Puritan Spirituality in The Valley of Vision

In my last post I shared who influenced me to read and enjoy Puritan writings. In this post I will share why I enjoy reading the Puritans. Arthur Bennett provides us with a helpful glance into Puritan prayers and devotion in his work The Valley of Vision.

Who is Arthur Bennett?

Arthur Bennet was born on May 15, 1915 in Southern Rotherham, England. He left school at the age of fourteen to assist his father at a local barber shop. During his teenage years he reportedly head singing as he passed by the Citadel. At the end of the service the “call” was given and Arthur was saved. He eventually sensed God calling him into pastoral ministry. Brother Bennett developed a deep love for the Puritans and their spirituality as he studied. His study on Puritan spirituality soon became a part of his own spirituality. The more he studied Puritan spirituality, the more he sought to employ it into his own Christian walk. Tony Reinke has written a helpful biographical essay which can be found here.

Puritans included in The Valley of Vision (VoV, hereafter)

This work is a compilation of Puritan prayers and devotions. Bennett includes works from the following:

  • Thomas Shepherd
  • Thomas Watson
  • Richard Baxter
  • John Bunyan
  • Isaac Watts
  • William Williams
  • Philip Doddridge
  • Charles Haddon Spurgeon
  • Augustus Toplady
  • and others (see viii in VoV for a complete listing)

Puritan Spirituality Depicted in VoV

Bennett opens the work with the following prayer, which powerfully demonstrates what Puritan spirituality is all about. The VoV is based on Isaiah 22:1, which states, “The burden of the valley of vision. What aileth thee now, that thou art wholly gone up to the housetops?” (KJV)

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,

Where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;

Hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

that the way down is the way up,

that to be low is to be high,

that the broken heart is the healed heart,

that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

that to have nothing is to possess all,

that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

that to give is to receive,

that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,

and the deeper the wells the brighter thy starts shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,

thy life in my death,

thy joy in my sorrow,

thy grace in my sin,

thy riches in my poverty

thy glory in my valley.

Whole posts can be devoted to unpacking the theological truth contained within the stanzas of this prayer. My purpose here, however, is to give you a glimpse of Puritan spirituality. So here are some characteristics, as demonstrated above and in most Puritan writings.

Puritan spirituality humbly considers who God is. 

Authentic spirituality begins with a proper understanding of God. Culture can attempt to define who God is but it will fall miserably short. Scripture provides us with ample descriptions of Yahweh and what makes him distinct from false gods. Jesus, the God-Man, is the perfect reflection or as the writer of Hebrews says, “The exact imprint of the divine nature.” Spirituality is worship. Our worship, love, and obedience to God only increases when we behold his glory. (Go back and read the opening lines of the prayer. It’s similar to the Lord’s prayer, which begins in adoration.)

Puritan spirituality honestly reflects who we are.

When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, he fell down at Yahweh’s feet because of his unholiness. (Isaiah 6) Puritans often emphasized the importance of mortification (dying to sin) and vivification (coming to life in Christ). Some people (New Agers and others) have bought into the lies that we are basically good. Puritan spirituality takes interest in self-assessment. Oh how we need this kind of self-assessment in our own lives!

Puritan spirituality demonstrates the purity of God’s word. 

Personal experience is important but should be tested against God’s word. Puritans relied on the Bible for faith and practice. They were ordinary means of grace people. They didn’t base their spirituality on the latest fad but on the liberating truth found within the pages of Holy Scripture. Puritans saw God’s word as sufficient for their own spirituality. You and I can be encouraged by this. (To have more of the Spirit we must have more of the word.) Puritans trusted the Bible as sufficient for their Christian pilgrimage. We should too.

Puritan spirituality warms the heart and challenges the mind. 

There’s a lot of attention give to spirituality in our culture. For more on that, check out this article in ONE magazine. We read of people dying, going to heaven or hell and returning to tell the world about it. We do not need all of that to validate our spirituality. Puritans understood the substance of spirituality, namely Christ.

