“Beware of the Flatterer”
WHEN Christian and Hopeful left the Delectable Mountains to pursue their way towards the Celestial City the shepherds bade them “Beware of the Flatterer.” They learned afterwards, by sad experience, the folly of neglecting this advice, for thus the story runs:—
“They went then till they came at a place where they saw a way put itself into their way, and seemed withal to lie as straight as the way which they should go: and here they knew not which of the two to take, for both seemed straight before them; therefore, here they stood still to consider. And as they were thinking about the way, behold a man, black of flesh, but covered with a very light robe, came to them, and asked them why they stood there. They answered, they were going to the Celestial City, but knew not which of these ways to take. ‘Follow me,’ said the man, ‘it is thither that I am going.’ So they followed him in the way that but now came into the road, which by degrees turned, and turned them so from the city that they desired to go to, that, in little time, their faces were turned away from it; yet they followed him. But by-and-by, before they were aware, he led them both within the compass of a net, in which they were both so entangled, that they knew not what to do; and with that the white robe fell off the black man’s back. Then they saw where they were. Wherefore there they lay crying some time, for they could not get themselves out.
“Then said Christian to his fellow, Now do I see myself in an error. Did not the shepherds bid us beware of the flatterers? As is the saying of the wise man, so we have found it this day, ‘A man that flattereth his neighbour spreadeth a net for his feet.’ (Prov. 29:5.)
“Hope. They also gave us a note of directions about the way, for our more sure finding thereof; but therein we have also forgotten to read, and have not kept ourselves from the paths of the destroyer. Here David was wiser than we; for, saith he, concerning the works of men, ‘By the word of Thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer.’ (Psalm 17:4.)
“Thus they lay bewailing themselves in the net.”
This is not a picture of a temptation to turn aside altogether from the good way. The path of the destroyer appeared to run parallel to that in which they ought to have kept. Nor did they go blundering on, but consulted with one another. Therein they were mistaken, for they should have consulted their Book of instructions. Then they were misled by a gentleman of pleasing appearance, who looked like a servant of the King of kings, and who spoke softly to them, assuring them that, as he himself was bound for the Celestial City, he could lead them thither. His winning accents caused them to yield themselves to his guidance; and, by-and-by, their faces were turned directly away from the city towards which aforetime they had been pressing. You see, it is not a case of the deliberate choice of sin; but rather of being deluded through neglect of the Word of God, which is the true guide of the pilgrim.
There are flatterers of this kind in our own hearts. It has often happened, in our experience, that we have been living in simple dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ, which is the straight and narrow way which leadeth unto life eternal, and, by-and-by, we have, perhaps, read the experience of some great man, and we think, “Well, it must be right to feel as he felt, to doubt as he doubted, to be tempest-tossed as he was.” This is another road, and we begin to think that it is well to live by feeling. The flatterer does not tell us, in so many words, to give up faith in Christ alone. We should recognize him, and be shocked if he did that: but he insinuates that we may walk a little by our holy feelings. We are not now such infants as we used to be; we have grown in grace somewhat; we may now rely a little upon the past; there is not the same need to be daily hanging upon Christ; why not rest on what was enjoyed at conversion, and make up, if necessary, with some present frames and feelings, present power in prayer, or present usefulness in the Lord’s work?
Mr. Flatterer knows well that, when we are most sanctified, there is enough cause to weep over every day in our life. He knows that those who most resemble Jesus are very, very far from being quite like Him. There is much more cause to deplore our sinnership, than to admire our saintship. As we have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so must we walk in Him. Still we rely upon His merits alone. If you begin to walk by yourself even a little way, you will soon find that path leading you, insensibly, into such legality that you try, if not actually to save yourself, yet to keep yourself saved through the works of the law. In a very little time, the believer who does this will fall into the net. He will find the pangs of hell, as it were, get hold upon him; he will find trouble and sorrow. When a bird is caught in a net, it attempts to get out this way and that way. It may break its wings, but it cannot escape; it rather entangles itself more completely. So the soul, that has forsaken simple faith, to live upon its own works, and feelings, and experiences, will try in vain to get relief. It is in legal bondage. The Ten Commandments suffice to make a heavy net when they twist around the sinner who has broken them. Apart from the blood of Jesus Christ, who can hope to escape from an awakened conscience? Thus is the Christian caught in a net when the Flatterer, who lives in his soul, tempts him to selfrighteousness and to forsake the Lord. Luther used to say, “You need not fear a black devil half so much as a white one.” The white devil of self-righteousness is more dangerous to the Christian than even the black devil of open sin. When open sin tempts us, we know it to be sin, and we are helped to forsake it. But, oftentimes, the white devil seems to be an angel of light; and, under the garb of striving after sanctification, or aiming at perfection, we are tempted to leave our child-like confidence in our Lord. This way lies the net!
There are so many other nets that I should not care to have to count them. You young converts may meet with a person who will say to you, “I hear you are converted; I am glad of that, but where do you attend?” “Oh, So-and-so!” “Ah! you should not go there; it is very well for some things, but there are higher truths that you will never learn there; you should come with us, and hear how we can explain the prophecies to you;” and so, under the guise of desiring you to listen to prophetic truth, they will lead you into some new form of error.
