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Bible Commentaries

Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Ecclesiastes 5

Verses 4-5


Ecclesiastes 5:4-5, When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools; pay that which thou hast rowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

THE offering of vows was extremely common under the Mosaic dispensation; and many laws were instituted in relation to them. By them persons bound themselves to the performance of certain things which were not specifically appointed of God. Some were conditional, and depended on some mercy which should be previously bestowed by God [Note: Gen 28:20-22. 1 Samuel 1:11.]: and others were absolute, and to be performed by the persons at all events. Respecting vows made by persons who were under the government of others, especial provision was made, under what circumstances, and to what extent, they should be binding [Note: Numbers 30:3-15.]. In cases where the vows themselves were not lawful, the person sinned, whether he performed them or not [Note: ver. 6.]; and in some cases at least, the violation of them was less criminal than the observance [Note: Matthew 14:6-10. Acts 23:12.]: but where they were not in themselves contrary to any command of God, there they were to be punctually fulfilled, and without delay.

We propose, on the present occasion, to consider,


The vows which you have made [Note: This is intended for an Address after Confirmation: but may be easily changed to a Preparatory Address.]—

These are doubtless very comprehensive—
[The things promised for us in our baptism, are contained under the following heads: first, that we should “renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh: next, that we should believe all the articles of the Christian faith: and lastly, that we should keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of our life.” In our confirmation we take these vows upon ourselves. Let us consider them distinctly — — — Let us often revolve them in our minds, and cry mightily to God for grace to assist us in the performance of them: for “who is sufficient for these things [Note: It would be easy to divide this subject into three or four i closing the first at this place; making the remaining part of this head into a second; forming the second head into a third sermon; and the concluding address into a fourth.]?”— — —]

But the duties to which they bind us are highly reasonable—
[We universally consider children as bound to obey their parents, and servants their masters: but what parent has such a claim upon us as God, since from him we derive our whole existence and support? “in him we live and move and have our being:” or what master is entitled to such an unreserved compliance with his will, as God, whom all the angels in heaven obey? God himself founds his claim to our allegiance upon these very principles; “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if I then be a Father, where is mine honour? and if I be a Master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of Hosts [Note: Malachi 1:6.].” And indeed the most unrestricted devotion of all our faculties to his service is expressly called by him, not only an acceptable, but a reasonable service [Note: Romans 12:1.].]

These duties are binding upon us independently of any vows which we may make respecting them—
[They arise from our very relation to God as his creatures, and more especially as his redeemed people. The potter is undoubtedly entitled to the use of the vessels which his own hands have formed. Even if our services were ever so painful, we should have no right to complain: “the thing formed could not, under any circumstances, presume to say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus [Note: Romans 9:20.]?” But, as we have before observed, the whole of what we have taken upon ourselves is a truly reasonable service: and therefore it would be the height of impiety to hesitate for a moment in giving up ourselves unreservedly to God.

But God has redeemed us also, and that too by the blood of his only dear Son; “We are not our own; we are bought with a price; and therefore we are bound from this consideration also to glorify God with our bodies and our spirits, which are his.” It is not optional with us, whether we will surrender to him what he has so dearly purchased: we cannot alienate it, we cannot withhold it; whether we make any vow respecting it, or not, we are equally bound to employ all our faculties for God: and the only reason we wish you to take these vows upon you is, not to increase your obligations to serve him, much less to create obligations which did not exist before, but to impress your own minds with a sense of those duties which are indissolubly connected with every child of man.]
But to bind ourselves to these things by solemn vows is a duty truly and properly evangelical—
[Some would imagine this to be a legal act: and if we were to engage in it with a view to establish a righteousness of our own, or with an idea of performing our duties in our own strength, it would then indeed be legal: but if, in. humble dependence on divine aid, we devote ourselves to God, it is no other act than that which God himself has specified as characterizing his people under the Gospel dispensation [Note: Isaiah 19:21.]. The very manner in which this act shall be performed is also specified; and it is particularly foretold, that all who are duly influenced by Gospel principles shall animate one another to the performance of it [Note: Jeremiah 50:4-5.].]

Such then are the vows which we have made: they are comprehensive indeed, but highly reasonable, and relating only to things which are in themselves necessary; and the making of which is as much a duty under the Gospel dispensation, as ever it was under the Law.
We now proceed to notice,


The importance of performing them—

But how shall this be painted in any adequate terms? In it is bound up,


Our comfort in life—

[Many foolishly imagine, that a life devoted unto God must be one continued scene of melancholy. But is not the very reverse declared in Scripture? “The work of righteousness is peace,” says the prophet;, and “the effect of righteousness is quietness and assurance for ever.” Yes, “Godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come: and we will venture to appeal to the consciences of all, whether even the greatest despisers of religion do not think that truly pious people are happier than they? In the very nature of things it must be, that they who are delivered from the tyranny of their lusts are happier than those who are yet bond-slaves of sin and Satan: their minds must be more tranquil, and their consciences more serene. But if we take into the account, that God “will manifest himself to his faithful servants as he does not unto the world,” and “shed abroad his love in their hearts,” and “fill them with a peace that passeth understanding, and joy that is unspeakable,” we can have no doubt but that religion’s ways are ways of pleasantness,” and that “in keeping God’s commandments there is great reward.” In proof of this, we need only see with what delight David contemplated the paying of his vows to God [Note: Psalms 22:25; Psalms 66:13-14.]: and the more we resemble him in the ardour of his piety, the more shall we resemble him also in the sublimity of his joys.]


