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Oakley's Sermons

Boaz the Good

Handwritten Note: Read for first time alone on Feb 23 1931 - 2 weeks from the day and night my husband lost consciousness in this world - He died Feb 11th, Buried Feb 14th

Ruth 2:1, "And his name was called Boaz".

I share a common wonder of the race when I ask myself if anything that I am or have done shall last when I have gone to my reward. I know that the influence of my life is bound to persist a little after me, as rings mark the widening touch of a pebble in the sea. But is it to be permanent? Is anything that I am doing really abiding and inherently bound to remain? Such a hope is irrepressible. It is instinctive as a hope, at least. It is a tribute to our hope of a timeless life. Let us now, however, address ourselves to the task of seeking to know whether it may have any basis in fact.

Our inquiry quite naturally begins with the query as to the means by which this enviable result is to be attained. Is there any path blazed in this world to this end? How shall I live so that my power can not be ignored by the children of my great-grand-children, and by other generations yet unborn? Is it possible for me to enter some niche in the world's "Hall of Fame"?

We are met at the threshold of our thought by the fact that nearly stares us out of countenance, that not many of us are great as the world counts greatness. We are proud of our lineage, but it is not kingly. It is not generally known in the streets. We must needs introduce it to have it known. Fear takes us when we think that we shall not always be here to make it known. We have comfortable positions, but they are not in the limelight of the public stage. We look with complacency, if not with pride on our work, but we are forced to confess it is not eternal. We cling with tenacity, if not with desperation to our culture; it has taken us all our days to acquire it: but when confronted with the immensities which lie beyond us, much of which is even a sealed book to us, we lose heart. We rest in hope in our love, knowing that love is eternal. But all our love save that which we give to God, fades as does a tender flower. Truly we have not much as the world counts greatness upon which to build in hope for the future of our influence when we are gone. Our heredity, our position, our culture, our human loves, - none of these are adequate to assure persistence to our name and fame.

It is our purpose to relate to-night how this perpetuity may be achieved, or at the very least to make known how it was accomplished in the life of one no better than we. Let it be the prayer of each earnest heart that the forces marshaled to accomplish this for an ancient may avail for us to-day.

The man whom I wish to direct your attention is BOAZ. Who was he? He was not a king: no royal insignia ever adorned him. He was not a statesman: no edict touching the nation's life ever emanated from him. He was not a prophet: no insight into the high and holy things of God seems ever to have been revealed to him. He was not a warrior: no victory ever gave to him the conqueror's laurels, or made his name to be conquered with by the boys and old men. He was not a poet: no sweet song that he ever sang, is left to us. He was not a musician: no evil spirit of a king bowed before him, as did the witch in Saul, the big wild king. Nay, even so far as we know, he was not the leading business man of his day: men did not fear and obey his slightest whim, as they do the lords of industry in our time. None of these usual types of distinction marked Boaz. His one simple title to perpetuity, but one which has availed and one which shall ever avail to him, - was that he was GOOD. Boaz the good, - this is the summary of his life work. It has made his name revered, and kept his memory green through all the years. Boaz was good.

The distinction of being good need not be a class mark, nor an exceptional affair. It is a democratic honor, open to all. By no means easy to attain, it yet lies within the grasp of each of us. It is not a sudden growth like Jonah's gourd. Nor is it an evanescent honor as was the prophet's queer umbrella. Hard to attain, but never lost when once reached is this simple but royal honor of goodness. Boaz the kindly layman and farmer of Israel is the type of life calling to each of us. Goodness is our one hope of distinction in the lift that now is, and our only pledge for persistence in the memory of the world when we are gone.

It is fitting that we now observe in somewhat greater detail the story of Boaz' life, that we may better know how good he was, and how his goodness manifested itself.

Environment and Goodness

The source of our information is the book of Ruth, that poetic idyll embedded between the wars and rumors of wars in Judges and Samuel as if to say that goodness lived not amid peaceful and romantic conditions but in the face of that which is commonly supposed to startle into revengeful activity the darker passions of our nature. Goodness is not a local flower. It blooms in snow and in jungles, amid savages and scholars, among old men and little girls - anywhere and everywhere.

