29 DECEMBER 1866, Page 9


E anticipated last week that Dr. Pusey would not be at all inclined to withdraw from the position which he has at times, it appears, taken, in his capacity as confessor, of advising his penitents how far to make or not to make, to adhere or not to adhere to, vows of celibacy. For our own parts, we did not see anything in the cases mentioned by "S. G. 0." of which an Anglican priest, holding the high Anglican doctrine on these matters, would feel the least disposition to be ashamed. A young lady, whose conscience was " directed " by Dr. Pusey, had an impression that she was called by God "to that single life which," says Dr. Pusey, "Hooker, in allusion to our Lord's words, calls a thing more divine and angelical.'" Dr. Pusey, it appears, rather moderated her enthusiasm than otherwise, advised her to make her vow only for two years, instead of for life, but refused to ad- vise her within the two years to consent to engake herself to marry, even though the marriage would have been as a matter of course postponed till the expiration of the period, refusing on the ground that "it would be a shocking immorality for any one to express a solemn conviction that God had called him or her" to single life, and then "to act irrevocably in a way opposed to that convic- tion within two years." Farther, at the end of the provisioaal two years, the young lady's conviction remaining the same—that she was called to a single life,—Dr. Pusey declined to advise her to yield to her parents' wishes and marry. "It would have been mere clerical tyranny," he says, "as well as unfaithful, to have persuaded such an one to marry against her own convictions ; as it would have been to have persuaded any one against marriage if her convictions had been the other way." Dr. Pusey probably forgets that if once a young lady of not very strong character chooses an able and learned man for her confessor, her inward convictions will be very apt to run in the lines of which she thinks that he will most approve, and it will in many cases be almost an impossibility for her to recover her spiritual individuality at all. But putting that matter aside, which does not belong to the sub- ject of 'vows' at all, but only to the general practice of admitting any spiritual director other than God, we do not see why Dr. Puseyneed be ashamed of what he did, or did not do, in this case, except it be of the externalism of the whole system of religion which admits and encourages vows. If there was anything wrong, it was in not earnestly dissuading from all vows, and in not teach- ing that a vow made to God represents absolutely nothing more than the moral conviction of the moment in which it was made, and ceases to be binding as soon as that moral conviction dis- appears.

This is not a doctrine we can expect Dr. Pusey to accept. But it seems to us absolutely certain that a contract made with God rests on a wholly different moral basis from a contract made with man. If I make a contract with a fellow-creature, his interests are involved in it as well as mine. Not only so, though I may cease to approve of the contract I have made, he may still approve of it and claim its performance ;—and the fact that I have pledged my faith to him, and that he calls upon me to redeem that faith, is a moral claim on me to do so, unless there be such sin involved in the contract that to break faith, which is usually itself a sin, becomes a duty. But there cannot be a moral claim on me to fulfil any contract with God which I have once ceased to think right. The very fact that God is the light of human conscience, and that He has really given me a new conception of duty in the matter, constitutes an absolution than which nothing could be more complete. Directly Luther was convinced that vows of celibacy in priests, and monks, and nuns, were evil,—immoral in conception and disastrous in result,—God had clearly absolved him from his vow, and it is quite probable that his marriage with a nun was one of the greatest and noblest acts of his life. No doubt a man may sometimes say in such cases, justly enough, 'If I avail myself of the liberty which I see God has given me, my motives in forming it may fairly be open to suspicion, and therefore, while I denounce such vows, I will not myself break them, in order to assure myself and the world at large that my mind is single in the matter.' But this is a mere consideration of expediency as regards the effect on the rest of the world, and as regards oneself. A man of Luther's intense reality of mind, a man who lives as much with God as he did, may well feel that he needs no guarantee for the in- tensity and sincerity of his conviction. Moreover, it may be of far more moment to the world, and an act of greater heroism, to lead the van in setting practically at naught the superstitious horror so generally felt even of those who break bad vows, than to give guarantees of personal disinterestedness for your opinions. The man who tramples a bad vow under his feet does infinitely more to break, down the superstition about them, than the man who only denounces them while holding by them in his own individual case. Any one who can say without flinching to his own conscience that God has taught him that a vow was bad, or even only foolish, and destitute of any inherent divine sanction, is ipso facto absolved from it. To keep a vow to God which you sincerely think a foolish or wrong vow, is direct rebellion against the spirit which told you it was foolish or wrong. Nor can we see that a vow in any way strengthens the moral obligation on which it may have been and may still be, founded. Indeed, as a rule, vows are made on subjects just beyond the verge of ordinary morals. No one vows never to say anything that is in any degree insincere, for he knows that the danger of insincerity is not the leas for having made a vow against it, and that hearty resolve to struggle against any sin is far better than a form of contract which is no more binding, and is much more assuming. Vows usually concern external conduct, like celibacy and the like,—conduct which may be wrong in one person's case and right in another's. And the essential peculiarity of them is that the devotee decides on a course of external conduct for a period of time running in all probability over many changes of moral opinion,—and this in a particular condition of mind in which he or she is supposed to see more clearly than usual what he or she ought to be. Now, we do not doubt for a moment that there are occasions when men know that they see God's true will for them more clearly than they ordinarily can,—when the motes of minute doubt and difficulty are swept away, and they see things in their true proportions, as they should wish to see them always. But even suppose that your vow is made at such a time as this,— and we are but too apt to mistake the enthusiasm generated by a master mind in our own for such a deep, personal insight ;—still even suppose that it is true illumination under which we propose to take a vow, the vow can still represent nothing more to us either in the present or the future than the memory of that clear moment of insight, that sudden sense of divine obligation. So long as we retain our memory of it, it will rightly influence us ; so long as we retain the conviction that we had at that moment a clearer knowledge of God's will than we have since been able to recover, we shall feel the duty of acting upon that insight. But no wca•cls professing the form of a contract will increase that sense of obligation. If our momentary insight was really due to the divine pre- sence, we shall not lose it again finally, except by our own fault. In any case, the external contract with God would have no binding force, if the heart of it, the sense of duty under which it was taken, had wholly vanished. In that case, it would be a mere formal observance, and nothing more. In the other case, if we were mis- taken,--or though not mistaken in substance, were mistaken in the special form given to the contract, adherence to the vow either becomes a mere empty superstition the moment we are convinced

