Great Texts of the Bible
A Woman’s Choice
And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.—Ruth 1:16-17.
1. At what period the events narrated in the Book of Ruth occurred we are not expressly told. All we are told is that it was “in the days when the judges judged” (chap.Ruth 1:1). But as Israel was under the Judges for nearly five centuries—as long, let us say, as from the accession of the Plantagenet Henry v. to the present day—the phrase does not go far towards dating the Book. But another phrase in it (chap.Ruth 4:21-22), from which we learn that Boaz was the great-grandfather of David, makes it pretty certain that the Judge in whose days Ruth the alien was admitted to the Commonwealth of Israel was the venerable but most unhappy Eli. Ruth’s son was Jesse’s father; Jesse was the father of David. It is very probable, therefore, that, when he was a child, Ruth may have fondled Jesse in her arms.
As a fragment of early literary work, the Book of Ruth stands alone; it is certainly a curious and unexpected “find” in the annals of Israel. Take it as we may, it remains unproved and unexplained—a gem of literature so rare as to be priceless. The very genius of simple narration is in this Hebrew tale; and around it a gentle glamourie floats in which—
All puts on a gentle hue,
Hanging in the shadowy air
Like a picture rich and rare;
It is a climate where, they say,
The night is more beloved than day.
The book has an office in the Bible not unlike that which God has given to the flowers in the world of nature; it softens, it sweetens, it soothes. And as God has greatly cared for His flowers, so He has greatly cared for this book. Its Maker has made it very beautiful.1 [Note: Armstrong Black.]
A recent Congregationalist quotes the following from the Saturday Evening Post as the sentiment of Senator Beveridge: “The Bible has something for everybody. If you are a politician, or even a statesman, no matter how shrewd you are, you can read with profit, several times a year, the career of David, the cleverest politician and one of the greatest statesmen who ever lived. If you are a business man, the Proverbs of Solomon will tone you up like mountain air. If you are a woman, read Ruth. A man of practical life, a great man, but purely a man of the world, once said to me: ‘If I could enact one statute for all the women of America, it would be that each of them should read the Book of Ruth once a month.’ ”2 [Note: A. Lewis.]
2. The Book of Ruth is the story of Ruth the Moabitess. Now in the whole gallery of Scripture portraits there are few which are more familiar to us, or more attractive, than the sweet figure of “Ruth standing amid the alien corn.” Nor is it the least of her attractions to the Christian heart that the blood of Ruth ran in the veins of Jesus of Nazareth. In his genealogy of our Lord, St. Matthew inscribes the names of only four women—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba; and among these four, Ruth easily holds the pre-eminence. Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba were all women of dubious virtue, even when judged by the standards of antiquity; but, judged by the moral standard of any age, Ruth is not only pure and sweet as the fields in which she gleaned, she rises to an heroic pitch of unselfish devotion and love.
3. Than the scene depicted in the first chapter there is hardly any more beautiful and affecting in the whole range of Old Testament Scriptures. All three actors in it are admirable, and are admirably portrayed. Even Orpah shows a love and devotion which command our respect, although her love did not rise to the full heroic pitch; while of Ruth and Naomi it is hard to say which is the more admirable—Naomi, in putting from her her sole comfort and stay, or Ruth, in leaving all that she had in order to become the stay and comfort of Naomi’s declining years. The exquisite and pathetic beauty of the scene has been recognized from of old, and has inspired painter after painter, musician after musician; while Ruth’s famous reply to Naomi’s dissuasive entreaties takes high rank among the sentences which the world will not willingly let die.
It was a voice of the night which said, “Behold, thy sister-in-law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister-in-law”—a long-drawn-out complaint flung after Orpah in vain, and echoing back its own unanswered monotone to Ruth as, amidst “shadows numberless,” she stood alone by Naomi; but it awakened a morning song, the first of the dawn of the better day in which it was to be known how much God loved the world—a song that was sung while it was yet dark, as Ruth’s soul rose on the wing until the unrisen Sun of God’s own love shone on her face; a song in which notes that escaped from heaven and God are mingled with hers; a song the words of which one can scarcely read for fear of doing wrong to their own plaintive melody.1 [Note: A. Lewis.]
