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justice, to have touched his kinswoman. It was not any bodily impotency, but honesty and conscience, that restrained Boaz; for the very next night she conceived by him. That good man wished his marriage-bed holy, and durst not lie down in the doubt of a sin. Many a man is honest out of necessity, and affects the praise of that, which he could not avoid; but that man's mind is still am adulterer, in the forced continence of his body. No action can give us true comfort, but that which we do out of the grounds of obedience.
Those, which are fearful of sinning, are careful not to be thought to sin. Boaz, though he knew himself to be clear, would not: have occasion of suspicion given to others; Let no man know, that a woman came into the floor: a good heart is no less afraid of a scandal, than of a sin; whereas those, that are resolved not to make any scruple of sin, despise others' constructions, not caring whom they offend, so that they may please themselves.
That Naomi might see her daughter-in-law was not sent back in dislike, she comes home laden with corn. Ruth hath gleaned more this night, than in half the harvest. The care of Boaz was, that she would not return to her mother empty: love, wheresoever it is, cannot be niggardly. We measure the love of God by his gifts: how shall he abide to send us away empty from those treasures of goodness!
Boaz is restless in the prosecution of this suit; and hies him from his thrashing floor to the gate, and there convenes the nearer kins man before the elders of the city. What was it that made Boaz so ready to entertain, so forward to urge this match? Wealth she had none, not so much as bread, but what she gleaned out of the field; friends she had none, and those she had elsewhere, Moab ites; beauty she could not have much, after that scorching in her travel, in her gleanings: himself tells her what drew his heart to her; All the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman. Virtue, in whomsoever it is found, is a great dowry; and where it meets with a heart that knows how to value it, is accounted greater riches than all that is hid in the bowels of the earth. The corn heap of Boaz was but chaff to this, and his money dross.
As a man that had learned to square his actions to the Law of God, Boaz proceeds legally with his rival; and tells him of a parcel of Elimelech's land (which, it is like, upon his removal to Moab, he had alienated ;) which he, as the next kinsman, might have power to redeem; yet so as he must purchase the wife of the deceased, with the land. Every kinsman is not a Boaz: the man could listen to the land, if it had been free from the clog of a necessary marriage; but now he will rather leave the land, than take the wife, lest, while he should preserve Elimelech's inheritance, he should destroy his own; for the next seed, which he should have by Ruth, should not be his heir, but his deceased kinsman's. How knew he, whether God might not by that wife send heirs enough for both their estates? Rather would be therefore incur a manifest
injustice, than hazard the danger of his inheritance. The law of God bound him to raise up seed to the next in blood; the care of his inheritance draws him to a neglect of his duty, though with infamy and reproach; and now, he would rather his face should be spit upon, and his name should be called, The house of him whose shoe was pulled off, than to reserve the honour of him, that did his brother right to his own prejudice.
How many are there, that do so overlove their issue, as that they regard neither sin nor shame in advancing it; and that will rather endanger their soul, than lose their name! It is a woeful inheritance, that makes men heirs of the vengeance of God. Boaz is glad to take the advantage of his refusal; and holds that shoe, which was the sign of his tenure, more worth than all the land of Elimelech. And whereas other wives purchase their husbands with a large dowry, this man purchaseth his wife at a dear rate, and thinks his bargain happy. All the substance of the earth is not worth a virtuous and prudent wife; which Boaz doth now so rejoice in, as if he this day only began to be wealthy.
Now is Ruth taken into the house of Boaz: she, that before had said she was not like one of his maidens, is now become their mistress. This day she hath gleaned all the fields and barns of a rich husband; and, that there might be no want in her happiness, by a gracious husband she hath gained a happy seed; and hath the honour, above all the dames of Israel, to be the great grandmother of a king, of David, of the Messiah.
Now is Marah turned back again to Naomi; and Orpah, if she hear of this in Moab, cannot but envy at her sister's happiness. Oh the sure and bountiful payments of the Almighty! Who ever came under his wing in vain? Who ever lost by trusting him? Who ever forsook the Moab of this world for the true Israel, and did not at last rejoice in the change? Ruth i, iii, iv.
