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William Law

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William Law

William Law
Born 1686
Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire
Died 9 April 1761
Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire
Honored in
Anglican Communion
Feast 10 April
William Law (1686 – 9 April 1761) was a House of Stuart and is sometimes considered a second-generation non-juror (an earlier generation of non-jurors included Thomas Ken). Thereafter, Law first continued as a simple priest (curate) and when that too became impossible without the required oath, Law taught privately, as well as wrote extensively. His personal integrity, as well as mystic and theological writing greatly influenced the evangelical movement of his day as well as Enlightenment thinkers such as the writer Dr Samuel Johnson and the historian Edward Gibbon. Law's spiritual writings remain in print today.

Early life

Law was born at Stuarts. His Jacobitism had already been betrayed in a tripos speech. As a non-juror, he was deprived of his fellowship.

For the next few years Law is said to have been a curate in London. By 1727 he lived with Edward Gibbon (1666–1736) at Archibald Hutcheson, MP for Hastings.

The household dispersed in 1737. Law by 1740 retired to Kings Cliffe, where he had inherited from his father a house and a small property. There he was joined by Elizabeth Hutcheson, the rich widow of his old friend (who recommended on his death-bed that she place herself under Law's spiritual guidance) and Hester Gibbon, sister to his late pupil. For the next 21 years, the trio devoted themselves to worship, study and charity, until Law died on 9 April 1761.

Bangorian controversy and after

The first of Law's controversial works was Three Letters to the Bishop of Bangor (1717), a contributions to the Bangorian controversy on the high church side. It was followed by Remarks on Mandeville's Fable of the Bees (1723), in which he vindicated morality; it was praised by John Sterling, and republished by F. D. Maurice. Law's Case of Reason (1732), in answer to Tindal's Christianity as old as the Creation is to some extent an anticipation of Joseph Butler's argument in the Analogy of Religion. His Letters to a Lady inclined to enter the Church of Rome are specimens of the attitude of a high Anglican towards Catholicism.

Writings on practical divinity

A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728), together with its predecessor, A Practical Treatise Upon Christian Perfection (1726), deeply influenced the chief actors in the great Evangelical revival. Lord Lyttelton and Bishop Home all spoke enthusiastically of its merits; and it is still the work by which its author is popularly known. It has high merits of style, being lucid and pointed to a degree.

In a tract entitled The Absolute Unlawfulness of Stage Entertainments (1726) Law was tempted by the corruptions of the stage of the period to use unreasonable language, and incurred some effective criticism from John Dennis in The Stage Defended.

His writing is anthologised by various denominations, including in the Classics of Western Spirituality series by the Catholic Paulist Press.


In his later years, Law became an admirer of Jakob Böhme, the German theosopher. From his meeting with the works of Böhme, about 1734, mysticism appeared in his works. These mystical tendencies separated Law from the practical-minded Wesley.


Law is honoured on 10 April with a feast day on the Calendar of saints, the Calendar of saints (Episcopal Church in the United States of America) and other Anglican churches.

List of works

  • A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1729)
  • (1737)A Demonstration of the Gross and Fundamental Errors of a late Book called a Plain Account, etc., of the Lord's Supper
  • The Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Regeneration (1731)
  • Appeal to all that Doubt and Disbelieve the Truths of Revelation (1740)
  • An Earnest and Serious Answer to Dr Trapp's Sermon on being Righteous Overmuch (1740)
  • (1749, 1752)The Spirit of Prayer
  • The Way to Divine Knowledge (1752)
  • The Spirit of Love (1752, 1754)
  • A Short but Sufficient Confutation of Dr Warburton's Projected Defence (as he calls it) of Christianity in his Divine Legation of Moses (1757). Reply to The Divine Legation of Moses.
  • A Series of Letters (1760)
  • A Dialogue between a Methodist and a Churchman (1760)
  • An Humble, Earnest and Affectionate Address to the Clergy (1761) renamed "The Power of the Spirit" by Andrew Murray in his 1896 reprint.
  • You Will Receive Power
  • The Way to Christ by Jakob Boehme, translated by William Law


  1. ^ "I became a sort of lax talker against religion, for I did not think much against it; and this lasted until I went to Oxford, where it would not be suffered. When at Oxford, I took up Law's Serious Call, expecting to find it a dull book (as such books generally are), and perhaps to laugh at it. But I found Law quite an overmatch for me; and this was the first occasion of my thinking in earnest of religion after I became capable of rational inquiry.", Samuel Johnson, recounted in James Boswell's, Life of Johnson, ch. 1.



External links

  • William Law Page at Jacob Boehme Online
  • Quotations related to William Law at Wikiquote
  • The Mystical Writings of William Law webpage
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