In this series I have dealt cursorily with the importance of vows, but it is perhaps necessary to consider at some length their bearing on a godly life. There is a powerful school of thinkers, who concede the propriety of observing certain rules, but do not acknowledge the necessity of vows. They go even so far as to suggest, that vows are a sign of weakness, and may even be harmful. Again they argue, that if a rule is subsequently discovered to be inconvenient or sinful, to adhere to it after such discovery would be positively wrong. They say: it is a good thing to abstain from liquor, but what harm is there in taking it occasionally, say on medical grounds ? A pledge of total abstinence would be a needless handicap; and as with liquor, so with other things.
A vow means unflinching determination, and helps us against temptations. Determination is worth nothing, if it bends before discomfort. The universal experience of humanity supports the view, that progress is impossible without inflexible determination. There cannot be a vow to commit a sin; in the case of a vow, first thought to be meritorious but later found to be sinful, there arises a clear necessity to give it up. But no one takes, or ought to take, vows about dubious matters. Vows can be taken only on points of universally recognized principles. The possibility of sin in such a case is more or less imaginary. A devotee of Truth cannot stop to consider if someone will not be injured by his telling the truth, for he believes that truth can never do harm. So also about total abstinence. The abstainer will either make an exception as regards medicine, or will be prepared to risk his life in fulfilment of his full vow. What does it matter, if we happen to lose our lives through a pledge of total abstinence ? There can be no guarantee, that our lives will be prolonged by liquor, and even if life is thus prolonged for a moment it may be ended the very next through some other agency. On the other hand, the example of a man, who gives up his life rather than his pledge, is likely to wean drunkards from liquor, and thus become a great power for good in the world. Only they can hope some time to see God, who have nobly determined to bear witness to the faith that is in them, even at the cost of life itself.
Taking vows is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. To do at any cost something that one ought to do constitutes a vow. It becomes a bulwark of strength. A man who says that he will do something 'as far as possible' betrays either his pride or his weakness. I have noticed in my own case, as well as in the case of others, that the limitation 'as far as possible' provides a fatal loophole. To do something 'as far as possible' is to succumb to the very first temptation. There is no sense in saying, that we will observe truth 'as far as possible'. Even as no businessman will look at a note in which a man promises to pay a certain amount on a certain date 'as far as possible', so will God refuse to accept a promissory note drawn by a man, who will observe truth as far as possible.
God is the very image of the vow. God would cease to be God if He swerved from His own laws even by a hair's breadth. The sun is a great keeper of observances; hence the possibility of measuring time and publishing almanacs. All business depends upon men fulfilling their promises. Are such promises less necessary in character building or self-realization? We should therefore never doubt the necessity of vows for the purpose of self-purification and self-realization.