Ready and Waiting
This is one of the most solemn parables that the Lord Jesus ever spoke: partly because of the time at which it was spoken; partly because of the matter which it contains.
So to the time, it was but a few days before our Lord's death. It was spoken within view of Gethsemane and Calvary, the Cross and the grave.
As to the "matter", it stand as a beacon to the Church in all ages. It is a witness against carelessness and slothfulness, against apathy and indifference, and a witness of no uncertain sound. It cries to sinners, "Awake," and it cries to saints "Watch."
Now, I must necessarily pass over many points that might be spoken of in handling this parable. I have no time to follow out many trains of thought which it opens up. I stand here not to make a book, but to preach a single sermon; and, this being the case, I shall keep to those points which it most concerns you and me to know.
The marriage customs of the country where the parable was spoken call for a word of explanation. Marriages generally took place there in the evening. The bridegroom and his friends came in procession to the bride's house after nightfall. The young women who were the bride's friends were assembled at the bride's house to wait for them. As soon as the lamps or torches of the bridegroom's party were sen in the distance, thee young women lighted their lamps and went forth to meet him; then, having formed one united party, they all returned together to the bride's house. As soon as they entered it, the door was shut, and the marriage ceremony took place; and after that no one was admitted. All these were familiar things to those who heard the Lord Jesus, and it is right and proper that you should understand them.
The figures used in the parable also call for a word of explanation. I give you my own view of their meaning. I may be wrong: but you have a right to know what I think, and I will tell you shortly, but decidedly - I have no time to do more.
I believe the "time" spoken of in this parable means the time when Christ shall return in person to the world. The word "then" compared with the end of the twenty-fourth chapter appears to me to settle the question.
I believe the virgins carrying lamps represent professing Christians, the visible Church of Christ.
I believe the bridegroom represents the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
I take the wise virgins to be the the true believers, the converted part of the visible Church. I take the foolish to be the mere nominal Christians - the unconverted.
I take the oil, which some had and others had not, to be the grace of the Spirit, the unction of the Holy One.
I consider the midnight cry to mean the second coming or advent of Christ into the world.
I consider the going in to the marriage of the wise to mean the reward of the believers. I consider the shutting out of the foolish to mean the final exclusion from heaven of the unbelieving.
And now, without saying anything more of preface, let me go on to point out the great practical lessons which this parable is meant to teach.
1. Learn first that the visible Church of Christ will always be a mixed body till Christ comes again.
2. Learn secondly that this visible church is always in danger of neglecting the doctrine of Christ's second advent.
3, Learn thirdly that whenever Christ does come again, it will be a very sudden event]
4. Learn fourthly that Christ's second advent will make an immense change to all members of Christ's Church, both good and bad.
Let me try to set each of these truths before you.
a. Learn firstly that the Church of Christ will always be a mixed body till Christ comes again.
I can gather no other meaning from the beginning of the parable. I see wise and foolish virgins mingled in one company - virgins with oil and virgins with no oil all side by side. And I see this state of things going on till the very moment the bridegroom appears. I see all this, and I cannot avoid the conclusion that the visible Church will always be a mixed body till Jesus comes again. Its members will never be all unbelievers; Christ will always have His witnesses. its members will never be all believers; there will always be imperfection, hypocrisy, and false profession.
I frankly say that I can find no standing ground for the common notion that the Church will gradually advance towards perfection, and that it will become better and better, holier and holier up to the very end. I see no warrant of Scripture for believing that sin will gradually dwindle away in the earth, consume, melt and disappear by inches, like the last snowdrift in spring; nor yet for believing that holiness will gradually increase like the banyan tree, blossom, bloom, and fill the face of the world with fruit.
I have no doubt whatever that true gospel gospel religion admits of ebbs and flows in its progress, of spring tides and of neaps; and that, like the moon, Christ's bride is sometimes full and walking in brightness, and like the same moon is sometimes under an eclipse and scarcely seen at all. That there will always be a vast amount of evil in the world until the second advent, I am fully persuaded. Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. The tares and the wheat shall grow together till the harvest. I fully expect that the earth will one day be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, but I believe that day will be in an entirely new dispensation - will not be till after the Lord's return. Till the Bridegroom comes there will always be wise and foolish in the Church.
The wise are those who have that wisdom which the Holy Spirit alone can give. They know their sins, they know Christ, they know how to walk and please God, and they act upon their knowledge. They look on life as a season of preparation for eternity, not as an end but as a way, not as a harbor but a voyage, not as a home but a journey, not as full age but a school. Happy are those who know this!
The foolish are those who are without spiritual knowledge. They neither know God, nor Christ, nor their own hearts, nor sin, nor the world, nor heaven, nor hell, as they ought. There is no folly like soul-folly. To expect wages after no work, or prosperity after no pains, or learning after no diligent reading - all this is folly. But to expect heaven without faith in Christ, or the kingdom of God without being born again, or the crown without the Cross - all this is greater folly and yet more common.
~J. C. Ryle~
(continued with # 12)