The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.Chapter 85
Almighty God, in Jesus Christ our Saviour, who alone bore our sin. and carried them away, do thou now hear our praise and our prayer. There are no silent hearts in thine house, no mouth is closed in dumbness, we are inspired with a sense of thankfulness, for we have nothing that we have not received, and we are debtors all to the continual mercy of God. We stand in the mercy of Christ, we breathe the love of Christ; because Christ is our Head and Saviour and Lord, therefore do we appear in thy presence, the living to praise thee. We have no life of our own: we are not our own, we are bought with a price, we are the ransomed of the Lord, we have been delivered by the right hand of his power and the right hand of his grace. Because of the cross of Christ we are what we are, to it we owe our every hope, as from it we draw our only consolation. Root us and ground us in Christ's wisdom and Christ's love, may we be no more children tossed to and fro, but men in understanding, strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, wise with the wisdom which cometh down from above.
Deliver us from all false reasoning, from all excuses that are worthless, from every snare that is laid for our feet, and as for the temptations which form part of our daily culture, enable us to answer them every one with the wisdom and grace of Christ. Give us some understanding of ourselves, that we may be no longer fools, but wise, buying up the time, redeeming every opportunity, seizing and magnifying every opening thou dost give to us, into wider liberties and nobler services.
We would love thy word: we would, having found it, eat it, as men who are an hungered eat bread. To the end that we may understand thy word, grant us a continual baptism of the Holy Ghost. All things are plain to him that understandeth—do thou then light the lamp of our understanding, and explain to our soul, the mysteries for which there are no fit words. Rebuke us in gentleness, reproach us not in thine indignation, for who can stand against thee when thou dost awaken to controversy? Teach us by manifold experience, by gentle ministries, by incidents that convince the understanding, and show the heart the background and the outlook of things. With this wisdom we shall not err: so fortified, we cannot be overthrown. To the Strong for strength we flee—pity our weakness and grant us thy power.
Thou hast set us within a brief lifetime and called upon us to fulfil the obligations of stewardship. The time is so short, the enemy so strong, the temptations so many—there is but a step between time and eternity. Thou hast set things together in immediate and startling contrast; we sleep in one world and awake in another: we are close to the invisible state, the dead are not far away, the great Heaven kindly stoops down to us that we may overhear its sweet melody, and the great deep pit opens, that we may see how terrible is the penalty of sin. May we be wise men, faithful stewards, beneficent servants, so that whether thou dost come through the wedding feast or as a Lord having charge of his house, or as the Judge of the nations, we may be ready to meet thee. Blessed are they who have been at the cross, for they can meet thee at the judgment seat.
Comfort us according to the pain of our distress: let our tears plead with thee and let our infirmity be known in heaven as our strongest plea. Thou wilt not crush us, thou wilt not thunder upon us with thy great power, thou wilt of overcome us with the billows of the sea—thou wilt lead us by the brink of a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God. Amen.
1. Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps (torches), and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
2. And five of them were wise (prudent), and five were foolish.
3. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
4. But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
5. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
6. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh: go ye out to meet him.
7. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
8. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out (going out).
9. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
10. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
11. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
12. But he answered and said, Verily, I say unto you, I know you not.
13. Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
14. For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
15. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability: and straightway took his journey.
16. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded (wrought, or was busy) with the same, and made them other five talents.
17. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
18. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.
19. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
20. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
21. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler (the word ruler is not in the Greek) over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
22. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
23. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
24. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
25. And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
26. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
27. Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers (bankers), and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury (interest).
28. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
29. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
30. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
31. When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32. And before him shall be gathered all nations (all the Gentiles): and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33. And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father (who belong to my Father), inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35. For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36. Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me (cared for; from the same root as Episcopas): I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38. When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39. Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40. And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
41. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42. For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43. I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45. Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
The Parable of Judgment
In this chapter the parables of judgment come to their natural and vivid conclusion. The twenty-fifth chapter is the twenty-fourth chapter in a new form. The twenty-fourth chapter is hardly in the style of the New Testament: it might be taken from Ezekiel or Daniel so far as many of its figures and prophecies are concerned. Wars and rumours of wars, nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom, famines and pestilences and earthquakes—surely these are words which belong to the old prophets rather than to the gentle Prince of peace. Tribulation, darkening of the sun, the moon withholding her light, the stars falling from Heaven, the powers of the heavens shaken, and all the tribes of the earth mourning in unutterable distress, and the Son of man coming in the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory, the angels trumpeting from the sky, and gathering the elect from the four winds, from one end of Heaven to the other—this is more like the sonorous eloquence of the ancient prophets than the speech of him who did not lift up his voice nor cause it to be heard in the streets. But we have surely come to another tone in this Man's voice; he has grown intenser lately. He began softly, with healings and beatitudes and gentlest speeches, such as might fall upon waiting and distressful hearts with infinite consolation, but latterly he has been speaking much of judgment and of wrath to come and of the final Heavens. We have seen a meaning in all this. As he neared the cross, he seemed also to near the judgment seat.
