THE TEN VIRGINS
That the parable of the wise and foolish virgins has been misunderstood, the following pages are designed to show. And the misunderstanding is traceable to several assumptions, which have been silently made by commentators. These assumptions, then, let us examine, before entering on the interpretation here given.
(a) The main assumption, nearly universal among writers on this parable, is that “Sincere Christians are the wise virgins, and hypocrites the foolish ones.” The wise virgins are those “who truly enjoy,” the foolish, “those who only profess the purity and holiness of His (Christ's) religion.”
I. From this assumption it immediately follows that the writers seek to make differences, where Christ has made agreement, in order to distinguish fundamentally the foolish from the wise. Now the Saviour has stated that they were alike in eight points, and that they differ in one only.
They agree in (1) being virgins ‑ (2) and going forth - (3) to meet the bridegroom ‑ (4) In taking their lamps – (5) In falling asleep ‑ (6) In sleeping till the cry ‑ (7) In rising at the cry ‑ (8) In trimming their lamps.
The one point of disagreement is that some carried no oil in another vessel for future supply: for oil in their lamps for present use they all had.
All these points of identity are sought to be depressed, or contradicted, in order that they may wear an unfavourable aspect towards the foolish virgins. But taken simply, and as the Saviour has stated the matter, the whole bears quite another appearance. All that is alleged against them is simple foolishness, or want of foresight of what was expedient towards the securing the desired admission to the wedding feast. The Saviour would manifest that all previous care and steps taken towards it were rendered vain by the omission of one. But no hint is dropped of their double‑dealing or wickedness. On the contrary they are alike in inward character, as to their persons: in external characteristics, as to their works, and in the principle whence they flowed. They were alike as to their voluntary position of separation, and its motive was the same in all.
2. But secondly, that they are not hypocrites, or formal professors, is clear from the character given them by the Saviour. They are “virgins” all. This is the character of the true Christian alone. “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” If virgins, then are they not “corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ:” 2 Cor. 11: 2, 3. They are pure, and purity is combined with the sister graces of “longsuffering,” kindness,” “the Holy Ghost,” “love unfeigned,” “the word of truth,” and “the armour of righteousness:” 2 Cor. 6: 6, 7. It is joined with things true, honest, just, lovely, and of good report: Phil. 4: 8. It is conjoined with the hope of Christ's appearing, and “he that hath this hope purifieth himself even as Christ is pure:” 1 John 3: 3.
3. If they were professors alone, or hypocrites, they would be described as adulteresses. “Ye adulterers, and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?” James 4: 4. The character given of them, by Him who cannot err, would have been that, they were, to His eyes, professed virgins indeed, but really harlots. Thus the Church of Rome, which professes itself the chaste spouse of Christ, is by Him who truly reads, and truly testifies of character before Himself, described as “the Great Whore.”
4. Lastly, you cannot wedge in a distinction where Christ has made none. If the virginity of the foolish be professed only, so is the virginity of the wise.
(b) It follows from the same assumption that the case of the foolish virgins, on awaking, is a desperate one. If they wanted true grace all through their lives, vain and fruitless must be all hope of attaining it then. But this does not appear so either to the wise virgins, or the foolish. Nor do the wise virgins reject as absurd and impossible the application made to themselves for oil.
(c) But there is one point more assumed, which, perhaps, one might say is the radical error, from which all, or nearly all, the others have flowed. This is, that the rejection by the bridegroom is damnation, and that the separation of the wise and foolish is eternal. Hence it was argued ‑ since none but the false and insincere will be shut out from eternal life, those so shut out must be hypocrites. And then follow the consequences just named, and others afterward to be noticed. But proof is not given, though so much depends on it. After this assumption, commentators perplex themselves to make out an adequate reason for the damnation of the foolish, and thus are driven to overstate the Lord's words, and to make distinctions where He has made agreements. From the same mistake it originates that they confound wisdom and folly with wickedness and holiness: and loss of privilege with a trust wilfully betrayed.
Again, if the awaking of the virgins be the resurrection, then the resurrection of the saved and of the lost occurs at the same time, contrary to the express declaration of Rev. 20. Or else, awaking must signify death, and the virgins' rising up must signify a sinner's lying down to die!
(d) Again, the
assumption that the foolish virgins are hypocrites has entirely diverted the
instruction of the parable from those truly concerned in it. For if the foolish
be hypocrites, then are the unbeliever and the formalist the characters to
whom it is addressed: and they who know themselves to
be sincere, pass by this most important lesson, as not bearing on themselves.
To show the falsehood then of the assumption, it is only necessary to observe
that it is a lesson of the Lord Jesus to His true disciples alone. If the foolish be unbelievers, the
lesson is to those that are not Christ's true disciples. But the prophecy on
II. On the question of their “taking their lamps and going forth,” misapprehension
again comes in. “They make a show of being ready.”
“All their care is to recommend themselves to their
neighbours . . . not to approve themselves to Christ. Tell them of things not
seen as yet, and you are as
III. The same current of misrepresentation sets in again with regard to the lamp (properly “torch”). “The lamp is the profession of enjoying the burning and shining light of the gospel of Christ.” In order that a lamp may be profession alone, it must be a lamp not lit. But these are lamps lighted. Nor have they lamps alone, they go forth with them: and this is practice corresponding with profession. Christians alone “shine as lights in the world.” “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord” And to maintain that the foolish are deficient in the necessary display of good works is to make our Lord's description preposterous: for He assigns as the characteristic note of folly the not taking the vessel of oil which lay unemployed, the lamp being (if I may so call it) the working vessel, up to the very time of their awaking. The fact is, commentators blame them as deficient with regard to the present; Christ, on the other hand, notes their folly only in regard to the future. The unused oil is the characteristic difference.
IV. We now come to the decisive question. What is the oil?
1. Is it grace? Is it faith, or love? Then it is internal grace exhibited in its legitimate effect, the light given. Then cannot the foolish be hypocrites, or formalists. And to all who believe in the perseverance of the saints the question is settled, that they cannot finally fall away, and be lost: and therefore their rejection at the close is not final damnation.
Here the inconsistency of the interpreters appears. “Grace is the oil.” Oil is “the grace and salvation of God, or that faith which works by love.” Then is it monstrous to affirm of the foolish virgins that “they have no principle within.” Then is it a dereliction of principle in a Calvinistic commentator, to speak of their falling away. And then, even in an Arminian expositor, it is a contradiction to affirm that the lamp was profession alone: for the lamp has oil, and the oil is grace.
2. But some, seeing this, have adopted an evasion which more directly contradicts the text. They assume that the foolish had no oil at all. “The wick that had blazed for a moment, was now burned down” “What a useless thing is a lamp without oil!” “All formal professors are like these foolish virgins . . . forgetting that the lamp without oil ‑ the outward appearance, without the inward grace, is useless.” Against this misrepresentation it is enough to state that the lamps of the foolish were burning for hours, yea till midnight, not only while they were awake, but while they slept: and that their lamps did not begin to fail any earlier than those of the wise virgins. And if there were no oil in the lamps of the foolish, so neither was there any in those of the wise: for all that is stated as a matter of difference in their cases is, that the wise had “oil in their vessels,” and not in their lamps only.
