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History of Ruth.

LECTURE XIII.

RUTH ii. 19-23. and iii. 1.

And her mother-in-law faid unto her, Where haft thou gleaned to-day? And where wroughtest thou? Blefed be he that did take knowledge of thee. And she fhewed her mother-in-law with whom she had wrought, and said, The man's name with whom I wrought to-day is Boaz. And Naomi faid unto her daughter-in-law, Bleffed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead. And Naomi faid unto her, The man is near of kin unto us, one of our next kinfmen. And Ruth the Moabitefs faid, He said unto me alfo, Thou fhalt keep faft by my young men, until they have ended all my harvest. And Naomi said unto Ruth her daughterin-law, It is good, my daughter, that thou go out with his maidens, that they meet thee not in any other field. So fhe kept faft by the maidens of Boaz to glean unto the end of barley-harvest, and of wheat-harveft; and dwelt with her mother-in-law. Then Naomi her mother-inlaw faid unto her, My daughter, fhall I not feek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?

NOTHING is more abfurd than to judge of ancient and foreign customs, by the fashion of our own country and of the prefent day. Language, manners, and drefs are inceffantly changing their form. Were our VOL. VI. ancestors

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ancestors of the laft century to arise from the dead, and to appear in the habit of their own times, their great grand-children and they would be utter strangers to one another. Their fpeech would be mutually unintelligible, their modes of behaviour uncouth, their apparel ridiculous. How much more, after the lapfe of many centuries has intervened, and the fcene fhifted to a diftant land, peopled by men of a different complexion, governed by different laws, and communicating thought by means of a different language.

One of the great pleasures arifing from the ftudy of. ancient hiftory, is to trace thefe differences, to contemplate the endlefs variety of the human mind, ever changing, ftill the fame; to compare age with age, nation with nation, in order to excite admiration of the great Creator's wifdom and goodnefs, and to inspire love towards our fellow-creatures.

In examining the customs defcribed in the context, let it be remembered, that they are the cuftoms of men who lived upwards of three thousand years ago, who inhabited a different quarter of the globe, whofe ideas, employments and pursuits had no manner of refemblance to ours, and who would be equally aftonifhed, fhocked and offended, were modern and European manners made to pafs in review before them. And let it be farther remembered, that we speak of cuftoms and manners only, and not of morals; of circumftances which from their own nature and the current of human affairs are liable to alteration, not of things in themselves eternal and immutable.

We have feen by what eafy and natural progrefs, the providence of God carried on its purpofe refpecting the pofterity of Abraham in general, and the royal line of the houfe of David in particular, and refpecting a much higher object, to which this was a mere miniftring fervant, an harbinger and preparation, namely, the manifeftation of God in the flesh," for the redemption of a loft world. We have feen the commencement of the temporal rewards of virtue, and

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the dawning of everlasting joy. We are now to attend the progrefs of divine beneficence, of providential interpofition, to crown the endeavours, and promote the happiness of the faithful.

Ruth has returned to her mother-in-law, laden. with the fruits of honeft industry, and provided with a fupply for prefent neceffity; cheered and comforted by the benevolence of a refpectable stranger, and exulting in the prospect of future employment and fuccefs. Sweet are the communications of filial attachment and profperity to the ear of maternal tenderness. It is not eafy to conceive happiness more pure than was enjoyed that evening by thefe amiable and excellent women. Artlefs, undefigning Ruth feems to look no farther than to the remainder of the harvest, the continuation of her labour, and of protection and encouragement from Boaz, and to the pleasure of fupporting herfelf and aged parent by her own exertions. But Naomi, more experienced and intelligent, begins to build on the history of what Providence had done for them that day, a project of recompenfe to her beloved daughter, which her piety and affection fo well merited, even no less than that of uniting her to Boaz in mar riage. Was fhe to be blamed in this? By no means. It is criminal to outrun Providence, it is madness to think of constraining or bending it to our partial, felfifli views. But it is wifdom, it is duty to exercise fagacity, to obferve the ways of the Almighty, and to follow where he leads. The advice the gives in pursuance of this defign, and Ruth's ready compliance, have, according to our ideas a very extraordinary and questionable appearance, and feem rather calculated to defeat than to forward the end which they had in view; but modern refinement and licentioufnefs are little competent to judge of ruftic fimplicity and ancient purity. The proceed→ ing was authorized by custom, was free from every taint of immorality, and had not in the eyes of the world even the femblance of indecency. The parties were all virtuous, they feared the Lord, they conform

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ed to the laws and ufages of their country, and Heaven fmiled on their honeft, unfullied intentions.

- Had I the happiness, with a mind as pure, to addrefs ears as chafte, imaginations as undefiled, I fhould without hefftation or fear enter on the detail of the tranfaction as it ftands on the record. But regard must be had to the prejudices of the times, to the propriety and decency which custom has established, remarking at the fame time, that guilt is the parent of fhame, and that an over-refined delicacy is too often the proof of a polluted heart.

The marriage of Boaz to Ruth is the only inftance we have of the application of a civil and political statute of long ftanding: which runs in thefe terms, "The fand fhall not be fold forever: for the land is mine; for ye are ftrangers and fojourners with me. And in all the land of your poffeffion ye fhall grant a redemption for the land. If thy brother bé waxen poor, and hath fold away fome of his poffeffion, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then fhall he redeem that which his brother fold. And if the man have none to redeem it, and himself be able to redeem it; then let him count the years of the fale thereof, and restore the overplus unto the man to whom he fold it; that he may return unto his poffeffion. But if he be not able to restore it to him, then that which is fold fhall remain in the hand of him that hath bought it until the year of jubilee: and in the jubilee it shall go out, and he fhall return unto his poffeffion."* And it ftands in connexion with another law circumftantially narrated. "If brethren dwell together, and one of them die and have no child, the wife of the dead fhall not marry without unto a ftranger: her, husband's brother fhall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her. And it fhall be, that the first-born which the beareth fhall fucceed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Ifrael.

*Lev. xxv. 23-28.

Ifrael. And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then let his brother's wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and fay, My husband's brother refufeth to raise up unto his brother a name in Ifrael, he will not perform the duty of my husband's brother. Then the elders of his city fhall call him, and speak unto him and if he ftand to it, and fay, I like not to take her; then fhall his brother's wife come unto him in the prefence of the elders, and loofe his fhoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and fhall answer and fay, So fhall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's houfe. And his name fhall be called in Ifrael, The house of him that hath his fhoe loosed."* The whole spirit of the Mofaic difpenfation confiders the great Jehovah as the temporal fovereign of Ifrael, the land as his, the fupremacy his. Every Ifraelite received his inheritance under the exprefs ftipulation that it should not be alienated from him and from his family forever. That if, preffed by neceflity, he fhould fell the whole or any part of it, he himself or his nearest of kindred might at any future period redeem it; that at the worft, in the year of jubilee, it fhould revert unpurchased to the ancient proprietor or his reprefentative; and thereby fucceffion and property be preferved diftinct till the purposes of Heaven fhould be accomplished.

To give the law farther and more certain effect, it was enacted, that if the elder branch of the family and the heir of the inheritance fhould die childlefs, his next elder brother or nearest male relation fhould marry the widow; and that the iffue of fuch marriage fhould be deemed to belong to the deceased, should asfume his name, and fucceed to his inheritance. Here then was the family of Elimelech ready to be extinguifhed he and his two fons were all dead without pofterity. Naomi was paft child-bearing, the lands were ready to pafs into the hands of ftrangers, for want of an heir, the hope of fucceffion exifting alone.

* Deut. xxv. 5-10.

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