John Bunyan's book, The Holy War, insightfully illustrates the challenges and ongoing struggle of spiritual formation and victorious Christian living.
Photo is from the cover of a 2015 audio version of The Holy War by John Bunyan
Though less known than Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan wrote another powerful and profound allegory called The Holy War.  This very insightful book chronicles the story of Mansoul, a town built by King Shaddai in His spacious country called Universe. Part One of the allegory describes the fall of man into sin, his domination by the devil, and his redemption and restoration by Christ. Part Two describes the ongoing battle of good and evil over man’s soul and the hope of final freedom from sin and the devil when the town of Mansoul is taken down and gloriously restored in heaven.
Bunyan’s allegorical overview of redemption and his insightful instruction on spiritual warfare and sanctification are profoundly presented in this story from an internal and spiritual perspective. Man’s soul is depicted as a town and his psychological faculties such as his mind, will, emotions, and conscience are personified as key characters in the story. The three persons of the Triune God are depicted through King Shaddai as God the Father, Prince Emmanuel as Jesus, and the Lord Chief Secretary as the Holy Spirit. The main antagonist in the story is an evil giant and king of the dark world named Diabolus (the devil). Together, he and his minions plotted against the town of Mansoul to cause its fall. Dozens of other characters are named after various virtues and vices. The entire story integrates biblical truths and insights for Christian living.
At the center of Mansoul stood a stately castle designed for King Shaddai, though He did not yet reside there. The walls of the town were well-built and impregnable. The five gates into Mansoul represent man’s five senses and are named accordingly: Ear-gate, Eye-gate, Mouth-gate, Nose-gate, and Feel-gate. The gates “could not be opened or forced by any outsider but only by the will and permission of those within” (p. 4).
The town of Mansoul
Photo from the book cover of Mansoul, a children's edition of The Holy War
Because Mansoul was a delight to King Shaddai, Diabolus saw the town as a way to exact his revenge on Shaddai for convicting him of treason and banishing him from the Royal Kingdom. Knowing that Mansoul was impregnable, Diabolus and his cohorts realized that the town would only be won if the town’s leaders gave consent and opened the gates. So, they conspired for Diabolus to disguise himself as a dragon, to cover his true intentions by offering something of benefit to Mansoul, and to use “all manner of lies, flatteries, and deceptive words” to get them to open their gates and welcome him in (p. 9).
By using deceitful words and by directing their eyes toward the forbidden fruit, Diabolus seduced Mansoul. They opened both the Ear-gate and the Eye-gate, freely admitting Diabolus and his invisible band of demons. After another deceptive speech, Diabolus was installed as king and judge of Mansoul, moving into the castle that Shaddai had designed for his own delight and pleasure.
To strengthen his control over Mansoul, Diabolus deposed key leaders such as Lord Mayor Understanding and Mr. Conscience, and he gained the allegiance of Lord Willbewill to help him do his bidding. This opened the way for all manner of corrupt and fleshly characters such as Lord Lustings, Mr. Forget-Good, Mr. Incredulity, Mr. Hard-Heart, Mr. Haughty, Mr. False Peace, and many others. Diabolus then removed the laws and statutes of Shaddai and replaced them with worthless edicts and commands that permitted indulging in the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life. He further promoted all forms of ungodliness and wickedness. Through his reforms, Mansoul became entirely subservient to Diabolus, and he built strongholds at strategic locations in the town.
Upon hearing of the fall of Mansoul to Diabolus, King Shaddai and His Son, Prince Emmanuel, enacted their plan to recover Mansoul. Emmanuel would enter the kingdom of Universe, wage war with Diabolus, driving him out and retaking Mansoul for Himself. Letters were sent to Mansoul foretelling their plan. Diabolus thwarted the spreading of Shaddai’s message and armed the inhabitants of Mansoul with worldly armor (his armor having spiritual significance exactly opposite to God’s armor).
The King sent His four noble captains to proclaim His messages at the Ear-Gate of Mansoul and to summon her to subject herself to King Shaddai, but Mansoul refused to hear their bold speeches. Diabolus offered terms of peace, but each offer contained massive compromises that would make Shadai “prince in title only” and Mansoul would still be allowed to “live on in unlawful indulgence of lust, lewdness, and adultery, and in the empty pursuit of things to satisfy their desires” (p. 82).
Finally, King Shaddai sent Emmanuel in person to lay claim to Mansoul. Emmanuel renounced Diabolus’ claim to Mansoul, stating that Diabolus conquered Mansoul by falsely representing King Shaddai and His Law, and by the use of cunning deception. Emmanuel then made legal claim to Mansoul on three grounds:
My Father fashioned the town of Mansoul so it is His by right of creation.
I am the Father’s heir so Mansoul is mine by right of inheritance. The Father willed it to Me as a gift.
“Mansoul is mine by right of purchase, for I have bought it for Myself.” On the day they violated My Father’s divine laws, “My Father said they would die. . . . I made amends for Mansoul’s transgressions and My Father accepted my sacrifice. When the appointed time came, I gave body for body, soul for soul, life for life, blood for blood, and so redeemed My beloved Mansoul” (p. 106).
Again Diabolus sent a messenger to offer terms of compromise, each one giving him some level of access to the inhabitants of Mansoul. Finally, Diabolus offered to bring moral reform through sharing the Holy Law and encouraging the people of Mansoul to conform to it. Emmanuel rejected every offer, knowing that Diabolus had no conscience toward God, nor did he love the town of Mansoul. Emmanuel “didn’t come to push Mansoul to live by works” but to “be reconciled to the Father” (p. 122).
Amidst offers of grace, Emmanuel and His army waged war against Mansoul, directing their fury against Diabolus and his men. They “focused most of their strength and energy against Ear-gate and Eye-gate” (p. 124), killing only Diabolians, but sparing Mansoulians. After intensive battle, Emmanuel and his forces are victorious. Emmanuel evicts Diabolus from the castle and in an act of triumph, he strips Diabolus of his armor, chains him to a chariot, and triumphantly parades him through the entire town of Mansoul and out the Eye-gate, finally releasing him to dwell in parched places in a salt land.
Photo is from the cover of a 2015 print edition of The Holy War
The people of Mansoul drafted a petition of confession and sent it to King Emmanuel at the hands of Desires-Awake and Wet-Eyes, the son of Mr. Repentance. This petition expressed the sorrow of all Mansoulians over their sin. Moved by their humility and sincerity, Emmanuel forgave their sins, and drafted a pardon that was to be proclaimed throughout the town of Mansoul. Correspondingly, the people of Mansoul invited Prince Emmanuel to live in their midst and take up residence in the castle, offering homes also to His noble captains and His servants. They surrendered to Emmanuel’s rule and will, to do as He pleased.
Once installed as king, Emmanuel set about transforming the town. He once again set Lord Mayor Understanding, Lord Willbewill, and Mr. Conscience in key positions in the city. To protect Mansoul from future spiritual defeat, Emmanuel commanded Lord Mayor Understanding to daily read the Revelation of Mysteries so he would “know how to perform his office correctly” (p.171).
One by one any Diabolians remaining in the city of mansoul were arrested, jailed, and tried in a court of law – characters like Atheism, Incredulity (unbelief), Lustings, Forget-Good, Hard-Heart, False-Peace, No-Truth, Haughty, and others. As each one is tried, his lies are exposed and his true nature is revealed. They are all sentenced to death by crucifixion.
Emmanuel ordered that the strongholds commissioned by Diabolus be torn down and their ruins taken outside the city. He also enacted a new charter stating in brief. “I forgive, spare, grant, and bestow the following:” (p. 201).
"free, full, and everlasting forgiveness"
"the Holy law and My testament"
"a portion of the grace and goodness that dwells in My Father’s heart and Mine"
"the world and what is in it for their good"
"free access to come to Me in My palace at all times"
"full power and authority to seek out, take, enslave, and destroy all manner of Diabolians"
Emmanuel appointed the Lord Chief Secretary (the Holy Spirit) to instruct them in the ways, methods, and heart inclinations of the Father. He would help them with their prayers and put power in their hearts. The people of Mansoul are commanded not to grieve this great Counselor but are to listen to Him, love Him, be devoted to His teaching, and seek regular communion with Him, for He will place the Father’s love in their hearts, and they will be the wisest and most blessed people.
Mr. Conscience (also called the Recorder) was placed as minister of all the laws, statutes, and judgments of the town, but only in alignment with the instruction of the Lord Chief Secretary. Mr. Conscience was given permission to “drink freely of the blood of My grape” in order to “drive out foul, gross, and hurtful thoughts, moods, or fixed evil from your heart” (p. 207).
