Guest Post by Tony Reinke
The Valley of Vision is a popular collection of Puritan prayers first published by Banner of Truth in 1975. Total sales of The Valley of Vision in America have exceeded 220,000 copies. In fact the two bestselling Banner books in the U.S. remain to this day: (1) The Valley of Vision, leather, and (2) The Valley of Vision, paperback.
Despite the popularity of the book, details about its England-born author—Arthur Bennett—are scarce. Likely this is because Bennett passed away before his book reached its tipping point in America. In its first 20 years (1975-1994) fewer than 20,000 copies sold in America. Since then over 200,000 copies have sold (1995-present). Bennett, like so many of the Puritans he drew from, did not live to see the scope of his book’s influence.
So back to the question: Who is Arthur Bennett?
About a year ago I began asking this question. The search led me to the administrator of St. Albans Centre for Christian Studies just north of London, and this in turn led me to one of Bennett’s daughters, Elizabeth, a painter who lives and works west of Liverpool in the UK. Elizabeth kindly passed along a biography that was compiled by the family. An abbreviated and slightly edited version of that biography follows here (posted with permission).
Arthur Bennett 1915–1994
Arthur was born on May 15, 1915, in the South Yorkshire town of Rotherham, England. The family moved to Cudworth and later when Arthur was five, they went to live in a terraced house in Barnsley, where his father became a local barber. At the age of fourteen Arthur left school and began working for his father as a “lather boy.”
Barnsley had a Salvation Army mission and one evening, when Arthur was in his mid-teens, he was walking by the Citadel and heard some singing and entered. At the end of the service the “call” was made and Arthur gave his live to Christ. This was a significant turning point, as he believed God wanted him to serve in some form of Christian Ministry. He began to study and read profusely, but it was difficult because he shared with two brothers one dark attic room that was lit only by a candle.
In his late teens Arthur joined the Church of England ‘Church Army.’ Initially he went to London for training to work as an evangelist with the homeless. It was at this time he felt God was giving him a passion for evangelism, preaching, and teaching. The Church Army assigned him to what was then common practice of ‘caravan evangelism.’ He became a member of a number of teams travelling around Britain.
By the mid 1930’s he was spending considerable time in the villages of East Anglia, travelling in a horse-drawn caravan, with other church army cadets and a captain. They worked with the local parish churches and communities to share the Gospel.
While serving in the village of Elmsett, Suffolk, he met and fell in love with Margarette Jones (from Carmarthenshire in South Wales), who was teaching in the village school.
In 1940 he was accepted by Clifton Theological College, Bristol, and completed a two-year course leading to ordination in the Church of England. Arthur and Margarette were married on August 26, 1942 in St. Johns Church Pontyberem, Carmarthenshire, and they began married life in Woodhouse, Huddersfield, where Arthur was the curate. As was common practice in those days Arthur completed two curacies, Huddersfield and Chesham, Buckinghamshire. He then went on to be Minister in charge at Gunton, Lowestoft, in Suffolk and then in 1949 he became Vicar of Christ Church, Ware, Hertfordshire. …
Arthur had always loved history and had been intrigued by the early Puritan movement. His hunger for spirituality led him to study many works by the Puritans. He found them a rich source of blessing in his own walk with God. Many of the early Puritan Christians had left some of the Hertfordshire villages and towns for New England. This included the hamlet of Sacombe where Arthur was later to be rector.
In 1956 Arthur, Margarette and their five children moved to St. Paul’s Church, St. Albans, Hertfordshire. It was a large parish with a daughter church. At this time he became a member of the Evangelical Alliance, Church Society, and the Anglican Church Convocation.
During these years his study of Puritan texts for his own devotions and writings deepened. David Brainerd particularly captivated him. He wrote copious papers on the Puritans and researched their lives and their mission.
After eight years he accepted an invitation to serve the parishes of Little Munden and Sacombe, near Ware, Hertfordshire. He also began part-time lecturing at All Nations Christian College Easneye, Ware. This began seventeen years of ministry in both the parishes and at All Nations as a tutor in Biblical Theology and Christian Doctrine.
It was at this time that he felt able to bring together years of study of Puritan literature, to produce a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions that was “drawn from the largely forgotten deposit of Puritan spiritual exercises, meditations and aspirations.” Arthur had had a long association with Iain Murray of The Banner of Truth Trust, who encouraged him in his work.
Compiling such a book took Arthur a number of years with considerable research. “A poetic form has been adopted throughout as an aid to easier comprehension and utterance.” “A number of prayers were originally spiritual experiences, as in the case of Thomas Shepard, and some others are conflations from different sources to bind together a given theme.”
When the time came for publication he was pleased with the choice of the title The Valley of Vision taken from Isaiah 22:1, which inspired his own introductory prayer in the collection. The valley reminded Arthur that, even though we are so small, and when we feel the burdens and troubles of life, there is hope, grace and mercy when we pray, “let me find thy glory in my valley.” The Valley of Vision was published in 1975 by The Banner of Truth Trust. …
After 39 years of ministry he retired to Clapham, Bedfordshire but continued his writing and preaching. He wrote two further books. His final book, Calvary’s Hill, was a study of the cross in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
In 1992 he and Margarette celebrated 50 years of marriage and ministry together. After a short illness Arthur died in 1994 and was buried in the churchyard at Little Munden, Hertfordshire. The inscription on his gravestone reads, “Let me find thy joy in my valley.”
Margarette died in 1997 and the inscription “In Thy presence is fullness of joy” was added to the headstone.
Arthur and Margarette loved God and shared Him with their family, friends and all whom they met. Most of all they knew what it was to walk the way of the cross, and to live their lives with Jesus at the center.
Books written by Arthur Bennett:
- Rural Evangelism (London: A.R. Mowbray, 1949)
- Table and Minister (London: Church Bookroom Press, 1963)
- The Valley of Vision (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975)
- Travels with a Horse-Drawn Caravan (Worthing: Churchman Publishing, 1989)
- Calvary’s Hill (London: Avon Books, 1993)