ch4     Pilgrim's Progress Chapter 4               
Updated: December 28, 2014

Obstinate, Pliable, and the Slough of Despond

Christian is now well on his way from the city of Destruction, having met with Evangelist, who has instructed him that the answer he seeks is found in following the light of God’s Word.    

First Read p 37-42


Watch Pilgrim's Progress Scene 2 Obstinate Pliable and the Slough of Despond 9min video

For the Teacher:

Soon the pilgrim’s friends and neighbors become aware of his pursuit of “religious” matters, and they seek to bring him to his senses. Two men, in particular, go after him, Obstinate and Pliable. Unable to move the pilgrim from his determined way, however, Obstinate returns to the city of Destruction.
Pliable, on the other hand, is enthralled by the glorious future that the pilgrim describes. He decides to try the pilgrim’s way. However, as they walk along discussing what heaven is like, they fall into a slough (a miry swamp). Pliable is greatly offended at this debacle and, scrambling out, remarks indignantly, “So is this all of the happiness you’ve been telling me about all this time?” He goes his way to his own house, and pilgrim sees him no more.
Meanwhile, the pilgrim, sinking lower in the slough because of his heavy burden, cries for help. Help appears and pulls him out.
The pilgrim then asks what the slough is and why it has not been filled in. Help tells him that the slough is where all awakened sinners tread. It is the scum and filth that accompany conviction for sin. It is also the fears, doubts, and discouraging apprehensions through which a sinner goes when he is searching for salvation.

John Bunyan went through such a slough in his own experience. He felt so burdened with sin that he began to doubt that he could ever be saved. He was finally helped when he read Martin Luther’s book on Galatians. Perhaps this is where he gets the idea for the character Help.
Note: Acquaint yourself with the map and historical background information in the student textbook for this lesson.
Bunyan’s home was beside a stream, and fields surrounded the house. In the back fields was a marshy ground, kept that way by the overflowing of Cardington Brook. At times, the flooding was worse than at other times. His father (or some other neighbor) had placed stones across the worst section and near a low, reeded pool, but in times of severe flooding, even the stones could not be found easily. Men had tried unsuccessfully to create banks to keep the brook from flooding. No doubt, this is what Bunyan pictured when he wrote this part of the allegory.

