When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it, because He takes no pleasure in fools. Fulfill your vow.
There are those who would disapprove of the violation of a promise given to a fellow-man, who think lightly of evading a promise solemnly volunteered to the Creator. It may be said that a fellow-man might suffer from such neglect or dereliction, but that God can suffer no loss or harm if a vow be not fulfilled. Such an extenuation or excuse for violating vows arises from the too common notion that the moral character of an action depends upon the consequences that follow it, and not upon the principles that direct it. A man's conduct may be wrong even if no one is injured by it; for he may violate both his own nature and the moral law itself.
I. THE NATURE OF THE VOW. When some signal favor has been experienced, some forbearance exercised on a man's behalf, he desires to evince his gratitude, to do something which in ordinary circumstances he would probably not have done, and he makes a vow unto God, sacredly' promising to offer some gift, to perform some service. Or even more commonly, the vow is made in hope of some benefit desired, and its fulfillment is conditional upon a petition being favorably answered, a desire being gratified.
II. THE VOLUNTARINESS OF THE VOW. It is presumed that no constraint is exercised, that the promise made to Heaven is the free and spontaneous expression of religious feeling. The language of Peter to Ananias expresses this aspect of the proceeding: "Whiles it remained, did it not remain thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thy power?"
III. THE OBLIGATION OF THE VOW. It is questionable whether vows are in all cases expedient. A vow to act sinfully is certainly not binding. And there are some vows which it is unwise in some circumstances, if not in all circumstances, to make; this is the case especially with vows which seem to make too great a demand upon human nature, which are indeed against nature; e.g. vows of celibacy, and of obedience to fellow-creatures as fallible as are those who bind themselves to obey. But if a vow be made knowingly and voluntarily, and if its fulfillment be not wrong, then the text assures us it is obligatory, and should be paid.
IV. THE FOLLY OF DEFERRING TO PAY THE VOW. There are disagreeable duties, which weak persons admit to be duties, and intend to discharge, but the discharge of which they postpone. Such duties do not become easier or more agreeable because deferred. Generally speaking, when conscience tells us that a certain thing ought to be done, the sooner we do it the better. So with the vow. "Defer not to pay it; for God hath no pleasure in fools."
V. THE SIN OF NEGLECTING AND REPUDIATING THE VOW. The vow is an evidence, it may be presumed, that there existed at the time, in the mind of him who made it, strong feelings and earnest purposes. Now, for one who has passed through such experiences so far to forget or abjure them as to act as if the vow had never been made, is a proof of religious declension and of inconsistency. How common is such "backsliding"! It is said, "Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay." He who vows not contracts no special obligation, whilst he who vows and withholds payment repudiates a solemn obligation which he has undertaken. A warning is thus given to which it is important for those especially to give heed who are liable to religious excitement and enthusiasm. If such characters yield as readily to evil influences as to good, their impressions may be a curse rather than a blessing, or at least may be the occasion of moral deterioration. None can feel and resolve and pray, and then afterwards act in opposition to their purest feelings, their highest resolves, their fervent prayers, without suffering serious harm, without weakening their moral power, without incurring the just displeasure of the righteous Governor and Lord of all. - T.
When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it.
