for Prof. Westblade
Bio. on Edward Taylor
18th Century Theology
January 21, 2001
Lord, Can a Crumb of Earth the Earth outweigh:
Outmatch all mountains, nay the Chrystall Sky?
Imbosom in’t designs that shall Display
And trace into the Boundless Deity?
Yea, hand a Pen whose moysture doth guild ore
Eternall Glory with a glorious glore.
If it its pen had of Angels Quill,
And sharpend on a Pretious Stone ground tite,
And dipt in Liquid Gold, and mov’de by skill
In Christall leaves should golden Letters write,
It would but blot and blur: yea, jag and jar,
Unless Thou mak’st the Pen and Scribener.
I am this Crumb of Dust which is design’d
To make my Pen unto thy Praise alone,
And my dull Phancy I would gladly grinde
Unto an Edge on Zions Pretious Stone:
And write in Liquid Gold upon thy Name
My Letters till thy glory forth doth flame.
Let not th’attempts breake down My Dust I pray,
Nor laugh thou them to scorn, but pardon give.
Inspire this Crumb of Dust till it display
Thy Glory through’t: and then thy dust shall live.
Its failings then thou’lt overlook I trust,
They being Slips slipt from thy Crumb of Dust.
Thy Crumb of Dust breaths two words from its breast;
That thou wilt guide its pen to write aright
To Prove thou art, and that thou art the best,
And shew thy Properties to shine most bright.
And then thy Works will shine as flowers on Stems,
Or as in Jewellary Shops, do jems (Poetical Works of Edward Taylor 33).
We do not know a lot about Edward Taylor’s life, because much of it he lived in relative obscurity on the frontier. Many of his writings were private, and were not seen until about two hundred years after he died. Now we can observe that "Edward Taylor’s poetry, his prose, indeed, his entire life were informed by one central purpose, hammered on one anvil, aimed at one end—a blissful eternity in the heavenly city, basking in the radiant vision of Christ, singing His praises and glory" (Grabo 1).
Edward Taylor was born in 1642, probably in Sketchley, Leicestershire, England to devout Puritan parents who were loving and strict disciplinarians. In 1645 the Parliament defeated the King at Naseby, so England was friendly to Puritans, and his parents were able to raise him openly as such. His conversion experience and first commitment to Christ was as a young boy, on two mornings when an older sister woke him up and catechized him with stories of creation and of the life of Christ (Grabo 20).
Charles II was restored to the throne in 1662, which marked the turn of Puritan fortunes. It is believed that Taylor may have had a teaching position at Bagworth in Leicestershire, which he lost because he was a Puritan. At that time, the Half-way covenant was proposed in New England. We do not really know what Taylor did between then and 1668, but tradition supposes that he had a time at Cambridge, because his father had given him a sufficient education to attend. Some sources suggest that he may have attended "one of the dissenting academies", but there is no way of knowing (Keller 287). Some sources also suggest that he was an advocate of civil and religious liberty. In any case, in 1668 Taylor sailed to America, perhaps to escape the social and political stigma of being a Puritan.
On the long ocean journey he began to keep a diary. He wrote mainly about the "uncertain state of his stomach, the unfamiliar birds, fish, and meals; and the necessity of preparing sermons" (Grabo 21). He also studied Greek. He was not a licensed preacher, but from the diary it is known that he was aspiring to the ministry (Grabo 21). At the age of twenty-six he arrived in Boston, the largest city in New England at the time (est. 1630) with letters of introduction. He lodged as a guest in the house of Increase Mather. He then visited Charles Chauncy (age 78), the President of Harvard, and very soon after on July 23 of 1669 he entered Harvard with advance standing (which allowed him to finish in 3-and-a-quarter years instead of 4) as college butler of the class of 1671. He was two or three years older than his classmates. Several sources were unsure whether it was Taylor’s academic and personal excellence or the college’s need for students that admitted him so quickly. Cambridge and Harvard at the time had similar curriculums; undoubtedly Taylor was trained in the areas of logic, rhetoric, ethics, Greek, Latin and Hebrew and he received his B.A. 1671.
In 1671 Charles Chauncy was sorry to see Taylor leave Harvard, but at the encouragement of Increase Mather, Taylor decided to accept a position offered to him as the minister of the Westfield outpost (est. 1669) in the wilderness of Massachusetts. John Hoyt Lockwood, a twentieth century minister of the church in Westfield, said this of Taylor: "It is not an extravagant claim to assert that had he settled in Boston, instead of spending his life on the frontier, he would have been famous in the annals of colonial times" (Grabo 17). Taylor was in high esteem among his contemporaries, but in Westfield, he felt intellectually isolated with no roots in the community. Despite his discouragement about his unused, rusty intellect, his library grew to be quite extensive for his situation (see Poetical Works 201-203). He purchased what books he could, and handmade himself more than a hundred volumes of manuscript copies from books he borrowed; binding, gluing and stitching. His library included many works by his contemporaries and ancient writers, natural history and technical and medical books, along with poets like Homer and Seneca. "He was…every way a very Learned Man,…an incessant Student…" (Keller 16).
