« 上一頁繼續 »
shock our delicacy, and some provoke our mirth. Such are the modes of courtship here described, the transfer of property, the forms of judicial procedure, the terms of familiar address and friendly communication: and the like. These, having no intrinsic moral excellence or turpitude, are the object of neither praise nor censure. To trace their origin, or explain their nature and design, may be an innocent amusement, but it were unjust to explode them as absurd, or to run them down as ridiculous. The antiquarian will revere them for their age, the philosopher will investigate them as opening a new path to the knowledge of the human heart, the philanthropist will deal with them gently, because they are the harmless peculiarities of his fellow-creatures, and piety will respect them as presenting another view of the endless variety discoverable in all the ways and works of the great Creator.
In the permanent manners of mankind we see the eternal sameness of the human mind, which no change of climate, times, government, education can alter; a sameness as discernible and as fixed as the number of eyes, arms and fingers peculiar to the species. In those which are local and transient, we behold the infinite and endless variety of the human powers, which no stability and uniformity of law, instruction, discipline, interest, example, can arrest and fix; a variety as discernible, as unsteady, as unaccountable, as the different shades of complexion, the conformation of feature, the measurements of stature, the fluctuations of thought. Every thing satisfies, every thing confounds.
Once more, the language of this charming little epic history is plain and perspicuous, elegant yet unadorned, nervous yet chaste, simple yet not mean or vulgar. It consists of narration and dialogue, the former possessing the most exquisite degree of grace and ease, the latter of vivacity and force. There is no obscurity of idea, no redundancy of expression, no appearance of labour, no artful polish, no tinsel of words, no disgusting tediousness, no affected conciseness. Like the general code of scripture, it is capable of neither increase nor diminution, without sustaining an injury.
But the least merit of the piece is its excellency as a composition. It forms a most material member of the great building of God, an important link in the chain of Providence, an interesting and instructive chapter in the history of redemption. The union of Boaz and Ruth can never lose its influence, never spend its force. When nature expires, and all these things are dissolved, the offspring of that pair" shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and as the stars forever and ever." From that root behold a branch has arisen, to which "the nations of them that are saved" continually resort, under whose shadow they repose, whose fruit is the source and support of a divine life, whose "leaves are for the healing of the nations." Let the Jew read this sacred page, and glory in his ancestry; let the scholar read it, and improve his taste, and extend his knowledge; let the rustic read it, and prize his humble pursuits and innocent delights; let the sons of poverty and the daughters of affliction read it, and cease from despair, let them learn to “trust in the Lord, and to do good; let the christian read it, and "hold fast the beginning of his confidence," and "rejoice in hope of the glory of God."
The last obvious remark on the history, sorry I am to say it, is not highly honourable to human nature. While Naomi was poor, and friendless, and forlorn, she met with little sympathy, with little countenance; she was permitted to depend for subsistence on the miserable, unproductive industry of a woman weak and wretched as herself; but no sooner is she connected with "a mighty man of wealth," become a mother to Boaz, than the whole city is seeking to her; her own sex, in particular, we see entering into all her feelings, flattering all her natural propensities, accommodating themselves to her
little wishes and desires, and trying to compensate their former coldness and neglect by every art of attention, officiousness and zeal. Base spirit! base world! Behold kindness pressed upon a man, just in proportion as he has no need of it; behold him oppressed with new friends, because he has already got too many, caressed by those who lately knew him not, praised and flattered to his face, by the very tongues which maligned and censured him in his absence. But that man is left to continue poor, because he is poor. He finds no support because he wants it, he stands unbefriended because he has no friend. Shame on the fawning sycophants that only flutter about in fair weather, that only frequent the mansions of the rich and great, that turn with the tide, that can despise ragged poverty, and offer incense to ermined villainy.
