Deuteronomy 23:22

It is not obligatory to make vows; it is obligatory to fulfill them. We are often free to contract an obligation; we are not free to violate it. A man is not bound to marry; having married, he is bound to cherish his wife.

I. VOWS IMPLY SPECIAL ACTS OF KINDNESS ON THE PART OF GOD. The ordinary course of God's bounty baffles verbal description. The forethought, the active energy, the well-laid plans, the unslumbering attention, the changeless affection, which are required for the preservation of human life, no language can express. But this is not all that God does for us. In times of unusual perplexity, special guidance is often vouchsafed to us. When surrounding events seemed most adverse to our interests, in answer to prayer, sudden deliverance has come. A precious life was in jeopardy: human help was unavailing; but God graciously interposed, and midnight suddenly became a summer noon.

II. VOWS IMPLY, ON OUR PART, DEFECTIVE PIETY. Vows are made under the influence of excessive fear or from an influx of sudden joy. In a time of sharp distress, a man will put himself under special obligation, if God will grant his request. Or, when some expected good has fallen to one's lot, in the impulse of sudden gladness we vow to devote some special offering unto God. Now, this is not wrong. Still there is something better. It is better to be always in a frame of trustful feeling, so that we may welcome whatever God ordains, and realize that what God does is best. It is better to rely upon his promise that help shall come in times of need! It is better to cultivate the habit of frequent offerings to God's cause, so that no vow is needed to prick us up to the full discharge of duty. The vow implies that we cannot trust ourselves at all times to give to God his due. Therefore our endeavor should be to cultivate a childlike and a steadfast faith. It is good that the "heart be established with grace."

III. VOWS CREATE FOR US A NEW OBLIGATION. Having made a debt, we are bound to pay it; but it is better not to accumulate a debt. Men lay a trap to catch themselves. Conscious of deficient trust and love towards God, they take advantage of some favorable state of feeling to make new obligations from which it shall be difficult to escape. In their better moods of mind they create new motives and new sanctions for religious conduct, which they cannot remove when the better feeling has vanished. They use the rising tide to bear their barque away. They utilize summer piety to provide for winter coldness. But having framed a religious vow, truth requires that it should be scrupulously kept. To violate a vow would injure our own soul's life - would deaden and stupefy conscience, would justly provoke our God. No common sin is this. - D.

If thou shalt forbear to vow.
I. THE NATURE OF VOWS UNDER THE JEWISH DISPENSATION: which, as they are particularly voluntary engagements, we ought to observe when made, though we cannot infer a necessity of making them from the Divine law or the nature of things. It would seem but an ill consequence should we thus argue: God has commanded us in general to honour Him with our substance, and therefore we ought to make ourselves liable to His judgments, if in such a particular case, at such a particular time, and to such a particular degree we do it not. This I say would be but an ill consequence, though there may be some fit reasons assigned why such particular vows were used by good and pious men under the circumcision (Genesis 28:20; Judges 11:20, 31; 2 Samuel 15:7, 8). Hence we observe that things consecrated or desecrated, though they are in a vulgar sense styled devoted, are not always reducible under the general nature of a vow, in the proper and scriptural sense of the word, and there seems to be a greater difference than is commonly apprehended between them. Thus much may suffice to determine the notion of vows as they are distinguished from other sacrifices under the Jewish dispensation; but it will still be more clear from some further reflections upon the lawful matter of them. For this we need only in general observe that everything which was not appropriated to God, which was not profaned, or which was not properly under the right or arbitrament of another, was the subject matter of them. From whence it follows that tenths in the first place were, under the Mosaic law, excluded from it, and that these could not be vowed to the Almighty, or be accepted by Him as a freely promised offering, because they were properly His before both by prescription and command. Again, nothing which was profaned or unclean, unless as it was redeemable, could be the matter of a vow. The heathens, for the generality, had more exalted notions than to think their gods would be gratified with such sacrifices as were held in contempt by themselves, and were in their kind of least estimation with them. Lastly, whatsoever was under the right and power of another was excluded from the matter of a vow, and therefore those who were subject to the authority of fathers or husbands were by the law not obliged to the performance of vows made without their consent during their right and power over them.

II. UNDER THE GOSPEL THE CHRISTIAN'S VOWS ARE COMPREHENDED UNDER THE SACRAMENTAL, AND THEREFORE PARTICULAR VOWS ARE NEITHER NECESSARY NOR EXPEDIENT. It may be proper to give a fit instance or two of particular vows in order to settle what are so. We are, in general, by our baptismal covenant, obliged to renounce all the sinful lusts of the flesh, and in consequence of this are obliged to make use of the means prescribed, suppose mortification by fasting. But should we by a solemn promise to God Almighty oblige ourselves to abstain such a number of days or hours, this circumstance nowhere enjoined would make it a particular vow. Again, we are obliged by our general vow to acts of charity and piety; but should we make a voluntary promise to God to bestow at such a future time such a certain sum to such an assigned use in view of such a desired blessing, this would also be a particular vow. And these are the vows which I undertake to prove neither necessary nor expedient. If they had been necessary, we might reasonably suppose that as our Saviour appointed that grand one for the initiation of His followers, He would also have prescribed the other, either by precept or practice, for the perfection of them, that so the use of them might have been derived by authority to the Christian Church, as it was to the Jews from the patriarchs. But we have no instance of this kind, either from our Saviour, His apostles, or followers, in the New Testament. And if we take them, under the general notion, as acts of gratitude, by which the good Christian promises to God the acknowledgment of a blessing by a suitable offering and oblation, though it is lawful and not absurd, as Calvin expresses it, to enter into such engagements, yet what advantage this method of acknowledgment has above others is not easily discerned. Should the pious Christian be made a peculiar favourite of heaven, and blessed with extraordinary advantages, either in prospect or possession, he may by his free gifts and offerings give a more noble and generous instance of his pious resentment, which under the law were always deemed the most acceptable sacrifices, and must recommend to the favour of the Almighty, who loveth a cheerful giver, whereas he, who lays a constraint upon himself, may give afterwards with an unwilling mind, and though he pays the vow, may not answer the end of it. And it is for these reasons, I presume, that the Jewish doctors discouraged and deterred their scholars from such kind of vows. But were they ever so expedient, the ill use which has been made of the doctrine of particular vows by the Church of Rome would be enough to give us a prejudice against them.

(T. Silvester, M. A.)

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