Can you go too far?
The prodigal went very far; but he did not go too far for the grace and forgiveness of the Father.
With such a case, the position seems quite impregnable. Scripture is full of just about innumerable examples of those dead in their sins, coming to life by the grace of God. And we affirm: "While there is life there is hope." Surely there is not anyone who has gone too far for the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, right?
Christian asks: "Well, what art thou now?"
The man in the cage responds: "I am now a man of despair, and am shut up in this iron cage. I cannot get out. Oh, now I cannot!"
Christian asks how it was that this man found himself in this position. He again responds: "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 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."
The humbling scene grieves Christian, and he asks the Interpreter if there is any hope for such a man. He responds that there is none at all. That he is indeed too far gone. Farther than Saul the Persecutor, farther than the Prodigal son. Why? He answers: "I have crucified him to myself afresh (Heb 6:6); I have despised his person (Luke 19:14); I have despised his righteousness; I have 'counted his blood an unholy thing'; I have 'done despite to the Spirit of grace'. (Heb 10:28-29) Therefore I have shut myself out of all the promises, and there now remains to me nothing but threatenings, of certain judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour me as an adversary."
The Interpreter gives one final entreaty: "But canst thou not now repent and turn?"
The man's answer is chilling: "God hath denied me repentance. His Word gives me no encourage 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!"
The Interpreter then concludes this sorrowful exchange by telling Christian: "Let this man's misery be remembered by thee, and be an everlasting caution to thee.”
Bunyan was communicating in the above illustration that though the grace of God is indeed far reaching, though His faithfulness extends from generation to generation, though his love reaches to even the worst of sinners--we can still come to a place where we are so numb to his voice, so dull to his conviction, so hardened in our hearts--that we are too far gone. We have rejected and neglected him, we have blasphemed his Spirit--and we have been given over to the prison of our flesh. We have become a person who has degenerated towards self so far that we can no longer come back. Can there be any thought more sobering than that?
Jesus writes of this very thing when he describes the unforgivable sin in Matthew 12:31, "And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven." What blasphemy of the Spirit looks like is just like what the man in the cage looks like; someone who has rejected the precious conviction of the Spirit, and his given over to an unrepentant state. Hebrews 12:16-17 gives us a similar warning of the point of no return of Esau: "See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done."
Now, when discussing this with my Dad, he reminded me that though these characters of Esau and the "Man in the cage" still maintain a desire to repent to illustrate a point; this does not mean that Christians need to live in constant fear that they have "crossed the line of grace". Such an understanding can cripple a struggling Christian from the assurance that they are in Christ. The fact that someone is fearful of the wrath of come, that in their heart they genuinely desire repentance is evidence that they have not gone too far. The picture of people who have truly blasphemed the Holy Spirit is that they regressed to a point where they no longer even desire to repent. They want nothing to do with the things of the Spirit, and for that reason there is no turning back
I will say, however, that it is not for us to judge the souls of man. The misapplication of this warning would to inflate ourselves to heaven's role and write people off by what we deem "too far". Scripture shows us, by the wild reaches of God's mercy and grace, that our view is far too limited to see what is the outcome of those we deem the "worst of sinners". The proper application is to look inward and to take the warning to heart. May we be ever sensitive to the Spirit's promptings in our own life. May we pray to God for sin to sting and call us quickly to right our course. May we never get to the place where we have been so unresponsive to the truth, and so deafened to the Holy Spirit's prodding--that we have become truly numb to the things of Christ. May it never be.
"Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon."