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it could not be enjoyed but to the detriment of those who felt and expressed it; composed to the prospect and suffering of solitary anguish, provided her amiable children were restored to the rank, affluence and comfort which they so well deserved. How poor and contemptible are the contentions for precedency and preeminence, the emulation of fortune and dress, the rage of admiration and conquest, compared to this! How pleasant is it to see an humble fortune dignified and supported by generosity and greatness of mind!
The touchstone is now applied to the affection of the two sisters, and their characters and merits are finally disclosed. Orpah suffers herself to be persuaded; with regret we behold her resolution overcome; we behold her separating from her mother-in-law, with the valedictory kiss of peace, and returning to her country and her gods; and we hear of her no more. But Ruth cleaves to her new choice, unmoved by the example of her sister, or the entreaties of her mother, she persists in her purpose; the desertion of Orpah only knits her heart the faster to her adopted parent, and in words far sweeter than the nightingale's song,' she breathes out her unalterable resolution to live and to die with her. How could Naomi find in her heart to make another attempt to shake off so lovely a companion? How delighted must she have been, in yielding the triumph of kindness to a pleader so irresistible! "And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me," Verse 16, 17.
The mother is every way outdone, overcome, and contends no longer-to persist farther had been cruelty, not friendship; and thus mutual sympathy and deliberate choice have, under the direction of all-ruling Pro
vidence, formed an union dearer than the ties of interest, or even the bonds of nature know: and thus the same breath which extinguishes the fainter spark, blows up the stronger into a purer, brighter flame, and thus the God who has all hearts and all events in his hand, ever rears a refuge for the miserable, provides a remedy against despair, and extracts a precious essence from calamity, which operates its own cure. "When she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her," Verse 18. And thus Ruth stands without an equal, without a rival. And how has she gained the glorious superiority over a sister? By a lofty tone and an overbearing spirit, by the poisoned whisper, and the dark insinuation; by smoothness of forehead and malignity of heart? No, but by perseverance in well-doing, and adherence to rectitude; by modest firmness, and heart-affecting simplicity; by undissembled affection and unaffected piety. O goodness, how pure, how sincere, how satisfactory are the honours which crown thy head, and dilate thy heart!
It is impossible to tire in contemplating an object so transcendently excellent. In that fair form all the feminine virtues and graces love to reside. We have pointed out some of them; let us meditate for a moment, on that which is the crown and glory of all the rest. Estimable for her conjugal fidelity, and filial attachment; great in her voluntary renunciation of the world, and patient submission to poverty, hardship, and contempt; how superlatively great, how supremely estimable does she appear, arrayed in the robe of unfeigned piety, and triumphant faith in God! The world may perhaps condemn her for preferring the society, country, and prospects of so poor a woman as Naomi to the friendship of her own kindred, the possessions of her native home, the allurements of present ease and comfort. Had she conferred with flesh and blood, how very different had the decision been! But
the same divine principle which caused Moses to "refuse to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter;" and which taught him "to esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt," determined this amiable creature to withdraw from the companions of her youth, the protection of her father's house, and the religious worship of her ancestors; and to follow a destitute forlorn widow from country to country, to cast her subsistence upon the care of Providence, and to look for her reward beyond the grave.
Observe these distinct qualities of the religious principle by which she was actuated.
I. It was deliberate, the result of reflection, comparison and choice, not the prejudice of education, the determination of self-interest, nor the momentary effect of levity and caprice. Her prejudices, her partialities, her worldly interests were all clearly on the other side. The idolatrous rites of Moab were fascinating to a young mind, not yet beyond a taste for pleasure; the aspect of the religion of Canaan was rather ungainly and forbidding, and to adopt it implied the renunciation of all that the heart naturally holds dear. When she therefore thus solemnly affirms, "Your God shall be my God," it is in effect saying, "I have counted the cost, I know whom I have believed. I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back. I have subscribed with my hand to the God of Jacob. Blessed be the day that I came into connexion with an Israelitish family. It has indeed cost me many tears, pierced through my heart with many sorrows, it is banishing me from my dear native clime, from the endearments of parental affection, from ease, honour and abundance, driving me among strangers, exposing me to struggle with uncertainty, anxiety, necessity, neglect and scorn; but my resolution is fixed: none of these things move me; every sacrifice, every loss, every disgrace is infinitely
more compensated by having Israel's God for my God." Which leads to observe a
Second feature of Ruth's religious character; was it steady and persevering. It might at first have been mere respect for the opinions and practice of the husband of her youth; the mere decency that suited an adopted daughter of Israel; but this had long ceased to be a motive; had it amounted but to this, it had been buried in the grave of her departed lord; but what was at first complaisance and decency, grows up into inquiry, inquiry produces hesitation, and more serious inquiry, this improves into conviction, and conviction is followed by a determination not to be moved or shaken, and she continues steadfast to the end. Her constancy, it must be allowed, was put to severe trials. Orpah has gone back, Naomi carries her expostulation up to importunity, I had almost said, to downright violence; the difficulties and hardships of the way were increasing, not diminishing upon her. Had not "the heart been established by grace," so many, such accumulated discouragements, must have subdued the ardour of her spirit, and sent her back after her sister; but she has put her hand to the plough, and must not look back. Observe, she does not attempt to reason, does not oppose argument to argument, but, "being fully persuaded in her own mind," adheres firmly to her point, and argues irresistibly by not arguing at all, and prevails by entreaty. See that your cause be good, my fair friend, persist in it, prosecute it thus, and be assured of the victory.
III. Observe finally, as Ruth's religious principle was deliberate, was steady and persevering, so it was hively, efficacious, practical. We hear nothing of the prattle of piety, nothing of the violence of a young and a female proselyte, no question of doubtful disputation introduced, about places and modes of worship, about Jerusalem and this mountain, nothing of the religion that floats merely in the head, and bubbles upon the
tongue; no, her religion is seen, not heard, it works by love, it purifies the heart, it overcomes the world.” It offers up a grand sacrifice unto God, the body and spirit, affection and substance, youth, beauty, parentage, the pleasures and the pride of life. Let me see a single instance of this sort, and I will believe the convert more in earnest, than by exhibiting all the wordy zeal of a thousand polemics.
Indeed it is by action that this truly excellent woman expresses all her inward feelings. Her affection to her husband is not heard in loud lamentation over his tomb, but in cleaving to all that remained of him, his mother, his people, his country and his God. Her affection to his mother is not expressed in the set phrase of condolence and compliment; but in adhering to her when all had forsaken her, in labouring for her subsistence, in submitting to her counsel: and her reverence for his God is manifested not merely in adopting the language and observing the rites of Canaan, but in relinquishing for ever, and abhorrence, the gods beyond the flood, and every thing connected with their abominable rites.
Every circumstance of the case and character under review, administers plain and important instruction. And, being a case in ordinary life, Ruth stands forth a pattern and instructor to young persons, in particular, whose situation may resemble her own.
Young woman, you may have married in a strange family. You have, of course, adopted the kindred, the pursuits, the friendships, and to a certain degree, the religion of your husband. It is your duty, and you will find it your interest, to let him and his connexions know, from your general deportment, that you are satisfied with the choice which you have made. Learn to give up your own prejudices in favour of country, of parentage, of customs, of opinions. Unless where the sacred rights of conscience are concerned, deem no sacrifice too great for the maintenance