Emmanuel then warned the people of Mansoul that Diabolians were still in their town. Though no longer in the castle, they had taken up residence in the town’s “outskirts and along the walls where they’ve made dens, caves, holes, and strongholds for themselves.” He commanded the townspeople, “When you find them, take hold of them, subdue them, and put them to death according to the will of My Father. . . . Observe their holes and search out any place where they hang about, lurk, or live. Overtake them and make no peace with them; and whatever terms of peace they try to offer you, detest and reject it” (p. 211).
Emmanuel then gave a brief list of some of the major Diabolians that were still resident in Mansoul, all of them named after various deeds of the flesh. He taught the people that the more they study the King’s Law, the more easily they will recognize these traitors in their midst. If they don’t deal with these Diabolians, they will undermine, sabotage, and terrorize the town and “turn your now-flourishing Mansoul into a barren and desolate wilderness and a ruinous heap” (p. 211). So, these Diabolians must be found and put to death on the cross. He further warned that some of these Diabolians will seek to deceive by pretending to have a passion for religion, and thereby endeavoring to lead them astray.
Prince Emmanuel provided garments of fine white linen for all the Mansoulians. “This, My Mansoul, is My attire given to you as the badge by which those who belong to Me can be recognized from the servants of others. I grant this to all who are Mine. Without wearing it, no one is permitted to see My face. Therefore, wear them for My sake, for I am the One who gave them to you, so the world would know you are Mine” (p. 213). Emmanuel then commanded them to wear these garments daily, keep them white, don’t let them drag in the dirt, don’t misplace them, and if you soil or defile them, restore your right standing with Me through confessing your sin.
Mansoul and its inhabitants were completely transformed. “Nowhere was there a town, city, or other establishment like Mansoul – a town redeemed from the hand and power of Diabolus! A town which King Shaddai loved and to which He sent Emmanuel to regain from the prince of the infernal cave. Yes, a town which Emmanuel loved to dwell in and which He chose for His royal residence – a town which He fortified for Himself and made strong by the force of His army” (p. 216).
Mansoul flourished. The elders of Mansoul visited Prince Emmanuel each day. Emmanuel walked among the streets and gardens of the city to bless the people, to kiss them, and to heal them. Feasts were a daily event, gifts from Emmanel were abundant, and singing abounded. The town prospered, “they had no quarrels, no angry scolding, no meddling, or unfaithful goings-on in all of the town of Mansoul. . . . Throughout the town of Mansoul, nothing was found but harmony, quietness, joy, and health. And this lasted all that summer” (p. 218).
“BUT after the Prince bestowed all this mercy, a man in the town of Mansoul by the name of Mr. Carnal Security brought Mansoul into great and severe slavery and bondage” (p.220). By amassing great influence in the town, Mr. Carnal Security turned their hearts from Emmanuel to the point that they broke fellowship with Him, no longer visited Him, no longer went to His royal palace, no longer attended His love feasts, no longer sought His guidance, and grieved the Lord Chief Secretary (the Holy Spirit) any time He attempted to reason with them over their current condition. Sadly, their distanced relationship to the King did not bother them and they again walked contrary to His ways, bringing the town once again to ruin.
This sets the framework for Part Two of The Holy War. The main message of Part Two is that by neglecting our relationship with Jesus, grieving the Holy Spirit, and permitting secret sins to live on the fringes of our souls, we allow the enemy to have access in our lives. We must guard against false security and apathy, because previously conquered sins may once again raise their ugly heads. We must heed Paul’s warning, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12 NASB).
Photo is from the cover of a modern English version of The Holy War
In Part Two, battles once again rage as the Diabolians who still remained in dens, caves holes, and strongholds on the outskirts of the town collude with Diabolus to retake Mansoul. It is only as the Mansoulians acknowledge their sin, humbly appeal to the grace of the Prince and His Father, and heed the voice of the Lord Chief Secretary that Mansoul is able to be delivered from the schemes of Diabolus.
In the end, Emmanuel returned with His forces and took again the town of Mansoul. There was great rejoicing at the King’s return and deep repentance from the people, resulting in Emmanuel forgiving them for their backsliding. The town washed their garments at the fountain and returned to the castle for a great celebration with dancing and singing. They buried the doubters and captains of Diabolus that they had slain by the Sword of Emmanuel (the Word of God) and the shield of Captain Credence (the shield of faith).