Now let’s study the two characters in this scene, Obstinate and Pliable.
Obstinate (TCA 4)
His Parents
The word obstinate comes from Latin and means “to stand.” Its meaning also, however, includes “stubbornness, doggedness, and mulishness.”
An obstinate person is generally the product of lax parents. Alexander Whyte said that 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 . . . 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 kicks three doors off.”
Whyte also said, “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.”
Proverbs 13:24 says that a parent who does not chasten his children hates them. If you have strict parents, praise God for them. They will keep you from becoming obstinate. Correction, when it’s given, hurts, but it is for our benefit (Heb. 12:11).
Two men in the Bible raised obstinate sons because they did not chasten them: Eli (1 Sam. 2:12, 16, 22; 3:13) and David (1 Kings 1:5–6). Eli’s sons were cheating the people out of the part of the sacrifice that was not theirs and committing adultery.
Q: Why were they so wicked?
A: Eli had never restrained them!
Students, the worst thing that your parents can do for you is to take away their rules and standards.
Adonijah plotted to overthrow David, his own father.
Q: Why?
A: His father had never “displeased” him at any time!
His Short–Sighted Values
Obstinate believed that nothing is valuable unless it can be enjoyed now! Obstinate’s values focused on himself. When the pilgrim asked him to go with him, he answered, “What?! And leave our friends and all of the comforts of life behind us?!” He was so blinded by thoughts of comfort now that he could see no farther than the present moment. He was nearsighted.
Contrast Obstinate with Christian, who is farsighted! Christian looks to the future and says, “Yes, because even if you forsake everything there, none of it is worth comparing with even a little bit of what I hope
to enjoy.” He might have quoted Mark 8:36: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
Some of you may be wasting your life because you are interested only in now. In the words of Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., you are “sacrific(ing) the permanent [the future] on the altar of the immediate.”
His Refusal of Salvation
Rebellion and stubbornness against men is bad, but when obstinateness strikes out against God, it is dreadful beyond description. No worse stubbornness exists than stubbornness against doing God’s bidding.
We hear the preacher challenge us to salvation, service, surrender, or separation, but we stubbornly go our own way.
Q: Why?
A: Partly because of obstinacy toward the preacher—but deeper and more dreadful—obstinacy toward the things of God. When a person refuses to surrender and bow to the clear teaching and preaching of the Word, he stands unbent and stiff–backed against God.
Obstinate ends up in hell! He returns to the city of Destruction a proud, mocking man. Today, he burns in hell, a humbled, broken soul. Such is the plight of the obstinate person.
His Hindrance to Others
Not content to be obstinate himself, he wants company! He seeks to bring the pilgrim to his knees and then turns upon poor Pliable, who is torn between heaven and the pilgrim on the one hand and hell and Obstinate on the other hand.
Many rebellious, obstinate people today cause other wavering souls to follow them to hell! If you are unsaved, you might also cause someone else to follow you to the same destruction. Perhaps Obstinate’s dreadful influence is the worst thing about him.
His Roots Are Not in Himself
Christ describes a person like Pliable in His parable of the sower and the seed in Luke 8:4–15. Pliable is the rocky–soil person, who at first receives the Word with joy but has no root in himself and soon wavers at the first trial. He, too, turns back to the city of Destruction.
Like Pliable, many people waver. They are easily persuaded to try something and just as easily persuaded or discouraged to quit it soon afterward. They start out as though they are going to be great Christians, but they soon wither and die and cannot be found.
Q: Why?
A: Christ answers that they have no root in themselves. Pliable had no inner burden. His only attraction to Christian was outward. He was curious and interested in the excitement and the
His Experience Is Emotional
Emotions are part of real conversion. But when only emotions are involved, it will not last. The rocky–soil Christian of Luke 8 was all emotion.
Note Pliable’s constant words as Christian tells him of heaven:
“…tell me more about all of those things that we’ll enjoy where we’re going.”
“Alright! And what else?”
“Hey, that’s cool! And what else?”
“Just hearing about it makes my heart race!”
“Well, good friend, I’m sure glad to hear about these things. Come on, let’s hurry!”
All of this points in one direction.
Q: Do you seek the Lord with your heart, or do you follow only because of someone or something else outside of you?
Q: Do you find yourself to be an “on–and–off” Christian, depending on your circumstances, or are you stable, always plugging along for the Lord?
The pliable teen is controlled by his circumstances—by outward influences—rather than by an inward burden and desire. As long as everything is smooth and to his or her liking, he or she lives for the Lord. But as soon as someone disappoints or crosses him or her (or he or she experiences a romantic breakup, etc.), he or she quits all activities for the Lord.

Third: Go over Student Work p 45
A Closer Look

Graceless, leaving his family and friends behind, follows the light that will lead him to the wicket–gate. Soon, he clearly sees that his former friends think that he is foolish because they call out to him to return. Paying no heed to their calls, however, the pilgrim continues toward the light (which, as the preceding teacher’s lesson indicated, could be the Gospel of John).

Obstinate and Pliable

• Why did the teacher’s lesson suggest that the “light” that Evangelist told Graceless to follow was possibly John’s Gospel? light is a key word in John, and its theme is "that believing you might have life through His name"

The lesson: Whenever we meet a burdened sinner who does not yet know or understand what it means to place one’s faith in Christ, the best book of the Bible to get him to read is the Gospel of John. It is simple and easy to understand; yet, its purpose is to lead people to believe in Him and live (John 20:31).

• Two men from the city of Destruction who are bolder than the rest set out after the pilgrim, determined to bring him back. Their names are Obstinate and Pliable.  When they tell him their purpose for coming after him, Graceless tells them that they are wasting their time because he will not go back with them.

