Trivium Pursuit

Part 14 Pilgrim’s Progress — The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Part 14 — The Valley of the Shadow of Death by John Bunyan audio

The Valley of the Shadow of Death by John Bunyan read-along text

Now, at the end of the Valley of Humiliation, was The Valley of the Shadow of Death. Christian needed to go through it, because it was the only way to the Celestial City. Now this valley was a very solitary place. The prophet Jeremiah thus describes it: “A wilderness, a land of deserts, and of pits, a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, a land that no man” (but a Christian) “passed through, and where no man dwelt.”

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Now here Christian had a more difficult battle than in his fight with Apollyon — as you shall see by what follows.

I saw then in my dream, when Christian came to the borders of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, that two men, hurrying back, met him. They were children of those who brought back an evil report of the good land of Canaan. Christian then questioned as follows:

CHRISTIAN: “Where are you going?”

They cried, “Back! back! And if you prize either peace or life — then you will turn back also!”

“Why? what is the matter?” Christian wondered.

“Matter!” they exclaimed. “We were going the same way as you are now traveling, and went as far as we dared. Indeed we were almost past being able to come back; for had we gone a little further, we would not have been here to bring the news to you.”

CHRISTIAN: “But what have you met with?”

MEN: “Why, we were almost in the Valley of the Shadow of Death; but fortunately, we looked ahead, and saw the danger before we came to it!”

CHRISTIAN: “But what did you see?”

MEN: “See! Why, the valley itself, which is as dark as pitch. We saw hobgoblins, satyrs, and dragons of the pit. We also heard a continual howling and yelling — like people under unutterable misery, who sat bound in affliction and chains. And over that Valley hangs the discouraging clouds of confusion. Death always spreads his wings over it. In a word, it is in every way dreadful, and utterly chaotic!”

CHRISTIAN: “In spite of what you have said — yet this is the way to my desired haven.”

MEN: “Though it is your way — we will certainly not choose it for ours.”

So they parted, and Christian went on his way, keeping his sword drawn in his hand — for fear that he should be assaulted.

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I then saw in my dream, that as far as this valley stretched, there was a very deep ditch on the right hand. That is the ditch into which the blind have led the blind in all ages, and have both miserably perished there.

Behold, on the left hand was a very dangerous quagmire, into which, if even a godly man falls, he can find no bottom for his foot to stand on. Into that quagmire King David once fell, and no doubt would have been smothered — had not He who is able, plucked him out.

The pathway through this valley was exceedingly narrow — therefore Christian had great difficulty. For when he sought, in the dark, to shun the ditch on the one hand — he was ready to tip over into the mire on the other side! As he carefully sought to escape the mire — he would almost fall into the ditch! Thus he went on, sighing bitterly. For besides the dangers mentioned above, the pathway was so dark, that often, when he lifted his foot to step forward, he did not know where, or upon what he would set it next.

About the midst of this valley, he saw the mouth of Hell — which was very close to the narrow path.

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“Now,” thought Christian, “what shall I do?”

The flame and smoke would continually come out in such abundance, with sparks and hideous noises — things which Christian could not fight with his sword, as he did Apollyon before.

Therefore he was forced to put his sword away, and take up another weapon, called All-prayer. So he cried out, “O Lord, I beseech You — deliver my soul!”

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Thus he went on for a great while, with the flames still reaching towards him. He also heard doleful voices, and rushings to and fro — so that sometimes he thought he would be torn in pieces, or trodden down like mire in the streets! This frightful sight was seen, and these dreadful noises were heard by him for several miles.

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Arriving at a place where he thought that he heard a company of fiends coming forward to meet him — he stopped and pondered what was best for him to do. Sometimes he had half a mind to go back — then again, he thought he might be already half way through the valley. He also remembered how he had already vanquished many dangers — and that the danger of going back might now be much more, than for him to go forward. So he resolved to persevere on the dangerous path.

