1 Samuel 12:1-5
And Samuel said to all Israel, Behold, I have listened to your voice in all that you said to me, and have made a king over you.…
The character of Samuel itself is one which surely sets before us a type of that class of character which we can see in all departments of public life. Will you allow me to ask you to notice not merely the greatness of Samuel, but those causes which seem to have contributed to the formation of that character which lay at the back of his greatness? First, I may remind you how great Samuel was in the history of Israel. He has been called the second Moses, and not without reason.
I. THE GREATNESS OF SAMUEL IS SEEN IN THE THREE-FOLD ASPECT OF HIS LIFE. He was great as a judge in an era of considerable political confusion; he was great in that he founded, or was considered to have founded, what was called the school of prophets; and he was great also in that, in an era of transition, he acted as a consummate statesman. We have only to recall the significance of those three statements to see how widespread and enduring was that quality of Samuel's greatness. As a judge in an era of confusion he showed exactly those qualities which were so much needed. And you mark that he had seen some of the symptoms of moral deterioration in his early days. He had seen the loose habits which had crept in in all quarters, he had seen the immoral sons of Eli, and how far the immorality had crept into the people when in the very precincts of the sacred place there was such immorality! But that was not all. Where there is a moral deterioration there is always a deterioration of the religious conception. And that is what Samuel had perceived, and therefore he realised that alike in religious thought and in social manners there needed a great reformation. Now there are a great many ways in which you bring about reformation. You may do it by legislation, you may do it by sending broadcast through the world the pressure and persuasion of men. Samuel chose the latter. He knew the only valuable reformation was a reformation which would strike the heart of the people. Watch him now as the statesman. There comes a change; there is inevitably a change in all human life. The development of national life, like the development of individual life, must go on. And this development must mean the passing away of things which are very dear. He showed us the example which will always be the example of wise men in eras of change. When you see a movement has become movement of the people's thought do not be so unwise as to endeavour to withstand it, unless it be a question of right and wrong, but be wise and direct what you cannot oppose. That is the attitude of Samuel. If you watch him you see him, a man possessed of singular gifts, of great vigour in action, practical, with great insight into the causes which underlie national greatness, and at the same time with that marvellous flexibility that even in his old age he was ready to adjust himself to the new conditions of the life in which he found himself.
II. SAMUEL'S TRAINING FOR SERVICE. If we take him as marked by these features of greatness, we ask, what was the source, what were the forces which came to the formation of a character so strong, so youthfully great. There are two things, surely, which make up the complete man in his later days. One is, of course, the surroundings of his early life, and the other is the character which was originally his. The dramatic interest of life surely lies in this, that you have the raw material of life exposed to certain influences in the home, in the early training of the school, and in the environment of the dawn of life. Watch the environing circumstances in the case of Samuel. No person who understands the influence of home life will, I think, be tempted to undervalue it. Do you not pity Samuel in the second stage of his life? The child who is suddenly withdrawn at a tender age from home and is planted down amidst surroundings which, I think, one may venture without disparagement to call unsympathetic. He could not find sympathy in the wild men who were leading the loose lives of Hophni and Phinehas, and Eli must have been but a grave companion for the young child, but as you watch him he somehow or other identifies himself with the quiet gravity of the old man. Watch him a step further. There comes a moment in which the third influence is seen. The first is home, the second is the general companionship, and the third is the silent influence of the unseen world come into his life. There comes a moment when he is aware that life does not consist merely in those factors of home life which he has known, nor in these various powers of official and national life of which he has had some youthful experience, but behind all activities of the human life there is the great presiding power of the unseen; and in the silent watches of the night there is disclosed to him a consciousness of the great power, the great formative spirit, the great influence of the Divine which is always at work in the hearts and lives of men. And now watch the character which is exposed to these influences. Is there any character in the Bible of which you may say, "The quiet piety of his life was like a growing thing?" There were no startling changes. There was the one solid change from the home into the sanctuary, but for the rest his days were bound each to each by natural piety. Quietly he ripened under the solemn and sweet influences of the sanctuary.
III. THE RIPENED CHARACTER. And now watch him in his later life, and see the other characteristics. One would have imagined that this child who ripened under these circumstances would have been a person deficient in practical activity, deficient in those stronger and manlier virtues which we think can only be gained in the rude struggle of the more active life. But the man who has been brought up in this fashion had the qualities within him of that dogged determination and that entire devotion to duty which never stumbled at any duty, however arduous, and never shudders or shrinks from any danger; and, therefore, when he takes the reins of power what promptitude and what decision there is in all that he does! This is the man who, in the climax of his life, can show the one great solid quality which was, after all, the true characteristic of his life — the most complete and absolute disinterestedness. What are the conditions which we desire to see established in national life? If Samuel is to be an expression, or a type, or a teaching to us, then surely we want men who are absolutely free from self-interest. The danger of nations lies in self-interest. May I venture to say it without being misinterpreted? — this danger of self-interest in national affairs becomes much more dangerous as the complexity of life grows, and therefore the opportunities of manipulating affairs for personal interest begin to multiply upon us. What is the secret of having a disinterested mind? Jesus Christ was the supreme teacher, remember, and remember those words which He said, which we ought to write forever in our hearts — I would emblazon them upon the walls of our Law Courts and our political assembly rooms — "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." Is there any inspiration of single-mindedness, is there any way that we can get the power to rid ourselves of self-interest? The voice of God heard always, the voice of God in the still hours of the night. That which makes the difference between man and man lies in this: his relationship to God. And it was because Samuel had found God in his life so early that God was in his life all through, and wherever he stood it was God that he saw. How much may we not be warped by personal interests, by the desire of some gain, by the opportunities which so often in the hurly-burly of affairs come in temptations before us! What need there is that we in such hours should be, as Samuel would have the people, purged from our own offences, all our gods of covetousness and idolatry put far away, and standing once more as a people hearing the voice of God.
(W. Boyd Carpenter, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Samuel said unto all Israel, Behold, I have hearkened unto your voice in all that ye said unto me, and have made a king over you.