“So finally, Mansoul enjoyed a good degree of peace and quiet. Her Prince lived within her borders; her captains and her soldiers performed their duties, and Mansoul minded her way of life. She tended her businesses and traded with the far-off country” (p. 364).
Emmanuel told the townspeople of a time to come when the King will take down the town of Mansoul, every stick and stone, and relocate it to His Royal Kingdom with a whole new glory. At that time, they “will witness things they’ve never seen here. They shall have fellowship with Me, with My Father, and with your Lord Secretary – a sweet communion that isn’t possible here” (p. 368). This new Mansoul will be free of Diabolians and all evil. “And in the new Mansoul, you will have no sorrow or grief” (p. 368). “Life shall last longer there than you desire it to here, yet it will always be sweet and new without any hindrances” (p. 369).
After showing the people of Mansoul what will take place in the future, Emmanuel instructed them on their Scriptural responsibilities until these future events come to pass. He commanded, “keep yourself clean and the robes which I gave you unstained by the world” (p. 369). “Wash often in My fountain, so you don’t go about in defiled garments.” “Remember My love and My continued kindness . . . to stimulate you to walk to the whole extent of the benefit bestowed on you” (p. 370).
Emmanuel then assured them with these promises, “Because I live, you shall live also. I reconciled you to My Father by the blood of My cross, and being reconciled you shall live through Me. I will pray for you. I will fight for you, and I will still do you good” (p. 370).
Part Two closes with a wonderful series of admonitions from Emmanuel. I include here only one.
“Nothing can hurt you but sin. Nothing can grieve Me but sin, and nothing can make you vile and worthless before your enemies but sin. So pay close attention to sin, My Mansoul.
“Do you know why I first allowed and still permit Diabolians to live within your walls? It is to keep you alert, to test your love, to make you watchful, and to cause you to value My noble captains, their soldiers, and My mercy. . . .
My plan isn’t that they would drive you further off, but rather nearer to My Father – to learn war, to petition Him, and to make you less important in your own eyes” (p.371).
Application and Looking Forward
I share this overview of The Holy War by John Bunyan to illustrate the progressive and ongoing nature of sanctification. Sanctification, or spiritual formation as it is often called, is a process, it is a journey, and it is battle. It is filled with challenges and struggles. It requires addressing the sins that lurk in the dens, caves, and strongholds of our lives. It requires guarding the gateways to our soul including our eyes and ears, the two gates most susceptible to attack. In addition to regeneration of our spirits, spiritual formation requires the renewing of our minds, the redirecting of our wills, the refocusing of our emotions, and the recalibrating of our consciences all in alignment with the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes spiritual formation requires the Holy Spirit's healing to reach the wounds and broken places buried deep within our hearts. These unhealed wounds are like the tap roots of half-pulled dandelions, not visible until they surface once again, and if left unpicked, will mature and spread destructive seeds, creating further problems in our lives. Sometimes sanctification requires addressing lies that we’ve embraced, identifying blind spots we have difficulty seeing, or facing dysfunctions that trip us up time and again. Sometimes it requires the breaking of bondages and the tearing down of strongholds. And it frequently requires the wise impartation of fellow Mansoulians who are gifted, wise, and loving - devout mentors and friends who will walk with us through the transformation process, being there to embrace us and to encourage us.
Granting Prince Emmanuel access to our lives and installing Him on the throne in the castle of our hearts is only the beginning. He desires to transform our souls, teaching us to be watchful and to conquer residual Diabolian influences until “nothing is found but harmony, quietness, joy, and health.” In the weeks to come, we will look at some of the processes God uses to bring about His sanctifying work in our lives. Some of these processes are nurturing to the soul, some of them routine, and some of them painful, but they are all powerfully transforming if we yield to the loving and faithful work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
 Bunyan, John. The Holy War (Updated, Illustrated): Made by Shaddai upon Diabolus for the Regaining of the Metropolis of the World (Bunyan Updated Classics Book 2). Aneko Press. Kindle Edition. My summary account of The War and all corresponding quotes are taken from this source. Page numbers are only noted after direct quotes.
Free Kindle versions of The Holy War are available at: