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

Mrs. Timorous and Neighbors

11. Scorned by the World

So Mrs. Timorous returned to her house, and Christiana betook herself to her journey. But when Timorous was got home to her house, she sent for some of her neighbors: to wit, Mrs. Bat’s-Eyes, Mrs. Inconsiderate, Mrs. Light-mind, and Mrs. Know-Nothing. So when they were come to her house, she fell to telling the story of Christiana and of her intended journey. And thus she began her tale:

Timorous: Neighbors, having had little to do this morning, I went to give Christiana a visit; and when I came at the door I knocked, as you know ‘tis our custom. And she answered, “If you come in God's name, come in.” So in I went, thinking all was well; but when I came in, I found her preparing herself to depart the town, she and also her children. So I asked her what was her meaning by that; and she told me, in short, that she was now of a mind to go on pilgrimage, as did her husband. She told me also a dream that she had, and how the King of the country where her husband was had sent her an inviting letter to come thither.

Mrs. Know-Nothing: Then said Mrs. Know-Nothing, “And what, do you think she will go?”

Timorous: “Aye, go she will, whatever come on't; and methinks I know it by this, for that which was my great argument to persuade her to stay at home (to wit, the troubles she was like to meet with in the way), is one great argument with her to put her forward on her journey. For she told me in so many words, the bitter goes before the sweet. Yea, and for as much as it so doth, it makes the sweet the sweeter.”

Mrs. Bat’s-eyes: “Oh, this blind and foolish woman,” said she; “will she not take warning by her husband's afflictions? For my part, I see, if he were here again, he would rest him content in a whole skin, and never run so many hazards for nothing.”

Mrs. Inconsiderate also replied, saying, “Away with such fantastical fools from the town—a good riddance, for my part, I say, of her. Should she stay where she dwells, and retain this her mind, who could live quietly by her? For she will either be dumpish or unneighborly, or talk of such matters as no wise body can abide. Wherefore, for my part, I shall never be sorry for her departure. Let her go, and let better come in her room: 'twas never a good world since these whimsical fools dwelt in it.”

Then Mrs. Light-mind added as follows: “Come, put this kind of talk away. I was yesterday at Madam Wanton’s, where we were as merry as the maids. For who do you think should be there, but I, and Mrs. Love-the-Flesh, and three or four more, with Mr. Lechery, Mrs. Filth, and some others. So there we had music and dancing, and what else was meet to fill up the pleasure. And I dare say, my lady herself is an admirably well bred gentlewoman, and Mr. Lechery is as pretty a fellow.”


Notes and Commentary

Thus far in the story we have seen the first stirrings of grace in Christiana as well as in Mercy. Now, as Christiana and Mercy make preparations to leave the City of Destruction, Bunyan draws our attention to one who is determined to stay.

Mrs. Timorous, as her name implies, is one who is driven by her own fears and apprehensions. Thoughts of taking a journey, such as Christiana and Mercy are planning, cause her trepidation. Think of the friends and family they will leave behind! Think of the unknowns and uncertainties! Think of the dangers they will face (dangers confirmed by the stories she has heard about Christian)! A journey to search for a Celestial City—Mrs. Timorous will have nothing to do with it. The thoughts of leaving her present comforts and familiar surroundings are too much to bear.

Christiana once thought this way. And so Mrs. Timorous was aghast when she stopped by to visit and discovered Christiana preparing to embark on such a journey. How could Christiana so suddenly change her mind? Has she lost all reason? How could she now be willing to risk all (even the well-being of her children) to set out on the Way? It makes no sense! Mrs. Timorous tried her best to discourage Christiana from going, yet Christiana could not be dissuaded. And now, even Mercy is persuaded to join her.

Upon returning home, Mrs.Timorous can’t wait to tell her friends the results of her visit. She has had an astonishing morning and someone needs to hear what she has to say. She calls upon several of her neighbors to come join her so she can tell her stories and engage in some tantalizing gossip.

The Seeds of Gossip

How did a simple visit to check on the well-being of a neighbor turn into an occasion for heaping scorn and ridicule upon Christiana? The seeds of gossip were present at the outset:

1) Idleness

Mrs. Timorous began the day, as she says, “having had little to do this morning.” Idleness provides the opportunity for gossip. Paul warns of the danger of idleness in his instructions to Timothy concerning young women who are widows:

“And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not” (1 Timothy 5:13).

