The Rise and Progress of the Soul in the Valley of Vision

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I first purchased The Valley of Vision from my church’s book table while I was in seminary. I’ll never forget laying in my bed and praying these beautiful prayers as my own. It was a deeply spiritual experience, in the best sense of that phrase. Since that night in my dorm room at seminary, I’ve continued to use The Valley of Vision as a regular part of my devotional life.

Recently, Justin Taylor posted an extremely helpful FAQ about Arthur Bennett, the little-known Anglican minister who compiled the “Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.” As Taylor points out, the prayers in The Valley of Vision were not simply copied from 16th- and 17th-century Puritan divines. Rather, Bennett took prayers from 14 different writers, spanning three centuries, across a fairly broad spectrum of evangelical literature.

One of the writers Bennett drew from was Philip Doddridge (1702-1751). Doddridge’s most famous work, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (1745), led to William Wilberforce’s conversion, and his Dissenting academy at Northampton was an influential training ground for non-Anglican pupils. In his lifetime, Doddridge’s friends and correspondents included Isaac Watts, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Lady Huntingdon, and Count Zinzendorf.

Although Bennett claimed that all his sources “adopted the same attitude toward the Christian religion,” there was more theological variation among his “Puritans” than Bennett may have realized. Doddridge, for example, though a committed and earnest evangelical in terms of piety, was Baxterian in his theology and quite Lockean in his philosophy, Moreover, he eschewed confessional subscription, believed that Christ’s divine nature was created and derived, and did not take a hard line on the necessity of unevangelized persons putting conscious faith in Christ in order to be saved. In short, he was a moderate Calvinist (with a few strange views besides) who emphasized heart religion more than strict theological boundaries.

For several years, I’ve wondered if Doddridge might be responsible for a good number of the prayers in The Valley of Vision (in the Preface, Bennett “sent out” his work with a prayer from Doddridge). The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul consists of 30 chapters. Each chapter concludes with a first-person meditation or a prayer running several pages long. My educated guess is that Bennett used these for at least 30 of his entries. Without too much trouble, I was able to find Bennett’s dependence upon Doddridge.

Here’s just one example:

The Valley of Vision, “The Awakened Sinner” (p. 64-65) Rise and Progress, “The Meditation of a Sinner, Who Was Once Thoughtless, but Begins to be Awakened” (31-33)
O my forgetful soul, Awake, oh my forgetful soul,
Awake from thy wandering dream; turn from chasing vanities, look inward, forward, upward, view thyself, reflect upon thyself, who and what thou art, why here, what thou must soon be. Awake from these wandering dreams; turn thee from this chase of vanity, and for a little while be persuaded, by all these considerations, to look forward, and to look upwards, at least for a few moments. Sufficient are the hours and days. . . to reflect who, and what thou art; how it comes to pass that thou art here, and what thou must quickly be…
Thou art a creature of God, formed and furnished by him, lodged in a body like a shepherd in his tent; dost thou not desire to know God’s ways? Oh my soul, thou art the creature of God, formed and furnished by him, and lodged in a body in which he intended thee only a transitory abode…
O God, thou injured, neglected, provoked Benefactor when I think upon thy greatness and thy goodness, I am ashamed at my insensibility, I blush to lift up my face, for I have foolishly erred. Oh, thou injured, neglected, provoked Benefactor when I think but for a moment or two, of all thy goodness, I am astonished at this insensibility which hath prevailed in my heart, and even still prevails. I blush and am confounded to lift up my face before thee…
Shall I go on neglecting thee, when every one of thy rational creatures should love thee, and take every care to please thee? I see that I have played the fool, that I have erred exceedingly, and yet this stupid heart of mine would make its having neglected thee so long, a reason for going on to neglect thee…
I confess that thou hast not been in all my thoughts, that the knowledge of thyself as the end of my being has been strangely overlooked, that I have never seriously considered my heart-need. [T]hou hast not been in all my thoughts; and religion, the end and glory of my nature, has been so strangely overlooked, that I have hardly ever seriously asked my own heart what it is.
But although my mind is perplexed and divided, my nature perverse, yet my secret dispositions still desire thee. I know if matters rest here, I perish; and yet I feel in my perverse nature a secret indisposition to pursue these thoughts. . . my mind is perplexed and divided…
Let me not delay to come to thee; break the fatal enchantment that binds my evil affections, and bring me to a happy mind that rests in thee, for thou has made me and canst not forget me. Let me not delay till it is forever too late. . . Oh break this fatal enchantment that holds down my affections to objects which my judgment comparatively despises! And let me at length, come into so happy a sate of mind. . . [that] I may not be tempted to wish that thou hadst not made me; or that thou couldst forget me…
Let thy Spirit teach me the vital lessons of Christ, for I am slow to learn; and hear thou my broken cries. [L]et thy grace teach me the lesson I am slow to learn. . . . Hear these broken cries for the sake of thy Son.

 

Bennett is clearly taking the ideas, and often the words, from Doddridge, but it is certainly not a cut-and-paste job. Bennett has taken a long prayer and condensed it into half a dozen complex sentences (and put these into poetic verse in The Valley of Vision). I imagine this was Bennett’s process with Doddridge and with excerpts from the other “Puritans.” It’s a simple task in one sense, and yet a remarkable achievement all the same.

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