3. But lastly, would any affirm that the oil (though the principle within which sustains the light) is something “short of true grace”? then there is no evidence that the wise were true disciples. For they differ from the foolish only in having more oil. It is a question, not between those who have some oil and those who have none, but between those who have little, and those who have more. If then oil be a formal thing, a great deal of it is no better than a little. But if it be real internal grace, then a little of it is as secure of eternal life, as a great deal. It is either true grace in both, or false show in both. The parable turns, not on the quality of the oil as good or bad, but on its quantity as enough, or less than enough. Having considered these preliminary points, let us now pass to the interpretation of the parable.
1. “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins who took their torches and went forth for the purpose of meeting the bridegroom.”
As regards the question of interpretation throughout the prophetic parables, this principle is assumed (the very contrary to that which is so frequently met with in commentaries and expositions) that no part of them is trivial or useless, and merely intended for ornament. To maintain the reverse of this seems to me unbelief. It is a manifestation of the incapacity of the expounder, or of the fallacy of his exposition, but nothing more. It is a mistake of which even the maker of enigmas among men is not guilty. Would any one be satisfied with the explanation of an enigma that answered with more or less adaptation some of the conditions of a riddle, but left others unsatisfied; and explained them away, as meaning nothing, but mere ornament. Much less would it be accounted satisfactory if the explanation contradict some of the statements. But we are not left even to a clear analogy between the enigmas of God and those of men. Direct instruction of the Saviour affirms that “the Scripture cannot be broken,” and “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one little shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled:” Matt. 5:18. And if no jot of the law shall pass, how much less of the Gospel? But more directly still. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away:” Matt. 24: 35 ‑ a notice peculiarly applying to the discourse whence this parable is taken.
It is vain to say, as some do, that we are to take the general meaning of the parable alone, in order to obtain the lesson of it. For the general meaning can only be guessed at, till we have obtained the meaning of the symbols and action of the parable.
The first word of this passage is important, and calls for remark. “The” This admits of two interpretations, both, however nearly agreeing with each other. (1) We may understand it in general of “the time of the end,” or, according to the disciples' question, of Christ's “presence, and the end of the age,” as the Saviour says, in the former chapter, “Then shall the end come:” Matt. 24: 14. (2) Or we may understand it more strictly as parallel with the time described before. In days like those of Noah (Matt. 24: 37‑51), in the hour not thought of by the wicked servant, at the time when the watchful and unwatchful shall be suddenly separated – “then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened to ten virgins.”
A part of the parable is preparatory, or is supposed to be past before the scene occurs, to which our attention is particularly called. The first five verses are descriptive of the state of things in their principles, and accounting for the results which follow. The point of time to which the word “then” at the commencement refers, is, I judge, contained in the word – “were sleeping.” This states the condition in which they were found, and which will have its answering scene in the hour of the Saviour's coming. The effects which follow on the awaking are those to which the reader's eye is specially drawn as characteristic of that time.
But what is intended by the expression “Kingdom of heaven”? I consider the period intended by it the same with that contemplated by the parables of Matt. 13.; and that it answers in part to the time of mystery, and the present Church dispensation. The parable begins from the commencement of the expectation of the bridegroom’s return, and ends with the presence of the Lord Jesus in heaven, and His marriage supper on high. Thus the whole period, from the first setting forth of the return of the Lord Jesus as the hope of the believer, to the consummation of this hope in glory, is taken in. The same period, I judge, is intended in the parables of the king taking account of his servants (Matt. 18.); and the parable of the wedding garment (Matt. 22.).
virgins.” The number ten
is used, with reference to the previous “two:” Matt. 24: 40.
The ten represent the dead, the two the living disciples. Ten is the number of the lamps in the
We inquire next, who are the “virgins”?
Most reply, the church in general: the visible body of professing Christians. But then the proportion of the wise is far too large. Are the half of professing Christians wise?
And further, all these are found asleep when the Lord comes. But it is not so with the church in general. “We shall not all sleep.” And this holds, whether the sleep be supposed a spiritual deadness, or literal death.
That they are believers, the Saviour has furnished us with most evident proofs.
1. They are “virgins.” Therefore they are chaste and pure in the Lord’s sight: 2 Cor. 11: 2, 3.
2. They “take their torches.” And all those torches are lighted: verse 8. Then they are “the sons of God . . . in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom they shine as lights in the world:" Phil. 2: 15. And their light is that of good works. “Ye are the light of the world." "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works;” Matt. 5: 14 - 16. Unbelievers are darkness; believers only are “light in the Lord:” Eph 5: 8.
3. They “go forth.” Then are they children of faithful Abraham, leaving their homes and city through hope and faith: Heb. 11. Then are they the children of God, as it is written, “Wherefore come ye out from among them and be ye separate . . . and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty:” 2 Cor. 6: 17, I8.
4. They go forth, “to meet the bridegroom.” Then they believe in, and hope for, His appearing: 2 Tim. 4: 8. And to them belongs not only salvation, but the hope of reward.
5. In these four particulars we have given us the inward personal character, and the outward display, the act, the constantly maintained attitude, and the motive. And all are pure. Where is there room for hypocrisy or lip‑profession?
They have faith as
is manifested by their going forth. They have works, as is manifest by their
lighted torches. They believe with the heart, as is manifest by their going out
to meet the bridegroom. They confess Him before men by their torches. Their
salvation then is certain; for faith and confession make salvation sure:
6. If the sleep be death, then are they believers, for of none else (I believe) is it spoken in the New Testament. The proof that the sleep is death will be found in its place.
7. They all rise together; and the first resurrection is of believers alone: Rev. 20: 5, 6.
8. The parable was addressed to believers only.
They represent, I suppose, those in general who have fallen asleep in Christ, since the return of Jesus as the Bridegroom began to be preached, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost were dispensed. Hence the saints of the Old Testament are excluded from the meaning and lesson of the parable.
The reasons why the title “virgins” is given to believers in the present parable, are, I submit, two. First, the disciple's name is ruled by that which his Master takes. As then the Saviour Himself as the Bridegroom, the disciple takes the place of the attendant bridesmaid, or virgin‑companion of the bride. Secondly, because the parable is designed to represent to us the manner in which a valuable privilege was lost, through want of foresight; no relation was so fit to display this loss as the voluntary one of bridesmaid. This seemed to promise a place at the marriage‑feast, while, notwithstanding, the honour and pleasure were lost through improvidence.
The subjects of the
parable are female virgins, and as such are marked out as companions of the bride, abiding with her, as the 144,000
virgins of Rev. 14. are
the special companions of the bridegroom, attendant on him in his passage to and fro between the earthly and
Lastly, they arise at the Saviour’s first approach. Now this is the privilege of “those that are Christ’s:” 1 Cor. 15.
Who took their “torches”
“Torch” rather than “lamp”
is the true translation of the word. It is a light for out‑of‑door
use, while the lamp is fitted for indoor service: (Luke
12: 35) Torches or flambeaux are larger lights than those used for the
house, which last are more liable to be blown out by gust of wind and rain.
