The Valley of Humiliation & the Shadow of Death

In our previous reading, the pilgrims left the Arbour and passed by the dread of the giant Grim to come to the Porter’s Lodge called Beautiful. There they resided for more than a month. In this week’s pages, we read of the pilgrims’ next stage of their journey, wherein they must pass through the valleys of humiliation and the shadow of death.

As the pilgrims set forth once more, Piety remembers a gift for Christiana that she left back in the Lodge. While waiting for Piety to return, Bunyan gives us a short scene of the pilgrims listening to the songs the country birds, singing songs of God’s goodness and grace. Prudence comments that “they are very fine company for us when we are melancholy; also they make the woods and groves and solitary places, places desirous to be in” (281).

We would do well to consider Bunyan’s lesson here. The gift of song is a great one from the hand of our Lord, and we ought to take full advantage of it. Even Saul’s troubled soul was comforted by David’s music. Yet not all music is equally beneficial. Psalm 119:54 gives us the pilgrim’s song selection: “Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojournings.” It amazes me that there are so many Christians who run to songs of Babylon whenever they are troubled or downcast rather than to songs of Zion. Of course, there certainly is plenty of worthwhile music that is not explicitly or intentionally Christian, yet should not our primary musical diet consist of songs that will strengthen and comfort us for the journey of endurance that we are all upon?

Upon her return, Piety gives to Christiana a reminder of all that she beheld in the House. In the same way, the pious Christian ought to leave the gathering of God’s people each Lord’s Day with some plan to remember and meditate upon all that was seen and heard throughout the remainder of the week, “for thy edification and comfort” (281).

Leaving here, the pilgrims began their descent into the Valley of Humiliation, where Christian had his desperate battle with Apollyon. Here is one of my favorite places that Bunyan revisits in this second part. When Christian passed through this valley, it was a place of fear and torment due to his being assaulted by Apollyon. Thus, when we first read of their going down into the valley, we begin to wonder what horrors Great-heart will need to defend them from this time. However, Bunyan defies those expectations by pointing out that humiliation is only painful to those who are puffed up and still need to be humbled. For those who already know their low estate, the Valley of Humiliation is beautiful and pleasant. As Great-heart describes:

It is the best and most fruitful piece of ground in all those parts. It is a fat ground, and, as you see, consisteth much in meadows; and if a man was to come here in the summer time, as we do now, if he knew not any things before thereof, and if he also delighted himself in the sight of his eyes, he might see that, that would be delightful to him. Behold how green this Valley is, also how beautified with Lillies. I have also known many labouring men that have got good estates in this Valley of Humiliation. (For God resisteth the Proud, but gives more, more Grace to the humble;) for indeed it is a very fruitful soil, and doth bring forth by handfuls.


What a marvelous twisting of our expectations! Great-heart, of course, goes on to explain that our Lord Himself resided much in this Valley during His earthly life. We have certainly seen this truth throughout our study of Mark’s Gospel. And He calls us to the same way of life. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15). “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44-45).

The path of the Christian runs through the Valley of Humiliation because we follow our Lord who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Great-heart is right, then, to say that

This is a Valley that no body walks in, but those that love a Pilgrim’s life; and tho’ Christian had the hard hap to meet here with Apollyon, and to enter with him a brisk encounter, yet I must tell you, that in former times men have met with Angels here, have found Pearls here, and have in this place found the Words of life.


Let us, therefore, embrace the Valley of Humiliation, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).

Before leaving this Valley, we should comment briefly upon the Forgetful Green that Great-heart shows to the company. He simply notes that it is the most dangerous place within the Valley and that pilgrims fall under its sway “when they forget what Favours they have received, and how unworthy they are of them” (285).

O pilgrims, attend to this! Pride and ingratitude go hand in hand. Study, ever study the favours of your Lord; how freely they are bestowed upon you, and how utterly unworthy you are of the least of them. Beware of Forgetful Green. Many, after going some way on pilgrimage, get into this Green, and continue here; and talk of their own faithfulness to grace received, the merit of their works, and a second justification by their works, etc. Hence it is plain that they are fallen asleep on this Forgetful Green, and talk incoherently, as men do in their sleep; for they forget that they are still sinners–poor, needy, wretched sinners; and that they want the blood of Christ to cleanse them, the righteousness of Christ to justify them, and the Spirit of Christ to keep them humble, to sanctify them, as much as they did when they first set out as pilgrims. O it is a most blessed thing to be kept mindful of what we are, and of the Lord’s free grace and unmerited goodness to us![1]

After viewing the monument of Christian’s battle with Apollyon (which is a reminder to us that we ought to remember the battles of our brothers and sisters in the faith who have gone on before us), they enter into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, which we are told was longer than the Valley of Humiliation (287). As we observed whenever Christian passed through this Valley, it “represents the inward distress, conflict, and alarm, arising from darkness and insensibility of mind. It varies according to the constitution, animal spirits, health, education, and strength of mind of different persons.”[2] Although this leg of the journey is difficult for the pilgrims, they had an easy experience than Christian “because they had Day-light, and because Mr Great-heart was their guide” (287). Indeed, when later viewing the broken body of Heedless, Great-heart laments that Christian walked that Valley alone.

Let make two quick comments before moving on. First, notice that Bunyan gives to us two quick pictures of James 4:7’s command to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” In the midst of distress, our adversary is prone to strike, but we are to stand firm and resist him.

Second, note the darkness that engulfs the pilgrims, which Great-heart compares to sinking into the heart of the sea. Should we live long enough, we will all experience such moments when all seems dark, when God seems absent, and when the wave after wave smashes against us with no shore in sight. In those times, Great-heart’s words ought to be remembered: “But let them that walk in darkness, and have no light, trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon their God” (289). Indeed, the resolve to trust and obey God even when He seems to be absent brings to mind the warning of the demon Screwtape to his nephew, saying, “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”[3]

Finally, the pilgrims at the end of the Valley meet with another giant named Maul, who accuses Great-heart of kidnapping pilgrims. We see something of this same sort of accusation whenever particularly preachers and evangelists are accused of leading people astray into the fanciful myths of Christianity.

In one of Bunyan’s other writings, he gives a further idea of what this allegory might represent:

Satan’s master argument is, Thou art a horrible sinner, a hypocrite, one that has a profane heart, and one that is an utter stranger to a work of grace. I say this is his Maul, his club, his master-piece. He doth with this as some do by their most enchanting songs, sings them everywhere. I believe there are but few saints in the world that have not had this temptation sounding in their ears. But were they but aware, Satan by all this does but drive them to the gap, out at which they should go, and so escape his roaring. Saith he, Thou art a great sinner, a horrible sinner, a profane-hearted wretch, one that cannot be matched for a vile one in the country. The temped may say, Aye, Satan, so I am, a sinner of the biggest size, and, therefore, have most need of Jesus Christ; yea, because I am such a wretch Jesus calls me first. I am he, wherefore stand back, Satan, make a lane; my right is first to come to Jesus Christ. This, now, would be like for like; this would foil the devil: this would make him say, I must not deal with this man thus; for then I put a sword into his hand to cut off my head.[4]

Indeed, as Great-heart again displays, the only the Sword of the Spirit is sufficient for decapitating Satan’s giants. May we, therefore, hold fast to God’s Word that we might stand firm against the schemes of our adversary.

[1] Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 207.

[2] Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 208.

[3] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 40.

[4] Works of John Bunyan Vol I, 96.

The edition cited is the Banner of Truth hardcover, which can be found here.


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