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Bunyan Characters First Series: 2. OBSTINATE

By Alexander Whyte

      'Be ye not as the mule.'--David.

      Little Obstinate was born and brought up in the City of Destruction. His father was old Spare-the-Rod, and his mother's name was Spoil-the-Child. Little Obstinate was the only child of his parents; he was born when they were no longer young, and they doted on their only child, and gave him his own way in everything. Everything he asked for he got, and if he did not immediately get it you would have heard his screams and his kicks three doors off. His parents were not in themselves bad people, but, if Solomon speaks true, they hated their child, for they gave him all his own way in everything, and nothing would ever make them say no to him, or lift up the rod when he said no to them. When the Scriptures, in their pedagogical parts, speak so often about the rod, they do not necessarily mean a rod of iron or even of wood. There are other ways of teaching an obstinate child than the way that Gideon took with the men of Succoth when he taught them with the thorns of the wilderness and with the briars thereof. George Offor, John Bunyan's somewhat quaint editor, gives the readers of his edition this personal testimony:--'After bringing up a very large family, who are a blessing to their parents, I have yet to learn what part of the human body was created to be beaten.' At the same time the rod must mean something in the word of God; it certainly means something in God's hand when His obstinate children are under it, and it ought to mean something in a godly parent's hand also. Little Obstinate's two parents were far from ungodly people, though they lived in such a city; but they were daily destroying their only son by letting him always have his own way, and by never saying no to his greed, and his lies, and his anger, and his noisy and disorderly ways. Eli in the Old Testament was not a bad man, but he destroyed both the ark of the Lord and himself and his sons also, because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. God's children are never so soft, and sweet, and good, and happy as just after He restrains them, and has again laid the rod of correction upon them. They then kiss both the rod and Him who appointed it. And earthly fathers learn their craft from God. The meekness, the sweetness, the docility, and the love of a chastised child has gone to all our hearts in a way we can never forget. There is something sometimes almost past description or belief in the way a chastised child clings to and kisses the hand that chastised it. But poor old Spare-the-Rod never had experiences like that. And young Obstinate, having been born like Job's wild ass's colt, grew up to be a man like David's unbitted and unbridled mule, till in after life he became the author of all the evil and mischief that is associated in our minds with his evil name.

      In old Spare-the-Rod's child also this true proverb was fulfilled, that the child is the father of the man. For all that little Obstinate had been in the nursery, in the schoolroom, and in the playground--all that, only in an aggravated way--he was as a youth and as a grown-up man. For one thing, Obstinate all his days was a densely ignorant man. He had not got into the way of learning his lessons when he was a child; he had not been made to learn his lessons when he was a child; and the dislike and contempt he had for his books as a boy accompanied him through an ignorant and a narrow-minded life. It was reason enough to this so unreasonable man not to buy and read a book that you had asked him to buy and read it. And so many of the books about him were either written, or printed, or published, or sold, or read, or praised by people he did not like, that there was little left for this unhappy man to read, even if otherwise he would have read it. And thus, as his mulish obstinacy kept him so ignorant, so his ignorance in turn increased his obstinacy. And then when he came, as life went on, to have anything to do with other men's affairs, either in public or in private life, either in the church, or in the nation, or in the city, or in the family, this unhappy man could only be a drag on all kinds of progress, and in obstacle to every good work. Use and wont, a very good rule on occasion, was a rigid and a universal rule with Obstinate. And to be told that the wont in this case and in that had ceased to be the useful, only made him rail at you as only an ignorant and an obstinate man can rail. He could only rail; he had not knowledge enough, or good temper enough, or good manners enough to reason out a matter; he was too hot-tempered for an argument, and he hated those who had an acquaintance with the subject in hand, and a self-command in connection with it that he had not. 'The obstinate man's understanding is like Pharaoh's heart, and it is proof against all sorts of arguments whatsoever.' Like the demented king of Egypt, the obstinate man has glimpses sometimes both of his bounden duty and of his true interest, but the sinew of iron that is in his neck will not let him perform the one or pursue the other. 'Nothing,' says a penetrating writer, 'is more like firm conviction than simple obstinacy. Plots and parties in the state, and heresies and divisions in the church alike proceed from it.' Let any honest man take that sentence and carry it like a candle down into his own heart and back into his own life, and then with the insight and honesty there learned carry the same candle back through some of the plots and parties, the heresies and schisms of the past as well as of the present day, and he will have learned a lesson that will surely help to cure himself, at any rate, of his own remaining obstinacy. All our firm convictions, as we too easily and too fondly call them, must continually be examined and searched out in the light of more reading of the best authors, in the light of more experience of ourselves and of the world we live in, and in that best of all light, that increasing purity, simplicity, and sincerity of heart alone can kindle. And in not a few instances we shall to a certainty find that what has hitherto been clothing itself with the honourable name and character of a conviction was all the time only an ignorant prejudice, a distaste or a dislike, a too great fondness for ourselves and for our own opinion and our own interest. Many of our firmest convictions, as we now call them, when we shall have let light enough fall upon them, we shall be compelled and enabled to confess to be at bottom mere mulishness and pride of heart. The mulish, obstinate, and proud man never says, I don't know. He never asks anything to be explained to him. He never admits that he has got any new light. He never admits having spoken or acted wrongly. He never takes back what he has said. He was never heard to say, You are right in that line of action, and I have all along been wrong. Had he ever said that, the day he said it would have been a white-stone day both for his mind and his heart. Only, the spoiled son of Spare-the-Rod never said that, or anything like that.

