A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy life by William Law, A.M (1686-1761)
I must admit that reading ‘A Serious Call to a Devout and a Holy life’ has been both challenging and though provoking. The book has quite a serious tone to it can come across as very judgemental. However as I continued reading I began to grapple with the meaning and spiritual content of Law’s writing as well as its relevance and spiritual impact for me and for people in general.
Once I got over the unfamiliar words like ‘betwixt’ ,‘peity’ and fops and the language of the book I began to grapple with Law’s intended intent of the book. According to Law, ‘Devotion signifies a life given, or devoted, to God’ (Law 1994: pg 3) Law is very critical about peoples’ definition of devotion and I can easily compare what he wrote over 200 years ago with what is happening today. Preachers preach just for the glory and riches instead of living devoted to God. They preach one thing and do another. Law’s examples of both clergymen and ‘ordinary’ people are strangely familiar. It’s as if he is talking about our present world. His analysis of people’s fascination with clergymen that are eloquent and smartly dressed but are not devoted to God can be applied to present times.
‘And it is as possible for a man to worship a crocodile, and yet be a pious man, as to have his affections set upon this world, and yet be a good Christian.’ (Law 1994: pg 10). These words struck a chord in me. The idea that you can you can live a worldly lifestyle yet be a good Christian. It sounds like Law is living in present day and not in the past. You can do all the things Christians do but still be far from God. My favourite animal is a crocodile and while I am typing this essay, I am sitting looking at the crocodile painting that is hanging on the wall, directly above my laptop. The ‘irony’ doesn’t escape me so when I read this crocodile example it gave me the motivation to continue reading this book and grapple with God is trying to tell me through this book.
Law argues if the Gospel does not change a person what is the point. I
agree with him but that’s how people live nowadays and I can imagine that’s
how people lived in his time. As a Christian am I living a devout life? or am I
just being a Christian because it is expected of me? This book has really made
me think about my devotion to God and not to the institution.
According to Law, ‘If our common life is not a common course of
humility, self-denial, renunciation of the world, poverty of spirit and heavenly
affection, we do not live the lives of Christians.’ (Law 1994: pg 8) By this
definition many of the so called Christians today cannot be called Christians.
Although Law concedes that only God can judge, his definition does make me
pause and introspect. I know I live under grace and my salvation is not based
on works but I am and will keep grappling with this definition.
Laws’ example of the young man of 35, Penitens, dying and his
‘conversation’ with the people around him made me pause and think about the
meaning of my life since I am presently a year older. What would my thoughts
be on my dying bed? Will I be a peace dying so young? His analysis is quite
profound. (Law 1994: pg 24)
According to Law, ‘Now the reason of common swearing is this; it is
because men have not so much as the intention to please God in all their
actions’ (Law 1994: pg 12) Law has come to the conclusion that people do the
wrong thing because they do have an intention to please God, the mere fact that
they are a Christian in name is good enough, being Christ like is not necessary.
It sounds so familiar it’s as if he talking about present day.
Laws’ advice to the reader of this book is that he or she should follow
what God and the scriptures say and not on what fellow Christians are doing. I
agree and have tried to live like this. If this book was rewritten so that present
day people can understand I think more people would come to this conclusion
instead of thinking that Law is being judgemental. (Law 1994: pg 15)
We are, in the current circumstances, isolated in our homes so there is no
sport happening but Laws’ analysis of a man loving sport more than attending
church being about his intention and not him not wanting to attend church hit
home. I remember when the Rugby World Cup was on last year how many
people didn’t come to church because the games were on Sunday. I love
watching Rugby but it seemed people were more interested in the sport than
about attending church. It’s about people’s heart towards God rather than the
act itself. (Law 1994: pg. 17)
According to Law, For God has there made no promises of mercy to the
slothful and negligent. His mercy is only offered to our frail and imperfect, but
best endeavours, to practice all manner of righteousness’ (Law 1994: pg. 22) I
honestly do not know if I agree with this statement or not. I will grapple with
this in days to come. I understand that God is a judge yet His mercy is extended
to everyone. If I apply this to me personally I pray that I do not become
negligent and slothful in pursuing a devoted life to God. For me it’s not an end
result but the journey in my walk with God. Even if I take God for granted, the
amazing thing about God is that He doesn’t treat as our sins deserve. David
Psalm 103:10-14 New International Version (NIV)
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
According to Laws’ if you have to think about your actions and how it
pleases God then you not in reverencing God. ‘He has not learnt the nature of
piety, who thinks it too much to be pious in all his actions”. (Law 1994: pg. 47)
For me I have learnt from this statement that how I do things doesn’t bother
God as much as why I am doing it. It’s a heart issue and that, for me is what law
is getting at in a roundabout way is this book. You can’t live a Devout and Holy
life if your heart is not towards God.
Laws’ statement about the consequences of sleep and when and what one
should pray sounds like a list of rules one should follow. According to Law,
‘Sleep is such a dull, stupid state of existence…’ Its statement like these that
made this book difficult to read. It has a religious tone but I learnt what certain
hour means now, so I learnt something and I will be conscious now about what
the hour of prayer means. Like I said before I tried to apply what Law said and
not judge what he saying.
According to Law, ‘Devotion is nothing else but right apprehensions and right
affection towards God’ (Law 1994: pg. 161). To me this means that my heart
towards God matter above else but I am not sure if Law brings this across in his
book. I grappled with the words he wrote but believe this is what he meant.
Law is very adamant in his book that we should do everything we can and
grateful for what we have and show devotion to God. According to Law ‘All
that we have, all that we are, all that we enjoy, are only so many talents from
God….’ (Law 1994: pg. 115). These words reiterate the fact that devotion To
God is a heart issue and not a set of rules. Law gets his message across but in a
very difficult and complex way.
According to Law, man uses religion as a scapegoat to make him feel better
that he is following the rules but devotion as stated before is a heart issue. (Law
1994: pg. 161) I believe that is the heart of Laws’ book that devotion to God
and living a holy life comes from our love for him and not a set of rules.
Apart from the crocodile analogy I enjoyed reading how Law
demonstrates how to worship God and use my imagination. I will definitely
read that chapter again and again because it teaches me how to get into the
presence of God and gives me practical steps on how to enter the presence of
God. I did not sense a judgemental tone in that chapter. Only when we get into the presence of God then we understand who we devoted too. Devotion starts because He loved us first. I am devoted to God because I experience His presence and he is real.
‘There is nothing that so powerfully governs the heart, that so strongly excites us to wise and reasonable actions, as a true sense of God’s presence, But as we cannot see, or apprehend the essence of God, so nothing will so constantly keep us under a lively sense of the presence of God, as the holy resignation which attributes everything to Him and receives everything as from Him’ (Law 1994: pg. 161)
In pages 207 to 213 Law writes about the advice Paternus gives to his son. The advice is filled with encouraging ways to follow God and how to live one’s life. All of Laws examples and people stories impacted me more that the rules he set for me to follow. The way the people lived and the comparisons between devout and non-devout Christians and people that didn’t believe in God was quite an eye opener
There is a lot of spiritual content in this book. As I said in the beginning that this book was very difficult to read but so worth it because I learnt that devotion is a heart issue and Law himself was just human. It’s as he upset at the people around him and now he is trying to rectify the situation.
This book has thought me that even though something is difficult does not mean it’s not worth doing. The comparisons between Laws’ time and present time is identical and it seems that Christians have not learnt how to live a life devoted to God so that means Law writings are still relevant today. In order for present day people to really understand the spiritual impact of this book one should written it in a way that people understand, make it relevant for today.
