Then Christian addressed thus himself to his fellow:
Christian: Well, come, my good Hopeful, I perceive that you and I must walk by ourselves again.
So I saw in my dream that they went on apace before, and Ignorance he came hobbling after. Then said Christian to his companion, It pities me much for this poor man, it will certainly go ill with him at last.
Hopeful: Alas! there are abundance in our town in his condition, whole families, yea, whole streets, and that of pilgrims too; and if there be so many in our parts, how many, think you, must there be in the place where he was born?
Christian: Indeed the Word says, “He has blinded their eyes, lest they should see”, &c. But now we are by ourselves, what do you think of such men? Have they at no time, think you, convictions of sin, and so consequently fears that their state is dangerous?
Hopeful: Nay, do you answer that question yourself, for you are the elder man.
Christian: Then I say, sometimes (as I think) they may; but they, being naturally ignorant, understand not that such convictions tend to their good; and therefore they do desperately seek to stifle them, and presumptuously continue to flatter themselves in the way of their own hearts.
Hopeful: I do believe, as you say, that fear tends much to men’s good, and to make them right, at their beginning to go on pilgrimage.
Christian: Without all doubt it does, if it be right; for so says the Word, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Hopeful: How will you describe right fear?
Christian: True or right fear is discovered by three things:
- By its rise; it is caused by saving convictions for sin.
- It drives the soul to lay fast hold of Christ for salvation.
- It begets and continues in the soul a great reverence of God, his Word, and ways, keeping it tender, and making it afraid to turn from them, to the right hand or to the left, to anything that may dishonor God, break its peace, grieve the Spirit, or cause the enemy to speak reproachfully.
Hopeful: Well said; I believe you have said the truth. Are we now almost got past the Enchanted Ground?
Christian: Why, are you weary of this discourse?
Hopeful: No, verily, but that I would know where we are.
Christian: We have not now above two miles further to go thereon. But let us return to our matter. Now the ignorant know not that such convictions as tend to put them in fear are for their good, and therefore they seek to stifle them.
Hopeful: How do they seek to stifle them?
- They think that those fears are wrought by the devil, (though indeed they are wrought of God); and, thinking so, they resist them as things that directly tend to their overthrow.
- They also think that these fears tend to the spoiling of their faith, when, alas, for them, poor men that they are, they have none at all! and therefore they harden their hearts against them.
- They presume they ought not to fear; and, therefore, in despite of them, wax presumptuously confident.
- They see that those fears tend to take away from them their pitiful old self-holiness, and therefore they resist them with all their might.
Hopeful: I know something of this myself; for, before I knew myself, it was so with me.
Once again Christian and Hopeful continue the journey, leaving Ignorance to walk behind. They have challenged Ignorance concerning his views of himself, God, how God saves sinners, and how sinners are able to respond to the gospel. As Christian and Hopeful continue their conversation, they lament Ignorance’s spiritual blindness and identify the root of his error. Ignorance fails to grasp the seriousness of his condition because he does not truly fear the Lord.
Though Ignorance desires to go to heaven (the Celestial City) and has embarked on a pilgrimage, he remains blinded by sin and doesn’t sense that his soul is in danger. Christian compares Ignorance to unbelieving Israel who had fallen under God’s judgment.
Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:
“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
Lest they should see with their eyes,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.”
“Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And return and be healed.”
Ignorance trusts his heart and believes that he is the source of the good he sees in himself. His wrong assessment causes him to undervalue grace and overvalue his piety. His religious devotion feeds pride in himself rather than praise to God. His pride causes him to fear men (how others see him and what others say about him) rather than God. He is taken aback when Christian and Hopeful cast doubt on his testimony. He takes God for granted and assumes that God is pleased to have him along on the journey.
It is pride that makes us susceptible to worldly fear and immune to godly fear. Worldly fear intimidates and weakens us. It arises from threatening or overwhelming circumstances. It causes us to tremble before men and forget God. It instills anxiety and dread. But godly fear helps and strengthens us. Christian explains how to discern true godly fear:
- It arises from conviction of sin, compels us to flee from sin, and helps us see our great need of a Savior.
- It removes all confidence in ourselves and drives us to Christ as our only hope.
- It instills reverence of God in the soul. Reverence is a spiritual posture of worship that keeps us mindful of God’s presence with us. It is an awareness of God that humbly acknowledges and submits to Him as Creator and Lord of all.
“True or right fear” fears God and not men.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).
It leads to blessing—
Blessed is every one who fears the Lord,
Who walks in His ways.
And to confidence and life—
In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence,
And His children will have a place of refuge.
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
To turn one away from the snares of death.
True fear is the beginning of wisdom.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
And to man He said,
“Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
And to depart from evil is understanding.”
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.
His praise endures forever.
Even kings and judges are called to be wise and fear the Lord.
Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
But Ignorance does not understand the difference between worldly fear and godly fear. He equates all fear as weakness and a stain on his devotion. He is a false believer who dabbles in religion but shuns conviction. He seeks to stifle fear, even godly fear that could eternally benefit his soul. Christian explains how the ignorant stifle their fears:
- They believe all fear is bad and wrongly attribute it to the work of the devil. They see virtue in suppressing fear because they equate it with resisting the devil.
- They equate faith with confidence and assurance and see fear as undermining their faith.
- They believe that they should “fear not” and so confidently put down their fears.
- They want others to see them as spiritually strong and pious. They believe fear makes them weak and less sure of themselves, so they stifle fear in an effort to feel holy inwardly and appear holy outwardly.
We live in a day when many have lost the fear of the Lord. People don’t live from the vantage point that there is a Sovereign God who has created all things and who will one day judge the world. They champion confidence and self-esteem as strength. They disparage humility and fear as weakness. Though they may be religious and acknowledge God’s existence, they try to set their own pace and make their own rules. They imagine their own ideas of truth and justice and hold God in contempt for not making the world the way they believe it should be.
We must not make the same mistake as Ignorance. Godly fear is not weakness. It is wisdom and strength. It anchors us in God and His provision for us in Christ. It leads us to true justice and righteousness found in Christ and His Kingdom. Godly fear is indeed a true treasure.
The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high;
He has filled Zion with justice and righteousness.
Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times,
And the strength of salvation;
The fear of the Lord is His treasure.
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.