Vanity Fair


After Talkative’s departure, Christian and Faithful continue on to the next stage of their journey. In this week’s reading, the two pilgrims meet with Evangelist who prepares them for the suffering and even death that awaits them in the town called Vanity. Once in Vanity Fair, the pilgrims are mocked, arrested, tried, and Faithful is martyred for the faith.

The Words of Evangelist

In our last reading, Christian and Faithful continued walking the Way together, and even though they walked through a wilderness, their company made the road seem easy. Now, as they came to the end of the wilderness, the two pilgrims saw a man coming up behind them and soon recognized him as Evangelist, whom Faithful declares pointed him to the Gate as well.

After giving a report to Evangelist of their journey thus far, Evangelist gives to them a word of exhortation, which is a fitting word to both the characters in the book and to the reader of the book. Indeed, it is no accident that Bunyan used Evangelist’s wise guidance here in the middle of the story as he did at the beginning. After escaping the Slough of Despond, scaling the Hill Difficulty, and passing through the Valleys of Humiliation and the Shadow of Death, a subtle temptation can easily creep into one’s thoughts that the greatest difficulties lay behind. Yet Evangelist spurs the pilgrims onward, saying:

Some there be that set out for this Crown, and after they have gone far for it, another comes in and takes it from them: Hold fast therefore that you have, let no man take your Crown: You are not yet out of the gunshot of the Devil: You have not resisted unto Blood, striving against Sin: Let the Kingdom be always before you, and believe stedfastly concerning things that are invisible: Let nothing that is on this side the Other World get within you: And above all, look well to your own Hearts and to the Lusts thereof, for they are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; set your faces like a flint; you have all power in Heaven and Earth on your side.

97-98

How mighty are those words! They ought to especially ring true for pilgrims like Christian and Faithful who have progressed significantly down the Way to the Celestial City, for pilgrims who have faced the darkness of the valleys and steepness of difficulty, for pilgrims who carry on their bodies the scars of their wrestling against the Destroyer. If there is still breath in our lungs, the journey is not over yet, and it is not yet time to throw down our bag and take off our sandals. It is all too easy to look back upon past triumphs and grow slack about future progress. Yet we must continue ever onward. Further up and further in, as Lewis would say.

After thanking Evangelist for his exhortation, the pilgrims then ask Evangelist about the remainder of their journey. Evangelist then proceeds to warn them of a town that they will soon pass through, where “one or both of you must seal the testimony which you hold, with Blood” (99). With this prophesy given, Evangelist exhorts the pilgrims of their ultimate triumph, even in death, and the travelers continue.

The Fair at Vanity

The town that Evangelist warned the pilgrims about was called Vanity, and we are then told by the author a brief history of the town. First, we are told that Vanity hosts a fair all throughout the year, which is called Vanity-Fair, and it was an ancient practice established by Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion to entice pilgrims off of their path. Every kind of pleasure imaginable was sold as merchandise at Vanity Fair, even people. They are many and varied so as to entice as many pilgrims as possible. 

Here, of course, is an allegorical picture of the pleasures offered by this world. Indeed, we could say that Vanity Fair is an image of what the Bible calls worldliness, and Scripture has much to say about this subject. James 4:4 warns us “that friendship with the world is enmity with God.” 1 John 2:15 says plainly, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Indeed, John goes on to associate the spirit of the antichrist with worldliness (see 1 John 4:1-6).

This certainly is not to say that pleasure itself is wicked. At God’s right hand are “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). The LORD is no killjoy who demands nothing but stoic duty from His people. Pleasures were a piece of God’s good design for both us and the world. The problem is whenever pleasures go awry, whenever we value the gifts more than the Giver. And that is precisely what worldliness is. It is the rejection of the Creator in favor of His creation, which is a damning exchange. Indeed, the problem with worldly pleasures is that they are pitiful in comparison to the infinite joys that God offers to His own.

Bunyan illustrates this point by describing to us Christ’s journey through Vanity Fair, during which Beelzebub offered to make Jesus Lord of the Fair, yet He passed through without taking even the slightest vanity for His own. This is certainly a reference to Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness to bow before the devil and be given all the kingdoms of the world. Yet our Lord knew the foolishness of trading one’s soul even if in exchange for the whole world.

As Bunyan notes (drawing on 1 Corinthians 5:10), everyone still alive in this world must pass through Vanity Fair; there is no way around it. Therefore, we must be prepared to set our minds upon our heavenly treasure and to forsake the shiny trinkets that this world offers to us as the vanities that they are. 

Sojourners & Strangers

As Christian and Faithful enter Vanity Fair, their presence immediately created a great commotion. Bunyan gives three reasons for this. First, their clothing was a puzzlement to the folk of Vanity. Second, their speech was likewise different, so that they could barely understand one another. Third, the townsfolk marveled that the pilgrims had no interest in their trappings.

So should the meeting between citizens of heaven and citizens of this world be. Like Christian and Faithful, if we are bound and sealed for a heavenly home, then we ought to reflect something of that heavenly hope, and it will inevitably look strange and foreign to those who belong to this world. This is a feature rather than a bug of God’s plan of redemption. God’s people are meant to stand apart, to be distinct. After all, that is a part of the very concept of being holy. God did so with Abraham by calling him to a life of sojourning within the land that God would give to his descendants. The nation of Israel was likewise supposed to be “a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), a nation set apart for the LORD that would draw other nations to Him as well. Peter later picks up on that imagery, saying to Christians, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

All of this is to say that Christians “must no longer walk as the Gentiles do” (Ephesians 4:17). We should be just as distinct from the world as Christian and Faithful were from Vanity Fair. Indeed, we can use Bunyan’s three reasons as a guide for considering how we ought to walk in the world.

First, their clothing was distinct. I am not sure if you have noticed, but modesty is no longer a virtue here in the West. Indeed, modesty is often treated as a vice, as limiting a person’s freedom (most often a woman). Christians, however, should actively pursue modesty as witness to the watching world. A few years ago, my wife had a conversation with a Muslim woman who said that she could not respect Christian women because of how immodest they dressed. Of course, she viewed all Americans as being Christian, but even so, do Christian women dress distinctly different from non-Christians?

A very practical article of clothing that fits into this discussion is leggings. For seemingly most women here in the U.S., leggings have become the default everyday pants, and while most do not directly display any skin (which is typically what we think of as defining modesty), being skin-tight leaves little to imagination (as the saying goes).

But, of course, modesty does not need to be limited to only showing off one’s body; instead, dressing modestly means not showing off the clothing itself either. Here especially is where men can dress just as immodestly as women. Displaying proudly certain brands or styles in order to display one’s wealth or status is just as sinful as proudly displaying one’s body in order to attract a lustful look. For the world, where status is all important, such clothing is understandable, but for children of God’s kingdom, where the greatest are servants to all (Mark 10:43-44), our attire ought to reflect our otherworldly priorities.

Second, their speech was different. Paul tells us plainly, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4). This verse refutes any Christian who asserts that it is their freedom in Christ to use foul language and foolish speech. Worldly speech is not freedom; it is sin. Our speech should not be marked by obscenities but by thanksgiving. Let us strive to obey Paul’s command in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

Third, they did not buy any merchandise being sold. Since we belong to a consumer culture, the applications here are endless, so let us focus on one of the biggest booths in Vanity Fair: entertainment. Given the sheer abundance of entertainment now offered, Christians should think very carefully about how their consumption of entertainment might be supporting Vanity Fair. Christians, of course, do not need to attempt withdrawing entirely from the world (we already established that doing so would be impossible), yet many Christians indulge in worldliness under the spiritualized guise of “engaging culture.” Imagine the insanity of Christian and Faithful buying from the merchants of the Fair in order to discuss the merits of Vanity’s vanities. The Christian witness is not strengthened by such so-called cultural engagement but by resolute piety, by a countercultural godliness that vividly displays the true and lasting joyful pleasure of our life as children of God.

The Trial & Martyrdom of Faithful

As the two strange pilgrims walk through Vanity Fair, the men of the town stirred up against them and locked them up in a cage. Although a few men quarreled with the others on the pilgrims’ behalf, ultimately, they were brought before Lord Hate-Good for trial. Their indictment reading:

That they were Enemies to, and Disturbers of their Trade: That they had made Commotions and Divisions in the Town, and had won a Party to their own most dangerous Opinions, in contempt of the Law of their Prince.

105

This indictment is, of course, quite similar to the riot in Ephesus that formed against Paul. Demetrius, who incited the riot, was a silversmith who made little shrines to Artemis, a trade that was directly impacted by the growing Christian population within the city. Loss of profit is a frequent reason for hating God’s people. Christians, after all, form a large percentage of the opposition to abortion, pornography, and gambling industries and are reviled for doing so as bigots, yet the foundation of such “industries” is profit by exploitation. In such cases, few things are as damaging to profits as the truth. Indeed, in any endeavor built fundamentally upon lies, truth is the great danger.

This is generally why the world hates Christianity. Although the Christian religion has single-handedly given birth the modern world, Christians continue to be the most persecuted group in the world, and the West is actively rejecting the teachings of Christianity in the name of progress, which, as I have said, is really amounting to nothing more than a return and rebirth of pre-Christian paganism. As Paul wrote in Romans 1, all who chose the fleeting pleasures of this world exchange the truth of God and give themselves over to serving creatures rather than the Creator. They willingly chose to ignore the truth of God because they do not want to hear what He has to say. They do not want to be limited by the Creator’s rules. However, by choosing to do whatever they want, they go against their own God-given conscience, suppressing the truth by their unrighteousness. Therefore, affirmation of sinful behavior is of the utmost importance, for if public opinion can be swayed then the conscience gets a little easier to ignore. Of course, those who refuse to affirm sinfulness must be silenced, even if they do not blatantly rebuke, because their refusal is a rock of truth being tossed at the glass house of intricately constructed lies.

Or, to put all of this another way, the world and its citizens relish life in the dark, thus they hate the presence of light, for it exposes what is done in the dark. Exhibit A: Jesus is the light of the world, and men crucified Him. If the world hated our Lord, how much more will it hate we who are His servants?

Faithful’s brutal martyrdom is a brief picture of the multitude of martyrs that have sealed their confession of Christ with their blood. Yet while their end may have been painful, their death proved to be gain, sending them directly to meet face-to-face the Lord whom they loved unto death. While writing of the Old Testament saints, the words of Hebrews 11:38 apply to these faithful brothers and sisters of ours, for they are those “of whom the world was not worthy.”


The page numbers refer to the Banner of Truth hardcover, which can be found here.

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