Made by King Shaddai upon Diabolus for the Regaining of the Metropolis of the World or
The Losing and Taking Again of The Town of Mansoul
The Dragon … went to make war with the remnant of her seed. Faithful … in righteousness doth judge and make war. — The Apostle John
Despite the critics, The Pilgrim’s Progress will remain one of the most popular and beloved stories in the English language, let alone in the English speaking church. It is in a class by itself. In intriguing allegory, it presents the Christian pilgrim, a stranger and sojourner in this world, leaving the City of Destruction and traveling to the Heavenly City. The story, in many ways, is the Heidelberg Catechism illustrated. Christian and many of the good characters in the book, at every stage of their journey, are conscious of their misery, their deliverance from misery, and true thankfulness for their deliverance.
Even with this story so high in the scale of the classics, The Holy War stands on its own in that eminent rank. It is all about Truth versus Error from the beginning to the end and on every page. This antithesis is evident in such characters as Mr. God’s-peace and Alderman False-peace, in Mansoulians and Diabolonians, and, to name no more, Mr. Hate-lies and Mr. Stand-to-lies. The book came out in 1682. Like the wars of Scripture, the wars of the Lord, the wars of Moses and Joshua, the wars of the Judges and the wars of David, it deals with the Battle Between the Two Seeds, a thoroughly biblical concept. In another beautiful way, it presents man’s misery, deliverance and thanksgiving for his deliverance. Its sub-title might be, The Creation, Siege, Capture, Enslavement and Retaking of the Town of Mansoul. John Bunyan, the unlettered author, taught by his unlettered Master, puts it this way:
Then lend thine ear to what I do relate
Touching the town of Mansoul, and her state;
How she was lost, made a slave;
And how against Him set that should her save.
…I myself was in the town,
Both when ‘twas set up and when pulling down:
…I was there when she owned Him for Lord,
And to Him did submit with one accord.
The Pilgrim’s Progress had its great battles and mighty warriors. There is conflict with Apollyon and the Giants’ Pope, Pagan, Despair, Grim, Maul and Slay-good. There are mighty men like Greatheart and Valiant-for-truth. But in The Holy War we have a royal battle between two kings, God and Satan, or as the story has it, between Immanuel and Diabolus. There is humor in the book, and of a loftier kind than that of the Dickens’ works and characters. The latter are somewhat engaging as their very names reveal something of human nature. Think of Dickens’ Count Smorltork, a foreigner doing research for his great work on England, an outsider who cannot get straight such a name as Pickwick, pronouncing it, “Peek-Christian name; Week-surname; good, ver’ good. Peek Week! How do you do Week?” Then there are Lord Mutanhed and Lady Snuphanuph, very fittingly a town of Eatanswill, and a Mr. Pecksniff, who despite his cloak of morality has no more acquaintance with goodness than a peck or a sniff at it. So in this book under review, you have significant names of characters such as Mr. Backward-to-All-but-Naught, Lord Pragmatic, Lord Belial, Lord Python, Captain Past-hope, Mr. Let-good-slip, Mr. Gnaw, Mr. Gripe, Mr. Godly-fear, Lady Fear-nothing, who married Lord Self-conceit, Mr. Revelling, Mr. See-truth, and to mention but one more of many, Mr. No-truth. These characters freight the story with a wealth of meaning.
Not everyone will understand The Holy War, many not immediately and many more not at all. This is not entirely surprising, since the book is deep and complex, and since it demands knowledge, experience and fulfillment in matters of the heart and soul of man. To approach a full understanding of it, one must see it realized in his own body and soul. It presents an absorbing drama and it is so profound that the whole picture cannot be sketched.
Tell you of all I neither will, nor can I;
But by what here I say, you well may see
That Mansoul’s matchless wars no fables be.
