« AnteriorContinuar »
REV. WILLIAM LAW, M A.
The name of William Law is so unfamiliar to the present generation that it may be necessary to give some reasons why his life should be written at all. That he was one of the ablest of theological writers in a period remarkably fertile in theological literature ; that he lived a pure and conscientious life of Christian self-denial, at a time of great spiritual deadness; that he influenced the generation in which he lived, indirectly but very really, as much or more than any man of his day ; that his whole character, moral, intellectual, and social, was a singularly taking one ; that he was, in his later years, almost the only notable representative in England of a phase of Christianity which has attracted and helped to form many saintly characters ;-these in themselves might be insufficient reasons for introducing an almost forgotten man of genius to a public which is perhaps already bewildered by the multitude of claimants upon its attention.
But the life and writings of William Law are of so striking and suggestive a character that they really ought
not to be allowed to pass into oblivion. He would have been a remarkable man in any age, but he was doubly remarkable when we think of him as belonging to an age which took its philosophy from Locke, its theology from Tillotson, and its politics from Walpole: an age which had hardly any sympathy with any of the phases of his character. For he stood singularly apart from his contemporaries, though he influenced them so deeply. His Churchmanship differed from that of the typical Churchman of his day as light does from darkness ; it was not even like that of his non-juring contemporaries, who were as much concerned with politics as with theology. The life which he recommended in his practical treatises, and lived himself to the very letter, was about as different as one can conceive from the easy-going life of the eighteenth century; while even those who were stirred to the inmost depths of their spiritual nature by the Serious Call,' did not, as a rule, become like-minded with the author. What in him took the form of a benevolent tranquillity, in them took the form of a benevolent activity. His later phase of so-called mysticism aroused, outside a very small coterie, an almost universal feeling of unmitigated disgust. In fact, Law was as one born out of due time ; he may be regarded as a relic of the past, or as an anticipation of the future, but of his own present he was an utterly abnormal specimen. To come across such a man in the midst of his surroundings is, to borrow the admirable simile of a writer of our own day,' like coming across an old Gothic cathedral with its air of calm grandeur and mellowed beauty in the midst of the staring red-brick buildings of a brand-new manufacturing town ; and, it may be added, the feeling with which he was regarded by many of his contemporaries was something like that with which some nouveau riche might regard such a
| Miss Julia Wedgwood.
building, grudging it the space it occupied, which, in his view, might be more advantageously occupied by a manufactory or a Mechanics' Institute.
The present work has been undertaken, partly because the writer thinks that such a character as that of William Law will find more sympathisers now than it did in his own day ; but chiefly because he believes that Law's life and writings possess more than a mere historical interest. Law anticipated many of the difficulties which weigh upon the minds of thoughtful people nowadays, and answered them, if not always satisfactorily, yet always in a way that deserves and will command the most careful attention. And his character is just such a one as it is important in the interests of Christianity to bring into prominence. When Christianity is represented by some as adapted only for minds of the second order (except for the temporal advantages it may bring), it will be well to call attention to one whose intellect was undeniably of the highest order, and whose intense conviction of the truth of Christianity was obviously stimulated by no interested motive. When religion is assumed by others to be the special province of women and children, a Christian character of a singularly robust and masculine type may be a useful study.
It is strange that no adequate biography of so eminent a man as Law should have been written in the generation after his death. But it is by no means to be regretted that none was written ; for it could hardly have failed to be unsatisfactory. Law was one of those men of strong opinions and independent character who call forth vehement sympathy and vehement antipathy. It would have been all but impossible for a contemporary, or one who was nearly a contemporary, to take a calm and dispassionate estimate of such a man. Even if the writer's own views were not distorted by prejudice on one side or the other, he would
have found it difficult to obtain sufficient information from unbiassed sources to enable him to form a fair estimate of the real value of the man and his work. The time has now arrived, however, when Law can be viewed in the dry light of history; when we ought to be misled neither by the glamour with which his friends surrounded him, nor by the prejudices which prevented his opponents from doing him justice; when, in short, we ought to be able to take him for what he was-a thorough man, full of human infirmities, but a grand specimen of humanity, and a noble monument of the power of divine grace in the soul. If the following sketch of one of the finest minds and most interesting characters of the eighteenth century fail to prove both attractive and instructive, the fault will lie, not in the subject, but in the biographer.