In the days when the judges ruled.
Leaving the Book of Judges and opening the story of Ruth, we pass from vehement out-door life, from tempest and trouble, into quiet domestic scenes. After an exhibition of the greater movements of a people we are brought, as it were, to a cottage interior in the soft light of an autumn evening, to obscure lives passing through the cycles of loss and comfort, affection and sorrow. We have seen the ebb and flow of a nation's fidelity and fortune; a few leaders appearing clearly on the stage, and behind them a multitude indefinite, indiscriminate, the thousands who form the ranks of battle and die on the field, who sway together from Jehovah to Baal, and back to Jehovah again. What the Hebrews were at home, how they lived in the villages of Judah or on the slopes of Tabor, the narrative has not paused to speak of with detail. Now there is leisure after the strife, and the historian can describe old customs and family events, can show us the toiling flockmaster, the busy reapers, the women with their cares and uncertainties, the love and labour of simple life. Thunderclouds of sin and judgment have rolled over the scene; but they have cleared away, and we see human nature in examples that become familiar to us, no longer in weird shadow or vivid lightning flash, but as we commonly know it, homely, erring, enduring, imperfect, not unblest.
There was a famine in the land.
This might happen many ways: by the incursion of foreign enemies, by civil wars among themselves, or by restraint of seasonable showers from heaven. Howsoever it came, sin was the cause thereof: a toleration of idolaters and public monuments of idolatry (Judges 1:21, 27, 29, 30
, and Judges 3:5, and Judges 2:2), contrary to God's express commandment by the hand of Moses. They fell themselves unto idolatry (Judges 2:11, 12, 13, 17
, and Judges 8:27).
I. THAT SINS, ESPECIALLY THOSE AFORENAMED, DESERVE THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD (Deuteronomy 28; 1 Kings 8:35-37). ( Therefore, to escape plagues, let us take heed of sin (Ezekiel 18:31; Revelation 18:1).
II. THAT FAMINE AND DEARTH IS A PUNISHMENT FOR SIN, AND THAT A GREAT PLAGUE (Ezekiel 5:16; Deuteronomy 28:23, 24; Leviticus 26:19, 29; Amos 4:1). And when this hand of God cometh upon us, let us search our ways and humble ourselves (2 Chronicles 7:14), that the Lord may heal our land, for it is a terrible judgment (1 Samuel 24:14) and without mercy (2 Kings 6:10, 29; Ezekiel 4:10).
III. We may hereby see HOW GOD MADE HIS WORD GOOD UPON THEM, and that He dallieth not with His people, in denouncing judgments against them; for Moses had told them (Deuteronomy 28) that God would thus afflict them if rebellious against Him: and here the story telleth us that in the days of the judges this famine came.
in the land of promise and in Bethlehem, the House of Bread! No doubt the state of affairs in Bethlehem constituted a severe trial of faith to Elimelech and his family and neighbours. It is very hard to see the meal growing less and less in the barrel; it is even harder for those who have enjoyed times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and seasons of genuine delight in His service, to lose the experience of the Divine love and care, to find prayer becoming a burden and the Word of God lifeless and unhelpful; but can either the one condition of things or the other be any excuse or justification for forsaking the land of promise? For, to begin with, how can a change of front help us under the circumstances? If corn be scarce in Canaan, where God has pledged Himself to feed us, is it likely that better things will be found in a land upon which, as we shall see, His curse is resting? If from any cause our sense of the presence and approval of Jesus seems to have lost something of its distinctness, even in that circle of Church life and Christian society with which we have been associated, is it probable that we shall obtain truer solace and renewal in that "world" the friendship of which is declared to be enmity to our Lord? And, after all, what is the province of faith if it be of no service to us under such circumstances as these? Christ, as we well know, changes not; if there be a change in our experience of Him, the causes lie with us, and not with our Lord — the clouds are earth-born; what we need is more sun, not less, and this we shall never obtain by turning our back upon Him from whom every blessing of spiritual experience, as well as of earthly enjoyment, flows. It is pretty certain that, like Elimelech, those whose hearts are growing colder would protest almost with indignation that they have no intention of any permanent abandonment of Christ. They are suffering from famine — from a loss of spiritual enjoyment. To what may this unhappy state of things be due? Some, perhaps, would frankly aver that they never have found enjoyment in Christ and His service from the very commencement; they have sought to serve Him purely as a matter of duty: for their pleasure they have looked to the world. Some, again, would admit that there are both food and enjoyment in the Divine life for those who desire to follow Christ, and at one time they themselves hoped that it would prove permanently satisfying; but they confess that they got tired of it after a time, and it seemed rather hard to them that they should be required to limit themselves to that which, however good in itself, appeared to be somewhat restricted in character. Now, our Bread is Christ, and dissatisfaction with our Bread is dissatisfaction with Him, and confessions such as those to which we have been listening simply mean that the Lord Jesus has ceased to be, or more probably has never been in any very real sense, everything to us; such persons as those whose cases we have imagined have not actually given up serving and loving the Lord, or at any rate do not think they have done so, but into a heart which has never been completely surrendered to the Master they have admitted other objects of regard, and these later affections, competing with that earlier one, have dimmed its lustre and loosened its hold upon us. And are there not others who, whilst desiring after a fashion to lead a Christian life, deliberately place themselves beyond the reach, so to speak, of the nourishing and fructifying grace of God by the very character of the circumstances by which they elect to surround themselves? Their friends, their amusements, their books (not to mention other matters) seem to be chosen almost with a view to hindering instead of assisting their growth in Christ. But the Holy Spirit is Sovereign; He is the Lord of life as well as the giver of it, and He feeds the souls who seek Him in accordance with His own will, not in accordance with theirs. And the famine in Bethlehem took place "in the days when the judges ruled." It is impossible to read the historian's account of those days (Judges 2:11
, etc.) without realising that the times were very bad indeed, and just such as we should expect to be characterised by famine and distress of all kinds. For, to begin with, they were days of religion by fits and starts — days in which the Israelites served God when they were in trouble and forgot Him as soon as their circumstances improved. Is it likely that such a condition of things and such a fashion of living can succeed? Will God bless those who, blind to His long-suffering, set every law of gratitude and right behaviour at defiance in this hopeless kind of way? But is not this precisely what some of us are constantly doing? No, religion by fits and starts cannot possibly be a happy state of affairs: it must involve us in that separation from God which results in famine. We shall not improve our circumstances, however, by turning our backs upon God; let us understand that our want is due to our own conduct, not to God's unfaithfulness, and let us seek so to amend our lives that He may yet be able to make our land flow with milk and honey. Moreover, the days when the judges ruled were obviously days of intermittent government: the arrangement was but a makeshift at the best. In our own ease it is the absence of the autocratic rule of the Lord Jesus, or rather our fretful murmuring against the rule, which lies at the root of most of our spiritual sorrow. We acknowledge the Lord as our Saviour, but do we sufficiently recognise Him to be Christ our King? It is impossible for us to fear the Lord and serve our own gods, and be happy — try as we may. That there are times in the experience of all Christian people when the pasture which once was green fails somewhat of its peaceful restfulness no one who knows anything of life will for a moment deny. But this is neither starvation nor a breaking of faith on the part of our covenant God. Elimelech left Bethlehem in a moment of panic, or a fit of despondency or of world-hunger, but others remained and trusted the God of their fathers; and when ten years later Naomi, the solitary survivor of the little band, returned, she found her friends alive and well and in the enjoyment of barley harvest. They had been tried, indeed, but never forsaken. It was sad enough that Elimelech should have left the land of promise and the House of Bread: it was worse that he should have selected Moab as his new home. It was not merely that the people of the country were heathen, and that, as Elimelech must have known, if he and his family were to remain true to God they would have to lead lives of trial and to face unpopularity and perhaps persecution, but Moab had acted with extraordinary bitterness to his ancestors in times past, and in consequence was under a very terrible curse. Are we in no danger? Are there none of us who are beginning to turn our heads, and our hearts too, in the direction of those old associations and those old surroundings which did us so much injury in the past — the scars of whose wounds, the fascination of whose attractions, have not yet passed away? Are we wise in venturing where stronger men than we are have fallen, where we ourselves fell not so long ago? God help us, and keep us true to Him and to ourselves!
The home of Elimelech was in Bethlehem "Bethlehem-judah" as the historian is careful to remark, in order to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in the territory of the tribe of Zebulun. Its very name — Bethlehem, i.e.
, House of Bread — indicates its fertility. And therefore the famine which drove Elimelech from Bethlehem must have been extraordinarily protracted and severe; even the most wealthy and fertile parts of the land must have been consumed by drought: there was no bread even in the very House of Bread. Elimelech and his household were by no means likely to be the first to feel the pinch of want, or to feel it most keenly; for he came of a good stock, of a family that stood high in the tribe of Judah, and was a man of consideration and wealth. The probability is that he was rich in flocks and herds, a sheep-master such as Bethlehem has constantly produced, and that it was to find pastures for his famishing flocks that he went to sojourn in Moab. (S)
He, and his wife, and his two sons
The names are thoroughly Jewish, and are rich in meaning. Elimelech was a grand name for a pious man; it means, "My God is King." The mother is called Naomi, "the gracious" or "sweetness." Mahlon means "weakly," and Chilion, "pining" or "wasting," referring probably to their bodily condition; for as they both died young it is possible they were ailing from their birth. But it is noteworthy that in those olden times parents were accustomed to give their children names according to some peculiarity in their circumstances, or in the fond hope that the special virtue implied in the name might be developed in after-life. Isaac's firstborn is Esau, because of the redness of his skin. Moses in exile calls his son Gershom, "For," he said, "I have been a stranger in a strange land." The custom is dying out in these modern times. Parents give children names without inquiring the meaning; the sound is more to them than the sense. But there may be more involved, for good or evil, in the old custom than we suppose. Shakespeare asks, "What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." True, but as an American writer points out, "The influence of names in the formation of character is probably much greater than is usually imagined, and deserves the special attention of parents in their bestowment. Children should be taught that the circumstances of their bearing the names of good men or women who have lived before them constitutes an obligation upon them to imitate or perpetuate their virtues." It does not follow that the desired result will be obtained, yet it may be an influence; and at least the name, when contrasted with the life, will be a constant rebuke.
They came into the country of Moab, and continued there. 1.
Learn from the change in the circumstances of Naomi's husband not to trust in the uncertain possessions of this world. You may now be wealthy and respectable among your neighbours and acquaintances; a few years or months may reduce you to a condition of discomfort, if not of poverty and indigence.
2. Learn from the consequences of the step taken by Elimelech, the peril of discontentedness and impatience under adverse circumstances. Should riches make themselves wings, and poverty threaten to be your lot, beware of rashly changing your habits and connections.
3. Ye that are parents, surrounded with a family of children, learn from this history to reflect how soon these children may be taken away. And oh! strive and pray, above all things, that they may be the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.
4. Learn from Naomi's trials the beneficial effects of affliction; and from her resolution to return to her native land — the land of Jehovah's worship — that the only true refuge in affliction is pure and undefiled religion.
Thus the history of Ruth begins with a story of wanderers from God. It is a sad, but not a strange commencement.
I. WHY DID THEY WANDER, AND THUS LEAVE THE HOME OF THEIR FATHERS? The answer given is, "There was famine in the land." God had sent upon them a temporary trouble, and they fled from it. But when God chastens us in His wisdom, our duty is to yield with contentment and submission. We should bear the rod and Him who hath appointed it. When we patiently yield to His merciful chastisements, they become our most precious blessings. "There was a famine in the land," and they fled from it. Temporary sufferings made their home for a little while uncomfortable, and they could not patiently endure the will of God. It was their own land. It was their father's land. It was the Lord's land. Their family and friends were there. Why should they fly? The next season might be better, and more than repay them for the losses of the present. The famine might follow them to the land whither they went, and make their sufferings greater there than at home. When Socrates was urged by his friends to escape from the prison where he was condemned to die, he answered them, "Tell me of a land where men do not die, and I will escape to that." How much better might this family have found a quiet submission to the will of God! What an illustration this is of sinful, foolish man! Adam had all the garden of Eden. One single restraint made him a voluntary wanderer from God. How easily have all who have descended from him rebelled and wandered since! But can we ever find happiness in running away from God? Is there any happiness but in a cheerful, filial submission to God? See where this wandering from God begins — in a spirit of rebellion and discontent. Oh, be ye watchful there. Be ready to hear and to do the will of God. In the midst of your trials remember His mercies.
II. BUT WHO WERE THESE WANDERERS WHOSE STORY WE HAVE BEFORE US? They were a family of Israelites, of professed believers in the Word of God. Never does sin seem to be more dreadful than when man's ingratitude is contrasted with God's mercies. You are never straitened in God. You have all things and abound in Him. He is rich in His mercy to you all. Why should you wander?
III. THIS WANDERING WAS WHOLLY UNNECESSARY. These Israelites were not poor and perishing. They "went out full." Their wandering was therefore wilful, and this made it the more rebellious and guilty. But is not all wandering from God unnecessary? Why need we ever go astray from Him? It will be always a solemn charge against us, "they went out full." It is the wandering which makes us empty. If we go away from God our own heedlessness or choice is the fountain of our guilt and sorrow. Why need we wander?
IV. FROM WHENCE DID THESE ISRAELITES WANDER? It was from the Lord's own land, Immanuel's land. It was from the whole company of His people. It was from the midst of the privileges of Divine revelation. It was from Bethlehem, the House of Bread. It was a hasty, foolish wandering from a happy home. We will not call every journey a wandering. It depends upon whence we came and whither we go, and under whose direction we move. Jonah wandered. When God sent him to Nineveh he fled to Tarshish. And God arrested him in the deep and brought him back. Manasseh wandered. And he was taken in the thorns and bound with fetters, till, in the day of his affliction, he sought the Lord and was forgiven. Demas wandered. From a love of this present world he forsook his Master and returned no more. Judas wandered. And how fearful was his end when he went to his own place! This is the wandering of which we have to speak. It is a wandering from God, from His Spirit, from His Word, from His Church. Whosoever goes astray from God voluntarily leaves the salvation which has been provided for him, and makes it his condemnation that he has loved darkness rather than light, because his ways are evil. But there are many wanderers from God in a very peculiar sense. They go from the very midst of His family, from Bethlehem itself, where Jesus is. They were born in His Church. They were early dedicated to Him in His holy sacrament. They were taught His Word, and named and registered among the number of His covenant people. They might have lived always at His feet and in His favour. But they left Bethlehem in rebellious discontent.
V. WHITHER DID THESE ISRAELITES WANDER? "To the country of Moab"; to a land of idolatry; a land of open licentiousness and crime. What a change of condition to them! What though bread was abundant there! "Fulness of bread like that in Sodom!" Man does not live by bread alone. And who that truly loved God would not rather live with a famine in Bethlehem than with sinful abundance in Moab? They went to Moab, but only "to sojourn there." Just as Lot went to sojourn in Sodom. Just as every wanderer from God goes into the world. It is but for recreation. It is only a harmless indulgence. It is but for a season of enjoyment. They mean some time to return and never to go back to Moab again. To die in Moab, without God and without hope! Nothing is further from their thoughts than this. They will only dip in the lake, like the swallow, and they shall feel refreshed for a longer flight. Ah, how little they know of the dangers they encounter!
VI. AND WHAT WERE THE RESULTS OF THEIR WANDERING? What could they be but wasting sorrow and death? Ah, how sad are the results of a life of guilt! How mournful are the consequences of a wandering from God!
Were they wise in taking this step? For some reasons they were wise. There was an abundance in the land of Moab, and a scarcity in the land of Judah. Worldly prudence, then, seemed to point out some other spot as their dwelling-place. But one thing they did not sufficiently consider — they were leaving behind them many of their religious advantages. Yes, there is no doubt that Elimelech was wrong, very wrong, in leaving the land of Judah with his family, and settling in the godless country of Moab. It is a fearful thing to set little store by our religious advantages and blessings, when God has given them to us. When, for instance, a person chooses a new home, how apt he is to reckon how far he will be a gainer in a worldly point of view, putting aside altogether his gain or loss in spiritual things! How sad, if he should grow richer for this life, but poorer for eternity! Again, when a servant chooses a fresh situation, is he not apt to measure the goodness of it by the wages he is to receive, instead of thinking seriously how far his soul is likely to prosper in his new home?
Emigration from one's own land can only be justified when it becomes an inevitable thing — where the population abounds more than the means of maintenance, and the people require to be thinned by the emigration of some for the comfort and advantage of all. But when people leave their country in the day of its difficulties, and thus refuse their help, they play the part of cowards who desert the army when the tide of battle rolls against its standards( they act undutifully before God, unworthily as patriots, and cruelly as human beings. Our best exertions at such a crisis are always due; and instead of flinching from a sphere in which any good is possible to us, we ought to show that duty calls us wherever we can be of service.
