The Nature of True Devotion

Posted by


William Law

Devotion is neither private nor public prayer; but prayers, whether
private or public, are particular instances of devotion. Devotion, in
the fullest sense of the word, signifies a life given, or wholly
devoted, to God.

The devout man, therefore, is one who lives no longer to
his own will or the way and spirit of the world, but to the sole will of
God; who considers God in everything, who serves God in everything, who
makes all the parts of his common life parts of piety, by doing
everything in the name of God and under such rules as are comformable to
His glory.

 We readily acknowledge that God alone is to be the rule and measure of
our prayers; that in them we are to look wholly unto Him and act wholly
for Him; that we are to pray only in such a manner, for such things and
such ends, as are suitable to His glory.

Now let anyone find out the reason he is to be strictly
pious in his prayers, and he will find the same strong reason to be as
strictly pious in all the other parts of his life. For there is not the
least reason why we should make God the rule and measure of our prayers,
why we should look wholly unto Him and pray according to His will, and
yet not feel compelled to look wholly unto God and make Him the rule and
measure of all the other actions of our lives.

For any ways of life or employment of our talents, whether
of our parts, our time, or our money, that is not strictly according to
the will of God, that is not for such ends as are suitable to His
glory, are as great absurdities and failings as prayers that are not
according to the will of God.

For there is no other reason why our prayers should be
according to the will of God, why they should have nothing in them but
what is wise and holy and heavenly but that our lives may be of the same
nature, full of the same wisdom, holiness, and heavenly tempers, that
we may live unto God in the same spirit that we pray unto Him.

If it were not our strict duty to live by reason, to
devote all the actions of our lives to God, if it were not absolutely
necessary to walk before Him in wisdom and holiness and all heavenly
conversation, doing everything in His name and for His glory, there
would be no excellency or wisdom in the most heavenly prayers. Nay, such
prayers would be absurdities; they would be like prayers for wings when
we were not created to fly.

As sure, therefore, as there is any wisdom in praying for
the Spirit of God, so sure is it that we are to make that Spirit the
rule of all our actions; as sure as it is our duty to look wholly unto
God in our prayers, so sure is it that it is our duty to live wholly
unto God in our lives.

But we can no more be said to live unto God unless we live
unto Him in all the ordinary actions of our lives, unless He be the
rule and measure of all our ways, than we can be said to pray unto God
unless our prayers look wholly unto Him. So that absurd ways of life,
whether in labor or diversion, whether they consume our time or our
money, are like absurd prayers, and are as truly an offense unto God.

It is for want of knowing, or at least considering this,
that we see such a mixture of ridicule in the lives of many people. You
see them strict as to some times and places of devotion, but when the
service of the church is over, they are like those who seldom or never
go there.

In their way of life, their manner of spending their time
and money, their cares and fears, their pleasures and indulgences, their
labor and diversions, they are like the rest of the world. This causes
the loose part of the world to joke about those who are devout because
they see that their devotion goes no farther than their prayers—and that
when those are over, they live no more unto God till the time of prayer
returns again.

Rather, they live by the same humor and fancy and in as
full an enjoyment of all the follies of life as other people. This is
the reason they are the jest and scorn of careless and worldly people;
not because they are truly devoted to God but because they appear to
have no other devotion than that of occasional prayers.

Nothing is more absurd in itself than wise and sublime and
heavenly prayers added to a life of vanity, where neither labor nor
diversions, time nor money, are under the direction of the wisdom and
heavenly tempers of our prayers. If we were to see a man pretending to
act wholly with regard to God in everything he did, a man who would
spend neither time nor money, nor take any labor or diversion but so far
as he could act according to strict principles of reason and piety, and
yet at the same time neglect all prayer, whether public or private,
should we not be amazed at such a man, and wonder how he could have so
much folly along with so much religion?

Yet this scenario is as reasonable as for any person to
pretend to strictness in devotion, to be careful of observing times and
places of prayer and yet letting the rest of his life, his time and
labor, his talents and money, be disposed of without any regard to
strict rules of piety and devotion. For it is as great an absurdity to
suppose holy prayers and divine petitions, without a holiness of life
suitable to them, as to suppose a holy and divine life without prayers.

The short of the matter is this: Either reason and
religion prescribe rules and ends to all the ordinary actions of our
lives, or they do not. If they do, then it is as necessary to govern all
our actions by those rules as it is necessary to worship God.

It is interesting to note that there is not one command in
all the Gospels for public worship. In fact, the frequent attendance at
it is never so much as mentioned in all the New Testament.

However, the religion or devotion that is to govern the
ordinary actions of our lives is to be found in almost every verse of
Scripture. Our blessed Savior and His apostles are wholly taken up in
doctrines that relate to common life.

They call us to renounce the world and to differ in every
temper and way of life from the spirit and the way of the world: to
renounce all its goods, to fear none of its evils, to reject its joys
and have no value for its happiness; to live as pilgrims in spiritual
watching, in holy fear, and heavenly aspiring after another life; to
take up our crosses daily, to deny ourselves, to seek the blessedness of
poverty of spirit; to forsake the pride and vanity of riches, to take
no thought for the morrow, to live in the profoundest state of humility;
to reject the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of
life; to bear injuries, to forgive and bless our enemies, and to love
mankind as God loves them; to give up our whole hearts and affections to
God and strive to enter through the strait gate into a life of eternal

This is the common devotion that our blessed Savior taught
in order to make it the common life of all Christians. Is it not
therefore strange that people should place so much emphasis on
attendance at public worship and yet neglect these common duties of our
ordinary lives, which are commanded in every page of the Gospels?

If contempt of the world and heavenly affection is a
necessary temper of Christians, it is necessary that this temper appear
in the whole course of their lives, in their manner of using the world
because it can have no place anywhere else.

If humility is a Christian duty, then the common life of a
Christian is to be a constant course of humility in all its kinds. If
poverty of spirit is necessary, it must be the spirit and temper of
every day of our lives.

If we are to relieve the naked, the sick and the prisoner,
it must be the common charity of our lives, as far as we can render
ourselves able to perform it. If we are to love our enemies, we must
make our common life a visible exercise and demonstration of that love.

If contentment and thankfulness and the patient bearing of
evil are duties to God, then they are the duties of every day and every
circumstance of our lives. If we are to be wise and holy as newborn
sons of God, we cannot otherwise be so, except by renouncing everything
that is foolish and vain in every part of our common lives.

If we are to be new creatures in Christ, we must show that
we are so by having new ways of living in the world. If we are to
follow Christ, it must be not only during times of prayer—but in our
common way of spending every day.

William Law (1686-1761) was a scholar, theologian and
prolific writer whose works profoundly impacted numerous religious
leaders, including John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top
Copy link