"A Serious Call to a Devout & Holy Life": Themes of Personal Impact, Challenges Posed to Faith and How the Contemporary Church
William Law was a priest at the Church of England in the 18th century. Law's book A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life is considered a classic that all Christians should read. In the book Law suggests practices which will lead to good Christian living through prayer and devotion.
Originally published in 1728 at the beginning of the Enlightenment, when rational criticism of religious belief was at its peak, William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life succeeded in inspiring the most cynical men of the age with its arguments in favor of a spiritual life. Law’s challenge of conventional piety and emphasis on Christian perfection directly influenced literary critic Samuel Johnson and historian Edward Gibbon, as well as Cardinal John Henry Newman. John Wesley called it one of three books that accounted for his first “explicit resolve to be all devoted to God.” Also, Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Henry Venn, William Wilberforce, and Thomas Scott each described reading the book as a major turning point in his life. More than simply a set of rules to live by, Law’s book examines what it means to lead a Christian life and criticizes the perversion of Christian tenets by secular and spiritual establishments. Proclaiming that God does not merely forgive our disobedience, but directly calls us to obedience and to a life completely centered in him, he chides, “If you will here stop and ask yourself why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but because you never thoroughly intended it.” Law’s prose is fresh and vivid as he illustrates the Christian life as one lived completely for God. His thoughts on prayer, personal holiness, stewardship, pride and humility, and service to the poor will resonate with contemporary readers.
Definitely, why do we Christians fail to live devout lives? Law asks. We can plead neither ignorance nor inability, for we have the same knowledge and the same Spirit early Christians did. What prevents us, rather, is a lack of intention. Failure of intention puts us in real spiritual danger. Although we have ample assurance of God’s mercy when we sin unavoidably, we cannot count on that mercy when we sin through a lack of intention, as many Scriptures prove. Scriptures show that “our salvation depends upon the sincerity and perfection of our endeavours to obtain it.” Law’s main contention is that we can please God only by intending and devoting all of life to God’s glory and honor. God takes no more delight in one station or position than another. His concern, rather, is that we offer reasonable service in whatever place we occupy in singleness of heart and thus live lives of reason and piety.