William Law.

An humble, earnest, and affectionate address to the clergy : online

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Online LibraryWilliam LawAn humble, earnest, and affectionate address to the clergy : → online text (page 1 of 12)
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Wm. S. Youug, Priutcr, Kear of 50 N. Siit)i'Si-
18GG.' .. ' *■' ' '




He was born at King's Cliff, a market town
in Northamptonshire, Great Britain, in the year
1687. His parents were of good repute, and in
circumstances which enabled them to give him a
liberal education. He was sent early to the Uni-
versity of Cambridge, and was of Emanuel Col-
lege, where his superior genius soon distinguished
itself by three Letters to (Floadly) the Bishop of
Bangor so greatly, that upon their publication the
celebrated Bishop Atterbury waited upon him
and made him this compliment : — " Mr, Law, from
your writings, instead of seeing a youth, I should
have expected to see gray hairs." The universal
applause those three Letters met with, instead of
filling his mind with pride and vanity, the too preg-
nant attendants of superior abilities and human
applause, only served to make him the more retired


from the world, in order the more deeply to look
into himself.

He lived a single life, and the last twenty years
of it in the same town in which he was born; but
the reasons of his not continuing in the ministry
can only be conjectured, for it is not known that
he ever acquainted any one with them.

As to his sentiments concerning all churches of
the present time, they are sufficiently manifest in
his writings; and they are, that all of them are in
a fallen state, both with respect to doctrine and
practice, having wandered very far from the truth
and the spirit of the gospel, placing religion in a
regular round of formal, dull duties, or perform-,
ances, and empty, groundless doctrines, instead of
the real love of God and man. The first fruits
which his retirement produced were his two excel-
lent treatises of Christian Perfection and Serious
Call to a Devout and Holy Life. From these in-
structive writings, by a gradual progress in spi-
rituality and sound philosophy, Providence called
him (when he was duly qualified for it) to illus-
trate and unfold deep mystic writings, which he
has done with much fulness and depth of pene-

In the year 1727 he founded a Charity-school
at King's Clifi", and afterwards added two tene-


meats for two ancient women witli a weekly al-

In the year 1745, Elizabeth Hutchinson, relict
of Archibald Hutchinson, Esq., of Westminster,
founded another school in the same place for the
education and clothing of eighteen poor boys, and
afterwards added to it four little tenements for
four ancient widows. These charities are under
the direction of six trustees, and are always to be
appropriated only to the benefit of the town of
King's Cliff.

The following circumstances, whereby he was
enabled to be extensively useful, are remarkable : —
Attending the feast of the sons of the clergy at
St. Paul's Cathedral, a gentleman who was un-
known to him came to him and asked his name, to
whom he modestly answered — "My name, sir, is
"William Law." Whereupon the gentleman gave
him a letter directed to our author himself, which
he, for the present, put into his pocket, and which,
upon opening it at a convenient opportunity, he
found enclosed a bank note for one thousand pounds
sterling: and at another time a bank note for five
hundred pounds sterling was sent him from an un-
known hand. Note here, that the above-named
Elizabeth Hutchinson, and Gibbons, re-
tiring from the distracting cares which attend gen-
tlewomen in high life, lodged their money in the


public funds, and lived with William Law for se-
veral years before his death; and afterwards re-
sided very amicably in the house which he left —
never going up to London, but enjoying the sweets
of retirement.

George Ward, that self-denying mystic, to whom
several of Law's letters which have been published
are directed, a most amiable man, scarce known to
the world, commonly visited them once a year.

That truly pious and catholic-spirited writer, Dr.
Philip Doddridge, in a sermon to young persons,
has the following passage concerning Wm. Law: —
"Lt is an awakening saying of one of the most
lively and pathetic, as well as most pious writers,
which our age has produced — ' That the condition
of man, in his natural state, seems to be like that
of a person sick of a variety of diseases, knowing
neither his distemper nor cure, but unhappily en-
closed in a place where he could hear, or see, or
taste, or feel nothing, but *what tended to inflame
his disorder.^"' — Laiv of Christian Perfection^


The writer of the Life of John Buncle, after
having unreasonably censured "William Law as a
visionary and enthusiast, &c., was obliged to ac-
knowledge the following excellent character of him
and of the afore-mentioned treatises: — "The re-
verend nonjuror, Mr. William Law, was a man
of sense, a fine writer, and a fine gentleman. His


temper was charming, sweet, and delightful; and his
manners quite primitive, and uncommonly pious.
He was all charity and goodness, and so soft and
gentle in conversation, that I have thought myself
in company with one of the men of the first church
at Jerusalem, while with him. He had likewise
the justest notions of Christian temper and practice,
and recommended them in so insinuating a manner,
that even a rake would hear him with pleasure. I
have not seen any thing like him among the sons
of men in these particulars. He was really a very
extraordinary manj and, to his honour, be it re-
membered, that he had the great concern of human
life at heart, took a deal of pains in the pulpit, and
from the press, (witness his two fine books on Chris-
tian Peffection and a Devout Life,) to make men
fear God and keep his commandments. He was a
good man, indeed. These are good books, written
in the true spirit of Christianity, and well worth
the consideration of Christians.'^

This engaging character of Wm. Law brings to
mind the following anecdote we have somewhere
met with: — '^The Earl of Peterborough, after a
visit paid by him to Fenelon, Archbishop of Cam-
bray, said to Alexander Pope — 'Fenelon is a man
cast in a particular mould, which has not been used
for any body else. He is a delicious creature. But


I was forced to get from him as soon as I possibly
could; for else he would have made me pious."

In his younger years Law exhibited very conspi-
cuously, sufficient proofs of being learned in human
arts and sciences; but he soon embraced the coun-
sel our Saviour gave the rich young man and re-
nounced the world wholly; and solely followed
Christ, in meekness, humility and self-denial. In
his latter years he was looked upon as quite ab-
sorbed and thoroughly animated with love to God
and men; so that the powers of life in him were
nothing but heavenly love and heavenly flames.

A writer, under the signature of ChristophiluSj
in Lloyd's Evening Post, in the year 1772, speak-
ing of AYilliam Law, and recommending his wri-
tings, says : — " Though I had no long acquaintance
with him, yet a few months before his decease, I
was indulged with an ample and intimate conver-
sation with him upon the state of religion in our
time and nation, and on many other the most in-
teresting subjects. This I regard as a favour of
God bestowed on me, and which I would not have
been without on any consideration. I only wish
to make the very best use of it in all respects. Mr.
Law lived as he wrote, and died as he lived. I
am pretty credibly informed that amidst the most
excruciating pains of the stone, and at the age of


seventj-five years, immediately before his dissolu-
tion, rising up in his bed, he said — ' Take away
these filthy garments; I feel a fire of love within,
which has burnt up every thing contrary to itself,
and tranjjformed every thing into its own nature.'
Oh! might every minister and each of their flocks
(of every denomination) live the life, and die the
death of this truly righteous man !"

'^ To give a short specimen of the conversation
which passed between us. ' Sir,' says he, ' I am
not fond of religious gossiping. My best thoughts
are in my works, and to them I recommend you.
If I should seem to you a positive old fellow, I can-
not help it; well knowing the ground from which
I write. But, dear sir, above all things, be pre-
sent with, and attend carefully to, your own heart;
there you will be sure to meet with all the evil;
and there only you can meet with God and all real
goodness.' Having already reaped benefit by this
advice (through God's mercy) I communicate it to
the public for the same end; it is needful; and
may it prove, together with his other writings, a
standard lifted up against the inundation of infidel
profligacy and notional faith ; against the number-
less number of flagrant sinners, and hypocritical,
false saints, which every where divide a fallen Chris-

"Upon my own knowledge," says the worthy


Hartley, "Mr. Law was a gentleman of free con-
versation, and often received company at his house
in King's Cliff."

lie died April 9th, 1761, aged 75 years, and
the whole of the following Address was sent by
himself to be printed, except a few pages, the last
of which was written by him not many days be-
fore his death; and though it appears chiefly di-
rected to the Episcopal clergy, is of common con-
cern to all professed ministers of the gospel, and
Christians in general.



