The Holy War Cover









“I have used similitudes.”—Hosea 12:10



Bunyan’s account of the Holy War is indeed an extraordinary book, manifesting a degree of genius, research, and spiritual knowledge, exceeding even that displayed in the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ To use the words of Mr. J. Montgomery, ‘It is a work of that master intelligence, which was privileged to arouse kindred spirits from torpor and inactivity, to zeal, diligence, and success.’

It was first published in 1682, in a small octavo volume, and, like the first edition of the Pilgrim, it was printed in a very superior manner to all the subsequent editions, to a recent period. The portrait of the author, by White, which faced the title-page, is without doubt the best likeness that has ever appeared of our great allegorist.1 In addition to this is a whole length figure of the author, with a representation of Heart-castle on his left breast; the town of Mansoul, behind, being partly seen through him; Emmanuel and his army on the heart side, and Diabolus with his dragons on his right. From the publication of this popular book in 1682, it has been constantly kept in print, so that it is impossible to calculate the numbers that have been circulated. As time rolls on, the ‘Holy War,’ allegorized by John Bunyan, becomes more and more popular; nor can there be a doubt, but that so long as the internal conflict and spiritual warfare between the renewed soul and its deadly enemies are maintained, this book will become increasingly popular.

The ‘Holy War,’ although so very extraordinary an allegory, has not been translated into so many languages, nor has it been so much read in English, as the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ This would naturally arise from the Pilgrimage being a more simple narrative. It is a journey full of the most striking scenery and incidents, which is read with the deepest interest by all classes, from the children in a work-house to the profoundest Christian philosopher. The facts which are intended to be impressed upon the mind by the force of the allegory, are seen and appreciated by the Christian without requiring much investigation; while the ‘Holy War’ is carried on under an allegorical representation by no means so transparent. Man’s soul is figured under the simile of a town, which having surrendered to an insidious and mortal enemy, is besieged by its lawful Sovereign with all the ‘pomp and circumstances’ of war; the arch-enemy is driven out, the town retaken, new-modelled, and garrisoned by Emmanuel.

To the Christian, whose aim and end is peace, war presents a most forbidding aspect. He loves not to see the garments rolled in blood, nor to hear the dying groans of the wounded, nor the heart-rending cries of the bereaved, especially those of the widow and the orphan. Spoliation and robbery are not the pastimes of the child of God, nor is cruelty the element of his happiness or peace.

To read of such scenes, produces painfully interesting sensations; but even these are not so strong or intense as those delightful feelings which pervade the mind while watching the poor pilgrim in his struggles to get through the Slough of Despond, his terror under the flames of Mount Sinai, his passing unhurt the darts from Beelzebub’s castle, and his finding refuge at the Wicket Gate. It is true, that the most delicate Christian must become a stern warrior—the most sensitive ear must be alarmed with the sound of Diabolus’ drum, and at times feel those inward groanings which cannot be uttered—pass through ‘the fiery trial,’ and ‘endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ’; while at other periods of his experience, flushed with victory, he will cry out, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’

We must fight the good fight of faith, or we can never lay hold on eternal life. We must be engaged in this holy war, and FIGHT or PERISH. There is no neutrality, no excuse that can be awaiting at the day of judgment. The servant of Christ is therefore found trusting in the Captain of salvation, furnished with the whole armour of God, with which his soul is clothed by the Holy Spirit—having the shield of faith, the helmet, the breastplate, the two-edged sword. It was being thus mysteriously, invulnerably armed, that gave the delicate, learned, pious Lady Anne Askew strength to triumph over her agonies, when the Papists disjointed every bone and sinew of her body on the rack. Her spiritual armour enabled her with patience to bless God at the stake, when, for refusing to worship Antichrist, she was burned in Smithfield, and her soul ascended to heaven in a flaming fiery chariot. It is the same spiritual armour, the same Captain to guide, the same Spirit to sanctify, the same Father to bless us, by which alone we can become more than conquerors over our vigilant and powerful enemies.

The Holy War is in this volume presented to us by an old, experienced, faithful warrior; it is an allegorical narrative, written by a master hand, guided by deeply penetrating, searching powers of mind. It is his own severe brunts with the great enemy, who is aided by his army of pomps, vanities, lusts, and allurements, many lurking within, disguised to appear like angels, while under their masquerade dress they are very devils. It is written by one who possessed almost boundless resources of imagination.

It is more profound, more deeply spiritual than the pilgrimage from Destruction to the Celestial City; and to understand its hidden meaning, requires the close and mature application of the renewed mind. There are, alas! comparatively few that are blessed with spiritual discernment; and even of these, there are but few inclined to mental investigation and research. These are reasons why it has not been so popular a book as the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ To aid those whose time for reading is limited, notes are given, by which obsolete words and customs are explained, and the reader assisted to appreciate the beauties, and to understand the meaning of this allegory. It is earnestly hoped that many will richly enjoy the comforts, instructions, consolations, and strength which the author ardently wished to convey to Zion’s warriors, by the study of this important subject.

I have already, in my long Introduction to the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ noticed the peculiar genius and originality which are conspicuous in all Bunyan’s works, and which most resplendently appear in his allegorical writings. That genius became hallowed and sanctified by prison discipline, by an intense study of the Sacred Scriptures, and by his controversies with great men of various sects and parties.

In the ‘Holy War’ Bunyan’s peculiar genius shines forth in its most beauteous lustre; the whole is new, genuine, flowing forth from his own deep and rich experience. It is, in fact, the same narrative that he had published under the title of ‘Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, or a brief and faithful relation of the exceeding mercy of God, in Christ, to his poor servant John Bunyan.’

This simple, heart-affecting narrative, is here related under the allegorical representation of the ‘Holy War.’ In this, all the circumstances of his conviction of sin, and his conversion to God, are narrated with startling interest from the first alarm—his being roused from a state of death-like lethargy, his opposition to the grace of God, his refusals of the invitations of Emmanuel, and his being at length conquered to become a monument of divine mercy—a temple of the Holy Ghost. Then came his declension by carnal security, and his misery in that state, until he was finally reconquered; and his heart is permanently occupied by Emmanuel.

The ‘Grace Abounding,’ aided by the marginal notes of the author to the ‘Holy War,’ forms a very valuable key to the mysteries of this allegory; without their aid some passages would be found deeply mysterious, and hard to be understood. Nor can this be considered extraordinary, when it is recollected that the whole of the allegory is a revelation of scenes, feelings, hopes, fears, and enjoyments, which are unknown, unfelt, and invisible to all except to those whose minds are enlightened by Divine truth; and even of these, very few have had the deep and trying experience with which the author was exercised.

That the ‘Holy War’ allegorically represents Bunyan’s personal feelings, is clearly declared by him in the poetical Introduction or Address to the Reader, prefixed to the book. He adverts to books of fiction, and solemnly declares—

‘I have somewhat else to do,
Than with vain stories thus to trouble you,
For my part, I (myself) was in the town,
Both when ‘twas set up, and when pulling down;
I saw Diabolus in his possession,—
Yea, I was there when she own’d him for Lord.’

A remarkable verse describes his state before conversion—

‘When Mansoul trampled upon things divine,
And wallowed in filth as doth a swine;
When she betook herself unto her arms,
Fought her Emmanuel, despis’d his charms,
Then I was there, and did rejoice to see
Diabolus and Mansoul so agree.’

Some editor, imagining that Bunyan could never have so rejoiced, forgetting his own words in the fourth section of his ‘Grace Abounding’—‘It was my delight to be taken captive by the devil, at his will’—altered these words to—

‘Then I was there, and grieved for to see
Diabolus and Mansoul so agree.’

This alteration, which perverts the author’s meaning, appears in a London edition, 1752, and has been copied into many modern editions, even into those by Mason and Burder.

The author having in the above lines described his unconverted state, goes on to delineate his convictions in these words:—

‘What is here in view,
Of mine own knowledge, I dare say is true.
I saw the Prince’s armed men come down,
I saw the captains, heard the trumpets sound;
Yea, how they set themselves in battle-ray,
I shall remember to my dying day.’

The whole of this address is descriptive of what the author saw, felt, or heard—

‘What shall I say? I heard the people’s cries,
And saw the Prince wipe tears from Mansoul’s eyes;
I heard the groans, and saw the joy of many,
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.’

The narrative of this eventful war is authenticated by his personal feelings while under the chastising, correcting, hand of his heavenly Father; in his new birth and subsequent experience; in bringing his soul from darkness to marvelous light, and from the wretched bondage of sin to the glorious liberty of the gospel. This address is closed with a very important notice, which all our readers should keep constantly in mind—it is to attend to the author’s key to the allegory, and that is his marginal notes—

‘Nor do thou go to work without my key,
(In mysteries men soon do lose their way),
And also turn it right, if thou would’st know
My riddle, and would’st with my heifer plough,
It lies there in the window, fare thee well,
My next may be to ring thy passing-bell.’

The last line strongly reminds us of the author’s difficulty to quit the gin and beer-drinking practice of bell-ringing, to which in his youth he was so much addicted. It is recorded in his ‘Grace Abounding,’ Nos. 33 and 34.3

The form and order of the narrative is exceedingly beautiful, and deeply interesting to those who have been engaged in a similar warfare. Passing over the short and vivid narration of the fall of man, our personal feelings are excited by witnessing the methods of grace, adapted by a covenant-keeping God and Father, to rescue his people from their natural state of Diabolonian slavery. Many of the incidents will bring, to the enlightened reader’s recollection, the solemn and powerful impressions under which he struggled, when opposing the invitations of Emmanuel. His holy joy, when a sense of pardoning love and mercy came over his soul; and his anxieties, when in conflict with doubts, and fears, and bloodmen.

Our young readers must be cautioned not to give way to doubts and fears for their soul’s safety, because they have never passed through the same feelings which fitted Bunyan for a sphere of extraordinary usefulness. God brings his lambs and sheep into the fold by such means as are agreeable to his infinite wisdom and grace. Some surrender at the first summons; others hold out during a long and distressing siege. ‘God’s ways are not our ways.’ All our anxious inquiries should be, Is Emmanuel in Heart-castle? is he ‘formed in me the hope of glory?’ do I live and believe in him who has immutably decreed that ‘whosoever’—be he rich or poor, learned or unlearned—if he ‘liveth and believeth in me, shall never die?’ It matters not, as to my salvation, whether the siege was long or short.

The vital question is, Has my heart been conquered; do I love Emmanuel? If I do, it is because he first loved me, and he changeth not. In proportion to the trouble that I gave to my Conqueror, so should be my zealous, holy, happy obedience to his commands. Much is expected from those to whom much has been forgiven. The Conqueror, by his victory, fits us for those peculiar duties to which he intends to devote us in extending his kingdom. In the history of this war, the reader’s attention will be naturally arrested by the fact that Mansoul, having voluntarily surrendered to the dominion of Satan, made no effort to relieve herself. No spiritual feelings lurked in the walls to disturb the reign of Diabolus; not even a prayer or a sigh breaks forth from her heart for deliverance; she felt not her degradation nor her danger; she was dead while she yet lived—dead in sin; and from this state would have sunk, as thousands have, from spiritual and temporal death into eternal and irretrievable ruin.

The first conception of a scheme for her deliverance from such awful danger, arises in the celestial court of her Creator; grace lays the foundation, and raises the top-stone. All the redeemed of God will unite in one song, ‘Not unto us, O Lord; not unto us, but unto thy name give glory.’ A covenant is made, ordered in all things and sure, to save Mansoul; and from this emanates the vast, the costly design of her deliverance.

To effect this great object, the Mosaic dispensation—the Law, with all its terrors, is sent, in fearful array, to conquer or destroy. This is allegorically represented under the similitude of an army of forty thousand warriors, ‘stout, rough-hewn men, fit to break the ice, and make their way by dint of sword.’ They are under the command of four captains, each with his ensign—Boanerges and Thunder, Conviction and Sorrow, Judgment and Terror, Execution and Justice. To resist this force, Diabolus arms the town, hardens the conscience, and darkens the understanding. He places at Eargate a guard of DEAF MEN, under old Mr. Prejudice, and plants over that important gate two great guns, Highmind and Heady. He arms Mansoul with the whole armour of Satan, which is very graphically described.

Summons after summons is unheeded. The death of friends, sickness, and troubles, pass by apparently without any good result. They ‘will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.’ At length, the town is assaulted, conscience becomes alarmed, but the will remains stubborn. The beleaguering of the town—planting the ensigns—throwing up batteries—the slings casting, with irresistible force, portions of the Word into the mind—the battering-rams beating upon the gates, especially Eargate—exciting alarm under the fear of the just and awful punishment due to sin—all are described with an extraordinary knowledge of military terms and tactics.

