Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 32.djvu/245

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Law
Law
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marked influence upon the Wesleys and Whitefield, and upon the early evangelicals, such as Henry Venn and Thomas Scott, including some who attacked his mysticism, such as James Hervey and John Newton. Johnson's religious convictions were due, he says, to a perusal of the 'Serious Call' at Oxford, and even Gibbon speaks of it with high respect (see Overton, pp. 109–19, and 392–9 for an account of Law's admirers and opponents). His power is due, not merely to the uncompromising simplicity with which he adopts the Christian ideal and gives new life to commonplaces, but to extraordinary merits of style. His writing is transparently clear, vivid, and pungent, and his portraits of character remind us that he was a contemporary of Addison, and a keener satirist, if a less delicate humorist. A certain austerity appears in his writings, as in his life, and he occasionally recalls the puritan doctrine, though his asceticism is of a different type. His attack upon the stage followed that of the high churchman, Jeremy Collier, and the less known work of Arthur Bedford [q.v.].

The logical power shown in Law's controversial writings surpasses that of any contemporary author, unless Bentley be an exception. His assaults upon Hoadly, Mandeville, and Tindal could only have failed to place him in the front rank because they diverged too far from the popular theories. He was the most thoroughgoing opponent of the dominant rationalism of which Locke was the great exponent, and which, in his view, could lead only to infidelity. He takes the ground (see especially his answer to Tindal) of the impotence of human reason, and in some points anticipates Butler's 'Analogy.' The sceptical inference from this argument may be answered by an appeal to authority; but Law, though a high churchman to the end of his life, found an answer more satisfactory to himself in the doctrine of the 'inner light,' which, on some points, leads him towards quakerism. His early love of the mystical writers made him accessible to the influence of Behmen, which seems to have affected him as, in later days, Coleridge and his followers were affected by the German philosophy, to which Behmen's writings have some affinity. Englishmen, who have generally (whether rightly or wrongly) regarded mysticism, ontology, and nonsense as convertible terms, and especially the thoroughly English Wesley, were alienated by this tendency; and though many of Law's writings went through several editions, he occupies an isolated position in the history of English thought, and even his singular literary merit has been too little recognised.

His works were collected in nine volumes, with a title-page dated 1762. Each tract was also published separately, and with various dates. The edition comprises all the published works, except two sermons mentioned above and a tract called 'Answer to a Question, Where shall I go ... to be in the Truth?' 1750 (?). In the following list the edition mentioned is that which appears on the title-pages in the collected edition:— 1. Three letters to the Bishop of Bangor, 1717–19; 9th, 5th, and 2nd edit. respectively, vol. i. 2. 'Remarks upon ... the Fable of the Bees' (with postscript on Bayle), 1724; 3rd edit. vol. ii. (1). 3. 'The Absolute Unlawfulness of the Stage Entertainment fully demonstrated,' 1726; 6th edit. vol. iii. (3). 4. 'A Practical Treatise upon Christian Perfection,' 1726; 6th edit. vol. iii. 5. 'A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, adapted to the State and Condition of all Orders of Christians,' 1728; 10th edit. vol. iv. 6. 'The Case of Reason, or Natural Religion fairly and fully Stated in Answer to [Tindal's] Christianity as Old as the Creation,' 1731; 3rd edit. vol. ii. (2). 7. 'A Demonstration of the Gross and Fundamental Errors of ...' ('Plain Account ... of the Lord's Supper'), 1737; 4th edit. vol. v. (1). 8. 'The Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Regeneration,' 3rd edit. 1750; 7th edit. vol. v. (2). 9. 'An Earnest and Serious Answer to Dr. Trapp's discourse of the Folly, Sin, and Danger of being Righteous Overmuch,' 1740; 4th edit. vol. vi. (1). 10. 'An Appeal to all that doubt or disbelieve the Truths of the Gospel. ... To which are added some Animadversions upon Dr. Trapp's Replies,' 1740; 3rd edit. vol. vi. (2). 11. 'The Spirit of Prayer, or the Soul rising out of the Vanity of Time into the Riches of Eternity,' in two parts, the second in dialogue form, 1749; 7th and 5th edit. vol. vii. (1) and (2). 12. 'The Way to Divine Knowledge' (a continuation of the dialogues forming the second part of the 'Spirit of Prayer') '... preparatory to a new edition of the "Works of Jacob Behmen ..."' 1752; 3rd edit. vol. vii. (3). 13. 'The Spirit of Love' (an appendix to the 'Spirit of Prayer,' in two parts), 1752; 3rd edit. vol. viii. (1) and (2). 14. 'A Short but Sufficient Confutation of the Rev. Dr. Warburton's projected defence (as he calls it) of Christianity' (in the 'Divine Legation') '... in a letter to the Bishop of London,' 1757; 2nd edit. vol. viii. (3). 15. 'Of Justification by Faith and Works: a Dialogue between a Methodist and a Churchman,' 1760; 3rd edit. vol. ix. (1). 16. 'A Collection of Letters on the most interesting and important Subjects, and on