Tag Archives: hell

The End of Ignorance

Now while I was gazing upon all these things, I turned my head to look back, and saw Ignorance come up to the river side; but he soon got over, and that without half that difficulty which the other two men met with. For it happened that there was then in that place, one Vain-hope, a ferryman, that with his boat helped him over; so he, as the other I saw, did ascend the hill, to come up to the gate, only he came alone; neither did any man meet him with the least encouragement. When he was come up to the gate, he looked up to the writing that was above, and then began to knock, supposing that entrance should have been quickly administered to him; but he was asked by the men that looked over the top of the gate, Whence came you, and what would you have? He answered, I have eat and drank in the presence of the King, and he has taught in our streets. Then they asked him for his certificate, that they might go in and show it to the King; so he fumbled in his bosom for one, and found none. Then said they, Have you none? But the man answered never a word. So they told the King, but he would not come down to see him, but commanded the two Shining Ones that conducted Christian and Hopeful to the City, to go out and take Ignorance, and bind him hand and foot, and have him away. Then they took him up, and carried him through the air to the door that I saw in the side of the hill, and put him in there. Then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction.

Ignorance cast into the abyss

As Bunyan nears the end of his story, he turns from one of the most glorious scenes in the book (the final entrance of Christian and Hopeful into the Celestial City) to one of the most fearful. He turns to look back and he sees Ignorance preparing to cross the River.

Christian and Hopeful first met Ignorance when they were coming down from the Delectable Mountains. Ignorance professed himself to be a pilgrim and informed them that he was “going to the Celestial City.” He was from the nearby country of Conceit, a country that prided itself on its nearness to the Lord’s mountains. But Ignorance did not enter the Way via the Wicket Gate (this gate represents Christ as the only way of salvation). The Wicket Gate was too far away. Rather, he followed the tradition of his countrymen and entered by a little crooked lane that came into the Way (this lane represents religion that offers salvation by works). Nor did Ignorance have a certificate (evidence of faith in Christ sealed by the work of the Spirit) to present upon arrival at the Celestial City. He was trusting in his own understanding of God’s will and presuming upon religion and good works to save him. Christian rightly surmised that Ignorance would “find some difficulty” getting in at the Gate to the Celestial City. He was, as his name implied, ignorant of the true gospel of grace.  But when Christian attempted to warn him, Ignorance took offense. Ignorance sincerely believed himself to be a good person, so of course he was going to heaven.

Later in the story, Christian and Hopeful encountered him again and had a longer conversation to draw out his thinking. Ignorance further confirmed that his hope was resting not in Christ alone, but in his own “good motions.” Though he professed to be a pilgrim in the Way, he was not walking in the way of truth according to God’s Word. He was walking in the comfort of his own truth according to his heart.

Now as Ignorance comes to the River (approaches death), he is still self-assured. Unlike Christian, who struggled with doubts and fears and nearly sank, Ignorance is confident. He has no doubt in his mind that he will be let in at the gate. His passage across the river is easy. He rides over the waters with ease in a boat steered by Vain-hope.

For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no pangs in their death,
But their strength is firm.
(Psalm 73:3–4)

When Ignorance arrives at the Gate, there is no one there to greet him. He knocks, still assuming that he will quickly gain entrance. When he is challenged at the Gate, Ignorance responds by saying: “I have eat and drank in the presence of the King, and he has taught in our streets.” His words echo the response of those seeking to enter through the Narrow Gate:

And He [Jesus] said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’” (Luke 13:24–26).

When he is asked for his certificate, he is speechless, like the man in Jesus’ parable of the Wedding Feast who arrived without a wedding garment:

But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, “Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” And he was speechless (Matthew 22:11–12).

Ignorance assumed that his devotion to religion was the same as nearness to God. He had lived well. He had been faithful to the church. He had been catechized and confirmed. He had taken holy communion, eaten the bread and drank of the cup in the presence of the Lord. Yet his eating and drinking proved to be in an unworthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:27). Worthy recipients are “only those who repent of their sins, believe in Christ for salvation and love their fellow men” (A Catechism for Boys and Girls). Ignorance had ventured from Conceit only to trust in himself.

When the King was informed that Ignorance was at the Gate, the King “would not come down to see him.” The King did not know him and so turned him away.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21–23).

