Introduction and Excerpts from the Writings of William Law
WILLIAM LAW (1686-1761) was not the first Englishman to discover Jacob Boehme. The German theosopher was already known to Dissenters like the Quakers and various "Behmenist" societies such as the Philadelphians. But he probably has done more than any other to promote Boehme in the English-speaking world, and was himself a penetrating spiritual writer and masterful stylist.
Law was an Anglican clergyman, barred from the pulpit for refusing an oath of allegiance to King George the First. He served as tutor to the historian Edward Gibbon, who spoke highly of Law despite the latter's admiration for "the incomprehensible visions of Jacob Behmen."
Law gained fame and readership as a controversialist who embroiled himself in just about every religious dispute of the age and took on everyone from Deists to Papists, Rationalists to Methodists.
A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life was and remains his most popular work. But, while the book established Law's reputation as a master of English prose, the author's light was only partial at the time. Norman Grubb states, "Law was at that time a legalistic idealist, knowing nothing of grace through faith, and in that stage of experience wrote his best-known book, A Serious Call, which is straight Christian standards of living with no inkling of how to live them."
Law's wayward disciple, John Wesley, offered a similar assessment. After his conversion experience at age 35, Wesley complained that in all the years he sat at Law's feet, he never learned of the miracle of instantaneous conversion through "the saving merits of the Atonement." In an open letter to Law, Wesley asked, "How will you justify it to our common Lord that you never gave me this advice? Why did I scarcely ever hear you name the Name of Christ, never so as to ground anything on faith in His blood?"
It is often claimed that Wesley was an admirer of Boehme and required all Methodists to read his books. This is incorrect. Wesley labeled his books "stark, staring nonsense" and Boehme himself a "Demonosopher." He did, however, acknowledge that JB was a "good man." So Boehme was a morally upright demoniac ??? So much for the Wesleyan analysis.
Around the age of fifty Law discovered the works of Jacob Boehme which, he says, "put me in a perfect sweat," for he discerned a new and unknown vista of Gospel Revelation; and the great scholar humbled himself, set aside his mighty pen for eight years, and submitted to the teaching of the unlearned shoemaker.
He leaves no record of the spiritual epiphany he experienced at this time, but his writing underwent a profound transformation. The leaden legalism of The Absolute Unlawfulness of the Stage Entertainment was transmuted to words of pure Spirit, like this golden passage from Christian Regeneration:
"God was in Christ Jesus, reconciling the world to himself," that is, taking away from man every property, or power of evil, that kept him in a state of separation from God. Thus it was, and to this end, that "God was in Christ Jesus" in his whole process.
Unreasonably therefore have our scholastic systems of the gospel, separated the sacrifice of Christ's death, from the other parts of his process, and considered it as something chiefly done with regard to God, to alter, or atone an infinite wrath, that was raised in God against fallen man, which infinity of just vengeance, or vindictive justice, must have devoured the sinner, unless an infinite satisfaction had been made to it, by the death of Christ.
All this, is in the grossest ignorance of God, of the reason and ground, and effects of Christ's death, and in full contradiction to the express letter of scripture. For there we are told, that God is love, and that the infinity of his love was that alone, which showed itself towards fallen man, and wanted to have satisfaction done to it; which love-desire could not be fulfilled, could not be satisfied with anything less than man's full deliverance from all the evil of his fallen state.
That love, which has the infinity of God, nay, which is God himself, was so immutably great towards man, though fallen from him, "that he spared not his only begotten Son"; and why did he not spare him? It was because nothing but the incarnate life of his eternal Son, passing through all the miserable states of lost man, could regenerate his first divine life in him.
Can you possibly be told this, in stronger words than these, "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son"; how did he give him? Why, in his whole process. And to what end did he give him? Why, "that all who believe in him, might not perish, but have everlasting life."
Away then with the superstitious dream, of an infinite wrath in God towards poor fallen man, which could never cease, till an infinite satisfaction was made to it. All scripture denies it, and the light of nature abhors it. The birth, the life, the death of Christ, though so different things, have but one and the same operation, and that operation is solely in man, to drive all evil out of his fallen nature, and delight the heart of God, that desires his salvation. God is love, and has no other will towards man, but the will of love. That love, which from itself began the creation of an holy Adam, from itself began the redemption of a fallen Adam. The death of Christ was a sacrifice from the love of God the Son towards man, to overcome thereby that damnable death, which, otherwise, every son of Adam must have died; it was a sacrifice offered to the same love, in God the Father; a sacrifice, equally loved and desired by both of them, because, in the nature of the thing, as absolutely necessary to alter and overcome that evil, which belonged to man's state of death, as the incarnation of the WORD, was absolutely necessary in the nature of the thing, to make man to be alive again in God. ??
Nothing in the natural man can help him to be light and love, but the union of God with himself.
How unreasonable is it to call perpetual inspiration – the perpetual operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer- fanaticism and enthusiasm? The fact is that there cannot be the least degree of goodness or happiness in any intelligent being abut that which is its whole nature – its very breath of life – the operation of God in the life of the creature. For if goodness can only be in God, if goodness cannot exist separate from Him – if He only can bless and sanctify, not by a creaturely gift, but by Himself becoming the blessing and sanctification of the creature – then it is the highest degree of blindness to look for any goodness and happiness from anything else. It can only come from the immediate indwelling, union with, and operation of the Deity in the life of the creature. Perpetual inspiration, there, is as necessary to a life of goodness, holiness, and happiness, as the perpetual respiration of the air is necessary to animal life.
For the life of the creature – mankind – whilst only creaturely, and possessing nothing but itself, is hell; that is, it is all pain and want and distress. Now nothing in the natural man can make the least alteration in this creaturely life, nothing can help him to be in him, and the life of God working in him, because nothing but God is light, and love, and heavenly goodness. And therefore, if the life of God is not the life and goodness of the creature, then the creature cannot have any degree of goodness in itself.
Taken from THE SPIRIT OF LOVE, by William Law, first published in 1754.
