Seventh Stage (Part 1): From Vanity Fair to the River of Life

Christian leaves Vanity Fair after Faithful’s execution. But he is not alone; a new companion (Hopeful) arises from Faithful’s ashes to join him. Before long, they catch up to a man named By-ends from the town of Fair-speech. It is a wealthy town, and he has many relatives and friends there.

By-ends claims to be on pilgrimage to the Celestial City. Yet his religion differs from Christian and Hopeful’s in two ways: “First, we never strive against wind and tide. Second, we are always very fervent in following Religion who parades silver slippers.” In other words, he likes things easy and follows the path of least resistance.

By-ends asks if he may travel with the pilgrims. Christian says it will require him to “go against wind and tide,” and to “embrace Religion in his rags” and “when he is bound in shackles.” By-ends refuses, allowing Christian and Hopeful to move ahead.

Three men join By-ends. They are former classmates, taught the art of getting by whatever means necessary. They ask why he isn’t traveling with Christian and Hopeful. He replies, “They are for risking all for God in an instant; and I am for taking advantage of all I can to secure my life and property.”

By-ends poses a question to his companions. He asks if a minister should accept a promotion to a wealthier congregation if it requires him to pretend to be more religious than he is. Mr. Money-love reasons he should do so. After all, “the man who reaps such benefits as these by becoming religious, obtains that which is good by means that are good and as a result becomes good himself.”

By-ends’ company approves of this answer. They call Christian and Hopeful back to pose the question to them. Christian says it is detestable to use religion as a decoy for worldly gain, citing the Pharisees and Judas as proof. He concludes, “The man who takes up religion for the profit of the world, will throw away that religion to please the world.”

Christian and Hopeful again move ahead. They cross a short plan called Ease. At the end of the plain is a hill called Lucre with a silver mine. A man named Demas stands by the hill and calls for pilgrims to come take a look. Christian insists they pass by, for this dangerous place turns many aside from their pilgrimage. When By-ends arrives, he and his friends go over to Demas, never to be seen again.

Just past the edge of the plain is a pillar shaped like a woman. On close examination, the pilgrims realize it is Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt. Their path then follows the river of the water of life. They refresh themselves here awhile, drinking its water, eating of its fruit trees and sleeping in the green meadows beside it.

Considering Worldliness

We learned in the previous stage that godliness brings consequences. Christian and Faithful endured mistreatment and humiliation to the point of Faithful’s execution! Now, Bunyan teaches us that worldliness leads to severer perils. This stage warns what happens to those who pursue worldly gain.

By-ends personifies a hypocrite who puts on a religious show. He wears religion when it suits his purposes, then casts it aside. We can’t relate to this temptation. In twenty-first century America, few profit from pretending to be religious.

Bunyan could relate though. A skillful preacher, he was likely offered jobs at state-approved Anglican Churches. Such positions would offer more money, prestige and freedom than his small, unlawful congregation at Bedford. Yet he refused to compromise his convictions.

Pastors around the world face this temptation today. China’s government only allows Christians to gather at state-approved churches where worship is corrupted by Communist doctrine. Churches in North Korea must post pictures of government officials in their sanctuaries and pray to the Supreme Leader.

It would be much more profitable by worldly standards to yield to these demands. Yet our brothers and sisters refuse. Like Christian, they embrace religion in times of suffering as well as prosperity.

By-ends also personifies a Christian who sacrifices his faith in pursuit of wealth. Demas was once Paul’s “fellow worker” (Philemon 24). But later Paul laments that “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me” (2 Timothy 4:10). That is why Demas stands by the way and calls for pilgrims to explore the silver mine, thus waylaying their pilgrimage.

We can certainly relate to this! Americans view the gospel as an add-on to the American Dream. We presume Jesus wants us to pursue our own goals and plans. When making a decision, we ask not, “Will Jesus approve?” but, “Will this make me happy?” We see nothing incompatible about serving both God and money.  

This is “the seed falling among thorns,” which “refers to someone who hears the word, but…the deceitfulness of wealth chokes the word, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). Sadly, this describes most of us! If our pursuits and priorities were compared to unbelievers’, would there be any difference?

Lot’s wife serves as our final warning. God turned her into a pillar of salt for looking back while fleeing Sodom’s destruction (Genesis 19:26). She left the city, but her heart was still there. Her looking back reveals a desire to return to its sinful ways.

I wonder if Christian and Hopeful were similarly tempted. Did they feel a desire to look back to Vanity? Did Christian long for his old life in the City of Destruction? Do you ever wish life could go back to the way it was before Jesus saved you? Our persecuted brothers and sisters might! And who can blame them?

But Jesus says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). We follow Him for better or worse. Come what may, we are His faithful pilgrims. The Christian life is not all suffering though. Like the plain of Ease and the river of life, He gives us the fellowship of the church to “refresh our souls” (Psalm 23:3).

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