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Caution for making Vows.

17. A vow to God is an act of prayer, and a great degree and instance of opportunity, and an increase of duty by some new uncommanded instance, or some more eminent degree of duty, or frequency of action, or earnestness of spirit in the same. And because it hath pleased God, in all ages of the world, to admit of intercourse with his servants in the matters of vows, it is not ill advice that we make vows to God in such cases in which we have great need or great danger. But let it be done according to these rules and by these cautions:

1. That the matter of the vow be lawful. 2. That it be useful in order to religion or charity. 3. That it be grave, not trifling or impertinent; but great in our proportion of duty towards the blessing. 4. That it be an uncommanded instance, that is, that it be of something, or in some manner, or in some degree, to which formerly we were not obliged, or which we might have omitted without sin. 5. That it be done with prudence; that is, that it be safe in all the circumstances of person, lest we beg a blessing and fall into a snare. 6. That every vow of a new action be also accompanied with a new degree and enforcement of our essential and unalterable duty — such as was Jacob’s vow, that (besides the payment of the tithe) God should be his God; that so he might strengthen his duty to him, first in essentials and precepts, and then in additionals and accidentals. For it is but an ill tree that spends more in leaves and suckers and gums than in fruit; and that thankfulness and religion is best that first secures duty and then enlarges in counsels. Therefore, let every great prayer and great need and great danger draw us nearer to God by the approach of a pious purpose to live more strictly, and let every mercy of God answering that prayer produce a real performance of it. 7. Let not young beginners in religion enlarge their hearts and straighten their liberty by vows of long continuance; nor, indeed, any one else, without a great experience of himself and of all accidental dangers.236236Angustum annulum non gesta, disit Pythag, id est, vitae genus liberum sectare, nec vinculo temetipsum obstringe.—Plutarch. Sic Novatus novitios suos compulit ad jurandum, ne unquarm ad Catholicos episcopos redirent.—Euseb. 1. ii. Eccl. Hist. Vows of single actions are safest, and proportionable to those single blessings ever begged in such cases of sudden and transient importunities. 8. Let no action which is matter of question and dispute in religion ever become the matter of a vow. He vows foolishly that promises to God to live and die in such an opinion in an article not necessary nor certain; or that, upon confidence of his present guide, binds himself for ever to the profession of what he may afterwards more reasonably contradict, or may find not to be useful, or not profitable, but of some danger or of no necessity.

If we observe the former rules we shall pray piously and effectually; but because even this duty hath in it some special temptations, it is necessary that we are armed by special remedies against them. The dangers are, 1. Wandering thoughts; 2. Tediousness of spirit. Against the first these advices are profitable:

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