The same Shining Ones who welcomed Christian and Hopeful to the City are commanded to bind Ignorance and cast him out. This is the fearful end of those in Luke 13 who fail to enter through the narrow gate:

But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out (Luke 13:27–28).

The man who arrived without a wedding garment in the parable of the Wedding Feast faced a similar outcome:

Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13).

Ignorance is carried away to the By-Way to Hell and Bunyan concludes: “Then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction.”

It is an eternal tragedy for someone to believe he or she is at the doorstep of heaven, and yet be at the brink of hell. Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress with the heart of a pastor. He longs to see everyone in his flock, and everyone who reads his book, arrive safely and be welcomed at the journey’s end. He doesn’t want us to assume all is well and miss Christ! And so, he ends with a sober warning.

Take heed to the end of Ignorance. Do not presume that your good works or devotion to Christ will save you. Do not presume that the sacraments of the church or your sincere intentions to do what is right will save you. Do not presume that your familiarity with religion or faithful service will save you. Christ and Christ alone can save! Turn to Him, trust Him, abide in Him.

Jesus said:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6).

Only in Christ will you be welcomed and not cast out. We have His promise!

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).

So come! Wait no longer! Come to Christ and live!

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Lord, we pray for ev’ry Pilgrim,
Final entrance we’ll not miss;
For beside the Gates to Heaven
Lies a way to the Abyss.
Father, fit us for Your kingdom,
From the greatest to the least,
Clothe us in Your righteous garments
For the coming wedding feast.
(from “A Prayer for Pilgrims” by Ken Puls)

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.

The Tragedy of Turn-away

So they both went on, and Ignorance he came after. Now when they had passed him a little way, they entered into a very dark lane, where they met a man whom seven devils had bound with seven strong cords, and were carrying of him back to the door that they saw on the side of the hill. Now good Christian began to tremble, and so did Hopeful his companion; yet as the devils led away the man, Christian looked to see if he knew him; and he thought it might be one Turn-away, that dwelt in the town of Apostasy. But he did not perfectly see his face, for he did hang his head like a thief that is found. But being once past, Hopeful looked after him, and espied on his back a paper with this inscription, “Wanton professor and damnable apostate.”

Turn-away

No sooner have the pilgrims outpaced Ignorance, than they pass by another false professor. They enter into a very dark lane and see a man bound by seven strong cords being carried in the opposite direction. Seven devils have captured him and are taking him back to the By-Way to Hell. Both Christian and Hopeful tremble at the sight. The man in bondage, it appears, is one named Turn-away from the town of Apostasy.

Turn-away represents those who have fallen away from the faith. Though they once professed to be followers of Christ, now they have turned away. They grow careless and trifle with sin to the point where it no longer disturbs them. The grow comfortable with the world and wanton (heedless and uncontrolled) in spirit. They fail to fear God and are unaffected and unrestrained by His Word. They forsake Christ only to foiled and ensnared in sin.

Those who once professed faith in Christ, who turn away from God and His Word are in danger of apostasy. The writer of Hebrews warns of the fearful consequences of apostasy:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:4–6).

To “fall away” is to persist in sin and disobedience and rejection of the gospel. It is certainly possible for a Christian to fall into sin, and even to be for a long time away from God—mired in sin and its misery. But those who are Christ’s will be rescued and restored. God will stir up their faith and renew their repentance and welcome them back in abundance of grace and mercy. But those who are truly apostate, who reject the gospel to the end, verse 6 tells us, cannot be renewed to repentance. They dishonor Christ by loving their sin more than Christ. They dishonor Him by choosing to believe that they are beyond the reach of His grace and mercy. They would persist in seeing their sins as too great for Christ to conquer.

The writer of Hebrews makes it clear in verse 6 why it is impossible for those who reject the cross to be renewed to repentance. If the cross was indeed not sufficient for them; they would need Jesus to die again. Christ would be openly shamed for not succeeding the first time in atoning for their sins. But Christ cannot be crucified again. There is no “Plan B” on God’s agenda. If one falls away there is no other gospel, no other Savior, no other salvation. Jesus is exclusive. If you reject Christ and turn away from the cross, you have no hope remaining.