One of the greatest inconveniences to which men are exposed in the various transactions of life, one of the greatest hindrances in their performance of duty, is forgetfulness: and this may be owing, partly to a defective constitution of mind, more frequently to habits of inattention and wilful neglect. A benefactor confers upon us a distinguished favour: we feel deeply sensible of the obligation, and sure that it must always be remembered; we venture to pledge ourselves that such will be the case; our own interest is greatly concerned that it should be so; the continued good-will and kindness of our friend depend upon it: and yet, when the benefit is past, and not seldom even while it is enjoyed, we are led to bestow scarcely a thought upon the hand from which our bounty has been supplied. None of us will deny our obligations to God for the blessings of His providence and the riches of His grace; and probably there are few of us, who have not been at some time or other so powerfully affected by a consideration of the Lord's dealings with us, as to have entered into some resolutions before Him, and made some promises of honouring and serving Him. But how soon have these hopeful convictions lost their power; how soon has the enemy, who was watching all the while with jealousy over them, "caught away that which was sown in their heart," and scattered it to the winds. The gains and pleasures, the corrupt indulgences, the fashionable follies of the world, have rushed in like a flood, and swept from them the very recollection of their promised change. If we could have kept a register of our thoughts and purposes, no doubt we should find, upon consulting it, that we had repeatedly, in the course of our lives, made our resolutions, and avowed our purposes in the sight of Heaven, to walk more humbly and faithfully with our God, and to live for eternity. And though we have long ago dismissed these matters from our minds, and no longer trouble ourselves either with the promised obligations, or our forgetfulness of them, yet are they standing before God in living characters, which no time can efface or alter. The sentiments, and affections, and conduct, which we saw necessary for us years ago, continue to be equally necessary, though they are no longer felt; our feelings may be changed and gone, but there is no change in duty: whatever it was wise and good for us to promise, that we are now as much bound to perform, as we were when the promise was originally made; and God will demand it at our hands. There is one momentous occasion of our lives to which most of us may carry back our thoughts with peculiar advantage; one occasion on which we certainly did, in the most open, and solemn, and unqualified manner, pledge ourselves to God in the presence of His Church and people; and that was when we took upon ourselves the vows and promises, which were made for us at our baptism, when we were confirmed. This is a transaction and a service upon which we ought to dwell with great solemnity and frequency. It is incumbent on me to say a word to those who are about to take upon themselves the promises and vows made at their baptism. Let the matter be well weighed: let it be soberly considered that they are going to give a promise and a pledge to the God of truth; to declare that they are fully sensible of the engagement which has been made for them, and are willing to take it wholly upon themselves; to declare that, for the remainder of their days, they wilt walk worthily, by the help of the Lord. of that new and holy state into which they were baptized. Now, that this is a most serious, important, and awful engagement, no one, who is come to years of discretion, can fail to perceive. Let all them be assured, that if this solemn vow be earnestly made and faithfully kept, God will be their friend, and "He will save them": if this solemn vow be trifled with and broken, God will punish such mockery, and will become their enemy, and they may perish everlastingly. Certainly we may say, in this case, if in any, "Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay."
The vow is a form of prayer. It is a prayer with an obligation. The worshipper wants something, and, either that he may get it or that he may show his gratitude, he resolves to do a certain thing. In the Old Testament economy the vow was a common form of worship. There was something in it suited to those lower and feebler views of God which obtained in the infancy of the Church. The chief objection to it is, that it lays a man under a bond to do what should always spring from love; that it is likely to be put as a full satisfaction for the religious obligations of the Christian, which yet include the whole life and being; and that there is in it an assumption that, if we do not make the vow, the obligation on our part is not incurred; whereas this is not so, for I may say that whatever is lawful for us to vow is always right for us to do, even if we had not made the vow. Rash. ness and inconsiderateness should not lead us to make any vow, either which we cannot keep, which we will not keep, or which it would be unlawful for us to keep, for such, translated into our language, is no doubt the essential meaning of those words — "Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel," — that is, the messenger of God, the minister, the priest, who was cognizant of the making of the vow, — "that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thy hands?" We are cautioned here not only against rash vows, but against unconsidered and voluminous prayers. Be not rash nor hasty: let thy words be few. Our Saviour cautioned against vain repetitions. Several gross vices in prayer are here indicated. First, voluminous prayer is to be guarded against — the utterance of the same request in many forms, as though God should be affected with the variety and quantity of speech! This, when done as a duty, is an evil; when done for pretence, is a hypocrisy. When we go to God, we should go with some petition which we want granted. We should know what it is; and if we have many petitions, we should have them arranged in proper order, and we should express them simply. There is much prayer without desire; and if God would grant many petitions which are offered up, many a worshipper would be greatly amazed and sadly disappointed. Take for instance our prayers for a new nature, for spiritual-mindedness. Well, we are afraid that there are prayers lying at the back of these petitions giving them the negative. The petitioners do not think there is not a good and a benefit in these things, but they do not want them for themselves, at least not now. A new nature is just what they do not want, but a little more indulgence of the old. They are as full of worldly-mindedness as they can be, and do not wish to have it destroyed. What then? Should we cease to offer up such prayers? No! But what we should do is this: try to get such views of the nature of things sought to be got rid of as shall lead to earnestness in our petitions against them, and to get such views of the blessings prayed for as shall lead us really to desire them. We require to study, that our prayers be of the right kind — that they be not mere verbiage; and, as in going before men for any favour, our words should be few, and well ordered. About the exercise of prayer there are great difficulties, which can only be surmounted by previous study, by constant watchfulness, and by a simple reliance on the Spirit of God, as the source from whom all our inspirations flow.
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