? — This may seem a strange thing, that the godly should be oppressed with famine, when worldlings and heathen wallow in their wealth. Of these David speaketh (Psalm 17:14
; Psalms 36:15; Psalms 73:4,12). The like you may hear in Job (Job 21:7
). But of the righteous it is said that they often cry out of their afflictions, their sorrows and nakedness, their hunger and misery; yea, our Saviour Christ pronounces Himself in His members, poor, hungry, naked. Judge now between the outward estate of the godly and the wicked; are they not contrary? That which of the world is condemned is of the Lord commended. Yet be not terrified from godliness, but rather strengthened in your profession. Then will you say, "Tell us the cause of this inequality?" Our Saviour answers (John 15:19
; John 16:20
). He compares us to the fruitful vine, which doth not only abide frost, snow, storm, and heat, but also at the gathering time is broken off, that the grapes may be reached. The gold must be tried in the furnace, the silver fined in the fire, the wheat purged in the floor, and, before it be meat for man, must also he ground in the mill; so must we be proved in affliction, fined in persecution, and crushed in pieces, under the burden of our own miseries, that we may be made prepared bread for the Lord's own spending. Why, then, doth the Lord make such large promises to His Church of plenty, seeing it endures continual poverty? I answer, the Church of God must be considered after two sorts: the first, as it is cleansed in the blood of Christ, and washed pure from all outward and notorious offences, unto which estate pertain all these outward promises of liberality in the Scriptures. The second is the declined estate, or corrupted condition of every one in the Church, even unto the world's end: unto this pertain all the punishments and tribulations which the godly endure, which the Lord sends upon them that He may by little and little scour us from our transgressions and weary us with the miseries of this life, that we may the more earnestly desire the life to come, for the Lord doth here scourge us that we should not be condemned with the world.
Moab was a doomed country. More than a hundred years before Ruth's birth its sentence had been pronounced through the mouth of the prophet Balaam: "There shall come a Star out of Jacob; and a Sceptre shall arise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab." "The earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burned up."
In the "Field of Moab," that is the upland canton bounded by the Amon on the north, the mountains on the east, and the Dead Sea precipices on the west, people lived very much as they did about Bethlehem, only more safely and in greater comfort. But the worship was of Chemosh, and Elimelech must soon have discovered how great a difference that made in thought and social custom and in the feeling of men toward himself and his family. The rites of the god of Moab included festivals in which humanity was disgraced. Standing apart from these he must have found his prosperity hindered, for Chemosh was lord in everything. An alien who had come for his own advantage, yet refused the national customs, would be scorned at least, if not persecuted. Life in Moab became an exile, the Bethlehemites saw that hardship in their own land would have been as easy to endure as the disdain of the heathen and constant temptation to vile conformity.
Elimelech, Naomi's husband died.
He went first from Israel, the land of the living, and led them thence, and so he now goeth out of the world before them.
I. DEATH IS THE END OF ALL, AND IT SPARETH NONE (Joshua 23:14; Job 21:33; Ecclesiastes 6:6; Ecclesiastes 7:2; 1 Corinthians 15:51; Hebrews 9:27).
II. A FULL SUPPLY OF BODILY WANTS CANNOT PREVENT DEATH. The man must die in Moab, where was food enough; the rich glutton must die also, and the rich man with his barn full.
III. WHERE MEN THINK TO PRESERVE LIFE, THERE THEY MAY LOSE IT, as Elimelech doth here, fleeing from the famine in Israel, yet died where plenty was, in Moab; for no place is free from death, and when the time appointed is come, man cannot pass it (Job 14:5).
THE CAUSE OF HIS DEPARTURE. "There was a famine in the land." Famine cometh from God. It was threatened in the Mosaic law, as a punishment from Heaven for disobedience and sin (Leviticus 26:18-20
). See how many arrows Jehovah hath in His quiver! In how many ways He can wither our comforts — blast our enjoyments. See how dependent we are upon Him. If famine and its calamitous consequences be occasioned by sin, let us be thankful to God that they are not inflicted upon us. We cannot deny that our sins are great and numerous, considering the precious advantages we enjoy. Still God loadeth us daily with His benefits. "He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." Let us learn to be thankful. Let us flee to the Redeemer's Cross for pardon, on account of our past forgetfulness of God. If famine and its accompanying horrors were experienced so frequently in the land of promise, we may gather that we cannot be free from adversities in any station or in any portion of the earth. When we are encompassed by difficulties — when we are ready to wish that we were in the situation of some of our neighbours, did we but know how bitter the ingredients which the hand of Providence not unfrequently puts into their cups, we should murmur less at our own crosses, and endure with a more satisfied mind our own tribulations. Let us learn, then, to be satisfied with the station which Providence has assigned us, and seek for relief under the trials which are inseparable from it, in the holy Word of God. Religion is the only effectual soother of human woe. It does not, indeed, remove miseries from those who are under its hallowing dominion, but it mixes the sweet with the bitter, so as to render the burden supportable. By directing the eye of the troubled Christian to that heavenly Benefactor who was suspended for him on the Cross, and thereby opened for him a way to the realms of unending blessedness, it deprives the trials of this temporary scene of much of their bitterness, and imparts new energy to the sinking soul. Again, if the sore effects of famine were felt in Canaan, while there was abundance in Moab — if Israelites suffered want, when Egyptians, and Philistines, and Moabites suffered it not — the possession of many earthly comforts is no evidence of spiritual safety, no sure sign of Divine favour and love. The only heaven which the despisers of the Saviour shall enjoy lies on this side the tomb; therefore they often receive more of the blessings of Providence than the heirs of glory.
II. WHITHER ELIMELECH DIRECTED HIS COURSE when he departed from Canaan. By this conduct this man evinced too great a regard for terrestrial bliss, and too little for that which is heavenly. He slighted Divine ordinances and the privileges of the Lord's sanctuary. The grace of God has, indeed, enabled His servants to keep their garments clean in the midst of the greatest pollutions, as Joseph in Egypt and Obadiah in the household of wicked Ahab; still it is oftener the case, under such circumstances, that the Christian suffers more of evil than he imparts of good. "The companion of fools shall be destroyed." "Lead us not into temptation." If intercourse with the ungodly be so replete with danger, let us carefully avoid it.
III. WHAT BECAME OF ELIMELECH IN HIS NEW DWELLING-PLACE? "And Elimelech Naomi's husband died, and she was left, and her two sons." We are not informed how soon he died; but that he finished his life shortly after his settlement there is clear from his death happening before that of his two sons, who lived only ten years after their arrival in Moab. How short the period he escaped from the pressure of famine in the land of his nativity! And if he had greater abundance of earthly comforts in his new habitation, how quickly were they all taken from him! If he had remained in the land of religious advantages, he would not have had to sustain adversities and hardships there long. Rather than resort to unlawful, or even questionable, measures, to get rid of our troubles, we ought to implore aid from heaven, that we may "endure" the "chastening" of the Lord — that we may bear the afflictions which His providence allots to us with patience and humility — being fully persuaded that our heavenly Parent doeth all things well — and likewise with earnest supplications for the accompanying influences of the Divine Spirit, by which they become greatly instrumental in meetening our souls for the habitations of the blessed. Learn:
1. That adversities and troubles should not be allowed to weigh too heavily on our minds.
2. That we should be very moderate in our estimation of, and desire for, earthly blessings.
The end of one sorrow is the beginning of another, like the drops of rain distilling from the top of a house, when one is gone, another follows; like a ship upon the sea, being on the top of one wave, is presently cast down to the foot of another; like the seed which being spread by the sower is haunted by the fowls, being green and past their reach is endangered by frost and snow, being past the winter's hurt, by beasts in summer, being ripe is cut with the sickle, threshed with the flail, purged in the floor, ground in the mill, baked in the oven, chewed in the teeth, and consumed in the stomach. This made David say (Psalm 34:13
). But be not discouraged, for through many afflictions must we enter into the kingdom of heaven, and by affliction we are made like the Son of God.
She was left, and her two sonsI.
THAT ALBEIT DEATH IS DUE TO ALL, YET IT SEIZETH NOT UPON ALL AT ONCE; BUT ONE DIETH NOW AND ANOTHER HEREAFTER. But God will have mankind upon earth till the last day; He forbeareth some, and reprieveth them for their amendment; for the lengthening of life is for our further repentance.
II. THAT THE LORD, IN AFFLICTING HIS CHILDREN, SWEETENETH THE SAME WITH SOME COMFORTS. He wholly leaveth not them without some taste of His mercy and goodness, as we may see in His dealing with Naomi. He took away her husband, and left her two sons, and after took them away, but gave her an excellent daughter-in-law. If we look upon the affliction, let us also consider what cause of comfort we have; mark when, for what, how long or short, what it is allayed with, that we be not wholly cast down.
They took them wives of the women of Moab.
The sin of these young men in marrying strange women is not expressly denounced as a sin in the story, although it is denounced in the Targum, which commences verse 4 thus: "They transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and took foreign wives from among the daughters of Moab." But no one can read the Old Testament without feeling that they sinned against the law, for to the Hebrews marriage was a religious covenant; and St. Paul does but utter an admitted and familiar truth when he asks, "What fellowship has light with darkness, or Belial with God?" The reason of the law is given in the passage just cited from Deuteronomy — "they will turn away thy children from Me, and they will serve false gods." The daughters of Moab were specially obnoxious to the faithful Israelites. They appear to have been among the most fascinating, and the most wanton and profligate, women of antiquity. Their gods — Chemosh, Moloch, Baal-peor — were incarnations of lust and cruelty. They demanded human sacrifices. Children were cast into their burning arms. In their ritual sensuality was accounted piety. True, Mahlon and Chilion were exceptionally fortunate in their wives. They were not turned to the service of false gods, though there was grave reason to fear that they might be; but, on the other hand, neither did they turn their wives to the service of the only true God. It was not till after her husband's death that Ruth learned to take shelter under the wings of the Lord God of Israel (Ruth 2:12
); and Orpah, as we are expressly told (Ruth 1:15
), "went back to her people and her gods."()
It is wonderful how soon and how easily one gets used to a change of circumstances when the change itself is brought about gradually. The country of Moab, into which Elimelech and his family had journeyed, had of course its own language, its own fashions, and its own religion too, and these were as dissimilar as possible from those of the country which they had just now left. Yet the new-comers were in no serious sense shocked by what they saw and heard — had they so been they would have retraced their steps without delay; but each day brought its own novelty, and they managed to accustom themselves to the new things of to-day before it became necessary to face those of the morrow. Looking calmly at our fashion of living and way of acting now, some of us are compelled to admit how much we have changed in recent years; we never guessed that the alteration was so great or so complete; we never meant to have come so far. Worst of all, we never thought we should have felt the change so little. We remember well the qualms of conscience by which we were troubled when first we commenced to wander: we recollect now how the protests of our heart became fainter and fainter day by day until they ceased to be anything more than a hardly audible whisper. We went to sojourn in the country of Moab: we came into the country of Moab, and continued there. To begin with, our intentions were purely selfish, as selfish as were those of Lot when he elected to pitch his tent toward Sodom. We were going to get what we could out of Moab; they who lived there had something that we coveted, and we determined to make them share it with us. And, moreover, we had no serious intention of giving Moab anything in return. It is, indeed, just possible that at one time we may have possessed the Quixotic idea of remodelling life in Moab to suit our own ideas, but if so we soon abandoned the idea; for on the one hand we found that Moab was not willing to be remodelled — indeed, when we faintly suggested something of the kind, they said to us, as Sodom had said to Lot, and with not a little point, "Stand back; this one came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge"; and on the other hand, our own opinions were neither sufficiently clear in our own minds nor dear to our own hearts to enable us to graft them upon others. We were somewhat surprised, it may be, and a little pained, at the way in which our new neighbours received our well-meant attempts, in the early days of our life in Moab, to bring before them the advantages of a life of obedience and surrender to God. "If Bethlehem was such a charming place, and the life there so delightful, why did you exchange it for our country?" they not unnaturally inquired; "if Bethlehem did not satisfy you, how can you suppose that it will satisfy us?" Nor may we forget that in leaving the land of promise the wanderer never intends to be absent for other than a short period. If, on parting from our true home, any one had suggested that we should have been found in Moab to-day, we should have denied the imputation with indignation. Yet here we are still; and here in His great mercy the Good Shepherd has found us, and hence He desires to carry us home again — to our home and His. So they came into the country of Moab, and appear to have been received there with courtesy and hospitality. The world is always glad when those who have been making a somewhat definite profession of devotion to God show signs of a desire to relax the strictness of their behaviour; it is always willing to meet such persons more than half-way, and to do its best to enable them to quiet the still struggling conscience with as little delay as possible. If the world would only persecute us when it finds us on its own ground, there would be some hope that our stay in Moab would prove short indeed. Not that the world is any more prompted by unselfishness in its reception of us than were we ourselves in our journey to Moab; our new friends rejoice that, by our change of front, another protest against their way of life has died a natural death, and they are only too glad to be present and assist at its obsequies; they are, moreover, clear-sighted enough to see without being told that our surrender is a tacit victory for the world and indifferentism, and pro tanto
a defeat for the gospel and a discredit to the life of faith in Christ.
And thus the world moves on — deaths and marriages, marriages and deaths. The household which to-day mourns as though all joy had taken flight for ever to-morrow resounds with the laughter of many voices at a newborn happiness. The faces all tear-stained yesterday are bright with smiles to-day. The bell which slowly tolled the funeral knell an hour ago now rings out the joyous wedding chime. So it must be, so it ought to be. Probably life would lose half its beauty but for this alternation of shadow and sunshine; at least, this we know, that human hearts need both the darkness and the light, or they will not grow to that perfection of truth and purity which God has designed they shall attain. Elimelech died, the sons married. It is a simple statement, yet a whole world of change is involved in it for that small household.
Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them.
What a melancholy collapse it all had been! For those so dear to her, death; for herself, solitude — the woman was left of her two sons and her husband. And yet what a marvellous blessing bereavement not only may be but often is. Surrounded by those who make up to us our world, we are slow to raise our eyes above or beyond them, or to realise that we have any need which they are incapable of supplying; but when they are taken from us, these beloved ones upon whom alone we have leaned and to whom alone we have been in the habit of looking for strength and consolation and advice, then it sometimes is that the soul looks up as she hears the Master calling her by name, and through her tears recognises for the first time the patient Lord who has ever been her truest friend. God would not have us love our dear ones one whit the less, but He would have us learn to put Him first and to trust Him implicitly about them no less than about ourselves.
1. That many afflictions do attend the most gracious souls (Psalm 34:19).
2. Crosses seldom come single upon God's servants.
3. God did wonderfully support her in all these her great trials, and left her upon Scripture record as a pattern of patience unto all succeeding generations.
She arose... that she might return.
1. God's house of worldly correction is to God's people a school of heavenly instruction. Naomi's crosses and losses she met with in Moab made her soul to sit loose from that cursed country, and to long for Canaan — that blessed land of promise. God's rod hath a voice (Micah 6:9), and now Naomi's ear was open to hear the instruction of it (Job 36:8-10; Micah 2:10). It is a rich mercy when affliction brings us from worse to better, from Moab to Canaan, further off from sin and nearer to God.
2. Godly souls should lead convincing lives. Such and so amiable was the conversation of godly Naomi in the eyes of those two daughters of Moab that it convinced them both — to love her and her people, and to go along with her out of their own native country unto her land. Plato saith, "If moral virtue could be beheld with mortal eyes, it would attract all hearts to be enamoured with it." How much more, then, would theological virtue or supernatural grace do so?
3. Every heart should hanker heavenward, as Naomi did homeward from Moab to Canaan.
SHE RETAINED HER RELIGION — HER ALLEGIANCE TO THE ONE TRUE AND LIVING GOD — IN THE MIDST OF SURROUNDING IDOLATRY.
II. SHE BELIEVED IN GOD EVEN IN THE MIDST OF ADVERSITY.
III. SHE EXERCISED AN INFLUENCE FOR GOOD ON OTHERS.
1. On those who had known her intimately — her own household.
2. On those who had known her long — long enough to find out her true character.
3. On those who, according to all experience, are least easily influenced by one in her position — on her daughters-in-law.
IV. SHE COULD DENY HERSELF FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS.
1. It would have been an advantage to her to have these two strong, active young women with her to work for her in her old age. But a settlement would be easier for them in their own land than in Judah. So she bade them return, and was willing to go home alone.
