Pilgrim's Progress | Study Guide

John Bunyan

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Pilgrim's Progress | Part 1, Chapter 9 | Summary

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Summary

Now in the home stretch of their journey, Christian and Hopeful meet with a "brisk" young man named Ignorance, who comes from a place called Conceit. He has come into their path via "a little crooked lane," but he protests that he will be welcomed in the Celestial City because he has led a good life overall. The two attempt to argue with Ignorance, but finding him unwilling to hear what they have to say, they leave him to follow behind. Christian tells Hopeful the story of Little-Faith, who was robbed by a group of thieves but managed to keep the "jewels" of his faith, though reduced to poverty otherwise. The thieves, Christian explains, might have done far worse to Little-Faith had they not fled for fear of Great-Grace, the king's champion.

As they walk, still followed by Ignorance, Christian and Hopeful are accosted by two more tempters. First is the "false apostle" Flatterer, who traps them in a net before they are set free by an unnamed saint or angel. Next is Atheist, who has made it almost all the way to the Celestial City before concluding that no such city exists. Finally, the two pilgrims reach the Enchanted Ground, where they struggle to stay awake. To keep from falling asleep and possibly never getting back up, they speak with each other about the circumstances that first led them to become pilgrims. Waiting for Ignorance to catch up, they quiz him about the nature of his faith and find it defective on several points.

Analysis

The fate of Ignorance at the end of Part 1 is a particularly hard pill to swallow compared to the deaths of other minor characters. Like many, though certainly not all, of the other "also-rans" on the pilgrims' road, Ignorance seems truly convinced that he is in the right. Formalist and Hypocrisy in Part 1, Chapter 3 and the doomed miners in Part 1, Chapter 8, never get very far, but Ignorance will make it all the way to the Celestial City only to be rejected. Bunyan does not even make Ignorance a particularly annoying or unpleasant character; in any case, he is not in the same league as the grating Talkative from Part 1, Chapter 5. By having this hapless character join the pilgrims near the end only to fail, Bunyan is setting up his readers for what he sees as a harsh reality, which is that not everyone who considers himself a Christian will be saved. A person can persist in following Christianity to the best of their knowledge and ability and still be denied salvation because they willfully cling to their ignorance that they are not following the true Christian path.

The question of whether or not the ignorant (in this theological sense) will be saved is one that has interested Christian theologians of all eras. Catholic ethics, for instance, make a distinction between invincible and vincible ignorance: the former is ignorance so profound and irremovable that it prevents a person from being truly guilty for their sins. The archetypical case would be someone who has never even heard of Christianity or of what it teaches. For Bunyan, however, calculations of distinctions of ignorance do not matter much: he confidently declares in Part 1, Chapter 10 that God will not save the ignorant, citing Scripture to defend his position. This unsettling conclusion—that an honest mistake might doom a person to hell—doubtless lent as much fire and urgency to Bunyan's preaching as it did to his writing.

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