Wesley Mentor Pleads Against Man’s Own Light

Wesley Mentor Pleads Against Man’s Own Light

Book: An Humble, Earnest, and Affectionate Address to the Clergy.

By:   William Law, A.M.

William Law (1686-1761) English devotional writer.  “He was a fearless nonjuror, and, in consequence of his refusal to take the oaths of allegiance and abjuration on the accession of George I, forfeited his fellowship, and all prospects of advancements in the Church… Law was one of the most eminent English writers on practical divinity in the eighteenth century.  He was a genuine Mystic, although he lived in a worldly and rationalistic age… At one time, Law was a kind of oracle with Wesley, and his influence upon early Methodism was of an almost formative character.  In his later years he became an enthusiastic student of Jakob Boehme, but his strong churchly feeling and his sound English sense kept him from the wild errors and extravagances into which some of Boehme’s disciples fell.”–New Schaff-Hertzog Enc. Relg. Knowl., 6:431-32.

The Address tot he Clergy was first published posthumously the year of Law’s death, 1761.  Wesley republished extracts from it in 1768.  “Law seems from the first to have recognized varying ‘degrees of goodness,’ and in his latest writings stressed the supreme ‘necessity of a continual inspiration of the Spirit of God, both to begin the first, and continue every step of a divine life in man’.  The early part of the Address to the Clergy is an exposition of this theme, reiterated again and again.”–Eric Baker:  Herald of the Evangelical Revival, p. 81.  Law in his Address to the Clergy, “regards religion and scholarship as necessarily opposed, and, in expounding this displays a stubborn obtuseness which is surprising in such a master of reasoning.  Dr. Flew suggests that Law’s distrust of all human learning and human intellect may be due to his theory that the Fall was the result of a false curiosity.  We may agree and also add that the fact that Jacob Boehme, to whom Law owed the main influence which transformed his life, was unlearned in the technical sense, would tend to confirm Law in his antipathy.”–ibid., p. 92.


(John Wesley thought so much of this book, he had it reprinted for his disciples)

The Time of Man’s playing with Parts, Wit, and Abilities, and of fancying himself to be something great and considerable in the intellectual World, may be much shorter, but can be no longer, than he can eat, and drink with the Animals of this World.—–When the Time cometh, that fine Buildings, rich Settlements, acquired Honours, and Rabbi, Rabbi, must take their Leave of him, all the stately Structures, which Genius, Learning, and Flights of Imagination, have painted inwardly on his Brain and outwardly on Paper, must bear full Witness to Solomon’s Vanity of Vanities.

Let then the high accomplished Scholar reflect, that he comes by his Wit, and Parts, and acute Abilities, just as the Serpent came by his Subtilty; let him reflect, that he might as well dream of acquiring angelic Purity to his animal Nature, by multiplying new invented Delights for his earthly Passions, and Tempers, as of raising his Soul into divine Knowledge, through the well exercised Powers of his natural Reason, and Imagination.

The finest intellectual Power, and that which has the best Help in it, towards bringing Man again into the Region of divine Light, is that poor, despised Thing, called Simplicity.  This is that, which stops the Workings of the fallen Life of Nature, and leaves room for God to work again in  the Soul, according to the good Pleasure of his holy Will.  It stands in such a waiting Posture before God, and in such Readiness for the divine Birth, as the Plants of the Earth wait for the inflowing Riches of the Light, and Air.  But the Self-assuming Workings of Man’s natural Powers, shut him up in  himself, closely barred up against the inflowing Riches of the Light and Spirit of God.

Yet so it is, in this fallen State of the Gospel Church, that with these proud Endowments of fallen Nature, the classic Scholar, full fraught with Pagan Light and Skill, comes forth to play the Critic and Orator with the Simplicity of salvation Mysteries; Mysteries which mean nothing else but the inward Work of God in the Soul of Man, nor any other Work there, but he raising up a dead Adam, into a living Christ of God.

However, to make way for Parts, Criticism, and Language-learning, to have the full Management of salvation Doctrines, the well-read Scholar gives out, that the ancient Way of knowing the Things of God, taught, and practised by Fishermen-Apostles, is obsolete.  They indeed wanted to have divine Knowledge from the immediate, continual Operation of the Holy Spirit; but this State was only for a Time, till Genius, and Learning entered into the Pale of the Church.—-Behold, if ever, the Abomination of Desolation standing in the holy Place!—-For as soon as this Doctrine is set up, that Man’s natural Parts, and acquired Learning, have full Right and Power to fit in the divinity Chair, and to guide Men into that Truth, which was once the only Office and Power of the Holy Spirit; as soon as this is done, and so far as it is received, it may with the greatest Truth be said, that the Kingdom of God is entirely shut up; and only a Kingdom of Scribes, Pharisees, and Hypocrites can come instead of it.  For by this Doctrine the whole Nature and Power of gospel Religion, is much more denied, than by setting up the infallibility of the Pope; for though his Claim to infallibility is false, yet he claims it from, and under the Holy Spirit; but the Protestant Scholar has his divinity Knowledge, his Power in the Kingdom of truth, from himself, his own Logic, and learned Reason.—–Christ has no where instituted an infallible Pope; and it is full as certain, that he has no where spoke one single Word, or given the least Power to Logic, Learning, or the natural Powers of Man, in his Kingdom; he has never said to the, whatsoever ye shall bind on Earth, shall be bound in Heaven; never said to them, go ye and teach all Nations, no more than he hath ever said to Wolves, go ye, and feed by Sheep.—-Christ indeed said of Himself, according to the Flesh, it is expedient for you, that I go away; but where has he said of himself according to the Spirit, it is also expedient for you, that I go away, that your own natural Abilities, and learned Reason, may have the Guidance of you into all truth.  This is no where said, unless Logic can prove it from these Words, without me ye can do nothing, and Lo I am with you to the end of the World.

The first, and main Doctrine of Christ and his Apostles was, to tell the Jews, that the Kingdom of God was at Hand, or was come to them.  Proof enough surely, that their Church was not that Kingdom of God, though by God’s Appointment and under Laws of his own commanding.  But why not, when it was thus set up by God?  It was because it had human and worldly things in it, consisted of carnal Ordinances, and had only Types, and Figures, and Shadows of a Kingdom of God, that was to come.—Of this Kingdom, Christ saith, my Kingdom is not of this World; and as a Proof of it, he adds, if it was of this World, then would my servants fight for me; which was saying, that it was so different in Kind, and so superior in Nature to this World, that no Sort of worldly Power could either help, or hinder it.  But of this World, into which the Kingdom of God was come, the Holy One of God faith, in the World, ye shall Tribulation, but be of good Comfort, I have overcome the World.  Now, how was it, that Christ’s Victory, was their Victory?  It was, because he was in them, and they in him, because I live ye shall live also; in that Day ye shall know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you.

This was the Kingdom of God come to them, the same Kingdom of God, in which Adam was born and began his first glorious Life; when the Image and Likeness of the Holy Spirit, had an outward Glory like that, which broke through the Body of Christ, when on Mount Tabor his Face did shine as the Sun, and his Raiment was white as the Light.—-To the Children of this Kingdom, saith its almighty King, when they bring you before Magistrates and Powers, take no Thought how, or what ye shall answer, or what ye shall say unto them, for the Holy Ghost shall teach you in that same Hour, what ye ought to say.  For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father, that speaketh in you.

No higher, or other Thing is here said, than in these other Words, Take no Thought, what ye shall eat, or Drink, or where with all ye shall be cloathed, but seek first the Kingdom of God, and his Righteousness, and all these Things shall be added unto you.  This is the Truth of the Kingdom of God, come unto Men, and this is the Birth-right Privilege of all that are living Members of it, to be delivered from their own natural Spirit, which they had from Adam, from the Spirit and Wisdom of this World and through the whole Course of their Lives, only to say, and do, and be that, which the Spirit of their Father worketh in them.

But now, is not this Kingdom gone away from us, are we not left comfortless, if instead of this Spirit of our Father, speaking, doing, and working every Thing in us, and for us, we are left again to our own natural Powers, to run to every Lo here, and Lo there, to find a Share in that Kingdom of God, which once was, and never can be any Thing else, but God, the Wisdom and Power of God manifested in our Flesh?  Had it not been as well, nay better for us, to have been still under Types and Figures, sacrificing Bulls and Goats by divine Appointment, than to be brought under a Religion, that must be Spirit and Life, and then left to the jarring Interests, of the Wisdom of the Greek, and the Carnality of the Jew, how to be living Members of it?  For where the Spirit of God is not the continul, immediate Governor of spiritual Things, nothing better can come of it.  For the Truth and full Proof of this, no more need be appealed to, than all the Libraries, and Churches of Christendom for many Ages to this Day.

