The Didache, from a Greek word meaning 'the teaching', is a very ancient document thought to have been written at Alexandria or Antioch early in the second century. Lost for centuries a Greek version was discovered in Constantinople in 1873 and published ten years later. It is a handbook or manual of Christian practice.
There are two ways in the world, that of life and that of death, of light and of darkness. Over them are set two angels, one of right, the other of wrong. Moreover there is a great difference between the two ways. The way of life is this: first, you shall love God who made you; second, your neighbour as yourself; and everything that you would not have done to you, do not do to another.
Now the teaching of these words is this: Bless those that curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those that persecute you; for what merit is there if you love those that love you ? Do not even the heathen do that ? But love those that hate you, and you will have no enemy.
Abstain from physical and bodily cravings. If someone strikes you on the right cheek turn the other to him too, and you will be perfect. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go two miles with him. If anyone takes away your coat, give him your shirt too. If anyone takes from you what is yours, do not demand it back, for you cannot.
Give to everyone that asks of you, and do not demand it back. For the Father wishes that from his own gifts it should be given to all. Blessed is he who gives according to the command, for he is innocent. Woe to him who receives; for if a man receives because he is in need, he will be innocent; but he who receives when he is not in need will stand trial, as to why he received and for what, and being put in prison he will be examined about what he has done, and he will not come out until he pays the last penny. But of this it was also said, "Let your charity sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give."
The second command of the Teaching is: You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not corrupt boys, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practise magic, you shall not use enchantments, you shall not murder a child by abortion, or kill one when born. You shall not desire your neighbour's goods, you shall not commit perjury, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not speak evil, you shall not hold a grudge. You shall not be double-minded, nor double-tongued, for the tongue is a deadly snare. Your speech shall not be false or vain, but fulfilled in action. You shall not be covetous or rapacious, or a hypocrite or malicious or proud. You shall not entertain an evil design against your neighbour. You shall not hate anyone, but some you shall reprove, and for some you shall pray, and some you shall love more than your life.
My child, flee from everyone evil, and from everyone like him. Do not be irascible, for anger leads to murder, or jealous, or contentious, or passionate; for all these things breed murders. My child, do not be lustful, for lust leads to fornication, or foul-spoken or one who lifts up his eyes, for all these things breed adulteries.
My child, do not be a dealer in omens, since it leads to idolatry, or an enchanter, or an astrologer, or a magician, and do not wish to see or hear them, for all these things breed idolatry.
My child, do not be a liar, since lying leads to theft, or avaricious, or vainglorious, for all these things breed thefts.
My child, do not be a grumbler, since it leads to blasphemy, or self-will, or evil-minded, for all these things breed blasphemies; but be meek, since the meek will inherit the earth. Be long-suffering and merciful and guileless, and quiet and good, and always revere the words that you have heard. You shall not exalt yourself, or admit arrogance to your soul. Your soul shall not associate with lofty men, but you shall live with upright and humble people. You shall accept the experiences that befall you as good, knowing that nothing happens without God.
My child, night and day you shall remember him who speaks the word of God to you, and you shall honour him as you would the Lord, for where the Lord's nature is talked of, there the Lord is. And you shall seek daily the company saints to enjoy their refreshing conversation. You shall not cause division, but you shall reconcile fighters. You shall judge uprightly, you shall not show partiality in reproving transgressions. You shall not doubt whether it will be or not.
Do not be stretching out your hands to take, and closing them when it comes to giving. If you have earned it through your hands, you shall give a ransom for your sins. You shall not hesitate to give, nor grumble when you give, for you shall know who is the good payer of wages. You shall not turn the needy away, but you shall share everything with your brothers and sisters, and shall not say it is your own. For if you share in what is immortal, how much more in mortal things !
Do not neglect your responsibility to your son or your daughter, but from their youth up you shall teach them to revere God. Do not be harsh in giving orders to your slaves and slave girls, who hope in the same God, lest they cease to fear the God who is over you both; for he came not to call men with partiality, but those whom the Spirit prepared. And you slaves shall obey your masters, as a symbol of God, with modesty and fear, You shall hate all hypocrisy, and everything that is not pleasing to the Lord.
You must not forsake the commandments of the Lord, but you shall keep the teachings you have received, neither adding to them nor taking from them. In church you shall confess your transgressions, and you shall not approach prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life.
But the way of death is this: First of all, it is wicked and full of cursing; murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, enchantments, robberies, false witnessings, hypocrisies, duplicity, fraud, pride, malice, wilfulness, covetousness, foul speech, jealousy, arrogance, exaltation, boastfulness. Persecutors of good men, hating truth, loving falsehood, ignorant of the wages of uprightness, not adhering to what is good, nor to upright judgement, lying awake for what is not good but for what is evil, from whom gentleness and patience are far away, loving vanity, seeking reward, without pity for the poor, not toiling for the oppressed, ignoring their Maker, murderers of children, corrupters of God's creatures, turning away the needy, oppressing the afflicted, advocates of the rich, unjust judges of the poor, utterly sinful. May you be delivered, my children, from all these !
See that no one leads you astray from this way of the Teaching, for he teaches you without God. For if you can bear the whole yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but it you cannot, do what you can.
Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Apostolic Fathers: An American Translation,
London: Independent Press, 1950, pp.11-14.
Cyril C. Richardson, Early Christian Fathers,
London: SCM Press, 1953, pp.171-174.
The fourth century was a period of Christological controversy, and there was a continuing argument, sometime bitter, whether Christ was God or man or both. The classical defender of the orthodox view as expressed in the Nicene Creed was Athanasius of Alexandria who explained the mystery in an essay called The Incarnation of the Word of God.
God has made people and willed that they should abide in incorruption; but they, having despised and rejected the purpose of God and contrived evil for themselves, received the condemnation of death with which they had been threatened. The law of death, which followed from the Transgression, prevailed upon us, and from it there was no escape ...
It was unthinkable that God, the Father of Truth, should go back upon his word [promised to the patriarchs] and leave humankind to perish. What then could he do ? He might demand repentance but this was to demand something that people could not deliver. No, repentance would not meet the case. What - or rather Who was it that was needed for such grace and such recall as we required ?
Who, save the Word of God himself, who also in the beginning had made all things out of nothing ? His part it was, and his alone, both to bring again the corruptible to incorruption and to maintain for the Father his consistency of character with all. For he alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father.
For this purpose then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, he was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without him who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are.
But now he entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in his love and self-revealing to us. He saw the reasonable race, the race of people that, like himself, expressed the Father's mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption.
He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; he saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled ... All this he saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation ... He took to himself a body, a human body even as our own ... from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father - untainted by intercourse with man ...
Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, he surrendered his body to death in place of all, and offered to the Father. This he did out of sheer love for us, so that in his death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, when he had fulfilled in his body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for humankind ...
The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of otherwise than through death; yet he himself as the Word, being immortal and the Father's Son, was such as could not die. For this reason, therefore, he assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, though belonging to the Word who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself remaining incorruptible through his indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection. It was by surrendering to death the body which he had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, that he forthwith abolished death for his human brethren by the offering of the equivalent ...
Naturally ... through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of humankind is such that, by virtue of the Word's indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all. You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honoured, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so it is with the King of all; he has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against humankind have been foiled, and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Saviour of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.
This great work was, indeed, supremely worthy of the good-ness of God. A king who has founded a city, so far from neglecting it when through the carelessness of the inhabitants it is attacked by robbers, avenges it and saves it from destruction, having regard rather to his own honour than to the people's neglect. Much more, then the Word of the All-good Father was not unmindful of the human race that he had called to be; but rather, by offering his own body he abolished the death which they had incurred, and corrected their neglect by his own teaching. Thus by his own power he restored the whole nature of man. The Saviour's own inspired disciples assure us of this. We read in one place:
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. [2 Cor 5.14-15]
And again another says;
We see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.[Heb. 2.9]
The same writer goes on to point out why it was necessary for God the Word and none other to become Man:
It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. [Heb. 2.10]
He means that the rescue of mankind from corruption was the proper part only of him who made them in the beginning. He points out also that the Word assumed a human body expressly in order that he might offer it in sacrifice for other like bodies:
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. [Heb. 2.14-15]
For by the sacrifice of his own body he did two things: he put an end to the law of death which barred our way; and he made a new beginning of life for us, by giving us the hope of resurrection.
By man death has gained its power over people; by the Word made Man death has been destroyed and life raised up anew. That is what Paul says, that true servant of Christ:
For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ, [1 Cor. 15.21-22]
and so forth. Now, therefore, when we die we no longer do so as people condemned top death, but as those who are even now in the process of rising we await the general resurrection of all, which he will bring about at the right time, even God who wrought it and bestowed it on us.
This, then, is the first cause of the Saviour's becoming man.
A. Robertson, St. Athanasius on the Incarnation,
London: D. Nutt, 1891.
A Religious of C.S.M.V., St. Athanasius on the Incarnation,
London: A. R. Mowbray & Co. Ltd., 1944.
Meister Eckhart, was a fourteenth century German Dominican monk. He was often out of touch with the theologians of his day and emphasised the loving concern of God for his people.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5.3)
Blessedness opened the mouth that spake wisdom and said: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." All the angels and all the saints and all that were ever born must keep silence when the eternal wisdom of the Father speaks; for all the wisdom of angels and creatures is pure nothing, before the bottomless wisdom of God. And this wisdom has spoken and said that the poor are blessed.
Now, there are two kinds of poverty. One is external poverty and it is good, and much to be praised in people who take it upon themselves willingly, for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, because he was poor on earth. Of this poverty I shall say nothing more, for there is still another kind of poverty, an inner poverty, by which Lord's is to be understood when he says: "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
Now, I pray that you may be like this, so that you may understand this address. For I tell you by the eternal truth, that if you are not equal to this truth of which we are want to speak, you cannot understand me.
Various people have questioned me about what poverty is in itself and what a poor person is. That is what we want to answer.
Bishop Albert says that a poor person is one who takes no satisfaction in any of the things that God ever created - and that is well said. But we shall say it better still and take poverty in a yet higher understanding: he is a poor man who wills nothing and knows nothing and has nothing. Of these three points we are going to speak and I beseech you for the love of God that you understand this truth if you can.
First, we say that one is a poor person who wills nothing. What this means, many people do not correctly understand. These are the people who in penitential exercises and external practices, of which they make a good deal, cling to their selfish I. The Lord have pity on such people who know so little of the divine truth ! Such people are called holy on account of external appearance, but inwardly they are asses, for they do not grasp the real meaning of divine truth.
Indeed, these individuals too say that one is a poor person who wills nothing. However, they interpret this to mean that one should so live as never to fulfil one's own will in any way, but rather to strive to fulfil the ever-beloved will of God. These people are right in their way, for they mean well, and we should praise them for that - may God keep them in his mercy !
But in all divine truth, I say that these people are not poor people, nor do they resemble poor people. They pass for great only in the eyes of those who know no better. Yet I say that they are asses, who understand nothing of divine truth. Because of their good intentions they may receive the Kingdom of heaven. But of that poverty of which I now want to speak, they know nothing.
These days, if someone asks me what a poor person is who wills nothing, I answer and say: So long as a person has his own wish in him to fulfil even the ever-beloved will of God, if that is still a matter of his will, then this person does not yet possess the poverty of which we want to speak. Indeed, this person then still has a will with which he or she wants to satisfy God's will, and that is not the right poverty ... So then we say, if people are to be poor in will, they must will and desire as little as they willed and desired [before they were born]. And in this way is a person poor who wills nothing.
Second, a poor person is one who knows nothing. We have said on other occasions that a person should live a life neither for himself, not for the truth, nor for God. But now we say it differently and want to go further and say: Whoever achieves this poverty must so live that they not even know themselves to live, either for oneself or for truth or for God. One must be so free of all knowledge that he or she does not know or recognize or perceive that God lives in him or her. For, when people still stood in God's eternal being, nothing else lived in them. What lived there was themselves. Hence we say that people should be as empty of their own knowledge as when they did not exist, letting God accomplish whatever God wills. People should stand empty.
The authorities say that God is a being, an intelligent being who knows everything. But I say that God is neither a being nor intelligent and he does not "know" either this or that. God is free of everything and therefore he is everything. He, then, who is to be poor in spirit must be poor of all his own knowledge, so that he knows nothing of God, or creatures, or of himself.This is not to say that one may not desire to know and to see the way of God, but it is to say that he may thus be poor in his own knowledge.
Third, one is a poor person who has nothing. Many people have said that perfection consists in people possessing none of the material things of the earth. And indeed, this is certainly true in one sense: when one holds to it intentionally. But this is not the sense I mean ... People must be so empty of all things and all works, whether inward or outward, that they can become a proper home for God, wherein God may operate. But now we shall say it differently.
If people are emptied of all things, creatures, himself and go, and if still god could find a place in him to act, then we say: as long as that it so this person is not poor with the most intimate poverty. For God does not intend that people shall have a place reserved for him to work in [but that they shall be so free of other concerns that God is all in all to them.] ...
Thus we say that a person must be so poor that he or she is no place and has no place therein God could act. Where people still preserve some place in themselves, they preserve distinction. This is why I pray God to rid me of god for his unconditioned being is above god and all distinctions.
It was here [in unconditioned being] that I was myself, wanted myself, and knew myself to be this person [here before you]. ... To this end I was born, and by virtue of my birth being eternal, I shall never die. It is of the nature of this eternal birth that I have been eternally, that I am now, and shall be forever. What I am as a temporal creature is to die and come to nothingness, for it came with time and so with time it will pass away. In my eternal birth, however, everything was begotten. I was my own first cause as well as the cause of everything else. If I had willed it, neither I nor the world would have come to be ! If I had not been, there would have been no god. There is, however, no need to understand this ...
If anyone does not understand this discourse, let them not trouble their hearts about it. For, as long as people do not equal this truth, they will not understand this speech. For this is an unveiled truth that has come immediately from the heart of God.
That we may so live as to experience it eternally, so help us God. Amen.
Raymond Bernard Blakney, Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation,
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1941, pp.227-232.
Matthew Fox, Breakthrough: Meister Eckhart's Creation Spirituality in New Translation,
New York: Doubleday Books, 1980, pp.213-218.
At the time of the Reformation it was felt that the people needed instruction which many of the clergy were unable to give. Many were illiterate and others were prejudiced against what was called the 'new learning.' Many of the parochial clergy were not licensed to preach. Consequently, two books of homilies were produced which the clergy were to read.
Because all people be sinners and offenders against God, and breakers of his law and commandments, therefore can anyone by his own acts, words and deeds, seem they never so good, be justified and made righteous before God; but everyone of necessity is constrained to seek for another righteousness or justification, to be received at God's own hands, that is to say, the remission, pardon and forgiveness of sins and trespasses in such things as they have offended. And this justification of righteousness, which we so receive by God's mercy and Christ's merits, embraced by faith, is taken, accepted, and allowed of God for our perfect and full justification.
For the more full understanding hereof, it is our parts and duty ever to remember the great mercy of God; how that, all the world being wrapped in sin by breaking of the law, God sent his only Son our Saviour Christ into this world to fulfil the law for us, and by shedding of his most precious blood to make a sacrifice and satisfaction or (as it may be called) amends to his Father for our sins, to assuage his wrath and indignation conceived against us for the same.
Inasmuch that infants, being baptized and dying in their infancy, are by this sacrifice washed from their sins, brought to God's favour, and made his children and inheritors of his kingdom of heaven. And they which in act or deed do sin after their baptism, when they turn again to God unfeignedly, they are likewise washed by this sacrifice from their sins in such sort that there remaineth not any spot of sin that shall be imputed to their damnation. This is that justification or righteousness which St. Paul speaketh of when he saith, no human being is justified by the works of the law, but freely by faith in Jesus Christ. And again he saith, We believe in Christ Jesus, that we be justified freely by the faith of Christ, and not by works of the law; because no one shall be justified by the works of the law. [Rom. 3.20,22,24: Gal. 2.16]
And, although this justification be free unto us, yet it cometh not so freely unto us that there is no ransom paid therefore at all.
But here may human reason be astonished, reasoning after this fashion. If a ransom be paid for our redemption, then it is not given us freely: for a prisoner that payeth his ransom is not let go freely; for, if he go freely, then he goeth without ransom; for what is it else to go freely than to be set at liberty without payment of ransom ?
This reason is satisfied by the great wisdom of God in this mystery of our redemption; who hath so tempered his justice and mercy together, that he would neither by his justice condemn us unto the everlasting captivity of the devil and his prison of hell, remediless for ever without mercy, nor by his mercy deliver us clearly without justice or payment of a just ransom, but with his endless mercy he joined his most upright and equal justice.
His great mercy he showed us in delivering us from our former captivity without requiring of any ransom to be paid or amends to be made on our parts; which thing had been made impossible to be done. And, whereas it lay not in us that to do, he provided a ransom for us, that was, the most precious body and blood of his own most dear and best beloved Son Jesu Christ; who, besides his ransom, fulfilled the law for us perfectly.
And so the justice of God and his mercy did embrace together, and fulfilled the mystery of our redemption. And of this justice and mercy of God knit together speaketh St. Paul in the third chapter to the Romans:
since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, [3.23-25]
And in the tenth chapter:
For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. [10.4]
And in the eighth chapter:
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. [8.3-4]
In these foresaid places the Apostle toucheth specially three things, which must go together in our justification: upon God's part his great mercy and grace; upon Christ's part, justice, that is, the satisfaction of God's justice, or the [price of our redemption by the offering of his body and the shedding of his blood with fulfilling of the law perfectly and thoroughly; and upon our part, true and lively faith in the merits of Jesus Christ; which yet is not ours but by God's working in us. So that in our justification is not only God's mercy and grace, but also his justice, which the Apostle calleth the justice of God [Rom. 3.21, 23, 25, 26]; and it consisteth in paying our ransom and fulfilling of the law.
And so the grace of God doth not shut out the justice of God in our justification, but only shutteth out the justice of man, that is to say, the justice of our works,as to be merits of deserving our justification. And therefore St. Paul declared here nothing upon the behalf of man concerning his justification, but only a true and lively faith; which nevertheless is the gift of God, and not man's only work without God [Eph. 2.8]. And yet that faith doth not shut out repentance, hope, love, dread, and the fear of God, to be joined with faith in every person that is justified; but it shutteth them out from the office of justifying.
So that, although they be all present together in him that is justified, yet they justify not all together. Nor that faith also doth not shut out the justice of our good works, necessarily to be done afterward of duty towards God, (for we are most bounden to serve God in doing good deeds, commanded by him in his holy Scripture all the days of our life;) but it excludeth them so that we may not do them to this intent, to be made good by doing of them. For all the good works we do can be unperfect, and therefore not able to deserve our justification: but our justification doth come freely, by the mere mercy of God; and of so great and free mercy that, whereas all the world was not able of themselves to pay any part towards their ransom, it pleased our heavenly Father, of his infinite mercy, without any our desert or deserving, to prepare for us the most precious jewels of Christ's body and blood, whereby our ransom might be fully paid, the law fulfilled, and his justice fully satisfied.
So that Christ is now the righteousness of all them that truly do believe in him. He for them paid their ransom by his death. He for them fulfilled the law in his life. So that now in him and by him every true Christian may be called a fulfiller of the law; forasmuch as that which their infirmity lacketh Christ's justice hath supplied.
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that the words which we have heard this day, with our outward ears, may through thy grace be so grafted inwardly in our hearts, that they may bring forth in us the fruit of good living, to the honour and praise of thy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The First Book of Homilies (1547)
The Revd. Jeremy Taylor (1613-67) was a native of Cambridge and a graduate of the University. He was ordained in 1633 and in 1635 was appointed chaplain to King Charles I. During the Commonwealth period he lived in Wales and in 1660 was appointed Bishop of Down and Connor and vice-chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin. He was a prolific writer and left, among other things, a complete set of sermons for the year.
The spirit, that is 'the inward man,' or the reasonable part of man, especially as helped by the Spirit of grace, that is willing; for it is the principle of all good actions; 'the power of working,' is from the spirit; but the flesh is but a dull instrument, and a broken arm, in which there is a principle of life, but it moves uneasily; and the flesh is so weak that in scripture to be in the flesh signifies a state of weakness and infirmity; so the humiliation of Christ is expressed by being in the flesh, 'God manifested in the flesh [1 Tim. 3.16]; and what St. Peter calls 'put to death in the flesh' [1 Peter 3.18], St. Paul calls 'crucified through weakness ' [2 Cor. 13.14]; and 'ye know that through the infirmity of the flesh I preached unto you' [Gal. 4.13]: but here flesh is not opposed to the spirit as a direct enemy, but as a weak servant: for if the flesh be powerful and opposite, the spirit stays not there; ... the old man and the new cannot dwell together; and therefore here, where the spirit inclining to good, well-disposed, and apt to holy counsels, does inhabit in society with the flesh, it means only a weak and unapt nature, or a state of infant grace; for in both these, and in these only, the text is verified.
Our nature is too weak ... to move one step towards God, unless God by his preventing grace makes it possible ... it is necessary God should make us a new creation if he means to save us ... 'the divine love must come upon us and snatch us' from our imperfections, enlighten our understanding, move and stir our affections, open the gates of heaven, turn our nature into grace, entirely forgive our former prevarications, take us by the land, and lead us all along; and we only contribute our assent to it, just as a child when he is tempted to learn to go, and called upon, and guided, and upheld, and constrained to put his feet to the ground, lest he feel the danger by the smart of a fall; just so is our nature, and our state of flesh. God teaches us and invites us, he makes us willing and then makes us able, he lends us helps, and guides our hands and feet ...
Since our flesh and blood is tainted by the principle of mischief, we must not think to have it cured by washings and light medicaments; the physician that went to cure the heretic with quicksilver and fasting spittle did his patient little good, but himself became a proverb, and he that by easy prayers and [an occasional] fast, by the scattering of a little alms, and the issues of some more natural virtue, thinks to cure his evil nature, does fortify his indisposition, as a stick is hardened by a little fire, which by a great one is devoured.
'Better it is by an entire body of virtue, by a living and active faith, to cleanse the mind from every vice, and to take off all superinduced habits of sin ... For our nature was not made evil but by ourselves; but yet we are naturally evil, that is, by a superinduced nature; just as drunkards and intemperate persons have made it necessary to drink extremely, and their nature requires it, and it is health to them; they die without it because they have made themselves a new constitution, and another nature, but much worse than that which God made; their sin made this new nature; and this new nature makes sin necessary and unavoidable; so it is in all other instances; our nature is evil, because we have spoiled it; and therefore the removing of sin which we have brought in, is the way to cure our nature: for this evil nature is not a thing which we cannot avoid; we made it and therefore we must help it; but as in the superinducing this evil we were thrust forward by the world and the devil, by all objects from without and weakness from within; so in the curing it we are to be helped by God and his most holy spirit; we must have a new nature put into us, which must be the principle of new counsels and better purposes, of holy actions and great devotion; and this nature is derived from God, and is a grace and a favour of heaven.
