Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress
by Ken Puls
56. Pope and Pagan
In this light, therefore, he came to the end of the valley. Now I saw in my dream, that at the end of this valley lay blood, bones, ashes, and mangled bodies of men, even of pilgrims that had gone this way formerly; and while I was musing what should be the reason, I espied a little before me a cave, where two giants, POPE and PAGAN, dwelt in old time; by whose power and tyranny the men whose bones, blood, and ashes, &c., lay there, were cruelly put to death. But by this place Christian went without much danger, whereat I somewhat wondered; but I have learnt since, that PAGAN has been dead many a day; and as for the other, though he be yet alive, he is, by reason of age, and also of the many shrewd brushes that he met with in his younger days, grown so crazy and stiff in his joints, that he can now do little more than sit in his cave's mouth, grinning at pilgrims as they go by, and biting his nails because he cannot come at them.
So I saw that Christian went on his way; yet, at the sight of the Old Man that sat in the mouth of the cave, he could not tell what to think, especially because he spoke to him, though he could not go after him, saying, "You will never mend till more of you be burned." But he held his peace, and set a good face on it, and so went by and caught no hurt. Then sang Christian:
O world of wonders! (I can say no less),
That I should be preserved in that distress
That I have met with here! O blessed be
That hand that from it hath deliver'd me!
Dangers in darkness, devils, hell, and sin
Did compass me, while I this vale was in:
Yea, snares, and pits, and traps, and nets, did lie
My path about, that worthless, silly I
Might have been catch'd, entangled, and cast down;
But since I live, let JESUS wear the crown.
Notes and Commentary
Near the end of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Christian sees strewn across the Way "blood, bones, ashes, and mangled bodies of men, even pilgrims that had gone this way formerly." This horrific scene is the testimony of the persecuted church, those who have endured pain and trial for their faith in Christ and their stand for truth. The writer of Hebrews reminds us of those who have suffered and gained "a good testimony through faith."
And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 11:32 – 12:2),
The testimony of faithful believers is an encouragement for us to press on and keep our eyes fixed upon Christ. Bunyan was aware of the cost of following Christ. He was imprisoned for his faith, even as he was writing The Pilgrim's Progress. His faith encouraged others, and he drew encouragement from those who had suffered before him. During his imprisonment at Bedford, his two possessions were his Bible and a copy of Foxe's Book of Martyrs.
As Christian wonders at the ghastly sight before him, he sees a cave nearby. The cave represents the religious situation in England in Bunyan's day and is home to some of the giants who menace pilgrims who seek the Celestial City. There are seven giants mentioned in The Pilgrim's Progress (both Part 1 and Part 2) and each represents a great danger to believers. [*]
The first dweller in the cave was Pagan. England was formally a place of paganism with no light of the Gospel. Then Pope moved in and eventually Pagan died out. Giant Pope represents the Roman Catholic Church that sent missionaries to England and converted the land to its traditions. Both of these giants have been responsible for persecuting pilgrims and sending many to their death.
In Bunyan's day, following the Protestant Reformation, with the rise of the Commonwealth and influence of the Puritans in England, the Roman Church had grown weak. Christian sees old Giant Pope sitting near the mouth of the cave taunting him as he goes past, but unable to cause him any harm. Though once powerful and formidable, the giant is now weak and feeble.
In Part 2 Pope no longer inhabits the cave and another giant, named Maul, has taken his place. Maul represents Anglicanism. He has a club that represents political power—power granted to the Church of England by the monarchy. With the club he gives blows to those who will not conform to his ways. Those blows took the form of laws passed between 1661 and 1671 in England designed to legalize persecution and suppress all meetings for non-conformists. Maul is defeated in Part 2 by Great Heart (an allusion to the Declaration of Liberty in 1672 and Act of Toleration in 1689).
Christian's progress even in the face of giants is a reminder of God's ultimate power and sovereignty over all our trials. God's plan and purposes are always good, and they include every trial as well as every triumph. It is through trials that our faith is strengthened and our deliverance is made sweet. The Valley of the Shadow of Death was dark and difficult, yet Christian learned to trust God more fully and now leaves the valley with praises and singing. May God grant us such grace that we would learn to trust and praise Him in and through every trial.
* The seven giants in Bunyan's allegory are Pagan, Pope and Maul (these three made their home in the cave), Despair and his wife Diffidence (whom Christian will encounter later in Part 1 at Doubting Castle), Slay-good (who terrorizes the land near the Inn of Gaius in Part 2), and Grim or Bloody-man (who lurks near Palace Beautiful in Part 2).
Continue Reading 57. A Little Ascent
Return to 55. The Light of Day
Read and Follow "A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress" on the blog: Pope and Pagan