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Holy Living

by Jeremy Taylor





Of Sobriety in the general sense.


Christian religion, in all its moral parts, in nothing else but the law of nature, and great reason; complying with the great necessities of all the world, and promoting the great profit of all relations, and carrying us through all accidents and variety of changes, to that end which God hath from eternal ages purposed for that live according to it, and which he hath revealed in Jesus Christ: and, according to the apostle’s arithmetic, hath but these three parts of it; 1. Sobriety, 2. Justice, 3. Religion. “For the grace of God, being salvation, hath appeared to all men; teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live. 1. Soberly, 2. Righteously, and, 3. Godly, in this present world, looking for that blessed hope and glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. The first contains all our deportment in our personal and private capacities, the fair treating of our bodies and our spirits. The second enlarges our duty in all relations to our neighbour. The third contains the offices of direct religion, and intercourse with God.

Christian sobriety is also that duty that concerns ourselves in the matter of meat, and drink, and pleasures, and thoughts; and it hath within it the duties of 1. Temperance, 2. Chastity, 3. Humility, 4. Modesty, 5. Content.

It is a using severity, denial, and frustration of our appetite, when it grows unreasonable in any of these instances: the necessity of which we shall to best purpose understand, by considering the evil consequences of sensuality, effeminacy, or fondness after carnal pleasures.

Evil Consequences of Voluptuousness or Sensuality.

1. A longing after sensual pleasures is a dissolution of the spirit of a man, and makes it loose, soft, and wandering; unapt for noble, wise, or spiritual employments; because the principles upon which pleasure is chosen and pursued are sottish, weak, and unlearned, such as prefer the body before the soul,[61] the appetite before reason, sense before the spirit, the pleasures of a short abode before the pleasures of eternity.

2. The nature of sensual pleasure is vain, empty, and unsatisfying, biggest always in expectation, and a mere vanity in the enjoying, and leaves a sting and thorn behind it when it goes off. Our laughing, if it be loud and high, commonly ends in a deep sigh; and all the instances of pleasure have a sting in the tail, though they carry beauty on the face, and sweetness on the lip.

3. Sensual pleasure is a great abuse to the spirit of a man, being a kind of fascination or witchcraft, blinding the understanding and enslaving the will. And he that knows he is free-born, or redeemed with the blood of the Son of God, will not easily suffer the freedom of his soul to be entangled and rifled.[62]

4. It is most contrary to the state of a Christian, whose life is a perpetual exercise, a wrestling and warfare, to which sensual pleasure disables him, by yielding to that enemy with whom he must strive if ever he will be crowned.[63] And this argument the apostle intimated: “He that striveth for masteries to temperate in all things: now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.”[64]

5. It is by a certain consequence the greatest impediment in the world to martyrdom: that being a fondness, this being a cruelty to the flesh; to which a Christian man, arriving by degrees, must first have crucified the lesser affections: for he that is overcome by little arguments of pain, will hardly consent to lose his life with torments.

Degrees of Sobriety.

Against this voluptuousness, sobriety is opposed in three degrees.

1. A despite or disaffection to pleasures, or a resolving against all entertainment of the instances and temptations of sensuality; and it consists in the internal faculties of will and understanding, decreeing and declaring against them disapproving and disliking them, upon good reason and strong resolution.

2. A tight and actual war against all the temptations and offers of sensual pleasure in all evil instances and degrees: and it consists in prayer, in fasting, in cheap diet and hard lodging, and laborious exercises, and avoiding occasions, and using all arts and industry of fortifying the spirit, and making it severe, manly, and Christian.

3. Spiritual pleasure is the highest degree of sobriety; and in the same degree in which we relish and are in love with spiritual delights, the hidden manna,[65] with the sweetness of devotion, with the joys of thanksgiving, with rejoicing in the Lord, with the comforts of hope, with the deliciousness of charity and alms-deeds, with the sweetness of a good conscience, with the peace of meekness, and the felicities of a contented spirit; in the same degree we disrelish and loathe the husks of swinish lusts, and the parings of the apples of Sodom, and the taste of sinful pleasures is unsavoury as the drunkard’s vomit.

Rules for suppressing Voluptuousness.

The precepts and advices which are of best and of general use in the curing of sensuality, are these:

1. Accustom thyself to cut off all superfluity in the provisions of thy life, for our desires will enlarge beyond the present possession so long as all the things of this world are unsatisfying: if, therefore, you suffer them to extend beyond the measures of necessity or moderated conveniency, they will still swell: but you reduce them to a little compass when you make nature to be your limit. We must more take care that our desires should cease[66] than that they should be satisfied: and, therefore, reducing them in narrow scantlings and small proportions is the best instrument to redeem their trouble, and prevent the dropsy, because that is next to an universal denying them: it is certainly a paring off from them all unreasonableness and irregularity. “For whatsoever covets unseemly things, and is apt to swell into an inconvenient bulk, is to be chastened and tempered: and such are sensuality, and a boy,[67] said the philosopher.

2. Suppress your sensual desires in their first approach;[68] for then they are least, and thy faculties and election are stronger; but if they, in their weakness, prevail upon thy strengths, there will be no resisting them when they are increased, and thy abilities lessened. “You shall scarce obtain of them to end, if you suffer them to begin.”

3. Divert them with some laudable employment, and take off their edge by inadvertency, or a not attending to them. For, since the faculties of a man cannot at the same time, with any sharpness, attend to two objects, if you employ your spirit upon a book or a bodily labour, or any innocent and indifferent employment, you have no room left for the present trouble of a sensual temptation. For to this sense it was, that Alexander told the queen of Caria, that his tutor, Leonidas, had provided two cooks for him;[69] “Hard marches all night and a small dinner the next day: these tamed his youthful aptnesses to dissolution, so long as he ate of their provisions.

4. Look upon pleasures, not upon that side that is next the sun, or where they look beauteously; that is, as they come towards you to be enjoyed, for then they paint and smile, and dress themselves up in tinsel and glass gems, and counterfeit imagery; but when thou hast rifled and discomposed them with enjoying their false beauties, and that they begin to go off, then behold them in their nakedness and weariness.[70] See, what a sigh and sorrow, what naked unhandsome proportions, and a filthy carcass they discover; and the next time they counterfeit, remember what you have already discovered, and be no more abused. And I have known some wise persons have advised to cure the passions and longings of their children by letting them taste of every thing they passionately fancied; for they should be sure to find less in it than they looked for, and the impatience of their being denied would be loosened and made slack: and when our wishes are no bigger than the thing deserves, and our usages of them according to our needs (which may be obtained by trying what they are, and what good they can do us,) we shall find in all pleasures so little entertainment, that the vanity of the possession will soon reprove the violence of the appetite.[71] And if this permission be in innocent instances it may be of good use: but Solomon tried it in all things, taking his fill of all pleasures, and soon grew weary of them all. The same thing we may do by reason which we do by experience, if either we look upon pleasures as we are sure they look when they go off, after their enjoyment; or if we will credit the experience of those men who have tasted them and loathed them.

5. Often consider and contemplate the joys of heaven, that, when they have filled thy desires, which are the sails of the soul, thou mayst steer only thither, and never more look back to Sodom. And when thy soul dwells above, and looks down upon the pleasures of the world, they seem like things at distance, little and contemptible, and men running after the satisfaction of their sottish appetites seem foolish as fishes, thousands of them running after a rotten worm, that covers a deadly book; or, at the best, but like children with great noise pursuing a bubble rising from a walnut-shell, which ends sooner than the noise.

6. To this the example of Christ and his apostles, of Moses, and all the wise men of all ages of the world, will much help; who, understanding how to distinguish good from evil, did choose a sad and melancholy way to felicity, rather than the broad, pleasant, and easy path to folly and misery.

But this is but the general. Its first particular is temperance.



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