In conclusion I would like to say that this book has impacted how I think about my devotion to God and how I live my daily life. Law made me think about how I pray, worship and just go on with my daily life. I do believe in the Grace and mercy of Jesus and therefore will keep reading this book in relation to the bible but as stated above Law has relevant points that are applicable to todays’ life. I truly hope that this book can be rewritten in a way that can be understood by this generation. It can really make a difference in how we view Devotion with God and the practical steps needed to live this Christian walk.
Man has strived to complete many accomplishments in his lifetime. We want the perfect house, career, relationship, outer appearance, and yet so many of us of have not even begun to strive for the battle towards spiritual perfection. We live in an age where man looks upon man to emulate perfection that the world will adore, yet they disregard the only perfect rolemodel in recorded history. Jesus Christ proved true perfection in Christianity. Jesus had nothing, but everything at the same time. You might think it impossible to strive for the level of holiness Jesus Christ displayed. Do not despair, for complete devotion and holiness only requires your decision to choose Jesus each and every day. In this essay I will discuss William Law’s masterpiece a call to a devout and holy life. The content will illuminate your ideologies of a devout Christian life through three main points. Firstly, the deeply rooted religious practices that supports the devout Christian to grow within religion. Secondly the ripple effect of the divine effect of a truly devout Christian in his/her varied states of life. Lastly my respective personal response towards the messages within the book.
I believe there is a myriad of lessons to be learnt from the fauna and flora that surrounds us; our daily lives truly reflects what happens in Mother Nature. It is a universal truth that all religions around the world are rooted in historically the exemplary behaviour of religious figures. In the Islamic religion prophet Mohammed displayed great obedience to Allah by being His Apostle, and wise and insightful prophet. More so, in the Holy bible Noah, who is seen by God as being the most righteous in his generation, was spared by the massive flood that destroyed humankind because of their disobedience. Before one can even attempt to emulate their divine religious behaviour, one needs have deep roots within in his/her religion. The Holy Bible tells us that when all else fails, and when we cannot find the solution to our problems, we shall find it on our knees. Prayer is one fundamental form of devotion that opens the communicational gateway to God. It is the universal sign of love, care and devotion for a higher power and for ones fellow creatures. To truly experience the power of prayer you need to understand that it requires more than just ornate words. Law ( 1761 ) states that whilst you are clothed with pride; heavenly petitions, whilst you are hoarding up treasures upon earth; holy devotions, whilst you live in the follies of the world; prayers of meekness and charity, whilst your heart is the seat of pride and resentment; hours of prayer, whilst you give up days and years to idle diversions, impertinent visits, and foolish pleasures; are as absurd, unacceptable services to God, as forms of thanksgiving from a person that lives in repining and discontent. Our prayers must reflect our true intentions and temper of our lives. It is therefore pivotal that you pray from the heart, and confess your pride, worldly nature and pleasures on bended knees, before you render any service unto your fellow creature and God. In essence, prayer is the holy flame that illuminates the true characteristics of a devout Christian. More so, scripture teaches us what the devout Christian should look like. This gives us an idea of where we are, and where we want to be with regards to our human nature, moral compass, and balance between good and bad virtues. We do not come into this world without the promise that we will not be tempted by the corrupt nature of the world. We can change our own nature if we devote our scriptures and prayers to holiness. “When at any time, either in reading the Scripture or any book of piety, you meet with a passage that more than ordinarily affects your mind, and seems, as it were, to give your heart a new motion towards God, you should try to turn it into the form of a petition, and then give it a place in your prayers”. (Law, 1761, p.95). Aside from the Holy bible, there are a myriad of scriptures and song that displays piety, and that references famous scriptures in the bible uplifting and motivating Christians to carry their cross and continue their religious duties. Exposing your mind and heart to devotional scriptures will keep you rooted deeper within your religion and the gospel. From the dawn of creation we have learnt that it is in our nature to tempt and be tempted. From our early childhood years we are guided by our parental guardians to display the best moral behaviour we possibly can. The help and guidance of our families can only stretch that far. The day will come when we will have to guide ourselves. Law (1761) profoundly states that for one of the greatest benefits of private devotion consists in rightly adapting our prayers to two conditions, — the difference of our state, and the difference of our hearts. By the difference of our state, is meant the difference of our external