Shadow of Death

Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death;
~ Job 10:21

A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness.
~ Job 10:22

Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron;
~ Psalm 107:10

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
~ Psalm 23:4

Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death.
~ Psalm 44:19

Neither said they, Where is the LORD that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, that led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt?
~ Jeremiah 2:6

And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
~ Luke 1:76-79

I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.
~ John 12:46

The Valley of the Shadow of Death, and the Characters, Christian and Faithful, by Thomas Scott. The following contains an excerpt from Chapters Ten and Eleven of his work, “Illustrative Notes on the Pilgrim’s Progress”.


Now, at the end of this valley was another, called the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The Valley of the Shadow of Death 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. The words, quoted from the prophet, describe the waste howling wilderness through which Israel journeyed to Canaan; which typified the believer’s pilgrimage through this world to heaven. From this we may infer, that the author meant in general, that such dreary seasons may be expected, as very few believers wholly escape them: but we must not suppose, that he intended to convey an idea, that all experience these trials in the same order or degree as Christian didWhile men rest in forms and notions, they generally expect nothing in religious ordinances but to finish a task, and to enjoy the satisfaction of having done their supposed duty; but the 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, dulness 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 delightEvils 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 of uninterrupted comfort, or by reading books, or hearkening to instructions, 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, nay, actually attained by all the regenerate; as if this were the church triumphant, and not the church militantThe state of the body also, as disordered by nervous or hypochondriacal affections, gives energy to the distressing inferences which men often draw from their dark frame of mind; and indeed indisposition may often operate as a direct cause of it; though the influences of the Holy Spirit will overcome this, and all other impediments to comfort, when he sheds abroad the love of God in the heart.’ Evil spirits never fail, when permitted, to take advantage of a disordered state, whether of body or mind, to mislead, entangle, perplex, or defile the soulPersons of a melancholic temperature, when not aware of the particular causes whence their gloom originates, are apt to ascribe it wholly to desertion, which exceedingly enhances their distress; and, as our author had been greatly harassed in this way, he has given us a larger proportion of this shade than is generally met with by consistent believers, or than the Scriptures give us reason to expect: and probably he meant to state the outlines of his own experience in the pilgrimage of Christian.

When Christian was got to the borders of the Shadow of Death, there met him two men. These men were spies, not pilgrims; they related what they had observed at a distance, but had never experienced. They represent those who have 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: they avail themselves of every unguarded or hyperbolical expression, which escapes a tempted believer; of the enthusiastic representations which some people give of their experience; and even of the figurative language, which is often employed in speaking of inward conflicts under images taken from external things. Thus they endeavor to excuse their own apostasy, and to expose to contempt the cause which they have desertedNothing 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 circumspectionA those spies do so much mischief by their misrepresentations, we should be careful to give them as little occasion as we possibly can.

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. 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 hopeBut the danger to which a real believer is exposed, of verging towards one of these extremes in times of inward darkness and disconsolation, is especially implied. They, who have had much opportunity of conversing with professors of the Gospel, have met with many persons who once were zealous and comfortable, but their religious affections have declined: their duties are comparatively scanty, formal, and joyless; their walk unsteady, and their hearts dark, cold, and barren they call themselves backsliders and complain of desertion, yet they have no hearts to use proper means of revival, but love to be soothed in their present condition, and quiet themselves by presuming that they are true believers, and abusing the doctrine of final perseveranceMany of this cast are wholly deceived; others partially, and will be recovered by severe but salutary disciplineEven the true Christian, when greatly discouraged, may be powerfully tempted to seek peace of mind, by arguing with himself on the safety of his state, or trying to be satisfied without his former spiritual affections and holy consolations: and Satan will find prompters to suggest to him, that this is the case of all experienced believers, and that fervency of love belongs only to young converts, who are strangers to their own hearts. This is the more plausible, because the increase of sound judgment and abiding spiritual affections abates that earnestness (often indiscreet and disproportioned) which sprang from mere selfish principles: and, when religious profession is cheap and common, many retain it, who have scarce any appearance of spirituality, and who infect others with their contagious converse and exampleBut while the conscientious believer, amidst his deepest discouragements, dreads and shuns this presumption, he is liable to sink into despondency: and may be led to condemn all his past experience as unreal; to rank himself among stony-ground hearers; to conclude that it is useless for him to pray or seek any more, and to lie down in enfeebling dejectionAgain, perceiving this danger, he finds it very difficult, in the present dark state of his soul, to avoid it, without seeming to abuse the free grace of the gospel. This experience must create much distress, perplexity, and confusion; and makes way for many dark and terrifying temptations, so that, though a man be not harassed with doubts about the truth of the Scriptures, he will be unable to make much use of them for his direction and comfort; and earnest, instant prayer must be his only resourceCases sometimes occur, in which, through a concurrence of circumstances, this alarming and perplexing experience continues and increases for som time: but the true Christian will be, as it were, constrained to press forward, and by faith will at length put his enemies to flightSome have thought, that the general notions of apparitions may be alluded to, as giving the tempter an occasion of increasing the terror of such persons as are in that respect credulous and timorous.

