THE LIFE AND LITERATURE OF JOHN BUNYAN
The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to that Which is to Come;
Two Dark Valleys
On leaving the fellowship and the peace of the Palace Beautiful, the pilgrim’s path now led Christian down a steep slope into a landscape dominated by two difficult and treacherous places named The Valley of Humiliation and The Valley of the Shadow of Death.
As Piety, Charity and Prudence accompanied Christian down the slope he commented on the dangers of going down. Bunyan comments that as he descended warily, “he caught a slip or two”. Christian encountered serious trouble in The Valley of Humiliation because he slipped on the way down. This becomes more apparent in Part 2 when Mr Great-Heart explained to Christian’s family the reason for his difficulties in this place:
“…they that get slips there, must look for combats here…it is the fruit of their doing that such things do befall them there.”
For Christian’s family, under the care of their escort, The Valley of Humiliation was not only beautiful but “the best and most useful piece of ground in those parts.” This was not how Christian found this valley, however, because he slipped on the descent.
In our pilgrim journey we must travel downwards into the place of humbling. It is needful for our spirits that we descend into this valley, experiencing the failings of the flesh, the rejection of others or the pains of disappointment. The most difficult aspect of this valley, however, is the descent because as Piety, Charity and Prudence explained:
“…it is hard matter for a man to go down into The Valley of Humiliation…and to catch no slip by the way.”
The flesh will always recoil against being humbled. We can so easily lash out against others with harsh words to vindicate self. Worse still, we may charge God foolishly. Such slips on the descent will only make us easy prey for the evil one, as Christian now became.
Down in the valley Christian spies a terrible monster, called Apollyon, coming towards him:
“Now the monster was hideous to behold; he was clothed with scales, like a fish (and they are his pride), he had wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke, and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion.”
Christian contemplated turning back on seeing the fearful sight, but could not because there was no armour on his back. Likewise, we too cannot turn back in the day of battle because God affords no protection to those who flee the scene. Only those who stand steadfast and who are strong will receive the power of their God. The Christian is not to be a deserter, a coward or a traitor but a faithful solder of Jesus Christ willing to endure hardness and having done all, to stand.
Apollyon, representing the devil, claimed Christian as his own, and indeed in the City of Destruction the pilgrim accepted that he was once the subject of this fiend:
“I was born, indeed, in your dominions, but your service was hard, and your wages such as a man could not live on them, ‘for the wages of sin is death’, therefore, when I was come to years, I did as other considerate persons do, look out, if, perhaps, I might mend myself.”
Apollyon, then proceeded to attack Christian on the grounds of his unfaithfulness to his new master:
“Thou hast already been unfaithful in thy service to him; and how dost thou think to receive wages of him?”
Christian’s response is the great hope of every true pilgrim on the path to glory:
“…the prince whom I serve and honour, is merciful, and ready to forgive…”
Satan knows all our faults and as “the accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10), and will use them against us. Yet we can stake our eternity upon our prince, Emmanuel, who is ready to forgive and who freely pardons.
Apollyon, now obstructed the path, to prevent Christian passing. So, the intrepid traveller raised his shield, to repel the fiery darts, and drew his sword prepared to combat the evil one. The battle was terrible, Christian was wounded, and at times he seemed defeated but through his sword he gained the upper hand and the fiend was forced into retreat. It is only through our knowledge of and faith in the Word of God, that we can triumph over our great and fearful adversary.
The weary traveller, now following the path was forced to tread another more awful place, “The Valley of the Shadow of Death.” The sun was setting, and this was no place to rest for the night, Christian’s lot was walk most of this valley through the darkness.
One of the confusing features of Pilgrim’s Progress for me on my first reading, was the place that The Valley of the Shadow of Death occupied in the journey. I expected to find this valley at the end of the journey not at the half way stage. I discovered later, however, that David wrote of this valley coming during the pilgrim’s journey in the 23rd Psalm. As one who is much older I now understand that death casts a dreary shadow over us on more than one occasion in our pilgrimage. We suffer bereavements, we experience serious sicknesses, we feel, the blackness of depressions; this valley is real.
The pilgrim passed by a terrible quagmire until he came to the mouth of hell itself. He heard fearful creatures and so he drew another weapon called “all-prayer”. He was greatly helped on hearing one ahead of him reciting the words, “Though I walk in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me.” This comforting voice helped Christian in 3 ways:
“1: …some who feared God were in this valley as well as himself.
2: …God was with them, though in a dark and dismal state
3: …he hoped, could he overtake them, to have company by and by.”
These lessons, learned in adversity, should not be lost on us, when the will of God leads us into a place of darkness. Others are suffering, God is with us and we can enjoy fellowship with those of the body of Christ who have experienced what we ourselves have felt.
It was with relief for Christian that the day began to dawn and God turned “the shadow of death into the morning” (Amos 5:8). After every period of trial, the morning breaks and God reveals all by the light of his presence.
Before reaching the end of this valley he discovered two old giants who once had tormented pilgrims. Pagan, representing the Roman Empire, was dead but Pope was still alive but had “grown crazy and stiff in his joints, that he can do little more than sit in his cave’s mouth, grinning at pilgrims as they go by, and biting his nails because he cannot come at them.” This reflects the opinion that the Reformation had broken the absolute power and dominion of the Papacy over European affairs.
As he climbs out of the valley Christian sees Faithful a little ahead and so longing for fellowship cries:
“Ho! Ho! Soho! Stay and I will be your companion.”