Tag Archives: Spiritual Warfare

Protection on the King’s Highway

Besides, their king is at their whistle. He is never out of hearing; and if at any time they be put to the worst, he, if possible, comes in to help them; and of him it is said, “The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon; he esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make him flee; sling stones are turned with him into stubble. Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.” What can a man do in this case? It is true, if a man could, at every turn, have Job’s horse, and had skill and courage to ride him, he might do notable things; for “his neck is clothed with thunder, he will not be afraid of the grasshopper; the glory of his nostrils is terrible: he paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength, he goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted, neither turneth he back from the sword. The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear, and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage, neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha! and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.”

But for such footmen as you and I are, let us never desire to meet with an enemy, nor vaunt as if we could do better, when we hear of others that they have been foiled, Nor be tickled at the thoughts of our own manhood; for such commonly come by the worst when tried. Witness Peter, of whom I made mention before. He would swagger, ay, he would; he would, as his vain mind prompted him to say, do better, and stand more for his Master than all men; but who so foiled, and run down by these villains, as he?

When, therefore, we hear that such robberies are done on the King’s highway, two things become us to do:

  1. To go out harnessed, and to be sure to take a shield with us; for it was for want of that, that he that laid so lustily at Leviathan could not make him yield; for, indeed, if that be wanting, he fears us not at all. Therefore, he that had skill hath said, “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”
  2. It is good, also, that we desire of the King a convoy, yea, that he will go with us himself. This made David rejoice when in the Valley of the Shadow of Death; and Moses was rather for dying where he stood, than to go one step without his God. Oh, my brother, if he will but go along with us, what need we be afraid of ten thousands that shall set themselves against us? But, without him, “the proud helpers fall under the slain.”

I, for my part, have been in the fray before now; and though, through the goodness of him that is best, I am, as you see, alive, yet I cannot boast of my manhood. Glad shall I be, if I meet with no more such brunts; though I fear we are not got beyond all danger. However, since the lion and the bear have not as yet devoured me, I hope God will also deliver us from the next uncircumcised Philistine. Then sang Christian—

Poor Little-faith! Hast been among the thieves?
Wast robb’d? Remember this, whoso believes,
And gets more faith, shall then a victor be
Over ten thousand, else scarce over three.

Great-Heart 

The cruel assault of Little-faith is a reminder to Christian and Hopeful that their journey is still fraught with danger. The Way to the Celestial City is beset with trials and haunted by foes. Faint-heart, Mistrust and Guilt are bad enough, but their king is much worse. As Christian experienced in the Valley of Humiliation, Apollyon, the devil, who “is at their whistle,” is prowling about, ready to come and press the battle. Christian compares the might of Apollyon to the sea serpent Leviathan described in the book of Job.

Though the sword reaches him, it cannot avail;
Nor does spear, dart, or javelin.
He regards iron as straw,
And bronze as rotten wood.
The arrow cannot make him flee;
Slingstones become like stubble to him.
Darts are regarded as straw;
He laughs at the threat of javelins.
(Job 41:26–29)

In light of the overwhelming strength of the enemy, Christian muses: “What can a man do in this case?” What if he had great advantage going into the battle: a sturdy horse, courage, and skill to ride? Christian continues to quote from the book of Job where God describes a horse fit for war:

“Have you given the horse strength?
Have you clothed his neck with thunder?
Can you frighten him like a locust?
His majestic snorting strikes terror.
He paws in the valley, and rejoices in his strength;
He gallops into the clash of arms.
He mocks at fear, and is not frightened;
Nor does he turn back from the sword.
The quiver rattles against him,
The glittering spear and javelin.
He devours the distance with fierceness and rage;
Nor does he come to a halt because the trumpet has sounded.
At the blast of the trumpet he says, ‘Aha!’
He smells the battle from afar,
The thunder of captains and shouting.”
(Job 39:19–25)

Even with such an advantage we dare not regard the battle lightly. We should not think we would fare better in such combat. We must not scoff when we hear of others who have fallen in combat.

