I’ve always had a fairly negative view of the group of people we call generically “The Puritans.” I imagine that my negativity stems from highly publicized events such as the Salem Witch Trials, but I also think that it’s probably also colored by our society’s view of Puritans as hypocritical repressors. In some ways, all most of us know about Puritans, we learned in The Scarlet Letter – a book that certainly doesn’t paint a very positive picture.
However, from time to time at the Austin Stone, either the pastors or one of the worship team will read a passage from a book called Valley of Vision. It’s a book of collected Puritan devotions from authors primarily in the 1600s and 1700s in France, Holland, England and America, edited by Arthur Bennett, an English pastor. And whatever shortcomings – real or perceived – may remain in my consciousness, I can say that the prayers they prayed were remarkable. Deep, thoughtful and beautiful, I find them completely relevant to my spiritual journey, though they were written in a much different time and place. I typically close my morning bible study with a reading from Valley of Vision … Below is an excerpted example that moved me as I read it this morning.O Holy Spirit, As the sun is full of light, the ocean full of water, Heaven full of glory, So may my heart be full of thee. Vain are all divine purposes of love and the redemption wrought by Jesus except thou work within, regenerating by thy power, giving me eyes to see Jesus, showing me the realities of the unseen world. Give me thyself without measure, as an unimpaired fountain, as inexhaustible riches. I bewail my coldness, poverty, emptiness, imperfect vision, languid service, prayerless prayers, praiseless praises. Suffer me not to grieve or resist thee. Come as power, to expel every rebel lust, to reign supreme and to keep me thine; Come as teacher, leading me into all truth, filling me with all understanding; Come as love, that I may adore the father and love him as my all; Come as joy, to dwell in me, move in me, animate me; Come as light, illuminating the scripture, moulding me in its laws; Come as sanctifier, body, soul and spirit thine; Come as helper, with strength to bless and keep, directing my every step; Come as beautifier, bringing order out of confusion, loveliness out of chaos Magnify to me they glory by being magnified in me, and make me redolent of thy fragrance. – Spiritus Sanctus, The Valley of Vision
Reading works like that tells me that there is much more to the dour, hypocritical repressor in the heart of the Puritan … and makes me want to learn more about my spiritual forebears.