Pilgrim’s Progress, Chapter Two Progress Points, Pt. 4 – An Excursus on the Iron Cage

You know, the whole scene of the man in the iron cage, while disturbing, even distressing, should not be all that surprising.  I say this because, if you will recall, we began our study of Pilgrim’s Progress: Ancient Journey, New City by reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the sower and the soils (Mt 13:1-9).  You know how the story goes.  Some seed falls on the path.  This is hard ground from the beginning.  Paths in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry would have been worn down and virtually concretized from years of treading.  Seeds hit that surface and sit on that surface, and become a bird buffet.  Some seeds are tossed on rocky ground.  Like some places here in Middle Tennessee, there is a thin layer of soil barely covering a rocky terrain.  Seeds can sprout, but not develop roots deep enough to protect from the scorching sun.  With similar effect, some seeds landed on soil full of weeds and thorns.  If you have ever noticed a plot of land with thistle plants, you know how other plants have a very difficult time competing for water and nutrients.  In relative short order, they whither.  Finally, some seed fell on nutrient rich, receptive soil.

Obviously, this is a picture of the gospel going forth.  One of Bunyan’s concerns in Pilgrim’s Progress is to warn Christian and the rest of us of the dangers of being in one of the two middle categories.  To be sure, we quickly run into an example of the first kind of soil in Obstinate.  No one had any misconceptions about whether or not he was interested in the gospel.  However, there are a number of examples, thus far of the two middle types of soil: Pliable, Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, Formalist. Hypocrisy, Timorous, and Mistrust.  These are all characters who appear in some ways to be on the heavenly highway.  However, they are not true believers.  The aged Apostle John laments this reality in the lives of false teachers among the community of the faith in Ephesus, when he says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, the would have continued with us.  But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1Jn 2:19, ESV).

The man in the iron cage is a picture painted with the colors of Heb 6:1-4.  Like the shallow ground “believer” or thorny ground “believer,” his impressive show of faith was, in the end, simply a show.

You see, Heb 6:1-4, 1Jn 2:19, the parable of the sower and the soils, and passages of this sort, do not in any way teach that a saved person can ever lose their salvation.  However, the scene of the man in the iron cage does cause us to wonder about assurance of salvation, the role of repentance, faith, good works, etc.

Now, the WCF is part of our constitutional standards in the Presbyterian Church in America.  The WCF is not infallible or inerrant; only the Bible can claim that.  The WCF is not the Bible, but it gives us insight and explication on what the Bible teaches, and the Bible is the standard by which we judge the accuracy and helpfulness of the WCF.  And the WCF, Ch. 18 is so very helpful when it comes to the doctrine of assurance or certainty of salvation.  So, here’s something I would like for you to do.  Take a moment to read and reflect on the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646-7) in its section on assurance of salvation, Ch. 18.2:

II. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope;[1] but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation,[2] the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made,[3] the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God,[4] which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.[5]

[1] Heb 6:11, 19; [2] Heb 6:17-18; [3] 2Pe 1:4-5, 10-11; 1Jn 2:3; 3:14; 2Co 1:12; [4] Ro 8:15-16; [5] Eph 1:13-14; 4:30; 2Co 1:21-22

Now, your mission, should you choose to accept it…

See if you can locate in this portion of the WCF the three things upon which our assurance or certainty of salvation are founded.

Tomorrow, we’ll begin unpacking these three precious gifts, same time, same channel.  Well, I may not post at exactly the same time of day tomorrow as this one.  But, it will be the same channel – right here at TLR.



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