• What reason does he give for not returning with them? because whoever stays in the city of Destruction will die there when the city is destroyed

He then invites them to come with him. At this point, we begin to see the character traits of these two men and how they are no different than men today.



• What does the word obstinate mean? stubbornly and inflexibly sticking to an idea; difficult to subdue or control

His Character 

This section of The Pilgrim’s Progress gives us an excellent illustration of the character traits of an obstinate person. Note the traits carefully and consider if any of them are in you.

His Values

• What does Obstinate value more than escaping the damnation of hell? friends and comforts

• What does this show us about why many people do not trust Christ? they are more concerned about what they enjoy here and now than they are with what they will have in eternity

• Obstinate cannot imagine anything more valuable than the things of this life. The pilgrim responds to Obstinate’s indignant retort (“What?! And leave all of our friends and comforts of life behind us?”) by stating that nothing that one must forsake is worthy to be compared with a little of what he is going to enjoy. He is evidently referring to Romans 8:18 , which states,   I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

• Obstinate’s values also affect his opinion of the Bible. What phrase expresses his low esteem for God’s Word? "Yeah, right. Forget your old book"

Watch Protestant Reformation d 5min video


His Pride

• This section shows Obstinate’s pride in many ways. How does he show his pride in his remarks to Pliable about the pilgrim? He says that they should go back home without him because some people think they're smarter than anyone else.

• How is his pride revealed in his response to Pliable’s stated desire to go with the pilgrim? He thinks that Pliable is a fool, too, and he urges him to come back with him because they don't know but what the pilgrim is crazy or insane or what kinds of problems he'll lead them into.

Pliable  Definition

• What does the word pliable mean? flexible, easily bent or shaped,and easily influenced or persuaded

His Character 

A pliable person is one who yields for a time but is easily turned. He has no perseverance. He is caught by promises and hopes, but he doesn’t count the cost of the journey. He is ready (pliable) for good or bad, depending on the circumstances. He is quick to get on the bandwagon, but he is just as quick to get off of it when the winds of change blow in another direction. He is like Play–Doh—he fits whatever mold he’s put into.

Christ describes such a person in His parable of the sower and the seed in Luke 8:4–15 .

• Which of the four types of ground mentioned in the parable does Pliable represent? rocky or stony ground

Note the following three main characteristics of a pliable person.

He Is Easily Persuaded

• How do we see this trait in Pliable? He was easily persuaded to go with Obstinate to fetch the pilgrim back to the city of Destruction, then he decided to go with the pilgrim, and then-when trouble came-changed his mind and decided to go back after all.

• How did the man in Luke 8 receive the Word? with joy

• We see this same characteristic in Pliable. He follows the pilgrim not because of a burden but because of glorious promises.

From the teacher’s lesson, list four reasons why a pliable person follows after Christianity for a time.

1. He is following   a preacher

2. He is following  a church or youth group.

3. He is following   after companionship.

4. He is following    his family.

The pliable person will follow anything that seems to offer entertainment and excitement. Note the following additional characteristics of those who are easily persuaded.

• They have no perseverance because if they are easily persuaded to do something, they can just as easily be persuaded to quit doing it. What does Luke 8 tell us about such a person’s perseverance? he believes for a while but then falls away

• According to Luke, why does he not persevere? he has no root

• What one thing causes Pliable to quit? his falling into the Slough of Despond

They are speculative and experimental. They will try anything once. They’re looking for a good deal, the quick dollar, the easy way to godliness.

• They are curious but not serious. How do we see Pliable’s curiosity? by his questions

• Although he is curious, he is not serious. How do we see Pliable’s lack of seriousness? He was ready to go home at the first sign of trouble

He Is Easily Offended

• Because pliable people cannot endure the bad, and because they run from one good thing to another, it is easy to see why they are easily offended. They cannot stand criticism, teasing, or being slighted. How does Pliable show that he is offended?  He gets angry with Christian when they fall into the Slough of Despond.

He Is Overanxious

• How does Pliable show that he is overanxious? He wanted to speed up their pace and hurry

• Burdened people often move a little slower than those who are pliable. Why can’t the pilgrim keep up with Pliable? because of the burden that is on his back

The lesson: Beware of those who start out very fast or seem to be overanxious to follow the Christian way. Often, those who make the most noise at the beginning aren’t around at the finish. Shallow water makes more noise than deep water; still waters run deep.

The Slough of Despond

• According to the text, what does the Slough of Despond represent? It represents the scum and filth that accompanies conviction for sin, fears, doubt, and discouraging apprehensions that are all settled in one place


Alexander Whyte said that the only real error in Bunyan’s story occurs here because “Pliable had not knowledge enough of himself to make him ever despondent. He was always ready and able to mend his pace. He had no burden on his back, and therefore no doubt in his heart.”Perhaps it is the overflow of the pilgrim’s despondency that affects Pliable and spills into his heart. He tires of walking with a man who is so dirtied by despondency. The pilgrim is so unhappy that Pliable can no longer enjoy his company

.• What makes the Slough worse for the pilgrim? the burden on his back

• Who lifts him out of the Slough? Help

In Bunyan’s real–life experience, he entered a period of despondency, but one day, crying out in his soul for help, he read Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians. This book gave Bunyan the assurance that he was heading in the right direction. Thus, Luther was Bunyan’s Help.

• Does the king desire the pilgrim to enter the Slough? No

• What do the steps represent? the promises of the Word of God

God has given us these steps to help us overcome despondency in our own times.

notes from the teacher’s lesson


• His pa rents__________

• _El i_ (1 Sam. 2:12, 16, 22; 3:13)


• __ __David________ (1 Kings 1:5–6)

• His Short–Sighted __ _Values______________

• His Refusal of __ ____Salvation_________

• His __ _hindrance___________________ to Others


• His Roots Are Not in __ himself_____________________

• He Is Following __ _a Preach er_______________________

• He Is Following __ _a church or youth group ______________

• He Is Following ___ after companion ship_____________

• He Is Following __ _his family _______________

• He Is a __ _________gentleman_______________

• He Is a Follower of __ _man_________ Rather Than Christ

• His Experience Is __ _emotional______________________


Quiz—Lesson 4
Obstinate, Pliable, and the Slough of Despond
Name ____________________________________________ Date ______________ Sc ore_________
Multiple Choice
Choose the best answer to complete each of the following statements or questions.
1. One who stubbornly and inflexibly sticks to an idea is said to be
A. Helpful
B. Pliable
C. Obnoxious
D. Obstinate
2. One who is easily bent, shaped, influenced, or persuaded is said to be
A. Helpful
B. Pliable
C. Obnoxious
D. Obstinate
3. The key word of the book of John is
A. Help
B. Faith
C. Light
D. Repentance
4. The steps out of the Slough of Despond represent
A. Prayers of saints
B. Deceptions of Satan
C. Faith of Christians
D. Promises of the Word
5. The Pilgrim’s Progress is actually an allegory of the life of
A. The Apostle Paul
B. The Apostle John
C. John Bunyan
D. John Gifford

Short Answer
6–7. What two orders of angels does the pilgrim tell Pliable they’ll live with in heaven?__________
8. How do we see overanxiousness exhibited in the actions of Pliable?____________
9–10. What two things does Obstinate value more than escaping the damnation of hell?_________
11. Why does a pliable person fall quickly away from the faith?_________
12. Name one thing in which a pliable person’s life might be rooted.____

13–15. Many of the places mentioned in The Pilgrim’s Progress come from real places around which Bunyan grew up. Explain how the wicket–gate, the Slough of Despond, and the tower of Beelzebub are related to such places.


Lesson Objectives:

1. To illustrate two types of non-believers

2. To challenge teens to serve Christ from inward desire, not outward circumstances

1. read p 37-42

2. watch scene 2 video

3. go over student work p 45-51


Student Book PDF
World view study guide

Text PDF

Video whole movie:

1st Part
2nd Part