William Law

April 10

William Law (1686-1761), English spiritual writer. Born at King's Cliffe, Law was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he became a Fellow in 1711. His refusal to swear allegiance to King George I cost him his fellowship, however. From 1727 until 1737 he lived in the Gibbon household at Putney and tutored the father of future historian Edward Gibbon. In 1740 he took up residence at King's Cliffe as chaplain to Mrs. Elizabeth Hutcheson and Hester Gibbon. Together the three of them organized schools and houses for the poor and lived lives of admirable simplicity and devotion.


In 1728 Law published his influential classic A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. In the midst of the Age of Enlightenment he framed a powerful rational argument for a life of devotion. Devotion, he argued, should entail the dedication of the whole and not just a part of one's life. Most Christians fall short of true devotion because they do not intend to please God in all they do. Scriptures amply prove that God will not look kindly on such careless commitment. We are obligated to order our everyday lives in such a way as to turn them to consistent service of God. Persons of leisure have a special obligation to devote themselves to God. Religious exercises such as prayer represent only a small part of devotion; unless life matches prayer, it is hypocrisy.

If William Law had taken the Spiritual Types Test, he probably would have been a Sage. Law is remembered on April 10.

[Excerpted with permission from the entry on William Law by E. Glenn Hinson, from The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation, edited by Keith Beasley-Topliffe. Copyright © 2003 by Upper Room Books®. All rights reserved.]

Image is detail of the William Law window in the chapel at Emmauel College, Cambridge, England, U.K.



Today's Reflection

William Law