The episode of the three volunteers who enlisted under Shaddai, into Captain Boanerges’ company—Tradition, Human-wisdom, and Man’s-invention—are inimitably beautiful. When they were aught in the rear, and taken prisoners—’as they did not live so much by religion as by the fates of fortune’—they offer their services to Diabolus, and are joined to Captain Anything’s company. After a few sharp assaults, convictions of sin alarm the conscience, and six of Diabolus’ new Aldermen are slain with one shot. Their names are well worthy an attentive consideration, showing what open vices are abandoned upon the soul being first terrified with the fear of retribution—Swearing, Whoring, Fury, Stand-to-lies, Drunkenness, and Cheating.

Alarms are continued by day and night, until it is said to Mansoul, ‘Upon all her pleasant things there was a blast, and burning instead of beauty; with shows of the shadow of death.’ Thus was it with David—‘My soul is cast down within me: deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts; all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me’ (Psa 42:6, 7).

All the assaults of Moses and the Law are ineffectual; the gates remain closed against her King and God. The thunders of Sinai and the voice of the prophets may alarm, but cannot conquer Mansoul. The thundering, terrifying captains appeal to the celestial court, and Emmanuel-God with us—condescends to fight the battle, and secure the victory. The angelic hosts desire to look into these things—they are the peers of the heavenly realm—the news ‘flew like lightning round about the court’—and the greatest peers did covet to have commissions under Emmanuel. The captains that accompany him in this grand expedition are Faith, Hope, Charity, Innocence, and Patience. Mansoul is to be won by persuasion to receive her Saviour. The cost of the enterprise is vast indeed; the army is numerous as our thoughts, and who can number ‘the multitude of his thoughts?’ The battering rams and slings, we are told by the margin, mean the books of Sacred Scripture, sent to us by the influence of the Holy Ghost. Emmanuel is irresistible—Mansoul is taken—Diabolus is dragged out, stripped of his armour, and sent to the parched places in a salt land, ‘seeking rest, but finding none.’

The heart at first trembles lest punishment should be justly poured out upon her for treason, but it becomes the throne of its lawful King; and instead of God’s anger, his pardon and blessings are proclaimed, and Mansoul is filled with joy, happiness, and glory.

Reader, can you call to mind the peace and holy enjoyment which took possession of your soul, when—having passed through the fears and hopes, the terrors and alarms, of the new birth—you sat down, for the first time, at the table of the Lord, to celebrate the wonders of his grace? Then you rejoiced in hope full of immortality; then you could exclaim, ‘O tidings! glad tidings! good tidings of good, and of great joy to my soul!’ ‘Then they leaped and skipped upon the walls for joy, and shouted, Let Emmanuel live for ever!’ And then you fondly thought that happiness was secure for the rest of your pilgrimage, until your glorified spirit should enter into the celestial city.

Alas! your enemies were not dead. They insidiously seized an unguarded moment. Remiss in watchfulness, and formal in prayer, Carnal-security invade the mind. Your ardent love is cooled—intercourse with heaven is slight—and by slow degrees, and almost unperceived, Emmanuel leaves Heart-castle; and the prince of the power of the air promotes the treason, and foments rebellion, by the introduction of loose thoughts, under the name of harmless mirth. The news soon reach Diabolus, and an infernal conference, or dialogue of devils, is revealed by our author; who had watched the course and causes of spiritual declension, and was not ‘ignorant of Satan’s devices.’

The malignant craft and subtilty displayed in Satan’s counsel, are described in a manner far beyond an ordinary imagination. They display the almost unbounded resources of genius and invention so richly possessed by the prince of allegorists, John Bunyan. It reminds us of the dialogue between Lucifer and Beelzebub, in that rare work by Barnardine Ochine, a reformer, published in 1549, called, A Tragedy or Dialogue of the unjust usurped Primacy of the Bishop of Rome. In this is represented, in very popular language, the designs of Lucifer to ruin Christianity by the establishment of Popery.

Lucifer thus addresses his diabolical conclave—’I have devised to make a certain new kingdom, replenished with idolatry, superstition, ignorance, error, falsehoods, deceit, compulsion, extortion, treason, contention, discord, tyranny, and cruelty; with spoiling, murder, ambition, filthiness, injuries, factions, sects, wickedness, and mischief; in the which kingdom all kinds of abomination shall be committed. And notwithstanding that it shall be heaped up with all kinds of wickedness, yet shall the [professed] Christian men think it to be a spiritual kingdom, most holy and most godly. The supreme head of this kingdom shall be a man which is not only sinful, and an abominable robber and thief, but he shall be sin and abomination itself; and yet, for all that, shall be thought of Christian men a God in earth, and his members, being most wicked, shall be called of men most holy. God sent his Son into the world, who, for the salvation of mankind, hath humbled himself even to the death of the cross.

