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

Mercy at the Gate

16. Mercy at the Gate

Now all this while poor Mercy did stand without, trembling and crying for fear that she was rejected. But when Christiana had gotten admittance for herself and her boys, then she began to make intercession for Mercy.

Christiana: And she said, "My Lord, I have a companion of mine that stands yet without, that is come hither upon the same account as myself: one that is much dejected in her mind; for that she comes, as she thinks, without sending for, whereas I was sent to by my husband's King to come."

Now Mercy began to be very impatient, for each minute was as long to her as an hour; wherefore she prevented Christiana from a fuller interceding for her, by knocking at the gate herself: and she knocked then so loud, that she made Christiana to start. Then said the keeper of the gate, "Who is there?" And said Christiana, "It is my friend."

So he opened the gate, and looked out; but Mercy was fallen down without in a swoon, for she fainted, and was afraid that no gate would be opened to her.

Then he took her by the hand, and said, "Damsel, I bid you arise."

"Oh, sir," said she, “I am faint; there is scarce life left in me.” But he answered that “one once said, ‘When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came in unto You, into Your holy temple.’

Fear not, but stand upon your feet, and tell Me why you have come.”

Mercy: I am come for that unto which I was never invited, as my friend Christiana was. Hers was from the King, and mine was but from her; wherefore I fear I presume.

Keeper of the Gate: “Did she desire you to come with her to this place?”

Mercy: Yes; and, as my Lord sees, I am come. And if there is any grace or forgiveness of sins to spare, I beseech that I, your poor handmaid, may be partaker thereof.

Then he took her again by the hand, and led her gently in, and said, “I pray for all them that believe on Me, by what means soever they come unto Me.” Then said he to those that stood by, “Fetch something, and give it to Mercy to smell on, thereby to stay her fainting.” So they fetched her a bundle of myrrh, and awhile after she was revived.


Notes and Commentary

While sounds of music celebrate the arrival of Christiana and her children, Mercy is still outside the Gate. She has been fearful from the beginning that she would not be received. Now it seems her fears are coming true.

Christiana came to the Gate with confidence and assurance. Her invitation was from the King Himself. Her husband has already made the journey and was now in the King’s presence. But Mercy came at Christiana’s request. When Christiana knocked, Mercy’s fears gave her pause and held her back. When Christiana was asked by the Keeper of the Gate if she was now a pilgrim, she replied, “Yes; and so are these my sweet babes also.” She and her children were welcomed as pilgrims professing faith, yet Mercy hesitated and remained quiet. Now the Gate is “shut up” and Mercy remains outside.

Inside the Gate, however, Mercy was not forgotten. Christiana was not content that only she and her family had gained entrance to the Way. Rather than rest content in her good fortune, she began interceding for her friend. The Gate again represents Christ. Christiana wanted Mercy to come to Christ and share in the joy and salvation that is only found in Him.

As Christiana is praying and interceding, Bunyan shifts the scene again to Mercy who is still standing outside the Gate. Mercy has not turned back in despair, but is rather “very impatient.” Her soul is restless. She knows that she cannot go back to Destruction. She knows that she needs to gain entrance. She needs Christ for only He can provide the grace and forgiveness she longs to receive. St. Augustine described her dilemma when he prayed: “Thou madest me for Thyself, and my heart is restless until it repose in Thee.”

Mercy is not content to wait any longer and so she knocks, loudly enough that Christiana is startled. When Goodwill, the Gate Keeper, asks who is there, Christiana knows who is knocking, “It is my friend.”

Here Bunyan offers some insight on intercession, especially as we pray for those who are hesitant to come to Christ:

  1. We must not forget those who are outside of Christ. We must continue to intercede for them and pray that they too will enter the Way to life.
  2. We must remember that God alone has power to save. We can intercede for others, but we cannot carry them through the Gate. God must work in theirs hearts and compel them to knock and enter.
  3. We should not be surprised or startled when God answers our prayers. Though our prayers cannot save others, God certainly uses our prayers to accomplish His good purposes and display His power to save. Christiana was compelled to intercede as much as Mercy was compelled to knock.

When the Gate Keeper opens the Gate and looks out, he finds that Mercy has fainted. She “was afraid that no gate would be opened to her.”Goodwill beckons her to stand and confess why she has come. He quotes from the book of Jonah:

“When my soul fainted within me,
I remembered the Lord;
And my prayer went up to You,
Into Your holy temple.
(Jonah 2:7)

Mercy then shares her fears that she is being presumptuous. She humbly prays: “And if there is any grace or forgiveness of sins to spare, I beseech that I, your poor handmaid, may be partaker thereof.”

The Gate Keeper assures her of the wideness of God’s mercy. He replies: “I pray for all them that believe on Me, by what means soever they come unto Me.” Here “Me” is in uppercase because the Gate Keeper’s words echo the gracious words of Christ in Scripture:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word” (John 17:20).

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37).

Mercy is gently ushered through the Gate and welcomed in the Way.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29).

Mercy’s hesitancy at the Gate is similar to Bunyan’s experience. In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners Bunyan describes a dream that he had as he began to realize his need for salvation. He longed for the happiness he sensed among the people of Bedford as they gathered for worship. He very much desired to go in and join them, yet feared he would not be welcomed. In the dream he speaks of “a little doorway in the way” that later became the Wicket Gate in The Pilgrim’s Progress.

About this time, the state and happiness of these poor people at Bedford was thus, in a dream or vision, represented to me. I saw, as if they were set on the sunny side of some high mountain, there refreshing themselves with the pleasant beams of the sun, while I was shivering and shrinking in the cold, afflicted with frost, snow and dark clouds. Methought, also, betwixt me and them, I saw a wall that did compass about this mountain; now, through this wall my soul did greatly desire to pass; concluding, that if I could, I would go even into the very midst of them and there also comfort myself with the heat of their sun.

About this wall I thought myself, to go again and again, still prying as I went, to see if I could find some way or passage, by which I might enter therein; but none could I find for some time. At last I saw, as it were, a narrow gap, like a little doorway in the way, through which I attempted to pass; but the passage being very straight and narrow, I made many efforts to get in, but all in vain, even until I was well-nigh quite beat out, by striving to get in. At last, with great striving, methought I at first did get in my head, and after that, by a sidling striving, my shoulders, and my whole body. Then I was exceeding glad, and went and sat down in the midst of them, and so was comforted with the light and heat of their sun.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 53-54]

The Gate Keeper gives instructions to bring Mercy a bundle of myrrh to help her revive from her fainting. Here again we see evidence of King’s tenderness. In the Song of Solomon, the bride speaks of her beloved (the King) as “a bundle of myrrh.”

While the king is at his table,
My spikenard sends forth its fragrance.
A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me,
That lies all night between my breasts.
My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blooms
In the vineyards of En Gedi.
(Song of Solomon 1:12–14)

In Bunyan’s allegory, the bundle of myrrh represents the preciousness of Christ that lies close to the heart. Mercy can have no doubt, being thus revived, that she is welcome and loved by the King.

Continue Reading 17. Pardon at the Gate

Return to 15. Knocking at the Gate


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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