The first great instrument of changing our whole nature into the state of grace, flesh into spirit, is a firm belief, and a perfect assent to, and hearty entertainment of, the promises of the gospel; for holy scripture speaks great words concerning faith. It quenches all the flaming arrows of the evil one, says St. Paul [Eph. 6.16]; it conquers the world, says St. John (1 Jn. 5.4; it is the fruit of the Spirit, and the parent of love; it is obedience, and it is humility, and it is a shield, and it is a breastplate. and a work, and a mystery; it is a fight, and it is a victory; it is pleasing to God, and it is thatwhereby the just do live; by faith we are purified, and by faith we are sanctified, and by faith we are justified, and by faith we are saved; by this we have access to the throne of grace, and by it our prayers shall prevail for the sick, by it we stand, and by it we walk, and by this Christ dwells in our hearts, and by it all the miracles of the church have been done: it gives great patience to suffer, and great confidence to hope, and great strength to do, and infallible certainty to enjoy the end of all our faith, and satisfaction of all our hopes, and the reward of all our labours, even the most mighty price of our high calling: and if faith be such a magazine of spiritual excellencies, of such universal efficacy, nothing can be a greater antidote against the venom of a corrupted nature ...
The second great remedy of our evil nature, and of the loads of the flesh, is devotion, or a state of prayer and intercourse with God. For the gift of the Spirit of God, which is the great antidote of our evil natures, is properly and expressly promised to prayer; If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" [luke 11.13] That which St. Luke called 'the Holy Spirit,' is called in St. Matthew [7.11] 'good things;' that is, the Holy Spirit is all that good that we shall need towards our pardon, and our sanctification, and our glory, and is promised to prayer; to this purpose Christ taught us the Lord's prayer, by which we are sufficiently instructed in obtaining this magazine of holy and useful things ...
If you can once obtain but to delight in prayer, and to long for the day of a communion, and to be pleased with holy meditation, and to desire God's grace with great passion, and an appetite keen as a wolf upon the void plains of the north; if you can delight in God's love, and considering his providence, and busy yourselves in the pursuit of the affairs of his kingdom, then you have the grace of devotion, and your evil nature shall be cured.
Because this great cure is to be wrought by the Spirit of God, which is a new nature in us, we must endeavour to abstain from those things which by a special malignity are directly opposite to the spirit of reason, and the spirit of grace ...
Avoid all delay in the counsels of religion: because the aversation and perverseness of a child's nature may be corrected easily; but every day of indulgence and excuse increases the evil, and makes it still more natural, and still more necessary.
Learn to despise the world; or, which is a better compendium in the duty, learn but truly to understand it; for it is a cozenage all the way; the head of it is a rainbow, and the face of it is flattery; its words are charms, and all its stories are false; its body is a shadow, and its hands do knit spider's webs; it is an image and a noise, with an hyena's lips and a serpent's tail; it was given to serve the needs of our nature, and instead of doing it, it creates strange appetites, and nourishes thirsts and fevers; it brings care, and debauches our nature, and brings shame and death as the reward of all our cares. Our nature is a disease, and the world does nourish it; but if you [cease] to feed upon such unwholesome diet, your nature reverts to its first purities, and to the entertainments of the grace of God ...0
Only let us be careful in all instances, that we yield not to the weakness of the flesh, nor listen to its faire pretences; for the flesh can do more than it says, we can do more than we think we can; and if we do some violence to the flesh, to our affairs, and to the circumstances of our fortune, for the interest of our spirit, we shall make our flesh useful, and the spirit strong; the flesh and its weakness shall no more be an objection, but shall comply, and co-operate, and serve all the necessities of the spirit.
The Whole Works of the Right Reverend Jeremy Taylor,
London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1883, Vol. 4, pp. 117-142.