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A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (Vintage Spiritual Classics) [Paperback]

By William Law (Author)
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Item description for A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (Vintage Spiritual Classics) by William Law...

Originally published at the beginning of the 18th-century Enlightenment, Law's book succeeded in inspiring the most cynical men of the age with its arguments in favor of a spiritual life. More than simply articulating a set of rules to live by, Law's book examines what it means to lead a Christian life.

Publishers Description
Originally published at the beginning of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, a time when rationalist criticism of religious belief was perhas at its peak, William Law's A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life succeeded in inspiring the most cynical men of the age with its arguments in favor of a spiritual life. More than simply articulating a set of rules to live by, Law's book examines what it means to lead a Christian life and criticizes the perversion of Christian tenents by the Establishment—whether secular or spiritual—whose real aim is temporal power. With a perface by the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr., whose own direct engagement in social causes still finds inspiration in Law's argument, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life is a book that can still speak to our time.
"If Mr. Law finds a spark of piety in a reader's mind, he will soon kindle it into a flame." —Edward Gibbon
Born in 1924, William Sloane Coffin, Jr.'s young life of wealth and comfort was suddenly rearranged by the death of his father in 1933. A series of moves led mother and children first to California and then to Europe. As a boy, Coffin's first ambition was to be a concert pianist. In Paris he was able to study with Nadia Boulanger and later in Geneva met Ignacy Paderewski.
When World War II erupted, the family returned to the United States, and Coffin attended Phillips Academy in Andover, graduating into an army uniform. As an officer he used his linguistic skills in intelligence work. After the war he attended Yale University, alma mater to his father and grandfather, and later studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York City with Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich. Uncertain of a calling to the ministry, he left Union for the newly organized CIA and was assigned to Europe.
He eventually settled on a career as a minister and returned to Yale as chaplain, where he held the university pulpit for seventeen years. During the 1960s and 1970s a great thirst for social justice energized Coffin, and he led vigorous protests against both the evils of segregation and the Vietnam War. He has remained a social activist and protester to this day.
From 1977 to 1987 Coffin was pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan. From this pulpit, his well-earned fame as a preacher of great power and conviction spread nationwide. No one in 1983 who heard him preach the eulogy for his son, Alex, shortly after he died in an auto accident, could ever doubt either his courage or the depth of his confidence in the abiding presence of God's grace.
Reverend Coffin currently lives a life of active retirement in Strafford, Vermont

John F. Thorton is a literary agent, former book editor, and the coeditor, with Katharine Washburn, of Dumbing Down (1996) and Tongues of Angels, Tongues of Men: A Book of Sermons (1999). He lives in New York City.

Susan B. Varenne is a New York City high-school teacher with a strong avocational interest in and wide experience of spiritual literature (M.A., The University of Chicago Divinity School; Ph. D., Columbia University).

Concerning the Nature and Extent

of Christian Devotion

Devotion is neither private nor public prayer; but prayers, whether private or public, are particular parts or instances of devotion. Devotion signifies a life given, or devoted, to God.

He, therefore, is the devout man who lives no longer to his own will, or the way and spirit of the world, but to the sole will of God; who considers God in everything, who serves God in everything, who makes all the parts of his common life parts of piety, by doing everything in the Name of God and under such rules as are conformable to His glory.

We readily acknowledge that God alone is to be the rule and measure of our prayers; that in them we are to look wholly unto Him and act wholly for Him; that we are only to pray in such a manner, for such things, and such ends, as are suitable to His glory.

Now let anyone but find out the reason why he is to be thus strictly pious in his prayers, and he will find the same as strong a reason to be as strictly pious in all the other parts of his life. For there is not the least shadow of a reason why we should make God the rule and measure of our prayers; why we should then look wholly unto Him and pray according to His will, but what equally proves it necessary for us to look wholly unto God and make Him the rule and measure of all the other actions of our life. For any ways of life, any employment of our talents, whether of our parts, our time, or money, that is not strictly according to the will of God, that is not for such ends as are suitable to His glory, are as great absurdities and failings as prayers that are not according to the will of God. For there is no other reason why our prayers should be according to the will of God, why they should have nothing in them but what is wise and holy and heavenly; there is no other reason for this but that our lives may be of the same nature, full of the same wisdom, holiness, and heavenly tempers, that we may live unto God in the same spirit that we pray unto Him. Were it not our strict duty to live by reason, to devote all the actions of our lives to God, were it not absolutely necessary to walk before Him in wisdom and holiness and all heavenly conversation, doing everything in His Name and for His glory, there would be no excellency or wisdom in the most heavenly prayers. Nay, such prayers would be absurdities; they would be like prayers for wings when it was no part of our duty to fly.

