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On-line at PTW: January 1, 1998
Last update: 
December 27, 2017

The Spirit of Prayer

or,   The Soul Rising out of the Vanity of Time
into the Riches of Eternity.

by William Law

Part I. - 1749  &  Part II. - 1750
Both Parts were Revised & Corrected by the Author - 1758

Links to the On-line Manuscript

From:   {Notes and Materials}*

About William Law's The Spirit of Prayer.

The scope of The Spirit of Prayer was and is to provide a practical way for a soul to turn its vain desires from self and the things of the world, back toward God...that the desire of the heart really must become the Spirit of Prayer...in a continual panting after God and that the most radical enemy to that necessary rebirth within, is a worldly spirit, which is the desire of the heart turned toward the world.

William Law published The Spirit of Prayer in two parts, with a deliberate interval between them and a deliberate difference in their presentations.  As the vastness of the subject to be covered was made known to him, he perceived that one of the evils and vanities which would attend the 'opening out' of the {genuine} philosophy of religion, in some of the individuals to whom he was immediately addressing himself, would be the arousing only of curiosity in them, rather than to elicit compunction and amendment. 

As the actual application of such a philosophy to the highest interests of man, the contents of the "First Part" of the Spirit of Prayer may be considered to be a universal grammar of, a re-statement of, a re-introduction to {the true} gospel Christianity, which "First Part" was necessary to be presented as a text, or preliminary to what was to follow: — Mr. Law's call from the Lord being to preach the {true} gospel to the educated, who, "not having fathomed the philosophy of Nosce te ipsum {Know Thyself}, and being indeed entirely ignorant of their own nature and condition, are unbelievers in the truth of that redemption into which they are born, and which only requires ...the turning of their desires from Self to God, to become their salvation.

Mr. Law told a friend that he... "had met with very few persons whose awakened zeal had not turned into curiosity"; that is, who, instead of devoting themselves with all the more earnestness, constancy, and diligence, to the attainment of the Divine Life, by the superior light and instruction which they had acquired, they chose to hold fast, contenting themselves with their own imaginary conceptions of the mysteries of salvation, or with procuring for themselves a fine collection of books on mystical subjects!  Mr. Law therefore resolved to expose and correct this common frailty, by making it the object of the introductory subject of the "Second Part", which is so much to that point.

The "Second Part" of the Spirit of Prayer was published one year after the first.  Mr. Law composed his message in the form of Three Dialogues — that mode of presentation being shown to set forth his subject to the best advantage.


The Participants in the Dialogues:

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 only 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 is introduced as a silent listener to the conversations, and who agrees to remain so to the end, 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 "First Part" of The Spirit of Prayer.  

Chapter I. — The indifference and insensibility of men in general to their eternal interests.  •  The original state of man as the son of God, and therefore a living image of the Triune Deity.  •  His trial and his fall.  •  The commencement of his redemption.   •   His real nature and state by reason of sin.  •     How it differs from that of the fallen angels.  •  The means of his salvation, or recovery of the life, or light and Holy Spirit of God.   •   The new-birth not a figurative expression, but a real, living process.   •   The whole chapter being a familiar discourse of matters preparatory to the Spirit of Prayer.

Chapter II. — In what the salvation or the regenerate life consists.  •  The manifestation of the nature, life, and spirit of Jesus Christ in the new inward man.  •  The means of attaining such a state lie in faith, or the right direction and earnest action of the desire.  •   How the ground or principium, which is the engrafted word or incorruptible seed of Christ, lies latent in every soul.   •   Its opening or manifestation being the only way of salvation.   •   The tokens by which the regenerate spirit discovers itself.   •   All depends on obedience or adherence to it.   •   The infallible truths by which we may be assured that our dependence on it is well grounded.   •   The abandonment of self, and the true nature and worth of self-denial and mortification.   •   That no activity of our own is of any avail to salvation.   •   The only way is the desire of the soul turned to God.

All sectarianism [and partiality] is extinguished in this work, which makes the whole universe of nature and grace apprehensible, under one governing idea and plan, as an edifice of pure love; which in itself is an argument for the truth of the philosophy that it opens out, because truth itself is unsectarian, unlimited and universal in its embrace — not confined to Christendom, but comprehending all the human race "in the outstretched arms of its catholic [universal] love." 


