Monday, September 2, 2013

"Union with Christ" from The Valley of Vision / A Thing of Beauty

Richard Baxter by Robert White

The Valley of Vision

The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers used for devotional exercises. The Puritans were a vital force in the church from the late 1500s to the early 1800s, and so in 1975, Arthur Bennett collected and edited the works of several prominent Puritan leaders such as Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, and Charles Spurgeon. Bennet often changed the syntax of these men's prayers to make them more poetic. The result is beautiful, a real devotional classic. For further information on the Puritans, see this small article from a Notre Dame class (though it should be taken with a grain of salt).

Union with Christ

O Father,

Thou hast made man for the glory of thyself,
  and when not an instrument of that glory,
  he is a thing of nought;
No sin is greater than the sin of unbelief,
  for if union with Christ is the greatest good,
  unbelief is the greatest sin,
  as being cross to thy command;
I see that whatever my sin is,
  yet no sin is like disunion from Christ by unbelief.
Lord, keep me from committing the greatest sin
  in departing from him,
  for I can never in this life perfectly obey
  and cleave to Christ.
When thou takest away my outward blessings,
  it is for sin,
  in not acknowledging that all that I have is of thee,
  in not serving thee through what I have,
  in making myself secure and hardened.
Lawful blessings are the secret idols, and
  do most hurt;
  the greatest injury is in the having,
  the greatest good in the taking away.
In love divest me of blessings that I may glorify
  thee the more;
  remove the fuel of my sin,
  and may I prize the gain of a little holiness
  as overbalancing all my losses.
The more I love thee with a truly gracious love
  the more I desire to love thee,
  and the more miserable I am at my want of love;
The more I hunger and thirst after thee,
  the more I faint and fail in finding thee,
The more my heart is broken for sin,
  the more I pray it may be far more broken.

My great evil is that I do not remember
  the sins of my youth,
  nay, the sins of one day I forget the next.
Keep me from all things that turn to unbelief
  or lack of felt union with Christ.


This typically Puritan prayer reflects both a zealous piety and a strong doctrinal emphasis. The author pulls no punches. He doesn't excuse any of his own sin, and he highlights God's grace as the only good. While it has neither rhyme nor meter, the prayer certainly wields a rhetorical force with its strong emotional appeals and repetition.


Much of what we count as "true" art discounts the original role of art in worship and worship in art. If we're going to revive a Christian view of art, we're going to have to draw from the worship of the saints.


I am indebted to the preface of The Valley of Vision for its background.

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