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

Ill-Favored Ones

21. Encounter with Ill-Favored Ones

Now by that they were gone about two bow-shots from the place that let them into the way, they espied two very ill-favored ones coming down apace to meet them. With that Christiana, and Mercy her friend, covered themselves with their veils; and so kept on their journey. The children also went on before; so that at last they met together. Then they that came down to meet them came just up to the women as if they would embrace them; but Christiana said, “Stand back, or go peaceably by, as you should.” Yet these two, as men that are deaf, regarded not Christiana’s words; but began to lay hands upon them. At that Christiana, waxing very wroth, spurned at them with her feet. Mercy also, as well as she could, did what she could to shift them. Christiana again said to them, “Stand back, and be gone; for we have no money to lose, being pilgrims, as you see, and such too as live upon the charity of our friends.”

Ill-favoured Ones: Then said one of the two men, “We make no assault upon you for money; but are come out to tell you, that if you will but grant one small request which we shall ask, we will make women of you forever.”

Christiana: Now Christiana, imagining what they should mean, made answer again, “We will neither hear, nor regard, nor yield to what you shall ask. We are in haste, cannot stay; our business is a business of life and death.” So again, she and her companions made a fresh essay to go past them: but they hindered them in their way.

Ill-favoured Ones: "We intend no hurt to your lives; it is another thing we would have.”

Christiana: “Aye," said Christiana, “you would have us body and soul, for I know it is for that you are come; but we will die rather upon the spot than suffer ourselves to be brought into such snares as shall hazard our wellbeing hereafter.” And with that they both shrieked out, and cried, “Murder! murder!” and so put themselves under those laws that are provided for the protection of women.

But the men still made their approach upon them, with design to prevail against them; they therefore cried out again.


Notes and Commentary

Once again, the pilgrims are not far from the Gate, when they are confronted with temptation and sin. They heard the barking dog and saw the alluring fruit from Beelzebub’s garden. Now the evil they encounter is even more threatening and hostile. The pilgrims are shamelessly assaulted by two “ill-favored ones” who are intent on defiling their bodies, derailing their faith, and discouraging any hope that they will complete their journey to the Celestial City.

First take note of the Attackers.

We are not told the identity of the ill-favored ones, but it is clear that they are intent on destroying body and soul. William Mason describes them as besetting sins in his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress:

What are these ill-favored ones? Such as you will be sure to meet with in your pilgrimage; some vile lusts, or cursed corruptions, which are suited to your carnal nature. These will attack you, and strive to prevail against you. Mind how these pilgrims acted, and follow their example. If one was to fix names to these ill-favored ones, they might he called Unbelief and Licentiousness, which aim to rob Christ’s virgins of their chastity to Him.

Besetting sins are villains we carry with us. They cling to our sinful nature and attack us from within. While they are indeed a danger to the soul, they are not the only villains Bunyan has in mind. We have an enemy of our soul, an “adversary the devil,” who “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The pilgrims heard his barking dog and walked past his garden. He was not able to dissuade them with fear nor distract them with delight. They persist in faith to press on to the Celestial City. Now the enemy sends two of his minions come to assault them. Perhaps they will be disheartened by shame.

This encounter is not the first time Christiana has seen ill-favored ones. Before she set out on her journey, she saw them in a dream, conspiring to harass her and prevent her from traveling to the Celestial City. Now the demons of Christiana’s nightmare show up as villains.

Second take note of the Attack.

1. Sin comes upon them unexpectedly. The encounter with the ill-favored ones is sudden and surprising. The villains come “down apace” (quickly). The pilgrims do not expect such a blatant display of evil on a pathway leading to life. Goodwill had graciously “set them in the Way” and they are still not far from the Gate, only “about two bow-shots” away. They have not wandered from the path and the Way is fenced in. Christiana does not yet know that the garden and castle they were going past “belong to the enemy.” And so she believes they are safe. But pilgrims are not beyond encountering the vilest of sin and temptation, even when they are on the right path.

2. Sin comes upon them aggressively. The two men come up to them “as if they would embrace them.” This is a vivid display of the vileness of sin. Sin desires to own us, defile us, control us, and prevail against us. When Christiana protests, the men refuse to listen and act “as men that are deaf.” The encounter turns violent as they begin “to lay hands upon them.” Sin has no regard for its victims.

3. Sin comes upon them intentionally. The ill-favored ones come “to meet them.” In this encounter, both Christiana and Mercy are targeted because they are women. The ill-favored ones believe them to be weak and susceptible to their advances. These villains lie in wait on paths that should be safe, watching for the vulnerable and unsuspecting. Sin does not confine itself to dark places. Sometimes it brazenly stalks its prey in the light.

Finally take note of the Pilgrims’ response.

Though the encounter is horrific, the pilgrims’ response is commendable. This should be our response to every temptation and sin that seeks to assault and defile us. Consider their actions.

1. They covered themselves with a veil. They do not encourage sin or allow it to capture their gaze. Too often we yield ground to sin by toying with it, eyeing it with curiosity, or entertaining it. Instead, we should respond as the pilgrims here, averting our eyes, shielding our thoughts, and refusing to encourage any interest in approaching sin.

2. They kept to their journey. Though the ill-favored ones are going the wrong direction, the pilgrims stay on the right path. They continue to do what is right and good. They will not be dissuaded from their goal of reaching the Celestial City.

3. When confronted with the opportunity to sin, they boldly stand their ground. Christiana tells the men to “Stand back or go peaceably by, as you should.” They encourage righteous behavior and shun what is evil.

4. When assaulted by sin, they fiercely resist and attempt to flee. Christiana responds with zeal and anger. Bunyan describes her righteous indignation as “waxing very wroth.” Scripture tells us: “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil (Ephesians 4:26–27). We should never allow anger to provoke us to sin, but it is right to be angry and express wrath toward that which stirs up God’s wrath.

When the men make clear their wicked intentions, the pilgrims continue to resist. Christiana tells them: “We will neither hear, nor regard, nor yield to what you shall ask.” She is unwilling to hear, consider, or give in to their advances. She doesn’t compromise or negotiate. Her desire is to flee from sin. She tells them: “We are in haste, cannot stay.” She understands the seriousness of sin and what is at stake. She continues: “our business is a business of life and death.” They must flee from sin and Destruction: “the wages of sin is death.” And they must press on and seek life, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

5. When in distress, they openly cry out for help. When they are unable to flee and sin threatens to ensnare them, they cry out: “Murder! murder!” Bunyan explains here that Christiana and Mercy “put themselves under those laws that are provided for the protection of women” (a reference to the Old Testament case law in Deuteronomy 22:23–27). They are without a guide to protect them and so they cry out for someone to come to their aid.

Sin is a ruthless villain. If left unchecked, it will not just bother us, hinder us, or trouble us. Sin will kill us. John Owen said in Mortification of Sin, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you!” Sin is by its very nature a murderer. We should never face or fight sin alone. When sin begins to gain the upper hand or threatens to overcome us, we should and must seek help. We should cry out to the Lord in prayer and we should cry out to others on the journey who can hear us and come to our assistance.

In the next post we will learn the outcome and see if relief comes in response to the pilgrims’ pleas for help.

Continue reading 22. Relief in Time of Danger

Return to 20. The Devil's Garden


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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