Tag Archives: Pilgrim’s Progress

Run in with Wanton

Christian: Well, neighbor Faithful, said Christian, let us leave him, and talk of things that more immediately concern ourselves. Tell me now, what you have met with in the way as you came; for I know you have met with some things, or else it may be writ for a wonder.

Faithful: I escaped the Slough that I perceived you fell into, and got up to the gate without that danger; only I met with one whose name was Wanton, who had like to have done me a mischief.

Christian: It was well you escaped her net; Joseph was hard put to it by her, and he escaped her as you did; but it had like to have cost him his life. But what did she do to you?

Faithful: You cannot think, but that you know something, what a flattering tongue she had; she lay at me hard to turn aside with her, promising me all manner of content.

Christian: Nay, she did not promise you the content of a good conscience.

Faithful: You know what I mean; all carnal and fleshly content.

Christian: Thank God you have escaped her: “The abhorred of the Lord shall fall into her ditch.”

Faithful: Nay, I know not whether I did wholly escape her or no.

Christian: Why, I trust, you did not consent to her desires?

Faithful: No, not to defile myself; for I remembered an old writing that I had seen, which said, “Her steps take hold on hell.” So I shut mine eyes, because I would not be bewitched with her looks. Then she railed on me, and I went my way.

Faithful and WantonAs Faithful continues his account of how he escaped the City of Destruction, he begins to describe some of the dangers he has faced. He escaped falling into the Slough of Despond that slowed Christian and stopped Pliable from reaching the Gate, but he came near a more perilous pit (Proverbs 22:14, 23:27). He encountered “one whose name was Wanton.”

Wanton represents sexual immorality and moral failure. Her name means licentious and loose, reckless and unrestrained, lewd and lustful, wild and wandering. She has a flattering tongue (Proverbs 2:16, 5:3, 6:24, 7:5, 21), makes persuasive and persistent overtures (Proverbs 7:13), and promises “all manner of content” (Proverbs 7:18), but her proposal is deceitful. Scripture warns:

Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways,
Do not stray into her paths;
For she has cast down many wounded,
And all who were slain by her were strong men.
Her house is the way to hell,
Descending to the chambers of death.
(Proverbs 7:25-27)

The danger of falling prey to Wanton is nothing new. Christian recalls the account in Genesis 39 when Joseph was enticed by Potiphar’s wife and fled.

But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside (Genesis 39:11-13).

Faithful’s resistance to Wanton teaches us some helpful lessons in fighting temptation.

1. He does not entertain sinful thoughts, but turns away.

Faithful is determined he will not start down a treacherous path by sinning with his eyes.

“I have made a covenant with my eyes;
Why then should I look upon a young woman.”
(Job 31:1)

When his eyes see an opportunity to sin, he shuts them, and though Wanton curses him, he turns away and departs.

Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.
(Psalm 119:37)

2. He remembers and heeds God’s Word in the midst of temptation.

Faithful knows the Scriptures and preaches them to himself in time of need.

Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.
(Psalm 119:11)

He remembers wise words from the Book of Proverbs:

My son, pay attention to my wisdom;
Lend your ear to my understanding,
That you may preserve discretion,
And your lips may keep knowledge.
For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey,
And her mouth is smoother than oil;
But in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
Sharp as a two- edged sword.
Her feet go down to death,
Her steps lay hold of hell.
(Proverbs 5:1-5)

When Christian gives thanks for Faithful’s escape, he also quotes from Proverbs:

The mouth of an immoral woman is a deep pit;
He who is abhorred by the Lord will fall there.
(Proverbs 22:14)

Faithful is able to resist temptation because he believes and values the Word of God more than the alluring voice of Wanton. He takes refuge in the sure promises and warnings of Scripture.

3. He does not assume victory over sin by letting down his guard.

Faithful does not congratulate or commend himself for escaping from Wanton. When Christian speaks of Faithful’s escape, Faithful responds by saying: “Nay, I know not whether I did wholly escape her or no.” Though he assures Christian that he did not fall into sin, he doesn’t reassure himself with his fortitude or spiritual maturity in being able to resist sin. He understands how forceful temptation can be. He doesn’t speak of the encounter lightly. Rather, he has a healthy suspicion of his own heart and a lingering grief over the charm of sin that would so entice him. The experience has humbled him and made him more cautious, more dependent upon God’s grace. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5, Proverbs 3:34). It is the humble who will stand in the evil day, not the proud or self-confident.

Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall.
(Proverbs 16:8)

Wanton remains a danger for pilgrims in our day. There have been times and places in history where Wanton was frowned upon by society. She had to sneak around to do her mischief. At other times and in other places she has found more acceptance and been more bold in her overtures. Today she is not only accepted, she is championed as a goddess of freedom. She stands beckoning on billboards and in magazines. Her snare is laid on the screens of TVs, computers and mobile devices. We must be diligent and watchful. May God help us to guard our hearts, remember His Word, and turn away from every sin.

As we have seen in Christian’s pilgrimage, his trials and lessons often prove to be preparation for even greater perils that lie ahead. Faithful has resisted sin and held to truth. Soon Christian and Faithful will encounter a place where they will feel very much out of place. They will be severely tested and enticed to forsake God’s way and buy into the pleasures of the world. They will need a strong faith to stand firm in the truth in Vanity Fair.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2015 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Faithful’s Escape from the City of Destruction

Then I saw in my dream they went very lovingly on together, and had sweet discourse of all things that had happened to them in their pilgrimage; and thus Christian began:

Christian: My honored and well-beloved brother, Faithful, I am glad that I have overtaken you; and that God has so tempered our spirits, that we can walk as companions in this so pleasant a path.

Faithful: I had thought, dear friend, to have had your company quite from our town; but you did get the start of me, wherefore I was forced to come thus much of the way alone.

Christian: How long did you stay in the City of Destruction before you set out after me on your pilgrimage?

Faithful: Till I could stay no longer; for there was great talk presently after you were gone out that our city would, in short time, with fire from heaven, be burned down to the ground.

Christian: What! Did your neighbors talk so?

Faithful: Yes, it was for a while in everybody’s mouth.

Christian: What! And did no more of them but you come out to escape the danger?

Faithful: Though there was, as I said, a great talk thereabout, yet I do not think they did firmly believe it. For in the heat of the discourse, I heard some of them deridingly speak of you and of your desperate journey, (for so they called this your pilgrimage), but I did believe, and do still, that the end of our city will be with fire and brimstone from above; and therefore I have made my escape.

Christian: Did you hear no talk of neighbor Pliable?

Faithful: Yes, Christian, I heard that he followed you till he came at the Slough of Despond, where, as some said, he fell in; but he would not be known to have so done; but I am sure he was soundly bedabbled with that kind of dirt.

Christian: And what said the neighbors to him?

Faithful: He has, since his going back, been had greatly in derision, and that among all sorts of people; some do mock and despise him; and scarce will any set him on work. He is now seven times worse than if he had never gone out of the city.

Christian: But why should they be so set against him, since they also despise the way that he forsook?

Faithful: Oh, they say, hang him, he is a turncoat! He was not true to his profession. I think God has stirred up even his enemies to hiss at him, and make him a proverb, because he has forsaken the way.

Christian: Had you no talk with him before you came out?

Faithful: I met him once in the streets, but he leered away on the other side, as one ashamed of what he had done; so I did not speak to him.

Christian: Well, at my first setting out, I had hopes of that man; but now I fear he will perish in the overthrow of the city; for it is happened to him according to the true proverb, “The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

Faithful: These are my fears of him too; but who can hinder that which will be?

Christian and Faithful now press on together toward the Celestial City. The two share a love and devotion to Christ and Christian is delighted to have a brother to walk with him. As they walk together they share what they have experienced in their pilgrimage. As their conversation begins, Bunyan highlights three lessons:

1. The Miracle of Christian Friendship

Christian and FaithfulChristian speaks of his joy in befriending Faithful. The Valley of the Shadow of Death was “a very solitary place” where Christian felt very much alone. The path was dark and treacherous. Now, walking in the light of day with Faithful as his friend, he finds the Way to be “so pleasant a path.” Faithful also speaks of his longing to have Christian’s company. He had hoped to flee Destruction with Christian, but Christian had left before him. The kindness of God has now brought them together and a miracle of His grace has made them companions on a pilgrimage. In the City of Destruction, Christian and Faithful might not ever have met or had anything in common. But their desire and commitment to follow Christ has “tempered their spirits” and placed them together. This is true of all Christian friendships. God has joined together hearts and lives in ways that astound the world and magnify the power of His grace and wisdom.

2. The Impact of a Changed Life

As the conversation continues, Faithful describes his escape from the City of Destruction. Christian’s departure had caused a great stir in the city. He is surprised to hear that many of neighbors were talking about him. Most did not believe him and spoke with scorn of his warnings of coming judgment. They called his pilgrimage a “desperate journey.” But God is not hindered by unbelief. The Word of God is powerful. God can prosper the gospel even when it is spoken in derision. Neighbors mocked and derided Christian, but Faithful heard and believed.

In Paul’s day there were some who preached Christ, not because they believed the gospel, but because they were trying to stir up trouble for Paul. Yet Paul could rejoice!

Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice (Philippians 1:15–18).

We must be faithful to live for Christ and preach Christ, even when our testimony is likely to be scorned. We can grow weary of speaking of Christ among unbelievers as we see them respond again and again with contempt. Unsaved family members, co-workers and friends can wear us down with incessant ridicule and rejection. But we don’t know the impact our life might have on others around us. We don’t know how God may choose to use our testimony, even long after we are gone. It was Christian’s testimony that encouraged Faithful to flee Destruction, even while it was being disparaged by the world. May God keep us faithful and use our lives to point others to Christ.

3. The Danger of a Spurious Profession

Faithful also updates Christian on the outcome of Pliable. Earlier in the journey, Pliable had set out with Christian. He seemed at first to be a zealous pilgrim, hurrying Christian along, ravished with thoughts of heaven. But Pliable was discouraged when he and Christian fell into the Slough of Despond. Pliable chose to abandon his adventure with Christian and turn back. When he returned to the City of Destruction he was covered in the mud of the Slough (still marked by the shame and baseness of his sin) and met with scorn by those who saw him. He is compared to the Proverb:

As a dog returns to his own vomit,
So a fool repeats his folly.
(Proverbs 26:11)

Bunyan inserts two verses likening Pliable to Israel in the Old Testament who chose to ignore the prophets who brought them God’s Word:

This says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will send on them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like rotten figs that cannot be eaten, they are so bad. And I will pursue them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence; and I will deliver them to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth—to be a curse, an astonishment, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, because they have not heeded My words, says the Lord, which I sent to them by My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; neither would you heed, says the Lord (Jeremiah 29:17–19).

And to false teachers in the New Testament whose end is worse than their beginning:

For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:20–22).

Pliable turned away from God’s Word and forsook the way of righteousness. His profession of faith was spurious. Now he is in more danger than before. He is shamed by the world, seen as weak and pitiful, viewed as a hypocrite and “turncoat.” His only hope is still the gospel, yet he is too ashamed to seek the company of those who would gladly share it with him. Instead he leers away and avoids uncomfortable confrontation.

The tragic example of Pliable teaches us the peril of shame. Shame is the stain of sin on the soul. Left unwashed it is deadly, and we are powerless to remove it. It is a stain that can only be cleansed by the shed blood of Christ on the cross. Only in Christ can we find the hope and forgiveness we need. Yet shame by its very nature discourages us from looking to Christ. It wants to hide and cover itself. It keeps us downcast and resigns us to Destruction. If we are to avoid the plight of Pliable we must confess our sin and ever keep our eyes fixed upward to the cross.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2015 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

A Little Ascent

Now, as Christian went on his way, he came to a little ascent, which was cast up on purpose that pilgrims might see before them. Up there, therefore, Christian went, and looking forward, he saw Faithful before him, upon his journey. Then said Christian aloud, “Ho! ho! So-ho! stay, and I will be your companion!” At that, Faithful looked behind him; to whom Christian cried again, “Stay, stay, till I come up to you!” But Faithful answered, “No, I am upon my life, and the avenger of blood is behind me.”

At this, Christian was somewhat moved, and putting to all his strength, he quickly got up with Faithful, and did also overrun him; so the last was first. Then did Christian vain-gloriously smile, because he had gotten the start of his brother; but not taking good heed to his feet, he suddenly stumbled and fell, and could not rise again until Faithful came up to help him.

Christian and FaithfulNow that Christian has made it through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and past the cave, he comes to yet another mercy of God. He finds a little ascent that was designed especially for the benefit of pilgrims. The little ascent represents encouragement along the Way, especially the encouragement we gain from seeing the faithfulness of God in the testimony and progress of other believers. The ascent was “cast up on purpose that pilgrims might see before them.” As Christian ascends and looks forward, he sees another pilgrim ahead of him. The sight of another pilgrim, after enduring the solitary struggles of the valley, is a balm to Christian’s soul. He is not alone in his journey. There is a brother walking the same path and Christian desires to be his companion.

Christian’s experience at the Little Ascent teaches two valuable lessons. Bunyan highlights both the delight and danger of walking with brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Delight of Christian Fellowship

The first lesson of the Little Ascent is the value of Christian fellowship. We can be greatly helped by those who walk with us along the Way, especially as we see God at work in their lives.

Earlier in the story Bunyan depicted the value of Christian fellowship in the church (a theme he explores more fully in Part 2 of The Pilgrim’s Progress). Christian enjoyed the benefits of discourse with the family at House Beautiful. Now, seeing Faithful up ahead on the path, Christian again longs for godly conversation.

Christian first learned of Faithful from the Porter when he left Palace Beautiful. He had heard Faithful’s voice quoting Scripture (Psalm 23) while in the valley. Even then Faithful’s confidence in God’s Word had given Christian strength to press on. Now Christian sees Faithful walking ahead. God had brought them both safely through.

Christian calls out and urges Faithful to wait. But Faithful had just endured the Valley of the Shadow of Death. He is still fearful of what he had left behind. He presses forward and will not stop. This does not discourage Christian, however. Christian understands Faithful’s fears, having also come through the valley and escaped its dangers. He has compassion for Faithful and is even more determined to gain his company. As Christian makes an effort to overtake Faithful, Bunyan teaches us a second lesson.

The Danger of Spiritual Pride

The second lesson of the Little Ascent is the danger of spiritual pride. Faithful has outpaced Christian. But when Christian makes an effort to catch up, he ends up running past him. Christian is not hindered by the lingering fears of Faithful. The chase is easy. The race is soon won. When Christian sees that he is now ahead of his brother he “vain-gloriously” smiles. The smile betrays sin in Christian’s heart. His heart is now overrun with spiritual pride.

Paul warns of pride in Philippians, even as he exhorts us to care for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Before he tells us: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4), he says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). The order of these verses is significant. If we concern ourselves with the interests of others, even rightly motivated, and we lack humility, we will be in danger of falling into spiritual pride.

This was not Christian’s first struggle against pride. Pride caused him to slip going down into the Valley of Humiliation. Pride was one of the sins that Apollyon observed in Christian and used to accuse him, saying, “you are inwardly desirous of vain-glory in all that you say or do.” Though Christian readily confessed his sin, telling Apollyon, “all this is true, and much more which you have left out,” he did not root out pride in just one valley. It overtakes him again here and sets him up for a fall.

We are warned in the book of Proverbs:

Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
(Proverbs 16:18)

We must guard against spiritual pride when we see it in ourselves. When we think we stand, when we think we are ahead, when we position ourselves to look better than others, we are in danger of falling. Christian fell when he saw himself advance further than Faithful. Christian failed to take heed to his steps and found himself unable to rise. But even in Christian’s failure we see the grace of God at work. Faithful came and raised him to his feet. Christian stumbled and was helped by the very one he thought he had bested.

The little ascent teaches us both the delight of walking with brothers and sisters in Christ and the danger of spiritual pride when we are tempted to compare ourselves to others and seek an advantage over others. May God grant us compassion and humility that we might learn to walk together in unity and love.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8).

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2015 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway.

Pope and Pagan

In this light, therefore, he came to the end of the valley. Now I saw in my dream, that at the end of this valley lay blood, bones, ashes, and mangled bodies of men, even of pilgrims that had gone this way formerly; and while I was musing what should be the reason, I espied a little before me a cave, where two giants, POPE and PAGAN, dwelt in old time; by whose power and tyranny the men whose bones, blood, and ashes, &c., lay there, were cruelly put to death. But by this place Christian went without much danger, whereat I somewhat wondered; but I have learnt since, that PAGAN has been dead many a day; and as for the other, though he be yet alive, he is, by reason of age, and also of the many shrewd brushes that he met with in his younger days, grown so crazy and stiff in his joints, that he can now do little more than sit in his cave’s mouth, grinning at pilgrims as they go by, and biting his nails because he cannot come at them.

So I saw that Christian went on his way; yet, at the sight of the Old Man that sat in the mouth of the cave, he could not tell what to think, especially because he spoke to him, though he could not go after him, saying, “You will never mend till more of you be burned.” But he held his peace, and set a good face on it, and so went by and caught no hurt. Then sang Christian:

O world of wonders! (I can say no less),
That I should be preserved in that distress
That I have met with here! O blessed be
That hand that from it hath deliver’d me!
Dangers in darkness, devils, hell, and sin
Did compass me, while I this vale was in:
Yea, snares, and pits, and traps, and nets, did lie
My path about, that worthless, silly I
Might have been catch’d, entangled, and cast down;
But since I live, let JESUS wear the crown.