In the twenty-fifth chapter we come back more to the earlier style. The great thunderstorm has darkened and passed away in infinite shocks and terrible apocalyptic visions and threatenings. Now see how blue the sky is right overhead, and how exquisitely dappled all the clouds that gather around the horizon, and hear how the birds sing, and dear, placid, radiant summer seems to be all round about our life. Yet quickly again clouds gloom the Heavens, and trumpetings are heard, but farther off, and even now the great judgment seat is planted, and the heathen are gathered from all Gentile lands to be sent upward or downward, according to their spirit.
The chapter is really but one subject. The parables are three, the subject is one. In all the three forms of this truth you find that Christ recognizes in human life only two classes. He has not changed his estimate of human society since he delivered his sermon on the mount. In concluding and applying that most marvellous of all speeches, he had but the two classes before him which he names in the first parable in this chapter—the wise and the foolish. Mark the consistency of his view. Though he has been speaking these many months and looking at society from a variety of standpoints, yet he has not changed the distribution of classes which he recognized in the very first of his great and elaborate discourses. When he concluded he said, "They that hear these sayings of mine and do them, shall be wise, and they that hear these sayings of mine and do them not, shall be foolish." And in this, one of his latest parables, he describes the ten virgins as being equally divided into precisely the same classes, ranged under the leadership of wisdom on the one hand, and folly on the other. And so in regard to these servants who had delivered unto them their Lord's goods, there were but two classes, the careful and the unprofitable, the slothful and the productive; and in the final parable, in which Gentile nations are called around his throne and separated into right hand and left hand classes, there is no third quantity, no shading off into this or that more striking colour.
This makes our own standard of criticism very clear. Where are we—wise or foolish, profitable or unprofitable, beneficent or selfish? The metaphysician cannot trouble us here, we are not now in the region of hard, difficult words, we are face to face with the great problem of real character. Let every man judge himself. And in the whole of this judgment you will observe a principle which we ourselves cannot but acknowledge to be right. There is no new principle of judgment introduced here, nothing that shocks our moral consciousness—the voice of the judge in every one of those cases is a voice which takes up and rounds into completeness the voice of every honest heart, the whole world over. You cannot construct Heaven out of doubtful materials. You may constitute an experimental society, an empirical attempt to do things in some other way than they have ever been done before; but a Heaven never can be built out of materials of uncertainty and doubtfulness, and that have about them all the unreliableness of unascertained qualities and forces.
As business men, gather yourselves around these parables, and tell me if you have not here the simplest and strongest justice. How would you do under the same circumstances? Take the instance of the unprofitable servant—to what was the reward in the case of those who had profited by their stewardship? It was given to industry, to faithfulness, to an honest attempt to make the best of life. If the men who had five talents and two talents respectively had said, "We have worked night and day over this business and it has come to nothing," their Heaven would have been just as sure as it was when they doubled the original dowry. If any man can say to Christ at the last, "I have done my best, I have bought up the opportunities, I have endeavoured, with an honest heart, to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling, and behold the upshot of it is that I seem to be weaker now than I was at first—Lord, what shall I do?" to such a speech Christ has but one answer.
Do not take undue encouragement from that suggestion, because the speech itself is founded upon an impossibility. No man can do his best in the gospel sense of the term, and under evangelical conditions, without his exertions ending in honourable issues. This is not a speculation, this is not a tossing of the dice, all of which may come down blank; this is not throwing seed upon barren ground that has in itself no force of germination or possibility of productiveness. In this region everything tells: the outputting of a hand may be a battle won, the purpose of an honest heart to make two grass blades grow where only one grew before, to lessen the sum total of human distress, to mitigate the burden which crushes human life, is itself an inspiration from God and the very beginning of Heaven. Do not, therefore, let us take too gloomy a view of the situation in which we are placed. This is a soil that must grow according to that which is put into it. In the morning sow thy seed, in the evening withhold not thine hand, and Heaven shall be the blessed and final issue of the effort.
And the unprofitable servant, was he not treated according to what we believe to be honest and sound principles? Is not this the very law of your family? Without it could society hold together in solid continuity and useful combination for one day? Jesus Christ showed the man how he might have done the best with his talent even in the event of his view being true. There is always an alternative from unproductiveness: it is not either productiveness along one line or non-productiveness along another. Jesus said to him in effect, "You could not work as those two other servants have worked independently individually, with high resoluteness of will and determination to make the best of things—you ought therefore to have worked in co-operation with other people. You could not go forth and work independently and alone, with heroic courage and indestructible chivalry, being all day long sustained by hopes the world could neither sec nor measure—you ought therefore to have joined some community of men, you ought to have been a partaker in some organized scheme of Christian benevolence. You could not go out and be a missionary in the far-away heathenism—you ought, therefore, to have given what I gave you to the church, to the collection made in the church, that so your money might have been turned to the highest advantage. That was the right thing: it might have been you were called to be a missionary, but seeing you could not do that, you ought to have put my money to the bankers, who were collecting the money, and making the best use of it. If you could not be a worker by yourself you could be part of a larger whole.
Christ will not have slothfulness nor unproductiveness. He will not have the benefits and conditions of heaven wasted and perverted. "Thou oughtest to have given my money to the bankers, to them who sat at the bancum or bench, and who took it and used it and returned the interest which they realized in the commercial use of it." So in the great church. Some men cannot lead it, some men cannot stand alone: they are weak when they are left to themselves—they ought therefore to join the community, to be part of a great confederation, to work together, if they have not the faculty of making an individual signature, and an individual mark in the world's progress.
And now we have in those three parables three different ways of stating the same truth. It is in forgetfulness of this fact that so many critics get wrong. Unless they see the same form of words, they cannot realise the fact that the very selfsame thing is meant. They say that Mark and John do not agree in their answer to a particular question of the most vital kind. I deny it. You say that you do not find in Matthew what you find in Luke with regard to certain high directions as to the culture of life and its destiny. I, for one, have not met with any contrariety of teaching upon any vital question with which the New Testament concerns itself. I have seen that in the teaching of Christ there is no searching of his understanding, he fainteth not, neither is weary, to him it is as breathing to speak new parables, and as but the utterance of a word to set the kingdom of Heaven in different angles, so that it may throw from its ever-varying face different light and colours. But a careful search into these three parables will show us that we have precisely the same principles expressed in three very different forms. Truth must be so expressed because of the variety of mental constitution with which it has to deal. One of the parables does not belong to you, but the other may. With the first two you may seem to have little or no concern, but in the last you find yourself enclosed as in a circle that cannot be broken. And contrariwise you seem to have no part in the one or in the other, but in the remaining one you find your judgment and your destiny. The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding-feast—hearts of a certain kind respond lo the very tone in which the feast is announced. They love hospitality and the music of welcome and the excitement of preparation and the outlook of high festival and continual delight. Others are of a sterner type of mind. The kingdom of heaven is a man travelling into a far country who called his own servants and delivered unto them his goods—there the particular mind which they represent is arrested, it would consider the course taken by the man and by the servants, it would enter with singular zest and real concern into the unwinding of the whole economy.
Others are of a still higher imagination, who can only be touched from remote distances and caught in vast schemes and propositions—here is something that will happen, when the Son of man shall come in his glory and all the holy angels with him—and when they gather to watch the issue of the event they are humbled and rebuked; the imagination which was aglow at the beginning is abased at the end, for they find that he is going to settle destiny, not upon high poetical and imaginative principles, but on the giving and withholding bread and water from the hungry and the thirsty.
Thus at every point he is Lord. Whatever the parable, he brings it to the same solid issue: he vexes and torments the very imagination which he inspires, and yet at the last he leads all minds into deep and complete rest. The Lord deals with men according to their peculiarities: one man is very rich, and he would enter into the kingdom of heaven, and he is told to unburden himself of all his worldly goods. And one standing by and overhearing the direction says that Jesus Christ did not tell that man he must be born again. Did he not? He put that speech into the only words that particular kind of man could understand. The world is not made up of philosophical Nicodemuses, who can understand metaphysical and occult expressions: he must change his language and his oratory according to the man who hears. To the young man he said, "Sell all and give to the poor." He could have understood no other speech. And the Christ who said to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven," did not say that to some other man who applied to him, to the lawyer, for example, who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life—no, because every man is answered according to his own peculiar constitution, temperament, education, circumstances, and yet the answer is one and the same, through and through, from beginning to end, and that can only be ascertained and realised not by argument and by the bandying of words that come into sharp collision one with another, but by deep spiritual experience. There are many roads to the same end, there are many ways winding up to the mountain top—let each man see that he is on the way he can travel best, and make the most of, and get along the quickest, and then at the top you will see men coming up from all sides of the mountain, and at the top forming themselves into one unanimous, harmonious, grateful assembly, with one song and one acclaim to him who made the mountain and all the ways which lead to its sunny and salubrious summit. Do let us understand that there is unity in variety and variety in unity, and that the simple light is most complex.
