by William Law
Edited with Commentary by Fred Pruitt
(This text is taken from Law’s, “An Affectionate Address to the Clergy,” published in 1761, just weeks before he passed out of this world and into the Lord. This has been hidden in the vault for a couple of years and had been forgotten. But Linda Bunting reminded me today about a William Law piece I had sent her a while back. So when I could get in front of my laptop I dove in looking for it and anything else connected, intrigued but not knowing what I would find. Among other things, I found this. There isn’t a Part Two yet but I would like there to be. Pray for me in this regard por favor. Like a painter often has numerous incomplete or works in progress laying around — I’m that way with these writings. I know from being married to a songwriter it’s that way for them, too. It’s great to finish one every so often. Also, anything below contained in [ ] brackets, are my additions. )
A Little Review
William Law was a priest of the Church of England (CE) from 1711 until his death in 1761. He had two very distinct “periods” in his life of ministry and writing. In the early period he wrote quite a few books and tracts that were popular among the church people of that day. His most popular and one of the few early-period works to survive and still be in print is “A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.” It attracted many of the leading evangelicals in the CE, including John and Charles Wesley. He actually had a close relationship with them for a while. That changed when Law’s writings changed.
Serious Call’s popularity was based on what it unknowingly “taught,” i.e., self-effort. The world, and the “world” among the brethren eats that up. (It doesn’t know anything else.) It was an early “here’s what you can do to get closer to God” book, the type which flies off the shelves of bookstores, real or virtual, to this day.
The “change” that occurred which so altered Law’s writings, happened because of his discovering and immersing himself in Jacob Boehme’s writings from the previous century. That was too much for many of his previous friends who walked away from him at the time. John Wesley even went so far as to publicly denounce him.
However, for all our sakes I am glad that William Law kept on writing, always clarifying, opening for me and countless others many of the Kingdom’s inner depths. He heavily influenced many whose names we wouldn’t recognize in our time, but the most notable we can refer to was Andrew Murray, who based much of what he knew and wrote on William Law. William Wilberforce, the great English “abolitionist,” was another greatly influenced by Law.
One more thing. Law wrote in English prose style of the mid-18th century. Sentences tended to be longer and structured differently from the style today. I’ve taken the liberty to smooth some of it out a little, and to cut out the capitalization of too many words. That just gets on the nerves of the contemporary reader!
Also, Law extensively uses the word “Self.” Mystical writings at that time and prior to that used the term, “Self,” in the same sense we now use “independent self.” Therefore, Law’s description of the “Self-life” is spot-on as the Spirit has opened it in me.
The format for this is to first present some passages from the book, always in quotes, followed by indented paragraphs for the commentary.
So now let’s move on. I’m not here to be William Law’s biographer, but hopefully, an expresser of the Truth of the Spirit in this little study. On now —
”Self” is the Root …
“Self is the root, the tree, and the branches of all the evils of our fallen state. We are without God because we are in the Life of Self. Self-love, Self-esteem, and Self-seeking, are the very essence, and life of pride; and the devil the first father of pride, is never absent from them, nor without power in them. To die to these essential properties of self, is to make the devil depart from us. But as soon as we would have self-abilities [an “own” righteousness]* in order to have a share in our good works, the satanic spirit of pride is in union with us, and we are working for the maintenance of self-love, self-esteem, and self-seeking.” (Rom 7:21) * [Own righteousness = pretty self-evident. The ridiculous notion I can have my own, separate righteousness, by rigid obedience to the commandments, as “doing my part” so God can do His, i.e., reward me for my self-progress — NOT!]
FP Comment: In a sense I am starting this in the middle of how William Law presented these truths. Those who have read my writings or either Law or Boehme will be in familiar territory. To those who are just beginning to look into these things, have patience and the Spirit will make it all plain. I am not looking for anyone to understand me. It’s the Spirit of “Christ-in-YOU” Whose understanding I seek for each and every one of us.