Christian was warned of the dangers of apostasy earlier in his pilgrimage while he was at the House of the Interpreter. There he saw the Man in an Iron Cage who was once a “flourishing professor” on his way to the Celestial City. Like Turn-away, the Man in the Iron Cage abandoned God’s Word to pursue his lusts. He fell headlong into sin and feared that he had fallen into apostasy and was now without hope. He sat in misery and in bondage in a “very dark room.”

Bunyan uses similar language to describe the encounter with Turn-away. They enter into a “very dark lane” and see a man bound with seven strong cords. The dark lane represents the absence of the light of God’s Word. When the eye looks for sin and the mind pursues sin, the light of Scripture begins to dim.

The way of the wicked is like darkness;
They do not know what makes them stumble.
(Proverbs 4:19)

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
(Isaiah 5:20)

The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22–23)

And so the psalmist prays:

Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.
(Psalm 118:37)

The imagery of the seven strong cords comes from Proverbs.

His own iniquities entrap the wicked man,
And he is caught in the cords of his sin.
He shall die for lack of instruction,
And in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.
(Proverbs 5:22–23)

And from Jesus’ description in Matthew of a man overtaken in sin:

“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation” (Matthew 12:43–45).

When Christian saw the Man in an Iron Cage, he exclaimed: “This is fearful.” But the condition of Turn-away is even more so. The man in the cage trifled with sin, but then drew back in shame and guilt. He was miserable because he feared that he had lost Christ and that God would no longer have him. Turn-away feels no guilt over his sin; he hangs his head “like a thief that is found” abashed that he has been caught, but not because he has broken the law.

The encounter with Turn-away causes Christian and Hopeful to tremble. It is a warning to us to guard our hearts and flee from sin. In his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress, William Mason warns:

 O beware of a light trifling spirit and a wanton behavior. It is often the forerunner of apostasy from God. It makes one tremble to hear those who profess to follow Christ in the regeneration, crying, What harm is there in this game and the other diversion? The warmth of love is gone, and they are become cold, dead, and carnal. O how many instances of these abound!

Turning away seldom happens all at once. It is more often subtle and perilously imperceptible. It can happen in many ways:

  • Growing disillusioned and discouraged with the church
  • Being swayed by a college professor who disparages the Bible and the Christian faith
  • Growing complacent and apathetic in worship
  • Becoming forgetful and infrequent with the means of grace
  • Giving more and more time to worldly pursuits and entertainments
  • Assuming the gospel, yet never giving it serious thought or weighing its crucial value
  • Excusing and rationalizing sin rather than fighting it and putting it to death

Turn-away loved his sin and so he preferred to walk in darkness.

And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19–21).

If we would avoid the deadly error of Turn-away, we must love Christ and walk in the light.

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Apostasy is a fearful judgment, but it is a final judgment. Turn-away is at the end of his days and is being led back to the By-way to hell. He is justly condemned and marked for eternity as a “wanton professor and damnable apostate.”

Until that final day, we have not the insight nor the ability to discern true apostasy from backsliding (in the hearts of others as well as our own hearts). And so me must continually preaching the gospel (to others and to ourselves) and heed the gospel. May God help us to tremble with Christian and Hopeful and continually repent of our sin and look to Christ who is ever and always our only hope.

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 By-Way to Hell

Then I saw in my dream, that the Shepherds had them to another place, in a bottom, where was a door in the side of a hill, and they opened the door, and bid them look in. They looked in, therefore, and saw that within it was very dark and smoky; they also thought that they heard there a rumbling noise as of fire, and a cry of some tormented, and that they smelt the scent of brimstone. Then said Christian, What does this mean? The Shepherds told them, This is a by-way to hell, a way that hypocrites go in at; namely, such as sell their birthright, with Esau; such as sell their master, with Judas; such as blaspheme the gospel, with Alexander; and that lie and dissemble, with Ananias and Sapphira his wife. Then said Hopeful to the Shepherds, I perceive that these had on them, even every one, a show of pilgrimage, as we have now; had they not?

Shepherds: Yes, and held it a long time too.

Hopeful: How far might they go on in pilgrimage in their day, since they notwithstanding were thus miserably cast away?

Shepherds: Some further, and some not so far, as these mountains.

