Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time.  Cheers, Fred.

The Power of the Spirit

Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
April 2018
Fred's Rating: 
William Law
Total Pages: 
Gideon House Books

William Law (1686 – 1761) was one of the great clerics and educators of the Church of England. Educated at Cambridge, he was ordained there in the Church of England. The best known and most popular book he wrote was "A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life." Book 751 was first printed in 1895 to stress Law’s conviction that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit that dwells within you is necessary for your salvation.

I bought the paperback edition but I give here the Amazon website for the Kindle edition:

[None of the ISBN-10, ISBN-13, or ASIN numbers on Amazon’s websites for the three editions (Kindle, hardcover, or paperback) are recognized by Amazon, thus the ‘no image Circle' appears. I think this new change by Amazon is not good. However, you can see the images of this books' covers at the website above.]

Why did I get this book by William Law? Aldous Huxley is the reason. In his 1945 ‘The Perennial Philosophy’ (book 667), Huxley asks two very important questions in Ch. XI on Good and Evil: “Granted that the ground of the individual soul is akin to, or identical with, the divine Ground of all existence, and granted that this divine Ground is an ineffable Godhead that manifests itself as personal God or even the incarnate Logos, what is the ultimate nature of good and evil, and what is the true purpose and last end of human life?”

In the next paragraph Huxley said this about William Law: “The answers to these questions will be given to a great extent in the words of that most surprising product of the English eighteenth century, William Law. (How very odd our educational system is! Students of English literature are forced to read the graceful journalism of Steele and Addison, are expected to know all about the novels of Defoe and the tiny elegances of Matthew Prior. But they can pass their examinations summa cum laude without having so much as looked into the writings of a man who was not only a master of English prose, but also one of the most interesting thinkers of his period and one of the most endearingly saintly figures in the whole history of Anglicanism.) Our current neglect of Law is yet another of the many indications that twentieth-century educators have ceased to be concerned with questions of ultimate truth or meaning and (apart from more vocational training) are interested solely in the dissemination of a root-less and irrelevant culture, and the fostering of the solemn foolery of scholarship for scholarship’s sake.” With these words from Huxley in his most challenging and insightful book, ‘The Perennial Philosophy,’ which is near the top of the 751 books (so far) that I’ve reviewed. Huxley selects quotes from William Law along with quotes from sages of other well-known religions of the world. I’ve only read this one William Law book (so far).

With my motivation above, what does this book by William Law consist of? I recommend using the ‘Look inside’ option for the Kindle edition. It gives an easy-to-read 4-pp Contents, the 4-pp Introduction of 1895 by Andrew Murray, which explains well why he had put to print the handwritten (I assume) pages of the 56 talks in “An Address to the Clergy” and the 21 talks in the “Additional Extracts.” Andrew Murray does not tell what his sources were, but his Introduction does explain why he wanted William Law’s words put to print.

The reason I assumed handwritten sources is frequent errors in the text. The two most frequent were ‘bora’ instead of ‘born’ and ‘he’ instead of ‘be’ - these were easy to spot. Also easy were ‘in’ or ‘it’ instead of ‘is’ – missing verbs are very easy to spot, as was ‘out’ instead of ‘our.’ The worst errors were ‘Sod’ instead of ‘God,' which happened only twice – but this told me that nobody proof-read this typed manuscript. There is just one obvious error (near the end) in Andrew Murray’s 4-pp Introduction. These errors caused only a slight pause in my reading, so they were not a problem on any significance.

I looked for an example that summarized William Law’s main concepts. I give here one on pp 105-106 of the Additional Extracts: “2. No True Religion But the Spirit of God (from the ‘Spirit of Prayer, Part 2’):

“Here therefore we are come to this firm conclusion, that, let religion have ever so many shapes, forms, reformations, it is no true divine service, no proper worship of God, has no proper good in it, can do no good to man, can remove no evil from man, raise no divine life in man, but so far as it serves, worships, conforms, and gives itself up to this operation of the holy triune God, as living and dwelling in the soul. Keep close to this idea of religion as an inward spiritual life in the soul; seek for no good, no comfort, but in the awakening of all that is holy and heavenly in your heart; and then, so much as you have of this inward religion, so much have you of real salvation. For salvation is only a victory over nature, so far as you resist and renounce your vain, selfish, and earthly nature, so far as you overcome all your natural tempers of the old man, so far as God enters into you, lives in you and operates; He is in you as the light, the life, and the Spirit of your soul; and you are in Him that new creature who worships Him in spirit and truth. For divine worship is and can only be performed by being likeminded with Christ; nothing worships God but the Spirit of His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased. Look now at anything as religion or divine service, but a strict, unerring conformity to the life and Spirit of Christ, and then, though every day was full of burnt-offerings, yet you would only be like those religionists, who drew near to God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. For the heart is always far from God, unless the Spirit of Christ be alive in it. But no one has the living Spirit of Christ, but he who in all his conversation walketh as He walked.

