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

Barking Dog

18. The Power of the Dog

So at last he came down to them again; and Mercy fell to the ground on her face before him, and worshipped, and said, “Let my Lord accept of the sacrifice of praise which I now offer unto him with the calves of my lips.”

So he said unto her, “Peace be to thee: stand up.”

But she continued upon her face and said, “You are Righteous, O Lord, when I plead with You; yet let me talk with You of Your judgments: why do You keep so cruel a dog in Your yard, at the sight of which such women and children as we are ready to fly from Your gate for fear?”

He answered, and said, “That dog has another owner; he also is kept close in another man’s ground, only my pilgrims hear his barking. He belongs to the castle which you see there at a distance, but can come up to the walls of this place. He has frightened many an honest pilgrim from worse to better by the great voice of his roaring. Indeed, he that owns him does not keep him of any good will to Me or mine; but with intent to keep the pilgrims from coming to Me, and that they may be afraid to knock at this gate for entrance. Sometimes also he has broken out, and has worried some that I love; but I take all at present patiently. I also give my pilgrims timely help; so that they are not delivered up to his power, to do to them what his doggish nature would prompt him to. But what! My purchased one, I trow, had you known never so much beforehand, you wouldst not have been afraid of a dog. The beggars that go from door to door will, rather than they will lose a supposed alms, run the hazard of the bawling, barking, and biting too, of a dog; and shall a dog, a dog in another man’s yard, a dog whose barking I turn to the profit of pilgrims, keep any from coming to Me? I deliver them from the lions, their darling from the power of the dog.”

Then said Mercy, “I confess my ignorance; I spoke what I did not understand: I acknowledge that You do all things well.”

Then Christiana began to talk of their journey, and to inquire after the way. So he fed them, and washed their feet; and set them in the way of his steps, according as he had dealt with her husband before.


Notes and Commentary

The pilgrims are relieved and grateful that they have gained entrance to the Gate. But Mercy is perplexed. She remembers her distress and the peril that caused her to faint just outside the Gate and she cannot make sense of what she experienced. The Wicket Gate is a place of hope and refuge for needy pilgrims. How then can it also be a place of such danger and trepidation? She is intent on seeking an answer from the Gate Keeper.

Mercy addresses the Gate Keeper as “my Lord.” She falls down before him “and worshipped” asking him to “accept of the sacrifice of praise.”

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name (Hebrews 13:15).

Goodwill, along with the Gate itself, indeed represents Christ the Lord. Specifically, Goodwill represents the willingness of Christ to receive and welcome sinners who repent of their sins and look to Him by faith for salvation. The inscription over the Gate beckons those who come near: “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Yet nearby is a menacing dog, striking fear and discouraging any who would approach the Gate. When Mercy remained outside the Gate alone, she was terrified that she might end up as the dog’s prey. If the Gate Keeper is indeed Lord, and if he desires to beckon and welcome pilgrims to his Gate, why does he “keep so cruel a dog” in his yard?

Mercy’s question is valid. In light of what we know is true about God (He is sovereign, all powerful, all-knowing, gracious, merciful, …), how can evil be allowed to come so near and threaten His overtures of salvation to the needy? If God “commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30) and “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:12), why would He allow such opposition and hindrances to assail those who desire to seek Him?

Mercy frames her question by appealing to the Lord’s righteousness. Her words echo the prophet Jeremiah who was also perplexed when he saw evil prevailing in his day.

Righteous are You, O Lord, when I plead with You;
Yet let me talk with You about Your judgments.
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why are those happy who deal so treacherously?
You have planted them, yes, they have taken root;
They grow, yes, they bear fruit.
You are near in their mouth
But far from their mind.
(Jeremiah 12:1-2)

Goodwill replies to Mercy by telling her that the “dog has another owner.” He belongs to one who lives in a strong castle within sight of the Gate. The dog represents opposition and hostility toward the gospel. He is a menace who roams and howls outside the Gate.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh (Philippians 3:2).

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie (Revelation 22:14–15).

Christ warned those who would follow Him that the world would hate and oppose them.

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18–20).

Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you (1 John 3:13).

The dog’s owner, as we learned in Part 1 of The Pilgrim’s Progress, is Beelzebub, the Devil. Beelzebub is an enemy of the King who has fashioned himself as a prince. He rules the town of Vanity (the world in its opposition to God) as Prince and Chief Lord and considers all who approach the Gate to be traitors and defectors. Those within his castle often shoot arrows at nearby pilgrims. He sends his dog to prowl the grounds of the castle, even stalking close to the walls to frighten those who come to the Gate and prevent them from entering.

But what the Devil intends for evil, God intends for good. The Lord is patient and provides “timely help” to delver pilgrims from the power of the dog. In Psalm 22 (a prophetic psalm that points to the fulfillment of God’s promised deliverance of His people through Christ’s death on the cross), David cries out for such help.

But You, O Lord, do not be far from Me;
O My Strength, hasten to help Me!
Deliver Me from the sword,
My precious life from the power of the dog.
Save Me from the lion’s mouth
And from the horns of the wild oxen!
(Psalm 22:19–21)

Though pilgrims may shudder at a the fierce sounds of opposition, the Lord know how to “deliver them from the lions, their darling from the power of the dog.” The Gate Keeper assures Mercy: “But what! My purchased one, I trow [trust], had you known never so much beforehand, you wouldst not have been afraid of a dog.” The Devil aims to discourage and dishearten pilgrims, but the Lord turns the barking of the dog “to the profit of pilgrims.”

Consider God’s good purposes:

1) The barking warns pilgrims that there are real dangers along the Way. It impresses upon them to be cautious and careful, not complacent or careless.

2) The barking is a clamorous reminder of their need for salvation. The Gate stands before them; now is the time to enter. There is no safety for those who remain outside the Gate. It teaches them the danger of delay and the need to take action.

Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
(Isaiah 55:6–7)

3) The barking quickens their steps and hastens their knocking. Inside the Gate is hope, provision, and protection. Those who would gain such rewards will gladly “run the hazard” of noisy threats and opposition.

Such was the case with Mercy. She took courage and knocked with great earnestness, in part because “there was a most cruel dog thereabout.” She is now humbled by the Gate Keeper’s words and tells him: “I confess my ignorance; I spoke what I did not understand: I acknowledge that You do all things well.”

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Even those things that seem to threaten and hinder us, God can use for our good and for His glory.

Continue Reading 19. Christiana's Song

Return to 17. Pardon 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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