The reason of my liumbly and affectionately ad-
dressing this discourse to the clergy, is not because
it treats of things not of common concern to all
Christians, but chiefly to invite and induce them,
as far as I can, to the serious perusal of it; and be-
cause whatever is essential to Christian salvation, if
either neglected, overlooked, or mistaken by them,
is of the saddest consequence both to themselves
and the churches in which they minister. I say
essential to salvation, for I would not turn my own
thoughts, or call the attention of Christians to any
thing but the one thing needful, the one thing es-
sential, and only available, to our rising out of our
fallen state, and becoming, as we were at our crea-
tion, an holy offspring of God, and real partakers
of the divine nature.

If it be asked. What this one thing is? It is
the Spirit of God brought again to his first power
of life in us. Nothiag else is wanted by us, no-


thing else intended for us, by the law^ the pro-
phets, and the gospel. Nothing else is, or can be
eiFectual, to the making sinful man become again
a godly creature.

Every thing else, be it what it will, however glo-
rious and divine in outward appearance, every thing
that angels, men, churches, or reformations, can do
for us, is dead and helpless, but so far as it is the
immediate work of the Spirit of God, breathing
and living in it.

All Scripture bears full witness to this truth,
and the end and design of all that is written, is
only to call us back from the spirit of Satan, the
flesh, and the world, to be again under full depen-
dence upon, and obedience to the Spirit of God,
who, out of free love and thirst after our souls,
seeks to have his first power of life in us. When
this is done, all is done that the Scriptures can do
for us. Head what chapter or doctrine of Scrip-
ture you will, be ever so delighted with it, it will
leave you as poor, as empty, and unreformed, as it
found you, unless it be a delight, that proceeds from,
and has turned you wholly, and solely to the Spirit
of God, and strengthened your union with, and de-
pendence upon him. For love and delight in mat-
ters of Scripture, whilst it is only a delight that is
merely human, however specious and saintlike it
may appear, is but the self-love of fallen Adam,


and can have no better a nature till it proceeds
from the inspiration of God, quickening his own
life and nature within us, which alone can have
or give forth a godly love. For if it be an immu-
table truth, that ''No man can call Jesus Lord but
by the Holy Ghost," it must be a truth equally im-
mutable thai no one can have any one Christlike
temper, or power of goodness, but so far, and in
such degree, as he is immediately led, and governed
by the Holy Spirit.

The grounds and reasons of which, are as fol-
low: — All possible goodness, that either can be
named, or is nameless, was in God from all eter-
nity, and must to all eternity be inseparable from
him; it can be no where but where God is. As,
therefore, before God created any thing, it was cer-
tainly true, that there was but one that was good;
so it is just the same truth, after God has created
innumerable hosts of blessed, holy, and heavenly
beings, that there is but one that is good, and that
is God.

All that can be called goodness, holiness, divine
tempers, heavenly affections. See., in the creatures,
arc no more their own, or the growth of their crea-
ted powers, than they were their own before they
were created. But all that is called divine good-
ness and virtue in the creature, is nothing else but
the one goodness of God manifesting a birth, and


discovery of itself in the creature, accordiDg as its
created nature is fitted to receive it. This is the
unalterable state between God and the creature.
Goodness, for ever and ever, can only belong to God,
as essential to him, and inseparable from him, as
his own unity.

God could not make the creature to be great,
and glorious in itself; this is as impossible as for
God to create beings into a state of independence on
himself. ''The heavens," says David; ''declare
the glory of God;" and no creature, any more
than the heavens, can declare any other glory but
that of God. And as well might it be said, that
the firmament showeth forth its own handiwork, as
that a holy, divine, or heavenly creature, showeth
forth its own natural power.

