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Christian fighting with ApollyonNurtured, advised and armed by the Four Maidens, Christian goes forth to what he knows will be his greatest trial. As he walks through the dark valley of humiliation, he meets the lord of this world, Appolyon, who claims Christian for his own. Undaunted (though afraid), Christian avows his faith in God, and, unmoving in that, Appolyon sets on him with his full force.

The strife is fierce, the warfare long, and whilst he is wounded and wishes to flee, Christian knows all his armour is to the front, and if he flees he is defenceless. He fights the whole day and is sore-pressed, even unto the edge of destruction, as he loses his faithful sword and is grasped by Appolyon in a death grip. But God rewards His faithful servant:

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, Mic. 7:8; 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 all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us. Rom. 8:37. And with that Apollyon spread forth his dragon wings, and sped him away, that Christian saw him no more. James 4:7.

When I first read this story, this episode thrilled me the most. I always linked it (rightly) with Bunyan’s great hymn, ‘He who would valiant be’, – ‘no foe shall stay his might, though he with giants fight’ – and I imagined myself as Christian, sword in hand. It’s not a bad way to engage a young boy’s mind in Christian teaching. I always found the bit with the Four Maidens deadly dull, and used to skip over it to get to the great fight. Only life and experience taught me the folly of that; still, it engaged my imagination as David and Goliath, or as Samson did. We’d do better now if we engaged the imagination of lads the way they did back when I were one.

Bunyan was a great homespun philosopher, as well a great story teller, for he keeps the tension ratcheted up. No sooner has Christian escaped Appolyon than he finds himself in the Valley of Death, near Hell’s mouth – so close he can hear the demons calling for him. Only by crying to the demons that he walks in the strength of the Lord can he fight them off – and he was sore afraid. But he recalled the words of the Psalmist and rallied: ‘Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.’ Psa. 23:4.

As the morning dawns, Christian looks back and marvels that he has come through the goblins and foul fiends – but it is well that it is day – for there is more to come. Passing the bones of dead pilgrims in the valley, he passes the mouth of the caves wherein dwell the great foes, Pagan and Pope. The former’s power has long waned, but the latter remains awake – ready to burn Christians if need be – but Christian passes by him.

A century’s passing had not been sufficient for free-born Englishmen to forget the fires of Smithfield; though sufficient to forget the ones their forefathers had lit in revenge.