially that precious one which we have been reading — where did she get it from? I will tell you. You have picked up a shell, have you not, by the seaside, and you have put it to your ear, and heard it sing about the wild waves? Where did it learn this music? In the depths. It had been tossed to and fro in the rough sea until it learned to talk with a deep, soft meaning of mysterious things, which only the salt sea caves can communicate. Hannah’s poetry was born from her sorrow; and if everyone here who is of a sorrowful spirit can only learn to tune his harp as sweetly as she tuned hers, he may be very glad to have passed through such griefs as she endured. We may be poets and psalmists yet in our own humble way. Trials will teach us tune and time, stanzas and verses will flow like wine from the trodden grapes, and poems grow in the furrows of our adversities. Or, if not, still the Lord shall be praised, and his love extolled in the best terms our speech can come by; and this is worth a world of suffering.
30. Moreover, her sorrow prepared her to receive further blessings, for after the birth of Samuel she had three more sons and two daughters, so God giving her five for the one whom she had dedicated to him. This was grand interest for her loan: five hundred percent. Parting with Samuel was the necessary preface to the reception of other little ones. God cannot bless some of us until first of all he has tried us. Many of us are not fit to receive a great blessing until we have gone through the fire. Half the men who have been ruined by popularity have been so ruined because they did not undergo a preparatory course of opprobrium and shame. Half the men who perish by riches do so because they had not toiled to earn them, but made a lucky hit, and became wealthy in an hour. Passing through the fire anneals the weapon which afterwards is to be used in the conflict; and Hannah gained grace to be greatly favoured by being greatly sorrowing. Her name stands among the highly favoured women because she was deeply sorrowing. She shines a bright, particular star among the faithful, and this would not have been possible if she had not been a woman of a sorrowful spirit first. Take up your load, my beloved. Do not become murmurers as well as mourners. Carry your cross, for it is in very truth a golden one. Carry the inward as well as the outward burden, for now for a season there is a “needs be” that you are in heaviness through various temptations, but afterwards comes the comforting fruit. Look for fair results, and meanwhile bear what the Lord appoints you without repining.
Last of all, it was by suffering in patience that she became so brave
a witness for the Lord, and could so sweetly sing, “There is no one
as holy as the Lord, neither is there any rock like our God.” We
cannot bear a testimony unless we test the promise, and therefore
happy is the man whom the Lord tests and qualifies to leave a
testimony to the world that God is true. To that witness I would set
my own personal seal. Oh that it might be mine to do so at the close
of life in humble prose, as that sweetest poetess Miss Havergal did
in richest poetry before she entered her eternal rest. Here are some
of her last lines, and with them I close: —
Master, I set my seal that thou art true;
Of thy good promise not one thing hath failed!
And I would send a ringing challenge forth,
To all who know thy name, to tell it out,
Thy faithfulness to every written word,
Thy lovingkindness crowning all the days —
To say and sing with me: “The Lord is good,
His mercy is for ever, and his truth
Is written on each page of all my life!”
Yes, there is tribulation, but thy power
Can blend it with rejoicing. There are thorns,
But they have kept us in the narrow way,
The King’s highway of holiness and peace.
And there is chastening, but the Father’s love
Flows through it; and would any trusting heart
Forego the chastening and forego the love?
And every step leads on to “more and more,”
From strength to strength thy pilgrims pass, and sing
The praise of him who leads them on and on,
From glory unto glory, even here!
[Portions Of Scripture Read Before Sermon — 1Sa 1:1-3,9-28 2:1-11,18,19]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “The Christian, Privileges, Unchanging Love — The Refiner Sitting By The Fire” 731]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “The Christian, Patience and Resignation — ‘He Shall Choose Our Inheritance For Us’ ” 703]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “The Christian, Patience and Resignation — ‘Not As I Will, But As Thou Wilt’ ” 699]
[See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3564, “Publications” 3566 @@ "Penny Sermons"]
[a] There were nineteen missing chunks of text in this sermon, or about a third of the sermon, as prepared by the Electronic Bible Society.
[b] Shaveling: A contemptuous epithet for a monk or priest whose head is shaved. OED.
The Christian, Privileges, Unchanging Love
731 — The Refiner Sitting By The Fire
1 God’s furnace doth in Zion stand;
But Zion’s God sits by,
As the refiner views his gold
With an observant eye.
2 His thoughts are high, his love is wise,
His wounds a cure intend;
And though he does not always smile,
He loves unto the end.
3 Thy love is constant to its line,
Though clouds oft come between:
Oh could my faith but pierce these clouds,
It might be always seen.
4 But I am weak, and forced to cry,
Take up my soul to thee:
Then, as thou ever art the same,
So shall I ever be.
5 Then shall I ever, ever sing,
Whilst thou dost ever shine:
I have thine own dear pledge for this;
Lord, thou art ever mine.
John Mason, 1683.
The Christian, Patience and Resignation
703 — “He Shall Choose Our Inheritance For Us”
1 Thy way, not mine, oh Lord,
However dark it be;
Oh lead me by thine own right hand,
Choose out the path for me.
2 Smooth let it be or rough,
It will be still the best;
Winding or straight it matters not,
It leads me to thy rest.
3 I dare not choose my lot,
I would not if I might;
But choose thou for me, oh my God,
So shall I walk aright.
4 Take thou my cup, and it
With joy or sorrow fill;
As ever best to thee may seem,
Choose thou my good and ill.
5 Choose thou for me my friend,
My sickness or my health;
Choose thou my joys and cares for me,
My poverty or wealth.
6 Not mine, not mine the choice,
In things or great or small;
Be thou my Guide, my Guard, my Strength,
My Wisdom, and my All.
Horatius Bonar, 1856, a.
The Christian, Patience and Resignation
699 — “Not As I Will, But As Thou Wilt” <22.214.171.124., or L.M.>
1 My God and Father! while I stray
Far from my home, in life’s rough way,
Oh! teach me from my heart to say,
“Thy will be done!”
2 If thou shouldest call me to resign
What most I prize — it ne’er was mine;
I only yield thee what was thine:
“Thy will be done!”
3 If but my fainting heart be blest
With thy sweet Spirit for its guest,
My God, to thee I leave the rest;
“Thy will be done!”
4 Renew my will from day to day:
Blend it with thine, and take away
All that now makes it hard to say,
“Thy will be done!”
5 Then when on earth I breathe no more
The prayer oft mix’d with tears before,
I’ll sing upon a happier shore,
“Thy will be done!”
Charlotte Elliot, 1834.