Flatterers everywhere

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The flatterer’s net is avoidable. Read, read, read–Scripture, of course.

 

The “sinner’s prayer” in Pilgrim’s Progress

God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if His righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away. Lord, I have heard that thou art a merciful God, and hast ordained that Thy Son Jesus Christ should be the Savior of the world; and, moreover, that Thou art willing to bestow Him upon such a poor sinner as I am. And I am a sinner indeed. Lord, take therefore this opportunity, and magnify Thy grace in the salvation of my soul, through Thy Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Manner of backsliding

HOPEFUL: Now I have shown you the reasons of their going back, do you show me the manner thereof.

CHRISTIAN: So I will willingly.

1. They draw off their thoughts, all that they may, from the remembrance of God, death, and judgment to come.

2. Then they cast off by degrees private duties, as closet prayer, curbing their lusts, watching sorrow for sin, and the like.

3. Then they shun the company of lively and warm Christians.

4. After that, they grow cold to public duty as hearing, reading, godly conference, and the like.

5. They then begin to pick holes, as we say, in the coats of some of the godly, and that devilishly, that they may have a seeming color to throw religion (for the sake of some infirmities they have espied in them) behind their backs.

6. Then they begin to adhere to, and associate themselves with carnal, loose, and wanton men.

7. Then they give way to carnal and wanton discourses in secret; and glad are they if they can see such things in any that are counted honest, that they may the more boldly do it through their example.

8. After this they begin to play with little sins openly.

9. And then, being hardened, they show themselves as they are. Thus being launched again into the gulf of misery, unless a miracle of grace prevent it, they everlastingly perish in their own deceivings.

-Paul Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress

Temporary’s backsliding

HOPEFUL: Now, since we are talking about [Temporary], let us a little inquire into the reason of the sudden backsliding of him and such others.

CHRISTIAN: It may be very profitable; but do you begin.

HOPEFUL: Well, then, there are, in my judgment, four reaons for it:

1. Though the consciences of such men are awakened, yet their minds are not changed. Being hot for Heaven by virtue only of the sense and fear of the torments of Hell, as their sense of Hell and fear of damnation chills and cools, so their desires for Heaven and salvation cool also. So then it comes to pass that when their guilt and fear are gone, their desires for Heaven and happiness die, and they return to their course again.

2. Another reason is, they have slavish fears that do overmaster them: I speak now of the fears that they have of men: “For fear of man bringeth a snare” (Proverbs 29:25).

3. The shame that attends religion lies also as a block in their way. They are proud and haughty, and religion in their eye is low and contemptible. Therefore, when they have lost their sense of Hell and the wrath to come, they return again to their former course.

4. Guilt, and to meditate terror, are grievous to them. They like not to see their misery before they come into it; though perhaps the sight of it first, if they loved that sight, might make them flee whither the righteous flee, and are safe; but because they do, as I hinted before, even shun the thoughts of guilt and terror, therefore, when once they are rid of their awakenings about the terrors and wrath of God; they harden their hearts gladly, and choose such ways as will harden them more and more.

CHRISTIAN: You are pretty near the business, for the bottom of all is for want of a change in their mind and will. And therefore they are but like the felon that standeth before the judge: he quakes and trembles, and seems to repent most heartily, but the bottom of all is the fear of the halter; not of any detestation of the offense, as is evident; because let but this man have his liberty, and he will be a thief, and so a rogue still; whereas, if his mind was changed, he would be otherwise.

-Paul Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress