Practical Christian Theology
Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“Moreover his mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice”
(1 Samuel 2:19).
The stories of Deborah and Abigail are apt to discourage a woman’s soul. She says to herself, “It is impossible. I can never achieve any such grandeur of character, and I don’t mean to try,” as though a child should refuse to play the eight notes because he cannot execute a William Tell Overture.
This Hannah of the text differs from Deborah, a judge (Judges 4:4), and Abigail, a prophetess (1 Samuel 25:3, 14-35). She was an ordinary woman, with ordinary intellectual capacity (we assume), placed in ordinary circumstances, and yet, by extraordinary piety (cf 1 Samuel 2:1-10), standing out before all ages to come.
THE MODEL CHRISTIAN MOTHER
Hannah was the wife of Elkanah, who was a person much like herself—plain and unromantic, never having fought a battle or been the subject of a marvelous escape. Probably neither of them would have been called a genius. Just what you and I might be: ordinary. That was Elkanah and Hannah.
The brightest time in all the history of that family was the birth of Samuel. Though no star ran along the heavens pointing down to his birthplace, I think the angels of God stooped at the coming of so wonderful a prophet.
As Samuel had been given in answer to prayer, Elkanah and all his family, save Hannah, started up to Shiloh to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving. The cradle where the child slept was altar enough for Hannah’s grateful heart; but when the boy was old enough, she took him to Shiloh, along with three bullocks, an ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and made offering of sacrifice to the Lord. There, according to a previous vow, she left him. There he was to stay all the days of his life, and minister in the Tabernacle.
Years rolled on, and every year Hannah made with her own hands a garment for Samuel, and took it to him. The lad would have gotten along well without that garment, for I suppose he was well clad by the ministry of the Tabernacle; but Hannah could not be contented unless she was all the time doing something for her darling boy. “Moreover his mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice” (1 Samuel 2:19).
AN INDUSTRIOUS MOTHER
There was no need for Hannah to work. Elkanah, her husband, was far from poor. He belonged to a distinguished family; for the Bible tells us that he was the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph (1 Samuel 1:1). “Who were they?” you say. I do not know; but they were distinguished people, no doubt, or their names would not have been mentioned.
Hannah might have seated herself with her family, and, with folded arms and disheveled hair, read novels from year to year, if there had been any to read; but when I see her making that garment, and taking it to Samuel, I know she is industrious from principle as well as from pleasure. God would not have a mother become a drudge or a slave; He would have her employ all the helps possible in this day in rearing her children. But Hannah ought never to be ashamed to be found making a coat for Samuel.
Most mothers need no counsel in this direction. The wrinkles on their brow, the pallor on their cheek, the thimble-mark or needle-prick on their finger, attest that they are faithful in their maternal duties. The bloom, the brightness, and the vivacity of girlhood have given place to the grander dignity, usefulness, and industry of motherhood.
But there is a heathen idea circulating in some American families. There are mothers who banish themselves from the home circle. For three-fourths of their maternal duties they prove themselves incompetent. They are ignorant of what their children wear, what their children eat, and what their children read. They entrust to irresponsible persons these young immortals, and allow them to be under influences that may cripple the body, taint the purity, spoil the manners, or destroy the soul of impressible youths.
Out from under flaming chandeliers, off from imported carpets, and down the granite stairs has come a great crowd of children in this day, untrained, saucy, incompetent for all practical duties of life, and ready to be caught in the first whirl of crime and sensuality. Indolent and unfaithful mothers produce indolent and unfaithful children. You cannot expect neatness and order in any house where the daughter sees nothing but slovenness and skewedness in her parents. Let Hannah be idle, and most certainly Samuel will grow up idle.
Who are the industrious men in all our occupations and professions? Who are they managing the merchandise of the world, building the walls, tinning the roofs, weaving the carpets, making the laws, governing the nations, making the earth to quake, heave, roar, and rattle with the tread of gigantic enterprises? Who are they? For the most part they descended from industrious mothers, who, in the old homestead, used to spin their own yarn, weave their own carpets, plait their own doormats, flag their own chairs, and do their own work. The stalwart men and the influential women of this day, 99 out of 100, came from such an illustrious ancestry of hard knuckles and homespun. The mothers of Samuel Johnson, Alfred the Great, Isaac Newton, Augustine, Richard Cecil, and Jonathan Edwards, for the most part, were industrious, hard-working mothers.