When it comes to spirituality people tend to pick and choose what they want. Frankly, I get tired of seeing fake spirituality in the culture around me when I know there’s something better. I find encouragement by reading the Puritan writings. Puritan writings take us back to our roots-namely to Christ and to Scripture. When I read these works my heart is warmed and my mind is challenged.

I love reading the Puritans. I’m sure my post hasn’t done justice to the vast treasures found within Puritan spirituality, but I hope to have wet your appetite a bit.

Lord, teach us to love, obey, and worship you as we go through the Valley of Vision. Confirm us to the image of Christ. Plant in our hearts a desire to worship you in Spirit and in Truth. Teach us to worship through your word, just as the Puritans did. 

 

Pardon as the Basis for Walking in Wisdom

Occasionally I like to reflect on the Psalms in addition to other devotional reading. Just the other day I was reflecting on Psalm 32. There the Psalmist reflects on the beauty of forgiveness, which is the basis for transformed living. This Psalm meditates on the role of forgiveness in everyday living. My purpose in writing is to encourage you to live a life of wisdom based on the great pardon given to you by Jesus. Before you proceed please take a moment to reflect on the Psalm for yourself.

The Psalm opens by reflecting on the blessing of being forgiven. It’s especially interesting to note the connection between sin being forgiven and sin being covered. As I meditated on these terms my mind was drawn back to the creation narrative in Genesis. Just after Adam and Eve had sinned against their covenant Lord and hid themselves from him due to their shame, He made them garments of clothing. (Genesis 3:21)

You and I have been given a new garment of righteousness from Christ. We don’t have to hide from our Lord any more. He welcomes us as His children.

The rich theology in this Psalm is furthered when David says, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity.” As long as human persons remain in Adam God holds them guilty. He DOES impute iniquity for those who remain in Adam. How could the Psalmist say that there were people who did not receive the imputation of Adam’s iniquity? He looked forward to the day when the Messiah would come and count his followers righteous based on their faith in him. (2 Corinthians 5. We are counted as righteous when we willingly accept the atoning work of Jesus the Messiah.

David continues his discourse by saying, “And in whose spirit there is no deceit.” As humans you and I are completely sinful. We are born in iniquity. As humans we all have a tendency to be deceitful. Jesus is the only one who was free from such deceit. He is the true Israelite with whom there is no deceit. (John 1:47)

With God there is blessed forgiveness. We have committed the highest form of treason against our creator yet we are given a second chance through the atoning work of Jesus. 

Before we can be forgiven though, we must be deeply convicted about our personal sin. That’s what happened to the Psalmist. He was under such conviction that he felt the life draining out of him. David said that God’s hand was “heavy upon him.” I praise God for the calling of the Holy Spirit. I rejoice that He can sometimes make us miserable until we rest in Him. No, conviction is no fun place to be, but the Scripture reminds us that God chastises those He loves. He loves us too much to allow us to continue wallowing in our sin. So how must we respond to the gracious conviction of our Lord?

The Psalmist responded by acknowledging his sin and transgression against the Lord. God graciously forgave the Psalmist immediately after confession was made. When I learned the “Romans Road” I was most perplexed by Romans 10:9-10.

[9]  that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. [10]  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:9-10, NKJV

When God convicts us we must not run away from Him. He chastises us because He loves us. The safest place for the ruined sinner is the shelter of the cross. 

Once we have been forgiven we are given instruction to walk in wisdom. It’s fascinating to me that this Psalm is called a Maschil, meaning instruction. Commentators differ on exactly what the term Maschil refers to, but some have said that a Maschil is some form of musical instruction or a song enforcing some element of wisdom. This Psalm seems to do both. What kind of life must forgiven people live? The Psalmist answers us in the latter part of the Psalm.

The reader is encouraged to pray to God for forgiveness. Forgiven people walk in wisdom. They willingly come to Christ the Savior. People who have been forgiven draw near to God because they don’t have to be controlled like a horse. (James 3:3) The Psalmist reminds us that those who have been pardoned should willingly come to their covenant Lord. The way of wisdom guides us home to the shore of God’s presence. Why does it matter whether or not we walk down Wisdom’s path?

Those who have been forgiven belong to a new community of people who are obedient and submissive to their Lord. They are not like the wicked who will have “many sorrows.” (v.10) Mercy and wisdom permeate the life of the pardoned sinner, whereas chaos and destruction follow those  who are wicked. Who are the wicked? Those who have yet to put on the garments of Christ’s righteousness and who remain in Adam are called wicked.

You and I were wicked before we accepted Christ’s gracious pardon by faith. But now we have been washed, sanctified, and justified through the active and passive obedience of Jesus. 

That’s why we can rejoice in the Lord and shout for joy. (v.11) We have been pardoned. To whom much is forgiven, much is required. Because we have been richly forgiven we should consider what kind of life we live. We will walk in the way of wisdom because our Savior is the source of wisdom itself. (Col.2:8-10) He gives us his Holy Spirit so we might live godly and holy in the present age as we await his glorious return.

So many times we attempt to modify behavior without mentioning pardon. We cannot expect people to change their mouth or their shirt before they change their heart. Once we have been so richly pardoned in Christ we will WANT to live in wisdom, the way of God. The life that brings God most glory is the life lived in wisdom on the basis of pardon. Christ has pardoned us from our blood guilt. Let’s apply ourselves to knowing Him more through the Word and prayer. This is the path of wisdom.

In my next post I will pick up with our discussion on Colossians.

My Semester in review: What I learned this semester

I have just completed my senior year at Welch College. No, I did not graduate as I still need to take a few remaining courses. This semester was one of my most blessed and most challenging yet. I was blessed to serve as a society president for a second term. I was also privileged to serve with Mr. Matthew McAffee with Campus Church responsibilities. These are undoubtedly unique experiences, but nothing in comparison to what I learned about the Father this semester. Here are some things I learned in the 2015-2016 school year.

1.) God cares for His children. He really cares. 

Following a discouraging season in my life, one of my best friends reminded me that God cared. He told me that God did not want His children to be miserable. The creator, redeemer, and sustainer over all creation cares deeply for His children. I can think of no greater encouragement than that. Thank you Mike for sharing God’s word as he had laid it on your heart. For my readers, you should take a moment to meditate on this passage of Scripture.

[6]  Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, [7]  casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 (NKJV)

2.) Grace really is beautiful. 

From past due assignments to extensions on my student account I have seen God’s grace displayed among the wonderful faculty at Welch. One assignment was extremely late but my teacher encouraged me to do it the final week of school. This swayed my grade from a B to an A. I told my instructor, “I will do this assignment if you really want me to, but I do not deserve this opportunity.” He simply responded, “Do it!”. I was given a chance I didn’t deserve.

That is precisely what Jesus has done for us. He has given us a chance that we did not deserve. Now we stand in this grace. We are literally swimming in an ocean of grace. (Romans 5:1-2) 

My Nashville pastor likes to think of God’s grace like the chips and salsa you are given at a Mexican restaurant. Any Mexican restaurant worth its queso WILL NOT allow you to run out of chips and salsa. I think this is a fun illustration. Thanks Pusch!

3.) God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. He himself is good. 

If I have quoted this verse once, I have quoted it multiple times. Not only did I learn that God cares, but I also learned that He is good, despite our sometimes troubling circumstances. God is the giver of life, not death. Satan wants us to self-destruct, but Jesus wants to give us life abundant and free. (John 10:10) The following verse could be very well be my favorite for the time being.

[17]  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. James 1:17 (NKJV)

Not only is God good, but He doesn’t change. I change, but He does not. What a great truth for us to rest our lives upon.

