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King's Cliffe Demoralized.
the clerical mind-of his day. And in the little fracas which occurred between him and his rector, a parochial clergyman can hardly help feeling some sympathy with the rector. For he knows that that Bashi-Bazouk sort of charity, particularly when exercised by churchmen without the direction of the chief churchman in the place, who, if he does his duty, must know best the wants of the poor under his charge, is a very embarrassing thing in a parish. Perhaps Mr. Piemont did not take the kindest or most judicious course, when he made use of the vantage ground which his pulpit gave him, to condemn the indiscriminate alms-giving of Law and his friends. But it must be remembered that Law was a formidable antagonist to meet, face to face; and one can quite understand, if one cannot quite approve of, the policy of his clergyman in giving Law a piece of his mind, where he was safe from retort. Matters, however, came to a crisis in the following letter, which explains itself. It is dated King's Cliffe, February 21, 1753,' and is headed :
"A Letter to the writer and subscribers of a certain paper presented to George Lynn, Esq., and the neighbouring Justices of the Peace, praying for justice and judgment against us, in behalf of this parish, as being, amongst other things, the occasion of the miserable poverty of the said parish.
It runs thus : 'We observe that great part of this paper contains an idle narrative of such matters as the justices can administer no relief to. And, therefore, we must believe that they are related only as an occasion of preferring a complaint against us, and to prevent that gratitude which is due to us from the parish,
Ever since we came to this place, full of good will to do all the good in it that we could, we have been railed at from the pulpit in the most outrageous manner; and scarce a Sunday has passed without edifying the people with
The Inhabitants Complain.
some or other the most reproachful reflections cast upon us. Nobody can be a stranger to this, but he who is a stranger to the church.
But this treatment from the pulpit we were determined to bear with, for the sake of that good which we so much wished to the parish, looking upon it as unreasonable that the town should suffer for the unchristian behaviour of its
But since so many considerable inhabitants of the town have thought it proper, in conjunction with their minister, to set their names to the truth and justice of this complaint against us, as helping to increase the poverty of the town, we have also thought it proper to make known to all the parish that we will no longer do them this injury, but grant them all that relief ourselves for which they have applied to the justices. We will immediately put a stop to everything that we have set on foot, and stay no longer here, than till we can conveniently remove. And though it is our intention, by the grace of God, never to make any other use of our fortunes than as we have done here, yet as to this place, all is at an end, unless such reasons should arise for our staying here, as do not yet appear to us. And we make no doubt that every gentleman in the neighbourhood, whether he be a Justice of the Peace or not, and every person of sense and goodness, will approve of this our resolution. Your hearty friends and wellwishers,-ELIZ. HUTCHESON, HESTER GIBBON, WILLIAM LAW.'
Then follows a postscript, desiring the parish officers to call a public meeting before which the letter might be read, and expressing an intention of drawing up a memorial of all that had been done, to be presented to the bishop and gentry of the neighbourhood.
Happily, however, the affair seems to have blown over. The good people did not execute their threat of removing ;
Healing of the Dispute.
in the very next year we find the name of the rector among the trustees of Mrs. Hutcheson's newly-founded charity, and we hear of no more troubles at Cliffe. The charities still went on; and if the dispute caused a little more discrimination to be shown, good came out of evil. Mr. Piemont died two years before Law, and was succeeded by a Mr. Howard, who married Mr. Law's great-niece; wê may therefore hope that at the close of his life, Law's relations with the ecclesiastical authorities of the place were more satisfactory.
Here we must pause in the account of Law's outer life. Other matters connected with it, such as his relations to his friends and opponents, as well as to the various sects with which he was more or less brought into contact, cannot be properly understood, until we have considered what Law's system of theology was in his later years. This, therefore, will be the subject of the next chapter.
Law's Later Theology.
LAW'S LATER THEOLOGY.
ALTHOUGH William Law is now best known as the author of · The Serious Call, and although he is admitted to have been almost without an equal as a controversial writer in his day, still his most remarkable works are those which will now come under our notice. For both in his practical and his controversial treatises he only did what others were doing. He did his work better indeed than most of his contemporaries ; but the difference is one of degree rather than of kind. As an English mystic he is unique. Of course there were others in England both before and after him who held similar views; but hardly one, at least in the eighteenth century, who had any pretensions to be called an English classic.
The fascination which Jacob Behmen's writings exercised over Law's mind has already been referred to. It remains for us to consider what he wrote when that spell was upon him ; that is, from about the year 1734 to almost the day of his death in 1761.
But as Law's peculiar sentiments are repeated in almost all his later works with little variation, it will be the best plan to give a summary of those sentiments generally before proceeding to consider his separate compositions in detail.
A caution seems necessary at the outset. When Law's later theology' is spoken of, in contrast with his earlier system, it must not be supposed that he diverged, con
He still remained a Staunch Churchman. 249
sciously at least, a hair's breadth from any one of the doctrines to which he was bound as a clergyman of the Church of England. If he had done so, there can be no manner of doubt that he would at once have renounced his Orders. For of all the characteristics, both of Law's moral, and also of his intellectual nature, none is more conspicuous than his thorough and downright honesty. He was totally incapable of any quibbling, moral or intellectual. One sees this in every step of his career. He warmly advocated the doctrines of Divine right, passive obedience, and the rest of the Jacobite programme, at the time when these doctrines were fashionable; and when they became unfashionable, he never hesitated one moment in his adherence to them, at the expense of all his worldly prospects. His part in the Bangorian controversy was simply the carrying out to their logical results of principles which others who had advocated them were not prepared, as Law was, to put forward so openly at a time when they were extremely unpopular. He took the Sermon on the Mount quite literally ; and, in every action of his life, no less than in his 'Serious Call,' he showed that he was bent upon carrying out every precept of it thoroughly, without the slightest compromise. In fact, as it has been well said, “his sensitiveness to logic was as marked as his sensitiveness to conscience.' And this sensitiveness is distinctly shown in his mystic phase. There is no sort of difficulty in reconciling his Behmenism with his position as an Anglican priest. If we take the three Creeds of the Church as a full exposition of the doctrines of Christianity, it would not be enough to say that there is not one single article in those Creeds to which Law to the day of his death could not give his most cordial adherence?; more than that,
Leslie Stephen's English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, vol, ii. P. 396.
? Law's eschatology in no wise affected his acceptance of the Athanasian Creed in its most literal sense,