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"Nor ye who live
We have heard the artless tale of Naomi's woe, and Ruth's attachment. We have accompanied the deserted, widowed mother and daughter-in-law from Moab to Bethlehem-Judah, the city of their departed husbands; but alas, all the reception they meet with, is stupid wonder, silly curiosity, or insulting pity. We hear of no kind contention to entertain the stranger and succour the distrest. The season of reaping was come; but for them no golden harvest waved in the wind, for them no mower was preparing his sickle, their poverty was but embittered by the sight of plenty diffused around : and the misery of Naomi's fall is dreadfully aggravated, by the prosperity which Elimelech's nearest relations were enjoying.
Of these the most distinguished was Boaz, whom the sacred historian introduces to our acquaintance as "a mighty man of wealth.” Riches, like every other gift of God, become a blessing or a curse just according to the use that is made of them. Riches are a solid good, when they are received with thankfulness, enjoyed with moderation, and employed in the service of God and of mankind; but are perverted into a sore evil when they engender pride, and harden the heart, as is too generally the case, when they purchase fuel for the lusts, or are fabricated into a golden image, to become the unworthy object of adoration. Had Boaz been merely a man of wealth, he had not deserved a place in these sacred memoirs; but though a rich man, he was not slothful in business; he was a man of humanity, of intelligence, of discretion, of affability: a man that feared the Lord, that did justly, that loved mercy. He was ennobled by qualities which great possessions cannot confer, and which do not, with fugitive treasures, fly away as an eagle towards heaven.
Behold the mysterious distribution of the gifts of Providence! The family of one“ brother is waxen poor and fallen into decay;" that of the other is shining in splendour, affluence and renown. Hasty and partial views of the divine conduct are always puzzling and distressful ; calm and comprehensive investigation, will ever lead to composure and acquiescence.
What must these helpless women do for daily bread? They sit neglected and forlorn ; but despondency will only increase the calamity. Necessity suggests many expedients. While health, virtue and friendship remain, all is not lost; and Heaven frequently permits the current of human felicity to spend itself to the very lowest ebb, that its own hand may be acknowledged in the means which caused the flood to rise and swell again.
The proposal of Ruth to her mother-in-law, discovers in every point of view, a noble and ingenuous spirit, and an excellent heart. She will do nothing without the consent and advice of the venerable matron who was become father and mother, country, friends and every thing to her. Begging is the last miserable refuge of age or infirmity, of disease or sloth : she scorns to think of recurring to it, while she has youth, health and strength to labour, and while there was a field of lawful employment. An ordinary mind in her situation would have vented itself in unavailing womanish lamentations ; perhaps in unkind upbraidings of the ancient woman as the cause of all the disa tress which she endured ; would have been for despatching Naomi up and down among her wealthy relations and towns-folks, to solicit protection and subsistence. No, it is more honourable in her eyes to earn food by her own labour ; she conceals the anguish which wrung her own heart, for fear of adding affliction to the afflicted. The season of the year was favourable ; and happily the law of that God, whom she had deliberately taken for her God, had made provision for persons in her destitute condition.
The same bounty which poured the abundance of autumn into the lap of the mighty, had reserved a pittance for the support of the famished and friendless. How the mercy of Jehovah bursts upon us in every dispensation and in every event! In wisdom he has permitted distinctions of rank and fortune to take place; in compassion he has taken care to make provision for the wants of the necessitous. So that while industry and pity remain, no one is reduced to absolute despair.
It is with pleasure we recur to the words of the law, and trace that God who " careth for oxen," much more solicitous about the support and consolation of the miserable part of the rational creation. “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard ; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the Lord your God."* And again, “When ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest ; thou shalt leave them unto the poor and to the stranger : I am the Lord your God.”+ And again, in recapitulating the law in Deuteronomy, “When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it : it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in the work of thine hands. When thou beatest thine olive-tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again : it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt: therefore I command thee to do this thing."
In this law, several remarkable circumstances, tending to illustrate the law of nature in general, and the spirit of the Mosaic dispensation in particular, press themselves upon our notice.
Ist. The consideration and recollection of their own and their fathers' misery in Egypt are urged as the powerful motive to pity, to spare and to succour. “A Syrian ready to perish” on the road to Padanaram “ was my father." "A generation of slaves in Egypt were my progenitors, let me therefore commisserate, and receive, and cherish the forlorn traveller ; let me treat my own captive, bondman, dependant, with gentleness, and humanity.” Who gives charity? Not unfeeling wealth, nor giddy dissipation ; but the man who has known want, who once stood in need of a friend, who has been himself succoured in the hour of calamity. Who is it that relents and forgives ? Not cold-blooded, meritless, constitutional virtue; but restored, recovered frailty ; goodness which arose the purer and the stronger from having fallen. Who is liberal and generous ? Not the nobly born, the unvaryingly prosperous, but magnanimity nursed on the breast of adversity; the prince whom native worth, whom conscious dignity, whom the experience of human woe have taught to devise liberal things, to do good, and to communicate. But is hereditary greatness, unvarying opulence, unhumbled, unmortified success, always cold, selfish, un feeling ? God forbid. High birth, lineal honours, the accumulating wealth of many generations, sometimes put on their most beautiful garments, borrow lustre from condescension, sympathy and beneficence. Is successful adversity, illuminated obscurity, aggrandized littleness, always merciful, condescending, generous, and humane? O, no: the poor wretch frequently forgets himself; condemns the arts by which ho
* Lev. xix. 9, 10.
+ Lev. xxiii, 22.
Deut. xxiv, 19-92.
arose, spurns the ladder on which he climbled to eminence and distinction, and tries to make his upstart greatness bear a mimic resemblance to antique dignity, by aping the viler, not the nobler qualities of traditional importance.
Again, 2dly. Observe, the law inculcates pity to the poor and wretched by the most glorious of all examples. “I am the Lord, who had compassion upon you in your misery, who delivered you from the furnace, who drove out the nations from before you, who planted you in the land, who fill thy garner, and make thy wine-press to overflow; and who only ask, in return, a mite or two, for the sons and daughters of affliction, these few ears which thy haste has let fall to the ground, that sheaf which has accidentally dropped from thy car; that little corner of thy field which the sickle has spared, and which that starving creature, by nature thy equal, by providence thy inferiour, is waiting to pick up and devour. He is an object of tenderness and affection to me, see therefore that thou neglect him not, that thou defraud him not, that thou distress him not.
3dly. The law plainly supposes that there may be an over anxiety and solicitude about things in their own nature lawful and innocent; which it therefore aims at repressing : it supposes that there may be an eagerness of accumulation which defeats itself, a scattering abroad that produces increase, a with holding of more than is meet, and it tendeth only to poverty; that diffusing, not hoarding up abundance, is the proper use of it.
4thly. The law had a double object in view, the improvement of the affluent, and the relief of the poor. It thus became a mutual benefit, the one was blessed in giving, the other in receiving. The greater blessedness however on the side of the giver, as the blessedness of the Creator is superiour to that of the creature. It is as much an ordination of Providence, that “ the poor should never cease out of the land," as that “the earth should yield her increase,” and the spheres perform their stated revolutions : and while they do exist, the great Lord and Preserver of all things, is concerned to make suitable provision for them. The rich are his stewards, and their storekeepers : he that gleans his own field to the last ear, is a thief and a robber as much as he who plunders his neighbour's granary; he robs God, he plunders the needy and the destitute, he does what he can to subvert the divine government, he would make the law of charity and mercy of none effect, he bars his own plea for pardon at a throne of grace, he mars the possession of all he has, he cankers his own enjoyment, and affixes his seal to his own condemnation.
5thly. The law particularly describes the objects which it meant to relieve, “the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow." Unhappy Ruth! her title to the wretched offal from the hand of the reaper was but too well established. She united in her own person all these characters of woe. Her melancholy claim to pity and support was fearfully multiplied, and a threefold burden presses her down to the ground: nevertheless she entreats, as a boon, what she might have demanded, and taken, as a right.
Her trust in, and submission to the direction of Providence sweetly accord with her filial affection and tenderness, and her noble independency of spirit ; she is determined to labour, she disdains not to employ the necessary means for supplying herself and aged parent with food, but she leaves the direction of her footsteps to High Heaven; she is in the way of her duty, and deposits all anxiety about the issue in the bosom of her heavenly Father. What a happy mixture of fortitude and resignation! It cannot but prosper.
Having obtained the consent of her mother, who perhaps might have a presentiment of what was approachiog, behold her up with the dawn, pensive timorous and slow, advancing to the fields; the country all before her, where to choose her place of toil, and Providence her guide; with the downcast look of ingenuous modesty; the timidity which sour misfortune inspires; the firm
step of conscious rectitude, and the flushed cheek of kindling hope. By some nameless, unaccountable circumstance, Heaven-directed, she unknowingly bends her course to the field and reapers of Boaz. She has done her part, has made the sacrifices which conscience and affection demanded, has submitted cheerfully to the hardships which necessity imposed, has put herself in the way of relief which her situation pointed out. God is good, and takes all the rest upon himself. He, who ordered her flight to Capaan at the time of barley-harvest, when nature, and Providence, and the law concurred to find her subsistence, orders her path to that field, where every thing, without the knowledge of the parties concerned, was prepared and arranged for the high scenes now ready to be acted.
