A SERIOUS CALL TO A DEVOUT AND HOLY LIFE
by William Law
We can please God in no state or employment of life, but by intending and devoting it all to His honour and glory.
HAVING in the first chapter stated the general nature of devotion, and shown that it implies not any form of prayer, but a certain form of life, that is offered to God, not at any particular times or places, but everywhere and in everything; I shall now descend to some particulars, and show how we are to devote our labour and employment, our time and fortunes, unto God.
As a good Christian should consider every place as holy, because God is there, so he should look upon every part of his life as a matter of holiness, because it is to be offered unto God.
The profession of a clergyman is an holy profession, because it is a ministration in holy things, an attendance at the altar. But worldly business is to be made holy unto the Lord, by being done as a service to Him, and in conformity to His Divine will.
For as all men, and all things in the world, as truly belong unto God, as any places, things, or persons, that are devoted to Divine service, so all things are to be used, and all persons are to act in their several states and employments, for the glory of God.
Men of worldly business, therefore, must not look upon themselves as at liberty to live to themselves, to sacrifice to their own humours and tempers, because their employment is of a worldly nature. But they must consider, that, as the world and all worldly professions as truly belong to God, as persons and things that are devoted to the altar, so it is as much the duty of men in worldly business to live wholly unto God, as it is the duty of those who are devoted to Divine service.
As the whole world is God's, so the whole world is to act for God. As all men have the same relation to God, as all men have all their powers and faculties from God, so all men are obliged to act for God, with all their powers and faculties.
As all things are God's, so all things are to be used and regarded as the things of God. For men to abuse things on earth, and live to themselves, is the same rebellion against God, as for angels to abuse things in Heaven; because God is just the same Lord of all on earth, as He is the Lord of all in Heaven.
Things may, and must differ in their use, but yet they are all to be used according to the will of God.
Men may, and must differ in their employments, but yet they must all act for the same ends, as dutiful servants of God, in the right and pious performance of their several callings.
Clergymen must live wholly unto God in one particular way, that is, in the exercise of holy offices, in the ministration of prayers and Sacraments, and a zealous distribution of spiritual goods.
But men of other employments are, in their particular ways, as much obliged to act as the servants of God, and live wholly unto Him in their several callings. This is the only difference between clergymen and people of other callings.
When it can be shown, that men might be vain, covetous, sensual, worldly-minded, or proud in the exercise of their worldly business, then it will be allowable for clergymen to indulge the same tempers in their sacred profession. For though these tempers are most odious and most criminal in clergymen, who besides their baptismal vow, have a second time devoted themselves to God, to be His servants, not in the common offices of human life, but in the spiritual service of the most holy sacred things, and who are therefore to keep themselves as separate and different from the common life of other men, as a church or an altar is to be kept separate from houses and tables of common use; yet as all Christians are by their Baptism devoted to God, and made professors of holiness, so are they all in their several callings to live as holy and heavenly persons; doing everything in their common life only in such a manner, as it may be received by God, as a service done to Him. For things spiritual and temporal, sacred and common, must, like men and angels, like Heaven and earth, all conspire in the glory of God.
As there is but one God and Father of us all, whose glory gives light and life to everything that lives, whose presence fills all places, whose power supports all beings, whose providence ruleth all events; so everything that lives, whether in Heaven or earth, whether they be thrones or principalities, men or angels, they must all, with one spirit, live wholly to the praise and glory of this one God and Father of them all. Angels as angels, in their heavenly ministrations; but men as men, women as women, bishops as bishops, priests as priests, and deacons as deacons; some with things spiritual, and some with things temporal, offering to God the daily sacrifice of a reasonable life, wise actions, purity of heart, and heavenly affections.