2) Irritation

Mrs. Timorous is filled with disgust and scorn when she returns to her house. She offered what she believed to be sound advice and it was rejected, not only by Christiana, but also by Mercy. She is convinced that Christiana and Mercy are making a big mistake. She is right and they are wrong. That knowledge irritates her and she feels compelled to let others know.

3) Insecurity

Mrs. Timorous has strong opinions and has passed judgment on Christiana, but is (again as her name implies) insecure. She needs others to affirm her and validate her conclusions. She invites her neighbors to come and scrutinize her story. Like the jury that tries Faithful in Part 1 of The Pilgrim’s Progress, the women confidently ridicule and condemn without evidence or investigation. Their names reveal the sin and folly of their hearts:

Their judgment is harsh. Mrs. Bat’s-Eyes calls Christiana “blind and foolish.” Mrs. Inconsiderate is glad to see Christiana go saying: “Away with such fantastical fools from the town—a good riddance, for my part.” Like Israel in the Old Testament, Christiana has become a reproach to her neighbors.

We have become a reproach to our neighbors,
A scorn and derision to those who are around us.
(Psalm 79:4)

Two Ways of Thinking

Mrs. Timorous and her neighbors exemplify in their contempt for Christiana how differently believers and unbelievers understand the world around them. Timorous and her friends have different loves, different priorities, and different values. They feel uncomfortable and judged in light of Christiana’s new found faith. They cannot make sense of her abrupt decision to leave the City of Destruction. They are especially confounded by her willingness to endure trials and suffering.

Those gathered at Mrs. Timorous’ home have a worldly view of trials and suffering:

Certainly one may need to go through various trials (when they are sudden or unavoidable). And one can even learn from them. But suffering is not good. Troubles and trials serve no positive purpose and are deemed adverse, unfortunate, and tragic. For Mrs. Timorous and her friends, troubles and trials are the very reason to avoid the journey and stay home.

But a Christian thinks differently about trials and suffering.

A Christian understands that God can and does use the difficulties we face for His own good purposes. Christiana has learned from Secret, “the bitter is before the sweet.” Her husband’s life is a testimony that God indeed uses the troubles and trials we face in this life to fit us and bring us to glory. Christiana is willing to endure the “bitter” because she is confident in the “sweet” at her journey’s end. Mrs. Timorous and her friends want the “sweet” now, without the trouble of going through the “bitter.”

The Seed of the Gospel

In Jesus’ parable of the sower, the Gospel seed is cast and falls upon different ground. We see the contrast here in Bunyan’s allegory between good and bad soil. When Mercy heard the invitation of the Gospel, she was intrigued and compelled to hear more. The seed finds good ground and begins to take root. But with Timorous and her neighbors, the seed is quickly snatched away.

“And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them” (Matthew 13:4).

Rather than dwell on spiritual realities, Mrs. Light-mind exhorts the group, “Come, put this kind of talk away.” The spiritual realities that Christiana spoke of so warmly are readily tossed aside. The warnings and promises of God that would engage their hearts and point their souls toward eternal life are dismissed as inconsequential.

The neighbors’ conversation soon sinks from gossip into further sin. Their idea of “sweetness” is not the joys of heaven, but the carnal pleasures of this world.

Mrs. Light-mind speaks of being “merry as the maids” at Madam Wanton’s. Madam Wanton represents sexual immorality and moral failure. Faithful escaped her enticements in Part 1 of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Guests at her house include:

Scripture warns us be on guard and flee from such sins.

“The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” Romans 13:12–14).

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15–17).

The world welcomes and mingles with such guests as Love-the-flesh, Lechery, and Filth. For their company Mrs. Timorous and her friends would gladly send Christiana on her way and stay behind. But this crowd lives in Destruction. They are destined for wrath and have no part in the Kingdom of God.

“For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them” (Ephesians 5:5–7).

Judgment is certain, but so is an eternal inheritance. Despite the scorn of the world, we must follow the example of Christiana and Mercy, flee the fleeting pleasures of Destruction and pursue eternal life.

Continue Reading 12. Uncertainties as the Journey Begins

Return to 10. Mercy's Reply


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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