2. She rose, too, above that petty jealousy which might have been excused in one so circumstanced, and wished them that provision which was the best security for rest and honour for a woman: "rest each of them in the house of her husband." Naomi's religion was no mere surface thing. It had become a part of herself. It had informed her character. It saved her from the corruptions of idolatry, from despair, and it enabled her to exercise a beneficent power over those who knew her best. What imperfect religion could do for her the sublime faith of Christ can do for all.
To trace the course of the wanderer away from God is sad and painful. The result of misery and regret is always the same; whether he ever return to God or not his sorrow over the remembrance of his wandering will be equally sure. We must never hesitate, therefore, in proclaiming to all the wanderers from God, "You will find no rest in Moab." But I am not now to trace this course of sin to its dreadful result. There is for some a day of awakening in the present life. And, painful as this day may be, it is still a happy day. It is the beginning of a new life, a happy life, a life of glory. It is the dawning of a light which is prepared as the morning. It is the blessed visitation of the grace and goodness of God to the lost and guilty. We must never forget that this awakening of the soul is the work of God. Idolatry and enmity to God reign throughout the land of Moab. There Naomi dwells. There, if God permitted, Naomi would die. There, if God did not arrest and arouse him, the sinner would perish. To leave him in prosperity in this condition is to leave him to hopeless destruction. God speaks unto him in his prosperity, and he says, "I will not hear." This is his manner from his youth. Then God sends awakening providences. Afflictions and losses are multiplied. The nest is broken up. The soul is made sorrowful. Thus it was with Naomi. Her husband died. Her two sons are taken away. How many of His children have been saved by the bitter remedy of affliction, and have thus been taught to bless the chastenings of the Lord! But why should you make affliction necessary to your soul's salvation? Let the goodness of the Lord lead you to repentance. Let His love awaken your gratitude. But whether affliction or joy be made the instrument to awaken the soul, it is equally a Divine instrument. Welcome it, do not resist it, but cultivate it as a priceless gift. Now God means to bless you indeed. Listen to His voice with gladness. In this day of awakening, Naomi found that she had gained nothing by her wandering from God. There had been a famine in Judah. But ah, she had found a far worse famine in Moab. There every comfort had failed and every hope had departed. In no single point was her condition improved by her flight from Israel. But was this peculiar to her? Can you ever gain in such a course? Are you ever the happier for transgression, or made the more contented by forgetting your Creator? Far enough from all this is your actual experience. Your awakened mind looks back upon life, to say, with distress, "I have sinned, and what hath it profited me?" There is not a single real pleasure, or joy, or gain in life, of which any man can truly say, "This, at least, is the reward of my sin." Even if you never truly repent, your retrospect of life will be just as unsatisfying and destitute of comfort to your soul. You will despise all that you have gained. You will despise yourself for pursuing vanities so madly. And nothing will remain to you as the result but the most overwhelming despair. How much you have lost! You have thrown away the favour of God. You have sacrificed your peace of conscience. You have lost your early readiness to receive religious impressions. But good news from the Lord's land comes to this awakened wanderer. "Naomi heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited His people in giving them bread." What precious intelligence does the gospel bring to the guilty! It declares the pardoning love of God. It proclaims complete atonement in the blood of Jesus. It announces full salvation in His merits and death. It exhibits God reconciled to those who have rebelled against Him. The message comes to you. Receive it. Rejoice in it. It is a message from God to each of you. Then the awakened wanderer sets out at once on a return. Naomi "arose, that she might return from the country of Moab; wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, on the way to return into the land of Judah." Yes — the very first thing, when your mind is awakened, and you see and feel your guilt, is to go back. Many think they must first feel much, and mourn much, and suffer much, before they can hope to go back in peace to God. But why? Will your suffering save you? Will your multiplied tears add anything to a Saviour's worth? Is your dwelling on fire? And must you wait until you are scorched with the flames before you can escape in safety? Have you mistaken your road in journeying? And can you recover your lost steps the better by delay or hesitation or fruitless grief? Nay. You want all the time for actual pursuit. You have none to waste. Turn! Turn! fly! Fly! 'Tis madness to defer. Naomi goes to no other part of Moab, to no other land of idolatry. She goes directly back to the land of Judah. This is a blessed example. How many go from one broken cistern to another! But all these efforts are vain. Edom or Babylon are no better than Moab. No. You must fly to Bethlehem at once. Now is the accepted time. This is the day of your salvation.
How that the Lord had visited His people in giving them breadI.
GOD SEETH HIS PEOPLE IN ADVERSITY AND WANT, AND COMETH IN HIS DUE TIME TO HELP THEM (Exodus 3:7, 8
), which is from His mere mercy and the stability of His love and promise to His people.
II. GOD HATH EVER HAD MORE SPECIALLY A PEOPLE OF HIS OWN CALLED "HIS PEOPLE." This should make us to examine ourselves how we be God's people, whether according to creation or after the work of regeneration.
III. CORPORAL FOOD AND THE NECESSARIES OF THIS LIFE ARE GOD'S GIFT (Leviticus 26:4, 5; Deuteronomy 11:14, 15; Hosea 2:8, 9; Joel 2:19).
GOD WILL CERTAINLY REVIVE HIS PEOPLE WITH SOME GOOD NEWS FROM HEAVEN WHEN THEIR HEARTS ARE ALMOST DEAD WITHIN THEM UPON EARTH (Proverbs 25:25
). This cheered up her drooping spirit, that was almost dead within her by her manifold afflictions. This is one of God's methods, first to kill and then to make alive (1 Samuel 2:6
; Psalm 16:10
; Psalm 18:16
; Psalm 90:3
); the good news God sent concerning the weal of Zion to His people as they sat weeping by the waters of Babylon (Psalm 137:1, 2
) was a little reviving to them in their bondage (Ezra 9:8
); and when His people were humbled He then granted them some deliverance (2 Chronicles 12:7
). Heaven is called a far country (Matthew 25:14
); good news from thence brought in by the Holy Spirit. Oh, how welcome should that be to us and how unspeakably comfortable! (1 Peter 1:8
II. GOD HATH HIS VISITING TIMES AND SEASONS IN RELATION TO HIS OWN PEOPLE.
1. Sometimes God visits their sins (Jeremiah 14:10), and then He fulfils His word of threatening evil against them. This is called God's visiting in His anger (Job 35:15), but He retains not His anger for ever (Psalm 57:11).
2. He sometimes also visits in mercy (2 Samuel 24:16). This is that visit which David begs, "Oh visit me with Thy salvation" (Psalm 106:4).
III. GRACE AND BOUNTY FOLLOW WANT AND PENURY THROUGH DIVINE GOODNESS TO HIS PEOPLE. After a long scarcity (of ten years) God visits them with plenty. This holds true both in the temporal and spiritual famine (Amos 8:11).
During all those ten years of absence, Naomi had maintained in undiminished strength her attachment to the service and worship of the true God."Among innumerable incorrupt she stood," like Abdiel in the midst of fallen angels, or like Noah in the midst of a revolted world. There must have been root and reality about her religion to make it thus evergreen and perennial. So have we sometimes seen in the Arabian desert a solitary palm fed by a fountain, and glassing its beauty and abundance in that from which it derived all its verdure and life. How many persons are there whose religion could not endure the test of an ordeal a hundred times less severe than this! It is a thing of mere outward imitation and reflection. Withdraw them from the midst of favouring external influences, and their superficial piety will speedily vanish away like the morning dew. Like the vase that has been electrotyped so as to resemble silver, a little tear and wear brings into view the inferior metal which forms its real material. Carey used to complain bitterly, in his days, that the Christianity of many who came out of England to India did not survive a sea voyage. It was all gone before they had "doubled the Cape." In like manner, the Sabbath-keeping and the church-attendance of multitudes have undergone sad decadence during a few months of residence in Berlin or Paris. And yet the degree in which our secret devotion and our Christian habits can live and flourish in the midst of unfriendly influences and when dependent on inward support alone, is the true test of the reality and strength of our religion. Naomi had nobly stood this test, and had thus proved herself to be "an Israelite indeed."
Her two daughters-in-law with her.
Here we have the most happy and promising commencement of a new work. We see them all set out together upon the same road and apparently for the same result. No one who saw them set out upon their journey could anticipate that they would voluntarily separate, or imagine that one was more likely than the other to reach the end proposed. We are obliged to wait until succeeding trials shall bring their real characters individually to light before we can discriminate between them. By a great variety of means God stirs up sinful men to seek after Himself. Anxious, excited, apparently earnest and sincere, they set out upon their journey back to the gracious Being whom they have so long neglected. Yes; they really set out, and appear to set out sincerely. I do not mean that such persons feel their need and danger: that they meditate sincerely upon their return to God; that they resolve they will go back. No. I mean that they actually begin their journey. The prodigal not only says, "I will arise and go to my father"; he does arise and go. The wise and foolish virgins both take their lamps and go forth to meet the bridegroom. Thus all go together "on the way to return into the land of Judah." As far as this journey lies still within the limits of Moab, so far they may unite to go. Up to a certain point they must take the same path and travel in the same direction: Ah, how many of these young travellers have I seen! The Church delighted over them. Christian friends were encouraged by them. The brightest and most blessed hopes clustered around them. The Lord only, who knoweth the hearts of the children of men, could have told us which were the Orpahs and which were the Ruths of this hopeful company. His judgment at the last separates the precious from the vile, divides the gold from the dross, and assigns to each his own place. But we must follow our travellers in their journey, and see why and where they separate. As we thus follow them we see them meet with many trials of faith and patience on the road. Your former habits of sin are to be renounced. But, in addition to these, new habits of conduct and feeling are to be acquired. The habit of secret prayer in your closet and chamber; the habit of constant, earnest study of the Word of God; the habit of watchfulness over your easily-besetting sins; the habit of caution in your allowed indulgences; the habit of consideration and discernment in your relations and company; the habit of resistance to your inward propensities to evil; and, above all, the habit of constant remembrance of God your Saviour, and of simple, earnest faith in His presence, protection, and help; all these, if I should mention no more, are to be acquired, cultivated, and maintained. If all this could be done by single effort, it would be easy work. But that is impossible. It is a journey of successive steps, of continued progress; and you have to press forward in it with the utmost determination and the most sincere desire. But above all these habits of outward life, you have to come with the deep sense of sin, with a consciousness that you are condemned and destitute, with an entire refusal to trust in any virtue or excellence of your own, and to cast yourself in an affectionate and simple trust at your Saviour's feet. When you come to serve the Lord, you must prepare your soul for temptation. From the day you set out on your heavenly journey discouragements and difficulties will seem to multiply around you. The world will be arrayed against you. The habits, opinions, and plans of worldly people are constant obstacles in your way. The professed Christians around you are often fearful obstacles in the way. You see those who profess to follow Christ in many instances living just as gaily, as extravagantly, as indulgently, often as sinfully, as if they had made no such profession. Your own inward heart and feelings will often be very discouraging to you. There is such backwardness in prayer; such want of deep interest in the Word and service of God; so little sensible enjoyment often in your new path; such a necessity for constant warfare and constant watchfulness within yourself. If you relax a moment, you fall. Ah, these are great discouragements, great trials to your faith and patience. Nothing can endure through them but a heart that really loves Jesus more than all the world, and a spirit that willingly sacrifices itself for His service and glory. If this is your heart and spirit, then all these discouragements are instruments of new strength. Orpah may feel dispirited and weary. Ruth only loves the more, the more she is tried. To Orpah the way grows more unattractive and tedious as she goes on. To Ruth every step brings new determination and new desire to press on even to the end.
The Lord deal kindly with you. I.
THAT IT IS A DUTY TO PRAY FOR THOSE WHICH DO EITHER US OR OURS GOOD.
II. THAT AT PARTING FRIENDS ARE TO PRAY ONE FOR ANOTHER, as we may see the practice of it in Isaac (Genesis 28:1, 3); Laban (Genesis 31:55); Jacob (Genesis 43:14); and in Paul (Acts 20:36).
III. THAT THE GODLY ARE PERSUADED THAT THE LORD IS A MERCIFUL REWARDER OF THE DUTIES OF LOVE WHICH ONE DOTH TOWARDS ANOTHER (Colossians 3:24).
IV. THAT CHILDREN SHOULD SO WELL DESERVE OF PARENTS, yea, though but parents-in-law, AS THEY MAY BE MOVED HEARTILY TO PRAY FOR THEM, as Naomi doth in this place. A good carriage is a duty towards all, then much more to parents; and the prayers of parents is a means to put a blessing upon their children.
V. THAT GOD WILL NOT ONLY BARELY REWARD, BUT SO DEAL WITH US AS WE DEAL WITH OTHERS.
The key-note of all I have to say is in that word "kindly." The argument is this. We can understand kindness in the sphere of the human, and rise from that to a prayer for the Divine kindness. No society in any age can be cemented together by force alone. Feudalism, for instance, in olden times, was not all terror. The baron could command his dependents in time of war, as he fed and housed and clothed them in times of peace; but, as the old chroniclers tell us, there was often a rare hospitality, a hearty cheerfulness, a chivalrous affection in the somewhat stern relationship.
I. THE LORD KNOWS BEST WHAT KINDNESS IS. The Lord deal kindly with you. Has He been kind? At times we should have been tempted to answer, No! The vine is blighted, the fig-tree withered, the locusts have spoiled the green of spring. Kindly? Yes, we shall answer one time when we stand in our lot at the end of days. For kindness is not indulgence. God's kindness to us may take forms which surprise us. At the heart of His severest judgments there is mercy, in the bitter spring there is healing water. The kindest things God has ever done for us have been, perhaps, the strangest and severest. So it was with Daniel and Jacob and Joseph and Abraham, our father. All God's ways are done in truth, and truth is always kindness.
II. THE LORD KNOWS BEST WHAT OTHERS HAVE BEEN TO US. "As you have dealt with the dead and me." It is a touching little sentence. The dead. So silent now. Never to come back, for us to touch imperfectness into riper good. Gone! What a word of vacancy, and silence, and subtle mystery! Is it strange we should wish well to those who were kind to the dead? And Naomi links her own being with them still: "The dead and me." And with true hearts they never can be dissociated. Anniversaries of remembrance make our separations no more distant. They soften them. They give place for comforting remembrances: but the dead are near as ever. "The dead and me!" Who shall separate? None. Christ died, yea, rather is risen again, and He will raise us up together to the heavenly places.
III. THE LORD ALONE WILL BE WITH US ALL THROUGH OUR FUTURE PILGRIMAGE. Apart from Divine power, which we have not to bless with, there is Divine presence which we all need. Christ will be with us to the end. Never will come a battle, a temptation, a solitude, a sorrow, a needful sacrifice, but the Lord will be at hand.
IV. THE LORD HAS GIVEN US GUARANTEES OF HIS KINDNESS. We are not left to meditate on rain and fruitful seasons only. Not the green of spring, nor the south wind of summer, nor the gold of autumn alone proclaim His goodness.()
As ye have dealt with the dead, and with me.
Let us inquire how many things a dying godly man leaves behind him in this world. His soul is sent before him (Revelation 14:13
). He leaveth behind him —
I. His BODY, to which we must be kind, by burial and lamentation.
II. His ESTATE, to which we must be kind, by careful and faithful administration.
III. His CHILDREN, FRIENDS, or KINDRED, to whom we must be kind, by love and affection.
IV. His FAULTS and FAILINGS, to which we must be kind, by silence and suppression.
V. His MEMORY and VIRTUES, to which we must be kind, by congratulation, commemoration, and imitation.
You know not, husbands and wives, how long you may dwell together. Death may soon come, and will doubtless, sooner or later, come and tear away the one of you from the other. When that event shall take place, how will you wish to have behaved? Behave at present as you would then wish to have behaved, for then you will not be able to bring back the present time. Many great miracles have been wrought by the power of God, but it never did, nor ever will, recall the time that is past. How comfortable was it to Orpah and Ruth to hear Naomi say, "Ye have dealt kindly with the dead!" And how comfortable was the reflection to them through life that she had reason to give them this commendation!
It was much to be able to say this, when we consider how difficult the discharge of the duties of law-relationship often is, and how apt it is to be judged with suspicion and severity even when it is well done. The fact has been noticed long ago in the pages of many a Greek and Roman satirist. But Naomi was not aware, when she spoke this generous tribute, how very much their conduct had been the result of her own. She had won the confidence and veneration of their young hearts by her unselfishness, her forbearance, her charitable judgments, her holy consistency, and her discretion. We often make for ourselves the beds we are to lie upon, and we may be certain that there would be more Ruths in the world if there were more Naomis. But how blessed when it can thus be said of us, that we have dealt kindly with the dead"! We should make it our habitual and earnest aim so to behave ourselves towards our kindred that, should we be called to stand beside their open graves, this would be the testimony of others and of our own consciences. But we must not forget that there is an important sense in which we may prove our undying love for the dead by our kindness to the living. Those two young widows expressed their affection for their departed husbands by their thoughtful attentions to Naomi. They loved her for her own sake, but they loved her doubly for their sakes. Religion, indeed, warrants us to think of our friends beyond the grave as still living, though absent. David's nobly generous spirit rejoiced that he could still reach his departed Jonathan in lavishing respect and kindness upon Jonathan's only surviving son, Mephibosheth. And this sentiment reaches its highest possible point of sublimity, and becomes, as it were, transfigured, when we show kindness to another because he belongs to Christ. In this way we can still reach Him in His members, and anoint His blessed feet with our precious ointment and wash them with our tears. That poor sufferer whom you relieved by your benefactions and soothed by your sympathy was a disguised Christ. Even the cup of cold water given to a disciple in the name of a disciple is to be remembered by Him on another day.
