Posted by: rcottrill | July 4, 2014

He Who Would Valiant Be

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Words: John Bunyan (b. Nov. 30, 1628; d. Aug. 31, 1688); later revision, Percy Dearmer (b. Feb. 27, 1867; d. May 29, 1936)
Music: St. Dunstan’s, by Charles Winfred Douglas (b. Feb. 15, 1867; d. Jan. 18, 1944)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: John Bunyan was a tinker by trade–a mender of pots and kettles. He was converted in 1653, and became a Puritan preacher and author, made famous by his allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress. It was during his years in prison for preaching the Word of God that he wrote this immortal tale.

T he original words for the hymn are taken from the second part of the story which concerns Christian’s wife and children making their own pilgrimage. The poem (not meant by Bunyan to be a hymn) comes at the end of a conversation between Mr. Great-heart and Mr. Valiant-for-Truth.

Before speaking the lines of verse, Mr. Valiant-for-Truth says:

“I believed, and therefore I came out [of the City of Destruction], got into the Way, fought all that set themselves against me, and, by believing am come to this place.”

The revision of Bunyan’s words, published by Percy Dearmer in 1906, was extensive. In some places it departs completely from Bunyan’s original thought. You can see both versions on the Cyber Hymnal, and make a comparison for yourself, but I’ll mention the key ones here.

The words “pilgrim” and “pilgrimage” are used a number of times in the Scriptures. They picture those who are traveling through a foreign country to a new land up ahead. This describes each of us as Christians. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20), so the old Spiritual has it right: “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through.” David describes the people of God as “aliens and pilgrims” (I Chron. 29:15).

When the elderly Jacob meets the Pharaoh of Egypt, he tells him, “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred and thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Gen. 47:9). Similar phrases are used elsewhere (cf. Heb. 11:13; I Pet. 2:11). In his first letter, Peter addresses “the pilgrims of the dispersion” (I Pet. 1:1), Jewish Christians who were scattered and exiled from their homeland, a troubling experience.  The struggles of the Christian pilgrim are emphasized in the hymn, and were very real to Bunyan and those who stood with him.

Like all pilgrims, we face dangers and difficulties along the way. Yet, even so, it is a great and glorious thing to be journeying toward our heavenly home. As the psalmist says, “ Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage” (Ps. 84:5). In Psalm 119, the author says, “Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage” (vs. 54). Most commentators take the latter phrase to simply mean “wherever I roam.” But I wonder if the “house” is not a reference to the physical body, similar to Paul’s reference to his “earthly house” (II Cor. 5:1).

The first changes in CH-1 simply make the words more suitable for use as a hymn, and put a more spiritual turn on  the words. Bunyan wrote: “Who would true valour see, let him come hither; / One here will constant be, come wind, come weather.”

CH-1) 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.

 In CH-2, Bunyan’s “No lion can him fright, / He’ll with a giant fight” becomes “No foes shall stay his might / Though he with giants fight.”

CH-2) Who so beset him round with dismal stories
Do but themselves confound—his strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight,
He will make good his right to be a pilgrim.

Bunyan begins CH-3 with: “Hobgoblin nor foul fiend can daunt his spirit.” In folklore, hobgoblins were thought to be mischievous elves, but the term can also represent, generally, anything causing superstitious fear. This reference, however, is replaced by Dearmer with:

CH-3) Since, Lord, Thou dost defend us with Thy Spirit,
We know we at the end, shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away! I’ll fear not what men say,
I’ll labour night and day to be a pilgrim.

1) What are the chief dangers you have faced in the recent days of your Christian pilgrimage?

2) What spiritual resources have been a help to you?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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