As sure, therefore, as there is any wisdom in praying for the Spirit of God, so sure is it that we are to make that Spirit the rule of all our actions; as sure as it is our duty to look wholly unto God in our prayers, so sure is it that it is our duty to live wholly unto God in our lives. But we can no more be said to live unto God unless we live unto Him in all the ordinary actions of our life, unless He be the rule and measure of all our ways than we can be said to pray unto God unless our prayers look wholly unto Him. So that unreasonable and absurd ways of life, whether in labor or diversion, whether they consume our time or our money, are like unreasonable and absurd prayers and are as truly an offense unto God.

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 labor 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 further than their prayers and that when they are over, they live no more unto God till the time of prayer returns again, but live by the same humor and fancy and in as full an enjoyment of all the follies of life as other people. This is the reason why they are the jest and scorn of careless and worldly people; not because they are really devoted to God, but because they appear to have no other devotion but that of occasional prayers.

Julius1 is very fearful of missing prayers; all the parish supposes Julius to be sick if he is not at church. But if you were to ask him why he spends the rest of his time by humor or chance, why he is a companion of the silliest people in their most silly pleasures, why he is ready for every impertinent2 entertainment and diversion, if you were to ask him why there is no amusement too trifling to please him, why he is busy at all balls and assemblies, why he gives himself up to an idle, gossiping conversation, why he lives in foolish friendships and fondness for particular persons that neither want nor deserve any particular kindness, why he allows himself in foolish hatreds and resentments against particular persons without considering that he is to love everybody as himself; if you ask him why he never puts his conversation, his time, and fortune, under the rules of religion-Julius has no more to say for himself than the most disorderly person. For the whole tenor of Scripture lies as directly against such a life, as against debauchery and intemperance: he that lives such a course of idleness and folly, lives no more according to the religion of Jesus Christ than he that lives in gluttony and intemperance.

If a man was to tell Julius that there was no occasion for so much constancy at prayers, and that he might, without any harm to himself, neglect the service of the Church, as the generality of people do, Julius would think such a one to be no Christian and that he ought to avoid his company. But if a person only tells him that he may live as the generality of the world does, that he may enjoy himself as others do, that he may spend his time and money as people of fashion do, that he may conform to the follies and frailties of the generality and gratify his tempers and passions as most people do, Julius never suspects that man to want a Christian spirit or that he is doing the devil's work. And if Julius was to read all the New Testament from the beginning to the end, he would find his course of life condemned in every page of it.

And indeed there cannot anything be imagined more absurd in itself than wise and sublime and heavenly prayers added to a life of vanity and folly, where neither labor nor diversions, neither time nor money, are under the direction of the wisdom and heavenly tempers of our prayers. If we were to see a man pretending to act wholly with regard to God in everything that he did, that would neither spend time nor money, nor take any 1abor or diversion, but so far as he could act according to strict principles of reason and piety and yet at the same time neglect all prayer, whether public or private, should we not be amazed at such a man and wonder how he could have so much folly along with so much religion?

Yet this is as reasonable as for any person to pretend to strictness in devotion, to be careful of observing times and places of prayer, and yet letting the rest of his life, his time and labor, his talents and money, be disposed of without any regard to strict rules of piety and devotion. For it is as great an absurdity to suppose holy prayers and Divine petitions, without a holiness of life suitable to them, as to suppose a holy and Divine life without prayers.

Let anyone therefore think how easily he could confute a man that pretended to great strictness of life without prayer, and the same arguments will as plainly confute another that pretends to strictness of prayer without carrying the same strictness into every other part of life. For to be weak and foolish in spending our time and fortune is no greater a mistake than to be weak and foolish in relation to our prayers. And to allow ourselves in any ways of life that neither are nor can be offered to God, is the same irreligion as to neglect our prayers, or use them in such a manner as make them an offering unworthy of God.

The short of the matter is this: either reason and religion prescribe rules and ends to all the ordinary actions of our life, or they do not. If they do, then it is as necessary to govern all our actions by those rules as it is necessary to worship God. For if religion teaches us anything concerning eating and drinking or spending our time and money; if it teaches us how we are to use and contemn the world; if it tells us what tempers we are to have in common life, how we are to be disposed towards all people; how we are to behave towards the sick, the poor, the old, the destitute; if it tells us whom we are to treat with a particular love, whom we are to regard with a particular esteem; if it tells us how we are to treat our enemies, and how we are to mortify and deny ourselves, he must be very weak that can think these parts of religion are not to be observed with as much exactness as any doctrines that relate to prayers.

