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Holy Living

by Jeremy Taylor





The first general instrument of Holy Living, Care of our Time.


He that is choice of his time will also be choice of his company, and choice of his actions; lest the first engage him in vanity and loss; and the latter, by being criminal, be a throwing his time and himself away, and a going back in the accounts of eternity.

God hath given to man a short time here upon earth, and yet upon this short time eternity depends: but so, that for every hour of our life (after we are persons capable of laws, and know good from evil) we must give account to the great Judge of men and angels. And this is it which our blessed Saviour told us, that we must account for every idle word; not meaning that every word which is not designed to edification, or is less prudent, shall be reckoned for a sin; but that the time which we spend in our idle talking and unprofitable discoursings; that time which might and ought to have been employed to spiritual and useful purposes - that is to be accounted for.

For we must remember that we have a great work to do, many enemies to conquer, many evils to prevent, much danger to run through, many difficulties to be mastered, many necessities to serve, and much good to do; many children to provide for, or many friends to support, or many poor to relieve, or many diseases to cure; besides the needs of nature and of relation, our private and our public cares, and duties of the world, which necessity and the providence of God have adopted into the family of religion.

And that we need not fear this instrument to be a snare to us, or that the duty must end in scruple, vexation, and eternal fears, we must remember, that the life of every man may be so ordered (and indeed must) that it may be a perpetual serving of God: the greatest trouble and most busy trade and worldly encumbrances, when they are necessary, or charitable, or profitable in order to any of those ends which we are bound to serve, whether public or private, being a doing of God’s work. For God provides the good things of the world to serve the needs of nature, by the labours of the ploughman the skill and pains of the artisan, and the dangers and traffic of the merchant: these men are, in their callings, the ministers of the Divine Providence, and the stewards of the creation, and servants of a great family of God, the world, in the employment of procuring necessities for food and clothing, ornament, and physic. In their proportions also, a king and a priest and a prophet, a judge and an advocate, doing the works of their employment according to their proper rules, are doing the work of God; because they serve those necessities which God hath made, and yet made no provisions for them, but by their ministry. So that no man can complain that his calling takes him off from religion; his calling itself, and his very worldly employment in honest trades and offices, is a serving of God; and, if it be moderately pursued and according to the rules of Christian prudence, will leave void spaces enough for prayers and retirements of a more spiritual religion.

God has given every man work enough to do, that there shall be no room for idleness; and yet hath so ordered the world, that there shall be space for devotion. He that hath the fewest businesses of the world is called upon to spend more time in the dressing of the soil; and he that hath the most affairs may so order them that they shall be a service of God; whilst at certain periods, they are blessed with prayers and actions of religion, and all day long are hallowed by a holy intention.

However, so long as idleness is quite shut out from our lives, all the sins of wantonness, softness, and effeminacy, are prevented and there is but little room left for temptation; and, therefore, to a busy man temptation is fain to climb up together with his business, and sins creep upon him only by accidents and occasions; whereas, to an idle person they come in a full body, and with open violence and the impudence of a restless importunity.

Idleness is called ‘the sin of Sodom and her daughters,’[5] and indeed is “the burial of a living man;” an idle person being so useless to any purpose of God and man, that he is like one that is dead, unconcerned in the changes and necessities of the world; and he only lives to spend his time, and to eat the fruits of the earth; like a vermin or a wolf, when their time comes they die and perish, and in the meantime do no good; they neither plough nor carry burdens; all that they do is either unprofitable or mischievous.

Idleness is the greatest prodigality in the world; it throws away that which is invaluable in respect of its present use, and irreparable when it is past, being to be recovered by no power of art or nature. But the way to secure and improve our time we may practise in the following rules.

Rules for employing our Time.

1. In the morning, when you awake, accustom yourself to think first upon God, or something in order to his service; and at night, also let him close thine eyes: and let your sleep be necessary and healthful, not idle and expensive of time beyond the needs and conveniences of nature; and sometimes be curious to see the preparation which the sun makes, when he is coming forth from his chambers of the east.

2. Let every man that hath a calling be diligent in pursuance of its employment, so as not lightly or without reasonable occasion to neglect it in any of those times which are usually, and by the custom of prudent persons and good husbands, employed in it.

3. Let all the intervals or void spaces of time be employed in prayers, reading, meditating, works of nature, recreation, charity, friendliness and neighbourhood, and means of spiritual and corporal health; ever remembering so to work in our calling, as not to neglect the work of our high calling; but to begin and end the day with God, with such forms of devotion as shall be proper to our necessities.

4. The resting days of Christians, and festivals of the church, must in no sense be days of idleness; for it is better to plough upon holy days than to do nothing, or to do viciously: but let them be spent in the works of the day, that is, of religion and charity, according to the rules appointed.[6]

5. Avoid the company of drunkards and busybodies, and all such as are apt to talk much to little purpose; for no man can be provident of his time that is not prudent in the choice of his company; and if one of the speakers be vain, tedious, and trifling, he that hears, and he that answers in the discourse, are equal losers of their time.

