“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 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 it is the saying of the wise, “All that cometh is vanity’ (Eccl. 11:8).”
THE happiest state of a Christian is the holiest state. As there is most heat nearest to the sun, so there is most happiness nearest to Christ. No Christian enjoys comfort when his eyes are fixed on vanity. I do not blame ungodly men for rushing to their pleasures. Let them have their fill. That is all they have to enjoy, but Christians must seek their delights in a higher sphere than the insipid frivolities of the world. Vain pursuits are dangerous to renewed souls.
“Now, as I said, the way to the Celestial City lies just through this town where this lusty fair is kept; and he that would go to the city, and yet not go through this town, ‘must needs go out of the world’ (1 Cor. 5:10).”
When weary of the strife and sin that meets you on every hand, consider that all the saints have endured the same trial. They were not carried on beds of down to heaven, and you must not expect to travel more easily than they. They had to hazard their lives unto the death in the high places of the field, and you will not be crowned till you also have endured hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Therefore, “stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.”
“Now these pilgrims, as I said, must needs go through this fair. Well, so they did; but, behold, even as they entered into the fair, all the people in the fair were moved, and the town itself, as it were, in a hubbub about them, and that for several reasons: For,
“First, The pilgrims were clothed with such kind of raiment as was diverse from the raiment of any that traded in that fair. The people, therefore, of the fair made a great gazing upon them! some said they were fools; some, they were bedlams; and some they were outlandish men (1 Cor. 4:9).
“Secondly, And as they wondered at their apparel, so they did likewise at their speech; for few could understand what they said. They naturally spoke the language of Canaan; but they that kept the fair were the men of this world. So that from one end of the fair to the other, they seemed barbarians each to the other (1 Cor. 2:7, 8).”
If you follow Christ fully you will be sure to be called by some ill name or other. They will say how singular you are. If you become a true Christian you will soon be a marked man. They will say, “How odd he is!” “How singular she is!” They will think that we try to make ourselves remarkable, when in fact, we are only conscientious, and are endeavoring to obey the will of God.
They will say, “Why you are old-fashioned!” You believe the same old things that they used to believe in Oliver Cromwell’s day—those old Puritanical doctrines. They laugh at our faith and assert that we have lost our liberty.
“This fair is no new erected business, but a thing of ancient standing. I will show you the original of it.
“Almost five thousand years ago there were pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these two honest persons are; and Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions, perceiving by the path that the pilgrims made, that their way to the city lay through this town of Vanity, they contrived here 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, lusts, pleasures; and delights of all sorts, as harlots, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants’ lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not.”
There are divers kinds of vanity. The cap and bells of the fool, the mirth of the world, the dance, the lyre, and the cup of the dissolute; all these men know to be vanities. They wear upon their forefront their proper name and title. Far more treacherous are those equally vain things, the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches. A man may follow vanity as truly in the counting-house, as in the theatre. If he be spending his life in amassing wealth, he passes his days in a vain show. Unless we follow Christ, and make our God the great object of life, we only differ in appearance from the most frivolous.
It is the sweetness of sin that makes it the more dangerous. Satan never sells his poisons naked; he always gilds them before he vends them. Beware of pleasures. Many of them are innocent and healthful, but many are destructive. It is said that where the most beautiful cacti grow, there the most venomous serpents lurk. It is so with sin. Your fairest pleasures will harbour your grossest sins. Take care! Cleopatra’s asp was introduced in a basket of flowers. Satan offers to the drunkard the sweetness of the intoxicating cup. He gives to each of us the offer of our peculiar joy; he tickleth us with pleasures, that he may lay hold of us.
“And moreover, at this fair, there are at all times to be seen jugglings, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind.
“Here are to be seen, too, and that for nothing, thefts, murders, adulteries, false swearers, and that of a blood-red colour.”
Banish for ever all thought of indulging the flesh if you would live in the power of your risen Lord. It were ill that a man who is alive in Christ should dwell in the corruption of sin. “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” said the angel to Magdalene. Should the living dwell in the sepulchre? Should divine life be immured in the charnel-house of fleshly lust? How can we partake of the cup of the Lord and yet drink the cup of Belial? Surely, believer, from open lusts and sins you are delivered; have you also escaped from the more secret and delusive lime-twigs of the Satanic fowler? Have you come forth from the lust of pride? Have you escaped from slothfulness? Have you clean escaped from carnal security? Are you seeking day by day to live above worldliness, the pride of life, and the ensnaring vice of avarice? Follow after holiness; it is the Christian’s crown and glory.
“Thirdly, But that which did not a little amuse the merchandisers was, that these pilgrims set very light by all their wares. They cared not so much as to look upon them: and if they called upon them to buy, 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 (Phil. 3:20, 21).
“One chanced, mockingly, beholding the carriage of the men to say unto them, ‘What will ye buy?’ But they, looking gravely upon him said, ‘We buy the truth.’ ”
The common religion of the day is a mingle-mangle of Christ and Belial.
