If I were a Protestant Pope, I would issue a papal decree requiring all the faithful to read Pilgrim’s Progress.
And as [Christian and Hopeful] 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 two ways to take.
FLATTERER: Follow me; I am going there.
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 a 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.
CHRISTIAN: Now do I see myself in an error. Did not the Shepherds bid us beware of the Flatterer? As is the saying of the wise man, so we have found it this day: “A man that flatters his neighbor, spreads a net for his feet” (Prov 29:5).
HOPEFUL: 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 not kept ourselves from the path of the destroyer. Here David was wiser than we, for, “Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips, I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer” (Psalm 17:4).
A few takeaways:
- Flattery is a danger to all of us. We’re not told what Flatterer said to mislead the pilgrims so maybe the point isn’t the content of the flattery but its results; not so much how they were deceived but that they were deceived. Flattery doesn’t work from a fixed script. It’s revised and edited for the man and his times. We’re always susceptible.
- Flatterer has the form of godliness. He appears to be a fellow traveler: he meets the pilgrims on the path to the King’s City, he’s dressed in Christian garb, and he professes to share the same destination. The most dangerous flattery comes from the one who professes to be one of us.
- Flatterer works at the fork in the road. He appears as the pilgrims are trying to decide which path to take and their indecision is his opportunity to lure them off the path. Reject the smooth talk; read (and trust) your directions.
- Flattery leads us astray “by degrees.” Turning our faces away from the King and his City rarely, if ever, happens in one step but through a series of smaller steps–a misinterpretation here, a deluded sentiment there–until we find ourselves caught in the net.
- Only one path leads home. In a subtle but profound line Bunyan says the pilgrims followed Flatterer “in the way that but now came into the road.” Two things are worth noting here: (i) the errant path was a late addition (ii) the errant path came into the road from the outside. Beware the novel ideas and reinventions that worm their way into the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
- The flatterer’s net is avoidable. Read, read, read–Scripture, of course.