« 上一頁繼續 »
the latter end is better than the beginning; behold good arising out of evil ; the designs of the Most High hastening to their accomplishment, All is of the Lord of Hosts, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working."
The reflections of the Moabitess may be supposed to run in this channel. “What a blessing for me that I ever became united to an Israelitish family, whatever pangs it may other ways have cost me! But for this I should have been, like my fathers, a worshipper of stocks and stones, the work of men's hands; a stranger to rational piety, to inward peace! Happy loss, which procured for me this unspeakably great gain : propitious poverty, which sent, which drove me out in quest of treasures inestimable; blessed exile, which conducted me to a habitation under the wings of the Almighty! What real gain is true godliness! It has more than the promise, it has the enjoyment of the life that now is. Mysterious Providence, that directed my doubtful, trembling steps to glean in that field, that has in a few short weeks made such a change in my condition, that has raised me from the lowest, meanest, most forlorn of dependants, to the highest state of affluence, ease and respectability; and transplanted me from the vast howling deserts of idolatry and ignorance, to the fair and fertile regions of knowledge, of purity, of hope and joy! To comfort and maintain a mother like Naomi, to find such a friend and husband as Boaz! It is life from the dead. It is of that God who has taught me to know, and to choose him as my God, and who will never fail nor forsake them who put their, trust in him.”
Boaz too finds his situation greatly improved, rejoices and gives God thanks. My wealth was great, my garners full, my man servants and maidens numerous, dutiful and affectionate, but I had no one to share my prosperity with me, I was solitary in the midst of a multitude : like Adam in Paradise, incapable of enjoyment, because destitute of a companion, an help meet for me; but God hath provided for me a virtuous woman, whose price is above rubies. My house has now received its brightest ornament, my family its firmest support, my estate its most prudent and faithful dispenser. I have done my duty. I have respected the majesty of the law. I have followed where Providence led the way, and I have found my reward, in the peace of my own mind, in the possession of a wise and good woman, in the blessing of that God who has done all things for me, and who does all things wisely and well."
Behold a match formed immediately by the hand of Providence, through the happy concurrence of little incidental circumstances; a match built, not on the brittle foundation of sordid interest, but on the solid basis of mutual affection, of generosity, of wisdom, of religion ; a match pregnant with what consequences to Bethlehem-Judah, to all Israel, to the human race !
From this advantage of ground, how pleasant it is to trace the sweetly meandering course of the river of prophecy and promise united, toward the vast the immeasurable ocean of accomplishment. Now the tribe of Judah is rising into consequence, now the royal sceptre is ready to be put into his hand, never to depart thence “ till Shiloh come, of the increase of whose government and peace there shall be no end : to whom the gathering of the people shall be.” Now the star of Jacob begins to appear. Now the “ tender plant" begins to rear its head, and the “root out of the dry ground to spring up; it buds and blossoms as the rose, and its smell is as the smell of Lebanon.'
But what eye can discover, what created spirit take in the whole extent of “God's purpose and grace given in Christ Jesus before the world began,” and terminating in the final and everlasting redemption of a lost world, through faith in his blood ? The veil of eternity is drawn over it; “ Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."* 6 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”+
* 1 Cor. ii. 9.
The history of Ruth, will be brought to a period next Lord's day.
You see, men and brethren, the object which is closely kept in view, through every era of time, under all dispensations, and by whatever instruments. The work of God cannot stand still, his purpose cannot be defeated. One generation of men goeth and another cometh, but every succeeding generation contributes to the furtherance of his design; and, whether knowingly or ignorantly, voluntarily or reluctantly, all fulfil his pleasure.
None are forsaken of Providence, but such as are false to themselves, and till we have done what is incumbent upon us, we have neither warrant nor encouragement to look up and wish, to expect and pray.
Nothing is dishonourable, but what is sinful : poverty that is not the effect of idleness, prodigality or vice, has nothing shameful in it; the gleaner behind the reapers may be as truly dignified as the lord of the harvest. Let lordly wealth cease from pride, and virtuous obscurity and indigence from dejection and despair.
Waste not time, spirits and thought in airy speculation about imaginary situations, but try to make the most of that in which infinite wisdom has seen meet to place thee.
Disdain to envy any one, at least until thou hast thoroughly examined into the estate of him whom thou art disposed to envy.
He is destitute of the happiest preparation for the relish and enjoyment of prosperity, who has not arrived at it through the path of adversity. To receive with thankfulness, to enjoy with moderation, to resign with cheerfulness, to endure with patience, is the highest pitch of human virtue.
Men are often fulfilling a plan of Providence, without intending, or even being conscious of it. They are acting a double part at the same instant; the one private and personal, local and transitory, the other public, comprehensive and permanent: they may be building up at once a private family, and the church of God, carrying on and maintaining the succession to an inheritance, to a throne, and ministering to the extension and progress of a kingdom which shall never be moved or shaken.