This is the common business of all persons in this world. It is not left to any women in the world to trifle away their time in the follies and impertinences of a fashionable life, nor to any men to resign themselves up to worldly cares and concerns; it is not left to the rich to gratify their passions in the indulgences and pride of life, nor to the poor, to vex and torment their hearts with the poverty of their state; but men and women, rich and poor, must, with bishops and priests, walk before God in the same wise and holy spirit, in the same denial of all vain tempers, and in the same discipline and care of their souls; not only because they have all the same rational nature, and are servants of the same God, but because they all want the same holiness, to make them fit for the same happiness, to which they are all called. It is therefore absolutely necessary for all Christians, whether men or women, to consider themselves as persons that are devoted to holiness, and so order their common ways of life, by such rules of reason and piety, as may turn it into continual service unto Almighty God.
Now to make our labour, or employment, an acceptable service unto God, we must carry it on with the same spirit and temper, that is required in giving of alms, or any work of piety. For, if "whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do," we must "do all to the glory of God"; [1 Cor. x. 31] if "we are to use this world as if we used it not"; if we are to "present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God"; [Rom. xii. 1] if "we are to live by faith, and not by sight," and to "have our conversation in heaven"; [2 Cor. v. 7; Phil. iii. 20] then it is necessary that the common way of our life, in every state, be made to glorify God by such tempers as make our prayers and adorations acceptable to Him. For if we are worldly or earthly-minded in our employments, if they are carried on with vain desires, and covetous tempers, only to satisfy ourselves, we can no more be said to live to the glory of God, than gluttons and drunkards can be said to eat and drink to the glory of God.
As the glory of God is one and the same thing, so whatever we do suitable to it must be done with one and the same spirit. That same state and temper of mind which makes our alms and devotions acceptable, must also make our labour, or employment, a proper offering unto God. If a man labours to be rich, and pursues his business, that he may raise himself to a state of figure and glory in the world, he is no longer serving God in his employment; he is acting under other masters, and has no more title to a reward from God, than he that gives alms, that he may be seen, or prays, that he may be heard of men. For vain and earthly desires are no more allowable in our employments, than in our alms and devotions. For these tempers of worldly pride, and vain-glory, are not only evil, when they mix with our good works, but they have the same evil nature, and make us odious to God, when they enter into the common business of our employment. If it were allowable to indulge covetous or vain passions in our worldly employments, it would then be allowable to be vain-glorious in our devotions. But as our alms and devotions are not an acceptable service, but when they proceed from a heart truly devoted to God, so our common employment cannot be reckoned a service to Him, but when it is performed with the same temper and piety of heart.
Most of the employments of life are in their own nature lawful; and all those that are so may be made a substantial part of our duty to God, if we engage in them only so far, and for such ends, as are suitable to beings that are to live above the world, all the time that they live in the world. This is the only measure of our application to any worldly business, let it be what it will, where it will; it must have no more of our hands, our hearts, or our time, than is consistent with a hearty, daily, careful preparation of ourselves for another life. For as all Christians, as such have renounced this world, to prepare themselves by daily devotion, and universal holiness, for an eternal state of quite another nature, they must look upon worldly employments, as upon worldly wants, and bodily infirmities; things not to be desired but only to be endured and suffered, till death and the resurrection have carried us to an eternal state of real happiness.
Now he that does not look at the things of this life in this degree of littleness, cannot be said either to feel or believe the greatest truths of Christianity. For if he thinks anything great or important in human business, can he be said to feel or believe those Scriptures, which represent this life, and the greatest things of life, as bubbles, vapours, dreams, and shadows?
If he thinks figure, and show, and worldly glory, to be any proper happiness of a Christian, how can he be said to feel or believe this doctrine, "Blessed are ye when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake"? [Luke vi. 22] For surely, if there was any real happiness in figure, and show, and worldly glory; if these things deserved our thoughts and care; it could not be matter of the highest joy, when we are torn from them by persecutions and sufferings. If, therefore, a man will so live, as to show that he feels and believes the most fundamental doctrines of Christianity, he must live above the world; this is the temper that must enable him to do the business of life, and yet live wholly unto God, and to go through some worldly employment with a heavenly mind. And it is as necessary that people live in their employments with this temper, as it is necessary that their employment itself be lawful.
