Book review: “The Valley of Vision”
I rarely do this in a book review, but I give five stars to The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, by Arthur Bennett. A former pastor, Darryl Craft, introduced me to this amazing book of prayers when he quoted it in worship. I decided to buy a copy and spend this year slowly reading them in morning devotions.
To say this is a popular, influential book is an understatement. First published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1975, it has been through numerous printings in the U.K. and USA. Collected and edited by British author Arthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision contains over 200 prayers of Puritans such as Richard Baxter, David Brainerd, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, and Charles Spurgeon (whom Bennett calls “the last of the Puritans”). However, Arthur does not identify the authors of the individual prayers. The prayers are grouped by sections under ten subjects such as the Trinity, redemption, penitence, and service. The final section are a collection of morning and evening prayers for each day of the week. These prayers use poetic rhythm and repetition to deliver a powerful emotional punch. For example, the prayer “Spiritus Sanctus” (p. 27) begins, “O Holy Spirit, as the sun is full of light, the ocean full of water, Heaven full of glory, so may my heart be full of thee…” Others use poetic imagery, as the prayer “Humility in Service” (p. 178), which includes the line, “O bury my sins in the ocean of Jesus’ blood…”
Modern readers may find many of the prayers to be extremely self-deprecating and so full of humility that the reader appears too hard on himself. For example, “After Prayer” (p. 150), says, “Let me be as slow to forgive myself as thou art ready to forgive me.” I would question the spiritual healthiness of being slow to forgive oneself. Yet with that caution, modern culture has gone so far in the opposite direction, that most modern Christians could benefit from a healthy dose of feeling the heaviness of sin.
If you want to be inspired to pray with conviction, read this book, but read it slowly, to savor every morsel. Then read it again. That’s what I plan to do.
Book review: The Best Yearly Devotionals
Many people like to get a book with devotional readings for the entire year. If you are shopping for an annual devotional book, the two classic, all-time best, in my opinion, are Experiencing God Day-by-Day, by Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby, and My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers (I recommend spending a little extra to get the updated edition of Chambers, because his work was originally written in 1917, and the language of the original can be difficult to follow.) Both of these devotionals are strongly rooted in the scripture, with penetrating insights that will drive you to deeper prayer and faithfulness.
Another excellent classic, Morning and Evening, by Charles Spurgeon, provides readings for morning and evening every day. A Year with C.S. Lewis provides great selections from Lewis’s writings for every day of the year. The Songs of Jesus, by Timothy Keller, has a year of brief, Christ-centered daily devotionals through the Psalms. The prayers Keller offers are particularly inspiring. Keller has also published a devotional on the Proverbs (which includes some passages from Ecclesiastes and Job), God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life. It groups wisdom sayings by topics, and does an excellent job of balancing different perspectives of practical, moral, and social issues. New Morning Mercies, by Paul David Tripp, takes daily tweets and elaborates with wise, biblical words on living in God’s grace; although Tripp’s devotions are longer than most, it’s well worth your time. All of the above devotionals will cause you to think deeply and inspire you.
My brother Todd highly recommends the two-volumes of devotionals by D.A. Carson, For the Love of God. It is designed to go with a two-year daily Bible reading plan, and goes into depth. It is not light reading.
If you want a lighter devotional, Daily Guideposts, published annually by Guideposts magazine, include many inspiring stories by a different author every day. They are well-written, although they lack as much substance as the other devotionals mentioned above.
My Daily Pursuit by A.W. Tozer is a collection of thoughts from Tozer’s sermons, which I plan to read through in 2021, so look for an update next year.
Jesus Calling by Sarah Young is an extremely popular devotional that uses the literary device of speaking to the reader as if it is the words of Jesus Himself. The devotionals in Jesus Calling are brief but quite encouraging, especially to those who need to find peace in their lives. However, the devotional has been criticized because the author claims she received the messages directly from Jesus, and some authors have pointed out minor errors in her book that prove not all messages were directly from God. (For more on this controversy, check the excellent book review by Tim Challies here.) Despite these criticisms, I think her devotional is very helpful, and to her credit, Young includes scripture references at the end of each devotional. Young also has published spin-off devotionals that are similar, such as Dear Jesus.
Voices of the Faithful, edited by Beth Moore, has devotional stories by missionaries.
If you are looking for a devotional for married couples, Our Love Is Here to Stay: A Daily Devotional for Couples, by Tony and Lois Evans, is the best one I have read on the subject. It is well-written, interesting, and full of practical wisdom.
Five truths about predestination. Truth #2: Predestination is not unfair.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
(This is the second in a series of five articles on predestination.)
John Calvin, in his commentary on Romans 9:18, said, “the wicked themselves have been created for this very end—that they may perish.” This implies that God is arbitrary and unfair, creating some people who are already predetermined to go to hell, with no will to resist this. Yet Paul reminded us in Romans 9:14, “Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!”
When Romans 9:18 said that God shows mercy on whom he desires and hardens whom he desires, this does not mean that God is arbitrary or unfair. Let’s look at the context of this statement. In the previous verse, verse 17, Paul spoke about Pharaoh, whom Moses confronted, demanding Pharaoh let the Jewish people go from slavery in Egypt. Exodus says that Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people of Israel go. But if one reads the story in Exodus, one finds that half of the time it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and half of the time it says Pharaoh hardened his own heart. What Exodus described was the process by which God brought out the hardness that was already in Pharaoh’s heart. As Charles Spurgeon said, “The same sun which melts wax hardens clay; and the same gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins.” (Charles Spurgeon, “The Lesson of the Almond Tree,” Sermon No. 2678, April 7, 1881. Accessed on the web at: http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols46-48/chs2678.pdf.) Thus God was not making Pharaoh do something that Pharaoh didn’t already want to do. He is simply revealing what was already in Pharaoh’s heart. Likewise, God does not take away our free will to obey or disobey. God’s predestination is not unfair.