One thing I would not let slip: I took notice, that now poor Christian was so confounded, that he did not know his own voice. The case here intended is not uncommon among conscientious persons under urgent temptations. Imaginations are suddenly excited in their minds, with which their previous thoughts had no connection, even as if words were spoken to them: these often imply hard censures of God, his service or decrees, which they abhor as direct blasphemy: or harass them with other hateful ideas yet, instead of considering that such suggestions distress them, in exact proportion as they are opposite to the prevailing disposition of their hearts, and that their dread and hatred of them are evidences of love to God, they consider them as unpardonably criminal, inconsistent with a state of grace; and a mark of final reprobationWhereas, had such things coincided with the state of their minds, they would have been defiling but not distressing: and instead of rejecting them at once with decided abhorrence, they would have given them entertainment, and employed their minds about them, as much as they dared: ‘for the carnal mind is enmity against God,’ and can only be deterred from blasphemy, on many occasions, by the dread of his vengeance. Our author had been so much baffled by this stratagem of the tempter, that it would have been extraordinary had he omitted it for the subsequent discovery he made of his mistake, and of the way of resisting the devil in this case, qualified him to give suitable caution to others. The intrusion of such thoughts should excite us to greater earnestness in prayer, pious meditations, or adoring praises; for this, above all other things, will in the event be found to close the mind most effectually against themThe following lines come in here, as before, ‘Poor man! where art thou now? thy day is night: Good man, be not cast down, thou yet art right. The way to heaven lies by the gates of hell: Cheer up, hold out, with thee it shall go well.’ When Christian had travelled in this disconsolate condition some considerable time, he thought he heard the voice of a man, as going before him.-Nothing more effectually supports the tempted than to learn, that others, whom they consider as believers, have been or are in similar circumstances: for the idea that such a state of mind as they experience is inconsistent with true faith, gives the enemy his principal advantage against themIndeed this often proves the means of their deliverance; for in due season that light, affection, and consolation, for which they have long mourned, thirsted, prayed, and waited, will be vouchsafed them; and the review of the dangers they have escaped, now more clearly discerned than before, will enlarge their hearts with admiring gratitude to their great and gracious deliverer.

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. Various interpretations are given of this second part of the valley, which only show, that the author’s precise idea in it lies more remote from general apprehension than in other passages: for they all coincide with some of the difficulties or dangers that are clearly described under other emblemsI would not indeed be too confident, but, I apprehend, in general we are taught by it, that believers are not most in danger when under the deepest distress; that the snares and devices of the enemy are so many and various, through the several stages of our pilgrimage, as to baffle all description or enumeration; and that all the emblems of the valley of humiliation, and of the shadow of death, could not fully represent the thousandth part of them. Were it not, therefore, that the Lord undertakes to guide his people, by the light of his word and Spirit, they never could possibly escape them all.


As Christian went on his way, he came to a little ascent, which was cast up on purpose that pilgrims might see before them. This may represent those moments of encouragement, in which tempted believers rise superior to their difficulties, and are animated to desire the company of their brethren, whom dejection under humiliating experience disposes them to shun. The conduct of Christian intimates, that believers are sometimes ready to hinder one another, by making their own attainments and progress a standard for their brethren; but the lively exercise of faith renders men intent on pressing forward, and more apt to fear the society of such as would influence them to loiter, than to stop for them. This tends to excite an useful emulation; but while it promotes diligence, it often gives occasion to those risings of vain glory and self-preference, which are the forerunners of some humiliating fall: thus believers often are left to feel their need of help from the very persons whom they have foolishly undervalued. Such experiences, however, give occasion to those mutual good offices, which unite them more closely in the nearest ties of tender affection.

Christian: My honored and well-beloved brother Faithful, I am glad that I have overtaken you. This episode, so to speak, with others of the same kind, gives our author a happy advantage of varying the characters and experiences of Christians, as found in real life, and of thus avoiding the common fault of making one man a standard for others, in the circumstances of his religious progressIt often happens, that they who have been acquainted before their conversion, and hear little of each other for some time after, find at length that they were led to attend to religion about the same period, without having opportunity or courage to confer together about it. The decided separation of a sinner from his old companions, and his avowed dread of the wrath to come, frequently excites alarms and serious thoughts in the minds of others, which are not able wholly to shake off. In many indeed this is a mere floating, transient notion, insufficient to overcome the propensities of the carnal mind; but when it arises from a real belief of God’s testimony it will at length produce a happy change.

He is now seven times worse than if he had never gone out of the city. Apostates are often ashamed to own they have had convictions: their careless companions assume a kind of superiority over them; they do not think them hearty in the cause of ungodliness, and they despise their cowardice and versatility: on the other hand such persons feel that they want an apology, and have recourse to contemptible lies and slanders, with abject servility, while they shun religious people, as afraid of their arguments, warnings, and expostulations.

Faithful: I escaped the slough that I perceived you fell into, and got up to the gate without that dangerSome men are preserved from desponding fears, and the suggestions of worldly wisdom, by receiving more distinct views of the general truths of the Gospel; and thus they proceed with less hesitation and interruption in applying to Christ for salvation: yet, perhaps, their temperature, turn of mind, habits of life, and peculiar situation, render them more accessible to temptations of another kind; and they may be more in danger from the fascinations of fleshly lustsThus in different ways the Lord makes his people sensible of their depravity, weakness, and exposed situation; while he so moderates the temptation, or interposes for their deliverance, that they are preserved, and taught to ascribe all the glory to his name.

Faithful: Why, at first I found myself somewhat inclinable to go with the man, for I thought he spoke very fair. Those Christians, who by strong faith or assured hope, endure hardships more cheerfully than their brethren, are often exposed to greater danger from the allurements of outward objects, exciting the remaining propensities of corrupt nature. Deep humiliation and great anxiety about the event, in many instances, tend to repress the lusts of the heart, by supplying a continual succession of other thoughts and cares: while constant encouragement, readily attained, too often leaves a man to experience them more forcibly. Nay, the same persons, who under pressing solicitude seem to be entirely delivered from some peculiar corruptions, find them revive and become very troublesome, when they have obtained more confidence about their salvation. The old Adam, the corrupt nature, proves a constant snare to many believers, by its hankering after the pleasures, riches, honors, and pride of the world; nor can the victory be secured without great difficulty and trouble, and strong faith and fervent prayer.