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Willful Ignorance

“Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us;
for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.”
(Job 21:14)
“Man’s apostasy began in an affectation of forbidden knowledge,
but is kept up by an affectation of forbidden ignorance.”
– Matthew Henry

We live in a time of great apostasy when many choose to ignore or disbelieve the simplicity of the Gospel of Salvation, the message of the Cross. Many of the new heresies are intricate, complex, always evolving, and “emerging” with new theologies, philosophies, terminologies, eschatologies, ecclesiologies, etc. These false teachings puff up people with pride in their human knowledge and lead them to “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the Truth”(2 Timothy 3:7).

Error-filled teachings reflect an artificial light that beckons to those wandering in darkness. The neon beacon of heresy is alluring, creating warm feelings, and bestows a temporal vision that seduces the believer off the narrow path. But it does not convict man of sin in his heart.

The Gospel is the Light of Truth. Matthew Henry in his Commentary on John 3:1-21 says it is a “terror to the wicked world” and it makes men’s sins manifest, showing them “the evil of their transgressions…. The Gospel has its convictions, to make way for its consolations.” Just as this Gospel light shining into the darkness of men’s hearts “convinces and terrifies evildoers, so it confirms and comforts those that walk in their integrity.”

Matthew Henry declares that those “who do not come to the light” of the Gospel of Salvation have an “antipathy to saving knowledge” and a “damning ignorance.” Harsh words in our era of touchy-feely assuages to the conscience! But it is a fact of human nature that men choose to willfully disregard the Truth, preferring instead the soft comforts of empty assurances and synthetic lights.

The Word of God in John chapter 3 describes this woeful condition:

“He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (vs. 18)

“And this is the condemnation, that Light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (vs. 19)

“For everyone one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.(vs. 20)

“But he that doeth Truth cometh to the Light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” (vs. 21)

These verses come right on the heels of two of the most famous verses in the Christian faith – the well-known Scriptures that testify that

“For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

“For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

But right after these two comforting verses, the apostle John describes those who would “believeth not” in Jesus:

“He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (vs. 18) [emphasis added]

Matthew Henry applies these verses not only to non-believers, but to those who “persist in unbelief and willful ignorance.” He referred to it as a “deplorable condition.” Applying verse 19 to “those that would not so much as know Him,” Henry observed:

“Many inquisitive people had knowledge of Christ and His doctrine and miracles, but they were prejudiced against Him, and would not believe in Him, while the generality were sottishly careless and stupid, and would not know Him.” [bold emphasis added]

The “Gospel is Light,” says Henry, and as “Light is self-evidencing, so is the Gospel.” This Light of the Gospel is “discovering,” “sweet,” and “shining in a dark place.” But, it is “the unspeakable folly of men that they loved darkness rather than light, rather than this Light.” He explains:

  • “The Jews loved the dark shadows of their law, and the instructions of their blind guides, rather than the doctrine of Christ.
  • “The Gentiles loved their superstitious services of an unknown God, whom they ignorantly worshipped, rather than the reasonable service which the Gospel enjoins.
  • “Sinners that were wedded to their lusts loved their ignorance and mistakes, which supported them in their sins, rather than the Truths of Christ, which would have parted them from their sins. . . .”

These, then, are causes of willful ignorance: “Wretched man is in love with his sickness, in love with his slavery, and will not be made free, will not be made whole[bold emphasis added]. Matthew Henry further observes:

“The true reason why men love darkness rather than light is because their deeds are evil. They love darkness because they think it is an excuse for their evil deeds, and they hate the light because it robs them of the good opinion they had of themselves, by showing them their sinfulness and misery. Their case is sad, and, because they are resolved that they will not mend it, they are resolved that they will not see it.

Willful ignorance is so far from excusing sin that it will be found, at the great day, to aggravate the condemnation. This is the condemnation, this is what ruins souls, that they shut their eyes against the Light, and will not so much as admit a parley with Christ and His Gospel; they set God so much at defiance that they desire not the knowledge of His ways, Job 21:14. We must account in the judgment, not only for the knowledge we had, and used not, but for the knowledge we might have had, and would not; not only for the knowledge we sinned against, but for the knowledge we sinned away.” [bold emphasis added]

Likewise, Matthew Poole in his earlier 1600s Commentary on these same verses, observed:

“This Light is come into the world; that signifies not only His Incarnation, but his revealing the merciful counsel of God for our salvation,… He has opened the way that leads to eternal life. But men loved darkness rather than light; they preferred, chose, and adhered to their ignorance and errors, before the Light of Life, the saving knowledge of the Gospel.” [bold emphasis added]

Matthew Henry concludes that

Unbelief may truly be called the great damning sin, because it leaves us under the guilt of all our other sins; it is a sin against the remedy, against our appeal.” [bold emphasis added]

And what is the remedy to willful ignorance, but this, says Henry:

“[Christ] came that the world through Him might be saved, that a door of salvation might be opened to the world, and whoever would might enter in by it. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, and so saving it. An act of indemnity is passed and published, through Christ a remedial law made, and the world of mankind dealt with, not according to the rigours of the first Covenant, but according to the riches of the second; that the world through Him might be saved, for it could never be saved but through Him; there is not salvation in any other. This is good news to a convinced conscience, healing to broken bones and bleeding wounds, that Christ, our judge, came not to condemn, but to save.”

Those who come to Jesus Christ will bear the scrutiny of the Light, letting the Gospel of the Cross penetrate between “joints and marrow” to the conviction of “thoughts and intents of the hearts” (Hebrews 4:12).

The Truth:

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)

“But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” (1 Corinthians 11:32)

Quoted material taken from Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Volume 5, Matthew to John (Hendrickson, 1991), pp. 717-718, and Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Bible, Volume III: Matthew-Revelation (Hendrickson), p. 293. Capitalization added and text reformatted for blog use.