Let me warn you of second-hand spirituality; it is a rotten soul-deceiving deception. Beware of all esteeming yourself according to the thoughts of others, or you will be ruined. Another man’s opinion of me may have great influence over me. I have heard of a man in perfectly good health killed by the opinion of others. Several of his friends had foolishly agreed to play him a practical trick; whereupon one of them met him and said, ‘How ill you look this morning.’ He did not feel so; he was very much surprised at the remark. When he met the next, who said to him, ‘Oh! dear, how bad you look,’ he began to think there might be something in it; and as he turned smart round the corner, a third person said to him, ‘What a sight you are! How altered from what you used to be!’ He went home ill, he took to his bed and died. So goes the story, and I should not marvel if it really did occur. Now, if such might be the effect of persuasion and supposed belief in the sickness of a man, how much more readily may men be persuaded into the idea of spiritual health! A believer meets you, and by his treatment seems to say, ‘I welcome you as a dear brother’—and means it too. You are baptised, and you are received into church fellowship, and so everybody thinks that you must be a follower of Christ; and yet you may not know him. O I do pray you, do not be satisfied with being persuaded into something like an assurance that you are in him, but do know him—know him for yourself.
For meditation: We should all take it for granted that by nature we are all hell-deserving sinners. None of us have any right to take it for granted that we are heaven-bound saints. Even with the kindest of motives, spiritual flattery is a killer. For God to wound us by telling us the awful truth about ourselves is an amazing offer of friendship (Proverbs 27:6), a merciful warning to flee from the wrath to come by trusting in Christ crucified (2 Corinthians 5:19–21).