Let us turn with contempt from the sight, and take a last parting look of one of the worthiest, best, happiest of human beings-Naomi nursing and cherishing her little grandson in her bosom. If there be bliss on earth, she enjoyed it. Her honest scheme had succeeded, the name of her beloved husband was revived, and his house begun to be built up; her amiable and beloved daughter was nobly rewarded for her tenderness and attachment; the inheritance of Elimelech is redeemed, and reverted to its proper channel; the wisdom and goodness of Providence are fully justified, and a prospect of felicity and honour is opened which knew no bounds. The miseries of a whole life are done away in one hour, converted into blessings, blessings heightened and improved by the memory of past woes; the name of Mara is forever obliterated, and the original, the suitable, the prophetic name of Naomi restored and confirmed. The sensibilities of a Grandmother are peculiarly pure and delicate respecting infant offspring. All good women are fond of children, to whomsoever they belong, how much more of their own whom they bare with sorrow, and have brought up with solicitude: but "that I should live to see my child's child, my being multiplied; dropping into the grave, yet reviving in that infant. I feel myself immortal; this babe will live to put his hand upon my eyes, and then I shall not feel the oppression of death; if he survive I cannot all die." "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation."
The Spirit of God has drawn a veil over the feelings of the mother herself, and the expression of them, and left it to the imagination to figure the felicity of Ruth the widow of Mahlon, the daughter of Naomi, the wife of Boaz, the mother of Obed, in surveying the changes of her life, in comparing what she was with what she is.
-And thus have we finished what was intended, in discoursing on the book of Ruth. We have considered it, as a beautiful, because natural representation of human life; as a curious and interesting detail of important facts; and as an essential, constituent part of the plan of redemption. It happily connects the history of the Israelitish judges with that of their kings, and is obviously blended with both and while it demonstrates the care of Providence, in fulfilling the promises made to Abraham, the friend of God, in prolonging his race, in multiplying his seed, in making kings to arise out of him, it unfolds the more enlarged and comprehensive purpose of the eternal Mind; it points directly forward to that "seed in whom all the families of the earth shall be blessed ;" it shews the subserviency of all that preceded, to the evangelical dispensation; it breathes good-will to men. The reception of Ruth, a Gentile, within the pale of the church of the living God; her advancement to honour, her participation of the privileges of a mother in Israel, are a happy prefiguration of the admission of the whole Gentile world within the bond of God's covenant. We see the work of God still going forward and prospering; the work of mercy enlarging, extending its sphere; all
bending forward to that grand consummation, when "Israel too shall be saved," and the ancient people of God brought into a communication of the blessings of the gospel, together with "the fulness of the Gentile nations;" when there shall be "one shepherd and one sheepfold;" when Jew and Gentile shall arise together from the dead, because "Christ doth give them life."
The birth of Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David, brings the history of the world down to the year two thousand six hundred and ninetyseven, from the creation, and before Christ one thousand three hundred and seven, and conducts us to the eve of the establishment of kingly power in Israel.
How many generations of men have passed in review before us, in the course of these few years evening exercises from Adam down to Boaz! What changes has the audience undergone, since first it collected in this view! What deep and affecting changes will a few more seasons produce! The turning of the page will present a new preacher, new hearers, a different plan, a different arrangement, different interests, different feelings. The separation of this night may be final and permanent. We bend together, gracious God, with wonder and gratitude before thy throne. Spared together so many years longer, "cumberers of the ground" that we are; our bodies preserved in health, our minds in tranquillity; blessed with friendship, blest with sufficiency, blest with the means of improvement, blest with hope! Ah, we are unworthy of the least of thy favours, and we have been distinguished by the choicest and best! Make us to feel thy goodness and our own unworthiness; help us to live more to thy glory. As our interest in the world diminishes, as years increase, as grey hairs multiply, as friends depart, as comforts fail, as eternity advances, let our faith strengthen, let our spirits rise to thee, let our prospects brighten, let our ardour after immortality kindle. The nearer we approach to thee, let our resemblance to thee become more apparent; let the spirit of heaven, the spirit of the blessed Jesus, be imparted to us, that, living and dying, we may edify the world, be a blessing to all connected with us, and still enjoy inward peace. And as we separate from time to time, may it be in the sweet expectation of meeting together in the regions of everlasting purity, love and joy. "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirits. Amen."
HISTORY OF HANNAH,
MOTHER OF SAMUEL.
1 SAMUEL I. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of Mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. And this man went up out of his city yearly, to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of Hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord, were there. And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah, his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions. But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion: for he loved Hannah: but the Lord had shut up her womb. And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb. And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord; so she provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat. Then said Elkanah, her husband, to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? And why eatest thou not? And why is thy heart grieved? Am not I better to thee than
SIMILAR causes ever have produced, and ever will produce similar effects. You may shift the scene from one age and country to another, but like beings, the same spirit, the same passions and pursuits arise continually to view. The difference between period and period, nation and nation, city and city, man and man, consists merely in a few arbitrary customs, various forms of speech and modes of behaviour; but the great principles of human nature, the great moving springs of human actions are universal and invariable. What then is so absurd as to tax others with absurdity, only because their language, manners or prejudices do not exactly coincide with our own?
