The Shakespeare of the Divines
Today, our church honors Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down and Conner in Ireland.
A substitute preaching assignment in Gaius College at Cambridge brought him to the attention of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Laud invited him to preach in London, citing his “happiness of expression and fervour of piety.” That assignment, and others after it, led him into tumultuous times. Through Laud’s influence, Taylor was appointed Chaplain Ordinary to Charles I of England, a Royalist ruler. After a revolt against the Royalists, Charles was deposed, and Taylor was imprisoned. Archbishop Laud was tried for treason and executed in January 1664.
Taylor lived quietly in exile in Wales until another patron, the Earl of Carbury, appointed him as his Chaplain. There, Taylor wrote his first book, The Golden Rule. Originally a children’s catechism, it is still popular today as a Book of Devotions. Because of Carbury’s influence, he was appointed to the Bishopric. His service in that position, from 1660 to 1667 was marked by continuing disagreements with powerful Presbyterian clergy, who did not recognize the episcopacy’s authority.
He continued to preach, and to write. His writings earned him the sobriquet of The Shakespeare of the Divines for his thoughts, clearly and poetically expressed.
Many of his works are available today, and are well worth reading. In addition to the Golden Grove, Taylor wrote, “Rule and Exercise of Holy Living,” “Holy Dying,” “The Great Exemplar – the Life of Jesus Christ,” and “The Worthy Communicant.” John Wesley, a Church of England clergyman who later founded the Methodist church, was particularly devoted to “Holy Living” and “Holy Dying,” which influenced him in founding the Methodists.
Taylor died on August 13, 1667.
Thanks be to God for his life and works.
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The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington