A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress

 

Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress

by Ken Puls

Battle with Apollyon

52. 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.

 

Notes and Commentary

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)

As 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.

Continue reading 53. Into the Valley of the Shadow of Death
Return to 51. Confronted by Apollyon

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The text for The Pilgrim's Progress
and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
"A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress"
was originally published from January 1993 to December 1997
in "The Voice of Heritage," a monthly newsletter
of Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from
the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
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