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Bunyan Characters First Series: 19. FAITHFUL IN VANITY FAIR

By Alexander Whyte


      'Be thou faithful.'--Rev. 2. 10.

      The breadth of John Bunyan's mind, the largeness of his heart, and the tolerance of his temper all come excellently out in his fine portrait of Faithful. New beginners in personal religion, when they first take up The Pilgrim's Progress in earnest, always try to find out something in themselves that shall somewhat correspond to the recorded experience of Christian, the chief pilgrim. And they are afraid that all is not right with them unless they, like him, have had, to begin with, a heavy burden on their back. They look for something in their religious life that shall answer to the Slough of Despond also, to the Hill Difficulty, to the House Beautiful, and, especially and indispensably, to the place somewhat ascending with a cross upon it and an open sepulchre beneath it. And because they cannot always find all these things in themselves in the exact order and in the full power in which they are told of Christian in Bunyan's book, they begin to have doubts about themselves as to whether they are true pilgrims at all. But here is Faithful, with whom Christian held such sweet and confidential discourse, and yet he had come through not a single one of all these things. The two pilgrims had come from the same City of Destruction indeed, and they had met at the gate of Vanity and passed through Vanity Fair together, but, till they embraced one another again in the Celestial City, that was absolutely all the experience they had in common. Faithful had never had any such burden on his back as that was which had for so long crushed Christian to the earth. And the all but complete absence of such a burden may have helped to let Faithful get over the Slough of Despond dry shod. He had the good lot to escape Sinai also and the Hill Difficulty, and his passing by the House Beautiful and not making the acquaintance of Discretion and Prudence and Charity may have had something to do with the fact that one named Wanton had like to have done him such a mischief. His remarkable experiences, however, with Adam the First, with Moses, and then with the Man with holes in His hands, all that makes up a page in Faithful's autobiography we could ill have spared. His encounter with Shame also, and soon afterwards with Talkative, are classical passages in his so individual history. Altogether, it would be almost impossible for us to imagine two pilgrims talking so heartily together, and yet so completely unlike one another. A very important lesson surely as to how we should abstain from measuring other men by ourselves, as well as ourselves by other men; an excellent lesson also as to how we should learn to allow for all possible varieties among good men, both in their opinions, their experiences, and their attainments. True Puritan as the author of The Pilgrim's Progress is, he is no Procrustes. He does not cut down all his pilgrims to one size, nor does he clip them all into one pattern. They are all thinking men, but they are not all men of one way of thinking. John Bunyan is as fresh as Nature herself, and as free and full as Holy Scripture herself in the variety, in the individuality, and even in the idiosyncrasy of his spiritual portrait gallery.