In the kingdom of nature, there is high and low, mountain and valley, sameness with diversity: in the kingdom of Providence, there is difference of rank and station, of talent and accomplishment, of fortune and success, but a mutual and necessary connexion and dependence. In the kingdom of grace, there is diversity of gifts and offices, but the same Spirit; and so in the kingdom of glory, different degrees of lustre, as stars differ one from another, but one universal glory, of which all the redeemed are together partakers, all being kings and priests unto God. Throughout the whole, there is a gradation which at once pleases and confounds, that depresses and exalts, that inspires contentment and teaches to aspire, that now attracts to the pure fountain of uncreated light, and now repels the bold inquirer to his native darkness and distance again.
Is it pleasant to survey from the exceeding high mountain, where the christian tabernacle is pitched, the course of that river whose streams make glad the city of our God? What will it be, from the summit of yonder eternal hills, to contemplate the whole extent of Emanuels land, “ watered with the pure river of water of life ;" to mingle with the nations of them that are saved, as they expatiate through the blissful groves, planted with the tree of life: to converse with the distinguished personages who shine on this hallowed
page, and shall then shine in immortal lustre ; to reap with Boaz a richer harvest than ever waved on the plains of Bethlehem-Judah; to assist Naomi in raising her triumphant song of praise; and to rejoice with Ruth, and with one another, in our joint reception into God's everlasting kingdom, in our common admission into “ the general assembly and church of the first-born." Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of our God. We have heard of them with the hearing of the ear, may our eyes be blessed with the sight of them. May “the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne lead us to living fountains of waters, and God wipe away all tears from our eyes.” " Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
HISTORY OF RUTH.
RUTH IV. 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.
So Boaz look Ruth, and she was his wife : and when he went in unto her, the Lord
concep tion, and she bare a son And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the Lord, which hath not left ihee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel. And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age. For thy daughter-in-law, which loveth thee, which is beiter to thee than seven sons, hath borne him. And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her hosom, and became nurse unto it. And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi, and they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.
There is an obvious resemblance between the general plan of the divine providence, and the separate and detached parts of it. "The life of almost every good man exhibits virtue for a season struggling with difficulty, overwhelmed with distress, but emerging, rising, triumphing at length. Through much tribulation the christian must enter into the kingdom of God, and on his way be often in heaviness through manifold temptations. It is the wise ordinance of infinite goodness. Opposition rouses, calls forth the latent powers of the soul; success is heightened by the danger to which we were exposed, by the trouble which it cost us, by the pains we took; antecedent Jabour sweetens rest. Hence, the passages of our own lives which we most fondly recollect and relate, and those in the lives of others which most deeply engage and interest us, are the scenes of depression, mortification and pain through which we have passed. The perils of a battle, the horrors of a shipwreck, so dreadful at the moment, become the source of lasting joy, when the tempest has ceased to roar, and the confused noise of the warrior is hushed into silence.
Fiction, in order to please, is, accordingly, forced to borrow the garb of truth. The hero's sufferings, the lover's solicitude and uncertainty, the parent's anguish, the patriot's conflict, are the subject of the drama. When the ship has reached her desired haven, when the cloud disperses, when the contest is decided, the curtain must drop. Periods of prosperity cannot be the theme of history.
The vast, general system, in like manner, exhibits "the whole creation groaning and travailing in pain together :" interest clashing with interest, spirit rising up against spirit, one purpose defeating another, universal nature apparently on the verge of confusion; chaos and ancient night threatening to resume their empire : but without knowledge, design or cooperation, nay, in defiance of concert and cooperation, the whole is making a regular, steady progress; the muddy stream is working itself pure; the discordant mass is bound as in chains of adamant, the wrath of man is praising God ; every succeeding era and event is explaining and confirming that which preceded it; all is tending towards one grand consummation which shall collect, adjust, unite and crown the scattered parts, and demonstrate, to the conviction of every intelligent being, that all was, is, and shall be very good.
Finite capacity can contemplate, and comprehend but a few fragments at most : and scripture has furnished us with a most delicious one, in the little history, of which I have now read the conclusion. The story of Ruth has been considered, by every reader of taste, as a perfect model in that species of composition. It will stand the test of the most rigid criticism, or rather, is calculated to give instruction and law to criticism. With your patience I will attempt a brief analysis of it.
Ist. The subject is great and important beyond all that heathen antiquity presents: the foundation and establishment of the regal dignity in the house of David, the type and ancestor of the Messiah. An event in which not one age, one nation, one interest is concerned, but the whole extent of time, the whole human race, the temporal, the spiritual, the everlasting interests of mankind. What is the demolition of Troy, or the settlement of Æneas in Latium, compared to this ? Paradise Lost, itself, must give place to this glorious opening of Paradise Regained.
