Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Holiness the Way to Knowledge
By Jeremy Taylor (16131667)
From Via Intelligentiæ, a Sermon preached to the University of Dublin
LASTLY: there is a sort of Gods dear servants who walk in perfectness, who perfect holiness in the fear of God; and they have a degree of clarity and divine knowledge more than we can discourse of, and more certain than the demonstrations of geometry, brighter than the sun, and indeficient as the light of heaven. This is called by the apostle the [Greek]. Christ is this brightness of God, manifested in the hearts of His dearest servants.
But I shall say no more of this at this time, for this is to be felt, and not to be talked of; and they that never touched it with their finger, may secretly, perhaps, laugh at it in their heart, and be never the wiser. All that I shall now say of it is, that a good man is united unto God, [Greek],2 as a flame touches a flame, and combines into splendour and to glory; so is the spirit of a man united unto Christ by the Spirit of God. These are the friends of God, and they best know Gods mind, and they only that are so, know how much such men do know. They have a special unction from above: so that now you are come to the top of all; this is the highest round of the ladder, and the angels stand upon it: they dwell in love and contemplation, they worship and obey, but dispute not: and our quarrels and impertinent wranglings about religion are nothing else but the want of the measures of this state. Our light is like a candle; every wind of vain doctrine blows it out, or spends the wax, and makes the light tremulous; but the lights of heaven are fixed and bright, and shine for ever.
But that we may speak not only things mysterious, but things intelligible; how does it come to pass, by what means and what economy is it effected, that a holy life is the best determination of all questions, and the surest way of knowledge? Is it to be supposed, that a godly man is better enabled to determine the questions of purgatory or transubstantiation? is the gift of chastity the best way to reconcile Thomas and Scotus?3 and is a temperate man always a better scholar than a drunkard? To this I answer, that in all things in which true wisdom consists, holiness, which is the best wisdom, is the surest way of understanding them. And this, is effected by holiness as a proper and natural instrument; for naturally every thing is best discerned by its proper light and congenial instrument.
For as the eye sees visible objects, and the understanding perceives the intellectual; so does the Spirit the things of the Spirit. The natural man, saith St. Paul, knows not the things of God, for they are spiritually discerned: that is, they are discovered by a proper light, and concerning these things an unsanctified man discourses pitifully, with an imperfect idea, as a blind man does of light and colours which he never saw.
A good man, though unlearned in secular notices, is like the windows of the temple, narrow without and broad within: he sees not so much of what profits not abroad, but whatsoever is within, and concerns religion and the glorifications of God, that he sees with a broad inspection: but all human learning, without God, is but blindness and ignorant folly.
But when it is [Greek],righteousness dipped in the wells of truth; it is like an eye of gold in a rich garment, or like the light of heaven, it shews itself by its own splendour. What learning is it to discourse of the philosophy of the sacrament, if you do not feel the virtue of it? and the man that can with eloquence and subtilty discourse of the instrumental efficacy of baptismal waters, talks ignorantly in respect of him who hath the answer of a good conscience within, and is cleansed by the purifications of the Spirit. If the question concern any thing that can perfect a man and make him happy, all that is the proper knowledge and notice of the good man. How can a wicked man understand the purities of the heart? and how can an evil and unworthy communicant tell what it is to have received Christ by faith, to dwell with Him, to be united to Him, to receive Him in his heart? The good man only understands that: the one sees the colour, and the other feels the substance; the one discourses of the sacrament, and the other receives Christ; the one discourses for or against transubstantiation, but the good man feels himself to be changed, and so joined in Christ that he only understands the true sense of transubstantiation, while he becomes to Christ bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh, and of the same spirit with his Lord.
We talk much of reformation, and (blessed be God) once we have felt the good of it; but of late we have smarted under the name and pretension: the woman that lost her groat, everrit domum, not evertit; she swept the house, she did not turn the house out of doors. That was but an ill reformation that untiled the roof and broke the walls, and was digging down the foundation.