In 1673 he was encouraged to stay and formally organize the church, but the actual organization of the church was postponed, partly because of war with the Indians of the area. In 1674 on November 5th, Taylor married Elizabeth Fitch of Norwich, after having courted her in verse, and receiving poetry from her in return. More trouble came to Westfield in 1675, when Chief Metacomet (known as King Philip) of the Wampanoag Indians united several tribes in series if attacks on the outpost. "Westfield was sorely pressed." After a hard year, finally in the spring of 1676 Westfield was fortified against the Indians, except for a few raids from "skulking rascalds" (Grabo 28). In 1679, although four of nine communicants left with the war, Taylor felt rooted and ready to proceed with establishing the official church in Westfield. Originally he did not have a written confession of faith for the congregation because he wanted to use the Catechism of the Assembly of Westminster (the discipline of which would be informed by the Synod held at Cambridge in 1647). His desire to do this demonstrated that he was well within bounds of a conservative, orthodox Puritan faith, however, the neighboring ministers, whom he invited to be present, would not accept his plans for so casual a confession. Taylor was asked to write out the principle tenets of his faith (matters most significant to him), and he did so. Finally on August 27th, Westfield entered into a covenant, which included Taylor and six other men.
Taylor’s preaching was not extemporaneous. Rather, he worked long hours Thursday to Sunday on his sermons. He also began to write and speak sermons against Solomon Stoddard, who at the time was advocating the Lord’s Supper as a converting ordinance. The first of them was called A Particular Church is God’s House.
In 1682, Taylor began writing his Preperatory Meditations, which were poetic devotions in preparation for and reflection on approaching the Lord’s table. He worked on those for the following forty-four years. His practice of writing poetry was a personal and quiet exercise. In 1689, when his dear wife Elizabeth died on July 7th, he wrote A funeral Poem. Taylor was a man acquainted with grief and with a great understanding of the sovereignty of God. He released both his wife and a few children to God when they died, as is evident in a poem he wrote called Upon Wedlock and death of children, which had a similar theme (Poetical Works 117-118).
…But oh! a glorious hand from glory came,
Guarded with Angells, soon did Crop this flowre,
Which almost tore the root up of the same,
At that unlookt for, Dolesome, darksome houre.
In Pray’re to Christ perfum’de it did ascend,
And Angells bright did it to heaven tend.
But pausing on’t, this Sweet perfum’d my thought,
Christ would in Glory have a Flowre, Choice, Prime.
And having Choice, chose this my branch forth brought.
Lord, take’t I thanke thee, thou takst ought of mine;
It is my pledge in glory; part of mee
Is now in it, Lord, glorifi’de with thee.
But praying o’re my branch, my branch did sprout,
And bore another manly flower, gay,
And after that another, sweet brake out,
The which the former hand soon got away.
But oh! The torture, Vomit, screechings, groans:
And six weeks fever would pierce hearts like stones.
Griefe o’re doth flow: and nature fault would finde
Were not thy Will my Spell, Charm, Joy, and Gem:
That as I said, I say, take, Lord, they’re thine:
I piecemeale pass to Glory bright in them.
I joy, may I sweet Flowers for Glory breed,
Whether thou gets them green, or lets them seed.
Taylor was left with five children. Then in 1692 he married again, to a woman named Ruth Wyllys. By 1708 she bore him six more children. The congregation also grew, and by 1703 galleries were added to the church building. By 1721, Westfield needed a new, bigger church building to handle the numbers in the congregation.
Taylor’s view of the sacrament was that it was to be held sacred as a wedding feast. Only the real, holy saint was allowed to this banquet, and he thought that what Solomon Stoddard was doing to the sacrament was a "grand presumption" which would lead to Arminianism or Pelegianism (Grabo 35). Taylor exhorted his congregation to "meditate upon the feast—its causes, its nature, its griefs, its dainties, its reason and ends, and its benefits, etc.—for it carries in its nature and circumstances an umbrage or epitomized draught of the whole grace of the Gospel" (Grabo 35). In 1694 he attacked Stoddard in eight sermons about the Lord’s supper. Much of the rest of his life he was engaged in a battle to protect his church and others from Stoddard’s ways.
When Taylor was a grayed invalid who had served his congregation for fifty-eight years, a young pastor named Nehemiah Bull took oversight over Taylor’s position. In 1728, just a year before Taylor’s death at the age of eighty-four years, Reverend Bull proposed to Westfield church that they would adopt this statement: "Those who enter full communion, may have liberty to give an account of a work of saving conversion or not. It shall be regarded by the church as a matter of indifference." After six months of consideration, it was adopted on February 25th. Though he had fought diligently, by 1750 only four congregations in the Connecticut Valley had not adopted Stoddard’s administration of the Lord’s Supper (Grabo 39).