And who are these people in society, light as froth, blown every which way by temptation and fashion—the peddlers of filthy stories, the dancing-jacks of political parties, the scum of society, the tavern-lounging, the store-infesting, the men of low wink and filthy chuckle, of brass breastpins and rotten associations? For the most part, they came from mothers idle and disgusting—the scandal-mongers of society, going from house to house, attending to everybody’s business but their own, believing in witches, ghosts, and horseshoes to keep the devil out of the churn, and by a godless life setting their children on the verge of hell.
Now, while I congratulate all Christian mothers on the wealth and the modern science that may afford them all kinds of help, let me say that every mother ought to be observant of her children’s walk, her children’s behavior, her children’s food, her children’s looks, and her children’s companionships. However much help Hannah may have, she ought, every year at least, to make one garment for Samuel. The Lord have mercy on the man who is so unfortunate as to have had a lazy mother!
AN INTELLIGENT MOTHER
From the way in which she talked in this chapter and from the way she managed this boy, we know Hannah was intelligent. No person in the community needs to be so wise and well-informed as a mother.
Oh, this work of nurturing children for this world and the next! This child is timid, and he must be roused up and pushed into activity. This child is forward, and he must be held back and tamed into modesty and politeness. Rewards for one, punishments for another. That which will make George will ruin John. The rod is necessary in one case, while a frown of displeasure is more than enough in another. Spanking and a dark closet do not exhaust all the rounds of domestic discipline. There have been children who have grown up and gone to glory without ever having had their ears boxed.
Oh, how much care and intelligence are necessary in rearing children! But in this day, when there are so many books on the subject, no parent is excusable in being ignorant of the best mode of bringing up a child.
If parents knew more of dietetics, there would not be so many dyspeptic stomachs, weak nerves, and inactive livers among children. If parents knew more of physiology, there would not be so many curved spines, cramped chests, inflamed throats, and diseased lungs as there are among children. If parents knew more of art and aesthetics, and were in sympathy with all that is beautiful, there would not be so many children coming out in the world with boorish proclivities. If parents knew more of Christ, and practiced more of His teachings, there would not be so many little feet already on the wrong road, and all around us voices of riot and blasphemy would not come up with such ecstasy of infernal triumph.
The eaglets in the eyrie have no advantage over the eaglets of a thousand years ago. The kids have no superior way of climbing up the rocks than the old goats taught hundreds of years ago. The whelps know no more now than did the whelps of ages ago—they are taught no more by the lions of the desert. It is a shame that in this day, when there are so many opportunities of improving ourselves by cultivating our children, that so often there is no more advancement in this respect among human beings than there has been among the eaglets, the goats, and the whelps.
A GODLY MOTHER
From her prayers and from the way she consecrated her boy to God, we know that Hannah was good. A mother may have the finest culture, the most brilliant surroundings; but she is not fit for her duties unless she be is a godly mother. There may be a well-read library in the house, exquisite music in the parlor, canvases of the best artists adorning the walls, a wardrobe crowded with tasteful apparel, and children admired for their attainments, who make the house ring with laughter and innocent mirth; but there is something missing if it be not also the residence of a godly mother.
I bless God that there are not many prayerless mothers—not many of them. The weight of the responsibility is so great that they feel the need of a divine hand to help, a divine voice to comfort, and a divine heart to sympathize. Thousands of mothers have been led into the kingdom of God by the hands of their little children.
There were hundreds of mothers who would not have been Christians if it had not been for the prattle of their little ones. Standing someday in the nursery, they thought to themselves, “This child God has given me to raise for eternity. What is my influence? Not being a Christian myself, how can I ever expect him to become a Christian? Lord, help me!”
Are there anxious mothers who know nothing of the infinite help of faith? Then I commend to them Hannah, the pious mother of Samuel. Do not think it is absolutely impossible that your children may come up wicked. Out of just such fair brows, bright eyes, soft hands, and innocent hearts crime seeks its victims—destroying purity from the heart, rubbing out the smoothness from the brow, quenching the luster of the eye, shriveling up, poisoning, putrefying, scathing, scalding, blasting, and burning with shame and woe.
Every child is a bundle of tremendous possibility. Whether that child will come forth to life, his heart attuned to the eternal harmony, and, after a life of usefulness on earth, go to a life of joy in heaven; or whether across him will jar eternal discords, and, after a life of wrongdoing on earth, he will go to a home of impenetrable darkness and an abyss of immeasurable plunge, is being decided by nursery song, Sabbath lesson, evening prayer, walk, ride, look, frown, and smile.
