A Strange Sickness

From “The Deceitfulness of the Heart, Part One,” Twenty-Five Sermons Preached at Golden Grove (1651)

The heart is deceitful in its strength; and when we have the growth of a man, we have the weakness of a child; nay, more yet, and it is a sad consideration, the more we are in age, the weaker in our courage. It appears in the heats and forwardness of new converts, which are like to great blasts of lightning, or like huge fires, which flame and burn without measure, even all that they can; till from flames they descend to still flames, from thence to smoke, from smoke to embers, and from thence to ashes; cold and pale, like ghosts, or the fantastic images of death.

And the primitive church was zealous in its religion up to the degree of cherubim, and would run as greedily to the hangman, to die for the cause of God, as we do not to the greatest joy and entertainment of a Christian spirit — even to the receiving of the holy sacrament. A man would think it reasonable, that the first infancy of Christianity should, according to the nature of first beginnings, have been remiss, gentle, and inactive; and that, according as the object or evidence of faith grew, which in every age has a great deal of argument added to confirm it, so should the habit of faith, and also the grace. The longer it lasts, and the more objections it answers, it should show a brighter and more certain light to disclose the divinity of its principle.

And after more examples, and new accidents and strangenesses of providence, and daily experience, and multitude of miracles, the Christian should grow more certain in his faith, more refreshed in his hope, and warm in his charity; the very nature of these graces increasing upon the nourishment of experience. And yet, because the heart of man is false, it suffers the fires of the altar to go out, and the flames lessen by the multitude of fuel. But indeed, it is because we put on strange fire, and put out the fire on our hearts by letting in a glaring sunbeam — the fire of lusts, or the heats of an angry spirit — to quench the fire of God, and to quench the sweet cloud of incense.

The heart of man has not strength enough to think one good thought of itself. It cannot command its own attention to a prayer of ten lines long, but, before its end, it shall wander after something that is of no purpose, and no wonder, then, that it grows weary of a holy religion, which consists of so many parts as to make the business of a whole life.

And there is no greater argument in the world of our spiritual weakness, and the falseness of our hearts in the matters of religion than the backwardness which most men have always, and all men have sometimes, to say their prayers; so weary of their length, so glad when they are done, so witty to excuse and frustrate an opportunity. And yet there is no manner of trouble in the duty, no weariness of bones, no violent labors, nothing but begging a blessing, and receiving it; nothing but doing ourselves the greatest honor of speaking to the greatest person and greatest king of the world. And that we should be unwilling to do this, so unable to continue in it, so backward to return to it, so without gust and relish in the doing of it, can have no visible reason in the nature of the thing, but something within us, a strange sickness in the heart, a spiritual nauseating or loathing of manna, something that has no name; but we are sure it comes from a weak, a faint, and false heart.

Jeremy Taylor was an Anglican cleric, the author of the twin devotional manuals, The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living and Holy Dying. Classed among the Caroline Divines, he was famed in his time as a preacher and moral theologian, Taylor served as chaplain to King Charles I, and served as chaplain to the Earl of Carbery at his Welsh estate, Golden Grove, during the Commonwealth period. After the Restoration, he became Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland. He is commemorated on August 13 on the liturgical calendars of many Anglican churches.


Online Archives