Pope and PaganNear the end of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Christian sees strewn across the Way “blood, bones, ashes, and mangled bodies of men, even pilgrims that had gone this way formerly.” This horrific scene is the testimony of the persecuted church, those who have endured pain and trial for their faith in Christ and their stand for truth. The writer of Hebrews reminds us of those who have suffered and gained “a good testimony through faith.”

And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again.

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 11:32 – 12:2).

The testimony of faithful believers is an encouragement for us to press on and keep our eyes fixed upon Christ. Bunyan was aware of the cost of following Christ. He was imprisoned for his faith, even as he was writing The Pilgrim’s Progress. His faith encouraged others, and he drew encouragement from those who had suffered before him. During his imprisonment at Bedford, his two possessions were his Bible and a copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

As Christian wonders at the ghastly sight before him, he sees a cave nearby. The cave represents the religious situation in England in Bunyan’s day and is home to some of the giants who menace pilgrims who seek the Celestial City. There are seven giants mentioned in The Pilgrim’s Progress (both Part 1 and Part 2) and each represents a great danger to believers. [*]

The first dweller in the cave was Pagan. England was formally a place of paganism with no light of the Gospel. Then Pope moved in and eventually Pagan died out. Giant Pope represents the Roman Catholic Church that sent missionaries to England and converted the land to its traditions. Both of these giants have been responsible for persecuting pilgrims and sending many to their death.

In Bunyan’s day, following the Protestant Reformation, with the rise of the Commonwealth and influence of the Puritans in England, the Roman Church had grown weak. Christian sees old Giant Pope sitting near the mouth of the cave taunting him as he goes past, but unable to cause him any harm. Though once powerful and formidable, the giant is now weak and feeble.

In Part 2 Pope no longer inhabits the cave and another giant, named Maul, has taken his place. Maul represents Anglicanism. He has a club that represents political power—power granted to the Church of England by the monarchy. With the club he gives blows to those who will not conform to his ways. Those blows took the form of laws passed between 1661 and 1671 in England designed to legalize persecution and suppress all meetings for non-conformists. Maul is defeated in Part 2 by Great Heart (an allusion to the Declaration of Liberty in 1672 and Act of Toleration in 1689).

Christian’s progress even in the face of giants is a reminder of God’s ultimate power and sovereignty over all our trials. God’s plan and purposes are always good, and they include every trial as well as every triumph. It is through trials that our faith is strengthened and our deliverance is made sweet. The Valley of the Shadow of Death was dark and difficult, yet Christian learned to trust God more fully and now leaves the valley with praises and singing. May God grant us such grace that we would learn to trust and praise Him in and through every trial.

* The seven giants in Bunyan’s allegory are Pagan, Pope and Maul (these three made their home in the cave), Despair and his wife Diffidence (whom Christian will encounter later in Part 1 at Doubting Castle), Slay-good (who terrorizes the land near the Inn of Gaius in Part 2), and Grim or Bloody-man (who lurks near Palace Beautiful in Part 2).

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2015 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Light of Day

And by and by the day broke; then said Christian, He has turned “the shadow of death into the morning.”

Now morning being come, he looked back, not out of desire to return, but to see, by the light of the day, what hazards he had gone through in the dark. So he saw more perfectly the ditch that was on the one hand, and the mire that was on the other; also how narrow the way was which led between them both; also now he saw the hobgoblins, and satyrs, and dragons of the pit, but all afar off, (for after break of day, they came not nigh;) yet they were discovered to him, according to that which is written, “He discovers deep things out of darkness, and brings out to light the shadow of death.”

Now was Christian much affected with his deliverance from all the dangers of his solitary way; which dangers, though he feared them more before, yet he saw them more clearly now, because the light of the day made them conspicuous to him. And about this time the sun was rising, and this was another mercy to Christian; for you must note, that though the first part of the Valley of the Shadow of Death was dangerous, yet this second part which he was yet to go, was, if possible, far more dangerous; for from the place where he now stood, even to the end of the valley, the way was all along set so full of snares, traps, gins, and nets here, and so full of pits, pitfalls, deep holes, and shelvings down there, that, had it now been dark, as it was when he came the first part of the way, had he had a thousand souls, they had in reason been cast away; but, as I said just now, the sun was rising. Then said he, “His candle shines upon my head, and by his light I walk through darkness.”

The Light of Day

Christian has had a long and difficult journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but now the dawn is breaking. After being oppressed and confounded in the darkness, he welcomes the light of day with praise to God. He quotes from the book of Amos, acknowledging that God is the One who is sovereign over night and day, over darkness as well as light.

He made the Pleiades and Orion;
He turns the shadow of death into morning
And makes the day dark as night;
He calls for the waters of the sea
And pours them out on the face of the earth;
The Lord is His name
(Amos 5:8)

It is God who graciously sends the light:

Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness;
He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.
(Psalm 112:4)

And exposes and uncovers the darkness.

He uncovers deep things out of darkness,
And brings the shadow of death to light.
(Job 12:22)

In Bunyan’s allegory the light represents the Word of God:

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
(Psalm 119:105)

We are called to heed this Word as we walk through this dark world:

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).

Early in his pilgrimage Christian was taught to prize and seek the light. When Evangelist first pointed Christian to the Wicket Gate (representing Christ as the Way to life), Christian could not yet see the Gate. Evangelist then directed him to “yonder Shining Light” (representing the Word of God). It is by God’s revealed Word that we see clearly the Way to salvation. It is God’s Word that points us to Christ, who is the Word made flesh (John 1:14) and the true Light of the world (John 1:9). When Isaiah prophesied of the coming of Jesus, he described it as the dawning of day across a land shrouded in the shadow of death:

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.
(Isaiah 9:2)

Isaiah’s refrain is echoed in the song of Zacharias when the prophecy is fulfilled at Jesus’ birth:

Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.
(Luke 1:78–79)

If we are to find peace and hope in this life, we must find Christ. There is nothing more valuable as we face the darkness of this world than laying hold of Christ in His Word. In Christ there is life and light. In Christ we have nothing to fear. He is our strength and salvation.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
(Psalm 27:1)

Throughout The Pilgrim’s Progress Bunyan has emphasized the necessity of reading and heeding God’s Word. The story opens with Christian reading his Book in a field, where it warned him to flee from the wrath to come. He was directed to follow its light as he sought a way of escape from Destruction. He heard valuable lessons for his journey when the Word was opened to him at the House of the Interpreter. He was taught to wield the Word as his sword in the armory of Palace Beautiful.

Now as light dawns in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Bunyan highlights the importance of God’s Word for navigating the trials and temptations of this life. In the story, as the sun is rising, Christian gains a better perspective of what lies behind him as well as lies before him. He can better see the difficult trials he has just experienced and the dangers from which God has protected him. And he can better discern and anticipate what might lie ahead. The light gives him the advantage. In the light the fiends of the valley are driven back.

Likewise, in the light of God’s Word, we are better able to make sense of previous trials. And we are better prepared to face new trials. The light allows us to see the true nature of sin and temptation. In the light sin loses its power to allure and confuse us. We see it as abhorrent and conspicuous. In the light we see the ploys and perils of sin. We can better steer clear and avoid its entanglement. In the light we see the charm of this world fade and grow dim, outshined by the beauty and splendor of Christ. Nothing that sin or this world can offer us will ever compare to the joy of knowing Him. We need God’s Word to keep the light of Christ shining brightly on our path.

The light of day makes Christian both thankful and careful. He is grateful for all that God has brought him through and vigilant to stay clear of snares that would draw him away and threaten his soul. The Way is filled with danger. And even greater dangers lie ahead for Christian. But in God’s mercy the sun is rising and Christian can see the Way forward. As he presses on he recounts with Job “the days when God watched over me; when His lamp shone upon my head, and when by His light I walked through darkness” (Job 29:2–3).
May God help us always to seek and walk in the light of His Word:

Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!
Let them lead me;
Let them bring me to Your holy hill
And to Your tabernacle.
(Psalm 43:3)

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2015 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Christian Confounded

About the midst of this valley, I perceived the mouth of hell to be, and it stood also hard by the wayside. Now, thought Christian, what shall I do? And ever and anon the flame and smoke would come out in such abundance, with sparks and hideous noises, (things that cared not for Christian’s sword, as did Apollyon before), that he was forced to put up his sword, and betake himself to another weapon called All-prayer. So he cried in my hearing, “O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul!” Thus he went on a great while, yet still the flames would be reaching towards him. Also he heard doleful voices, and rushings to and fro, so that sometimes he thought he should be torn in pieces, or trodden down like mire in the streets. This frightful sight was seen, and these dreadful noises were heard by him for several miles together; and, coming to a place where he thought he heard a company of fiends coming forward to meet him, he stopped, and began to muse what he had best to do. Sometimes he had half a thought to go back; then again he thought he might be half way through the valley; he remembered also how he had already vanquished many a danger, and that the danger of going back might be much more than for to go forward; so he resolved to go on. Yet the fiends seemed to come nearer and nearer; but when they were come even almost at him, he cried out with a most vehement voice, “I will walk in the strength of the Lord God!” so they gave back, and came no further.

One thing I would not let slip. I took notice that now poor Christian was so confounded, that he did not know his own voice; and thus I perceived it. Just when he was come over against the mouth of the burning pit, one of the wicked ones got behind him, and stepped up softly to him, and whisperingly suggested many grievous blasphemies to him, which he verily thought had proceeded from his own mind. This put Christian more to it than anything that he met with before, even to think that he should now blaspheme him that he loved so much before; yet, if he could have helped it, he would not have done it; but he had not the discretion either to stop his ears, or to know from whence these blasphemies came.

When Christian had traveled in this disconsolate condition some considerable time, he thought he heard the voice of a man, as going before him, saying, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”

Then he was glad, and that for these reasons:

First, Because he gathered from thence, that some who feared God were in this valley as well as himself.

Secondly, For that he perceived God was with them, though in that dark and dismal state; and why not, thought he, with me? though, by reason of the impediment that attends this place, I cannot perceive it.

Thirdly, For that he hoped, could he overtake them, to have company by and by. So he went on, and called to him that was before; but he knew not what to answer; for that he also thought to be alone.

Christian ConfoundedAs Christian continues his dark journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, his trouble only deepens. When he reaches the middle of the valley he comes near the mouth of hell and here he is tormented with voices of terror and temptation. He feels threatened and senses that both fiends (alluring him into sin) and flames (threatening him with judgment) are coming after him.
Christian is so confounded that he is no longer able to wield his sword. There is nothing identifiable in his thinking upon which he can bring truth to bear. And so he turns to another weapon of spiritual warfare: All-Prayer.

… praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18).

He cries out to the Lord with the words of Psalm 116:4

Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I implore You, deliver my soul!”
(Psalm 116:4)

Oppression so overwhelms him that he finds himself perplexed and unsure how to proceed. He considers going back, but then remembers how far he has already come. He has already seen victories over sin and Satan. Going back would likely be more dangerous than pressing forward. Retreat would only set him on the path toward dangers and snares he had already passed. Christian’s resolve is to take courage and press on. Though he is no match for the valley in his own cunning and power, he is determined to “walk in the strength of the Lord God.”

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might (Ephesians 6:10).

Bunyan describes the valley as dark and confusing. Christian hears voices whispering blasphemies and temptations, but their source is uncertain. He becomes so confused that he even begins to doubt his own testimony and can’t recognize his own voice. In the Valley of Humiliation the enemy was clear. Apollyon stood against him and Christian stood his ground. But now in this valley the enemy is unclear and clandestine. When Christian searches for his foe, it appears to be within his own mind, maybe even himself. He is perplexed and grieved that he could be thinking such wicked thoughts.

This was Bunyan’s testimony as he sought to follow Christ. He describes his own dark days in his autobiography, Grace Abounding, how he was assaulted by discontent and blasphemous thoughts:

For, about the space of a month after, a very great storm came down upon me, which handled me twenty times worse than all I had met with before; it came stealing upon me, now by one piece, then by another: First, all my comfort was taken from me; then darkness seized upon me; after which, whole floods of blasphemies, both against God, Christ, and the scriptures, were poured upon my spirit, to my great confusion and astonishment. These blasphemous thoughts were such as stirred up questions in me against the very being of God, and of His only beloved Son: As, whether there were in truth, a God or Christ? And whether the Holy Scriptures were not rather a fable, and cunning story, than the holy and pure word of God?
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 96]

Like Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan was fearful and distressed that such terrible thoughts would come from within himself.

Now I thought, surely I am possessed of the devil: at other times, again, I thought I should be bereft of my wits; for instead of lauding and magnifying God the Lord, with others, if I have but heard Him spoken of, presently some most horrible blasphemous thought or other would bolt out of my heart against Him; so that whether I did think that God was, or again did think there was no such thing, no love, nor peace, nor gracious disposition could I feel within me.

These things did sink me into very deep despair; for I concluded that such things could not possibly be found amongst them that loved God. I often, when these temptations had been with force upon me, did compare myself to the case of such a child, whom some gipsy hath by force took up in her arms, and is carrying from friend and country. Kick sometimes I did, and also shriek and cry; but yet I was bound in the wings of the temptation, and the wind would carry me away. I thought also of Saul, and of the evil spirit that did possess him: and did greatly fear that my condition was the same with that of his (1 Samuel 10).
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 101–102]

Bunyan doubted his own faith and mistakenly believed that he was alone in his struggle against sin and the devil.

And now my heart was, at times, exceeding hard; if I would have given a thousand pounds for a tear, I could not shed one: no nor sometimes scarce desire to shed one. I was much dejected, to think that this would be my lot. I saw some could mourn and lament their sin; and others again, could rejoice and bless God for Christ; and others again, could quietly talk of, and with gladness remember the word of God; while I only was in the storm or tempest. This much sunk me, I thought my condition was alone, I should therefore much bewail my hard hap, but get out of, or get rid of these things, I could not.

While this temptation lasted, which was about a year, I could attend upon none of the ordinances of God, but with sore and great affliction. Yea, then I was most distressed with blasphemies. If I had been hearing the word, then uncleanness, blasphemies and despair would hold me a captive there: if I have been reading, then sometimes I had sudden thoughts to question all I read: sometimes again, my mind would be so strangely snatched away, and possessed with other things, that I have neither known, nor regarded, nor remembered so much as the sentence that but now I have read.
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 105–106]

One of Satan’s great ploys is to make us feel unique in our sin and isolated in our suffering. No one can understand what we are facing; no one can possibly bear the sorrows we are carrying; no one can think what we are thinking and be a true follower of Jesus! But God’s Word teaches us otherwise:

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

One of God’s great gifts is to give us brothers and sisters in the faith to walk with us and encourage us. As Christian walks downcast through the valley, he hears ahead of him the voice of another pilgrim quoting the Word of God.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
(Psalm 23:4)

This makes Christian glad for three reasons:

1. He realizes that he is not alone in the valley. Others are facing the same trials and temptations as he, and are trusting in God for help and comfort.

2. He realizes that God is with him and watching over him even though he cannot perceive it. Job says of God:

He does great things past finding out,
Yes, wonders without number.
If He goes by me, I do not see Him;
If He moves past, I do not perceive Him
(Job 9:10–11)

We don’t have to be alert and aware for God to be at work. Even when we are confounded and dismayed, He is still sovereign and in control. Even when we are downcast and uncertain, He remains strong and faithful.

3. Christian realizes that a fellow pilgrim is close by. He can gain the blessing of company and consolation if he can meet up with his brother. Christian calls out to get the other’s attention, but hears no answer. The other pilgrim is yet out of sight and believes himself to be alone in the valley as well.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death teaches us an important lesson about the Christian life. It is possible for believers, who are following the Way and walking according to God’s will, to go through dark and difficult days. They may go through times, even seasons, of severe oppression and trial. The valley can be long. Christian plods on for “several miles” and is disconsolate “for some considerable time.” How are we to follow Christ when the days are dark and we are so confounded and perplexed, we don’t know what to do? In those times we must not look to our own strength and understanding. We must walk as Christian, praying always and pressing on in the strength of the Lord. As we walk by faith, trusting in the promises of God’s Word, we will be encouraged. And though we may not see it, in God’s kindness, our perseverance might be an encouragement to others to press on as well.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2015 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Into the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Now, at the end of this valley was another, called the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and Christian must needs go through it, because the way to the Celestial City lay through the midst of it. Now, this valley is a very solitary place. The prophet Jeremiah thus describes it: “A wilderness, a land of deserts and of pits, a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, a land that no man” (but a Christian) “passed through, and where no man dwelt.”

Now here Christian was worse put to it than in his fight with Apollyon, as by the sequel you shall see.

I saw then in my dream, that when Christian was got to the borders of the Shadow of Death, there met him two men, children of them that brought up an evil report of the good land, making haste to go back; to whom Christian spoke as follows:

Christian: Whither are you going?

Men: They said, Back! back! And we would have you to do so too, if either life or peace is prized by you.

Christian: Why, what’s the matter? said Christian.

Men: Matter! said they; we were going that way as you are going, and went as far as we durst; and indeed we were almost past coming back; for had we gone a little further, we had not been here to bring the news to thee.

Christian: But what have you met with? said Christian.

Men: Why, we were almost in the Valley of the Shadow of Death; but that, by good hap, we looked before us, and saw the danger before we came to it.

Christian: But what have you seen? said Christian.

