Vanity Fair and Worldliness
Vanity Fair in the city called Vanity is about the temptations of the world. And it’s interesting that Vanity Fair is a town built by Beelzebub and that tells you immediately that we’re back to satanic issues, and Apollyon once again, and Legion. Now, in the town there is a fair—it’s open all year round and it’s selling all sorts of vanity: houses, lands, trades, places, honors, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures and delights of all sorts—as wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not. Now, do you understand what Bunyan is saying here that the vanities of this world are not necessarily things that are bad in themselves? They are things that you can be taken up with, things that are good in themselves like children, like husbands and wives but if you make them everything, if you place them before Jesus, if you say family first Jesus second, they become vanities. They are part of Vanity Fair. What an insight Bunyan has to the spiritual complexity of temptation.
Now, these pilgrims were told “must needs go through this fair.” The road that leads to the Celestial City goes through Vanity Fair. There’s no way around it. And I think what Bunyan is doing and presenting here is the way the world can allure and tempt us into a mindset that is contrary to the gospel. It’s about how Christians in the Christian life is to be counter-cultural, and not accommodating.
What are the marks of true discipleship? Christian and Faithful stand out for three things when they enter the city of Vanity and they’re heading towards Vanity Fair. They look different. They look different in three ways. One, their dress was different. Some said they were fools. Some—they were bedlams and some—they were outlandish men because they dress differently. Two, their speech was—remember this is an allegory. Two, their speech was different. They spoke about Canaan but that they kept the fair. The men of the fair were of this world so that from one end of the fair to the other, they seemed barbarians each to the other. So, their dress was different, their speech was different, their interests were different. They didn’t look at anything that was for sale in Vanity Fair. If the tradesmen called on them to do something, they would put their fingers in their ears and cry “turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity” and look upwards signifying that their trade and traffic was in heaven.
Now, Bunyan isn’t saying that you shouldn’t go to the store, that you shouldn’t buy things or purchase things or anything of that kind. This is an allegory. So in the allegory, there’s worldliness and then there’s spiritual mindedness and he’s trying to depict that in the visual form. And he’s saying—at the very least he’s saying Christians stand out, and they’re different, and they are seen to be different, and they ought to be heard to be different. That’s arresting, isn’t it? I wonder, is that saying something to the modern church? Is the modern church a city that is set upon a hill that cannot be hid?
You know, David Wells says about worldliness, he defines it as “everything in a culture that makes sin looks normal and righteousness look odd.” That’s a good description of worldliness.