It is very observable that there is not one command in all the Gospel for public worship; and perhaps it is a duty that is least insisted upon in Scripture of any other. The frequent attendance at it is never so much as mentioned in all the New Testament, whereas that religion or devotion which is to govern the ordinary actions of our life is to be found in almost every verse of Scripture. Our blessed Savior and His Apostles are wholly taken up in doctrines that relate to common life. They call us to renounce the world, and differ in every temper and way of life from the spirit and the way of the world; to renounce all its goods, to fear none of its evils, to reject its joys, and have no value for its happiness; to be as newborn babes, that are born into a new state of things; to live as pilgrims in spiritual watching, in holy fear, and heavenly aspiring after another life; to take up our daily cross, to deny ourselves, to profess the blessedness of mourning, to seek the blessedness of poverty of spirit; to forsake the pride and vanity of riches, to take no thought for the morrow, to live in the profoundest state of humility, to rejoice in worldly sufferings; to reject the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; to bear injuries, to forgive and bless our enemies, and to love mankind as God loveth them; to give up our whole hearts and affections to God, and strive to enter through the strait gate into a life of eternal glory.

This is the common devotion which our blessed Savior taught in order to make it the common life of all Christians. Is it not therefore exceeding strange that people should place so much piety in the attendance upon public worship, concerning which there is not one precept of our Lord's to be found, and yet neglect these common duties of our ordinary life which are commanded in every page of the Gospel? I call these duties the devotion of our common life, because if they are to be practiced, they must be made parts of our common life; they can have no place anywhere else.

If contempt of the world and heavenly affection is a necessary temper of Christians, it is necessary that this temper appear in the whole course of their lives, in their manner of using the world, because it can have no place anywhere else. If self-denial be a condition of salvation, all that would be saved must make it a part of their ordinary life. If humility be a Christian duty, then the common life of a Christian is to be a constant course of humility in all its kinds. If poverty of spirit be necessary, it must be the spirit and temper of every day of our lives. If we are to relieve the naked, the sick, and the prisoner, it must be the common charity of our lives as far as we can render ourselves able to perform it. If we are to love our enemies, we must make our common life a visible exercise and demonstration of that love. If content and thankfulness, if the patient bearing of evil be duties to God, they are the duties of every day and in every circumstance of our life. If we are to be wise and holy as the newborn sons of God, we can no otherwise be so but by renouncing everything that is foolish and vain in every part of our common life. If we are to be in Christ new creatures, we must show that we are so by having new ways of living in the world. If we are to follow Christ, it must be in our common way of spending every day.

Thus it is in all the virtues and holy tempers of Christianity; they are not ours unless they be the virtues and tempers of our ordinary life. So that Christianity is so far from leaving us to live in the common ways of life, conforming to the folly of customs, and gratifying the passions and tempers which the spirit of the world delights in, it is so far from indulging us in any of these things, that all its virtues which it makes necessary to salvation are only so many ways of living above and contrary to the world in all the common actions of our life. If our common life is not a common course of humility, self-denial, renunciation of the world, poverty of spirit, and heavenly affection, we do not live the lives of Christians.

Citations And Professional Reviews
A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (Vintage Spiritual Classics) by William Law has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Publishers Weekly - 07/15/2002
  • PW Notes and Reprints - 07/15/2002 page 71

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Vintage
Pages   319
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.1" Width: 5.1" Height: 0.77"
Weight:   0.55 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Aug 13, 2002
Publisher   Vintage
ISBN  0375725636  
ISBN13  9780375725630  

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More About William Law

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William Law (1686-1761) was educated at Cambridge, took a teaching position there, and was also ordained in the Church of England. He lost his access to university venues and the parish ministry when he was unable to swear allegiance to the Hanoverian dynasty that replaced the Stuarts as the rulers of Great Britain. Although forbidden the use of pulpit and lecture hall, he preached through his books, including "Christian Perfection, The Grounds and Reasons of Christian Regeneration, Spirit of Prayer," and "Spirit of Love."

William Law was born in 1686 and died in 1761.

William Law has published or released items in the following series...

  1. Classics of Western Spirituality (Paperback)
  2. Pure Gold Classics

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Reviews - What do customers think about A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (Vintage Spiritual Classics)?

Get plowed!!  Feb 27, 2008
Here is the clarion call to a true life that
glorifies God. Put the lies of culture aside
and learn the real truth.. and live it!!
A Serious but Dangerously Legalistic Call  Dec 12, 2007
The fact Pastor John Piper in some of his books, "Don't Waste Your Life" and "A Hunger for God" quoted Law in this book several times intrigued me to read it personally. As I went through the chapters, however, it is clear to me and will become clear to the readers as well that Law sounds eerily close to a Roman Catholic minus the devotions to the rituals. Despite many deep, excellent, stinging, uncomfortable, soul-searching reflections and illustrations on the Christian life contrasted against the futility of a self-centered life that I believe are profitable for Christians, particularly to defy the preaching of prosperity gospel that seems to "prosper" more than the true gospel, sadly Law embraces the fatally erroneous doctrine of justification by works. In his view, Christians need to practice the principles of piety, self-denial, generosity, meekness, simplicity of life and all the Bible, particularly the New Testament teaches, the best they can in order to be saved that sounds all too familiarly popish. What he mostly brings up from the Bible is the wonderful teachings of Christ. There is no mention of poverty of spirit, dependence on God's grace to live a sanctified life or to desire to live for him to begin with, let alone the cross, justification by faith, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, and perseverance of the saints.