of this, or our conscience owns the absolution which God gives in the very act of teaching us more clearly what His will really is. To keep a vow to God merely as we would keep a human contract, even though we regret it and reproach ourselves with making it, to deal with Him as Jephtlia did when he promised to sacrifice the first living thing that met him on his return home, to treat Him ass Being who expects us to keep our bargains literally even when we recog- nize that such bargains were rash and evil, is to think of God as a heathen Deity, who lives outside us, and neither knows nor cares what judgment we pass upon ourselves for having made such a bargain,—whereas He is really at the very centre of the thought which condemns the bargain, and it is His Spirit, not our own, which tells us it was rash and wrong.

But it may be said, 'Do not acts of no specific moral character in themselves become duties by the very fact of their being promised to God? Grant that a wrong vow should be broken, and was abso- lutely null and void, may not a promise made to God concerning a matter not intrinsically either right or wrong, such as a life of devotion to the poor, for instance, become binding simply as a pro- mise?' We answer that this is impossible, except in that sense of which we have previously spoken, where the clear insight of one day may carry us on very far in life without being repeated with any equal clearness again. And then it is not because you have promised God to devote yourself to the poor, but because you had once seen that you were better fitted for that than for any other earthly career, and had never had any other conflicting perception of duty nearly so clear,—that you are right in acting on it. It is only a case of a high resolve taken after a distinct sense of obligation,—and no part of the duty of persevering belongs in any sense to the formal character of a vow. You may make not only a wrong but a foolish promise to God, like, as we should say, David's, 'never to come within the tabernacle of his house or climb up into his bed, never to suffer his eyes to sleep or his eyelids to slumber, or the temples of his head to take any rest, till he found out a place for the temple of the Lord, a habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.' How if he had not heard of it "at Ephrata" nor "found it in the wood " for some ten days' time ? Would it not have been clear that he had in his restless ardour been too impatient, and made a rash vow ? When Christ says, He that putteth his hand to the plough and looketh back is not fit for the kingdom of God,' He is condemning the hankering after lower things in a man who has once seen clearly a higher duty, not the disposition to break a verbal promise after it has ceased to be anything but verbal. To fellow-creatures you may be bound to keep many promises which you regret and even condemn yourself for giving, for they do not prompt or sanction this regret, and, an expectation once deliberately raised, it is bad faith for you to dis- appoint. And so with God, if your regret is mere selfish regret, mere shrinking from what you still know to be your duty, the duty of course holds,—not as a contract, but as an obligation. But if your regret is spiritual regret, if you feel your promise wrong with the light now given you, or even rash and incon- siderate, there is no such promise any longer. God has taught you to break it. And to fulfil it after this, is like fulfilling a con- tract with a fellow-creature which both parties honestly and heartily wish cancelled.