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December 28, 2012

The Way to Divine Knowledge

by William Law - 1752

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From:   {Notes and Materials}*

About William Law's The Way to Divine Knowledge.

The First Dialogue is the natural continuation and conclusion following The Spirit of Prayer, as a means of knitting the two works together, and giving continuity to the conversations.   The First Dialogue appropriately sums up with the observations on "Gospel Christianity" showing its true nature, as the end of all the salvation dispensations of God to man.  Humanus, who was silent throughout the entire Spirit of Prayer, having applied what he heard, now whole-heartedly joins the conversations.

The purpose of The Second and Third Dialogues of The Way to Divine Knowledge is to fulfill the promise mentioned by Theophilus [in 2.1-78 of the First Dialogue of The Spirit of Prayer] "to have hereafter one Day's entire Conversation on the Nature and End of the Writings of Jacob Behmen {Boehme}, and the right Use and Manner of reading them; and all that, as preparatory to a more correct English Edition of his Works, so this and some other Points shall be adjourned to that Time".  Thus was William Law, in his Elias ministration, carrying out the designs of the gospel revelation, that is, as the Divine Author of it wished the "truth" or the pure, universal philosophy that he taught, to be understood: whereby to renew the face of moral nature, even to the ends of the earth, and so to usher in the great day. ...   For had Christianity, as taught by its original author, and summed up in the Saint Paul's epistles, continued to be rightly understood, and transmitted purely down through time by the apostolic successors, the host of conflicting religious schemes which the last seventeen hundred {now more than 1850} years have brought forth, could never have been conceived, or at all events, would have been strangled at the birth.  

But blessed be God, the world is approaching daylight, and will soon have the means of understanding the mind and spirit of Christ, in his recorded declarations, and those of his apostles.

The Participants in the Dialogues:
(being the same as in "The Second Part: of The Spirit of Prayer)

The dramatis personae {the cast of characters} therein introduced, including the author himself, are four in number.

  1. The first, Academicus, is represented as a man of learning, thoroughly versed in scholastic metaphysics and theology, but (like our modern divines with few exceptions) wholly unsuspicious of the real nature, depth and necessity of the new birth, which he regards as a figurative expression, and who prides himself upon his choice collection of the works of the fathers and other spiritual authors.

  2. The second, Rusticus, another speaker, is a simple, unlettered English yeoman of the old school, possessed of a vigorous understanding and strong natural sense, who having been deeply affected by the solemn and awakening truths set forth in such unprecedented clearness in the "First Part", had turned all into immediate practice and reaped the benefits of such a common-sense mode of procedure.  Of the possibility of which experimental knowledge of the the gospel, he had not had even the remotest conception before meeting with Mr. Law's book, even though he had been a regular attendant at his parish church; because Christianity had never been presented to him in its true natural light, but only as seen through the spectacles of ordinary university theology, or self-styled evangelical theology.

  3. Humanus, a third assistant, who was first introduced as a silent listener to the conversations in The Spirit of Prayer, but now joining in the conversations, may be regarded as a personification of that large class of sober-thinking, honest unbelievers, who were best known in Law's country as deists, but in which may be included every class of well-educated free-thinkers.  In short, Humanus, is a  fair representation of humanity as it stands in the best state possible to it without the gospel; having no knowledge of the gospel's real grounds and implications, destitute of that rational conviction of its divine origin, and void of apprehension of its true nature, which may be said to be the indispensable condition for a person of judgment and sincerity who is an unbeliever,to come upon an entrance to the evangelical life.

  4. Lastly, Theophilus may be regarded as representing the Lord speaking through Mr. Law in the character of a true theosopher, or heaven-illuminated sage, whose business it is to open out to view, the universal scheme of the revelations of the Deity, in all its scope and implications; and to place the gospel in its true light, by demonstrating that the procedure of God in nature and grace is the same, and that the highest conformity to the Christian verities, is strictly accordant with the unchangeable laws of the physical and intellectual universe.

From:   {Notes and Materials}*   

The Subjects of The Way to Divine Knowledge.

First Dialogue. — The whole foundation of the Gospel presented.    •   The certainty of man's original perfection, and of his fall and redemption.   •   The primeval fire and light, still lodged in the human soul.   •   Salvation consists in the re-opening of this hidden divine life.   •   How it differs from any natural goodness, and yet must become a habit of the life.   •   This doctrine of the fall, the best and only safe means of converting unbelievers.   •   Its proofs are not historical, but are lodged in human nature itself.   •   The possibility, occasion and manner of the fall, briefly sketched.   •   This doctrine of the fall, the best and only safe means of converting unbelievers.   •   The difference between the fall of mankind and that of the fallen angels.   •   The certain redemption of the former.   •   Gospel Christianity instituted at the coming and glorification of Christ's humanity. 

Second Dialogue. — That learned expositions of Scripture, like religious opinions,  are utterly useless.   •   The only purpose to be regarded in scripture, is its use in advancing the new birth of the divine life.   •    Behmen {Boehme}, the simple shoemaker, God's instrument used to open and reveal the philosophy of this new life.   •    The nature of Behmen's disclosures.   •   For whom his works are intended, and by whom alone they can safely be consulted.   •   The impossibility of searching into these things by mere human reason.   •   True apprehension derived from the Spirit of God working in man, as he works in nature.   •   Hence the only way to Divine Knowledge is the way of the gospel, which proposes the new birth, as the means of attaining to light and love.   •   How the way to this birth lies wholly in the will.   •   How the will of man rules his own nature, as that of God rules eternal nature.   •   The nature of this will, as proceeding from the latent divine life, or power of redemption.   •   Faith, nothing else than the working of this new will. 

Third Dialogue. — Nature and God are both known by their manifestation in the mind.   •   In what the whole ground of religion consists.     •    Nature and God both defined.   •   The birth and generation of the properties of nature, as set forth by Behmen.   •   The first form or principle of nature, and its three properties.   •   Their beatification, by the light and love of God.   •   How they constitute the substantiality in which the all-present, all-working, super-natural Deity moves and shines, or becomes perceptible.    •    The degrees by which they become materialized.   •   In what state the original substantiality (or nature) was brought forth.   •   It's fundamental constitution never intended to be known.   •   The reason of its discovery, and the creation of temporal nature as a consequence of the fall.    •   Into what elements the wrathful properties finally passed.   •   The birth of fire.   •   The comprehension of nature in seven properties.   •   The place of the sun in their midst, or the Copernican philosophy opened from transcendental grounds.    •   The end of temporal nature, and general review of the providential design connected with its origin, existence and termination.   •   The philosophy of regeneration.   •   The birth of fire, or the fourth form of nature in the regeneration.   •   Admonition concerning the right use of the Mystery revealed in Behmen.   •   The practical religious value of this philosophy.

The reader will bear in mind, amid all these openings of the ground and origin of things, and seemingly non-essential knowledge, that the design of the whole, is bearing toward the providential purpose of the author {William Law}, namely, the everlasting re-establishment of Christianity, on its true basis of philosophy and theology, and showing how it may be experimentally tested by every true, seeking, rational spirit, without a possibility of delusion.

"The Way to Divine Knowledge" was published during the first half of the year 1752, and before June in the same year, it was followed by the "The First Part" of "The Spirit of Love"; being an Appendix to the "The Spirit of Prayer".

* Much of the above text was gleaned from the preserved work of Christopher Walton, author of:
Notes and Materials for an Adequate Biography of The Celebrated Divine and
Theosopher, William Law
Published in London -1854 {otherwise referred to on this page as Notes and Materials}.



Links to the On-Line Manuscript

The HTML reproduction of the 1752 edition of this document is rather large;
therefore we have chosen to break it into segments to make downloading faster
for those who have problems with large files.

The Way to Divine Knowledge:
The First Dialogue.
The Second Dialogue.
The Third Dialogue.

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PTW's 1998 HTML, on-line version of William Law's The Way to Divine Knowledge was derived using (with permission) Warner White’s painstakingly transcribed ASCII electronic text  (produced in 1995 by White, who worked from the modernized 1974 George Olms Verlag [Hildesheim New York ] edition of The Works of the Reverend William Law).   PTW volunteers added the formatting and emphatic use to return this manuscript to its "close-to-original" look and content, just as it was published in the 1752 edition. Typographical errors, changed and omitted text that were discovered in White’s version have also been corrected as well. Except for the numbering [in square brackets] of the paragraphs (which did not appear in the original),  the on-line rendering here at Pass the WORD is a reproduction of the much older, unedited 1752 edition as published by William Law. 

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