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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 ihe 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.
1st. 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 mo 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 haring 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, unbumbled, unmortified success, always cold, selfish, unfeeling? 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 he
Lev. xix. 9, 10
+ Lev. xxiii. 22
Deut. xxiv. 19.-22.
arose, spurns the ladder on which he climbled to eminence and distinction, and tries to make his upstart greatness bear 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 withholding 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 bosorn 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 approaching, 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 Canaan 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 execution. 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 miņded, 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
“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
o be high
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 health 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.
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.
1. 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 afiluence, to respectability : 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.”
66 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