From:   {Notes and Materials}*   

The Subjects of the "Second Part" of The Spirit of Prayer.

First Dialogue. — Introduction, on the vanity of knowledge where there is no religion.  •  Spiritual books only useful as calls to the absolute renunciation of self, and the commencement of the new life.  •  The nature of self described, and the necessity of its complete oblation or death demonstrated.  •  The actual grounds of this necessity in the nature of things, and not in the arbitrary provisions of God's providence.   •   How the will of the creature stands between God and nature, as the opener of all good and evil.   •   Its turning to God in absolute faith and earnestness of desire, the means of bringing heaven into the soul.  •  The accordance of these doctrines with the Scripture.   •   One only death and one only life in all nature.

Second Dialogue. — The philosophy of the Gospel doctrine of redemption and salvation, continued.  •   How Adam stood in his state of perfection.  •  The gradual fall, and division of Adam into male and female.  •   The means of human recovery, by the covenant of 'the seed of the woman'.   •   The argument for the renunciation of self and the world, resumed on the rational ground of this philosophy.   •   In what consists the great apostasy, the sin of all sins and the heresy of all heresies.   •   Hours and forms of prayer considered.

Third Dialogue. — The difficulty attending the total conversion of the heart to God.   •   The whole nature to be parted with, and yet no possibility in man of doing it.   •   The omnipotence of the love of God, and how it overcomes all evil and opposition when the heart turns wholly to him.   •   How it has followed man from the beginning as the 'Immanuel' or seed of Christ treasured in every soul.    •   The beginning of salvation by the germination of this seed.   •   The new creature formed, or the Spirit of God dwelling and working in man.   •   How this Spirit is received and known, so as to avoid delusion.   •   The prayer of this Spirit, being the only genuine devotion.    •   No other spirit in man works to salvation.   •   The consistency of this doctrine with free will.   •   A state of prayer, the continual and habitual state of the will: according as it works with the Spirit of God, or the spirit of fallen nature.   •   All its goodness dependent on the continuity and earnestness of the will-spirit or desire.    •   The outward expression of prayer justly discriminated.   •   How far manuals of devotions are profitable.   •   The degrees of prayer, or steps of the spiritual life.   •   Why the motion of the Holy Spirit is the source of every aspiration to unite with the goodness and holiness of God.    •   How this Spirit is known by the pure, free, universal goodness, meekness and love which it breathes.   •   These tempers in man, the certain effect of its presence and influence.   •   No activity of our own of any avail to salvation.   •   The only way is the desire of the soul turned toward God.

These subjects are not only treated in the strictly argumentative manner and captivating diction peculiar to the author's gift, but they are all along elucidated from Scripture, so as to demonstrate the exact conformity of their philosophical development with the genuine gospel, and with the simple experimental matter of fact as regards personal regeneration, and conversion of the soul to God.  The range and scope of these subjects is of course much more extensive than that of corrupted evangelical truth as commonly taught and expressed, and their presentation is worthy of that universal procedure which must have been the true origin of things; and which, indeed, have been collaterally demonstrated by their application in the Newtonian philosophy, and, as the basis of all modern enlightened sciences as well as medicine.

* 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 1758 edition of this manuscript 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 Spirit of Prayer:  The First Part.
Chapter 1.                    [Segment 1 of 5]
Chapter 2.                     [Segment 2 of 5]
The Spirit of Prayer:  The Second Part.
The First Dialogue.      [Segment 3 of 5]
The Second Dialogue. [Segment 4 of 5]
The Third Dialogue.      [Segment 5 of 5]

We recommend that you print the entire manuscript
directly from a web browser — for your own study and reference.
{see "Printing the Manuscripts" Note below}

11.GIF (3782 bytes)

Printing the Manuscripts:  For step by step instructions, how to possibly deal with printer problems, how to customize page headers/footers, suggestions for those with no computer/printer, and more information about the on-line documents at PasstheWORD ...


PTW's 1998 HTML, on-line version of William Law's The Spirit of Prayer, Part I & Part II  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 each manuscript to its "close-to-original" look and content, just as it was published in the 1758 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 1758 edition as published by William Law. 

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