A Serious Call to the Devout and Holy Life by William Law

Cover concept for the Nova & Vetera edition of William Law's A Serious Call to ta Devout and Holy LIfe.
Cover concept for the N&V edition.

In the early 18th century, an Anglican priest named William Law was concerned about the low level of Christian faith and practice in England. Everyone claimed to be Christian — almost everyone was baptized into the Church of England shortly after birth — but worldly values seemed to rule public and private life. Law himself had fallen afoul of Church authorities because of some of his politically-incorrect convictions and consequently had withdrawn to a quiet life in the countryside, where he lived what some might regard as a “monastic” life, although he shared it with two female relations.

The Book

One of the result of his long meditation upon the un-Christian character of so many in this “Christian” nation was a book called A Serious Call to the Devout and Holy Life, which challenges Christians to consider the ways in which the faith they claim requires them to live differently than they are living. The title suggests that Law felt many English Christians weren’t taking their faith seriously, something he wanted to change.

The first half of the book argues, point by point, the ways in which each aspect of everyday life should be governed by the Christian faith, and the latter part of the book shows how and why to build a life of prayer that will help one maintain a Christian orientation throughout the day.

After its 1729 publication, the book met with an enthusiastic reception, inspiring many in the Evangelical revival, including the Wesley brothers, Charles and John, as well as thousands of ordinary English readers. Thanks to its enduring popularity, A Serious Call has gone through many editions remained in popular for nearly two centuries. Today it is still praised by Catholics and Protestants alike, but in fact is probably seldom read.

Our Nova & Vetera Edition

This continuing relevance is one reasons Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life was chosen to be a Nova & Vetera selection. Not only does it deserve to be brought back into the public eye, but the Nova & Vetera design treatment bears homage to the book’s long history as an evergreen exemplar of popular spiritual instruction. Many Christians today can receive encouragement and instruction through the examples Law gives, which may seem quaintly outdated at first glance (how many of us have an “equipage” today?) but which, in fact, touch on timeless facets of human nature and worldly experience. In fact, modern readers will find themselves translating these quaint, old-fashioned figures into their modern equivalents and will feel the sting of recognition.

Modern digital fonts based on classic typefaces combine with scanned images of authentic period printers’ornaments to preserve the feel of an historic edition.

Our Nova & Vetera edition is designed to give an eighteenth-century feel while offering the benefits of clean, well-designed typography that makes for easy reading. While the text is taken from the sixth (1920) printing of Metheun & Co.’s 1899 edition, the design harkens back to the historic first edition, preserving the original layout and many of the conventions of the day, including Law’s somewhat idiosyncratic use of italics to emphasize key terms. Ornamental headpieces and drop capitals, taken from Cambridge University’s Fleuron database of digitized eighteenth century books (among other sources) also help to add an eighteenth century flavor.

Spelling has not been updated, except in the case of a very few words where the more antiquated spelling might cause momentary confusion for modern authors. Some of the punctuation has been modernized as well, although the changes are such as to be invisible to most readers. These few alterations have all been made with a mind toward unencumbered reading of a text which nonetheless retains a “period” feel.

Here below, you can read the entire table of contents and first chapter, to get a sense of the book as a whole.

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