Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  In the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

In the Valley of the Shadow of Death

By Roger Williams (1604?–1683)

[An Epistle to Mrs. Williams. From “Experiments of Spiritual Life and Health.” 1652.]

IN the next place, my dear love, let us down together by the steps of holy meditation into the valley of the shadow of death. It is of excellent use to walk often into Golgotha, and to view the rotten skulls of so many innumerable thousands of millions of millions of men and women, like ourselves, gone, gone forever from this life and being, as if they never had life nor being, as the swift ships, as the weaver’s shuttle, as an arrow, as the lightning through the air.

It is not unprofitable to remember the faces of such whom we knew, with whom we had sweet acquaintance, sweet society, with whom we have familiarly eaten and lodged, but now grown loathsome, ugly, terrible, even to their dearest, since they fell into the jaws of death, the King of terrors.

And yet they are but gone before us, in the path all flesh must tread. How then should we make sure, and infinitely much of a Saviour, who delivers us from the power and bitterness of death and grave and hell, who is a resurrection and life unto us, and will raise up and make our bodies glorious, like his glorious body, when He shall shortly appear in glory.

It is further of great and sweet use against the bitterness of death, and against the bitter-sweet delusions of this world daily to think each day our last, the day of our last farewell, the day of the splitting of this vessel, the breaking of this bubble, the quenching of this candle, and of our passage into the land of darkness, never more to behold a spark of light until the heavens be no more.

Those three uncertainties of that most certain blow, to wit, of the time when, the place where, the manner how it shall come upon us, and dash our earthen pitcher all to pieces—I say the consideration of these three should be a threefold cord to bind us fast to an holy watchfulness for our departures, and a spur to quicken us to abundant faithfulness in doing and suffering for the Lord and his Christ. It should draw up our minds into heavenly objects, and loosen us from the vexing vanities of this vain puff of this present sinful life.

Oh how weaned, how sober, how temperate, how mortified should our spirits, our affections, our desires be when we remember that we are but strangers, converse with strange companies, dwell in strange houses, lodge in strange beds and know not whether this day, this night shall be our final change of this strange place for one far stranger, dark and doleful, except enlightened by the death and life of the Son of God!

How contented should we be with any pittance, any allowance of bread, of clothes, of friendship, of respect, etc.!

How thankful unto God, unto man, should we poor strangers be for the least crumb, or drop, or rag vouchsafed unto us, when we remember we are but strangers in an inn, but passengers in a ship; and though we dream of long summer days, yet our very life and being is but a swift short passage from the bank of time to the other side or bank of a doleful eternity!

How patient should our minds and bodies be under the crossing, disappointing hand of our all-powerful Maker, of our most gracious Father, when we remember that this is the short span of our purging and fitting for an eternal glory, and that when we are judged we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world!

How quietly, without the swellings of revenge and wrath, should we bear the daily injuries, reproaches, persecutings, etc., from the hands of men, who pass away and wither, it may be before night, like grass or as the smoke on the chimney’s top, and their love and hatred shall quickly perish!

Yea, how busy, how diligent, how solicitous should we be like strangers upon a strange coast, waiting for a wind or passage, to get dispatched what we have to do, before we hear that final call, “Away, Away, let us be gone from hence!”