Jeremy Taylor on Holiness

Arthur Middleton

Holiness is not only an advantage to the learning of all wisdom and holi ness, but for the discerning of that which is wise and holy from what is trifling and useless and contentious; from holiness we have the best instructions. And this brings me to the next particle of the general con – sideration. For that which we are taught by the Holy Spirit of God, this new nature, this vital principle within us, it is that which is worth our learning; not vain and empty, idle and insignificant notions, in which when you have laboured till your eyes are fixed in their orbs, and your flesh unfixed from its bones, you are no better and no wiser. If the Spirit of God be your teacher, He

will teach you such truths as will make you know and love God, and become like to Him, and enjoy Him for ever, by passing from similitude to union and eternal fruition. But what are you the better if any man should pretend to teach you whether every angel makes a species, and what is the individuation of the soul in the state of separation? What are you the wiser if you should study and find out what place Adam should for ever have lived in if he had not fallen? and what is any man the more learned if he hears the disputes, whether Adam should have multiplied children in the state of innocence, and what would have been the event of things if one child had been born before his father’s sin?

Too many scholars have lived upon air and empty notions for many ages past, and troubled themselves with tying and untying knots, like hypochondriacs in a fit of melancholy, thinking of nothing, and troubling themselves with nothing, and falling out about nothings, and being very wise and very learned in things that are not and work not, and were never planted in paradise by the finger of God. Men’s notions are too often like the mules, begotten by equivocal and unnatural generations; but they make no species: they are begotten, but they can beget nothing; they are the effects of long study, but they can do no good when they are produced: they are not that which Solomon calls via intelligentiæ, ‘the way of understanding’. If the Spirit of God be our teacher, we shall learn to avoid evil, and to do good, to be wise and to be holy, to be profitable and careful: and they that walk in this way shall find more peace in their consciences, more skill in the scriptures, more satisfaction in their doubts, than can be obtained by all the polemical and impertinent disputations of the world.

And if the Holy Spirit can teach us how vain a thing it is to do foolish things, He also will teach us how vain a thing it is to trouble the world with foolish questions, to disturb the church for interest or pride, to resist government in things indifferent, to spend the people’s zeal in things unprofitable, to make religion to consist in outsides, and opposition to circumstances and trifling regards. No, no; the man that is wise, he that is conducted by the Spirit of God, knows better in what Christ’s kingdom does consist, than to throw away his time and interest, and peace and safety — for what? For religion? No: for the body of religion? Not so much: for the garment of the body of religion? No, not for so much; but for the fringes of the garment of the body of religion; for such and no better are the disputes that trouble our discontented brethren; they are things, or rather circumstances and manners of things, in which the soul and spirit is not at all concerned.

From Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living, ed. Arthur Middleton