Jeremy Taylor.

A discourse of the liberty of prophesying; showing the unreasonableness of prescribing to other men's faith; and the eniquity of persecuting differing opinions online

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Online LibraryJeremy TaylorA discourse of the liberty of prophesying; showing the unreasonableness of prescribing to other men's faith; and the eniquity of persecuting differing opinions → online text (page 1 of 29)
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L'vUroductions of the day, cannot ^\\e a more judicious proof
of their regard, than by presenting their young friends wilh
a series of vokimes of this nature. Its attractive form will
interest their tastes, while its substantial worth will scarcely
fail to y)roduce a permanently beneficial impression upon
their intellectual and moral faculties. To readers of more
mature years, few words are needed to recommend the
writings of men who v^^ere the brightest ornaments of the
Protestant Church in the days in wdiich they lived, and the
])roductions of whose pens liave stood the test of ages, and
have been hallowed by time. To them, a reprint of authors,
of whom many are known to the present generation onl}^
through the recommendation of those scholars and divines,
who, m our times, have had taste and leisure to become fa-
miliar with the wealth of the best periods of our theological
literature, and whose works have, in many instances, been so
scarce as to preclude the possibility of their procuring a copy
for themselves, must be a source of satisfaction and delight : —
the proprietor, therefore, fearlessly issues this, the first of a
numerous series, confident that he has neither mistaken the
wants of the age, nor anticipated the time when such a pub-
lication would be deemed both useful and attractive.

To those Dignitaries of the CHiurch, as also to those Divines
and JMinisters by whom he has been honored with the per-
mission of adding their names as patrons of the uudertakingn
his m.ost grateful acknowledgments are due, and are here
most respectfully tendered.

Janvary 1, 18-'>3.


The measure of freedom enjoyed in a country
will always be in proportion to the diffusion of
Icnowledge and virtue among the people. In the
latter ages, therefore, of the degenerate Roman
empire, over which the mists of ignorance were
settling with increasing density, and from which
public virtue had fled, all remains of liberty be-
came extinct. It was only by the disruption and
removal of that gigantic despotism, and by the
introduction of governments, in its place, with in-
stitutions which, though yet in all the rudeness of
inflmcy, were in their nature more favorable to
tJie development of the intellectual, and, in a still
higlier degree, of the moral powers of man, that a
way could be prepared for the future admission of
every free agent to the full exercise of his natural
rights. To the gradual establishment of a national
church, and to the existence of a feudal nobility,
in each of the kingdoms formed by tlie Gotliic and
Celtic races, we owe our present enjoyment of
what we justly deem the birth-right of morrd and


civilized human beings. Those ennobling senti-
ments which were cultivated bj that order of the
community, with whom alone the light of learning
and science remained, found their way by little and
little unto the bosoms of a bolder and more active
and powerful class. The improvement of the
vassal population, resulting from the humanizing
influence of the clergy and the nobles, was assis-
ted by many concurring circumstances, such as
the increase of commerce, the rise of independent
republics, and the foundation of the great schools
and universities. As the number of those increased
who rose to the mental and moral dignity of free
men, so did the number of those who sought and
acquired a share of the rights of free men. These
might be but ill understood, and find as yet no
clear expounders, but they began at least to be
practically vindicated. The strong holds of arbi-
trary power were by degrees undermined, and
limits to irresponsible authority rose up in all
directions ; until, at length, the grand and anima-
ting spectacle presented itself, of a free and
enlightened people, enjoying the bounties of Provi-
dence, and cultivating the best faculties of their
being. Finally, law placed its sanction upon what
intelligence and virtue had achieved ; and that
freedom in which the existing generation rejoiced,
was secured by solemn enactments to poste-

Such was the progress of civil freedom, nor was


the growth of religious liberty the result of other
causes. In a country, where religion is purely a
political engine, as was the case in pagan Rome,
toleration is impossible, because under such circum-
stances treason and nonconformity are identical.
Notwithstanding the boasted indulgence of the em-
pire, in this respect, towards conquered nations,
and the ease with which the popular superstition
sat upon the powerful and intelligent classes, how
far the Romans were from allowing liberty of
conscience, sufficiently appears in the numerous
and terrible persecutions by which they strove to
exterminate the professors of that religion which
even their great men have branded as " a new and
mischievous superstition."

As long as the Christian church continued un-
corrupted, the utmost forbearance and mildness
towards the professors of heretical opinions, con-
sistent with public order, appear to have prevailed.
With corruption came in persecution. The first
example of intolerance, on the part of Christians
towards each other, appeared in the distractions
occasioned by the foUow^ers of Arius, and by the
other powerful sects which rose about the same
time, or not long afterwards. But whatever seve-
rities were recommended and put in practice by
these schismatics, by the Iconoclasts, at a later
period, or by the church, in its angry endeavors
to crush the swarms of heresies by which its peace
was assailed, the rage of persecution among Chris-


tians, in those early times, always stopped short
of the punishment of death.

That during the long interval from the seventh
to the thirteenth century, while, in the eastern
empire, religious disputes were carried on with
the utmost fierceness and cruelty, we find com-
paratively few instances of extreme intolerance
displayed by the church of Rome, may be accoun-
ted for without supposing the prevalence of a
spirit of Christian forbearance, which is not to be
met with even in the history of far more enlight-
ened periods. vSuch were the power of the popedom
and the feebleness and infrequency of resistance
to its dictates, that we need not wonder if the
successors of St. Peter were not often to be roused
from the slumbers of sensual enjoyment, or with-
drawn from the pursuits of ambition, and the con-
test with kings and emperors for temporal domin-
ion, by controversies about doctrines, with obscure
and unheeded speculatists. It was not till more
decided indications of returning intellectual light
presaged danger to the existence of that usurped
ecclesiastical tyranny, that it thought proper to
put forth its energies for the destruction of those
whom it regarded as heretics. Scotus Erigena in
the ninth century, and Berengarius in the eleventh
if not suffered to escape uninjured, were at least
permitted to live, though chargeable with as bold
invasions of the domains of established corruption,
as those which, at a later day, were the excuse


for deluging the valleys of the Alps with the blood
of the Vaudois, and crowding the statue-books of
England witli cruel and sanguinary laws, — which
filled our dungeons wdth the persecuted followers
of Wickliffe, and strewed Smithfield with the ashes
of the martyrs.

It is a favorite but iniquitous proceeding of
party writers, when it is their object to blacken the
memory of those who maintained opinions adverse
to their own, to charge upon individuals the faults
and failings which they partook, and could not
but partake, in common with their age. True it
is, that it never occurred to the first reformers to
generalize upon the subject of a free choice in reli-
gion ; most surprising would the fact have been if
it had. This was left for a subsequent generation ;
it could not have been expected of them, nor was
it consistent with the part assigned them. While
we duly reverence those venerable men, we deem
it no disparagement to them, as partakers of the
imperfections of humanity, to say, that had they
had leisure to do so — had they contended ex-
pressly for a general principle, rather than for a
direct personal claim, their efforts would in all
probability have proved far less vigorous and
effectual. But, in truth, the general principle was
implied in the fact of the deliverance of themselves
and their country, on the ground of riglit, from the
oppressive tyranny of Rome. The stride that was
made towards universal freedom of conscience by


Cranmer, and the great and good men who were
associated with him, was actually larger than the
^tate of knowledge and morality among the people
could bear. If they are not to be compared for
a wise liberality, on this point, with the authors
and legislators of the eighteenth century, jet in
how brilliant relief do their sentiments as well as
their conduct stand out, in the light of humanity
and tolerance, when we compare them with their
opponents, even of the same period — when we place
Ridley, Cranmer, and Hooper by the side, not of
the bitter persecutors Gardiner and Bonner, but
of the learned Warham, the accomplished Tonstal,
and the gifted Sir Thomas More. Public opinion
afterwards followed, longo sed mtervallo. Little
would the people have prized or understood an
enlarged system of toleration, who stumbling in all
the blindness of inveterate popery, flung back with
brutal contempt in the faces of the reformers, the
inestimable boon they had secured for them, and
more than once rushed into rebellion in favor of
an unmitigated return to the oppressions and the
mummeries that had beguiled their forefathers —
to masses, pilgrimages, prayers in an unknown
tongue, and the use of images. Hence the ma
jority hailed with delight the national relapse
into all the miseries of the worst times of popery,
in Mary's reign.

