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never-failing inconveniency of inconsiderable places. Where there is abundance of idleness, abundance of illnature, every man is a spy upon his neighbour, every one is at leisure to attend to the affairs of another, because he is but half occupied by his own. We have here enough of inquiry, enough of wonder, but not a single word of compassion, of kindness, of hospitality; and Naomi might have gone without a roof to shelter her head, or a morsel of bread to sustain sinking nature, but for the industry and attachment of her amiable daughter-in-law !
Base, unfeeling world, that can feast itself on the orphan's tears and the widow's sorrow! See, there they are, every one from his own business, or rather his own idleness, to stare and talk a wretched woman out of countenance; the whisper goes round, the finger points, the scandal of ten years standing is revived, and a new colouring is given to it. Affected pity and real indifference wound the heart which God himself has just bruised; whose husband and children he has taken to himself. The wretched mourner seems to feel it; she bursts into an agony of grief, and thus vents the bitterness of her soul, "Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?"* What simple, but what forcible language the heart speaks! She dwells on the minute circumstances of her case, takes up her own name as a theme of woe, changes the fond appellation of parental affection, of parental hope, Naomi, on which Providence had poured out the wormwood and gall of disappointment, into one better adapted to her tragical history. The past presents nothing but happiness passed away as a shadow; rank, and opulence, and importance gone, gone, never to return. The future spreads a gloom unirradiated by a single gleam of hope. She apprehends no change of things, but the oppressive change from evil to worse.
But yet her misery admits of alleviation. It comes from God, she sees the hand of a Father in her affliction, she kisses the rod, and commands the soul to peace. To endure distress the fruit of our own folly, to suffer from the pride, cruelty and carelessness of a man like ourselves, is grievous, is unsupportable, it drinks up our spirits. But the evil that comes immediately from God has its own antidote blended into its substance; we drink the poison and the medicine from the same chalice, and at the same instant; the one destroys the effect of the other; their joint operation is salutary, is lifegiving, not deadly. Was that the voice of God which I heard? Spake it not in thunder? Said it not, "Take now thy son, thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him for a burnt-offering?" It is well; it was the voice of God, and that is enough. I will offer up the sacrifice, I will surrender my dearest delight, I cannot tell how the promise is to be accomplished, consistently with my obedience and submission, but the command and the promise proceed from the same lips; I leave all to him.
From all that we see, Naomi had slender motives, and poor encouragement, to return to her own country; we cannot tell what determined her resolution; it might be a little fit of female impatience, occasioned by some piece of Moabitish insolence or unkindness; it might be the mere restlessness of a mind ill at ease, grasping at the shadow of felicity merely from change of place; it might be the ardent desire of home, of the scenes of childish simplicity, innocence and joy, which in certain circumstances all men feel, and by which the conduct of all is, to a certain degree, regulated. Whatever it were it came from above, it was overruled of infinite wisdom, it was, unknown to
*Ruth i, 20, 21.
itself, acting in subserviency to a most important event: and it is thus, that little, unnoticed, unknown powers, put the great machine in motion, produce effects that astonish, and delight, and bless mankind.
The same all-ruling Providence is conspicuous in determining the season of Naomi's return. On this hinged all the mighty consequences of Ruth's acquaintance and connexion with Boaz-the birth of kings, the transmission of empire, the accomplishment of ancient prophecy, the hopes of the human race. Had this apparently unconsequential journey been accelerated, been retarded, a month, a week, a single day, the parties might never have met. Contingent to men, it was foreseen, fixt, disposed and matured by Him, "who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working."
Every one observes and records the great incidents of his life. But would you, O man, have rational pleasure, blended with useful instruction, attend to little things, trace matters of highest moment up to their source; and behold thy fate stand quivering on a needle's point; and a colour given to thy whole future life, thy eternal state fixed, by a reed shaken with the wind, by an accidental concurrence which thou wert neither seeking nor avoiding; and rejoice to think that all things are under the direction of unerring wisdom, of all-subduing mercy; are working together for good."
Does this teach a lesson of levity and inconsideration? Darest thou to trifle with thy everlasting concerns because there is a God who ruleth and judgeth in the earth, who doth all things after the counsel of his own will? God forbid. Presumptuously to lead the decrees of Providence, impiously to resist them, or timidly to draw back, are equally offensive to a righteous, a holy and wise God.
We have seen the unhappy Naomi stripped of almost every earthly good; husband, children, friends, means, country, comfort; it is the dark midnight hour with her. No, there is one little lamp left burning, to dissipate the gloom, to prevent despair-the sacred flame of virtuous friendship. No, the sun of righteousness is hasting to the brightness of his arising. The name after all was propitious and prophetic; God brings it about in his own way, and it is "wondrous in our eyes."
The continuation of this story will carry us on to the contemplation of scenes of rural simplicity, for the enjoyment of which, grandeur might well relinquish its pride, and pomp its vanity and vexation of spirit, and rejoice in the exchange. Let us meanwhile pause and reflect on the history of Naomi as administering useful instruction.
1st. As an admonition never to despair. God frequently brings his people to that mournful spectacle, hope expiring, that he may have the undivided honour of reviving it again, and may be acknowledged as the one pure and perennial fountain of light, and life, and joy. The condition of Jacob, of Joseph, of Naomi, all preach one and the same doctrine; all proclaim that the time of man's extremity is God's opportunity.
