The Pilgrims Deal With Ignorance by John Bunyan

The Pilgrims Deal With Ignorance by John Bunyan

All the passages below are taken from John Bunyan’s book, “Pilgrim’s Progress.” It was first published in 1678. The present book is a complete and unabridged edition translated from the original 17th century text and further annotated into modern English by L. Edward Hazelbaker and published in 1998. This is the easiest and clearest translation to read and understand.

I THEN SAW IN my dream that Hopeful looked back and saw Ignorance, whom they had left behind, walking behind them. “Look how far that youngster lags behind,” said Hopeful to Christian.

“Yes, yes, I see him,” answered Christian. “He doesn’t care for our company.”

“But I don’t think it would’ve hurt him to have kept up with us till now,” said Hopeful.

“That’s true,” said Christian in return, “but I’ll guarantee you he thinks otherwise.”

“I’m sure he does,” said Hopeful. “However, let’s wait for him.” And so they did.

Then Christian said to Ignorance, “Come on, Man! Why do you stay so far behind?”

Ignorance answered, “I enjoy walking alone, even a great deal more than in company, unless I like it better.”

Then Christian spoke softly to Hopeful, “Didn’t I tell you he didn’t care for our company? However, let’s go and talk away the time in this secluded place.”

Then, directing his speech to Ignorance, he said, “Well now, how do you do? How are things between God and your soul now?”

“Good, I hope,” answered Ignorance, “for I’m always full of good thoughts that come into my mind to comfort me as I walk.”

“What good thoughts?” asked Christian. “Please, tell us.” 

“Why, I think of God and Heaven,” answered Ignorance. 

“So do the devils and damned souls,”1 countered Christian. 

“But I think of them and desire them,” said Ignorance. 

“So do many who are never likely to get there,” said Christian. “`The sluggard craves and gets nothing.’”2

“But I think of them and leave everything for them,” said Ignorance.

“I doubt that,” responded Christian, “for leaving everything is a hard thing to do—yes, a harder thing than many realize. But why or by what are you persuaded that you have left everything for God and Heaven?”

“My heart tells me so,” answered Ignorance.

“The Wise Man says, `He who trusts in his own heart is a fool,’”3 said Christian.

“This is spoken of an evil heart,” protested Ignorance, “but mine is a good one.”

“But how can you prove that?” inquired Christian.

“It comforts me with the hope of Heaven,” answered Ignorance.

“That may be through its deceitfulness,”4 said Christian, “for a man’s heart may minister comfort to him with the hope of something that as yet he has no grounds to hope for.”

“But my heart and life agree together,” said Ignorance, “and therefore, my hope is well grounded.”

“Who told you your heart and life agree together?” asked Christian.

“My heart tells me so,” said Ignorance.

“Ask my friend if I’m a thief?” questioned Christian. “Your heart tells you so! Unless the Word of God bears witness in this matter, other testimony is of no value.”

“But isn’t it a good heart that has good thoughts?” asked Ignorance. “And isn’t that life good that is according to God’s commandments?”

“Yes,” agreed Christian, “that heart is good that has good thoughts, and that life is good that is according to God’s commandments. But it’s indeed one thing to have these and another thing to only think so.”

“Please tell me,” said Ignorance, “what do you consider good thoughts and a good life according to God’s commandments?”

“There are good thoughts of many kinds,” responded Christian, “some respecting ourselves, some of God, some of Christ, and some concerning other things.”

“What are good thoughts respecting ourselves?” inquired Ignorance.

“Those that agree with the Word of God,” answered Christian.

“When do our thoughts of ourselves agree with the Word of God?” asked Ignorance.

“When we pass the same judgment upon ourselves that the Word passes,” said Christian. “To explain myself: The Word of God says of persons in their natural condition, `There is no one righteous;’5 `there is no one who does good.’6 It also says that every imagination of the heart of a man is only evil all the time,7 and again, `every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.” Now then, when we think of ourselves like that—having an understanding of it—then our thoughts are good ones because they are according to the Word of God.”