4. And yet, in this contest of self-sacrificing love, it is hard to tell whether the palm should be awarded to Ruth or to Naomi. Has not Naomi discharged her full duty of dissuasion in placing the discomforts and dangers of her lot before her daughter? She, at all events, thinks that she has not. When Orpah has kissed her and gone back, while Ruth is still “cleaving” to her, she renews her entreaties and dissuasions. “Thy sister-in-law has gone back to her people, and to her gods; go thou also. It is not simply, or mainly, that we belong to different races; we worship different gods. It is this that really separates us, and makes it impossible that you should find an asylum in Judah. Return, then, after thy sister.” When we consider how dark and solitary Naomi’s path must have been had Ruth yielded to her entreaties, we cannot but feel that these two noble women were well matched, that it is hard to say in which of them love was the more generous and self-forgetting.
If, in the judgment of the world, Ruth carries off the palm, it is, in part, because we expect more of a mother in Israel than of a daughter of Moab; but it is still more, I think, in virtue of the exquisite and pathetic words in which her reply to the dissuasions of Naomi is couched. Her vow has stamped itself on the very heart of the world; and that not because of the beauty of its form simply—though even in our English Version it sounds like a sweet and noble music—but because it expresses, in a worthy form and once for all, the utter devotion of a genuine and self-conquering love. It is the spirit which informs and breathes through these melodious words that makes them so precious to us, and that also renders it impossible to utter any fitting comment on them. They shine most purely in their own light. “Intreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.” One wonders where the woman found breath to utter such words as these as she lay weeping on Naomi’s breast, and that her voice did not break into inarticulate sobs and sighs under the weight of so impassioned a tenderness.1 [Note: S. Cox.]
Our subject is a woman’s choice. We may consider—
I. How she made it.
II. What it was.
How Ruth made her Choice
Ruth chose to cast in her lot with Naomi out of the love she had for Naomi herself. But that was not all. Orpah also loved Naomi. There was evidently more than human affection in the choice which Ruth made; there was love Divine. She knew and loved Naomi; she also knew and loved Naomi’s God. And there was a third element. There was decision of the will. Under the emotion of love to Naomi, under the constraint of love for Naomi’s God, Ruth made choice, and it was a deliberate act of the will.
One may say, How came Ruth to know who was the God of Naomi? I answer: As God said of Abraham, I know that Abraham will instruct his children; so may one confidently say of Naomi: I know that Naomi had catechized and instructed her daughter-in-law, and often taught her that the God of the Israelites was the onely true God, who made Heaven and Earth, and that all others were but Idols, the workes of men’s hands. Yet as the Samaritans beleeved our Saviour first upon the relation of the woman that came from the Well, but afterwards said unto her, John 4:42, “Now we beleeve, not because of thy saying; for we have heard him our selves and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” So happily Ruth was induced first to the liking of the God of Israel, upon the credit of Naomies words, but afterwards her love of him proceeded from a more certaine ground, the motions of God’s holy Spirit in her heart.1 [Note: Thomas Fuller.]
1. Her affection for Naomi.—The words of the text speak to us of rare devotion, of unwavering decision. “As an expression,” says one writer, “of the tenderest and most faithful friendship, they are unrivalled.” “The words in which the resolve is uttered,” says another, “constitute the most determined, the most decisive, the most unhesitating confession of love, in all literature.” “It may be doubted,” writes a third, “whether in all the crowded records of womanly heroism and self-sacrifice we anywhere meet a courage and devotion surpassing this.” This is high praise, and yet we feel it is not too high, for this one utterance would set Ruth on a pedestal by herself, making her worthy to stand near the front rank of that great company of witnesses whose words and example have proved an inspiration to succeeding generations.
Ruth’s attachment to her mother-in-law opens up the possibilities of human love: the might of a true and noble attachment: that love to the individual which may overcome the more general love even to relatives, friends, and country. It is an illustration of the power that one heart may have upon another. Think of it; it is one of those things that add glory and solemnity to human life. This personality of Naomi’s was everything that a human personality could be to Ruth. Ruth knew that if Naomi had never come to her land her life would have been a very different life—in its thoughts, purposes, and realizations—from what it was now.
Whilst I was making preparations for my journey, Kachi Ram entered the tent. He looked frightened and perplexed. “What are you doing, sir?” inquired he hurriedly. “The doctor says you are going to leave alone to-night, cross the mountain range, and go to Lhassa by yourself.”
