My rector and friend Reverend Samuel Gregory Jones recently introduced Jeremy Taylor to our parish in Raleigh. Jeremy is not a new parishioner. Jeremy was a cleric in the Church of England and an author in the days of Oliver Cromwell. Born in 1613, his accomplishments as a writer led some to label him the “Shakespeare of Divines” due to his eloquent style of expression.
Under the sponsorship of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, Taylor became the chaplain to King Charles I. His king virtually ignored the Parliament, imposed his “divine right of monarchs” on the people, and eventually fought the armies of the English and Scottish parliaments in the English Civil War.
In 1644, Jeremy Taylor fled to Cardigan Castle in Wales which had been taken by the Royalists (Cavaliers). In December that year it was besieged by Parliamentary troops (Roundheads) for three weeks. A ship’s cannon was set up across the River Teifi to fire cannon balls at the castle wall. After three days the wall was breached, allowing the Parliamentary forces to take the castle.
After the parliamentary victory over the King, Taylor was imprisoned several times. Eventually, he was allowed to live quietly in Wales, where he became the private chaplain of the Earl of Carbery. After the Restoration, he was made Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland and also became vice-chancellor of the University of Dublin.
Reverend Jones shared a series of his favorite Taylor quotes with us, illustrative of his divine writing style. With thanks to him, I share them with you some 385 years after they were written.
What can be more foolish than to think that all this rare fabric of heaven and earth could come by chance, when all the skill of art is not able to make an oyster? To see rare effects, and no cause. A motion, without a mover. A circle, without a center. A time, without an eternity. A second, without a first. These are things so against philosophy and natural reason, that he must be a beast in understanding who can believe in them. The thing formed that says that nothing formed it; and that which is made is, but that which made it is not - [this is folly which is infinite.]
Love is the greatest thing that God can give us; for Himself is love; and it is the greatest thing we can give to God; for it will also give ourselves, and carry with it all that is ours. The apostle calls it the band of perfection; it is the old, and it is the new, and it is the great commandment, and it is all the commandments; for it is the fulfilling of the Law.
Love is friendship set on fire. Hate is friendship burned.
By friendship you mean the greatest love, the greatest usefulness, the most open communication, the noblest sufferings, the severest truth, the heartiest counsel, and the greatest union of minds which brave men and women are capable.
Old Law, New Testament
The Pharisees minded what God spoke, but not what He intended. They were busy in the outward work of the hand, but incurious of the affections and choice of the heart. So, God was served in the letter, they did not inquire into His purpose; and therefore they were curious to wash their hands, but cared not to purify their hearts.
A religion without mystery must be a religion without God.
The best theology is rather a divine life than a divine knowledge.
No man can hinder our private addresses to God; every man can build a chapel in his breast, himself the priest, his heart the sacrifice, and the earth he treads on, the altar.
Enjoy the blessings of this day, if God sends them; and the evils of it bear patiently and sweetly: for this day only is ours, we are dead to yesterday, and we are not yet born to the morrow.
It is impossible to make people understand their ignorance, for it requires knowledge to perceive it; and, therefore, he that can perceive it hath it not.
Learn to give thanks for everything. *
*In discussing these writings with my men’s Bible group this week, there was curiosity surrounding the word “everything” in this directive. After some discussion, we arrived at the conclusion that looking back over the course of our lives, even the dark chapters proved to be opportunities for growth, understanding, and endurance worthy of thanks.
We live life forwards but understand it backwards. (Soren Kierkegaard