Thursday, October 29, 2009

Insane boldness in vows

Calvin's Institutes (1559)
Book 4 of 4 - External Means by which God Invites Us into the Society of Christ and Holds Us Therein

Chapter 13 - Rash vows and their entanglements
1-7 - Nature of vows, and prevalent errors about them
1. Besides the chains the church has laid on all, men put further unnecessary chains on themselves by rash vows. We must keep "a far closer observance" of careful vows. A vow is a promise before God.
2. Consider who you vow to, who you are, and what your intent is. It is important who God is, to whom we vow, as He has forbidden self-made religion - Col 2:23 - and commanded everything to be done with faith - Rom 14:23. Both these are very applicable to motives for vows.
3. Consider yourself, second. Don't promise something you can't do, or that conflicts with your calling. We can vow to Him anything He has given to us. Rash vows found in Acts 23:12; Judges 11:30-31. Celibacy is among these, as "insane boldness." It conflicts with Gen 2:18. Vowing lifelong celibacy is "to strive against the nature imparted by" God. Making lots of vows, constraining your freedom in externals, keeps you from serving God as you should with those externals.
4. Consider your intent, third. God knows if you are seeking merit in the vow itself or to serve Him through it. Some vows are made for past events: to thank God (Gen 28:20-22; Ps 22:25; 61:8; 56:12; 116:14, 18) or confess to God. A vow to restrain from fine food after sinning by gluttony may be useful. It may not be commanded as an obligation, but the sinner may make such a vow freely.
5. Other vows are made to restrain future behavior. We either vow to abstain from some allowed thing that leads us to sin, or we vow to keep some duty of piety.
6. All Christians make the same vow in their baptism, and it is confirmed "by catechism and receiving the Lord's Supper." This is part of the covenant of grace where we receive pardon in Christ. Vows generally should be temporary and occasional, or they become superstitious or burdensome.
7. It is "pernicious and damned" error to make unnecessary vows of abstinence or pilgrimage, just to obtain merit or feel holy.

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