William Law’s Spirit of Love: Rationalist Argument and Behemist Myth

  • Patrick Grant


For William Law (1686–1761) the world without God is tragic and absurd. This is the main point of his best-known book, A Serious Call to a Devoutand Holy Life (1729), in which he describes true devotion — the disposition, that is, of one ‘who lives no longer to his own will … but to the sole will of God’.1 Law does not cut corners: ‘The short of the matter is this, either Reason and Religion prescribe rules and ends to all the ordinary actions of our life, or they do not: If they do, then it is as necessary to govern all our actions by those rules, as it is necessary to worship God’ (p. 10). Among Law’s ‘rules’ are directives for regular prayer, recommendations on the charitable use of money and time, injunctions to universal love, and, especially, an insistence on the inner nature of true religion (in a notorious phrase he points out there is ‘not one command in all the Gospel for Public Worship’ — ibid.). Religion, in brief, supplies ‘strict rules of using everything’ (p. 100), and will therefore ‘relieve our ignorance’ by saving us ‘from tormenting ourselves’ (p. 99). Although Law agrees that the strict piety he advises might at first seem oppressive and anxiety-producing (p. 93), it is, he concludes, really the opposite, as the test of common experience will prove.


Spiritual Life Lightning Flash Natural Religion Spiritual Truth Universal Love 
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  1. 1.
    A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, in The Works of William Law, 9 vols (Setley, Hants: G. Moreton, 1892–3; first published 1762) iv, 7. Page numbers are cited in the text.Google Scholar
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© Patrick Grant 1985

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  • Patrick Grant

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