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VOWS AND PURIFICATIONS.
The Jewish vows were observances closely connected with this part of our subject; but they were limited to the Mosaic dispensation, rather than applicable to the Christian system. The directions as to vows will be found, Lev. xxvii; Numb. xxx; Deut. xxiii. 21–23. These passages show, that the particulars of a vow were to be distinctly expressed, and not merely a mental resolution : this would prevent many unnecessary scruples in the minds of conscientious persons, arising from passing thoughts and hasty suggestions. It is also clearly stated, that if the party who made a vow was under the control of others, the vow was not binding without the sanction of the husband, parent, or superior. But herein the Jews made the law of God of none effect through their traditions : see Matt. xv. 4–6 ; Mark vii. 9-13. If a man declared that his property was
corban,” or devoted to God, he was considered as forbidden to afford his parents any relief from that time. This was a device to let a parent perish from want, and, under pretence of a religious obligation, to gratify malignant or covetous feelings, by directly breaking the fifth commandment. In this case, the son was not required actually to give to the temple, or to the priests, what ought to have been given to the parent ; it was enough if he declared an intention to do so. Encouragement was thereby given to an avaricious spirit ; this was contrary to the express law, Lev. xxvii. 15—22—23, which shows how the Lord God knows the lurking thoughts and propensities of the heart, and how the love of riches would make the people incline to cut short even their holy offerings ; therefore, if any one changed his mind, and desired to retain what he had devoted to the Lord's service, he not only had to bestow what was equal in value, but to add one-fifth part more.
At first we may be inclined to doubt that even the Pharisees could countenance such a direct breach of the Divine
“ If we say
law, as the law of the corban, when its advantage to them was but contingent. A little reflection, however, will explain this. When the law of God had been thus broken, the conscience would be brought into bondage ; and, when the heart is not renewed, relief under trouble in such a case will be sought from man, rather than directly from God himself. The Pharisees of old, and the anti-christian priesthood of later days, have availed themselves of this feeling, and large sums have often been bequeathed for superstitious purposes, in the hope of obtaining relief from self-accusation, for the misemployment of comparatively small amounts. Here the declarations of God's word are express : Man is required to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with his God, Micah vi. 8. that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” John i. 1–9. It is not the offering of thousands of rams, or ten thousands of rivers of oil, that will satisfy for the sin of the soul. God can overrule the false ideas of men on the subject, and cause a bequest to a charitable society, or a religious institution, to become the means of good to others; but let none consider that such a disposal of property ever will remove the stain which may have been contracted by fraud or violence in acquiring wealth, or by withholding more than is meet, while increasing the store. It is true,
“ There is a fountain fill'd with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel's veins,
Lose all their guilty stains ;”. and we are expressly told, that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin, 1 John i. 7 ; but when pardon has thus been obtained, and the heart is renewed by God the Holy Spirit, all will be devoted to the service of our Lord and Master. Not, however, by taking or withholding, contrary to the principles of the Divine law, under the idea that wealth, thus gotten by vanity, can be accepted if applied for other purposes, however laudable in themselves. Where God requires services at our hands, he will send the needful ability or property, for the purpose. Let us seek to employ the talents committed to us in simplicity and faith, avoiding the snares into which many fall, by thinking that they are doing service to the Lord, when, in fact, they are only gratifying their own self-will, and even their corrupt inclinations. In connexion with this subject we may observe, that whatever was vowed to God, must have been obtained honestly, or it was not accepted. This is expressly stated in several passages of the sacred writings : herein was a striking contrast between the Divine law and the observances of heathenism, under which, in some cases, money was expressly acquired by infamous and sinful practices, that it might be applied to the service of idols. Even now, in heathen lands, these shameful practices exist.
The vows of execration, or devoting to destruction, called cherem, were solemn ; they did not admit of retraction or change of purpose. The destruction of Jericho,
recorded in the book of Joshua, is a remarkable example of this, and was the result of the wrath of God against the sins of the Canaanitish nations. The circumstances need not be here noticed ; the reader may refer to what is said upon the subject in “THE JOURNEYS OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL." The same awful penalty was denounced against any city of Israel that should introduce the worship of false gods, Deut. xiii. 12—18. Some have thought that the sacrifice of Jephtha's daughter was of this description; but the original word is different, it is neder, and implies resigning or giving up to the service of the Lord ; not cherem, or destruction of the thing dedicated.
