The Slough of Despond
Now my old friend proceeded, and said: But when Christiana came up to the Slough of Despond, she began to be at a stand; for, said she, this is the place in which my dear husband had like to have been smothered with mud. She perceived, also, that notwithstanding the command of the King to make this place for pilgrims good, yet it was rather worse than formerly. So I asked if that were true. Yes, said the old gentleman, too true; for that many there be that pretend to be the King’s labourers, and that say they are for mending the King’s highway, that bring dirt and dung instead of stones, and so mar instead of mending.42 Here Christiana, therefore, with her boys, did make a stand; but, said Mercy, Come, let us venture, only let us be wary. Then they looked well to the steps, and made a shift to get staggeringly over.43
Yet, Christiana had like to have been in, and that not once nor twice. Now they had no sooner got over, but they thought they heard words that said unto them, “Blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).
Then they went on again; and said Mercy to Christiana, Had I as good ground to hope for a loving reception at the wicket-gate as you, I think no Slough of Despond would discourage me.
Well, said the other, you know your sore,44 and I know mine; and, good friend, we shall all have enough evil before we come at our journey’s end.
For can it be imagined, that the people that design to attain such excellent glories as we do, and that are so envied that happiness as we are; but that we shall meet with what fears and scares, with what troubles and afflictions they can possibly assault us with, that hate us?
And now Mr. Sagacity left me to dream out my dream by myself. Wherefore, methought I saw Christiana and Mercy, and the boys, go all of them up to the gate; to which, when they were come, they betook themselves to a short debate about how they must manage their calling at the gate, and what should be said to Him that did open to them. So it was concluded, since Christiana was the eldest, that she should knock for entrance, and that she should speak to Him that did open, for the rest. So Christiana began to knock; and, as her poor husband did, she knocked, and knocked again. But, instead of any that answered, they all thought that they heard as if a dog came barking upon them; a dog, and a great one too, and this made the women and children afraid: nor durst they, for a while, to knock any more, for fear the mastiff should fly upon them. Now, therefore, they were greatly tumbled up and down in their minds, and knew not what to do: knock they durst not, for fear of the dog; go back they durst not, for fear the Keeper of that gate should espy them as they so went, and should be offended with them; at last they thought of knocking again, and knocked more vehemently than they did at the first. Then said the Keeper of the gate, Who is there? So the dog left off to bark, and He opened unto them.45
Then Christiana made low obeisance, and said, Let not our Lord be offended with his handmaidens, for that we have knocked at His princely gate. Then said the Keeper, Whence come ye, and what is that you would have?
Christiana answered, We are come from whence Christian did come, and upon the same errand as he; to wit, to be, if it shall please You, graciously admitted by this gate into the way that leads to the Celestial City. And I answer, my Lord, in the next place, that I am Christiana, once the wife of Christian, that now is gotten above.46
With that the Keeper of the gate did marvel, saying, What! is she become now a pilgrim that, but a while ago, abhorred that life Then she bowed her head, and said, Yes, and so are these my sweet babes also.
Then He took her by the hand, and let her in, and said also, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me”; and with that He shut up the gate. This done, He called to a trumpeter that was above, over the gate, to entertain Christiana with shouting and sound of trumpet for joy. So he obeyed, and sounded, and filled the air with his melodious notes (Luke 15:7).
Now all this while poor Mercy did stand without, trembling and crying, for fear that she was rejected. But when Christiana had gotten admittance for herself and her boys, then she began to make intercession for Mercy.
CHRIST. And she said, My Lord, I have a companion of mine that stands yet without, that is come hither upon the same account as myself; one that is much dejected in her mind, for that she comes, as she thinks, without sending for; whereas I was sent to by my husband’s King to come.
Now Mercy began to be very impatient, for each minute was as long to her as an hour; wherefore she prevented Christiana from a fuller interceding for her, by knocking at the gate herself. And she knocked then so loud, that she made Christiana to start. Then said the Keeper of the gate, Who is there? and said Christiana, It is my friend.
So He opened the gate and looked out, but Mercy was fallen down without, in a swoon, for she fainted, and was afraid that no gate would he opened to her.
Then He took her by the hand, and said, Damsel, I bid thee arise.
O Sir, said she, I am faint; there is scarce life left in me. But He answered, That one once said, “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came in unto Thee, into Thine holy temple” (Jonah 2:7). Fear not, but stand upon thy feet, and tell Me wherefore thou art come.47
MERCY. I am come for that unto which I was never invited, as my friend Christiana was. Hers was from the King, and mine was but from her. Wherefore I fear I presume.48
KEEP. Did she desire thee to come with her to this place?
MERCY. Yes; and, as my Lord sees, I am come. And, if there is any grace or forgiveness of sins to spare, I beseech that I, thy poor handmaid, may be partaker thereof.
Then He took her again by the hand, and led her gently in, and said, I pray for all them that believe on Me, by what means soever they come unto Me. Then said He to those that stood by, Fetch something, and give it Mercy to smell on, thereby to stay her fainting. So they fetched her a bundle of myrrh; and a while after, she was revived.49
And now was Christiana and her boys, and Mercy, received of the Lord at the head of the way, and spoke kindly unto by Him. Then said they yet further unto Him, We are sorry for our sins, and beg of our Lord His pardon, and further information what we must do.
I grant pardon, said He, by word and deed: by word, in the promise of forgiveness; by deed, in the way I obtained it. Take the first from My lips with a kiss, (Song. 1:2); and the other as it shall be revealed.50 (John 20:20).
Now, I saw in my dream, that He spake many good words unto them, whereby they were greatly gladded. He also had them up to the top of the gate, and showed them by what deed they were saved; and told them withal, That that sight they would have again, as they went along in the way, to their comfort.
So He left them a while in a summer parlour below, where they entered into talk by themselves; and thus Christiana began: O Lord! how glad am I that we are got in hither.
MERCY. So you well may; but I of all have cause to leap for joy.
CHRIST. I thought one time, as I stood at the gate (because I had knocked, and none did answer), that all our labour had been lost, especially when that ugly cur made such a heavy barking against us.51
MERCY. But my worse fear was after I saw that you was taken into His favour, and that I was left behind. Now, thought I, it is fulfilled which is written, “Two women shall he grinding together, the one shall be taken and the other left”52 (Matt. 24:41). I had much ado to forbear crying out, Undone! undone!53
And afraid I was to knock any more; but when I looked up to what was written over the gate, I took courage.54 I also thought that I must either knock again, or die; so I knocked, but I cannot tell how, for my spirit now struggled betwixt life and death.
CHRIST. Can you not tell how you knocked? I am sure your knocks were so earnest that the very sound of them made me start; I thought I never heard such knocking in all my life; I thought you would have come in by violent hands, or have taken the kingdom by storm (Matt. 11:12).
MERCY. Alas! to be in my case, who that so was could but have done so? You saw that the door was shut upon me, and that there was a most cruel dog thereabout. Who, I say, that was so faint-hearted as I, that would not have knocked with all their might? But, pray, what said my Lord to my rudeness? Was He not angry with me?
CHRIST. When He heard your lumbering noise, He gave a wonderful innocent smile; I believe what you did pleased Him well enough, for He showed no sign to the contrary. But I marvel in my heart, why He keeps such a dog; had I known that before,55 I fear I should not have had heart enough to have ventured myself in this manner. But now we are in, we are in; and I am glad with all my heart.56
MERCY. I will ask, if you please, next time He comes down, why He keeps such a filthy cur in His yard; I hope He will not take it amiss.
Aye, do, said the children, and persuade Him to hang him; for we are afraid he will bite us when we go hence.
So at last He came down to them again, and Mercy fell to the ground on her face before Him, and worshipped, and said, Let my Lord accept of the sacrifice of praise which I now offer unto Him with the calves of my lips.
