The Tragedy of Turn-away

So they both went on, and Ignorance he came after. Now when they had passed him a little way, they entered into a very dark lane, where they met a man whom seven devils had bound with seven strong cords, and were carrying of him back to the door that they saw on the side of the hill. Now good Christian began to tremble, and so did Hopeful his companion; yet as the devils led away the man, Christian looked to see if he knew him; and he thought it might be one Turn-away, that dwelt in the town of Apostasy. But he did not perfectly see his face, for he did hang his head like a thief that is found. But being once past, Hopeful looked after him, and espied on his back a paper with this inscription, “Wanton professor and damnable apostate.”

Turn-away

No sooner have the pilgrims outpaced Ignorance, than they pass by another false professor. They enter into a very dark lane and see a man bound by seven strong cords being carried in the opposite direction. Seven devils have captured him and are taking him back to the By-Way to Hell. Both Christian and Hopeful tremble at the sight. The man in bondage, it appears, is one named Turn-away from the town of Apostasy.

Turn-away represents those who have fallen away from the faith. Though they once professed to be followers of Christ, now they have turned away. They grow careless and trifle with sin to the point where it no longer disturbs them. The grow comfortable with the world and wanton (heedless and uncontrolled) in spirit. They fail to fear God and are unaffected and unrestrained by His Word. They forsake Christ only to foiled and ensnared in sin.

Those who once professed faith in Christ, who turn away from God and His Word are in danger of apostasy. The writer of Hebrews warns of the fearful consequences of apostasy:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:4–6).

To “fall away” is to persist in sin and disobedience and rejection of the gospel. It is certainly possible for a Christian to fall into sin, and even to be for a long time away from God—mired in sin and its misery. But those who are Christ’s will be rescued and restored. God will stir up their faith and renew their repentance and welcome them back in abundance of grace and mercy. But those who are truly apostate, who reject the gospel to the end, verse 6 tells us, cannot be renewed to repentance. They dishonor Christ by loving their sin more than Christ. They dishonor Him by choosing to believe that they are beyond the reach of His grace and mercy. They would persist in seeing their sins as too great for Christ to conquer.

The writer of Hebrews makes it clear in verse 6 why it is impossible for those who reject the cross to be renewed to repentance. If the cross was indeed not sufficient for them; they would need Jesus to die again. Christ would be openly shamed for not succeeding the first time in atoning for their sins. But Christ cannot be crucified again. There is no “Plan B” on God’s agenda. If one falls away there is no other gospel, no other Savior, no other salvation. Jesus is exclusive. If you reject Christ and turn away from the cross, you have no hope remaining.

Christian was warned of the dangers of apostasy earlier in his pilgrimage while he was at the House of the Interpreter. There he saw the Man in an Iron Cage who was once a “flourishing professor” on his way to the Celestial City. Like Turn-away, the Man in the Iron Cage abandoned God’s Word to pursue his lusts. He fell headlong into sin and feared that he had fallen into apostasy and was now without hope. He sat in misery and in bondage in a “very dark room.”

Bunyan uses similar language to describe the encounter with Turn-away. They enter into a “very dark lane” and see a man bound with seven strong cords. The dark lane represents the absence of the light of God’s Word. When the eye looks for sin and the mind pursues sin, the light of Scripture begins to dim.

The way of the wicked is like darkness;
They do not know what makes them stumble.
(Proverbs 4:19)

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
(Isaiah 5:20)

The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22–23)

And so the psalmist prays:

Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.
(Psalm 118:37)

The imagery of the seven strong cords comes from Proverbs.

His own iniquities entrap the wicked man,
And he is caught in the cords of his sin.
He shall die for lack of instruction,
And in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.
(Proverbs 5:22–23)

And from Jesus’ description in Matthew of a man overtaken in sin:

“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation” (Matthew 12:43–45).

When Christian saw the Man in an Iron Cage, he exclaimed: “This is fearful.” But the condition of Turn-away is even more so. The man in the cage trifled with sin, but then drew back in shame and guilt. He was miserable because he feared that he had lost Christ and that God would no longer have him. Turn-away feels no guilt over his sin; he hangs his head “like a thief that is found” abashed that he has been caught, but not because he has broken the law.

The encounter with Turn-away causes Christian and Hopeful to tremble. It is a warning to us to guard our hearts and flee from sin. In his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress, William Mason warns:

 O beware of a light trifling spirit and a wanton behavior. It is often the forerunner of apostasy from God. It makes one tremble to hear those who profess to follow Christ in the regeneration, crying, What harm is there in this game and the other diversion? The warmth of love is gone, and they are become cold, dead, and carnal. O how many instances of these abound!

Turning away seldom happens all at once. It is more often subtle and perilously imperceptible. It can happen in many ways:

  • Growing disillusioned and discouraged with the church
  • Being swayed by a college professor who disparages the Bible and the Christian faith
  • Growing complacent and apathetic in worship
  • Becoming forgetful and infrequent with the means of grace
  • Giving more and more time to worldly pursuits and entertainments
  • Assuming the gospel, yet never giving it serious thought or weighing its crucial value
  • Excusing and rationalizing sin rather than fighting it and putting it to death

Turn-away loved his sin and so he preferred to walk in darkness.

And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19–21).

If we would avoid the deadly error of Turn-away, we must love Christ and walk in the light.

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Apostasy is a fearful judgment, but it is a final judgment. Turn-away is at the end of his days and is being led back to the By-way to hell. He is justly condemned and marked for eternity as a “wanton professor and damnable apostate.”

Until that final day, we have not the insight nor the ability to discern true apostasy from backsliding (in the hearts of others as well as our own hearts). And so me must continually preaching the gospel (to others and to ourselves) and heed the gospel. May God help us to tremble with Christian and Hopeful and continually repent of our sin and look to Christ who is ever and always our only hope.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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