England settled into an uneasy truce once the monarchy was restored in 1661. The throne was not firmly established until 1689, when William and Mary were co-monarchs. The definition of vocation changed from the broader life stations (husband, mother, citizen, occupation) to mean exclusively a paid occupation. A person’s job was increasingly more specialized as capitalism expanded. The Age of Enlightenment (1715 – 1789) was approaching through scientific discoveries and philosophical thoughts.
Dr. William C. Placher, previously the Charles D. and Elizabeth S. LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Wabash College, and author of Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, pages 303–310), highlights the devout and holy life of William Law (1686–1761).
Law was a courageous character. He was elected a fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge and ordained in the Church of England. His fellowship secured him a tenured teaching position. But when George I was coronated in 1714, Law would not take the oaths of allegiance because he had previously given oaths of allegiance to the Stuart line of the monarchy. This conscientious decision resulted in Law’s dismissal from Cambridge and the Church of England. He spent his remaining working life as a tutor to a wealthy family.
“Law supplies an interesting corrective to the Puritan commitment to hard work in one’s calling.” In his 1729 publication, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, Law expands on the definition of vocation in a society that was increasingly narrowing the definition of vocation to one’s occupation. “As a good Christian should consider every place as holy because God is there, so he should look upon every part of his life as a matter of holiness because it is to be offered unto God.” Law viewed faith as the fully integrated life, not just a Sunday religious life.
All aspects of a Christian’s life must be directed towards God’s service. “Men may, and must differ in their employments, but yet they must all act for the same ends, as dutiful servants of God, in the right and pious performance of their several callings.” There are theological threads of the modern faith and work movement within Law’s vocational writings.
He supported tradesmen (businessmen) who served others and themselves through their labors. “Now the only way to do this is for people to consider their trade as something that they are obliged to devote to the glory of God, something that they are to do only in such a manner as that they may make it a duty to Him. Nothing can be right in business that is not under these rules.”
However, he is against tradesmen that only seek self-interest, even though they give charity. “Now he that is up early and late, that sweats and labors for these ends, that he may be some time or other rich, and live in pleasure and indulgence, lives no more to the glory of God than he that plays and games for the same ends. For though there is a great difference between trading and gaming, yet most of that difference is lost when men once trade with the same desires and tempers, and for the same ends, that others game. Charity and fine dressing are things very different; but if men give alms for the same reasons that others dress fine, only to be seen and admired, charity is then but like the vanity of fine clothes.”
Law lived a holy life and practiced what he preached. His retirement was spent living simply on his inherited family property, attending his hometown parish church where he could not be employed, and giving his excess money to education and local charities. He offered vocational wisdom for infusing holiness into the worldly life: “For if we are worldly or earthly-minded in our employments, if they are carried on with vain desires and covetous tempers, only to satisfy ourselves, we can no more be said to live to the glory of God than gluttons and drunkards can be said to eat and drink to the glory of God.”
Law’s pious publications and counsel influenced a number of eminent persons, including John and Charles Wesley, who started the Methodist movement. Time heals many wounds as William Law is honored on his April 10th feast day in the modern Episcopal Church’s calendar, a demonination that once rejected him.