*Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely co-incidental.
Obstinate, resident in the City of Destruction:
“I will go back to my place.”
Pilgrim, on the Way to the Heavenly City:
“We are not of them who draw back to perdition:
But if them that believe to the saving of the soul.”
When we first meet Christian, we find him in great distress, a “man clothed with rags.” The meaning is that he lives in a world where all men, the Diveses as much as the Lazaruses, are so clothed; but here is a man who knows he is covered with rags (Isa. 64:6), and so knows that his own righteousness is insufficient for justification. He, therefore, with “a great burden on his back” and “a Book in his hand” turns his face from his own house (where justification certainly cannot be found) as others had done, Lot, Abram, Ruth. Though at a loss as to what to do, his guidebook got him off to a right start. By means of it (Rom. 3:20) he soon comes to a knowledge of how great his sins and miseries are. From that time onward, he begins seriously to act on the directive in his book, now impressed on his heart, “Flee from the wrath to come!” So imperfect was his knowledge at this moment that he knew not where to flee. He could not see that narrowed gate which leads to life and he only thought he could see the light shining at the gate. But now, constrained by the Word, “the man began to run!” He flees home and friends in the City of Destruction. He does so, not looking behind, with fingers in his ears and crying out, “Life! life! eternal life!”
At this early point in The Pilgrim’s Progress we are introduced to Obstinate, one of Christian’s neighbors in the doomed city, who, with them, as he fled the place, mocked him, threatened him and attempted to drag him back by force.
Christian had been long acquainted with this character, Obstinate. Christian, by nature, had a name pretty close to that of his neighbor’s. It was Graceless. Both of these men had been born and brought up together in the City of Destruction, Gomorrah County. Obstinate’s father was none other than old Spare-the-Rod, while his mother’s name was Doty (nee Spoil-the-Child). If you should suppose that his parents were ungodly people in this city, you would be mistaken. They were not. Yet, they not only spoiled, but ruined their son by invariably allowing him to have his own way. They, like Eli, a godly man, failed to restrain their son and to correct him with the rod of the covenant. Hence, they were, as Eli, in part the cause of their offspring’s destruction.
As long as Christian had known him, and that was all of his life, Obstinate was an ignoramus, by choice. He had never learned anything when a pupil in Jeopardy Junior High, nor while a “student” in Heedless High. In fact, the principal, Mr. Needless, expelled him before he could become a “drop out”, because he had nothing but contempt for books and for those who wrote, printed, proof-read, published, sold, reviewed or recommended them. If his teachers merely suggested that he take home a certain book from the library and read it (let alone buy, own and read a book), that was reason enough for him nor to borrow, buy or read it. In the young people’s society of his church, Obstinate was “a drag”. He was too ignorant to produce a good paper, too hot-tempered for debate and could not stand those who confidently knew their subject. When he became of age, he left the church of his parents to attend Two-Grace Church.
As he himself liked to boast, many of his family tree “came over on the Mayflower”, but he could trace his line back much farther as a direct descendant of Pharaoh, the Hard-hearted. Like his callous ancestor, he was sometimes conscience-struck with duty and aware of his best interests, but that iron sinew in his neck would not permit even a slight inclination in the direction of either. Even a cursory glance at his family history reveals that intrigues and plots in the state and heresies, schism and divisions in the church are attributable to those in the line of his generations.
In school days, Christian never knew him to ask a question, to request that anything be explained to him, to admit, “I don’t know,” or to ever take back a wrong or hasty word. Christian found that Obstinate at home was surly and mulish, while in public his stiffneckedness prevented him from recognizing even closest associates, even though he often stumbled over them. He frequently went about as though he had a hatpin under his chin and smelled something bad. He could exert some politeness in company, but was always discourteous and boorish at home. He loved his family, but couldn’t help being a “pill.” There was one period in Obstinate’s life, however, when a news-making change came over him. Everyone thought that perhaps he had become converted under the ministry of Evangelist. But that was not the occasion of this wonderful change. What was it? The man was in love! In the time of his courtship, he was as sweet as pie. You could then give him advice without winning his snarl. You could correct him; even contradict him, without his usual kicking out at you with both feet. He even began to read avidly the best books, attend the best preaching and showed himself docile, humble with nothing of his old doggedness and bearishness. The warmth and love of a woman almost made him a well-rounded, well-adjusted human being. But it was not to last. Obstinate was soon his old, abnormal self and was particularly silent, morose and insufferable to the members of his own family.
It became evident to all who knew him best that Obstinate was not only naturally proud and malicious toward men, but especially so God. An old blacksmith opined that Obstinate constantly threw himself against the sharp bosses of His buckler. Some of his acquaintances secretly nicknamed him Carnal-Mind, and some suggested as a middle name for him the epithet “Enmity”. In no sense was he ever subject to the law of God, and constitutionally, he could not be. A mature, godly woman, deeply spiritual, penetrating in understanding of the Scriptures, once said that Obstinate in the deepest depths of his heart hated all men, all books, doctrines, sermons, principles and practices connected with the faith of God’s elect.
The trouble with Obstinate, as his name reveals, was that he not only stood in his own way, but also in the way of others. Obstinate stands in the way of his own salvation and does all he can to drag others away from theirs. Remember, he tried to bring Christian back by force. He and Christian engaged in a tug-of-war over Pliable. But in Christian he met more than his match. With one hand on the back of Christian’s neck and the other crumpling his lapel, Obstinate bellowed, “Go back with us!” “That can by no means be,” replied Christian, “because I have put my hand to the plow.” Obstinate had always shown contempt for believers, and now this only made him revile Christian as “crazy-headed” and a “brain-sick fellow” and to blast both Christian and Pliable as “more fools still” and “misled, fantastical fellows.”
One last word we may imagine Christian directing to Obstinate. “If you must be obstinate in wrong, I must be even more obstinate in right. If you condemn yourself as unworthy of eternal life (Acts 13:46), I with a holy obstinacy must have it at any cost!” With that, two obstinate men forever part. Christian will not linger to listen to any more. With fingers in his ears he rushes on shouting, “Life! life! eternal life!”
The only cure for obstinacy is the efficacious grace of the Holy Spirit, who alone can make the unwilling willing in the day of His power, make the tree good and its fruit good, open the closed and soften the hardened heart, change it from being evil, disobedient and refractory to rendering it good, obedient, pliable and productive of good actions (Canons of Dort, IV, 11). Pray to have that cure and plead the promise of God, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statures…” (Ezek. 36:27). Then be warned that,
Sin, once possessed of the heart, will play
The tyrant, force its vassal to obey:
‘Twill make thee thine own happiness oppose,
And offer open violence to those
That love thee best; yea, make thee to defy
The law and counsel of the Deity.
Beware then, keep this tyrant out of door,
Lest thou be his and so thine own no more.
Originally Published in:
Vol. 29 No. 4 June July 1969