“Yes, that is true.”
“Oh, sir! the perils and dangers are too great; you cannot go.”
“I know, but I am going to try.”
“Oh, sir! then I will come with you.”
“No, Kachi, you will suffer too much—go back to your father and mother now that you have the opportunity.”
“No, sir, where you go, I will go. Small men never suffer. If they do, it does not matter. Only great men’s sufferings are worth noticing. If you suffer, I will suffer. I will come.”1 [Note: A. H. Savage Landor, In the Forbidden Land.]
In this world’s strange vanishing show,
The one truth is Loving. O sister, the dark cloud that veils
All life lets this rift through to glorify future and past.
“Love ever—love only—love faithfully—love to the last.”
2. Her love to God.—Naomi knew the true God. When the cold, senseless, dumb, dead idols of Moab could do nothing for a young, bursting, sobbing, breaking heart, then old Naomi would come near with the faith of Israel, and with her prayer to the God of Israel. And what she knew of God she had been careful to teach her sons and her sons’ wives. And now all that is rushing through Ruth’s blood and pulsing in her veins, as she stands at the turn of the road and says, “I cannot leave old Naomi. At the thought of parting with her this flashes in upon me. She is more than life, and meat, and drink, and wealth, and everything to me. To be with her is life, and to part from her is darkness, and misery, and death.”
Do we not find here a venture of faith, as great a venture, indeed, in its own way, as that of Abraham when he went forth, not knowing whither he went? Ruth had listened to Naomi’s words of warning—that hardship and persecution and privation awaited them: they would be going among a people who did not take kindly to foreigners and treated them as aliens; and while no doubt they would be a comfort to their mother-in-law, yet they would mar their own future. “Go,” said Naomi to her daughters-in-law, “return each of you to her mother’s house: and the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have done with the dead, and with me.” Ruth heard those arguments and warnings, and this is her answer: “Intreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee.” “What are bonds and imprisonment to a soul of this heroic mould? “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” There is a gulf of centuries between those words of St. Paul and the words of Ruth, but they vibrate with the same emotion, the same passion pulsates in both.
What we here read teaches that God not only knows human sorrow, but can transmit through a human heart something of His own power to alleviate and heal. Ruth’s love was in this one instance to do what His own was in the fulness of the time to do universally in Jesus Christ: she was to give rest to one who was weary and heavy-laden. This Gentile woman at one step came across the boundaries of life into its glorious liberty, when she so loved and made sacrifice; on her altar there was Christian flame before the time, and her love was that of the daughters of God. They who can be to any lonely and ailing heart what Ruth was to Naomi have the Divine within them; they are making some spot of our world a part of the new earth under the new heavens; they are in their measure wielding the power by which God Himself makes all things new. Love of such quality as Ruth’s never faileth: it is of unconquerable strength. Like hers, all love will overcome when it is reinforced by the Divine, and when it says not only “Thy people my people,” but also “Thy God my God.” But that it may retain its virtue and possess the power of an endless life, it must be continually renewed and purified in the love of God.
We have, perhaps, been accustomed to think of faith as taking the precedence of love—I mean in point of time. I will not say that that does not represent the fact in any sense at all. But I do say that the converse is distinctly true, namely, that faith follows love, and makes its presence known as it could not do if love were wanting. The more we dwell upon it, the more clearly shall we see that St. Peter was right when he said, “Above all things have fervent love among yourselves,” for the simple reason that it cannot stand alone, that in its train will follow all other qualities which adorn and make life beautiful.
Is a short word that says so very much!
It says that you confide in me.1 [Note: J. Flew, Studies in Browning, 140.]
Ruth shows how instantly and entirely she adopts Naomi’s religion by sealing her vow with the Hebrew oath and by calling on the God of the Hebrews: “Jehovah do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.”
3. Her decision.—Ruth’s resolution to join the Lord’s people was the result of deliberate resolve. To quote old Bishop Hall: “She must evidently have been a proselyte, converted to the faith of Israel prior to the utterance of these words, or else, surely, she would never have been so determined in her language.” If Ruth had been persuaded to take the step of joining Israel, and if her coming as far as she did had been the result of outward pressure brought to bear upon her, depend upon it she would have gone back when Naomi presented before her eyes all that she would have to bear, and what her profession would entail.