The Lord grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. 1.
Man's Maker is the chief maker of all men and women's marriages in the world. It is the work of God to provide an helpmeet for man, hence it is called the covenant of God (Proverbs 2:17
), and therefore honourable to all (Hebrews 13:4
). Religious Naomi looks up here unto God, saying in effect, "The Lord grant you good husbands."Grace should be sought for, in the first place, in those seven qualifications of good matches and marriages: grace, race, face, arts, parts, portion, proportion.
2. A married state is a state of rest. So it is called here and Ruth 3:1. Hence marriage is called the port or haven of young people, whose affections while unmarried are continually floating and tossed to and fro like a ship upon the waters, till they come into this happy harbour. There is a natural propension in most persons towards nuptial communion, as all created beings have a natural tendency to their proper centre, and are restless out of it.
If it is to be wished that wives may find rest in the houses of their husbands, it must be the duty of husbands to do what they can to procure them rest, not only by endeavouring to provide for them what is necessary for their subsistence and comfortable accommodation, but by such a kind behaviour as will promote their satisfaction and comfort. Men and women may have affluence without rest, and rest without affluence. But let women also contribute to procure rest for themselves by frugality, by industry, by such behaviour to their husbands as will merit constant returns of kindness.
Surely we will return with thee. I.
PROMISES OF SPEECH AND PURPOSES OF HEART, WHETHER TO GOD, TO HIS CHURCH, OR TO INDIVIDUALS, OUGHT TO GO HAND IN HAND. If a man's word does not express his meaning and bind him, nothing can.
II. PROMISES AND PURPOSES OFTEN PROCEED FROM PASSION INSTEAD OF PRINCIPLE.
III. PROMISES AND PURPOSES PROCEEDING MERELY FROM PASSION SOON FALL TO THE GROUND. "I go, sir," one said in the Gospels, and "went not." Some persons melting under the ministry of the Word as a summer brook (Job 6:15-20). A changed heart necessary to perseverance. Saul may have religious fits, and Jehu much zeal; for want of a regenerated nature both come to nothing.
Promises of speech and purposes of spirit should walk hand in hand together. None ought to promise with their mouths what they do not purpose with their hearts; this is to be fraudulent and deceitful, which is destructive to human society. God's children are all such as will not lie (Isaiah 63:8
), to say and unsay, or to say one thing and think another, to blow hot and cold with one blast. Ye that have promised to give up yourselves to Christ, and to go with Him in ways of holiness, it must be your purpose to depart from iniquity (2 Timothy 2:19
; Revelation 14:4
; Hosea 2:7
2. Promises of the mouth, yea, and purposes of the mind, do oft proceed from passion, and not from principle. So did Orpah's here; it was only a pang of passion which the discreet matron prudently distrusts, and therefore tries them both with powerful dissuasives. Thus Saul in a passion promised fairly to David (1 Samuel 24:16, 17, and 1 Samuel 26:21), and David discovered all those fair promises to proceed more from sudden passion than from fixed principles; therefore did he distrust both his talk and his tears. Hereupon David gets him up into the hold, well knowing there was little hold to be taken at such passionate promises and protestations (1 Samuel 24:22). Yea, and out of the land too, as not daring to trust his reconciliation in passion and strong conviction without any true conversion (1 Samuel 26:25, and 1 Samuel 27:1,2,4), otherwise his malice had been restless and he faithless.
3. Purposes and promises that proceed from passion, and not from principle, do soon dwindle away into nothing. Thus did Orpah's (ver. 14), who said with that son in the parable (Matthew 21:30), "I go, sir"; yea, but when, sir? So here, it is certain we will return with thee, was enough uncertain. It is a maxim, second thoughts are better than first, but Orpah's first were better than her second; her purposes and promises do dwindle away and vanish into smoke.
The bright morning does not always shine into the perfect day; the sweetest spring-bud of promise does not always ripen into precious fruit. The seed that was cast on stony ground grew rapidly up, but withered in a moment. Orpah's decision was the decision of impulsive feeling, of filial affection; it was strong suddenly, it grew up in an instant, and in an instant it perished; and she resolved to forsake Ruth and Naomi, and return to her gods, her people, and her country.
It grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me.
This is a great aggravation of the afflictions of many parents, that their children are involved with themselves. They could bear poverty, they could bear reproach, they could bear death itself, had they none who depended on them for bread and for respectability in the world. God has the same right to rule over the fruit of our bodies as over ourselves, and to allot to them their share of the good or the bad things of this world. It is bitterest of all, when we have reason to think that our sins have provoked God to punish us in the persons of our friends, or to inflict those strokes which our friends must feel as heavily as ourselves. Let us beware of ever exposing ourselves to such heart-piercing reflections by conduct that may bring down God's displeasure upon our families. God's people may sometimes, without good reason, think that the hand of the Lord is gone forth against them, in the calamities which befall their families or friends. Our afflictions are hard enough to be borne by us, without the addition of groundless reflections against ourselves. At the same time, the error is much more common of insensibility to the Divine displeasure, when it has been really kindled by our sins, than of vexing ourselves with unjust suspicions of God's anger. There is one thing that still remains to be considered concerning this parting speech of Naomi to her daughters-in-law. Why did she dissuade them from going with her to the land of Judah, where the true God was well known, and persuade them to return to a country of abominable idolaters? We are not bound to justify all that Naomi spake or did. But, in charity to that good woman, we ought to believe that, for years past, she had been endeavouring, by her practice and her converse, to recommend to her young friends the worship of the God of Israel. If they were truly turned from the error of their ways, nothing that is here said was likely to drive them back to their own country. They might have been disgusted even with Naomi's own conduct, if she had not fairly told them what inconveniences they were to encounter in going to her land, and to her people. Our Lord very plainly told His followers what they were to expect in His service. "The foxes have holes," etc. We may, however, observe, that Christ usually administered proper antidotes against the fears which the doctrine of the Cross might excite in the minds of His hearers. It may be doubted whether Naomi, in the dejection of her spirits, did not overlook the powerful consolations which might have encouraged her young friends to follow her into the land of Israel, and would have more than compensated all the inconveniences to which they would have been exposed in a strange land. Doubtless she had often spoken of those privileges to them in former times; but as yet they had not learned their nature, and perhaps Naomi now despaired of ever being able to give them a perfect idea of it.
Orpah kissed her mother-in-law; but Ruth clave unto her. I.
WORLDLY RESPECTS ARE GREAT HINDRANCES IN THE COURSE OF GODLINESS. The world keepeth from the entertaining of the truth (Matthew 22:5
); it hindereth in the receiving of it.
II. AN UNSOUND HEART MAY FOR A TIME MAKE A FAIR SHOW IN THE WAY TO CANAAN, BUT YET TURN BACK AT THE LAST, as Orpah doth here. And this is by reason, first, of certain motions of religion, which maketh them in general to approve of the same; holding this, that it is a good thing to be religious, and that none can find fault with a man for that. Further, the working of the Word, moving the heart in some sort to entertain it. And, lastly, the desire of praise and good esteem with men: these will make hollow hearts to set on a while to heavenward, but shall not be able to enter.
III. SUCH AS WANT SOUNDNESS TOWARDS GOD FOR RELIGION MAY YET HAVE OTHERWISE COMMENDABLE PARTS IN THEM. For Orpah is commended for a kind wife, as well as Ruth by Naomi, and for a kind daughter-in-law (ver. 8); and she showed good humanity in going on the way with her mother-in-law, yea, a good natural affection in weeping so at parting.
An onlooker not able to discover the difference between Orpah and Ruth so far. The crisis has come. Both had made professions (ver. 10). Here the difference is made apparent.
I. WE LEARN THAT IT IS POSSIBLE TO GO A LONG WAY TOWARDS CHRISTIANITY AND YET NOT TO BE A CHRISTIAN. To be born, educated, and dwell in Christian households, these are great blessings, but do not constitute or make a Christian. It will not do to be almost, we must be altogether, decided for Christ. The cup that is almost sound will not hold water. The ship that is almost whole will not weather the storm. Feelings, sentiment, profession are all good if they spring from a living faith in Jesus Christ; without this they are worse than worthless.
II. WE LEARN THAT IT IS POSSIBLE TO DECEIVE OURSELVES, AND TO THINK THAT ALL IS RIGHT WHEN IN TRUTH ALL IS WRONG WITH OUR SOULS. Hardly possible that Orpah played the conscious hypocrite. She meant what she did when she became a proselyte — did not deliberately act a part. Feeling and sentiment (love for her husband) blinded her eyes. Love to God, which she had thought supreme in her heart, subordinate to the love of Moab. This often so with men; they are not hypocrites, they are self-deceivers. Education, circumstances, the force of influences around them, produce an emotional religion which they mistake for vital godliness. They hear with joy like the "stony-ground hearers."
III. WE LEARN THAT OUR RELIGION WILL NOT PROFIT US AT ALL UNLESS IT BE CHARACTERISED BY PERSEVERANCE TO THE END. Improvement: Is our profession a mere profession or the fruit of a living faith? Brought by circumstances to the boundary-line between life and death, have we stopped there? The Bible full of such instances. Felix trembled; Balaam prophesied; Herod heard gladly; Judas sat at the sacramental table with our Lord! Whatever. we do, we must not stop short of conversion; if we do, we perish.
others did not greatly blame her, and we, for our part, may not reproach her. It is unnecessary to suppose that in returning to her kinsfolk and settling down to the tasks that offered in her mother's house she was guilty of despising truth and love and renouncing the best. We may reasonably imagine her henceforth bearing witness for a higher morality, and affirming the goodness of the Hebrew religion among her friends and acquaintances. Ruth goes where affection and duty lead her; but for Orpah too it may be claimed that in love and duty she goes back. She is not one who says, "Moab has done nothing for me; Moab has no claim upon me; I am free to leave my country; I am under no debt to my people." We shall not take her as a type of selfishness, worldliness, or backsliding, this Moabite woman. Let us rather believe that she knew of those at home who needed the help she could give, and that with the thought of least hazard to herself mingled one of the duty she owed to others.
Thy sister-in-law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods. 1.
The backslidings of such as set out fair, and do begin well, is a sore temptation to young converts and proselytes. It was no less to the very disciples themselves (John 6:66, 67
). Thus it was also an occasion of stumbling unto the primitive Christians to behold the backslidings of two such forward professors as Hymenaeus and Philetus had been; insomuch that the apostle saith to them, "Nevertheless the foundation" (of God's election) "standeth sure; the Lord knoweth them that are His," etc. As the multitude of sinners cannot give any patronage to the evil ways of sin, so neither can the paucity of saints put any disgrace or disparagement upon the good ways of God.
2. Some forward followers of the only true and living God may apostatise from thence to embrace the vanities of the Gentiles.
3. That love to the ways and worship of God is a sincere love which doth undergo trials and temptations, yet bears up against all: godly Ruth rides out the storm against wind and tide of both the sister's pattern and the mother's precept.
Nothing can be more encouraging to the Christian heart than to see the young setting out to seek the Lord. It is a beautiful exercise and exhibition of youth. Never do the morning hours appear so bright or so promising. We cannot suspect the sincerity of any, and therefore we encourage them to press forward. We have seen these youthful travellers going with Naomi out of the place where they dwelt, on the way to return unto the land of Judah. For a time they travel together happily and affectionately. There is a line which divides Moab from Judah. This is a painful but an inevitable crisis. The two sisters must separate. There is just such a line in our soul's history where similar entire separation must take place. The awakened mind sees its own sinfulness and need, acknowledges the darkness and emptiness of the Moab in which it has dwelt, and truly feels the importance of those blessed offers which the gospel proclaims. The Holy Spirit has taught the sinner the guiltiness and wretchedness of his past life. He knows, he sees, he feels the truth. But he does not love the truth. He does not embrace and choose it for his own, his portion for ever. If he would really do this, all would be well. His heart he cannot, will not, give to Christ. Anything else he will do. But nothing else will avail him anything. Poor Orpah! How often have I seen young travellers to eternity stopping just where you stop; hesitating just where you hesitate. Nothing more can be done for you where you are. There is Moab. You have tried that, and found it empty and unhappy. There is Judah. All its provisions and offers are before you, and brought for your acceptance. Never will you be sorry if you take your portion there. Here are Naomi and Ruth. They are journeying to the land which the Lord hath promised them. Soon they will be far from you, out of your sight. Then you will mourn over the separation which you foolishly made. You may go back to Moab, and bury yourself in its sins and follies. But you will find no peace or happiness there. Your conscience will never again allow you to rest. Orpah goes "back to her people and her gods." This is a most important fact in her history. She does not, cannot remain where they part. That is a place most unnatural and unattractive. No; she goes back, while Ruth and Naomi go forward. The separation grows wider every hour. This is a most affecting illustration. The awakened and convinced mind can never abide at the line where a Saviour is refused. There is no permanency in such a state of mind. There is no home for the soul there. You go back. It may be to self-indulgence, dissipation, and sensual delights. It may be to giddiness, frivolity, and empty, cheerless mirth. It may be to business, covetousness, and unceasing occupation. It may be to infidelity and assumed unbelief and argument. It may be to open hostility and persecution of the gospel, and those who love it. It may be to absolute and dreadful hardness of heart. But to whatever it shall be, you still go back. The worst opposers of the gospel we ever meet are those who once were almost Christians. But you say you will hereafter return to Christ. You cannot do this but by His own Spirit. And that Spirit you have driven far from you. There is a spring that returneth in creation when the winter has gone. But you have buried the sacred seed of your soul's welfare beneath a winter which knows no coming spring. You will mourn at the last, when your flesh and your body are consumed. But it will be with a worldly sorrow which worketh death, and not with a godly sorrow which worketh repentance unto salvation. This is the fearful prospect in your return with Orpah.
ORPAH WAS A MOABITISH WOMAN — had been married to one of the sons of Elimelech — and was now a widow. She had been brought up amid the absurdities and impurities and superstitions of idolatry. But her connection with an Israelitish family was a great advantage to her, and ought to have been improved by her, to the benefit of her soul, and deemed a peculiar privilege and blessing. Oh, then, let us associate with those who live for another world ( whose spirit and words and conduct diffuse the savour of heaven, and are calculated to keep God and eternity in our minds.
II. ORPAH POSSESSED MANY NATURAL EXCELLENCES, which made her lovely and amiable, though still lacking that new heart and that devotedness to God without which no man can be saved.
1. Orpah acted well in the character of a wife.
2. Orpah conducted herself with kindness and tenderness and affection towards her mother-in-law, Naomi, also.
3. Another valuable feature, which we cannot view but with great interest, in the character of Orpah, was her intention to accompany Naomi to the land of Judah. It is well to see hopeful beginnings — to see the careless aroused, the indifferent in some degree alarmed about their sins, and paying more attention than before to the welfare of their souls. It is well to see the profane putting on the decencies of morality, and renouncing their vile habits and pursuits. It is well, we say, to see these hopeful signs. But, alas! they often disappoint our fondest hopes.
III. ORPAH'S FATAL DEFICIENCY, She only began her march to Canaan — her resolution failed — she persevered not, but returned to her own land! Naomi wished not to prevent either Ruth or Orpah from accompanying her to Canaan, but from doing so for her sake. She had no earthly inducement to hold out to them. If they came, she wished them to come from religious considerations alone. If we take up the cause of God from any but spiritual motives — if we attach ourselves to the cause and people of God from earthly views, our religion is hateful in heaven. The "loaves and fishes" are to have nothing to do with our pursuit of Christ, but the attractions of His grace — the privilege of serving Him, and a supreme desire to be His — His alone — His for ever.
1. Orpah forsook the cause of God — she returned to her people. Their maxims and their habits, after all, were more congenial with her mind. Woe awaits those who are kept from "following the Lord fully" from regard to earthly connections and associates.