6. Never talk with any man, or undertake any trifling employment, merely to pass the time away;[7] for every day well spent may become a “day of salvation,” and time rightly employed is an “acceptable time.” And remember, that the time thou triflest away was given thee to repent in, to pray for pardon of sins, to work out thy salvation, to do the work of grace, to lay up against the day of judgment a treasure of good works, that thy time may be crowned with eternity.

7. In the midst of the works of thy calling, often retire to God[8] in short prayers and ejaculations; and those may make up the want of those larger portions of time, which, it may be, thou desirest for devotion, and in which thou thinkest other persons have advantage of thee; for so thou reconcilest the outward work and thy inward calling, the church and the commonwealth, the employment of the body and the interest of thy soul: for be sure, that God is present at thy breathings and hearty sighings of prayer, as soon as at the longer offices of less busied persons; and thy time is as truly sanctified by a trade, and devout though short prayers, as by the longer offices of those whose time is not filled up with labour and useful business.

8. Let your employment be such as may become a reasonable person; and not be a business fit for children or distracted people, but fit for your age and understanding. For a man may be very idly busy, and take great pains to so little purpose, that, in his labours and expense of time, he shall serve no end but of folly and vanity. There are some trades that wholly serve the ends of idle persons and fools, and such as are fit to be seized upon by the severity of laws and banished from under the sun; and there are some people who are busy; but it is, as Domitian was, in catching flies.

9. Let your employment be fitted to your person and calling. Some there are that employ their time in affairs infinitely below the dignity of their person; and being called by God or by the republic to help to bear great burdens, and to judge a people, do enfeeble their understanding and disable their persons by sordid and brutish business. Thus Nero went up and down Greece, and challenged the fiddlers at their trade. Eropus, a Macedonian king, made lanterns. Harcatius, the king of Parthia, was a mole-catcher; and Biantes, the Lydian, filed needles. He that is appointed to minister to holy things must not suffer secular affairs and sordid arts to eat up great portions of his employment: a clergyman must not keep a tavern, nor a judge be an innkeeper; and it was a great idleness in Theophylact, the patriarch of C.P. to spend his time in the stable of horses, when he should have been in his study, or in the pulpit, or saying his holy offices. Such employments are the diseases of labour, and the rust of time which it contracts, not by lying still, but by dirty employment.

10. Let your employment be such as becomes a Christian; that is, in no sense mingled with sin: for he that takes pains to serve the ends of covetousness, or ministers to another’s lust, or keeps a shop of impurities or intemperance, is idle in the worst sense; for every hour so spent runs him backward, and must be spent again in the remaining and shorter part of his life, and spent better.

11. Persons of great quality, and of no trade, are to be most prudent and curious in their employment and traffic of time. They are miserable if their education hath been so loose and undisciplines as to leave them unfurnished of skill to spend their time: but most miserable are they, if such misgovernment and unskilfulness make them fall into vicious and baser company, and drive on their time by the sad minutes and periods of sin and death. They that are learned know the worth of time, and the manner how well to improve a day; and they are to prepare themselves for such purposes, in which they may be most useful in order to arts or arms, to counsel in public, or government in their country; but for others of them, that are unlearned, let them choose good company, such as may not tempt them to a vice, or join with them in any; but that may supply their defects by counsel and discourse, by way of conduct and conversation. Let them learn easy and youthful things, read history and the laws of the land, learn the customs of their country, the condition of their own estate, profitable and charitable contrivances of it; let them study prudently to govern their families, learn the burdens of their tenants, the necessities of their neighbours, and in their proportion supply them, and reconcile their enmities, and prevent their lawsuits, or quickly end them; and in this glut of leisure and disemployment, let them set apart greater portions of their time for religion and the necessities of their souls.

12. Let the women of noble birth and great fortunes do the same things in their proportions and capacities; nurse their children, look to the affairs of the house, visit poor cottages, and relieve their necessities; be courteous to the neighborhood, learn in silence of their husbands or their spiritual guides, read good books, pray often and speak little, and “learn to do good works for necessary uses;” for by that phrase St. Paul expresses the obligation of Christian women to good housewifery, and charitable provisions for their family and neighbourhood.

13. Let all persons of all conditions avoid all delicacy and niceness in their clothing or diet, because such softness engages them upon great mispendings of their time, while they dress and comb out all their opportunities of their morning devotion, and half the day’s severity, and sleep out the care and provision of their souls.

14. Let every one of every condition avoid curiosity, and all inquiry into things that concern them not. For all business in things that concern us not, is an employing our time to no good of ours, and therefore not in order to a happy eternity. In this account our neighbours’ necessities are not to be reckoned: for they concern us, as one member is concerned in the grief of another: but going from house to house, tattlers and busybodies, which are the canker and rust of idleness, as idleness is the rust of time, are reproved by the apostle in severe language, and forbidden in order to this exercise.

15. As much as may be, cut off all impertinent and useless employments of your life, unnecessary and fantastic visits, long waitings upon great personages, where neither duty, nor necessity, not charity, obliges us; all vain meetings, all laborious trifles, and whatsoever spends much time to no real, civil, religious, or charitable purpose.

