The law of God binds all men forever, whether in heaven or hell, Psalm cxi. 7, 8. No human law or self-engagement binds men, but only in this life, in which they remain imperfect, and are encompassed with temptations to seduce them from their duty. In heaven they have no need of such helps to duty, and in hell they cannot be profited by them.
The obligation of lawful promises, oaths, vows and covenants, as well as of human laws, respecting moral duties, however distinct is no more separable from the obligation of God’s law, than Christ’s two distinct natures are separable, the one from the other, but closely connected in manifold respects. In binding ourselves to necessary duties, and to other things so long and so far as is conducive thereto, God’s law as the only rule to direct us how to glorify and enjoy him, is made the rule of our engagement. Our vow is no new rule of duty, but a new bond to make the law of God our rule.
Even Adam’s engagement to perfect obedience in the covenant of works was nothing else. His fallibility in his estate of innocence, made it proper, that he should be bound by his own consent or engagement, as well as by the authority of God. Our imperfection in this life, and the temptations which surround us, make it needful, that we, in like manner, should be bound to the same rule, both by the authority of God, and our own engagements. It is in the law of God, that all our deputed authority to command others, or to bind ourselves is allotted to us.
The requirement of moral duties by the law of God obliges us to use all lawful means to promote the performance of them; and hence requires human laws and self-engagements, and the observance of them as conducive to it. Nay they are also expressly required in his law, as his ordinances for helping and hedging us in to our duty. In making lawful vows, as well as in making human laws we exert the deputed authority of God, the supreme Lawgiver, granted to us in his law, in the manner which his law prescribes, and in obedience to its prescription.
In forming our vows as an instituted ordinance of God’s worship, which he hath required us to receive, observe, and keep pure and entire, Psalm lxxvi. 11. & cxix. 106. & lvi. 12. Isaiah xix. 18, 21. & xlv. 23, 24. & xliv. 5. Jeremiah l. 5, 2 Corinthians viii.5,–we act precisely according to the direction of his law, and in obedience to his authority in it, –binding ourselves with a bond, binding our soul with a bond, Numbers xxx. 2-11–binding ourselves by that which we utter with our lips verses 2, 6, 12, –binding ourselves with a binding oath,–binding ourselves–binding our soul by our own vow–our own bond, verses 4,7,14.
In forming our vow, we, according to the prescription of his own law, solemnly constitute God, who is the supreme Lawgiver and Lord of the conscience,–the witness of our self-engagement, and the Guarantee, graciously to reward our evangelical fulfillment of it, and justly to punish our perfidious violation of it. The more punctual and faithful observation of God’s law, notwithstanding our manifold infirmities and temptations, and the more effectual promotion of his glory therein, is the end of our self-engagements, as well as of human laws of authority.
And by a due regard to their binding force, as above stated, is this end promoted,–as hereby the obligation of God’s law is the more deeply impressed on our minds, and we are shut up to obedience to it, and deterred from transgressing it.– In consequence of our formation of our vow, with respect to its matter, manner, and end, as prescribed by God, He doth, and necessarily must ratify it in all its awful solemnities, requiring us by his law, to pay it as a bond of debt,–to perform and fulfill it as an engagement to duties, and an obligation which stands upon or against us, Numbers xxx. 5, 7, 9, 11. with Deuteronomy xxiii. 21-23. Psalm lxxvi. 11. & 1. 14. Ecclesiastes v.4, 5. Matthew v. 33.
In obedience to this divine requirement, and considering our vow, in that precise form, in which God in his law, adopts and ratifies it, and requires it to be fulfilled, we pay, perform, and fulfill it as a bond, wherewith we, in obedience to Him, have bound ourselves, to endeavor universal obedience to his law, as our only rule of faith and manners. Whoever doth not, in his attempts to obey human laws or to fulfill self-engagements, consider them as having that binding force which the law of God allows them; he pours contempt on them, as ordinances of God, and on the law of God for allowing them a binding force.
Thus, through maintaining the super-added but subordinate obligation of human laws, and of self-engagements to moral duties, we do not make void, but establish the obligation of God’s law. The obligation of a vow, by which we engage ourselves to necessary duties commanded by the law of God, must therefore be inexpressibly solemn. Not only are we required by the law of God before our vow was made; but we are bound in that performance, to fulfill our vow, as an engagement or obligation founded in the supreme authority of his law warranting us to make it. We are bound to fulfill it as a mean of further impressing his authority manifested in his law, upon our own consciences,– as a bond securing and promoting a faithful obedience to all his commandments. We are bound to fulfill it, in obedience to that divine authority, by derived power from which, we as governors of ourselves made it to promote his honor. In those or like respects, our fulfillment of our vows is a direct obedience to his whole law.