But now, if all that is divine, great, glorious,
and happy, in the spirits, tempers, operations, and
enjoyments of the creature, is only so much of the
greatness, glory, majesty, and blessedness of God,
dwelling in it, and giving forth various births of
his own triune life, light, and love, in and through
the manifold forms, and capacities of the creature
to receive them, then we may infallibly see the true
ground and nature of all true religion; and when,
and how, we may be said to fulfil all our religious
duty to God. For the creature's true religion, is
its rendering to God all that is God's, it is its true,



continual acknowledging all that which it is, and
has, and enjoys, in and from God. This is the one
true religion of all intelligent^ creatures, whether
in heaven or on earth; for as they all have but
one and the same relation to God, so, though ever
so different in their several births, states, or offices,
they all have but one and the same true religion,
or right behaviour towards God. Now the one re-
lation, which is the ground of all true religion,
and is one and the same between God and all in-
telligent creatures, is this: it is a total, unalterable
dependence upon God, an immediate, continual re-
ceiving of every kind, and degree of goodness, bless-
ing, and happiness, that ever was or can be found
in them, from God alone. The highest angel hc:s
nothing of its own, that it can offer unto God, no
more light, love, purity, perfection, and glorious
hallelujahs, that spring from itself, or its own
powers, than the poorest creature upon earth.
Could the angel see a spark of wisdom, goodness,
or excellence, as comino- from, or bclonojino; to it-
self, its place in heaven would be lost, as sure as
Lucifer lost his. But they are ever abiding flames
of pure love, always ascending up to, and uniting
with God, for this reason, because the wisdom, the
power, the glory, the majesty, the love, and good-
ness of God alone, is all that they see, and feel,
and know, either within or without themselves.


Songs of praise to their Heavenly Father are their
ravishing delight, because they see, and know, and
feel, that it is the breath and Spirit of their Hea-
venly Father that sings and rejoices in them. Their
adoration in spirit and in truth never ceases, because
they never cease to acknowledge the all of God; —
the ALL of God in themselves, and the all of God
in the whole creation. This is the one religion of
beaven, and nothing else is the truth of religion on

The matter, therefore, plainly comes to this :
Nothing can do, or be, the good of religion to the
intelligent creature, but the power and presence
of 'God really and essentially living and working
in it. But if this be the unchangeable nature of
that goodness and blessedness which is to be had
from our religion, then, of all necessity, the crea-
ture must have all its religious goodness as wholly
and solely from God's immediate operation as it
had its first goodness at its creation. And it is the
same impossibility for the creature to help itself
to that which is good and blessed in religion, by
any contrivance, reasonings, or workings of its own
natural powers, as to create itself. For the crea-
ture, after its creation, can no more take any thing
to itself that belongs to God, than it could take it be-
fore it was created. And if truth forces us to hold
that the natural powers of the creature could only


come from the one power of God, the same truth
should surely more force us to confess, that that
which comforts, that which enlightens, that which
blesses, which gives peace, joy, goodness, and rest,
to its natural powers, can be had in no other way,
nor by any other thing, but from God's immediate,
holy operation found in it.

Now, the reason why no work of religion but
that which is begun, continued, and carried on by
the living operation of God in the creature, can
have any truth, goodness, or divine blessing in it,
is because nothing can in truth seek God but that
which comes from God. Nothing can in truth find
God as its good but that which has the nature of
God living in it; like can only rejoice in like; and
therefore no religious service of the creature can
have any truth, goodness, or blessing in it, but
that which is done in the creature, in, and through^
and by a principle and power of the divine nature
begotten, and breathing forth in it all holy tempers,
aifections, and adorations.

All true religion is, or brings forth, an essential
union, and communion of the spirit of the creature,
with the spirit of the Creator : God in it, and it in
God, one life, one light, one love. The Spirit of
God first gives, or sows the seed of divine union in
the soul of every man ; and religion is that by which
it is quickened^ raised, and brought forth to a ful-


