People struggle with the idea of election for many reasons. My estimation of reasons includes:
- The culture has so impacted the church to exalt autonomous man that true Christianity is indistinguishable from the synergistic version present in most so called churches and communities.
- The church has failed to defend God’s glory in order to please people, making man bigger than God, when man is actually not bigger than God.
- Some individuals have been given exactly what they want: a religion that edits the God of the Bible and demands no renewing of mind from them.
Nonetheless, untangling the distorted web of the human mind in regards to election requires great wisdom. Some may wish to simply state the truth that God indeed elects some sinners to salvation and others are left to go into their just due of damnation. However, the way we convey this truth matters.
This is where Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress comes into play. Illustrations help believers to understand a difficult truth at a comparably comfortable level.
Bunyan writes in this aforementioned work a description of a “man in an iron cage.” One comments on this scene the following:
It appears that Bunyan may have embraced a more moderate view of reprobation as a kind of non-election—God has chosen some for eternal life and has bypassed others. Yet at the same time Bunyan would assert that men go into eternal condem nation because they willfully and deliber ately choose evil over righteousness. A place where this can be clearly seen is in a part of a detailed flow chart drawn up by Bunyan himself entitled, A Map Showing the Order and Cause of Salvation and Damnation. Over the “dark” side of this ordo salutis Bunyan writes in verse:
These lines are black, and so are those That do eternal life oppose, Which those will do most willingly, Whom God doth leave to live and die.
Thus from the man-ward side, the man in the iron cage is the one who has willingly and deliberately turned his back on God’s grace as it was offered to him in the gospel and thus finds himself in a most wretched state of soul anguish.
The testimony of the man is “God hath denied me repentance.” The interesting thing about this is the response of the Interpreter to Christian’s question, “Is there no hope for such a man as this?” Answer: “Ask him, said the Interpreter.”
It seems to remain an open question whether the free offer of the gospel in Christ is still a bona fide overture to those who have been turned over to a reprobate mind by God (Romans 1:28). Bunyan does not totally commit himself to the idea that the man in the cage has committed the unpardonable sin (whatever that may be). He simply says, “Ask him.”From Answers in Genesis Curriculum on Pilgrim’s Progress
This is the wisdom: Ask him. Ask the man who is in the iron cage of his wretched state if he will walk out of his state on his own? That is the place of reason that the Christian today needs to be placed, to have to do ministry day in and day out facing real people who cannot get out of their willful rebellious state of sin not because they can’t move their lives in that direction technically speaking, but because they simply do not want to. They want to carry out their own desires of the flesh and cannot stop apart from grace.
Apart from sovereign grace there is no hope for fallen man. This is the testimony of Scripture through and through. And this forces us to a biblical doctrine of election. The reason people will be in heaven at all is because God chose a people before the foundation of the world. Without such, there is no hope of any depraved human being coming to God through Christ. With such, there is every reason to have hope for people in the iron cages of their depravity, that God will indeed call them out.
Ask him! Ask the man who was once in the iron cage but was brought out by God—who brought you out, was it yourself or God alone? You will not find a man who agreeing with Scripture can say anything but: “God alone by his power delivered me!”
May God deliver many from iron cages today by his gospel, so that when they are asked for the reason for the hope in them, they will give all the glory to God alone! Only when we begin to see the pain of our brothers in their sin and their utter inability will we pray to God to do as Spurgeon is famed for praying: May God save the elect and elect some more! (hyperbole intended) Such Christians understand what a holiday at sea is and they stop playing with mud pies because they have been given wisdom indeed.