William Law, who is commemorated in the Anglican communion each April,
and whose teaching and spirituality will be looked at in a later article,
lived in what has been described as ‘a tiny religious community’ in the
Northamptonshire village of King’s Cliffe near Stamford, in the first half
of the eighteenth century. His most famous work was A Serious Call to a
Devout and Holy Life, published in 1728. The following extract typifies
the book’s frequent use of verbal portraits, depicting various
diametrically opposed spiritual and moral conditions, good and bad.
According to J. C. Reid who edited the Serious Call for Fontana in 1965,
the character of Paternus was based on Law’s own father. The man is
revealed in his advice to his son.
Paternus lived about two hundred years ago; he had but one son, whom he
educated himself in his own house. As they were sitting together in the
garden, when the child was ten years old, Paternus thus began to him:
The little time that you have been in the world, my child, you have
spent wholly with me; and my love and tenderness to you has made you look
upon me as your only friend and benefactor, and the cause of all the
comfort and pleasure that you enjoy; your heart, I know, would he ready to
break with grief, if you thought this was the last day that I should live
But, my child, though you now think yourself mighty happy, because you
have hold of my hand, you are now in the hands, and under the tender care
of a much greater Father and Friend than I am, whose love to you is far
greater than mine, and from whom you receive such blessings as no mortal
That God whom you have seen me daily worship, whom I daily call upon to
bless both you and me, and all mankind, whose wondrous acts are recorded
in those Scriptures which you constantly read; that God who created the
heavens and the earth, who sent His Son Jesus Christ to redeem mankind;
this great God, who is the Creator of worlds, of Angels, and men, is your
loving Father and Friend, your good Creator and Nourisher, from whom, and
not from me, you received your being ten years ago, at the time that I
planted that little tender elm which you there see.
I myself am not half the age of this shady oak, under which we sit;
many of our fathers have sat under its boughs, we have all of us called it
ours in our turn, though it stands, and drops its masters, as it drops its
You see, my son, this wide and large firmament over our heads, where
the sun and moon, and all the stars appear in their turns. If you were to
be carried up to any of these bodies at this vast distance from us, you
would still discover others as much above you, as the stars that you see
here are above the earth. Were you to go up or down, east or west, north
or south, you would find the same height without any top, and the same
depth without any bottom.
And yet, my child, so great is God, that all these bodies added
together are but as a grain of sand in His sight. And yet you are as much
the care of this great God and Father of all worlds and all spirits, as if
He had no son but you, or there was no creature for Him to love and
protect but you alone. He numbers the hairs of your head, watches over
you, sleeping and waking, and has preserved you from a thousand dangers,
which neither you, nor I, know anything of.
How poor my power is, and how little I am able to do for you, you have
often seen. Your late sickness has shown you how little I could do for you
in that state; and the frequent pains of your head are plain proofs that I
have no power to remove them.
I can bring you food and medicines, but have no power to turn them into
your relief and nourishment. It is God alone that can do this for you.