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Learning from the past

October 31, 2017 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

Today's post is adapted from the September 2nd, 2014 post.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Today is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. One of the benefits of anniversaries such as these is the reminder that there is so much wisdom to be gained from people who have been dead and gone a long time. Christian booksellers are concerned with making money, and so they are always pushing the latest and greatest books on us. But a reasoned reflection – and a careful study of history – tells us that the masters of prayer, theology, and Christian living are very likely not all 21st century American megachurch pastors.

One of my favorite examples of how the wisdom of past generations can be so spiritually rich today is a collection of Puritan prayers called The Valley of Vision. This book contains prayers written by men such as Charles Spurgeon, Richard Baxter, Isaac Watts, David Brainerd, and John Bunyan, among others. Because most of the prayers come from the 17th-19th centuries, I found that I have to read a little slower in order to appreciate the style. Nevertheless, I have found that this different approach has a way of cutting to my heart in a way that modern authors just can’t. Let me share one example that I found particularly moving: it is a prayer called “Need of Grace”:

O Lord,
Thou knowest my great unfitness for service,
  my present deadness,
  my inability to do anything for thy glory,
  my distressing coldness of heart.
I am weak, ignorant, unprofitable,
  and loathe and abhor myself.
I am at a loss to know what thou wouldest have me do,
  for I feel amazingly deserted by thee,
    and sense thy presence so little;
Thou makest me possess the sins of my youth,
  and the dreadful sin of my nature,
  so that I feel all sin,
  I cannot think or act but every motion is sin.
Return again with showers of converting grace
  to a poor gospel-abusing sinner.
Help my soul to breathe after holiness,
  after a constant devotedness to thee,
  after growth in grace more abundantly every day.
O Lord, I am lost in the pursuit of this blessedness,
  and am ready to sink because I fall short of my desire;
Help me to hold out a little longer,
  until the happy hour of deliverance comes,
  for I cannot lift my soul to thee
  if thou of thy goodness bring me not nigh.
Help me to be diffident, watchful, tender,
  lest I offend my blessed Friend
    in thought and behavior;
I confide in thee and lean upon thee,
  and need thee at all times to assist and lead me.
O that all my distresses and apprehensions
  might prove but Christ’s school
  to make me fit for greater service
  by teaching me the great lesson of humility.

I love that line: Return again with showers of converting grace to a poor gospel-abusing sinner. He is the vine; we are the branches. Apart from Him we can do nothing. Lord, fill us afresh with your power and your grace. Amen.

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