The husbandman that tilleth the ground is employed in an honest business, that is necessary in life and very capable of being made an acceptable service unto God. But if he labours and toils, not to serve any reasonable ends of life, but in order to have his plough made of silver, and to have his horses harnessed in gold, the honesty of his employment is lost as to him, and his labour becomes his folly.
A tradesman may justly think that it is agreeable to the will of God, for him to sell such things as are innocent and useful in life, such as help both himself, and others, to a reasonable support, and enable them to assist those that want to be assisted. But if, instead of this, he trades only with regard to himself, without any other rule than that of his own temper; if it be his chief end in it to grow rich, that he may live in figure and indulgence, and to be able to retire from business to idleness and luxury; his trade, as to him, loses all its innocency, and is so far from being an acceptable service to God that it is only a more plausible course of covetousness, self-love, and ambition. For such a one turns the necessities of employment into pride and covetousness, just as the sot and epicure turn the necessities of eating and drinking into gluttony and drunkenness. Now he that is up early and late, that sweats and labours for these ends, that he may be some time or other rich, and live in pleasure and indulgence, lives no more to the glory of God, than he that plays and games for the same ends. For though there is a great difference between trading and gaming, yet most of that difference is lost, when men once trade with the same desires and tempers, and for the same ends, that others game. Charity, and fine dressing, are things very different; but if men give alms for the same reasons that others dress fine, only to be seen and admired, charity is then but like the vanity of fine clothes. In like manner, if the same motives make some people painful9 and industrious in their trades, which make others constant at gaming, such pains are but like the pains of gaming.
Calidus10 has traded above thirty years in the greatest city of the kingdom; he has been so many years constantly increasing his trade and his fortune. Every hour of the day is with him an hour of business; and though he eats and drinks very heartily, yet every meal seems to be in a hurry, and he would say grace if he had time. Calidus ends every day at the tavern, but has not leisure to be there till near nine o'clock. He is always forced to drink a good hearty glass, to drive thoughts of business out of his head, and make his spirits drowsy enough for sleep. He does business all the time that he is rising, and has settled several matters before he can get to his counting-room. His prayers are a short ejaculation or two, which he never misses in stormy, tempestuous weather, because he has always something or other at sea. Calidus will tell you, with great pleasure, that he has been in this hurry for so many years, and that it must have killed him long ago, but that it has been a rule with him to get out of the town every Saturday, and make the Sunday a day of quiet, and good refreshment in the country.
He is now so rich, that he would leave off his business, and amuse his old age with building, and furnishing a fine house in the country, but that he is afraid he should grow melancholy if he was to quit his business. He will tell you, with great gravity, that it is a dangerous thing for a man that has been used to get money, ever to leave it off. If thoughts of religion happen at any time to steal into his head, Calidus contents himself with thinking, that he never was a friend to heretics, and infidels, that he has always been civil to the minister of his parish, and very often given something to the charity schools.
Now this way of life is at such a distance from all the doctrine and discipline of Christianity, that no one can live in it through ignorance or frailty. Calidus can no more imagine that he is "born again of the Spirit"; [St. John iii] that he is "in Christ a new creature"; that he lives here as a stranger and a pilgrim, [1 Pet. ii. 11] setting his affections on things above, and laying up treasures in heaven, [Col. iii. 1] -- he can no more imagine this, than he can think that he has been all his life an Apostle working miracles, and preaching the Gospel.
It must also be owned, that the generality of trading people, especially in great towns, are too much like Calidus. You see them all the week buried in business, unable to think of anything else; and then spending the Sunday in idleness and refreshment, in wandering into the country, in such visits and jovial meetings, as make it often the worst day of the week.