      Vanity Fair is one of John Bunyan's universally-admitted masterpieces. The very name of the fair is one of his happiest strokes. Thackeray's famous book owes half its popularity to the happy name he borrowed from John Bunyan. Thackeray's author's heart must have leaped in his bosom when Vanity Fair struck him as a title for his great satire. 'Then I saw in my dream that when they were got out of the wilderness they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity, and at that town there is a fair kept called Vanity Fair. The fair is kept all the year long, and it beareth the name of Vanity Fair, because the town where it is kept is lighter than Vanity. And, also, because all that is sold there is vanity. As is the saying of the wise, All that cometh is vanity. The fair is no new erected business, but a thing of ancient standing: I will show you the original of it. About five thousand years ago there were pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these two honest persons now are, and Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions, perceiving that by the path that the pilgrims made, that their way to the city lay through this town of Vanity, they contrived there to set up a fair: a fair wherein should be sold all sorts of vanity, and that it should last all the year long. Therefore at this fair are all such merchandise sold as houses, lands, trades, places, honours, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, pleasures, and delights of all sorts, as wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, precious stones, and what not. And, moreover, at this fair at all times there is to be seen juggling, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind.' And then our author goes on to tell us the names of the various streets and rows where such and such wares are vended. And from that again he goes on to tell how the Prince of princes Himself went at one time through this same fair, and that upon a fair day too, and how the lord of the fair himself came and took Him from street to street to try to get Him induced to cheapen and buy some of the vain merchandise. But as it turned out He had no mind to the merchandise in question, and He therefore passed through the town without laying out so much as one farthing upon its vanities. The fair, therefore, you will see, is of long standing and a very great fair. Now, our two pilgrims had heard of all that, they remembered also what Evangelist had told them about the fair, and so they buttoned up their pockets and pushed through the booths in the hope of getting out at the upper gate before any one had time to speak to them. But that was not possible, for they were soon set upon by the men of the fair, who cried after them: 'Hail, strangers, look here, what will you buy?' 'We buy the truth only,' said Faithful, 'and we do not see any of that article of merchandise set out on any of your stalls.' And from that began a hubbub that ended in a riot, and the riot in the apprehension and shutting up in a public cage of the two innocent pilgrims. Lord Hate-good was the judge on the bench of Vanity in the day of their trial, and the three witnesses who appeared in the witness-box against the two prisoners were Envy, Superstition, and Pickthank. The twelve jurymen who sat on their case were 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. Hate-light, and Mr. Implacable,--Mr. Blindman to be the foreman. And it was before these men that Faithful was brought forth to his trial in order to his condemnation. And very soon after his trial Faithful came to his end. 'Now I saw that there stood behind the multitude a chariot and a couple of horses waiting for Faithful, who (so soon as his adversaries had despatched him) was taken up into it, and straightway was carried up through the clouds, with sound of trumpet, the nearest way to the Celestial gate.'

      Now, I cannot tell you how it was, I cannot account for it to myself, but it is nevertheless absolutely true that as I was reading my author last week and was meditating my present exposition, it came somehow into my mind, and I could not get it out of my mind, that there is a great and a close similarity between John Bunyan's Vanity Fair and a general election. And, all I could do to keep the whole thing out of my mind, one similarity after another would leap up into my mind and would not be put out of it. I protest that I did not go out to seek for such similarities, but the more I frowned on them the thicker they came. And then the further question arose as to whether I should write them down or no; and then much more, as to whether I should set them out before my people or no. As you will easily believe, I was immediately in a real strait as to what I should do. I saw on the one side what would be sure to be said by ill-natured people and people of a hasty judgment. And I saw with much more anxiety what would be felt even when they restrained themselves from saying it by timid and cautious and scrupulous people. I had the full fear of all such judges before my eyes; but, somehow, something kept this before my eyes also, that, as Evangelist met the two pilgrims just as they were entering the fair, so, for anything I knew to the contrary, it might be of God, that I also, in my own way, should warn my people of the real and special danger that their souls will be in for the next fortnight. And as I thought of it a procession of people passed before me all bearing to this day the stains and scars they had taken on their hearts and their lives and their characters at former general elections. And, like Evangelist, I felt a divine desire taking possession of me to do all I could to pull my people out of gunshot of the devil at this election. And, then, when I read again how both the pilgrims thanked Evangelist for his exhortation, and told him withal that they would have him speak further to them about the dangers of the way, I said at last to myself, that the thanks of one true Christian saved in anything and in any measure from the gun of the devil are far more to be attended to by a minister than the blame and the neglect of a hundred who do not know their hour of temptation and will not be told it. And so I took my pen and set down some similarities between Vanity Fair and the approaching election, with some lessons to those who are not altogether beyond being taught.