2d. The story is perfect and complete in itself; or, as the critic would say, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Elimelech is driven by famine into banishment, dies in the land of Moab, and leaves his family in distress. Here the action commences. Naomi and Ruth, united by propinquity, by affection and by distress, are induced to return to Bethlehem-Judah, in hope of effecting a redemption of the estate which had belonged to the family, but under the pressure of necessity had been alienated. Their reception, deportment, and progress, form the great body of the piece. The marriage of Boaz and Ruth, and the birth of Obed is the conclusion of it.
3d. The conduct of the plot is simple, natural and easy. No extraneous matter, personage, or event is introduced, from first to last : the incidents follow, and arise out of one another, without force, without effort. No extraordinary agency appears, because none is requisite; the ordinary powers of nature, and the ordinary course of things, are adequate to the effect intended to be produced. There is no violent or sudden transition, but a calm, rational, progressive change from deep sorrow to moderated affliction, to composed resignation, to budding hope, to dawning prosperity, to solicitous prosecution, to partial success, to final and full attainment.
The discovery of Ruth, of her character, of her virtues, of her relation to Boaz, is in the same happy style of natural simplicity and ease. On her part we see no indecent eagerness to bring herself forward, no clamourous publication of her distresses or pretensions, no affected disguise or concealment to attract observation or provoke inquiry : on his, there is no vehemence of exclamation, no hastiness of resolution ; but in both, the calmness of good minds, the satisfaction which conscious virtue enjoys, in the unexpected discovery of mutual attractions and kindred worth. The situations are interesting, affecting, governed by the laws of nature and probability, and consonant to every day's experience.
4th. The sentiments are just, arising out of the situations, adapted to the
characters, guarded equally from apathy and violence. The pathetic expostulation of Ruth with her mother-in-law, when she proposed a separation, is in particular, a masterpiece of native eloquence : at hearing it, the heart is melted into tenderness, the tear of sympathy rushes to the eye, nature feels and acknowledges the triumph of virtue. The sentiment of impassioned sorrow glows with equal vehemence on the lips of Naomi, and excite in the bosom of sensibility, pity mingled with respect. In Boaz we praise and admire upostentatious generosity, dignified condescension, honest, undisguised affection, a sense of impartial, inflexible, undeviating justice.
5th. The characters are nicely discriminated, boldly designed, and uniformly supported. The grief of Naomi is verbose, impetuous and penetrating; that of Ruth calm, silent, melting, modest. The plans of the mother are sagacious, comprehensive; the result of reflection, of experience; they indicate skill, ability, resolution, perseverance. Those of the daughter are artless, innocent; the suggestion of the moment, the effusion of the heart; indicate candour, sincerity, conscious, unblushing, unsuspecting rectitude.
In Boaz the struggle between inclination, propriety, prudence and justice is happily designed, and forcibly executed : it is a painting from nature, and therefore cannot fail to please. His openness and fair dealing also, as was observed in a former Lecture, are finely contrasted with the selfishness, insincerity and unsteadiness of the nearer kinsman.
The character of the servant who was over the reapers, though we have but a slight sketch of it, discovers the hand of a master, the hand of truth and nature.
We see in it, the beautiful and interesting portrait of unabashed, unassuming inferiority, of authority undisfigured by insolence or severity, the happy medium between power and dependence, the link in the scale of society which connects the wealthy lord with the honest labourer, the friend and companion of both.
The rest of the characters are classed in groups, but discover a characteristic and decided distinction. We have the inquisitiveness, curiosity, hardheartedness and indifference of an idle provincial town; the good-nature, hospitality, candour and cheerfulness of the country.
The compliments of congratulation presented to Boaz, on his marriage, and those addressed to Naomi on the birth of her grandson, clearly evince the different train of thought and feeling which dictated them, and mark beyond the possibility of mistake the sex and sentiment of the addressors. In a word, the ideas expressed by the several characters in this sacred drama, are so peculiarly their own, that no reader of ordinary discernment needs to be told, who it is that speaks : the sentiments cannot possibly be traņsferred from one to another.
6th. The manners are delineated with the same felicity of pencil. We have a faithful representation of those that are permanent and founded in nature: and of those which are local and temporary. When I observe these Bethlehemites flocking round the old woman and her outlandish daughter, plying them and one another with questions, circulating the leer and the whisper, I could suppose myself in one of the gossiping villages which surround this metropolis, whose inhabitants feed on rumour, exercise no principle but curiosity, employ no member but the tongue, or the feet, in hunting after the materials for that employment. In the innocent festivity, the uncomplaining toil, the contented simplicity, the unaffected benevolence, the unprofessing piety of that field of reapers, I have mingled a thousand and a thousand times. It was the delight of childhood, it is the unpainful, the undepressing retrospect of age.
We have a representation equally faithful and just of customs and manners which are local and temporary ; some of which excite our astonishment, some