Oh, how many children in glory, crowding all the battlements, and lifting a million-voiced hosanna, brought to God through Christian parents!
One hundred and twenty clergymen were together, and they were telling their experience and their ancestry; and of the one hundred and twenty clergymen, how many of them, do you suppose, assigned as the means of their conversion the influence of a godly mother? One hundred out of the one hundred and twenty!
Philip Doddridge was brought to God by the Scripture lesson on the Dutch tiles of a chimney fireplace. The mother thinks she is only rocking a child, but at the same time she may be rocking the fate of nations, rocking the glories of heaven. The same maternal power that may lift up a child may press down a child.
Oh, what a momentous thing it is to be a mother!
A REWARDED MOTHER
For all the coats she made for Samuel, for all the prayers she offered for him, for the discipline exerted over him, Hannah received abundant compensation in the piety, usefulness, and popularity of her son Samuel; and that is true in all ages. Every mother receives full pay for all the prayers and tears in behalf of her children. That man useful in commercial life; that man prominent in a profession; that master mechanic—why, every step he takes in life has an echo of gladness in the old heart that long ago taught him to be an heroic and earnest seeker after God.
The story of what you have done, or what you have written, of the influence you exerted, has gone back to the old homestead—for there is someone always ready to carry good tidings—and that story makes the needle in the old mother’s tremulous hand fly quicker, and the flail in the father’s hand come down on the barn floor with a vigorous thump. Parents love to hear good news from their children. Do you send them good news always?
Look out for the young man who speaks of his father as “the governor,” the “squire,” or the “old chap.” Look out for the young woman who calls her mother her “maternal ancestor,” or the “old woman.” “The eye that mocks at his father, and refuses to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it” (Proverbs 30:17).
God grant that all these parents may have the satisfaction of seeing their children grow up Christian. But, oh, the pang of that mother, who, after a life of street-gadding and gossip-retailing, hanging on the children the fripperies and follies of this world, sees those children tossed out on the sea of life like foam on the wave, or nonentities in a world where only bravery and stalwart character can stand the shock! But blessed be the mother who looks on her children as sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty!
Oh, the satisfaction of Hannah in seeing Samuel serving at the altar! Of mother Eunice in seeing her Timothy learned in the Scriptures (1 Timothy 1:5). That is the mother’s recompense, to see children coming up useful in the world, reclaiming the lost, healing the sick, pitying the ignorant, earnest and useful in every sphere. That throws a new light on the old family Bible whenever she reads it, and that will be ointment to soothe the aching limbs of decrepitude, and light up the closing hours of life’s day with the glories of an autumnal sunset!
A LOVING MOTHER
There she sits, the old Christian mother, ripe for heaven. Her eyesight is almost gone, but the splendors of the celestial city kindle her vision. The gray light of heaven’s morn has struck through the gray locks folded back over the wrinkled temples. She stoops now under the burden of care.
She sits at home, too old to find her way to the house of God; but while she sits there, all the past comes back. The children that forty years ago tripped around her armchair with their griefs, joys, and sorrows are gone. Some have been caught up into a better realm, where they will never die. Others have been out in the world, testing the excellency of a Christian mother’s discipline.
Abuse cannot offend mother-love. Neglect cannot chill it. Time cannot affect it. Death cannot destroy it.
For harsh words it has gentle chiding. For a blow it had beneficient ministry. For neglect it has increasing watchfulness.
Oh, appreciate mother-love! If you could only look in for an hour’s visit to her, you would rouse in the aged one blissful memories. What if she does sit without talking much: she watched you for months when you knew not how to talk at all. What if she has ailments to tell about: during fifteen years you ran to her with every little scratch and bruise, and she doctored your little finger as carefully as a surgeon would the worst fracture.
You say she is childish now: I wonder if she ever saw you when you were childish. You have no patience to walk with her on the street: she moves so slowly. I wonder if she remembers the time when you were glad enough to go slowly.
Let last days be full of peace; and calmer and sweeter will her spirit become, until the gates of life will admit the worn pilgrim into eternal springtime and youth, where the limbs never ache, where the eyes never grow dim, and where the staff of the exhausted and decrepit pilgrim will become the palm of the immortal athlete!
“God makes the barren woman to keep house and to be a joyful mother of children” (Psalm 113:9).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Wedding Rings
*Adapted from “Maternity,” Thomas DeWitt Talmage [1832-1902], The Wedding Ring: A Series of Discourses for Husbands and Wives and Those Contemplating Matrimony (New York: Louis Klopsch, 1896). Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.