Vol II No. 5
Daily Thought

William Law: Address to Clergy, xx-xxi.

by William J. Martin


[Addr-20] Now from these Words let this conclusion be here drawn, viz. that therefore to turn to Christ as a Light within us, to expect life from nothing but his holy Birth raised within us, to give ourselves up wholly and solely to the immediate continual Influx and Operation of his Holy Spirit, depending wholly upon it for every Kind and Degree of Goodness and Holiness that we want, or can receive, is and can be Nothing else, but proud, rank Enthusiasm.

A Pentecostal friend says that Anglicans have Religion but not Relationship. Perhaps he is on to something. I take it that Religion for him is an outward form or husk which tends, on the best of days, to be empty of substance and content. Of course, such need not be the case. Religion might just as well be called and ‘outward and visible form of inward and spiritual Grace’. The point is that it had better have subjective content if it is to be of any spiritual good. This is the point made here. Religion is vain and useless unless we are engaged in ongoing re-conception and re-birth through Christ’s indwelling the soul. In his autobiography, Louis Bouyer reminds us of this when he credits Protestants with something that he finds missing too often in Catholics. He says that Catholics can ‘mistake the herd mentality for faithfulness, can toss all of its baggage overboard overnight, or…finds salvation only in an ultimate hardening of its emptiest shells.’ What is frequently missing in Catholic piety (and the same might be said for Eastern Orthodox and Anglican ritualism) is old-fashioned Protestant Principle. One can then come to think that one is saved by the customary and ritual movements of the holy herd. But if this is the case, think about how a ‘faithful’ Catholic might be found embracing ideas and notions that run clean-contrary to Catholic teaching. Why is this the case? He lacks that inward and spiritual possession of Protestant Principle. He has never connected the external with the internal. He has never call himself to account before the Dread-Judgment Seat of God. The subjective has never been weighed and measured in the face of God’s Objective Supremacy. And thus he becomes either a libertine liberal or relentless ritualist. In either case, he is the subject and slave of the external Law to the hindrance and help of Christ’s Indwelling Spirit. Now, in fairness to the best of Catholics, Principle is not the prized possession of Protestants alone. The best of Catholics share Principle with the best of Protestants. The point is that both must endeavor in all earnest to unite the external and visible with the inward and spiritual. And this can be done only when we are daily surrendering to our Heavenly Father by being made members of the Mystical Body of His Son, through the Holy Spirit. And this is done most effectively when we are conscious of the need for ongoing surrender to Jesus Christ our Head, our Lord and Governor, our Master. What we are in need of most is His perpetual conception and birth in our souls, from above. What should be most necessary to us is for His Light to show us up truly and really in the face of the Supreme Holiness and Righteousness that He receives from the Father and returns back through the Holy Ghost. For He longs to infuse this Holiness and Righteousness into our lives so that we too might be swept up in the motions of His Divine Love. Without a direct and immediate reception of this Religion through Relationship with God, we cannot be saved.  

[Addr-21] Now as infinitely absurd as this conclusion is, no one that condemns continual immediate Inspiration as gross Enthusiasm, can possibly do it with less absurdity, or show himself a Wiser Man, or better Reasoner, than he that concludes, that Because without Christ we can do Nothing, therefore we ought not to believe, expect, wait for, and depend upon his continual immediate operation in every Thing that we do, or would do well.— As to the Pride charged upon this pretended Enthusiasm, it is the same absurdity. Christ says, “without me ye can do Nothing,” the same as if he had said, As to yourselves, and all that can be called your own, you are mere helpless Sin and Misery, and Nothing that is good, can come from you, but as it is done by the continual immediate Breathing and Inspiration of another Spirit, given by God to over-rule your own, to save and deliver you from all your own Goodness, your own Wisdom, and Learning which always were, and always will be, as corrupt and impure, as earthly and sensual, as your own Flesh and Blood. Now is there any selfish Creaturely Pride, in fully believing this to be true, and in acting in full Conformity to it? If so, then he that confesses he neither has, nor ever can have a single Farthing, but as it is freely given him from Charity, thereby declares himself to be a Purse-proud vain Boaster of his own Wealth. Such is the Spiritual Pride of him, who fully acknowledges that he neither has, nor can have the least Spark or breathing after Goodness, but what is freely kindled, or breathed into him by the Spirit of God. Again, if it is Spiritual Pride to believe, that Nothing that we ever think, or say, or do, either in the Church, or our Closets, can have any truth of Goodness in it but that which is wrought solely and immediately by the Spirit of God in us, then it must be said, that in order to have religious Humility we must never forget to take some Share of our religious Virtues to ourselves, and not allow (as Christ hath said) that without Him we can do Nothing that is good. It must also be said, that St. Paul took too much upon him when he said, “the Life that I now live, is not mine, but Christ’s that liveth in me.”

Now we too often quit this endeavor before beginning to attempt it. It must be said that this truth is not harder to embrace than any other. Every truth takes time to grow in man’s heart since he is stubborn and resistant to change by reason of his fallen state. But to begin to practice this truth requires that first we pray it. Now, to be sure, there is nothing here that is not explicitly and transparently presented to us in the Common Prayer Book of the Church. The Common Prayer in fact teaches us that this truth is binding and incumbent upon us in its General Confessions. ‘We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep’, ‘ Followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts,’ ‘Have left undone those things that we ought to have done…done those things that we ought not to have done’, ‘There is no health in us’ ‘Miserable offenders’, and so forth. Now these prayers teach us that without God we can think no good thought, speak no good word, and do no good deed. Without God, we are lost and in danger of perishing. Without God, we can easily sink into our own vain and narcissistic conceit and selfishness. Without the ongoing inspiration of Christ’s Holy Spirit we can do no good thing. And yet we must in all humility surrender ourselves first to Him from the side of our own powerlessness and frailty. This is part of the Process of Christ’s coming to us. We must acknowledge our inability ‘to do any good thing without Christ’ and that without Christ’s coming in the Power of the Holy Spirit, we shall be forever lost.