Humiliation, Apollyon, & the Valley of the Shadow of Death


Our reading picks up with Christian setting out from his stay at the House Beautiful. Discretion, Prudence, Piety, and Charity accompany him down to the foot of the hill, the beginning of the Valley of Humiliation. Here Christian discovered a different kind of difficulty. Scaling the Hill of Difficulty left Christian ascending slowly upon his hands and knees, but descending can be just as perilous as the ascent. Indeed, despite Prudence’s warning and Christian’s wariness, “he caught a slip or two” (59). We should take heed that it is often after a time of rest, peace, and joy that the Tempter strikes hardest, hoping to catch us unprepared. This, of course, is exactly what befell Christian, as Apollyon came to meet him.

Christian’s Battle with Apollyon

The name Apollyon is taken from Revelation 9:11, and it means destroyer. Bunyan clearly intends for this monster assaulting Christian to represent Satan, for the temptation tactics reflect the devil’s real-life strategies. Let us make a couple of general comments.

First, within this battle, we see plainly that Christian’s armor (that he was given at the House Beautiful) was not merely decorative nor a costume. Spurgeon rightly said that “God does not give His people weapons to play with; He does not give them strength to spend on their lusts.”[1] This is a necessary point to make since Paul calls upon all of us to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). Yet with our modern sensibilities, we tend to dismiss that command as purely figurative, at least we do so subconsciously. The armor of God, which is really just another way of explaining how we are to put on Christ is our heavenly protection during this evil day (Ephesians 6:13). Our weapons are mighty because we have a mighty need. We cannot wrestle against “the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places” without such celestial weapons (Ephesians 1:12). Indeed, we should each pray as Spurgeon did: “Lord, if Thou hast given me these goodly weapons, it is sure I shall need them in hard fighting. If I have a feast at Thy table, I will remember that it is but a short walk from the upper chamber to the garden of Gethsemane.”[2]

Second, we should “mark the subtlety of this gradation in temptation. The profits of the world and pleasures of sin are held out as allurements. The apostasy of others suggested. The difficulties, dangers, and sufferings of the Lord’s people, are contrasted with the prosperity of sinners. The recollections of our sins and backslidings, under a profession of religion. The supposition that all our profession is founded in pride and vain-glory. All backed by our own consciences; as if Apollyon straddled quite across the way, and stopped us from going on.”[3]

Indeed, we often think of Satan and the demonic hosts as purely agents of temptation, yet the other branch of his schemes is accusation. He took such a role against Job, confidently asserting that Job would curse God to His face. It is significant that whenever Christian repelled Apollyon’s temptations, he was finally met with accusation before the monster flew upon him in rage. We find a similar picture in Revelation 12:10-12:

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

The accusations of the Accuser have been silenced. Regardless of how accurately he recounts our sins back to us, we conquer by the blood of the Lamb that has cleansed away all of our sins. We answer as Christian did: “All this is true, and much more, which thou hast left out; but the Prince whom I serve and honour, is merciful and ready to forgive” (62).

Third, while I have never had a verbal conversation with demonic tempter like Christian does here, there is great help in reflecting upon Bunyan’s allegory. In general, demonic temptation is far more subtle than Christian’s face-to-face confrontation here (think Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood). Nevertheless, Bunyan’s allegory helps us to visualize the dramatic nature of our temptations, helping to break us out of the distracted stupor that is so to our enemy’s advantage.

Of course, we would be remiss to leave out Christian’s victory via the sword of the Spirit, God’s Word. Just as Jesus modeled for us in His own temptation in the wilderness, our response to the fiery darts of the evil one should be to hold up the shield of faith and drive him back by clinging to the promises of Scripture. But I have already said more on both subjects elsewhere.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Yet Christian’s triumph over Apollyon is brief, for he continues onward into the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Here his path passes through deep, deep darkness, so that Christian could not see where he was placing his feet and on either side of the path lay a Ditch and Mire. To make matters worse, the mouth of Hell was also there, spewing flame and smoke and hideous noises so that Christian took up his other weapon: All Prayer.

The phrase “all we can do is pray” is often both over-used and poorly-used. Too frequently, it presents prayer as a last resort, a final lifeline; whereas, Scripture calls us to pray at all times and without ceasing. Yet for all the misuse, there truly are times when all we can do is pray, and that is what Bunyan is presenting here. He is not suggesting that prayer should be saved for the last minute when all other options have been exhausted; instead, he is showing that there are indeed moments when the darkness is so deep and the shrieks of hell seem so near that we can do nothing else but cry out to God for deliverance. We cry with David: “Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters” (Psalm 69:14).

