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The Godless City: Vanity Fair

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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July 11, 2023 12:01 am

The Godless City: Vanity Fair

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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July 11, 2023 12:01 am

While some dangers in the Christian life are easy to spot, others are more subtle and insidious. Today, Derek Thomas considers the seductive temptations of Vanity Fair in The Pilgrim's Progress.

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Vanity Fair in the city called Vanity is about the temptations of the world, and it's interesting 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, they become vanities. They're part of Vanity Fair.

That is one of the lifelong battles in the Christian life, to not have a worldly affection for even the good things in this life. I'm glad you're with us for Renewing Your Mind today. I'm Nathan W. Bingham. As we continue Derek Thomas' guided tour through John Bunyan's classic Christian allegory, The Pilgrim's Progress, we find ourselves in the city of vanity, walking through Vanity Fair, and today we'll learn important lessons as you and I seek to be faithful witnesses as we live in the world, but not being of the world. Here's Dr. Thomas. Welcome back to lecture number nine in our study of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. We were in a very dark place in lecture eight, The Valley of the Shadow of Death, and Bunyan is describing some inner mental conflict and perhaps issues of depression and spiritual warfare attacking the mind.

Now we come to another well-known passage in Pilgrim's Progress, Vanity Fair, the town of Vanity and Vanity Fair itself. But before we get there, we have to go back a little to pick up the story of Faithful. Remember in The Valley of the Shadow of Death, it's dark and he hears a voice. Christian hears a voice, Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I'll fear no evil. It's the voice of Faithful. And now in the daylight, he comes up to Faithful and they begin this conversation, and this conversation will last for several pages, in fact for a very long time in the narrative. Now there's a very interesting little cameo as we're introduced.

Bunyan does his thing. He gets Christian to ask Faithful, you know, how did he get here, which gets Faithful to tell his entire story. So how he became a Christian, in other words, in the allegory, and so he tells the whole story.

But there's a little feature. He says about Palace Beautiful, remember in Christian's discovery of Palace Beautiful, there were two lions roaring, they were on chains. But when Faithful came to Palace Beautiful, the lions were asleep. And that has led scholars and those who are wondering what exactly did Bunyan mean since it's an allegory, and therefore every part of it is meant to be symbolic of some aspect of history. Why would the lions be alive for Christian but asleep for Faithful?

And if the lions are church and state, Anglican church and the Restoration Monarchy of Charles II in opposition to Christian, it was an allegory of a Puritan believer, why would the lions be asleep then for Faithful? And that's led to the conjecture that Faithful is in fact someone whom Bunyan knew. And not just someone whom Bunyan knew, but an Anglican that Bunyan knew. Because the church or the state weren't persecuting conforming moderate Anglicans, and we're talking about people like William Guernol. The Christian Incomplete Armor, 900 pages, Guernol was an Anglican, he was a moderate Anglican, ecclesiastically on the other side of the page from Bunyan, or Richard Baxter of Kidderminster, another moderate Anglican.

Fascinating if that is the case, because Christian's closest friend in the entire book is someone who perhaps politically and ecclesiastically is on the other side of the fence. And how amazing that Bunyan, who has spent 12 years in prison because of Anglican and state persecution, that in the allegory he should depict his closest friend and perhaps his greatest hero in the book, Faithful, to be a moderate Anglican. And I just think that tells us something about Bunyan, just what a large heart and what a forgiving heart he had.

You can imagine if you spent 12 years in prison and your blind daughter dies while you're in prison, and for all we know he wasn't even able to attend a funeral, then you would have a great deal of animosity and resentment. But there's almost none of that, I think, in Bunyan. It's a wonderful feature, I think, of Bunyan. Well, there's a lengthy talk now. They walk along the narrow path, and there's a lot of talk between Faithful and Christian, and they're joined by a man called Talkative, who talks a lot. And the conversation turns to spiritual matters, and actually the way Bunyan makes you understand how talkative Talkative is, is that for several pages you reach a point where you say, enough already.

Let's get back to the story. I mean, this man is wearisome to read, and actually the narrative itself is somewhat strained at that point, and you almost want to turn a few pages just to get rid of this character, Talkative. They encounter evangelists again, and he asks them how things have gone, and they reply, telling him about the trials and so on, and then just ahead of them lies Vanity Fair. 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, performance, 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 whatnot. Now do you understand, 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're part of Vanity Fair. What an insight Bunyan has to the spiritual complexity of temptation. Now these pilgrims, we're 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, 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 and the Christian life is to be counter-cultural and not accommodating. Now this is a familiar trajectory, of course, in literature, what Bunyan is doing, the introduction of Vanity Fair, the world versus the kingdom of God, the two kingdoms, the kingdom of this world, the kingdom of heaven.

That sort of idea is part of literature. It's part of Augustine's The City of God, three years after the city of Rome fell to the Visigoth king, Alaric. In 410, Augustine began his best-known work, The City of God, and he worked on it for thirteen years, instantly becomes a classic, still is. He attempts to convey a comprehensive philosophy of history. The first half of the book is an attempt to answer a charge that Rome had fallen because it had embraced Christianity.

The emperor Constantine had converted to Christianity following the victory at the Milvian Bridge in 312. In the second half of the book, Augustine begins to argue that the whole of history can be seen as a battle between two rival societies, one allied to the god of this world, another allied to the king of kings. Well, it's a similar theme that you have in Plato's Republic, in Henry David Thoreau's Walden, or in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, or George Orwell's 1984.

It's a similar theme to describe the city as a description of history. It's a storyline of conflict that can be traced all the way back to Genesis 3.15. And it's about worldliness and the power of worldliness and the lure of worldliness. Worldliness is a word that we don't use anymore. You don't hear preachers use the word worldliness to be sort of part of the world, and there's a dichotomy here in Bunyan. Bunyan is saying that you are not to be of this world. There's to be something about you as a Christian that is different, and that's what vanity fare is going to raise now to the surface.

What are the marks of true discipleship? A Christian and faithful stand out for three things when they enter the city of vanity, and they're heading towards vanity fare. 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 dressed differently. Two, their speech was – remember this is an allegory – two, their speech was different. They spoke about Canaan. 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 fare. 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 a 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.

And 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 look normal and righteousness look odd.

That's a good description of worldliness. Now at one point, Faithful asks talkative this question. How does the saving grace of God discover itself when it is in the heart of a man? That's a great question. You know, if you're a true believer, if grace has come into your heart, how does that show itself?

What are the manifestations of a true saving work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of an individual? That's a wonderful question. And talkative replies, and he says a lot, but he says first, because you can be sure that he has plenty to say, where the grace of God is in the heart, it causes there a great outcry against sin. And secondly, he goes on to say, but then Faithful stops him and he says, because he wants to challenge what he's just said. Faithful isn't satisfied with this answer. His answer was that where the grace of God is in the heart, it causes a great outcry against sin. It sounds like a good answer, but Faithful isn't satisfied with that answer. And Faithful says, a better one would be, it shows itself by inclining the soul to abhor its sin, not just to cry out against it, but to abhor it. And talkative says, what is the difference between crying out against and abhorring of sin? And Faithful says, oh, a great deal. And he then goes on to describe the difference that it is one thing to decry the ungodliness of the world.

It's another to see to it in your own heart and do the utmost to be rid of it in your own heart. And Faithful is saying, you see, that religion in talkative doesn't go deep enough. It's all on the surface. It's all talk.

He's saying the right things, but it doesn't go deep enough. There's little evidence of, well, repentance. It's not enough to say that sin does bad things or that there are consequences to bad behavior. You have to hate that sin.

You have to turn away from that sin and walk towards the Lord Jesus. So, in this conversation, although the conversation seems to go on and on, and it is one of the, I'm just going to use the word tedious, but I think Bunyan is deliberately doing that because this man talks a lot, that Faithful actually brings to the surface here that there is something in this man that is only surface deep, and it doesn't actually penetrate into his heart. Now, talkative is sort of left behind, and then comes the heart of this story in Vanity Fair because there's a cost to be paid for this kind of witness. The fact that they haven't bought anything, the fact that they've got their fingers in their ears, the fact that they're heading immediately out of the city, all kinds of suspicion arises within the city. They only have benefit by Christ to eternal life, who die by His example as well as live by His blood, Bunyan adds in the story.

And he brings in now the tale of Faithful's martyrdom. So, they are arrested. They're put in a cage of some kind. They're taken off to a holding cell. They're brought to trial. The trial is presided over by a man called Lord Hategood.

That doesn't sound well, does it, from the very start. And the charge that is brought against them is, they were enemies to and disturbers of their trade, that they had made commotions and divisions in the town, and had won a party to their own most dangerous opinions in contempt of the law of their prince. Three witnesses are brought. Their names are Envy, Superstition, and Pick-Thank. And they witness against them. Envy argues that Faithful had dishonored the laws of the town of Vanity. Superstition said that Faithful, that is, held troubling and pestilent views, and Pick-Thank said that he had spoken unworthy things against the governors of the town.

You know, if you call somebody a sinner. Faithful's defense was that he had only kept to the Word of God. And this was enough for the judge, and he reminded the jury of the ancient laws of their town, the acts that had been passed of old which were pertinent to the case, an act in the days of Pharaoh, another in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, another in the days of Darius, all of which demanded that Faithful be put to death. The jury, blind man, no good, malice, Mr. Lovelust, Mr. Liveloose, Mr. Heady, Mr. Highmind, Mr.

Enmity, liar, cruelty, hate-light, and implacable. Twelve men, good and true, every one of them, and they condemned Faithful to death. And Faithful is tortured and then killed, and he's set alight, set on a pyre, and he is burnt.

And then this very moving description, Now I saw that there stood behind the multitude a chariot and a couple of horses. And they waited for Faithful, who, so soon as his adversaries had dispatched him, was taken up into it and straightway was carried up through the clouds with sound of trumpet to the nearest way to the celestial gate. But as for Christian, he had some respite and was remanded back to prison.

So he there remained for a space. But he that overrules all things, having the power of their rage in his own hand, so rotted about that Christian for that time escaped them and went his way. And as he went, he sang, saying, Well, Faithful, thou hast faithfully professed unto thy Lord with whom thou shalt be blessed, when faithless ones with all their vain delights are crying out under their hellish plights, Sing, Faithful, sing, and let thy name survive, for though they killed thee, thou art yet alive. And there you have a description of, I think, one of the great characters in Pilgrim's Progress, Faithful. He appears just for a short time, barely 15 pages, I think, in the narrative. And he emerges as one of Christian's great friends. He's loyal and true.

He is stout-hearted. He's a martyr. He stands for Jesus and is prepared to die. It's part of the character, I think, that Bunyan and seventeenth-century Puritanism expected Christians to have. Foxe's Book of Martyrs, a very famous book containing stories of Christians who had been martyred from the time of the early Christians and right through to the martyrs of the time of Queen Mary in the sixteenth century.

That book was in every household, in every Christian household in Britain at the time. And, you know, what does Jesus say to us? If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up a cross and follow me. You know, Jesus is saying, if you want to be my disciple, you must be prepared to die. We live in a time when we talk about countries that are closed to the gospel. Well, there are no countries that are closed to the gospel if you're ready to die.

If you're ready to die, you can go anywhere in the world with Jesus. And I think that's the spirit that Bunyan is actually calling for here, and that's the spirit of faithful. It's a wonderful description of a man who is deeply, deeply loyal to Jesus, and he's a character that's almost pulled out of Hebrews chapter 11, one of the great heroes in Christian literature, but one of the great heroes, I think, in Pilgrim's Progress especially. And Christian has lost his friend. He's now set free by the providence of God from his incarceration in the city of vanity, and he's making his way once again to those delectable mountains that he saw back in Pallas Beautiful, but they still haven't arrived in the course of this journey. We'll soon, and in our next lecture, we'll see where it is that Bunyan now takes Christian on this road trip that leads to the celestial city. Faithful is one of the great heroes of the Pilgrim's Progress, but there's something to learn from everyone Christian meets on his journey. This week on Renewing Your Mind, you're hearing Derek Thomas' guided tour through John Bunyan's classic The Pilgrim's Progress. Filled with pastoral and practical wisdom, this allegory can help you think through how to face a lack of assurance, how to live in the midst of a world filled with temptation, as you heard today, and even how to die well as you prepare to enter the celestial city.

And this 19-part series can be yours for your donation of any amount. When you give your gift at, we'll send you this three-DVD set and give you digital access to all of the messages as well as the study guide. So I encourage you to visit or give us a call at 800 435 4343 and request your copy of The Pilgrim's Progress, a guided tour by Dr. Derek Thomas. The life of a believer can be very hard sometimes, so where should we turn if we find ourselves doubting or despairing, even for life itself? Well, tomorrow Christian finds himself in Doubting Castle, trapped by giant despair. Discover the key to leaving Doubting Castle Wednesday, here on Renewing Your Mind. Copyright © 2020, New Thinking Allowed Foundation
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-11 06:02:46 / 2023-07-11 06:11:34 / 9

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