“I’ll never believe my heart is bad like that,” stated Ignorance. 

“Therefore,” returned Christian, “you’ve never had one good thought concerning yourself in your life. But let me go on. As the Word passes a judgment upon our hearts, it also passes a judgment upon our ways; and when our thoughts of our hearts and ways agree with the judgment that the Word gives of both, then both are good because they are in agreement.”

“Make your point,” said Ignorance impatiently.

“Why,” replied Christian, “the Word of God says that man’s ways are crooked ways,9 not good but perverse. It says they are naturally out of the Good Way, and they’ve not known it.10 Now, when a man thinks of his ways like that—I say, when he thinks sensibly like that with humiliation of the heart—then he has good thoughts of his own ways because his thoughts now agree with the judgment of the Word of God.”

“What are good thoughts concerning God?” asked Ignorance.

“As I’ve said concerning ourselves,” said Christian, “good thoughts are when our thoughts of God agree with what the Word says of Him—that is, when we think of His person and attributes as the Word has taught, which is something I can’t expound upon a great deal now. But, speaking of Him with reference to us, we have right thoughts of God when we think that He knows us better than we know ourselves and can see sin in us when and where we can see none, when we think He knows our innermost thoughts11 and that our heart—with all its depths—is always open to His eyes.12 In addition, good thoughts are when we think that all our righteousness stinks in his nostrils13 and that therefore He can’t bear to see us stand before Him in any self-confidence, even in all our best deeds.”

Ignorance countered, “Do you think that I’m such a fool as to think God can see no farther than I or that I would come to God boasting of the best of my deeds?”

“How do you think regarding this matter?” asked Christian.

“To be brief,” said Ignorance, “I think I must believe in Christ for Justification.”

“Good!” exclaimed Christian. “You think you must believe in Christ when you don’t see your need of Him! You see neither your original nor your present weaknesses, but you have such an opinion of yourself and of what you do that it plainly renders you to be one who has never seen the necessity of having Christ’s personal righteousness to justify you before God. How then can you say, `I believe in Christ?’”

“I believe well enough for that,” said Ignorance.

“How do you believe?” asked Christian.

“I believe that Christ died for sinners,” answered Ignorance, “and that I’ll be justified before God from the Curse through His gracious acceptance of my obedience to his Law. Or this: I believe Christ makes my religious duties acceptable to His Father by virtue of His merits. In that way I will be justified.”

“Let me give an answer to this confession of your faith,” said Christian. “First—you believe with a bizarre faith, for this faith is not described anywhere in the Word. Second—you believe with a false faith because it takes justification away from the personal righteousness of Christ and applies it to your own. Third—this faith doesn’t make Christ a justifier of your person but of your actions, and of your person for your actions’ sake, which is false. Fourth—therefore, this faith is deceitful, even such as will leave you under wrath in the Day of God Almighty.14 For true justifying faith causes the soul—understanding its lost condition by the Law—to flee for refuge unto Christ’s righteousness.15 His righteousness is not an act of Grace by which He for justification makes your obedience accepted with God, but it is His personal obedience to the Law in doing and suffering for us what punishment the Law prescribed for us. I say, true faith accepts this righteousness. Under the skirt of Christ’s righteousness,16 [having found refuge there], the soul, being covered, is presented by it as spotless before God. The soul is accepted and acquitted from condemnation.”

“What!” exclaimed Ignorance. “Would you have us rely on what Christ has done personally without us? This conceit would loosen the reins of our evil desires and condone our living as we choose. If we believe that, what does it matter how we live if we may be justified for all things by Christ’s personal righteousness?”

“Ignorance is your name,” said Christian. “And as your name is, so you are. Even your answer here demonstrates what I say. You’re ignorant of what justifying righteousness is, and just as ignorant of how to secure your soul through the faith of it from the heavy wrath of God. Yes, you’re also ignorant of the true effects of saving faith in the righteousness of Christ, which is to bow and win over the heart to God in Christ, to cause it to love His name, His Word, ways, and people, and not as you ignorantly imagine.”

Hopeful then spoke up and said, “Ask him if he ever had Christ revealed to him from Heaven.”

“What!” exclaimed Ignorance once again. “You’re a man for revelations! I believe that what both you and all the rest of you say about that matter is just the fruit of distracted brains.”

“Why, man!” interjected Hopeful. “Christ is so hidden in God from the natural apprehensions of all flesh that He can’t be known in salvation by anyone unless God the Father reveals Him.”

“That’s your faith, but not mine,” stated Ignorance. “Yet I don’t doubt that mine is as good as yours, even though I don’t have as many fanciful thoughts in my head as you.”

“Allow me to put in a word,” said Christian. “You ought not to speak so carelessly of this matter, for this I’ll boldly affirm—even as my good companion has done—that no man can know Jesus Christ except through the revelation of the Father.17 Yes, and also faith—by which the soul lays hold upon Christ, if it be right—must be wrought by the exceeding greatness of His Mighty Power,18 the working of which I see, poor Ignorance, you are ignorant of. Wake up then! See your own wretchedness and run to the Lord Jesus, and you’ll be delivered from condemnation by His righteousness—which is the righteousness of God, for He himself is God.”19

Ignorance then said, “You go so fast I can’t keep up with you. Go on ahead of me. I must stay a distance behind.”

Then Christian and Hopeful 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, 

E’re 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.

Then Christian addressed himself like this to his friend: “Well, come, my good Hopeful. I see that you and I must walk by ourselves again.”

So I saw in my dream that they went on at a fast pace in front, and as for Ignorance, he came hobbling after. Then Christian said to his companion, “I pity this poor man a great deal, for it will certainly go ill with him at the last.”

“Alas!” sighed Hopeful. “There’s an abundance of people in our town in his condition—whole families, even whole streets, and that of Pilgrims, too. And if there be so many in our parts, how many do you think there must be in the place where he was born?”

“Indeed,” agreed Christian, “The Word says He has blinded their eyes lest they should see, and so forth.20 But now that we are by ourselves, what do you think of such men? Do you think they have at any time felt convicted of sin and consequently felt that their manner of living is dangerous?”

“No,” replied Hopeful. “You answer that question yourself, for you are the older and most experienced man.”

Christian complied, “Then I say, sometimes—as I think—they may, but being naturally ignorant, they don’t understand that such convictions work for their good. They desperately seek, therefore, to stifle them and presumptuously continue to flatter themselves in the way of their own hearts.”

Hopeful then responded, “I believe, as you say, that fear works much for people’s good and helps to prepare them to start their Pilgrimage.”

“Without a doubt, it does if it be a proper fear,” said Christian, “for the Word says, `The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’”21

“How would you describe proper fear?” asked Hopeful.

True or proper fear is recognized by three things,” answered Christian: “Oneby its rise, for it’s caused by saving convictions of sin. Two—it drives the soul to lay a firm hold of Christ for Salvation. Three—it produces and continues in the soul a great reverence for God, His Word, and His ways, keeping the soul tender and making it afraid to turn from them—to the right hand or to the left—toward anything that may dishonor God, break its peace, grieve the Spirit, or cause the enemy to speak reproachfully.”

“Well said,” commented Hopeful. “I believe you’ve said the truth. Have we now almost gotten past the Enchanted Ground?”

“Why? Are you weary of this discussion?” asked Christian. 

“No, truthfully,” answered Hopeful. “I just want to know where we are.”

“We have no more than two miles farther to go through it,” said Christian, “but let’s return to our discussion. Now the ignorant don’t know that such convictions—which tend to make them fear—are for their good. And, therefore, they seek to stifle them.”22

How do they seek to stifle them?” asked Hopeful.

