Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress
by Ken Puls
50. Into the Valley of Humiliation
Now he bethought himself of setting forward, and they were willing he should. But first, said they, let us go again into the armory. So they did; and when they came there, they harnessed him from head to foot with what was of proof, lest, perhaps, he should meet with assaults in the way. He being, therefore, thus accoutered, walked out with his friends to the gate, and there he asked the Porter if he saw any pilgrims pass by. Then the Porter answered, Yes.
Christian: Pray, did you know him? said he.
Porter: I asked him his name, and he told me it was Faithful.
Oh, said Christian, I know him. He is my townsman, my near neighbor. He comes from the place where I was born. How far do you think he may be before?
Porter: He is got by this time below the hill.
Well, said Christian, good Porter, the Lord be with you, and add to all your blessings much increase, for the kindness that you have shown to me.
Then he began to go forward; but Discretion, Piety, Charity, and Prudence would accompany him down to the foot of the hill. So they went on together, reiterating their former discourses, till they came to go down the hill. Then said Christian: As it was difficult coming up, so, so far as I can see, it is dangerous going down. Yes, said Prudence, so it is, for it is a hard matter for a man to go down into the Valley of Humiliation, as you are doing now, and to catch no slip by the way; therefore, said they, are we come out to accompany you down the hill. So he began to go down, but very warily; yet he caught a slip or two.
Then I saw in my dream that these good companions, when Christian was gone to the bottom of the hill, gave him a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and a cluster of raisins; and then he went on his way.
Notes and Commentary
In this final scene at Palace Beautiful Bunyan highlights another important role of the church in the life of a believer. It is in the house of God that we are equipped and made ready to face the trials and temptations of this life. This world is a spiritual battlefield, and before Christian departs to resume his journey, the family takes him again to the armory to be sure he is properly fit and dressed in the armor of the Lord (Ephesians 6:10-20).
Palace Beautiful has been a high point in Christian's journey. Here for a time he has found refuge, refreshment and great encouragement. Now he is going down into the Valley of Humiliation. As Christian descends, take note:
1. Christian learns from the Porter of another pilgrim who recently passed by. This traveler spoke with the Porter and told him his name was Faithful. Christian has learned the value of fellowship and walking together in the church. He is encouraged by the news and inquires about Faithful's whereabouts. Perhaps Faithful is still close enough in the Way for Christian to overtake and join in the journey.
2. As Christian leaves he thanks the Porter (one of several characters in the allegory who represents the work of a pastor) for his kindness in serving him. We should as well take time to thank and pray for our pastors who watch over and care for us.
3. Christian does not go down the hill alone. He is accompanied by some of the family members: Discretion, Piety, Charity and Prudence. As they make the descent, they rehearse and remind Christian of the truth and promises of God's Word. Bunyan's point is clear. We need the company and support of God's people when we go down into spiritual valleys and face times of difficulty and distress. We need their encouragements and admonitions. We need the spiritual qualities of discretion, piety, charity and prudence to guide us and help us make wise choices.
4. Christian is warned to be cautious going down. He notes that it was difficult coming up (he passed through the lions when he gained entrance to the Palace) and it is dangerous going down. This warning may at first seem out of place at this point in the story. After all, Christian has been strengthened and armed for battle. Certainly he is more prepared now than at any point in his journey thus far to face danger. Yet we must take note: Descending is a much harder task than ascending. "Coming down" after times of great spiritual victory and refreshment, when the realities of the world around us rush in and over us, can be surprisingly "dangerous." Spiritual pride can convince us to presume and spiritual fatigue can cause us to let down our guard. It is at times like these when we are more susceptible to catch a slip or two. William Mason, in his commentary on The Pilgrim's Progress, explains:
Thus it is, after a pilgrim has been favored with any special and peculiar blessings, there is danger of his being puffed up by them, and exalted on account of them; so was even holy Paul; therefore, the messenger of Satan was permitted to buffet him (2 Cor. 12:7). In our present mixed state, the Lord knows it would not be best for us always to dwell on the mount of spiritual joy; therefore, for the good of the soul, the flesh must be humbled, and kept low lest spiritual pride prevail. It is hard going down into the Valley of Humiliation, without slipping into murmuring and discontent, and calling in question the dealings of God with us.
These slips can take many forms: fear, doubt, restlessness, grumbling, impatience, self-indulgence, carelessness, to name a few. Later in the allegory, when Christian tells his story to Hopeful, he identifies three villains who tried to cause him to stumble at the entrance to the valley: Faint-Heart, Mistrust and Guilt.
We must be on guard when we look back on spiritual progress and success, lest we fall when we think we should stand. The prophet Elijah was bold on Mount Caramel (1 Kings 18:20-40), at a high point in his stand for truth. But he was running for his life in fear of Jezebel in the following chapter (1 Kings 19:1-3) and crying in lament: "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers" (1 Kings 19:4). If we are not careful to keep watch (for ourselves and for others), we can too easily fall prey to doubt and sin. With every advancement Satan would threaten to cast a dark cloud over all the spiritual good and progress we have made. And when we do catch a slip, we must remember the help and mercy of the Lord is always there to lift us up:
Unless the LORD had been my help,
My soul would soon have settled in silence.
If I say, "My foot slips,"
Your mercy, O LORD, will hold me up.
5. Christian is given provisions for the journey. The family of the Palace provides him with bread, wine and a cluster of raisins. Bunyan alludes here to an account the Old Testament. These were the provisions sent to refresh David and his men when they were in the wilderness.
When David was a little past the top of the mountain, there was Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth, who met him with a couple of saddled donkeys, and on them two hundred loaves of bread, one hundred clusters of raisins, one hundred summer fruits, and a skin of wine. And the king said to Ziba, "What do you mean to do with these?" So Ziba said, "The donkeys are for the king's household to ride on, the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine for those who are faint in the wilderness to drink" (2 Samuel 16:1-2).
These provisions remind us of God's abundant supply of grace and mercy in Christ. Though Christian has feasted on the rich truth of the gospel at Palace Beautiful, he must now take what he has learned and continue to feed on Christ as he continues in the Way. He will soon be put to the test. He will need to draw on the wisdom he has gained, wield the sword he has been given, and stand firm in the truth he has grasped. In Christ we have all we need to fight the fight of faith and complete the journey.
Continue reading 51. Confronted by Apollyon
Return to 49. A View of Immanuel's Land
Read and Follow "A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress" on the blog: Into the Valley of Humiliation