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HISTORY OF RUTH.
RUTH II. 4.
And behold, Boaz came from Beth-lehem, and said unto the reapers, The Lord be with you : and
they answered him, The Lord bless thee.
The short and simple sentence which I have read, might be made the subject of a volume. I intend to make it at least the subject of a Lecture, and entreat your patient attention to a few of the obvious, but neither uninteresting nor unimportant views which it exhibits, of life and manners, of morals and religion.
Men of different characters, from various motives, and for various purposes, might be supposed to assume the plain, unadorned history of the barley-harvest of Boaz, as an useful and instructive topic of address, and, according to the spirit by which they were actuated, and the end which they had in view, might reason upon it in this manner.
I. The prudent, careful man, would build upon it a system of attention, diligence and economy. “Behold," would he say, “behold Boaz, the wealthy and the wise, in his field, among his servants, seeing every thing with his own eyes, giving his orders in person, taking care that every one be in his own place, and performing his particular duty. The air and exercise connected with the operations of husbandry, are conducive to health, to comfort; they promote his interest; they enliven his spirits; moderate labour makes rest welcome. See, his presence is a check upon idleness, upon carelessness, upon discord; it calls forth industry, it creates honest emulation ; it reconciles the peasant to his toil, to see the master participating in it. He has brought himself down to the level of the poor labourer, who seems to have risen in proportion. See, nothing escapes his notice, not even a wretched gleaner behind the reapers ; he must be informed of every thing ; to the minutest circumstance he will judge for himself.
“Young man, set out in life, and conduct your progress, on such a principle, on such a model as this. It is the certain road to affluence, to respecta. bility : you are thereby at once serving yourself, your dependants, and your country. Whatever be thy station, whatever thy employment, let thy heart be in it; let thy time and thy attention be devoted to it." Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds." "Be not slothful in business. Let every thing be done in its season ; let every thing be done decently and in order.” “ The hand of the diligent maketh rich.” “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men."
" To these might be added innumerable admonitions and arguments, drawn from scripture, from reason, from history, from experience, all tending to de
monstrate the wisdom, the utility, the necessity of doing what thy hand find eth to do, with thy might; and to prove the folly, the danger, the misery of sloth and inattention. But example is beyond all precept. Survey yonder field ; from Ruth up to Boaz; all are busy, all are pleased and cheerful, all are happy. Be instructed, my son, by the prospect; and learn that God, and nature, and reason, have inseparably connected industry and felicity; have made bodily health and inward peace, prosperity and importance to flow from virtuous, temperate exertion, as the stream from its source.”
II. The moralist would take up the subject in a point of view somewhat different. “Observe," would he say, " the reciprocal duties arising out of the mutual relations of human life. We have them here beautifully exemplified in the relation of master and servant. Besides the more obvious obligations of justice, on the one, in faithfully performing the stipulated labour ; on the other, in punctually bestowing the promised wages of the hireling, behold the tacit obligations of mutual affection and benevolence. Obligations founded not indeed upon a written law, but interwoven with the constitution and frame of our nature, and which the man who feels not, acknowledges not, the man who neglects or violates, let his adherence to the letter of the law be ever so close and exact, is a traitor to God and society. Nay, he is a traitor to himself, by cutting off one of the purest sources of his own enjoyment, and at the same time depriving mankind of one of their justest claims.
"Boaz and his reapers meet with mutual cordiality. They give and receive the salutation of peace. He accosts them as a father would his children, not as a taskmaster would the miserable drudges subjected to his authority. They address him with the kindly and humble familiarity of sons, not the distant timidity of slaves trembling for fear of the rod. They exact the price of their service as a debt ; but they receive the gentle language and smiles of their employer as a favour. He expects them to be honest and diligent, for conscience sake ; but contentment with their condition, and good-will to him, he thankfully receives, as an unconditioned, extraordinary effort to promote his interest.
- Suppose, for a moment, the temper and character of both changed; and the force of the example will be more clearly understood, and more powerfully felt. Without supposing any one precept of morality, or dictate of religion infringed, what a different aspect would the field of Boaz wear! Lo, where comes the surly, stately, self-important lord of the manor, surveying in the pride of his heart, his increasing store, looking down on the humble, hardy sons of toil, as mere beasts of burden, designed to minister to his conveniency. He vouchsafes them nerer a word, except perhaps to complain, to threaten, or to upbraid: and then, in sullen silence and state, retires again. The insulted labourers on the other hand, regard him with terror or disgust. The social compact is dissolved between them. No eye welcomed his approach with a smile, no whisper of gratulation conveyed his name from ear to ear, no tongue pronounced “ God bless him.” The half-smothered execration pursued his withdrawing steps, and he well deserved it.
