“Now Christian bethought himself of setting forward, and they were willing he should. ‘But first,’ said they, ‘let us go again into the armory.’ So they did, and when he came there, they harnessed him from head to foot with what was of proof, lest perhaps he should meet with assaults in the way.”\par JOHN BUNYAN, with great wisdom, puts the Palace Beautiful first, and then no sooner does Christian get out of the Palace gates than he begins to descend into the Valley of Humiliation. They had given him a sword, and a shield, and a helmet. He had never had those before. Now that he had his sword, he found that he had to use it against Apollyon; now that he had his shield, he had to hold it up to catch the fiery dart; now that he had received the weapon of “All prayer,” he found that he had need of it as he walked through that desperate place, the Valley of the Shadow of Death. God does not give His people weapons to play with; He does not give them strength to spend on their lusts. Lord, if Thou hast given me these goodly weapons, it is sure I shall need them in hard fighting. If I have had a feast at Thy table, I will remember that it is but a short walk from the upper chamber to the garden of Gethsemane. Daniel, the man greatly beloved, was reduced very low. “All his comeliness was turned into corruption and he retained no strength,” when God shewed him “the great vision.” Thus, too, with favored John. He must be banished to Patmos; in the deep solitude of that Aegean sea-girt island he must receive “the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto him.” I have noticed, in the ordinary scenes of Christian experience, that our greatest joys come just after some of our sorest trials. When the howling tempest has played out its strength, it soothes itself to sleep. Then comes a season of calm and quiet, so profound in its stillness, that only the monstrous tempest could have been the mother of so mighty a calm. So seems it with us. Deep waves of trial, high mountains of joy. But the reverse is almost as often true; from Pisgah’s top we pass to our graves; from the top of Carmel we have to go down to the dens of lions, and to fight with the leopards. Let us be on our watch-tower, lest like Manoah, having seen the angel of God, the next thing should be that we say we shall surely die, for we have seen the Lord. “Then he began to go forward; but Discretion, Piety, Charity, and Prudence would accompany him down to the foot of the hill. So they went on together reiterating their former discourses, till they came to go down the hill. Then said Christian, ‘As it was difficult coming up, so, so far as I can see, it is dangerous going down.’ ‘Yes,’ said Prudence, ‘so it is: for it is a hard matter for a man to go down into the Valley of Humiliation, as thou art now, and to catch no slip by the way;’ ‘therefore,’ said they, ‘are we come out to accompany thee down the hill.’ So he began to go down, but very warily: yet he caught a slip or two.”
Satan does not often attack a Christian who is living near to God. It is when the Christian departs from his God, becomes spiritually starved, and endeavors to feed on vanities, that the devil discovers his vantage hour. He may sometimes stand foot to foot with the child of God who is active in his Master’s service, but the battle is generally short. He who slips as he goes down into the Valley of Humiliation, every time he takes a false step invites Apollyon to assail him. Oh, for grace to walk humbly with our God! “Then I saw in my dream, that these good companions, when Christian was gone down to the bottom of the hill, gave him a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and a cluster of raisins, and then he went his way. “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 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.’
John Bunyan has not pictured Christian as carried to heaven while asleep in an easy chair. He makes him lose his burden at the cross-foot, but he represents him as climbing Hill Difficulty on his hands and knees. Christian has to descend into the Valley of Humiliation, and to tread the dangerous pathway through the gloomy horrors of the Shadow of Death. He has to be urgently watchful to keep himself from sleeping in the Enchanted Ground.
Nowhere is he delivered from the necessities incident to the way, for even at the last he fords the black river, and struggles with its terrible billows.
Effort is used all the way through, and you that are pilgrims to the skies will find it to be no allegory, but a real matter of fact. Your soul must gird up her loins; you need your pilgrim’s staff, and your armor. You must foot it all the way to heaven, contending with giants, fighting with lions, and combating Apollyon himself. “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, and 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 came you, and whither are you bound? “ CHR. I am come from the City of Destruction, which is the place of all evil, and I am going to the City of Zion. “ APOL. By this I perceive that thou art one of my subjects; for all that country is mine, and I am the prince and god of it. How is it, then, that thou hast run away from thy king? ere it not that I hope that thou mayest do me more service, I would strike thee now at one blow to the ground. “ CHR. I was indeed born 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 (Romans 6:23); therefore when I was come to years, I did, as other considerate persons do, look out, if perhaps I might mend myself. “ APOL. There is no prince that will thus lightly lose his subjects, neither will I as yet lose thee; but since thou complainest of thy service and wages, be content to go back, and what our country will afford, I do here promise to give thee. “ CHR. But I have let myself to another, even to the King of princes; and how can I with fairness go back with thee? “ APOL. Thou hast done in this according to the proverb, ‘changed a bad for worse;’ but it is ordinary for those that have professed themselves His servants, after a while to give Him the slip, and return again to me. Do thou so too, and all shall be well. “ CHR. 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? “ APOL. Thou didst the same to me, and yet I am willing to pass by all, if now thou wilt yet turn again and go back. “ CHR. What I promised thee was in my nonage; and besides, I count that the Prince, under whose banner I now stand, if able to absolve me, yea, and to pardon also what I did as to my compliance with thee. And besides, O thou destroying Apollyon, to speak truth, I like His service, His wages, His servants, His government, His company, and country, better than thine; therefore leave off to persuade me further; I am His servant, and I will follow Him.”
I have met with some who were of a fearful heart, afraid that they would be lost, because they felt that they had, at some period of their lives, neglected Christian duty. This is an old temptation that Satan often casts in the way of godly people. You remember how, in addition to the base insinuations which we have quoted, Apollyon charged poor Christian with being unfaithful: “Thou didst faint at first setting out, when thou wast almost choked in the Gulf of Despond; thou didst attempt wrong ways to be rid of thy burden, whereas thou shouldest have stayed till thy Prince had taken it off; thou didst sinfully sleep, and lose thy choice thing; thou wast, also, almost persuaded to go back, at the sight of the lions; and when thou talkest of thy journey, and of what thou hast heard and seen, thou art inwardly desirous of vain-glory in all that thou sayest or doest.”
Now, if any of you should be troubled by similar accusations of the adversary, recollect that, since Christ did not love you for your good works, — they were not the cause of His beginning to love you; — so He does not love you for your good works even now; they are not the cause of His continuing to love you. He loves you because He will love you. What He approves in you now is that which He has Himself given to you; that is always the same, it ever abideth as it was. The life of God is ever within you; Jesus has not turned away His heart from you, nor has the flame of His love decreased in the smallest degree. Wherefore, faint heart, “fear not, be strong.” “ APOL. 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. “ CHR. Apollyon, beware what you do, for I am in the King’s highway, the way of Holiness; therefore take heed to yourself. “ APOL. Then Apollyon straddled quite over the whole breadth of the way, and said, I am void of fear in this matter. Prepare thyself to die; for I swear by my infernal den, that thou shalt go no farther: here will I spill thy 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.”
This is no mere figure. He that hath ever met Apollyon will tell you that there is no mistake about the matter, but that there is a dread reality in it.
Christian met Apollyon when he was in the Valley of Humiliation, and the dragon did most fiercely beset him; with fiery darts he sought to destroy him and to take away his life. Brave Christian stood to him with all his might, and used his sword and shield right manfully, till his shield become studded with a forest of darts and his hand did cleave unto his sword. For many an hour man and dragon fought. I think I see him now before me, — that dread fallen spirit, the arch-enemy of our souls. “O Satan, thou hast thrust sore at me!” Many of a child of God must utter this exclamation. It is no fault of Satan’s if we are not quite destroyed. It is not for want of malice, or subtlety, or fury, or perseverance on the devil’s part, if we still hold the field. He has met us many times, using all kinds of weapons, shooting from the right hand and from the left. He has tempted us to pride and despair, to care and to carelessness, to presumption and to idleness, to self-confidence and to mistrust of God. We are not ignorant of his devices, nor inexperienced in his cruelties.
I know that I am addressing many saints of God who can use David’s language with emphasis: “Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall,” for I dwell among a tried and tempted people. The battle between the soul of the believer and the devil is a stern one. No doubt there are multitudes of inferior spirits who tempt men, and tempt them successfully, too; but they are much more easily put aside by godly men than their great leader can be. “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 thee 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 his last blow, thereby to make a full end of this good man, Christian nimbly reached 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 al these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us’ (Romans 8:37).
And with that Apollyon spread forth his dragon’s wings, and sped him away, that Christian saw him no more (James 4:7).”
At last the fiend gave Christian a horrible fall, and down he went upon the ground; and, woe worth the day! at the moment when he fell he dropped his sword! Behold the dragon drawing up all his might, planting his foot upon Christian’s neck, and about to hurl the fiery dart into his heart. “Aha, I have thee now,” saith he, “thou art in my power.” But when the dragon’s foot was about to crush the very life out of poor Christian, he did stretch out his hand, he grasped his sword and giving a desperate thrust at his foe, he cried, “Rejoice not over me, O mine enemy; for when I fall I shall arise again.” So desperately did he cut the dragon, that he spread his wings and flew away, and Christian went on his journey rejoicing in his victory.
The true believer understands all this. It is no dream to him. He has been under the dragon’s foot many a time. Ah! and all the world put on a man’s heart at once is not equal in weight to one foot of the devil. When Satan once gets the upper hand of the spirit, he wants neither strength, nor will, nor malice, to torment it. Hard is that man’s lot who has fallen beneath the hoof of the Evil One. But, blessed be God, the child of God is ever safe, as safe beneath the dragon’s foot as he shall be before the throne of God in heaven. And let all the powers of earth and hell and all the doubts and fears that Christians ever know, conspire together to molest a saint; in the darkest moment, lo, God shall arise, and His enemies shall be scattered, and He shall get unto Himself the victory. Oh, for faith to believe this! “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 spake 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 twoedged sword; then, indeed, he did smile, and look upwards; but it was the dreadfullest fight that I ever saw.”
Apollyon is master of legions, and possesses the highest degree of power and craftiness. He who has once stood foot to foot with him will know that Christian was indeed hard put to it in the Valley of Humiliation, when the dragon stopped the pilgrim’s way, and made him fight for his life.
No Christian will find much to smile at while he is contending for his faith, his hope, his life, with this most cruel of foes. Messengers of Satan buffet us terribly, but Satan himself wounds desperately; wherefore we are wisely taught to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one.” Single combat with the arch-enemy will strain every muscle of the soul, and pain every nerve of the spirit; it will force the cold sweat from the brow, and make the heart leap with palpitations of fear, and thus in some degree bring us to our Gethsemane, and make us feel that the pains of hell have gotten hold upon us. The prince of darkness has a sharp sword, great cunning of fence, tremendous power of aim, and boundless malice of heart, and thus he is no mean adversary, but one whom it is a terrible trial to meet. In his dread personality is contained a mass of danger for us poor mortals. When poor Christian was down under Apollyon’s foot, his life was nearly pressed out of him; but he saw that, as God would have it, the sword which had fallen out of his hand was just within his reach, so he stretched out his hand, and grasped that “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” and therewith he gave his adversary such a terrible stab that he spread his dragon-wings, and flew away. Oh, to give the fiend such a stab as that! Let us tell out the promises; let us proclaim the gospel; let us publish everywhere the free grace of God; and in this way we shall turn the battle to the gate, and cause those who pursued us to be themselves pursued.
Hallelujah for the cross of Christ! We bear it forward into the ranks of the foe, confident of victory. Our courage fails not, neither does our hope wax faint; the Lord who has helped us is the God of victories; “the Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.”