Editor’s Note: Drawing upon John Bunyan’s classic work Pilgrim’s Progress, John Sweat provides us with a much-needed warning of heartfelt ignorance in our lives and then directs us to its cure.
Permission to reprint this article has been granted from the author and the editor-in-chief of G3 Ministries. It was originally posted online at this link.
In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and his companion, Hopeful, meet a man by the name of Ignorance. Their first encounter with Ignorance followed their conversation with the Shepherds after their escape from Doubting Castle during the last leg of their journey to the Celestial City. Christian starts his conversation with Ignorance by asking him from where he came and where he was going. Upon finding out that Ignorance was headed to the Gate of the Celestial City, Christian went on to inquire why Ignorance expected the Gate of the city to be opened up to him, and how he planned to get there. Ignorance responded,
I know my Lord’s Will, and 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.
Not only was Ignorance’s hope grounded in his works for entering the Gate, but Ignorance’s chosen route to arrive at the Gate was a deviation from the Path the King had laid out for pilgrims. Though Christian tried to warn Ignorance of the foolishness of his ways, Ignorance would not heed Christian’s counsel for he was “wise in his own conceit.” Consequently, Christian and Hopeful decide to leave Ignorance in his foolishness for a time so the pilgrims walked on past him.
Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Proverbs 26:12
Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense, and he says to everyone that he is a fool. Ecclesiastes 10:3
After Christian and Hopeful walked for some time speaking about “Little Faith,” encountering Flatterer and Atheist, and traversing the Enchanted Ground, the pilgrims noticed Ignorance once again trailing behind them. Christian invited Ignorance to come up and walk with them once more, and they began another conversation with Ignorance by asking, “Come how do you? How stands between God and your soul now?” This question sparked a volley of questions and answers between the two men. As in their first conversation, Ignorance is convinced that his life and heart are in agreement, making him a righteousness man. Ignorance believes that the state of his soul before God is sure and safe because his heart tells him so. Unfortunately, the great tragedy is that Ignorance’s heartfelt hope rests in a false view of himself, the character of God, and Jesus Christ. This means his heart felt hope is really a heartfelt ignorance that is damning.THE SIGNS OF HEARTFELT IGNORANCE
Bunyan’s character Ignorance warns us of the dangers of heartfelt ignorance. There are two key indicators of a heartfelt ignorance:1. A Heartfelt Hope
Ignorance was confident of his standing before God. Indeed, his heartfelt assurance was sincere and “sure” in his own mind. “I am safe before God because my heart tells me so; I am righteous because my heart tells me so; my heart is not evil because my heart tells me so!” The tragedy is that the very faculty that Ignorance trusts in for assurance and salvation is what has blinded him from seeing his actual infirmities.
Likewise, unbelievers are sure their standing before God is sound because they think of God, desire God, or have “left all for God.” They have “good motions,” good intentions, because their heart tells them so. Yet even the demons think of God, and the sluggard desires things in which he never possess (Prov. 13:4). Furthermore, the one who trusts his own heart is a fool (Prov. 28:26). It is through the deceitfulness of the heart whereby a man may be comforted “in hopes of that thing for which he yet has no ground to hope in.” The sinful heart promises safety in the teeth of destruction, hope in the company of calamity, and assurance in the depths of despair. The evil heart always is ministering deception to sinners under the guise of comfort. The heart is the great deceiver that is further empowered and fed by the world and Satan. The world proclaims, “Listen to your heart; follow your heart; let your feeling guide you;” all the while leading the sinner further into destruction underneath the banner of heartfelt ignorance.
The first sign of Heartfelt Ignorance is a heartfelt hope. It is a denial of Scripture concerning the total sinfulness of man, and a blind whole hearted trust in the self-deceiving heart.2. A Faith-filled Denial
Ignorance professed faith in Jesus Christ for justification. Christian challenged Ignorance’s claim that his heart was not wicked: “Also when we think that all our righteousness stinks in [God’s] nostrils, and that therefore he cannot abide to see us stand before him in any confidence, even all our best performance.” But, Ignorance was quick to shoot back that he was not so foolish as to come to God based upon his performance, but rather he must “believe in Jesus Christ for Justification.” However, it is after Christian challenges Ignorance’s understanding of justification that Ignorance’s true understanding of justification is unveiled. Ignorance believes that Christ died merely for sinners to be set free from the Curse (of sin), but Christ’s death does not merit positive righteousness that is imputed to sinners. No, for Ignorance, Christ’s death for sinners makes it merely possible for sinners to be justified, but faith in Christ alone does not justify. Faith in Christ opens the door for sinners to be justified through their own imperfect obedience to the law. Interestingly, there are “bible scholars” today who use similar language as Ignorance proposing a justification by faithfulness, allegiance, or works.
This is a faith-filled denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ hidden in biblical/ orthodox language. Many sincere unbelievers profess faith in the death of Jesus Christ for their sins, yet in their heartfelt ignorance, they deny the sufficiency of Christ’s work for their justification. To them, Jesus’s death for sinners is mere grace but not saving grace. Their faith is not in Christ and his work, but rather their faith is in faith itself and their own work. It is a false and fantastical faith that makes their actions their justifier rather than Christ. Christ’s work makes acceptable to God their work which justifies them. In short, they still have not seen Christ-clothed in the gospel in his beauty and splendor. They still highly esteem their sin and cheapen the grace of Jesus Christ.
Such a faith demeans the fullness and freeness of the gospel offered in Christ and renders God to be unjust. Christ’s life of obedience and death for our disobedience meets the righteous demands of God. His death for sinners does not lower the standard of righteousness. God is the standard, and God cannot lower his own righteousness. This would make him unjust. This is the beauty of the gospel: God meets the standard of righteousness for sinners in Jesus Christ completely! The bar is not lowered, rather the bar is met sufficiently in Christ.
Therefore, those who do not see their need for Christ will never take hold of Christ. They will continue to labor up Mr. Legality’s hill of despair or dwell in the city of Vain-Glory, being amused right into damnation. Heartfelt ignorance breeds a faith-filled denial of the gospel that springs from a self-deceived hope.THE ANTIDOTE FOR IGNORANCE
What is the antidote to heartfelt ignorance? This question is relevant for the unbeliever and believer alike. While Ignorance is certainly portrayed in Pilgrim’s Progress as an unbeliever, the believer can be blinded by the deceitfulness of sin and/or operate from a sort of “heart legalism.”
First, the testimony of the Word of God surpasses all other testimonies, including the heart. The Scripture searches the thoughts and intentions of the heart, rendering man naked to God, the impartial judge. Submit yourself to God’s Word and pray that God would use his Word through the Spirit to cut away the self-deception of your heart, leaving you naked and bare as a sinner before the holy God.
Second, repent of those sins and a false faith that denies the fullness and freeness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and take hold of Christ alone by faith. Christian points Ignorance to true justifying faith saying,
True justifying faith puts the soul . . . upon flying for refuge unto Christ’s righteousness: (which righteousness of his is not an act of grace, by which he maketh, (for justification,) thy obedience accepted with God; but his personal obedience to the Law, in doing and suffering for us what that requireth of our hands. This righteousness, I say, true faith accepteth.
Saving faith is the instrument by which the sinners take hold of Christ and his righteousness as the sole cause of their justification, receiving pardon of sin and the positive righteousness of Christ for Christ’s sake alone. Saving faith receives and rests on Christ, trusting that his work is sufficient to save and a gift of pure grace.
Heartfelt ignorance is cured by way of the soul piercing Word of God and taking hold of Christ alone for salvation.
John Sweat serves as a pastor at Covenant Community Church in Lake Butler, FL. He is an individual member of the Reformed Baptist Network.