The root of everything in God is founded in the understanding of “Self” or “Being” in God, and the manifestation thereof. (I’ve written on this several times and will refer the reader to more in-depth discussions of this elsewhere so that we might move more quickly into this study. I’m not looking to write the Encyclopedia Britannica. I couldn’t anyway, if I tried. I’ve only got a Golden Book Encyclopedia brain!)
Let the paragraph quoted above, be the introduction into this incredible exposition by William Law.
And really, his first statement in that passage, “Self is the root …” says it all!
To briefly comment – “You are without God because you are in the life of Self.”
The “Self” that Law puts forth, is self-full-of-itself, so that it has no room for anything but itself. One may not dwell in God and in “Self” at the same time, because it is this self-sufficient self that excludes God. There’s no room in that inn.
Therefore, the only possibility for that closed-up self-sufficient Self in that moment, having excluded God (its only means of escape) from the whole of its being, is to become trapped in the fire with no escape. In the inner workings of the Father in the deepest root in His Being is the FIRE of His Person. It’s a fire of passion, a fire of desire, a fire of love.
This Fire produces movement and friction, which inflames the passion even more. It’s a fire of desire because it wants to go out of itself, to expand, while at the same time drawing into itself, to hold what it seeks outside itself. It is right here that it gets trapped. It is because the desire to “go out” is opposed by the desire to “draw in,” which then causes a merry-go-round of contrariety between conflicting desires or conflicting emotions. Unless something comes from outside the merry-go-round and cools the smoking embers almost ready to burst into flame, that is what happens. The birth of “Wrath!” The four pillars of the kingdom of darkness – pride, covetousness, envy and wrath.
But that’s where the Light steps in, just prior to the birth of wrath, and cools the fires with the Love of the Son and energizes what potentially would be wrath and changes it into the Fire of His outgoing love, not known in the searing of flesh with fire, but in gentleness and the warmth that comes from the Fire along with light which irradiates the landscape with beatific vision. End of FP Comment
William Law continues ….
“All the vices of fallen angels and men have their birth and power in the pride of self, or I may better say, in the atheism and idolatry of self; for self is both atheist and idolator. It is atheist, because it has rejected God; it is an idolator, because it is its own idol. On the other hand, all the virtues of the heavenly life are the virtues of humility. Not a joy, or glory, or praise in heaven, would be what it is unless it came through humility. It is humility alone that bridges the unpassable gulf between heaven and hell. There would be no angels in heaven, except that humility is in all their breath; nor would there be devils in hell, had not the fire of pride become their whole fire of life.
“What is then, or in what lies the great struggle for eternal life? It all lies in the strife between pride and humility: all other things, be they what they will, are but as common laborers; pride and humility are the two master powers, the two kingdoms of strife for the eternal possession of man.
“And here it is to be observed, that every son of Adam is in the service of pride and self, be he doing what he will, till a humility that comes solely from heaven has been his Redeemer. Till then, all that he doth will be only done by the right hand, that the left hand may know it. And he that thinks it possible for the natural man to get a better humility than this from his own right reason (as it is often miscalled) refined by education, shows himself quite ignorant of this one most plain and capital truth of the Gospel, namely, that there never was, nor ever will be, but one humility in the whole world, and that is the one humility of Christ, which never any man, since the fall of Adam, had the least degree of but from Christ. Humility is one, in the same Sense and Truth, as Christ is one, the Mediator is one, Redemption is one. There are not two Lambs of God that take away the Sins of the World. But if there was any Humility besides that of Christ, there would be something else besides him that could take away the sins of the world.
“All that came before me,” says Christ, “were thieves and robbers”: We are used to confining this to persons; but the same is as true of every virtue, whether it has the name of humility, charity, piety, or anything else; if it comes before Christ, however good it may pretend to be, it is but a cheat, a thief, and a robber, under the name of godly virtue. And the reason is, because pride and self, have the all of man, until man has his all from Christ. He therefore only fights the good fight, whose strife is, that the self-idolatrous nature which he hath from Adam may be brought to death, by the supernatural humility of Christ brought to Life in Him.
End Part One