Before he died in1729, Taylor "gave orders that his heirs should never publish any of his writings," and for this reason, his contributions to his church and time went into obscurity. Edward Taylor is now known primarily by his poetry. We do not have much on his theology, but his poetry was written for himself and the Lord, and it shows his love and service to his Creator, and his sense of how faithful his Creator was to him through Christ. Because his poems were not for public viewing, they do not reveal a systematic theology, and some of them are hard to understand. He was working without concern for communicating to others, but we can still read through some of his individual struggles, thoughts, meditations, and the workings of his very personal faith in the Lord Jesus. Most of his poetry was written in decasyllabic couplets. One of the loveliest collections was titled God’s Determinations, a long series of poems depicting trials of the elect in the temporal world.
The Souls Groan to Christ for Succor
God Lord, behold this Dreadfull Enemy
Who makes me tremble with his fierce assaults;
I dare not trust, yet feare to give the ly,
For in my soul, my soul finds many faults,
And though I justify myselfe to his face:
I do Condemn myselfe before thy Grace.
He strives to mount my sins, and them advance
Above thy Merits, Pardons, or Good Will;
Thy Grace to lessen, and thy Wrath t’inhance
As if thou couldst not pay the sinners bill.
He Chiefly injures thy rich Grace, I finde,
Though I confess my heart to sin inclin’de.
Those Graces which Thy Grace enwrought in mee,
He makes as nothing but a pack of Sins;
He maketh Grace no grace, but Crueltie;
Is Graces Honey Comb, a Comb of Stings?
This makes me ready leave thy Grace and run,
Which if I do, I finde I am undone.
I know he is thy Cur, therefore I bee
Perplexed lest I from thy Pasture stray,
He bayghs and barks so veh’mently at mee.
Come, rate this Cur, Lord, breake his teeth I pray.
Remember me I humbly pray thee first,
Then halter up this Cur that is so Curst.
(Poetical Works 60).
Peace. Peace, my Hony, do not Cry,
My little Darling, wipe thine eye,
Oh Cheer, Cheer up, come see.
Is anything too deare, my Dove,
Is anything too good, my Love,
To get or give for thee?
…But if this Cur that bayghs so sore,
Is broken tootht, and muzzled sure,
Fear not, my Pritty Heart.
His barking is to make thee Cling
Close underneath thy Saviors wing.
Why did my sweeten start?
And if he run an inch too fur,
I’le Check his Chain, and rate the Cur.
My Chick, keep close to mee.
The Poles shall sooner kiss and greet,
And Paralells shall sooner meet,
Than thou shall harmed bee.
He seeks to aggrivate thy sin,
And screw them to the highest pin,
To make thy faith to quaile.
Yet mountain sins like mites should show,
And then these mites for naught should goe,
Could he but once prevaile.
I smote thy sins upon the Head.
They Dead’ned are, though not quite dead:
And shall not rise again.
I’l put away the Guilt thereof,
And purge its Filthiness cleare off:
My Blood doth out the stain.
And though thy judgement was remiss,
Thy headstrong Will too Wilfull is:
I will renew the same.
And though thou do too frequently
Offend as heretofore, hereby
I’le not severely blaim.
…Although thy sins increase their race,
And though when thou hast sought for Grace,
Thou fallst more than before:
If thou by true Repentence Rise,
And Faith makes me thy Sacrifice,
I’l pardon all, though more.
Though Satan strive to block thy way
By all his Strategems he may,
Come, come, though through the fire.
For Hell, that Gulph of fire for sins,
Is not so hot as t’burn thy Shins.
Then Credit not the Lyar.
…If in the fire where Gold is tri’de,
Thy Soule is put, and purifi’de
Wilt thou lament thy loss?
If silver-like this fire refine
Thy Soul and make it brighter Shine:
Wilt thou bewaile the Dross?
Oh! Fight my Field: no Colours fear:
I’l be thy Front, I’l be thy reare.
Fail not: my Battells fight.
Defy the Tempter, and his Mock.
Anchor thy heart on mee, thy Rock.
I do in thee Delight (Poetical Works 61-64).
"For his poetry was not merely an ornament to be hung among Taylor’s social graces but, like his marriage and his ministry, a duty owed to God" (Grabo 1).
Grabo, Norman S. Edward Taylor. NewYork: Twayne, 1961.
Johnson, Thomas H, ed. The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor. Princeton: Princeton
Keller, Karl. The Example of Edward Taylor. Amherst: Massachusetts UP, 1975.
Two that look like they’d be good:
Davis, Thomas & Virginia, eds. Edward Taylor's "Church Records," and Related
Sermons. Boston: Twayne, 1981.
---. Edward Taylor vs. Solomon Stoddard: The Nature of the Lord's Supper. Boston:
For a list of Taylor’s primary works, see Paul P. Reuben’s website: http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap1/taylor.html