Address to the Clergy
Grounds of Christian
Way to Divine Knowledge
Excerpts from William Law
I have thus shown the glory of man's original state in Paradise, and the lamentable change that the fall has brought upon him. From a divine and heavenly creature, he is so wretchedly changed as to have inwardly the nature and dark fire of the devils and outwardly the nature of all the beasts -- a slave of this outward world, living at all uncertainties amongst pains, fears, sorrows, and diseases -- till his body is forced to be removed from our sight and hid in the earth.
The reason why even the most profligate persons do not fully know and perceive their souls to be in this miserable state is this -- though the soul is thus fallen, it is still united to the blood of a human body, and therefore the sweet and cheering light of the sun can reach the soul and do that for it in some degree and for some time that which it does to the darkness, sharpness, sourness, bitterness and wrath which is in outward nature -- that is, it could enlighten, sweeten, and clear it in a certain degree. However, as this is not its own life, that is, does not arise in the soul itself, but only reaches it by means of the body, so if the soul has in this present time got no light of its own, when the death of the body breaks off its communion with the light of this world, the soul is left a mere dark, raging fire, in the state of devils. If therefore the light of this world were to be at once extinguished, all human souls that are not in some real degree of regeneration would immediately find themselves to be nothing but the rage of fire and the horror of darkness.
Now though the light and comfort of this outward world keeps even the worst of men from any constant, strong sensibility of that wrathful, fiery, dark, and self-tormenting nature which is the very essence of every fallen, unregenerate soul, yet every man in the world has more or less frequent and strong intimations given him that so it is with him in the deepest ground of his soul. How many inventions are some people forced to have recourse to, to keep off a certain inward uneasiness which they are afraid of, and know not whence it comes. Alas, it is because there is a fallen spirit, a dark aching fire within them, which has never had its proper relief, and is trying to discover itself and calling out for help at every cessation of worldly joy.
Why are some people, when under heavy disappointments or some great worldly shame, at the very brink of distraction, unable to bear themselves, and desirous of death of any kind? It is because - worldly light and comforts no longer acting sweetly upon the blood - the soul is left to its own dark, fiery, raging nature, and would destroy the body at any rate, rather than continue under such a sensibility of its own wrathful, self-tormenting fire.
Who has not at one time or other felt a sourness, wrath, selfishness, envy and pride, which he could not tell what to do with or how to bear, rising up without his consent, casting a blackness over all his thoughts -- then, as suddenly going off again, either by the cheerfulness of sun and air, or some agreeable accident, and again, at times as suddenly, returning upon him? Sufficient indications are these to every man that there is a dark guest within him, concealed under the cover of flesh and blood, often lulled asleep by worldly light and amusements, yet such as will in spite of everything show itself, and which, if it have not its proper cure in this life, must be his torment in the ages to come. It was because of this hidden hell within us that our blessed Lord said when on earth, and says now to every soul, "Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest". For as the soul is become this self-tormenting fire only because the birth of the Son of God was extinguished in it by our first parents, so there is no other possible remedy for it, either in heaven or earth, but by the coming to this Son of God to be born again of Him.
Oh poor unbelievers, that content yourselves with this foundation of hell in your nature, and either seek for no salvation, or, what is worse, turn your backs with disregard on the One Only Savior that God Himself can help you to. Think not of saving yourselves -- it is no more in your power than to save the fallen spirits that are in hell. Talk not of the mercy and goodness of God, for His mercy is indeed infinite, and His goodness above all conception; but then the infiniteness of it consists in this -- that He offered this Savior to mankind, because in the nature of things nothing less than this Savior could redeem them !! Therefore, to choose to rely upon some other goodness of God beside that which He has offered to us in Jesus Christ is the most dreadful mistake that can befall any man, and must, if persevered in, leave him out of the possibility of any kind or degree of salvation. For as the Son of God is the brightness and glory of the Father, so no soul made in the likeness of God is capable of any degree of brightness and glory but so far as the birth of the Son of God is in it. Therefore, to reject this birth, to refuse this method of redemption, is to reject all the goodness that the Divine Nature itself has for us." (Grounds of Christian Regeneration, pp. 11-15.)
|For in very deed the new birth is a new man, whether Christ for us, or Christ in us, which is formed by the Divine Word. This new man is "he that is born of God and cannot sin", because he has no sin in his nature. This is "he that overcomes the world", because he is of a divine nature, and is both contrary to the world, and above it. This is he who can alone "love his brother as himself", because the love of God abides in him. The old natural man is of the world, and enlightened only with the light of this world. He is shut up in his own envy, pride and wrath, and can only escape from these by the cross of Christ - that is, by dying with Him. This is the "self" that our Savior calls on us to deny. This is the "self" that we are to "hate" and "lose", that the kingdom of God may come in us - that is, that God's will may be done in us. All other sacrifices that we make - whether of worldly goods, honors or pleasures - are but small matters compared to that death of self, spiritual as well as natural, which must be made before our regeneration has its perfect work. (Grounds of Christian Regeneration, pp. 69 and 99.)|
Yet the Love that brought forth the existence of all things changes not through the fall of its creatures, but is continually at work to bring back all fallen nature and creature. All that passes for a time between God and His fallen creature is but one and the same thing, working for one and the same end, and though this is called "wrath" and that called "punishment", "curse", and "death". It is all, from the beginning to the end, nothing but the work of the first creating Love, and means nothing else and does nothing else, but those works of purifying fire which must and alone can burn away all that dark evil which separates the creature from its first-created union with God. God's providence, from the fall to the restitution of all things, is doing the same thing as when He said to the dark chaos of fallen nature, "Let there be light". He still says, and will continue saying the same thing, till there is not evil of darkness left in nature and creature.
God creating, God illuminating, God sanctifying, God threatening and punishing, God forgiving and redeeming, are all but one and the same essential, immutable, never-ceasing working of the Divine Nature. That in God which illuminates and glorifies saints and angels in heaven, is that very same working of the Divine Nature which wounds, pains, punishes, and purifies sinners upon earth. Every number of destroyed sinners, whether thrown by Noah's flood or Sodom's brimstone into the terrible furnace of a life insensible of anything but new forms of misery until the judgment day, must through the all-working, all-redeeming love of God, which never ceases, come at last to know that they had lost and have found again such a God of love as this.
If long ages of fiery pain and tormenting darkness fall to the share of many or most of God's apostate creatures, they will last no longer than till the great fire of God has melted all arrogance into humility, and all that is self has died in the bloody sweat and all-saving cross of Christ -- which will never give up its redeeming power till sin and sinners have no more a name among the creatures of God. If long ages hereafter can only do that for a soul departing this life under a load of sins, which days and nights might have done for a most hardened Pharaoh or a most wicked Nero while in the body, it is because, when flesh and blood are taken from it, the soul has only the strong apostate nature of fallen angels, which must have its place in that blackness of darkness of a fiery wrath that burns in them and in their kingdom.
To prevent this and make us children of the resurrection, Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, came into the world, died, and rose again for us. Does not this speak plainly enough what it was that man lost by his fall -- namely, the birth of the Son of God, and that He only by the cross could be man's Redeemer ?? (Address to the Clergy, pp. 171-173, slightly abridged.)
Let no one therefore take offense at the opening of this mystery, as if it brought anything new into religion. It has nothing new in it; it alters no point of gospel-doctrine, but only sets each article of the old Christian faith upon its true ground, pressing nothing more than this -- namely the necessity, if we would be saved, of the opening of the life of God within us, and of a death to that life of self which keeps us far from God.
Suffer me therefore once more to beseech you, as I have so often said, not to receive this mystery as a mere notion, nor - as the world has for the most part done with the Bible - to make it a matter of opinion or speculation. This and every other doctrine is useless, and worse than useless, unless it teaches that Truth can have no real entrance into you except so far as you die to self and to your earthly nature. The gospel says all this to you in the plainest words, and the mystery only shows you that the whole system of the universe says the same thing. To be a true student or disciple of the mystery is to be a disciple of Christ; for it calls you to nothing but the gospel, and wherever it enters, either into the height or depth of nature, it is only to confirm those words of Christ, "He that follows me not, walks in darkness", and "Unless a man deny himself, and forsake all that he has, he cannot be my disciple". This is the philosophy opened in this mystery. It is not to lead you after itself, but to compel you by every truth of nature to turn to Christ, as the one Way, the one Truth, the one Life and Salvation of the soul; not as notionally apprehended or historically known, but as experientially found -- living, speaking and working in your soul. Read as long or as much as you will of this mystery. It is all labor lost, if you intend anything else by it, or would be anything else from it, but a man dead to sin and to the world, that you may live unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord !! (Way to Divine Knowledge, pp. 255-258, abridged.)