The Great Exemplar, a life of Jesus that blends meditation, prayer, and biography, is a monument to Jeremy Taylor’s religious devotion, his widely praised style, and practical Christianity. The work, six hundred pages in the 1657 edition, was written amid tranquil surroundings at a benefactor’s estate in South Wales during a time in which national upheaval toppled a king and threw the Catholic Church into turmoil. The task of writing the life of Jesus Christ became for Taylor a refuge from the turmoil and enabled him to incorporate his early writings into one large volume with a single purpose: to define true Christian devotion and to offer a model of holy living based on Christian fundamentals.
The narrative is broken into relatively short sections, each accompanied by “Considerations” and one or more “Discourses” on parts of the story; each section is also followed by a prayer. This additional material forms the largest part of the book, suggesting that Taylor’s primary goal was to explain and instruct. In one of the discourses, for example, he painstakingly explains the meaning of every phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, and in another discourse, he discusses at length the benefits of baptism and its scriptural importance; in yet another, he explains the Lord’s Supper in relation to Anglican orthodoxy. Sometimes, the practical overrides the theological impulse, as when he accompanies the account of Jesus’ birth with a nine-page homily exhorting new mothers to breast-feed their infants themselves rather than use a wet nurse.
Beginning with the Annunciation and ending with the Ascension, Taylor traces Jesus’ journey through city, mountain, and desert, describing events and explaining Jesus’ sermons and parables while keeping an eye on the historical events that led to the Crucifixion. Taylor does not rely exclusively on biblical writings to describe the life of Christ. In recounting the fate of Zachary, the father of John the Baptist, for...
(The entire section is 813 words.)