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they have never been without some appreciation and without making a profound impression on readers fit though few. “When at Oxford,” said Dr. Samuel Johnson, referring to his student days, “ I took up Law's Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, expecting to find it a dull book (as such books generally are) and perhaps to laugh at it. But I found Law quite an overmatch for me; and this was the first occasion of my thinking in earnest of religion, after I became capable of rational inquiry." And other notable testimonies to the influence of Law's writings could be cited.
Some years after being deprived of his Fellowship, he was appointed tutor to Edward Gibbon, who became the father of the historian; and when the tutorship came to an end he remained for some years as chaplain to the Gibbon family at Putney, where he was visited frequently by an admiring group of young men, including the poet John Byrom, and John and Charles Wesley. Upon the Wesleys, and the movement which they originated, he had a vital and formative influence. He was indeed a Methodist before the rise of Methodism, as the rules which he laid down for himself at Cambridge show. In all his early devotional writings he pleads for an ordered and disciplined religious life, with regular hours each day for spiritual exercise, and for the carrying out of carefully considered plans of human service. He had already published his Three Letters to the Bishop of Bangor (1717), his Remarks upon the Fable of the Bee (1723), his Practical Treatise on Christian Perfection (1726), and his most important work, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1729). Following on these came his little treatise, The Case of Reason (1731). On the death of his patron in 1736, he returned to his native village of King's Cliffe, where he spent the rest of his days, busy in the little study which has been described by Leslie Stephen as "four feet square, furnished with its chair, its writing-table, the Bible and the works of Jacob Boehme." A reader of his Christian Perfection had sent him an anonymous gift of six thousand pounds; and it was probably this money that he used for the building of a girls' school at King's Cliffe. It is evident therefore that he himself set an example of the charity upon which he insists so much in his writings; and in every other respect his life was an illustration of the Christian principles which his books inculcate. Gibbon, the historian, says that among the members of his family, Law left "the reputation of a worthy and pious man who believed all that he professed and practised all that he enjoined."
Some years before leaving Putney, he became acquainted with the mystical writings of Jacob Boehme or Behmen, the “inspired cobbler of Görlitz," which had first appeared in English in 1641, and had had a great influence, especially on George Fox and his followers.
Boehme was born in 1575 and died in 1624. He has been called the" Teutonic Philosopher." His philosophy is in many respects difficult to understand. He felt it necessary to use a terminology of his own invention in order to express his meaning, and so, in reading his books, we come across passage after passage in a jargon that tends rather to conceal than to reveal the meaning beneath it. But those who have had the patience to study him until they have become accustomed to his strange ways of expression have found themselves richly rewarded. Yet the most essential things in his teaching are easily discoverable ; and what these things are we shall the better realise by recalling the circumstances amid which Boehme lived and wrote.
The beginning of the seventeenth century was in Germany, as in England, a time of keen and often angry debate on religious matters. There were many parties or sects, and each of them believed that it had got hold of the truth and the whole truth, and denounced those who differed from it as heretics who should not be tolerated in this world and would have little or no chance of salvation in the next. When Boehme realised how much ill feeling and unhappiness was caused by all this wrangling about Christian doctrine, he began to doubt whether Christianity were worth it all, and whether it would not have been better had Christ never been born and the Christian Church never have come into existence. But as he thought more about it, he saw that people who indulged in such heated debate with one another were making a grave mistake as to what Christianity really was. Christianity, he became convinced, was not a matter of opinions or beliefs, but rather it was a spirit of love and goodness in the heart; and if any one has this spirit in him, then he has the essential thing, the one thing needful, and it does not matter anything in comparison what opinions he holds, whether Romanist or Protestant, Lutheran or Calvinist. These opinions are things on which each man should be free to decide for himself, and on which he should allow others the same freedom; and all should hold the truth, or what they believe to be the truth, in love, keeping the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. Variety of opinion in matters of faith, according to Boehme, was as good among Christian people as variety in all other natural things. “Now," he says, “ if we dwell with one another, like humble children, in the spirit of Christ, rejoicing at the gift or knowledge of another, who would judge or condemn us? Who judgeth or condemneth the birds in the woods that praise the Lord of all beings with various voices, every one in its own essence ? Doth the Spirit of God reprove them for not bringing their voices into one harmony ? Doth not the melody of them proceed from his power ? Those therefore that strive and wrangle about the knowledge and will of God, and despise one another on that account, are more foolish than the birds in the woods, and the wild beasts that have no understanding. They are more unprofitable in the sight of God than the flowers of the field, which stand still in quiet submission to the Spirit of God, and suffer him to manifest the divine wisdom and power through them. So we need not strive about anything; we have no cause of contention with each other. Let every one only exert himself in learning how he may enter again into the love of God and his brother."
When Law began to read Boehme's writings he was repelled, as most readers are, by their strange jargon ; but gradually, he says, “I discovered sound truths and the glimmerings of a deep ground and sense, even in the passages not then clearly intelligible to me, and found myself, as it were, strongly prompted in my heart to dig in these writings. I followed this impulse with continual aspirations and prayer to God for his help and divine illumination, if I was called to understand them. By reading in this manner again and again and from time to time, I perceived that my heart felt well, and my understanding opened gradually, till at length I found what a treasure was hid in this field."1 This discovery marks an epoch in the spiritual history of Law, and all that he wrote subsequent to it bears evidence of the profound change it had wrought within him. These subsequent writings include The Grounds and Reasons of Christian Regeneration (1739), which he regarded as a short and sufficient exposition of his views; The Answer to Dr. Trapp (1740); and the better known works, The Spirit of Prayer (part I, 1749) and The Spirit of Love (1752).
Law's works, then, fall into two divisions—those that were written before he came under the influence of “the blessed Behmen,' that illumined instrument of God," as he called him, and those that were written after. There can be no doubt that it was his adoption of Boehme's mystical teaching and eccentricities of expression, even more than the fact of his being a Jacobite and a Non-juror, that made him so long distasteful to the religious public generally. Whether, if we were to study his mystical writings as persistently and prayerfully as he studied those of Boehme, we should become reconciled to their curious language and even love it, I cannot say; but anyhow it is not difficult with ordinary attention to find something of the treasure that is hid in this field-and indeed The Spirit of Prayer and The Spirit of Love are almost as much appreciated now as is The Serious Call, and, by some of the discerning, even more so. The eighteenth century was the age of reason, though
* See Overton, Life of William Law, p. 180.