Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress
by Ken Puls
51. Confronted by Apollyon
But now, in this Valley of Humiliation, poor Christian was hard put to it; for he had gone but a little way, before he espied a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him; his name is Apollyon. Then did Christian begin to be afraid, and to cast in his mind whether to go back or to stand his ground. But he considered again that he had no armor for his back; and therefore thought that to turn the back to him might give him the greater advantage with ease to pierce him with his darts.
Therefore he resolved to venture and stand his ground; for, thought he, had I no more in mine eye than the saving of my life, it would be the best way to stand.
So he went on, and Apollyon met him. Now the monster was hideous to behold; he was clothed with scales, like a fish, (and they are his pride,) he had wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke, and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion. When he was come up to Christian, he beheld him with a disdainful countenance, and thus began to question with him.
Apollyon: Whence come you? And whither are you bound?
Christian: I am come from the City of Destruction, which is the place of all evil, and am going to the City of Zion.
Apollyon: By this I perceive you are one of my subjects, for all that country is mine, and I am the prince and god of it. How is it, then, that you have run away from your king? Were it not that I hope you may do me more service, I would strike you now, at one blow, to the ground.
Christian: I was born, indeed, in your dominions, but your service was hard, and your wages such as a man could not live on, "for the wages of sin is death." Therefore, when I was come to years, I did, as other considerate persons do, look out, if, perhaps, I might mend myself.
Apollyon: There is no prince that will thus lightly lose his subjects, neither will I as yet lose you; but since you complain of your service and wages, be content to go back: what our country will afford, I do here promise to give you.
Christian: But I have let myself to another, even to the King of princes; and how can I, with fairness, go back with you?
Apollyon: You have done in this, according to the proverb, "Changed a bad for a worse"; but it is ordinary for those who have professed themselves his servants, after a while to give him the slip, and return again to me. Do you so too, and all shall be well.
Christian: I have given him my faith, and sworn my allegiance to him; how, then, can I go back from this, and not be hanged as a traitor?
Apollyon: You did the same to me, and yet I am willing to pass by all, if now you will yet turn again and go back.
Christian: What I promised you was in my nonage; and, besides, I count the Prince under whose banner now I stand is able to absolve me; yea, and to pardon also what I did as to my compliance with you; and besides, O you destroying Apollyon! to speak truth, I like his service, his wages, his servants, his government, his company, and country, better than yours; and, therefore, leave off to persuade me further; I am his servant, and I will follow him.
Apollyon: Consider, again, when you are in cool blood, what you are like to meet with in the way that you are going. You know that, for the most part, his servants come to an ill end, because they are transgressors against me and my ways. How many of them have been put to shameful deaths! And, besides, you count his service better than mine, whereas he never came yet from the place where he is to deliver any that served him out of their hands. But as for me, how many times, as all the world very well knows, have I delivered, either by power, or fraud, those that have faithfully served me, from him and his, though taken by them; and so I will deliver you.
Christian: His forbearing at present to deliver them is on purpose to try their love, whether they will cleave to him to the end; and as for the ill end you say they come to, that is most glorious in their account; for, for present deliverance, they do not much expect it, for they stay for their glory, and then they shall have it when their Prince comes in his and the glory of the angels.
Apollyon: You have already been unfaithful in your service to him; and how do you think to receive wages of him?
Christian: Wherein, O Apollyon! have I been unfaithful to him?
Apollyon: You did faint at first setting out, when you were almost choked in the Gulf of Despond. You did attempt wrong ways to be rid of your burden, whereas you should have stayed till your Prince had taken it off. You did sinfully sleep and lose your choice thing. You were, also, almost persuaded to go back at the sight of the lions. And when you talk of your journey, and of what you have heard and seen, you are inwardly desirous of vain-glory in all that you say or do.
Christian: All this is true, and much more which you have left out; but the Prince whom I serve and honor is merciful, and ready to forgive. But, besides, these infirmities possessed me in your country, for there I sucked them in; and I have groaned under them, been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon of my Prince.
Then Apollyon broke out into a grievous rage, saying, I am an enemy to this Prince; I hate his person, his laws, and people; I am come out on purpose to withstand thee.
