Pilgrim's Obstinate Friend
Updated: Apr 13
Editor's Note: This is the fourth post in a series on John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, "Before There Was George Lucas or J.R.R. Tolkien - There was John Bunyan." Read the third post here.
I still remember my college Interpersonal Communication class, or at least I remember learning that when it comes to friendship a person will only have three to five lifelong friends—true friends. As I mentioned in the last episode, our culture talks much about “friends” and “friendship,” but from my standpoint, I see people struggling with how shallow their relationships are.
In our digital culture, it’s increasingly rare to see friendships forming that are deep with lasting roots. It’d be wise for us to remember the words of men like Aristotle who offered some warnings about friendship:
A friend to all is a friend to none.
In good times, your friends get to know who you are. In bad times, you get to know who your friends are.
Contrast these with some maxims about true friendship:
“Your friends don’t need an explanation; your enemies wouldn’t believe one anyway” (Dr. Archie England, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary).
“In life we never lose friends, we only learn who the true ones are” (op. cit.).
In sum, these principles help us distinguish between friends that will last and those that will not. This reminds of me one of Christian’s friends: Obstinate was his name. Christian met him on the way out of the City of Destruction on his way to the Celestial City. He was a fair-weather friend.
OBSTINATE THE ORNERY!
As Christian left the City of Destruction, he cried, “Life! Life! Eternal Life!” Many came out mocking him, others threatening him. Then others came out just to see what was going on. Amongst the crowd were two who would bring him home to his family; Obstinate and Pliable.
Then Christian asked them why they had come after him. “To persuade you to go back with us,” they answered (Hazelbaker, 5). But Christian responded passionately:
That is quite impossible. You live in the City of Destruction, the place where I also was born. I recognize it to be just that, and dying there will sooner or later sink lower that the grave into a place burning with fire and brimstone. Be content, Good Neighbors, and go along with me (op. cit.).
Then Obstinate became more impatient showing anger and disdain for Christian’s cause. “What and leave our friends and our luxuries behind?” (op. cit., 6). Christian responds to defend his actions:
Yes, because everything you would forsake is not worthy to be compared with even a little of what I’m seeking to enjoy. If you go along with me and obtain it also, you’ll do as well as I. There’s enough for everyone and more left over where I’m going. Come away with me and see that I’m telling you the truth. (op. cit.)
Obstinate questioned, “What are the things you seek [then] . . . since you’re leaving all the world to find them?” (op. cit., 6).
Christian: “I seek an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. And it is laid up safely in heaven to be given at the appropriate time to those who diligently seek it. Read about it here in my Book if you like” (op. cit.).
“‘Nonsense!’ Said Obstinate. ‘Away with your book! Will you go back with us or not?’” (op. cit.).
Christian replied with resolve, “Not I . . . because I’ve put my hand to the plow” (op. cit.) and am neither looking back nor returning to the City of Destruction.
Obstinate turned again toward the City of Destruction and calls to his companion, “Come then friend Pliable, let’s turn back and go home without him. There is a group of these crazed-headed fools who—when they at last accept such frivolous idea—are wiser in their own eyes than seven men who can think reasonably” (op. cit.).
Pliable argued with Obstinate not to be so critical of Christian. He even confessed a desire to go with him on the pilgrimage. He too believed, at this early point, the good things to come may be worth all that Christian is sacrificing.
To which Obstinate replied: “What . . . more fools still? Follow my advice and go back. Who knows where such a brainsick person will lead you? Go back, go back and be wise” (op. cit). At about this time they all came to a crossroad.
Here, Obstinate chooses the City of Destruction over the road to the Celestial City. Obstinate, living up to the character of his name declares, “And I will go back to my place . . . I’ll be no companion of such mislead dreamers” (op. cit., 7).
FOUR OBSTINATE INSIGHTS
About himself. Obstinate does not fulfill the maxims of a faithful friend. He is only concerned for himself and not the welfare of Christian. He is no real friend. We cannot know about all his motives. But truly his primary concern was not to leave his comforts, “friends and . . . luxuries behind.” Personal selfishness, no doubt, clouded his mind. He believed the temporal things of this world to be more important than the eternal of the next.
About wisdom. There is a great deal of irony in his perspective. He called Christian and all who would go on pilgrimage “a group of . . . crazed-headed fools.” But the Bible plainly asserts: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes” and “There is a way which seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 21:2; c.f. Pro. 14:12).
Obstinate was wise in his own conceit. And he considered those who possessed true wisdom to be fools. They, Obstinate questioned, would give up this life’s possessions for something ephemeral that cannot be seen or touched?! The irony; all bible-believing Christians appear this way to those who love this present age. The wise appear to be fools; the fools appear to be wise—one to the other. This is such a lasting and eternal irony indeed.
About the world. The next insight about Obstinate can be drawn directly from Scripture. The Bible plainly talks about three ways in which sin enters our hearts: “[T]he lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life is not of the [Heavenly] Father, but is of the world” (I John 2:16).
Just before this is one of the most sobering of warnings in all of Scripture is given: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15). According to Bunyan, Obstinate loved this present world. Obstinate loved its (his) comforts. And Obstinate had no time for someone who loved or sought the future world!
About the crossroad. Finally, at this stage of the Pilgrim’s Progress (PP) narrative, Obstinate, Pliable, and Christian came to a crossroad. This metaphor has a strong implication for Bunyan. It is the place of decision for both Obstinate and Pliable; and particularly for Obstinate. Shall they go on with Christian; shall they return home, to the City of Destruction?
The crossroad metaphor brings to mind the reality of the cross of the Christ, and the two who were crucified with Him. One crucified on His right the other on His left. The crossroad of the PP and Christ’s cross represent one and the same thing—one literal the other metaphorical. Both instances speak to this idea of personal choice, personal decision. The choice is one of a lifetime with eternal consequences. Which way shall they go?
St. Luke of the New Testament tells of one who was crucified with Jesus. He was totally unrepentant, demanding that Jesus save them from this horrible condemnation. A just condemnation for laws broken and sins committed (Luke 23:39-44). He railed at Christ much like Obstinate did against Christian.
So he made his choice and his eternal doom was forever fixed for lack of repentance and his obstinacy. Then there is our character Obstinate. He asserts for his last time, “And I will go back to my place. . . . I’ll be no companion of such mislead dreamers” (op. cit., 7). So it is with him. His life was lost to the Celestial City but bound to the City of Destruction and this world.
YOU, MY READERS
It is my great concern that many of you, my dear readers, have come to this “fork in the road”—this crossroad. There may be some of you who see themselves in the place of Obstinate. You are full of worldly wisdom. You are full of yourself. You are not willing to give up “the comforts of home,” or this life, or of this world to follow Christ.
But I would encourage you to heed the warnings of Bunyan in the PP to see if you may fit Obstinate’s profile. Time and eternity, the City of Destruction and the Celestial City, judgment and reward are all in the balance. Consider Obstinate’s example and turn from it.
Don't forget to read the last post, "Pilgrim Meets Evangelist," if you missed it!
This article is copyrighted by Roger D. Duke and Duke Consulting Group. They have granted Stage & Story the right to publish it.
Bunyan Ministries Online. www.bunyanministries.org. Accessed 29 November. 2018.
Hazelbaker, Edward. The Pilgrim’s Progress: in Modern English. Bridge-Logos Publishers, 2008.
Puls, Ken. Music Blog Online. “A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.” Accessed 29 November. 2018.
Thomas, Derek. “The Pilgrim’s Progress: a Guided Tour.” Ligonier Ministries. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/pilgrims-progress-guided-tour/. Accessed 29 November. 2018.
Whyte, Alexander. Bunyan Characters: First Series Being Lectures Delivered in St. George’s Free Church, Edinburgh. Bibliobazaar, 2015.
Dr. Roger D. Duke is an advisory board member and the scholar-in-residence at Stage & Story. Dr. Duke is an ordained Baptist minister and has taught at the college and graduate school levels for over 20 years. Dr. Duke holds graduate degrees from The University of the South’s School of Theology at Sewanee, TN; The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Harding University’s Graduate School of Religion. He has written or contributed to more than ten volumes (including works on John Bunyan) with the latest volume scheduled to be released in 2018. Visit his website at www.drrogerdduke.com. His published work can be found on his website and his Amazon Author's Page. He has been happily married to Linda Young Duke for nearly 44 years. They have three adult children and four robust grandsons.