16. Let not your recreations be lavish spenders of your time; but choose such which are healthful, short, transient, recreative, and apt to refresh you; but at no hand dwell upon them, or make them your great employment: for he that spends his time in sports, and calls it recreation, is like him whose garment is all made of fringes, and his meat nothing but sauces; they are healthless, chargeable, and useless. And therefore avoid such games, which require much time or long attendance; or which are apt to steal thy affections from more severe employments. For to whatsoever thou hast given thy affections, thou wilt not grudge to give thy time. Natural necessity and the example of St. John, who recreated himself with sporting with a tame partridge,[9] teach us, that it is lawful to relax and unbend our bow, but not to suffer it to be unready or unstrung.

17. Set apart some portions of every day for more solemn devotion and religious employment, which be severe in observing: and if variety of employment, or prudent affairs, or civil society, press upon you, yet so order thy rule, that the necessary parts of it be not omitted; and though just occasions may make our prayers shorter, yet let nothing but a violent, sudden, and impatient necessity, make thee, upon any one day, wholly to omit thy morning and evening devotions; which if you be forced to make very short, you may supply and lengthen with ejaculations and short retirements in the day-time, in the midst of your employment or of your company.

18. Do not the ‘work of God negligently’[10] and idly: let not thy heart be upon the world when thy hand is lift up in prayer; and be sure to prefer an action of religion, in its place and proper season, before all worldly pleasure, letting secular things, that may be dispensed with in themselves, in these circumstances wait upon the other; not like the patriarch, who ran from the alter in St. Sophia to his stable, in all his pontificals, and in the midst of his office, to see a colt newly fallen from his beloved and much-valued mare Phorbante. More prudent and severe was that of Sir Thomas More, who, being sent for by the king when he was at his prayers in public, returned answer, he would attend him when he had first performed his service to the King of kings. And it did honour to Rusticus,[11] that, when letters from Caesar were given to him, he refused to open them till the philosopher had done his lecture. In honouring God and doing his work, put forth all thy strength; for of that time only thou mayest be most confident that it is gained, which is prudently and zealously spent in God’s service.

19. When the clock strikes, or however else you shall measure the day, it is good to say a short ejaculation every hour, that the parts and returns of devotion may be the measure of your time; and do so also in all the breaches of thy sleep; that those spaces, which have in them no direct business of the world, may be filled with religion.

20. If, by thus doing, you have not secured your time by an early and fore-handed care, yet be sure by a timely diligence to redeem the time; that is, to be pious and religious in such instances in which formerly you have sinned, and to bestow your time especially upon such graces, the contrary whereof you have formerly practised, doing actions of chastity and temperance with as great a zeal and earnestness as you did once act your uncleanness; and then, by all arts, to watch against your present and future dangers, from day to day securing your standing: this is properly to redeem your time, that is, to buy your security of it at the rate of any labour and honest acts.

21. Let him that is most busied set apart some solemn time every year,[12] in which, for the time, quitting all worldly business, he may attend wholly to fasting and prayer, and the dressing of his soul by confessions, meditations, and attendances upon God; that he may make up his accounts, renew his vows, make amends for his carelessness, and retire back again, from whence levity and the vanities of the world, or the opportunity of temptations, or the distraction of secular affairs, have carried him.

22. In this we shall be much assisted, and we shall find the work more easy, if, before we sleep, every night[13] we examine the actions of the past day with a particular scrutiny, if there have been any accident extraordinary; as long discourse, a feast, much business, a variety of company. If nothing but common hath happened, the less examination will suffice; only let us take care that we sleep not without such a recollection of the actions of the day, as may represent any thing that is remarkable and great, either to be the matter of sorrow or thanksgiving: for other things a general care is proportionable.

23. Let all these things be done prudently and moderately, not with scruple and vexation. For these are good advantages, but the particulars are not Divine commandments; and therefore are to be used as shall be found expedient to every one’s condition. For provided that our duty be secured, for the degrees and for the instruments every man is permitted to himself and the conduct of such who shall be appointed to him. He is happy that can secure every hour to a sober or a pious employment: but the duty consists not scrupulously in minutes and half hours, but in greater portions of time; provided that no minute be employed in sin, and the great portions of our time be spent in sober employment, and all the appointed days, and some portions of every day, be allowed for religion. In all the lesser parts of time, we are left to our own elections and prudent management, and to the consideration of the great degrees and differences of glory that are laid up in heaven for us, according to the degrees of our care, and piety, and diligence.

The Benefits of this Exercise.

This exercise, besides that it hath influence upon our whole lives, it hath a special efficacy for the preventing of, 1. beggarly sins, that is, those sins which idleness and beggary usually betray men to; such as are lying, flattery, stealing, and dissimulation. 2. It is a proper antidote against carnal sins, and such as proceed from fulness of bread and emptiness of employment. 3. It is a great instrument of preventing the smallest sins and irregularities of our life, which usually creep upon idle, disemployed, and curious persons. 4. It not only teaches us to avoid evil, but engages us upon doing good, as the proper business of all our days. 5. It prepares us so against sudden changes that we shall not easily be surprised at the sudden coming of the day of the Lord: for he that is curious of his time will not easily be unready and unfurnished.



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