Lent with Jeremy Taylor: Repentance

Each Friday of Lent, laudable Practice is presenting words from Jeremy Taylor reflecting on fundamental practices shared by the Christian traditions. Today's practice is repentance, the means of "renewing of us into our first condition". Taylor's robust understanding of repentance echoes earlier traditions of penance, such as those seen in Rowan Williams' Passions of the Soul (2024), a reflection on the Eastern penitential tradition. Williams describes the "diagnostic work" of this tradition, an "honest registering of what is actually going on in us". If this, and Taylor's words below, seem to be too robust to us, it is suggestive of how we fail to take sin seriously. (Recognition of this, by the way, seems to be contributing to a renewed appreciation for the Commination rite.) Williams' words regarding the Eastern penitential tradition are also applicable to Taylor's writing on repentance:

seriously helpful in pastoral and personal terms because it tells us two crucial things: first, that it's important to be honest about what's in our minds, and second, that we need to be very aware of the ways in which we can slip from that honesty into a rather corrupting fascination with ourselves.

It might be suggested that, amidst a profoundly confused, sickly and self-absorbed culture, Taylor's serious and robust approach to repentance has a deep and profound relevance for the Church's mission and pastoral life, for the "renewing of us into our first condition".

it is impossible we should be actually and perpetually free from sin in the long succession of a busy, and impotent, and a tempted conversation. And without these reserves of the Divine grace and after-emanations from the mercy seat, no man could be saved; and the death of Christ would become inconsiderable to most of his greatest purposes; for none should have received advantages but newly-baptized persons, whose albs of baptism served them also for a winding-sheet. And therefore our baptism, although it does consign the work of God presently to the baptized person in great, certain, and entire effect, in order to the remission of what is past, in case the catechumen be rightly disposed or hinders not; yet it hath also influence upon the following periods of our life, and hath admitted us into a lasting state of pardon, to be renewed and actually applied by the sacrament of the Lord's-supper, and all other ministries evangelical, and so long as our repentance is timely, active, and effective ...

God pities us, and calls us not to an account for what morally cannot, or certainly will not with great industry be prevented. But whatsoever is inconsistent with this condition, is an abatement from our hopes, as it is a retiring from our duty; and is with greater or less difficulty cured, as are the degrees of its distance from that condition which Christ stipulated with us when we became his disciples for we are just so restored to our state of grace and favour, as we are restored to our state of purity and holiness. Now this redintegration, or renewing of us into the first condition, is also called repentance, and is permitted to all persons who still remain within the powers and possibilities of the covenant; that is, who are not in a state contradictory to the state and portion of grace ...

And therefore, the best of men do all their lives ask pardon even of those sins for which they have wept bitterly, and done the sharpest and severest penance. And if it be necessary, we pray that we may not enter into temptation, because temptation is full of danger, and the danger may bring a sin, and the sin may ruin us; it is also necessary that we understand the condition of our pardon to be, as is the condition of our person, variable as will, sudden as affections, alterable as our purposes, revocable as our own good intentions, and then made as ineffective as our inclinations to are such as may infinitely testify and prove his mercy, so they are such as must secure our duty and habitual graces; an industry, manly, constant, and Christian ...

And there is no way to secure our confidence and our hope but by being perfect, and holy, and pure, as our heavenly Father is; that is, in the sense of human capacity, free from the habits, of all sin, and active and industrious, and continuing in the ways of godliness: for upon this only the promise is built, and by our proportion to this state we must proportion our confidence; we have no other revelation. Christ reconciled us to his Father upon no other conditions, and made the covenant upon no other articles but of a holy life, in obedience universal and perpetual.

(From Taylor's 'Discourse IX Of Repentance' in The Great Exemplar, Part II, 1649)


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