This is a lesson we must heed whenever we face trial and temptation. At this point in the allegory Bunyan directs his words to seasoned pilgrims, those who have walked long with the Lord. Though we have gained a measure of spiritual maturity, we must never presume that we are beyond the appeal and lure of temptation. Even Peter, on the night Jesus was betrayed, gave into fear and denied Him three times (Matthew 26:33–35).

We might think, “I’m spiritually fit. I read my Bible. I attend a good church. I teach Sunday School. I have friends who pray for me and encourage me. Certainly, I could face a little temptation and be able to brush it aside. I would never fall. I can keep sin in check without becoming ensnared.” But Christian warns us: Don’t desire it! Don’t try it! Sin and temptation are never to be trifled with.

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 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 10:12–13).

Though Christian has faced and defeated Apollyon earlier in the story, he does not here boast in his efforts or regard himself as a champion. He humbly refers to himself and Hopeful as footmen, simple soldiers serving alongside others in submission to their commander. He confesses that he would be glad never again to feel the brunt of sin’s assault.

If we are to guard ourselves from temptation and sin, we must do two things:

1) Be prepared for spiritual warfare by putting on the armor of God

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:11).

We must especially take the shield of faith:

above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Ephesians 6:16).

2) Never travel alone

Our desire must be to walk alongside our brothers and sisters in the faith in the convoy provided by the King—the church. In the company of others, we can serve and strengthen those around us. When we grow weary and stumble, others around us can serve and strengthen us. Our relationships can be a significant means of grace that God uses to keep us on the path and carry us along until we are home with Him in glory.

This is Bunyan’s emphasis in Part II of The Pilgrim’s Progress. When the pilgrims prepared to leave the Interpreter’s House and travel to House Beautiful, the Interpreter sends them on their way together and appoints for them a guide, Great-heart. The guide represents a faithful pastor who will care for their souls and guide them in truth.

The Interpreter then called for a man-servant of His, one Great-heart, and bid him take sword, and helmet, and shield; and take these My daughters, said He, and conduct them to the house called Beautiful, at which place they will rest next.  So he took his weapons and went before them; and the Interpreter said, God speed.

Our desire must also be to walk always in the presence of the Lord. Christian adds, “yea, that he will go with us himself.” This is David’s testimony:

I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O Lord;
Save me, O my God!
For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone;
You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.
Salvation belongs to the Lord.
Your blessing is upon Your people.
Selah
(Psalm 3:5–8)

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?
When the wicked came against me
To eat up my flesh,
My enemies and foes,
They stumbled and fell.
Though an army may encamp against me,
My heart shall not fear;
Though war may rise against me,
In this I will be confident.
(Psalm 27:1–3)

And Moses’ testimony:

Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth” (Exodus 33:15–16).

Without God we will fall:

Without Me they shall bow down among the prisoners,
And they shall fall among the slain.”
For all this His anger is not turned away,
But His hand is stretched out still.
(Isaiah 10:4)

We must not hold ourselves in high regard in the face of temptation. We must not look to skill, or experience, or the mantle of church leadership to prop us up. The only strength that will survive the day comes from Christ. We cannot stand unless we stand in Him.

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will remember the name of the Lord our God.
(Psalm 20:7)

And in Him we will surely stand.

The labor hard before us,
The battle rages long.
Alone we cannot bear it;
Our foes are much too strong.
But God has chosen weakness,
The feeble and the frail.
He lifts us up in power
To conquer and prevail.

(from the hymn “Fragile Jars of Clay”)

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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Great-Grace, the King’s Champion

Hopeful: But, Christian, these three fellows, I am persuaded in my heart, are but a company of cowards; would they have run else, think you, as they did, at the noise of one that was coming on the road? Why did not Little-faith pluck up a greater heart? He might, methinks, have stood one brush with them, and have yielded when there had been no remedy.

Christian: That they are cowards, many have said, but few have found it so in the time of trial. As for a great heart, Little-faith had none; and I perceive by you, my brother, had you been the man concerned, you are but for a brush, and then to yield.

And, verily, since this is the height of your stomach, now they are at a distance from us, should they appear to you as they did to him they might put you to second thoughts.