Well, the immediate questions that arise are of course, aren't Christians saved already, and that they are saved by grace on the basis of the finished atoning death and resurrection of Christ on the cross, and not by works? How does one know that he has done his best? What is the standard? Whose standard is it to use to determine whether one has done his best, man's or God's? If it is man's standard, which one? The Pope's? How can we be so sure if it is his standard to be used, not someone else's? If it is God's, where is it in the Bible that says God commands us to do the best we can and not rely on him for everything without excluding our responsibilities? Where is it in the Bible that God's standard says we are saved as long as we do the best we can? This is unquestionably deadly because in the end, it points to the perfectionist demand of the law where no one can meet, which is warned against by the Apostle Paul in his epistles, particularly to the Romans and Galatians. The meat of what Law talks about is all about doing and there is no mention of child-like dependence and trusting on God's grace in Christ through the Holy Spirit to enable us to follow what Law, in some cases, biblically and exquisitely exhorts to embrace and practice. To properly describe what Law offers here is a mixture of rich food and poison. The rich food is his biblical heart-piercing warnings, rebukes, reflections, illustrations and encouragements, specifically about prayer, fasting, simplicity, modesty, generosity, humility and self-denial that I must admit are too good, too important, and too bitter-sweet, eye-opening of an exposure and remedy to my own weaknesses to be overlooked as well as too precious to be neglected in practice. The poison is his constant insistence of justification by works. For the fullest benefit to be reaped, enjoy the rich food. Let it purify our souls and reform our lives, but spit the poison out. Instead, embrace and enjoy the even richer food of justification in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, and to the glory of God alone for these are the fountain that enables all true piety.
If you are ready to take your spiritual walk to a whole new level - read this book!  Jun 26, 2007
If you're looking for a challenge in your spiritual walk - this is the book for you. Law's classic book was the transforming resource in the lives of the Wesley brothers as well as abolitionist William Wilberforce - just as it changed their lives, this book will not leave you the same!

I've read an abridged and edited version for the modern reader by John Meister (158 pages) - but it wasn't enough - I had to order the small type 317 page version! This is not an easy read - on the difficulty scale of 1 - 10, this would be a solid 9. I wouldn't suggest this book to anyone in high school or even college - Law deals with real world issues and a little seasoning in life is necessary to get the full effect of his challenge. This is a perfect book for the Christian man who wants more than a Purpose Driven Life, the man looking for a profound, insightful, and challenging read that will deeply impact the core of his being!

You can find these books online. The longer version is a Vintage Spiritual Classics edition and retails for around $13.00. Rare will be the person that will want this book - but if you're the one, don't pass this one up! I give this my highest endorsement and recommendation.

Law deals directly with the concept of devotion to God - and asks some difficult questions about where man places his true devotion in life - in the things of this world, or in the Kingdom of Heaven? Law argues that a wise and reasonable man will wholly devote himself to the things of the Lord for they are far superior to the temporal and worthless things of this world. In fact, Law says that a lack of this devotion is a clear indicator of gross ignorance! The book gives several practical elements necessary for a devoted life including prayer, study, humility and confession. But it is not the elements about which Law writes, it is the manner in which he presents them to the reader that makes this book so exceptional - Law raises the bar and challenges the follower of Christ to live an exemplary life, a life worthy of their calling, a life comparable to the great saints who have walked before us or even to angels who minister above us!
Fantastic, Humbling   Jan 9, 2007
This book should be read by every Christian that can get it. It was a tremendously insightful and humbling book that opened my eyes to the hypocrisy in my own life as well as the church in general. The Christian church in America and I am guessing much of the Industrialized and wealthy west[yes, I am a member of that group] have fallen so far from the devotion and holiness that God requires that it is a shock to see what was the actual New Testament norm just 270+ years ago, let alone at the time of the writing of the New Testament. This was a very easy to read book, compared to say Spurgeon or Calvin. Extremely convicting personally. Would recc. to anyone who see themselves as sinners and wants to know what they should do. Includes excellent examples and is written as a practical guide, though not a how-to book[remember, was written over 270+ yrs. ago, before self-help books where invented;)]Found out about this book from a Word Pictures Program on the subject at their video's are also highly recc. for those seeking to glorify God and enjoy him for eternity[mans chief end]
Wayne Borngesser
A must read book  Mar 24, 2006
This is a classic of Christian literature. It should be a part of every Christian's library. These are the words that inspired the likes of John Wesley, John Newton, William Wilberforce and others. This issue is especially well edited and the book itself is an easy and inspiring read.

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