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In Vanity Fair
April 12, 2012
Today we continue reading John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and we arrive at the sixth stage of his journey. Last week Christian dialogued with Faithful, discussing the role of the law. The two men also encountered Shame.
The sixth stage of Christian’s journey is one of martydom as Christian’s friend Faithful loses his life for the Lord. After being warned by Evangelist of the struggles they must face and the necessity of faithfulness through it, Christian and Faithful find that they must pass through Vanity Fair.
Almost five thousand years ago there were pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these two honest persons are: and Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions, perceiving by the path that the pilgrims made, that their way to the city lay through this town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a fair; a fair wherein should be sold all sorts of vanity, and that it should last all the year long. Therefore, at this fair are all such merchandise sold as houses, lands, trades, places, honors, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures; and delights of all sorts, as harlots, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not.
Vanity Fair is a place of distraction, a place where pilgrims are led away from their journey, enticed by the joys of this world. These joys can be just about anything as shown by the sheer diversity of Bunyan’s list of enticements. He even shows that each nation has their own row which represents the particular distraction or obsession of that people.
Which makes me wonder: What is our vanity? What is the thing that tends to distract us from the way. Notice that the things Bunyan lists tend to be good things—houses, honors, husbands, silver, gold. Yet these are the very things that lead us off the way. What are our things?
Of course this town hates the pilgrims who refuse to spend their money on such wares. And so the men are taken and bound and judged and Faithful is found guilty and condemned to death. He dies the martyrs death. Bunyan does a nice job of discussing the end of the Christian: “Now I saw, that there stood behind the multitude a chariot and a couple of horses waiting for Faithful, who (so soon as his adversaries had dispatched him) was taken up into it, and straightway was carried up through the clouds with sound of trumpet, the nearest way to the celestial gate.”
Christian escapes and goes his way singing this song of hope:
Well, Faithful, thou hast faithfully profest
Unto thy Lord, with whom thou shalt be blest,
When faithless ones, with all their vain delights,
Are crying out under their hellish plights:
Sing, Faithful, sing, and let thy name survive;
For though they killed thee, thou art yet alive.
For next Thursday please read (or listen to) stage seven. You may want to consult the CCEL version if the version you are reading has a different chapter breakdown.
The purpose of this program is to read these books together. If you have something to say, whether a comment or criticism or question, feel free to use the comment section for that purpose.