Christian explained, “First—they think those fears are caused by the Devil—though they are actually caused by God—and thinking so, they resist them as things that directly work toward their overthrow. Second—they also think these fears work toward spoiling their faith when—alas for them, poor individuals that they are!—they have none at all! Therefore, they harden their hearts against them. Third—they presume they shouldn’t fear, and, therefore, in contempt of them they become presumptuously confident. Fourth—they see those fears work to take away from them their pitiful old self-holiness. Therefore, they resist them with all their might.”

“I know something of this myself,” said Hopeful. “Before I knew myself, it was like that with me.”

“Well,” said Christian, “we’ll leave our neighbor Ignorance by himself for now and deal with another profitable question.”

“Gladly,” said Hopeful, “but you shall still begin.”

“Well then,” said Christian, “didn’t you know a temporary in your parts about ten years ago who was a bold man in religion then?”

“Know him!” exclaimed Hopeful. “Yes, he lived in Graceless, a town about two miles from Honesty. He lived next door to one named Turnback.”

“Right,” agreed Christian. “He lived under the same roof with him. Well, that man was much awakened once. I believe that at that time he had some realization of his sins and of the wages that he owed for them.”

“I think the same,” said Hopeful, “for—my house not being more than three miles from him—he would often come to me with much weeping. I truly pitied the man and was not completely without hope for him. But, as one may see, it’s not every one who cries, `Lord, Lord …’”23

Christian went on, “He told me once that he was resolved to go on Pilgrimage, as we do now; but all of a sudden he became acquainted with one named Saveself, and then he became a stranger to me.”

“Now since we’re talking about him,” said Hopeful, “let’s inquire a little into the reason of his sudden backsliding and that of others like him.”

“It may be very profitable,” remarked Christian, “but you begin.”

“Well then,” said Hopeful, “there are, in my judgment, four reasons for it: Onethough the consciences of such people are awakened, their minds are still not changed. Therefore, when the power of guilt wears off, that which provoked them to be religious ceases; so they naturally turn to their own course again, just as we see the dog that is sick of what he has eaten—as long as its sickness prevails—vomits and casts it all up. It doesn’t do this of a free mind—-if we may say a dog has a mind—but because it troubles its stomach. But then, when its sickness is over and its stomach is eased, its desires being not at all alienated from its vomit, it turns itself about and licks it all up. And so it is that is written, `A dog returns to its vomit.’24 I say this about being hot for Heaven by virtue only of the sense and fear of the torments of Hell: as their sense of Hell and the fears of damnation chill and cool, so their desire for Heaven and salvation also cools. So then, it comes to pass that when their guilt and fear is gone, their desires for Heaven and happiness die, and they return to their course again.”

Two,” continued Hopeful, “another reason is that they have slavish fears, which master over them. I speak now of the fears they have of people, for `fear of man will prove to be a snare.’25 So then, though they seem to be hot for Heaven as long as the flames of Hell are about their ears, yet when that terror has subsided a little they begin to foster second thoughts, such as, that it’s good to be wise and not run—for all they know—the risk of losing everything or at least of bringing themselves into unavoidable and unnecessary troubles. Therefore, they fall in with the world again.”

Three,” maintained Hopeful, “the shame that accompanies religion also lies as a roadblock in their way. They’re proud and haughty, and religion is low and contemptible in their eye. When they’ve lost their sense of Hell and wrath to come, they return again to their former course.”

Four,” stated Hopeful, “experiencing guilt and meditating upon terror is distressing to them. They don’t like to see their misery before they come into it, though perhaps the sight of it at first—if they loved that sight—might make them run to where the righteous flee and are safe.26But, as I hinted before, because they shun the thoughts of guilt and terror, therefore when they once are rid of their awakenings about the terrors and wrath of God, they gladly harden their hearts and choose such ways as will harden them more and more.”

“You’re pretty near the crux of the matter,” said Christian, “for the bottom of it all is their lack of a change in their mind and will.Therefore, they’re simply like the felon who stands before the judge; he shakes and trembles and seems to repent most seriously, but the bottom of it all is the fear of the hangman’s rope, not that he has any loathing for the crime. This is evident because, set this man free, and he’ll be a thief and a rascal still. But, if his mind was changed, he would be otherwise.”