Here we have the resolution of Ruth portrayed in lively Colours; so that if we consider her Sex, a Woman; her Nation, a Moabite; one may boldly pronounce of her what our Saviour did of the Centurion, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”1 [Note: Thomas Fuller.]
Love is the thoughtful outgoing of one’s whole nature to another. It is really an act of the will, though most times unconsciously so. It belongs distinctly to the realm of choice. It is not essentially an emotion merely, though it sweeps all the emotional power of a man as the whirlwind sweeps down the valley. It is not of the heart primarily, though it absolutely controls the heart. It is wholly in itself a matter of choice. The will gathers up all the information at hand, and displays it skilfully before the heart until it is enraptured and completely swept along as the will meant it should be.
When a soul, by choice and conscience, doth
Throw out her full force on another soul,
The conscience and the concentration both
Make mere life, Love. For Life in perfect whole
And aim consummated, is Love in sooth,
As nature’s magnet-heat rounds pole with pole.
It was not an easy choice. If we would understand the scene, especially the stress laid on these young widows finding new husbands, we must remember that in the East of antiquity, as in many Eastern lands to this day, the position of an unmarried woman, whether maid or widow, was a very unhappy and perilous one. Only in the house of a husband could a woman be sure of respect and protection. Hence the Hebrews spoke of the husband’s house as a woman’s menuchah, or “rest”—her secure and happy asylum from servitude, neglect, licence. It was such an “asylum” of honour and freedom that Naomi desired for Orpah and Ruth. But, as she had to explain to them, such an “asylum,” while it might be open to them in Moab, would be fast closed against them in Judah. In marrying them her sons had sinned against the Hebrew law. That sin was not likely to be repeated by Israelites living in their own land. Yet how is Naomi to tell them of this fatal separation between the two races? How is she to make these loving women aware that, if they carry out their resolve to go with her, they must resign all hope of honour and regard?
Three things were involved in the act of will by which Ruth made her choice. We may call them docility, detachment, and determination.
(1) Docility.—Docility is a desire and readiness to learn. The first words of Saul of Tarsus after his vision exactly express this frame of mind: “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10). Certainly this feature was present also in the case of Ruth; this readiness to learn from others, and to give due place to the effect of the influence under which she had been brought. She, who had learnt so much from Naomi, felt that she could not cut herself off from the opportunity of learning more. And this is so important for us all. Though it is hard, though it humbles us and makes us feel our ignorance; yet it is all bound up with a converted heart. “Except ye be converted, and become as little children.” We must be teachable—ready to learn—and this in many different ways—e.g., under the hand of God, recognizing (what we are so apt to miss) the true meaning of things in our own life, when seen in their relation to His providence. Or, again, under the influence of others with whom we have to do; not, of course, in a sense which would be weakness, surrendering ourselves to every influence in turn, or easily led by any one who may seek to gain a hold upon us, but a readiness to be taught by others, as against an obstinate persistence in thinking that we always know best, and have nothing left to learn. And, once more, under the voice of conscience, learning to recognize the harm which we do to ourselves by all our little resistances to its voice, and the risk which we run thereby of silencing it altogether.
(2) Detachment.—What a tremendous strain this crisis put on her! Her home, with all its associations; her religion, which had been no heathenism to her, but rather her idea of truth; and then Orpah, the one person whose experiences had been most like her own, to whom, therefore, she must have been bound by ties of the closest sympathy—she had to detach herself from all these in her great act of choice; and this may well come home, in its degree, to us. How strong are the ties of old associations, old ideas, old sympathies, and friendships! And yet at times we may find that it is just these things which may be holding us back from making a right choice, in simple faithfulness to our conscience and to God. Then we shall learn the cost of true conversion, and the need that we have of that detachment from all else but Him which enables us to say,” Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest” (Matthew 8:19).
(3) Determination.—“Naomi saw that Ruth was stedfastly minded.” And it was no less than the plain truth, as her whole after-life declared. Ruth went as far as she knew how when she said: “The Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.” St. Paul lifts our assurance to a higher point: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
All heaven is blazing yet
With the meridian sun:
Make haste, unshadowing sun, make haste to set;
O lifeless life, have done.
I choose what once I chose;
What once I willed, I will;
Only the heart its own bereavement knows;
O clamorous heart, lie still.
