by Mike Ratliff
This article will be very simple. There are some who claim that the Puritans were Contemplative and Mystical Christians in that the way that they prayed was done in such a way so as to invoke a a higher sense of feeling towards and from God. However, we contend that the Puritans viewed prayer as one of the means of grace. I have been working my way through Dr. John Owen’s Communion With The Truiune God for quite some time. Owen was a Puritan and a Bible Scholar. His teaching of how Christians communed with each person of the Holy Trinity was according to how it is clearly designated in God’s Word. He does not go beyond its boundaries whatsoever into personal experience, which is a form of subjectivism. No, the Puritans viewed their religion, their walk with God, their faith, every part of their journey in this life to the Celestial City objectively in light of the clear teaching from God’s Word.
In this post I will use two prayers from The Valley of Vision as examples of Puritan Prayers.
The first prayer is titled Meeting God. As you read this the first time, you may think that I am totally wrong that this is all about experience, but look closely. This prayer is deeply theological. Unlike Dr. John Piper’s analysis of Rick Warren’s theology in his reasoning for inviting him to speak at his Fall 2010 pastor’s conference saying that he is convinced that despite the overriding evidence of Warren being driven by pragmatism, he is still convinced that he is really “deeply theological.” Really? If so, then his ministry would reflect theological truths like those found in this prayer wouldn’t it? Instead of ministering in unbelief (pragmatism) he would minister by faith and pray as the Puritan who wrote this prayer and minister accordingly. He would put the matter into God’s hands and understand that without Christ working in and through us, we can do nothing. The best we can do in our unbelief (pragmatism) is as filthy rags in God’s sight because it is not by faith and is the fruit of works righteousness. The humble saint who penned this prayer was anything but that for to him it was ‘all poverty as well as all guilt.’ His focus was heavenward not temporal.
In public and private, in sanctuary and home, may my life be steeped in prayer, filled with the spirit of grace and supplication, each prayer perfumed with the incense of atoning blood.
Help me, defend me, until from praying ground I pass to the realm of unceasing praise.
Urged by my need, invited by thy promises, called by thy Spirit, I enter thy presence, worshipping thee with godly fear, awed by they majesty, greatness, glory, but encouraged by they love.
I am all poverty as well as all guilt, having nothing of my own with which to repay thee, but I bring Jesus to thee in the arms of faith, pleading his righteousness to offset my iniquities, rejoicing that he will weigh down the scales for me, and satisfy thy justice.
I bless thee that great sin draws out great grace, that, although he lest sin deserves infinite punishment because done against an infinite God, yet there is mercy for me, for where guilt is mot terrible, there thy mercy in Christ is most free and deep.
Bless me by revealing to me more of his saving merits, by causing thy goodness to pass before me, by speaking peace to my contrite heart;
Strengthen me to give thee no rest until christ shall reign supreme within me, in every thought, word, and deed, in a faith that purifies the heart, overcomes the world, works by love, fastens me to thee, and every clings to the cross.
The second prayer is titled The Prayer of Love. I really like this prayer for as I read it it causes me to meditate on my own prayer life. It causes me to examine my own commitment to prayer for others and for the glory of God. Again, read it carefully. At first you may sense that it is based in experience, but again, you will see that it is based entirely within theological truth. The Puritans understood that the way to commune with their God was through the means of Grace that He established. There is no other way.
The Prayer of Love
Thy name is love, in love receive my prayer.
My sins are more than the wide sea’s sand, but where sin abounds, there is grace more abundant.
Look to the cross of thy beloved Son, and view the preciousness of his atoning blood;
Listen to his never-failing intercession, and whisper to my heart, ‘They sins are forgiven, be of good cheer, lie down in peace.’
Grace cataracts from heaven and flows for ever, and mercy never wearies in bestowing benefits.
Grant me more and more to prize the privilege of prayer, to come to thee as a sin-siled sinner, to find pardon in thee, to converse with thee; to know thee in prayer s the path in which my feet tread, the latch upon the door of my lips, the light that shines through my eyes, the music of my ears, the marrow of my understanding, the strength f my will, the power of my affection, the sweetness of my memory.
May the matter of my prayer be always wise, humble, submissive, obedient, scriptural, Christ-like.
Give me unwavering faith that supplications are never in vain, that if I seem not to obtain my petitions I shall have larger, richer answers, surpassing all that I ask or think.
Unsought, thou hast given me the greatest gift, the person of thy Son, and in him thou wilt give me all I need.
I pray that you see the point I am attempting to make here my brethren. Yes, the Puritans prayed fervently, but they also prayed within the means of grace according to the will of God in order to glorify Him and grow spiritually. It was not an exercise in mysticism or what some are calling nowadays Contemplative Prayer. We commune with our Triune God His way and only His way and it is not outside of the means of grace.
Soli Deo Gloria!