      Well, then, in the first place, the only way to the Celestial City ran through Vanity Fair; by no possibility could the advancing pilgrims escape the temptations and the dangers of the fatal fair. He that will go to the Celestial City and yet not go through Vanity Fair must needs go out of the world. And so it is with the temptations and trials of the next ten days. We cannot get past them. They are laid down right across our way. And to many men now in this house the next ten days will be a time of simply terrible temptation. If I had been quite sure that all my people saw that and felt that, I would not have introduced here to-night what some of them, judging too hastily, will certainly call this so secular and unseemly subject. But I am so afraid that many not untrue, and in other things most earnest men amongst us, do not yet know sufficiently the weakness and the evil of their own hearts, that I wish much, if they will allow me, to put them on their guard. ''Tis hard,' said Contrite, who was a householder and had a vote in the town of Vanity, ''tis hard keeping our hearts and our spirits in any good order when we are in a cumbered condition. And you may be sure that we are full of hurry at fair-time. He that lives in such a place as this is, and that has to do with such as we have to do with, has need of an item to caution him to take heed every hour of the day.' Now, if all my people, and all this day's communicants, were only contrite enough, I would leave them to the hurry of the approaching election with much more comfort. But as it is, I wish to give them such an item as I am able to caution them for the next ten days. Let them know, then, that their way for the next fortnight lies, I will not say through a fair of jugglings and cheatings, carried on by apes and knaves, but, to speak without figure, their way certainly lies through what will be to many of them a season of the greatest temptation to the very worst of all possible sins--to anger and bitterness and ill-will; to no end of evil-thinking and evil-speaking; to the breaking up of lifelong friendships; and to widespread and lasting damage to the cause of Christ, which is the cause of truth and love, meekness and a heavenly mind. Now, amid all that, as Evangelist said to the two pilgrims, look well to your own hearts. Let none of all these evil things enter your heart from the outside, and let none of all these evil things come out of your hearts from the inside. Set your faces like a flint from the beginning against all evil-speaking and evil-thinking. Let your own election to the kingdom of heaven be always before you, and walk worthy of it; and amid all the hurry of things seen and temporal, believe steadfastly concerning the things that are eternal, and walk worthy of them.

      'We buy the truth and we sell it not again for anything,' was the reply of the two pilgrims to every stall-keeper as they passed up the fair, and this it was that made them to be so hated and hunted down by the men of the fair. And, in like manner, there is nothing more difficult to get hold of at an election time than just the very truth. All the truth on any question is not very likely to be found put forward in the programme of any man or any party, and, even if it were, a general election is not the best time for you to find it out. 'I design the search after truth to be the one business of my life,' wrote the future Bishop Butler at the age of twenty-one. And whether you are to be a member of Parliament or a silent voter for a member of Parliament, you, too, must love truth and search for her as for hid treasure from your youth up. You must search for all kinds of truth,--historical, political, scientific, and religious,--with much reading, much observation, and much reflection. And those who have searched longest and dug deepest will always be found to be the most temperate, patient, and forbearing with those who have not yet found the truth. I do not know who first said it, but he was a true disciple of Socrates and Plato who first said it. 'Plato,' he said, 'is my friend, and Socrates is my friend, but the truth is much more my friend.' There is a thrill of enthusiasm, admiration and hope that goes through the whole country and comes down out of history as often as we hear or read of some public man parting with all his own past, as well as with all his leaders and patrons and allies and colleagues in the present, and taking his solitary way out after the truth. Many may call that man Quixotic, visionary, unpractical, imprudent, and he may be all that and more, but to follow conscience and the love of truth even when they are for the time leading him wrong is noble, and is every way far better both for himself and for the cause he serves, than if he were always found following his leaders loyally and even walking in the way of righteousness with the love of self and the love of party at bottom ruling his heart. How healthful and how refreshing at an election time it is to hear a speech replete with the love of the truth, full knowledge of the subject, and with the dignity, the good temper, the respect for opponents, and the love of fair play that full knowledge of the whole subject is so well fitted to bring with it! And next to hearing such a speaker is the pleasure of meeting such a hearer or such a reader at such a time. Now, I want such readers and such hearers, if not such speakers, to be found all the next fortnight among my office-bearers and my people. Be sure you say to some of your political opponents something like this:--'I do not profess to read all the speeches that fill the papers at present. I do not read all the utterances made even on my own side, and much less all the utterances made on your side. But there is one of your speakers I always read, and I almost always find him instructive and impressive, a gentleman, if not a Christian. He is fair, temperate, frank, bold, and independent; and, to my mind at least, he always throws light on these so perplexing questions.' Now, if you have the intelligence and the integrity and the fair-mindedness to say something like that to a member of the opposite party you have poured oil on the waters of party; nay, you are in that a wily politician, for you have almost, just in saying that, won over your friend to your own side. So noble is the love of truth, and so potent is the high-principled pursuit and the fearless proclamation of the truth.