I will send my son into the world, who, for the destruction and condemnation of mankind, shall so advance himself that he shall take upon him to be made equal with God.’ ‘I will, by craft and diligence, shadow and cover superstition and idolatry with a fair face, and beauty of holy ceremonies, that men shall be made so drunken and so amazed with this outward pomp and show, that they shall not be able to discern truth from falsehood, when they be drowned in the flood of idolatry and superstition.’ ‘I will cause them to be most cruel tyrants and butchers of Christ and his members, under a pretence of zeal to the house of God. They shall hide their uncleanness and filthy behaviour with an exceeding wide cloak of hypocrisy, and with glorious shining titles.’

Thus this intrepid reformer opened up the origin, the development, the desolations, of Popery; and, with a similar knowledge of Satan’s devices, the Nonconformist Bunyan shows the means by which Diabolus urges the young Christian into a backsliding state. ‘Let our Diabolonian friends in Mansoul draw it into sin, for there is nothing like sin to devour Mansoul; while we will send against it an army of twenty or thirty thousand sturdy terrible doubters. Sin renders Mansoul sick and faint, while doubts are by it made fierce and strong.’ At length Diabolus and his army of doubts march from Hellgate Hill to Mansoul: the order in which they are placed, and the names of the officers, are very instructive, as well as curious.

Election-doubteres, under Captain Rage—Vocation-doubters, commanded by Captain Fury—Grace-doubters, led by Captain Damnation—Faith-doubters, under Captain Insatiable—Perseverance-doubters, led by Captain Brimstone—Resurrection-doubters, by Captain Torment—Salvation-doubters, under Captain Noease—Glory-doubters, commanded by Captain Sepulchre—Felicity-doubters, led by Captain Pasthope. Incredulity was Lord-general, and Diabolus was King and Commander-in-chief. The roaring of the drum—their alarming outcries, Hell-fire! Hell-fire!—their furious assaults—the multitude of doubts—and the perplexity of poor distracted Mansoul, are admirably and truly narrated.

The town makes a sortie in the night, but Diabolus and his legions, experienced in night work, drive them back, and severely wound Captains Faith, Hope, and Experience. Again the gates are assaulted, and Diabolus and his doubters gain an entrance, by the senses, into the town, but cannot force the heart; and Mansoul is reduced to the greatest straits and sadness. In this extremity, prayers are incessantly offered up to Emmanuel; but, for a long time, they can obtain no satisfactory answers. Both parties are on the alert; but Diabolus finds it impossible, either by treachery or by storming with his legion of doubts, to gain possession of Heart-castle. Being worsted in a general engagement, the doubters are slain, and are buried with their armour; yea, all that did but smell of a Diabolonian Doubter.

The arch-fiend now enters upon a new mode of assault—he sends for a reinforcement, to try the effect of persecution; and obtains an army of fifteen thousand Bloodmen, from the province of Loathgood. To these were added ten thousand new Doubters, under their commander old Incredulity. These Bloodmen were ‘rugged villains, and had done feats heretofore’; ‘they were mastiffs, and would fasten upon father, mother, brother, yea, upon the Prince of princes. Among their officers is Captain Pope, whose colours were the stake, the flame, and the good man in it.’ To these I would humbly suggest the propriety of adding one more—it is Captain State-religion, upon whose standard should be represented the Nonconformist John Bunyan in a damp, dreary dungeon, writing his ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ with his poor blind child at his feet.

O persecutor, whether you burn or imprison a Nonconformist, or harass him in Ecclesiastical courts, or seize his goods to support forms or ceremonies which he believes to be Antichristian, your commander is old Incredulity—your king is Diabolus!