The Spirit of the Triune God, breathed into Adam at his creation, was that alone which made him a holy creature in the image and likeness of God. A new birth of this Spirit of God in man is as necessary to make fallen man alive again unto God as it was to make Adam at first in the image and likeness of God. And a constant flow of this divine life by the Spirit is as necessary to man's continuance in his redeemed state as light and moisture are to the continued life of a plant.
A religion that is not wholly built upon this supernatural ground, but which stands to any degree upon human powers, reasonings, and conclusions, has not so much as the shadow of truth in it. Such religion leaves man with mere empty forms and images that can no more restore divine life to his soul than an idol of clay or wood could create another Adam.
True Christianity is nothing but the continual dependence upon God through Christ for all life, light and virtue; and the false religion of Satan is to seek that goodness from any other source.
Man's fall from his first state brought a separation from God and thus from the life, light and virtue which is in Him. Man's salvation can therefore only be effected by a reconciling union of his spirit with the Spirit of the Creator.
Read whatever chapter of scripture you will, and be ever so delighted with it - yet it will leave you as poor, as empty and unchanged as it found you unless it has turned you wholly and solely to the Spirit of God, and brought you into full union with and dependence upon HIM.
Take away this inspiration of the Holy Spirit, or suppose it to cease for a moment, then no religious acts or affections can give forth anything that is godly or divine. No man can remain in the goodness of his redeemed state but by continuing in that vital relationship to God that begins at his conversion; which is the same as saying that the continual inspiration and empowering of the Holy Spirit within the redeemed heart is vital and necessary to the salvation given us in Christ. Every branch of a tree, though ever so richly brought forth, must wither and die from the moment it ceases to have a LIFE UNION with the root. The divine life in man can never be in him but as a growth of life in and from God. Nothing but obedience to the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, trusting Him for continual inspiration can possibly keep men from being sinners or idolaters in all that they do. To think that we are our own, or at our own disposal, is as absurd as to think that we created ourselves. We believe that in Him we "live and move and have our being." The Christian church is in a fallen state for the rejection of the Holy Spirit, who was given to be the power and fulfilling of all that was promised by the gospel. And just as the Pharisees' rejection of Christ was under a profession of faith in the Messianic Scriptures, so church leaders today reject the demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit in the name of sound doctrine.
As all types and figures in the Law were but empty shadows without the coming of Christ, so the New Testament is but dead letter without the Holy Spirit in redeemed men as the living power of a full salvation. Thus, the coming of the Holy Spirit, being the fruit of Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension, is essential to the fulfillment of the salvation Christ procured.
Where the Holy Spirit is not honored as the one through whom the whole life and power of gospel salvation is to be effected, it is no wonder that Christians have no more of the reality of the gospel than the Jews had of the purity of the Law... For the New Testament without the coming of the Holy Spirit in power over self, sin, and the devil is no better a help to heaven than the Old Testament without the coming of the Messiah... While we still cling to a religion that does not acknowledge this, it is a full proof that we are not yet in that redeemed state of union with God which is intended by the gospel.
Heaven is as near to our souls as this world is to our bodies; and we are created, we are redeemed, to have our conversation in it. God, the only good of all intelligent natures, is not an absent or distant god, but is more present in and to our souls than our bodies; and we are strangers to Heaven and without God in the world for this only reason, because we are void of that spirit of prayer which alone can and never fails to unite us with the One only Good, and to open Heaven and the kingdom of God within us....
We are all of us by birth the offspring of God --- more nearly related to Him than we are to one another, for in Him we live, and move and have our being. The first man that was brought forth from God had the breath and Spirit of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost breathed into him, and so he became a living soul. Thus was our first father born of God, descended from Him, and stood in Paradise in the image and likeness of God. He was the image and likeness of God, not with any regard to his outward shape or form, for no shape has any likeness to God; but he was in the image and likeness of God because the Holy Trinity had breathed their own nature and Spirit into him. And as the Deity, Father, Son. and Holy Spirit are always in Heaven and make Heaven to be everywhere, so this Spirit, breathed by them into man, brought Heaven into man along with it; and so man was in Heaven as well as on earth; that is, in Paradise, which signifies an heavenly state or birth of life.
It is manifest that no one can fail of the benefit of Christ's salvation but through an unwillingness to have, and from the same spirit and tempers which made the Jews unwilling to receive it. But if you would still further know how this great work, the birth of Christ, is to be effected in you, then let this joyful truth be told you, that this great work is already begun in every one of us. For this holy Jesus that is to be formed in you, that is to be the Savior and new life of your soul, that is to rise you out of the darkness of death into the light of life and give you power to become a son of God, is already within you, living, stirring, calling, knocking at the door of your heart and wanting nothing but your own faith and good will to have as real a birth and form in you as He had in the Virgin Mary. For the eternal Word or Son of God did not then first begin to be the Savior of the world when he was born in Bethlehem of Judea; but that Word which became man in the Virgin Mary did from the beginning of the world enter a word of life, a seed of salvation, into the first father of mankind, was inspoken into him as an ingrafted word under the name and character of a Bruiser of the Serpent's head. Hence it is that Christ said to His disciples "The Kingdom of God is within you"; that is, the divine nature is within you, given unto your first father, into the light of his life, and from him rising up in the life of every son of Adam. Hence also the holy Jesus is said to be the "Light which lights every man that comes into the world". Not as He was born at Bethlehem, not as He had a human form upon earth; in these respects He could not be said to have been the light of every man that comes into the world; but as He was that eternal Word by which all things, and which had as a second Creator entered again into fallen man as a bruiser of the Serpent; in this respect it was truly said of our Lord when on earth that He was that Light which lights every man that comes into the world. For He was really and truly all this, as He was the Emmanuel, the God with us, given unto Adam and in him to all his offspring. See here the beginning and glorious extent of the Universal Church of Christ; it takes in all the world. It is God's unlimited, universal mercy to all mankind; and every human creature, as sure as he is born of Adam, has a birth of the Bruiser of the Serpent within him, and so is infallible in covenant with God through Jesus Christ. Hence also it is that the holy Jesus is appointed to be Judge of all the world; it is because all mankind, all nations and languages have in Him and through Him been put into covenant with God and made capable of resisting the evil of their fallen nature.
Poor sinner! consider the treasure you has within you; the Savior of the world, the eternal Word of God lies hid in you; the Savior of the world, the eternal Word of God lies hid in you, as a spark of the divine nature which is to overcome sin and death and hell within you, and generate the life of Heaven again in your soul. Turn to your heart, and your heart will find its Savior, its God within itself. You see, hear, and feel nothing of God, because you seek for Him abroad with your outward eyes, you seek for Him in books, in controversies, in the church and outward exercises, but there you wilt not find Him till you has first found Him in your heart. Seek for Him in your heart, and you wilt never seek in vain, for there He dwells, there is the seat of His Light and holy Spirit.
For this turning to the light and Spirit of God within you is your only true turning unto God; there is no other way of finding Him but in that place where He dwells in you. For though God be everywhere present, yet He is only present to you in the deepest and most central part of your soul. Your natural senses cannot possess God or unite you to Him; nay, your inward faculties of understanding, will, and memory can only reach after God, but cannot be the place of His habitation in you. But there is a root or depth in you of His habitation in you from whence all these faculties come forth, as lines from a center or as branches from the body of the tree. This depth is call the center, the fund or bottom of the soul. This depth is the unity, the eternity, I had almost said the infinity of your soul; for it is so infinite that nothing can satisfy it or give it any rest but the infinity of God. In this depth of the soul the Holy Trinity brought forth its own living image in the first created man, bearing in himself a living representation of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and this was his dwelling in God and God in him. This was the kingdom of god within him and made Paradise without him. But the day he absolutely died to this kingdom of God within him. This depth or center of his soul having lost its God, was shut up in death and darkness and became a prisoner in an earthly animal that only excelled its brethren, the beast, in an upright form and serpentine subtlety. Thus ended the fall of man. But from that moment that the God of mercy inspoke into Adam the Bruiser of the Serpent, from that moment all the riches and treasures of the divine nature came again into man, as a seed of salvation sown into the center of the soul, and only lies hidden there in every man till he desires to rise from his fallen state and to be born again from above.
Awake, then, you that sleep, and Christ, who from all eternity has been espoused to your soul, shall give you light. Begin to search and dig in your own field for this pearl of eternity that lies hidden in it; it cannot cost you too much, nor can you buy it too dear, for it is all; and when you has found it you wilt know that all which you has sold or given away for it is as mere a nothing as a bubble upon the water.
See here in short the state of man as redeemed. He has a spark of the light and Spirit of God as a supernatural gift of God given into the birth of his soul, to bring forth by degrees a new birth of that life which was lost in Paradise. This holy spark of the divine nature within him has a natural, strong, and almost infinite tendency or reaching after that eternal light and Spirit of God from whence it came forth. It came forth from God, it came out of God, it partakes of the divine nature, and therefore it is always in a state of tendency and return to God. And all this is called the breathing, the moving, the quickening of the Holy Spirit within us, which are so many operations of this spark of life tending towards God. On the other hand, the Deity as considered in itself and without man unites and communicates its riches and virtues to the spirit of the air that is within man. This love or desire of God towards the soul of man is so great that He gave His only begotten Son, the brightness of His glory, to take the human nature upon Him in its fallen state, that by this mysterious union of God and man all the enemies of the soul of man might be overcome and every human creature might have a power of being born again according to that image of God in which he was first created. The Gospel is the history of this love of God to man. Inwardly he has a seed of the divine life given into the birth of his soul, a seed that has all the riches of eternity in it and is always wanting to come to the birth in him and be alive in God. Outwardly he has Jesus Christ, who as a sun in the firmament is always doing to the vegetable seeds in the earth ... But here let it be well observed that this desire on both sides cannot have its effect till the husk and gross part of the grain falls into a state of corruption and death; till this begins, the mystery of life hidden in it cannot come forth.
This pearl of eternity is the Church or Temple of God within you, the consecrated place of divine worship, where alone you can't worship God in spirit and in truth. In spirit, because your spirit is that alone in you, which can unite and cleave unto God and receive the workings of His divine Spirit upon you. In truth, because this adoration in spirit is that truth and reality, of which all outward forms and rites, though instituted by God, are only the figure for a time; but this worship is eternal. Accustom thyself to the holy service of this inward temple. In the midst of it is the fountain of living water, of which you may drink and live for ever. There the mysteries of your redemption are celebrated, or rather opened in life and power. There the supper of the Lamb is kept; the bread that came down from Heaven, that gives life to the world, is your true nourishment: all is done and known in real experience, in a living sensibility of the work of God on the soul, which has followed Christ in the regeneration. When once you art well grounded in this inward worship, you wilt have learnt to live unto God above time and place. For every day wilt be Sunday to you, and wherever you go you wilt have a priest, a church, and an altar along with you. For when God has all that He should have of your heart, when renouncing the will, judgment, tempers and inclinations of your old man, you art wholly given up to the obedience of the light and spirit of God within you, to will only in His will, to love only in His love, to be wise only in His wisdom, then it is that everything you do is as a song of praise and the common business of your life is a conforming to God's will on earth as angles do in Heaven.
Now there is but one possible way for man to attain this salvation or life of God in the soul. There is not one for the Jew, another for a Christian, and a third for the heathen. No; God is one, human nature is one, salvation is one, and the way to it is one; and that is, the desire of the soul turned to God. When this desire is alive and breaks forth in any creature under Heaven, then the lost sheep is found and the shepherd has it upon his shoulders. Through this desire the poor Prodigal Son leaves his husks and swine and hastens to his father; it is because of this desire that the father sees the son while yet afar off, that he runs out to meet him, falls on his neck and kisses. See here how plainly we are taught that no sooner is this desire arisen and in motion towards God, but the operation of God's Spirit answers to it, cherishes and welcomes its first beginnings --- signified by the father's seeing and having compassion on his son whilst yet afar off, that is, in the first beginnings of his desire. Thus does this desire do all, it brings the soul to God and God into the soul, it unites with God, it cooperates with God, and is one life with God. Suppose this desire not to be alive, not in motion, either in a Jew or a Christian, and then all the sacrifices, the service, the worship either of the Law or the Gospel are but dead works that bring no life into the soul nor beget any union between God and it. Suppose this desire to be awakened and fixed upon God, though in souls that never heard either of the Law or Gospel, and then the divine life or operation of God enters into them, and the new birth in Christ is formed in those who never heard of His name. and these are they "that shall come from the East, and from the West, and sit down with Abraham and Isaac in the Kingdom of God"....
When, therefore, the first spark of a desire after God arises in your soul, cherish it with all your care, give all your heart into it, it is nothing less than a touch of the divine loadstone that is to draw you out of the vanity of time into the riches of eternity. Get up, therefore, and follow it as gladly as the wise Men of the East followed the star from Heaven that appeared to them. It will do for you as the star did for them: it will lead you to the birth of Jesus, not in a stable at Bethlehem in Judea, but to the birth of Jesus in the dark center of your own fallen soul.
The goodness of God breaking forth into a desire to communicate good was the cause and the beginning of the Creation. Hence it follows, that to all eternity, God can have no thought, or intent toward the creature, but to communicate good; because He made the creature for this sole end, to receive good.
The first motive toward the creature is unchangeable; it takes its rise from God's desire to communicate good; and it is an eternal impossibility that anything can ever come from God as His Will and purpose towards the creature, but that same love and goodness, which first created it: He must always well that to it, which He willed at the creation of it.
This is the amiable nature of God. He is good, the unchangeable, overflowing fountain of good, that sends forth nothing but good to all eternity. He is the love itself, the unmixed, immeasurable love, doing nothing but from love, to every thing that He has made; requiring nothing of all His creature but the Spirit and fruits of that love, which brought them into being.
Oh, how sweet is this contemplation of the riches of divine love! With what attraction must it draw every thoughtful man, to return love for love to this overflowing fountain of boundless goodness? What charms has that religion which discovers to us our existence in, relation to, and dependence upon this ocean of divine love! View every part of our redemption, from Adam's first sin to the resurrection of the dead, and you will find nothing but successive mysteries of that first love, which created angels and men. All the mysteries of the Gospel are only so many marks and proofs of God's desiring to make His love triumph, in the removal of sin and disorder from all nature and creature.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, at home, or abroad, in the field, or at church, do all in a desire of union with Christ ... and look upon all as nothing but that which exercises and increases the spirit and life of Christ in your soul. From morning to night keep Jesus in your heart, long for nothing, desire nothing, hope for nothing, but to have all that is within you changed into the Spirit and temper of the Holy Jesus. Let this be your Christianity, your church and your religion.
For this new birth in Christ thus firmly believed, and continually desired, will do everything that you want to have done in you. It will dry up all the springs of vice, stop all the workings of evil in you, it will bring all that is good into you, it will open all the Gospel within you, and you will know what it is to be taught of God. This longing desire of your heart to be one with Christ will soon put a stop to all the vanity of your life, and nothing will be admitted to enter into your heart or proceed from it but what comes from God and returns to God: you will soon be, as it were, tied and bound in the chains of all holy affections and desires, your mouth will have a watch set upon it, your ears would willingly hear nothing that does not tend to God, nor your eyes be open but to see and find occasions of doing good.
In a word, when this faith has got both your head and your heart, it will then be with you as with the merchant who found a pearl of great price; it will make you gladly to sell all that you have, and buy it. For all that had seized and possessed the heart of any man, whatever the merchant of this world had got together, whether of riches, power, honor, learning, or reputation, loses all this value, is counted but as doing, and willingly parted with, as soon as this glorious pearl, the new birth in Christ Jesus, is discovered and found by him.
This pearl of eternity, first of all, is the Light and Spirit of God within you, which has hitherto done you but little good, because all the desire of your heart has been after the light and spirit of this world. Your reason and senses, your heart and passions, have turned all their attention to the poor concerns of this life, and you are a stranger to this principal of heaven, this riches of eternity within you. For God is not -- cannot be -- truly found by any worshippers but those who worship Him in Spirit and in truth; so this light and Spirit, though always within us, cannot be found, felt, or enjoyed, but by those whose whole spirit is turned to it.
Secondly, this pearl of eternity is the wisdom and love of God within you. In this pearl of the serpent bruiser, all the Holy nature, Spirit, tempers. and inclinations of Christ, lie as in a seed in the center of your soul. Divine wisdom and heavenly love will grow up in you, if you give but true attention to God present in your soul. Such only are priest and prophets -- those who have God in themselves. Hence, there have been in all ages, even among the most illiterate, both men and women who have attained to a deep understanding of the mysteries of the wisdom and love of God in Christ Jesus. It is not art or science or skill in logic, but the opening of the divine life in the soul that can hive true understanding of the things of God.
Thirdly, this pearl of eternity is the church, or temple of God within you, the consecrated place of divine worship, where alone you can worship God in Spirit and in truth. In Spirit, because your spirit is that alone in you which can be united and cleave unto God, and receive the working of His divine Spirit upon you. In truth, because this adoration in Spirit is that truth and reality of which all outward forms and rites, though instituted of God, are only the figure for a time. But this worship is eternal. Accustom yourself to the holy service of this inward temple. In the midst of it is the fountain of living water, of which you may drink and live forever. There the mysteries of your redemption are celebrated, or rather opened, in life and power. There the supper of the Lamb is kept; the Bread that came down from Heaven, that gives life to the world, is done, and known in real experience, in a living sensibility of the work of God on the soul. When once you are well grounded in this inward worship, you will have learned to live unto God above time and place. For every day will be Sunday to you, and wherever you go you will have a priest, a church, and an altar along with you.
Fourthly, this pearl of eternity is the peace and joy of God within you. But this can only be found by the manifestation of the life and power of Jesus Christ in your soul. Be where you will, either here or there, if you live to your own will, to the pleasure of your lusts, appetites, senses and passions, and in conformity to the vain customs and spirit of this world, you are dead while you live-- the seed of the woman is crucified within you, Christ can profit you nothing, you are a stranger to all that is holy and heavenly within you, and utterly incapable of finding the peace and joy of God in your soul.
How can you discover this riches of eternity treasured up within you? All depends upon your right submission and obedience to this speaking of Go in your soul. Stop therefore all self-activity, listen not to the suggestion of your own reason, run not on in your own will, but be retired, silent, passive and humble attentive to this new risen Light within you.
Open your heart, your eyes and ears t all its impression. Let it enlighten, teach, frighten, torment, judge, and condemn you as it pleases. Turn not away from it, hear all it says, seed for no relief out of it, consult not with flesh and blood, but with a heart full of faith and resignation to God, pray only this prayer: that God's kingdom may come, and His will be done in your soul. Stand faithfully in this state of preparation, thus given up to the Spirit of God, and then the work of your repentance will be wrought in God, and you will soon find that He that is in you is much greater that all that is against you.
Adapted from the Spirit of Prayer, by William Law.
My heart embraces you, with all the tenderness and affection of Christian love; and I earnestly beg of God, to make me a messenger of His peace to your soul.
You seem to apprehend that the account you have given of yourself might surprise me; but I am neither surprised, nor offended at it; I neither condemn, nor lament your condition, but shall endeavor to show you, how it may be made a blessing and great happiness to you. I shall not enter into a consideration of the different kinds of trouble you have told me about. I think it better to lay before you the one true ground and root, from which all the evil and disorders of human life have sprung. This will make it easy for you to see, what that is, which must, and only can be the full remedy and relief for all of them.
The scripture has assured us, that God made man in His own image and likeness; a sufficient proof, that man, in his first state, as he came forth from God, must have been absolutely free from all vanity, want, or distress of any kind, from anything either within, or without him. It would be quite absurd and blasphemous, to suppose, that a creature beginning to exist in the image and likeness of God, should have vanity of life, or vexation of spirit: a Godlike perfection of nature, and a painful, distressed nature, stand in the utmost contrariety to one another.
Again, the scripture has assured us, that man that is born of a woman, has but a short time to live, and is full of misery: therefore man now is not that creature that he was by his creation. The first divine and Godlike nature of Adam, which was to have been immortally holy in union with God, is lost; and instead of it, a poor mortal of earthly flesh and blood, born like a wild donkey's colt, of a short life, and full of misery, and is through a vain pilgrimage, to end in dust and ashes. Therefore, let every evil, whether inward, or outward, only teach you this truth, that man has infallibly lost his first divine life in God; and that no possible comfort, or deliverance is to be expected, but only in this one thing, that though man had lost his God, yet God is become man, that man may be again alive in God, as at the first. For all the misery and distress of human nature, whether of body or mind, is wholly owing to this one cause, that God is not in man, nor man in God, as the state of his nature requires: it is, because man has lost that first life of God in his soul, in and for which he was created. He lost this light, and spirit, and life of God, by turning his will, imagination, and desire, into a tasting and sensibility of the good and evil of this earthly bestial world.
Now here are two things raised up in man, instead of the life of God: first, self, or selfishness, brought forth by his choosing to have a wisdom of his own, contrary to the will and instruction of his creator. Secondly, an earthly, bestial, mortal life and body, brought forth by his eating that food, which was poison to his paradisiacal nature. Both these must therefore be removed; that is, a man must first totally die to self, and all earthly desires, views, and intentions, before he can be again in God, as his nature and first creation requires.
But now if this is a certain and immutable truth, that man, so long as he is a selfish, earthly-minded creature, must be deprived of his true life, the life of God, the spirit of heaven in his soul; then how is the face of things changed! For then, what life is so much to be dreaded, as the life of worldly ease and prosperity? What a misery, what a curse, is there in everything that gratifies and nourishes our self love, self-esteem, and self-seeking? On the other hand, what happiness is there in all inward and outward troubles, when they force us to feel and know the hell that is hidden within us, and the vanity of everything without us, when they turn all our self-love into self-abhorrence and force us to call upon God to save us from ourselves, to give us a new life, new light, and new spirit in Christ Jesus.
"Oh thank you for the famine," the poor prodigal might well have said, "which, by reducing me to the necessity of asking to eat husks with the swine, brought me to myself, and caused my return to my first happiness in my father's house."
Now, I will suppose your distressed state to be as you represent it; inwardly, darkness, heaviness, and confusion of thoughts and passions; outwardly, ill treatment from friends, relations, and all the world; unable to strike up the least spark of light, comfort, or happiness, by any thought or reasoning of your own.
Oh happy famine, which leaves you not so much as the husk of one human comfort to feed upon! For this is the time and place for all that is good and life and salvation to happen to you, which happened to the prodigal son. Your way is as short, and your success as certain as his was: you have no more to do than he had; you need not call out for books, or methods of devotion; for, in your present state, much reading, and borrowed prayers, are not your best method: all that you are to offer to God, all that is to help you to find Him to be your Savior and Redeemer, is best taught to you by the distressed state of your heart.
Only let your present and past distress make you feel and acknowledge this twofold great truth: first, that in and of yourself, you are nothing but darkness, vanity, and misery; secondly, that of yourself, you can no more help yourself to light, comfort, and happiness, than you can create an angel. People at all times can seem to assent to these two truths; but then it is an assent that has no depth or reality, and so is of little or no use to them: but your condition has opened your heart for a deep and full conviction of these truths. Now give way, to this conviction, and hold these two truths, in the same degree of certainty as you know two and two is four, and then you are with the prodigal, come to yourself, and more than HALF YOUR WORK IS DONE!
Being now in full possession of these two truths, feeling them in the same degree of certainty, as you feel your own existence, you are, under this sensibility, to give up yourself absolutely and entirely to God in Christ Jesus, as into the hands of infinite love; firmly believing this great infallible truth, that God has no will towards you, but that of infinite love, and an infinite desire to make you a partaker of His divine nature; and that it is as absolutely impossible for the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to refuse all that good and life and salvation which you want, as it is for you to take it by your own power.
Oh drink deep of this cup! For the precious water of eternal life is in it. Turn to God with this faith; cast yourself into this abyss of love; and then you will be in that same state the prodigal son was in, when he said, "I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you, and am no more worthy to be called Your son'"; and all will be fulfilled in you, which was fulfilled in him.
Make this, therefore, the twofold exercise of your heart: now, bowing yourself down before God, in the deepest sense and acknowledgment of your own nothingness and vileness; then, looking up to God in faith and love, consider Him as always extending the arms of His mercy towards you, and full of an infinite desire to dwell in you, as He dwells in angels in heaven. Content yourself with this inward and simple exercise of your heart, for a while; and seek, or look for nothing in any book, but that which nourishes and strengthens this state of your heart.
"Come to Me," says the holy Jesus, "all you that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you." Here is more for you to lie upon, more light for your mind, more unction for your heart, than in volumes of human instruction. Pick up the words of the holy Jesus, and beg of Him to be the light and life of your soul: love the sound of His name; for Jesus is the love, the sweetness, the compassionate, the goodness, of the deity itself; which became man, so that men might have power to become the sons of God. Love, pity and wish well to every soul in the world; dwell in love, and then you dwell in God; learn to hate nothing but the evil that stirs in your own heart.
Teach your heart this prayer, till your heart continually says, though not with outward words: "Oh holy Jesus: meek lamb of God! Bread that came down from heaven! Light and life of all holy souls! Help me to a true and living faith in You. Oh do open yourself within me, with all your holy nature, spirit, tempers, and inclinations, that I may be born again of You, a new creature, quickened and revived, led and governed, by Your Holy Spirit."
Prayer so practiced, becomes the life of the soul, and the true food of eternity. Keep in this state of application to God; and then you will infallibly find it to be the true way of rising out of the vanity of time, into the riches of eternity.
Do not expect, or look for the same degrees of sensible fervor. The matter does not lie there. Nature will have its share; but the ups and downs of that are to be overlooked. While your will, or spirit is good, and set right, the changes of creaturely fervor do not lessen your union with God. It is the abyss of the heart, an unfathomable depth of eternity within us, as much above sensible fervor, as heaven is above the earth; it is this that works our way to God, and unites with heaven. This abyss of the heart, is the divine nature and power within us, which never calls upon God in vain; but whether helped or deserted by bodily fervor, penetrates through all outward nature, as easily and effectually as our thoughts can leave our bodies, and reach into the regions of eternity.
The poverty of our fallen nature, the depraved workings of flesh and blood, the corrupt tempers of our polluted birth in this world, do us no hurt, so long as the spirit of prayer works contrary to them, and longs for the first birth of the light and spirit of heaven. All our natural evil ceases to be our own evil, as soon as our will, or spirit turns from it; it then changes its nature, loses all its poison and death, and only becomes our holy cross, on which we happily die from self and this world into the kingdom of heaven.
Would you be done with error, scruple, and delusion? Consider the deity to be the greatest love, the greatest meekness, the greatest sweetness, the eternal unchangeable will to be a good and blessing to every creature; and that all the misery, darkness, and death of fallen angels and fallen men, consist in their having lost their likeness to this divine nature. Consider yourself, and all the fallen world, as having nothing to seek or wish for, but by the spirit of prayer to draw into the life of your soul, rays and sparks of this divine, meek, loving, tender nature of God. Consider the holy Jesus as the gift of God to your soul, in spite of every inward or outward enemy. These three infallible truths, heartily embraced, and made the nourishment of your soul, shorten and secure the way to heaven, and leave no room for error, scruple or delusion
Expect no life, light, strength, or comfort, but from the Spirit of God, dwelling and manifesting His own goodness in your soul. The best of men, and the best of books, can only do you good, so far as they turn you from themselves, and every human thing, to seek, and have, and receive every kind of good from God alone; not a distant, or an absent God, but a God living, moving, and always working in the spirit and heart of your soul.
They never find God, who seek for Him by reasoning and speculation; for since God is the highest spirit, and the highest life, nothing but a like spirit, and a like life, can unite with Him, find or feel, or know anything of Him. Hence it is, that faith, and hope, and love, turned towards God, are the only possible, and infallible means of obtaining a true and living knowledge of Him. And the reason is plain, it is by this holy attitude, which is the working of spirit and life within us, we seek the God of life where He is, we call upon Him with His own voice, we draw near to Him by His own Spirit; for nothing can breathe forth faith, and love, and hope to God, but that Spirit and life which is of God, and which therefore through flesh and blood thus presses towards Him, and readily unites with Him.
There is not a more infallible truth in the world than this, that neither reasoning nor learning can ever introduce a spark of heaven into our souls: and since this is so, you have nothing to seek, nor anything to fear, from reason. Life and death are the things in question: they are neither of them the growth of reasoning or learning, but each of them is a state of the soul, and only thus differ, death is the want, and life the enjoyment of its highest good. Reason, therefore, and learning, have no power here; but only by their vain activity to keep the soul insensible of that life and death, one of which is always taking the ascendancy in it, according as the will and desire of the heart worked. Add reason to a vegetable, and you add nothing to its life or death. Its life and fruitfulness lies in the soundness of its root, the goodness of the soil, and the riches it derives from air and light. Heaven and hell grow thus in the soul of every man: his heart is his root; if that is turned from all evil, it is then like the plant in a good soil; when it hungers and thirsts after the divine life, it then infallibly draws the light and Spirit of God into it, which are infinitely more ready and willing to live and fructify in the soul, than light and air is to enter into the plant, that hungers after them. For the soul has its breath, and being, and life, for no other end, but that God may manifest the riches and powers of His own life in it.
Thus hunger is all, and in all worlds, everything lives in it, and by it; nothing else eats, or partakes of life; and everything eats according to its own hunger. Everything hungers after its own mother, that is, everything has a natural magnetic tendency to partake of that from which it had its being, and can only find its rest in that from whence it came. Dead as well as living things bear witness to this truth: the stones fall to the earth, the sparks fly upwards, for this only reason, because everything must tend towards that from which it came.
Were not angels and the souls of men breathed forth from God, as so many real offspring s of the divine nature, it would be as impossible for them to have any desire of God, as for stones to go upwards, and the flame downwards. Thus you may see, and feel, that the spirit of prayer not only proves that you came from God, but is your certain way of returning to Him.