Even as the fiends of hell draw away from Christian, another trial comes upon him, a Wicked One who whispers blasphemies in his ears as if they were coming from Christian’s own mind. We read that “this put Christian more to it than any thing that he met 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 those Blasphemies came” (70).

This episode is again modeled after Bunyan himself who had such blasphemous thoughts whispered to him for over a year. For any who have not undergone such an experience, the attack is just as horrifying and tormenting as Bunyan describes both here and in his autobiographical testimony, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. Bunyan’s only consolation during this time was his own revulsion against such wicked thoughts.[4] To peel back the onion of my own pilgrimage a bit further, these thoughts were very often the source of my tearful pleas for forgiveness until sleep overtook me.

The voice declaring Psalm 23:4 was an encouragement to Christian for three reasons: first, he knew there were other pilgrims in the valley as well; second, if God was with them in the darkness, He could be with Christian as well; and third, he thought that he might be able to catch up to the other pilgrim. Remember that we conquer the dragon by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. We should never minimize the encouragement that another Christian can offer us, especially within the valley. “The experience of other saints is very encouraging; for the soul finds that others have gone before him in dreadful, dark, and dreary paths.”[5]

The second half of the Valley was far more dangerous than the first, yet Christian was able to navigate through the perils because the light of day had dawned. It seems to be generally true that the light of God’s joy often shines again in the midst of our trials, permitting us to walk more securely even if the circumstances actually grow acutely worse. One writer also notes:

I would not be too confident, but I apprehend that by this second part of the valley we are taught that believers are not most in danger when under the deepest distress; that the snares and devices of the enemy are so many and various, through the several stages of our pilgrimage, as to baffle all description; and that all the emblems of these valleys could not represent the thousandth part of them. Were it not that the Lord guides his people by the light of his Word and Spirit, they never could possibly escape them.[6]

Pope & Pagan

Leaving the Valley, Christian finds the mangled bodies and bones of many pilgrims who went before him. While searching for the great danger that caused such death, he looks upon two giants within a cave, one named Pope and the other named Pagan. Bunyan’s description of this pair is quite interesting:

But by this place Christian went without much danger, whereas 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.

73

Bunyan certainly had great reason for such an optimistic outlook. Widespread paganism seemed to be long-dead in the West by 1600s in which Bunyan lived. Indeed, anything other than Christendom was unthinkable at that point. And while Catholicism still had its hold in England, that grip appeared to be slipping. Charles II, the monarch who ruled for most of Bunyan’s adult life, was a closet Catholic who was allegedly baptized into the Catholic Church on his deathbed. Yet he was a far cry from Mary I, rightly known as Bloody Mary, who did indeed put many Protestants to death during her reign. Thus, from Bunyan’s own day, he appeared to be correct.

Today, however, these twin giants appear to be stirring, though neither in the West yet has the strength to devour Christians as they once did. As far as Pope is concerned, the Catholic Church in the West appears to be subtly growing in devotion, even as many nominal Catholics cease their religious charade. Anecdotally, it seems that many Catholics today have a reverence for the office of the Pope while only somewhat tolerating the person. Thus, while the giant may still be alive today and perhaps a bit strengthened, I pray that it remains too frail to persecute Protestants as it once gladly did.

As for Pagan, I have already written much on how our society’s insistence on secularism is actually leading to neopaganism or a re-paganization of the culture. Indeed, in nearly every instance, the current ‘progressive’ vision for the West is actually a slight revision of the pre-medieval, pagan West (i.e., Rome and Greece). For instance, the present shrieking of progressives in support of unlimited abortion is not a new concept. Of course, technology has now enabled us to kill our infants with greater precision than in the ancient world, but the Romans were more than comfortable disposing of any baby that was unwanted. And this is to say nothing of their sexual ethics. Indeed, if anything, it would appear that our society is on track merely to progress further into the pit of paganism than the ancients ever did.

Thankfully, giant Pagan has yet to gain the strength to kill pilgrims as it once did, but given the present trajectory, I would not be surprised if Pagan grew strong once more, even if only for a short time. And being so near death has surely made him hungry.

Even if that is so, let be comforted that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). And let us draw courage from our brothers and sisters who went before us and loved not their lives unto death, for they testify rightly that the blood of Lamb will surely triumph over the wrath of the dragon.


[1] Charles Spurgeon, Pictures from the Pilgrim’s Progress, 83.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 112.

[4] See The Works of John Bunyan Vol I, 17-19.

[5] The Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 115.

[6] The Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 116.


The page numbers refer to the Banner of Truth hardcover, which can be found here.

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