2. Orpah forsook the cause of God with great reluctance. Agrippa-like, she was almost persuaded to go with her to the land of Judah, yet, though with many misgivings, she retraced her steps to her own country, and saw her no more. Now, with the view of inducing these wavering characters, who are thus daily withstanding the convictions of their own minds — who return to Moab, but with many tears — to hasten out of their present condition, we beg to say a few words concerning their danger. It is a great mercy to have our minds in the smallest degree impressed with Divine things, and awakened to the importance of the things which accompany salvation. It is a mercy to be made to feel some measure of anxiety about our never-dying souls and their everlasting welfare. It is the Holy Ghost striving with us, and bidding us to consider our peril while yet it may be avoided. With the view of urging these characters to a speedy determination to be altogether on the Lord's side, we beg to add a few remarks likewise concerning their present folly. When man neglects to follow the admonitions of his conscience, he deprives himself of all comfort. He cannot enjoy inward tranquillity in this state. There is something within him constantly telling him that his end cannot be desirable if a radical spiritual change does not take place in him. He cannot have real joy in this condition. If your religion resembles that of Orpah, give God no rest till the weight of your transgression drives you to the Saviour, and a believing view of His matchless love constrains you to devote your persons and your talents to His service and glory.
I. FAMILY SORROWS.
II. FAMILY ERRORS.
1. Preference of worldly comfort before religious privileges.
2. Formation of worldly connections.
III. FAMILY ATTACHMENTS.
1. Their power. The amiableness of Naomi has so attached these idolaters to her that they are willing to forsake even their own mother.
2. Their weakness. The case of Orpah may teach us that an attachment to religious people is not religion; nor can it, of itself, produce religion in the heart.
IV. FAMILY MERCIES.
1. The return of moderate prosperity.
2. Converting grace bestowed upon an idolater.
family perished, not long ago, by a fire in their own house. They were not consumed by the flames, but suffocated by the smoke. No blaze was visible at all, nor could any alarming sign of fire be discovered from the street, and yet death came as effectually upon them as if they had been burned to ashes. Thus is sin fatal in its consequences, few being destroyed by outrageous forms of it, flaming up with lurid glare, but multitudes perishing by the stifling smoke of indifference and spiritual slumber.
When Christian set out from the City of Destruction, he too, for a short part of his journey, was attended by two companions: the first indeed, Obstinate, only went with him in order to try and bring him back to what he considered wiser courses, but the other, Pliable, was absolutely sincere in his desire to reach the Celestial City." I intend to go along with this good man," he said, "and to cast in my lot with him"; he might have availed himself of the words of sincerely-meant devotion in which Orpah joined with Ruth, and have declared, "Surely I will return with thee unto thy people." Yet, as we know, when the pilgrims, "being heedless," fell into the Slough of Despondency, poor Pliable, his virtuous intentions notwithstanding, "gave a desperate struggle or two, and got out of the mire, on that side of the Slough which was next to his own house. So away he went, and Christian saw him no more." There are one or two particulars in which the behaviour of Orpah was not unlike that of well meaning Pliable. To begin with, there can be no question but that she had a sincere affection and regard for Naomi, and would genuinely have liked to spend the remainder of her days in her society; but the attachment was purely personal, and in all such friendships there is a breaking point, a limit to the extent to which others are prepared to follow us. For it is only us whom they are following, and our path may lead us into circumstances more trying than they are prepared to undergo whose hearts are not buoyed up by the hope which animates our own. Another somewhat sad reflection respecting the history of Orpah springs from the fact that she actually started for the better land, and indeed went some considerable way on the journey. The thought of those fellow-travellers of ours who set out so cheerily with us and yet failed after all to persevere is one of the saddest that comes into our memory when we review our pilgrimage. We call to mind their fervour, their enthusiasm, their kindly interest; we shall never forget how our heart sank within us when they announced their intention of turning back. And in the case of Orpah our feelings are the more regretful because we bear in mind that she was full of the best possible resolutions of going further still. "Surely," she said, no less earnestly than did Ruth herself, "Surely we will return with thee unto thy people." But, as we have already noticed, the desire in her mind was to be, as she put it, "with thee "; it was the personal element in her relation to Naomi which, however charming in itself, constituted the weakness of her position — it was on this rock that her frail vessel was wrecked at last. Further, if Orpah's decision pains us, can we remain unmoved at Orpah's tears? She is quite clear in her own mind that she can go no further; she will leave no inconsiderable portion of her heart behind her when she says farewell to Naomi; she lifted up her voice and wept; she lifted up her voice and wept again. Alas for the impotence of tears! The question for each to ask himself is not, What have I felt? but, What have I done? Orpah loved Naomi dearly, and wept bitterly at the prospect of parting from her, but returned to her people and her gods nevertheless. And here we must pause to inquire how far Naomi was to blame for the failure of Orpah. We recognise the honesty with which the older woman points out to her companions the sacrifice which they will be called upon to make if they elect to go further with her. She must have known, she evidently did know, that by turning back Orpah was losing her reversionary interest in the property of her deceased husband, yet we do not find Naomi telling her of this. Warn people by all means that life in the kingdom of heaven is the life of a servant and a soldier, but tell them too that their entry into the kingdom has made them inheritors of a possession greater and more real than anything than the world can offer, and which it would be the most fearful madness to throw away. Love had brought Orpah a long way towards the land of Judah: might not a little affectionate entreaty have brought her further still? It is important that before passing away from the story of Orpah we should try to realise what it was that she lost by turning back. And with the inheritance, redeemed as it was by Boaz, Orpah had also lost the honour — Ruth's chiefest glory in the ages yet to come — of being the ancestress of David and of the Messiah. Of all the promises to Abraham, that upon which in all probability the patriarch set the greatest store was God's pledge that in him all the nations of the world should be blessed. To be an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven is in itself a marvel of grace, the true meaning of which we shall never fully know here, but to have it in one's power to bring redemption within the reach of others, surely this is an infinitely greater marvel still. God offers us salvation as the satisfaction of the needs of our own heart; but He also offers it to us in order that we may be qualified as the possessors of it to work with Him in plucking from the burning those who are the bondsmen of Satan and of sin. What answer shall we give to Him that speaketh?
Where was it that Orpah parted from her companions? She went with them some way, possibly a great way, but at last they reached a point in the journey which was geographically, so to speak, one of decision, one beyond which no one could pass without committing herself to new things and a new life, and at this point Orpah made up her mind to return. What more likely than that this point was the river itself, which if they adopted the southern route would form the boundary between Moab and the land of Judah? The river flows still, and each pilgrim has to make up his mind whether or not he shall cross it. There, then, flows the river: shall we cross? Sometimes it seems to us to be the river of surrender. Can I give myself wholly and unreservedly to God? And can I give up, or consent to His taking from me, whatever is contrary to His will and therefore to my happiness, love it as I may? Sometimes the river is one of confession. We have travelled thus far without our life or our relation to the world being appreciably affected or altered, and God, who is infinitely tender in His dealing with the returning soul, often postpones the necessity of or the occasion for a definite confession of our allegiance to Him until we are strong enough to make it. Yet sooner or later the river has to be crossed, and the more definitely the confession is made the better it always is for the soul. And sometimes the river is that of a consistent life." I would not shrink from throwing in my lot with that of the people of God," says many an one, "if I could only hope to lead a consistent life: I will make no profession unless I can carry it out, and I fail to see how under my circumstances that can be possible." Certainly God requires that those who follow Him shall follow Him fully, as Caleb did, but God asks no one to lead the life of faith in his own strength or trusting to his own resources. A new life lies before you; but to enable you to live it, God offers you new strength.
Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return.
Sermons by the Monday Club.I.
EVERY PERSON IS TESTED. Sooner or later, but certainly. The tests will vary in severity with the cases. In every case they will be conclusive, determining the genuineness of the life professed. They cannot be evaded. If one is for Christ, he will continue with Him. The test of God cannot be too severe. The true follower cannot be driven away. To the strongest appeals he replies: "Lord, to whom shall I go?"
II. WHEN TESTED, AN ORPAH WILL GO BACK. Why should she leave so much for so little? Naomi was only her mother-in-law. There was her own mother standing and beckoning in the doorway of the old home. She was not only leaving home and country, she was leaving her God. With much depth of feeling, there was not depth enough to bind her heart.
III. A RUTH, WHEN TESTED, GOES ON. What is the difference between her and Orpah, leading to this different conduct?
1. Her devotion to Naomi. She was less impulsive, perhaps, than her sister, but hers was a love which bore testing. The Greeks and Latins, among their fine discriminations, distinguished between the emotional love of feeling and the intelligent love of choice. Orpah's love was the former; that of Ruth was the love of choice. It grew out of careful reflection. It was a deep, undying attachment.
2. The religious foundation of her conduct. This is a trait, if not wholly wanting in her sister, too weak for any mention — a trait beside which Ruth's exceeding love is wholly secondary. Ruth had chosen her mother's God.
3. Her resolute exercise of will. She was moved by Naomi's appeals. She thought anew of what she was leaving. She heard tender voices calling her, of the living, of the dead: "Come back, come back." Her heart began to yield. When Orpah returned, she could scarcely resist the impulse to go with her. Then "she strengthened herself." She summoned her soul. She put forth a supreme exercise of will.
IV. RUTH RECEIVED HER REWARD. She became an ancestress of the world's Redeemer.
All the elements of a true choice of God are here described.
1. It involves the surrender of a false belief. This quiet scene may be placed beside that on Carmel. Ruth's decision is mightier in its gentleness than Israel's in its terror. In manner the two are as unlike as the dawn to the earthquake; in results as the clear ray of a planet to the flash of a meteor. In essence they are the same. Our false god has no repulsive name, such as Baal or Chemosh; its real title is self, its worship sin, its wages death. It must be surrendered.
2. True choice of God involves sacrifice. To start out with Naomi meant not pleasantness, but bitterness. Ruth followed, as she thought, to loneliness, homelessness, perpetual widowhood; against the desire of those she left, without the wish of those to whom she was going; ready to work, to beg, to die if need be, for the one who stood to her as representing God. To-day, Canaan in the Church welcomes even Moab to its circle. Earthly advantages are largely on its side. But a cross seems to wait somewhere in the way, if only that sore surrender of pride and pleasure and will which prompt the soul's real refusal.
3. God sends help to a right choice. Providences both of joy and of sorrow; attractions and repulsions of heart; subtle influences of companionship; favour and famine; marriage and mourning; our life is one long plea for Him.
4. A decision is forced. Somewhere in the way comes a test. On either side example, desire, promise; we must hold to the one and forsake the other.
5. Right decision has its great rewards. What Ruth feared proved only unsuspected blessings. Losing her life, she found it. Bishop Hall exclaims: "Oh, the sure and beautiful payment of the Almighty! Who ever forsook the Moab of this world for the true Israel, and did not at length rejoice in the change?"
It is the difference between feeling and principle in religion, between emotion and consecration, kissing and cleaving.
I. EMOTION HAS ITS LARGE APPOINTED PLACE IN LIFE. It is the colour and fragrance of the soul's world. It gives both impulse and reward to action. Emotion has great play in religion. God appeals to it. The character of God is so presented as to excite our emotions. We tremble at His awfulness, adore His greatness. The story of Christ's life and death has power to move us beyond all else. The insensible heart is usually a selfish heart. But —
II. EMOTION WILL NOT TAKE THE PLACE OF CONSECRATION. Here distinguish between sensuous and spiritual impressions. There is a peace, a rapture, which the Spirit breathes into the believing soul, the promised manifestation of Christ to him "that hath My commandments and keepeth them." This is the reward of obedience, not its substitute; is not of nature, but of grace. No degree of feeling about religious things is religion. Natural fondness toward God, as toward parents, may be the mere delight of an emotional nature, a snare to the soul and an affront to Him. What joy to Christ that eyes which overflow for a novel or a play should moisten at the story of Calvary? There is need of searchings of heart and stings of conscience in unsuspected places. Orpah and Ruth feel alike, love alike, but part for ever at the test of following.
III. THE TRUE OFFICE OF EMOTION IS TO DRAW TO CONSECRATION. Feeling is for the sake of following. The Church has still no realm of mightier influence than a consecrated home. The heaviest condemnation of many in the day of judgment will be that they resisted the influences and withstood the prayers of a godly home.
IV. CHOOSING GOD IS PROVED BY CHOOSING, GOD'S PEOPLE. The world estimates our relation to Christ by our relation to His followers. Yet it often seems as if men must be twice converted, first to Christ, and again to His Church. Do not let this woman's devotion shame us. She gave up, literally, all her world for God. True devotion to Christ turns to His Church with Ruth's matchless consecration.
An impulsive religion is not always real religion; nay, is very often the reverse. Better, far better, to be quiet and undemonstrative like Ruth, and to have the root of the matter in us, than to be impulsive and demonstrative like Orpah, and in the hour of trial to fail. A straw will show in what direction the stream is flowing. Ask yourself, "How do I act in little things? Is self habitually postponed to God? And this because the Lord is my joy?"
2. The importance of (nay, the necessity for) an entire surrender of ourselves to God, if we would be Christians indeed. Let us ask ourselves, "Is it thus with me and the Saviour? Have I thus taken Christ to be mine? Do I thus cleave to Him? Is He supreme in my affections?"
3. The choice which we have been considering must be made with the full determination to abide by it, come weal or come woe, for ever.
It must have been a severe trial to Ruth's constancy when she beheld her sister-in-law, who had probably been the companion of her youth and the friend of her early widowhood, turning away back to Moab and its idol-gods and leaving her alone with Naomi; for we are greatly influenced for good or for evil by sympathy and numbers. And had her steadfastness now depended on her human relations and affections alone, and had her heart not stricken down and rooted itself in something that was Divine, she would in all likelihood have returned after her sister-in-law. When one flower in a garden is pulled up, it loosens the hold of all the other flowers near it, unless they are much more deeply rooted. And Naomi's words seemed to give a voice to this temptation: "Behold, thy sister-in-law has gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister-in-law." This was like giving an increased momentum to the stroke, or feathering the arrow and driving it to its mark. But let us not misunderstand the venerable woman in her yearning interest and disguised love. There was a hidden harmony between her treatment of Ruth and the rule to deal gently with young converts as you would do with the early spring blossom or with the new-born child. But she dreaded a choice made from mere temporary impulse or secondary motives. The cable that is to connect the ship with the anchor needs to be tested in every strand or link. One weak point makes all weak, and may be the occasion of death to thousands. Suppose Ruth to go on to Bethlehem-judah, to be brought face to face with the stern realities of penury, and then to regret her choice and to steal away back to Moab, would not the most sacred interests suffer the most? Here, then, was her "valley of decision." Naomi had anticipated the maxim, "Try before you trust"; but she was equally ready to obey the other part of it, "Trust after you have tried."
Whither thou goest, I will go;... thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.
That private families are as much under the providence of God as the houses of kings.
2. That whilst religion does not secure from the ordinary trials of life, it does secure their being overruled for good.
3. That a devout committal of our being to God in His providence will never fail of its reward. In the text we have —
I. A DELIBERATE RESOLUTION FOR THE TRUE.
1. The true in society.
2. The true in worship.
II. A SOCIAL INFLUENCE FOR THE TRUE.
1. Naomi represented her country, and her people, and her God, to Ruth.
2. The representation which Naomi gave was most attractive.
(1)Every man's conduct is a reflection both of his companions and his God.
(2)Heathens are able to identify our companions and our God.
(3)We may give such a view of both as will draw them into our circle.
III. AN INVINCIBLE ENERGY FOR THE TIME.
1. This force triumphed over all old associations.
2. This force overcame all the pleadings of Naomi.
3. This force changed her social condition and her destiny.Away with the dogma that man is the creature of circumstances! The soul is a mariner that can so pilot her barque as to make the most hostile winds waft her to the shores on which her heart is set. She is an eagle that can rise above the darkest thundercloud of circumstances, and bask in sunlight, whilst that cloud spends itself in wild tempests beneath her buoyant wing.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF HER DECISION.
II. THE EXTENT OF HER DECISION. It comprehends the sum of all her actions, and reaches to the utmost limit of her existence. Profession without principle is nothing.
III. THE FELICITY OF HER DECISION. There is no substantial happiness apart from real religion. Application:
1. Are we Christians? Then we have each a soul to save — a God to serve.
2. Are we yet undecided? Ruth is our pattern.
3. Are we indifferent? Then we resemble Orpah, Ruth's sister-in-law.
It was an humble choice. She has nothing to offer but herself. She affects not to bring anything which can make her of any worth. She pleads only for permission to be to Naomi in her future life all that affection and fidelity can make her. She has nothing else to offer. It matters not in what condition of life the child of earth was born, when the Holy Spirit brings her heart to Jesus she comes as a beggar. Parents and sisters may say she has been always the light and comfort of the household. They are ready to think she has never sinned. And yet she feels the burden of guilt, and weeps, and prays over the remembrance of her foolish, wasted life. The preciousness of the faithful saying, that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, is her only comfort. The assurance that the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost is her single encouragement and support.
