Christian and Faithful continue their journey through a wilderness. They are almost out when their good friend Evangelist joins them. They update him on their pilgrimage. It pleases him to hear how they have overcome many hardships. He encourages them to remain faithful that they might obtain a crown.
He also warns them about the next stage of their journey. They will come to a town full of enemies who will try to kill them. Indeed, one or both of them will die! Yet whoever dies will be at an advantage, for he will reach the Celestial City sooner and escape misery to come.
It is as Evangelist says. When they leave the wilderness, they see a town ahead called Vanity. This town hosts a year-round carnival called Vanity Fair. The Fair offers all the meaningless merchandise and entertainments of the world. Each street is named for a certain country – the Britain Row, the French Row, etc. The hottest commodities are the merchandise from Rome.
The Fair began thousands of years ago. Vanity is unavoidable, lying directly on the path to the Celestial City. Seeing this, Beelzebub started Vanity Fair in order to entice pilgrims. Our Lord Himself passed through it on His own pilgrimage. Yet He didn’t spend a single penny, although Beelzebub personally escorted Him and offered to make Him Lord of the Fair.
Christian and Faithful wend their way through the town. As they do, the inhabitants can’t help noticing them. Their clothing is different than anything for sale. Likewise, they speak a different language. And they are completely uninterested in any of the merchandise. Whenever a vender tries to get their attention, they plug their ears and look toward heaven. One asks, “What will you buy?” They answer, “We buy the truth.”
This starts a commotion. It disturbs the Fair so much that the governor detains them for questioning. They testify that they are pilgrims who have done nothing to stir up trouble. Their questioners don’t believe them, so they are beaten and locked in a cage. Some of the Fair-goers mock and mistreat them. But others defend them, seeing how patiently and graciously they endure abuse.
This leads to further commotion. Christian and Faithful’s accusers once again question and beat them. They chain them and lead through the streets of the Fair as an example to would-be troublemakers. Then they throw the pilgrims back in the cage with their feet in stocks. As more Fair-goers take their side, the rage against them builds. They recall Evangelists’ words and comfort each other at the prospect of death.
The pilgrims are brought forth for trial. They stand before Lord Hate-good indicted thus: “That they (Christian and Faithful) were enemies to, and disturbers of, the trading of the fair and that they had caused commotions and divisions in the town, and had, in the process, gained supporters for their most-dangerous opinions, in contempt of the law of their prince.”
Three witnesses (Envy, Superstition, and Pickthank) testify against them. Hearing their testimony as well as Faithful’s reply, the jury finds him guilty and deserving death. They scourge him, beat him, cut him, stone him, stab him and burn him at the stake. After his execution, a chariot and horses whisk him away to the Celestial Gate. Christian returns to prison. But after awhile, he is released and allowed to continue his journey.
In this stage, Bunyan teaches us our relationship to the world. Vanity Fair symbolizes the world and its enticements. Christian and Faithful serve as examples of holiness. They show us how to be “in the world but not of it.” They refuse to be enticed by sinful pleasure or even the ordinary comforts of life!
Peter writes, “I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Rather than “exiles,” the King James Version uses the word “pilgrims.” This world is not our home; we too are pilgrims just passing through. We mustn’t be enticed by anything the world has to offer.
Sinful pleasures are available at the Fair. But not everything for sale is sinful. The Fair sells “pleasures of all sorts,” including the ordinary pleasures of life – houses, spouses, titles, promotions, etc. By doing so, it tries to lure pilgrims into such a comfortable life that they forget about finishing their quest.
This is our predicament as first-world Christians. In America, we get the best of both worlds. We enjoy the spiritual blessings of Jesus as well as life’s ordinary comforts. There is nothing inherently wrong with these comforts. After all, God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).
But we must enjoy them with a sense of detachment. We must not let them distract us from pursuing Jesus. And we must be willing to forsake them if He asks us to.
The world hates us for not loving what it loves. Christian and Faithful serve as examples of perseverance in the face of hostility. They show us how to endure hardship and suffering for Jesus’ sake, even to the point of death.
Peter continues, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12). Although the pilgrims are condemned by the jury, the townsfolk see they did nothing wrong. Our Lord Himself endured such mistreatment when He passed through Vanity.
So did Bunyan. He languished twelve years in a prison cell for leading unauthorized worship services. And so do persecuted Christians today. More than 100 million Christians in over 70 countries suffer discrimination and harassment, sometimes to the point of imprisonment and death! Churches are often targets for shootings and bombings as well.
Our response to persecution enhances our witness. After Christian completes his pilgrimage, his wife and children begin their own. When they arrive at Vanity, they discover the town no longer burns anyone. Good people are tolerated and allowed to conduct business. So it is with our persecutors; many are converted by the preaching and forgiveness of those they persecute!
So let us not be enticed by the world’s meaningless vanities. Let us not buckle under persecution. Let us live here “like strangers in a foreign country…looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10).
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