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. 

 

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Who influenced me to read the Puritans?

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Within the past year I have developed an appreciation for Puritan spirituality, due to its emphasis on Christ and the Word. I began reading Puritan writings in Dr. Barry Raper’s course Reading the Pastoral Classics at Welch College. Several other mentors have encouraged my reading of the Puritans. In this post I will briefly highly my exposure to the Puritans. In the next post I will highlight some commendable characteristics of Puritan Spirituality. I hope you will begin to appreciate Puritan spirituality as much as I do!

Key Influencers

Dr. Barry Raper receives credit for first exposing me to Puritan writings. He required us to read The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. This short book references Isaiah 42:1-3, which finds fulfillment in Jesus in Matthew 12:18-20 according to Sibbes. You  would benefit by stopping to read those passages before you read further. Sibbes reminds his reader that Christ does not quench the bruised reed, nor does he quench the smoking flax. This truth encourages the believer and challenges the minister. Christ doesn’t give up on those who are at their wits end. Faithfulness to Christ requires us to love people and not give up on them even when they are at their wits end. We were there before Christ rescued us. This alone compels me to read Sibbes’ writings.

Dr. Matthew Pinson, president of Welch College, also exposed me to Puritan writings throughout my studies in Free Will Baptist History. As Free Will Baptists we trace our heritage to both the Palmer movement in the South and the Randall movement in the north. Palmer had been influenced by the General Baptists (the first baptists), who were directly influenced by the Puritans. One prominent General Baptist Theologian, Thomas Grantham, has been studied extensively by Pinson, along with Thomas Helwys and others. Anyway, my course readings exposed me broadly to Puritan writings. Here are three influential selections from our required reading list: (focusing on the Puritans) 1. History of the English General Baptists by Adam Taylor, 2. The Worship of the English Puritans by Horton Davies, and 3. Renaissance and Reformation by William Estep.

Brother Eric Brown also encouraged my reading of the Puritans. He pastors Pine Level Free Will Baptist in Alma, Georgia. During the summer of 2015 I was privileged to serve as an intern at Pine Level. Pastor Eric shared The Valley of Vision with me. We used this resource during our weekly meetings and we incorporated Puritan prayers into our services.(It’s okay to read prayers from the Pulpit. Especially when they are as biblical as Puritan prayers!) The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. If you do not own this helpful resource, go to the link above and buy it. You will not regret making this purchase! We also read The Reformed Pastor together. Brother Eric has an entire section devoted to Puritan writings, which he made available to me while I served alongside him. While in Grand Rapids, MI for the National Convention, we visited Puritan Reformed Seminary and bookstore. (I’m not confessing how much I spent at the bookstore.)

Other honorable mentions: Each week I listen to some helpful podcasts including Mortification of Spin, Christ the Center, and Truth for Life (Alistair Begg). Various Puritan references abound in these podcasts.

My love for the Puritans and their writings continues to grow. I have several new primary source writings on my “to read” list. In this post I wanted to acknowledge those who have exposed me to the Puritans. In my next post I will explore some commendable characteristics of Puritan spirituality.