Friday, May 24, 2013
Humble Hearts and Amazing Grace
Lately, I have been so blessed by reading the prayers written by the Puritans in a book compiled by Arthur Bennett, Canon of St. Alban's Cathedral, England. First published in 1975, "The Valley of Vision" reveals the humility of heart that characterizes the early Puritans who strongly believed in family devotions and private worship. Their pastors encouraged many of them to record their prayers on paper in order to better vocalize them. What a wonderful thing to do! Keeping a record of our prayers and petitions has much value as we travel through life and what a legacy to pass on to our children.
The Puritan Movement came during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but their influence continued until the time of Charles Spurgeon in the eighteenth century. Spurgeon, himself, was so influenced by the Puritans that he could be said to be one of the last. Scripture and the doctrines of grace were at the heart of their belief system, and the Puritans ranged from Anglican dissenters to New England Presbyterians. At the center of their character, the Puritans believed both in prayer and meditating on God's Word. Oh that we could recapture their hunger and thirst for righteousness!
Ultimately the Puritans desired to purify the church and remove any elements of worship that were seen as worldly or vestiges of Roman Catholicism. For their stand, many were driven from the church and eventually from England. The Pilgrims who settled in Massachusetts were a part of this movement, and came to this country to start a new life where they could worship according to their conscience.
Among their virtues, the Puritans demonstrated a strong work ethic and viewed labor as something done for the Lord. They believed in biblical morality as outlined in the Bible and formed the bedrock of our country upon its founding. While some have made light of their contributions, it was the Puritans who created the first public school and college (Harvard). Today, it is hard to see any remnants of their faith demonstrated in either. If it were not for faithful Christians who invest themselves in the lives of children in our public schools today, there would be no influence at all. This would be unthinkable to a Puritan in the early era of our country where children were taught to read by using the Bible.
Several outstanding examples of the early Puritans include: John Bunyan (Pilgrim's Progress); John Winthrop (his outstanding sermon "A City on a Hill" is a classic); Cotton Mather; John Foxe (Foxe's Book of Martyrs); Isaac Watts (we know many of his hymns); Thomas Watson; Augustus Toplady and
William Jay (a great pastor of a church in Bath, England). I mention all of these examples of those who followed the Lord faithfully during their life. They serve as godly heroes for us. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians these words of exhortation: "Be you followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (I Cor. 11:1). He also wrote to the Thessalonians (I Thess. 1:6): "You became imitators of us and of the Lord...." The goal of the early Apostles was to make disciples of all who came to faith in Christ. They attempted to teach both God's truth from His Word as well as the ordinances given by our Savior. When we take time to read of other great heroes of the faith as they followed Christ, it should inspire us to likewise seek to walk in obedience to the Lord.
Unfortunately, today's history books are often scrubbed of the truth and the story of the brave men and women who walked in faith trusting Christ for salvation is almost never heard in the public schools.
This is why it is good to look at history for ourselves and read the things written by those who have gone before. They are not perfect nor are their writings, but as they point to Christ, they will inspire us to live in such a manner that we will leave a legacy that points to God and His glory.
As I close out this remembrance of the Puritans, here is one of the beautiful prayers recorded in "The Valley of Vision":
"O Thou giving God,
My heart is drawn out in thankfulness to thee, for thy amazing grace and condescension to me in influences and assistances of thy Spirit, for special help in prayer, for the sweetness of Christian service, for the thoughts of arriving in heaven, for always sending me needful supplies, for raising me to new life when I am like one dead.
I want not the favor of man to lean upon for thy favor is infinitely better.
Thou art eternal wisdom in dispensations towards me; and it matters not when, nor where, nor how I serve thee, nor what trials I am exercised with, if I might but be prepared for thy work and will." (pg 110, The Valley of Vision).
May we be inspired by others who have gone on in the faith and may we strive to live a life of humility prayerfully meditating on God's Word each day just as the Puritans did. Selah!