When, therefore, it is the one ruling, never ceasing desire of our hearts, that God may be the beginning and end, the reason and motive, the rule and measure, of our doing, or not doing, from morning to night; then everywhere, whether speaking or silent, whether inwardly or outwardly employed, we are equally offered up to the Eternal Spirit, have our life in Him and from Him, and are united to Him, by that spirit of prayer, which is the comfort, the support, the strength and security of the soul, traveling by the help of God, through the vanity of time into the riches of eternity. For this spirit of prayer, let us willingly give up all that we inherit from our fallen father, to be all hunger and thirst after God; and to have no thought or care, but how to be wholly His devoted instruments; everywhere, and in everything, His adoring, joyful, and thankful servants. Have your eyes shut, and ears stopped to everything, that is not a step in that ladder that reaches from earth to heaven.
Reading is good, hearing is good, conversation and meditation are good; but then they are only good at times and occasions, and in a certain degree; and must be used and governed, with such caution, as we eat and drink, and refresh ourselves, or they will bring forth in us the fruits of overindulgence. But the spirit of prayer is for all times, and all occasions; it is a lamp that is to always be burning, a light to be ever shining; everything calls for it, everything is to be done in it, and governed by it; because it is, and means, and wills nothing else, but the whole, of the soul, not doing this or that, but wholly, incessantly given up to God, to be where, and what, and how He pleases.
This state of absolute resignation, naked faith, and pure love of God, is the highest perfection, and most purified life of those, who are born again from above, and who through the divine power become sons of God: and it is neither more nor less, than what our blessed Redeemer has called, and qualified us to long and aspire after, in these words: "Your kingdom come; Your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven." It is to be sought for in the simplicity of a little child, without being captivated with any mysterious depths or heights of speculation; without nature, grace, or creature, but so far as it brings us nearer to God, forces us to forget and renounce everything for Him; to do everything in Him, with Him, and for Him; and to give every breathing, moving, stirring, intention, and desire of our heart, soul, spirit, and life to Him.
Let every creature have your love. Love with its fruits of meekness, patience, and humility, is all that we can wish for to ourselves, and our fellow creatures; for this is to live in God, united to Him, both for time and eternity.
To desire to communicate good to every creature, in as big a degree as we can, and as it is capable of receiving from us, is a divine disposition; for thus God stands unchangeably disposed towards the whole of creation: but let me add my request, as you value the peace which God has brought forth by His Holy Spirit in you, as you desire to be continually taught by an unction from above, that you would on no account enter into any dispute with anyone about the truths of salvation; but give them every help, but that of debating with them; for no man has fitness for the light of the gospel, till he finds an hunger and thirst, and want of something better, than that which he has and is by nature. Yet we ought not to check our inclinations to help others in every way we can. Only do what you do, as a work of God; and then, whatever may be the event, you will have reason to be content with the success that God gives it. "He that has ears to hear, let him hear"; may be enough for you, as well as it was for our blessed Lord.
The next thing that belongs to us, and which is also Godlike, is a true unfeigned patience, and meekness, showing every kind of good will and tender affection towards those that turn a deaf ear to us; looking upon it to be as contrary to God's method, and the good state of our own hearts, to dispute with anyone in contentious words, as to fight with him for the truths of salvation.
"Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," says our blessed Lord. He called no one else, because no one else has ears to hear, or a heart to receive the truths of redemption.
Every man is an ineffective disrupter, till such time as something has disturbed his state, and awakened in him a sensibility of his own evil and miserable nature. We are all afraid, both of inward and outward distress; and yet, till distress comes, our life is but a dream, and we have no awakened sensibility of our own true state.
We are apt to consider intellect and abilities, as the proper qualifications for the reception of divine truths; and wonder that a man of a fine understanding should not immediately embrace just and solid doctrines: but the matter is quite otherwise. Had man kept possession of his first rich and glorious state, there would not have been any foundation for the gospel redemption; and the doctrine of the cross, would have appeared quite unreasonable to be pressed upon him: and therefore says our Lord, "To the poor the gospel is preached." It is solely to them, and no one else: that is, to poor fallen man, that has lost all the true natural riches and greatness of his first divine life; to him is the gospel preached. But if a man knows and feels nothing of this poverty of his nature, he is not that person to whom the gospel belongs: it has no more suitableness to his state, than it had to the unfallen man: and then the greater his intellect and abilities are, the better he will be qualified to show the folly of every doctrine of that salvation, of which he has no need.
Such a man, though he may be of an humane, ingenuous, generous and frank nature, of lively intellect and have much candor, is nevertheless entirely ignorant of the depth of the heart of man, and the necessities of human nature. As yet (though he knows it not) he is only at play and pastime, pleasing himself with supposed deep inquiries after strict truth, while he is only entertaining himself with lively, and wandering images of this and that, just as they happen to occur in his mind. Could but he see himself in the state of the poor distressed prodigal son, and find that he, himself is the very person there recorded, he would then, but not till then, see the fitness and need of that redemption, which is offered him by the mercy of God in CHRIST JESUS. But such a one, is rich; he is sound; light is in his own power, goodness is in his own possession: he feels no distress or darkness; but has a crucible of reason and judgment, that on every occasion separates gold from dross: and, therefore, he must be left to himself, to his own sweet bliss, till something more than argument and disputation awakens him out of these golden dreams.
Let us beware also of the religious Pharisee, who raves against spiritual religion, because it touches the very heart string of all systematical divinity, and shakes the very foundation of every BABEL in every country; for not a system of divinity, since systems were in being, whether popish or Protestant, deserves a better name.
All preachers of the true spiritual mystery of the gospel, of a birth, light and life from above, in and by JESUS CHRIST (which are the mystic writers of every age) were, and will be, treated by the reigning fashionable orthodoxy, as enemies to the outward gospel, and its services, just as the prophets of God (who were the mystic preachers of the Jewish dispensation) were by the then reigning orthodoxy, condemned and despised, for calling people to a spiritual meaning of the dead letter, to a holiness infinitely greater than that of their outward sacrifices, types, and ceremonies.
Whoever he is that has any situation of his own to defend, be it that of a celebrated preacher, a champion for received orthodoxy, a head, a leader, or follower of any sect, or party; or that seems, both in his own eyes, and in the eyes of others, to have made himself significant in any kind of religious distinction; every such person, sooner or later, will find, that he has much of that very same to give up, which hindered the zealous, and eminently religious Pharisees from being converted to CHRIST, in the spirit of a little child.