- What thinkest thou, my young friend, of the picture ? Learn from it, that to doing justly, there must be added loving mercy, and walking humbly. Learn, that the duties and felicities of human life consist in numberless, pameless, undefinable little offices, which every one may learn without a teacher, and which every one may, if he will, perform. All have it not in their power to supply the poor, to heal the sick, to succour the distressed. Opportunity does not every day offer, nor ability permit to confer material, essential benefits; but it is in the power of all to express sympathy, to breathe a kind wish. Opportunities every hour, every moment present themselves, and ability never fails of looking pleasantly, of speaking gently and affectionVol. vi.
ately. And he is a wretch indeed who knows that the unbending of an eye brow, the utterance of a syllable or two, the alteration of half a tone of his voice, the simple extension of his hand would in a moment relieve a heart overwhelmed with sorrow, wrung with anguish, and yet cruelly withholds so slender, so easy, so cheap a consolation.
“ Young man, if it be thy misfortune to have to struggle with a harsh, upgainly, unbending disposition, the sooner you set out in quest of victory the better. Remember that thy own comfort is involved, beyond the power of separation, with that of thy fellow-creatures. Take care that the manner of shewing mercy, or of conferring obligation mar not the matter of the benefit. The man who refuses graciously, impresses on the heart a more favourable idea of himself, than he who grants with harshness, insolence or pride. True goodness considers, together with what is written on tables of stone, what is engraven on the living tables of the heart, and from the heart, communicates itself to the forehead, the eyes, the lips, the hand; impressing on the whole the law of kindness."
III. The philosopher will cast his eyes along the group scattered over the plains adjoining to Bethlehem-Judah, and will reflect in a different manner; perhaps thus. " What an endless variety do I observe in the ways and works of the great Creator and Ruler of the universe ; Blended with that variety, what mutual relation and dependence! The head, the hands, the feet ; the parts which are more noble, and those which are more dishonourable, forming one regular, harmonious body where there is nothing redundant, nothing deficient. Every thing has its use, every thing has its end. Shade imperceptibly softens into shade ; light imperceptibly brightens into light. The transitions are so sweet and gradual, that the eye is never offended, nor orerwhelmed. It is the same thing in the body social and politic. Every one stands in need of another. The prince and the peasant meet in a certain point. How many things have they in common! How many things to interest and attract each other!
“ Look but to that field. The persons are few; and the conditions much fewer. But even there I see the order, the subordination which Providence has established through the whole extent of the vast universe. There walks the dignified, respectable proprietor of the land, who can trace his title to possession through many generations; exulting in hereditary wealth and honours, without arrogance, vanity or insensibility. Boaz, a prince in his tribe, but a plain man, who knows that he derives his subsistence from the bosom of the earth, who disdains not to mingle with his menial servants, to sit down to a participation of their homely fare, to dip his morsel in the same vinegar, and to lie down to sleep all night in the threshing-floor.
"There the servant who is set over the reapers stirs from ridge to ridge, from company to company, the bond of union between the master and the labourers. Behold him as the trusted humble friend of Boaz, repaying confidence with fidelity ; praising the industrious, encouraging the faint, chiding the careless, stimulating the slow. As the sympathizing friend of his less favoured fellow-servants, recollecting how lately he emerged from the same obscurity and subjection, excusing the frailty of nature, covering the faults of thoughtlessness, administering reproof and chastisement with lenity and moderation, bestowing commendation with cheerfulness and cordiality.
“ As we descend, a new station, a new character rises into view, the glory and the strength of every land under heaven, the poor, the honest, the manly, the virtuous, the useful, the important part of the community. Not they who handle the harp and the organ, but they who put their hands to the plough and to the sickle. There they toil, there they sweat, there they sing ; there they beguile the fatigues of the day in innocent mirth, and untutored, artless, guileless, unmalignant conversation ; and purchase and sweeten the repose of the night, with unoppressive industry, with friendly communication, and pious, unaspiring submission to the pains, the privations, the necessities of their lowly estate.
" These constitute the numerous, the great and good class of our fellowcreatures ; who shine in the eye of reason, of patriotism, of philosophy, of religion. They stand not forth the prominent figures in the piece, but their number, their equality, their want of characteristic distinction, confer upon them the greater value.
“ But ah, there is beneath them, a subordinate rank, which awakens all that is human in us. They have health and strength and will to labour; their reward is sure ; they support the heat and toil of the day, with the sweet assurance that the thickening shades, that the twelfth hour will bring with them the payment of their hire, the means of subsistence, of domestic joy, of regulated gratification. But look into the back ground of the piece, and observe that female, that stranger, that orphan, and her a widow; to work unable, to beg ashamed. She has seen better days. Time was, the wind of heaven was not permitted to visit her face too roughly; she was waited upon, and ministered unto; now she is become the scorn of clowns; or lower still, their pity. Where is the lowness of condition, from whence it is not possible still to fall! Be what thou wilt, О man, there are some looking up to thee with envy and desire; be what thou wilt, there is still cause to say, “ God, I thank thee, I am not as other men.”