“If God be God serve Him; if Baal be God, serve him.” There can be no alliance between the two. Jehovah and Baal can never be friends. “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” “No man can serve two masters.” All attempts at compromise in matters of truth and purity are founded on falsehood. May God save us from such hateful double-mindedness. You must have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. Walk worthy of your high calling and dignity. Remember, O Christian, that thou art a son of the King of kings. Therefore keep thyself unspotted from the world. Soil not the fingers which are soon to sweep celestial strings; let not those eyes becomes the windows of lust which are soon to see the King in His beauty; let not those feet be defiled in miry places, which are soon to walk the golden streets; let not those hearts be filled with pride and bitterness which are ere long to be filled with heaven, and to overflow with ecstatic joy:—
“Rise where eternal beauties bloom,
And pleasures all divine;
Where wealth that never can consume,
And endless glories shine!”
“At that there was an occasion taken to despise the men the more; some mocking, some taunting, some speaking reproachfully, and some calling upon others to smite them. At last things came to a hubbub and great stir in the fair, insomuch that all order was confounded. Now was word presently brought to the great one of the fair, who quickly came down, and deputed some of his most trusty friends to take those men into examination about whom the fair was almost overturned. So the men were brought to examination; and they that sat upon them asked whence they came, whither they went, and what they did there in such an unusual garb. The men told them that they were pilgrims and strangers in the world, and that they were going to their own country, which was the heavenly Jerusalem, and that they had given no occasion to the men of the town, nor yet to the merchandisers, thus to abuse them, and to let them in their journey, except it was for that, when one asked them what they would buy, they said they would buy the truth. But they that were appointed to examine them, did not believe them to be any other than bedlams and mad, else such as came to put all things into a confusion in the fair. Therefore they took them and beat them, and besmeared them with dirt, and then put them into a cage, that they might be made a spectacle to all the men of the fair. There, therefore, they lay for some time, and were made the objects of any man’s sport, or malice, or revenge; the great one of the fair laughing still at all that befell them.”
Pilgrims travel as suspected persons through Vanity Fair. Not only are we under surveillance, but there are more spies than we reck of. The espionage is everywhere, at home and abroad. If we fall into the enemies’ hands we may sooner expect generosity from a wolf, or mercy from a fiend, than anything like patience with our infirmities from men who spice their infidelity towards God with scandals against His people. Live a godly gracious life, and you will not escape persecution. You may be happily circumstanced so as to live among earnest Christians and so escape persecution; but take the average Christian man, and he will have a hard time of it if he is faithful. The ungodly will revile those who are true to the Lord Jesus. Christians are ridiculed in the workshop, they are pointed out in the street, and an opprobrious name is hooted at them. Now we shall know who are God’s elect, and who are not. Persecution acts as a winnowing fan, and those who are light as chaff are driven away by its blast; but those who are true corn remain, and are purified. Careless of man’s esteem, the truly God-fearing man holds on his way, and fears the Lord for ever.
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter.” My longing is that the churches may be more holy. I grieve to see so much of worldly conformity. How often wealth leads men astray; how many Christians follow the fashion of this wicked world. Alas! With all my preaching, many wander, and try to be members of the Church, and citizens of the world too. We have among us avowed lovers of Christ, who act too much like “lovers of pleasure.”
It is a shameful thing for a professor of Christianity to be found in those music-halls, saloons, and places of revelry where you cannot go without your morals being polluted, for you can neither open your eyes nor your ears without knowing at once that you are in the purlieus of Satan.
I charge you by the living God, if you cannot keep good company, and avoid the circle of dissipation, do not profess to be followers of Christ, for He bids you come out from among them and be separate. If you can find pleasure in lewd society and lascivious songs, what right have you to mingle with the fellowship of saints or to join in the singing of psalms?
Keep the best company. Be much with those who are much with God. Let them be thy choicest companions who have made Christ their choicest companion; let Christ’s love be thy love. With whom shall believers be, but believers? Our English proverb says, “Birds of a feather flock together.” To see a saint and a sinner associating is to see the living and the dead keeping house together. It is better to be with Lazarus in rags, than with Dives in robes. Dwell where God dwells. Make those your companions on earth, who will be your companions in heaven.
An unholy Church! it is useless to the world, and of no esteem among men. It is an abomination, hell’s laughter, heaven’s abhorrence. The worst evils which have ever come upon the world have been brought upon her by an unholy Church. O Christian, the vows of the Lord are upon you. You are God’s priest: act as such. You are God’s king: reign over your lusts. You are God’s chosen: do not associate with Belial. Heaven is your portion: live like a heavenly spirit. So shall you prove that you have true faith in Jesus, for there cannot be faith in the heart unless there be holiness in the life:
“Lord, I desire to live as one
Who bears a blood-bought name;
As one who fears but grieving Thee,
And knows no other shame.”