1 Samuel 3:13
For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knows; because his sons made themselves vile…
Experience is like the stern light of a ship; it illumines only the path that is already passed over. This familiar adage is true as to our own experience; but if we study carefully the Word of God we can follow, as it were, in the wake of many other voyagers, and get the benefit of the light they cast upon the waves. By a striking concurrence we have two domestic histories unfolded side by side. One is the story of wise parental training, as illustrated in the case of Elkanah and Hannah, the father and mother of Samuel. The other is the tragic story of Eli, the father of those two "scapegraces," Hophni and Phinehas. This latter story is a beacon of warning against parental indulgence of sins committed by those who are entrusted to us as the trustees of their spiritual welfare. The attractions of the bright side only deepen the darkness of the dark side. The clay in Eli's composition was exceedingly frail and friable. Excellent as were his convictions of duty, he seems to have been pitiably weak in working them into practice. There was a lamentable lack of will power. There are too many such people now-a-days — men and women of good impulses, but of weak performance. They lack spiritual force and fibre; when the strain comes they snap. You cannot build a safe suspension bridge from New York to Brooklyn if the cables are half iron and half twisted tow. The one vital point in which high priest Eli broke down most disgracefully was in the management of his own household. This has given him his unhappy celebrity. By leaving the iniquities of his graceless sons to grow apace he came at last to be strangled by the serpent monster which sprang into frightful dimensions within the bosom of his own family. Devotion was prostituted to the foulest indecencies; the road to the altar became a road to hell! Heavily indeed must the tidings of these crimes of the sons have fallen upon the ears of their unhappy father. The extent of their villainies he had not fully known until now. With a broken heart the poor old man summons before him the profligate sons whom he had begotten and whom he had never attempted to govern. It is a harrowing interview. After listening to this solemn and pathetic rebuke from the aged high priest we are ready to wonder how such a man should have been such an unfaithful father. We wonder that one who talked so well should have acted so wrongly. It surprises us that this just abhorrence of what his sons had been doing did not make its appearance in time to restrain them from beginning their abominable practices. At the eleventh hour he rubs open his sleepy eyes to see what he ought to have seen ten hours before. The verdict against the suffering old man was that he did nothing effectual in the way of hindrance to his sons' iniquities; there was no wholesome and powerful restraint. It is not by main force that the wayward son is to be kept back from sin — not by hurling terrific threats in his lace or by bombarding him with irritating censure and taunts. Restraint is the application of truth in love. It reasons as well as rebukes. It appeals to conscience, and sets God before the tempted youth. It employs authority, but authority unmixed with passion and resentment. Eli's misgovernment of his children bad two cardinal faults. One error was that he rebuked his sons too late. This was the fatal blunder of the father who should begin to dissuade his son from the wine bottle when the young man had already become an inebriate. Eli's reproofs and admonitions did not commence soon enough. He did not attempt, we may be assured, to "bend the twig; "but he laid vain hold with palsied hands of the deep-rooted and full-grown tree. The other error of the weak-backed Eli was that, having postponed his correction of his dissolute sons until they became hardened in vice, his words of rebuke were as weak as water. As quaint old Matthew Henry remarks, "There was no edge to his reproofs." He was not only too late; he was too lenient. His culpable indulgence had left no respect even for his gray hairs or his tears; they had come to despise the parent who had never secured their respect nor made them feel his authority. Eli's wretched failure was the failure of millions of fathers since his day: when his children were young he would not restrain them, and when they grew older he could not. Before we reach the catastrophe of this most; instructive story let me emphasise a few truths in regard to paternal influence. If Hannah is a model for mothers, Eli is a beacon for fathers. Many things have been spoken or written — yet not one syllable too many — about the happy and holy influence of a godly mother, But there yet remains a solid philosophy in the ancient adage, "Like father, like family." The law of heredity decides the denominational and the political status very generally. "He is a chip of the old block," said someone when he heard the younger Pitt's first speech. "Nay," replied Burke; "he is the old block himself." But if in your houses the "old block" is worm eaten, what shall become of the chips? The grace of God is not transmitted by inheritance, yet a father's conscientious piety is often reproduced in his children. If his footsteps are deeply indented toward God and heaven, he may reasonably hope that his children may tread in them. "He sought to the Lord God of his father and walked in His commandments," is the Bible description of the good King Jehoshaphat. If there is a law of Christian nurture by which, with God's help, the godly family becomes a nursery of religion, so there is a law of unchristian nurture, and by this law bad opinions and bad habits are transmitted to the next generation. Whatever "fires the father kindles, the children gather the wood." Show me one who fences his home around with God's commandments, and lights it up with domestic comforts and pleasures, and anchors himself to his home, and I will show you the best kind of restraint from dangerous evening resorts. A happy Christian home is the surest antidote for evil amusements. But if a father hears the clock strike eleven in the theatre or in his clubhouse, he need not be surprised if his sons hear it strike twelve in the drinking saloon or in the gaming room or the haunts of the profligate. But Eli, you may say, was a servant of God. So he was, in his way, but there are two different types of paternal religion. It is a terrible truth to declare, but I honestly believe that some professed Christians are an absolute hindrance to the conversion of their children. For the warning of such the Divine Spirit has spread out at full length the calamitous history of Eli's awful mistake.
(T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.