Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
The Valley of Vision is a collection of prayers expressing the passionate spirituality of the Puritans. The Puritan movement swept through the Church of England in the 17th and 18th centuries producing giants of the faith such as Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, Isaac Watts, composer of hymns such as When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, and John Owen. If you have not read Baxter, Bunyan, or Owen you owe it to yourself to do so. Ditto for singing Watts’ hymns. It is not hyperbole to say that to ignore them is to worship God with an impoverished faith and limited view of His glory.
The Americanized caricature of the Puritans depicts them as stern, severe people who wore funny hats, big-buckled shoes, and large King James Bibles. Additionally, they were thought to be extremely suspicious of anything that might be fun. It is a false image. The Puritans of 17th/18th England including those who settled in Massachusetts were joyful, stout-hearted folk who loved God. They had an ardent desire to bring all of life under the authority of Jesus Christ. They lived with a passion for the sovereignty of God in all things. One outlet for this passion was prayer. You can hear it in the opening lines of a prayer titled Morning Needs:
O God, the Author of all Good. I come to Thee for the grace another day will require for its duties and events. I step out into a wicked world, I carry about within me an evil heart, I know that without Thee I can do nothing that everything with which I shall be concerned, however harmless in itself, may prove an occasion of sin or folly unless I am kept by Thy power.
The first two lines worship God as the Author of all Good as well as declaring our dependence upon Him as the Giver of all grace. The third line is an honest assessment of the world into which the saints of God live and move and have their being. The fourth line reveals the honest humility of the Puritan conscience: “I carry about within me an evil heart.”
This confession is what prompted David to cry out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” (Psalm 51.10). The knowledge that he carried about with him an evil heart kindled David’s passionate request for God to create in him a clean heart. The LORD declared David to be a man after His own heart, and we see here the proof of that. After confessing his sin of adultery, the Shepherd-King cries out to the Author of all Good to create within him a clean heart.
The apostle Paul expressed his need for a clean heart when he wrote, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me,” (Romans 7.19-20). We do not do the good we want for one simple reason: we carry about within us an evil heart. That is, even though at conversion we have already received a heart of flesh, we are not yet fully free from the temptation that plagued the stony heart it replaced. Paul’s dilemma demonstrates our need for the Holy Spirit to create in us a clean heart. We cannot obey God without the Spirit’s help. We cannot be holy, nor can we be kept holy apart from the Spirit’s power and protection, guidance and instruction. How do we gain this help? With prayer that God would continually remind us that He has given us a clean heart so we can live a clean life.
A clean heart will seek God’s guidance in any our endeavor. A clean heart will keep us from sin or folly. A clean heart will direct our worship to its true Creator—God, the Author of all Good. Best of all, a God-given clean heart will keep us from the slow death of a self-righteous spirit. The last lines of Morning Needs express this desire for a clean heart to direct our behavior with typical Puritan passion:
May every creature be made good to me by prayer and Thy will. Teach me how to use the world, and not abuse it,to improve my talents, to redeem my time, to walk in wisdom toward those without, and in kindness toward those within, to do good to all men, and especially my fellow Christians. And to Thee be the glory.
You think about that.