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 fainting by the Gate

17. Pardon at the Gate

And now was Christiana and her boys, and Mercy, received of the Lord at the head of the way, and spoke kindly unto by him.

Then said they yet further unto him, “We are sorry for our sins, and beg of our Lord his pardon; and further information what we must do.”

“I grant pardon,” said he, “by word and deed: by word, in the promise of forgiveness; by deed, in the way I obtained it. Take the first from my lips with a kiss, and the other as it shall be revealed.”

Now I saw in my dream that he spoke many good words unto them, whereby they were greatly gladdened. he also had them up to the top of the gate, and showed them by what deed they were saved; and told them withal, that that sight they would have again as they went along in the way, to their comfort.

So he left them awhile in a summer parlor below, where they entered into talk by themselves. And thus Christiana began, “O Lord, how glad am I that we are got in hither!”

Mercy: So you well may; but I, of all, have cause to leap for joy.

Christiana: I thought one time, as I stood at the gate (because I had knocked, and none did answer), that all our labor had been lost; specially when that ugly cur made such a heavy barking against us.

Mercy: But my worst fear was after I saw that you were taken into his favor, and that I was left behind. Now, thought I, “tis fulfilled which is written, Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.”

I had much ado to forbear crying out, Undone, undone! And afraid I was to knock any more; but when I looked up to what was written over the gate, I took courage. I also thought that I must either knock again, or die. So I knocked; but I cannot tell how, for my spirit now struggled between life and death.

Christiana: Can you not tell how you knocked? I am sure your knocks were so earnest, that the very sound of them made me start. I thought I never heard such knocking in all my life. I thought you would have come in by violent hands, or have taken the Kingdom by storm.

Mercy: Alas! to be in my case, who that so was could but have done so? You saw that the door was shut upon me; and that there was a most cruel dog thereabout. Who, I say, that was so fainthearted as I, that would not have knocked with all their might? But pray, what said my Lord to my rudeness? Was he not angry with me?

Christiana: When he heard your lumbering noise, he gave a wonderful innocent smile. I believe what you did pleased him well enough; for he showed no sign to the contrary. But I marvel in my heart why he keeps such a dog. Had I known that afore, I fear I should not have had heart enough to have ventured myself in this manner. But now we are in, we are in; and I am glad with all my heart.

Mercy: I will ask, if you please, next time he comes down, why he keeps such a filthy cur in his yard. I hope he will not take it amiss.

“Aye, do,” said the children; “and persuade him to hang him, for we are afraid he will bite us when we go hence.”


Notes and Commentary

Mercy now joins Christiana and the children within the Gate. Each of them willingly set out on the journey as pilgrims. Now they are all lovingly welcomed. They enter by faith, not with boasting or presumption, but rather with humility and repentance. They confess to the Gate Keeper, “We are sorry for our sins, and beg of our Lord his pardon; and further information what we must do.”

Humility is bowing with a submissive heart to God’s will and desiring to walk in His ways. It is trusting in the Lord with all your heart and not leaning on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). It is crying out with the psalmist: “Oh, that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes!” (Psalm 119:5). “Blessed are You, O Lord! Teach me Your statutes” (Psalm 119:12).

Repentance is acknowledging and owning your sin. It is humbling seeking forgiveness for sin and turning away from sin. True faith is always accompanied by repentance. Turning to Christ (faith) necessitates a turning away from sin (repentance). They are the same action viewed from different vantage points. You cannot turn to Christ unless you turn away from sin. So long as you pursue sin, you will be moving away from Christ. And you cannot turn away from sin without turning to Christ. To attempt to flee sin and not flee to Christ will only send you in the direction of more sin.

It is the humble expression of faith and repentance, met by Goodwill that begins our journey as we are welcomed at the Gate and guided to the Way of Life.

Goodwill responds to the pilgrims by granting them pardon “by word and by deed.” God’s forgiveness rests upon His unwavering promise and His unfailing provision. God promises in His Word: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The Gate Keeper tells them to receive the promise “from my lips with a kiss.”

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
For your love is better than wine.
(Song of Solomon 1:2)

The love of God is not indiscriminate and random. It is intimate, tender, and particular, as a groom who has declared his love for his bride. Christiana, the children, and Mercy are assured that they are loved and that God’s pardon is for them.

This pardon is not only promised (by word), it is accomplished (by deed). It rests upon the provision of redemption fulfilled by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross where He shed His blood and died to pay the debt of their sins. They are taken to the top of the Gate where they see the cross ahead in the distance. It is to the cross that they must look for salvation.

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord (John 20:19–20).

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2)

The Gate Keeper then brings the pilgrims to a summer parlor. Here they rest and converse in the sunshine of God’s grace and mercy.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”
(Numbers 6:24–26)

God be merciful to us and bless us,
And cause His face to shine upon us,
That Your way may be known on earth,
Your salvation among all nations.
(Psalm 67:1–2)

Make Your face shine upon Your servant,
And teach me Your statutes.
(Psalm 119:135)

In the parlor they not only express their relief that they are now inside the Gate, they confess their anxiousness coming to the Gate. Our acceptance by God is not dependent upon our own confidence or certainty. We can come to Christ, though still wrestling with doubts and fears. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Our faith can be weak or strong. Rather, our acceptance depends upon the One in whom our faith rests. God’s promise of salvation is fulfilled and made certain in the completed work of Christ, who “gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Galatians 1:4–5).

Christiana was afraid when she knocked that no one would answer, especially when she heard the barking of a menacing dog nearby. When Christiana and her children gained entrance and the Gate was closed, Mercy feared that she had been left behind.

Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming (Matthew 24:41–42).

Mercy’s response, even as she is left outside the Gate, shows evidence of grace in her heart. She did not respond with anger or bitterness: “How could the Gate Keeper do this me?” Nor with feelings of entitlement: “Christiana and her children were allow in! I should be welcomed too!” Rather, her cry was one of humility and repentance: “Undone, undone!” It echoes the cry of Isaiah:

“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…”
(Isaiah 6:5)

She took courage in what was written over the Gate. Bunyan tells us the inscription in Part 1: “Now over the Gate there was written, Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” This is a promise from Matthew 7:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8).

Emboldened by this promise, Mercy knocked with great earnestness and zeal. Her knocking was so intense that Christiana compares it to those in the New Testament who would lay hold of Jesus by force.

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force (Matthew 11:12).

Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone (John 6:15).

Mercy indeed knocked as though her life depended on her gaining entrance to the Gate, but she fears that she was rude. She asks Christiana if the Gate Keeper was angry when he heard her knocking. Christiana assures her that “he gave a wonderful innocent smile.” God is pleased when we believe His Word and seek Him with our whole heart.

Blessed are those who keep His testimonies,
Who seek Him with the whole heart!
(Psalm 119:2)

When we come to Him through the gracious salvation He has promised and provided for us in Christ, He will not cast us out.

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).

The presence of the fierce dog near the Gate is still mystery. The pilgrims cannot understand why the Gate Keeper would permit such a beast to roam near the entrance to the Way of Life. In the next post we will uncover the identity of the dog and learn why he prowls to the consternation of wary pilgrims.

Continue reading 18. The Power of the Dog

Return to 16. Mercy 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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