In Lev. xxvii. are the rules relating to things dedicated to God by a solemn vow. The vow of Jacob, Gen. xxviii. 20 -22, was similar. Other vows were of abstinence or selfdenial, as to abstain from wine, and to be scrupulously careful in some circumstances of conduct. Such was the vow of the Nazarite; see Numbers vi. There were two classes of Nazarites — those wholly devoted, often from their birth, as Samson and John the Baptist ; and those for a limited period, which vows were not unfrequent on recovery from sickness, or deliverance from danger, and continued for an interval of time before sacrifices of thanksgiving were offered. Here we may refer to Acts xviii. 18. The apostle Paul, for some reason not recorded, bound himself by a vow, in consequence of which he shaved his head, and we find him afterwards saying he must needs go to Jerusalem. He felt that it was his duty to proceed there at that time; this was also needful for the performance of his vow, for when such an engagement was made in a foreign country, the party must go to Jerusalem to perform it. We may notice the similarity of the Romish pilgrimages to this custom ; but many abuses accompanied these observances in the days of our fathers, and are continued in some degree even up to the present day.
Advocates of popery refer to the vows under the Mosaic law, and to the Nazarites in particular, when they seek to defend their monastic institutions. But a slight examination of the subject will show, that even the ceremonial observances of the Mosaic law do not, in this respect, afford any sanction to the slavish restrictions and painful results of the system maintained by the church of Rome. There is nothing in common, between the cheerful, simplehearted, and pious devotedness of the Hebrew votaries, such as the Rechabites, Jer. xxxv., and the victims of the Romish system ; the horrors of which, even in our own times, have been very ably delineated by Blanco White, and many others. A system, by the principles of which Blanco White saw some of the intimate friends of his youth hurried“ into the grossest and most daring profligacy:" while under its slavish observances he saw one sister at the age of twenty-two, slowly sink into the grave, from decaying health, the result of spiritual apprehensions and temporal privations; and bade farewell to another sister, who at the age of twenty had been induced, by the visionary representations of the Romish clergy, to leave an infirm mother to the care of servants and strangers, and to bind herself to the observances of rules which denied her the comforts enjoyed even by the lowest classes of society. Her health speedily gave way, and disease filled her conscience with fears. Her brother says, “I had often to endure the torture of witnessing her agonies at the confessional. I left her, when I quitted Spain, dying much too slowly for her only chance for relief. I wept bitterly for her loss two years after ; yet I could not be so cruel as to wish her alive." After this brief allusion to the horrors of the monastic vows, both in their principles and their effects, can any one doubt whether they are the institutions of God or the inventions of man? They illustrate the statement of our Lord, that the Pharisees bound men with heavy burdens, grievous to be borne. The apostle said to his brethren, ye are not ignorant of the devices of Satan, 2 Cor. ii. 11 : let us beware that he get no advantage
This part of our subject must not be left without referring to the vow of Jonadab, the son of Rechab, and the faithfulness with which his descendants observed it in the days of Jeremiah, ch. xxxv. It has been said that the Rechabites still exist, according to the Divine promise, ver. 19. Joseph Wolff relates, that one of these people, named Mousa, was pointed out to him, in 1824, while among the Yezedi, or devil-worshippers, in Mesopotamia. He was wild in his appearance like an Arab, dressed in the costume usual among those children of the desert, and was standing by his horse, the bridle in his hand ready to mount. Wolff showed him the Bible in Hebrew and Arabic, and found he was acquainted with the Old Testament. On inquiring whose descendant he was, Mousa replied by turning to the book of Jeremiah, and read ch. xxxv. 5–11; and added, “ We reside at Hadoram, Usal, and Mecca, in the deserts around those places. We drink no wine, and plant no vineyard, and sow no seed, and live in tents, as Jonadab our father commanded us. Hobab was father too: come to us, you will still find 60,000 in number, and you see thus the prophecy has been fulfilled : • Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel;