Jeremy Taylor


A Discourse of
the Liberty of Prophesying.
Shewing the unreasonablenes of prescribing to other men's faith,
and the iniquity of persecuting different opinions.

London 1647



Epistle Dedicatory to Christopher Lord Hatton

and the sum of the following discourse is nothing but the sense of these words of Scripture:
That since "we know in part and prophesy in part", and that "we now see through a glass darkly", we should not despise or contemn persons not so knowing as ourselves , but "him that is weak in the faith, we should receive, but not to doubtful disputations". Therefore certainly to charity and not to vexations, not to those which are the idle effects of impertinent wranglings. And provided they keep close the foundation, which is faith and obedience, let them build upon this foundation matter more or less precious, yet if the foundation be entire they shall be saved without loss. And since we profess ourselves servants of so meek a master and disciples of so charitable an institute, Let us "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called with all lowliness and meekness, with long suffering, forbearing one another in love". For this is the best "endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit," when it is fast tied in "the bond of peace". And although it be a duty of Christianity that "we all speak the same thing, that there be no divisions among us but that we be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment", yet this unity is to be estimated according to the unity of faith in things necessary, in matters of Creed and articles fundamental. For as for other things, it is more to be wished than hoped for
For if I shall tie other men to believe my opinion because I think I have a place of Scripture which seems to warrant it to my understanding, why may he not serve up another dish to me in the same dress, and exact the same task of me to believe the contradictory?

that whatsoever is against the foundation of faith or contrary to good life and the laws of obedience or destructive to human society and the public and just interests of bodies politic, is out of the limits of my question and does not pretend to compliance or toleration. So that I allow no indifferency nor any countenance to those religions whose principle destroy government, nor to those religions (if there be any such) that teach ill life, nor do I think that anything will now excuse from belief of a fundamental article, except stupidity or sottishness and natural inability.

And the experience which Christendom hath had in this last age is argument enough that toleration of differing opinions is so far from disturbing the public peace or destroying the interest of princes and commonwealths, that it does advantage to the public. It secures peace because there is not so much the pretence of religion left to such persons to contend for it, being already indulged to them. When France fought against the Huguenots the spilling of her own blood was argument enough of the imprudence of that way of promoting religion, but since she hath given permission to them the world is witness how prosperous she hath been ever since. But the great instance is in the differing temper, government and success which Margaret of Parma and the Duke of Alva had:  The clemency of the first had almost extinguished the flame, but when she was removed D'Alva succeeded and managed the matter or religion with fire and sword. He made the flame so great that his religion and his prince too hath both been almost quite turned out the country.

For let all errors be as much and as zealously suppressed as may be. The doctrine of the following discourse contradicts not that. But let it be done by such means as are proper instruments of their suppression - by preaching and disputation (so that neither of them breed disturbance), by charity and sweetness, by holiness of life, assiduity of exhortation, by the word of God and prayer.
For these ways are most natural, most prudent, most peaceable and effectual. Only let not men be hasty in calling every disliked opinion by the name of heresy, and when they have resolved that they will call it so, let them use the erring person like a brother, not beat him like a dog or convince him with a gibbet or vex him out of his understanding and persuasions.

And to my understanding it is a plain art and design of the devil to make us so in love with out own opinions as to call them faith and religion, that we may be proud in our understanding. And besides, that by our zeal in our opinions we grow cool in our piety and practical duties, he also by this earnest contention does destroy good life, by engagement of zealots to do anything rather than be overcome and loose their beloved propositions. But I would fain know, why is not any vicious habit as bad or worse than a false opinion? Why are we so zealous against those we call heretics, and and yet great friends with drunkards, fornicators and swearers and intemperate and idle persons. I am certain that a drunkard is as contrary to God and lives as contrary to the laws of Christianity as a heretic. And I am also sure that I know what drunkenness is, but I am not sure that such an opinion is heresy. Neither would other men be so sure as they think for if they did consider it aright and observe the infinite deceptions and causes of deceptions in wise men and in most things, and in all doubtful questions, and that they did not mistake confidence for certainty.



For I demand:  Can any man say and justify that the Apostles did deny communion to any man that believed the Apostles' Creed and lived a good life? And dare any man tax that proceeding of remissness and indifferency to religion? And since our blessed Saviour promised salvation to him that believeth (and the Apostles - when they gave this word the greatest extent - enlarged it not beyond the boundaries of the Creed) how can any man warrant the condemning of any man to the flames of hell that is ready to die in attestation of this faith, so expounded and made explicit by the Apostles, and lives accordingly?

For since God will be justified with a free obedience and there is an obedience of understanding as well as of will and affection, it is of great concernment as to be willing to believe whatever God says so also to enquire diligently whether the will of God be so as it is pretended. Even our acts of understanding are acts of choice, and therefore it is commanded as a duty , to "search the Scriptures" (John 5:39), to "try the spirits whether they be of God or no" (I John 4:1), of ourselves to be able to judge what is right, to "try all things and to retain that which is best" (I Thessalonians 5:21). For he that resolves not to consider, resolves not to be careful whether he have truth or no, and therefore hath an affection indifferent to truth or falsehood, which is all one as if he did chose amiss. And since when things are truly propounded and made reasonable and intelligent we cannot but assent and then it is no thanks to us, we have no way to give our wills to God in matters of belief but by searching it and examining the grounds upon which the propounders build their dictates.

