Updated: Sep 5
Text: John Bunyan (1628-1688). Tune: Monk’s Gate arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Revised for 1906 English Hymnal Original from the book
1. He who would valiant be 1. Who would true valor see, 'Gainst all disaster, Let him come hither; Let him in constancy One here will constant be, Follow the Master. Come wind, come weather; There's no discouragement There’s no discouragement Shall make him once relent Shall make him once relent His first avowed intent His first avowed intent To be a pilgrim. To be a pilgrim.
2. Who so beset him round 2. Who so beset him round With dismal stories, With dismal stories, Do but themselves confound— Do but themselves confound-- His strength the more is. His strength the more is. No foes shall stay his might, No lion can him fright; Though he with giants fight; He’ll with a giant fight, He will make good his right But he will have a right To be a pilgrim. To be a pilgrim.
3. Since, Lord, Thou dost defend 3. Hobgoblin nor foul fiend Us with Thy Spirit, Can daunt his Spirit. We know we at the end He knows he at the end Shall life inherit. Shall life inherit. Then, fancies, flee away! Then, fancies fly away I'll fear not what men say, He’ll fear not what men say; I'll labor night and day He’ll labor night and day To be a pilgrim. To be a pilgrim.
MEDITATION This poem appears near the end of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Book II, in which Christian’s wife, Christiana, is now making the journey to eternal life with the family. It is read by Mr. Valiant-for-Truth to Great-Heart as they are discussing the trials of the journey. Mr. Valiant-for-Truth explains to Mr. Great-Heart the troubles of being a pilgrim and all of the difficulties that Christian and Christiana have had to brave: the Slough of Despond, The Valley of the Shadow of Death where the hobgoblins are, The Giant Despair, the Doubting Castle, the Enchanted Ground, on their way to the Celestial Country which lies beyond a dark and threatening River.
The Christian life is a great struggle, a battle. N. H. Keeble, a scholar of Bunyan, says that "to tell the Christian story is to tell an adventure story." We maybe have lost that bracing and exciting story that challenges the young to a life that takes strength and courage. It may be what the young are looking for. To go forward with confidence in the Lord, knowing one will meet many dangers and hobgoblins along the way, can be a thrilling thing, when one knows the ending.
It was a favorite hymn of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher who had it sung at her funeral. We can well imagine that she liked it with her capacity to stand against her foes, as she said once "This lady's not for turning."
There are many great scenes in the book, but one of my favorites has always been the Slough of Despond. No one can get their footing in it. Christian asks his companion, Help, what it is, and Help tells him that the King wants to fix it, but can't.
“His laborers also have, by the direction of His Majesty’s surveyors, been for almost these sixteen hundred years employed about this patch of ground, if perhaps it might have been mended; yea, and to my knowledge,” said he, “Here have been swallowed up a least twenty thousand cartloads, yea millions, of wholesome instructions, that have at all seasons been brought from all places of the King’s dominions, (and they that can tell say they are the best materials to make good ground of the place), if so be it might have been mended; but it is the Slough of Despond still, and so will be when they have done what they can.” Chapter One, PP.
I think of that every time I hear vapid self-improvement advice or am in the grocery store and see countless magazines of wholesome instructions: how to lose weight, the best chocolate recipes, how to be happy in your life in whatever state your are in. All those wholesome instructions can cause one to drown in the Slough of Despond. The only way out in Pilgrim’s Progress is the forgiveness of sins and acceptance into the life with Jesus--who is the ground beneath our feet. The journey is harrowing, but the life is full for those who are redeemed! We know at the end we "will life inherit!"
Bunyan, a dissenter, wrote this classic while he spent twelve years cooling his heels in prison for refusing to sign the Act of Uniformity in 1662, which required that all pastors in England agree to be ordained into the historic episcopate and use the Book of Common Prayer.
It was not quite intended to be a hymn for congregational use, but a poem read in the book. As you can see, the editors of the English Hymnal 1906 worked it over to make it suitable for congregational song. Most agree today that the original is a better poem. Some hymnals have restored the hobgoblins and lion.
Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of the editors of the 1906 hymnal, found this English folk tune for it and arranged it. While it is not so well known in America, it is very well known in England and has been used as a school song for many English schools. It has been in the sound track of movies, such as A Bridge too Far. Vaughan Williams final opera, Pilgrim's Progress, features the hymn. From the sublime to the ridiculous, I cannot forget the scene in Keeping Up Appearances when Hyacinth Bucket has to hide her unkempt brother-in-law Onslowe from the fine ladies during the church jumble sale, and puts him a choir singing "To be a Pilgrim." It is screamingly funny to see him singing a hymn challenging him to be valiant!
LINKS Solo with old words and good pictures https://youtu.be/5yHJMPw8RHU
St. Peter’s/Cound https://youtu.be/xJhtviWxK4U
Organist at All Saint’s Church Oystermouth Swansea https://youtu.be/2uUTyS6QRWE
Margaret Thatcher’s funeral https://youtu.be/5a0otP1BWlU