Our hope in death—

[What must be the prospects of an ungodly man in his dying hour? When he looks back upon all his duties neglected, all his vows broken, and his eternal interests sacrificed to the things of time and sense, what must he think of the state to which he is hastening? He may try to comfort himself with his own vain delusions; but he will feel a secret consciousness that he is building on the sand. Hence it is, that those who will not give themselves up to God, are so averse to hear of death and judgment: they know that, if the Scriptures be true, and God be such a God as he is there represented, they have nothing to expect but wrath and fiery indignation. It is the godly only who can feel composed and happy in the near approach of death: they, when the time of their departure is at hand, can look forward with joy to “that crown of glory which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give them.” “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace.”]


Our welfare in eternity—

[“God will surely put a difference between those who served him here, and those who served him not.” Hear what Solomon says to us in the text: “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it: for God hath no pleasure in fools,” No indeed; God can have no pleasure in those who never delighted themselves in him. How is it possible that he should receive to his bosom those who spent their whole lives in rebellion against him? He shews his abhorrence of them by the very name whereby he designates them in the words before us: he calls them “fools,” and will leave them to reap the bitter fruits of their folly. We may see how indignant God was against Zedekiah for violating a covenant whereby he had engaged to hold the kingdom of Judah as tributary to the king of Babylon [Note: Ezekiel 17:11-21. Cite the whole of this.]. What indignation then must he feel against those who have violated all their engagements with him! If the neglect of vows made by compulsion to an oppressive enemy be so criminal, what must be the neglect of vows voluntarily made to the Most High God! But we need not collect this in a way of inference; for God himself has expressly told us, that we must pay our vows to him; that we must do it without delay; that if we defer to pay them, it will be imputed to us as a most heinous sin; and that he will surely require it at our hands [Note: Deuteronomy 23:21-23.]. And in the text itself he tells us, that however criminal it must be to feel such alienation of heart from God as not to vow any vow to him, “it were better for us never to vow at all than to vow and not pay.”]


The young who have been just confirmed—

[Remember, I beseech you, that “the vows of God are upon you.” And now hear what Almighty God says unto you: “If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word: he shall do according to all that proceodeth out of his mouth [Note: Numbers 30:2.].” Now you, my Beloved, have “bound your souls with a bond;” you have “sworn unto the Lord, and cannot go back;” remember then that you “must not break your words;” you must, you “shall do according to all that has proceeded out of your mouths.” O bear in mind the particular vows which you have made [Note: See the Catechism.], and set yourselves diligently to the performance of them. See how determined David was, under your circum-stances [Note: Psalms 119:106.]; and make him the model of your conduct. And begin now without delay to prepare for attending on the Lord’s Supper. Your Confirmation is but a step to something beyond, even to a dedication of yourselves to God at the table of the Lord. I mean not that you are to be hasty in taking this further step; because you ought doubtless to be well instructed in the nature of that ordinance before you partake of it; and to be fully determined through grace to live, not unto yourselves, but unto Him who died for you. But that you should keep this in view, and with all convenient speed renew at the Lord’s table the vows which you have now made, the holy Psalmist informs you [Note: Psalms 116:12-14; Psalms 116:16-19. Particularly notice ver. 16.]: and his resolutions on the subject I earnestly recommend for your adoption.]


The elder part of this audience—

[To you the younger will look for instruction and encouragement in the ways of God. But many who desire to have their children confirmed, would actually oppose them if they should begin to execute their vows. If a young person should begin to renounce the world, to mortify the flesh, and to live by faith on the Son of God, the generality of persons would rather be alarmed than comforted, and would exert their influence to divert his thoughts from such ways. But beware how any of you put a stumbling-block in the way of your children, either by your influence or example. Beware how, after having instigated them to vow unto the Lord, you tempt them to forget and violate their vows. Rather take occasion from the confirmation of your children to look back upon your own conduct, and to see how you have kept your own vows. Do not imagine that a lapse of years can make any difference in your obligations to serve the Lord, or that, because you have forgotten your vows, God has forgot them too: they are all written in the book of his remembrance; and every word which we have addressed to the young people in reference to this matter, is applicable to you; yea, to you it applies with double force, because your more advanced age qualifies you so much better to see and follow the path of duty. I call upon you then to watch over your children, and to promote, by every possible means, their progress in the divine life. Encourage them to read the Scriptures diligently, to give themselves much to meditation and prayer, and to commence in earnest that race, which must be run by all who would obtain the prize.]

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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 5". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.