2.3.6 The story of Mr Self-will
From John Bunyan's classic The Pilgrim's Progress, Part II, Section 3, Step 6.
Now I saw that they still went on in their talk. For after Mr Great-Heart had made an end with Mr Fearing, Mr Honest began to tell them of another, but his name was Mr Self-will. He pretended himself to be a pilgrim, said Mr Honest; but I persuade myself he never came in at the gate that stands at the head of the way.
Great-heart: Had you ever any talk with him about it?
Mr Honest: Yes, more than once or twice; but he would always be like himself, self-willed. He neither cared for man, nor argument, nor yet example; what his mind prompted him to, that he would do, and nothing else could he be got to do.
Great-heart: Pray, what principles did he hold? for I suppose you can tell.
Mr Honest: He held that a man might follow the vices as well as the virtues of pilgrims; and that if he did both, he should be certainly saved.
Great-heart: How? If he had said, it is possible for the best to be guilty of the vices, as well as to partake of the virtues of pilgrims, he could not much have been blamed; for indeed we are exempted from no vice absolutely, but on condition that we watch and strive. But this, I perceive, is not the thing; but if I understand you right, your meaning is, that he was of opinion that it was allowable so to be.
Mr Honest: Aye, aye, so I mean, and so he believed and practised.
Great-heart: But what grounds had he for his so saying?
Mr Honest: Why, he said he had the Scripture for his warrant.
Great-heart: Prithee, Mr Honest, present us with a few particulars.
Mr Honest: So I will. He said, to have to do with other men's wives had been practised by David, God's beloved; and therefore he could do it. He said, to have more women than one was a thing that Solomon practised, and therefore he could do it. He said, that Sarah and the godly midwives of Egypt lied, and so did save Rahab, and therefore he could do it. He said, that the disciples went at the bidding of their Master, and took away the owner's ass, and therefore he could do so too. He said, that Jacob got the inheritance of his father in a way of guile and dissimulation, and therefore he could do so too.
Great-heart: High base indeed! And are you sure he was of this opinion?
Mr Honest: I heard him plead for it, bring Scripture for it, bring arguments for it, etc.
Great-heart: An opinion that is not fit to be with any allowance in the world!
Mr Honest: You must understand me rightly: he did not say that any man might do this; but that they who had the virtues of those that did such things, might also do the same.
Great-heart: But what more false than such a conclusion? For this is as much as to say, that because good men heretofore have sinned of infirmity, therefore he had allowance to do it of a presumptuous mind; or that if, because a child, by the blast of the wind, or for that it stumbled at a stone, fell down and defiled itself in the mire, therefore he might wilfully lie down and wallow like a boar therein. Who could have thought that any one could so far have been blinded by the power of lust? But what is written must be true: they "stumble at the word, being disobedient; whereunto also they were appointed" (1 Pet. 2:8).
His supposing that such may have the godly men's virtues, who addict themselves to their vices, is also a delusion as strong as the other. It is just as if the dog should say, I have, or may have, the qualities of the child, because I lick up its stinking excrements. To eat up the sin of God's people, (Hos. 4:8), as a dog licks up filth, is no sign that one is possessed with their virtues. Nor can I believe that one who is of this opinion, can at present have faith or love in him. But I know you have made strong objections against him; prithee what can he say for himself?
Mr Honest: Why, he says, to do this by way of opinion, seems abundantly more honest than to do it, and yet hold contrary to it in opinion.
Great-heart: A very wicked answer. For though to let loose the bridle to lusts, while our opinions are against such things, is bad; yet, to sin, and plead a toleration so to do, is worse: the one stumbles beholders accidentally, the other leads them into the snare.
Mr Honest: There are many of this man's mind, that have not this man's mouth; and that makes going on pilgrimage of so little esteem as it is.
Great-heart: You have said the truth, and it is to be lamented: but he that feareth the King of paradise, shall come out of them all.
Christina: There are strange opinions in the world. I know one that said, it was time enough to repent when we come to die.
Great-heart: Such are not overwise; that man would have been loth, might he have had a week to run twenty miles in his life, to defer his journey to the last hour of that week.
Mr Honest: You say right; and yet the generality of them who count themselves pilgrims, do indeed do thus. I am, as you see, an old man, and have been a traveller in this road many a day; and I have taken notice of many things.
I have seen some that have set out as if they would drive all the world before them, who yet have, in a few days, died as they in the wilderness, and so never got sight of the promised land. I have seen some that have promised nothing at first setting out to be pilgrims, and who one would have thought could not have lived a day, that have yet proved very good pilgrims. I have seen some who have run hastily forward, that again have, after a little time, run just as fast back again. I have seen some who have spoken very well of a pilgrim's life at first, that after a while have spoken as much against it. I have heard some, when they first set out for paradise, say positively, there is such a place, who, when they have been almost there, have come back again, and said there is none. I have heard some vaunt what they would do in case they should be opposed, that have, even at a false alarm, fled faith, the pilgrim's way, and all.
Now, as they were thus on their way, there came one running to meet them, and said, Gentlemen, and you of the weaker sort, if you love life, shift for yourselves, for the robbers are before you.
Great-heart: Then said Mr Great-Heart, They be the three that set upon Little-Faith heretofore. Well, said he, we are ready for them: so they went on their way. Now they looked at every turning when they should have met with the villains; but whether they heard of Mr Great-Heart, or whether they had some other game, they came not up to the pilgrims.