Jeremy Taylor and "The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living"

481px-JeremytaylorJeremy Taylor (15 August 1613 – 13 August 1667) was a cleric in the Church of England who achieved fame as an author during theProtectorate of Oliver Cromwell. He is sometimes known as the “Shakespeare of Divines” for his poetic style of expression and was often presented as a model of prose writing. He is remembered in the Church of England’s calendar of saints with a Lesser Festival on 13 August.

Taylor was under the patronage of William LaudArchbishop of Canterbury. He went on to become chaplain in ordinary to King Charles Ias a result of Laud’s sponsorship. This made him politically suspect when Laud was tried for treason and executed in 1645 by the Puritanparliament during the English Civil War. After the parliamentary victory over the King, he was briefly imprisoned several times.

Eventually, he was allowed to live quietly in Wales, where he became the private chaplain of the Earl of Carbery. At the Restoration, his political star was on the rise, and he was made Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland. He also became vice-chancellor of the University of Dublin.

Note: the following two books by Jeremy Taylor were influential in Wesley’s understanding of holiness. 

The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living provided a manual of Christian practice, which has retained its place with devout readers. The scope of the work is described on the title-page. it deals with the means and instruments of obtaining every virtue, and the remedies against every vice, and considerations serving to the resisting all temptations, together with prayers containing the whole Duty of a Christian. Holy Dying was perhaps even more popular.

Taylor is best known as a prose stylist; his chief fame is the result of his twin devotional manual, Holy Living and Holy Dying. (The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living, 1650 andThe Rules and Exercises of Holy Dying, 1651). These books were favourites of John Wesley, and admired for their prose style by Samuel Taylor ColeridgeWilliam Hazlitt, andThomas de Quincey. They are marked by solemn but vivid rhetoric, elaborate periodic sentences, and careful attention to the music and rhythms of words:

As our life is very short, so it is very miserable; and therefore it is well that it is short. God, in pity to mankind, lest his burden should be insupportable and his nature an intolerable load, hath reduced our state of misery to an abbreviature; and the greater our misery is, the less while it is like to last; the sorrows of a man’s spirit being like ponderous weights, which by the greatness of their burden make a swifter motion, and descend into the grave to rest and ease our wearied limbs; for then only we shall sleep quietly, when those fetters are knocked off, which not only bound our souls in prison, but also ate the flesh till the very bones opened the secret garments of their cartilages, discovering their nakedness and sorrow.

—From Rules and Exercises of Holy Dying

Note: The Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) describes them as follows:

The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living is the first volume in a two-volume devotional set. While this volume offers readers advice concerning how to live a virtuous Christian life, its partner volume, Holy Dying, seeks to provide insight into how Christians can prepare themselves for eternity. Holy Living is highly practical; along with discussions of theology and moral instruction, it contains modeled prayers geared towards implementing faith in practice. Taylor’s work has received praise not just for its devotional merit, but also for its literary prowess. Both John Wesley and Samuel Taylor Coleridge held Taylor’s achievements in equally high regard. Today, Taylor’s practical wisdom still reads like prose poetry. It can be downloaded for free here:  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/taylor/holy_living.html

The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying  is the second volume in a two-volume devotional set. While this volume seeks to provide insight into how Christians can prepare themselves for eternity, its partner volume, Holy Living, offers readers advice concerning how to live a virtuous Christian life. The first half of Holy Dying delivers practical suggestions for cleansing and building up the soul in godly fashion. The latter half includes a memorial sermon both for a friend of his and for Christians who have died generally. Taylor’s work has received praise not just for its devotional merit, but also for the delicate musicality of its prose. Both John Wesley and Samuel Taylor Coleridge held Taylor’s achievements in equally high regard. Today, Taylor’s practical wisdom still reads like prose poetry. It can be downloaded for free here:  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/taylor/holy_dying.html 

Resources:

This post is provides material from Wikipedia with links to articles and information on English History which forms the background for the development of Methodism. While it is lightly edited, the source is Wikipedia unless noted below. Links above are recognized by blue underlined text and lead to other articles. The major article(s) quoted here are:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremy_Taylor

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