Bunyan’s Understanding of the Christian Life . . .

Bunyan’s sense of powerful inner struggle finds eloquent expression in The Pilgrim’s Progress during Christian’s encounter with the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

NOW AT THE END OF THIS VALLEY was another, called the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and Christian must needs go through it, because the way to the Celestial City lay through the midst of it . . . .

I saw then in my dream, so far as this valley reached, there was on the right hand a very deep ditch; that ditch is it into which the blind have led the blind in all ages, and have both there miserably perished. Again, behold, on the left hand, there was a very dangerous quag, into which, if even a good man falls, he can find no bottom for his foot to stand on. Into that quay King David once did fall, and had no doubt therein been smothered, had not he that is able plucked him out.

The pathway was here also exceeding narrow, and therefore good Christian was the more put to it; 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; also when he sought to escape the mire, without great carefulness he would be ready to fall into the ditch. Thus he went on, and I heard him here sigh bitterly; for, besides the dangers mentioned above, the pathway was here so dark that ofttimes, when he lift up his foot to set forward, he knew not where or upon what he should set it next.

About the midst of this valley I perceived the mouth of hell to be, and it stood also hard by the wayside. Now, thought Christian, what shall I do? And ever and anon the name and smoke would come out in such abundance, with sparks and hideous noises (things that cared not for Christian’s sword, as did Apollyon before), that he was forced to put up his sword, and betake himself to another weapon, called all—prayer. So he cried in my hearing, “O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul!” Thus he went on a great while, yet still the flames would be reaching towards him. Also he heard doleful voices, and rushings to and fro, so that sometimes he thought he should 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 together; and coming to a place where he thought he heard a company of fiends coming forward to meet him, he stopped, and began to muse what he had best to do . . . . He resolved to go on. Yet the fiends seemed to come nearer and nearer; but when they were come even almost at him, he cried out with a most vehement voice, “I will walk in the strength of the Lord God!” so they gave back, and came no further.

By John Bunyan

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #11 in 1986]

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