A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress

Notes and Commentary

by Ken Puls

on John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress

Part Two

Christiana and Mercy

10. Mercy's Reply

Then Timorous also reviled her, and said to her fellow, “Come, neighbor Mercy, let's leave her in her own hands, since she scorns our counsel and company.”

But Mercy was at a stand, and could not so readily comply with her neighbor; and that for a twofold reason. First, her bowels yearned over Christiana; so she said within herself, “If my neighbor will needs be gone, I will go a little way with her, and help her.” Secondly, her bowels yearned over her own soul (for what Christiana had said had taken some hold upon her mind). Wherefore she said within herself again, “I will yet have more talk with this Christiana: and if I find truth and life in what she shall say, myself with my heart shall also go with her.” Wherefore Mercy began thus to reply to her neighbor Timorous.

Mercy: “Neighbor, I did indeed come with you to see Christiana this morning; and since she is, as you see, a taking of her last farewell of her country, I think to walk this sunshiny morning a little way with her to help her on the way.”

But she told her not of her second reason; but kept that to herself.

Timorous: Well, I see you have a mind to go a-fooling too; but take heed in time, and be wise: while we are out of danger we are out; but when we are in we are in.

 

Notes and Commentary

Christiana is undeterred in her determination to set out on a journey to the Celestial City. She has explained to her friends her reasons for leaving. She read them her letter of invitation and assurance. And she shared her hope that the King will be merciful and welcome her at journey’s end. When Christian asks, “What now will you say to this?” Mrs. Timorous is aghast. She believes Christiana’s hopes to be madness. She feels offended that Christiana will not listen to reason and heed her advice to stay. She also assumes that Mercy thinks as she does. She reviles Christiana and encourages Mercy to join her in leaving: “Come, neighbor Mercy, let's leave her in her own hands, since she scorns our counsel and company.”

But Mercy has a different response. She is compelled to stay and at least begin the journey with Christiana. She tells Mrs. Timorous, “Neighbor, I did indeed come with you to see Christiana this morning; and since she is, as you see, a taking of her last farewell of her country, I think to walk this sunshiny morning a little way with her to help her on the way.”

Bunyan gives two reasons for Mercy’s reply.

  1. She is, as her name implies, compassionate and merciful. She sees the difficult challenge ahead for Christiana and desires to help.
  2. She is intrigued by Christiana’s words and is inclined to hear more. She senses that she also is in need of mercy and forgiveness and her heart’s desire is to find truth and life.

Until Mercy offered her kind reply, Mrs. Timorous dominated the conversation. Mercy sat quietly in the background, while the scorn of Mrs. Timorous was loudly on display. It would have been easy for Christiana to assume that her efforts to convince her friends were to no avail. But God was at work. The same stirrings of grace that moved Christiana to change her plans now begin stirring in Mercy.

As we have opportunity to share our faith, we should not be discouraged when we face opposition. Those who regard the gospel with ridicule and distain are often easier to see and hear than those who are receptive and thoughtful. God may very well be working in the hearts of those listening or overhearing who are less noticeable. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown in jail, yet they prayed and sang hymns, “and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). Mrs. Timorous was boisterous in her opposition, yet Christiana stayed true to her resolve, and Mercy was listening.

For Mrs. Timorous the solution is simple: don’t go looking for danger. Stay home and stay safe. She tells Christiana to be wise: “while we are out of danger we are out; but when we are in we are in.” But Mrs. Timorous’ wisdom comes from the world. For her danger is what threatens her comforts and aspirations in this life, not what threatens her soul. She rationalizes: We are presently “out of danger." Why would we risk going on a journey where we will likely be “in” danger? Once “we are in [danger] we are in.” When danger overtakes us, we might not be able to get out again! The irony, of course, is Mrs. Timorous and her friends are living in a city called Destruction. The greatest danger they face is to their souls if they choose to stay and not “flee the wrath to come.”

Mercy’s reply demonstrates true wisdom. Though she does not yet fully understand the gospel and has not yet committed herself to Christ, she is concerned for her soul and ready to set out on the path in search of truth and life.

Return to 09. Visted by Neighbors

 

The text for The Pilgrim's Progress
and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary for Part II ©2014, 2021 Ken Puls

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from
the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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