“I’ve shown you the reasons of their going back,” said Hopeful. “Now you show me the manner in which they do it.”

     “So I will, gladly,” responded Christian. “First—they direct their thoughts—all that they can—away from the remembrance of God, death, and judgment to come.27 Second—they gradually quit performing private duties, such as room-prayer,28 curbing their desires,29 watching,30 sorrow for sin,31 and the like. Third—they shun the company of lively and warm Christians.32 Fourth—then they grow cold to public duty such as hearing,33reading,34 and godly consultation. Fifth—in a devilish manner they begin to pick holes, as we say, in the coats of some of the godly for some weakness they’ve seen in them, so they may have a seemingly good reason to throw religion behind their backs.35 Sixth—they begin to adhere to and associate themselves with worldly, careless, and unrestrained people.36 Seventh—they give way to doing worldly and unrestrained things in secret and are glad if they can see such things in anyone who is recognized as an honest person, so they may more boldly do it through their example.37 Eighth—after this, they begin to play with little sins openly. Ninth—then being hardened, they show themselves as they are. Thus being launched again into the gulf of misery, they perish eternally in their own deceptions unless a miracle of grace prevents it.” (189-199)


1. James 2:19.

2. Proverbs 13:4. 

3. Proverbs 28:26. 

4. Jeremiah 17:9. 

5. Romans 3:10.

6. Ecclesiastes 7:20; Psalm 14:1, 53:1. 

7. Genesis 6:5.

8. Genesis 8:21.

9. Deuteronomy 32:5; Proverbs 2:15; Philippians 2:15; Psalm 125:5.

10. Romans 3:17; Isaiah 42:16.

11. Psalm 94:11; Matthew 9:4, 12:25; Luke 5:22, 6:8, 11:17.

12. Hebrews 4:12-13.

13. Isaiah 64:6.

14. Romans 2:5; Revelation 16:14

15.  Cities of refuge were established under the Law for a place where an individual guilty of killing another could flee in order to obtain fair treatment in a court of law. Numbers 35:634; also Joshua 20:1-6. The city of refuge was one’s only hope to be delivered from “the avenger of blood.” And so it is: Christ is our only hope to find refuge and to be delivered from the death sentence that sin prescribes. Psalm 57:1; Matthew 23:37.

16. Ezekiel 16:8.

17. Matthew 11:27; Galatians 1:15-16; 1 Corinthians 12:3. 

18. Ephesians 1:17-19.

19. Colossians 2:9.

20. John 12:40; Isaiah 6:9-10.

21. Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10, 1:7; Job 28:28. 

22. Why ignorant persons stifle convictions. 

23. Matthew 7:21-23.

24. 2 Peter 2:22.

25. Proverbs 29:25.

26. Proverbs 18:10.

27. Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 2 Timothy 2:11-14; 2 Peter 1:12-15; Romans 1:28; Jude 17.

28. Matthew 6:6

29. Galatians 5:16-24; 1 Peter 1:14, 2:11

30. Matthew 24:42-44, 26:41; Mark 13:32-37, 14:38; Luke 12:35-40, 21:34-36; Acts 20:31; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6; Revelation 3:2-3.

31. Psalm 51.

32. Hebrews 10:25.

33. Proverbs 28:9; Acts 28:27.

34. 2 Kings 22:1-13 The public reading of God’s Word ceased in Israel, which led to the Book being lost and contributed to their backsliding as a nation.

35. The religious leaders during Christ’s time on earth were guilty of this act time and time again as they attempted to dismiss themselves from true religion taught by Christ. But even the Roman Procurator of Palestine could find no guilt in Him. Luke 23:1-25; John 18:28-40.

36. Proverbs 13:20; 1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15.

37. Psalm 90:8; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Luke 8:17; Romans 2:16

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