But, consider again, they are but journeymen thieves, they serve under the king of the bottomless pit, who, if need be, will come into their aid himself, and his voice is as the roaring of a lion. I myself have been engaged as this Little-faith was, and I found it a terrible thing. These three villains set upon me, and I beginning, like a Christian, to resist, they gave but a call, and in came their master. I would, as the saying is, have given my life for a penny, but that, as God would have it, I was clothed with armor of proof. Ay, and yet, though I was so harnessed, I found it hard work to quit myself like a man. No man can tell what in that combat attends us, but he that hath been in the battle himself.

Hopeful: Well, but they ran, you see, when they did but suppose that one Great-grace was in the way.

Christian: True, they have often fled, both they and their master, when Great-grace hath but appeared; and no marvel; for he is the King’s champion. But, I think, you will put some difference between Little-faith and the King’s champion. All the King’s subjects are not his champions, nor can they, when tried, do such feats of war as he. Is it meet to think that a little child should handle Goliath as David did? Or that there should be the strength of an ox in a wren? Some are strong, some are weak; some have great faith, some have little. This man was one of the weak, and therefore he went to the wall.

Hopeful: I would it had been Great-grace for their sakes.

Christian: If it had been, he might have had his hands full; for I must tell you, that though Great-grace is excellent good at his weapons, and has, and can, so long as he keeps them at sword’s point, do well enough with them; yet, if they get within him, even Faint-heart, Mistrust, or the other, it shall go hard but they will throw up his heels. And when a man is down, you know, what can he do?

Whoso looks well upon Great-grace’s face, shall see those scars and cuts there, that shall easily give demonstration of what I say. Yea, once I heard that he should say, (and that when he was in the combat), “We despaired even of life.” How did these sturdy rogues and their fellows make David groan, mourn, and roar? Yea, Heman, and Hezekiah, too, though champions in their day, were forced to bestir them, when by these assaulted; and yet, notwithstanding, they had their coats soundly brushed by them. Peter, upon a time, would go try what he could do; but though some do say of him that he is the prince of the apostles, they handled him so, that they made him at last afraid of a sorry girl. 

Great-Grace

Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress includes many contrasts. Christian escapes the City of Destruction (this fallen, sinful world) to journey to the Celestial City (the glories of heaven). Along the way he receives good counsel (Evangelist) and bad counsel (Worldly Wiseman). Bunyan distinguishes true converts (Christian, Faithful, Hopeful, Little-faith) from false converts (Simple, Sloth, Presumption, Formalist, Hypocrisy, By-ends, Turn-away, Ignorance).

Now, in contrast to Little-faith, we hear of another true and valiant pilgrim—Great-grace. The villains who robbed Little-faith fled in fear when they thought Great-grace might be nearby. Great-grace is the King’s champion. He is courageous, fit for battle, and adept at wielding the sword. He represents a vigilant believer or faithful pastor who is strong in faith, seasoned in spiritual warfare, and sympathetic to the needs of fellow Christians. He is one whom others can turn to in times of trial for godly counsel and encouragement. He knows the Word of God and is diligent in prayer. His strength is not in himself and his boast is not in his own works (Ephesians 2:8–9), but he lives to serve and glorify His King.

Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us,
But to Your name give glory,
Because of Your mercy,
Because of Your truth.
(Psalm 115:1)

He is clothed in the “whole armor of the Lord” and he stands in the strength of the Lord (Ephesians 6:10–20). He is “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). William Mason explains:

Now here you see what is meant by Great-grace, who is so often mentioned in this book, and by whom so many valiant things were done. We read, “With great power the apostles gave witness of the resurrection of Jesus.” Why was it? Because “great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). So you see all is of grace, from first to last, in salvation. If we do great things for Christ, yet, not unto us, but unto the great grace of our Lord, be all the glory.

The contrast between Great-grace and Little-faith highlights a significant truth. Not everyone is strong in faith. Not everyone has a “great heart.” We all have differing measures of spiritual strength and maturity. Christian tells Hopeful: “All the King’s subjects are not his champions, nor can they, when tried, do such feats of war as he. … Some are strong, some are weak; some have great faith, some have little.”

Hopeful wonders why Little-faith was not more courageous. Why did he not put forth more effort to stand? But Christian understands the true intensity of Little-faith’s trial. Hopeful is evaluating temptation from a distance, but Christian has experienced it close up. Little-faith was attacked by “journeymen thieves,” but Christian faced their master, who prowls about like a roaring lion:

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).