Notes and Commentary
Christian does not go far in the Valley of Humiliation until he meets with danger. Across the field he sees a frightening monster coming toward him. The name of the "foul fiend" is Apollyon, which means "Destroyer." Bunyan draws both the name and description of the beast from Scripture. In the book of Revelation Apollyon is a fallen angel who leads a destructive force of demons.
And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon (Revelation 9:11).
Bunyan's description of Apollyon in the allegory comes from the Job's account of the monster Leviathan:
His rows of scales are his pride,
Shut up tightly as with a seal;
One is so near another
That no air can come between them;
They are joined one to another,
They stick together and cannot be parted.
His sneezings flash forth light,
And his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning.
Out of his mouth go burning lights;
Sparks of fire shoot out.
Smoke goes out of his nostrils,
As from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
His breath kindles coals,
And a flame goes out of his mouth.
And John's account of the dragon and the beast in Revelation:
So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him (Revelation 12:9).
Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority (Revelation 13:2).
Apollyon represents the Devil and the spiritual forces of evil that oppose God and seek to destroy and diminish God's work and God's glory. He has come to confront Christian and turn him away from following Christ. He begins his challenge by asking Christian where he is from and where he is going. Christian tells him that he is from the City of Destruction but on his way to the City of Zion. Apollyon then replies by claiming Christian as one of his subjects and asking him why he is running away from his king.
Apollyon's reply may not be fully understood in our day, especially in the context of the political framework we have in the United States. Bunyan was born in 1628 during the reign of Charles I. He was later imprisoned (for the first time in 1660) after the monarchy had been restored under Charles II. In Bunyan's day the subjects of the kingdom were considered the property of the Crown. They were owned by the one who ruled. Because of this it was against the law for a subject to leave the country and travel outside the king's realm without first petitioning and receiving permission from the king. Today we think nothing of traveling if we so desire. But in Bunyan's day it was treason to sneak out of the country. So Apollyon, claiming to be a prince and a god, asks why Christian has run from his king.
The dialog that follows is one of the most insightful passages in all of The Pilgrim's Progress. In it Bunyan offers several lessons on spiritual warfare: both ploys that the devil uses to lure Christians away from following Christ, and ways that Christians can resist and stand against the devil in spiritual warfare.
Note first the schemes that Apollyon uses to attempt to weaken Christian's resolve and turn him back:
Ploys of the Devil
1. He tries to make sin look promising, prosperous and alluring.
The devil would have us believe that our sins are more pleasurable and desirable than the joys and riches we have in Christ. If Christian goes back, he promises to give him "what our country will afford" as if that can satisfy Christian's heart. But Christian understands that Apollyon's service is hard and "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). Satan is an "angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14) who can, for a time, make bondage seem like freedom, and ruin feel like happiness. From the beginning he has been a deceiver and a liar (Genesis 3:13; John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 12:9, 20:10). We must be on guard against the deadly error of believing that we can find true satisfaction and contentment in yielding to and living in sin.
2. He points to the apostasy and hypocrisy of others.
Apollyon assures Christian: "But it is ordinary for those who have professed themselves his servants, after a while to give him the slip, and return again to me. Do you so too, and all shall be well." Here Bunyan uses a play on words. Slip means to fall or lose your balance, but it can also mean to desert or sneak away—to slip out. Christian lost his footing and slipped on the way down into the valley. We learn in Part 2 of the allegory that it was these slips (his struggles with his pride) that caused this confrontation with Apollyon:
Then said Mr. Great-heart, We need not to be so afraid of this Valley, for here is nothing to hurt us, unless we procure it to ourselves. It is true, Christian did here meet with Apollyon, with whom he also had a sore combat; but that fray was the fruit of those slips that he got in his going down the hill; for they that get slips there, must look for combats here. And hence it is, that this Valley has got so hard a name.
Apollyon points to others who have given Christ the slip in an attempt to sway Christian into thinking that he is already on the way to desertion because of his own slips coming down in the Valley. The Devil is "the accuser" (Revelation 12:10) and we must be wary of his schemes to dissuade us from looking to Christ.
