Ignorance and Divine Calling

Hopeful: Ask him if ever he had Christ revealed to him from heaven.

Ignorance: What! you are a man for revelations! I believe that what both you, and all the rest of you, say about that matter, is but the fruit of distracted brains.

Hopeful: Why, man! Christ is so hid in God from the natural apprehensions of the flesh, that he cannot by any man be savingly known, unless God the Father reveals him to them.

Ignorance: That is your faith, but not mine; yet mine, I doubt not, is as good as yours, though I have not in my head so many whimsies as you.

Christian: Give me leave to put in a word. You ought not so slightly to speak of this matter; for this I will boldly affirm, even as my good companion hath done, that no man can know Jesus Christ but by the revelation of the Father; yea, and faith too, by which the soul lays hold upon Christ, if it be right, must be wrought by the exceeding greatness of his mighty power; the working of which faith, I perceive, poor Ignorance, you are ignorant of. Be awakened, then, see your own wretchedness, and fly to the Lord Jesus; and by his righteousness, which is the righteousness of God, for he himself is God, you shall be delivered from condemnation.

Ignorance: You go so fast, I cannot keep pace with you. Do you go on before; I must stay a while behind.

Then they said:

Well, Ignorance, wilt thou yet foolish be,
To slight good counsel, ten times given thee?
And if thou yet refuse it, thou shalt know,
Ere long, the evil of thy doing so.
Remember, man, in time, stoop, do not fear;
Good counsel taken well, saves: therefore hear.
But if thou yet shalt slight it, thou wilt be
The loser, (Ignorance), I’ll warrant thee.

Christian and Hopeful speak with Ignorance

Ignorance was gravely mistaken in his understanding of justification—how he can be made right with God. But his error extends further to divine calling—how he is able to respond to the gospel and come to Christ in the first place.

For Ignorance, it is no wonder that he is a pilgrim on his way to the Celestial City, for he fails to see the true wonder and amazement of salvation.

Ignorance believes himself to be a man of intellect and reason, capable of setting his own course and making his own choices in regard to following and serving Christ. For him religion is a personal choice—a choice he was wise enough to make.

Hopeful encourages Christian to ask Ignorance if God had ever opened his heart so he could understand the gospel and know Christ savingly. Ignorance thinks such a notion is whimsical and “the fruit of distracted brains.” How can these pilgrims question his devotion or doubt his salvation? See how far he was walked in the Way! He believes in God and wants to go to heaven. He is a religious man who acknowledges the goodness of Christ. He is trying to follow Christ and live according to God’s Law. What need does he have for “revelations”? He has already made it his goal to one day reach the Celestial City.

Ignorance’s error is once again rooted in his underestimation of his sin. He believes he is basically good and has never felt the weight of his sin. He denies that he is blinded by sin or in bondage to sin. His sin, as he compares it to others, is light, so he is perfectly capable of making amends. His religious devotion, blessed by Christ, more than makes up for any wrongs he has done.

Though Ignorance is confident that his faith is “as good as” Hopeful’s, Scripture teaches otherwise. Apart from God’s grace, we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We would remain ensnared “in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” and be under God’s condemnation as “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), “BUT” for “God, who is rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4).

God must open the heart if we are to heed His Word (Acts 16:14). God must give light if we are to escape darkness.

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

Only God can draw us to Himself and grant us salvation in Christ.

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 6:37).

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:44).

And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (John 6:65).

We need the power of God’s Spirit if we are to come to Christ and submit to Him as Lord.

Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

We need the power of God’s Spirit to open the eyes of our understanding. Paul prays in Ephesians 1:

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power (Ephesians 1:17–19).

It is the gracious power of God that calls us, draws us, and saves us. It is not our works—including our own good sense, intellect, or reason. It is all of God—

who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began (2 Timothy 1:9).

God alone can save us and He alone receives the glory.

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence (1 Corinthians 1:26–29).

Apart from the grace of God, we will continue to walk in ignorance.

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart (Ephesians 4:17–18).

Christian tells Ignorance plainly that “no man can know Jesus Christ but by the revelation of the Father.” Only God can give sight to the blind, light to those in darkness, and life to those who were once “dead in trespasses and sins.” Yet Christian then calls Ignorance to repent and come to Christ: “Be awakened, then, see your own wretchedness, and fly to the Lord Jesus; and by his righteousness, which is the righteousness of God, for he himself is God, you shall be delivered from condemnation.” Here Christian echoes Matthew 11 where Jesus prays in verses 25–27:

 “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:25–27).

Jesus affirms in His prayer that the truth of the gospel is hidden to some and revealed to others. God must open the eyes of our understanding if we are to find rest in Christ. But He follows His prayer with a consoling call to repentance and faith.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

Here we see the glorious union of two essential truths: the sovereignty of God (He must give us understanding) and the responsibility of man (we must come to Christ). In Christian’s counsel to Ignorance, Bunyan points us to both truths. We must give God all the glory, for He alone saves. And we must ever plead with men to repent and believe in Christ, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Ignorance and Justification

Ignorance: Do you think that I am such a fool as to think God can see no further than I? or, that I would come to God in the best of my performances?

Christian: Why, how do you think in this matter?

Ignorance: Why, to be short, I think I must believe in Christ for justification.

Christian: How! Do you think you must believe in Christ, when you do not see your need of him! You neither see your original nor actual infirmities; but have such an opinion of yourself, and of what you do, as plainly renders you to be one that did never see a necessity of Christ’s personal righteousness to justify you before God. How, then, do you say, I believe in Christ?

Ignorance: I believe well enough for all that.

Christian: How do you believe?

Ignorance: I believe that Christ died for sinners, and that I shall be justified before God from the curse, through His gracious acceptance of my obedience to His law. Or thus, Christ makes my duties, that are religious, acceptable to His Father, by virtue of His merits; and so shall I be justified.

Christian: Let me give an answer to this confession of your faith:

  1. You believe with a fantastical faith; for this faith is nowhere described in the Word.
  2. You believe with a false faith; because it takes justification from the personal righteousness of Christ, and applies it to your own.
  3. This faith does not make Christ a justifier of your person, but of your actions; and of your person for your actions’ sake, which is false.
  4. Therefore, this faith is deceitful, even such as will leave you under wrath, in the day of God Almighty; for true justifying faith puts the soul, as sensible of its condition by the law, upon flying for refuge unto Christ’s righteousness, which righteousness of His is not an act of grace, by which He makes for justification, your obedience accepted with God; but His personal obedience to the law, in doing and suffering for us what that required at our hands; this righteousness, I say, true faith accepts; under the skirt of which, the soul being shrouded, and by it presented as spotless before God, it is accepted, and acquit from condemnation.

Ignorance: What! would you have us trust to what Christ, in His own person, has done without us? This conceit would loosen the reins of our lust, and tolerate us to live as we list; for what matter how we live, if we may be justified by Christ’s personal righteousness from all, when we believe it?

Christian: Ignorance is thy name, and as your name is, so you are; even this your answer demonstrates what I say. You are ignorant of what justifying righteousness is, and as ignorant how to secure your soul, through the faith of it, from the heavy wrath of God. Yea, you also are ignorant of the true effects of saving faith in this righteousness of Christ, which is, to bow and win over the heart to God in Christ, to love His name, His word, ways, and people, and not as you ignorantly imagine.

Christian Instructs Ignorance

As Christian continues to press Ignorance with the truth of God’s Word, Ignorance responds with what appears to be a sound answer. Ignorance denies that his confidence is in himself and that he can come to God on the basis of his own works, even in his “best performances.” He claims: “I must believe in Christ for justification.” Christian, however, won’t allow him to get by with using the language of salvation while missing the truth of salvation. Ignorance speaks of believing in Christ, but he doesn’t grasp his need for believing in Christ. He sees value in Christ’s righteousness, but he doesn’t see Christ’s righteousness as his only hope.

Ignorance rightly believes that Christ died on the cross for sinners, but he thinks that his justification rests in his own obedience to God’s Law, made acceptable to the Father through the merits of Christ’s righteousness.

Ignorance’s error is rooted in a false assumption. He has grossly underestimated the vastness and vileness of sin. And he has greatly overvalued his own righteousness in comparison. He believes he is basically a good person. He sees his righteousness as humanly weak, but not filthy (Isaiah 54:6) and wretched (Romans 7:24). He trusts that God will graciously infuse the divine goodness and perfections of Christ with his own sincere efforts of religious devotion and, by virtue of Christ’s merit now fortifying his own, accept him as righteous.

Christian rightly concludes that Ignorance has a “false” and “fantastical” faith.

  1. What Ignorance believes is not in accord with the revelation of Scripture, but contrived from the logic of religion.
  2. Though acknowledging Christ for divine assistance, Ignorance believes he will be justified by God’s gracious acceptance of his own obedience to the Law.
  3. He is coming not as a wretched, condemned sinner looking to Christ to justify his person, but rather as a sincere, devout follower looking to Christ to justify his religious duties.
  4. Therefore, his faith is deceitful and dangerous because it leaves him under God’s wrath and condemnation, while convincing him that all is well.

God’s Word is clear. We cannot be justified—declared righteous before God—by our own works.

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified (Galatians 2:16).

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19–20).

If we are to be justified, it can only be by a gift of God’s grace through the redemption provided for us in Christ. We cannot stand before God in our sinfulness. We cannot reach God through our own meager righteousness. We need the righteousness that is found in Christ alone for all who believe in Him by faith!

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:21–24).

God does not justify us by our works made acceptable in Christ, but by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Romans 4:5–8).

Our justification rests solely upon the person and work of Christ. God takes the guilt of our sin and places it on (or imputes it to) Christ, so that Christ is treated as we deserve to be treated. We deserve the wrath and condemnation of God; we deserve death. Though Christ was (and still is) perfect and holy, He died for us on the cross, paying our debt and bearing God’s wrath for us that we might live. This is God’s wondrous mercy! But there is more! God takes the perfect righteousness of Christ and places it on (or imputes it to) us, so that we are treated as Christ deserves to be treated—as sons and daughters. Though we are sinners (and continue to struggle with sin even as Christians) we are regarded as perfect and holy. We are clothed in Christ’s righteousness and stand acceptable before God, not because of what we have done, but because of what Christ has done. Because of Christ, we are purified, cleansed, forgiven, accepted, and made right with God. Christ’s perfect life of obedience and sacrificial death on the cross, purchased this for us. He is the only hope for sinners to be rescued from sin and the dire consequences of sin.

Ignorance argues that if God accepts us as righteous solely on the basis of Christ’s obedience, then sin would be given free reign. We would presume upon God, live however we want, and plunge headlong into sin. Paul anticipated this line of reasoning in Romans:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? (Romans 6:1–2)

Ignorance again has based his conclusion on a false assumption. He thinks that free grace from God would embolden sinners rather than restrain them. But true saving grace not only justifies, it also sanctifies. In Christ we have not only forgiveness of sin, but power to turn away from sin (Romans 1:16–17, 1 Corinthians 1:18).God not only declares us righteous in Christ, He gives us a heart that loves righteousness and desires to pursue righteousness. He takes away our love of sinning and more and more causes us to “love His name, His word, ways, and people.” By God’s grace we can live for Christ and not in sin. We can walk by faith and not walk in ignorance.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.