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Holy Living

by Jeremy Taylor





The third general instrument of Holy Living; or the Practice of the Presence of God.


That God is present in all places, that he sees every action, hears all discourses and understands every thought, is no strange thing to a Christian ear who hath been taught this doctrine, not only by right reason and the consent of all the wise men in the world, but also by God himself in holy Scripture. ‘Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ ‘Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.’[24] “For in him we live and move and have our being.’[25] God is wholly in every place; included in no place; not bound with cords, except those of love; not divided into parts, nor changeable into several shapes; filling heaven and earth with his present power and with his never absent nature. So St. Augustine[26] expresses this article. So that we may imagine God to be as the air and the sea, and we all enclosed in his circle, wrapped up in the lap of his infinite nature; or as infants in the wombs of their pregnant mothers: and we can no more be removed from the presence of God than from our own being.

Several Manners of the Divine Presence

The presence of God is understood by us in several manners, and to several purposes.

1. God is present by his essence; which, because it is infinite, cannot be contained within the limits of any place; and, because he is of an essential purity and spiritual nature, he cannot be undervalued by being supposed present in the places of unnatural uncleanness; because as the sun, reflecting upon the mud of strands and shores, is unpolluted in its beams, so is God not dishonoured when we suppose him in every of his creatures, and in every part of every one of them; and is still as unmixed with any unhandsome adherence as is the soul in the bowels of the body.

2. God is everywhere present by his power.[27] He rolls the orbs of heaven with his hands; he fixes the earth with his foot; he guides all the creatures with his eye, and refreshes them with his influence: he makes the powers of hell to shake with his terrors, and binds the devils with his word, and throws them out with his command, and sends the angels on embassies with his decrees: he hardens the joints of infants, and confirms the bones, when they are fashioned beneath secretly in the earth. he it is that assists at the numerous productions of fishes; and there is not one hollowness in the bottom of the sea, but he shows himself to be Lord of it by sustaining there the creatures that come to dwell in it: and in the wilderness, the bittern and the stork, the dragon and the satyr, the unicorn and the elk, live upon his provisions, and revere his power, and feel the force of his almightiness.

3. God is more specially present, in some places, but the several and more special manifestations of himself to extraordinary purposes. First, by glory. Thus, his seat is in heaven, because there he sits encircled with all the outward demonstrations of his glory, which he is pleased to show to all the inhabitants of those his inward and secret courts. And thus they that ‘die in the Lord, may be properly said to be ‘gone to God;’ with whom although they were before, yet now they enter into his courts, into the secret of his tabernacle, into the retinue and splendour of his glory. That is called walking with God, but this is dwelling or being with him. ‘I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ;’ so said St. Paul. But this manner of Divine Presence is reserved for the elect people of God, and for their portion in their country.

4. God is, by grace and benediction, specially present in holy places,[28] and in the solemn assemblies of his servants. If holy people meet in grots and dens of the earth when persecution or a public necessity disturbs the public order, circumstance, and convenience, God fails not to come thither to them; but God is also, by the same or a greater reason, present there where they meet ordinarily by order and public authority; there God is present ordinarily, that is, at every such meeting. God will go out of his way to meet his saints when themselves are forced out of their way of order by a sad necessity; but else, God’s usual way is to be present in those places where his servants are appointed ordinarily[29] to meet. But his presence there signifies nothing but a readiness to hear their prayers, to bless their persons, to accept their offices, and to like even the circumstance of orderly and public meeting. For thither the prayers of consecration, the public authority separating it, and God’s love of order, and the reasonable customs of religion, have in ordinary, and in a certain degree, fixed this manner of his presence, and he loves to have it so.

5. God is especially present in the hearts of his people by his Holy Spirit; and indeed the hearts of holy men are temples in the truth of things, and, in type and shadow, they are heaven itself. For God reigns in the hearts of his servants; there is his kingdom. The power of grace hath subdued all his enemies: there is his power. They serve him night and day, and give him thanks and praise; that is his glory. This is the religion and worship of God in the temple. The temple itself is the heart of man; Christ is the high-priest, who from thence sends up the incense of prayers, and joins them to his own intercession, and presents all together to his Father; and the Holy Ghost, by his dwelling there, hath also consecrated it into a temple;[30] and God dwells in our hearts by faith and Christ by his Spirit, and the Spirit by his purities: so that we are also cabinets of the mysterious Trinity; and what is this short of heaven itself, but as infancy is short of manhood, and letters of words? The same state of life it is, but not the same age. It is heaven in a looking-glass, dark, but yet true, representing the beauties of the soul, and the graces of God, and the images of his eternal glory, by the reality of a special presence.

6. God is especially present in the consciences of all persons, good and bad, by way of testimony and judgment; that is, he is there a remembrance to call our actions to mind, a witness to bring them to judgment, and a judge to acquit or to condemn. And although this manner of presence is, in this life, after the manner of this life, that is imperfect, and we forget many actions of our lives; yet the greatest changes of our state of grace or sin, our most considerable actions, are always present, like capital letters to an aged and dim eye; and, at the day of judgment, God shall draw aside the cloud, and manifest this manner of his presence more notoriously, and make it appear that he was an observer of our very thoughts, and that he only laid those things by which, because we covered with dust and negligence, were not then discerned. But when we are risen from our dust and imperfection they all appear plain and legible.

Now the consideration of this great truth is of a very universal use in the whole course of the life of a Christian. All the consequents and effects of it are universal. He that remembers that God stands a witness and a judge, beholding every secresy, besides his impiety, must have put on impudence, if he be not much restrained in his temptation to sin. “For the greatest part of sin is taken away,[31] if a man have a witness of his conversation: and he is a great despiser of God who sends a boy away when he is going to commit fornication, and yet will dare to do it, though he knows God is present, and cannot be sent off; as if the eye of a little boy were more awful than the all-seeing eye of God. He is to be feared in public; he is to be feared in private: if you go forth, he spies you; if you go in, he sees you: when you light the candle, he observes you; when you put it out, then also God marks you. Be sure, that while you are in his sight, you behave yourself as becomes so holy a presence.” But if you will sin, retire yourself wisely, and go where God cannot see, for nowhere else can you be safe. And certainly, if men would always actually consider, and really esteem this truth, that God is the great eye of the world, always watching over our actions, and an ever-open ear to hear all our words, and an unwearied arm ever lifted up to crush a sinner into ruin, it would be the readiest way in the world to make sin to cease from amongst the children of men, and for men to approach to the blessed estate of the saints in heaven, who cannot sin, for they always walk in the presence and behold the face of God. This instrument is to be reduced to practice, according to the following rules.

Rules of exercising this Consideration.

1. Let this actual thought often return, that God is omnipresent, filling every place; and say with David,[32] “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, thou art there,” etc. This thought, by being frequent, will make an habitual dread and reverence towards God, and fear in all thy actions. For it is a great necessity and engagement to do unblamably when we act before the Judge,[33] who is infallible in his sentence, all-knowing in his information, severe in his anger, powerful in his providence, and intolerable in his wrath and indignation.

2. In the beginning of actions of religion, make an act of adoration, that is, solemnly worship God, and place thyself in God’s presence, and behold him with the eye of faith; and let thy desires actually fix on him as the object of thy worship, and the reason of thy hope, and the fountain of thy blessing. For when thou hast placed thyself before him, and kneelest in his presence, it is most likely all the following parts of thy devotion will be answerable to the wisdom of such an apprehension, and the glory of such a presence.

3. Let everything you see represent to your spirit the presence, the excellency, and the power of God; and let your conversation with the creatures lead you unto the Creator; for so shall your actions be done more frequently, with an actual eye to God’s presence, by your often seeing him in the glass of the creation. In the face of the sun you may see God’s beauty; in the fire you may feel his heat warming; in the water, his gentleness to refresh you: he it is that comforts your spirit when you have taken cordials; it is the dew of heaven that makes your field give you bread; and the breasts of God are the bottles that minister drink to your necessities. This philosophy, which is obvious to every man’s experience, is a good advantage to our piety; and, by this act of understanding, our wills are checked from violence and misdemeanour.

4. In your retirement, make frequent colloquies, or short discoursings, between God and thy soul. Seven times a-day do I praise thee: and in the night season also I thought upon thee, while I was waking. So did David; and every act of complaint or thanksgiving, every act of rejoicing or of mourning, every petition and every return of the heart in these intercourses, is a going to God, an appearing in his presence, and a representing him present to thy spirit and to thy necessity. And this was long since by a spiritual person called, “a building to God a chapel in our heart.” It reconciles Martha’s employment with Mary’s devotion, charity and religion, the necessities of our calling, and the employments of devotion. For thus, in the midst of the works of your trade, you may retire into your chapel, your heart, and converse with God by frequent addresses and returns.

5. Represent and offer to God acts of love and fear, which are the proper effects of this apprehension, and the proper exercise of this consideration. For, as God is everywhere present by his power, he calls for reverence and godly fear; as he is present to thee in all thy needs, and relieves them, he deserves thy love; and since, in every accident of our lives, we find one or other of these apparent, and in most things we see both, it is a proper and proportionate return, that, to every such demonstration of God, we express ourselves sensible of it by admiring the Divine goodness, or trembling at his presence; ever obeying him because we love him, and ever obeying him because we fear to offend him. This is that which Enoch did, who thus ‘walked with God.’

6. Let us remember that God is in us, and that we are in him: we are his workmanship, let us not deface it; we are in his presence, let us not pollute it by unholy and impure actions. God hath ‘also wrought all our works in us:’[34] and because he rejoices in his own works, if we defile them, and make them unpleasant to him, we walk perversely with God, and he will walk crookedly towards us.

7. ‘God is in the bowels of thy brother;’ refresh them, when he needs it, and then you give your alms in the presence of God, and to God; and he feels the relief which thou providest for thy brother.

8. God is in every place; suppose it, therefore, to be a church: and that decency of deportment and piety of carriage, which you are taught by religion, or by custom, or by civility and public manners, to use in churches, the same use in all places; with this difference only, that in churches let your deportment be religious in external forms and circumstances also; but there and everywhere let it be religious in abstaining from spiritual indecencies, and in readiness to do good actions, that it may not be said of us, as God once complained of his people, ‘Why hath my beloved done wickedness in my house?’[35]

9. God is in every creature: be cruel towards none, neither abuse any by intemperance. Remember, that the creatures and every member of thy own body, is one of the lesser cabinets and receptacles of God. They are such which God hath blessed with his presence, hallowed by his touch, and separated from unholy use, by making them to belong to his dwelling.

10. He walks as in the presence of God that converses with him in frequent prayer and frequent communion; that runs to him in all his necessities; that asks counsel of him in all his doubtings; that opens all his wants to him; that weeps before him for his sins; that asks remedy and support for his weakness; that fears him as a judge; reverences him as a lord; obeys him as a father; and loves him as a patron.

The benefits of this Exercise.

The benefits of this consideration and exercise being universal upon all the parts of piety, I shall less need to specify any particulars; but yet, most properly, this exercise of considering the Divine presence is, 1. An excellent help to prayer, producing in us reverence and awfulness to the Divine Majesty of God, and actual devotion in our offices. 2. It produces a confidence in God and fearlessness of our enemies, patience in trouble and hope of remedy; since God is so nigh in all our sad accidents, he is a disposer of the hearts of men and the events of things, he proportions out our trials, and supplies us with remedy, and, where his rod strikes us, his staff supports us. To which we may add this, that God, who is always with us, is especially, by promise, with us in tribulation, to turn the misery into a mercy, and that our greatest trouble may become our advantage, by entitling us to a new manner of the Divine presence. 3. If is apt to produce joy and rejoicing in God, we being more apt to delight in the partners and witnesses of our conversation, every degree of mutual abiding and conversing being a relation and an endearment: we are of the same household with God; he is with us in our natural actions, to preserve us; in our recreations, to restrain us; in our public actions, to applaud or reprove us; in our private, to observe us; in our sleeps, to watch by us; in our watchings, to refresh us; and if we walk with God in all his ways, as he walks with us in all ours, we shall find perpetual reasons to enable us to keep that rule of God, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.’ And this put me in mind of a saying of an old religious person,[36] “There is one way of overcoming our ghostly enemies; spiritual mirth, and a perpetual bearing of God in our minds.” This effectively resists the devil, and suffers us to receive no hurt from him. 4. This exercise is apt also to enkindle holy desires of the enjoyment of God, because it produces joy when we do enjoy him; the same desires that a weak man hath for a defender; the sick man for a physician; the poor for a patron; the child for his father; the espoused lover for her betroths. 5. From the same fountain are apt to issue humility of spirit, apprehensions of our great distance and our great needs, our daily wants and hourly supplies, admiration of God’s unspeakable mercies: it is the cause of great modesty and decency in our actions; it helps to recollection of mind, and restrains the scatterings and looseness of wandering thoughts; it establishes the heart in good purposes, and leadeth on to perseverance; it gains purity and perfection, (according to the saying of God to Abraham, ‘walk before me and be perfect,’) holy fear, and holy love, and indeed everything that pertains to holy living: when we see ourselves placed in the eye of God, who sets us on work and will reward us plenteously, to serve him with an eye-service is very unpleasing, for he also sees the heart; and the want of this consideration was declared to be the cause why Israel sinned so grievously, ‘for they say, The Lord hath forsaken the earth, and the Lord seeth not:[37] therefore the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness.’ What a child would do in the eye of his father, and a pupil before his tutor, and a wife in the presence of her husband, and a servant in the sight of his master, let us always do the same, for we are made a spectacle to God, to angels, and to men; we are always in the sight and presence of the all-seeing and almighty God, who also is to us a father and a guardian, a husband and a lord.



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