Tag Archives: Error

Met by Ignorance

And I slept, and dreamed again, and saw the same two Pilgrims going down the mountains along the highway towards the city. Now, a little below these mountains, on the left hand, lies the country of Conceit; from which country there comes into the way in which the Pilgrims walked, a little crooked lane. Here, therefore, they met with a very brisk lad, that came out of that country; and his name was Ignorance. So Christian asked him from what parts he came, and whither he was going.

Ignorance: Sir, I was born in the country that lies off there a little on the left hand, and I am going to the Celestial City.

Christian: But how do you think to get in at the gate? for you may find some difficulty there.

Ignorance: As other people do, said he.

Christian: But what have you to show at that gate, that may cause that the gate should be opened to you?

Ignorance: I know my Lord’s will, and I have been a good liver; I pay every man his own; I pray, fast, pay tithes, and give alms, and have left my country for whither I am going.

Christian: But you did not come in at the Wicket-gate that is at the head of this way; You came in hither through that same crooked lane, and therefore, I fear, however you may think of yourself, when the reckoning day shall come, you will have laid to your charge that you are a thief and a robber, instead of getting admittance into the city.

Ignorance: Gentlemen, you are utter strangers to me, I don’t know you. Be content and follow the religion of your country, and I will follow the religion of mine. I hope all will be well. And as for the gate that you talk of, all the world knows that that is a great way off of our country. I cannot think that any man in all our parts does so much as know the way to it, nor need they matter whether they do or no, since we have, as you see, a fine, pleasant green lane, that comes down from our country, the next way into the way.

When Christian saw that the man was “wise in his own conceit”, he said to Hopeful, whisperingly, “There is more hope of a fool than of him.” And said, moreover, “When he that is a fool walks by the way, his wisdom fails him, and he says to everyone that he is a fool.” What, shall we talk further with him, or out-go him at present, and so leave him to think of what he has heard already, and then stop again for him afterwards, and see if by degrees we can do any good to him?

Then said Hopeful—

Let Ignorance a little while now muse
On what is said, and let him not refuse
Good counsel to embrace, lest he remain
Still ignorant of what’s the chiefest gain.
God says, those that no understanding have,
Although He made them, them He will not save.

Hopeful: He further added, It is not good, I think, to say all to him at once; let us pass him by, if you will, and talk to him anon, even as he is able to bear it.

 IgnoranceIn the last post Bunyan awoke from his dream just as Christian and Hopeful were preparing to leave the Delectable Mountains. The mountains were a welcome destination. The pilgrims grew in their understanding of God’s Word. Their faith was strengthened; their repentance deepened. But the journey is not yet over. As Bunyan dreams again, he sees the pilgrims descending from the mountains.  Just below the mountains a little crooked lane comes into the Way. Here Christian and Hopeful meet Ignorance, a false professor who is certain that he is on his way to the Celestial City.

Ignorance is not the first false professor to appear in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Christian has encountered many: Simple, Sloth and Presumption (who were asleep near the cross), Formalist and Hypocrisy (who climbed into the Way over the wall), Timorous and Mistrust (who were running away from difficulty and persecution), Talkative (who spoke well of religion, but did not live out what he professed to be), By-Ends and his companions (who used religion to pursue worldly gain), and Vain Confidence (who blindly led the pilgrims astray in By-Path Meadow).

Ignorance is an energetic, vivacious lad who comes from the country of Conceit. His name at first suggests that he is unfamiliar with the Bible and religion, but his country exposes the true defect of pilgrimage.