2. It was an affectionate choice. Her heart is with Naomi. Her desires all reach forward to the land to which Naomi journeys, and thither, on whatever terms, she must and she will go. It is just such a choice to which the Saviour would lead you all." My daughter, give Me thy heart," is His tender appeal to you. And our youthful, spiritual traveller freely and affectionately responds, "I give my heart to Thee; Thy face will I seek; hide not Thy face from me." Her choice is of the Saviour, because she really loves Him. Infinite attractions are gathered around Him. His service seems to her all that she can desire.
3. Ruth's choice was an entire one. There was no hesitation in her mind about the decision she should make. She manifested no remaining love for Moab, and no lingering desire to carry something of Moab with her. And it was this entire choice which made the happiness of her future course. She made the exchange, the transfer of herself, freely, completely, and without reserve. And there was nothing left to turn her back to Moab in her possible experience hereafter. When the choice of a Saviour is thus entire, how completely it opens the way for future duty! How it settles all future discussions and difficulties with a single decision! The secret of happiness in religion is just here. Making it the entire, single choice of the heart. The troubles and difficulties in the Saviour's service habitually arise from the vain attempt to serve two masters.
4. Ruth's choice was a determined choice. Lovely and gentle as she appears, and humbly and affectionately as she pleads, there was amazing dignity and firmness in her stand. Some of the most triumphant and remarkable deaths in the history of early martyrdom for Christ are of young and tender virgins who calmly and boldly endured every conceivable torture without a moment's faltering. "I am a Christian," was their gentle but firm reply to every solicitation to recant, until, worn out with suffering, they departed to be with Christ. You may never be called to the same sorrows. But you will be always summoned to the same decision. Jesus will always require from you the same unshrinking, determined choice.
5. Ruth's choice was an instant choice. She asked no time for consideration. Her mind was made up. Her decision was settled. She staggered not in unbelief, nor wavered amidst conflicting motives. Why should we ever hesitate a moment in our acceptance of the Saviour's offers? Surely when the Lord sets before us life and death, a blessing and a curse, and bids us choose for ourselves which we will have, we require no time for consideration. It has become a mere question of personal voluntary choice. This can never be settled but by our own personal decision and act. If it is to be settled, it must be finally, in a single moment of time. Why should that moment be delayed? Why should that frank and affectionate choice be postponed? Make an instant choice. Say, "When Thou sayest, Seek ye My face, my heart replies, Thy face, Lord, will I seek." Why should any of you hesitate? All the arguments of truth, of interest, of duty, of happiness, are on one side.
Five choices Ruth made, and five choices must we all make if we ever want to get to heaven.
1. In the first place, if we want to become Christians, we must, like Ruth in the text, choose the Christian's God — a loving God; a sympathetic God; a great hearted God; an all-encompassing God; a God who flings Himself on this world in a very abandonment of everlasting affection.
2. Again, if we want to be Christians, like Ruth in the text we must take the Christian's path. "Where thou goest, I will go," cried out the beautiful Moabitess to Naomi. Dangerous promise that. There were deserts to be crossed. There were jackals that came down through the wilderness. There were bandits. There was the Dead Sea. Naomi says "Ruth, you must go back. You are too delicate to take this journey. You will give out in the first five miles. You have not the physical stamina, or the moral courage, to go with me." Ruth responds: "Mother, I am going, anyhow. If I stay in this land I will be overborne of the idolaters; if I go along with you I shall serve God. Give me that bundle. Let me carry it. I am going with you, mother, anyhow."
3. Again, if we want to become Christians, like Ruth in the text we must choose the Christian's habitation. "Where thou lodgest, will I lodge," cried Ruth to Naomi. She knew that wherever Naomi stopped, whether it were hovel or mansion, there would be a Christian home; and she wanted to be in it.
4. If we want to become Christians, like Ruth in the text we must choose Christian associations. "Thy people shall be my people!" cried out Ruth to Naomi. Oh, ye unconverted people, I know not how you can stand it down in that moping, saturnine worldly association. Come up into the sunlight of Christian society — those people for whom all things are working right now, and will work right for ever. I tell you that the sweetest japonicas grow in the Lord's garden; that the largest grapes are from the vineyards of Canaan; that the most sparkling floods break forth from the "Rock of Ages." Do not too much pity this Ruth of my text; for she is going to become joint-owner of the great harvest-fields of Boaz.
5. Once more, if we want to become Christians, we must, like Ruth in the text, choose the Christian's death and burial. She exclaimed: "Where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried." I think we all, when leaving this world, would like to be surrounded by Christian influences. You would not like to have your dying pillow surrounded by caricaturists, and punsters, and wine-bibbers. How would you like to have John Leech come with his London pictorials, and Christopher North with his loose fun, and Tom Hood with his rhyming jokes, when you are dying? No, no! What we want is radiation in the last moment. Yes; Christian people on either side the bed, and Christian people at the foot of the bed, and Christian people to close my eyes, and Christian people to carry me out, and Christian people to look after those whom I leave behind, and Christian people to remember me a little while after I am gone.
I observe that the conduct of Ruth assures us that THERE IS SUCH A THING AS TRUE-HEARTEDNESS, and thus teaches a lesson of trust in humanity. It reveals certain elements in humanity that are reliable. Much heartlessness, much frivolity and sin, will a wise and good man find as he goes about in the world, much to dissipate the rosy credulousness of his youth, and to sadden his philanthropy; but, on the other hand, something of his faith will be justified, and he will learn that, after all, there are elements in human nature worthy of our trust and our love. As the chemist finds some admixture in what seemed to be a simple element, so, doubtless, at the bottom of the purest heart lurks some particle of self, some ingredient of our earthly composition. And if one is disposed to turn a magnifying-glass upon this, it will appear enormous; if he beholds it through the lens of a sad or a foul experience, it will look grimy or distorted; or, if with nothing more than his naked eye he has a mind to notice only the evil that exists among men, he can see plenty of it, and it will look badly enough. But it is an equally correct theory of human nature, and a much more agreeable one, which admits the conviction of some moral loyalty, extant even in the obscurest places, and maintained under all trials.
II. But, having thus vindicated human nature as to the fact of true-heartedness, let us proceed to consider ITS TESTS. By what signs or expressions may we be assured of its presence? I reply that the very words of the text, the very ideas to which Ruth referred, afford a sufficient indication of these tests. For consider what these ideas, expressed in the language of Ruth, really are. They are the ideas of home, country, God, and the end of our mortal life. And are there any ideas more vital than these? Surely, if one cherishes any sacred and true thoughts at all, they must cluster around these things.
1. Home, that has sheltered and nourished you, that encloses your most secret life, that claims the first flow of your affections and their last throb.
2. Country, that organism which links your individual being to a public interest, that gives you a share in history, a pride in great names, an influence in world-wide issues, and, as a second home, inspires you with a more comprehensive loyalty.
3. The grave, which bounds all earthly action, and limits every earthly condition, that realm where distinctions of home and country melt away, the bed where all must lie, "the relentless crucible" in which rags and splendour alike dissolve, the gateway to a stupendous mystery.
4. And God, the Infinite Being to whom the instincts of our souls respond, to whom in our highest consciousness we aspire, the Source and the Interpretation of all existence, the Light that comprehends our darkness, the Strength that sustains our weakness, the Presence to which in our guilt and our adoration we lift our cry, the Nature in which we live and move and have our being — these are great realities; and it appears to me that the words of Ruth are so eloquent, and her devotion seems so great, because of the greatness of the things she spoke of. Indeed, does not this ground of thought and action constitute a grand distinction of our humanity? If in many points man is closely linked to the brute, is he not largely separated by his thoughts concerning these things, and by his action upon them? Ascribe to the animal such affections, such faculties, such power of reasoning, as we may and as we must, surely no one will claim for him such conceptions as man entertains concerning home and country and God and the limitations of his earthly lot. These are manifestations of human nature which project beyond the sphere of mere animal life, and indicate a larger scope of being. They are marks of immortality. Start with any one of these ideas, and see to what it leads. For instance, the relationships of home — is there not an argument for immortality in these? Or start from the idea of country, and is not the same conclusion unfolded? The duties, the achievements, the historical problems, that pertain to nationality, do not they suggest it? And he upon whose mind dawns some apprehension of the Infinite, he who feels assured that he holds communion with the Eternal Spirit, and presses forward towards that perfect excellence, never completely to attain, but always capable of larger attainment — surely in essence he must be imperishable. And the grave itself, dark and silent as it is, to such a conscious soul cannot seem the final barrier of existence, but only the suggestive portal of new achievements. If, then, these great realities, of which Ruth spoke, are associated with all that is deepest and noblest in our humanity, he who proves faithful to even one of these ideas, who holds it as a sacred conviction, and cherishes it with a pure love, has in him the core of true-heartedness, the ground of a principle, and a possibility in which we may trust. And permit me to add that these tests are personal and practical, tests by which we may try not so much the trueheartedness of others, for which we may have very little function, but by which each may try his own. A man can hardly ask himself a more practical question than this: "What are my thoughts, and what is my conduct, respecting home, country, God, and the limitations of my mortal life?"
III. I remark, finally, that these four ideas are not only the tests of personal true-heartedness — they also reveal THE GREAT BOND OF OUR COMMON HUMANITY. That which is common to men abides in the hearts of men, is linked with the great facts expressed in the text. They thus indicate the natural ground of human unity. And upon these ideas it is the tendency of Christianity to develop a still nobler unity.
A RESOLUTION TO PURSUE THE JOURNEY TO HEAVEN.
1. It is a narrow way.
2. It sometimes proves a way of affliction.
3. It is nevertheless a very pleasant way.
II. A RESOLUTION TO BE SATISFIED WITH SPIRITUAL ENTERTAINMENTS.
1. The Christian finds a sweet entertainment in communion with his God — in praising Him, which is one of the most delightful exercises of the mind; and in prayer, which is so necessary for the renewing of his spiritual strength.
2. In the Word of God he finds a delightful repast. He is made wise unto salvation.
3. In the conversation of his fellow Christians, the believer finds delightful refreshing.
4. The believer finds also times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord when he takes up his abode in the house of God. He experiences the truth of the promise," they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength."
III. A RESOLUTION TO CAST IN THE LOT WITH THE PEOPLE OF GOD. Before you make a resolution so to do, count the cost, and consider the nature of the step which you propose to take.
1. The people of God have generally been a persecuted people.
2. The people of God are an afflicted people.
3. The people of God are a holy people.
4. We have said that the people of God are a persecuted and an afflicted people, but they are nevertheless a people of the best prospects, so that they are truly wise, and consult their own best interests, who cast in their lot among them.
IV. A RESOLUTION TO CHOOSE THE SERVICE OF GOD. When a sinner is truly converted from his sin he cleaves unto the Lord with purpose of heart. "Thy God shall be my God," is the resolution which he expresses to the Church of Christ; and in doing so —
1. He resolves to cast away his idols.
2. He who makes this resolution receives God in Christ as his God — God in the person of the Mediator.
3. He who chooses God for his God resolves to devote himself to the active service of God.
V. A RESOLUTION TO BE FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH. What is necessary to faithfulness unto death?
1. Begin aright.
2. Persevere as you begin, for Christ is not only the Door but the Way.Often repair to the fountain of His blood for peace; constantly resort to His throne of grace for spiritual strength; often sit at the feet of Jesus to learn the mysteries of the kingdom of God. To conclude —
1. We admire the constancy and perseverance of Ruth.
2. We learn from this passage of Scripture that we ought to be faithful to those who are inquiring the way to Zion with their faces thitherward.
3. The inquiring and anxious sinner should persevere whatever difficulties may present themselves. If the difficulties and trials of the way were tenfold, it would still be his interest as well as his duty to endure unto the end.
That strong and brave decision on the hills of her native Moab, where she resolves to cling to her aged and sorrow-stricken mother-in-law, reveals a character of no ordinary quality. There is in her what, for want of a better phrase, I must call depth of nature. Her character is rooted in a deep, rich soil of true humanity. A woman whose whole being is on the surface, who has no hidden deeps of feeling and thought and aspiration and love — a tree decked with showy blossoms, but never hung with golden fruit — is felt to be false to her true nature and Heaven-appointed mission. Ruth reveals to us a character nourished and strengthened from the unseen depths of an affluent nature which we love to associate with woman. The shallow woman exhibits no such heroism as that of Ruth. Here, too, we discover in her that most essential characteristic of a true woman — heart. She thinks and speaks and acts like one whose inspiring life-force is a heart aglow with the fires of feeling, throbbing with the pulsations of love and beneficence; and her whole outward life is but the spontaneous outflow of this full, fresh fountain within. A nature thus endowed and animated is rich in its own resources, and bestows its abundant benefactions upon all who come within its charmed sphere. The heart is the true regulator and benefactor of life. Sometimes neither art nor intellect predominates, but the throne which the heart should occupy is held by the ungracious goddess of Stoicism — a stolid form, which no prayer can move to sympathy, and from which no loving word ever proceeds. How desolate is the nature over which either of these three false powers presides! How impoverished is every life encompassed by the chilling atmosphere of such a nature! On the other hand, how enriched are all they who breathe the genial air which surrounds one with a nature like that of Ruth, in which the heart sits queen on her rightful throne, and dispenses her regal gifts to all. Hence the importance of true heart-culture in education. The neglect of this essential part of genuine culture, and the giving of exclusive attention to the intellect is one of the most perilous tendencies of this age. Such a process may produce a Lucretia Borgia in one sphere, and a George Eliot in another; but a Madame Guyon, a Mary Lyon, and an Elizabeth Fry will seldom or never come forth to bless mankind under its false reign. It is Madame De Stael who wisely says that "life is valuable only so far as it serves for the religious education of the heart." Let us note another feature in the character of Ruth. Devoted affection like that of this young Moabitess to her aged mother-in-law deserves our highest tribute. There is an utter unselfishness in this devotion that is beautiful to con- template. A selfish, exacting, suspicious passion, misnamed love, is the curse of its possessor; a love pure and unselfish is the perpetual joy of the heart in which it glows, and of all who feel its Divine warmth. Orpah can speak loving words; Ruth can do heroic deeds. A selfish person cannot interpret unselfish love. Two hearts must be in happy accord to read the meaning of each aright. Blessed are they who can discern and feel true goodness. Blessed are those homes where true-hearted Ruths preside and Love reigns, goddess of the happy home circle. Yes, it is heart-power, and not any other force, that is most impressive and most enduring even in this unappreciative world. Courage pays its devotion at the shrine of suffering love; physical force surrenders to the higher power of the heart." Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded empires; but upon what foundations did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love, and at this hour millions of men would die for Him." We must rear monuments in human hearts, by true love and devotion to humanity, if we would live through succeeding ages. The crowning grace of Ruth's character, as it is that of every other human being, is her piety. Love to man is crowned and glorified by love to God.
We have just stood at the line which separates Moab from Judah. Orpah has gone. We shall trace her course no longer. We would gladly never see her example followed by others. We must now confine ourselves to the beautiful decision and faithful choice of Ruth. She stands before us a sincere youthful convert to the Lord's service. She has decided the question for her soul by gratefully accepting the offers of a Saviour's love. She sets out upon an untried journey alone. Naomi, indeed, is with her. And her heart is affectionately bound to her mother-in-law. But Ruth has many cares, trials, and remembrances of which Naomi is not conscious. To Naomi the journey is a well-known return. To Ruth every step is untried and new. She was born in Moab. She knows nothing of Judah. Thus is it with every youthful convert. The experienced and aged Christian has much acquaintance with the way in which you go. The new-born child of grace takes every step on ground unknown and untried. This is the way in which all must go who would walk with God. "This people shall dwell alone." Each one, be the multitude ever so great, is a hidden one with God. Multitudes may be travelling in the same direction, but the feelings and experience of each are solitary. Ruth must make her decision in her own secret heart, and make it for herself alone. Her earthly friends must all be left. They are in Moab, from whence she takes now her final departure. This separation is not to be made without a trial of her faith. The more affectionate she is in her real choice, the more she will feel the separation from those whom she leaves behind. Religion cannot destroy our earthly affections, our interest in those who are dear to us in natural ties. Nay, it much increases the warmth and power of our love. This decision may often meet with much opposition from those with whom you dwell. Your dearest earthly connections may oppose. They love you. But they do not love your religion. You must follow the Lord fully though you follow Him alone among your earthly connections; and He will make those who oppose at peace with you. Be faithful to Him, and your fidelity shall be the source of increased confidence and respect, even from the worldly who appear to reject and despise you. As we trace the history of Ruth, we find her meeting with new trials of her faith and decision after she sets out alone. Orpah has gone. But still Naomi proves the spirit of Ruth. Your sister has gone back to her people and her gods. If you mean ever to go back, now is your best time to go. Remember, I have nothing to offer you. If you go with me it must be to be a partner of my griefs and wants. Thus God often proves the young disciple with new trials. He sends His east wind upon the young trees of His planting; not to weaken or destroy, but to give greater strength and endurance for the time to come. Our real conversion to Him is an hour of peace and blessedness; but it is not an end of trial. Nay, it is the very beginning of new contests; and our fidelity in the decision we have made is to be proved at once, and to be proved constantly, by new dispensations of the will of God. Be really faithful and sincere, and God will prove your faith, to strengthen, settle, and stablish you for ever. Be truly gold, and then the refiner's fire will only purify and make you bright. This faithful decision Ruth was obliged to make in the face of backsliding in others. She sees Orpah go back, yet she perseveres. When a child of the world comes out on the side of Christ, and pursues, in the midst of the evil examples of many, a course of simple, faithful devotion to the Saviour, how it honours His truth! How it strengthens His cause! How it impresses even those who oppose! How such faithfulness is owned and prospered by the Lord, to whom it is offered, in the usefulness to others of the life which is adorned by it.