Now they do not live thus, because they cannot support themselves with less care and application to business; but they live thus because they want to grow rich in their trades, and to maintain their families in some such figure and degree of finery, as a reasonable Christian life has no occasion for. Take away but this temper, and then people of all trades will find themselves at leisure to live every day like Christians, to be careful of every duty of the Gospel, to live in a visible course of religion, and be every day strict observers both of private and public prayer.
Now the only way to do this, is for people to consider their trade as something that they are obliged to devote to the glory of God, something that they are to do only in such a manner as that they may make it a duty to Him. Nothing can be right in business, that is not under these rules. -- The Apostle commands servants to be obedient to their masters "in singleness of heart, as unto Christ. Not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as unto the Lord, and not to men." [Eph. vi. 5; Col. iii. 22, 23]
This passage sufficiently shows, that all Christians are to live wholly unto God in every state and condition, doing the work of their common calling in such a manner, and for such ends, as to make it a part of their devotion or service to God. For certainly if poor slaves are not to comply with their business as men-pleasers, if they are to look wholly unto God in all their actions, and serve in singleness of heart, as unto the Lord, surely men of other employments and conditions must be as much obliged to go through their business with the same singleness of heart; not as pleasing the vanity of their own minds, not as gratifying their own selfish worldly passions, but as the servants of God in all that they have to do. For surely no one will say, that a slave is to devote his state of life unto God, and make the will of God the sole rule and end of his service, but that a tradesman need not act with the same spirit of devotion in his business. For this is as absurd, as to make it necessary for one man to be more just or faithful than another.
It is therefore absolutely certain that no Christian is to enter any farther into business, nor for any other ends, than such as he can in singleness of heart offer unto God, as a reasonable service. For the Son of God has redeemed us for this only end, that we should, by a life of reason and piety, live to the glory of God; this is the only rule and measure for every order and state of life. Without this rule, the most lawful employment becomes a sinful state of life.
Take away this from the life of a clergyman, and his holy profession serves only to expose him to a greater damnation. Take away this from tradesmen, and shops are but so many houses of greediness and filthy lucre. Take away this from gentlemen, and the course of their life becomes a course of sensuality, pride, and wantonness. Take away this rule from our tables, and all falls into gluttony and drunkenness. Take away this measure from our dress and habits, and all is turned into such paint, and glitter, and ridiculous ornaments, as are a real shame to the wearer. Take away this from the use of our fortunes, and you will find people sparing in nothing but charity. Take away this from our diversions, and you will find no sports too silly, nor any entertainments too vain and corrupt, to be the pleasure of Christians. If, therefore, we desire to live unto God, it is necessary to bring our whole life under this law, to make His glory the sole rule and measure of our acting in every employment of life. For there is no other true devotion, but this of living devoted to God in the common business of our lives.
So that men must not content themselves with the lawfulness of their employments, but must consider whether they use them, as they are to use everything as strangers and pilgrims, that are baptized into the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that are to follow Him in a wise and heavenly course of life, in the mortification of all worldly desires, and in purifying and preparing their souls for the blessed enjoyment of God. [Col. iii. 1; 1 Pet. i. 15, 16; Eph. v. 26, 27]
For to be vain, or proud, or covetous, or ambitious, in the common course of our business, is as contrary to these holy tempers of Christianity, as cheating and dishonesty.
If a glutton was to say, in excuse of his gluttony, that he only eats such things as it is lawful to eat, he would make as good an excuse for himself, as the greedy, covetous, ambitious tradesman, that should say, he only deals in lawful business. For as a Christian is not only required to be honest, but to be of a Christian spirit, and make his life an exercise of humility, repentance, and heavenly affection, so all tempers that are contrary to these are as contrary to Christianity, as cheating is contrary to honesty.
So that the matter plainly comes to this; all irregular tempers in trade and business are but like irregular tempers in eating and drinking.