Torches were, and are still, in use in the East for nuptial processions. They
were vessels of iron or brass, funnel shaped, ending from a broad mouth in a
point, which point was inserted into a handle of wood that the oil might not
flow down to the hand, or the communicated heat be too great for the bearer to
endure, as would have been the case had the whole been of metal alone. In this
funnel‑shaped cavity rags were placed as the wick, and oil was poured to
maintain the light. We read of such instruments as these in Gideon's adventure
with the Midianites. They were used also by those who
came forth to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane, and the translation there is the same
as is given above – “Judas, having received a band of
men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns
and weapons:” John 18:3. The
same word occurs again in the account of the meeting of the disciples at
That the torches were lighted and intended to give light, needs not any proof. It is assumed throughout, and incidentally affirmed of the foolish, about whose torches alone could there be any doubt: verse 8. And the light answers to whatever of Christ's doctrines or practice is maintained by the believer: Eph. 5: 13. They have both the inward principle, and its appropriate outward manifestation. The burning and shining light is the proof of the oil within. And thus faith is shown by works: James 2: 18.
“And went forth for the purpose of Meeting the bridegwom.” Here is not only Christian profession, but answerable Christian practice. They not only believed the bridegroom's coming, but they went forth to meet him. This going forth implies the leaving of their own houses and their city. Thus they take the position required of the members of Christ. “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach. For we have here no continuing city, but we are seeking the one to come;” Heb. 13: 13, 14. The torches and their going forth made them distinct from the rest of the citizens; they are a body apart, both before and after their sleep. And both the torch and the act of going forth were a testimony to others and to themselves that they hoped for the bridegroom's appearing, and looked for a place in the procession, and at the feast. They go forth in the direction in which the bridegroom is expected, and wait for His appearing, which is the attitude of the true believer in Jesus alone. None but he expects, desires, and “loves His appearing.”
“The Bridegroom.” This is, of course, the Lord Jesus. “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom” (John 3: 29): as John the Baptist testifies, he himself being only the bridegroom's friend, rejoicing to hear the voice of the bridegroom. “I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife:” Rev. 21: 9. See also Matt. 9: 15; Mark 2: 19; Luke 5: 34.
The going forth of
the virgins to meet the Bridegroom is a mark of respect, love, and delight.
Thus the servants of the centurion came forth to meet and welcome their master
with the joyful tidings of the healing of his son: John
4: 51. Thus also the brethren at
It is worthy of observation that this mark of respect and love is said to be paid to the Bridegroom, and to Him alone. The bride is not even once mentioned, though, as the virgins are her female companions, we might have expected it. And, therefore, a few manuscripts add to the Saviour's declaration, and read – “They took their lamps, and went forth for the purpose of meeting the bridegroom and the bride.” But this bears marks of being unauthorized human addition, attempting to supply a supposed defect of the word of God.
Yet we are
permitted to know what is to be understood by the bride. It is not the church
universal: for the Saviour supposes it not yet gathered: and the present
chapter describes the manner of assembling it from the earth, and from the “gates of Hades,” when they shall no longer “prevail against it:” Matt.
16. But the bride is the New Jerusalem, the city of
For the parable describes the procession of the bridegroom and bride in company,
when the bridegroom brings home the bride from her father's house. The usual
interpretation supposes the contrary to this, namely, that the bridesmaids came
forth to meet the bridegroom, when he is proceeding to take her. But first,
this coming of the bridesmaids to meet the bridegroom alone is not Eastern; and
secondly, would not be accounted consistent either with their or our notions of
delicacy and propriety. The procession is to the house of the husband, as Jarchi, the
great Jewish commentator, testifies was usual. “It is
the custom in the land of Ishmael, to bring the bride from the house
of her father to that of her husband in the night time, and there were about ten
staves, upon the top of each
of which was a brazen dish, containing rags, oil, and pitch, and this being
kindled, formed blazing torches, which were carried before the bride.”
This is also the scriptural exhibition of the matter. “And
Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh, king of
Lastly, the structure of the parable shows that the procession is that of the bridegroom and bride to the house or hall of the former. For it is supposed throughout that his coming is a rapid and momentary passage, not admitting of delay, and not offering any opportunity of retrieving the loss if once the brief time be passed. But if the procession were the bridegroom's going to fetch the bride from her father's house, then we must suppose that the virgins meet him, accompany him back to the house of the bride's father, attend him during the ceremonies of receiving her, and that they then fall into his train as he retires with the bride from her father's house to his own. All this must produce considerable delay ‑ a condition of things quite opposed to the rapidity and directness of the movements indicated in the parable.
2. “And five of them were wise and five were foolish. 3. They that were foolish, took their torches and took no oil with themselves.* 4. But the wise took oil in their vessels with their torches.”
[* Thus translated, it is seen to be an error to suppose that the foolish had no oil in their torches . . . Something additional and distinct is implied by the present words: Matt. 12: 45 ; Mark 9: 8.]
In a due perception or not of the meaning of these verses lies the comprehension or misunderstanding of the whole of the parable. Commentators, almost without exception, confound foolishness with wickedness, and speak of the responsibility of the virgins. This leads to a train of thought utterly astray from the scope of the parable. The virgins are not described as entrusted with any thing on behalf of another, for which they were called on to render account. Then they would have been under responsibility, and either faithful or unfaithful, and so good or evil. But they are described as respectively wise and foolish. Now this shows them to be regarded by the Saviour in quite a different light from the former. Prudence consists in a care of our own interests, as faithfulness consists in watching over the interests of another. Wisdom (or more properly ‘prudence,’ (see Greek) is concerned in the provision for our own advantage in the future; while folly is displayed in a careless contentment in the present, and the disregard of the means necessary to secure a man's well‑being hereafter. Accordingly wisdom and folly are displayed by the different behaviour of persons under the same circumstances, in proportion as they act in a manner adapted to advance their own interests. This, therefore, is evidently distinguished from the case of the servant, who is not left to his own will, but is under orders, and is acting not for himself, but for his master's advantage, under a sense of account to be rendered in. Hence, in the parable of the talents, the accepted servant is addressed as “Good and faithful;” the rejected as “Wicked and slothful.” But the unjust steward, when he is regarded as acting with a view to advance his own interests, is praised for his prudence; for he thoughtfully regarded the calamities that would be likely to fall upon him in the future, and contrived to ward them off. This example shows us that prudence is by no means equivalent to holiness. Nay, the Saviour goes on to say, that the children of light are more deficient in prudence for eternal glory, than the children of this world are for the present scene. And believers are sometimes addressed as being foolish, or are cautioned against it – “Therefore be ye not foolish;” Eph. 5: 17. “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die:” 1 Cor. 15: 36. “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you? Are ye so foolish? " Gal. 3: 1, 3.
Thus then it is with the virgins before us. They are all the children of light, but some are deficient in foresight, and the provident securing of their own advantage. And the advantage to be secured in the present instance, is the possession of a place at the wedding feast of the Lord Jesus. Now, in proportion to the value of the privilege ought to be their zeal and forethought, to assure themselves of it, and to guard against any possibility by which the desired object might be snatched from their grasp. But this prudence was possessed by but half of the number. Five only were wise, and five foolish.
These five were foolish, because so much pains were spent on attaining the end, and yet in vain, for want of forethought for the future. Vain the going forth, the preparation and lighting of the lamp, its first supply, and the watching for the bridegroom. All the other steps were useless, for want of the second supply.