What is the Difference between Man’s own Righteousness, and Man’s own Light in Religion?  They are strictly the same Thing, do one and the same Work, namely, keep up, and strengthen every Evil, Vanity, and Corruption of fallen Nature.  Nothing saves a Man from his own Righteousness, but that which saves, and delivers him from his own Light.—-The Jew, that was most of all set against the Gospel, and unable to receive it, was he that trusted in his own Righteousness; this was the rich Man, to whom it was as hard to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, as for a Camel to go through the Eye of Needle.—-But the Christian, that trusts in his own Light, is the very Jew that trusted in his own Righteousness; and all that he gets by the Gospel, is only that, which the Pharisee got by the Law, namely, to be farther from entering into the Kingdom of God, than Publicans and Harlots.—-How comes it, that a Beast, a scarlet Whore, a horned Dragon, and other the most horrible Descriptions of diabolical Power, have been by the Spirit of God, made Descriptions of the Christian Church?  How comes it, that the Spirit describes the gospel Church, as driven into a Wilderness;—-the two faithful Witnesses, Moses and Jesus, as prophesying so many Ages in Sack-cloth, and slain in the Streets of spiritual Sodom, and Egypt?  It is, because Man’s own natural Light, Man’s own conceited Righteousness, his serpentine Subtilty, his Self-love, his sensual Spirit, and worldly Power, have seized the Mysteries of Salvation, that came down from Heaven, and built them up into a Kingdom of envious Strife, and Contention, for learned Glory, spiritual Merchandise, and worldly Power.—-This is the Beast, the Whore, and Dragon, that has and will govern in every private Christian, and public Church, till dead to all that is Self, they turn to God; not to a God, that they have only heard of with their Ears, and their Fathers have told them, but to a God of Life, Light and Power, found living and working within them, as the essential Life, Light, and Power of their own Lives.—-For God is only our God, by a Birth of his own divine Nature within us.  This and nothing but this, is our whole Relation to, our only Fellowship with him, our whole Knowledge of him, our whole Power of having any Part in the Mysteries of Gospel-salvation.  Nothing can seek the Kingdom of God, or hunger and thirst after his Righteousness; nothing can cry Abba Father, nothing can pray, they Kingdom come, nothing can say of Christ, my Lord, and my God, but that which is born of God, and is the divine Nature itself, in us.  Nothing but God in Man, can be a Godly Life in Man.—-Hence is that of the Apostle, the Letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth Life.  But you will say, can this be true of the spiritual divine Letter of the Gospel?  Can it kill, or give death?  Yes, it killeth, when it is rested in; when it is taken for divine Power, and supposed to have Goodness in itself; for then it killeth the Spirit of God in Man, quencheth his holy fire within us, and is set up instead of it.—-It giveth Death, when it is built into Systems of Strife and Contention about Words, Notions and Opinions, and maketh the Kingdom of God to consist, not in Power, but in Words.  When it is thus used, then of Necessity it Killeth, because it keepeth from that, which alone is Life, and can give Life.—-This then is the Whole of the Matter; all the literal Truths, and Variety of Doctrines and Expressions of the written Word, have but one Nature, one End, and one Errand, they all say nothing else to Man, but that one Thing, which Christ said, in these Words, Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you; just the same, as when said, Jesus Christ, who is of God, made unto us, Wisdom, Righteousness, and Sanctification; this is the only Refreshment from Christ.  Again, but ye are washed, but ye are cleansed in the Name of our Lord Jesus; just the same as when it is said, except ye abide in me, and I in you, ye have no Life in you.  Again, by Grace ye are saved, by Faith ye are saved, faith neither more nor less, than He that eateth my Flesh, and drinketh my Blood, hath eternal Life; the same as when Christ saith, Yet not I, but Christ that liveth in me; the same as Christ in us, the Hope of Glory; if Christ be not in you, ye are Reprobates.—-Therefore to come to Christ, to have our heavy laden, fallen Nature refreshed by him, to be born Spirit of his Spirit, to have his heavenly Flesh, and heavenly Blood, made living in us, before we put off the bestial Body and Blood of Death, which we have from Adam, is the one only Thing taught and meant by all that is so variously said in the Scriptures of the Merits and Benefits of Christ to us.—-It is the SPIRIT, the BODY, the BLOOD of Christ within us, that is our whole Peace with God, our whole Adoption, our whole Redemption, our whole Justification, our whole Glorification; and this is the one Thing said, and meant by that new Birth, of which Christ saith, except a Man be born again from above, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.

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