When Christian faced Apollyon in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, he had the advantage of being dressed in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10–20). He had been to House Beautiful, the church, and was strengthened by the preaching of the gospel. Even so, he found the battle to be arduous and his foe to be fierce.

Like Hopeful, we tend to underestimate the power of sin and treat it too lightly. Sin is a much more formidable foe when it is close and threatening. Seen from a distance it appears less intimidating. We gauge its strength across a wide field of battle and wonder: How could this be a struggle? I can handle this! Yet when the assault comes, the line is broken, and the enemy breaks through our defenses, the conflict can leave us beaten, battered and bruised, as it did Little-faith.

Even those who are great in grace are not immune to the scourge of battle. Great-grace bears the scars and cuts of combat on his face. Even he can be beaten down for a time. He must be alert and keep watch, for himself as well as for others in the Way. He must keep his weapons “at sword’s point” (unsheathed, in hand, and engaged in battle).

All of the King’s champions have faced times of trial. Peter was a target of the enemy (Luke 22:31) and was brought down by fear, even fear of a servant girl who recognized him and called him out (Luke 22:54–62). Paul was “burdened beyond measure” and “despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8). He regarded himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). David was weighed down by his iniquities (Psalm 38:4–6). He confessed “my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3). Heman the Ezrahite cried out: “my soul is full of troubles” and “I am like a man who has no strength, adrift among the dead” (Psalm 88:3–5). Hezekiah was “sick and near death” and he “wept bitterly” (Isaiah 38:1–3).

If we see such bruises and scars on our champions, how much more seriously should we regard our fight against sin? We need to guard our hearts.  We need to take up—

the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 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 6:16–18).

This is a battle we can only win with our Bibles open (“at sword’s point”) and the promises of the gospel ringing in our hearts and minds.

The battle is hard because it is not a fight we can wage from a distance. It is not a fight we can wage on our own. The battleground is our own hearts and minds. Our fight is against sin and weakness within ourselves. Again William Mason explains:

Who can stand in the evil day of temptation, when beset with Faint-heart, Mistrust, and Guilt, backed by the power of their master, Satan? No one, unless armed with the whole armor of God; and even then, the power of such infernal foes makes it a hard fight to the Christian. But this is our glory, the Lord shall fight for us, and we shall hold our peace. We shall be silent as to ascribing any glory to ourselves, knowing our very enemies are part of ourselves, and that we are more than conquerors over all these (only) through HIM who loved us (Rom. 8:37).

Christ alone is our victory. We need His great grace if we are to prevail. He alone has power to conquer and defeat sin and death.

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:56–58).

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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

How Little-Faith Was Robbed

Then said Christian to his fellow, Now I call to remembrance, that which was told me of a thing that happened to a good man hereabout. The name of the man was Little-faith, but a good man, and he dwelt in the town of Sincere. The thing was this at the entering in at this passage, there comes down from Broad-way Gate, a lane called Dead Man’s Lane; so called because of the murders that are commonly done there; and this Little-faith going on pilgrimage, as we do now, chanced to sit down there, and slept. Now there happened, at that time, to come down the lane, from Broad-way Gate, three sturdy rogues, and their names were Faint-heart, Mistrust, and Guilt, (three brothers), and they espying Little-faith, where he was, came galloping up with speed. Now the good man was just awake from his sleep, and was getting up to go on his journey. So they came up all to him, and with threatening language bid him stand. At this Little-faith looked as white as a clout, and had neither power to fight nor fly. Then said Faint-heart, Deliver thy purse. But he making no haste to do it (for he was loath to lose his money), Mistrust ran up to him, and thrusting his hand into his pocket, pulled out thence a bag of silver. Then he cried out, Thieves! Thieves! With that Guilt, with a great club that was in his hand, struck Little-faith on the head, and with that blow felled him flat to the ground, where he lay bleeding as one that would bleed to death. All this while the thieves stood by. But, at last, they hearing that some were upon the road, and fearing lest it should be one Great-grace, that dwells in the city of Good-confidence, they betook themselves to their heels, and left this good man to shift for himself. Now, after a while, Little-faith came to himself, and getting up, made shift to scrabble on his way. This was the story.

Little-faith is robbed

While Christian and Hopeful reflect on the tragic end of Turn-away, Christian remembers an account of another pilgrim. Not far from where the pilgrims now stand, a man, whose name is Little-faith from the town of Sincere, was assaulted and robbed.

Little-faith represents those who are weak in faith and spiritually unprepared to face the trials and temptations of this world. He follows Christ, but lacks courage, confidence and comfort. In Lectures on The Pilgrim’s Progress, G.B. Cheeverdescribes such pilgrims as those who “go doubting and trembling through life.” Jesus often admonished his followers for having little faith:

Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:30)

Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm (Matthew 8:25–26).

And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him [Peter], and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased (Matthew 14:31–32).

Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? (Matthew 16:5–8)

Unlike Turn-away, Little-faith is a true believer. His testimony is genuine (sincere) and his faith is real. He is an honest pilgrim and has gained the reputation of being “a good man.” But he has failed to prepare his soul for spiritual warfare and fit himself for battle.

Paul exhorts us to “watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). In Ephesians 6:10 he says: “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” This Little-faith has not done. He has been content to rely on his own goodness more than Christ. He has treated sin far too lightly and allowed himself to walk too closely to the way of the world. Now as he looks for a place to rest on his journey, he lies down to sleep not in the Chamber of Peace (a place of rest and confidence in Christ) at Palace Beautiful where Christian found refuge, but in Dead Man’s lane (a place of danger and temptation to sin).

Scripture warns of the danger of straying into the path of sinners:

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1:6)

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

We must be careful in the paths we choose. Jesus spoke of only two ways in life:

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13–14).

Dead Man’s Lane is a treacherous path that connects the Broad Way (the way of the world that leads back to the city from which Christian fled—Destruction) with the Narrow Way (the way of Christ and the Scriptures that leads to the Celestial City—Heaven). It begins at the Broad Way Gate (the wide entrance through which all who embrace the way of world pass) and meets the Narrow Way at the entrance to the dark lane (a dark stretch of the Way where the light of Scripture has grown dim).

Here at this dangerous intersection with the world, Little-faith fell asleep. He unwisely let down his guard and made himself vulnerable.  Soon he is attacked by three villains who come down from the Broad Way Gate: Faint-heart, Mistrust and Guilt. The attack is an insightful description of what happens when a believer gives into temptation and falls prey to sin.

The “three study rogues” come “galloping up with speed” and catch Little-faith off-guard. Before he has time to collect his thoughts or rouse his conscience, temptation is staring him down. The thieves threaten his life and Little-faith turns “white as a clout.” Little-faith’s fear identifies him as an easy target—a clout is a piece of white cloth used by archers for target practice (Webster Dictionary, 1828). Faint-heart (timidity) demands that he surrender his purse. Little-faith is slow to respond, but he loses his courage and offers little resistance. Mistrust (doubt and unbelief) sees an opportunity and rushes in to snatch a bag of silver from Little-faith’s pocket. The theft represents the loss Little-faith experiences when he gives into sin. No sooner does he cry out against his assailants than Guilt (shame and dishonor) moves in and beats him with a club—a club is similar to the one that Christian and Hopeful felt at the hands of Giant Despair in Doubling Castle.

Little-faith stumbles with each criminal. He is timid with Faint-heart, unbelieving with Mistrust, and ashamed with Guilt. William Mason summarizes:

Where there is a faint heart in God’s cause, and mistrust of God’s truths, there will be guilt in the conscience, and but little faith. These rogues will prevail over, and rob such souls of the comforts of God’s love and of Christ’s salvation.