state or condition, as of sickness, health, pains, losses, disappointments, troubles, particular mercies, or judgments, from God; all sorts of kindnesses, injuries, or reproaches, from other people. The next condition, to which we are always to adapt some part of our prayers, is the difference of our hearts; by which is meant the different state of the tempers of our hearts, as of love, joy, peace, tranquillity, dullness and dryness of spirit, anxiety, discontent, motions of envy and ambition, dark and disconsolate thoughts, resentments, fretfulness, and peevish tempers. That our prayers should be enlarged, varied, and suited to the particular state and condition of our lives. The two conditions highlight the necessity of prayer. The two conditions influence each other in a direct way. The state of the heart must be filled with the desired tempers of a pious Christian. If his/her heart is corrupted by disconsolate thoughts and tempers then that will have a negative effect on his moral behaviour. The moral behaviour and decisions cannot possibly portray a devout Christian’s, and will have an effect on the external state and condition of the individual. A tranquil heart will overcome worldly losses. A loving heart will not judge his fellow creatures. In contrast, a dark and disconsolate heart will only fuel troubles and disappointments. For these reasons, equal devotion in prayers towards these conditions will result in a healthy state of mind and heart.
A truly devout Christian knows that he serves an all-powerful, knowing, present and living God. It is therefore that he displays a religious mind, body and spirit through the different states of his/her daily life. When we have created a solid foundation within our religion through prayer, scripture and Christian tempers, we are ready to let our Christian piety branch towards our different states of life. “God may be served and glorified in every state of life. But as there are some states of life more desirable than others, that more purify our natures, that more improve our virtues, and dedicate us unto God in a higher manner, so those who are at liberty to choose for themselves seem to be called by God to be more eminently devoted to His service”. (Law, 1761, p.85). The devout Christian must display a calm mind if he/she experiences a loss of business, because of a new competitor. The devout Christian must show love and compassion to his fellow colleagues who do not display the same tempers as him within the workplace. The devout Christian must display a high regard for the care of his holy temple. He should be openhanded and give unto the poor, and to be a mouthpiece of the love and mercy of God. The devout Christian should manage his estate in such a manner that shows growth and abundance. In contrast, if the individual does not serve God with his whole body, heart and mind, then his efforts to be a light to the world is fruitless. God’s nature, through the example of his son Jesus Christ must be practiced wherever you find yourself. You cannot please the sinners of this world and God at the same time. He wants all of you, as he is a jealous God. How profound is it that God gives us the authority to serve him in all our states of life. Though our profession we serve with passion, love and care. The teacher instilling values to our young minds. The paramedic humbly saving lives on a daily basis. The pastor who preaches the Gospel each Sunday, helping restore the faith of the weary and troubled through prayer, song, scripture and guidance. You do not have to be an esteemed professional or a highly respected ministerial to bear the fruits of religion. If you have pure intentions to do well in the world, God will surely give you the strength, wisdom, love and spirit to do so in your own small way that you can.
William Law’s masterpiece revealed one personal thing to me that we all fail to see; we are the body of Christ. We minister in our own unique way. I am not a holy Christian, and neither a reckless sinner. I see myself as an imperfectly perfect creature working in the His garden with my gift and in the body of Christ to walk in his will. My only goal in this life is to try to follow Jesus’s example of caring for the downtrodden, extending kindness to strangers, and loving one’s enemies. And in return for my work on earth I want to have my name written in the book of life. I have grown through reading this book, and now I intend to teach its principles to the individuals who I am fortunate to meet one day. We all have gifts given to us by our creator. It is the responsibility of our guardians and self to discover and grow within these gifts. “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (1 Peter 4:10, nas). Many young children feel they do not belong or have a sense of purpose in life. Our duty as guardians is to teach them that they possess a gift from God that enables them to work for his kingdom, so that one day he/she can inherit it. If we helped children grow within their gifts then we automatically create a better life for them and help society foster a sense of love, belongingness and kindness. As a third year education student I have noticed that not all learners are not taught in a holistic way within the classroom and household. If we focused our equal attention on the teaching of the mind, body, and spirit in applicable ways then we can decrease the erosion of values and ill behaviour within the classroom, and wider society. The values that are cherished by society will grow, and that society will flourish.
