An Application of Pilgrim’s Progress: The Man in the Iron Cage

June 11, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

Many would be familiar with Alexandre Dumas’ novel entitled, The Man in the Iron Mask. In Pilgrim’s Progress, however, Christian’s tour of the house of the Interpreter brings him into contact with the Man in the Iron Cage. It is a cage of despair, and he is confined to it by his own doing.

It was not always so. This poor wretch had once been a “fair and flowering professor” of Christ. He thought himself well on his way to the Celestial City, and others, to look at him, thought the same. And his heart was full of joy.

How then, did he arrive at such a state as this? How did he come to be confined in the iron cage of despair? His own answer is in itself a warning:

“I left off to watch, and be sober; I laid the reins upon the neck of my lusts; 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.”

Now, there he sits, forlorn and without hope. But why has he no hope? Is he not aware that, as Christian says, “The Son of the Blessed is very pitiful”?

No. Not toward the man in the iron cage.

“I have crucified him to myself afresh; I have despised His person, I have despised his Righteousness, I have counted His blood an unholy thing, I have done despite to the Spirit of Grace: Therefore I have shut myself out of all the Promises, and there now remains to me nothing but threatenings, dreadful threatenings, fearful threatenings of certain judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour me as an adversary.”

And why? For what did he exchange the joy and the promises?

“For the lusts, pleasures, and profits of this world; in the enjoyment of which, I did then promise myself much delight: But now every one of those things also bite me, and gnaw me, like a burning worm.”

Why not, then, repent?

“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. O eternity! Eternity! How shall I grapple with the Misery that I must meet in eternity!”

Clearly, as Bunyan wrote of this despondent soul he did so with the warning passages of Hebrews in mind. Particularly Hebrews 6. But is this a proper understanding? Everywhere in Scripture we find that repentance is met by acceptance. God has never turned away one who comes to Him in true sorrow for sin. After all, it is He who grants repentance. So, to say that “God hath denied me repentance”, is to speak something other the truth.

What then? A gift not granted is not a gift denied. Those are two different things. It is not as though God is actively denying repentance to this man. It is, rather, that this man is so corrupt and deceived that he cannot fathom a grace so great as to cover his sin. And there is the root….pride. It is a pride which is itself the lock upon the cage. The man thinks his sin great, and God small. And so he is confined not because he has sinned so greatly, but because he is unwilling to humble himself. He is unwilling to ask for release because he does not think God great enough to forgive.

Lord, deliver us from the sinful pride of taking pride in our sin.

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