Ignorance is not someone who is unconcerned with eternity or knows nothing of heaven or hell. He is not someone who has never read a Bible or heard a sermon. Ignorance represents someone who is ignorant of the true gospel— salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Christian has heard of the country of Conceit. It is a land of vanity, pride and self-satisfaction. “God resists the proud” (James 4:6), and Christian suspects that Ignorance “may find some difficulty” ending his journey well. He asks Ignorance how he expects to enter the gate of the Celestial City. Ignorance assumes that his efforts will be acceptable, all will be well, and he will enter “as other people do.” Christian then presses him further, asking what evidence he will present to gain entrance. Ignorance replies:

  1. He knows the Lord’s will. He reads and studies his Bible.
  2. He has been a “good liver.” He tries to deal honestly with others. He faithfully attends church. He prays, fasts, gives tithes and alms.
  3. He has left his country. He has turned his back on the world that he might attain the reward of heaven.

At first Ignorance’s response might sound commendable. It is good to know God’s will. It is good to be honest and pray, and it is good to seek the reward of heaven. Where Talkative failed to live out his profession, Ignorance tries hard to excel. But Christian recognizes the fatal deficiency of Ignorance’s testimony. Ignorance is resting his confidence in himself—in his own works. He truly believes that he is a good person. After all, he’s tried to live a good life. He goes to church and knows what the Bible says. He knows the liturgy and sings the hymns. He wants to go to heaven. Hell is for bad people—not good people like him. Heaven is for good people—so of course he will get in the gate. His pride and confidence in himself have blinded him to his true need for grace and mercy.

Ignorance is resting in a false hope “for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16). In God’s assessment, he is not a good person.

The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.
(Psalm 14:2–3)

Christian fears for Ignorance’s soul and speaks plainly to him. He warns him that he did not come in at the Wicket-Gate (Christ), but entered through a crooked lane (his own works). On the Day of Judgment, he will be found to be a thief and a robber and will not gain entrance to the city.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1).

Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). No one will enter the Celestial City (enter into the joy of God’s presence in heaven) without coming to Christ and receiving the grace and mercy that only He can provide.

Ignorance is offended that Christian should so quickly judge him. He knows of none from his country that would venture so far as to come in by the Wicket Gate. The Crooked Lane is closer, pleasant, and much more convenient. He tells Christian, you practice religion your way and I’ll practice it my way.

Ignorance discounts the gospel and imagines he can make the journey in his own righteousness. Though he is walking in the Way to the Celestial City, his self-conceit identifies him as a fool.

Even when a fool walks along the way,
He lacks wisdom,
And he shows everyone that he is a fool.
(Ecclesiastes 10:3)

He claims to have left his country of Conceit, but true to his native land, he is indeed conceited—confident in the path he has taken and satisfied in himself. In his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress,William Mason concludes:

So long as a sinner thinks he can do anything towards making himself righteous before God, his name is Ignorance; he is full of self-conceit, and destitute of the faith of Christ.

Though Christian has tried to speak truth, Ignorance remains entrenched in religion built upon good works. He sees that Ignorance is “wise in his own conceit” and that there is little hope in convincing him of truth.

Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
(Proverbs 26:12)

Christian sees no point in continuing the conversation. Error, especially when it is deep-seated and pervasive, is nearly impossible to root out all at once. It takes patience and discernment to know when to speak, how much to say, and when to stop. He wants to give Ignorance time to think about what he has heard. He suggests that he and Hopeful go on ahead and meet up with Ignorance at a later time to see if he can be helped. Hopeful agrees. They will wait for another opportunity and “talk to him anon [soon or shortly], even as he is able to bear it.”

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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Mount Caution

Then I saw that they had them to the top of another mountain, and the name of that is Caution, and bid them look afar off; which, when they did, they perceived, as they thought, several men walking up and down among the tombs that were there; and they perceived that the men were blind, because they stumbled sometimes upon the tombs, and because they could not get out from among them. Then said Christian, What does this mean?

