“If we are to follow Christ, it must be in our common way of spending every day. If we are to live unto God at any time or in any place, we are to live unto him in all times and in all places. If we are to use anything as the gift of God, we are to use everything as his gift.” So wrote William Law in A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life in 1728.
Born at Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire, Law was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, of which he became a fellow in 1711. On the accession of George I he refused the Oath of Allegiance, was deprived of his fellowship, and became a Non-Juror. As an Anglican Non-Juror, he was deprived of employment in a parish of the established Church of England, and he lived in the Gibbon household at Putney from 1727 to 1737, serving as tutor to the father of the historian. In 1740 he retired to Kings Cliffe, where with a Mrs Hutcheson and Miss Hester Gibbon, he organized schools and almshouses. Until his death he led a life of great simplicity, devotion, and pursuits of charity.
In several theological and polemical works, Law robustly defended the sacraments and the holy Scriptures against Deist and Latitudinarian attacks. Another early work attacked the evils of the contemporary theater. In a book written later in life, he explored Christian spirituality, emphasizing the indwelling of Christ in the soul (the development of his spirituality along mystical lines led to a doctrine resembling the Quaker conception of the “Inner Light” and to his estrangement from several of his former disciples, like John Wesley). But his most influential work by far was A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. The simplicity of the book’s teaching and its vigorous style soon established it as a classic, and through it Law influenced the lives of the elder Henry Venn, George Whitefield, John Wesley, Samuel Johnson, and (later) John Keble. Perhaps more than any other man, William Law thereby laid the foundation for the great 18th-century revival in English-speaking Christianity and the Evangelical Movement in Britain.
- Prepared from material in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church and Lesser Feasts and Fasts.
O God, by whose grace your servant William Law, kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and shining light in your church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The propers for the commemoration of William Law, Priest, (April 9) are published on the Lectionary Page website.