As the principles of our nature, so the rules of the divine government are similar and uniform. The views, passions and interests of men are the hinges on which the mighty engine revolves. Every little individual moves and acts in his own proper sphere, like the stars in the firmament of heaven, but all move and act together under the influence of one great commanding power, which animates and directs the whole. Every one possesses, and feels, and exercises its separate intelligence, and all are, at the same time, checked, impelled, sustained by one supreme Intelligence which is above all, through all and in all.
The justest and most accurate, the most useful and instructive representations of human life and conduct are to be found in this divine record. The actors in this sacred and interesting drama, are personages of the very highest distinction, patriarchs and prophets, legislators and kings; but we are never permitted, for a single moment, to forget, that they are also men. In their form and features we behold our own image reflected. In the emotions by which they were agitated, in the objects which they pursued, we recognize
our own aversions and desires, our own pursuits and attainments, our own mortifications and success.
We are now entering on the history of one of the greatest among the prophets, and that history delineated by his own pencil. He begins it with a description of his father's family previous to his own birth, and a faithful representation of the different characters of which it was composed. And this will furnish ample matter for the present Lecture.
Elkanah, the father of Samuel, from the genealogical deduction here presented, was a Levite of the family of the Kohathites, and is denominated a man of Ramathaim-zophim, of Mount Ephraim, from his being born or residing at that city.
Men of eminence, as has often been observed, confer celebrity on cities and countries; but poor is that merit which is derived from no other source but a man's parentage, or the place of his birth. The Levitical tribe was scattered over the whole country, and during the disorderly times which succeeded the death of Joshua, their residence and their services seem to have been regulated by no certain and fixed standard. His ancestors for many generations are mere names in the historic page; shadows without a substance; and he himself borrows the fame and lustre in which he is transmitted to us, from the reputation, ability and distinction of his nobler son; whose children, in their turn, sink into infamy, and thence into oblivion.
The first article in Elkanah's domestic economy presented to our consideration, is an imputation upon his wisdom, if not upon his piety. "He had two wives." Polygamy, or a plurality of wives, was a practice at that time indeed connived at, but no where, and at no period, sanctioned by a law: a practice not indeed condemned by statutes and punishments, but sufficiently condemned by effects and consequences. It is of very little importance to inquire whether it be forbidden, if it can be proved unreasonable, unwise, inexpedient. And for such proof we have but to recur to the domestic history of Abraham, of Jacob, of Elkanah, and of every family in which it prevailed. Hannah was probably the prior wife, and it is presumable that the disappointment of not having children by her suggested the hazardous experiment of a double marriage; and the issue demonstrated that every deviation from the path of rectitude leads directly to its own chastisement.
The mortification of Hannah, already too much to bear, is grievously embittered by the assumption of a rival in the affection of her husband, and becomes intolerable by the fruitfulness of that rival. And thus, by one ill-advised step, all the parties are rendered unhappy, and that without any high degree of criminality on any side. Elkanah's peace is incessantly disturbed the mutual jealousy, and bitterness, and strife of those conjoined, who separately might have contributed to soothe and soften the cares of life. The pleasure of having children is marred and impaired to Peninnah, by the ill-disguised partiality of the father of her children to another. The misery of barrenness is dreadfully aggravated to Hannah, by the cruel mocking and taunts of her merciless adversary. And what became of the children all the while? Were they likely to be well and wisely educated, amidst all these domestic jarrings? Hated and opposed by more than a step-mother's rancour, spoiled by the over indulgence of maternal tenderness, striving to compensate that rancour and hatred; secretly caressed, openly neglected by an embarrassed father, who was now afraid to express, and now to conceal the honest emotions of nature. It is not vice only that destroys human comfort. And if mere imprudence involves a man in so many difficulties and distresses, how dreadful must it be to bear continually in one's bosom the burning coal of an ill conscience.
Happily for Elkanah and his house, family discord did not extinguish family religion; he went up regularly with all his household to worship the Lord at 13