They are wise or foolish in the Saviour's eyes from the very first, and He stamps their character, before He proceeds to display it. The not taking the vessel of oil is the one step of folly which draws on the disastrous result, and this Jesus sets forth as the single point which characterizes them as wise or foolish to His eye. But the foolish do not see their error till the close. Nor are its consequences manifested till then; although all the succeeding parts of the parable are intended to exhibit the results of the error. But during the time of delay, the improvidence does not appear, for the bridegroom's tarrying is the time of mystery in which we now live. But at the coming of the bridegroom, a new state of things ensues, and the wisdom of the wise is apparent, and their foresight is crowned. But the bridegroom rejects the foolish, that their folly may appear. A very little prudence would have sufficed to attain the desired end. They might have been prepared against all mischances, by the simple provision of a little extra oil. The foolish virgins were indeed prepared, if the bridegroom came at the usual time; but the wise alone were prepared, whether his coming were early or late. Under no circumstances of delay could the prize escape their hold. Their torches could be made to burn till morn. But the foolish virgins left a loophole, through which loss might enter; and at that neglected and unguarded entrance, it did come in. Their want of vigilance herein was either ignorance, not discerning the need, and not advertised of it; or, reasoning folly, not receiving the warning when given. Their thought, and their plea, if asked - Why they had not provided an oil vessel in case of need? would have been, doubtless, that it was not essential, not absolutely necessary. They had enough for the present; why should they imagine that anything more was required? The bridegroom might come very early for anything they could tell; and then, where would be the wisdom of troubling themselves with an additional burthen?
Since the whole force of the lesson of the parable depends on the meaning we attach to the second supply of oil, I shall consider the point at some length.
First, I suppose it will be granted, that by oil is meant the grace of the Holy Ghost. And this is twofold; either sanctifying or miraculous.
1. If then I show that the second supply is not sanctifying grace, it will follow that it is miraculous endowment, or “the gift by grace.”
(a) That it is not any difference in degree of sanctification which is in question, is clear from this ‑ that then the parable would supply us with no rule by which to discern between wise and foolish. For if you tell me only, that the difference lies in degree of sanctification, if you do not point out the degree, I must either be terrified or secure. Terrified, if I think I have not the degree requisite, while none can satisfy me what the degree required is; or secure, that I have some grace, and why may not that be enough to set me among the wise?
(b) It cannot be any degree of sanctification, for this oil gives no light to the world. It is unemployed in good works, which is the meaning of the light of the torch.
(c) As being a distinct supply, it follows that the oil in the torch might be without that in the vessel, or vice versa. But it is not true that any degree of the grace of sanctification can be distinct from its display in good works. There cannot be two supplies of it, independent the one of the other. But miraculous gift is distinct from, and may be independent of, grace: Matt. 7.
Three other proofs, arising from (1) the request of the foolish, (2) the answer of the wise, and (3) the means of repairing the error, will be found in another part.
2. The further relations of the two supplies prove it. The oil in the torch is essential now, the oil in the vessel is not essential now. Such is also the relative difference between the present necessity of sanctifying grace, and of miraculous gift.
3. The second supply is additional, something beside that of the torch: and such is the place which the gifts of the Holy Ghost take, as compared with His graces.
4. The second store agrees with miraculous gift in point of order. It is in succession after it. First the torch, then the vessel of oil. So of gift it is written – “In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise;” Eph. 1: 13.
5. If they be all believers, the difference must be one which is not essential to salvation. And among things not essential to salvation, what so great as the difference between the possession, or the want of, the gifts of the Holy Ghost?
6. It is met and sustained by fact. Between the believers of modern times and the ancient Church, there is, in this particular, just the difference supposed: the one possessing, the other wanting, the gifts of the Spirit.
7. A consideration of the order, in which the wise and foolish appear, beautifully confirms this. We have the “wise” presented first, then the “foolish:” verse 2. Then again the “foolish,” and lastly the “wise:” verse 3. Thus the wise come first and last; the foolish occupy the intermediate space. And has it not been exactly thus with the Spirit's gifts? They were possessed at first, and then ceased; and the whole dreary interval of 1600 years has been taken up by believers destitute of them. We might conclude, therefore, that as gifted believers began the series, and ungifted ones have followed, so in the last days gifted believers will rise again, and close the train. But we can show by Scripture, independently of inference, that such will be the case. Acts 2: 17, 18; Mark 13:11; Luke 21: 14, 15; Rev. 16: 6; 18: 24; 2 Tim. 3: 8; Jas. 5: 7.
8. On the taking it or not, the greatest stress is laid throughout the parable. On purpose to set it in the strongest light possible, the wise and foolish agree together in every particular but this. And the difference is optional; for in things within our power alone, can wisdom or folly be seen. So are the gifts of the Spirit made to rest upon our asking for them or not. Luke 11: 13; 1 Cor. 14: 1. In the asking for, and receiving these, therefore, that vigilance may consist, which is the lesson drawn from the parable by our Lord.
9. They are the “powers of the coming age;” Heb. 6: 5. And answerably thereto, this oil is seen to come into play, when the new age has begun.
10. They that sleep with the oil vessel, awake with it. And even thus the “gifts” of God are unrepented of: Rom. 11: 29.
11. Further, as both are described as oil, so
are the same terms used of each kind of grace. In both cases these powers of
the Holy Ghost are said to “fill” the
individual. “The God of hope fill you with all joy
and peace in believing, that
ye may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost:” Rom. 15: 13. The same expression is usual of the
miraculous gifts. “
2. Both are said to be “taken” or “received.” “They who receive abundance of grace (sanctifying), and of the gift of righteousness (the miraculous gifts attached to justification by faith: Gal. 3.) shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ:” Rom. 5: 17. “The grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many:” verse 15.
3. Both are called “grace.” No proof is required of this use of the word, concerning the sanctifying powers of the Holy Ghost; but of its being used of the miraculous gifts take these as examples – “Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God, given unto me by the effectual working of His power:” Eph. 3: 7. “Unto every one of us was given grace, according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men:” (Greek) Eph. 4: 7, 8.
12. But more pointedly yet, it can be shown
that the wisdom or lot of the believer is made to turn on or surrendering the
privilege of the gifts of the Holy Ghost. “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not
as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are
evil. Therefore be ye not unwise, but
understanding what the will of the Lord is.
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit,
speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual (or ‘inspired’) songs, singing, and making melody in your heart unto the Lord:” Eph. 5: 15-19. And still more remarkably the third
chapter of Galatians is nothing less than a reproof of the Galatians for their
folly in going back to the Law, and undervaluing thereby the miraculous gifts,
and works of power, which (as the apostle argues) are essentially connected
with justification by faith. It was with an eye to this difference, as
involving wisdom or folly, that Paul asks of the
13. The additional oil was the riches of the wise virgins, ‑ the want of it the poverty of the foolish, at the coming of the bridegroom. Now this is just the place seen to be occupied by the Spirit's gifts, in connexion with the coming of the Lord Jesus. “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in everything ye are enriched by Him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you (or ‘among you’), so that ye lack no gift, waiting for the revelation (marg.) of our Lord Jesus Christ; who also shall confirm you to the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ: " 1 Cor. 1: 4 ‑ 8. In the possession of the gifts then lies the wisdom and riches, and blamelessness of the wise virgins at the coming of Christ. But they who have them not, at His appearing are found lacking.
Exhortations to seek and to pray for the Spirit's gifts occur not unfrequently, in token that the additional oil is not vain. “Covet earnestly the best gifts:” 1 Cor. 12: 31. “Desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy:” 14:1. “As ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may abound to the edifying of the church verse 12. “Covet to prophesy:” verse 39.
