Christian, in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, comes upon a man in an iron cage. He seems very forlorn and depressed. So Christian asks about his condition and the man declares that he is not the man he used to be.
“What wast thou once?” asked Christian.
The man indicated he was once a bold professor of Christ. He thought himself prepared to enter the celestial city and experienced a joy that one day he would spend eternity with Christ.
“Well, but what art thou now?” asked Christian.
“I am now a man of despair in this iron cage and I cannot get out.” he replied.
Christian asked him how he had come to such a point of despair. “I left off to watch and be sober: I sinned against the light of the word, and the goodness of God; I have grieved the Spirit, and he is gone; I tempted the devil , and he is come to me; I have provoked God to anger, and he has left me: I have so hardened my heart, that I cannot repent,” groaned the hopeless man.
Christian feels an overwhelming desire to help the poor man, “Call upon the Son of the Blessed, he is very merciful. Can you not grasp hope, man?”
But the man in the iron cage declares there is no hope. “I have despised his righteousness. He no longer hears, indeed, he hath denied me repentance. I have sold my soul for the lusts, pleasures and profits of this world.”
Had this man so sinned against God and for so long shook his fist in the face of God that he had finally become an apostate? He had pretended love for Christ and handled the truth of God’s word carelessly and spoke of the great attributes of God with frivolity. He had so totally and unabashedly rejected the holiness of God that his heart was now hardened to the point where he could not possibly repent. He would never be saved. He would never be rescued from his despair. He would never again know freedom outside his iron cage.
Even though this man experienced a great amount of sadness and felt overwhelming despair, he had no sorrow in his heart for his sin, no humility or tender thoughts regarding the crucified Christ. Therefore, “God hath denied me repentance. His word gives me no encouragement to believe; yea, himself hath shut me up in this iron cage. Nor can all the men in the world let me out.”
It is a fearful thing to consider that a man might finally be sealed in his unbelief. Christian described this man in the cage as a “Man (who) had sinned himself quite out of hopes of God’s mercy.” Saul may have reached this point in his disobedience to God. Samuel records (1 Sam. 28:6) that Saul “enquired of the Lord but the Lord did not hear him.” We often entertain a deception when we say “as long as I have breathe I have hope.” Bunyan said, “The day of grace ends with some men before God takes them out of this world.” It is not possible for men to determine when another man has reached an apostate condition where his heart has hardened beyond hope but we know it can happen. Consider Esau who “found no place for repentance, though he sought it with tears.” (Heb. 12:17)
The man in the iron cage had repeatedly refused to heed the call of God. In so doing he had sinned against the light of God’s Word, he had grieved the Holy Spirit and provoked God to anger. In a sense, he had spit in the face of God one too many times. Proverbs 29:1 says, “He that being often reproved and hardeneth his neck shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”
There was a 59 year old man who sat in a German prison for 34 years having been convicted of murder. He was finally offered his freedom, but chose to stay in the prison rather than return to freedom. This man indicates no fear of returning to society nor does he indicate any anger, he just simply refuses to leave. Like someone affected by Stockholm Syndrome, he seems to have reached a point of reconciliation with his captors and finds captivity bearable, even comfortable.
Does this not demonstrate the mystery of the presentation of the gospel? Some respond with penitent hearts but others respond not at all. That man whose soul is pocked with guilt for sins committed is offered freedom through the purchasing power of Christ’s blood yet he rejects the offer and chooses rather to stay in his iron cage. Though some have understood the way of salvation and that a path of purity was demonstrated and made possible through a merciful Savior, still, they choose to remain in the iron cage of their sin.
Are you tired of sitting in an iron cage? Have you trusted in the power of Christ to open the door of your cage and set you free or have you insisted he leave you alone until your ears no longer hear his plea, your eyes no longer see the mercy in his face and your heart has become stone hard and there is no feeling whatsoever about the sacrifice he has made, the condition of your own heart or the destination of your soul?
It’s hard to imagine going to a zoo and opening the cage of the lion or the monkey only to discover they have no desire to leave? Have you ever held a dog captive on a chain, released him and watch him willfully return desiring the chain to be placed again about his neck? Has Christ unlatched the gate of your iron cage, swung the door wide open in an offering of freedom only to discover that you are quite comfortable in your iron cage and you have no desire to leave?
When Christ offers us freedom, our refusal is a slap in his face. This act, repeated often may very well lead to a state of apostasy wherein repentance becomes impossible. Our hope in Christ is a wonderful gift, a treasure never to be trampled upon or ignored