Yet the fiends came nearer and nearer — and when they were almost upon him, he cried out with a most forceful voice, “I will walk in the strength of the Lord my God!” With this the fiends retreated, and came no further.

It is important to note, that now poor Christian was so bewildered that he did not know his own voice. Just when he had come near the mouth of the burning pit — one of the wicked ones snuck up stealthily behind him whispering and suggesting many grievous blasphemies to him — which he thought had proceeded from his own mind. This tried Christian more than anything that he met with before — to think that he would now blaspheme Him whom he loved so much! Yet, if he could have helped it, he would not have done it; but he had not the discretion either to stop his ears, or to know from whence these blasphemies came.

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When Christian had traveled in this disconsolate condition for a considerable time, he thought that he heard the voice of a man somewhere ahead of him, saying, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me.”

Then he was glad, and for these reasons:

First, because he realized by this, that someone who feared God was in this valley, as well as himself.

Secondly, he realized that God was with him, in that dark and dismal state — though he could not perceive Him.

Thirdly, he hoped that he could overtake the person ahead of him, and to have company soon.

So Christian went on, and called to the person ahead of him. But that person did not know what to answer, for he also thought that he was alone.

By and by the day broke. Then Christian said, “He has turned the shadow of death into the morning.”

Morning having come, Christian looked back, not out of a desire to return — but to see, by the light of the day, what hazards he had gone through in the dark. So he saw more perfectly the ditch which was on the one hand, and the quagmire which was on the other side. He also realized how narrow the way was, which lay between them both.

Now he saw the hobgoblins, satyrs, and dragons of the pit — but all were afar off — for during the day, they did not come near. Yet they were revealed to him, according to that which is written, “He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light.”

Now Christian was much affected with his deliverance from all the dangers of his solitary way. These dangers, though he feared them more before — yet he saw them more clearly now, because the light of the day made them conspicuous to him.

Walking now in the daylight was another mercy to Christian; for though the first part of the Valley of the Shadow of Death was dangerous — yet this second part which he had yet to travel, was, if possible, far more dangerous.

From the place where he now stood, even to the end of the valley — the whole way was so full of snares, traps, snags, nets, pitfalls and entanglements — that had it now been dark, as it was when he traveled the first part of the valley — though he had a thousand lives, he still would have perished!

But just now the sun was rising. Then Christian said, “His candle shines upon my head, and by His light I walk through darkness.”

In this light, therefore, he came to the end of the valley.

Now I saw in my dream, that at the end of this valley lay blood, bones, ashes, and mangled bodies of men — even of Pilgrims who had previously gone this way. While I was pondering this, I spotted a cave a little ahead of Pilgrim, where two giants, Pope and Pagan, dwelt in olden times. By their power and tyranny, the men whose bones, blood, ashes, and mangled bodies which lay there, had been cruelly put to death.

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But Christian went by this place without much danger — whereupon I was somewhat bewildered. I have learned since, that Pagan has been dead for a long time.

As for Pope, though he is still alive, he is, by reason of old age, and also of the many defeats which he met with in his younger days — has grown so deranged in mind, and stiff in his joints, that he can now do little more than sit in his cave’s mouth, glaring at Pilgrims as they go by, and biting his nails because he cannot get at them.

So I saw that Christian went on his way. At the sight of the old man who sat in the mouth of the cave, he could not tell what to think, especially because Pope spoke to him, though he could not go after Christian, saying, “You will never mend, until more of you are burned!”

But Christian was silent, and so went by without being harmed.

Then Christian sang:

“O world of wonders — I can say no less!
That I should be preserved in that distress
That I have met with here! O blessed be,
That hand that from it has delivered me!
Dangers in darkness, devils, Hell, and sin,
Did compass me, while I this valley was in.
Yes, snares and pits, and traps, and nets, did lie,
My path about — that worthless, foolish I,
Might’ve been caught, entangled and cast down,
But since I live — let Jesus wear the crown!”

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