The Pilgrim’s Progress (Week 9 of 13)

Blood of the Martyrs: The Court of Vanity Fair

pilgrim's progress In our look at the “bad guys” of Pilgrim’s Progress, no scene is filled with more enemies than the court of Vanity Fair.

It is surmised by scholars that John Bunyan based Vanity Fair off of the famous Stourbridge Fair, a yearly festivity in Cambridge that at its peak was the largest festival in Europe.

In the story, Christian and Faithful have to walk through Vanity Fair on their way to the Celestial City. Both men encounter great opposition.

Getting Started: Read all of the sixth stage of Pilgrim’s Progress.

1. Vanity Fair

a. Vanity Fair is set up in the town of Vanity, named after Ecclesiastes 1:2, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” The Hebrew term hebel, translated vanity or vain, refers to a “mist,” “vapor,” or “mere breath.” Metaphorically hebel to something that is fleeting or elusive. All that is bought and sold at Vanity Fair is a worthless, short-lived pleasure. 

b. The Fair began 5000 years ago, shortly after the Fall of Adam and Eve (according to the traditional reckoning).

c. The fair runs year-round: it never ends.

d. This Fair is international.

i. It is dominated by the goods of Rome (i.e. Roman Catholicism, in Bunyan’s Puritan reckoning).

ii. It also has special lanes dedicated to other nationalities: Britain Row, French Row, Italian Row, Spanish Row, and German Row.

e. It was built by Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion as a place that all pilgrims must travel through on their way to the Celestial City.

i. Beelzebub is Lord of the Fair.

ii. Beelzebub personally escorted the Prince of Princes through the fair, enticing him to buy, but the Prince did not spend so much as a cent at this Fair (see Matthew 4:1-11).

f. The Fair is built as a distraction from seeking the kingdom first (see Matthew 6:33).

i. Some things sold at the Fair are blatantly sinful: lusts, prostitutes, madams, bodies, souls, thefts, murders, adulteries, and perjurers.

ii. Other things sold are not blatantly sinful: houses, lands, honors, promotions, titles, countries, kingdoms, pleasures, wives, husbands, children, entertainments, masters, servants, silver, gold, pearls, and precious stones.

iii. Vanity Fair is modeled after Babylon (see Revelation 18:9-18).

2. Christian and Faithful cause a stir at the Fair.

a. Christian and Faithful are dressed differently, making some think they are foreigners and others think they are crazy (see Galatians 3:27; they are clothed with Christ).

b. Their speech is the language of Canaan, not the language of the world, so everyone thinks they are barbarians (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 and 1 John 4:5-6).

c. They seem totally disinterested in all the merchandise.

i. They repeat Psalm 119:37 to themselves, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity.”

ii. They look up to heaven for their commerce (see Colossians 3:1-4).

iii. They tell the merchants they are out to buy truth (see Proverbs 23:23).

d. They explain why they seem so different: because they are strangers and pilgrims heading to their own country, the Heavenly Jerusalem (see 1 Peter 2:11).

3. Christian and Faithful are persecuted.

a. They are arrested for their suspicious behavior, and twice they are questioned, beaten, and thrown into a cage where they are made a spectacle for everyone.

b. Both times Christian and Faithful do not retaliate but only blessed their persecutors (see Romans 12:14,20-21).

c. When others see their reaction, they begin to win a few men to their side, but most are so angry they cry out for the death penalty.

d. Christian and Faithful comfort themselves with the words Evangelist spoke to them before entering Vanity.

4. The Court of Vanity Fair

a. The formal charge: They were disturbing the trade at the Fair, causing schisms and disunity, and had gained supporters for their hatred of Beelzebub’s laws.

b. Envy: a witness

i. He accuses Faithful of…

1. Not regarding the authority of Beelzebub.

2. Witnessing to others in Vanity about faith and holiness.

3. Claiming that Christianity and the customs of Vanity are opposed to each other.

ii. Faithful replies to the last charge: He was only speaking God’s Word about the differences, but he did not speak in error (see Galatians 5:20-21).

iii. Envy, as the name suggests, is his secret motive (see Matthew 27:18 and Acts 7:9).

c. Superstition: a witness

i. He accuses Faithful of saying their religion cannot please God, their worship is in vain, and they will eventually be damned (see Mark 7:5-8).

ii. Faithful replies that man cannot worship God with true faith unless it is based on true revelation. (This is Bunyan’s statement of the “regulative principle” of worship; see John 4:19-24.)

iii. Superstition, as the name suggests, is his trade (see Colossians 2:18-23).

d. Pickthank: a witness

i. He accuses Faithful of…

1. Railing against Beelzebub.

2. Speaking with contempt against the nobility of Vanity: Lord Old Man, Lord Carnal Delight, Lord Luxurious, Lord Desire of Vain Glory, Lord Lechery, and Sir Having Greed.

ii. Faithful replies that while he did not use abusive language, still he does believe Beelzebub and all his friends deserve to be in hell.

iii. Pickthank, as his name suggests, is a lowly self-seeking flatterer who rubs shoulders with the aristocracy (see Psalm 12:1-2).

e. Lord Hate-good: the appointed judge for Christian and Faithful’s trial. To sentence them, the judge appeals to the ancient laws of their land:

i. Pharaoh’s decree of death in the Nile: This was a law made to prevent mischief, but in Faithful’s case the law has already been broken.

ii. Nebuchadnezzar’s decrees of the fiery furnace: Faithful is guilty of treason for not worshiping in their manner.

iii. Darius’ decree of the lion’s den: Faithful is guilty of treason for not praying in their manner.

f. Twelve jurors pronounce a guilty verdict and demand he be executed: Mr. Blindman, Mr. No-good, Mr. Malice, Mr. Love-lust, Mr. Live-loose, Mr. Heady, Mr. High-mind, Mr. Enmity, Mr. Liar, Mr. Cruelty, Mr. Hatelight, and Mr. Implacable.

5. Faithful is martyred and Christian escapes

pilgrims progress vanity fair

Questions for Personal Reflection (please comment):

  • Does our dress (character), speech (conversation topics and language), and merchandise (what we seem to value most) give us away as Christians? If we were on trial for our faith, would there be enough evidence to convict us, or could a case be made to create “reasonable doubt” about our allegiance?
  • Why is it difficult to see ourselves as pilgrims on the way to our real home?
  • Faithful does not seem hesitant to state the values and truths of the kingdom of God in the face of obvious opposition. Why is it difficult for us to do this?

Let us know your thoughts