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

A Hen and Her Chicks

27. A Hen and Her Chicks

He had them then into another room where was a hen and chickens, and bid them to observe awhile. So one of the chickens went to the trough to drink; and every time she drank, she lifted up her head and her eyes towards heaven. “See,” said he, “what this little chick doth; and learn of her to acknowledge whence your mercies come, by receiving them with looking up. Yet again, said he, “observe and look.” So they gave heed, and perceived that the hen did walk in a fourfold method towards her chickens.

1. She had a common call; and that she has all day long.
2. She had a special call; and that she had but sometimes.
3. She had a brooding note.
And, 4. She had an outcry. 

Interpreter: “Now,” said he, “compare this hen to your King, and these chickens to his obedient ones. For answerable to her, himself has his methods, which he walks in towards his people. By his common call, he gives nothing; by his special call, he always has something to give; he has also a brooding voice for them that are under his wing; and he has an outcry, to give the alarm when he sees the enemy come. I choose, my darlings, to lead you into the room where such things are, because you are women, and they are easy for you.”

Christiana: “And, sir,” said Christiana, “pray let us see some more.”


Notes and Commentary

Now the Interpreter shows the pilgrims a room in which they see a hen and her chicks. They watch awhile and observe how the hen calls and cares for her brood. Unlike the previous room, where the meaning of the lesson was not immediately apparent, this room offers a lesson that is “easy” for the pilgrims to understand. Christiana is a mother with children of her own. Mercy has joined the family to help them on the journey. They readily understand the need for watchfulness, nurture, and care.

The room with the hen and her chicks teaches us how God sends forth His mercies as well as how we are to receive His mercies. God’s mercies come to us through His Word—His written Word (the Scriptures) and the incarnate Word (the Lord Jesus, to whom the written Word points as the only Way of salvation).

The pilgrims observe that when the chickens drink, they lift their heads and look up. The Interpreter tells them to use the simple lesson as a reminder to “look up” and acknowledge that God alone is the source of all mercies.

Unto You I lift up my eyes,
O You who dwell in the heavens.
Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters,
As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the Lord our God,
Until He has mercy on us.
(Psalm 123:1–2)

We are to wait for God’s mercies and receive God’s mercies by lifting our eyes and looking to Him. He alone watches over us and cares for us. All our mercies come from Him.

As the pilgrims continue to observe, they see that the hen has a four-fold way of communication. She has a common call, a special call, a brooding note, and an outcry.

This four-fold method of communication is a picture of how God relates to us through His Word. Thomas Scott explains:

The common call signifies the general invitations of the gospel, which should be addressed without restriction, to all men that come under the sound of it; “as many as ye find, bid to the marriage.” The special call denotes those influences of the Spirit by which the heart is sweetly made willing to embrace the invitation, and apply for the blessing, in the use of the appointed means, by which sinners actually experience the accomplishment of the promises, as their circumstances require. The brooding note was intended to represent that communion with God, and those consolations of the Holy Spirit, which the Scriptures encourage us to expect, and by which the believer is trained up for eternal felicity: whilst the out-cry refers to the warnings and cautions, by which believers are excited to vigilance, circumspection, and self-examination, and to beware of all deceivers and delusions.

All four methods of communication serve a specific purpose:

The common call represents the gospel as it is publicly proclaimed. The invitation of the gospel goes out to all.

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).

All are responsible to repent of sin and believe in the Lord Jesus.

Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14–15).

Bunyan notes that “by his common call, he gives nothing.” Simply hearing the gospel or even acknowledging its truthfulness does not provide salvation. Not all who hear the Word will listen and act upon the Word.

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables (2 Timothy 4:2–4).

But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:26–28).

The gospel must be heeded, but in our sin, we are blind, deaf, and dead. Another call is needed if we are to be enlivened to action.

The special call represents the work of the Spirit as God quickens us and causes us to see our need for salvation. He illumines His Word and draws us to Himself.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4–7).

The chicks respond to this special call. They know the voice of the hen and they draw near. Bunyan compares this call to the promise of the King and notes that “by his special call, he always has something to give.”

And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 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 6:35–37).

If we turn from sin and come to Christ by faith, He will always receive us. In Christ all the promises of God are assured.

For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us (2 Corinthians 1:20).

The brooding note represents the comforts of the gospel. Once we come under the shadow of His wings, His Word calms and consoles us. Here we rest our faith in God and are “abundantly satisfied” with all He has provided.

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.
They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house,
And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.
For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light.
(Psalm 36:7–9)

Here we can safely hide from enemies and oppressors.

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.
Keep me as the apple of Your eye;
Hide me under the shadow of Your wings,
From the wicked who oppress me,
From my deadly enemies who surround me.
(Psalm 17:6–9)

Here we “dwell in the secret place of the Most High” and find deliverance.

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”
Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
(Psalm 91:1–6)

Jesus points to this intimate place of comfort when he uses the analogy of the hen and her chicks while lamenting over Jerusalem.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37).

Finally, the outcry represents “the warnings and cautions” in Scripture. Along with pointing us to life in Christ, the Word of God warns us of the perils of sin.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).

These warnings are for our benefit. They offer reproof when we stray from God’s Way. They rebuke us when we fall prey to sin. And they provide correction to point us back to the Way.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

Him [Christ] we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:28).

Take note of Christiana’s response at the end of the lesson. She tells the Interpreter, “pray let us see some more.” Her words show more wisdom than those of her husband in Part 1. Christian in his pride was quick to convince himself that he had heard all that was needed. His reply was, “let me go hence." More than once the Interpreter encourage him to stay and hear more. Christiana knows that she has much more to learn and so she is eager to “see some more.”

Continue Reading 28. Sheep for the Slaughter

Return to 26. A Spider on the Wall


The text for The Pilgrim's Progress
and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary for Part II ©2014, 2021–2023 Ken Puls

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from
the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Above image created from Unsplash

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