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Law's last Work.
LAW'S LAST WORK, AND DEATH.
The last work which Law wrote is entitled 'An Humble, Earnest, and Affectionate Address to the Clergy.' The title is rather misleading, for the work does not deal with matters exclusively clerical ; but Law gives us the explanation of his choice of a title for his last utterance in its opening paragraph. “The reason,' he says, 'of my humbly and affectionately addressing this discourse to the clergy, is not because it treats of things not of common concern to all Christians, but chiefly to invite and induce them, as far as I can, to the serious perusal of it, and because whatever is essential to Christian salvation, if either neglected, overlooked, or mistaken by them, is of the saddest consequence both to themselves and the churches in which they minister. I say essential to salvation, for I would not turn my own thoughts, or call the attention of Christians, to anything but the one thing needful.'
By the one thing needful' Law of course meant the reviving and cherishing the Divine lie in the soul. This, he contended, could only be effected by the immediate, continual inspiration of God's Holy Spirit-a doctrine which was branded as enthusiasm by the rational' divines of the eighteenth century, but which was in Law's view the very pith and marrow of Christianity. Dr. Warburton had made the following extraordinary assertion : 'By the writings of the New Testament the prophetic promise of
On the Influence of the Holy Spirit.
our Saviour that the 'Comforter should abide for ever,' was eminently fulfilled. For though his ordinary influence occasionally assists the faithful, yet his constant abode and supreme illumination is in the Sacred Scriptures.' It was not difficult for Law to show that this middle way had neither Scripture nor sense in it, for (he argued) an occasional influence is as absurd as an occasional God, and necessarily supposes such a God. Nothing godly can be alive in us but what has all its life from the Spirit of God living and breathing in us.'
This last sentence contains the gist of the whole address. It was a last solemn warning to those who, from various causes, were neglecting this inner spiritual life. Some were doing so by a perverse use of those very Scriptures which were their best guide to such a life. 'I exceedingly love,' writes Law, and highly reverence the divine authority of the sacred writings of apostles and evangelists, and would gladly persuade every one to be as deeply affected with them, and pay as profound a regard to them, as they would to an Elijah, a St. John the Baptist, or a Paul, whom they knew to be immediately sent from Heaven with God's message to them. I reverence them as a literal Truth of and from God ;' but when it was argued that the Spirit's constant abode is in the Scriptures alone, this, he thought, was making positive nonsense of numerous statements in those very Scriptures themselves. There is a flash of the old humour which lighted up the controversy of nearly half a century before, between Law and another bishop, who, so far as belief was concerned, occupied much the same ground as Warburton now did, in our author's exposure of this absurdity. Our Lord says,
" I say, “so far as belief was concerned,' because on other matters, such as politics, &c., Bishop Warburton, of course, differed very widely indeed from Bishop Hoadly.
Law's last Address to the Clergy.
" It is expedient for you that I go away,” or “the Comforter will not come unto you ;” that is, it is expedient for you that I leave off teaching you in words, that sound only into your outward ears, that you may have the same words in writing, for your outward eyes to look upon ; for if I do not depart from this vocal way of teaching you, the Comforter will not come; that is, ye will not have the comfort of my words written on paper." Christ says, “ If any man love Me, My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him;" that is, according to the Doctor's theology, certain books of Scripture will come to him and make their abode with him. Christ from Heaven says, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man will hear My voice, and open unto Me, I will come in to him, and sup with him ;” according to the Doctor, we are to understand that not the heavenly Christ, but the New Testament continually stands and knocks at the door, wanting to enter into the heart and sup with it;' and so on with many other texts. In short, those who claimed for the Scriptures a function which could not be admitted without rendering ridiculous countless texts of those Scriptures themselves, were, in fact, making an idolgod of the Bible. “I say an idol-god,' he repeats, ‘for to those who rest in it as the “constant abode and supreme illumination of God with them," it can be nothing else. For, if nothing of Divine Faith, Love, Hope, or Goodness, can have the least birth or place in us but by Divine inspiration' (and this was an axiom with Law), 'they who think these virtues may be sufficiently raised in us by the letter of Scripture, do in truth and reality make the letter of Scripture their inspiring God.'
Law, however, touches but lightly upon this part of his subject. It was not necessary to do more ; for the statement of Warburton could not bear a moment's discussion.
Final Crusade against Letter-learning.
Its untenableness is manifest on the face of it, and as a matter of fact, it was superfluous to warn the clergy of the eighteenth century against Bibliolatry, for the very last thing of which they were in danger was a too superstitious regard for the Bible. The real peril to the spiritual life lay, in Law's view, in their setting too much stress upon their reasoning powers. And accordingly, Law devotes the greater part of this address to a final crusade against this letter-learned zeal.'
Again Dr. Warburton supplies the text for his sermon. The Doctor had owned that St. Paul'sacrificed an extensive and intimate acquaintance with the classics to the glory of the everlasting Gospel.' 'If, writes Law, in a passage of wonderful vigour, the everlasting Gospel is now as glorious a thing as it was in St. Paul's days ; if the highest, most accomplished classic knowledge is so unsuitable to the Light and Spirit of the Gospel that it is fit for nothing but to be cast away, or, as the Doctor says, to be all sacrificed to the glory of the Gospel, how wonderful is it that this should never come into his head from the beginning to the end of his three long Legationvolumes, or that he should come piping hot with fresh and fresh classic beauties found out by himself in a Shakespeare, a Pope, &c., to preach from the pulpit the divine wisdom of a Paul in renouncing all his great classic attainments as mere loss and dung, that by so doing he might win Christ and be found in Him. Let it be supposed that our Lord was to come again for a while in the flesh, and that His coming was for this end, to do that for the Christian world cumbered with much learning, which he did to poor Martha, only cumbered with much serving, who thereby neglected that Good Part which Mary had chosen ; must we suppose that the Doctor would hasten to meet Him with his sacred alliance, his bundles of pagan trash, and hieroglyphic pro
fundities, as his full proof that Mary's good part, which shall never be taken from her, had been chosen for himself and all his readers ?'
And then comes Mr. Stinstra, with his pastoral letter recommending 'that sound understanding and reason as the means by which God principally operates. And then comes Mr. Green, who wanting to write on Divine inspiration, runs from book to book, from country to country, to pick up reports wherever he could find them concerning Divine inspiration, from this and that judicious author, that so he might be sure of compiling a judicious dissertation on the subject.'
O, vainest of all vain projects! As soon as any man trusts to natural abilities, skill in languages, and commonplace learning. . . . he has sold his birthright in the Gospel-state of Divine illumination, to make a figure and noise with the sounding brass and tinkling cymbals of the natural man. Parts and genius must go, as the blind, the deaf, the dumb, and lepers formerly did, to be healed of their natural disorders by the inspiration of that Oracle which said “I am the Light of the world.” Every good and perfect gift cometh from ABOVE. He denies this who seeks for the highest gifts of knowledge from BELOW, from the poor contrivance of a common-place book. Nothing but light can manifest light. The Gospel state has but one light, and that is the Lamb of God; it has but one life, and that is by the Spirit of God. Christendom now glories in the light of Greek and Roman learning as a light that has helped the Gospel to shine with a lustre that it scarce ever had before. In the first Gospel Church, heathen light had no other name than heathen darkness. In that new-born Church the Tree of Life, which grew in the midst of Paradise, took root and grew up again. In the present church the Tree of Life is hissed at, as the