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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Worthy Jesus: Part One

Have you ever wondered why we pray in Jesus’ name? For that matter, why do believers call themselves Christians? C. S. Lewis said that believers are essentially “little Christs”. In Acts we learn that the term Christian was used in a slanderous way. Christians were those who walked in the way of Jesus because they accepted him as messiah. This can be seen in the discussion on Barnabas. Barnabas left Tarsus to seek after Saul who would later be named Paul. When Barnabas found Paul he brought him to Antioch where we learn that “the disciples were first called Christians.” (Acts 11:26) I am thankful that I can call myself a Christian. I am thankful to bear Christ’s name and I pray that I can live my life in a Christ-glorifying way.

Why does the church emphasize the centrality of Christ? We often hear terms like Christ-centered or Christ-driven in reference to the ministry of the church. I’m reminded of the common answer children give when asked to comment on Biblical themes. When the teacher asks the question students often eagerly proclaim that the answer is Jesus. Although one post cannot adequately discuss the supremacy of Christ, it is my goal here to give you a few reasons why Jesus alone is worthy of our attention and devotion based on Colossians 1:15-20. With Jesus there is life, hope, and peace. His cross is the dividing point of human history.

Paul’s writings are worthy of much appreciation, especially his depiction of the earliest Christian hymns. If you have been around me at all you know that I appreciate hymns that are rooted in Scripture and portray a picture of our communal fellowship with one another. Some have questioned whether or not the hymn in Colossians 1 is original to Paul or not. It would be characteristic of Paul to include examples from the church while making the hymn unique in his own way. As you read through this hymn, think about Christ’s work in creation and redemption.

[15]  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. [16]  For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. [17]  And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. [18]  And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. [19]  For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, [20]  and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. Colossians 1:15-20 (NKJV)

Jesus alone is worthy because he takes an active role in creation. (vv.15-17)

In Colossae the false teachers were attempting to say that no one could represent God. In the Greek world the physical world was viewed as bad and the immaterial or spiritual world was viewed as the greatest good. Paul makes an interesting claim in the first part of his hymn to Christ. He said that Jesus was the image of the invisible God. That is, we need not wonder what God looks like because he has been revealed to us in the person and work of Jesus. In Hebrews 1 we learn that Jesus was the exact imprint of God. Every attribute of Yahweh in the Old Testament is given to Jesus in the New Testament because Jesus is Yahweh. Paul’s praise intensifies as we go throughout the passage.

Not only does Jesus represent God to us, but he also serves as the firstborn over all creation. What does this mean? Psalm 89:27 mentions the firstborn as ruling on David’s throne. The term used for firstborn can be understood as a reflection of Christ the new Adam. One writer suggests that this term means that “Christ is the firstborn of a new humanity which is to be glorified as its exalted Lord is glorified.” (See BDAG, πρωτόκος) Bauer helps us understand Christ as the second Adam. This is one of the primary emphases of our reconciliation to God. If you are having trouble following me here I suggest reading Romans 5. This passage further elaborates our discussion of Christ, who is the second Adam. Paul praises Christ because he is the only means by which we can access a relationship with God.

Christ is also worthy because he actively engages in creation. We are wrong to conclude that the Son had no role in creation. In Genesis 1:26 we read that God said, “Let us create man in our image. The us there certainly refers to the Trinity. John 1 reminds us that in the beginning was the Word, meaning that Christ is the eternal λόγος. Paul praises Christ because all things were created by him. The point here is that nothing is higher than Christ, for he created. He existed before everything else.

I want to pause here and reflect on verse 17. In many ways it serves as an interlude between the first and second parts of the hymn. As I reflected on this verse I was blown away by Christ’s splendor. In Christ all things continue to have their existence. Without his sovereign guidance the universe would literally split apart. There is balance in the universe and this points to the sustaining power of Christ. We serve a God who personally created the universe and who personally continues to sustain it. Because there is balance in the universe there are many fallacies associated with the Big Bang Theory.

A 2010 article by the ministry Answers in Genesis discussed the problem with the Big Bang Theory. There is a certain balance in the workings of the universe, but this balance cannot be reconciled with the Big Bang Theory. In fact, the Big Bang Theory cannot explain why the matter density in the universe is not greater causing it to collapse on itself, or less, which would cause the universe to split apart. The Big Bang should have produced exactly equal amounts of matter and antimatter. The Big Bang is a secular model of the beginning of life on earth. Secular models come and go but God’s word doesn’t. It remains the same throughout time and space.

I want to encourage you to stop reading and offer a prayer of thanksgiving to your Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. He holds the world together. I have often heard people say, “If God is good then why do all these bad things happen in the universe? Were it not for the guiding hand of God things would be much worse. Stop and give thanks that in Jesus all things hold tightly together. Sometimes we think we have life under control, but when disaster strikes we are all too aware of our human limitations. If the universe would split apart without his guiding hand, how much more would our fragile human lives? I’m amazed to know that Christ is holding us together by his amazing grace. Because of this, Jesus alone is worthy of our worship and devotion. There is none greater than the exalted Christ. Sadly, many do not know him as their personal Lord and savior.

Again, I am reminded of C. S. Lewis’ words in Mere Christianity. In discussing the divinity of Jesus Lewis remarks,

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing people often say about him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is one thing we must not say…you must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.” (p.52 in my copy)

Jesus is worthy of your worship. I have to ask you to consider what are you worshiping more than Christ? Is it entertainment, pleasure, lust, success, money, or anything other than Christ? Christ alone is worthy of the throne of your heart. We serve a great and worthy King. In that I greatly rejoice. 

In my next post I will discuss the final stanza of Paul’s hymn, which reflects on Christ’s work in redemption. If you would like to receive updates on my posts, please enter your email in the space provided on the right hand side of the page. Thank you for reading.