Description of author: William Law (1686-1761) was an English devotional writer. He was educated at Cambridge and was tutor to Edward Gibbon (famous English historian).
Comments: This book reads like a tirade against any kind of doctrinal formulations or intellectual pursuits in relation to Scripture. The great irony is that Law himself was highly educated and in fact in this very book puts forth strong doctrinal formulations. He makes many broad and vitriolic statements against any who would dare to make doctrinal distinctions or pursue the study of Greek, Hebrew, or theology. He often refers to such people as those who feed on no other food than the deceptive fruit of that ancient tree of knowledge (p. 53). Forgive me for making a fine distinction, but he seems to have left out the fact that the famous forbidden tree in the Garden was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, not the tree of knowledge. Among his own doctrinal aberrations, he embraces perfectionism (p. 161 ff.) and denies imputation (p. 164) and election (p. 167). He condemns Catholics and Protestants alike for their ‘petty’ quarrels over doctrine, with broad, sweeping statements like: Away then with any councils of Trent, or Synod of Dort, or theological definitions of doctrine that describe the members of the true Church in any other terms than these: ‘Being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life’ (Rom. 6:22). ‘These are the sons of God because they are led of the Spirit’ (8:14) (p. 171). This statement is very typical of the whole of the book. He creates a false dichotomy between doctrinally-minded Christians and Spirit-led Christians, as if there is no such thing as a doctrinally-minded, Spirit-led Christian. Paul knew of no other kind of Christian (cf. 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:15; Titus 1:9). In the above quoted statement, Law seems to ignore the fact that, while the verses he quoted are indeed part of the Biblical definition of the Church, there are many other Biblical descriptions of the church. For example, the Church is described as the elect (1 Pet. 1:2) and those to whom the righteousness of Christ is imputed (Rom. 4:22-25). The strength of this book is the constant reminder that knowledge of the Word of God, no matter how great or scholarly, does not save. The Spirit must work in the life, and when the Spirit works, there will always be fruit, a changed life, genuine love, humility, meekness and self-denial. There are many paragraphs within this book that I would most heartily agree, for example: Hold this therefore as a certain truth, that the heresy of all heresies is a worldly spirit. It is the greatest blindness and darkness of our nature, and keeps us in the grossest ignorance of God and eternal life. It can know nothing, feel nothing, taste nothing, or delight in nothing but with earthly senses and after an earthly appetite. Thus it is that the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, which are of the world, now flourish in the church, though seldom recognized because they now wear religious clothes and perform divine service (p. 153). The fundamental error in this book could be summed up by the following illogical syllogism: (1) The possession of the Holy Spirit defines true Christian experience; (2) There are many who possess a deep and scholarly knowledge of the Word of God and of doctrine who do not have the Holy Spirit; (3) Therefore we should not seek a deep and scholarly knowledge of the Word of God. Statements 1 and 2 in the above syllogism are true, but the conclusion does not follow. The reason I do not recommend this book is because it could be very confusing to someone who is not well-grounded. If one would follow Law’s thinking he would end up in wholesale mysticism with no objective foundation for faith.