HANNAH AND PENINNAH.
ILL customs, where they are once entertained, are not easily discharged. Polygamy, besides carnal delight, might now plead age and example; so as even Elkanah, though a Levite, is tainted with the sin of Lamech: like as fashions of attire, which at the first were disliked as uncomely, yet when they are once grown common are taken up of the gravest.
Yet this sin, as then current with the time, could not make Elkanah not religious. The house of God in Shiloh was duly frequented of him; often times, alone, in his ordinary course of attendance; with all his males, thrice a year; and once a year, with all his family. The continuance of an unknown sin cannot hinder the uprightness of a man's heart with God; as a man may have a mole upon his back, and yet think his skin clear: the least touch of knowledge or wilfulness mars his sincerity.
He, that by virtue of his place was employed about the sacri
It is a shame
fices of others, would much less neglect his own. for him, that teaches God's people that they should not appear before the Lord empty, to bring no sacrifice for himself. If Levites be profane, who should be religious?
It was the fashion, when they sacrificed, to feast; so did Elkanah. The day of his devotion is the day of his triumph: he makes great cheer for his whole family, even for that wife which he loved less. There is nothing more comely, than cheerfulness in the services of God. What is there in all the world, wherewith the heart of man should be so lifted up, as with the conscience of his duty done to his Maker? While we do so, God doth to us as our glass, smile upon us, while we smile on him.
Love will be seen by entertainment: Peninnah and her children shall not complain of want, but Hannah shall find her husband's affection in her portion: as his love to her was double, so was her part.
She fared not the worse, because she was childless: no good husband will dislike his wife, for a fault out of the power of her redress; yea, rather, that, which might seem to lose the love of her husband, wins it, her barrenness. The good-nature of Elkanah laboured by his dear respects to recompense this affliction, that so she might find no less contentment in the fruit of his hearty love, than she had grief from her own fruitlessness. It is the property of true mercy, to be most favourable to the weakest: thus doth the gracious spouse of the Christian soul pity the barrenness of his servants. Ó Saviour, we should not find thee so indulgent to us, if we did not complain of our own unworthiness. Peninnah may have the more children, but barren Hannah hath the most love. How much rather could Elkanah have wished Peninnah barren, and Hannah fruitful? but if she should have had both issue and love, she had been proud, and her rival despised. God knows how to disperse his favours so, that every one may have cause both of thankfulness and humiliation; while there is no one that hath all, no one but hath some. If envy and contempt were not thus equally tempered, some would be over haughty and others too miserable; but now, every man sees that in himself which is worthy of contempt, and matter of emulation in others; and contrarily, sees what to pity and dislike in the most eminent, and what to applaud in himself; and out of this contrariety, arises a sweet mean of contentation.
The love of Elkanah is so unable to free Hannah from the wrongs of her rival, that it procures them rather. The unfruitfulness of Hannah had never with so much despite been laid in her dish, if her husband's heart had been as barren of love to her. Envy, though it take advantage of our weaknesses, yet is ever raised upon some grounds of happiness in them whom it emulates: it is ever an ill effect of a good cause. If Abel's sacrifice had not been accepted, and if the acceptation of his sacrifice had not been a blessing, no envy had followed upon it.
There is no evil of another, wherein it is fit to rejoice, but his
envy; and this is worthy of our joy and thankfulness, because it shews us the price of that good, which we had and valued not. The malignity of envy is thus well answered, when it is made the evil cause of a good effect to us; when God and our souls may gain by another's sin. I do not find that Hannah insulted upon Peninnah, for the greater measure of her husband's love, as Pentinnah did upon her, for her fruitfulness. Those, that are truly gracious, know how to receive the blessings of God, without contempt of them that want; and have learned to be thankful, without overliness.
Envy, when it is once conceived in a malicious heart, is like fire in billets of juniper, which, they say, continues more years than one. Every year was Hannah thus vexed with her emulous partner, and troubled both in her prayers and meals. Amidst all their feastings, she fed on nothing but tears. Some dispositions are less sensible, and more careless of the despite and injuries of others, and can turn over unkind usages with contempt. By how much more tender the heart is, so much more deeply is it ever affected with discourtesies: as wax receives and retains that impression, which in the hard clay cannot be seen; or as the eye feels that mote, which the skin of the eye-lid could not complain of.
Yet the husband of Hannah, as one that knew his duty, labours by his love, to comfort her against these discontentments; Why weepest thou? Am not I better to thee than ten sons? It is the weakness of good natures, to give so much advantage to an enemy: what would malice rather have, than the vexation of them whom it persecutes? We cannot better please an adversary, than by hurting ourselves: this is no other than to humour envy, to serve the turn of those that malign us, and to draw on that malice whereof we are weary; whereas carelessness puts ill-will out of countenance, and makes it withdraw itself in a rage, as that which doth but shame the author, without the hurt of the patient. In causeless wrongs, the best remedy is contempt.
She, that could not find comfort in the loving persuasions of her husband, seeks it in her prayers: she rises up hungry from the feast, and hies her to the temple; there she pours out her tears and supplications. Whatsoever the complaint be, here is the remedy. There is one universal receipt for all evils, prayer: when all helps fail us, this remains; and while we have a heart, comforts it.
Here was not more bitterness in the soul of Hannah, than fervency: she did not only weep and pray, but vow unto God. If God will give her a son, she will give her son to God back again. Even nature itself had consecrated her son to God; for he could not but be born a Levite: but if his birth make him a Levite, her vow shall make him a Nazarite, and dedicate his minority to the tabernacle. The way to obtain any benefit, is, to devote it in our hearts, to the glory of that God of whom we ask it: by this means, shall God both pleasure his servant and honour himself; whereas, if the scope of our desires be carnal, we may be sure, either to fail of our suit, or of a blessing.
1 Sam, i.
ELI AND HANNAH.
OLD Eli sits on a stool, by one of the posts of the tabernacle : where should the priests of God be, but in the temple; whether for action or oversight? Their very presence keeps God's house in order; and the presence of God keeps their hearts in order.
It is often found, that those, which are themselves conscionable, are too forward to the censuring of others: good Eli, because he marks the lips of Hannah to move without noise, chides her as drunken; and uncharitably misconstrues her devotion. It was a weak ground whereon to build so heavy a sentence. If she had spoken too loud, and incomposedly, he might have had some just colour for his conceit; but now to accuse her silence, notwithstanding all her tears which he saw, of drunkenness, it was a zealous breach of charity.
Some spirits would have been enraged with so rash a censure: when anger meets with grief, both turn into fury; but this good woman had been inured to reproaches, and besides, did well see the reproof arose from misprision, and the misprision from zeal; and therefore answers meekly, as one that would rather satisfy than expostulate; Nay, my Lord, but I am a woman troubled in spirit.
Eli may now learn charity of Hannah: if she had been in that distemper whereof he accused her, his just reproof had not been so easily digested: guiltiness is commonly clamorous and impatient, whereas innocence is silent, and careless of mis-reports. It is natural to all men, to wipe off from their name all aspersions of evil; but none do it with such violence, as they which are faulty. It is a sign the horse is galled, that stirs too much when he is touched.
She, that was censured for drunken, censures drunkenness more deeply than her reprover; Count not thine hand-maid for a daughter of Belial. The drunkard's style begins in lawlessness, proceeds in unprofitableness, ends in misery; and all shut up in the denomination of this pedigree, A son of Belial.
If Hannah had been tainted with this sin, she would have denied it with more favour, and have disclaimed it with an extenuation; "What if I should have been merry with wine? yet I might be devout if I should have overjoyed in my sacrifice to God, one cup of excess had not been so heinous :" now her freedom is seen in her severity. Those, which have clear hearts from any sin, prosecute it with rigour; whereas the guilty are ever partial: their conscience holds their hand, and tells them that they beat themselves while they punish others.
Now Eli sees his error, and recants it; and, to make amends for his rash censure, prays for her. Even the best may err, but not persist in it when good natures have offended, they are unquiet, till they have hastened satisfaction. This was within his office, to pray for the distressed: wherefore serves the priest, but to sacrifice for the people? and the best sacrifices are the prayers of