Then said the Pilgrims one to another, We have need to cry to the Strong for strength.

Shepherds: Ay, and you will have need to use it, when you have it, too.

By-Way to Hell

As the Shepherds continue guiding the pilgrims through the mountains, they take them down to the bottom where they see a door in the side of a hill. As they open the door, they are confronted with a frightening experience. They see only darkness. They smell smoke and the scent of brimstone. They hear the rumblings of fire and the cries of the tormented. As with the hill called Error and Mount Caution, the door in the side of a hill represents a sermon. Scripture not only shows us the danger of straying into error and sin, it warns us of God’s wrath and judgment for those who defy God and persist in sin. It speaks of the reality of hell and certainty of the coming judgment. The Scripture text for this message is found in the book of Proverbs.

The way of life winds upward for the wise,
That he may turn away from hell below.
(Proverbs 15:24)

Bunyan’s description of the terrors inside the door echo the Bible’s own fearful warnings of coming judgment.

Upon the wicked He will rain coals;
Fire and brimstone and a burning wind
Shall be the portion of their cup.
(Psalm 11:6)

“The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:10–15).

“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan recalls hearing and trembling at such dreadful words, even as a child.

“Also I should, at these years, be greatly afflicted and troubled with the thoughts of the day of judgment, and that both night and day, and should tremble at the thoughts of the fearful torments of hell fire; still fearing that it would be my lot to be found at last amongst those devils and hellish fiends, who are there bound down with the chains and bonds of eternal darkness, “unto the judgment of the great day.” [Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 6]

This isn’t the first time in The Pilgrim’s Progress that Bunyan has presented such warnings:

When Christian was first setting out, he warned his neighbors, Obstinate and Pliable, that if they stay in the City of Destruction, they “will sink lower than the grave, into the place that burns with fire and brimstone.”

On Hill Difficulty, he told Timorous and Mistrust, “If I go back to mine own country, that is prepared for fire and brimstone, and I shall certainly perish there.”

And in the Valley of the Shadow of Death Christian was confounded as he journeyed past “the mouth of hell” that “stood also hard by the wayside.” Out of the mouth came “flame and smoke,” “sparks and hideous noises.”

The door in the side of the hill is a warning not to trifle with sin. This “is a by-way to hell, a way that hypocrites go in at.” A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be something he never intends to be. It is possible to live outwardly as a believer in Christ and yet inwardly refuse to forsake and fight against sin. Jesus (quoting Isaiah 29:13) said: “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:7–8). The lips profess God’s praise, while the heart embraces sin’s pleasures.

Earlier, in the House of the Interpreter, Christian had seen a fearful warning of the dangers of walking in hypocrisy and falling into apostacy. The Man in the Iron Cage was “once a fair and flourishing professor” on his way to the Celestial City. But he would not heed the warnings of Scripture and would not earnestly pursue holiness. His unwillingness to let go of sin left him with no refuge for his soul.

“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26–17).

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

His relentless hold upon sin darkened his hope in the promises of the gospel and in time imprisoned him in a cage of despair.

In order to emphasize the seriousness of their lesson, the Shepherds point to several biblical examples: Esau, who sold his birthright (Genesis 25:29–34), Judas, who betrayed Jesus (Matthew 26:14–16), Alexander, who rejected the faith and blasphemed God (1 Timothy 1:19–20), and Ananias and Sapphira, who lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1–11). All of these once appeared to be among the faithful. No one would have suspected that such as these could fall away. Yet their lives were but a “show of pilgrimage” and in the end they were “miserably cast away.”

We cannot harbor sin and hide sin while outwardly professing faith in Christ. We must take God’s Word seriously—its commands and warnings as well as its hope and promises. We must turn away from sin and hypocrisy and pursue peace and holiness.

 “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears” (Hebrews 12:14–17).

But we cannot walk in holiness in our own strength. We need help that can only come from God. We need the power of His Spirit. Christian and Hopeful rightly conclude: “We have need to cry to the Strong for strength.”

“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:14–16).

May God grant us strength that we might forsake every sin, walk in the light of His Word, and reach our journey’s end where we will see our Savoir face to face.

“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2–3).

Seek the Lord and His strength;
Seek His face evermore!
(Psalm 105:4)

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.