Others will seek to win you to admire with them the splendours of outward forms and ceremonies. How many unwary ones have been thus allured to Ritualism and Romanism! Certain others will say, “Oh, you should not have a minister!” They cry down the Lord’s Shepherds who are found on the Delectable Mountains, and urge you to go where everybody teaches everybody. They are the people of God; they are not a sect, though ten thousand times more bigoted than any sect that ever existed. Beware, I pray you, of any form of doctrine or practice which would lead you from the place where you were born to God, where you have been nurtured in Christ, where you have been made useful, and helped forward in the Divine life. There are certain sects that only live by stealing members from other churches, whereas the aim of a Christian church should be to win souls direct from the world. These flatterers, for they are generally such, will tell you that you are too experienced to sit under the ordinary ministry; you are much too useful, or too spiritual, to remain in such a congregation. If you hearken unto them, you will soon find that leanness has come into your soul, and that you are entangled in the net, for you have been drawn away from the truth as it is in Jesus by some creed of man’s devising.
I would warn our young members especially against that form of faith which holds only half the Bible; against those who proclaim the Divine election, but ignore human responsibility, and who preach up high doctrine, but have little or nothing to say about Christian practice. I am persuaded that this is another net of the Flatterer, and many have I seen taken in it. They have ceased from all care about the souls of others, have become indifferent as to whether children were perishing or being saved, have settled on their lees, to eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and have come to think that this was all for which they were redeemed. Their compassions have failed; they have had no weeping eyes over perishing sinners; in fact, they have thought it a sign of being unsound to care about saving sinners at all. May God keep you from being flattered into this net, lest you become pierced through with many sorrows! To the Bible only you must look. Test every new idea with this touchstone: “To the law and to the testimony.” Require a “Thus saith the Lord” from every flattering notion. The old Book is our infallible guide.
Now let us read the passage in which Bunyan describes the pilgrims’ release from the net.
“At last they espied a Shining One coming towards them, with a whip of small cord in His hand. When He was come to the place where they were, He asked them whence they came, and what they did there. They told Him that they were poor pilgrims going to Zion, but were led out of their way by a black man, clothed in white, ‘who bid us,’ said they, ‘follow him, for he was going thither too.’ Then said He with the whip, ‘It is Flatterer, a false apostle, that hath transformed himself into an angel of light.’ (Prov. 29:5. Daniel 11:32. 2 Cor. 11:14, 15.) So He rent the net, and let the men out. Then said He to them, ‘Follow Me, that I may set you in your way again.’ So He led them back to the way which they had left to follow the Flatterer. Then He asked them, saying, ‘Where did you lie last night?’ They said, ‘With the Shepherds, upon the Delectable Mountains.’ He asked them then, if they had not of those Shepherds a note of direction for the way. They answered, ‘Yes.’ ‘But did you, said he, ‘when you were at a stand, pluck out and read your note?’ They answered, ‘No.’ He asked them, ‘Why?’ They said they forgot. He asked, moreover, if the Shepherds did not bid them beware of the Flatterer. They answered, ‘Yes; but we did not imagine,’ said they, ‘that this fine-spoken man had been he.’ (Romans 16:18.)
“Then I saw in my dream, that He commanded them to lie down; which, when they did, He chastised them sore, to teach them the good way wherein they should walk (Deut. 25:2); and as He chastised them, He said, ‘As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous, therefore, and repent.’ (Rev. 3:19. 2 Chron. 6:26, 27.) This done, He bid them go on their way, and take good heed to the other directions of the Shepherds. So they thanked Him for all His kindness, and went softly along the right way, singing,—
“ ‘Come hither, you that walk along the way;
See how the pilgrims fare that go astray!
They catched are in an entangling net,
’Cause they good counsel lightly did forget:
’Tis true, they rescued were, but yet you see
They’re scourged to boot. Let this your caution be,’ ”
When a Christian gets into the net of self-righteousness, he is sure to be delivered because he belongs to the Lord, who will not suffer him to be destroyed. But the Shining One, who comes to deliver him out of the net, will certainly bring a scourge of small cords with Him, and will chasten him, again and again, till he is willing to walk humbly with his God. Alas! how soon we get high looks and a proud bearing! We dream that we need not come crouching at the cross-foot, as other sinners do. I heard one say that he had not prayed for forgiveness of sin for twelve months; he had had his sins forgiven years ago. But when the Lord gives us a good dose of bitters, and makes us drink of the waters of Marah, we ask to be washed as Peter did when he changed his mind, and said, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Then we feel the need of the daily application of the precious blood, and we are willing to stand with the poor publican, and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” We must be chastened to keep us low. A good old countryman, now in Heaven, said to me, as I was walking with him in the field where he was ploughing, many years ago, “Ah, Master Spurgeon! if I get one inch above the ground, I get that inch too high, and have to come down again.” So shall we. We must cling to the faith that owns that Christ is our All-in-all. If the flatterer leads us astray, woe will be unto us. So will it be, I believe, with Christian men and women who, having received a blessing in any church, are induced to turn aside from it. “As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.” Many such have been well chastened, and have had to come back to their old church again, and have rejoiced once more to sit with the Lord’s people with whom they had happy fellowship in days gone by.