A man that flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.
The weakness of the human heart exposeth it to innumerable dangers. Constant attention is necessary to preserve it secure, because it is often assailed on the most unsuspected side. The conceit and vanity, which all men have in some degree, renders truth itself often dangerous. It is the prerogative of God alone to receive praise without danger. He hears, and is pleased to hear, the endless hymns of His angels. He hears the voice of praise ascending from all nature: the infinite variety of beings celebrating Him as the great, the just, the merciful God. He receives those truths without prejudice to His holiness; because, being in Himself essentially holy and true, these attributes can never jar, nor harm each other. It is far otherwise with us: unstable ourselves as water, our very virtues partake of this instability; whence ariseth the necessity of our suspecting everything that flatters us, because there is nothing in general more seductive and deceitful; and of all delusions, there is none more shameful and pernicious than that which, by the suggestions of self-love, makes us take falsehood for truth, and think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. People tell us what we ought to be rather than what we are, and we, by a pitiable blindness of running into the snare that is spread for us, believe ourselves to be indeed what adulation represents us. In this manner it often happens that a man who is naturally modest, and who would be humble if he knew himself, intoxicated with this vain incense, thinks himself possessed of merits which he never possessed; thanks God for graces which God never gave him; acknowledgeth the reception of talents which he never received; ascribes to himself successes which he never had; and enjoys himself secretly, while he is openly despised. Some learned men have very plausibly ascribed the origin of those idolatrous superstitions that prevailed so long in the world to that inclination which men have of believing what is advantageous, however incredible it may really be. Certain men were told that they were gods; and, by often hearing this told them, they became accustomed to be honoured and treated as gods. Those who first held that language to them knew very well that it was false; yet, from a spirit of flattery, they performed every action that they would otherwise have done from a spirit of sincerity had they been convinced that what they spoke was true. We dare not say that this error is entirely destroyed even by Christianity: vestiges of it remain everywhere, and a species of idolatry is established by the custom of the world. We tell the rich and the great no more that they are gods, but we tell them that they are not as other men are; that they want those weaknesses which others have, and possess those qualities which others want: we separate them so from the rest of mankind that, forgetting what they are, they think themselves gods; not considering that their admirers are interested persons, determined to please them, or rather determined to deceive them. Nor may we confine ourselves to the great and powerful ones of the world to justify this observation: the idolatry I speak of reigns equally in the lower conditions, and produceth there proportionable effects. Thus a woman is idolised by interested and designing men, till she knows herself no more; and, though marked with a thousand faults and imperfections, yet thinks of correcting none of them; believing herself a subject every way accomplished, the joy and admiration of the whole world, because such phrases are constantly employed for her seduction and ruin. The contradiction is, that in the midst of all this, those men, so vain and so passionate for glory, never cease to protest that the thing they abhor most is to be deceived; in the meantime they wish to be praised, flattered, and admired, as if flattery and delusion could possibly be separated. What resolution, then, can we take to avoid these errors? We must resolve to distrust even truth, when it seems to flatter us; because there is no appearance of truth which approacheth so near to falsehood, and consequently, there is none so much exposed to the dangers of falsehood. Jesus Christ Himself, who, according to the Scripture, was the firm and immovable Rock, to whom the praises of the universe were due, as the tribute of His supreme grandeur and adorable perfections, yet while on earth would not suffer those truths which made for His honour and glory. He wrought wonders; He cured the blind and the deaf; He raised the dead; yet when the people began to celebrate His name for this, and to cry that He was the prophet of God, He enjoined them silence, and seemed upon the whole extremely impatient of applause.
Parallel VersesKJV: A man that flattereth his neighbour spreadeth a net for his feet.