That which I chose, I choose;
That which I willed, I will;
That which I once refused, I still refuse:
O hope deferred, be still.
That which I chose and choose
And will is Jesus’ Will:
He hath not lost his life who seems to lose:
O hope deferred, hope still.1 [Note: C. G. Rossetti.]
What the Choice was
Ruth herself tells us what her choice was. The way which Naomi went was to be her way; and Naomi’s abode her abode; Naomi’s people were to be her people; and Naomi’s God her God; where Naomi died she would die, and there would she be buried. The enumeration may not be complete; it may not name all that the Christian choice involves; but it is full of instruction.
1. “Whither thou goest, I will go.” It was a brave thing to say. She had never been in the land of Israel: she knew nothing of its nature. For aught she could tell, it might be such a change, after the land of Moab, that it would be hard to live there. “Whither thou goest, I will go. I care not whether thou turnest to the north or to the south, to the east or to the west. All points of the compass are alike to me, for the loadstone of grace has touched my heart; and, so long as I go where the Lord and His people are, it matters little to me whether I turn to the right hand or to the left.” The soul that really makes a true profession of Christ will know how to keep by the footsteps of the flock.
These two widowed women travelled across Moab to Israel—two lonely women who were all in all to each other. “Who is this that goeth up through the wilderness, leaning upon the arm of her beloved?” What a picture of Christ and His people—Naomi and Ruth travelling together from Moab to Bethlehem in the Land of Promise. So with us. Since we have seen Christ the world has changed to us, and, thank God, we do not care for it. Since we have seen Christ, and have become enamoured of Him, we can let the world go by, for—
Ah, the Master is so fair!
His smile so sweet on banished men,
That they who meet Him unaware,
Can never rest on earth again.
And they who see Him risen afar,
On God’s right hand, to welcome them,
Forgetful stand of home and land,
Desiring fair Jerusalem.
2. “Where thou lodgest, I will lodge.” She made no conditions. She did not say, “Where thou lodgest, I will lodge, if it is a nice large house. Where thou lodgest I will lodge, if there is luxurious accommodation.” Ruth’s soul despised fencing her resolve with mean conditions. “Where thou lodgest I will lodge, whether it be in a barn, in a shed, in a cottage, in a palace, or in the open air.”
A good Companion, saith the Latine Proverb, is Proverbs viatico; I may adde also Proverbs diversorio: Ruth, so be it she may enjoy Naomies gracious companie, will be content with any Lodging, though happily it may be no better than Jacob had, Genesis 28:11. And yet we see how some have been discouraged even from the company of our Saviour, for feare of hard lodging; witnesse the Scribe, to whom when our Saviour said, “The foxes have their holes, and the Fowles of the ayre have nests, but the Sonne of man hath not where to lay his head”: This cold comfort perfectly quencht his forward zeale, and he never appeared afterward; whereas he ought to have said to our Saviour as Ruth to Naomi, “Where thou lodgest will I lodge.”1 [Note: Thomas Fuller.]
3. “Thy people shall by my people.” “Thy people!” they were the very people she had been taught from her infancy to despise and hate. Ruth had learned to curse them. Likely enough, either her brothers or her cousins had gone to war with Israel; for we know that Moab dreadfully tried and perplexed the people of Israel. And yet here is Ruth throwing in her lot with a people that hitherto she had looked down upon, and whom, up to the present, her family had opposed. There are closer ties than the ties of nationality, or even of blood.
Haman being offended with Mordecai, as if it had been but leane and weak revenge to spit his spight upon one person, hated all the Jewes for Mordecai’s sake: the mad Beare stung with one Bee, would needs throw downe the whole Hive. But cleane contrarie, Naomi had so graciously demeaned her selfe, that Ruth for her sake is fallen in love with all the Jewes.1 [Note: Thomas Fuller.]
The sentiment enthusiastically responded to by the human instincts of a Roman audience, even in Rome’s most corrupt days, has yet to be extended and applied by Christian England to international interests. We are a nation, and nothing that concerns other nations do we deem foreign to us. Through good and evil report to this principle we must firmly adhere, if we would have our claim of “teaching the nations how to live” held for more than an idle boast. It is not enough that we have established, and are resolute to further and maintain, our own freedom and nationality. Our wishes and endeavours must tend to secure the same blessings for other countries. As no man will reach heaven who seeks to reach it alone, so no nation will ever develop the highest and most enduring forms of national life, while it is contented to remain the passive and uninterested spectator of the onward and upward struggles of kindred peoples. A recluse tribe is as anomalous as a single anchorite.1 [Note: C. W. Stubbs, God and the People, 113.]
There are two good thoughts here.
(1) The influence of true friendship does not end with the friend: the love drawn forth is not confined to the one who draws it forth. Every true and ennobling love that is kindled within us, while it finds its focus in the friend that kindled it, casts a warm glow over all those who are associated with that friend. I have loved a nation for the sake of one man in the nation. I have loved to look at the son of a great man whom I have honoured and loved; I have loved to look at the house where he lived; the paths which he walked, the books that he wrote, everything that appertained to him became more sacred to me for the love I bore him. A great, loving personality draws out our love not only towards himself, but towards his people.
(2) Those who are striving to serve the Lord should cling to those who are the disciples of the same Master. The law of dependence, as it acts upon this world of human beings, and resolves itself into other laws of influence and sympathy, is found in all the relations of man. In itself it is a beautiful thing, this leaning of one upon another, this clasping of hand with hand in the great circle of human brotherhood, and feeling the electric spark, as the touch of a single finger sends a thrill through the multitude.
In every pause
Of labour, when the labourer looked upon
His fellow, such endearing sympathy,
Such union in discipleship shone through
The lovely lattice of his loving soul,
That each exchange of glances seemed a swift
And mutual sacrament.1 [Note: Anna Bunston, The Porch of Paradise, 25.]
4. “And thy God my God.” Ruth was not content to be a secret idolater in the Lord’s land, as too many are. She might have gone with Naomi, and been introduced into the Israelitish society, and yet all the while, in the secret shrine of her heart, have been worshipping her old gods.
Again there are two thoughts here.
(1) There are some people in the world who are called “Christian”—and we do not doubt their Christianity, we only call into question their consistency—who would drive us away from God, if we had not this Book and God’s own Spirit to guide us. There is a piety abroad that is repellent; and if we had no other light than the light which their example gives, we would say, “Give us any God rather than theirs.” There are others who, as they charm us by their spirit of meekness and gentleness, of truth and of grace, as well as by their strength and courage, make us exclaim, “Oh, that their God may be our God!” Judson the missionary died; other missionaries laboured after him; but those who knew Judson did not want to hear of any other God than Judson’s God. That is to be a living epistle, known and read of all men.
(2) Love between man and man, parent and child, or between husband and wife, can reach its highest and fullest attainment only when cemented by love to God. It may not be absolutely wrong for a man to marry an unbeliever, but we have known many homes unhappy through lack of agreement on religious subjects. To be sure, all so-called Christian homes are not happy, but, other things being equal, the husband and wife whose love is centred on something great and noble above and outside of themselves will love each other more, and live more happily together. It is a principle of psychology, as well as a fact of human experience, that the highest friendship is formed not by the love two persons have for each other, but in the common love both have for something else. And what greater else can there be than religion? It is religion that makes our earthly friendships eternal; love, which is the soul of friendship, is the fruit of religion. “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; for every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” God did not come between Naomi and Ruth as a barrier to separate them, but as a spiritual power to bind them more closely together. Their friendship reached its perfection only when Ruth said: “Thy God shall be my God.”
Philip Henry’s advice to his children regarding marriage was, “Please God, and please yourselves, and you will please me”; his usual compliment to his newly married friends: “Others wish you all happiness. I wish you all holiness, and then there will be no doubt but you will enjoy all happiness.”
5. “Where thou diest, will I die.” So Ruth had no thought of returning. She had no idea of simply going to inspect the land of Israel, and then returning to her own. “Where thou diest I will die”; or, in other words, Ruth made a life-gift of herself to the people.
Love loves for ever,
And finds a sort of joy in pain,
And gives with nought to take again,
And loves too well to end in vain:
Is the gain small then?
Love laughs at “never,”
Outlives our life, exceeds the span
Appointed to mere mortal man:
All which love is and does and can
Is all in all then.1 [Note: C. G. Rossetti.]
