The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Topic: The Pilgrim’s Progress

For some months now in the high-school Sunday-school young men’s class I teach, we have been reading through and discussing The Pilgrim’s Progress. When I began this venture (My wife is doing the same with the young ladies’ class.) I wasn’t sure how it would go. To my amazement, men and ladies alike took right to it. We all take turns reading, taking parts where the passages need that, and then discussing what we have read. They enjoy taking on the parts, and entering into the story. They are extremely attentive when you point out to them “This is your life as a Christian. This is your walk, your story.”
The following represents the last two weeks of class discussion. Later this week I plan to post this upcoming Sunday’s lesson, with subsequent lessons coming earlier each following week. If you are familiar with Pilgrim’s Progress or would like to read along, please feel free to leave comments or suggestions.

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.

1. One valley followed another. Isn’t that just the way it is for the believer here on earth. In this life, peace and security doesn’t last long. More often than not one trouble follows on the heels of another. Pastor Rod has said many times, “The Christian life is one of either just coming out of trouble, getting ready to experience trouble, or being right in the middle of trouble.” The comforting truth as we will see later in this section is that God is going through this valley with us. He never leaves us or forsakes us (Hebrews 13:5).
2. Note that the valley is described as only the shadow of death. Often times what we see does not take into account the mighty hand of God. The dangers are real, to be sure. The smell of death is all around. But for the child of God it is only the shadow of death. Christ has won for us on the cross, victory over death and hell (1 Corinthians 15:57).
3. It is necessary for Christian to pass through this valley, because the way to the Celestial City passed through that valley. Even though we are the children of God, we must still pass through this valley. We still live in a fallen world. We still have the “old man” about us that we must put to death. The world, the flesh, and the devil still plague us.
4. At the beginning of this valley, Christian meets two men going back. Just as we have seen before in this story, here again is the picture of some who forsake the journey to the Celestial city. It is this way too, in our Christian journey that we will encounter men who have forsaken the Christian walk. (1 John 2:19) The parable of the sower also comes to mind (Matthew 13:3ff). Not all of the seed that came up survived. So too, not every professor is a possessor.
5. Notice also the report of the men when Christian ask them what they saw. Their first response is “pitch dark”, and then they proceed to describe all they have “seen”. If it were pitch dark, then they are only describing what their imaginations have seen. Though they be fearful accounts, Christian is not put off. He has set his eye on the goal, and he will press on.

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 very dangerous quagmire, into which, if even a good man falls, he can find no bottom of his foot to stand on. Into that quag King David once did fall; and had no doubt therein been smothered, had not he that is able plucked him out.

1. The ditch on one side represents legalism. The blind have led the blind is a reference to Matthew 15:14, where Jesus speaks of the Pharisees, and their dead legalism, leading the nation of Israel into this same ditch.
2. The quagmire on the other side of the path represents the opposite extreme: lawlessness.
3. The section that follows further describes the narrowness and difficulty of the path that lies between these two ditches, and how hard it is not to swerve into one ditch while trying to avoid the other.

When Christian had traveled in this disconsolate condition some considerable time, he thought he heard the voice of a man, as going before him, saying, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me” (Psalm 23). Then was he glad; and that for these reasons:
First, because he gathered from thence that some who feared God were in this valley as well as himself.
Secondly, for that he perceived God was with them, though in that dark and dismal state; and why not with me, thought he, though, by reason of the impediment that attends this place, I cannot perceive it?
Thirdly, for that he hoped (could he overtake them) to have company by and by.
So he went on, and called to him that was before; but he
(the man he was calling) knew not what to answer, for that he also thought himself to be alone.

Christian’s reasons for gladness are the same reasons for our gladness. Just at this point, day breaks and the way becomes even more treacherous. This all bears to the point that God is with us in this journey, giving us light when we most need it, preventing us from slipping and falling down to utter destruction, and giving us each other to comfort and aid one another in this pilgrimage, as we will see in the next section.
(To be continued)

This entry was posted in Pilgrim's Progress, Sunday School. Bookmark the permalink.