An address to Christians William Law
The Treatise on Perfection is a sort of rehearsal for the Serious Call, and it is addressed to the so-called Christian. Law does not speak to the notorious evil liver. His concern is with the people whom the world holds to be respectable and good.
He aims at such people as Crito who: ‘buys Manuals of Devotion … yet is not able to keep pace with them; with Publius, who goes to Church sometimes and reads the Scriptures, but knows not what he reads or prays, his head is so full of politics; as Matrona who has been fifty years eating and drinking, dressing and undressing, paying and receiving visits, she has no profaneness, and if she has no piety it is owing to this, that she never had a spare half hour in her life to think about it’.
You will have gathered from this quotation that Law has hit upon the great device which he developed further in the Serious Call, of creating imaginary characters, or perhaps recording observed ones, to point his meaning. He is rather like Charles Dickens who spent many hours in that London pub by the Thames watching London’s life and characters. These he used as the materials for his novels. It was a literary device used by other writers. To the characters Law observed, who professed to be Christians, he is saying that they mistake the nature of their Christian profession, that:
‘Devotion is founded in great Humility and a full sense of the Vanity and Littleness of everything but God. Christianity is not a school for the teaching of Moral Virtue, the polishing of Manners, or forming us to live a life of this world with Decency and Gentility. It is deeper and more divine in its designs and has much nobler ends than these; it implies an entire change of life, a dedication of ourselves, our souls and bodies unto God, in the strictest and high est sense of the words.’
And so Law makes a frontal attack on the world as he conceives it; the hundred things that distract men and women from God: society, with its endless visits, and its concern with possessions. Scholarship in the narrow sense of the collector’s pride, and the quibbler’s concern with texts; even public affairs if they absorb the whole man and infect him with place hunting; even religious observance that dulls the spirit into a false security. For ‘it is not any number of moral virtues, no partial obedience, no modes of wor ship, no extreme acts of adoration, no Articles of Faith, but a new Principle of Life, an entire change of temper that makes us true Christians.’
‘How unlike are Christians to Christianity!’ says Law. This treatise is his careful and uncompromising study of the actual words and teaching of Christ; it is the book of simple obedience to Jesus. ND
Edited by Arthur Middleton