The Valley of Vision

The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers that celebrate, mourn, beg, rejoice, teach, confess, inspire, confirm, question, hope, implore, grieve, sing, and plead. They give voice to the complex experience of Christians through the centuries, living as foreigners and pilgrims in the world. This volume is a treasure of rich theology and heartfelt devotion, and I’m so thankful for Arthur G. Bennett’s work in compiling and editing these prayers for a modern audience.

The Puritans are often unfairly cast as a set of stern-faced men who were legalistic and militant in their religious dogma. But there is much more to them than the popular grim image. In these poetic, deeply felt prayers, such authors as Thomas Watson, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, David Brainerd, Charles Spurgeon, and others pour out their hearts to God. They do this, moreover, with a theological precision often lacking from other such devotional works. The result is a powerful collection of prayers that both comfort and instruct the heart.

I appreciate how Bennett does not tag each prayer with its author’s name. It would be distracting to me if he had, because I’d think about the man who wrote the prayer rather than the God to Whom it is addressed.

The prayers are not all of equal literary quality; some have phrases that lived with me for days after reading them, while of others I have no particular remembrance. Some of the prayers are so beautifully expressed, so poetic, that I lingered in them, reluctant to move on to the next prayer, allowing it to permeate my prayer life for days at a time. Other prayers, while no doubt heartfelt and sincere, I found more forgettable.

The level of honesty with which the writers assess their own hearts is matched only by the joy and comfort they derive from looking to Jesus out of their own weakness. Though the specific themes vary, the style and content of the prayers are well represented by the title piece, “The Valley of Vision”:

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 stars 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.

What else can I add to this? It is my heart’s cry. I’ll be reading and praying through this book for the rest of my life.

(*****)

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