The reception of the Spirit's gifts is an optional thing, not absolutely essential, but promised to those that ask. The power of procuring it is supposed open to all alike. Hence it answers to the voluntary taking or omitting to take the second supply of oil in the vessel. The Spirit's gifts are not essential to life, or to the Christian's maintaining a witness for God in the present state of things while the kingdom is a mystery. But it is the mistake of the foolish to imagine that, because not essential at present, they will be equally needless in the future, at the manifestation of the Lord Jesus. So widely, however, has this error crept in, that the Saviour describes one‑half of His believing People, as made foolish by it!
The want of expectation of the bridegroom's return, and the want of the additional oil, have gone together, as all Christian history will inform us. But the parable manifests that even the expectation of the coming of the Lord Jesus may revive, and yet that there may be no consciousness of the need of extraordinary oil, and no petition for it.
Watchfulness is a duty which, as Christ declares, applies to all. How this should apply to those who fall asleep before Christ's coming is not apparent. But this lesson supplies the deficiency. If any say ‑ 'Let those watch in whose life the signs predicted are actually coming to pass, but we shall be dead ere then, and therefore the question of preparation does not touch us’ ‑ the parable enables us to answer that there is a preparation required of those that shall be then the dead in Christ, no less than of those that shall be alive at His coming. Preparation for death is not necessarily a preparation for the Lord's coming. Sleep overtook all alike, and all appeared alike while asleep, and the Bridegroom's coming found all equally in the same condition of slumber. But at the awaking came the difference. And then the extra supply of oil, neglected as unnecessary before, is found indispensable. We see therefore, that, even as regards those that are fallen asleep in Christ Jesus, a state of things will come into play at the resurrection, which will discriminate between those who lived in vigilant preparation for the Lord's coming, and those that did not; and that it is a mere deceit of a foolish heart to compose ourselves to rest because Christ will not come in our day.
By the vessel into which the additional oil was put, we are to understand, I judge, the body. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification . . . that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour.” Here the body is not only a vessel, but the vessel in possession of the man – “his vessel.” “Oil in their vessels.” Again it is said, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us:” (2 Cor. 4:7) where, in relation to the power of the Holy Ghost miraculously displayed by His ministry, they are called “earthern vessels.” And Paul is said to be a “vessel of election,” who was to be “filled with the Holy Ghost:” Acts 9: 15, 17; so Rom. 9: 21 – 23. The torch is, I believe, external witness to others; the oil in the vessel a personal possession and testimony to themselves.
5. “Now while the Bridegroom tarried they all became drowsy, and were sleeping:” (See Greek)
What is intended by the Bridegroom's tarrying, is easy to apprehend. The Saviour more than once dropped intimations that His absence would be prolonged. He was a nobleman going into a “far country for a long time:” Luke 20: 9; 19: 12. “After a long lime the Lord of those servants cometh:” Matt. 25: 19.
The cause of the delay is not specified, and accordingly the reasons of the Saviour's tarrying are unknown to us. The seasons and their reasons are known only to God. And the time of this delay answers to the time of mystery, during which the plans of God are greatly hidden.
This tarrying is the critical point of the whole on the part of the Bridegroom; just as the additional supply is the critical point of the parable on the part of the virgins.
Had He come earlier, He might have found all awake, and the extra supply of the wise would have seemed needless, nor would there have been any difference of result to the wise and the foolish, and the wisdom of the wise would not have been displayed, nor the disasterous consequences of want of prudence seen. But the Bridegroom’s tarrying gives occasion to the sleep, which hinders the remedy of the error: and to the continued consumption of the oil, which makes necessary the fresh supply of the wise upon their common awaking. It is the delay of the Bridegroom, giving occasion to the sleep of all, which makes the difference between this case and that considered by the Saviour before. Had the virgins been awake at the Bridegroom’s coming, the case would have been that of the living saints, and thus it would have been only the very same aspect of the Saviour’s coming which He had elsewhere considered.
But we must now investigate a very important question as to the nature of the sleep, and give proofs of its true signification. There are two ideas respecting it – (1) One, it is a blameable carelessness with regard to the Lord’s coming, and a shrinking into spiritual sloth and worldliness. (2) The other, that it is intended to represent the death of the virgins. Now, that it is not a blameworthy sleep is evident from these considerations.
1. The sleep is seemingly apologized for, by the mention of the Bridegroom's delay immediately preceding, and assigned in a certain sense, as its cause. For the case of the virgins must be ever kept distinct from that of servants under responsibility, and charged to watch. To sleep while on guard is faithlessness worthy of punishment in a servant; and hence the Saviour warns the servants against being found sleeping. But where sleep overtakes one desirous of obtaining a pleasure, privilege, or honour, which he is watching for, we at once ascribe it, not to want of will to resist, but to want of power; and we consider the sleeping involuntary. The effect of the Bridegroom's delay is here simply practical, not a moral one, like that of the evil servant, who, finding his master's coming delayed, begins to beat his fellow‑servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken.
2. To suppose the sleep a falling away to carelessness, worldliness, and disregard of the Lord's coming, would be to argue utter defectibility of grace given, for the sleep is continued up to the Saviour's coming; and yet, in spite of this, we have the highest privilege and joy awarded to those that have so carelessly slept! This would be giving licence to sin, if the sleep were evil.
3. If blameworthy, the parable would have been made to turn on it, and the Master's finding some awake, and others asleep, would have been the natural ground of difference between the wise and the foolish.
4. It affects all equally. The foolish and the wise together sleep, and together wake. But if the sleep were sin, either all the wise would not sleep together with all the foolish, or all the foolish would not wake at once with all the wise.
5. The sleep is not that of intemperance, nor that of worldly care, for they fall asleep in the position of waiting and separation which they held at first; their torches are still burning, and they themselves still undefiled.
6. Were it an error, then the parable would not (as it does) set forth the result of one single error committed at the first, and traced out to its legitimate consequences, but a new mistake is introduced, and the first lesson is lost, or obscured. But the sleep comes in, not as a fresh error, but as a circumstance which fixes a period to the opportunity of remedying the original mistake.
7. The wise sleep no less than the foolish, and yet retain their character of “wise;” verse 8. Therefore, since the sleep does not affect their character for wisdom, it was not an unwise sleep.
8. The sleep is not blamed, and the foolish, even when rejected, are not reproved for it. Therefore it is not criminal. It corresponds therefore most exactly to the blameless sleep of death. Against this, wisdom and folly are equally powerless: however willing the spirit may be, the flesh is weak; they were not suffered to continue by reason of DEATH: Heb. 7: 23. This is that sleep which cannot be resisted, but which happens (as Solomon tells us) with like event both to the wise and the fool: Eccles. 2: 14.
9. Again ‑ If the oil signify grace, then is not the sleep sinful, especially in the wise. For worldliness and careless indifference to Christ's coming are incompatible with the abundance of grace which the wise possess.
10. And if the sleep be death, then are all the virgins believers; for to none but such is death a sleep.
The Bridegroom's coming is not death, for death affects but one at a time, this all at once.