All teachers should realize that seated before them are learners who possess the gift of: perceiving (the eyes of the body). They perceive God’s will in various degrees and situations. In addition we should all seek the wisdom of God through the scripture in examples given in the Bible. The second is the gift of serving (the hands of the body) they serve the Lord and others in a variety of ways. Thirdly, we are to teach (the mind of the body) others in appropriate ways. Fourthly we are to exhort, admonish, and encourage others. The gift of giving (hands of the body) requires us to give all our resources and energies to God and others. Administering, you are to lead as God calls you to do so. Showing compassion (heart of the body) we should show love, compassion and mercy towards others. Like my prospective learners who subconsciously possess and display their gifts, I too have discovered the process of being a worker for Christ. I need to be rooted within my religion through daily prayer. In my prayer I repent, give thanks, and most importantly adapt my prayers to my external state and the state of my heart. I allow myself to be taught in scripture. I look to the holy scripts to study the exemplary behaviour displayed by biblical rolemodels, so that I can build towards their behaviour. Prayer and scripture come to a marriage where I discover my true nature, moral compass and balance between good and bad virtues. In essence, prayer, scripture and your temper are three foundational pillars that are interwoven, and help you grow within yourself (self-discovery). It serves as a barrier that protects you from the worldly temptations and pleasures of the world. Furthermore, to make sense of this trinity I relate it to the human body. Your mind houses the potential to meditate on scripture, heavenly things and strive for holiness. Our body is our sacrifice to God. Through abstaining from worldly pleasures, worldly dress, and fasting we display our devotedness to our Lord and saviour like He did. Growing within our spirit (heart) requires continuous prayer for our two conditions. We pray for good health and mercy to continue the work of Christ (concerning our external state). We pray for a loving, joyful, peaceful heart that will triumph over a hateful, envious ungrateful one.
In addition, when I am adequately grounded within the trinity in my mind, body, heart (soul) I can start to work with the body of Christ by ploughing the land so that I can bear fruits of a heavenly nature. I want to see God’s lessons, mercy and love all around me (eyes of the body). I want to serve my fellow creature like Jesus, when he washed the feet of His disciples (hands of the body). I want to be taught by Jesus like His disciples who followed Him (mind of the body). I want to use my mouth to exhort, admonish and encourage the weary through prayer and scripture ( mouth of the body). I want my hands to be blessed like our Saviours when He fed the five loaves of bread and two fish to the hungry. I want hands that are never closed to my brethren in need, and always open to receive God’s blessing. I want a heart of compassion (heart of the body) like our Jehovah who died on the cross for our salvation.
In conclusion, if we are to be like our holy and devout Jesus we must be like mustard seed deeply rooted in Christ. We are to give everything unto Him, and never lose our faith in him. When we are strengthened in Him we can branch out towards our fellow man, to shed light on a better path. Through our gifts we work together to be the sunlight that shines though some one elses cloudy day. I hope that you are reminded that you are worthy and placed within his body. I hope that you are inspired to grow within your spiritual relationship with your creator. But most of all I hope that you find and grow within your life’s purpose and spread the love of God like he did when he sent his only begotten Son to show us His truth, way and indescribable love.
Law. W (1761). A serious Call to a devout and Holy Life. London: Printed for William Innys at the West End of St Pauls.