Christian already had an encounter with a character named Mistrust. Earlier in the story, near the top of Hill Difficulty, Timorous (akin to Faint-heart) and Mistrust ran past Christian, fleeing the lions that prowl near the entrance to Palace Beautiful. The lions represented persecution of believers by the government and the state church. Many in Bunyan’s day were tempted to cower to political and ecclesiastical pressure. Bunyan had seen other ministers lose heart and deny the true gospel.  When Bunyan was in prison, facing the threat of hanging for being a Non-conformist, he feared that he would have little faith and fall to this temptation. He explains in his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners:

I will tell you a pretty business; I was once above all the rest in a very sad and low condition for many weeks; at which time also I being but a young prisoner, and not acquainted with the laws, had this lay much upon my spirit, That my imprisonment might end at the gallows for aught that I could tell. Now, therefore, Satan laid hard at me to beat me out of heart, by suggesting thus unto me, But how if when you come indeed to die, you should be in this condition; that is, as not to savor the things of God, nor to have any evidence upon your soul for a better state hereafter? For indeed at that time all the things of God were hid from my soul.

Wherefore, when I at first began to think of this, it was a great trouble to me; for I thought with myself, that in the condition I now was in, I was not fit to die, neither indeed did think I could, if I should be called to it: besides, I thought with myself, if I should make a scrabbling shift to clamber up the ladder, yet I should either with quaking, or other symptoms of faintings, give occasion to the enemy to reproach the way of God and his people, for their timorousness. This therefore lay with great trouble upon me, for methought I was ashamed to die with a pale face, and tottering knees, for such a cause as this.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 333-334]

Once Little-faith was robbed and beaten, the thieves did not stay long. They feared that other pilgrims would be traveling the Way, especially Great-grace from the town of Good Conscience (a pastor or fellow believer who is strong in faith). One of the best defenses God has given us as followers of Christ is our local church (Palace Beautiful) with its faithful leaders and brothers and sisters in Christ who will help us keep watch over our soul. It was a great disadvantage to Little-faith that he was traveling alone.

Little-faith is now left wounded and weakened. His purse has been plundered. Bunyan uses language from his autobiography when he tells us that Little-faith “made shift to scrabble on his way.” To shift means to change position or method when an initial attempt fails, especially in search of a way out of a difficult circumstance. To scrabble is to scrape along slowly on hands and knees as if climbing a cliff (Webster Dictionary, 1828). Little-faith is still intent on continuing his journey, but his progress now is more difficult. In the next post we will consider what exactly Little-faith lost.

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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Fragile Jars of Clay

Treasure in Jars of Clay

This past week I enjoyed attending and leading the music at the Southern Baptist Founders Conference Southwest at Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas. While at the conference I had the opportunity to finish writing a hymn. The idea for the hymn came earlier this year in a sermon series through the book of 2 Corinthians entitled “Gospel Power in Human Weakness” preached by Dr. Tom Ascol at Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Florida.

As the church we are called to go and proclaim to the world the hope we have in Jesus. But we live in a world of darkness, blind and in bondage to sin. We face powerful foes and seemingly overwhelming odds against us. How can we press on in ministry and mission?

Paul offers encouragement and an answer to that question:

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus ‘sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2 Corinthians 4:5-7).

Though we are weak and frail—fragile jars of clay, God has placed in us the treasure of the gospel that He might display His sovereign, “surpassing power” to save.

Fragile Jars of Clay

1. A mission lies before us
To go and to proclaim
The hope we have in Jesus,
The glory of His name
The faint and weak He’s chosen
His power to display
By placing gospel treasure
In fragile jars of clay.

2. With such a task before us,
How can we stand and fight
Against the powers of evil
That rage at all that’s right?
God strengthens us with armor;
Calls us to wield His Word.
We boldly preach His gospel;
The outcome is assured.

3. So great the work before us
To shine the gospel light
Into a world in darkness,
Unto the dead of night.
But God has saving power
To give the blind their sight,
For He dispels the darkness
And says, “Let there be light!”

4. The labor hard before us,
The battle rages long.
Alone we cannot bear it;
Our foes are much too strong.
But God has chosen weakness,
The feeble and the frail.
He lifts us up in power
To conquer and prevail.

5. This mission now before us,
We gladly will obey,
Though we be unassuming,
Frail, fragile jars of clay.
For great the precious treasure
Our God has placed within,
His pow’r alone can save us,
The battle He must win.

Words ©2016 Ken Puls
Download a lyric sheet and free sheet music for this hymn, including an arrangement of the tune LLANGLOFFAN for classical guitar.

The Battleground of the Mind

Bible on Table

It is essential that we give attention to the mind and fortify our thoughts with God’s Word—continually keeping Christ and His gospel foremost in our thinking, so we can recognize evil—to stand against it when needed; to flee from it when needed—and so we can know the truth and embrace it and set the course of our life by it.

It is God’s will that we engage our minds in the spiritual battle and arm ourselves with knowledge and obedience to His Word. There is not one thought that crosses our minds that we can allow to go unchallenged. Paul reminds us:

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled (2 Corinthians 10:4–6).

We must bring the thoughts and imaginations of our mind before the rule of Scripture—setting them under its light and submit them to God’s revealed and holy will.

Why is the mind such a prize for Satan? Why is it such a battlefield for the soul? It is a prize because it is God’s. God has made us to be vessels, to be reflectors. He created us to reflect His glory—to ponder His attributes and perfection and wonder at His holiness and moral excellence. He made it to absorb and delight in truth and righteousness.

Paul tells us in Romans 8:29 that God foreknew and predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son. It is our hope one day to be like Christ. We read in 1 John 3:

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2–3).

It is by God’s design that we are made impressionable. He describes Himself as the Potter and us as the clay. He is the One who has given us the capacity to learn and grasp and know. According to Genesis 1:26 we were made to bear God’s image. Part of being made in the image of God is our ability to know Him and love Him and serve Him with our minds. His has given us a measure of some of His attributes—an ability to understand, to create, to be just, to show mercy, to love, to be truthful and faithful…

We are created to bear His image and to reflect a measure His glory. But sin has marred that image and dulled that reflection. And so instead of displaying His praise, we are twisted out of shape and bent by the evil that is in us and around us. Instead of delighting in truth, we exchange truth for a lie and squander our thoughts in paths that are empty and godless. We must be concerned with the mind, because we need guidance, direction, prodding and shaping to be made into the person God desires us to be.

We are in a battle for the truth. All of us will conform to something—we will be shaped. Satan’s goal is to deceive us and destroy us by marring that shape with evil. The world is attempting to shape us—intimidate us, allure us or shame us into conformity. Our flesh is weak and ready to give in and drift with the flow. But God desires us to stand firm and resist and fight. And to do so we must engage our minds.

[This excerpt is from a sermon entitled “Renewing the Mind in Worship” in the series Thoughts on Worship. You can read the full sermon text here.]

See more Sermons and Articles by Ken Puls

Now May the God of Peace

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23, ESV).

A Prayer of sanctification that God would deepen our repentance and strengthen our faith in the daily battle against remaining sin.

Lord, I desire Your will
My heart yearns to obey
Though daily I am faced with sin
Enticing me away

So, help me rise each day
Battle and war with sin
Until I see You face to face
And final vict’ry win

Lord, You have so designed
Sin to remain in me
That as I struggle, watch and pray
I learn humility

So, help me to obey
Holiness to pursue
Deepen repentance when I fail
Strengthen my faith in You

I rest within the hope
Your Spirit dwells in me
Completing that which was begun
So holy I may be

Now may the God of Peace
Sanctify me wholly
And keep me blameless ’til the day
Christ comes in victory

Words ©1992, 2015 Kenneth A Puls

Read more about how this hymn came to be written and download free sheet music (PDF), including chord charts for acoustic guitar, an arrangement of the tune for Classical Guitar, and an arrangement of the tune for Instrumental Ensemble.

—Ken Puls

Run in with Adam the First

Christian: Did you meet with no other assault as you came?

Faithful: When I came to the foot of the hill called Difficulty, I met with a very aged man, who asked me what I was, and whither bound. I told him that I am a pilgrim, going to the Celestial City. Then said the old man, You look like an honest fellow; would you be content to dwell with me for the wages that I shall give you? Then I asked him his name, and where he dwelt. He said his name was Adam the First, and that he dwelt in the town of Deceit. I asked him then what was his work, and what the wages he would give. He told me that his work was many delights; and his wages that I should be his heir at last. I further asked him what house he kept, and what other servants he had. So he told me that his house was maintained with all the dainties in the world; and that his servants were those of his own begetting. Then I asked if he had any children. He said that he had but three daughters: The Lust of the Flesh, The Lust of the Eyes, and The Pride of Life, and that I should marry them all if I would. Then I asked how long time he would have me live with him? And he told me, As long as he lived himself.

