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. 

 

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.