The order of human procedure generally is from blaze to smoke, from noise and bustle to nothing, from mighty preparation, to feebleness of execu. tion. The divine conduct, on the contrary, is a glorious rise from obscurity into light, from “small beginnings to a latter end greatly increased ;" from "the mouth of babes and sucklings he ordaineth strength," and by a concurrence of circumstances which no human sagacity could foresee, and no human power could either bring together or keep asunder, raises a neglected gleaner in the field into the lady of the domain, and a fugitive of Moab into a mother in Israel; a mother of kings, whose name shall never expire but with the dissolution of nature. At this period of the story, let us pause, and meditate.
-On the power which regulates and controls all the affairs of men, who has all hearts, all events in his hand, who“ poureth contempt upon princes, and bringeth to nought the wisdom of the prudent ;" who " raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the needy out of the dunghill, that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people ; he maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children." Is there a God who " doth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth ?" then let me never be highminded, but fear" always before him, for I am never out of his reach, never concealed from his eye, never sheltered from his justice. Is there a God who judgeth in the earth, in whom the fatherless findeth mercy, to whom the miserable never look, never cry in vain ? then let me never sink into despair. I am not too humble for his notice, my disease is not beyond his skill to cure, my wants are not too numerous for his supplies, nor my transgressions beyond the multitude of his tender mercies. Doth not He deck the lily, and feed the raven ? a sparrow riseth not on the wing, falleth not to the ground, without my heavenly Father. " Hitherto hath the Lord helped," and “his hand is not shortened, nor his ear heavy, nor his bowels of compassion restrained.”
Meditate again, on what ground you have encouragement to ask and to expect the divine protection and favour. Have you given up all for God? Have you good hope through grace that you are reconciled to God through the blood of his Son ? Have you a good conscience toward God that you are in the proper use of appointed means? Can you look up with confidence and say, “Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest I have not folded my hands to sleep, have not sat down in sullen discontent, have not charged thee foolishly, have not fled to unjustifiable methods of relief. I have not impiously striven with my Maker, nor presumptuously expected a miracle to be wrought in my behalf. I have in much weakness, but in trembling hope, endeavoured to do my duty: and I now, Lord, cast all my care, cast my burden upon thee.” Look into the history of divine interpositions. Were they in compliment to the peevish and capricious, were they extorted by the loud lamentations or the secret murmurings of insolence and ingratitude ? were they
the pillows smoothed by the hand of weak indulgence, for the drowsy head of sloth and indifference to repose on? No, but they were the seasonable cordial of parental affection to a fainting child ; the reward which wisdom and goodness bestow on diligence and perseverance : the indissoluble union which God has established between human exertion and divine cooperation ; they were the recompense of labour and vigilance, the answer of prayer.
Meditate yet again, on the true dignity of human nature, on the true glory of man and of woman also ;-honest, useful employment. It is not idle, luxurious enjoyment, it is not to do nothing, to be eternally waited upon, and ministered unto, to grow torpid by inaction, to slumber away life in a lethargic dream, and to lose the powers of the soul and body by disuse; but to preserve and promote bealth by moderate exercise, to earn cheerfulness and self-approbation, by the sweet consciousness that you are not living wholly in vain, and to rise into importance by being somewhat useful to your fellow creatures. In the eye of sober, unbiassed reason, whether of the two is the more pleasing, the more respectable sight; and which is, in her own mind, the happier of the two, Ruth laden with the ears of corn which she has toiled to gather, hastening home to the hut of obscurity, to administer food and comfort to old age and sorrow; or a modern belle, issuing forth under a load of uneasy finery, to imaginary triumphs, and certain disappointment? Who sleeps soundest at night, and who awakes and arises in the best health and spirits next day? I expect not an answer.
The thing speaks for itself; and I have purposely forborne to state the case so strongly as I might have done. The virtuous damsel has, in part, received her reward, but a greater and better is preparing for her. The mother and daughter have been arranging their little matters with discretion; and the great God has been preparing his agents, putting his armies in motion ; all is made ready, is made to meet, is made to work together, is made to prosper, by Him who sees the perfect man in the embryo, the end from the beginning, the effect in its primary cause, the eternal chain in every series, and in all its extent.