So He said unto her, “Peace be to thee, stand up.” But she continued upon her face, and said, “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, when I plead with Thee: yet let me talk with Thee of Thy judgments’ (Jer. 12:1). Wherefore dost Thou keep so cruel a dog in Thy yard, at the sight of which, such women and children as we, are ready to fly from Thy gate for fear?
He answered and said, That dog has another owner, he also is kept close in another man’s ground, only My pilgrims hear his barking; he belongs to the castle which you see there at a distance, but can come up to the walls of this place. He has frighted many an honest pilgrim from worse to better, by the great voice of his roaring. Indeed, he that owneth him doth not keep him of any goodwill to Me or Mine, but with intent to keep the pilgrims from coming to Me, and that they may be afraid to knock at this gate for entrance. Sometimes also he has broken out, and has worried some that I loved; but I take all at present patiently. I also give My pilgrims timely help, so they are not delivered up to his power, to do to them what his doggish nature would prompt him to. But what! my purchased one, I trow, hadst thou known never so much beforehand, thou wouldst not have been afraid of a dog.
The beggars that go from door to door will, rather than they will lose a supposed alms, run the hazard of the bawling, barking, and biting, too, of a dog; and shall a dog—a dog in another man’s yard, a dog whose barking I turn to the profit of pilgrims—keep any from coming to Me? I deliver them from the lions, their darling from the power of the dog.57
MERCY. Then said Mercy, I confess my ignorance; I spake what I understood not; I acknowledge that Thou dost all things well.
CHRIST. Then Christiana began to talk of their journey, and to inquire after the way. So He fed them, and washed their feet, and set them in the way of His steps, according as He had dealt with her husband before. So I saw in my dream, that they walked on in their way, and had the weather very comfortable to them.
Then Christiana began to sing, saying—
Blessed be the day that I began
A pilgrim for to be;
And blessed also be that man
That thereto moved me.
‘Tis true, ‘twas long ere I began
To seek to live forever:
But now I run fast as I can;
‘Tis better late then never.
Our tears to joy, our fears to faith,
Are turned, as we see,
That our beginning, as one saith,
Shows what our end will be.
Now there was, on the other side of the wall that fenced in the way up which Christiana and her companions were to go, a garden, and that garden belonged to him whose was that barking dog of whom mention was made before. And some of the fruit-trees that grew in that garden shot their branches over the wall; and being mellow, they that found them did gather them up, and oft eat of them to their hurt. So Christiana’s boys, as boys are apt to do, being pleased with the trees, and with the fruit that did hang thereon, did plash58 them, and began to eat. Their mother did also chide them for so doing, but still the boys went on.59
Well, said she, my sons, you transgress, for that fruit is none of ours; but she did not know that they did belong to the enemy; I will warrant you, if she had, she would have been ready to die for fear. But that passed, and they went on their way. Now, by that they were gone about two bow-shots from the place that let them into the way, they espied two very ill-favoured ones coming down apace to meet them.60 With that, Christiana and Mercy, her friend, covered themselves with their veils, and so kept on their journey; the children also went on before; so that at last they met together. Then they that came down to meet them, came just up to the women, as if they would embrace them; but Christiana said, Stand back, or go peaceably by, as you should. Yet these two, as men that are deaf, regarded not Christiana’s words, but began to lay hands upon them. At that Christiana, waxing very wroth, spurned at them with her feet. Mercy also, as well as she could, did what she could to shift them. Christiana again said to them, Stand back, and begone; for we have no money to lose, being pilgrims, as you see, and such, too, as live upon the charity of our friends.
ILL-FAVOURED. Then said one of the two of the men, We make no assault upon you for money, but are come out to tell you, that if you will but grant one small request, which we shall ask, we will make women of you forever.
CHRIST. Now Christiana, imagining what they should mean, made answer again, We will neither bear, nor regard, nor yield to what you shall ask. We are in haste, cannot stay; our business is a business of life and death. So, again, she and her companions made a fresh essay to go past them; but they letted them in their way.
ILL-FAV. And they said, We intend no hurt to your lives; it is another thing we would have.
