“The Pilgrim’s Progress” Episode 7: Interpreter’s House – “The Man in the Iron Cage”
Now, said Christian, let me go hence. Nay, stay, said the Interpreter, till I have shewed thee a little more, and
after that thou shalt go on thy way. So he took him by the hand again, and led him into a very dark room, where there sat a man in an iron cage.
Now the man, to look on, seemed very sad; he sat with his eyes looking down to the ground, his hands folded together, and he sighed as if he would break his heart. Then said Christian, What means this? At which the Interpreter bid him talk with the man.
Then said Christian to the man, What art thou? The man answered, I am what I was not once.
Chr. What wast thou once?
Man. The man said, I was once a fair and flourishing professor, both in mine own eyes, and also in the eyes of others; I once was, as I thought, fair for the Celestial City, and had then even joy at the thoughts that I should get thither.
Chr. Well, but what art thou now? Man. I am now a man of despair, and am shut up in it, as in this iron cage. I cannot get out. Oh, now I cannot!
Chr. But how camest thou in this condition?
Man. 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.
Then said Christian to the Interpreter, But is there no hope for such a man as this? Ask him, said the Interpreter. Nay, said Christian, pray, Sir, do you.
Inter. Then said the Interpreter, Is there no hope, but you must be kept in the iron cage of despair?
Man. No, none at all.
Inter. Why, the Son of the Blessed is very pitiful.
Man. 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.
Inter. For what did you bring yourself into this condition?
Man. 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.
Inter. But canst thou not now repent and turn?
Man. 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 with in eternity!
Inter. Then said the Interpreter to Christian, Let this man’s misery be remembered by thee, and be an everlasting caution to thee.
While I may not agree with Bunyan’s idea that a man who has sinned in such a way is refused repentance by Christ, I do see some beautiful (or maybe disturbing is a better word choice) illustrations in regards to the concept of our progressive sanctification.
Progressive sanctification is the theological term that describes what is to happen in the life of any believer who yields day-by-day control to the Holy Spirit in order for Him to make the believer more like Jesus. In this episode, the man in the cage desired the things of this earth more than the things of God. The biblical term for this kind of behavior is idolatry. When we want the creation more than we want the Creator, we are just like those in the Old Testament who bowed down to golden calves, carved poles and lightning gods. And in doing so, we spit in God’s face.
And the tough part about all this is that these things that we put before God aren’t always “bad” things. We tend to view our 21st century idols as horribly sinful things when in reality they may be quite the opposite. As Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA once said (and I’m paraphrasing here) and idol is a “good thing which we make into a God-thing.” So the idols in my life could be my wife and children, my friends, my ministry or my church. When I put anything in Christ’s rightful place, I become an idolater.
The most disturbing thing about this scene is that man in the iron cage was given exactly what he wanted: a life apart from God. He wanted life on his terms and pleasing his desires. He sought after the temporal while ignoring the eternal.
And all it brought him was confinement.
The prophet Jeremiah illustrates this point when under the direction of the Holy Spirit he writes:
Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
(Jeremiah 2:12-13 ESV)
The people had utterly ignored the place of ultimate refreshment and comfort to spend time trying to do for themselves what God was completely ready to give. This is the essence of idolatry: seeking fulfillment and identity apart from our Maker.
What are the consequences of such actions? It may not be what you think. As the apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
(Romans 1:18-25 ESV bold mine)
What we see in this passage is what theologians call the “passive” wrath of God. The passive wrath of God is when God gives you the desires of your heart. When we seek His created things such as pleasure, fulfillment, love, security and the like apart from His hand, He does nothing more than allow us to stray, eventually becoming trapped in our own vices.
What does this say to me today? I believe that it is my responsibility to, like Josiah in the Old Testament, look for idols that I have created in my own life. It may be a possession, social status, occupation, comfort, or anything that I have made into a “God-thing.” Whatever these idols are in my life, I must be willing to remove them from Christ’s place of honor and worship in my heart. Only then can I be free from my iron cage of idolatry.
What about you? Are there any idols you need to smash?