For the Bookshelf: Jeremy Taylor, Rule and Exercises of Holy Living
Jeremy Taylor experienced an ordinary upbringing in the family of his father who was a barber.
His life was extraordinary in his service to the Church of England because of the religious turmoil in 17th century England.
He was trained and served as a priest.
During his life serving the church, he was twice imprisoned and released through the influence of friends.
He ultimately escaped threat of death by fleeing to Ireland, where he remained the rest of his life.
Taylor served as Chaplain in Ordinary to King Charles the First, while in London, and ended his career as Lord Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland.
Among his several books is Rule and Exercises of Holy Living, written in 1650.
He intended this book as an instruction book leading the reader to a virtuous life while avoiding temptation and increasing piety.
The book is arranged in four chapters:
Chapter 1 General means serving to a holy life
Chapter 2 Christian Sobriety
Chapter 3 Christian Justice
Chapter 4 Christian Religion: Duty of Man
Chapter 1 provides the most practical guidance for a devotional life. Taylor recommends that people: “Begin and end the day with God.”
This means thinking about God and spending time with God as we rise from our night’s sleep and as we prepare for it.
But he goes much further by suggesting that we “Let all intervals and void spaces of time be employed in prayers, reading, meditating,…”
In other words, fill any idle or available time studying God’s word and praying.
In this way we grow closer to God and we honor him with our time.
Taylor recommends more specific guidance for prayers.
He suggests that we practice a regular series of prayer elements when we come before God.
These include: “Adoration… Thanksgiving… Oblation… Repentance… Petition… Intercession.”
These elements represent a simple guide of most common types of prayer for those participating in dedicated prayer times.
Taylor goes further by recommending that “It is good to say a short ejaculation every hour.”
This is a prayer of thanksgiving, intercession, or repentance offered spontaneously.
How fruitful to cry out in praise or thanksgiving or pain, as we go through the blessings and difficulties of everyday life.
In fact, every section of Rule includes prayers for specific occasions.
These numerous prayers can be used during worship, during devotional times, and during the course of the day.
The prayers cover any number of specific conditions and situations, from a prayer for family, to a prayer for humility, to a prayer for those caught in a storm at sea.
The sheer number of prayers Taylor records speaks to the importance of prayer for devoted Christians.
In this first chapter, Taylor gives explanations to two other concepts.
He talks about the importance of our intentions when we undertake our actions before God.
He also discusses the presence of God by explaining six ways God is with us and ten ways we should respond to God’s presence, such as “Let everything you see represent to your spirit the presence, the excellency, and the power of God.”
Chapters 2 and 3 are useful as guides for Christian living, but less useful for purposes of developing devotional practices.
These two chapters review responsibilities for living a Godly life.
This includes practicing the Christian characteristics of temperance, chastity, humility, modesty, contentedness, and obedience.
Chapter 4 teaches the appropriate relationship and participation with the church.
Taylor explains the practice and benefits of fasting and alms-giving for disciples.
He uses many scripture passages and biblical characters as examples to demonstrate these Christian actions.
Taylor does give examples of meditating on specific biblical characters and stories.
This goes hand in hand with his suggestion in Chapter 4 to “Set apart some portion of thy time… everyday read or hear some of it.”
Other useful suggestions include the suggestion that we “Rejoice in the midst of a misfortune.”
Like many other religious people, Taylor believes that our trials, temptations, and suffering are a part of the growing experience for disciples, as they place less importance in the physical world, and grow in dependence and attachment to the spiritual kingdom of God.
Rule and Exercises of Holy Living is a good example of 17th century practices for a life of devotion.
Taylor provides grounded experience for living a life of devotion.
His guidance is practical and specific.
The number and specificity of his prayers make his book a wonderful resource for devotional material.
I find several of his suggestions directly related to my study of devotional practices and will include them in my project.
Taylor, Jeremy Taylor, Rule and Exercises of Holy Living (Memphis, TN: RareBooksClub.com, 2012) reviewed by Paul Sherwood.