Ready and Waiting
Till the Bridegroom comes there will always be some who have grace and some who have not grace in the visible Church. Some will have nothing but the name of Christian, others will have the reality; some will have the profession of religion, others will have the possession also. Some will be content to belong to the church, others will never be content to belong to the church, others will never be content unless they also belong to Christ. Some will be satisfied if they have only the baptism of water, others will never be satisfied unless they also feel within the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Some will stop short in the form of Christianity, others will never rest unless they have also the substance.
Brethren, the visible Church of Christ is made up of these two classes. There always have been such; there always will be such until the end. Borderers and undecided ones, whom man's eyes cannot make out, there must needs be. But gracious and graceless, wise and foolish, make up the whole Church of Christ. You are all written down in this parable yourselves. You are all either wise virgins or foolish virgins; you have all oil of grace, or you have none; you are all either members of Christ, or not; you are all either travelling towards heaven or towards hell.
See now how important it is that we ministers should divide our congregations in preaching to them. See how we ought to address you as an assembly in which some are converted and some unconverted, some are regenerate and some unregenerate, and some have grace and some have no grace at all. I know well that some do not like it; I know that some fancy that we should address you all as good Christian people. I for one will never do so, and I know not how any one can do it with the Bible in his hands.
There is a notion abroad that all have grace who have been baptized, and that all congregations of baptized people should be addressed as regenerate. I protest against such a notion as a dangerous contradiction of Scripture; I protest against it as calculated to confound the minds of people as to what real grace is. I protest against the idea of grace which nobody can see, of grace which a man may have in his heart and yet no one be aware of its existence. I know of no such grace in Scripture. Grace or no grace, oil or no oil, living or dead, having the Spirit or not having the Spirit, - these are the only distinctions that I can find. There are the old paths, and in them I advise you to walk. Beware of false prophets! From ministers who do not draw a broad line between having the lamp of profession and having the oil of grace, may the good Lord ever deliver you!
2. Learn, secondly, that the Church of Christ is always in danger of neglecting the doctrine of Christ's second personal advent.
I draw that truth from the solemn words "While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept." I am quite aware that men explain that verse in different ways. I stand here to call no man master. I am set for the proclamation of that which I believe in my conscience to be true, and I cannot be bound by the opinion of others.
I do not believe that the words "they all slumbered and slept" mean the death of all; though many thing so. To my mind such an interpretation involves a simple untruth. All the professing Church will not be dead when Christ comes. Paul says, "We which are alive remain (not 'all sleep') unto the coming of the Lord."
I do not believe that the words mean that all the professing Church got into a slumbering and sleeping state of soul, though many think so. Such a view appears to me to wipe away the distinction between believers and unbelievers far too much. Sleep is one of the emblems which the Spirit has chosen to signify unconversion. "Awake, thou that sleepest," etc.
I believe the words are to be explained with a special regard to the great event on which the whole parable chiefly runs - the second advent of Christ; and I believe that our Lord's meaning in this verse of the parable was simply this: that during the interval between His first and second advent the whole Church, both believers and unbelievers, would get into a dull and dim-sighted state of soul about the blessed doctrine of His own personal return.
And I say deliberately that, so far as my own judgment goes, there never was a saying of our Lord's more thoroughly verified by the event. I say that, of all doctrines of the gospel, the one in which we are most unlike the first Christians in our sense of its true value is the doctrine of Christ's second advent. In our view of man's corruption, of justification by faith, of our need of the sanctifying Spirit, upon these matters I believe we should find that English Christians were much of one mind with believes at Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, or Rome in olden times; but in our view of the second advent I believe we should find there was a mighty difference if we could but compare our experience. We should find that we fell woefully short of them in our estimate of its importance and realization of its nature. We should discover, in one word, that we slumber and sleep about it.
~J. C. Ryle~
(continued with # 13)