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

Tear Drops

13. Tears in a Bottle

So they went on together; and Mercy began to weep. Then said Christiana, “Wherefore weeps my sister so?”

Mercy: “Alas!” said she, “who can but lament that shall but rightly consider what a state and condition my poor relations are in that yet remain in our sinful town? and that which makes my grief the more heavy is, because they have no instructor, nor any to tell them what is to come.”

Christiana: “Bowels becomes pilgrims. And you do for your friends as my good Christian did for me when he left me; he mourned for that I would not heed nor regard him; but his Lord and ours did gather up his tears, and put them into his bottle; and now both I, and your, and these my sweet babes, are reaping the fruit and benefit of them. I hope, Mercy, these tears of yours will not be lost: for the truth has said, that ‘they that sow in tears shall reap in joy, in singing. And he that goes forth and weeps, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.’”

Then said Mercy:

Let the Most Blessed be my guide,
If it be his blessed will,
Unto his gate, into his fold,
Up to his holy hill.

And let him never suffer me
To swerve or turn aside
From his free grace and holy ways,
Whate'er shall me betide.

And let him gather them of mine
That I have left behind.
Lord, make them pray they may be Thine,
With all their heart and mind.


Notes and Commentary

No sooner does the journey to the Celestial City begin, that Mercy begins to weep. Though she has determined to leave the City of Destruction, she is leaving behind many friends and family members. She laments that their souls remain in danger. Christiana’s words of comfort imply that Mercy has pled with them and tried to warn them. Mercy could not convince them to join her and now she fears they will have no one else to warn them of the judgment to come.

As her name implies, Mercy is caring and compassionate. Christiana says of Mercy: “Bowels becomes pilgrims.” Bowels were considered the seat of deep emotion. In Part 1 when Christian first shared his distress with his family, he addressed them: “O my dear wife, said he, and you the children of my bowels,” in other words, the ones for whom I care most deeply. As followers of Christ, our compassion and love for others should run deep. Christiana’s words here are drawn out of Paul’s description of Christian character in Colossians:

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering (Colossians 3:12).

In the KJV this verse reads:

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering (Colossians 3:12, KJV).

Mercy is indeed one who has put on “bowels of mercy.” When she learned that Christiana would be setting out on her journey with no one to help her, “her bowels yearned over Christiana.” And when she considered the danger to her own life if she remained in Destruction, “her bowels yearned over her own soul (for what Christiana had said had taken some hold upon her mind).”

As Mercy laments the dire state of her friends and family, Christiana offers comfort. Christiana has reason to be hopeful. She was once blind to sin. Christian was under conviction, spending his nights “in sighs and tears,” while she believed him to be going mad. Christian pitied and prayed for his family, while “sometimes they would deride, sometimes they would chide, and sometimes they would quite neglect him.” Before Christian began his journey, he pleaded with his wife and children to come with him. Christiana refused to heed her husband’s pleas and warnings to flee Destruction. When Christian set out for the Celestial City, she remained behind. Later on the journey while he was at House Beautiful in his conversation with Charity, he wept because his family was “all of them utterly averse to my going on pilgrimage"   Christiana remembers her husband's tears—tears that God used in time to move her own heart to repentance. She tells Mercy that God gathered up his tears and put them in a bottle. Christiana’s words again are drawn out of Scripture:

You number my wanderings;
Put my tears into Your bottle;
Are they not in Your book?
(Psalm 56:8)

This biblical allusion to tears in a bottle teaches three important lessons:

1. God remembers our tears.

God knows our sorrows. We are assured at the beginning of the book of Psalms, “The Lord knows the way of righteous” (Psalm 1:6).

In Psalm 6 David confesses:

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
(Psalm 6:6)

But in verses 8 and 9, he takes comfort:

the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
(Psalm 6:8b–9)

In 2 Kings 20, the Lord tells King Hezekiah: “Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: ‘I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord’” (2 Kings 20:5).

God hears our cries. He sees our tears. They are not lost or forgotten. Rather they are cherished and preserved.

2. God uses our tears.

God not only remembers our tears, He has use of them. Tears soften the heart as rain softens dry and hard ground. The sorrows and grieving we experience in this life can serve to cultivate humility and root out pride. God uses our tears to soften our own hearts as well as the hearts of others. When Christiana remembered her husband’s tears for her, she shed tears of her own that led to her brokenness and repentance.

3. God will ultimately turn our tears to joy.

Christian comforts Mercy with words of Scripture:

Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him.
(Psalm 126:5–6)

Our grief is not wasted. We may sow in tears, but we will reap in joy. God can and will use even our deepest sorrows and pain to accomplish His good and perfect will. Our tears are not only put in bottle, they are written in God’s book (Psalm 56:8). They are part of His plan. God uses both joys and sorrows to guide us and keep us until we reach our journey’s end. Christiana learned from Secret: “the bitter is before the sweet.” Already she has seen this to be true. God heard Christian’s tears for his family. And now those tears are turned to joy as Christiana, her children, and even Mercy begin their journey together to the Celestial City.

Though we may grieve over friends and family who have rejected Christ and turned away from the truth, we are not without hope. There is no greater blessing in this life than to have someone who cares about your soul and who diligently prays for you. This is especially true for those who are ensnared and blinded by their sin, those who don’t pray for themselves, and those who don’t even realize they need prayer. You may not know the ultimate destiny of those you deeply love, but the very fact that God has burdened you to pray for them is cause for genuine hope and persistence in prayer.

Mercy concludes with a prayer. She prays for herself, that God would guide her and keep her in the ways of righteousness. And she prays for those still in Destruction, those she has “left behind,” that God would remember them and in His time seek and save them.

Continue Reading 14. Look Well to the Steps

Return to 12. Uncertainties as the Journey Begins


The text for The Pilgrim's Progress
and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary for Part II ©2014, 2021–2022 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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