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An Introduction to William Law

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This E-Text 2000, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2012  Pass the WORD Services.
E-Text Copyright renews with each published update.

On-line at PTW: April 22, 2000
  Last update: December 28, 2012

About William Law

William Law, born in 1686, became a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1711, but in 1714, at the death of Queen Anne, he became a non-Juror: that is to say, he found himself unable to take the required oath of allegiance to the Hanoverian dynasty (who had replaced the Stuart dynasty) as the lawful rulers of the United Kingdom, and was accordingly ineligible to serve as a university teacher or parish minister.  He found employment as a family tutor and later retired to his native King's Cliffe. Forbidden the use of the pulpit and the lecture-hall, he preached through his books. Best-known of his earlier works were   A Treatise upon Christian Perfection, 1726,  A Serious Call To a Devout and Holy Life, 1728, and An Appeal to All That Doubt the Truths of the Gospel.  His earlier works differed in purpose from his later, which include The Grounds and Reasons of Christian Regeneration, The Spirit of Prayer, The Way to Divine Knowledge, The Spirit of Love and his last work, An Affectionate Address to the Clergy.  William Law died in 1761 just a few days after this last work went to the printers.        


What Others have said of  William Law  &  his Works

Andrew Murray said of William Law's Affectionate Address to the Clergy ... “I do not know where to find anywhere else the same clear and powerful statement of the truth which the Church needs at the present day.  I have tried to read or consult every book I knew of, that treats of the work of the Holy Spirit, and nowhere have I met with anything that brings the truth of our dependence on the continual leading of the Spirit, and the assurance that that leading can be enjoyed without interruption, so home to the heart as this teaching ...which I believe to be entirely scriptural, and to supply what many are looking for that I venture to recommend it.” ~~ “I cannot say how much I owe to this volume...” ~~ “I confess that in all my reading , I have never found anyone who has so helped me in understanding the Scripture truth of the work of the Holy Spirit.   And it is because I know of no one who has put certain aspects of needed truth with the same clearness, that I cannot but think that he is a messenger from God to call His church to give the blessed Spirit the place of honour that belongs to Him.” ~~ “I ask the help of all who learn to value the book to bring it to the notice of those who preach the Gospel.  I beg of my brethren in the ministry to give it no cursory perusal.  I am confident that a patient and prayerful study will bring a rich blessing.”

Dr. Samuel Johnson said: I became a sort of lax talker against religion, for I did not think much against it; and this lasted until I went to Oxford, where it would not be suffered. When at Oxford, I took up Law's Serious Call, expecting to find it a dull book (as such books generally are), and perhaps to laugh at it. But I found Law quite an overmatch for me; and this was the first occasion of my thinking in earnest of religion after I became capable of rational inquiry.”

Historian, Edward Gibbon, in whose home Law served for ten years as a private family tutor, said: If Mr. Law finds a spark of piety in a reader's mind, he will soon kindle it into a flame.”

John Wesley called it one of three books which accounted for his first explicit resolve to be all devoted to God.”  Later, when denying, in response to a question, that Methodism was founded on Law's writings, he added that “Methodists carefully read these books and were greatly profitted by them.”  In 1744 he published extracts from the Serious Call, thereby introducing it to a wider audience than it already had. About eighteen months before his death, he called it “a treatise which will hardly be excelled, if it be equalled, either for beauty of expression or for depth of thought.”

Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Henry Venn, William Wilberforce, and Thomas Scott each described reading William Law as a major turning-point in his life. All in all, there were few leaders of the English Evangelical movement on whom he did not have a profound influence.

Sidney Spencer said, “William Law holds an outstanding position among Protestant, and among English, mystics. He was influenced by many other mystics — He was familiar with the work of most noteworthy Christian mystics from the pseudo-Dionysius in the fifth century to Mme. Guyon in the seventeenth.”  His encounter with the works of Jacob Boehme opened in him new heights of inspiration. “In his literary career there is a blank of nine years — between An Appeal to all that Doubt the Truths of the Gospel (1740) and the first part of the Spirit of Prayer (1749).  It seems to have been during this period that Law undertook the systematic study of Boehme. Law's mysticism is essentially related to his understanding of religion as an inward principle, grounded in the deeper nature of the soul. The inmost centre of our being is for him the ‘spark of the soul’ which is divine and which moves us therefore to seek after union with God.”

Stephen Hobhouse said of Law: He strongly disapproved of critics; he wished his books to be read  'more with the heart than with the head' and he warns us again and again against 'that learning, which, robbing us of the true fruits of the Tree of Life, leaves us nothing to feed upon but the the dust of words'.”  also “We hear, in England, Holland and Germany during the 17th and 18th centuries, of various associations of pious people styled Behmenists, who might perhaps be classified as ‘Sects’.  The most vigorous and interesting of these were the Philadelphians.   Their ablest member in England was Francis Lee*, M.D., of Cambridge (1660-1719) known personally  to J.B.'s greatest English disciple, William Law, and it may have been partly through Lee that Law became interested in J.B. [Jacob Boehme]

* Note from PTWFrancis Lee, whose writings were found in the personal library of William Law after his death, was the  transcriber, apologist, and publisher for English mystic, Jane Lead, also a member of the Philadelphian Society.

Norman P. Grubb (whose first exposure to William Law was by way of a compilation of his extracts published  by Andrew Murray) said:  ...I had no idea what I was getting into!  As soon as I started, I found Law difficult to follow.  His magnificent English was in the longer and more involved sentences of his generation; but that was a triviality compared to the tremendous inward insights I began to have.  Here at last was a writer who took me to the ultimate foundations and a totality of understanding which  I had long been seeking.  I drank and have been drinking ever since.”

 

Christopher Walton (Author of:  Notes and Materials for an Adequate Biography of The Celebrated Divine and Theosopher, William Law, 1854.)
offers us his many insights about WILLIAM LAW... 

In his earlier works, WILLIAM LAW was the providential agent sent of God, to revive the truth and fullness of practical Christianity among avowed Christians, chiefly by placing the motives and exhortations to a strict and regular devotion, in their highest, clearest, and most affecting light, and laying down rules for the attainment of a habit of piety.

In his later works, LAW was to interpret and demonstrate to the learned world, in a strictly scholastic manner, the verity of the principles of JACOB BEHMEN (BOEHME) and the truth of the ‘great mystery’ of all things revealed by GOD in the writings of the humble shoemaker.

LAW is to be considered a sublime metaphysical philosopher, standing in a somewhat similar relation to the intellectual universe, in regard to the demonstration of its powers, laws, and operations, as Sir Isaac Newton did to the physical universe, with its constitution and laws; and, that both one and the other derive their special renown from the self-same source, viz. BEHMEN.

                                  ...More about William Law  from Christopher Walton

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