2dly. Let us call, let us reckon nothing mean or contemptible which God employs, or may be pleased to employ, in his service. The notice of the King of kings impresses dignity and importance, confers true nobility on the low-born child, the beggar, the outcast, the slave. On them all he has stamped his own image; and their present and every future condition is the work of his providence. "It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish ;" and if destined to salvation, to what worldly distinction may they not aspire, may they not arrive? Carefully mark the progress of children: study the bent of their dispositions, of their talents; endeavour to put them in the train which nature and Providence seem to have pointed out attend to what constitutes their real consequence in life, and leave the issue to Him who governs all events.
3dly. Observe how the great Ruler of the universe contrasts and connects great things with small, that he may humble the pride of man, and expose the nothingness of the glory of this world. That forlorn gleaner, and Boaz the wealthy; the exile from Moab, and the resident possessor of the fertile plains of Bethlehem-Judah, seem wonderfully remote from each other. Their condition is as opposite as human life can well present: but in the eye of Heaven they are already one. She is but a single step from being lady of the harvest which she gleans, "an help meet" for its lord, and the sovereign mistress of those servants at whose aspect she now trembles, the meanest of whom she now looks up to as her superiour. Childless and a widow, her family, her own children are but three steps from a throne-the throne of Judah and Israel; and in the purpose of the Eternal "the fulness of time" is hastening to exhibit to an astonished world, in the person of this woman's seed "that Prince of peace, of the increase of whose government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgement and with justice, from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will perform this." The period is approaching, men and brethren, when Bethlehem-Judah shall display greater wonders, contrasts more confounding than these. The time is at hand, when another forlorn damsel of the same race, and her outcast babe shall appear in contrast with all that is stupendous, striking, formidable, venerable in heaven and earth, shall rise above all, give laws to all, eclipse all. Behold that "babe lying in a manger, in a stable, because there is no room for him in the inn," controlling the counsels of Augustus, the mighty master of the world; behold him drawing princes and wise men from the east, with treasures of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh, to his feet. Behold the face of heaven irradiated, enriched with a new star, to mark the way which led to his cradle: while a multitude of the heavenly host announce in rapturous strains the birth of the lowly infant. Behold "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” “ of no reputation ;"" in the form of a servant;"" numbered with transgressors;' "obedient to death, even the death of the cross." Behold him " highly exalted;""leading captivity captive;" "all the angels of God worshipping him; invested with "a name that is above every name ;"" crowned with glory and honour;" "coming in the clouds of heaven!" To him let my knee bow, and my tongue confess. "His name shall endure forever; his name shall be continued as long as the sun and men shall be blessed in him; all nations shall call him blessed. Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doth wondrous things. And blessed be his glorious name forever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and amen.”*
4thly. In the adoption of Ruth into the church of God, and "the commonwealth of Israel," we have another dawning ray of hope arising upon the Gentile nations. The tide is beginning imperceptibly to rise and swell, which shall at length become an overflowing ocean. "In that seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." That stranger shall be employed in bringing forward the mighty plan to maturity. "Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands to God." They shall come from the east and from the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven." Verily God is no respecter of persons.
* Psal. lxxii. 17-19,
HISTORY OF RUTH.
RUTH II. 1, 2, 3.
And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man of wealth, of the family. of Elimeleck} and his name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter. And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech.
PROVIDENCE has graciously annexed to honest industry, both respectability and happiness. The purest and most delicious enjoyment that human life admits of, perhaps, is, when a man sits down with those whom he loves, to the temperate indulgence of that refreshment and repose which he has just earned and sweetened with his labour. The greatest, and wisest, and best of men, are ever presented to us, as engaged in virtuous employment and exertion; as deriving health, subsistence, reputation and comfort from the exercise, not the inactivity of their bodily and mental powers: and happily the scenes, in which every man is conversant, seem to him the most interesting of all, his own station the most eminent or useful, his own pursuits the most important. Hence a certain degree of self-complacency, of self-satisfaction pervades the whole; every one is acting in his own sphere; while infinite wisdom binds all together by invisible or unnoticed bands, and the various members, without knowledge or design, cooperate for the common benefit, and fulfil the great design of Heaven.
Idleness is not more dishonourable, than is inimical to real felicity. The sluggard at once defeats the purpose of his Maker, and destroys his own peace; and what was denounced against man as a punishment, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread," like every other punishment that comes from above, is converted into a blessing; and, as in every other case, the great God is just and merciful at once; just, in imposing on the fallen creature the necessity of labouring; merciful, in rendering the fruit of it so sweet.
But can the inhabitants of a great, commercial, polished city find either amusement or instruction in contemplating the rude and simple manners of ancient times; in listening to the history of the inglorious toils of the husbandman; in tracing the operations of an art, the very terms of which they do not understand; in observing the mean employments of poverty and wretchedness which they only pity or despise ? Whether they can derive amusement, or instruction, from such things as these, or not, may not courtly pride be admonished in behalf of the lowly, rustic sons of want and industry, in the words of two sweet singing bards of our own country.
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 distress 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.