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  • Writer's pictureLuke Johnston

Christians at Vanity Fair

“Then I saw in my dream, that when they got out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity; and at the town there is a fair kept, called Vanity Fair. It is kept all the year long. It beareth the name of Vanity Fair, because the town where it is kept is lighter than vanity, Psa. 62:9; and also because all that is there sold, or that cometh thither, is vanity; as is the saying of the wise, "All that cometh is vanity." Eccl. 11:8; see also 1:2-14; 2:11-17; Isa. 40:17” (Pilgrim's Progress, Part 1, Section 7).

I just finished watching 2019’s ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ animated with two of my young daughters. If you haven’t seen it – it is a valiant attempt to make this almost 400-year-old Puritan allegory palatable for 21st-century kids. Therefore, any points lost in style it gets back in effort. I admire any attempt to encourage older children to pick up the classic book! I also enjoyed hearing the growling voice of John-Ryes-Davies as Evangelist and the Irish charm of Kristyn Getty as Interpreter.

As I watched, one famous scene stuck out as eerily realistic and close to home. The scene is when Christian and his companion Faithful pass through the town of Vanity on their way to the Celestial City. They are told by Evangelist that everyone must go through this town and the Vanity Fair. Even Jesus had to pass through – for the fair had been going for thousands of years since its inception by the Devil.

As Christian and Faithful pass through, they are assaulted with all the latest fads, fashion, entertainment, and thrills. Every vendor desires them to take their ride, try their gadget, pursue their lust, and find their fancy. Christian and Faithful reject their attempts to be distracted from their journey, and as they do, the people of Vanity become annoyed. They didn’t like how they dressed, talked, and took no interest in their festivities. At one point, Christian and Faithful are told to buy something, to which they refuse and politely say, ‘We will only buy the truth.’ Their refusal to participate in Vanity Fair enraged the whole town.

As the story goes, Christian and Faithful are put through a mock trial, sent to jail, and eventually, Faithful is martyred. Nevertheless, this tragedy was not in vain. God used it to inspire other citizens of Vanity to look beyond themselves and follow Christian to the Celestial City. One of these new pilgrims is the heroic and passionate, Hopeful.

John Bunyan’s allegorical town of Vanity Fair has found its counterpart in every generation of humanity. It is not a geographical town but a place in every human heart that must constantly be contended with. When we let Vanity Fair rule in our souls – we contribute to a society that reflects it. Jesus saw this old fair in the hearts around Him and the culture of Rome. Subsequently, Christians throughout Church history have passed through the fair, and now it is our turn.

You don’t have to look far to see Vanity Fair happening all around us. See it in our culture that celebrates a ‘you first’ self-love mentality. We now have an entire month dedicated to parading human pride. Vanity Fair has even expanded operations to the Church with a gospel of prosperity and positive psychology. But this is nothing new; the issue is, how will you respond? What will you do on your journey through Vanity?

May we learn from the example of Christian and Faithful.

1.) They understood that Vanity Fair was a place they had to go through. They didn’t try to sneak around or avoid it – they were in the world but not of it. Yet – they kept their eyes on the city beyond. Christian and Faithful knew they were pilgrims, and Vanity was not their home.

2.) They longed for the glory of the King and not the praise of themselves. They refused to participate in the fair. They knew the value of the place they were going and how it outweighed anything offered to them in Vanity. Christ is more valuable and lovely to be praised than anything we can manufacture in our pride (Hebrews 12:2).

3.) They pursued truth. Christian and Faithful knew that self-love was fool’s gold. Vanity was an exercise in idolatry that only led to ruin. The fair was full of lies and distractions that kept citizens from seeing the Kingdom of God just outside the gates. They would not purchase anything that contributed to such deception.

4.) They remained loving and joyful in the face of persecution and rejection. Even as they were mocked, they didn’t mock back. They knew that people were watching. Christian and Faithful were apt to set an example and show the people of Vanity a different way to live. In this way – they began to find favor with townspeople and caused many to doubt the glitter of Vanity.

5.) They inspired others. Christian and Faithful remained dedicated to their King under intense pressure to do otherwise. Faithful went to his death with His eyes still set on the Celestial City. The town saw in Faithful a love and joy that nothing in all their gadgets or gizmos could buy. In this way – many started to leave Vanity behind for the hope they saw in Christian and Faithful.

Fellow pilgrims, we are just passing through Vanity Fair. Don’t let it fool you. Don’t let the attractions distract you. Don’t give in to the pressure to buy its goods or support its schemes. On the other hand, don’t let the spectacle cause you to despair or become resentful. Refuse to let anyone steal your joy or love for the true King. Instead, stand fast, love as you can, keep your armor on, and carry on your way to Celestial City.

“This hill, though high, I covet to ascend; The difficulty will not me offend. For I perceive the way to life lies here. Come, pluck up, heart; let's neither faint nor fear. Better, though difficult, the right way to go,Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe” (Pilgrim’s Progress, Part 1, Section 3).

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