ness and growth of a life in God. Take a simili-
tude of this, as follows : — The beginning, or seed
of animal breath, must first be born in the creature
from the spirit of this world, and then respiration,
so long as it lasts, keeps up an essential union of
the animal life with the breath, or spirit of this
world. In like manner, divine faith, hope, love,
and resignation to God, are in the religious life its
acts of respiration, which, so long as they are true,
unite God and the creature in the same living and
essential manner as animal respiration unites the
breath of the animal with the breath of this world.
Now, as no animal could begin to respire, or
unite with the breath of this world, but because it
has its beginning to breathe, begotten in it from
the air of this world, so it is equally certain that
no creature, angel, or man, could begin to be reli-
gious, or breathe forth the divine affections of faith,
love, and desire towards God, but because a living
seed of these divine afi'ections was by the Spirit of
God first begotten in it. And as a tree, or plant,
can only grow and fructify by the same power that
first gave birth to the seed, so faith, and hope, and
love towards God, can only grow and fructify by
the same power that begat the first seed of them
in the soul. Therefore divine, immediate inspira-
tion, and divine religion, are inseparable in the na-
ture of the thing.


Take away inspiration, or suppose it to cease,
and then no religious acts or affections can give
forth any thing that is godly or divine. For the
creature can offer or return nothing to God but that
which it has first received from him ; therefore, if
it is to offer and send up to God affections and as-
pirations that are divine and godly, it must of all
necessity have the divine and godly nature living
and breathing in it. Can any thing reflect light be-
fore it has received it, or any other light than that
which it has received? Can any creature breathe
forth earthly or diabolical affections before it is
possessed of an earthly or diabolical nature? Yet
this is as possible as for any creature to have divine
affections rising up, and dwelling in it, either be-
fore, or any fartlier, than as it has, or partakes of
the divine nature, dwelling, and operating in it.

A religious faith that is uninspired, a hope or
love that proceeds not from the immediate working
of the divine nature within us, can no more do any
divine good to our souls, or unite them with the
goodness of God, than a hunger after earthly food
can feed us with the immortal bread of heaven.
All that the natural or uninspired man does, or
can do in the church, has no more of the truth, or
power of divine worship in it, than that which he
does in the field, or shop, through a desire of riches.
And the reason is, because all the acts of the na-


tural man, whether relating to matters of religion,
or the world, must be equally selfish, and there is
no possibility of their being otherwise. For self-
love, self-esteem, self-seeking, and living wholly to
self, are as strictly the whole of all that is, or pos-
sibly can be, in the natural man, as in the natural
beast; the one can no more be better, or act above
this nature, than the other. Neither can any crea-
ture be in a better or higher state than this, till some-
thing supernatural is found in it; and this super-
natural something, called in Scripture the ayord,
or SPIRIT, or INSPIRATION of God, is that alone
from which man can have the first good thought
about God, or the least power of having more hea-
venly desires in his spirit than he has in his flesh.
A religion that is not wholly built upon this
supernatural ground, but solely stands upon the
powers, reasonings, and conclusions of the natural,
uninspired man, has not so much as the shadow of
true religion in it, but is a mere nothing, in the
same sense as an idol is said to be nothing, because
the idol has nothing of that in it which is pretended
by it. For the work of religion has no divine good
in it, but as it brings forth, and keeps up essential
union of the spirit of man with the Spirit of God;
which essential union cannot be made but through
love on both sides, nor by love, but where the love
that works on both sides, is of the same nature.


No man, therefore, can reach God with his love,
or have union with him by it, but he who is in-
spired with that one same spirit of love with which
God loved himself from all eternity, and before there
was any creature. Infinite hosts of new created
heavenly beings can begin no new kind of love of
God, nor have the least power of beginning to love
him at all, but so far as his own Holy Spirit of love,
wherewith he hath from all eternity loved himself,
is brought to life in them. This love, that was then
in God alone, can be the only love in creatures
that can draw them to God; they can have no
power of cleaving to him, of willing that which he
wills, or adoring the divine nature, but by par-
taking of that eternal spirit of love ; and, therefore,
the continual, immediate inspiration, or operation
of the Holy Spirit, is the one only possible ground
of our continually loving God. And of this in-
spired love, and no other, it is, that St. John saith,
'' He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God." Sup-
pose it to be any other love, brought forth by any

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Online LibraryWilliam LawAn humble, earnest, and affectionate address to the clergy : → online text (page 1 of 12)