The Bloodmen send a summons to Mansoul ‘as hot as a red hot iron,’ threatening fire and sword, and utter destruction; but the God who visited our pious author in prison, and cherished and comforted him in his twelve years’ sufferings under persecution, came to the relief of Mansoul. The Diabolonian army is routed—the Doubters are slain, excepting a few who escaped—the Bloodmen or persecutors were not to be slain, but to be taken alive. The prisoners are brought to trial, with all the forms and solemnities of law; and the narrative concludes with a most admirable charge from Emmanuel to keep Mansoul in a state of the most prayerful vigilance. Enemies still lurk within, to keep her humble; that she may feel her dependence upon God, and be found much in communion with him. ‘Believe that my love,’ says Emmanuel, ‘is constant to thee. Watch, hold fast, till I come.’

In the whole detail of this war, very singular skill is manifested. A keen observer of all that passed before him, aided by a most retentive memory, and a fertile imagination, enabled our pilgrim forefather to gain much knowledge in a short time. He had been engaged, as a private soldier, in the Civil war; and was at the siege of Leicester, when it was taken by Prince Rupert. This gave him a knowledge of the meaning of trumpet or bugle sounds; so that, when the trumpeters made their best music, in the expectation of Emmanuel’s speedy assistance to help Mansoul, Diabolus exclaims, ‘What do these madmen mean? they neither sound to boot and saddle, nor horse and away, nor a charge.’

Bunyan had been released from his tedious and cruel imprisonment for conscience sake about ten years, when he published the ‘Holy War.’ In this interval of time, although labouring incessantly to win souls to Christ, being a very popular preacher, yet he must have found time to gratify his incessant thirst for knowledge; gaining that he might communicate, and in imparting it, receiving into his own mind a rich increase. This would doubtless lead him to read the best of our Puritan and Nonconformists’ works, so that we find him using the Latin words primum mobile, carefully noting in the margin that he meant ‘the soul’; and from hence he must have scraped acquaintance with Python, Cerberus, and the furies of mythology, whom he uses in this war, describing accurately their names and qualities.

At first sight, it may seem strange that the armies, both within and without the city, should be so numerous, as it is but one man who is the object of attack and defence—one human body, containing one immortal Mansoul; but if the reader reflects that every soldier represents a thought, who can number them? At one time, by the sin-sickness, eleven thousand-men, women, and children—died in Mansoul! this is interpreted by Bunyan to mean, that the men represented ‘good thoughts’—the women, ‘good conceptions’—and the children, ‘good desires.’ The town is assaulted by thirty or forty thousand doubts, very curiously and methodically arranged.

The value of the marginal notes is very great, throwing immediate light upon many difficult passages. Every reader should make free use of the key which lieth in the window [the margin]. The value of this key is seen by a few quotations. Thus, when Diabolus beat a charge against the town, my Lord Reason was wounded in the head—the brave Lord Mayor, Mr. Understanding, in the eye—and ‘many also of the inferior sort were not only wounded, but slain outright.’ The margin explains this as meaning ‘Hopeful thoughts.’ When the enemy broke into the town at Feelgate, during a night of terror, and got possession, it is described as being accompanied by all the horrors of war—by atrocities probably even greater than those perpetrated by Rupert’s cavaliers at Leicester. ‘Young children were dashed in pieces, yea, those unborn were destroyed.’ ‘The women were beastlike abused.’ This is interpreted by two marginal notes—’Good and tender thoughts,’ ‘Holy conceptions of good.’

The storming of Leicester took place in the night, and furnished Bunyan, who was an eyewitness, with a correct notion of raising the standard, beleaguering the city, and forcing the gates, and a lively view of the desolations he describes. Awful as is his account of the sacking of Mansoul, with its murders and desolations, yet it may prove to be a good description of the conduct of Prince Rupert and his cavaliers at the storming of Leicester.

Strike out the name of Diabolus, and insert Rupert, and put Leicester instead of Mansoul, and the account of the brutal conduct of the Royal army will be found accurately described. Lord Clarendon, who wrote to gain the smiles of royalty, plainly tells us that, when Prince Rupert and the King took Leicester, ‘The conquerors pursued their advantage with the usual license of rapine and plunder, and miserably sacked the whole town, without any distinction of persons and places. Churches and hospitals, as well as other houses, were made a prey to the enraged and greedy soldier, to the exceeding regret of the King.’ Clarendon goes on to account for the exceeding regret of Charles: it was because many of his faithful friends had suffered, in the confusion of this murderous scene of rapine and plunder.