CHRIST. Ah, quoth Christiana, you would have us body and soul, for I know it is for that you are come; but we will die rather upon the spot, than suffer ourselves to be brought into such snares as shall hazard our well-being hereafter. And with that they both shrieked out, and cried, Murder! murder! and so put themselves under those laws that are provided for the protection of women (Deut. 22:23–27). But the men still made their approach upon them, with design to prevail against them. They, therefore, cried out again.61
Now, they being, as I said, not far from the gate in at which they came, their voice was heard from where they were, thither; wherefore some of the house came out, and knowing that it was Christiana’s tongue, they made haste to her relief. But by that they were got within sight of them, the women were in a very great scuffle, the children also stood crying by. Then did he that came in for their relief call out to the ruffians, saying, What is that thing that you do? Would you make my Lord’s people to transgress? He also attempted to take them, but they did make their escape over the wall, into the garden of the man to whom the great dog belonged; so the dog became their protector. This Reliever then came up to the women, and asked them how they did. So they answered, We thank thy Prince, pretty well; only we have been somewhat affrighted; we thank thee also, for that thou camest in to our help, for otherwise we had been overcome.
RELIEVER. So after a few more words, this Reliever said as followeth: I marveled much when you were entertained at the gate above, being, [as] ye knew, that ye were but weak women, that you petitioned not the Lord there for a conductor; then might you have avoided these troubles and dangers, for He would have granted you one.62
CHRIST. Alas! said Christiana, we were so with our present blessing, that dangers to come were forgotten by us; besides, who could have thought, that so near the King’s palace, there should have lurked such naughty ones? Indeed, it had been well for us, had we asked our Lord for one; but, since our Lord knew it would be for our profit, I wonder He sent not one along with us!63
REL. It is not always necessary to grant things not asked for, lest, by so doing, they become of little esteem; but when the want of a thing is felt, it then comes under, in the eyes of him that feels it, that estimate that properly is its due, and so, consequently, will be thereafter used. Had my Lord granted you a conductor, you would not neither so have bewailed that oversight of yours, in not asking for one, as now you have occasion to do. So all things work for good, and tend to make you more wary.
CHRIST. Shall we go back again to my Lord, and confess our folly, and ask one?
REL. Your confession of your folly I will present Him with. To go back again you need not; for in all places where you shall come, you will find no want at all; for in every of my Lord’s lodgings, which He has prepared for the reception of His pilgrims, there is sufficient to furnish them against all attempts whatsoever. But, as I said, “He will be inquired of by them, to do it for them” (Ezek. 36:37). And it is a poor thing that is not worth asking for. When he had thus said, he went back to his place, and the Pilgrims went on their way.
MERCY. Then said Mercy, What a sudden blank is here! I made account we had now been past all danger, and that we should never see sorrow more.64
CHRIST. Thy innocency, my sister, said Christiana to Mercy, may excuse thee much; but as for me, my fault is so much the greater, for that I saw this dancer before I came out of the doors, and yet did not provide for it where provision might have been had. I am therefore much to he blamed.65
MERCY. Then said Mercy, How knew you this before you came from home? Pray open to me this riddle.
CHRIST. Why, I will tell you. Before I set foot out of doors, one night, as I lay in my bed, I had a dream about this; for, methought I saw two men, as like these as ever the world they could look, stand at my bed’s feet, plotting how they might prevent my salvation. I will tell you their very words. They said (it was when I was in my troubles), What shall we do with this woman? for she cries out, waking and sleeping, for forgiveness. If she be suffered to go on as she begins, we shall lose her, as we have lost her husband. This, you know, might have made me take heed, and have provided when provision might have been had.
MERCY. Well, said Mercy, as by this neglect we have an occasion ministered unto us, to behold our own imperfections; so our Lord has taken occasion thereby, to make manifest the riches of His grace; for He, as we see, has followed us with unasked kindness, and has delivered us from their hands that were stronger than we, of His mere good pleasure.66