Reading: 1 Sam. 1:1-20.
Samuel is a very good type and illustration of the matter of spiritual growth, and in him we can quite easily trace the principles of spiritual increase which we find everywhere in the Word of God. This is not just taking an Old Testament illustration. We must remember that the Holy Spirit, who directed the writing of all the Scriptures, had present in His mind those eternal principles of God which are the same in all ages, at all times, because they are timeless and eternal. The same Spirit who directed the writing of the New Testament, directed the writing of these Old Testament Scriptures on the same principles, so that we can easily find in the life of Samuel and in the life of any other great servant of God, the things which come out in a spiritual way in the later parts of the Bible.
We shall be as brief as possible and not seek to exhaust the content of this very gracious and very full representation of God's mind, we do know that Samuel came to be an old man, occupying a very large place in the interests of God. Just to glance at the later years of Samuel's life is to see a shock of corn come to ripeness and fulness and of very great value to the Lord. He has become the anointer of kings, the pray-er for Israel, so much so that in other parts of the Old Testament Samuel is singled out by the Lord Himself, saying, "Though... Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind would not be toward this people" (Jer. 15:1), meaning that if anybody stood well with God and could prevail with God, it was Samuel. That little glance helps us as we come right back to the beginning.
Look now into the second chapter of this first book of Samuel, and the first thing about Samuel having been given to the Lord is that he is an expression of two things. Firstly, he is the expression or embodiment of considerable soul travail, soul anguish and suffering. He came into being as born of much sorrow, travail, or, as Hannah put it: bitterness of soul. Let Samuel then, represent spiritual growth, spiritual enlargement, spiritual fulness, and at once we realise that such is not easily brought about. It does not just happen. It is the fruit of some work in the soul which sometimes makes the soul full of anguish and bitterness. When God is after something that is represented by Samuel, that is - sonship, the man-child, the full expression of His thought - it is not just mechanical; it does not just happen. There is a good deal of secret, bitter, soul anguish lying behind it. Do not forget that. Perhaps you have no need to be reminded, but it may explain a lot.
The second thing is that Samuel was the embodiment of such a selflessness in the interests of the Lord. Hannah had been through much pain and suffering, anguish and travail because of the provocation and reproach of Peninnah, who was no doubt telling her day by day that the Lord was not with her, the Lord was evidently against her, that she was overlooked of the Lord. She was probably told that her situation, rather than betokening the Lord's pleasure and favour and any kind of special intention of the Lord where she was concerned, just proved the contrary, that the Lord had no special interest there. After all that, we might well have thought that Hannah would have clung to Samuel and held him and never let him out of her sight, that very strong possessiveness would have marked her. But on the contrary, she gave him to the Lord; she took him to the house of the Lord and left him there. She proved that, costly as the way was, it was not, after all, for herself that she was seeking this blessing, it was for the Lord; utter unselfishness.
Now, if we are selfish, it will be very clearly marked by our having no concern for the Lord's interests and for the interests of the Lord's people, which are the same thing. Selfishness and self-centredness and self-interest will keep us from any kind of active and costly concern for the interests of the people of God. If we lack that kind of concern for the Lord's interests and the interests of the Lord's people, the interests of souls, the interest for the house of God; if we lack that kind of sacrificial and active concern, it is because we are wrapped up in ourselves and our own interests, that we are self-centred and utterly selfish. The unselfishness of the Lord was seen in that He forgot Himself and let go everything for the Father's interests. If we are not right out for the Lord's interests, right out for the sake of the people of God (and that must not be just a mental picture of service, it may be something very near to us, those with whom we are most closely in touch every day), if we are not actively concerned for their spiritual welfare, however much it costs us, that betrays a selfishness of the grossest kind. Unselfishness is seen in this costly self-sacrifice for the Lord's interests in His people. Samuel embodied that, and because he embodied that, he became who he was and therefore he is a great example of spiritual growth.
Let it be recognised that our spiritual growth comes not by turning in on ourselves and being occupied with ourselves and our own misfortunes and our own troubles, but it is in travail, a travail which is outward for the Lord's interests - suffering, yes, not because of our disappointment, our set-back, because we are not getting what we want, and what our hearts are set upon, but it is, after all, the Lord in the Lord's people and the Lord's house.
We will never grow by being occupied with ourselves. Real spiritual growth comes along the line of outward objective exercise and travail for the people of God, whether those people of God be saved or unsaved. It is that the Lord should have what His heart desires in a people. Israel was in a very needy state at this time, and this travail undoubtedly was sovereign travail. It was not just ordinary natural travail. It was something that God was doing, it was all going to be God's doing, God's miracle, to get Samuel. But the point is that Samuel, as we shall see, grew and grew to the whole dimensions of a great spiritual need in the Lord's people. He became the personal embodiment of this travail, this suffering, this selflessness, which was not drawing and holding to itself, but was turned out. Hannah, as soon as she possibly could, weaned this child to take him and leave him at the house of God for God's purposes. You see, then, unselfishness of that kind is a way of spiritual growth and spiritual enlargement.
Now, what is our spiritual condition? Do not let us think that intensity of personal occupation with spiritual things, which locks us up in ourselves is a mark of spiritual growth, or that we are going to grow that way. Real heart concern for the Lord's enlargement in His people and those round about us, immediately next to us, His interests in this life that is nearest to me every day, and those lives around and beyond, will bring me out into enlargement and be the way of my spiritual increase. If I am just turned in all the time on my problem, my difficulty, my disappointment, my need, my failure, it may become just the expression of selfishness. The fact is that we come into an awful morass, into a quagmire, along that line, and the Lord does not get us out. If we are waiting for the Lord to get us out, we will wait a very long time. The Lord says: 'You do something about this, you take action about this; I am not going in until you have resolved and taken hold of this situation, and then I will help.' But the Lord has no interest in selfish people; the Lord does nothing with people turned in on themselves. He leaves them there until the time comes when they either fade right out or say, 'This cannot go on any longer. I am getting nowhere, something has got to happen!' And then the Lord does come to our help.
This is a word at the beginning of Samuel's life, the beginning of that which ends in full-growth is the expression of these two things: real inner travail and utter unselfishness.