The lapse of a century of strife between the
church of England and the parties who now—


whether in consequence of men's natural unrea-
sonableness and discontent with the good tliey
possess, or of the imperfect state in which the work
of reformation had been left, — rose into opposi-
tion to her doctrines, discipline, and immunities,
was necessary to prepare the national mind for
the efi'ectual agitation of tiiis great question. If
the church, in the prosperous days of Elizabeth
and James, maintained her prerogatives against
the Puritans with the severity of a parent assailed
by the unreasonable clamors of rebellious children,
these latter, however bitterly they complained of
the hardship of their own position, never denied,
upon general principles, the right of the former to
persecute ; ' their ardor for toleration was nothing
more than impatience of individual suffering.' In
the multiplication of sects tiiat took place during
the latter part of that period, and in the reign of
the unhappy Charles, the animosity of each to-
wards every other, equalled that which all in
common bore towards the establishment. Each
strove for the supremacy of its own opinions —
none for an equal charitable tolerance of all specu-
lative tenets alike; and when the most numerous
and powerful of the religious factions opposed to
the Church of England, at last obtained the ascend-
ancy, its members proved too clearly by their
arrogance and persecuting spirit how little effect
calamity, which softens and corrects the passions
of individuals, has in diminishing the hatreds and


smoothing the asperities of sects and parties. Still
the anarchy of the latter years of King Charles,
was the chaos in which the light of religious liberty
was engendered. Here and there a calmer and
wiser spirit began to perceive, that the only pros-
pect of peace lay in the possibility of persuading
each to relinquish some portion of its individual
claims, in favor of the whole. Several smaller
publications, setting forth the justice and advan-
tages of this scheme, had already emanated from
different quarters, (and especially from among the
followers of Robert Brown,) when the church, now
the victim of those severities which in her hour
of prosperity she, it must be confessed, had not
scrupled to exercise, and more susceptible, as it
seems, of the lessons of adversity, than some of
those communities who had felt it longer, raised a
decisive and majestic voice in the great cause of
religious toleration.

The celebrated treatise on the Liberty of
PRorHESYiNG, is scarccly more valuable for the
consummate ability with which it handles this
important subject, than it is interesting for the
immediate circumstances under which it was pro-
duced, and striking as the production of the friend
of Laud, and the favorite chaplain of the unfortu-
nate Charles. The learning and genius of Taylor
obtained for him, about the year 1633, soon after
he had taken his degree of M. A. at Cambridge,


the favorable notice of that primate, to whom the
bitterest enemies of his person and his memory
could never refuse the praise of an accurate dis-
cerner of merit, and a munificent patron of learn-
ing. Discovering in the youthful divine talents
capable of raising him above the sphere of a mere
preacher, however popular or useful, Laud re-
moved him to Oxford, and placed him in Univer-
sity College, in order that he might carry on and
complete his studies without interruption. Of this
society he became a fellow, in the year 1656. In
the great national struggle which followed, Taylor
attached himself devotedly, from taste and princi-
ple as well as gratitude and regard, to the cause
of tlie monarchy and the hierarchy. He was
among the first to join the king at Oxford ; he
afterwards attended the royal army in his capa-
city as chaplain ; and on tlie final ruin of the king's
cause, he shared in the calamities which now fell
upon the loyal part of the nation.

Deprived of his preferment, he retired into
Wales, and having no other resource, engaged, for
the support of his family, in the irksome labors
of a school, at a place called Newton Hall, in
Carmarthenshire. The remoteness of his retreat,
however, did not screen him from molestation : he
was several times imprisoned, and only released
throuoh the g-enerous exertions of his friends, and
by the connivance of some persons of influence


among the ruling party. " But tliat he" (writes
the eloquent divine, in the Epistle Dedicatory,
originally prefixed to the present Treatise*) " who
stilleth the raging of the sea, and the noise of his
waves, and the madness of his people, had pro-
vided a plank for me, I had been lost to all the
opportunities of content or study. But I know
not whether I have been more preserved by the
courtesies of my friends, or the gentleness and
mercies of a noble enemy." Who the noble
enemy alluded to was, is not known ; but the
friends who chiefly consoled the period of his
adversity — and he had domestic sorrows to dis-
tress him, besides the loss of property and prefer-
ment — were the Earl of Carbery and Ids lad}^,
whose residence was at Golden Grove, in Taylor's
neighborhood. In the bosom of this family he
continued for many years to enjoy the delights of
friendship, and the comfort of administering the
rites of religion, according to the prescribed forms
of the national church ; it was here also that many
of his most admirable works were composed,
particularly the Life of Christ, the most popular,