Proud views, and vain desires, in our worldly employments, are as truly vices and corruptions, as hypocrisy in prayer, or vanity in alms. And there can be no reason given, why vanity in our alms should make us odious to God, but what will prove any other kind of pride to be equally odious. He that labours and toils in a calling, that he may make a figure in the world and draw the eyes of people upon the splendour of his condition, is as far from the pious humility of a Christian, as he that gives alms that he may be seen of men. For the reason why pride and vanity in our prayers and alms renders them an unacceptable service to God, is not because there is anything particular in prayers and alms, that cannot allow of pride, but because pride is in no respect, nor in anything, made for man; it destroys the piety of our prayers and alms, because it destroys the piety of everything that it touches, and renders every action that it governs incapable of being offered unto God.
So that if we could so divide ourselves, as to be humble in some respects, and proud in others, such humility would be of no service to us, because God requires us as truly to be humble in all our actions and designs, as to be true and honest in all our actions and designs.
And as a man is not honest and true, because he is so to a great many people, or upon several occasions, but because truth and honesty is the measure of all his dealings with everybody; so the case is the same in humility, or any other temper; it must be the general ruling habit of our minds, and extend itself to all our actions and designs, before it can be imputed to us.
We indeed sometimes talk, as if a man might be humble in some things, and proud in others; humble in his dress, but proud of his learning; humble in his person, but proud in his views and designs. But though this may pass in common discourse, where few things are said according to strict truth, it cannot be allowed, when we examine into the nature of our actions.
It is very possible for a man that lives by cheating, to be very punctual in paying for what he buys; but then every one is assured, that he does not do so out of any principle of true honesty.
In like manner it is very possible for a man that is proud of his estate, ambitious in his views, or vain of his learning, to disregard his dress and person in such a manner as a truly humble man would do; but to suppose that he does so out of a true principle of religious humility, is full as absurd as to suppose that a cheat pays for what he buys out of a principle of religious honesty.
As, therefore, all kinds of dishonesty destroy our pretences to an honest principle of mind, so all kinds of pride destroy our pretences to an humble spirit.
No one wonders that those prayers and alms, which proceed from pride and ostentation, are odious to God; but yet it is as easy to show, that pride is as pardonable there as anywhere else.
If we could suppose that God rejects pride in our prayers and alms, but bears with pride in our dress, our persons, or estates, it would be the same thing as to suppose, that God condemns falsehood in some actions, but allows it in others. For pride, in one thing, differs from pride in another thing, as the robbing of one man differs from the robbing of another.
Again, if pride and ostentation is so odious that it destroys the merit and worth of the most reasonable actions, surely it must be equally odious in those actions which are only founded in the weakness and infirmity of our nature. As thus, alms are commanded by God, as excellent in themselves, as true instances of a divine temper, but clothes are only allowed to cover our shame; surely, therefore, it must at least be as odious a degree of pride, to be vain in our clothes, as to be vain in our alms.
Again, we are commanded to "pray without ceasing," [1 Thess. v. 17] as a means of rendering our souls more exalted and divine, but we are forbidden to lay up treasures upon earth; [Matt. vi. 19] and can we think that it is not as bad to be vain of those treasures which we are forbidden to lay up, as to be vain of those prayers which we are commanded to make?
Women are required to have their heads covered, and to adorn themselves with shamefacedness: [1 Cor. xi. 13; 1 Tim. ii. 9] if, therefore, they are vain in those things which are expressly forbidden, if they patch and paint that part, which can only be adorned by shamefacedness, surely they have as much to repent of for such a pride, as they have, whose pride is the motive to their prayers and charity. This must be granted; unless we will say, that it is more pardonable to glory in our shame, than to glory in our virtue.
All these instances are only to show us the great necessity of such a regular and uniform piety, as extends itself to all the actions of our common life.
