The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Poems and Devotions (available in paperback, leather, and audio) is a modern-day spiritual classic.
But few people know who was behind it, where the prayers come from, and how they were collected.
Here is an FAQ, based on what I can gather.
Where does the title come from?
Isaiah 22:1, “The burden of the valley of vision. What aileth thee now, that thou art wholly gone up to the housetops?” (KJV). This is also the title of the first prayer in the book—the best-known entry in the collection—beautifully written by the editor.
Who edited it?
Arthur G. Bennett (1915-1994), an English-born minister, tutor, and author who loved to study the Puritans. You can read a biographical sketch written by his family here.
When was it compiled?
The research for the volume took years to complete. It seems that the work was done in the mid 1960s through early 1970s.
When was it first published?
The Banner of Truth Trust published it in 1975.
How many copies has it sold?
In the first 20 years (1975-1994), it sold less than 20,000 copies in the U.S. But it has now sold over 337,000 copies worldwide. Noting that Bennett died in 1994, Tony Reinke comments: “Bennett, like so many of the Puritans he drew from, did not live to see the scope of his book’s influence.”
Is the book in the public domain since it collects materials that are no longer under copyright?
No. This is based on a misunderstanding of Bennett’s work and the nature of the material. He did not select completed Puritan poems and simply copy them down, one right after the other. His is essentially an original piece of work, under copyright, representing years of research. Banner of Truth soon plans to publish an eBook version, but if you currently see copies on the web or eBooks being sold by other parties, they are being done so illegally (whether the distributor realizes it or not).
Are there sources in the book indicating where the prayers are from?
No, not for the individual prayers. All we know for certain is that Bennett composed the first prayer himself. Bennett tells us the authors and books he is quoting, but they are not keyed to the actual prayers.
How did Bennett compile the prayers?
He gives us a few clues: they are “drawn from the largely forgotten deposit of Puritan spiritual exercises, meditations and aspirations.” He writes, “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.” Further, “A poetic form has been adopted throughout as an aid to easier comprehension and utterance.”
Has anyone done research to reconstruct where each prayer comes from?
Not to my knowledge. If this changes, feel free to let me know. I suspect it would be a major undertaking, perhaps almost impossible for many of prayers, as it is difficult to know just how much editing and conflating was involved.
Whom does Bennett quote?
Bennett indicates that the prayers are drawn from the works of the following men. I’ve added their dates:
- Thomas Shepard (1605-1649)
- Richard Baxter (1615-1691
- Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686)
- John Bunyan (1628-1688)
- Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
- Philip Doddridge (1702-1751)
- William Romaine (1714-1795)
- William Williams [of Pontycelyn] (1717-1791)
- David Brainerd (1718-1747)
- Augustus Toplady (1740-1778)
- Christmas Evans (1766-1838)
- William Jay (1769-1853)
- Henry Law (1797-1884)
- Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)
The “Puritan” label, and who should receive it, is disputed among historians. It generally refers to several variations of church reformers in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England and America (roughly spanning 1560 to 1660). In the strict sense, “Puritan” should probably be reserved for those operating up until 1689.
That would make only the first four authors above “Puritans proper.” Since the majority of his sources are from the eighteenth century, it seems Bennett is referring to those who carried on the Puritan legacy of theology and piety. I suspect that someone like Spurgeon is not being quoted himself, but probably used for his quotations of the Puritans and their successors (which often appeared in his sermons).
What books in particular did Bennett use?
He lists the following. I’ve made some edits to his list for the sake of accuracy and sought to provide public-domain links where possible.
- Baxter, Richard. The Saints’ Everlasting Rest.
- Brainerd, David. Diary and Journal.
- Bunyan, John. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.
- Doddridge, Philip. The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul.
- Rhyes Stephen, David. Life of Christmas Evans.
- Jay, William. Prayers for the Use of Families.
- Law, Henry. Family Prayers for Four Weeks.
- Romaine, William. The Walk of Faith.
- Shepard, Thomas. Works, vol. 3.
- Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. The Pastor in Prayer.
- Toplady, Augustus. Works, vol. 1.
- Watson, Thomas. The Lord’s Prayer.
- Watts, Isaac. Works, vol. 3, section: “A Guide to Prayer.”
- Williams, William. Free translations from “Y Caniedydd Cynulleidfaol Newydd” [Welsh congregational hymnal, 1921] (See here.)
If I had to guess (without doing the original research myself), I suspect the works by Jay, Law, Toplady, Watts, and Williams are the most frequently cited, given that those works involve extensive prayers and hymns. But that may be a task for some intrepid researcher to confirm or refute!