William Law

1686-1761. English devotional writer. Born at King's Cliffe, Northants, he was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, of which he was elected a fellow in 1711, the year of his ordination. He declined to take the oath of allegiance to George I in 1714, was deprived of his fellowship, and became a Nonjuror* for the rest of his life. In 1727 he first became associated with the Gibbon family at Putney, on his appointment as tutor to Edward Gibbon, father of the historian. Here he remained as a valued friend and family adviser until Gibbon's death in 1740 when, with the break up of the household, he returned to King's Cliffe for the rest of his life. He became recognized as a notable controversialist with his Three Letters to the Bishop of Bangor (1717), which refuted Bishop Hoadly's attempt to “dissolve the Church as a society.” He ridiculed the bishop's theory that sincerity alone should be the test of religious profession, though it might testify to moral integrity, and instead he built up a constructive apologetic for orthodox Christianity. His Case of Reason (1732) was an answer to Tindal's Christianity as old as Creation, and in part anticipates Bishop Butler's argument in his Analogy.

But Law's most influential work was his Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728), which influenced the lives of many early Evangelicals, including Whitefield, the Wesleys, Henry Venn, Thomas Scott, and Henry Martyn, and others such as Samuel Johnson and Gibbon. In this book Law strongly commends the Christian faith for its moral and ethical teaching, especially for its advocacy of self-denial, humility, and self-control. All life must be lived for the glory of God. But the book has no strong doctrine of the Atonement, and lacks any joy in the good news of the gospel message. A master of logical argument, Law also wrote The Spirit of Prayer (1749, 1752), and The Spirit of Love (1752, 1754). In association with two ladies, Mrs. Hutcheson and Miss Hester Gibbon, his closing years were spent in founding schools and almshouses and in other practical works of piety.