* As this Dedication is very long, and consists chiofly of
a recapitulation of the arguments brought forward in the
Treatise itself, it had been deemed consistent with tlie design
of the present publication to omit it. Some of the facts
adduced in it, however, have been transferred to the present
essay, and several of the most interesting passages preserved
to the reader in the quotations.


and, in many respects, the noblest of his writings,
the Holy Living and Dying, and the greater part
of his Sermons. It was, however, in all the fresh-
ness of recent affliction, while poverty and appre-
hension reigned within his household, and the
crash of the falling throne and broken altar was
loud without, deprived of books and leisure, that
the work was written, of the design of which it
now remains to give some account — a work truly
wonderful, as having received its birth under such
untoward circumstances, and which demonstrates
how little was required by its accomplished author
for the production of the noblest results of literary
exertion, besides his own powerful intellect, and
the unrivaled stores of secular and ecclesiastical
learning with which his memory was furnished.

The general principle advanced in the Liberty
OF Prophesying, is this : that as truth on all
minor dogmas of religion is uncertain, and of
small moment in its bearings upon the conduct of
men, while peace and charity are things of un-
doubted certainty and importance, our desire to
obtain the former ouglit to yield to the necessity of
securing the latter ; and every one, for the gootl
of the community at large, ought to tolerate the
differences of all others, while in turn he receives
toleration for his own. But as it is indispensable
somewhere to draw the line — as some standard of
truth must be acknowledged, unless men were to
ru^^h into boundless anarchy, or 'ink into mere


indifference, of opinion, he proposes the confession
of the apostles' creed, as the test of orthodoxy,
and condition of union and communion anions:

A test so liberal and comprehensive, though we
might not perhaps have expected to meet with its
advocate in one conversant in that sphere of arbi-
U'SLvy prerogative, to which the author had so long
been attached, was worthy of the pure and bene-
volent nature of Jeremy Taylor, and naturally
enough suggested by the peculiar circumstances
under which this splendid treatise was composed :
that Taylor's mind was utterly averse from all
harshness in the exercise of authority— that his
temper was not only tolerant but tender towards
all men, is sufficiently apparent to all who are in
any degree acquainted with his moral and prac-
tical writings; yet, had he still continued the
admired orator of an arbitrary court, and the
caressed favorite of a prelate whom the coarse
irritations of factious religionists, as much as his
own disposition and principles, hurried into harsh
and cruel measures, it is little likely the world
had ever beheld the Liberty of Prophesying.
From the melancholy experience of the past, the
present miserable wreck of all which he regarded
as most dear and venerable, and the gloomy
uncertainty which over hung the future, he sought
refuge in the depths of his own generous pity for
the Vv'eaknosses and errors, and in his respect for


the rights, of his fellow-citizens. " I was deter-
mined," he says, "by the consideration of the
present distemperatures and necessities, by my
own thoughts, by the questions and scruples, the
sects and names, the interests and animosities
which at this day, and for some years past, liave
exercised and disquieted Christendom; — being
very much displeased that so many opinions and
new doctrines are commenced among us, but
more troubled that every man that hath an opin-
ion, thinks his own and other men's salvation is
concerned in its maintenance, but most of all that
men should be persecuted and afflicted for dis-
agreeing in such opinions which they cannot with
sufficient grounds obtrude upon others necessarily,
because they cannot propound tliem infallibly, and
liave no warrant of Scripture to do so."

The person of the king had now been transfer-
red from the custody of the parliamentary commis-
sioners to that of Cromwell and the army — from
the hands, that is to say, of the most, to those of
the least intolerant, of the great sectarian parties ;
and he was accordingly treated with more indul-
gence and respect. The author of the Liberty
OF Prophesying, therefore, may have cherished a
hope of promoting an accommodation between
the captive sovereign and his victorious subjects,
which, however slender, sufficed to rouse the zeal
of a mind equally imbued with loyalty to his king
and regard for the happiness of his fellow-subjects.


Taylor's experience of the temper of the parties
must indeed have forbidden the indulgence of any
very sanguine expectation, as to the effect of his
arguments in softening their mutual animosities
and dislikes. On the part of the king, scarcely
any thing remained to be conceded ; while, had
further concession been in his power, such a rooted
opinion prevailed of Charles's insincerity in his
ensajrements, as must have rendered a cordial
reconciliation impossible. On the other hand, the

Online LibraryJeremy TaylorA discourse of the liberty of prophesying; showing the unreasonableness of prescribing to other men's faith; and the eniquity of persecuting differing opinions → online text (page 1 of 29)