The view from Mount Caution

The Shepherds then answered, Did you not see a little below these mountains a stile, that led into a meadow, on the left hand of this way? They answered, Yes. Then said the Shepherds, From that stile there goes a path that leads directly to Doubting Castle, which is kept by Giant Despair, and these, pointing to them among the tombs, came once on pilgrimage, as you do now, even till they came to that same stile; and because the right way was rough in that place, they chose to go out of it into that meadow, and there were taken by Giant Despair, and cast into Doubting Castle; where, after they had been a while kept in the dungeon, he at last did put out their eyes, and led them among those tombs, where he has left them to wander to this very day, that the saying of the wise man might be fulfilled, “He that wanders out of the way of understanding, shall remain in the congregation of the dead.” Then Christian and Hopeful looked upon one another, with tears gushing out, but yet said nothing to the Shepherds.

Christian and Hopeful continue to explore the Delectable Mountains under the guidance of the Shepherds. On the first mountain they were warned of drifting into error. If the pilgirms are to navigate the way forward, they must know how to discern truth from error. On this second mountain they are exhorted to look back. They look down into the valley, in the direction from which they came, and there they see blind men, stumbling and lost in a graveyard filled with tombs. The mountains, again, each represents a sermon—a passage of Scripture expounded by the Shepherds. The message on Mount Caution is from Proverbs—

A man who wanders from the way of understanding
Will rest in the assembly of the dead.
(Proverbs 21:16)

Christian doesn’t recognize at first the proximity of the tombs he now sees to the dark castle from which he had just escaped. He asks the Shepherds, “What does this mean?” As the Shepherds explain, he regretfully remembers. The tombs are in the castle-yard that Giant Despair had shown to Christian and Hopeful in an attempt to discourage them. Those who wander amidst the bones are those who, like Christian, found God’s Way to be rough and sought an easier way. They wandered “from the way of understanding” and now they are in danger of eternal death. Their lives have been ruined by despair, blinded to truth, and they no longer see any hope.

On the one hand, this appears to be a lesson received too late. Christian and Hopeful have already stumbled onto the grounds of Doubting Castle. But on the other, this is a very timely lesson. The pilgrims must remember their missteps and learn from them.  More temptations and dangers lie ahead. They must be ready.

Often sermons from God’s Word can help us evaluate more clearly errors we have made in the past and cause us to more deeply appreciate the mercies of God that keep us from the worst of their consequences. It is all too easy for us to discount our errors and fail to learn from them. We forget where we have been and end up falling into the same errors over and over. When we fail to acknowledge our sin—confess it and fight it—when we instead find ways to manage sin—hide it and cope with it—sin will slowly blind us, weigh us down, and imprison us. We will lose our way and lose sight of the gospel. Christ will become less precious to our souls. We will become as those wandering about the tombs. Those who fail to keep hold of the promise that unlocks the gates of Doubting Castle are doomed to remain in its prison. They are blinded, confined to the darkness of their own despair, without hope and without light.

We must learn to heed God’s Word and be quick to confess our sins and our need for Christ. Scripture cautions us:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).

But it also gives us the sure promise:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9–10).

Hearing the words of the shepherds, Christian and Hopeful are overcome with tears. There are times when we sit under the preaching of God’s Word, that conviction feels so pointed and application sounds so personal, it is as if the sermon were meant only for us. It seems as if the pastor has been looking through a window into our thoughts and lives and fashioned his message specifically to call us out. But this precise heart-work is not the craftiness or clairvoyance of the pastor. It is the skillful work of the Spirit wielding the sharp edge of God’s Word.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12–13).

Christian and Hopeful hear the words of caution from God’s Word and they realize how great a danger they were in when they willfully wandered into By-Path Meadow. They are awash with sorrow for having strayed from the good Way. And they are filled with joy and gratitude to Christ for having escaped the dungeon of despair with the promise of salvation.

