And by and by the day broke; then said Christian, He has turned “the shadow of death into the morning.”
Now morning being come, he looked back, not out of 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 that was on the one hand, and the mire that was on the other; also how narrow the way was which led between them both; also now he saw the hobgoblins, and satyrs, and dragons of the pit, but all afar off, (for after break of day, they came not nigh;) yet they were discovered to him, according to that which is written, “He discovers deep things out of darkness, and brings out to light the shadow of death.”
Now was Christian much affected with his deliverance from all the dangers of his solitary way; which 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. And about this time the sun was rising, and this was another mercy to Christian; for you must note, that though the first part of the Valley of the Shadow of Death was dangerous, yet this second part which he was yet to go, was, if possible, far more dangerous; for from the place where he now stood, even to the end of the valley, the way was all along set so full of snares, traps, gins, and nets here, and so full of pits, pitfalls, deep holes, and shelvings down there, that, had it now been dark, as it was when he came the first part of the way, had he had a thousand souls, they had in reason been cast away; but, as I said just now, the sun was rising. Then said he, “His candle shines upon my head, and by his light I walk through darkness.”
Christian has had a long and difficult journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but now the dawn is breaking. After being oppressed and confounded in the darkness, he welcomes the light of day with praise to God. He quotes from the book of Amos, acknowledging that God is the One who is sovereign over night and day, over darkness as well as light.
He made the Pleiades and Orion;
He turns the shadow of death into morning
And makes the day dark as night;
He calls for the waters of the sea
And pours them out on the face of the earth;
The Lord is His name
It is God who graciously sends the light:
Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness;
He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.
And exposes and uncovers the darkness.
He uncovers deep things out of darkness,
And brings the shadow of death to light.
In Bunyan’s allegory the light represents the Word of God:
Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
We are called to heed this Word as we walk through this dark world:
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).
Early in his pilgrimage Christian was taught to prize and seek the light. When Evangelist first pointed Christian to the Wicket Gate (representing Christ as the Way to life), Christian could not yet see the Gate. Evangelist then directed him to “yonder Shining Light” (representing the Word of God). It is by God’s revealed Word that we see clearly the Way to salvation. It is God’s Word that points us to Christ, who is the Word made flesh (John 1:14) and the true Light of the world (John 1:9). When Isaiah prophesied of the coming of Jesus, he described it as the dawning of day across a land shrouded in the shadow of death:
The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.
Isaiah’s refrain is echoed in the song of Zacharias when the prophecy is fulfilled at Jesus’ birth:
Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.
If we are to find peace and hope in this life, we must find Christ. There is nothing more valuable as we face the darkness of this world than laying hold of Christ in His Word. In Christ there is life and light. In Christ we have nothing to fear. He is our strength and salvation.
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
Throughout The Pilgrim’s Progress Bunyan has emphasized the necessity of reading and heeding God’s Word. The story opens with Christian reading his Book in a field, where it warned him to flee from the wrath to come. He was directed to follow its light as he sought a way of escape from Destruction. He heard valuable lessons for his journey when the Word was opened to him at the House of the Interpreter. He was taught to wield the Word as his sword in the armory of Palace Beautiful.
Now as light dawns in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Bunyan highlights the importance of God’s Word for navigating the trials and temptations of this life. In the story, as the sun is rising, Christian gains a better perspective of what lies behind him as well as lies before him. He can better see the difficult trials he has just experienced and the dangers from which God has protected him. And he can better discern and anticipate what might lie ahead. The light gives him the advantage. In the light the fiends of the valley are driven back.
Likewise, in the light of God’s Word, we are better able to make sense of previous trials. And we are better prepared to face new trials. The light allows us to see the true nature of sin and temptation. In the light sin loses its power to allure and confuse us. We see it as abhorrent and conspicuous. In the light we see the ploys and perils of sin. We can better steer clear and avoid its entanglement. In the light we see the charm of this world fade and grow dim, outshined by the beauty and splendor of Christ. Nothing that sin or this world can offer us will ever compare to the joy of knowing Him. We need God’s Word to keep the light of Christ shining brightly on our path.
The light of day makes Christian both thankful and careful. He is grateful for all that God has brought him through and vigilant to stay clear of snares that would draw him away and threaten his soul. The Way is filled with danger. And even greater dangers lie ahead for Christian. But in God’s mercy the sun is rising and Christian can see the Way forward. As he presses on he recounts with Job “the days when God watched over me; when His lamp shone upon my head, and when by His light I walked through darkness” (Job 29:2–3).
May God help us always to seek and walk in the light of His Word:
Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!
Let them lead me;
Let them bring me to Your holy hill
And to Your tabernacle.
A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary
The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2015 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.