Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) was a cleric in the Church of England who achieved fame as an author during the rule of Oliver Cromwell. He is frequently cited as one of the greatest prose writers in the English language. He was chaplain to King Charles I but later served time in prison after the Puritan parliament won a victory over King Charles during the English Civil War. After the restoration of the monarchy, Taylor was made a Bishop in Ireland.
Taylor’s writings were very influential to many christians in the early days of America. His two most famous works were The Rule and Exercise of Holy Living and The rule and Exercise of Holy Dying, both favorites of John Wesley. He wrote Holy Dying after the deaths of his own wife and with only one of his five sons reaching adulthood. He intended it, like Holy Living, to be a practical guide to support the Christian believer in times of sorrow. He had very limited faith in the human mind as an instrument of truth. He felt theology was rather a divine life than a divine knowledge. Yet Taylor retained a sense of hope and joy that arose from a creation infused with divine grace. He felt a christians relationship with God was rather like a child learning of love from the abiding love of a parent. Like a parent, God remains actively involved throughout a christian’s entire life.
Taylor believed christians experienced an ongoing process that transformed them to become more Christlike, from birth to death. What mattered was not so much the specific moments in life, but rather how one grows in deed as well as belief. Growth, relies on freedom: the freedom to act in response to God’s grace, but also to err and thus find the rewards of being forgiven. Taylor believed in living out a holy faith, conjoining the gates of duty with the entrance to a happy life.
Having faced adversity himself, Taylor counseled others to recognize their inevitability, but to perceive their limits and the opportunity they provided. After two of his sons died, Taylor wrote to a friend “I bless God [that] I have observed and felt so much mercy in this angry dispensation of God, that I am almost transported, I am sure highly pleased with thinking how infinitely sweet His mercies are when His judgments are so gracious.” He believed that “no evil is immortal.” Both of his major works stress the importance of living with death in mind; the best way to have a holy death is to lead a holy life, a life that draws a person ever closer not only to God but also into God.