That we must eat and drink, and dress and discourse, according to the sobriety of the Christian spirit, engage in no employments but such as we can truly devote unto God, nor pursue them any farther than so far as conduces to the reasonable ends of a holy, devout life. -- That we must be honest, not only on particular occasions, and in such instances as are applauded in the world, easy to be performed, and free from danger, or loss, but from such a living principle of justice, as makes us love truth and integrity in all its instances, follow it through all dangers, and against all opposition; as knowing that the more we pay for any truth, the better is our bargain, and that then our integrity becomes a pearl, when we have parted with all to keep it. -- That we must be humble, not only in such instances as are expected in the world, or suitable to our tempers, or confined to particular occasions; but in such a humility of spirit, as renders us meek and lowly in the whole course of our lives, as shows itself in our dress, our person, our conversation, our enjoyment of the world, the tranquillity of our minds, patience under injuries, submission to superiors, and condescensions to those that are below us, and in all the outward actions of our lives. -- That we must devote, not only times and places to prayer, but be everywhere in the spirit of devotion; with hearts always set towards Heaven, looking up to God in all our actions, and doing everything as His servants; living in the world as in a holy temple of God, and always worshipping Him, though not with our lips, yet with the thankfulness of our hearts, the holiness of our actions, and the pious and charitable use of all His gifts. -- That we must not only send up petitions and thoughts to Heaven, but must go through all our worldly business with a heavenly spirit, as members of Christ's mystical body; that, with new hearts and new minds, we may turn an earthly life into a preparation for a life of greatness and glory in the kingdom of Heaven. Now the only way to arrive at this piety of spirit, is to bring all your actions to the same rule as your devotions and alms. You very well know what it is, that makes the piety of your alms or devotions; now the same rules, the same regard to God, must render everything else that you do, a fit and acceptable service unto God.
Enough, I hope, has been said, to show you the necessity of thus introducing religion into all the actions of your common life, and of living and acting with the same regard to God, in all that you do, as in your prayers and alms.
Eating is one of the lowest actions of our lives; it is common to us with mere animals; yet we see that the piety of all ages of the world has turned this ordinary action of an animal life into a piety to God, by making every meal to begin and end with devotion.
We see yet some remains of this custom in most Christian families, some such little formality as shows you, that people used to call upon God at the beginning and end of their meals. But, indeed, it is now generally performed, as to look more like a mockery upon devotion, than any solemn application of the mind unto God. In one house you may perhaps see the head of the family just pulling off his hat; in another, half getting up from his seat; another shall, it may be, proceed so far as to make as if he said something; but, however,11 these little attempts are the remains of some devotion that was formerly used at such times, and are proofs that religion has formerly belonged to this part of common life.
But to such a pass are we now come, that though the custom is yet preserved, yet we can hardly bear with him that seems to perform it, with any degree of seriousness, and look upon it as a sign of a fanatical temper, if a man has not done as soon as he begins.
I would not be thought to plead for the necessity of long prayers at these times; but thus much I think may be said, that if prayer is proper at these times, we ought to oblige ourselves to use such a form of words, as should show that we solemnly appeal to God for such graces and blessings as are then proper to the occasion. Otherwise the mock ceremony, instead of blessing our victuals, does but accustom us to trifle with devotion, and give us a habit of being unaffected12 with our prayers.
If every head of a family was, at the return of every meal, to oblige himself to make a solemn adoration of God, in such a decent manner as becomes a devout mind, it would be very likely to teach him that swearing, sensuality, gluttony, and loose discourse, were very improper at those meals, which were to begin and end with devotion.
And if in these days of general corruption, this part of devotion is fallen into a mock ceremony, it must be imputed to this cause, that sensuality and intemperance have got too great a power over us, to suffer us to add any devotion to our meals. But thus much must be said, that when we are as pious as Jews and Heathens of all ages have been, we shall think it proper to pray at the beginning and end of our meals.
I have appealed to this pious custom of all ages of the world, as a proof of the reasonableness of the doctrine of this and the foregoing chapters; that is, as a proof that religion is to be the rule and measure of all the actions of ordinary life. For surely, if we are not to eat, but under such rules of devotion, it must plainly appear, that whatever else we do, must, in its proper way, be done with the same regard to the glory of God, and agreeably to the principles of a devout and pious mind.
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