With well-doing put to silence the Ignorance of foolish men. —Peter
Not all ignorant people totally ignore God and the most holy faith. Some of them are not only very pious, but strictly so. Their religious severity amounts to a kind of contempt of the liberty and simplicity of the gospel. Others are much less haughty and arrogant, yet nonetheless conceited and inflated with their own importance. They are very communicative, very open and outgoing, yet continually expose their ignorance. This makes them a bit of a pest. They think of themselves as being very spiritual, and are hurt if others do not also think so. They adopt the provincialisms and local religious vocabulary of their cultural or sub-cultural setting and environment, as though they understood, meant and intended the same things.
Ignorance was, in mans’ respects, full of impressive conversation about Christ, but was profoundly unacquainted with Him. He came to church, not any too faithfully, to acquire a reputation of religiosity for merely sitting out an hour. He came not in search for knowledge. It pained him even to think that he might find it by accident. Every sermon he ever heard was lost on him. True, he heard every word of every one of them. But, as was his habit, he never weighed a thought in his life. He liked the sound, never the sense of the truth. “There is none that understandeth, none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11). Ignorance never understood Christ: so never sought Him.
Christian could more easily rid himself of Obstinate and Mr. Worldly-wiseman than he could of Ignorance. They were open enemies of the gospel, never associating with believers. There is little you can do to instruct such people, or even to warn them. But a man like Ignorance is different. He is of a lively personality, conceited, of shallow character, and most desirous of being recognized as a Christian of high repute. He is shaken off only with great difficulty. Pride, in one form or another, is the fundamental and universal fault of human nature, and is that which motivates Ignorance. He came from the town of Conceit. He possesses a friendly smile, a vivacious disposition, a weak mind, confused judgment, is uninformed on theology and almost every other subject, is blind to all his defects, and moves men with a forward, imposing and annoying self-sufficiency. If such a man as Ignorance could also be rich, influential and with the ability to curry fear and favor, he would he as dangerous as an activated bomb.
Satan, as in C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Screwtape, by one of his lying spirits might tempt a Christian to wrestle with a problem in his own mind, or to consult his friends, without carefully considering the Scripture and resorting to prayer for divine guidance. “So,” Satan conceivably could advise Screwtape, or some more menial spirit, “you will probably be able to seduce him into the wrong path. Get him to listen to Flatterer, and he will certainly be misled. Of course, with those not much acquainted with the gospel, you will have to use different seductions. In some cases, it will be enough to allure with modem philosophies, or Pharisaical self-righteousness, or dreams of sinless perfection. But you will not be able to deceive the more experienced Christian by such means, nor by suggesting to him the old saw of justification by the works of the law. Nor can you lull him into self-complacency by singing ditties on the dignity of human nature and the airy abstractions of free will. You will have to try bait other than the all-sufficiency of human reason and the intrinsic goodness of man. Neither will the subtleties of Antinomianism have effect on those who live in the Enemy’s commandments a life of gratitude. But try flattery. One way or another, the human mind is open to flattery. Soothe him into a good opinion of himself. Commend his good judgment, especially in his allowing himself a little rest. Get him to make fine distinctions, and to rationalize situations as exceptions to general rules. Tell him he is too well acquainted with Satan’s devices to be deceived. Train him to make his finely experienced thinking the standard of right and wrong. Get him to thinking how scripturally wise he is, how strong a Christian, how much liberty in Christ he has. It will blind him to a whole minefield of sin. Remember, dark nephew Screwtape, Flatterer is a “black man in a white robe.”
There is, what some theologians have called, an invincible ignorance. There is an ignorance which of necessity certain people are unable to overcome, it overcomes them, because they do not have the institutions, advantages or even privileges of learning. “It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but unto them that are without, it is not given” (Matt. 13:11). Some have not the knowledge of God” (I Cor. 15:34), are, literally, (agnostic) ignorant of God. But this is, nevertheless, a deadly, fatal ignorance. (“Where there is no vision, The people perish.” Prov. 29:18). For when Christ returns, He will take “vengeance on them that know not God” (II Thess 1:8). Many excuse their ignorance, and their blatant disobedience, on the grounds that they are not vicious, nor violent, and are basically well-meaning souls — their intentions are good. But flaming fire is destined for those who obey not the gospel. An empty mind will be punished as well as a filthy mind. The blind and the lame could not be offered as sacrifices to Cod. They were an abomination to Him. Nor will the Lord receive a consecration without knowledge and obedience. They who know not their Lord’s will shall have few stripes. He does not say, no stripes (Luke 12:48). No one has yet said, Hell is cool even if, in some cases, it is not as hot for some as for others.
Well, then, some are ignorant because they do not have the benefit of any ministry of the Word. Others are ignorant because they do not have the benefit of a sound ministry. This is really worse than no ministry at all. For to cling to a religious facade makes one harder to reach with the truth than one with no religion. It will be useless to blame one’s fatally deceptive guides. “If the blind lead the blind, they both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14). Ignorant and misled followers shall perish with their blind leaders. “The leaders of this people cause them to err, and they that are led of them are destroyed” (Isa. 9:16). This is justice. The people not only deserve such leaders, but make them. They are the projections of their lusts. But the people want blind leaders because they want to sin blindly, heedlessly, and, they hope, with impunity. “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means, and My people love to have it so” (Jer. 5:31). Ignorance loves those who increase and spread it. The naturally blind may have a good dog for a guide. But calamity crouches at the door of blind led who idolize their blind guides!
There is also a negligent ignorance. This is where there are institutions and opportunities of and for learning, but they are neglected. This is a much worse ignorance. It leaves professing Christians “barren and unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ” (II Peter 1:8). There is plenty of knowledge at their disposal, but they do not make use of it. They know, but do not know. They know the comforts of the gospel, but are never refreshed by them. There were the Gnostics, so called from their knowledge, or their claim to knowledge. But they were among the most impure of heretics. There is also the negligent ignorance where there is, what we may call, intractability. This is where professed Christians never learn anything. The plainest of Christian truth is all Greek to them. (This means they probably would be incapable of learning New Testament Greek. Certainly they would never attempt it.) They are like the young lad who came to Sunday School laden down almost to his knees with a string of “Cross and Crown” medal awards for perfect attendance all his life. But asked who Noah was, he could not tell. A child of God may be ignorant, but not intractable. When it comes to doctrines he never heard before, there is a certain suitability or affinity between his spirit and the newly introduced truth. The regenerated heart is a born brother and kin to and a frame of everything divinely revealed. But Negligent Ignorance is laden with sin, led away with various lusts, ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (II Tim. 3:7).
The history of Ignorance, according to the somewhat lengthy and detailed account in Pilgrim’s Progress, comes to a terrible end. It does happen that many who were strangers to saving grace died with a great deal of composure, with their head in the lap of False-peace, brought across Jordan by the ferry-man, Vain-hope. They continued to the end under the power of Ignorance and self-deception. The devil was careful not to have them disturbed. God gave them over to a strong delusion, that they should die with a lie in their right hand, to meet an awful doom. Could Ignorance say he did not know, to do good? He did know; he knew His will, but did not do it. Christian and Hopeful did their utmost to enlighten him. But he never acted on their counsel. He thought he knew better, better than the plain Word of God. “For this they are willingly ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were, of old!” (II Peter 3:5). On behalf of such ignorance it cannot be pled, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”