“ But observe, my young friend," continues our philosophical monitor," all these gradations, and infinitely more than can be pointed out, are links in the great chain of human existence; tear one asunder, and the concussion is felt through the whole. The gleaner, the reaper, the overseer, the master of the household are so many successive steps in the same scale; the most distant not very remote ; the near hardly distinguishable; all are reduced to the same level before Him, who says to Gabriel, Go, and he goeth, and to the sparrow hovering on the wing, Fall to the ground, and instantly he drops. And again, young man void of understanding, observe, and observe it well, and lay it up in thine heart, how near the extremes of human condition are to one another! the gleaner after the reapers, is but a step or two from the possession of the whole. Wait but a few days, and she who is liable to be insulted, at best pitied, shall be; in her turn, caressed, flattered, submitted to: and learn, from the whole, the folly of being insolent, self-conceited, or unkind, unsocial or uncomplying, when the sun of prosperity shineth upon thy tabernacle; or of being discontented, dejected, careless or mean, when the common ills of humanity overtake thee. The poor inflated creature, who like another Nabuchadnezzar talks in loud swelling words of vanity, of the great Babylon which he has built, I once knew a cringing minion, ready to lick the dust from the feet of the man whom he now struts by as if he were a stranger. That poor boy whom he disdains to set with the dogs of his flock, is evidently rising into consequence, which is one day to eclipse all the tawdry honours of upstart gentility, and self-assumed importance. My son, derive thy greatness from thyself, from wisdom, from virtue. Take care to adorn thy station, thy possessions, by native goodness. Pitiable indeed is thy condition, if rank, or affluence, or even talents, serve only to render thy folly or profligacy more conspicuous.”
IV. Once more, let me suppose a man of genuine piety contemplating the interesting scene before us, and entering with wonder and delight into the plans of the Eternal Mind. His meditations will flow in still a different chanbel, he will view the same object through still a different medium. - Behold," will he say, “ how sweet is the smell of a field which Jehovah hath blessed!
happy Boaz, rich in lands, and in corn, rich in man-servants and maid-servants, rich in the dutiful and affectionate attachment of thy people, rich in thine own integrity and composure of spirit: but richer far in the favour and approbation of the Almighty : the blessing of the Lord it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow therewith. Happy family, thus dwelling together in unity ; where love is the governing principle, where the fear of God sweetly expresses itself in un feigned benevolence to man ! How can that house but prosper, where religion has established her throne ? Look at that happy plain over which the bountiful haud of nature has spread her rich exuberance. The Lord maketh that wealth. Behold the patriarchal master : the meanest slave he treats like a child i hearken, the voice of peace and benediction dwells on his lips, distils like the dew. Behold the way to be loved and respected by inferiours. Be to them an ensample of piety, of purity, of charity ; bind them to you with cords of love ; sweet and faithful, cheerful and efficient is the service of affection. These men will yield obedience not for wrath only, but for conscience sake; their heart is in their work; they need no overseer ; they will neither be negligent nor dishonest : they know that the eye of God is continually upon them; they know that the interest of the master is their own.
“How happily religion adapts its influence to every relation and condition of life! How it guards the heart alike from foolish pride and impious discontent, at what bounty has bestowed, or wisdom denied! How it humanizes, dignifies, exalts the soul! How it enforces, extends and refines the maxims of worldly prudence! How it illustrates, binds, and enlivens the precepts of morality! How it amplifies, expands, regulates, brightens the views of philosophy ; referring every thing to God, deriving all from him, carrying all back to him again! Oman, till thou hast founded thy domestic economy in religion, thou hast not begun to keep house. Let thy possessions be ever so fair, ever so extensive, they want their principal charm, their highest excellence, till the blessing of Heaven be asked and obtained.
“Mark yet again, how a good man's footsteps are all ordered of the Lord. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Boaz came forth with no farther view than to see the progress of his harvest, to salute his servants, and to cheer their labour by his presence and approving smiles ; but lo, Providence has been preparing for him a more enlarged view, has enriched his field with a nobler portion than he had any apprehension of. Thy ways, my King and my God, thy ways are in the sea, and thy path in the deep waters, and thy judgements are unsearchable. The great God is working unseen, unnoticed. He is preparing his instruments at a distance, arranging his agents in the dark. Unseen to, unknown by one another, without concert or design, they come forth at the moment, they perform the part assigned them; they speak and act in perfect unison, they accomplish the purpose of the Eternal. Boaz and Ruth, behold them together in the field, remote as penury and fulness, as obscurity and celebrity, as dependence and being depended upon. Nevertheless they meet, and Heaven from above, crowns the hallowed union with her olive."
But might not the pious spirit annex a caution to his exhortation on this subject. “Beware of taking the name of the Lord thy God in vain : for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who taketh his name in vain. Holy and reverend is his name. Even in blessing it is to be used solemnly, piously, sparingly: who then shall dare to employ it wantonly, needlessly, profanely, impiously, blasphemously? Who shall presume to abuse it, in swearing falsely by it, or in imprecating a curse under that dreadful sanction upon the head of his brother? Avert, merciful Heaven, avert from my guilty, heavy-laden