Jeremy Taylor

ON AUGUST 13TH, his birthday, the ASB commemorates one who has been described as the greatest orator of the English Church – her Bossuet, Massillon, and Bordaloue in one – one of the most popular and influential of our Anglican divines. His father, a humble barber, sufficiently educated to teach his children the elements of grammar and mathematics, came from a respectable family that produced in Dr. Rowland Taylor a chaplain for Thomas Cranmer, and a martyr in the reign of Mary.

Jeremy went up to Caius College, Cambridge at thirteen as a poor scholar, when Milton and Cromwell were undergraduates. Like Archbishop Ussher, he was ordained before his 21st birthday and a chance invitation to preach in St. Paul’s Cathedral for a college friend determined the future course of his ministry.

There, “his sweet and pleasant air, and his sublime and learned discourses”, captivated his listeners. Archbishop Laud invited him to preach before him and immediately recognised his brilliant potential. He nominated him to a Fellowship of All Souls Oxford, no ordinary distinction, where he came to be held in high esteem.

He became Rector of Uppingham in 1637, marrying in 1639 and fathering three sons, one of whom died in 1642 and shortly afterwards Taylor was widowed.

His five quiet years at Uppingham were followed by a domestic Chaplaincy to King Charles who commanded him to publish in 1642 Episcopacy Asserted, defending the historic episcopate; whereupon the King rewarded him with the degree of Doctor of Divinity. His living at Uppingham was one of the first to be sequestrated and without home he became a chaplain with the royalist forces. He was taken prisoner in Wales but was soon released.

This experience furnished his sermons with many apposite images and illustrations. He described this experience as a “great storm which hath dashed the vessel of the Church all to pieces”. But God provided a plank for him. At this time he remarried “a lady of good means”, a friend of Lord Carberry who had given him refuge, and in whose parish he carried on working quietly and writing prolifically while running a school.

In 1647 he published his Liberty of Prophesying, a noble defence and exposition of the Catholic Faith as held by the Church of England , written without books, or leisure to consult them, which makes its learning all the more remarkable. In 1650 he wrote The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living and in 1651, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying.

He went to Ireland to lecture in 1658 and in 1660 became Bishop of Down and Connor. It was a difficult time because many of his clergy had been presbyterianised and therefore ignored him. To the Roman Catholics he was, if course, wholly unacceptable. The stress of all this affected his health and he died in 1667.

An excellent saying of Taylor was, that God places a watery cloud in the eye, so that when the light of heaven shines on it, it may produce a rainbow to be a sacrament and a memorial that God and the sons of men do not love to see a man perish. The clouds in Taylor’s life had witnessed such rainbows. “When a north wind blows,” he says, “and it rains sadly, none but fools sit down in it, and cry; wise people defend themselves against it with a warm garment, a good fire and a dry roof.”

A man does certainly belong to God who believes and is baptised into all the articles of the Christian faith, and studies to improve his knowledge in the matters of God, so as may best make him to live a holy life; he that, in obedience to Christ, worships frequently, and constantly, with natural religion, praises, and thanksgiving; he that takes all opportunities to remember Christ’s death-by a frequent sacrament, or else by inward acts of understanding, will and memory (which is spiritual communion) supplies the want of the external rite; he that lives chastely; and is merciful: and despises the world, using it as a man, but never suffering to trifle; and is just in his dealing, and diligent in his calling; he that is humble in spirit; and obedient to government; and is content in his fortune and employment; he that does his duty because he loves God; and especially if after all this he be afflicted , and patient or prepared to suffer affliction for the cause of God: the man that has these twelve signs of grace does as certainly belong to and is his son as surely, as he is his creature.

These are the marks of the Lord Jesus, and the characters of a Christian : this is a good religion; and these things God’s grace hath put into our powers, and God’s laws have made to be our duty, and the nature of man, and the needs of commonwealths, have made to be necessary.

From the Preface of Holy Living, Holy Dying

Arthur Middleton is Rector of Boldon, Hon. Canon of Durham and a Tutor at St. Chad’s College Durham