Heredity and Goodness

Boaz was well descended, a thing which he nor any of us are ashamed of, if it falls to us. He was a kinsman of Naomi, and of the family of Elimelech, of the tribe of Reuben. The record of his family appears in the genealogy of our Lord, Jesus. And yet Reuben committed incest and lost the leadership, to Ephraim and to Manasseh.

This is a good commentary on the relation of heredity to goodness. He was well-descended - there was none much better. But there was a skeleton closet in this family history that was not unlocked unless upon necessity. It was too painful and humiliating to be exposed to public view.

Descent from a good family is a thing of which to be rightly proud. I am glad that in my own viens there is the good old phlegmatic Dutch, which keeps on steady and always at it; Puritan blood that makes one do and dare for righteousness sake, and defy the princes and powers of this world and any other if necessary; Cavalier blood from old Virginia that keeps one open to chivalry and the finer aspects of life; and last but by no means least, Irish-Scotch which while dreadfully set, is by no means lacking in humor and daring. All this any one might well be proud of. But the very best that can be said of it, or of any good lineage is that like a good college diploma it has given you an initial push. Whether you are to sink or swim depends on the strength of your own arm, the energy of your own exertions.

Boaz was worthy of the fine family heritage that came to him. He took the name and honored it. It sounded better and it was better when he was done with it. It should be the pride of every man to have that said of his name. I once heard a man who did not know that there were but to others called by his name in the United States say, I must so live that no odium will ever attach to my name. If it should it would be immediately referred to me". The same pride about our family name is legitimate. Boaz was worthy of his line. But even so, his goodness was not the result of his stock. He was better than Reuben his forefather had been. He bettered the name of Elimelech who went away to Moab and died there in poverty, leaving Naomi in distress. His family really came to have distinction because of him. He cam to notice solely because he was good.

Reputation and Goodness

Boaz was commonly good and had been so for so long a time that it was generally understood. I imagine that he was called Boaz, "THE GOOD" as we have long since learned to say "Frederick The Great" or "William The Silent". No one could wish for a nobler title. An incident which confirms this statement is afforded by the return of Naomi and his Moabitish daughter-in-law to Canaan. They had lost all, as have more than one who have gone into far countries to seek fortunes. They were now back among old friends in penury. They must appeal to someone. They might go bed directly. But Naomi knows Boaz of old. She does not need to beg. Only let Ruth go where Boaz may chance to see her, without even knowing who she is, and his goodness will give her food. So into the fields she went. Nothing in the story appeals to me as finer than this. A man was so good, his charity was so broad, that men in the streets knew of it, and dared to presume upon it. Goodness is like fragrance in a flower. It heralds a man. One of my delights as a boy was to go into the country and gather honey-suckles when they were in bloom. Long before we came to them, and other flowers that grew with them, we had them located by their fragrance, as one locates a green house in the city a block or two away. Goodness has wings. It is once's reputation. Goodness can not be crushed. Like the fragrance of the flower, it persists like perfume when the flower is long since gone. Reputation clings to the garments of goodness, and will not be divorced.

Manners and Goodness

The goodness of Boaz was reflected in his manners. This is revealed to us in a beautifully drawn picture of Boaz as he came into the fields. Boaz lived in Bethlehem. He owned this farm, but in the country. It was evidently toward night when he visited it this day. He was just out to see that everything was all right. A gentleman farmer, or a retired farmer was Boaz. He entered the fields with this startling comment to the workers,-his own hired help; "Jehovah be with you". Was not that a strange salutation? We should have recognized it had he said, "See here, you lazy scamp, what are you sitting down there for? What do you suppose I pay you for? What have you done to-day anyhow?". Or indeed it would have seemed quite up-to-date had he gone through the fields and spoken to no one, les someone look up and lose a little time. But instead he speaks, "Jehovah be with you". Then workmen reply, "Jehovah bless thee". "If you are interested like that in us, we will see that you lose nothing". Someone says this is a different age. Manifestly it is. But men are the same to-day as when Boaz lived. Goodness is not less allied to manners now than then. The goodness in any heart now will find its expression in words of help on the lips of to-day as they did on the lips of Boaz. Our manners betray how deep our goodness is.

Business and Goodness

Some business man here this morning is saying, "That is well enough in the books, but it is not practical. It is not good business." As if to answer that doubt, the narrative relates how careful Boaz was as a business man. He noticed a new hand in the fields. It was someone he had not hired. It was a woman. She was not working with the rest. Some pilferer, he thought. She is thinking to follow behind the reapers and take enough for herself. That must be attended to. It would demoralize the spirit of the other laborers. He asks who it may be. This is attention to details such as business men love. It is necessary here to regard only the fact that goodness keeps company both with manners and business. That goodness is not of necessity other-worldly.

Toleration and Goodness

The servant set over the reapers, replied to Boaz's question. "It is the Moabitish damsel that came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab". A Moabite indeed! How that would start the angry blood in any stiff-necked Hebrew. A Moabite! One who lived just across the Jordan, and when the harvests were ready, organized bands, swept down on the fields at night and destroyed them. The arch enemy of Israel! Was not this a spy in disguise? The laws were very sharp about any undue intimacy between Moab and Israel, unless this story is earlier than is generally supposed. But Boaz replied, "It is all right, good maiden. You need not search out another field". Such was the toleration of Boaz. Such is the toleration of genuine goodness always. Goodness is not suspicious. Goodness is not always looking for enemies. Goodness is not always picking flaws in others. Goodness does not parade the weakness of others. Goodness does not emphasize the gulf and divisions that separate men and nations. Goodness is tolerant within reasonable bounds.

Protective Goodness

Goodness is protective. Like the coloring which effectively hides from danger many of the lower animals, like the armor which is for some their sole shield, is goodness for the weak. Ruth was in a perilous situation. Alone in the fields, away from the cities and the reapers, with the many rough men gathered as always for the harvesting, this fair young flower might at any moment be cut down. Even the perfect mantle of her own stainless purity might not avail here. Boaz quickly detected this. Accordingly he said, to Ruth, "Abide here fast by my maidens". That would keep her from harm.

George Matheson says that Boaz may be called the founder of young women societies, under whatever name they may be called. We designate them, Young Women Christian Associations. There are many names in as many lands for such organizations. Their purpose is ever the same. It is to shield young women and save them from the curse of learning too much alone. Such a lonely course ends in a house fallen on their heads. But if they abide here fast by the other maidens, a is well.

Goodness is indeed protective. We know full the sequel to our story, and how this same Ruth and Boaz were made man and wife. How much more beautiful and good is the record because of the honest gentlemanly conduct of Boaz. Probably there is not a more decisive test of goodness than its protective character. If when left alone where vice is handy and might not be detected, goodness yet prevails, great is that goodness!

Charity and Goodness

After Boaz had committed Ruth to the care of the maidens, he was not yet content. He commanded the young men that they touch her not. At meal time he asked her to sit with the reapers and eat. He gave her permission to drink of the water the young men drew at considerable trouble. Later in the story, he even went so far as to command the young men to pull sheaves out of their bundles that she might have the more. This latest incident however I disregard in this connection. It is the first suggestion of a goodness that passes charity and is termed love. That is a little more than charity demands. That incident is the turning point of the story. With the love story we are not now so much concerned. We all know how to love, and to order sheaves pulled out of bundles that some reaper may gather them up. We all know how to seed flowers. Not all of us are equally adept in being good, to such an extent that our goodness passes charity.

Spasmodic Goodness

The kindness of Boaz to Ruth lasted until the end of the harvest and after. It was not spasmodic. The incidents of the first day were repeated until the end of the barley harvest and of the wheat harvest. If they had not been repeated, the goodness of Boaz would never have been known to us. Each of us are good at times. The spasmodic goodness of the world is unmeasurable. None of us is so caloused but that we have fits of goodness. The real test of goodness, however, is that it is steady, and persistent. An unchanging goodness must rest in a will set always on the right. Spasmodic goodness rests on the fleeting impulse of the moment.

Enough has been said of the story of Boaz to bring to our minds the salient features. Boaz was good not because of his environment but because of himself; his heredity helped him to goodness but he was better than his family; his goodness lent him a reputation upon which it was safe to presume; his goodness betrayed itself in his manners and also in his business; likewise it was apparent in his toleration, in his protection of the weak, in his charity, and in his persistent efforts to be worthy of himself. We need not be further concerned with the details of this beautiful story.

There are three aspects of goodness, however, which our study has given rise to, which it may not be amiss to fasten on as we close. To these we now turn.

