Into His Presence: Praying with the Puritans, Tim Chester. Epsom: The Good Book Company, 2022. Hardcover, 207 pages.
The Puritans and other post-Reformation Reformed theologians have often been maligned as holding forth a cold and dry form of the Christian faith. I believe it was Dr. Richard Muller who raised the question of what the opposite of “cold and dry” might be. A warm and moist Christian faith?
That popular caricature portrays the Puritans as fixated on the mind or on the Law. They allegedly reduced the Christian faith to a matter of intellectual knowledge of doctrines laid out schematically or, even worse, to a matter of commandments to be obeyed legalistically. If that’s your idea of Puritanism, then you need to have a look at this beautiful little book compiled by British pastor Tim Chester.
The bulk of Into His Presence consists of prayers originally written by Puritans, as well as prayers created by Chester out of Puritan sermons or books. Besides prayers directly addressed to God, Chester has also included a number of meditational passages and poems. Particularly noteworthy is the inclusion of a number of poems by Anne Bradstreet, a Puritan woman who immigrated to New England in 1630. Other authors included are such notables as Thomas Watson, Isaac Ambrose, John Owen, and John Bunyan.
There are over 80 prayers, meditations and poems. Some of the categories include:
- Prayers of Dependence on the Spirit
- Prayers of Confession
- Prayers for Times of Temptation
- Prayers for the Lost
- Prayers for Morning and Evening
Chester has modernized all the English so it’s easily understood. At the end of the book he provides biographies of each Puritan included, as well as a listing of all the sources. There’s another popular collection of Puritan prayers, The Valley of Vision. Unfortunately, the compiler of that one (Arthur Bennett) didn’t include the sources and, as it turns out, some of his “Puritan prayers” were actually self-composed. So I appreciate Chester going to the trouble of listing all his sources.
There are two things I really appreciate about these devotional writings.
It’s sometimes been said that our language of prayer has become disrespectful, especially after we gave up the use of “Thee, Thou, etc.” I defy anyone to read these prayers, written in modern English, and tell me they aren’t baptized with an absolutely holy reverence for God. While they’re intimate and hearty, at the same time they’re also deeply conscious of God’s transcendent majesty. This book aptly illustrates how to hold both of those things together in our prayers.
Charles Spurgeon once said that if you were to cut a Puritan, he would bleed ‘bibline.’ The Puritans were people of the Bible – it ran in their veins. The Bible shaped their prayers – and that’s beautifully evidenced in this book. The prayers from Matthew Henry provide the biblical references – but that doesn’t mean the other ones aren’t influenced by Scripture. Take this example from the beginning of a mealtime prayer from Lewis Bayly: “O eternal God, in whom we live and move and have our being…” He’s quoting Acts 17:28. If you want to learn better how to incorporate God’s Word into your prayers, study the Puritans.
Tim Chester’s goal is to have this little devotional book serve as a gateway to other Puritan writings. I can’t think of a better on-ramp to some of the best Christian authors in history. Into His Presence would make a wonderful gift for professions of faith, graduations, or other special events.
Originally published in Clarion 72.2 (February 3, 2023)