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Pilgrim’s Process

By the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon

At the end of Pilgrim’s Progress (Part 2), Bunyan introduced the character ‘Valiant for Truth.’ When he appears, Valiant for Truth has blood covering his face. He explains he met with a band of thieves who tried to compel him to join them — he resisted them for hours and was injured in the fight. Born in ‘Dark Land’ Valiant for Truth had to overcome a family who urged him to not be a pilgrim, and many other obstacles. When he meets the pilgrims he aids them through the dangers of the ‘Enchanted Ground’ – sword drawn and words of encouragement offered.

Valiant for Truth would not be welcome in many churches today. He would be branded confrontational, difficult and angular. Our Christian culture too often seeks acceptance from and peace with the world – whereas Valiant for Truth would see the need to fight and resist. Few today expect to suffer in meaningful ways as a result of faithful discipleship – Valiant for Truth got a bloodied nose and carried on cheerfully.

If Christians are to be lights in a dark world, we must recall that ‘everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.’ (Jn. 3:20)

Bunyan wanted his character Valiant for Truth to be remembered and so included a hymn about him. The 1906 revision which is  the better known version opens:

He who would valiant be,

‘Gainst all Disaster,

Let him in constancy,

Follow the Master.

There’s no discouragement,

Shall make him once relent,

His first avowed intent,

To be a pilgrim.

If we today give up on the robust convictions Bunyan saw as essential for discipleship, we forfeit the passion and resolve that carries us through opposition. We also lose intimacy and closeness to Jesus. The passion of a pilgrim should be ‘I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.’ (Phil. 3:10) Perhaps the way we present the gospel to outsiders should include the joy and satisfaction of suffering with Christ? 

The modern revision of Bunyan’s hymn about Valiant for truth removed reference to hobgoblins. People seemed to think it inappropriate. That is a pity, for his final verse reminds us that fears — imaginary as well as real – are overcome by pilgrims who are Valiant for Truth. How precious to those who are anxious:

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend,

can daunt his spirit;

he knows he at the end,

shall life inherit.

Then, fancies, fly away;

he’ll not fear what men say;

he’ll labour night and day,

to be a pilgrim.

Rev. Dr. Peter Sanlon is rector of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells: