It has been a long while since I have written anything about John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I can still remember 15 years ago, or more that Brother John Harrell, long-time pastor of Bridge City UPC, recommended that I read dig into that allegory. He told me that it was loaded with sermon thoughts and illustrations and profitable spiritual motivation. I have written in the past about Brother Harrell and the uniqueness by which he would weave the Pilgrim’s Progress into his sermons. As I started reading Bunyan, it led me to another allegory he wrote, The Holy War, which had some excellent contributions to make as well about convictional preaching. I have explored some themes from that book as well in the past on this blog (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part4, Part 5).
I would be remiss a well if I didn’t mention Paula Thompson, aka The Tape Lady, who worked for years as the one who put together the cassette tapes and later the CD’s of Brother Harrell’s preaching to be mailed all over the US. So many preachers and saints benefited from the preaching that came out of Bridge City during that time and while she has passed on from this life, I truly believe her reward of service in this way is very great. But as I thought on the Pilgrim’s Progress, I began to mull over some of the characters that Christian ran into along his way to the Celestial City. These characters are multi-faceted and are pulled from sidewalks and alleys of every single person’s life who has ever walked this Christian path.
Alexander Whyte, one of the old preachers from Scotland, dove into the Pilgrim’s Progress with microscopic precision and wrote four volumes called Bunyan’s Characters in the early 1900’s. They are still available as reprints from Wipf and Stock Publishers and I highly recommend them to anyone who wants their mind to be provoked by this old dead preacher’s thoughts. I reached for Volume Two which had a character analysis of a man who is still very much alive and well today. That character has arrested more than a little of my attention in the last several weeks. This character was a smooth soul named Ignorance. As he meets Christian and Hopeful for a lengthy discussion as they travel, it is easy to see this man for who he really is. He hails from the Country of Conceit and he enters the way to the Celestial City bypassing the Wicket Gate which already makes Ignorance an intruder, a robber, a thief (John 10:1).
What disarms travelers about Ignorance is that he is a very well dressed, polished, and a well-mannered man. He will be a man who would have been keen to advance in any job or position that he might find himself in the affairs of the world and even the trappings of church life. There was a bit of condescension about him as he talked down to Christian and Hopeful during their discussion. He began to follow them at a distance almost as if he were embarrassed to be with these weary travelers because of his perceived great importance in life to the world at large. The journey had not been nice to Christian or Hopeful and if you have ever read Pilgrim’s Progress you certainly can relate to the times of weariness and toil the long spiritual marathon that we participate in. Bunyan’s description of these great men implies that they were broken-hearted and had been emptied from vessel to vessel by the vicissitudes of their trek. They had known a great many of exhausted miles, swampy sloughs, and steep physically and spiritually taxing ascents into the mountains. They had wondered inwardly and even aloud about the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 37 & 73) and their seeming success in the world. They had been troubled as they watched the wicked outpace them in every avenue of material life. Christian and Hopeful knew more about being abased than abounding and now they had to contend with an utter fool who was joining them on their journey. Cold, nakedness, and peril had been with them every step of the way (2 Cor. 11:22-33) and yet Ignorance was smartly-dressed, well-educated, and loaded with a host of religious achievements that he placed great confidence in.
In fact, once Ignorance began to share his accomplishments with these poor pilgrims, they sunk even lower in mind and spirit. It would only be when they refocused their minds on the power of the Gospel that his fool’s talk would be properly understood. Ignorance embellished all his moralistic leanings that had exalted him in the eyes of the worldly travelers that he came in contact with. He waxed eloquent about his attendance to the prayer meetings and with whom his associations were with. He shared with Christian and Hopeful how much of the world he had given up to get on the path to the Celestial City implying that God really had a real saint by having him in his Kingdom. He was so highly educated and polished but Bunyan prevails through every bit of this hubris by naming him Ignorance. He was absolutely blind to the ignorance that gripped his soul.
Alexander Whyte in his character analysis of Ignorance says it this way, “The human heart is filled with its blood-poison of self-deceit, dullness, and death.” Ignorance knew all of the creeds and confessions but was spiritually blinded to the condition of his own soul. That is a terrible plight to be in. The sad end that he comes to is in the last chapter of Pilgrim’s Progress. He passes over the river of death in a boat instead of having to brave the murky depths of the terrifying river. This boat is captained by Vain-glory and Ignorance is deposited on the opposite shore of the river. He slowly climbs up the path at the gates of the Celestial City with great anticipation that his arrival will be met with great fanfare. It was at these very gates that the Shining Ones (angels) assist Christian and Hopeful on into the Celestial City. When the gates do not immediately open for Ignorance, he begins to knock on them. The men look over the wall and ask him for his certificate of entrance to which Ignorance starts reciting all of his associations with religious matters, all of his good works, and his great standing among religious men and worldly citizens of his day. This is not suitable they tell him and they respond with a very short answer back to him concerning a refusal to allow him into the Celestial City. Almost immediately, two Shining Ones, the same two who had ushered Christian and Hopeful into the City, bind Ignorance with chains and toss him into hell. The last observation that Christian makes at the conclusion of his dream is this; there is a way to hell even from the gates of Heaven.
There are a few personal observations that I found when I re-read the account of Ignorance on his confused passage to the Celestial City.
Ignorance refused to go into the House of Interpreter. He would not allow himself to be instructed by a simple pastor who only had the Book of God. He was too advanced, too high-minded, and too polished to hear a simple gospel that would save him. When Jude writes his epistle, the acts of the apostates, he identified himself as a servant, a slave, one who was subservient to the Lord Jesus Christ. The false teachers of his day wanted nothing to do with that title nor do the false teachers of our day desire to be simple godly men who interpret Scripture at its face value through a historical-grammatical understanding. To every minister who is reading this, if you get off of the path of the simple gospel, the simple Bible, you are jeopardizing your call to preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-3).
Ignorance never seemed to grasp the real matter of salvation. Despite his professional religious trappings, he was blinded to the fact of his true spiritual need. Every bit of his confidence was in himself and what he brought to the proverbial table. Precision of mind and sharpness of intellect soon enough led him down a path of dark craftiness and deception. A new birth through a bloody cross, an empty tomb, and a separated life is what is called for among New Testament believers. When the simplicity of the gospel is mired down by what some would call depth, it breeds doubt that becomes corrupted by human reasoning.
Ignorance had a host of associations that proved to be his Achilles heel in the final hours. Ignorance had some associates throughout the journey. They were brought together by their common refusal to be taken into the simple instruction of the Scriptures and it was fatal for all of them. Obstinate, Pliable, Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, Formalist, Hypocrisy, Timorous, Mistrust, Talkative, By-ends, Demas, Vain-confidence, the Flatterer, and Atheist along with Ignorance met their demise because they refused to really believe the Scriptures. When holes are picked in Scripture, when textual criticism diminishes the Scriptures, and when human intellect is exalted over a simple godly mind, it cannot have a good outcome. This trend followed by Ignorance and his buddies, ushers in the matter of the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures; these foolish travelers did not believe in the power of the Scripture to make them men of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17) so they neglected it.
Obviously, there are other lessons that could be brought in concerning this matter but I think these few have been sufficient enough to get your mind to consider the seriousness of biblical discernment and a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ that is marked by prayer and a heart devotion over a head knowledge.
Thanks for reading. . .