      But, most unfortunately, it is in the very best things of life that the true mulishness of the obstinate man most comes out. He shows worst in his home life and in the matters of religion. When our Obstinate was in love he was as sweet as honey and as soft as butter. His old friends that he used so to trample upon scarcely recognised him. They had sometimes seen men converted, but they had never seen such an immediate and such a complete conversion as this. He actually invited correction, and reproof, and advice, and assistance, who had often struck at you with his hands and his feet when you even hinted at such a thing to him. The best upbringing, the best books, the best preaching, the best and most obedient life, taken all together, had not done for other men what a woman's smile and the touch of her hand had in a moment done for this once so obstinate man. He would read anything now, and especially the best books. He would hear and enjoy any preacher now, and especially the best and most earnest in preaching. His old likes and dislikes, prejudices and prepossessions, self-opinionativeness and self-assertiveness all miraculously melted off him, and he became in a day an open-minded, intelligent, good-mannered, devout-minded gentleman. He who was once such a mule to everybody was now led about by a child in a silken bridle. All old things had passed away, and all things had become new. For a time; for a time. But time passes, and there passes away with it all the humility, meekness, pliability, softness, and sweetness of the obstinate man. Till when long enough time has elapsed you find him all the obstinate and mulish man he ever was. It is not that he has ceased to love his wife and his children. It is not that. But there is this in all genuine and inbred obstinacy, that after a time it often comes out worst beside those we love best. A man will be affable, accessible, entertaining, the best of company, and the soul of it abroad, and, then, instantly he turns the latch-key in his own door he will relapse into silence, and sink back into utter boorishness and bearishness, mulishness and doggedness. He swallows his evening meal at the foot of the table in silence, and then he sits all night at the fireside with a cloud out of nothing on his brow. His sunshine, his smile, and his universal urbanity is all gone now; he is discourteous to nobody but to his own wife. Nothing pleases him; he finds nothing at home to his mind. The furniture, the hours, the habits of the house are all disposed so as to please him; but he was never yet heard to say to wife, or child, or servant that he was pleased. He never says that a meal is to his taste or a seat set so as to shelter and repose him. The obstinate man makes his house a very prison and treadmill to himself and to all those who are condemned to suffer with him. And all the time it is not that he does not love and honour his household; but by an evil law of the obstinate heart its worst obstinacy and mulishness comes out among those it loves best.

      But, my brethren, worse than all that, we have all what good Bishop Hall calls 'a stone of obstination' in our hearts against God. With all his own depth and clearness and plain-spokenness, Paul tells us that our hearts are by nature enmity against God. Were we proud and obstinate and malicious against men only it would be bad enough, and it would be difficult enough to cure, but our case is dreadful beyond all description or belief when our obstinacy strikes out against God. We know as well as we know anything, that in doing this and in not doing that we are going every day right in the teeth both of God's law and God's grace; and yet in the sheer obstinacy and perversity of our heart we still go on in what we know quite well to be the suicide of our souls. We are told by our minister to do this and not to do that; to begin to do this at this new year and to break off from doing that; but, partly through obstinacy towards him, reinforced by a deeper and subtler and deadlier obstinacy against God, and against all the deepest and most godly of the things of God, we neither do the one nor cease from doing the other. There is a sullenness in some men's minds, a gloom and a bitter air that rises up from the unploughed, undrained, unweeded, uncultivated fens of their hearts that chills and blasts all the feeble beginnings of a better life. The natural and constitutional obstinacy of the obstinate heart is exasperated when it comes to deal with the things of God. For it is then reinforced with all the guilt and all the fear, all the suspicion and all the aversion of the corrupt and self-condemned heart. There is an obdurateness of obstinacy against all the men, and the books, and the doctrines, and the precepts, and the practices that are in any way connected with spiritual religion that does not come out even in the obstinate man's family life.

      John Bunyan's Obstinate, both by his conduct as well as by the etymology of his name, not only stands in the way of his own salvation, but he does all he can to stand in the way of other men setting out to salvation also. Obstinate set out after Christian to fetch him back by force, and if it had not been that he met his match in Christian, The Pilgrim's Progress would never have been written. 'That can by no means be,' said Christian to his pursuer, and he is first called Christian when he shows that one man can be as obstinate in good as another man can be in evil. 'I never now can go back to my former life.' And then the two obstinate men parted company for ever, Christian in holy obstinacy being determined to have eternal life at any cost, and Obstinate as determined against it. The opening pages of The Pilgrim's Progress set the two men very graphically and very impressively before us.

      As to the cure of obstinacy, the rod in a firm, watchful, wise, and loving hand will cure it. And in later life a long enough and close enough succession of humble, yielding, docile, submissive, self-chastening and thanksgiving acts will cure it. Reading and obeying the best books on the subjugation and the regulation of the heart will cure it. Descending with Dante to where the obstinate, and the embittered, and the gloomy, and the sullen have made their beds in hell will cure it. And much and most agonising prayer will above all cure it.

      'O Lord, if thus so obstinate I,
      Choose Thou, before my spirit die,
      A piercing pain, a killing sin,
      And to my proud heart run them in.


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See Also:
   4. HELP
   15. CHARITY
   16. SHAME
   20. BY-ENDS
   25. SINCERE


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