As we last noted, the content of the ninth stage of Christian’s journey was too large for me to adequately capture in one week. Thus, we previously discussed the first half of the stage, particularly Little-faith, Flatterer, and Atheist. Moving on the second half, we shall discuss the Enchanted Ground, Hopeful’s testimony, and Ignorance.
The Enchanted Ground
On page 158, we read, “I saw then in my dream, that they went till they came into a certain Country, whose air naturally tended to make one drowzy, if he came a Stranger into it.” As Christian quickly identifies, this is the Enchanted Ground that the shepherds warned of, the place where travelers were lulled to sleep, never to awake again.
This concept is clearly a picture of the Bible’s numerous commands for God’s people to stay awake and sober-minded. Speaking of His return, Jesus warned:
Therefore stay awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning–lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.Mark 13:35-37
Of course, the text written in margins is 1 Thessalonians 5:6, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” Likewise, 1 Peter 4:7 tells us, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”
Spurgeon is right (I believe) to call the Enchanted Ground more perilous than all the trials that befell the pilgrims thus far. Indeed, we know that sleep is a gift that God gives to His beloved (Psalm 127:2), yet the sleep of the Enchanted Ground is not the sleep of confident trust in the Father but the sleep of presumption and sloth. It is a spiritual sleep that infects many who otherwise appear to be awake and alert. Spurgeon gives a threefold reason for this sleep’s danger: the sleeper is insensible, in a state of inaction, and in a state of insecurity. Those who are asleep have the senses shut down, are inactive, and are never easier to attack.
Does this not describe much of Christianity in the West? Being free from persecution for so long and having more material wealth than any people in history are both breeding grounds for spiritual slumber. Of course, we ought to be thankful for both, yet we go wrong if we use them as justification for sleep. Our wrestling against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places by advancing God’s kingdom is no less a reality in times of material peace and prosperity. One of my favorite counsels of John Calvin reads:
Let us therefore regard this period of quiet [meaning lack of persecution] not as something which will last forever, but as a truce in which God gives us time to gain strength, so that, when called to confess our faith, we do not act as raw recruits because we failed to think ahead.
Indeed, we may gain strength and stay awake by keeping the blessed hope of Christ’s return ever before our eyes, by being watchful in prayer and in God’s Word, and by interceding in prayer for our brothers and sisters around the world who are actively suffering for Christ.
The Conversion of Hopeful
Another means of fighting off the spiritual slumber that may so easily overcome us is by the company of other believers, as Christian and Hopeful now do. Christian proposes discussing how they came to begin their pilgrimage, and thus we now learn exactly how Hopeful came to faith. We might divide Hopeful’s testimony of his conversion into three stages: guilt and avoidance, morality, and saving faith.
First, Hopeful recounts that he was just as sin-filled as every other citizen of Vanity Fair, but then he heard of Christian and Faithful, who proclaimed that such sins ended in death. This awakened in him the guilt of his sin, though he first began to deny it vehemently. We can take a few notes from this first stage of Hopeful’s conversion.
Although Paul affirms that everyone knows that they have sinned against the Creator by rebelling against the law that He has placed our hearts, that guilt simply leaves men without excuse; it does not pave the way for salvation. The beginning of the proclamation of the gospel must always first shed light upon the true darkness of our sin. Indeed, the goal of the evangelist is to preach the word of Christ so that the hearer may have faith to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved (Romans 10:13-17), but how will anyone cry for salvation without knowing their need to be saved? Guilt over sin must be awakened, and we must see our condition for what it really.
Also, we should note on page 160 the honest reasons why Hopeful ignored his guilt, for they are a fitting summary for why so many desperately attempt to ignore their guilt: 1) he was ignorant that God was using that conviction as the beginning of his conversion, 2) sin was still sweet to him, 3) he did want to abandon his friends, and 4) the guilt was so troublesome that he could not stand to think of it.
Finally, also on page 160, we ought to consider all the things that brought his conviction of sin unwillingly back into his mind. Apart from meeting a good man or hearing the Bible, the rest had to do with pain, sickness, and death. This brings to mind Lewis’ observation that “pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” It is very often through discomfort and pain that the Lord, in His grace, refuses to let us run from Him.
Second, Hopeful turned away from his sin due to the overwhelming guilt and conviction, thinking: “I must endeavour to mend my life; for else, thought I, I am sure to be damned” (161). He thus parted from sinful companions and took up what we often call today spiritual disciplines. But this life-style reformation could not assuage his guilt for long. We, of course, saw Christian himself be tempted with this way of life by Mr. Worldly-Wiseman who tried to convince to remove his burden via Morality. Here Bunyan is addressing the same problem from another angle.
For all his righteousness, Hopeful discovered through the Scriptures that it was insufficient to save. Particularly, Hopeful realized that none of his good works actually served to remove the guilt of his previous sins. Thus, even if he never sinned again (which we know is purely hypothetical!), his original cosmic debt against the Creator of heaven and earth would still stand against him. If his own righteousness then was so thoroughly insufficient, he would need the righteousness of another.
This then led to Hopeful’s conversion and his understanding and believing of the gospel. Faithful told him that Jesus alone was righteous and died to impute His righteousness upon His people, for whom He also paid their debt of sin. Hopeful then prayed what we might call the sinner’s prayer, yet he did so more than a hundred times until Christ was revealed to him and he found assurance of his salvation.
This extended battering down of the sinner until he finally sees Christ was a common pattern of conversion that the Puritans were often known for, and it stands in stark contrast with the easy-believism that is so frequent today, where the sinner’s prayer is prayed after an emotional sermon and assurance of salvation is immediately pronounced by the preacher. I think Beeke is right in saying that:
Perhaps the greatest danger of some forms of Puritan preparation [for salvation] is the lack of balance in their presentation. By using the law to hammer away at sinners over long periods of time, men like Hooker often neglected to mingle the sweet with the bitter. Their listeners could easily have lost sight of Christ in the midst of several dozen sermons on contrition… [Jonathan] Edwards offered a helpful corrective to this, as did the Dutch divine Wilhelmus a Brakel (1635-1711), who reminds us that in the mystery of the Spirit’s working, we often cannot tell exactly when a person is born again.
Conversing with Ignorance
Having recounted his conversion, Hopeful notices that Ignorance was lagging far behind them, and he encourages Christian to slow down for him in order to talk with him. We chiefly see here that Ignorance is ignorant of the ways of God, yet his ignorance is like that of the Pharisees to whom Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (John 9:41). An ignorant man who recognizes his own ignorance at least has the very beginning of knowledge, but the one who thinks that he already is wise has a damning ignorance, for he will not be corrected.
While there is much that we could say about Ignorance (and indeed we will observe Christian and Hopeful discuss him at the beginning of the next stage), let us point out three broad topics.
First, we can see from the beginning Ignorance’s foolishness in that he desires to be alone. Proverbs 18:1 warns that “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” And that is precisely what we see with Ignorance. He delights in isolation because he does not want to be challenged. He does not want to endure the sharpening process that walking with another inevitably brings (Proverbs 27:17). He, therefore, is the fool who despises “wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).
Second, notice that as Ignorance’s conversation goes on with Christian, his supreme authority is quickly revealed to be his own heart: “My heart tells me so” (168). We, of course, should expect nothing less from one who is devoted only to his own desires. Furthermore, we should also not be surprised to find that Ignorance cannot acknowledge the wickedness of his own heart, for that condemn his god, his treasure, and his guide all at once.
Third, because Ignorance is unable to confess his wickedness, his understanding of Christ’s justification is twisted in kind. His belief of justification is:
Christ died for sinners, and that I shall be justified before God from the Curse, through his gracious acceptance of my obedience to his law. Or thus, Christ makes my Duties, that are religious, acceptable to his Father by virtue of his Merits, and so shall I be justified.170-171
The grand problem here is, of course, that Ignorance does not actually look outside of himself to Christ for justification. He only looks for Christ to supplement his already righteous heart and efforts. He is justified only in the sense that Christ seals his already assured salvation.
But this is not biblical justification, which teaches that we must look solely upon the atoning work of Christ to be justified before God. Sanctification, we can rightly say, involves our good works being offered to God certainly (but even then we are empowered by the Spirit!), yet justification is purely a unilateral act of salvation. We are made righteous before God, not by any duties that we might perform but only through the work of Christ for us.
It is quite sorrowful to see much of our present world in Bunyan’s portrait of Ignorance. May the Lord ever give grace to His people to look away from self and our own hearts and to look upon Christ!