Nathanael Taylor (fl. 1671-1691): Reformed instruction of children in a rural post-Restoration Church of England parish

Nathanael Taylor

 

Nathanael Taylor (fl. 1671-1691) was a Reformed conforming churchman, vicar of Hibaldstow, Lincolnshire, and first master of the Grammar School in nearby Brigg, Lincolnshire – which still exists today as Sir John Nelthorpe School, Brigg. Little else is known about Taylor, and he is not to be confused with his dissenting contemporary namesake Nathanael Taylor (d. 1702). In the picture above, taken from the front matter of a published sermon of his, Taylor can be seen in clerical habit, teaching the children at his school.

Despite information on his life having been lost in the sands of time, we can nevertheless get a good idea of the doctrine Taylor the rural parish minister would have taught his pupils, as in 1683 he published his A Practical and Short Exposition of the Catechism of the Church of England by way of Question and Answer, which, the title page explains, is intended to “instruct children in the true Protestant religion of the Church of England.” Two extra editions of this exposition were released over the following two years.

It does not take long to spot the Reformed credentials of Taylor’s exposition, which is peppered with citations from various domestic and foreign Reformed divines, including William Nicholson, John Arrowsmith, Richard Baxter, Edward Leigh, Franciscus Junius, Immanuel Tremellius, Richard Hooker, James Ussher, John Pearson, Philippe Du Plessis-Mornay, Johann Heinrich Alsted, John Calvin, William Ames, and even the Belgic Confession. This work was furthermore published under the patronage of the bishop of his diocese, the Reformed churchman Thomas Barlow, bishop of Lincoln.

Judging by the lack of information on his life, Taylor was most probably never well known to his contemporaries, as of course has been the case with most parish ministers throughout the ages, particularly rural ones. Yet his reading and absorption of the Reformed sources of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was clearly extensive, and undoubtedly those children who had sat at the feet of this Gamaliel in a small Lincolnshire town would have been nurtured in Reformed orthodoxy from a young age. Below is a sample :

Q. How doth Christ save us?

A. 1. Christ underwent the whole wrath of God due to us, and so satisfied God’s offended justice (2 Cor. 5:21; Matt. 26 and 27). 2. He performed actively what the law required, and so was without sin (Matt 3:17; 5:17). 3. Hence God is, through him, reconciled to us (2 Cor. 5: 18, 20-21). 4. Christ hath made known to us the terms of salvation, that we on our repentance for sin, and closing with him by faith, and living in obedience to him in the life of faith, may be saved (Luk. 24:47; Joh. 3:16). 5. He by his Word, ordinances, ministers, Spirit and graces, instructs us in his will, and enables us to perform what he requires (Jam. 1:28; Phil. 1:6). 6. He intercedes with God his Father, for the pardon of those sins attending our persons and performances, and pleads for the acceptance of us and them, on the account of his merits and mediation. (p. 31)

As a final taster, consider also Taylor’s beautiful exposition of what we should learn from Christ’s threefold office:

I learn from the offices of Christ, 1. That as Christ is my Lord and King, so I ought to obey him; and as he loved me so as to dye for me, I ought to love him so as to live to him, and to my power promote his kingdom and glory (2 Cor. 5:15). 2. As Christ is Prophet I ought to reverence God’s Word, ordinances and ministers, and to obey what Christ by them and his Spirit doth teach me to be my duty, it becoming me to have an ear to hear where the Almighty God condescends to speak (Prov. 1:24, 26, 28). 3. As Christ is my High Priest and Saviour to expiate my sin, and save my soul by his merits and mediation. I learn to disown all merits and works of righteousness of my own, and not to relie on any creature’s righteousness for justification, but wholly by faith and obedience, close with and live to him, expecting from him my salvation on the account of his own merits and free grace (Is. 64:6; Luk. 17:19). I learn also to disown all co-mediators, as saints and angels, and to account him as the sole procurer of my happiness, to whom my complaints of wants, and prayers for supplies, ought to be offered up and made known. (p. 32-33)

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