"Ye must not look for sentence by secret decrees": Taylor on the Day of Doom

Below, an extract from an Advent Sunday sermon by Jeremy Taylor.  Three things are worth noting about this extract.  The first is that it is a very traditional account of how, in words used earlier in the sermon by Taylor, "Christ shall be our judge at Dooms-day".  It is difficult not to hear in this a continuation of the preaching and art which captivated the Latin Christian imagination over long centuries before the Reformation.  This sense is heightened when we consider that Taylor references Thomas Aquinas by name in the sermon, regarding our responsibilities for the sins of others in light of the Last Judgement.

Secondly, note the critique of Calvinist scholasticism.  Taylor emphasises that the Last Judgement will not be upon the basis of "secret propositions ... secret decrees or obscure doctrines".  Rather, we will be judged on how we have lived "according to the Sermons of the Gospel".  This was a fundamental contention of the Holy Living tradition which emerged in the Caroline ecclesia Anglicana, a concern that Calvinist scholasticism could obscure the call of the Gospel to good works or that truth that, in the words of the Athanasian Creed, "they that have done good shall go into life everlasting".

Thirdly, the reminder that sentence will be passed not "after the measures of Nature" but "by the mercies of the Covenant".  Attention is focused on the Judge who is also our Redeemer, whose mercy "hath no bounds".  Thus the Holy Living tradition, so insistent in its evangelical call to good works, yet teaches that on the Day of Doom our trust cannot be in ourselves but "him that once died for us".  As Taylor put it earlier in the sermon, "the salvation of our souls is reckoned as a part of Christ's reward, a part of the glorification of his humanity".

The last Judgement shall bee transacted by the same Principles by which we are guided here: not by strange and secret propositions, or by the fancies of men, or by the subtleties of useless distinctions, or evil persuasions; not by the scruples of the credulous, or the interest of sects, nor the proverbs of prejudice, nor the uncertain definitions of them that give laws to subjects by expounding the decrees of Princes; but by the plain rules of Justice, by the ten Commandments, by the first apprehensions of conscience, by the plain rules of Scripture, and the rules of an honest mind, and a certain Justice. So that by this restraint and limit of the final sentence, we are secur'd we shall not fall by scruple or by ignorance, by interest or by faction, by false persuasions of others, or invincible prejudice of our own, but we shall stand or fall by plain and easy propositions, by chastity or uncleanness, by justice or injustice, by robbery or restitution: and of this we have a great testimony by our Judge and Lord himself; Whatsoever ye shall bind in earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye loose shall be loosed there; that is, you shall stand or fall according to the Sermons of the Gospel, as the Ministers of the Word are commanded to preach, so ye must live here, and so ye must be judged hereafter; ye must not look for that sentence by secret decrees or obscure doctrines, but by plain precepts and certain rules. 

But there are yet some more degrees of mercy. That sentence shall passe upon us not after the measures of Nature, and possibilities, and utmost extents, but by the mercies of the Covenant; we shall be judged as Christians rather then as men, that is, as persons to whom much is pardoned, and much is pitied, and many things are (not accidentally, but consequently) indulged, and great helps are ministered, and many remedies supplied, and some mercies extra regularly conveyed, and their hopes enlarged upon the stock of an infinite mercy, that hath no bounds but our needs, our capacities, and our proportions to glory. The sentence is to be given by him that once died for us, and does now pray for us, and perpetually intercedes; and upon souls that he loves, and in the salvation of which himself hath a great interest, and increase of joy. 

(The painting is Stefan Lochner, 'Last Judgement', c.1435.)


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