carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
Notes Regarding the Characters in
Valley of the Shadow of Death - This illustrates the times of spiritual distress that we all go through - such times as when our worship seems hollow and dull, whereas once it was lively and full of joy; when God seems to hide his countenance and divine things appear obscure and almost unreal; when our religious duties become a burden rather than a delight and we become weary in the ongoing battle with sin in our hearts and despair of every conquering it. The valley becomes all the darker as believers are tempted to doubt that God is in control. Some have longer and darker times in this valley than others. (Bradley, p. 42)
We are naturally less affected with sympathy for men’s spiritual distresses, than we are for their temporal or bodily evils. The reason is to be found in our want of spiritual experience, and in the fact that we habitually look at, and are moved by, the things which are seen, and not the things which are unseen. We are creatures of sense, and therefore a great battle, when a kingdom is to be lost or won, affects us more deeply than the far more sublime and awful conflict, where the soul and the kingdom of heaven are to be lost or won forever. (Cheever, p. 331)
The Valley ... seems intended to represent a variation of inward distress, conflict, and alarm, which arises from prevailing darkness and insensibility of mind, rendering a man reluctant to religious duties, and dull in the performance of them, which makes way for manifold apprehensions and temptations. ... [T]he spiritual worshipper, at some times, finds his soul filled with clear light and holy affection; ‘It is good for him to draw nigh to God’; and ‘his soul is satisfied with marrow and fatness, while he praises his God with joyful lips’: at other times, dullness and heaviness oppress him; he feels little exercise of faith, hope, desire, reverence, love, or gratitude; he seems to address an unknown or absent God, and rather to mock than to worship him; divine things appear obscure and almost unreal; and every returning season of devotion, or reiterated effort to lift up his heart to God, ends in disappointment; so that religion becomes his burden instead of delight. Evils before unnoticed are now perceived to mingle with his services; for his self-knowledge is advanced; his remedy seems to increase his disease; he suspects that all his former joy was a delusion, and is ready to conclude, that ‘God hath forgotten to be gracious, and hath shut up his loving-kindness in displeasure.’ These experiences, sufficiently painful in themselves, are often rendered more distressing, by erroneous expectations which state things unscripturally; representing comfort as the evidence of acceptance, assurance as the essence of faith, impressions or visions as the witness of the Spirit; or perfection as attainable in this life, any, actually attained by all the regenerate; as if this were the church triumphant, and not the church militant. (Scott, pp. 160-1)
Children of the Spies - "These men were spies, not pilgrims; they related what they had observed at a distance, but had never experienced. They represent those who had been conversant with godly people; and ‘bring an evil report on the good land’, to prejudice the minds of numbers against the right ways of the Lord. Such men pretend to have made trial of religion, and found it to be a comfortless and dreary pursuit; they give a caricatured description of the sighs, groans, terrors, and distresses of pious persons, and of all the dreadful things to be seen and heard among them. ... Nothing they can say, however, concerning the disorder or confusion to which religion may sometimes give occasion can induce the believer to conclude that he has mistaken his way, or that it would be advisable for him to turn back, or deviate into any by-path: though they will excite him to vigilance and circumspection. As those spies do so much mischief by their misrepresentations, we should be careful to give them as little occasion as we possibly can. (Scott, p. 162)
The Valley (cont.) - The fatal presumption, into which men are soothed, through ignorance and various kinds of false doctrine, so that they conclude themselves safe without any warrant from Scripture, is intended by the ‘deep ditch’, into which the blind lead the blind and perish with them. This is often done by men who reciprocally criminate and despise each other. ‘The dangerous quag’, on the other side of the narrow way represents the opposite extreme - despair of God's mercy; and the mire of it agrees with that of the Slough of Despond. In these opposite ways multitudes continually perish; some concluding that there is no fear, others that there is no hope. ... Cases sometimes occur, in which, through a concurrence of circumstances, this alarming and perplexing experience continues and increases for some time: but the true Christian will be, as it were, constrained to press forward, and by faith will at length put his enemies to flight. (Scott, p. 163-4)
Every pilgrim in turn has to go through this Valley, has to learn by himself both the dreadful evils of the heart, and the power of temptation, and the greatness of deliverance by the Almighty power and love of the Savior. he cannot learn this by hearing others tell it to him; God must teach him by the precious costly way of personal discipline. he can no more come to the stature of a perfect man in Christ Jesus without this discipline, than a baby could grow up to manhood without learning at first to creep, then to walk, then to speak, to read, to exercise all faculties. The great discipline which we need a pilgrims is mostly the experience of our own weakness, and the art of finding our strength in Christ; but it is astonishing what severe treatment is oftentimes necessary to teach this, apparently the simplest and most obvious of all lessons, but yet the deepest and most difficult to be learned. (Cheever, p. 349-50)
notes taken from:
Lectures On the Pilgrim’s Progress by George Cheever, New York:Robert Carter & Brothers, 1985.
The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan with Explanatory Notes by Thomas Scott, Swengel, PA:Reiner Pub., 1976.
The Pilgrim’s Progress Study Guide by Maureen Bradley, Phillipsburg:NJ, 1994.
Bunyan Characters in the Pilgrim's Progress by Alexander Whyte, London:Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier, 1902.
|David G. Barker