Christian: Well, and what conclusion came the old man and you to at last?

Faithful: Why, at first, I found myself somewhat inclinable to go with the man, for I thought he spoke very fair; but looking in his forehead, as I talked with him, I saw there written, “Put off the old man with his deeds.”

Christian: And how then?

Faithful: Then it came burning hot into my mind, whatever he said, and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house, he would sell me for a slave. So I bid him forbear to talk, for I would not come near the door of his house. Then he reviled me, and told me that he would send such a one after me, that should make my way bitter to my soul. So I turned to go away from him; but just as I turned myself to go thence, I felt him take hold of my flesh, and give me such a deadly twitch back, that I thought he had pulled part of me after himself. This made me cry, “O wretched man!” So I went on my way up the hill.

Faithful and Adam the FirstChristian is eager to hear more about how Faithful has faired in his journey. As the two converse Faithful begins to recount his troubles at Hill Difficulty. Christian was familiar with this Hill. He had encountered it earlier in the story and had struggled to reach its summit. When Faithful arrived at the foot of the Hill, he met a very aged man named Adam the First. The old man at first attempted to lure Faithful to his home. He promised to make Faithful his heir and claimed that his house was “maintained with all the dainties in the world.” But when Faithful saw through the ruse and resisted the invitation, the old man lashed out and abused and attacked him.

Who then is Adam the First and why is he at Hill Difficulty?

Adam is of course a reference to the first man created by God (Genesis 2:20; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45). He stands at the head of creation as the representative of mankind. Hill Difficulty, as we saw earlier in Bunyan’s story, denotes the trials and difficulties we must face in this life. These trials and difficulties are designed to make us keenly aware of our need for God’s strength and help. They are also meant by God’s kind providence for our good. By confronting them we are tried (as gold is tried in a furnace to remove the dross) and sanctified (taught not to sin and made holy).

Faithful’s encounter with Adam the First at Hill Difficulty highlights an important reality. One of the greatest difficulties we must face in our pursuit of holiness is the treachery of our own sinfulness. The most dangerous sin that threatens us is not what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside.

Adam the First represents our struggle with our old nature that has been corrupted by sin. Though we are saved by grace, sin still indwells us. Though we are rescued from sin’s dominion and penalty, we still feel some of its power and presence. What often makes sin so difficult to recognize and resist is that it wells up from within us.

Adam the First is from the town of Deceit. Sin is deceitful (Romans 7:11); its pleasures are fleeting (Hebrews 11:25). Sin can never deliver the satisfaction it promises. It lures us with delight, but its wages is death (Romans 6:23). It boasts to empower us, but intends to enslave us (Romans 6:6, 17).

Faithful is almost enticed to go with Adam the First, but then he sees him for who he is—a cheat and a liar. He recognizes sin through the lens of Scripture, remembering Paul’s instruction to turn away from our former way of life and put off the old man:

But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:20–24).

The Bible warns as well not to be taken in by the “three daughters” of the old man:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15–17).

As Faithful learns, resisting the old man is hard. Fighting the sin inside us can feel like we are being torn apart. In Romans 7 Paul describes his own struggle with remaining sin. He laments:

For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:22–24)

Paul asks an important question at the end of verse 24. Who is able to deliver him? The answer is in the following verses:

I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 7:25 – 8:1).

Only Christ can free us from the power and penalty of sin. He alone can bring life and lasting joy.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

Christ did what Adam the First could not do. It was through Adam’s fall that sin entered the world. In his failure to obey he brought condemnation on all men and left us an inheritance of a sinful nature. Because of Adam we are born sinners, born blind and dead in sin.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12).

But Christ by His perfect obedience saves by His grace all who come and trust in Him. His inheritance for His people is righteousness and life.

For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous (Romans 5:17–19).

It is Christ alone who can rescue us from sin. We must learn to love Him and value Him more than anything this world can offer us. We must recognize sin for what it is—deceitful and deadly—and flee from it. Sin will lie to us; Christ speaks truth. Sin will destroy us; Christ brings us life.

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.