Men: Seen! Why, the Valley itself, which is as dark as pitch; we also saw there the hobgoblins, satyrs, and dragons of the pit; we heard also in that Valley a continual howling and yelling, as of a people under unutterable misery, who there sat bound in affliction and irons; and over that Valley hangs the discouraging clouds of confusion. Death also doth always spread his wings over it. In a word, it is every whit dreadful, being utterly without order.

Christian: Then, said Christian, I perceive not yet, by what you have said, but that this is my way to the desired haven.

Men: Be it thy way; we will not choose it for ours. So, they parted, and Christian went on his way, but still with his sword drawn in his hand, for fear lest he should be assaulted.

I saw then in my dream, so far as this valley reached, there was on the right hand a very deep ditch; that ditch is it into which the blind have led the blind in all ages, and have both there miserably perished. Again, behold, on the left hand, there was a very dangerous quag, into which, if even a good man falls, he can find no bottom for his foot to stand on. Into that quag King David once did fall, and had no doubt therein been smothered, had not HE that is able plucked him out.

The pathway was here also exceeding narrow, and therefore good Christian was the more put to it; for when he sought, in the dark, to shun the ditch on the one hand, he was ready to tip over into the mire on the other; also when he sought to escape the mire, without great carefulness he would be ready to fall into the ditch. Thus he went on, and I heard him here sigh bitterly; for, besides the dangers mentioned above, the pathway was here so dark, and ofttimes, when he lift up his foot to set forward, he knew not where or upon what he should set it next.

Valley of the Shadow of DeathNo sooner did Christian come out of one difficult valley than he went down into one much worse. In the Valley of Humiliation Christian faced the reality of his own neediness and sinfulness. He confronted the enemy, Apollyon, the accuser of his soul, and he fought valiantly for truth. But now in the Valley of the Shadow of Death the way has become dark and clouded. The enemy is less clear. In the midst of trial and temptation Christian must face his doubts and fears and uncertainties. This second valley represents the struggles and oppression we face in our pilgrimage when we can no longer see clearly the light of the gospel. Truth is shrouded in darkness. Temptation and sin threaten to cast us down.

As Christian crosses the boundary between the valleys, he meets two men whom Bunyan describes as descendents of the ten spies in Numbers 13 who lacked faith and gave a bad report.

And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature” (Numbers 13:32).

Moses had sent twelve to spy out the Promised Land and only Joshua and Caleb had faith that God would conquer the inhabitants and give the land to Israel. The remaining ten were fearful and doubted God’s promise. Their lack of faith infected Israel and for forty years Israel wandered in the wilderness and was prevented from taking possession of the land.

Like the faithless spies, the two men fleeing the valley had turned back in fear and they encourage Christian to do the same. But Christian had learned perseverance on his journey. He saw the lesson in the House of the Interpreter of the Valiant Man determined to gain entrance to the Stately Palace. When he was climbing Hill Difficulty, he met Timorous and Mistrust who were running from the lions. They also encouraged Christian to turn back, yet Christian persevered until he came to Palace Beautiful. Christian understands that if he is to attain eternal life, the way at times will be hard and trying. And now the way has brought Him to the Valley of the Shadow of Death. There is no way around it. “The way to the Celestial City lay through the midst of it” and so “Christian must needs go through it.” There are more lessons for Christian to learn, even as he faces dark and difficult days.

Bunyan describes the valley as “a very solitary place.” Here we feel alone, isolated and even abandoned. No one can possibly understand what we are going through. It seems like God Himself has hidden His face. It is a wilderness full of danger—a place where we are spiritually parched, dry, drained and unsatisfied. Bunyan quotes from Jeremiah’s description of the wilderness where Israel wandered:

Neither did they say, “Where is the LORD,
Who brought us up out of the land of Egypt,
Who led us through the wilderness,
Through a land of deserts and pits,
Through a land of drought and the shadow of death,
Through a land that no one crossed
And where no one dwelt?”
(Jeremiah 2:6)

The path through this valley is narrow. The rocks and cliffs rise up all around blocking out the light. Spurgeon, in his message on Psalm 23:4, offers this description:

Get the idea of a narrow ravine, something like the Gorge of Gondo or some other stern pass upon the higher Alps where the rocks seem piled to Heaven and the sunlight is seen above as through a narrow rift. Troubles are sometimes heaped on one another, pile on pile, and the road is a dreary pass through which the pilgrim, on his journey to Heaven, has to wend his way. Set before your mind’s eye a valley shut in with stupendous rocks that seem to meet overhead, a narrowing pass, dark as midnight itself. Through this valley, or rocky ravine, the heavenly footman has to follow the path appointed for him in the eternal purpose of the Infinite mind. Through such a dreary rift many a child of God is making his way at this moment—and to him I speak (C.H. Spurgeon, “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” a sermon delivered on August 12, 1880, Metropolitan Tabernacle #1595).

It is a place covered in darkness (Job 3:4-5; 10:21-22); a place of misery and danger (Psalm 44:19); a place of bondage and affliction (Psalm 107:10). Bunyan describes some of his own experiences in this valley in Grace Abounding:

Again, as I was at another time very ill and weak, all that time also the tempter did beset me strongly, for I find he is much for assaulting the soul when it begins to approach towards the grave, then is his opportunity, laboring to hide from me my former experience of God’s goodness; also setting before me the terrors of death and the judgment of God, insomuch that at this time, through my fear of miscarrying for ever, should I now die, I was as one dead before death came, and was as if I had felt myself already descending into the pit; methought, I said, there was no way, but to hell I must; but behold, just as I was in the midst of those fears, these words of the angels carrying Lazarus into Abraham’s bosom darted in upon me, as who should say, So it shall be with thee when thou dost leave this world. This did sweetly revive my spirit, and help me to hope in God; which, when I had with comfort mused on a while, that word fell with great weight upon my mind, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1Corinthians 15:55). At this I became both well in body and mind at once, for my sickness did presently vanish, and I walked comfortably in my work for God again.

At another time, though just before I was pretty well and savory in my spirit, yet suddenly there fell upon me a great cloud of darkness, which did so hide from me the things of God and Christ, that I was as if I had never seen or known them in my life; I was also so overrun in my soul, with a senseless, heartless frame of spirit, that I could not feel my soul to move or stir after grace and life by Christ; I was as if my loins were broken, or as if my hands and feet had been tied or bound with chains. At this time also I felt some weakness to seize upon my outward man, which made still the other affliction the more heavy and uncomfortable ‘to me.
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 260–261]

Bunyan notes that the path through the valley is hemmed in by a ditch on one side and a quag on the other. The ditch represents falling into sinful error. We stumble into its deep chasms when we are blind to the truth and believe what is false, when we fail to recognize and acknowledge sin as sin, when underestimate the power of temptation and treat sin lightly and casually. The quag on the opposite side of the path represents our being overtaken by sin and overwhelmed with doubts and fears and guilt. We sink in its mire when we are beaten down by temptations; when we are weighed down with despair and excessive sorrow; when we feel defeated by struggles and laid low by setbacks. When we try to avoid falling into the ditch by exposing our sins with truth, we are in danger of the quag, being overwhelmed with our exceeding sinfulness. When we try to avoid the quag by silencing our sins with hope of forgiveness, we are in danger of the ditch, being careless in our walk and presumptuous in our obedience. The only safe path through this dark valley is Christ. He is the way and the truth and the life. He keeps us from falling to the right or left. In Him we find forgiveness; the Law no more condemns us. And in Him we find strength to walk in newness of life; the Law is our delight.

David once fell into this quag. He prayed in Psalm 69 when his soul was overwhelmed:

Deliver me out of the mire,
And let me not sink;
Let me be delivered from those who hate me,
And out of the deep waters.
Let not the floodwater overflow me,
Nor let the deep swallow me up;
And let not the pit shut its mouth on me.
(Psalm 69:14-15)

And yet David learned to trust and rest in God, even in dark times. He prayed in Psalm 23:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
(Psalm 23:4)

We must learn to have faith as David did. We must readily repent of sin and anchor our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We must receive the guidance and discipline of our kind Shepherd. Our path at times can be dark and uncertain. But it is God’s will and purpose that we walk such paths and learn more deeply to trust Him. Though the way may be clouded and unclear, we must press on to glory. Though we may not be able to see even where our next footstep will land, God is faithful and He will lead us safely home.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Battle with Apollyon

Apollyon: Then Apollyon broke out into a grievous rage, saying, I am an enemy to this Prince; I hate his person, his laws, and people; I am come out on purpose to withstand you.

Christian: Apollyon, beware what you do; for I am in the King’s highway, the way of holiness; therefore take heed to yourself.

Apollyon: Then Apollyon straddled quite over the whole breadth of the way, and said, I am void of fear in this matter: prepare yourself to die; for I swear by my infernal den, that you shall go no further; here will I spill your soul.

And with that he threw a flaming dart at his breast; but Christian had a shield in his hand, with which he caught it, and so prevented the danger of that.

Then did Christian draw, for he saw it was time to bestir him; and Apollyon as fast made at him, throwing darts as thick as hail; by the which, notwithstanding all that Christian could do to avoid it, Apollyon wounded him in his head, his hand, and foot. This made Christian give a little back; Apollyon, therefore, followed his work amain, and Christian again took courage, and resisted as manfully as he could. This sore combat lasted for above half a day, even till Christian was almost quite spent; for you must know that Christian, by reason of his wounds, must needs grow weaker and weaker.

Then Apollyon, espying his opportunity, began to gather up close to Christian, and wrestling with him, gave him a dreadful fall; and with that Christian’s sword flew out of his hand. Then said Apollyon, I am sure of you now. And with that he had almost pressed him to death, so that Christian began to despair of life; but as God would have it, while Apollyon was fetching of his last blow, thereby to make a full end of this good man, Christian nimbly stretched out his hand for his sword, and caught it, saying, “Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; when I fall I shall arise.”

And with that gave him a deadly thrust, which made him give back, as one that had received his mortal wound. Christian perceiving that, made at him again, saying, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us”. And with that Apollyon spread forth his dragon’s wings, and sped him away, that Christian for a season saw him no more.

In this combat no man can imagine, unless he had seen and heard as I did, what yelling and hideous roaring Apollyon made all the time of the fight—he spoke like a dragon; and, on the other side, what sighs and groans burst from Christian’s heart. I never saw him all the while give so much as one pleasant look, till he perceived he had wounded Apollyon with his two-edged sword; then, indeed, he did smile, and look upward; but it was the most dreadful sight that ever I saw.

A more unequal match can hardly be,
CHRISTIAN must fight an Angel; but you see,
The valiant man by handling Sword and Shield,
Doth make him, tho’ a Dragon, quit the field.

So when the battle was over, Christian said, “I will here give thanks to him that delivered me out of the mouth of the lion, to him that did help me against Apollyon.” And so he did, saying—

Great Beelzebub, the captain of this fiend,
Design’d my ruin; therefore to this end
He sent him harness’d out: and he with rage
That hellish was, did fiercely me engage.
But blessed Michael helped me, and I,
By dint of sword, did quickly make him fly.
Therefore to him let me give lasting praise,
And thank and bless his holy name always.

Then there came to him a hand, with some of the leaves of the tree of life, the which Christian took, and applied to the wounds that he had received in the battle, and was healed immediately. He also sat down in that place to eat bread, and to drink of the bottle that was given him a little before; so, being refreshed, he addressed himself to his journey, with his sword drawn in his hand; for he said, I know not but some other enemy may be at hand. But he met with no other affront from Apollyon quite through this valley.

As the confrontation with Apollyon escalates, Christian discovers the dragon’s true intentions. Christian’s humility in owning his sin and confidence in the mercy and kindness of his King sends Apollyon into a fierce rage. Apollyon is an enemy of the King, intent upon destroying all who would look to the King for grace and walk in His Way. Apollyon positions himself directly in the Way and begins his attack.

Christian had been in danger of the fiery darts of the evil one before. Earlier in the story, as he knocked at the Gate, he was only a short distance away from the dark castle of Beelzebub. Goodwill pulled Christian inside the Gate quickly, lest Christian be struck by arrows and die. Now Christian faces the onslaught of the enemy up close.

The first arrow is aimed at Christian’s heart, intent upon casting doubt on Christian’s love for his King. But Christian is now prepared, armed for spiritual warfare during his stay at Palace Beautiful. He wards off the flaming dart with the shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16).
As the barrage continues Christian falls back a little and is wounded in his head, his hand and his foot. The barbs of doubt and fear hurled at Christian injure him and weaken his ability to understand (head), receive and hold (hand), and walk (foot) in the truth.

It is worth noting that these were the wounds Christ received when was crucified in our place. A crown of thorns was placed on His head and a reed in His right hand (Matthew 27:29). His hands and His feet were nailed to the cross.

See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
(from “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Issac Watts)

When our Savior was wounded, bearing the wrath and condemnation of God due our sin, His suffering accomplished our salvation.

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:5)

Battle with ApollyonAs Apollyon sees Christian growing weaker, Bunyan writes: “Apollyon, therefore, followed his work amain” that is, he came at Christian with force and fury. The devil does not relent in his assault on those who would withstand him. There is no mercy or compassion with the devil.

It is when Christian has a dreadful fall and the sword flies out of his hand that Apollyon sees his greatest advantage. We are at our weakest in the spiritual battle when we lose grip on the sword, the Word of God. Only when Christian revives and takes up the two-edged sword again does the tide of the battle turn. The sword is our choice offensive weapon, especially when the battle involves confronting our own sinfulness and pride.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

Christian defeats the dragon when he remembers and stands on the truth of God’s Word. He quotes from Scripture, first from a promise in the Old Testament:

Do not rejoice over me, my enemy;
When I fall, I will arise;
When I sit in darkness,
The LORD will be a light to me.
(Micah 7:8)

And then from the New Testament:

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).

Christian rests his confidence again in the love and mercy of His King. Bunyan then concludes: “And with that Apollyon spread forth his dragon’s wings, and sped him away, that Christian for a season saw him no more.” As the Word of God says:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

Christian was hard-pressed in the Valley of Humiliation. The combat with Apollyon represents some of Bunyan’s own struggles with temptation and pride. Here is a portion of Bunyan’s account in his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners:

And now I found, as I thought, that I loved Christ dearly; oh! methought my soul cleaved unto him, my affections cleaved unto him. I felt love to him as hot as fire; and now, as Job said, I thought I should die in my nest; but I did quickly find that my great love was but little, and that I, who had, as I thought, such burning love to Jesus Christ, could let him go again for a very trifle; God can tell how to abase us, and can hide pride from man. Quickly after this my love was tried to purpose.

For after the Lord had, in this manner, thus graciously delivered me from this great and sore temptation, and had set me down so sweetly in the faith of his holy gospel, and had given me such strong consolation and blessed evidence from heaven touching my interest in his love through Christ; the tempter came upon me again, and that with a more grievous and dreadful temptation than before.

And that was, To sell and part with this most blessed Christ, to exchange him for the things of this life, for anything. The temptation lay upon me for the space of a year, and did follow me so continually that I was not rid of it one day in a month, no, not sometimes one hour in many days together, unless ‘when’ I was asleep.
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 131–133]

The Valley of Humiliation in The Pilgrim’s Progress represents our coming face to face with the reality of our own neediness and sinfulness. We are humbled when we cast down pride and recognize that we are undone before God and bring nothing to the table that would commend us to God. All we have to offer is our own sin and need of grace and mercy. Augustus Toplady expressed it well in the old hymn, “Rock of Ages”

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

In Part 2 of Bunyan’s allegory Great-heart describes the Valley of Humiliation as fruitful, fertile and pleasant. Though it is a place where we are brought to an acute awareness of our sinfulness and unworthiness before God, it is also a place where we learn to rest in His mercy and draw upon His strength and grace. It is when we are humbled before God that we are set in a frame to receive and rejoice in His mercy. We learn in Part 2 that Christian’s battle with Apollyon took place in a narrow passage in the valley just beyond Forgetful Greens. It is when we forget the promises and mercies of God, when pride sweeps over us and swells in us, that we are vulnerable to the assault and ploys of the devil. James tells us:

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

And so he exhorts us in the next verse:

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7).

When the battle is over and Apollyon has fled, Christian expresses his thanksgiving with a song of praise and thanks. He is refreshed and nourished by the provisions given to him at Palace Beautiful—the bread and wine—remembering the Lord Jesus who accomplished his salvation by His shed blood and broken body. Christian’s wounds are healed by the leaves of the tree of life, a reference to the book of Revelation:

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1–2)

The leaves of the tree of life in Revelation represent the spiritual life and peace we enjoy when we are in Christ—trusting in Him, resting in Him, hoping in Him.

Christian’s battle with Apollyon has taught him the value of wielding the Word of God. As he continues on his journey, he does so with sword drawn, ever ready with Scripture close at hand.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Confronted by Apollyon

But now, in this Valley of Humiliation, poor Christian was hard put to it; for he had gone but a little way, before he espied a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him; his name is Apollyon. Then did Christian begin to be afraid, and to cast in his mind whether to go back or to stand his ground. But he considered again that he had no armor for his back; and therefore thought that to turn the back to him might give him the greater advantage with ease to pierce him with his darts.

Therefore he resolved to venture and stand his ground; for, thought he, had I no more in mine eye than the saving of my life, it would be the best way to stand.

So he went on, and Apollyon met him. Now the monster was hideous to behold; he was clothed with scales, like a fish, (and they are his pride,) he had wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke, and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion. When he was come up to Christian, he beheld him with a disdainful countenance, and thus began to question with him.

Apollyon: Whence come you? And whither are you bound?

Christian: I am come from the City of Destruction, which is the place of all evil, and am going to the City of Zion.

Apollyon: By this I perceive you are one of my subjects, for all that country is mine, and I am the prince and god of it. How is it, then, that you have run away from your king? Were it not that I hope you may do me more service, I would strike you now, at one blow, to the ground.

Christian: I was born, indeed, in your dominions, but your service was hard, and your wages such as a man could not live on, “for the wages of sin is death.” Therefore, when I was come to years, I did, as other considerate persons do, look out, if, perhaps, I might mend myself.

Apollyon: There is no prince that will thus lightly lose his subjects, neither will I as yet lose you; but since you complain of your service and wages, be content to go back: what our country will afford, I do here promise to give you.

Christian: But I have let myself to another, even to the King of princes; and how can I, with fairness, go back with you?

Apollyon: You have done in this, according to the proverb, “Changed a bad for a worse”; but it is ordinary for those who have professed themselves his servants, after a while to give him the slip, and return again to me. Do you so too, and all shall be well.

Christian: I have given him my faith, and sworn my allegiance to him; how, then, can I go back from this, and not be hanged as a traitor?

Apollyon: You did the same to me, and yet I am willing to pass by all, if now you will yet turn again and go back.

Christian: What I promised you was in my nonage; and, besides, I count the Prince under whose banner now I stand is able to absolve me; yea, and to pardon also what I did as to my compliance with you; and besides, O you destroying Apollyon! to speak truth, I like his service, his wages, his servants, his government, his company, and country, better than yours; and, therefore, leave off to persuade me further; I am his servant, and I will follow him.

Apollyon: Consider, again, when you are in cool blood, what you are like to meet with in the way that you are going. You know that, for the most part, his servants come to an ill end, because they are transgressors against me and my ways. How many of them have been put to shameful deaths! And, besides, you count his service better than mine, whereas he never came yet from the place where he is to deliver any that served him out of their hands. But as for me, how many times, as all the world very well knows, have I delivered, either by power, or fraud, those that have faithfully served me, from him and his, though taken by them; and so I will deliver you.

Christian: His forbearing at present to deliver them is on purpose to try their love, whether they will cleave to him to the end; and as for the ill end you say they come to, that is most glorious in their account; for, for present deliverance, they do not much expect it, for they stay for their glory, and then they shall have it when their Prince comes in his and the glory of the angels.

Apollyon: You have already been unfaithful in your service to him; and how do you think to receive wages of him?

Christian: Wherein, O Apollyon! have I been unfaithful to him?

Apollyon: You did faint at first setting out, when you were almost choked in the Gulf of Despond. You did attempt wrong ways to be rid of your burden, whereas you should have stayed till your Prince had taken it off. You did sinfully sleep and lose your choice thing. You were, also, almost persuaded to go back at the sight of the lions. And when you talk of your journey, and of what you have heard and seen, you are inwardly desirous of vain-glory in all that you say or do.

Christian: All this is true, and much more which you have left out; but the Prince whom I serve and honor is merciful, and ready to forgive. But, besides, these infirmities possessed me in your country, for there I sucked them in; and I have groaned under them, been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon of my Prince.

Then Apollyon broke out into a grievous rage, saying, I am an enemy to this Prince; I hate his person, his laws, and people; I am come out on purpose to withstand thee.

Christian and ApollyonChristian does not go far in the Valley of Humiliation until he meets with danger. Across the field he sees a frightening monster coming toward him. The name of the “foul fiend” is Apollyon, which means “Destroyer.” Bunyan draws both the name and description of the beast from Scripture. In the book of Revelation Apollyon is a fallen angel who leads a destructive force of demons.

And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon (Revelation 9:11).

Bunyan’s description of Apollyon in the allegory comes from the Job’s account of the monster Leviathan:

His rows of scales are his pride,
Shut up tightly as with a seal;
One is so near another
That no air can come between them;
They are joined one to another,
They stick together and cannot be parted.
His sneezings flash forth light,
And his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning.
Out of his mouth go burning lights;
Sparks of fire shoot out.
Smoke goes out of his nostrils,
As from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
His breath kindles coals,
And a flame goes out of his mouth.
(Job 41:15–21)

And John’s account of the dragon and the beast in Revelation:

So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him (Revelation 12:9).

Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority (Revelation 13:2).

Apollyon represents the Devil and the spiritual forces of evil that oppose God and seek to destroy and diminish God’s work and God’s glory. He has come to confront Christian and turn him away from following Christ. He begins his challenge by asking Christian where he is from and where he is going. Christian tells him that he is from the City of Destruction but on his way to the City of Zion. Apollyon then replies by claiming Christian as one of his subjects and asking him why he is running away from his king.

Apollyon’s reply may not be fully understood in our day, especially in the context of the political framework we have in the United States. Bunyan was born in 1628 during the reign of Charles I. He was later imprisoned (for the first time in 1660) after the monarchy had been restored under Charles II. In Bunyan’s day the subjects of the kingdom were considered the property of the Crown. They were owned by the one who ruled. Because of this it was against the law for a subject to leave the country and travel outside the king’s realm without first petitioning and receiving permission from the king. Today we think nothing of traveling if we so desire. But in Bunyan’s day it was treason to sneak out of the country. So Apollyon, claiming to be a prince and a god, asks why Christian has run from his king.

The dialog that follows is one of the most insightful passages in all of The Pilgrim’s Progress. In it Bunyan offers several lessons on spiritual warfare: both ploys that the devil uses to lure Christians away from following Christ, and ways that Christians can resist and stand against the devil in spiritual warfare.

Note first the schemes that Apollyon uses to attempt to weaken Christian’s resolve and turn him back:

Ploys of the Devil

1. He tries to make sin look promising, prosperous and alluring.

The devil would have us believe that our sins are more pleasurable and desirable than the joys and riches we have in Christ. If Christian goes back, he promises to give him “what our country will afford” as if that can satisfy Christian’s heart. But Christian understands that Apollyon’s service is hard and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Satan is an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14) who can, for a time, make bondage seem like freedom, and ruin feel like happiness. From the beginning he has been a deceiver and a liar (Genesis 3:13; John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 12:9, 20:10). We must be on guard against the deadly error of believing that we can find true satisfaction and contentment in yielding to and living in sin.

2. He points to the apostasy and hypocrisy of others.

Apollyon assures Christian: “But it is ordinary for those who have professed themselves his servants, after a while to give him the slip, and return again to me. Do you so too, and all shall be well.” Here Bunyan uses a play on words. Slip means to fall or lose your balance, but it can also mean to desert or sneak away—to slip out. Christian lost his footing and slipped on the way down into the valley. We learn in Part 2 of the allegory that it was these slips (his struggles with his pride) that caused this confrontation with Apollyon:

Then said Mr. Great-heart, We need not to be so afraid of this Valley, for here is nothing to hurt us, unless we procure it to ourselves. It is true, Christian did here meet with Apollyon, with whom he also had a sore combat; but that fray was the fruit of those slips that he got in his going down the hill; for they that get slips there, must look for combats here. And hence it is, that this Valley has got so hard a name.

Apollyon points to others who have given Christ the slip in an attempt to sway Christian into thinking that he is already on the way to desertion because of his own slips coming down in the Valley. The Devil is “the accuser” (Revelation 12:10) and we must be wary of his schemes to dissuade us from looking to Christ.

3. He points to the trials and hardships of following Christ.

He describes those who have suffered and died for the sake of Christ. To those who walk by sight, it appears that they have been defeated and let down by God. But “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Those who walk by faith are as Christian “pilgrims on the earth” who “desire a better, that is, a heavenly country (Hebrews 11:13–16). Christian does not fall for Apollyon’s false promises of deliverance, but trusts that, no matter how difficult the circumstances may be, no matter how dark the outcome may appear, his King will safely bring him to glory.

4. He points to Christian’s own failings and sin.

Apollyon now makes the attack personal. He begins to accuse Christian of all the ways he has failed to follow his King: when he fell into the Slough of Despond; when he followed the advise of Worldly Wiseman and left the Way to find relief from his burden in the town of Morality; when he fell asleep in the Arbor on Hill Difficulty; and when he lost heart and almost turned back at the sight of the lions at the entrance to House Beautiful. With each reminder of these failing Apollyon attempts to discourage Christian of any hope of reaching his destination.

5. Finally he attacks Christian’s motives for following Christ.

As a final blow to conclude his argument, Apollyon attempts to cast suspicion on the very motive for Christian seeking the City of Zion. He accuses Christian of venturing to Zion for selfish reasons—for vain-glory. Christian is not living to honor and glorify God, but for the hope of reward and pleasure.

So how does Christian resist the Devil and engage in spiritual warfare? Take note of three important lessons:

Resisting the Devil

1. Christian stands his ground.

When Christian first sees the approaching fiend, he resolves to venture forward and stay in the Way. He realizes that he has no armor for his back. If he chooses to forsake the Way and go back, he will make himself even more vulnerable and open to attack. We must learn to stand our ground and stay in the fight against sin and temptation. We must not turn back from following Christ when the Way is hard and standing for truth is difficult. To go back is Destruction and to play into the devil’s hand.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world (1 Peter 5:8–9).

2. Christian speaks most often of his King, not of himself.

Notice in the exchange with Apollyon that Christian does not dwell on his sin or his circumstances or himself. Rather, as Apollyon continues to press him, he over and over again speaks of his King. He tells Apollyon: “But I have let myself to another, even to the King of princes;” “I have given him my faith, and sworn my allegiance to him;” “I count the Prince under whose banner now I stand is able to absolve me;” “I like his service, his wages, his servants, his government, his company, and country;” and “I am his servant, and I will follow him.”

In the midst of temptation, Christian does not set his attention on himself, his foe or his struggle. He sets it firmly on His King. What causes most Christians to stumble in the Valley of Humiliation is pride; they exalt themselves in their thinking rather than Christ. Tom Ascol offers this helpful definition of pride: “What is pride but being full of yourself? It is thinking too much of yourself or thinking of yourself too much” (from a sermon given November 7, 2010 on 1 Corinthians 8:1–3). We can fall into pride when we are overconfident of our own strength and boast in ourselves. Or we can fall into pride when we despair and speak only of our struggles and failures. In both cases we lose sight of Christ and make ourselves spiritually vulnerable. We must learn from Christian’s example to take our eyes (and our conversation) off ourselves and fix them on Christ.

3. Christian owns his sin and rests in mercy of his King.

When Apollyon tries to shame Christian by accusing him of sin and unfaithfulness, notice how Christian responds. He doesn’t try to rationalize his sin. He doesn’t downplay or deny his sin. He doesn’t blame others or make excuses. He confesses, “All this is true and much more that you have left out.” And then he casts himself on the mercy and kindness of his King: “But the Prince whom I serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive.” Christian humbles himself and remembers what God did to rescue him from certain Destruction. The shamefulness of his sins, more numerous than Apollyon can enumerate, had already been put on display—his Savior was nailed to a cross. But at the cross the abundance of God’s mercy was displayed as well—his Savior died in his place that he might know true forgiveness and peace. It is this humbling and liberating truth of the gospel that enables Christian to stand and resist the ploys of the devil. He is a great sinner, but Christ is a greater Savior with grace and mercy in abundance.

Christian’s answer sends Apollyon into a fierce rage. In the next post we will examine the battle that ensues and draw out more lessons on engaging in spiritual warfare.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Into the Valley of Humiliation

Now he bethought himself of setting forward, and they were willing he should. But first, said they, let us go again into the armory. So they did; and when they came there, they harnessed him from head to foot with what was of proof, lest, perhaps, he should meet with assaults in the way. He being, therefore, thus accoutered, walked out with his friends to the gate, and there he asked the Porter if he saw any pilgrims pass by. Then the Porter answered, Yes.

Christian: Pray, did you know him? said he.

Porter: I asked him his name, and he told me it was Faithful.

Oh, said Christian, I know him. He is my townsman, my near neighbor. He comes from the place where I was born. How far do you think he may be before?

Porter: He is got by this time below the hill.

Well, said Christian, good Porter, the Lord be with you, and add to all your blessings much increase, for the kindness that you have shown to me.

Then he began to go forward; but Discretion, Piety, Charity, and Prudence would accompany him down to the foot of the hill. So they went on together, reiterating their former discourses, till they came to go down the hill. Then said Christian: As it was difficult coming up, so, so far as I can see, it is dangerous going down. Yes, said Prudence, so it is, for it is a hard matter for a man to go down into the Valley of Humiliation, as you are doing now, and to catch no slip by the way; therefore, said they, are we come out to accompany you down the hill. So he began to go down, but very warily; yet he caught a slip or two.

Then I saw in my dream that these good companions, when Christian was gone to the bottom of the hill, gave him a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and a cluster of raisins; and then he went on his way.

In this final scene at Palace Beautiful Bunyan highlights another important role of the church in the life of a believer. It is in the house of God that we are equipped and made ready to face the trials and temptations of this life. This world is a spiritual battlefield, and before Christian departs to resume his journey, the family takes him again to the armory to be sure he is properly fit and dressed in the armor of the Lord (Ephesians 6:10-20).

Palace Beautiful has been a high point in Christian’s journey. Here for a time he has found refuge, refreshment and great encouragement. Now he is going down into the Valley of Humiliation. As Christian descends, take note:

1. Christian learns from the Porter of another pilgrim who recently passed by. This traveler spoke with the Porter and told him his name was Faithful. Christian has learned the value of fellowship and walking together in the church. He is encouraged by the news and inquires about Faithful’s whereabouts. Perhaps Faithful is still close enough in the Way for Christian to overtake and join in the journey.

2. As Christian leaves he thanks the Porter (one of several characters in the allegory who represents the work of a pastor) for his kindness in serving him. We should as well take time to thank and pray for our pastors who watch over and care for us.

Valley of Humiliation3. Christian does not go down the hill alone. He is accompanied by some of the family members: Discretion, Piety, Charity and Prudence. As they make the descent, they rehearse and remind Christian of the truth and promises of God’s Word. Bunyan’s point is clear. We need the company and support of God’s people when we go down into spiritual valleys and face times of difficulty and distress. We need their encouragements and admonitions. We need the spiritual qualities of discretion, piety, charity and prudence to guide us and help us make wise choices.

4. Christian is warned to be cautious going down. He notes that it was difficult coming up (he passed through the lions when he gained entrance to the Palace) and it is dangerous going down. This warning may at first seem out of place at this point in the story. After all, Christian has been strengthened and armed for battle. Certainly he is more prepared now than at any point in his journey thus far to face danger. Yet we must take note: Descending is a much harder task than ascending. “Coming down” after times of great spiritual victory and refreshment, when the realities of the world around us rush in and over us, can be surprisingly “dangerous.” Spiritual pride can convince us to presume and spiritual fatigue can cause us to let down our guard. It is at times like these when we are more susceptible to catch a slip or two. William Mason, in his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress, explains:

Thus it is, after a pilgrim has been favored with any special and peculiar blessings, there is danger of his being puffed up by them, and exalted on account of them; so was even holy Paul; therefore, the messenger of Satan was permitted to buffet him (2 Cor. 12:7). In our present mixed state, the Lord knows it would not be best for us always to dwell on the mount of spiritual joy; therefore, for the good of the soul, the flesh must be humbled, and kept low lest spiritual pride prevail. It is hard going down into the Valley of Humiliation, without slipping into murmuring and discontent, and calling in question the dealings of God with us.

These slips can take many forms: fear, doubt, restlessness, grumbling, impatience, self-indulgence, carelessness, to name a few. Later in the allegory, when Christian tells his story to Hopeful, he identifies three villains who tried to cause him to stumble at the entrance to the valley: Faint-Heart, Mistrust and Guilt.

We must be on guard when we look back on spiritual progress and success, lest we fall when we think we should stand. The prophet Elijah was bold on Mount Caramel (1 Kings 18:20-40), at a high point in his stand for truth. But he was running for his life in fear of Jezebel in the following chapter (1 Kings 19:1-3) and crying in lament: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). If we are not careful to keep watch (for ourselves and for others), we can too easily fall prey to doubt and sin. With every advancement Satan would threaten to cast a dark cloud over all the spiritual good and progress we have made. And when we do catch a slip, we must remember the help and mercy of the Lord is always there to lift us up:

Unless the LORD had been my help,
My soul would soon have settled in silence.
If I say, “My foot slips,”
Your mercy, O LORD, will hold me up.
(Psalm 94:17-18)

5. Christian is given provisions for the journey. The family of the Palace provides him with bread, wine and a cluster of raisins. Bunyan alludes here to an account the Old Testament. These were the provisions sent to refresh David and his men when they were in the wilderness.

When David was a little past the top of the mountain, there was Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth, who met him with a couple of saddled donkeys, and on them two hundred loaves of bread, one hundred clusters of raisins, one hundred summer fruits, and a skin of wine. And the king said to Ziba, “What do you mean to do with these?” So Ziba said, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine for those who are faint in the wilderness to drink” (2 Samuel 16:1-2).

These provisions remind us of God’s abundant supply of grace and mercy in Christ. Though Christian has feasted on the rich truth of the gospel at Palace Beautiful, he must now take what he has learned and continue to feed on Christ as he continues in the Way. He will soon be put to the test. He will need to draw on the wisdom he has gained, wield the sword he has been given, and stand firm in the truth he has grasped. In Christ we have all we need to fight the fight of faith and complete the journey.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
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The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.