Application of Bunyan: The Language of Canaan

December 17, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

What is your first language?  All of us have a language which we consider to be our “natural” language.  It is that language we understand most readily, speak most fluently.  It is the language in which we think, and when we dream, we dream in that language.

Did you know that there is a language in which we live, as well? 

Having concluded their conversation with Evangelist, Faithful and Christian came upon a town which was called Vanity.  In this town was a marketplace, then called a fair.  And so it was referred to as Vanity-Fair.  In order to continue on their journey, these two pilgrims were forced to travel through Vanity-Fair, for this is where their path took them.  In fact, this fair had been established five-thousand years before, by Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, for the sole purpose of ensnaring pilgrims such as these, and turning them from their way.  Here there were entertainments and trinkets of every kind, which, if the pilgrims were not careful, might turn one from a pilgrim into a Demas, who came to “love this present world”. 

As soon as Christian and Faithful entered the fair, it was evident to all that they were not residents of this town.  They did not dress as those who lived and traded there, and they did not care at all for the things which were bought and sold at the fair.  These pilgrims saw them for what they were: worthless trinkets which, in the end, would cost far more than any sane man would pay.

In addition to their clothing, there was another thing that set them apart.  It was their language.

“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.”

It is no coincidence that the word “conversation”, which we now define as speech between two or more individuals, did, in ages past, mean, “behavior”, or “manner of life”.  In Bunyan’s allegory, this is how he uses the figure of language.  He is describing not only actual speech, although there is often a noticeable difference in the way believer’s speak and the speech we hear from those who are of the world.  But as Bunyan uses this figure, he is describing one’s entire life, or that which used to be meant by “conversation”. 

We speak differently because we live differently because we think differently because we are different.  This is the very nature of the alien, the stranger, and the pilgrim.  We are different.  We do not speak the same language. We do not appreciate the same fashions.  We do not hold the same values. 

The world looks at us and wonders why we care about the things we do.  And we look at them and wonder how they can place such a high value on things that will turn to dust.  The world wonders why we care about what is right and wrong, and they accuse us of being self-righteous and judgmental.  We, on the other hand, look with amazement at their inability to perceive the great danger and inevitable consequence of their sin.

Do you feel as if others don’t understand you?  Perhaps it is because you are speaking the language of Canaan.  If so, rejoice.  You are speaking the most beautiful language the world has ever known.

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