“In my Travels, as I walked through many Regions and Countries, it was my chance to happen into that famous Continent of Universe; a very large and spacious Country it is. It lieth between the two Poles, and just amidst the four points of the Heavens.”

In the tradition of Milton’s Paradise Lost, these lines introduce John Bunyan’s literary masterpiece , The Holy War (published in 1682), an epic tale depicting the cosmic battle between God and evil.

Bunyan conducts us across a broad sweep of God’s revelation from the Old Testament to the New and back again, showing the deplorable condition of fallen humanity and the role that the conscience plays during the Fall and towards true conversion.

Bunyan tells the story of the Fall of the Town of Mansoul (Man’s Soul), a walled city built for the glory of Shaddai, the LORD of the Universe, which is besieged by the devil’s armies and is liberated by the forces of Shaddai’s Son, Emmanuel.

Diabolus, who assumes the body of the wisest of the beasts, decides upon a plan to assail the city and deceive poor Mansoul. Satan concentrates his initial attacks on the men who represent the three main aspects of the human psyche: the Mayor of the Town who represents ‘Understanding’, whose eyes are hidden from the Light; the Recorder who represents ‘Conscience’ and ‘Lord Willbewill’ whose desire to serve Shaddai is completely changed so that he comes to serve Diabolus.

Diabolus’ first attack is upon Captain Resistance who stands within bow shot of Eyegate and Eargate. After he is eliminated, the Will (Lord Willbewill), as the gate keeper of the soul, provides the next contact with the enemy. It is up to the Will to block the entrance of evil thoughts, vehemently resist them and not allow them to linger because if one yields to them, if they are entertained and encouraged, they will conceive and bring forth fruit, evil intentions and desires which will be translated into actions.

Diabolus brings his accusation against the King and his Law concerning the forbidden fruit and alleges that this prohibition by the Law keeps Mansoul in bondage and slavery. The temptation was that by yielding, this fruit would grant Mansoul both “wisdom and honour”.

Lord Willbewill accepts Diabolus’ oration which is made at Eargate, consents to his words and opens the Gates so that Diabolus should be let into the Town. “ And now was Mansoul brought under to purpose, and made to fulfil the lusts of the will, and of the mind.”

As soon as Satan breaks in, Conscience and Understanding are the first to fall victim. Before sin entered Mr Recorder (Conscience) was well read and was in dread of the Laws of his King, but upon being defiled, he hardens his heart in the ways of vanity, his strength and resolution is gone, and is almost past all consciousness of sin.

The Lord Mayor, who was an Understanding man, in admitting the Giant into the town, was put out of his place. Diabolus builds up a wall in front of Lord Understanding’s palace and shut off the light so that the whole of his habitation was darkened.

Lord Willbewill now greatly debauched in his principles appoints Mr Affection as his Deputy who is wholly given to the flesh. Diabolus replaces the Lord Mayor with Lord Lustings. The Recorder is promptly replaced by a fellow called Forget-good who could not remember anything but mischief, and do it with delight.

Diabolus garrisons himself in the Town of Mansoul, defaces the Image of Shaddai and sets up his own and makes “havock of all remains of the Laws and Statutes of Shaddai”.

Tidings of the rebellion of Mansoul are brought to Lord Shaddai but the King and his Son had foreseen it all long before and had sufficiently provided for the relief of Mansoul.

Emmanuel is engaged by Covenant to his Father to take a journey “into the Country of Universe” to recover Mansoul and bring him back to himself “through the power of his matchless love, into a far better, and more happy condition than ’twas in before it was taken by Diabolus”.

So the King immediately musters his forces and commissions four captains, to make war against Mansoul and regain it. The name of the leader was Boanerges; the second was Captain Conviction whose “Scutcheon was the Book of the Law wide open, from whence issued a flame of fire”; the third was Judgment, whose Ensign was Mr Terror; and the fourth was Execution whose Ensign was Mr Justice, who bore the red colours and his “Scutcheon was a fruitless tree with an Ax laying at the root thereof”. These emblems represent the terrors of Mount Sinai, understood as a covenant of works which would not prevail.

Captain Boanerges commands his Trumpeter to go down to Eargate and in the name of the great Shaddai to summons Mansoul to give audience to the Message of the gospel. However, the first calls for repentance are answered with defiance. The words beat against Eargate but without force to break it open. Lord Willbewill double bars the gates and refuses to submit. A battle ensues, and Understanding and Conscience are taken prisoner. Mansoul hardens his heart.

Shaddai’s four captains send home a petition to beg for a new general to lead them. Emmanuel himself now takes command. Emmanuel’s armour shines like the sun. He has forty-four battering rams and twenty-two slings, the sixty-six books of the Bible, each made of pure gold. Emmanuel offers mercy to Mansoul, and when it is rejected threatens judgment and terror. Diabolus goes in person to Mouthgate and begs Emmanuel to leave him to rule his subjects in peace. Emmanuel tells him that “ he is a thief and a liar”. Emmanuel reveals that he “ became a surety” to his “Father, body for body, soul for soul, life for life, blood for blood, and so redeemed my beloved Mansoul”.

Diabolus withdraws from the wall and sends a messenger to offer alternative terms, to be allowed to reside in Mansoul as Emmanuel’s deputy who will show Mansoul how he has transgressed the Law. There is a great battle. Captain Conviction receives three wounds in the mouth. Eargate is beaten in, and entered. Conscience and Willbewill, borne down by shame for their sins pass the night in sackcloth and ashes. When morning breaks they prostrate before Emmanuel’s throne and confess that they deserve nothing but death as a just retribution for their crimes. Emmanuel at once delivers them their pardons sealed with seven seals. He takes off their robes of mourning and clothes them with shining garments.

Emmanuel again enters the city. Lord Willbewill is now regenerate and resumes charge of the gates. The old Lord Mayor is reinstated, Mr Knowledge is made Recorder and Diabolus’ image is taken down and broken to pieces. Mansoul is so happy that he sings of Emmanuel in his sleep. This is far better than Star Wars – it is truth, not fantasy.