3. He points to the trials and hardships of following Christ.
He describes those who have suffered and died for the sake of Christ. To those who walk by sight, it appears that they have been defeated and let down by God. But "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Those who walk by faith are as Christian "pilgrims on the earth" who "desire a better, that is, a heavenly country (Hebrews 11:13–16). Christian does not fall for Apollyon's false promises of deliverance, but trusts that, no matter how difficult the circumstances may be, no matter how dark the outcome may appear, his King will safely bring him to glory.
4. He points to Christian's own failings and sin.
Apollyon now makes the attack personal. He begins to accuse Christian of all the ways he has failed to follow his King: when he fell into the Slough of Despond; when he followed the advise of Worldly Wiseman and left the Way to find relief from his burden in the town of Morality; when he fell asleep in the Arbor on Hill Difficulty; and when he lost heart and almost turned back at the sight of the lions at the entrance to House Beautiful. With each reminder of these failing Apollyon attempts to discourage Christian of any hope of reaching his destination.
5. Finally he attacks Christian's motives for following Christ.
As a final blow to conclude his argument, Apollyon attempts to cast suspicion on the very motive for Christian seeking the City of Zion. He accuses Christian of venturing to Zion for selfish reasons—for vain-glory. Christian is not living to honor and glorify God, but for the hope of reward and pleasure.
So how does Christian resist the Devil and engage in spiritual warfare? Take note of three important lessons:
Resisting the Devil
1. Christian stands his ground.
When Christian first sees the approaching fiend, he resolves to venture forward and stay in the Way. He realizes that he has no armor for his back. If he chooses to forsake the Way and go back, he will make himself even more vulnerable and open to attack. We must learn to stand our ground and stay in the fight against sin and temptation. We must not turn back from following Christ when the Way is hard and standing for truth is difficult. To go back is Destruction and to play into the devil's hand.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world (1 Peter 5:8–9).
2. Christian speaks most often of his King, not of himself.
Notice in the exchange with Apollyon that Christian does not dwell on his sin or his circumstances or himself. Rather, as Apollyon continues to press him, he over and over again speaks of his King. He tells Apollyon: "But I have let myself to another, even to the King of princes;" "I have given him my faith, and sworn my allegiance to him;" "I count the Prince under whose banner now I stand is able to absolve me;" "I like his service, his wages, his servants, his government, his company, and country;" and "I am his servant, and I will follow him."
In the midst of temptation, Christian does not set his attention on himself, his foe or his struggle. He sets it firmly on His King. What causes most Christians to stumble in the Valley of Humiliation is pride; they exalt themselves in their thinking rather than Christ. Tom Ascol offers this helpful definition of pride: "What is pride but being full of yourself? It is thinking too much of yourself or thinking of yourself too much" (from a sermon given November 7, 2010 on 1 Corinthians 8:1–3). We can fall into pride when we are overconfident of our own strength and boast in ourselves. Or we can fall into pride when we despair and speak only of our struggles and failures. In both cases we lose sight of Christ and make ourselves spiritually vulnerable. We must learn from Christian's example to take our eyes (and our conversation) off ourselves and fix them on Christ.
3. Christian owns his sin and rests in mercy of his King.
When Apollyon tries to shame Christian by accusing him of sin and unfaithfulness, notice how Christian responds. He doesn't try to rationalize his sin. He doesn't downplay or deny his sin. He doesn't blame others or make excuses. He confesses, "All this is true and much more that you have left out." And then he casts himself on the mercy and kindness of his King: "But the Prince whom I serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive." Christian humbles himself and remembers what God did to rescue him from certain Destruction. The shamefulness of his sins, more numerous than Apollyon can enumerate, had already been put on display—his Savior was nailed to a cross. But at the cross the abundance of God's mercy was displayed as well—his Savior died in his place that he might know true forgiveness and peace. It is this humbling and liberating truth of the gospel that enables Christian to stand and resist the ploys of the devil. He is a great sinner, but Christ is a greater Savior with grace and mercy in abundance.
Christian's answer sends Apollyon into a fierce rage. In the next post we will examine the battle that ensues and draw out more lessons on engaging in spiritual warfare.
Continue reading 52. Battle with Apollyon
Return to 50. Into the Valley of Humiliation
Read and Follow "A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress" on the blog: Confronted by Apollyon