Further ‑ It is the consequence of their sleep that they do not notice the consumption of the oil, and consequently do not attempt to replenish the torch. Hence the only time of repairing the error is before the sleep begins. After that time, there is no possibility of remedy. For the sleep continues till the resurrection; and between the resurrection and the entrance into the glory of the feast, there is no time. However long the interval of sleep, it is incapable of being applied to remedy the imprudence, because of the inaction of sleep. The time of mystery, as we should expect on this supposition, runs on indefinitely longer than their life. But as it regards the virgins, it is occupied by but one condition ‑ the state of inactivity or sleep. And it is unbroken till the Bridegroom comes. Till then not one of the sleepers arises. The old age ends to them in sleep. The new begins by awaking.
Of the two words that describe the sleep, the one notices the falling of the eyelids and the nodding of the head, which characterizes the passing from wakefulness to sleep, and the other describes the state of those asleep, after that of wakefulness has been abandoned. Thus they correspond respectively to the act of dying, and to the state into which death introduces the soul.
Of the frequent places in which the death of the believer is called sleep, a few instances will suffice. “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word he established.” “Many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city and appeared unto many:” Matt. 28: 52, 53. “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth.” “Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead:” John 11: 11, 14. “After that he appeared unto five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain unto this Present, but some are fallen asleep:” 1 Cor. 15: 6. Here the very case in question, the constant lapse of time, is cited as the reason why those who had once beheld Jesus had fallen asleep. And in the case of Lazarus, we see the tarrying of Jesus to be the occasion of his falling asleep; while, afterwards, at His voice he arises, and feasts with Jesus.
Further, this interpretation presents the Church in the two great and real divisions in which the Scripture contemplates it at the coming of Christ. The whole Church will then be composed either of those “who are alive and remain,” or of those who are “fallen asleep in Christ.” And the passage which exhibits the Church in this aspect, also teaches us why the sleep of the virgins, which seems the greatest obstacle in the way of their attendance at the feast, will not he found to be so. “I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (get the start of) those which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:” 1 Thess. 4: 13 ‑ 16. And again, “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we shall live together with Him:” 1 Thess. 5: 9, 10. The parable before us then respects the great body of the Church who shall be found amongst the dead at Christ's appearing; while in the former chapter the Saviour had addressed himself in giving signs, which could apply only to the living. But here, “they all slumbered and slept.”
Accordingly, while the sleep begins at an indefinite time and at different instants for each of the virgins, yet the sleep is not shaken off by any till the coming of the Bridegroom. In the interval of suspense nothing occurs but the dropping off to sleep of one and another of the virgins, answering to the present successive decease of the saints of Christ, owing to the time of His return being prolonged.
We may further remark, that, as the period embraced by this parable extends for at least the space of 1800 years, from the time when the Saviour's return began to be expected, up to the present hour ‑ if the sleep be supposed to be spiritual sloth, then the virgins must be regarded as corporate bodies, or churches, for such only could continue from that period till Christ's return. And on the other hand, if the virgins be individuals, then the sleep is death; for this alone accounts for the condition in which they are found during the Bridegroom's delay. But it has been already proved that the sleep is death, therefore the virgins are justly regarded as representatives of individuals.
6. “But at midnight a cry took place, Behold, the Bridegroom is coming, come ye forth to meet Him.”
Midnight is the midway point between one day and another. The virgins awake into a new day answering to the new or “coming age”. And though it be midnight to earth, yet to the saints it is the hour of the bridal feast. For this festal hour of the new age now begun on high, the “powers of the coming age,” must be highly appropriate, not to say necessary. If earth itself, when the hour of Christ's coming hath dawned, will be filled with the Spirit's gifts, how can it be fitting that the sons of heaven be destitute of them?
It being proved that the sleep is death, we are prepared readily to answer to the question – What is intended by the cry, and its accompanying words of exhortation and command? It is doubtless the “shout” with which the Lord descends when the dead in Christ arise. And the words which follow appear to be those of the Bridegroom’s angelic attendants and forerunners. They take the place of the servants sent at supper time to call those that are bidden – “Come, for all things are now ready.”
The notice thus given before the Saviour appears, and the interval which succeeds, prove that this is not the coming of Jesus to the living: for that is a thief-like approach, with no notice beforehand to hearald His appearing. It is a sudden flash of lightning breaking without previous warning from the darkness of the light.
The expression – “The Bridegroom is coming,” represents him as still on his way. He has set forth, but is not yet arrived at the hall of the feast. This marks the time at which the dead awake. The interval between this commenced approach and its ceasing at a distance from the earth (when it is called his presence) gives the time that elapses between the rising of the saintly dead and their being caught up (in conjunction with the living saints) to meet him. That it is very brief, the parable shows. The Bridegroom’s setting out takes place while all are asleep. But his coming is after all are awake.
“Come ye forth to meet him.” The virgins first going forth was not enough. Here they are required to come forth again. And the explanation of the sleep above given, clears up the point. Their first going forth was a voluntry separation from the world. But this second coming forth is from the tombs. The same word is used in Scripture to express both these ideas. “There met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs:” Matt. 8: 28. “The hour is coming in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth, they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation:” John 5: 28, 29. “He cried with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come forth.' And he that was dead came forth:‑“ John 11: 43, 44. Thus we have the very command of the parable addressed to Lazarus at his resurrection, “Lazarus, come forth!”
They came forth for the purpose of meeting him. And the place of meeting is the air: 1 Thess. 4: 17. The meeting supposes that the Bridegroom is moving towards the earth, and that they are to move away from it. The first going forth denotes the sanctification of the spirit; the second, the redemption of the body. The first act is voluntary; the second requires an awaking from without.
7. “Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their torches.”
Such as the sleep is, such is the awaking, and as the awaking so the sleep. If the sleep be death, the awaking is the resurrection. And if the awaking at the Bridegroom's coming be the resurrection, then is the sleep death.
used is that constantly applied to the resurrection, “Young man, I say unto
thee, arise:” Luke 7: 14. “Maid, arise:” 8: 54. “After I am risen again,
I will go before you into
That the arising is not, as some have imagined, any present awakening among the saints to the importance of Christ's second coming is seen from these considerations. 1. The awaking takes place by a cry external to the virgins themselves. But this awakening of believers has been owing to warnings among themselves. 2. When they awake there is not time for the unready virgins to repair heir mistake: which is not the case with us. 3. There is no universality in the sleeping or awaking, as in the parable. There all sleep and all awake together. But now on the subject of the Lord's advent, some believers are awake and some asleep.
The virgins all arise at once. This proves them all believers: for none but the saints rise at the first resurrection. “The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.” And their resurrection creates no stir in the city, nor does the Bridegroom's train enter it. Those who are outside are awakened by the sound, but none within the city. They rise in the same place in which they fell asleep: for the resurrection is not the ascent of the saints.
On arising, their first care is to trim their lamps. A part of the wick is consumed to ashes and makes the flame to burn dimly. They all, therefore, remove this impediment to the brightness of the torch, and the act reveals to them the state of the supply of oil. The wise, therefore, complete what is further necessary to the trimming of the torch, by adding the requisite oil.
The first supply was just failing, having lasted for the same time in all. Now, therefore the necessity of the second supply began to appear. The wise are able to meet that necessity. They pour in fresh oil, and the torch is rekindled as brightly as before.
8. “And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” (margin.)
With the resurrection a new state of things begins. Then the difference between those that seemed equally ready before begins to be perceived. We could draw no argument against the necessity of the spiritual gifts for the coming day of glory, from the fact that God's saints have fallen asleep happily, without perceiving their need of them. There was no difference perceivable between the two companies in their falling asleep, nor in their continuing so.
But when the foolish see the wise recruiting with fresh oil the decaying flame of their torches, they become sensible of a preparedness which they have not themselves. All need the fresh supply on awaking, but the wise alone can meet the exigency. The old burns on till midnight, the end of the former day: but a new stock is needed for the new day that is begun. Then it is painfully felt by the foolish that the extra supply is not as they vainly imagined, needless. They refused it before as not essential; but now the “foolishness of God” in providing the second supply is seen to be wiser than man's wisdom in declining it. It seemed an unnecessary burthen, for the gifts of the Holy Ghost must, in an evil world, peculiarly provoke the enmity and perhaps the ridicule of men.
But now they find their want of foresight. They see at length that enough oil for the present is not enough for the futre. They that it was folly to imagine that what is not essential now may not be so at Christ’s coming. They discern that it is folly to rest content with the present, and not to provide for the new state of things to ensue on the coming of Jesus and the resurrection. In the day of the bridal they find themselves unfit for the especial glory. The Spirit’s powers were witness of the age to come before it came, but in the age that is now come they find their especial sphere, and beauty, and brightness. The want of the glory possessed by the wise will then be keenly felt. To the content with more than is absolutely indispensible for the present, while it was thought wisdom for the time, is now discovered to be folly. The issue of the whole manifests that while the extra supply is not essential to the character of a virgin, it is essential to the virgin’s entrance into the wedding-feast. The only oil used in the marriage procession is the additional supply. The gifts of the Holy Ghost are “first fruits” now (Rom. 8: 23), but then they will be poured out “on all flesh”.
The wise were prepared before they slept; and their wisdom shines brightly now. Whether the Bridegroom came early or late they were ready: and their torches now show it. But the torches of the foolish throwe a dying light. They are not gone out indeed, for then oil alone would not suffice to make them ready, and they would not need a wick, and would rather have asked for a light than for oil. But the parable supposes all to wake in circumstances exactly alike, as before they slept under the same circumstances; in order that the difference of character as wise and folish might be the more openly demonstrated.
9. “But the wise answered, saying (Not so*), Lest there be not enough for us and for you; but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.”
[* The words “Not so” are added by the translators to supply a seeming ellipsis. They might be translated sufficiently closely to our idiom – “Perhaps there would bot be enough for us and you.”]
It has been thought by some that this reply of the wise was intended as a keen cutting rebuke of irony. A strange supposition! Even from a believer to an unbeliever this were unkind, but between believers impossible. Those who could taunt the unwise with their folly, when grace alone made them to differ, would not be fit to enter at once into the wedding‑feast of love! But in truth there is not a particle of the style of irony about it. And had the words of the wise been those of derision, the counsel offered would not have been taken by those to whom it was given; since indeed it were no counsel, but a bitter jest.
Its purport is very observable, as corroborating the interpretation given. For their answer to the address of the foolish is not that their request is impossible to be complied with. This would, this must have been the reply had the question been concerning the power of the believer to communicate saving grace to unbelievers. They do not deny the possibility of granting their petition, but they gently represent it as inexpedient: that is, they indirectly admit the power of granting it. And this answers to the fact that one believer is able to transmit the gifts of the Holy Ghost to another. Nay, the laying on of an apostle's hands was actually the ordinary way of communicating them: Acts 8: 17; 9: 17; 19: 6. And this difference answers to the difference of the oil in the torch, and the oil in the vessel. The oil in the torch could not be communicated, as being already imbibed by the wick: but the oil in the vessel was in a state to be transferred at the discretion of the possessor.
The plea of the foolish is their own necessity. The counter plea of the prudent is that they need the oil for themselves. Had the thing been impossible, this, as the most effectual answer, would have been returned; as we see in the dialogue between Abraham and his evil son. “Send Lazarus,” is the request. “They that would pass from hence to you cannot,” is the reply.
Nor do either of the parties esteem the omission on the part of the foolish to be irreparable. The wise do not reply, as they would have done to the unbelieving (were it permitted us to suppose that the wicked would rise at the same time with the just) – ‘Your case is desperate. It is the day of resurrection. Your hour of grace is gone by for ever. Do you not see how foolish your request is? Not only have we no more grace than we ourselves require in order to be saved, but were we disposed to grant you any, as imagining ourselves to have more than enough, it were impossible.' Instead of this, they suppose that oil was still procurable. The remedy against the omission of the foolish, as it was open at the first, so they assume it to be even at last. They take it for granted that in the city which they had left, there were shops at which oil was disposed of. And this falls in with what has been shown above, that the Spirit's gifts will be abroad on earth in the latter days. At this point the usual interpretations fail. The words of the wise are – “Go ye rather to them that sell.” It is not said, “To him that sells,” as it must have been, had saving grace been the matter in question: for who can communicate this but God? But the power of communicating the gifts of the Holy Ghost was committed at first (and therefore we may conclude that it will be so at last also) to more than one. The selling doubtless, is that kind of sale of which the prophet speaks ‑ “Buy wine and milk without money and without price:” Isa. 55:1. And we know one who was reproved with awful solemnity for supposing that the gift of God could be purchased by money.
The sellers are those who keep more than sufficient for their own supply, and whose office it is to impart, on certain terms, to others. Such were the apostles; to whom was imparted the power of bestowing gifts on believers of the first age.
The prudent here prudently refuse, because the supply, though enough for one, might not be enough for two.
10. “But while they were going away to buy, the bridegroom came, and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast and the door was shut.”
The error of the foolish is not irreparable in its nature, but the parable is intended to show that it is not repaired in result. It was a question of time, but time was not afforded. The remedy came too late.
The foolish see the justice of the refusal of the wise, and perceive also that their advice is the only alternative that presents itself under the circumstances. Their going to obtain a supply is necessary, and is felt to be so; but the very means adopted to retrieve the error only display it more manifestly. They are compelled to withdraw from the scene, and to sever themselves from the company of the wise. But this departure, though necessary, carries with it exclusion. They are not upon the spot when the Bridegroom arrives, and the procession cannot tarry. The voluntary separation, therefore, is the first step to an involuntary one. The refusal of oil by the virgins is the prelude to a refusal of a place at the feast by the Bridegroom.
On purpose to manifest the wisdom of the wise, and by contrast, their improvidence, as soon as they have withdrawn, the Bridegroom comes. In what follows, speed is set forth – ‘The Bridegroom came – those ready went in – the door was shut.’
By the going in to the wedding-feast is, I believe, meant the catching up of the saints, that they may enter into the gates of the New Jerusalem – the bridal city, the wife of the Lamb.
The feast is on high, for this is the place of the sons of God raised from the dead. And the parable of the Great Supper informs us that none of those to whom the wedding-feast was first proclaimed should taste of it; Luke 14: 24. And hence its scene is not earth, but heaven; not the living in the flesh, but the saints of incorruptible bodies.
This rapture of the saints takes place at the thief-like coming of the Son of Man. It is a sudden momentary glance, like the lightning opening heaven for a moment with its flash, and suddenly shutting it again. It is “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” The open door answers to the glory suddenly shining forth: the closed door, to the darkness settling on all things again.
The door that is opened and shut is that of the house of God in heaven. “In my Father's house are many mansions:” John 14: 2. “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building from God an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.” This gives us, however, not so much the general place of assembly of the saints, as our own special locality in the city. But what follows casts light, as I suppose, upon the parable. “If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked:” 2 Cor. 5: 1 ‑ 3. For the foolish virgins are in the condition of those who have not watched and kept their garments. Hence the thief‑like presence of the Lord is come upon them unawares; though they are clothed with their immortal bodies, because they are risen again. Yet are they “found naked;” because in the hour in which one is taken up and another is left behind, they remain upon the earth. Thus “they walk naked, and men see their shame.” The torches were the proof that they were desirous of entering the wedding, and seemed to have almost the certainty of doing so; but they are now memorials of their disgrace. The house has been broken into because not guarded, and the master has to mourn over his loss, with the melancholy reflection that it was owing to his own want of vigilance, and not to want of warning.
Of this part of the parable we have a beautiful illustration in the book of Revelation. As soon as the Saviour has finished giving to John the counsels and warnings to the church; as soon as He has threatened His thief‑like coming, and has made promise with the obedient to sup with him (chap. 3), we read, “After this I saw and behold a door was opened in heaven.” He is called up by a voice like a trumpet, a token of that which is to awake the dead, and the voice says, “Come up hither.” And the result to himself was, that he was there “immediately in the spirit," as these will be there in the body also.
“The door was shut.”
1. The use of a door is to shut out those without from sight and hearing. It is the means recommended by the Saviour, when we would be hidden from men, and in communion with God: Matt. 6: 6. And even thus the glory of the bridal feast is shut out from man. It is a magnificent assembly, of which the sleeping world is ignorant. The shut door hides the brightness from their eyes, and prevents the melody from reaching their ears.
2. It marks the determination of the owner to sever between the guests and those without. It is the signal of full and free communication among those that are within, and the cutting off of communication and communion with those without. It is an effectual barrier interposed against entrance from without, as it intimates also the full acceptance of those within (Luke 11: 7), and is the token that the feast is begun. Heaven has before been shut from men, as it regarded the outpouring of its earthly treasures of rain. But this shutting up is for the prevention of those without from entering into its glories.
If we inquire by whom it is shut, we shall find it is by the Bridegroom. “A door was opened to me of the Lord:” 2 Cor. 2: 12. “I have set before thee an open door, and none can shut it:” Rev. 3: 8. As the master of the house, it depends on His will to admit or to exclude: Luke 13:: 25.
11. “Now afterwards came also the other virgins, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open unto us.' 12. But He answered and said, Verily, I say unto you, I know you not."
Whether they were successful in their errand is not stated. But if they have obtained at length the needed supply, it has come too late. The opportunity has slipped by. The once open door is shut. It is not clear whether they are caught up into heaven afterwards, or whether they are supposed to return to the same spot at which they left the wise, and on finding them departed, perceive the loss they have sustained. The others “entered in” (see Greek). They “come” (see Greek).
They try their last and forlorn hope by making a personal appeal to the Bridegroom for admittance – “Lord, Lord, open unto us.” But their suit is refused. It is refused in terms so strong, as to make many suppose that it implies the eternal perdition of those so addressed. But a nearer examination of the words will show us that this is not intended. Indeed, in some most important points it stands in contrast to those cases which seem to resemble it.
First, then, it is uttered by the Bridegroom to brides-maidens; and it implies, 'I as bridegroom do not recognize you as guests and companions of the bride at the feast.' But the characters of Bridegroom and of brides-maidens are temporary characters. Hence while they have lost that peculiar and temporary privilege represented by the title of virgins, they may yet be received after the feast is over. And in accordance with this, the words, “I know you not,” stand in contrast to those which are addressed to the wicked – “I never knew you.” The address to the foolish implies only – ‘During the present period of the feast, my countenance will not be upon you for joy.’ But it does not add the fearful declaration, that, 'You are none of my chosen ones; your names are not in the book of life at all.’
The exclusion is punishment enough ‑ the loss of privilege consequent upon the neglect of the call to vigilant preparation is its own sufficient recompense. They have done much with a view to the desired end, yet for want of forecast have come short of it. This loss is enough of itself. There is the being ashamed before Christ at His coming; and shame is the proper recompense of folly. Punishment is not awarded to folly by a judge. The damage it brings to a man's own interests is considered sufficient. None is injured but the man's own self.
A bridegroom is not judge of brides-maidens. Therefore, there is not, as in the other cases, the sentence of the judge, "Depart from me." It is now only – ‘While I am feasting, you cannot enter, but must wait without. I have the key of David ‑ I shut and none opens. I open and none shuts.’ Nor is a word added as to their character. They are not addressed as “workers of iniquity," for then they would be more than foolish, but now they are the unwise ones among the children of light, reaping the sad wages of their imprudence. Nor is there any word of the “outer darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” as in the cases of utter exclusion. For that is the sentence on faithlessness and wickedness, and want of the wedding garment: Matt. 8: 12; 13: 42, 50; 22: 13; 24: 51; Luke 13: 28. This silence, then, of the Saviour, on these points, in the present instance, is a true silence: it gives us to understand that the loss of privilege is all.
The entrance to the marriage feast of the Lamb is set forth as a peculiar blessedness: Rev. 19: 9. It is not a necessary thing, short of which is perdition. It is a glory bright but brief, before the Lord Jesus is manifested from the open heavens: Rev. 19: 11. It is not intended for all the subjects of the kingdom, but for the household. The feast may be lost, and yet the loser be the partaker in the kingdom which is revealed. And he who misses it, does so by an error answering to want of punctuality; as when a passenger, having paid his fare by a vessel, and sent on board his goods, arrives after the time required, and loses both his money and his passage. The vexation and damage sustained are, in such cases, rebuke enough. Here is a “suffering loss," a diminishing of the “full reward:” 1 Cor. 3: 15; 2 John 8.
13. “Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of man cometh.”
This is the great lesson of the parable applied to the disciples, and enforced by the result of the preceding history. The wise were vigilant that they might not lose the great object of their desire as brides-maidens, and therefore, being ignorant at what time the bridegroom might come, they prepared themselves for the latest hour, and the most unfavourable case, that the expected pleasure might not escape them. Not only were their lamps furnished with what was indispensable for present consumption, but they had an eye to future need, and provided themselves with a second supply. The foolish were ready if the Bridegroom had come early; but if He came late, their present supply of oil might not be enough. And this possibility, against which they neglected to secure themselves, as the wise had done, proved the inlet to the disastrous result to themselves. But it was wholly traceable to their own improvidence that they were excluded from the feast.
The lesson is the same to us. Do you take, like the wise virgins, the second supply of oil. Go seek, without money, and yet with fervent, importunate prayers, the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Buy before you fall asleep in Jesus, for if you have them not ere then, it will be too late. Be ready, not for the present alone, but provide for the future of Christ's appearing. And as you know not the day nor the hour of it, nor whether He shall find you asleep or awake, prepare for either. The day of His coming will make a separation between the wise and the foolish. The Spirit's gifts are not indeed necessary for the present, but the parable shows that for an admission into the guest‑chamber of the wedding, they are. Is this indeed the lesson of the parable? How important then that we should “covet earnestly the best gifts!” Let me beg the believer to search the Scriptures and see whether these things are not so.