Last week, we began our journey reading through the second part of the Pilgrim’s Progress. There we met Christiana, Christian’s wife, as she wrestled with the guilt of having mocked Christian’s desire to become a pilgrim. After some visions in the night and a visit from Secret, Christiana resolved to set forth for the Celestial City herself taking her four sons with her. Our previous reading then closed with Christiana’s dialogue with her neighbor Mrs. Timorous, who tried to persuade her not to become a pilgrim.
In our present passage, Christiana sets out on her journey with her four children and her young neighbor Mercy, who fears that she will not be permitted to pass through the Wicket-gate because she received no invitation from the King. Christiana comforts Mercy by saying, “Nor shalt thou be rejected, tho’ thou goest but upon my Invitation. The King who hath sent for me and my Children, is one that delighteth in Mercy” (217). Although Mercy is still unsure, she agrees to travel at least to the Wicket-Gate.
Christiana was then glad at her heart, not only that she has a companion, but also for that she had prevailed with this poor maid to fall in love with her own Salvation.217
Christiana’s gladness is, of course, the gladness that all of Christ’s followers experience whenever anyone decides to also follow Christ. There is the joy of having a new companion along the narrow way, and there is the joy of seeing someone fall in love with their salvation by at least taking the first steps upon the road to life everlasting.
Soon after setting out toward the Wicket-Gate, Mercy begins to weep for those who still dwell in the City of Destruction. Christiana instructs her that such compassion is fitting for the King’s pilgrims and that Christian once wept the same way over her and their children. She then comforts, “his Lord and ours did gather up his tears, and put them into his bottle, and now both I and thou, and these my sweet Babes, are reaping the fruit and benefit of them” (218).
This brings to mind one of the most famous portions of Augustine’s Confessions, where his mother cornered a bishop and begged him to talk to Augustine until he was converted. The bishop answered (Augustine notes that his answer was wise) that Augustine was not yet ready to learn but that “in reading, he himself will understand what an error and how great an impiety it is.” Augustine then says:
Though he spoke these words, my mother would still not acquiesce, continuing to insist with copious tears that he should see me and speak with me. “Leave me be,” he told her, somewhat peeved, “and God bless you, for it is not possible that the son of tears such as yours will perish.” She embraced this answer, as she later often mentioned to me, as if it had come from heaven.
Although the tears of God’s saints do not guarantee the conversion of those for whom they are shed, we can indeed rejoice in the words of Psalm 126:5-6, which Christiana quotes: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”
Of Mercy’s prayer on page 218, let us simply say that it ought very much to be the prayer of all pilgrims, for it is a prayer for the guidance and keeping of the Lord as well as a plea for Him to gather loved ones left behind.
The pilgrims then come to the Slough of Despond, which Mr. Sagacity notes has gotten worse since the time that Christian passed by. “For that many there be, that pretend to be the King’s Labourers, and that say, they are for mending the King’s Highway, that bring dirt and dung instead of stones, and so mar instead of mending” (219). Of this description, one commentator rightly applies it to us:
Instead of being what they profess, the King’s labourers, Paul calls them soul-troublers. Ga. v. 10. For instead of preaching a free, full, and finished salvation, bestowed as a free gift, by rich grace, upon poor sinners who can do nothing to entitle themselves to it; behold, these wretched daubers set forth salvation to sale upon certain terms and conditions which sinners are to perform and fulfill. Thus they distress the upright and sincere, and deceive the self-righteous unwary, into pride and delusion. Thus they mar, instead of mending, the way; and bring dirt, instead of stones, to make the way sound and safe for pilgrims.
We who are called proclaim God’s Word to God’s people ought to take this warning to heart. Are we setting up gospel stones as a sure path through despondency, or are we flinging the dirt and dung of a works-based religion?
Although Mercy has fretted most over her acceptance by the King, she proves the boldest through the Slough. Nevertheless, they all pass over the slough and arrive at the Gate. Here also is where Bunyan parts from Mr. Sagacity and views the dream of Christiana himself.
Upon knocking at the Wicket-Gate, the pilgrims are startled by the barking of a great and fearsome sounding dog. For a moment, the dreadful sound kept them from knocking any more, but “at last they thought of knocking again, and knocking more vehemently than they did at the first. Then said the Keeper of the Gate, Who is there? So the Dog left off to bark, and he opened unto them” (220).
Christiana and her children then came through the Gate, telling the Keeper that she is the wife of Christian who had come previously through. Yet all the while, Mercy stood outside the Gate with great fear that she would be denied passage. Indeed, so great was her fear that she knocked violently upon the Gate and then fainted. In the conversation that follows with the Keeper, Mercy’s fears are relieved. Her fear is summarized as thus: “I am come for that unto which I was never invited, as my friend Christiana was. Hers was from the King, and mine was but from her: Wherefore I fear I presume” (222).
How many Christians still wrestle with such doubts! We read in the Scriptures of Paul’s marvelous conversion upon the road toward Damascus. We hear of Augustine’s “take and read” moment and of Luther’s tower experience. Such conversions are powerful and memorable precisely because they are not so common as the ordinary means by which the Lord draws most of us to Himself. Indeed, many Christians lack an assurance of their salvation because they cannot point to an exact moment in time when Christ radically changed their hearts. Or perhaps they wrestle with the same kind of question as Mercy: was I simply persuaded by someone’s charisma, or was I genuinely drawn to Christ by the Spirit?
We must take comfort that it is God’s will that all would believe the gospel and be saved, regardless of how they came to hear its blessed message. And as for assurance, we ought always to remember that a pulse, not a birth certificate, is the evidence of life. Do not fret over the exact moment of your conversion; instead, consider whether you are presently walking in His steps.
Once all passed through the Gate, Mercy ventures to ask about the Dog that all of the pilgrims were wondering about. The Keeper informs them that it is not his dog, but the pet of an enemy who hopes its bark will dissuade pilgrims from knocking upon the door. Yet he notes that the barking “has frightened many an honest Pilgrim from worse to better, by the great Voice of his Roaring” (226).
“Thus”, says one writer, “the dog of hell may be of service, not only in keeping the sheep close together, but in making them keep close to their Shepherd.” Indeed, this may be the most vexing of God’s works toward Satan: taking what he intends for evil and using it for good. Very often God uses the great threats of Satan to draw us ever closer to Himself or to give us greater fervency in knocking upon His door in prayer. John Piper says it well: “It must infuriate Satan that God’s ways are so pure and brilliant that Satan not only fails to obstruct them but unwittingly serves them.”
Indeed, though the bark of the Enemy may certainly be dreadful to hear, let us take comfort in the Keeper’s final words:
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, and my darling from the power of the Dog.226
 Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 181.