Valiant-for-truth, Enchanted Ground, & Death

After last reading of the pilgrims’ assault and triumph over Giant Despair and of their coming to the Delectable Mountains and what the Shepherds there revealed to them, we come now to the end of their journey and to the end of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. In these final pages, the company meets two more worthy pilgrims, Mr. Valiant-for-truth and Mr. Steadfast. They also pass through the Enchanted Ground into Beulah Land, where Christiana and many others are summoned to cross the River Death into the Celestial City.

Leaving the Shepherds, the company continued upon the King’s path and soon came to the place where Little-faith was robbed back in the First Part. Yet here they found a beaten and bloodied man with his sword in his hand. His name was Valiant-for-truth, and he was assaulted upon the road by three robbers, Wild-head, Inconsiderate, and Pragmatick. After telling Valiant-for-truth to join them, turn back, or die, the pilgrim drew his sword and fought with them for three hours. Indeed, he told the company that the robbers had only just fled, likely at the sound of their coming. Of the three robbers, one writer notes:

From the names given to these opposers, they appear to represent certain wild enthusiasts who intrude themselves in the way of professors, to perplex their minds, and persuade them that, unless they adopt their reveries or superstition, they cannot be saved. An ungovernable imagination, a mind incapable, of sober reflection, and a dogmatizing spirit, characterize these enemies of the truth; they assault religious persons with specious reasonings, caviling objections, confident assertions, bitter reproaches, proud boastings, sarcastic censures, and rash judgments. They endeavor to draw them to their party, or drive them from attending to religion at all. But the Word of God, used with fervent, persevering prayer, will silence such dangerous assailants, and confirm others also.[1]

Indeed, though Valiant-for-truth was outnumbered three to one, he is right to say that “little and more are nothing to him that has the Truth on his side” (349). With God’s Word as his sword, Valiant-for-truth was able to stand his ground, violent though the battle was. Let us very much learn from this man’s example. Although all around us, truth seems to be always thrown to the ground. Yes, even the very idea of truth itself is greatly despised. Yet truth must and shall remain steadfast, for God’s Word is truth, and though heaven and earth will pass away, His Word will never pass away. There is great need, therefore, for many who are valiant for truth, who will cling to God’s Word when assaulted by the lies of the world.

After learning of Valiant-for-truth’s battle, Great-heart and Honest proceed to ask him about his pilgrimage. Here we learn that it was largely the testimony of Christian’s journey (told to him by a man named Mr. Tell-true). But while Valiant-for-truth set his face toward the Celestial City, his parents would not go with him but tried to dissuade him from going. On pages 353-354, he recounts their warnings. From a literary standpoint, Bunyan uses this almost as an opportunity for the reader to reflect back upon the many dangers that we have read about throughout both parts of the book. Theologically, we should note that most of their warnings are true (Christian being drowned in the River is the most notable exception), and so it very well may often be. The dangers of following Christ are indeed multitude. After all, to follow Christ means shouldering our own cross. Therefore, Valiant-for-truth believed the good news that was declared to him and pressed forward.

Next, we read that the pilgrims entered the Enchanted Ground. Seeing the danger of this place, all the men drew their swords, and Great-heart led them on, while Valiant-for-truth guarded their rear. Note also that Great-heart kept Feeble-mind close to him and Valiant-for-truth did the same with Mr. Despondency. Thus, again we see the gentle and tender strength that marked Christ and ought to be the mark of His ministers.

Although the allure of the Enchanted Ground seems to be fiercer for Christiana’s company than it was for Christian and Hopeful, the danger is still the same: to fall asleep and never wake up. That is the enchantment of worldliness. It lulls pilgrims to sleep, and even if they still talk in their sleep like Heedless and Too-bold, they will not wake up. One writer exhorts older pilgrims explicitly here, saying:

Old pilgrims, ye who have set out well, and gone on well for a long season, consider ye are yet in the world, which is enchanted ground. Know your danger of seeking rest here, or of sleeping in any of its enchanting arbours. Though the flesh may be weary, the spirit faint, and the arbours inviting, yet beware. Press on. Look to the Strong for strength; and to the Beloved for rest in his way.[2]

When thinking of the allure of worldliness as an enchantment to sleep, my mind goes to one of my favorite writings of C. S. Lewis, his lecture called “The Weight of Glory.” In that talk Lewis speaks of our desire for something beyond this world, a desire which the greatest pleasures in the world “are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” Lewis then asks:

Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.[3]

Indeed, only the gospel is powerful enough to break the enchantment of the world, for it is the gōd spel, the good news.

After coming out of the Enchanted Ground, the company came upon another pilgrim on his knees in prayer, and Honest soon recognized him as Mr. Steadfast. He was in prayer because of his recent encounter with a witch named Madam Bubble, who was responsible for enchanting the ground with her sorceries. She offered to Steadfast “her body, her purse, and her bed” (362). Yet he remained resolute and eventually fell upon his knees in prayer for deliverance.

Madam Bubble is another allegory for worldliness, which is clear since she is the one who created the Enchanted Ground. Bunyan clearly modelled her description after the Adulteress in Proverbs 5-7. Those chapters are an extended warning of the dangers of adultery, and Bunyan uses that very imagery to portray the seduction of the world has toward Christians. Like Steadfast, may we turn to the Lord in prayer to guard us from the fleeting yet alluring pleasures of this world.

Next, the pilgrims came to Beulah, where Christiana, then Ready-to-halt, Feeble-mind, Despondency and Much-afraid, Honest, Valiant-for-truth, and Steadfast were all summoned by the King to cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. These pages read much like how the death of a Christian ought to be: bitter-sweet. There is certainly a bitterness there to begin with, but the end is sweet. Each of the accounts follows the same pattern. A messenger brings the summons with a sign of its truthfulness, goodbyes are said, and then the last words are recorded as each pilgrim enters the River.

Although each pilgrim is summoned to cross the River, each sign given is from Ecclesiastes 12:2-7, which is the Preacher’s poetic description of old age. Thus, it seems that Bunyan is wanting us to see old age as just such a messenger of our crossing to come that would prepare as these pilgrims do.

Bunyan also displays wonderfully to us the joy that each pilgrim enters as he or she leaves behind their weaknesses and troubles forever. Just as Spurgeon commenced our study of this book, I will also allow him to have the final word:

Oh, it is wonderful how these pilgrims do when they come to die! They may tremble while they live; but they do not tremble when they die. The weakest of them become the strongest then. I have helped many pilgrims on the way, and among them some Mr Feeble-minds and Mr Fearings, and a very great worry have they been to me while on the road; but, at the last, either the river has been empty, and they have gone over dry-shod, or else, when they have come to the very depths of it, they have played the man so well, that I have been astounded. I never imagined that they could have been so brave. They have stumbled at a straw before; but in death they have climbed mountains. They have been the most weak, timid, sparrow-like people that you could meet with; and now they take to themselves eagle’s wings wherewith to fly away.

Wherefore I counsel you, go to the graves of your loved ones with songs of gladness. Stand there, and if you drop a tear, let the smile of your gratitude to God light it up, and transform it into a gem; and then go home, each one of you, and wait trustfully until your own change comes.[4]

[1] The Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 232.

[2] The Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 236.

[3] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 31.

[4] Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. Pictures from Pilgrim’s Progress (p. 151). Counted Faithful. Kindle Edition.

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

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