Then no Christian is to be put to death, dismembered or otherwise directly persecuted for his opinion which does not teach impiety or blasphemy. If it plainly and apparently brings in a crime and himself does act it or encourage it, then the matter of fact is punishable according to its proportion or malignity. As, if he preaches treason or sedition, his opinion is not his excuse because it is a crime, and a man is never the less traitor because he believes it lawful to commit treason. And a man is a murderer if he kills his brother unjustly although he thinks he does God good service in it. Matters of fact are equally judicable whether the principle of them be from within or without. And if a man could pretend to innocence in being seditious, blasphemous or perjured by persuading himself it is lawful, there were as great a gate opened to all iniquity as will entertain all the pretences, the designs, the impostures and disguises of the world. And therefore God hath taken order that all rules concerning matters of fact and good life shall be so clearly explicated that without the crime of the man he cannot be ignorant of all his practical duty.

If he be killed, he is certainly killed, but if he be called a heretic, it is not so certain that he is an heretic. It were good, therefore, that proceedings were according to evidence, and the rivers not swell over the banks, nor a certain definitive sentence of death passed upon such persuasions which cannot certainly be defined. And this argument is of so much the more force because we see that the greatest persecutions that ever have been were against truth, even against Christianity itself. And it was a prediction of our blessed Saviour, that persecution should be the lot of true believers. And if we compute the experience of suffering Christendom and the prediction that the truth should suffer with those few instances of suffering heretics, it is odds but persecution is on the wrong side and that it error and heresy that is cruel and tyrannical - especially since the truth of Jesus Christ and of his religion are so meek, so charitable and so merciful. And we may in this case exactly use the words of St. Paul, "But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit, even so it is now" (Galatians 4:29). And so it ever will be till Christ's second coming.
Whosoever persecutes a disagreeing person arms all the world against himself and all pious people of his own persuasion, when the scales of authority return to his own adversary and attest his contradictory. And then what can he urge for mercy for himself or his party that showeth none to others? If he says that he is to be spared because he believes true but that the other was justly persecuted because he was in error, he is ridiculous. For he is as confidently believed to be a heretic as he believes his adversary such. And whether he be or no - being the thing is question - of this he is not to be his own judge, but he that hath authority on his side will be sure to judge against him. So that what either side can indifferently make use of, it is good that neither would, because neither side can with reason sufficient do it in prejudice of the other.

Either the disagreeing person is in error, or not but a true believer. In either of the cases to persecute him is extremely imprudent. For if he be a true believer, then it is a clear case that we do open violence to God and his servants and his truth. If he be in error, what greater folly and stupidity than to give to error the glory of martyrdom and the advantages which are accidentally consequent to a persecution? For as it was true of the martyrs Quoties morimur toties nascimur [Just as many were born as died], and the increase of their trouble was the increase of their confidence and the establishment of their persuasions, so it is in all false opinions. For that an opinion is true or false is extrinsecal or accidental to the consequents and advantages it gets by being afflicted. And there is a popular pity that follows all persons in misery, and that compassion breed likeness of affections, and that very often produces likeness of persuasion. And so much the rather because there arises a jealousy and pregnant suspicion that they who persecute an opinion are destitute of arguments to confute it, and that the hangman is the best disputant. To which add that those who die for their opinion leave in all men great arguments of the heartiness of their belief, of the confidence of their persuasion, of the piety and innocency of their persons, of the purity of their intention and simplicity of purposes, that they are persons totally disinterest and separate from design.

Force in matters of opinion can do no good but is very apt to do hurt. For no man can change his opinion when he will, or be satisfied in his reason that his opinion is false because discountenanced. But if a man cannot change his opinion when he lists, nor ever does heartily or resolutely but when he cannot do otherwise, then to use force may make him an hypocrite but never to be a right believer, and so instead of erecting a trophy to God and true religion we build a monument for the devil. And so many families in Spain which are (as they call them) New Christians, and of a suspected faith into which they were forced by the Inquisition and yet are secret Moors, is evidence enough of the inconvenience of preaching a a doctrine in ore gladii cruentandi [with a bloody sword in the mouth]. For it either punishes a man for keeping a good conscience or forces him into a bad; it either punished sincerity or persuades hypocrisy; it persecutes a truth or drives into error; and it teaches a man to dissemble and be safe, but never to be honest.


[Spelling and punctuation modernized]

Jeremy Taylor (1613-67) was educated at Cambridge University. He impressed Archbishop William Laud and became a chaplain to King Charles I. During the Civil War, he lost his living and was supporter by Royalist gentlemen. After the Restoration, he was made Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland.

in part = I Corinthians 13:9 "For we know in part, and we prophesy in part".

through a glass, darkly = I Corinthians 13:12 "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known".

Romans 14:1 "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations".

I Corinthians 3:11-13 "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is".

Ephesians 4:1-3 "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace".

I Corinthians 1:10 "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

Margaret of Parma and the Duke of Alva = Governors of the Netherlands. Margaret, Duchess of Parma (1522-86) was regent from 1559-1567 and adopted a policy of moderation towards Protestants. After violence by a few extremists against Catholic churches, she was replaced by Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba (1507-82). He governed the Netherlands with a rod of iron from 1567 to 1573, condemning thousands for their religious beliefs.
[More on Dutch religion and rebellion].