Pray that God’s Spirit will wield the Word in our hearts. Pray that He will keep our hearts tender and sensitive to His Word. Flee from sins and be quick to repent. Do not discount or dismiss past sins as if they are of no consequence. It is because of our sins that Christ died! Do not despise the remorse that the memory of past sins brings. Rather, let that remorse remind you of sin’s true evil nature—that you might be repulsed by sin and flee from it. And let every reminder of past sins and failings again point you Christ and deepen your love and gratitude for Him. His Word is sure. He alone forgives. He alone can make us whole.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
(Psalm 103:2–5)

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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

A Hill Called Error

Then I saw in my dream, that in the morning the Shepherds called up to Christian and Hopeful to walk with them upon the mountains; so they went forth with them, and walked a while, having a pleasant prospect on every side. Then said the Shepherds one to another, Shall we show these pilgrims some wonders? So when they had concluded to do it, they had them first to the top of a hill called Error, which was very steep on the furthest side, and bid them look down to the bottom. So Christian and Hopeful looked down, and saw at the bottom several men dashed all to pieces by a fall that they had from the top. Then said Christian, What does this mean? The Shepherds answered, Have you not heard of them that were made to err by hearkening to Hymeneus and Philetus as concerning the faith of the resurrection of the body? They answered, Yes. Then said the Shepherds, Those that you see lie dashed in pieces at the bottom of this mountain are they; and they have continued to this day unburied, as you see, for an example to others to take heed how they clamber too high, or how they come too near the brink of this mountain. 

Christian and Hopeful heeded the counsel of the Shepherds to stay awhile in the Delectable Mountains before continuing their journey. The shepherds (pastors) now walk with the pilgrims and guide them through the mountains (exegete passages of Bible in sermons, explaining more clearly the meaning of the text). The mountains have much to offer and the pilgrims are in need of assistance, for there are yet many dangers ahead.

Earlier in the allegory when Christian was at the House of the Interpreter (a representation of Scripture), he was in a hurry in leave. The Interpreter beckoned him several times to stay and see more. Again, at Palace Beautiful (the church from the vantage point of a new believer), when Christian was ready to depart, he was encouraged to stay (and by staying he was able to see the Delectable Mountains off in the distance). Now that Christian has arrived at the Delectable Mountains (the church from the vantage point of a mature believer), he is ready to see all that the Shepherds desire to show him. He knows the value of hearing, lingering and meditating on the Word of God—such patient preparation will more fully prepare him for what lies ahead on his journey.

View from a Hill called Error

In the mountains the pilgrims have a better vantage point to see the world around them. They can see hope, promise, and reward, where down below they were hampered by doubt, despair, and diffidence. They can see potential dangers and difficulties long before they must face them up close.  As the shepherds begin to show the pilgrims “some wonders” they first take them to the top of a hill called Error.

Sermons can teach us and help us avoid drifting into error. We see in Scripture warnings, cautions, and admonitions. Scripture reproves us when we begin to stray. It corrects us and shows us the way back. It instructs us how to keep to the right 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).

We can learn from the mistakes and missteps of others. The Shepherds take Christian and Hopeful to the top of the hill and have them look over the cliff. They see at the bottom several men who are “dashed all to pieces by a fall that they had from the top.” Those who “lie dashed in pieces” are the remains of those who tumbled into heresy by heeding false teachers.

The passage the Shepherds are expounding on the Hill called Error is 2 Timothy 2:16–18. In this passage Paul warns about straying from the truth and spreading error. He mentions Hymeneus and Philetus as examples of false teachers:

But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:16–18).

We must be careful to hold to truth and not be led into error by those who would distort the truth to their own liking. Peter warns of the dire consequences of falling into such error.

Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

(2 Peter 3:14–18)

We can be thankful that God has given to His church faithful shepherds who guide and protect the flock from error. They teach us and warn us and point us to Christ.

Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily (Colossians 1:28–29).

They caution us not to “clamber too high” (exalting speculation and opinion in place of biblical truth) or “come too near the brink” (entertaining erroneous and unbiblical notions in our thoughts). We must heed their words and esteem them very highly as they labor to help us discern truth from error.

And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13).

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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.