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the soul might aspire to greater nearness to Him. That a parent could dedicate his child, is not at variance with this principle ; because it was assumed that the child, when capable of a choice, would willingly concur in the dedication. But though wholly voluntary before the choice was made, it became, when made and uttered "before the Lord," solemnly binding. The expressions of Holy Scripture on both these points are strong and unmistakable. When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not be slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee.” And again, " That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform ; even a free-will offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the Lord thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth.”
The term “before the Lord” had a deep significance in the faith of Israel. He was believed in, and dealt with as with a personal God with whom definite relations could be formed, by which His own dealings also would be influenced. The idea involved in the vow was that of a definite contract or covenant, entailing a whole series of after consequences depending on the condition of being fulfilled ; a promise and an acceptance mutually
l sealed by which both parties in the covenant were affected. A momentous reality attached to the uttered word beyond what the thought of the heart could express. The utterance gave it a palpable shape and being, and thus constituted it a reality of existence, sealing its truth beyond recall. The instinct which to human consciousness invests a word with a power and a life beyond the unspoken thought, is evidently an indication of some profound truth in the spiritual world, and is assumed in the revelations of God as the turning-point of the obligations incurred by a vow.
It lives “before the Lord," when spoken, as it did not live before, an image, as it were, of the outward form of the life of God, impressed on the mind of man, and projected forth, uniting him with God. Even as God comes forth out of Himself to make a covenant with His creature, and confirms it by an oath, thus establishing it“by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie,” so man may go forth from himself and bind himself, sealing the covenant by his promise. As he speaks the purpose of his heart, it assumes a substantial existence in Heaven, which stands before God as a witness for or against the soul which has uttered the word, and thus committed itself to all its consequences.
It is sometimes urged that a continual self-devotion, ever renewed by ever-repeated acts, while the soul is still free to withdraw, is a more generous and self-denying sacrifice than an act which allows no recall, which is done once and forever. There is no doubt a seeming attractiveness in the thought; but it is difficult to understand what is meant. In regard to a material offering, external to oneself, such a course would be simply impossible. We can not give while we yet retain. To retain the power of continually giving, we must be really. still holding it in our possession. We have not given it from the very fact that we have still the power of giving it. Can there be a difference in the case of giving oneself? If we continually offer ourselves, we have at all times the power of withdrawing the offering; and this very freedom, which is supposed to be deliberately retained, really makes it no gift. While it is still in our power it is still our own. We may give, or not give, the very next hour. It is not that the vow constitutes the gift, but the conscious acceptance of the call of God necessarily, if it be true, involves the future equally with the present. It is of God, and partakes of His eternity. There ought, indeed, to be the utmost caution, forethought, and deliberation, embracing both inward dispositions and outward duties, a spirit of self-distrust and fear, in the lowliest dependence on the leadings of grace and the
providence of God; and all this, moreover, accom panied with such assistance as can be attained through the guidance of those to whom the care of the soul is rightfully entrusted.' But these considerations, though they greatly affect the wisdom and rectitude of the decision, are but conditions of its character, not the constituent elements of its life. It is the following of Jesus, and the being united with His life in the form which He wills to impress on the soul, which constitutes its reality; and to leave any reserve of self-choosing in the future, is but to “keep back part of the price."
Rev. T. THELLUSSON CARTER, The Church and the World: Essays on Ques
tions of the Day. By Various Writers.
EVER since the beginning of Christianity there hath been two orders or ranks of people among good Christians.
The one that feared and served God in the common offices and business of a secular worldly life; the other, renouncing the common business and common enjoyments of life, as riches, marriage, honors, and pleasures, devoted themselves to voluntary poverty, virginity, devotion, and retirement; that by this means they might live wholly unto God in the daily exercise of a divine and heavenly life.
This testimony I have from the famous ecclesiastical historian Eusebius, who lived at the time of the first general council, when the Church was in its greatest glory, when its bishops were so many holy fathers and eminent saints. “Therefore,” saith he, "there hath been instituted in the Church of Christ two ways or manners of living. The one, raised above the ordinary state of nature and common ways of living, rejects wedlocks, posses