In the ‘Holy War,’ Bunyan has not been, nor can he ever be, charged with copying from any author who preceded him. Erasmus, Gouge, and many other of our Reformers, Puritans, and Nonconformists, commented upon the Christian’s armour and weapons. Benjamin Keach, about the time that the ‘Holy War’ appeared, published his War with the Devil, or, the Young Man’s Conflict with the Powers of Darkness. It is a series of admirable poetical dialogues on the corruption and vanity of youth, the horrible nature of sin, and deplorable condition of fallen man; with the rule of conscience and of true conversion. It has nothing allegorical in it, but is replete with practical warnings and exhortations.

No one had ever attempted, under the form of an allegory, to describe the internal conflict between the powers of darkness and of the mind in the renewed man; the introduction of evil thoughts and suggestions, their unnatural union with the affections, and the offspring of such union, under the name of Diabolonians, who, when Mansoul is watchful unto prayer, lurk in the walls; but when in a backsliding state, are tolerated and encouraged openly to walk the streets. Some have supposed that there is a slight similarity between the description, given by John Chrysostom of the battle between the hosts of hell and mankind, and John Bunyan’s ‘Holy War.’ It is not at all probable that Bunyan was acquainted with Chrysostom on the Priesthood, which was then locked up in the Greek language, but has been since translated into English. Nor can we find any similarity between the work of the pious apostolically descended tinker, and the learned Greek father.

Chrysostom’s picture of the battle is contained in a letter to Basil, urging him to become a minister of the gospel. It is in words to this effect:—’Pent up in this body, like a dungeon, we cannot discern the invisible powers. Could you behold the black army of the devil and his mad conflict, you would witness a great and arduous battle, in which there is no brass or steel, no horses or wheeled chariots, no fire and arrows, but other instruments much more formidable. No breastplates, or shields, or swords, or darts. The very sight of this accursed host is alone sufficient to paralyze a soul which is not imbued with courage furnished by God, and with even greater foresight than valour. Could you calmly survey all this array and war, you would see, not torrents of blood or dead bodies, but fallen souls! You would see wounds so grievous, that human war, with all its horrors, is mere child’s play or idle pastime, in comparison to the sight of so many souls struck down every day by Satan.’ Thus this learned Greek father very eloquently represents the great battle of Satan and his hosts, against all mankind. But for a description of the internal conflict, Diabolus and his army of Doubters and Bloodmen arrayed against the powers of Mansoul, Bunyan stands alone and most beautifully resplendent.

In this war there is no combination of souls to resist Satan, nor can any human powers in any way assist us in the trying battle. Here, O my reader, you and I must stand alone far from the aid of our fellow-men. We must call upon all the resources of our minds, and while there is unity within, no resisting or treason—while the Holy Spirit strengthens and inclines the will, the understanding, the conscience, the affections, and all our powers are united to resist Satan, God fights for us, and the heart is safe under the gracious smiles of our Emmanuel. May we never forget that our spiritual life is totally dependent upon him, in whom, as to the body, we live, and move, and have our being. But when doubts enfeeble us, and Bloodmen harass us, there is no help from man. No pope, cardinal, archbishop, minister, or any human power can aid us; ALL our hope is in God alone; every effort for deliverance must be by fervent prayer and supplication, from the heart and conscience, directly to God. Our petitions must be framed by the Holy Ghost, and presented unto Shaddai, not by priest or prelate, but by our Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, the only intercessor and mediator.

The attentive reader of Bunyan’s works will notice the difference between the trial of Faithful in the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ and that of the prisoners brought to the bar as traitors in the ‘Holy War.’ The judge and jury are particularly overbearing to Faithful, much more so than to the Diabolonians. Still there is one very strong feature in which they all agree. The prisoners are all brought to their trial, not that their guilt or innocence might be proved, but in order to their condemnation and execution. All are brought up in chains, a custom which then was very prevalent, if not universal, but which is now only read of as a cruel practice of a bygone age.

There are a few riddles or questions arising out of this narrative, the solving of which may afford instructive amusement to the reader. What is meant by the drum of Diabolus, which so terrified Mansoul? Refer to Galatians 3:10; Hebrews 6:4–8; 1 John 5:16; Hebrews 12:29. Why were the troops numbered at forty thousand, that came up to alarm and convince Mansoul of sin, or righteousness, and of judgment, while Emmanuel’s army is not numbered? See Joshua 4:13; Hebrews 12:22.

