Pliable: The hearing of this is enough to ravish one’s heart. Glad I am to hear of these things. Come on! Let us mend our pace!
Emmanuel: These have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the Word’s sake, immediately they are offended. Mark 4:17
Our friend, Christian, had other interesting acquaintances besides Obstinate, among them Temporary, Talkative and Pliable. We meet the latter now. As to appearance, in one respect, there was no difference between him and Obstinate: both wore the same style of mustache. But in another respect, Pliable was slender, refined, pensive and somewhat withdrawn, while Obstinate stood towering over you in your path like a wet haystack. Pliable was a gentleman compared to Obstinate. His sense of good manners led him to side with Christian. “Don’t revile!” are his first recorded words. We immediately take to Pliable for this. So abusive and reviling is Obstinate that Pliable is ashamed to be caught in his presence. The contrast between the two seems almost enough to make Pliable a Christian. He is a man of common sense, common decency and common civility. Where too many are vile-mouthed and violent, and becoming increasingly so with respect to the old faith of the Reformers, a man of common compassion and sympathy would easily be taken as one having an interest in true religion. “Don’t revile” would be put down, even by the world, as an evidence of common grace. He was a civil man, and civil men, though they may never have part or lot in the next world, are this world’s saints. The world points to the so called activists, agrarian reformers, the empire builders, and says, “These Are the Saints!” Pliable had the world’s canonization. But the country in which Christian dwelt was ruled by Prince Emmanuel. He had issued proclamations to the effect that true religion was a matter of the heart, not merely of distinctions between virtue and vice, good order in society and anarchy or civility and injustice. What Christian soon learned about his new companion was that he was as pliable to evil as to good—either influence, whichever happened could impress him.
But Pliable withdrew from people of brutish behavior and bad manners. “Don’t revile” separated him from them and allied him with Christian. As for setting out to seek that inheritance laid up in heaven, he was all for it. “My heart inclines to go; I begin to come to a point.” He had reached a parting of the ways. “I intend to go along with this good man. Come, then, good neighbor, let us be going.” Now then, hasn’t this man made as good a beginning as that man who formerly had been known as Graceless? Be careful in expressing an opinion in this regard. So far we have taken little more than a glance at the appearance of the man Pliable; but “judge not according to the appearance” (John 7:24). The man himself, unintentionally, indicates the depth to which we must penetrate when he says, “my heart inclines to go.” We must search for roots in the depths of the heart. There were none in Pliable. The Lord of the land who knew him best said, “He hath not root in himself.” This is getting, in one thrust, to rock bottom. For we are interested in Pliable, not as to appearance, but “in himself.” Having no root in himself, his religion was no more than a surface affair. It was as shallow as veneer. Christian is familiar with Mr. Heidelberg (not the prehistoric sub-human creature) who says that true religion is rooted in a personal knowledge of one’s own heart-plague and in the practical knowledge of deliverance from that misery. Pliable had no such self-knowledge.
“Tell me now further,” was Pliable’s eager request, “what the things are and how to be enjoyed wither we are going.” He could enquire of the good things of the Christian life, but not of the way of salvation, nor of the difficulties to be encountered along the way, nor of the danger of falling short of it. Because of this, he could not really understand the doctrines of the Christian faith. The truth cannot be understood by any mere outward connection. When the truth really gets to a man, God speaks in his heart, an honest and good heart.
Children love illustrated Bible story books, and will spend hours familiarizing themselves with all the Bible characters by means of pictures. Our Sunday schools sometimes make an effective use of flannel graph pictures in teaching Bible history. Some people have no more root in the truth than such an interest in pictures of heaven as when children look and say, “Well said; and what else? This is very pleasant; and what else?” You cannot show them or tell them fast enough about the New Jerusalem, its pearly gates, jasper walls and golden streets. “There we shall see the elders with their golden crowns; there we shall see the holy virgins with their golden harps; there we shall see men that by the world were cut in pieces, burnt in flames, eaten of beasts, drowned in the seas for the love they bear to the Lord of the place, all well, and clothed with immortality as with a garment.” Pliable responds, “The hearing of this is enough to ravish one’s heart.” But if, instead, Christian had shown Pliable the biblical portraits of the natural man, or of the deceitful heart, or of the flesh present in the child of God, he would have made no sense out of any of them. Pliable experienced nothing of a desperately wicked heart and would have taken it as ultra-pious rhetorical extreme for anyone to speak of possessing the vilest heart in the world that a sinner could have. Christian had the worst opinion of himself. Pliable had worries (he fell into the slough, too), but no such burden as Christian’s.
Pliable was a stony-ground hearer. Such hearers are like a flat rock covered with a thin layer of dust upon which a seed falling, springs up, but soon withers away scorched, because (a) it had no deepness of earth, (b) it lacked moisture, (c) it had no root. Pliable at once receives the Word of God with joy (although not with the joy of Matt. 13:44). He for a while believes, but because he has no root in himself, when trials or persecution come because of the Word, he becomes offended and apostatizes. Most men today are Obstinate, not Pliable, but the Pliables, if they have any religion at all, are shallow, superficial, rootless. What they have that passes for religion is rooted, if at all, outside of themselves. “These have no root in themselves” (Mark 4:16f). Their roots are in the company of Christians, perhaps, or in the emotional pleas and “invitations” of a preacher, or in the influence of the crowds and masses visibly “accepting Christ”, or in the sensationalism of mass evangelism or in the sentimental lies sung by male and female vocalists. Or perhaps a Pliable will insist that his roots are in the best preaching, in Calvinistic preaching and in the Bible. But still he has no root in himself. He may be rooted in these things, but they are not rooted in him.
Christian knew Pliable “from way back.” He knew all his roots were external. Pliable was rooted in his church, not in his church as a part of the body of Christ, nor even in his church as flying under a Calvinistic flag, but as a religious institution which happens to provide the circle in which his social set moves. Pliable believes in his church. He worships his church. Because family, relatives and friends are there, his church is dear to his heart. It is known, however, that something later happened that caused Pliable to become disappointed with his church, which he left to take up with another church that pleased him better for a time. But then he became disillusioned with that church and so took the stand that to avoid the Slough of Despond (which Christian dreaded not nearly as much as the doom of his city) he would have no church at all. But don’t say, then, that Pliable has no roots. He has many. He has family roots. He is deeply involved in family traditions. He loves house and home. He loves his earthly home as much as Christian loves his heavenly home. If his home were spoiled or lost, his religion would be spoiled or lost. For Pliable gave a desperate lunge or two and got out of the slough on that side nearest to his own house, while Christian struggled to that side of the slough farthest from his own house and toward the narrow gate. In another city, City of Nations (Rev. 16:10), there was another man of the same name. He was rooted in his business. As long as business was thriving and prosperous, his religion was enthusiastic and strong.
There is no telling what sort of person Pliable would have been if he had met Obstinate alone, without the impressive presence of Christian. Since he met the godly man, he, too, would be godly and “for a while believe.” But when back with his old companions (were they not, since we are thinking Bunyan-style, Diabolonians?) he could be just as indifferent and hostile to the cause of God and truth as they. What about those students from godly families studying at P.U.U., perhaps preparing for the ministry, with no personal religion or root in themselves? Even if they show as much promise as Pliable did with his polite caution, “Don’t revile,” will not an atheistical book, or an anarchistical class, or a socialist professor, or merely a sophisticated sneer wither the roots of whatever trace of religion remains in them? As the local, converted tax collector recorded, having no root in himself, he endures for a while, but by and by he is offended (Matt. 13:21). Then Christian sees him no more.
Originally Published in:
Vol. 29 No. 5 August 1969