William Law as a young man refused to take an oath to support the crown of England. He believed that such an oath would be the same as saying the church is subservient to the monarch. His scruples cost him his chance to be ordained in the Church of England.
Law is important for many reasons, but for United Methodists he is important because he had a powerful influence on a young John Wesley. It was reading William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life that convinced Wesley he should live his entire life as a devotion to God and seek holiness in all things. Wesley would later criticize Law for giving him a vision of holiness but not providing the means to attain it — justification by faith alone.
If we hold on to that concern of Wesley’s, I do find Law’s vision of a devout life compelling. Here is how the book starts:
Devotion is neither private nor public prayer; but prayers, whether private or public are particular parts or instances of devotion.
Because of this all-encompassing definition of devotion, Law has a heavy critique of people living their lives as if devotion is only what happens in church prayers.
It is for want of knowing, or at least considering this, that we see such a mixture of ridicule in the lives of many people. You see them strict as to some times and places of devotion, but when the service of the Church is over, they are but like those that seldom or never come there. In their way of life, their manner of spending their time and money, in their cares and fears, in their pleasures and indulgences, in their labour and diversions, they are like the rest of the world. This makes the loose part of the world generally make a jest of those that are devout, because they see their devotion goes no farther than their prayers, and that when they are over, they live no more unto God, till the time of prayers returns again; but live by the same humour and fancy, and in as full an enjoyment of all the follies of life as other people.
This emphasis on a total life of devotion directly influences early Methodism. Many of John Wesley’s sermons are direct expressions of Law’s point-of-view. Methodism itself, in many ways, is the fruit of this attitude that our life should be devoted entirely to God.