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Calvin - Institutes of the Christian Religion Book4 Chapter13

Calvin - Institutes of the Christian Religion Book4 Chapter13

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Published by: api-3803803 on Oct 17, 2008
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(The nature of vows, and prevalent errors concerning them, 1-7)

It is a matter indeed to be deplored that the church, whose freedom was
bought at the inestimable price of Christ\u2019s blood, has been thus oppressed
by cruel tyranny and almost overwhelmed with a huge mass of traditions.
But meanwhile each man\u2019s private madness shows that it was not without
very just cause that God permitted so much to Satan and his ministers.
And it was not enough for men, neglecting Christ\u2019s authority, to bear all
the burdens imposed by false teachers; each had further to seek his own
burdens for himself and, by digging pits for himself, had to plunge deeper
still. This happened when they eagerly devised vows by which a greater

and stricter obligation might be added to the common chains. We have
already shown how so-called \u201cpastors\u201d in their presumptuous rule of the

church have corrupted the worship of God in ensnaring miserable souls
with their iniquitous laws. It will not, therefore, be inopportune here to
join with this another related evil, to show how the world, according to the
depravity of its own disposition, has always repelled with such obstacles
as it could the helps by which it ought to have been led to God. Now the
better to see how very serious is the mischief occasioned by vows, let my
readers now recall the principles already set forth.

For we have taught first that whatever may be required to train men to live
pious and holy lives is comprised in the law.F449 We have further taught
that the Lord, in order better to call us away from inventing new works,
has included the entire praise of righteousness in simple obedience to his
will.F450 If these things are true, one can readily judge that all reigned acts
of worship, which we ourselves invent to deserve God\u2019s favor, are not at
all acceptable to him, no matter how well they may please us. And surely

the Lord himself in many passages not only openly rejects but deeply
abhors them.

Hence, there arises a doubt concerning those vows which are made apart
from God\u2019s express Word. What place should they have? Can they be
duly undertaken by Christian men? To what extent are they binding?

For what is called \u201cpromise\u201d among men is called \u201cvow\u201d with respect to
God. Moreover, we promise to men either those things which we think
will be pleasing to them or those which we owe out of duty. It is, then,
fitting that there should be a far closer observance of those vows which are
directed to God himself, toward whom we must act in the greatest

At this point superstition has been strangely prevalent in all ages, so that
men have, without judgment and without distinction, immediately vowed
to God whatever came into their mind, or even their mouth. Hence arose
those follies, indeed, monstrous absurdities among the Gentiles, by which
they too insolently mocked their gods. And would that even the Christians
had not imitated this presumption of theirs! Indeed, they ought not to
have done this. But we see that for some centuries nothing has been more
usual than this wickedness: whole people everywhere, despising God\u2019s
law, burned with a mad zeal to vow anything that had tickled them in

dreams. I will not hatefully exaggerate, nor recount in detail, how gravely and in how many ways men have sinned in this respect. But it seems to me right to say this in passing, in order that it may better appear that, in discussing vows, we are not by any means raising a question over a

superfluous matter.
Now, if we wish to avoid error in determining what vows are lawful, what
ones objectionable, it is well to consider three things:

(1) who it is to whom the vow is made;
(2) who we are who make the vow;
(3) lastly, with what intention we make our vow.

The purpose of the first thing is to make us realize that it is God with
whom we have to deal, who is so pleased by our obedience that he
declares all self-made religion,F451 however splendid and beautiful it may be

in men\u2019s eyes, accursed [<510223> Colossians 2:23]. If all voluntary worship
which we ourselves devise apart from God\u2019s commandment is hateful to
him, it follows that no worship can be acceptable to him except that which
is approved by his Word. Therefore, let us not take to ourselves such
license as to dare vow to God that which bears no evidence as to how he
may esteem it. For Paul\u2019s teaching that whatever is done apart from faith
is sin [<451423> Romans 14:23]\u2014since it may be extended to all actions\u2014
surely is particularly applicable when one turns one\u2019s thought directly to
God. But if we fail or err in the least things (Paul is there discussing the

difference of foods) where faith gives no clear mandate, how much more

modest must we be when we undertake a matter of the greatest
importancel tindeed, nothing ought to be more serious for us than the
duties of religion. Let our first precaution in vows, therefore, be never to
proceed to any avowal without our conscience first making sure that it
attempts nothing rash. But it shall be free of the danger of rashness when
it has God going before it and dictating as from his own Word what is good
or unprofitable to do.


The second thing which we have said must be looked at here contains the following: we should measure our strength, we should keep our calling in mind, so as not to neglect the blessing of freedom which God has given us. For he is a rash man who vows what is either not in his power or conflicts with his calling. And he is ungrateful who despises God\u2019s beneficence,

which constitutes him lord of all things. When I speak thus, I do not mean that anything has been so placed in our hand that, borne up by confidence in our own strength, we may promise it to God. For it was very truly

decreed in the Council of Orange that we vow nothing duly to God except what we have received at his hand. For all things offered to him are purely his gifts.F452 But since some things are given us by God\u2019s kindness, others denied us by his equity, let every man look to the measure of grace given him, as Paul enjoins [<451203> Romans 12:3;<461211> 1 Corinthians 12:11].

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