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 levelled 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.