“All Scripture brings us to the conclusion that religion is but a dead work, unless it be the work of the Spirit of God; and that sacraments, prayers, singing, preaching, hearing, are only so many ways of being fervent in the spirit, and of giving up ourselves more and more to the inward working, enlightening, quickening, sanctifying Spirit of God within us; and all for this end, that the curse of the fall may be taken from us, that death may be swallowed up in victory; and a real, true, Christ-like nature formed in us, by the very same Spirit, by which it was formed in the Virgin Mary.

“How, for the true ground, and absolute necessity of this turning wholly to the Spirit of God, you need only know this plain truth; namely that the Spirit of God, the spirit of Satan, or the spirit of world, are, and must be, the one or the other of the, the continual leader, guide, and inspirer, of everything that lives in nature. There is no going out of these; the moment you cease to be moved, quickened, and inspired, by God, you are infallibly inspired by the spirit of Satan or of the world, or by both of them. And the reason is, because the soul of man is a spirit, and a life, that in its whole being is nothing but a birth of God and nature; and therefore every moment of its life must live in conjunction, or union, either with the Spirit of God governing nature, or with the spirit of nature fallen from God, and working in itself. As creatures, we are therefore under an absolute necessity of being under the motion, guidance, and inspiration of some spirit that is more than our own. All that is put in power is only the choice of our leader; but led and moved we must be, and by that spirit to which we give ourselves, whether it be the Spirit of God or the spirit of fallen nature. To seek therefore to be always under the inspiration and guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, and to act by an immediate inspiration from it, is not proud enthusiasm, but as sober and humble a thought, as suitable to our state, as to think of renouncing the devil and the world. For they can never be renounced by us, but so far as the Spirit of God is living, moving, breathing, in us. And that for this plain reason, because nothing is contrary to the spirit of Satan or the world, nothing works, or can work contrary to it, but the Spirit of heaven.

“Hence our Lord said, ‘He that is not with Me, and he that gathereth not with Me, scattereth;’ plainly declaring that not to be with Him, and led by His Spirit, is to be led by the spirit of the world and of Satan. Ask now how hell is? It is nature destitute of the light and Spirit of God, and full only of its own darkness; nothing else can make it to be hell. Ask what heaven is? It is nature quickened, enlightened, blessed, and glorified by the light and Spirit of God dwelling in it. Here you may see with the utmost clearness, that to look for salvation in anything else, but the light of God within us, the Spirit of God working in us, the birth of Christ really brought forth within us, is to be as carnally minded as the Jews were with their hearts set upon a temporal Savior. And all for this plain reason, because the soul is a spirit breathed forth from God Himself, which therefore cannot be blessed but by having the life of God in it; and nothing can bring the life of God into it, but only the light and Spirit of God. Upon this ground I stand in the utmost certainty, looking wholly to the light and Spirit of God, for an inward redemption from all the inward evil that is in my fallen nature.”

To me, the above excerpt reads like something spoken to clergy. But it shows his conception of the soul as a spiritual ‘thing’, clearly not a material (or any other type of) ‘thing.’ William Law had many beliefs widely held in his era, which held all other religions to be either worthless or sinful, with Jews the lowest of all. In his discussions of the spirits of Christ, Satan and the world, he often says that a human’s spirit can be that of Satan and also of the ‘world.’ At first, earlier in this book, he never mentioned having both God’s Spirit and the world in one’s soul. But this duality does appear, but only of those things of the ‘world’ that are compatible with the Holy Spirit. He didn’t elaborate on what he means by compatible. But I feel safe in assuming he referred to the things that were of (or ‘from’) God’s creation. I have added the ‘from’ so as to include both cosmic and biological evolution, which I find to be true and powerful 'soulmates' with God’s Spirit.

As a final comment, when Law speaks about humans and nature as fallen, he is referring to Adam. As was common in his era, the initial holy state of Adam and Eve were before their ‘Fall,’ and he seems to hold that this fallen state was passed on, generation after generation. But humans could return to their intended holiness only by awakening to the Spirit of God already within us. Law is among few in his era that accepted the concept of an ‘awakening’ of what we didn’t know what was within us. I know that Aldous Huxley, Huston Smith, and others who have worked towards a perennial philosophy in which such an awakening was a very important concept for Asian religions that are crucial for the common truths asserted in The Perennial Philosophy. We have no idea if William Law even knew much about the Asian religions. It seems to be that his intense focus in this book was to convince clergy that they needed to return to the simple truths of what Jesus did and spoke about.

If I neglect the many letter-type errors in this book and focus on William Law’s efforts to tell clergy (and laity as well) in his great argument for what they had to do to return Christianity to its initial form – to do as Jesus and God’s Spirit did. I found his arguments to be convincing that the key and crucial insight is to open one’s heart and mind in order to fully accept and love the Spirit of God that lies within you. But this vital insight is made over and over and over and over again. I thus rate this book at just three stars.