About the Commemoration
The son of a village grocer in Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire, William Law was born in 1686 and educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, of which he became a fellow in 1711. Three years later, because he refused to abjure the Stuarts and take the oath of allegiance to George I, he was compelled to resign from his position and was deprived of the usual means of making a living as a clergyman of the Church of England. He became a “Nonjuror” and retired into private life.
He worked as tutor to the father of Edward Gibbon, the historian, from 1727 to 1737. He then, in 1740, returned to his native village, where with a Mrs. Hutcheson and Hester Gibbon he organized schools and almshouses, and led a life of great simplicity, devotion, and charity. He defended the Scriptures and sacraments against the attacks of the Deists and spoke out eloquently against the warfare of his day. He was a stalwart defender of the poor and shared his food with them every day, a practice that so offended the local vicar that he preached a sermon denouncing such indiscriminate charity.
William Law’s book A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728) is one of the great classics of Christian devotion. In it, he insists that the moral virtues of temperance, humility, and self-denial, all animated by the intention to glorify God, should be the basis of daily living. “If we are to follow Christ,” he wrote, “it must be in our common way of spending every day.” The book, inspired by such spiritual writers as Johannes Tauler, John Ruysbroek, and Thomas à Kempis, is written with humor, based on accurate observation of manners, couched in straightforward prose set out in brief paragraphs that are easy to digest, and interspersed with character sketches that give point to the summons to a devout life. The book had a profound influence on John Wesley and George Whitefield and laid the foundation for the evangelical revival of the eighteenth century, the Evangelical Movement in England, and the Great Awakening in America.
William Law died April 9, 1761. His commemoration in the calendar of the American Book of Common Prayer, April 9, has in Lesser Feasts and Fasts 1997 been moved to the next day to make room for the commemoration of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on April 9. Churches that remember Mikael Agricola on this date might choose to transfer the commemoration of William Law to April 11. The Methodist calendar in For All the Saints remembers both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and William Law on April 9.
Excerpts from New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints by Philip H. Pfatteicher, copyright, 2008 by Fortress Press, an imprint of Augsburg Fortress.
See also: William Law
From A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law
If contempt of the world and heavenly affection is a necessary temper of Christians, it is necessary that this temper appear in the whole course of their lives, in their manner of using the world, because it can have no place anywhere else. If self-denial be a condition of salvation, all that would be saved must make it a part of their ordinary life. If humility be a Christian duty, then the common life of a Christian is to be a constant course of humility in all its kinds. If poverty of spirit be necessary, it must be the spirit and temper of every day of our lives. If we are to relieve the naked, the sick, and the prisoner, it must be the common charity of our lives, as far as we can render ourselves able to perform it. If we are to love our enemies, we must make our common life a visible exercise and demonstration of that love. If content and thankfulness, if the patient bearing of evil be duties to God, they are the duties of every day, and in every circumstance of our life. If we are to be wise and holy as the newborn sons of God, we can not otherwise be so, but by renouncing every thing that is foolish and vain in every part of our common life. If we are to be in Christ new creatures, we must show that we are so, by having new ways of living in the world. If we are to follow Christ, it must be in our common way of spending every day….
If our common life is not a common course of humility, self-denial, renunciation of the world, poverty of spirit, and heavenly affection, we do not live the lives of Christians.
William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728), Everyman Ed. 1906, 1912, pp. 6, 7.
Almighty and everlasting God, you called William Law to a life of contemplation, and gave him, in visions of eternity, the assurance of your unalterable love: Grant us also, amid the transient occupations of our workaday world, glimpses of the King in his beauty, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Isa. 33:17; Oxford Centenary Supplementary Missal, rev. JWP
Readings: Psalm 1 or 103:1-4, 13-18; Philippians 3:7-14; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.
Hymn of the Day: “O for a closer walk with God” (H82 683, 684; SBH 466)
Prayers: For all those who by their writing and example, help Christians to pray; For the church’s work among the poor and needy; For the timid and those who suffer at the hands of oppressors; For grace that our lives may reflect our prayers.
Preface: A Saint (2) (BCP)