If a man’s prayers are a true indication of the theology of his heart, then prayers in the Puritan tradition point to faith in a glorious God and true humility before Him. In The Valley of Vision Arthur Bennett offers a collection of prayers gleaned from the prayers and writings of English Protestantism.1
Knowing as they did the inward evil remaining in even the most sincere believer, the Puritans encouraged self-abasement and continual repentance. These extracts from their prayers offer a sense of their piety and hunger for grace.
Here the prayer is for self-knowledge before God:
Thou art good beyond all thought,
But I am vile, wretched, miserable, blind;
My lips are ready to confess, but my heart is slow to feel,
and my ways reluctant to amend.
I bring my soul to thee;
break it, wound it, bend it, mould it.
Unmask to me sin’s deformity,
that I may hate it, abhor it, flee from it.
Conscious of sin, the penitent soul seeks refuge in the death of Jesus:
Yet still I live, and fly repenting to thy outstretched arms;
thou wilt not cast me off, for Jesus brings me near,
thou wilt not condemn me, for he died in my stead,
thou wilt not mark my mountains of sin, for he leveled all,
and his beauty covers my deformities.
O my God, I bid farewell to sin by clinging to his cross,
hiding in his wounds, and sheltering in his side.
Ultimately the penitent seeks not only forgiveness but life through grace:
Give me to distinguish between the mere form of godliness and its power,
between life and a name to live,
between guile and truth,
between hypocrisy and a religion that will bear thy eye.
If I am not right, set me right, keep me right;
And may I at last come to thy house in peace.2
1 Arthur Bennett was a canon of St. Alban’s Cathedral, rector of Little Munden and Sacombe, Hertfordshire, and tutor at All Nations Christian College. He died in 1994, aged 79 years.
2 Arthur Bennett, ed., The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 70, 10, 95.