4.) God created us to live in community: we need friends.

In Genesis 1 we learn that God created Adam, but found that it was not fitting for him to be alone. He created Eve as a helper for Adam. Most of the time this passage refers to the beautiful union between one man and woman in marriage. Even so, it seems okay to conclude that we were also made for community. Mr. F. Leroy Forlines claims that there are four basic relationships for the human person:See Quest for Truth.

          A.) God: the most important relationship is one’s vertical relationship with the Creator.

         B.) Self: We must view ourselves as image bearers of God. We are the unique point in God’s creation.

         C.) Others: We were not made to do life alone. We need friends.

         D.) Created Order: Christians should be at the front of the line when it comes to taking care of this earth God created.

Some of the most important people in my life are Mike, Andrew, and Zach. These guys have held me up through difficult times and they have encouraged me to persevere in the good times. Aside from our coffee time together, we occasionally enjoy some chicken from McDougal’s. Some of that would be amazing about now. I love you guys and greatly appreciate your friendship. We need each other, so stay in touch.

5.) You are not the only one who is going through a difficult time. 

This semester I came to realize that other students hurt and struggle as well. There is not a single person who does not feel the bitter sting of sin’s curse on all that we do. (or don’t do.) There were many times I was given an opportunity to be an encouragement to another student. Thank you for sharing your issues with me. It is encouraging to know that we are not in the battle alone.

Take a moment and invest in those around you. You will not regret it. They need your encouragement. You need theirs. 

There is nothing more amazing than this journey of faith. God will supply the strength you need for this pilgrimage. Thank you for joining me in praising the Father for his work throughout my journey.

Defeating Satan: The end to which Christ came

It doesn’t take much to convince you that Satan is on the attack in our world. We see this on so many levels, but especially in our own pilgrimage. Satan is a usurper and he has tried but failed to usurp the One true King. Jesus was sent into the world for one purpose: to defeat Satan and release captives. To get a glimpse of how serious Jesus was about his mission read John 11.

You our know the story all too well. Lazarous was a close friend of Jesus and he died. Mary and Martha knew that if Jesus would have been there sooner their brother wouldn’t have died. We come to John 11:35 and read that Jesus wept. Why did Jesus weap? Yes he loved Lazarous, but his weeping seems to go beyond that. You see, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He is the commander of heaven’s army. It seems that we get a glimpse of his purpose. Someone said that Jesus weeping was equivalent to a horse stomping his feet, preparing to charge. This is a unique idea which I will explore in greater depth at another time.

Fast forward to Jesus prayer in the garden. He prayed with such agony that his sweat became drops of blood. Jesus knew all along that he came until the world to deliver captives. This promise extends all the way back to Genesis 3:15, which discusses the crushing of Satan’s head. Jesus finished his mission. When he uttered the words, “It is finished” he was saying MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Praise His name!

So if the enemy has been defeated why is there such hurt in the present world? Why do people we love experience bombardment from Satan on a moment by moment basis? Why is it that the harder we strive to live for God the more we fail? Why is is that this battle continues to rage if Jesus has defeated Satan? Christ has certainly defeated Satan. He disarmed him and continues to release Satan’s prisoners.(Colossians 1:13-14) Scripture tells us that Satan attacks us because he knows his time is short. Satan attacks us because he knows God can and will use us to release other captives.

I’m encouraged by Paul’s words in Romans 16:20.

Aqnd the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. (‭Romans‬ ‭16‬:‭20‬ NKJV)

We rejoice in that promise and eagerly anticipate its fulfillment. Meanwhile we will join Christ in defeating Satan by using our spiritual armor.(Ephesians 6:10-18) Christ came into the world to deliver captives and proclaim the Good News. Child of God, be encouraged knowing that the battle is the Lord’s. Rest in the promise that Satan will soon be defeated once and for all. This is the end to which Christ came. In my next post I will be discussing the spiritual armor, our offensive weapon and defensive protection.