Not everyone will like The Holy War. This is evident from a book (1967) entitled. Fifty Works of English (& American) Literature We Could Do Without. It would be too much to expect the book, at least in a sub-title, to specify fifty-one works and include its own title in the condemned list. For it rather deserves that notoriety. All fifty books listed, with the addition of the Bible (not on the list as such, but only because “we have excluded translations”), are regarded as weeds. Pilgrim’s Progress is there listed, and what it said of it could just as well be said of The Holy War, since the author is deemed a maniac, a psychopath, an uneducated bigot and a seventeenth century Billy Graham. With Talmudic scurrility the authors say of Bunyan: ‘‘Driven almost to madness by the absurd and ferocious biblical texts he studied so assiduously, he was bullied first into conversion and then into the fanatical desire to convert others. Inexperienced, illogical and single-minded to the point of lunacy, he was equipped for nothing but preaching.” So Bunyan’s writings were “morally warped.”
But then within the sphere of the church the book may be rejected and not recommended because its author was a Baptist. To do this is like throwing out the baby with the bath water. Granted that Bunyan has his faults, and that we are not enamored with certain of his writings, still, the same goes for some Reformed and Presbyterian writers like A. Kuyper, B.B. Warfield, and A.A. Hodge. Yet we do not ban these authors and their works. What we do is respect them for their faithfulness to Scripture, and where it is otherwise, to warn against their errors.
But it is not to be expected that the majority will like this book. When the Maginot Line was cut by the Nazi pincers, it was not pleasant, but tragically shocking to France to find that all her gates were in the hands of a hard-hearted implacable enemy. When such things as are in this book are preached, the preacher will be advised by some, “Prophesy not unto us right things! prophesy smooth things! prophesy deceits!” Who loves the preacher who tells men to their faces that their eyes, ears and all passages to their hearts are already in the power of a mighty, cruel and ruthless enemy? But then, yon have never read The Holy War? Maybe we should say. No wonder! For no wonder that the mass of men have not read a page of it! No wonder that strangers to the realities of this history have never once opened the book!
Mansoul saw the swords of fighting men made red,
And heard the cries of those with them wounded.
Must not her frights, then, be much more by far
Than they that to such doings strangers are?
Or theirs that hear the beating of a drum,
But need not fly for fear from house and home?
Perhaps it will not interest you to read of the Black Prince Diabolus, of Mr. Forget-good, of Mr. Ill-pause, of Mr. Anything (a good friend of Mr. Pragmatic), of Mr. Loathe-to-stoop or of the image of Shaddai which was lost and turned into the image of Diabolus. But then, what would be the reason why not? Would it arouse your curiosity enough to want to learn more about Mr. Carnal-Security, the hordes of Diabolonians led by Lucifer, Beelzebub, Apollyon and Legion? Then there are Lord Lasciviousness, Lord Anger and what called themselves, the Captains Cain and Nimrod, Captains Ishmael and Esau and Captains Absolom and Judas. Also hordes of doubters flood into Mansoul, and among them such Diabolonians as Calling- doubters and Election-doubters.
The book will not be liked because reading it requires taking it all to heart. We must see ourselves throughout in its burning glass. We must see that its terrors and horrors are exactly true of ourselves. The book demands of us that we open every access to the soul. Ear-gate, Eye-gate, the intellect, will and all our senses, day and night, for the Lord Jesus Christ to enter in. Indeed, we must see that He must make His own room in our hearts, that we may open to Him. This is a book which teaches us the antithesis, to shut, bolt and bar every gate in the devil’s face, to pull down the blinds and slam in the shutters of the soul on the southern Sodom exposure. All too few will submit to the strict rigors of such holy discipline. No man is sufficient of himself to do so. But our sufficiency in this impossibility is of God, who in the day of His power makes us willing to throw down the weapons of our warfare against Him, to quit the mad hurling of ourselves against the thick bosses of His buckler, to submit to His sovereign scepter, and to find that it is He who works in us to will and to do for His good pleasure.