Nor does it help the matter, that such an one abounds with piety and excellency; for Paul was governed by a spirit of great piety, great excellency, and zeal for God. He says of himself, that when he was persecuting the disciples of Christ, he "lived in all good conscience, as touching the Law blameless, and according to the straightest sect of the Jewish religion": for the Pharisees, though many of them had all that hypocrisy and rottenness which Christ laid to their charge, yet as a sect, they were an order of confessed and resplendent sanctity; and yet the more earnest and upright they were in this kind of zeal for goodness, the more earnestly they opposed and condemned the heavenly mystery of a new life from CHRIST, as appears from St. Paul.
This sect of the Pharisees did not cease with the Jewish church; it only lost its old name; it is still in being, and springs now in the same manner from the gospel, as it did then from the Law: it has the same place, lives the same life, does the same work, minds the same things, has the same goodness at heart, has the same religious honor, and claims to piety, in the Christian, as it had in the Jewish church; and as much mistakes the depths of the mystery of the gospel, as the Pharisees mistook the mystery signified by the letter of the Law and the prophets.
It would be easy to show in several instances, how the leaven of that sect works amongst us, just as it did amongst them. "Have any of the rulers believed on Him?" was the orthodox question of the ancient Pharisees. Now we Christians readily and willingly condemn the weakness and folly of that question; and yet who does not see, that, for the most part, both priest and people, in every Christian country, live and govern themselves by the folly and weakness of the very same spirit which put forth that question: for when God, as He has always done from the beginning of the world, raises up private and illiterate persons, full of light and wisdom from above, so as to be able to discover all the workings of the mystery of iniquity, and to open the ground, and truth, and absolute necessity of such an inward spirit and life of CHRIST revealed in us, as time, carnal wisdom, and worldly policy have departed from; when all this is done, by the weakest instruments of God, in such a simplicity and fullness of demonstration, as may be justly deemed a miracle; do not clergy and laity get rid of it all, though ever so unanswerable, merely by the strength of the Pharisees' good old question, saying with them, "Have any of the rulers believed and taught these things? Has the church in council or convocation? Has Calvin, Luther, Zwinglius, or any of our renowned system makers, ever taught or asserted these matters? "
But hear what our blessed Lord said, of the place, the power, and origin of truth: He refers us not to the current doctrines of the times, or to the systems of men, but to his own name, His own nature, His own divinity hidden in us: "My sheep," says He, "hear My voice." Here the whole matter is decisively determined, both where truth is, and who they are that can have any knowledge of it.
HEAVENLY truth is nowhere spoken but by the voice of CHRIST, nor heard but by the power of CHRIST living in the hearer. As he is the eternal WORD of GOD, that speaks forth all the wisdom, and wonders of GOD; so He alone is the Word, that speaks forth all the life, wisdom, and goodness, that is, or can be in any creature; it can have nothing but what it has in Him and from Him: this is the one unchangeable boundary of truth, goodness, and every perfection of men on earth, or angels in heaven.
Literary learning, from the beginning to the end of time, will have no more of heavenly wisdom, nor any less of worldly foolishness in it, at one time than at another; its nature is one and the same through all ages; what it was in the Jew and the heathen, that same it is in the Christian. Its name, as well as nature, is unalterable, i.e., foolishness with God.
I shall add no more, but the two or three following words.
1. Receive every inward and outward trouble, every disappointment, pain, uneasiness, temptation, darkness, and desolation, with both Your hands, as a true opportunity and blessed occasion of dying to self, and entering into a fuller fellowship with Your self-denying, suffering Savior.
2. Look at no inward or outward trouble in any other view; reject every other thought about it; and then every kind of trial and distress will become the blessed day of Your prosperity.
3. Be afraid of seeking or finding comfort in anything, but God alone: for that which gives you comfort, takes so much of Your heart from God. "Quid est cor purum? cui ex toto, et pure sufficit solus Deus, cui nihil sapit, quod nihil delectat, nisi Deus." That is, what constitutes a pure heart? One to which God alone is totally, and purely sufficient; to which nothing relishes, or gives delight, but God alone.
4. That state is best, which exercises the highest faith in, and fullest resignation to God.
5. What is it you want and seek, but that God may be all in all, in you? But how can this be, unless all creaturely good and evil become as nothing in you, or to you? "Oh anima mea, abstrahe te ab omnibus. Quid tibi cum mutabilibus creaturis? Solum sponsum tuum, qui omnium est author creaturarum, expectans, hoc age, ut cor tuum ille liberum et expeditum semper inveniat, quoties illi ad ipsum venire placuerit." That is, Oh my soul! abstract Yourself from everything. What have you to do with changeable creatures? Waiting, and expecting Your bridegroom, who is the author of all creatures, let it be Your sole concern, that He may find Your heart free and disengaged, as often as it shall please Him to visit you.
Be assured of this, that sooner or later, we must be brought to this conviction, that everything in Adam by nature is evil, and must be entirely given up; and that nothing that is creaturely, can make us better than we are by nature. Happy, therefore, and blessed are all those inward or outward troubles, that hasten this conviction in us; that with the whole strength of our souls, we may be driven to seek ALL from, and in GOD, without the least thought, hope, or contrivance after any other relief: then it is, that we are made truly partakers of the cross of CHRIST; and from the bottom of our hearts shall be enabled to say, with St. Paul, "God forbid that I should glory in anything, save the cross of our Lord JESUS CHRIST: by which I am crucified to the world, and the world is crucified to me."
Give up yourself to God without reserve. This implies such a state or habit of heart, as does nothing of itself, from its own reason, will or choice, but stands always in faith, hope, and absolute dependence upon being led by the Spirit of God into everything that is according to His will; seeking nothing by designing, reasoning, and reflection, how you shall best promote the honor of God, but in singleness of heart, meeting everything that everyday brings forth, as something that comes from GOD, and is to be received, and gone through by you, in such an heavenly use of it, as you would suppose the HOLY JESUS would have done, in such occurrences. This is an attainable degree of perfection; and by having CHRIST and His Spirit always in your eye, and nothing else, you will never be left to yourself, nor without the full guidance of GOD.
Farewell. William Law