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.
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
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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.