AFFECTION FOR THE GODLY SHOULD INFLUENCE US TO GODLINESS. Many forces combine to effect this.
1. There is the influence of companionship.
2. The influence of admiration. Let us therefore copy the saints.
3. The influence of instruction. When we learn from a teacher we are affected by him in many ways. Instruction is a kind of formation.
4. The influence of reverence. Those who are older, wiser, and better than we are create in us a profound respect, and lead us to follow their example.
5. The influence of desire to cheer them.
6. The influence of fear of separation. It will be an awful thing to be eternally divided from the dear ones who seek our salvation.
II. RESOLVES TO GODLINESS WILL BE TESTED.
1. By the poverty of the godly and their other trials.
2. By counting the cost.
3. By the drawing back of others.
4. By the duties involved in religion. Ruth must work in the fields. Some proud people will not submit to the rules of Christ's house, nor to the regulations which govern the daily lives of believers.
5. By the apparent coldness of believers. Naomi does not persuade her to keep with her, but the reverse. She was a prudent woman, and did not wish Ruth to come with her by persuasion, but by conviction.
6. By the silent sorrow of some Christians. Naomi said, "Call me not Naomi, but call me Bitterness." Persons of a sorrowful spirit there always will be; but this must not hinder us from following the Lord.
III. SUCH GODLINESS MUST MAINLY LIE IN THE CHOICE OF GOD.
1. This is the believer's distinguishing possession: "Thy God shall be my God."
2. His great article of belief: "I believe in God."
3. His ruler and lawgiver: "Make me to go in the path of Thy commandments" (Psalm 119:38).
4. His instructor: "Teach me Thy way, O Lord" (Psalm 28:2).
5. His trust and stay (see Ruth 2:12): "This God is our God for ever and ever, He will be our guide even unto death" (Psalm 48:14).
IV. BUT IT SHOULD INVOLVE THE CHOICE OF HIS PEOPLE: "Thy people shall be my people." They are ill spoken of by the other kingdom. Not all we could wish them to be. Not a people out of whom much is to be gained. But Jehovah is their God, and they are His people. Our eternal inheritance is part and parcel of theirs. Let us make deliberate, humble, firm, joyful, immediate choice for God and His saints; accepting their lodging in this world, and going with them whither they are going.
It is not improbable that Ruth was in heart a Jewess, and that, for reasons which looked beyond the mere temporalities of life, she desired to cast in her lot with the descendants of Abraham. It may be that the religion which her mother-in-law brought with her into Moab had become the daughter's hope; and, discerning in it those elements of truth which were wanting in the faith of her own fathers, she naturally concluded that the people who were guided by its promises and commands would have power and blessing from above. When we add to this the fact that this woman was to be one in that line of generation through which passed the seed of the Shiloh, that the child yet to be born to her was to be the father of David's sire, we may see how direct is the conclusion that this heathen woman did, in her conduct, obey not merely the impulses of nature, but the influences of grace. It does not appear probable that God, having such a work for her to do, would leave her to herself; that He would trust to her unguided will and emotion the part which He designed her to act in His great scheme of love. The decision of Ruth, then, supplies us with this proposition: 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 the other laws of influence and of 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 to 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. Man was born for this thing, even when he was born without sin; and that would be a high life where this law of sympathy was at work, with no power but the power of doing good. With us, however, the kindest laws of heaven have felt the disturbing force of sin; and sin has so perverted them that they act against their design, and in opposition to themselves. The influences, then, of one upon another may be for evil, as well as for good; the best intentions may be counteracted, and the best efforts frustrated, by those with whom we stand connected under the laws of social life. If we desire to serve God and be the sincere followers of our Lord we must break away from those who are serving other gods, and seek the companionship of those who serve the God of Israel. If, in times past, our associations have been with worldly persons, if we have moved in that circle of life where there is no God save the passions, and no law save the will, we must break out from this circle and enter another where life takes a higher form. We must surround ourselves with those whose thoughts and aims are upward, like our own, that thus our strivings may be aided, and our efforts sustained, by those with whom we have to do. This counsel touches some of the most delicate points in the social state. It enters into the family circle, and draws its lines between those who have a common interest in the things which concern the body. It sweeps through all our connections, from the highest to the lowest, and demands that everywhere, and under every form, its authority be acknowledged and its injunctions obeyed. Now, of these ties of nature, some are voluntary, and others are not. Of the latter I will not now speak; while concerning the former I have something more to say. The tie of marriage is a voluntary tie, and I here confess my amazement at the readiness with which Christians yoke themselves with unbelievers. I know of few greater hindrances to a consistent walking with God than an irreligious husband or an irreligious wife. We say, and the remark is applied to religious things, that the husband can go his way, and the wife her way; but this proves, in the trial, to be about as practicable as for the parts of the body to separate and move off in opposite directions. The tie forbids this independence; and there is not a Christian wife or husband in the world who can so overcome the law which holds them as to act with entire freedom in the face of indifference or opposition. It is time for some one to tell the people that marriage is an institution of the Most High God, and that in its laws it touches the interests which are eternal as well as those which are temporal.
This family feeling reigns among all the true sons of God under every dispensation. It operates with all the steadiness of an instinct. Apart altogether from Divine commands, believers exercise mutual attraction like planets that move round the same central orb. They are conscious of "the unity of the Spirit." Under the Old Testament, "they that feared the Lord spake often one to another"; under the New Testament, "they that believed were together." There is not an instance recorded in the whole inspired history of Christians preferring to live in isolation from their brethren. If there were only two believers in the same city, they would be irresistibly drawn to each other just in the degree in which they were believers. And those who are thus mutually attracted shed many mutual blessings, like flowers growing contiguous to each other in a garden that drop the dew around each other's roots. And now her God-inspired resolution strengthening and glowing as she proceeds, culminates in a solemn vow of undying constancy, in which she imprecates Heaven's righteous retribution upon herself should she fail to keep it: "The Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me."
The Bible affirms that no man liveth to himself. Each life has an influence. What is influence? It is that subtle something which resides in our deeds, words, spirit, and character. It is a shadow of ourselves, our impersonal self. It is to us relatively what the fragrance is to the flowers, what light is to the star. We are all sensitive to influence: our hearts are open to goodness, beauty, genius. There is never a day when perhaps unconsciously we do not receive and reflect a thousand shadowy forms. Some are more receptive of influences than others, just as there are certain soils that drink in more greedily sunshine and shower; and as there are certain bodily conditions more open to disease, so there are certain mental and moral dispositions more open to good and evil, truth and error. There are men like clay — you can mould them as you will; others are like rock — you must chisel them as you can. Naomi was not perfect, but she exerted a great influence upon her daughters-in-law.
I. SOME OF THE LINES ALONG WHICH HER INFLUENCE WAS TRANSMITTED.
1. There was relation ship. Naomi was mother-in-law to Ruth. This link was sanctified to the salvation of Ruth. Relationship is to-day one of the most powerful aids to moral influence. See it in the Gospels: Andrew first finds his own brother Simon; Philip findeth Nathanael. Most children are open to maternal influences. Native missionaries are the best. Influence follows love.
2. There was sorrow. These women had shared a common grief: they had watched at the same bed of death; participated in the same hopes and fears. Naomi would comfort Ruth with her Jewish hope and consolation. Sorrow fits for influence. The heart is plastic. The wax is melted and receives the impress of the seal. The mind is filled for the teaching. Such opportunities for transmission of holy influence are constantly occurring.
3. There was humanity. Relationship and sorrow are accidental; humanity is the essential fact, and binds the world together. Angelic influence is impeded by difference in nature. Our hands fit into each other's palm, our faces reflect similar features. We have common wants and ways. Influence runs along the lines of our human brotherhood.
II. SOME OF THE IMPEDIMENTS THAT MIGHT HAVE INTERRUPTED HER INFLUENCE. There were considerations adverse to her influence.
1. Nationality. Ruth was a Moabitess. Israel and Moab were ancient enemies. The Turk will not readily yield to the English influence. Yet so great is the power of moral influence that it overcame this barrier.
2. Education. Ruth had grown up to womanhood before she came under the influence of Naomi; her habits were formed. She was a devout idolatress. Here was a strong impediment for moral influence to overcome. Virgin soil may be easily cultivated as we wish; not so the land long covered with weeds. When the whole man is overrun with noxious principles it is not easy to exterminate and implant new ideas and habits. This the good life of Naomi accomplished in Ruth.
3. Adverse example. Orpah went back to Moab. The good influence may fail even where its power has been felt strongly. Who can estimate the power of adverse example to-day! How many are turned by it from the ways of religion! Naomi may be counteracted by Orpah.
III. THE SUCCESS OF THE GOOD INFLUENCE. The success was not absolute. Orpah returned, Ruth continued. See her wisdom. She in her turn becomes influential and useful — a help to Naomi. She becomes a permanent factor in the redemptive history. See the wisdom of yielding to high moral influences.
shining through the life of a Christian man is strikingly illustrated in the following incident: "An Afghan once spent an hour in the company of Dr. William Marsh, of England. When he heard that Dr. Marsh was dead, he said: 'His religion shall now be my religion; his God shall be my God; for I must go where he is and see his face again.'"
If ought but death part thee and me.1.
Such and so powerful is the bond of religion that it makes the saints of God not only desirous, but even resolute also, both to live and die together.
2. All persons and people should so live as those that do expect that they and their relations may die. So Ruth did here expect it, both for her mother and for herself. "Alas, I never thought of his death." So there be others that live so licentiously as if they should never die, never come to judgment, as if they were to have an eternity of pleasure of sin in this world (as Psalm 49:10-13).
3. As burial is one of the dues of the dead, so dear friends desire to be buried together. Ruth desires to be buried with her godly mother. It is very observable that the first purchase of possession mentioned in Scripture history was a place to bury in, not to build in (Genesis 23. 9).
4. Death is the final dissolution of all bonds of duty, whether natural, civil, or religious. The wife is no longer bound to her husband (Romans 7:1-4), children to parents, subjects to princes, and people to pastors.
When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.
After proof and trial made of their fidelity we are to trust our brethren, without any further suspicion. Not to try before we trust is want of wisdom; not to trust after we have tried is want of charity. The goldsmith must purify the dross and ore from the gold, but he must be wary lest he makes waste of good metal if over-curious in too often refining. We may search and sound the sincerity of our brethren, but after good experience made of their uprightness we must take heed lest by continual sifting and proving them we offend a weak Christian.
Those who appear half-hearted in their self-consecration expose themselves to a legion of tempters. Lingering on the border-land, they keep within the arrow mark of Satan. Keeping in the suburbs of Sodom, they are in danger of coming within the sweep of its consuming fires. The world hopes that it shall get them back again to its ranks. They resemble persons walking in a crowd with flowing robes, which afford those who wish them evil an easy means of pulling them back and laying them in the dust. When it becomes clearly seen that our heart is fixed, the world gives us up in despair and "leaves off speaking unto us." And how that choice ennobled the young Moabitess! What pure human love! What high devotion! What sublime self-renunciation! What true wisdom introducing among the elements that should determine her choice eternity as well as time! Decision of character gives full play to a man's powers whatever they be, and makes them his own.
If a man is seen to be decided in his stand for Christ, antagonists will give over assailing him. There is nothing in the use of which men are more discriminating than entreaty, argument, or influence. So long as the object of their solicitude is wavering, they will bring all their batteries to bear upon him, for there is still the hope that he will yield. But when he comes openly and determinedly out for Christ, they will waste no more ammunition on him. They leave him thenceforth alone, and attack some one else. Thus decision, while it may require an effort to make it, is, after it is made, a safeguard against assault, So long as a vessel has no flag at her mast-head, the sea-robber may think it safe to attack her; but let her hoist the flag of this nation, and that will make the assailant pause. In like manner, the hoisting over us of the banner of the Cross, being a symbol of decision, is also an assurance of protection.
So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. I.
THAT THEY ARE TO BE ADMITTED INTO OUR FELLOWSHIP WHOM WE FIND TO BE CONSTANT IN A GOOD COURSE, AND TRUE LOVERS OF GOODNESS, WHATSOEVER THEY WERE BEFORE. Naomi thus admits of Ruth, no doubt, with great comfort. Thus Paul alloweth of Mark (2 Timothy 4:11
), though before he had refused him (Acts 15:38
), and willeth others to entertain him (Colossians 4:10, 11
II. THAT GOD LEAVETH NOT HIS IN DISTRESS, OR ALTOGETHER COMFORTLESS. Naomi went out with husband and children, and lost them; she returneth not alone, but God sent her one to accompany her and to comfort her.
III. THAT A TRUE RESOLUTION WILL SHOW ITSELF IN A FULL EXECUTION. She resolved to go with Naomi, and so she did, till she came to Bethlehem. By this may we learn to know the difference between solid resolutions and sudden flashes, raw and undigested purposes, between true resolutions and such as be made in show, but in substance prove nothing so, never seen in the effects.
IV. IN THIS THEIR TRAVEL TO CANAAN, AND THEREIN TO BETHLEHEM, NOTE THREE THINGS: THEIR UNITY, FERVENCY, AND CONSTANCY. They went together lovingly, they ceased not to go on, they did not linger, they took no by-paths, neither forgat they whither they were going, till they came unto Bethlehem in Canaan. As these thus went to Canaan, so should we unto the spiritual Canaan and heavenly Bethlehem; we must go in unity (1 Corinthians 1:10), and be of one heart (Acts 1:14; Acts 2:1, 46, and Acts 4:24), in a godly fervency (Romans 12:11; Titus 2:14; Ezekiel 3:14), as Elijah, Nehemiah, the angel of Ephesus (Revelation 2:1, 2), and as our Saviour, whom the zeal of God's house had eaten up. And we must go in a constant spirit, and not be weary of well-doing, for "he that continueth to the end shall be saved."
Such is the faithfulness of our heavenly Father to all His children, that He never fails nor forsakes them; but when one comfort faileth them, He findeth out another for them. The loss of one relation is made up out of God's fulness by raising up another.
2. There be but few friends that are true friends. Here be but two together.
3. Such are fast and faithful friends indeed that accompany each other to the worship of God — to Bethlehem. Many there be that do accompany each other to Bethaven, or house of wickedness, to play-houses, and places of revelling, etc. This is rather a betraying than a befriending one another. A carnal friend is but a spiritual enemy, who advised the ruin of his soul for the recovery of his body (2 Samuel 13:3). The truest friendship is to save and deliver a friend from the greatest evil, which is sin; but to tempt any to it, and to tolerate them in it, is not the part of a true friend, but of a real enemy.
4. 'Tis matter of astonishing admiration to hear of, and be eye-witnesses of, the great afflictions that do befall some persons, both great and good.
5. God works wonderful changes in persons, families, cities, countries and kingdoms.
Naomi had wandered. But Naomi might return. God had not cast her away. He will never cast away those who truly love Him. He calls them back again to true repentance. He heals their backslidings and loves them freely. Then, like Peter, they may strengthen their brethren. They have an experience of human infirmity which they had not before. They know the dangers and temptations which surround the Christian's path. They can comfort others with the consolations wherewith they are comforted of God. But the backslider must return with total self-renunciation. Thus Naomi even renounces her right to her former name. "Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me." They said, "Is this Naomi?" "Yes, I was Naomi when I was contented and happy in the house, and among the people of God. I was Naomi when we took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in company. How foolish was I thus to wander from His holy ways! Call me not Naomi now. I have no right to that name. All was pleasant then. But the remembrance is bitterness now. Call me Mara. Let me come back as the poorest of the poor, sorrowful, and self-condemned." The backslider feels no claim to a former Christian character. He is compelled to say, "Call me not a Christian. I have forfeited that blessed name. Call me a sinner, the chief of sinners. But as such, suffer me to return again to God. 'I am no more worthy to be called a son; make me as one of Thy hired servants.'" The backslider must come back with conscious emptiness. He has nothing to bring; nothing to offer. Naomi says, "I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty." How true is this! What can you bring back from your wanderings in Moab but the bitter remembrance of your folly? Nothing but sadness can come from a careless backsliding from God. And so far as your own acts and conduct are concerned, you must return to Him with perfect emptiness. If Divine grace and long-suffering shall receive you — if the Holy Spirit shall consent to restore you, and lead you back to the mercy-seat, once more accepted — it will be all as a free gift to the chief of sinners. Yet how precious is the expression, "The Lord hath brought me back"! Yes, though I am empty, and have nothing; though I am vile in His sight, and "mine own clothes abhor me," though I was worthy of His rejection and His wrath, yet He did not leave me in my sin, nor suffer me, unpardoned, to perish. But I come back empty. Everything has failed me except the loving-kindness and mercy of my God. No condition can be more humbling than this. Let this work of the Holy Spirit have free course in you. Do not attempt the least justification of yourselves. Speak not, think not, of any temptation that led you astray, or of the influence of any companions, or of the want of watchfulness of any friends, or of the unfaithfulness of others in instructing and warning you, or of the example and habits of others in the social circle in which you live, as the least extenuation of your own guilt. Oh, no! You have no one to blame but yourself. You have been tempted only because you were drawn away by your own lust. Yet, while the backslider himself mourns, others rejoice over him. "It came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them; and they said, Is this Naomi?" Her friends had not forgotten her. They gather around her again with delight. All Bethlehem rejoices; Naomi's poverty and wanderings are forgotten. She has herself returned, and this is enough. The poor prodigal had hardly time to say, "Father, I have sinned," before his father buries his voice in his own bosom, and lifts up a sound of joy which completely drowns the accents of the wanderer's grief. Oh, what a song of praise does his restoration awaken! Heaven and earth unite to say, over the returning wanderer, "Is this Naomi?" Is this the wanderer? This the captive that we thought was lost? This the giddy child that was bent to backsliding, and fled from all restraint? Sing, O heavens, for the Lord hath done it. Shout, ye lower parts of the earth, for the Lord hath blotted out as a thick cloud their transgressions, and as a cloud their sins!
All the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?
Ten years ago she left, but is not forgotten. The story of her battle with poverty and consequent emigration are well remembered. But what a change! This bent form and aspect of despair tell a pitiful tale. Time and sorrow have wrought their cruel work. Ten years, and such troubles as hers leave terrible marks behind at her time of life. Wrinkles, grey hairs, and feebleness of body soon reveal themselves. Care makes men and women grow old very fast. We look twice — thrice, at the acquaintance of former years, before we believe our eyes. "Is this Naomi?" That means, where are the husband and the sons? It is no vulgar curiosity that prompts the inquiry. Women who knew Naomi well, and attended her wedding, are there; men, too, who were intimate friends of Elimelech; young men also, who as boys often played with the dead lads Mahlon and Chillon, all eagerly repeat the question to each other as they cluster round the two poor, travel-stained, weeping women. It is a bitter hour. The wounds are opened afresh. For no questions cut so keenly as those which remind us of beloved ones who have passed into the shadow of death.
HERE IS A RETURNING PILGRIM. Home has been but a tent life, and the curtains have been rent by sorrow and death. She tells us the old, old story. Here have we no continuing city. Bethlehem — home! Oh! that strange longing to live through the closing years in the country places where we were born! It is a common instinct.
II. HERE IS A GODLY PILGRIM. Travel-worn and weary, with sandled feet, she is coming to a city sanctified by the faith of her fathers. "Is this Naomi?" If there is not so much of what the world calls beauty in her face, there is character there, experience there. The young Christian starting on his pilgrimage is cheerful enough. He goes forth full of enterprise and hope. Do not be surprised if in after-years you ask, "Is this Naomi?" How careful, how anxious, how dependent on God alone!
III. HERE IS AN ANCESTRAL PILGRIM. Ancestor of whom? Turn to Matthew 1:5, and you will find in the genealogy of our Lord the name of Ruth. Do you see in the blue distance One coming from the judgment hall? Do you hear the wild cry of the mob, "Away with Him! away with Him! Crucify Him! crucify Him"? Come near and gaze. Behold the Man! As the reapers asked, "Is this Naomi?" so we ask, "Is this Jesus?" Is this He whose sweet face lay in the manger? Is this He who passed the angels at heaven's high gate, and came to earth, saying "Lo! I come to do Thy will, O God"? Yes I Bowed, bruised, broken for us. The same Saviour, who now endures the Cross, despising the shame. Well may we wonder and adore!
IV. HERE IS A PROVIDED-FOR PILGRIM. Back to Bethlehem, but how to live? how to find the roof-tree that should shelter again? She knew the Eternal's name, "Jehovah-jireh," the Lord will provide. So it ever is. Trust in the Lord and you shall never want any good thing. Believe still in your Saviour, and provided for you will be all weapons of fence, all means of consolation, all prosperity that shall not harm your soul. As the snows hide flowers even in the Alps, so beneath all our separations and sorrows there are still plants of the Lord, peace and hope, and joy and rest, in Him. Blessed indeed shall we be if we can rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.
Call me not Naomi, call me Mara. I.
INCIDENTS IN HER LIFE. This world is to all, in some measure, "a vale of tears." The pilgrimage of the true Christian is not through verdant plains and flowery fields, but through a "waste howling wilderness," where much toil is exercised, many troubles undergone, many perils encountered, and many severe privations endured. God is a Sovereign in the distribution of sufferings and tribulations. His own people have frequently the greatest share of troubles in this life — that their souls, which are too full of earthly attachments, may be weaned from the world. We should learn hence not to murmur nor charge God foolishly under our trials, for if we compare them with those of many of God's people who were more gracious in their dispositions and tempers than we are they will appear "light" indeed. We find this bereaved and distressed individual returning towards her native land. She acted wisely, for she was more likely to fare well in her own country — among her relatives and acquaintance, and where the knowledge and fear of God prevailed, than among strangers and idolaters in a foreign land. It would be well if we imitated Naomi in a spiritual point of view. At length we find Naomi in Canaan. When she returned her former acquaintance were greatly astonished at her appearance. Her affluence was gone, her earthly glory had faded away, and her circumstances were mean and narrow. God, however, in mercy, calmed the evening of her day. The troubles of the Christian are not only to end, but to end blessedly — even in bliss and honour!
II. MORAL EXCELLENCES WHICH STOOD PROMINENTLY FORTH IN THE CONDUCT OF NAOMI UNDER THE WEIGHT OF HER TRIBULATIONS.
1. Her benevolence. Behold it delightfully displayed towards both her daughters-in-law. See how ardently she wished their prosperity, how fervently she prayed for it. Herein she, and all who are under the governance of the same superhuman principle, resemble their Divine Master. He also felt intensely for others — even when He was Himself involved in dangers.
2. Her acknowledgment of God in her troubles. See how piously she develops this feeling (Ruth 1:13, 20, 21). Nothing enables a man to behave as he should in the day of adversity, nothing enables him to keep down an envious and impatient spirit, but the viewing his troubles as the allotments of Heaven, the all-wise appointments of his Father and of his God.
3. Her gratitude both to God and man.(1) Her gratitude to God. If a few handfuls of corn excited Naomi to offer to her heavenly Father a sacrifice of such fervent praise, how fervent should our praise be for abundance of spiritual food, for Christ Himself to be the strength and joy of our souls? If a little earthly food is a mercy to be acknowledged in songs of adoring praise, how much warmer should our affection be for endless and unmingled felicity for the whole man in the land of everlasting life?(2) Her gratitude to man. Inasmuch as Ruth had shown kindness to her in Moab, she showed her all possible kindness in Judah.
The Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me
How unfit are we to judge of an unfinished providence, and how necessary it is, if we would understand aright the reasons of God's ways, that we should wait and see the web with its many colours woven out! Three short months, during which those dark providences were suddenly to blossom into prosperity and joy, would give to that sorrowful woman another interpretation of her long exile in Moab. And one Gentile proselyte was thereby to be brought to the feet of Israel's God, who was not only to be the ancestress of Israel's illustrious line of kings, but of that Divine Seed in whom "all the nations of the earth were to be Blessed." When the night seems at the darkest we are often nearest the dawn. Begin to tune thy harp, O weeping saint and weary pilgrim! "The night is far spent, the day is at hand." Learn to wait. When the great drama of our earth's history is ended; when Christ's glorious redemption-work is seen in all its wondrous issues and ripened fruits; when order has evolved itself out of confusion, and light has come out of the bosom of darkness, and the evil passions of wicked men and the malignant devices of evil spirits have been so overruled as to work out the sovereign will of Heaven; when all the enemies of Christ have been put in subjection under His feet, and death itself has died then shall the words spoken at the creation be repeated at the consummation of the higher work of a lost world's redemption, and God will again pronounce all to be "very good."
Naomi began to err when she ceased to believe in the wisdom and benignity of all those dark events, when she looked upon them, not as expressive of paternal discipline, but of Divine indifference and desertion, when they appeared to her distressed soul as the arrows of judgment rather than the strokes of love; like those affrighted disciples on the Galilean lake who failed to recognize Jesus in Him who was walking in such calm majesty on the tossing waves. She was also wrong in this morbid concentration of her thoughts upon her trials, and in not realizing the many blessings and comforts that yet remained to her. Elimelech and her two sons had been taken, but this lovely and devoted Ruth had been raised up. She was now poor, but she had health; and God had brought her back to those altars and courts of the Lord after which "her soul had longed, yea, even fainted." And then there were blessings which she could not lose, and which were of more value to her than a thousand worlds. Besides, how greatly did she err, as devout persons in a despondent mood are so apt to do, in measuring God's providence, as it were, by her human line, and imagining that the cloud which had hung over her like a shadow of death could not possibly be turned into the morning; just as we may imagine the people near the pole, with their many months of unbroken night, beginning at length to doubt whether the sun will ever rise again. An eloquent writer on astronomy imagines the different aspect in which our earth would appear to us could we be projected from its surface and permitted to look on it from one of the nearest planets, or from the moon. And how different would the afflictions of God's people often look could they only be projected a few years into the future, and permitted to regard them even in some of their earliest explanations and consequences. Lift up thy head. O thou bruised reed, thou too desponding woman, for lo, the winter of thine adversity is past! Cease to clothe everything in sackcloth. Take down thy long silent harp from the willows, and tune it anew for notes of loudest praise. Thou hast long exercised the duty of self-denial; it is time for thee now to exhibit the duty of delight.
Naomi was not wrong in tracing all her changes in condition to God, but she erred in ascribing any bitterness to God in His treatment of her. The father loves the child as really when he administers the disagreeable medicine which is to recover him from disease as when he is dandling him upon his knees. The only difference is in the manner in which the love is shown, and that is accounted for by the differences in the circumstances of the child. In like manner adversity, how bitter soever it may be, is a manifestation of God's love to us, designed for our ultimate and highest welfare. Now this may well reconcile us to trial. It will not make the trial less, but it will help us to bear it, just as the wounded man is braced for the amputation of a limb when he is told that it is indispensable if his life is to be preserved.
How different are summer storms from winter ones! In winter they rush over the earth with their violence; and if any poor remnants of foliage or flowers have lingered behind, these are swept along at one gust. Nothing is left but desolation; and long after the rain has ceased, pools of water and mud bear tokens of what has been. But when the clouds have poured out their torrents in summer, when the winds have spent their fury, and the sun breaks forth again in glory, all things seem to rise with renewed loveliness from their refreshing bath. The flowers, glistening with rainbows, smell sweeter than before; the air, too, which may previously have been oppressive, is become clear, and soft, and fresh. Such, too, is the difference, when the storms of affliction fall on hearts unrenewed by Christian faith, and on those who abide in Christ. In the former they bring out the dreariness and desolation which may before have been unapparent. But in the true Christian soul, "though weeping may endure for a night, joy cometh in the morning," and tribulation itself is turned into the chief of blessings.
So Naomi returned, and Ruth.
Little was Naomi aware of the treasure she was bringing to Israel or of the honour which was in store for Ruth. She says, "The Lord hath brought me back empty." And it was so, so far as she was herself concerned. But the Lord had brought back with her one whom all generations should call blessed; one who was to be a mother of the promised Messiah, the anointed Saviour of Israel. We are now to contemplate her admission to Israel. The young convert's entrance among the people of God. We cannot enter upon such a view without stopping for a moment to think of the happiness of Naomi in such a companion. How great was the privilege to her to bring back with her own return so precious a soul to the Lord of hosts! What an unspeakable joy it is to a Christian parent to be attended by his children in the heavenly path! "So they two went together until they came to Bethlehem." I cannot conceive a greater blessing in social life than when we can say this of father and son, of mother and daughter. This is a bond which must long outlast every other one; and a treasure of enjoyment which must remain when every other one has failed. How such companionship in religion relieves the sorrows of the road! How it multiplies the joys of the way ! The mother and the daughter take sweet counsel together on their journey. Naomi has much to tell, Ruth has much to ask, in reference to the new home to which they are returning together. Their mutual prayers and encouragements are full of advantage. The blending of the varied experience of the two becomes helpful to both. The despondency of age is animated by the joyful anticipations of youth. The effervescence of youth is moderated by the experience and soberness of age. "So they went together." Unity of feeling, unity of interest, unity of hope, bind them together. They have fellowship one with another. But while Ruth took sweet counsel with Naomi her thoughts and feelings were still in a great degree peculiar to herself and completely her own. To her every prospect is hopeful, and her imagination loves to stray through all the anticipations which are presented to her youthful mind. The young Christian truly living and walking in Christ rejoices in the hopes which a Saviour gives; is encouraged, ardent, and delighted in looking forward over the way in which the great Captain of salvation is leading the sons of God. "I see no trials or sorrows in it." Thus would Ruth have said. She could have no feeling but unmingled pleasure in the prospect of the journey she had undertaken. Delightful encouragements arise in her mind which overwhelm all possible regrets or fears. How many hopes and plans cluster around Bethlehem and Judah! She knows not what the Lord has prepared for her. It has not entered into her youthful heart to conceive the actual blessings which are laid up in store for her there. But she knows that all must be well and happy for her under the shadow of His wings in whom she has come to put her trust. Nothing is in your way. You may do all things through Christ that strengtheneth you, and be made more than conquerors in Him. She comes with a deep sense of her own unworthiness. But this is silenced by her conscious desire and choice. The young convert knows and feels his guilt. But he needs not, and does not, stop to sit clown under the mere dominion of grief for the past. He has his new work to do. He must press forward in it. And the cloud will pass away and leave him in the sunshine of his Saviour's love, to finish and perfect it. But the perseverance of Ruth furnishes us with another most important example. "They went together until they came to Bethlehem." There is no fact which gives the Church more peculiar joy in the coming of young converts to Christ than their habitual perseverance. They are the ones who "hold fast the beginning of their confidence steadfast unto the end." The most fruitful, faithful Christians are habitually those who begin the earliest. The time of Ruth's arrival at Bethlehem was most significant." They came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest." The barley harvest of Palestine was in the early spring. The barley was sown after the autumnal rains, in the month of October, and the harvest was in the month of April. It was a time of special joy, the first spring-gathering of their annual fruits. The harvest is always employed as an illustration of satisfaction and joy. "They joy before Thee, according to the joy of harvest." And is it not always a scene of rejoicing when the sinner returns? The harvest was a time of opening abundance. No wants or poverty were pressing now. There is thus bread enough and to spare in the Saviour's house. And when the sinner finds a shelter there he finds all his needs supplied. His soul has abundance of all things which it desireth. No more encouraging time could there have been for Ruth's first acquaintance with Israel. Every aspect of the land was promising and prosperous. The sight of plenty crowned every prospect. And she sees her new home clothed with every attraction. Is it not always so when we first come to the feet of Jesus and find our peace and acceptance there? Now we seem to live for the first time. There is reality, happiness, satisfaction here. We have found Him whom our soul loveth, and we have found everything we want in Him. The barley harvest was the time of the Passover. Thus this young convert from the Gentiles comes as the first-fruits of a Gentile harvest to be gathered, and is welcomed with Israel as a partaker of the paschal feast. Happy are we in welcoming our youthful friends giving evidence of their new birth for God and their living faith in Jesus to the table of the Lord. Happy is the house the first-fruits of which are thus consecrated and sanctified to be the Lord's for ever.
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