I shall tell you the story of a daughter who dearly loved her father and stuck by him to the end. Her name was Margaret Roper, and her father was Sir Thomas More. When he was imprisoned, she loved him the more for his misfortunes. When he lay in the Tower under sentence of death, his chief comfort was the visits and letters of Margaret, and the night before his execution he wrote her a letter with a bit of charcoal saying, “I have never liked your manner better than when you kissed me last night (before the guard of soldiers), for I am most pleased when daughterly love has no leisure to look to worldly courtesy.”
Two or three years ago, in a book by Professor Stearns, an American theologian of great promise, who, to the loss and regret of the universal Church, was carried away in his prime immediately after the publication of this book, I came across a phrase which struck me much at the time and has dwelt in my memory ever since. It was “permanent choice.” I never had heard that phrase before, and I never had reflected on the thing very much until I found it designated by that happy phrase. Now what do you think permanent choice may mean? You know how will is always at work every day. To get up in the morning is an act of will, and it is not always a very easy one. In dressing there are many acts of will, and in taking breakfast, and so on, all through the day. But most acts of will must be about trivial things and be soon forgotten. There are other acts of will that cannot be forgotten. Their effects are permanent, and they imply hundreds of thousands of other acts of will which are, so to speak, involved in them. I think it was of these that Professor Stearns spoke, but there is something else in this remarkable phrase. I think he meant that the will in a permanent choice stands to this choice, approving it, believing in it, glorying in it, and never wishing to change it.1 [Note: Professor James Stalker.]
Oh, surely, love is higher, deeper,
Than human smile and human speech;
So high, so deep, the angel-reaper
6. “And there will I be buried.” This is not a useless addition to the resolution to die with Naomi. To be buried in the sepulchre of some family is to be recognized as of the family kinship. There is no other recognition that is so hard to obtain or so difficult to lose. When she said, “And there will I be buried,” Ruth threw in her lot with Naomi and Naomi’s people fully and finally. To offer to be buried with Naomi’s kinsfolk was the last and most whole-hearted act of surrender.
The ancients were wonderfully devoted to the sepulchres of their fathers. I confess that I should not have been much surprised if Ruth had said, “Well, Naomi, I am willing to live in your country, and I am willing to die there; but, after I have breathed my last, would it be asking too much to request that my bones be sent back to the sepulchre of my father and mother in the land of Moab?” Yes, she would have said that, if she had not been the Ruth that she was; but, altogether consecrated, she would not even have her bones go back into her old country. No, dead as well as living, she would have fellowship with the Lord’s people.1 [Note: A. G. Brown.]
A certain beadle had fancied the manse housemaid, but was at a loss for an opportunity to declare himself. One day—a Sunday—when his duties were ended, he looked sheepish, and said, “Mary, wad ye tak a turn, Mary?” He led her to the churchyard, and pointing with his finger, got out, “My fowk lie there, Mary; wad ye like to lie there?”2 [Note: Dean Ramsay, Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character, 305.]
Banks (L. A.), The Great Saints of the Bible, 184.
Belfrage (H.), Sacramental Addresses, 17.
Bell (C. D.), The Name above every Name, 152.
Bellew (J. C. M.), Sermons, ii. 379.
Briggs (H.), Sermons on the Book of Ruth, 25.
Brown (A. G.), Thou Remainest, 104.
Clegg (A.), The Throne and the Voice, 12.
Cooke (S.), in Living Voices of Living Men, 64.
Davies (D.), Talks with Men, Women and Children, 6th Ser., 165.
Dawson (J. E. le S.), Lenten Readings on the Book of Ruth, 25.
Farningham (M.), Women and their Work, 56.
Lewis (A.), Sermons preached in England, 192.
M‘Cheyne (R. M.), Additional Remains, 267.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Deuteronomy–1 Samuel, 259.
M‘Neill (J.), Regent Square Pulpit, iii. 185.
Miller (T. E.), Portraits of Women of the Bible (O.T. Ser.), 94.
Rankin (J.), Character Studies in the Old Testament, 85.
Williams (J. P.), The Duty of Exercise, 45.
Christian Age, xxviii. 133 (Talmage).
Christian World Pulpit, ix. 241 (Talmage); xxx. 196 (Rawnsley); xlix. 401 (Stalker); lxxviii. 58 (Davis).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Fourth Sunday after Trinity, x. 183 (Lewis), 186 (Southgate), 188 (Moister).
Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd Ser., xi. 351.