      A general election is a trying time to all kinds of public men, but it is perhaps most trying of all to Christian ministers. Unless they are to disfranchise themselves and are to detach and shut themselves in from all interest in public affairs altogether, an election time is to our ministers, beyond any other class of citizens perhaps, a peculiarly trying time. How they are to escape the Scylla of cowardice and the contempt of all free and true men on the one hand, and the Charybdis of pride and self-will and scorn of other men's opinions and wishes on the other, is no easy dilemma to our ministers. Some happily constituted and happily circumstanced ministers manage to get through life, and even through political life, without taking or giving a wound in all their way. They are so wise and so watchful; they are so inoffensive, unprovoking, and conciliatory; and even where they are not always all that, they have around them sometimes a people who are so patient and tolerant and full of the old-fashioned respect for their minister that they do not attempt to interfere with him. Then, again, some ministers preach so well, and perform all their pastoral work so well, that they make it unsafe and impossible for the most censorious and intolerant of their people to find fault with them. But all our ministers are not like that. And all our congregations are not like that. And those of our ministers who are not like that must just be left to bear that which their past unwisdom or misfortune has brought upon them. Only, if they have profited by their past mistakes or misfortunes, a means of grace, and an opportunity of better playing the man is again at their doors. I am sure you will all join with me in the prayer that all our ministers, as well as all their people, may come well out of the approaching election.

      There is yet one other class of public men, if I may call them so, many of whom come almost worse out of an election time than even our ministers, and that class is composed of those, who, to continue the language of Vanity Fair, keep the cages of the fair. I wish I had to-night, what I have not, the ear of the conductors of our public journals. For, what an omnipotence in God's providence to this generation for good or evil is theirs! If they would only all consider well at election times, and at all times, who they put into their cages and for what reason; if they would only all ask what can that man's motives be for throwing such dirt at his neighbour; if they would only all set aside all the letters they will get during the next fortnight that are avowedly composed on the old principle of calumniating boldly in the certainty that some of it will stick, what a service they would do to the cause of love and truth and justice, which is, surely, after all, their own cause also! The very best papers sin sadly in this respect when their conductors are full for the time of party passion. And it is inexpressibly sad when a reader sees great journals to which he owes a lifelong debt of gratitude absolutely poisoned under his very eyes with the malignant spirit of untruthful partisanship. But so long as our public cages are so kept, let those who are exposed in them resolve to imitate Christian and Faithful, who behaved themselves amid all their ill-usage yet more wisely, and received all the ignominy and shame that was cast upon them with so much meekness and patience that it actually won to their side several of the men of the fair.

      My brethren, this is the last time this season that I shall be able to speak to you from this pulpit; and, perhaps, the last time altogether. But, if it so turns out, I shall not repent that the last time I spoke to you, and that, too, immediately after the communion table, the burden of my message was the burden of my Master's message after the first communion table. 'If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another. Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, so shall ye be My disciples. These things have I spoken unto you that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. Know ye what I have done unto you? Ye call Me Master and Lord, and ye say well, for so I am.'

      * Delivered June 26th, 1892, on the eve of a general election.
      * LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH

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See Also:
   INTRODUCTORY
   1. EVANGELIST
   2. OBSTINATE
   3. PLIABLE
   4. HELP
   5. MR. WORLDLY-WISEMAN
   6. GOODWILL, THE GATEKEEPER
   7. THE INTERPRETER
   8. PASSION
   9. PATIENCE
   10. SIMPLE, SLOTH, AND PRESUMPTION
   11. THE THREE SHINING ONES AT THE CROSS
   12. FORMALIST AND HYPOCRISY
   13. TIMOROUS AND MISTRUST
   14. PRUDENCE
   15. CHARITY
   16. SHAME
   17. TALKATIVE
   18. JUDGE HATE-GOOD
   19. FAITHFUL IN VANITY FAIR
   20. BY-ENDS
   21. GIANT DESPAIR
   22. KNOWLEDGE
   23. EXPERIENCE
   24. WATCHFUL
   25. SINCERE

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