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

The Reliever Delivers Christiana and Mercy

22. Relief in Time of Danger

Now they being, as I said, not far from the gate in at which they came, their voice was heard from where they were, thither: wherefore some of the house came out, and knowing that it was Christiana’s tongue, they made haste to her relief; but by that they were got within sight of them, the women were in a very great scuffle, the children also stood crying by. Then did he that came in for their relief call out to the ruffians, saying, “What is that thing that you do? Would you make my Lord’s people to transgress?” He also attempted to take them; but they did make their escape over the wall into the garden of the man to whom the great dog belonged: so the dog became their protector. This Reliever then came up to the women, and asked them how they did. So they answered, “We thank your Prince, pretty well, only we have been somewhat affrighted; we thank you also for that you came into our help, for otherwise we had been overcome.”

Reliever: So after a few more words, this Reliever said as follows: “I marveled much when you were entertained at the gate above, seeing you knew that you were but weak women, that you petitioned not the Lord there for a conductor. Then might you have avoided these troubles and dangers; for he would have granted you one.”

Christiana: “Alas,” said Christiana, “We were so taken with our present blessing, that dangers to come were forgotten by us; besides, who could have thought that so near the King’s palace there should have lurked such naughty ones? Indeed, it had been well for us had we asked our Lord for one; but since our Lord knew it would be for our profit, I wonder he sent not one along with us.”

Reliever: It is not always necessary to grant things not asked for, lest by so doing, they become of little esteem; but when the want of a thing is felt, it then comes under, in the eyes of him that feels it, that estimate that properly is its due, and so consequently will be thereafter used. Had my Lord granted you a conductor, you would not neither so have bewailed that oversight of yours in not asking for one as now you have occasion to do. So all things work for good, and tend to make you more wary.

Christiana: Shall we go back again to my Lord, and confess our folly, and ask for one?

Reliever: Your confession of your folly I will present him with; to go back again, you need not. For in all places where you shall come, you will find no want at all; for in everyone of my Lord's lodgings which he has prepared for the reception of his pilgrims, there is sufficient to furnish them against all attempts whatsoever. But, as I said, he will be inquired of by them to do it for them; and ’tis a poor thing that is not worth asking for.

When he had thus said, he went back to his place; and the pilgrims went on their way.


Notes and Commentary

In the previous post, Christiana and Mercy were in the midst of great peril. They were traveling on the Way, still near the Gate, when they were assaulted by two ill-favored ones. Unable to flee, they both cried out for help.

Thankfully, their voice is heard and a Reliever comes in answer to their prayers. He confronts the ruffians and pursues them until they make their escape over the wall.

Who is this Reliever who hastens to help the pilgrims? Bunyan offers some clues in the story as to his identity. When he challenges the two ill-favored ones, he calls out to them: “What is that thing that you do? Would you make my Lord’s people to transgress?” When he speaks to the pilgrims, they reply, “We thank your Prince…”

The Reliever is one who serves and has been sent by the Prince. Relief comes from the Lord as He hears our prayers and answers us in our distress.

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have relieved me in my distress;
Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.
(Psalm 4:1–2)

When we cry out to Him, we can be assured that He hears us.

I have called upon You, for You will hear me, O God;
Incline Your ear to me, and hear my speech.
Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand,
O You who save those who trust in You
From those who rise up against them.
(Psalm 17:6–7)

He Himself has promised never to leave us or forsake us.

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?”
(Hebrews 13:5–6)

The writer of Hebrews encourages us here to say along with the psalmist:

I called on the Lord in distress;
The Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
The Lord is on my side;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
(Psalm 118:5–6)

Relief comes from the Lord, but the Lord often uses human means to bring us help. In Bunyan’s allegory, the Reliever represents those who are sent by the Lord to come alongside us in our time of need. When we are struggling with sin, when sin overtakes us, or when we are sinned against, they are the ones who come to us to point us to Christ and encourage us to press on in the journey. The Lord sends fellow pilgrims who will stand with us, fight for us, and help us gain victory in our battle with sin. For our relief, He may send brothers and sisters in Christ, godly parents, counselors, pastors, or spiritual mentors. He may surround us with the care and encouragement of a church family—a company of relief.

The Reliever asks the pilgrims why they did not request help when they were at the Gate. The very words that welcomed pilgrims at the nearby Gate, encouraged them to ask, seek, and knock.

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).

We are encouraged to come boldly to the throne of grace in time of need.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

And we are promised that if we ask in faith, according to God’s will, He will hear us and answer us.

“And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22).

And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment (1 John 3:22–23).

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him (1 John 5:14–15).

Christiana and Mercy did not think to ask for help while they were at the Gate. And so they set out without a guide or protector. In the midst of joy and blessing they forgot that their journey was fraught with danger. As we enjoy nearness to God and delight in His good gifts, we can too easily forget that a spiritual battle rages around us. We can grow careless and deficient in our prayers.

Yet you do not have because you do not ask (James 4:2b).

Too often we underestimate the dangers we may encounter and we overestimate our own strength in facing them. Bunyan offers a warning here as we walk through a world teeming with sin. We should recognize our weakness and not wait until temptation or sin overtakes us to seek the help we need. There are times when will we face hard things, even terrible things. God will allow us to walk through such times, but He would not have us walk through them alone. We need others to watch out for us. We need a guide to keep us pointed in the right direction and to help us guard our steps.

Christiana wonders why the Lord did not simply anticipate their need and provide help without their asking.

The Reliever tells them: “It is not always necessary to grant things not asked for, lest by so doing, they become of little esteem.” Our prayers are not for God’s benefit, as if we needed to inform Him or remind Him of anything. Rather, prayer is to strengthen our faith and to keep our lives oriented toward serving and loving God. We must not presume upon God, but rather learn to entreat Him with prayer and gratitude.

God often does bless us without our asking. Indeed, most of the blessings we receive, including our very breath, moment to moment, he gives us freely, without us lifting a petition or bringing a word of thanks. But there are times, when God deems it best that we feel our great need of Him, that He waits for us. It is in those times that we learn to remember Him, to cry out to Him, and to give Him praise and thanksgiving. God knows all our needs, but we would not understand just how needy we are, or how gracious He is, except that He patiently awaits our prayers.

As the pilgrims prepare to resume their journey, the Reliever assures them that the Lord has made sufficient provision for them. They will receive much help along the Way. But they must learn to pray and acknowledge their need. The Reliever tells them that the Lord “will be inquired of by them to do it for them.”

“Thus says the Lord God: “I will also let the house of Israel inquire of Me to do this for them: I will increase their men like a flock” (Ezekiel 36:37).

In other words, God bids us to pray. The Reliever adds “’tis a poor thing that is not worth asking for.” Our God is “full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Psalm 86:15). The riches of His storehouse are more valuable and more to be desired than all the riches of this world. And they will never be exhausted. We can cry out at anytime and in any place. We can “pray without ceasing” (2 Thessalonians 5:17), knowing that God welcomes our praise and delights in our petitions as we acknowledge our need of Him.

Continue Reading 23. Grace in Time of Danger

Return to 21. Encounter with Ill-Favored Ones


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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