A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Jacob C. Boyd
The Puritans of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries dedicated themselves to prayer. Piercing Heaven by Robert Elmer is a collection of devotional prayers by these Puritans. The title is taken from Puritan Thomas Watson (1620-1686) when he says, “That prayer is most likely to pierce heaven which first pierces one’s own heart” (p. i). Elmer recognizes the importance of the Puritans’ desire for hearts to first be pierced by the Lord as one responds to Him in prayer, which is why he collected these prayers into a single volume. He explains, “The intent of this book is to bring back some of the most passionate examples of Puritan prayer, from earnest repentance to joyful praise” (p. 2). In these prayers, the reader glances into the spiritual life and devotion these men had to the Lord.
The prayers are divided into 16 topical sections: (1) “Teach Me To Pray,” (2) “Help Me Ask For Help,” (3) “Help Me Through My Doubts,” (4) Help Me Through My Time Of Sadness And Suffering,” (5) “Help Me Endure Temptation,” (6) “Help Me Rest In God’s Love,” (7) I Believe – Help My Unbelief,” (8) “Prepare My Heart For The Lord’s Day And The Lord’s Table,” (9) “Take My Life And Let It Be Consecrated,” (10) “Help Me Give The Gospel To Others,” (11) “Forgive My Sins,” (12) “Help Me Praise And Thank The Lord,” (13) “Help Me Begin The Day,” (14) “Help Me Live The Day,” (15) “Help Me Close The Day,” and (16) “Your Kingdom Come.” Each section consists of prayers ranging from only two prayers in “Teach Me To Pray” to 35 prayers in the section “Help Me Ask For Help.” There are 218 prayers and an average of 13-14 prayers in each section.
In each section, the Puritans emphasized the treasure and enjoyment received in Christ. For example, Puritan David Clarkson (1622-1686) in a prayer called, “No Hope Without Christ’s Righteousness,” boldly exclaims, “All riches, places, or honors on earth will leave me miserable if I am without this [Christ’s righteousness]. Even if I were rich and needed nothing, without this I would still be wretched and miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (p. 18). Puritan Robert Hawker (1753-1827) prays, “Precious Lord Jesus! You, and you alone, give life, purity, and sweetness to our poor persons and offerings. Everything in us is corrupt, and we decay. But in you, and by you, as the manna was preserved, we are preserved” (p. 170). These examples of the superiority of Christ and that He is our treasure and enjoyment are found in almost every prayer.
Besides the Christ-centered emphasis, several other qualities all of these prayers include: (1) they are affectionate, (2) they use language to paint a picture of their delight in the Lord, (3) they are theologically sound, (4) they emphasis the depravity of man, (5) they emphasis the sufficiency of the Word by praying Scripture, (6) they emphasis man’s total dependence on the Lord because of His pure holiness, (7) they are plain in language, and (8) personal in application.
This book is meant to be prayed through by modern readers. In the introduction of this volume, Elmer explains that by modern readers praying through the prayers of the Puritans, “we become a living answer to… prayer” (p. 2). Philip Doddridge (1709-1751) and Joseph Alleine (1634-1668) both expressed their desire for their writings to be used by the Lord to bring some souls to Christ. By Elmer putting these prayers together in this volume, he desires for some readers today to come to Christ through them. Praying through these prayers today will draw the reader to see more of Christ by pointing them back to Scripture since these prayers pray “God’s words back to him” (p. 4).
There are several helpful tools at the back of this volume. First, Elmer includes paragraph descriptions of all 32 Puritan authors used. Whenever the reader reads through a prayer and desires to learn more about that particular Puritan, they can easily read about them by going to the back of the book. Second, there is an index of all the Puritan authors, helping the reader navigate through all 218 prayers to see all the prayers by a particular Puritan. This is a great tool since, for example, there are 14 prayers by Matthew Henry (1662-1714) scattered throughout the different topical sections. Thirdly, each source quoted in this volume is listed. The reader can easily see which primary sources Elmer pulled from for each Puritan. However, it would have been more helpful if Elmer referenced each prayer so the reader could know where in the primary sources these prayers are found.
I would recommend this book to every follower of Christ. It will challenge your prayer life and help you grow in your own communion with the Lord.
Jacob C. Boyd
First Baptist Church of Springfield
Buy the books
PIERCING HEAVEN: PRAYERS OF THE PURITANS, edited by Robert Elmer