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.

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