1. The Immediateness of Goodness

The aspect of goodness which most quickly claims our attention is its immediateness. Goodness looks to the thing in hand, without a weather eye open for the outcome. Whenever a deed is done not for the sake of the deed, but for what it is hoped to produce, the goodness is strangled. If Boaz was kind to Ruth because the first step in the way to his marriage was kindness, he was not good at all. But no one can read this simple artless tale with such a thought. It was just because he had no motive but did his kindness for the mere love of goodness that the record of his conduct lives.

I am aware that not all of us are inclined to goodness in trifling acts by disposition. We are too prone to think it is a matter of disposition, which it is not. Disposition may make it easier, but lack of disposition is not more excuse for lack of goodness than lack of up to date clothes is an excuse for not loving God and his Church. By a little care we all approach such a disposition if we do not have it. Goodness is a plant that grows by watering. The secret lies not in disposition but in a care for details and a love for looking after them. If we set our minds on getting pleasure out of the cups of cold water we bestow, soon it will be a pleasure to give the cups. The immediateness of goodness is a marked character. Goodness looks to no reward.

2. The Breadth of Goodness

Another marked characteristic of goodness is its breadth. It is not confined to ones immediate circle, or to ones race or nation. Boaz the Hebrew of the Hebrew was good to the Moabite. The priest and Levite of our Lord's parable were good in their immediate circle. As Dr. Washington Gladden says, they were likely going down to Jerusalem to a convention to discuss "How may we elevate the masses"; but lo the poor Samaritan was left to find the man on the side of the road nearly killed by robbers. Goodness is broad and goes out of our circle to the poor wounded man by the wayside, as Jesus taught. Goodness in our churches means missions, and toleration between denominations. Goodness in the nation means a little more even, than the square deal for the Indian, the Negro, and the Chinese and Japanese.

3. The Reward of Goodness

Goodness like charity seeketh not her own. God rewards her. In our story of Boaz, the reward, unsought, was conspicuous. It was nothing less than Ruth herself. It was more than that. It was Obed. Who was Obed? Obed begat Jesse, and Jesee begat David, and of David came the King of All Kings and the Lord of all Lords, Jesus. In both genealogies of Lord, in Matthew and in Luke, Boaz' name is imperishably inscribed. That was indeed a fitting reward for goodness.

"God is still in his heaven. All is still well with the world." The devices of wicked men to the contrary, God still brings to their own those who are good in his name. He never yet left goodness unrewarded and he never will.

May Goodness Follow Me

In the Psalm of Psalms there is this remarkable sentence, "Surely goodness and mercy have followed me." The reference manifestly is to the goodness of God which runs a little before us and makes a path for us in the midst of the stony world.

It may be said with equal truth of each of us, that we are able to run ahead and make goodness to follow us. There is a goodness which runs ahead of us. It is the goodness of our Father and Mother, and our many friends, who have prepared our pathway, that we might walk smoothly. It is likewise the business of each one of us, to make a path for those who are to follow us.

Some one may look at the record of a human life and say, "How sad that life! How thorny his way! How great his failure!" But such a summary reveals only the lonely toiler, blazing out his lonely way, through stony fields of human endeavor, overgrown with throrns and briers of the world's planting. God may look at that same life and say, "How great a victory! How wide the path he blazed! How many walk in his steps unharmed, because he has plucked the thorns and briers with his bleeding hands!"

It is possible, O my people, to have goodness follow us like that! It is possible to be so good, that others better than we follow us, because of what we have done. May goodness and mercy not only run before us, but follow us all the days of our lives! Then shall we indeed dwell in the house of the Lord forever!

The Prayer

Oh, Thou Eternal Goodness, we pray that we may be good. We thank thee for the record of one good man. We bless thee that thou dost bid us emulate him, and give us strength to worthily do it. We thank thee that thou hast made it possible for us to do well because of the good men who have gone ahead of us. May we be good! It is a simple thing that we ask, but a very deep thing, O God, may we be good!

And O Father, help us to let goodness and mercy follow us. We that thee for those who have made goodness precede us. May we have thy help to cause goodness to follow us! We ask it in the name of thy dear Son, the only truly good man who ever has lived among us, and whose goodness still follow him.

Amen.