When the Doubters are slain or driven from Mansoul, after her conversion, they go straggling up and down the country enslaving the barbarous people (the margin informs us that the unbeliever never fights the Doubters). Why do they go by fives, nines, and seventeens? Do these odd numbers refer to the nine companies of Doubters, and eight of Bloodmen, who were under the command of five fallen angels—Diabolus, Beelzebub, Lucifer, Legion, and Apollyon? Fearful odds against a poor fallen sinner, five evil spirits, or nine classes of doubts, or these nine doubts united to eight kinds of Bloodmen or persecutors.

In a work so highly allegorical, and founded upon a plain narrative of facts in the experience of the author, the editor deemed it needful to add numerous notes. These contain all that appeared to be explanatory or illustrative in other commentaries, with many that are original; obsolete terms and customs are explain; references are given to about fifty passages in the ‘Grace Abounding,’ that the reader’s attention may be constantly directed to the solemn truths which are displayed under this delightful allegory. The editor has the consolation of hoping that the result of great labour can do no injury. Those whose deep experience in the spiritual warfare enables them to understand and enjoy the allegory, can pass them by; while many of the poor but immortal souls engaged in this warfare, who are not deeply experienced, may receive aid and encouragement to persevere, until they shall exclaim, The battle is fought, the victory is won, eternal praises to the great and gracious Emmanuel.

Reader, I must not detain you much longer from the pleasure of entering upon a narrative so deeply interesting to all who possess the understanding heart—an allegory, believed by very many to be the most beautiful and extraordinary that mere human genius ever composed in any language. O consider the worth of an immortal soul! God sent his servants, Moses and the prophets, with their slings and battering-rams, their great and precious promises to the early prophets, who have faithfully handed them down to us; and then came Emmanuel and his heavenly army, and all this to conquer Mansoul! Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. The blood of bulls and of goats cannot wash out our stains. We must be found in Christ as part of his mystical body, and thus in perfection obey the Divine law, and then, through the sin-atoning offering of Emmanuel, God’s equal, eternal Son, a fountain is opened for sin and uncleanness, in which our souls, being purified, shall be clothed with the garment of salvation.

Who can calculate the worth of his immortal soul, that God himself should pay so costly a price for its redemption! May the desire of every reader be, O that my soul may be engaged in this holy war, my ears be alarmed by the infernal drum of Diabolus, that my Heart-castle may receive the King of salvation, and Christ be found there the hope of glory. Then may we feel the stern necessity of incessant watchfulness and prayer against carnal security, or any other cause of backsliding, with its consequent miseries.

Well may the world wonder, how a poor traveling tinker could gain the extraordinary knowledge, which enabled him to become the greatest allegorical writer that the world ever saw. The reason is obvious, he lived and moved and had his being in the atmosphere of God’s revealed will. It was this that enabled him to take the wings of the morning, and fly not only to the uttermost parts of the visible but of the invisible world; to enjoy scenes of light and glory, such as Gabriel contemplated when he came from heaven to Nazareth, and revealed to Mary her high destiny—that her Son should be the promised Saviour, who should bear the government of the universe upon his shoulders—whose name was Wonderful-Counsellor-the Mighty God-the everlasting Father-the Prince of Peace-Emmanuel, God with us.

Bunyan’s industry and application must have been intense, he could not by possibility for a single moment say, ‘soul take thine ease,’ inglorious, destructive ease. His hands had to labour for his bread, and to provide for a most exemplary wife and four children, one of them blind. There was no hour of his life when he could have said to his soul, Let all thy noble powers be absorbed in eating, drinking, being merry—mere animal gratifications. The Holy War, the solemn results depending upon it, salvation or eternal ruin, the strong desire to glorify Emmanuel, the necessity to labour for his household—that blessed industry left him no opportunity for weaving a web of unmeaning casuistic subtilties, in which to entangle and engulph his soul, like a Puseyite or a German Rationalist. The thunders and lightnings of Sinai had burnt up all this wood, hay, and stubble, and with child-like simplicity he depended upon the Holy Spirit, while drawing all his consolations and all his spiritual supplies from the sacred Scriptures.

Bunyan’s narrative of the Holy War, from its commencement in the fall of man to that splendid address of Emmanuel with which it concludes, has been the study of the Editor for more than forty years, and he hopes that no future year of the residue of his life will be spent without reading this solemn, soul-stirring, delightful narrative.



Geo Offor, The Holy War, 2006, 3, 245–252.

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