How does the gospel then present itself to your mind—as a wedding feast? Be ready for the Bridegroom when he comes. The only fact that you are entrusted with is the fact that he is coming: when he will come no man can foretell. And does the gospel strike some other of you as a stewardship, is life a great responsibility to you, is your daily question how to make the most of life? Here is a parable which exactly represents your style of thinking and your plan and purpose of activity. What think ye of this parable? The Lord searches into the conduct of his stewards, he wants to know what every man has been doing, he allows every man quietly to make his own speech, he does not read off the conduct of men as if he were reading a book; he simply allows every man to tell his own tale. "Which tale shall I tell?" should be every man's urgent and daily question. Am I working hard, am I endeavouring to double my talents, am I making a good use of my opportunities—or am I taking life upon a narrow and selfish basis, do 1 suppose that to do nothing and to know nothing will lead at last to some kind of intermediate heaven? That sophism is broken with the lightning of God: it cannot be tolerated in the sanctuary: the know-nothing, the do-nothing, and the be-nothing scheme of life can only end in outer darkness and in ineffable distress.
It is right that it should be so. Who could live in any spirit of honesty and hopefulness, if he knew that in the outcome of all things it would be the same whether he had slept all the time or worked all the time, whether he had been economical of all opportunities, and thrifty, or whether he had been selfish, negligent, slothful, doing nothing to make the world better and brighter than it was when he came into it? We are moved to some grand inspirations which we may not confess in theory. Every man has a theology by which his life is being moved, whether he can put that theology into a form of words or not. Analyse your conduct, that at the very base and core of it you may have certain grand moral or theological aspirations, without which you can neither have hope nor rest.
And is it so that at the last the Gentiles will be judged by the bread they have given and the water they have withheld? Observe, we read that the nations were gathered together before the Son of man. That expression is never used in the Holy Scriptures except with strict limitation to Gentile or heathen people—it is never used as including the whole human family. But let us take it that it is just as it stands here, and the evangelical argument remains unimpaired, untouched. The righteous did not know that they had been doing all this, therefore it was not done for the purpose of securing some happy end; the righteous had wholly forgotten the beneficent activities which were attributed to them, therefore they had not been mere legalists trying to obey the letter of a law, and endeavouring to set up, by penance or gift, some claim to the ultimate mercy and clemency of heaven. They had been simply breathing a spirit, embodying an aspiration, setting out in beautiful daily life that which was internal and vital and part of their very nature, and had become such by ministries we call divine and spiritual. The others had no such spirit, they did not take life other than as a daily task, a daily burden, something to be got through. If they had been told that by giving a certain portion of meat to the poor every day, they could have had one heaven, why nothing could have been easier to them, but that which appears to be so very easy, may sometimes be found lo be supremely difficult. The easiest things cannot be done with a slack hand: there is an ease which is the last passion in a very severe process. We know what this is in reading, writing, learning, business of all kinds, inquiry, navigation, poetry, eloquence—everywhere there is a facility which seems as if it cost the doer or the speaker nothing, whereas it expresses the last point of long and complete culture. Do not imagine, therefore, that life is a mere question of giving and taking, without thought, and without idea, and without purpose: you cannot be mechanically pious with any given issue, or with any hope of heaven. Piety is not a question of mechanics or arrangement, of doing this and not doing the other: piety is not a question of abstaining from this and partaking of the other—it is a spirit, a life, an invisible but supreme sovereignty of the soul, and he who enjoys the consciousness of that sovereignty does good and blushes to find it fame. He has no idea that all this is coming back to him in certain forms; if he had, he would be a mere speculator and investor, a trickster in good doing, and that is a contradiction in terms—our good doing must be our breathing, it must be the habit and spirit of our life, and to be this, it must originate in the cross, take its inspiration from the cross, return for recreating and renewal day by day to the cross; and doing so according to your nature and opportunity, you will find that all the parables speak the same thing, and that amid the infinite diversity of imaginative expression, there is the same central, substantial, eternal truth.
And then the end: the eternal life, the eternal punishment, I cannot describe either the one or the other: they are both away from me; but this I know and can say, that the reward of good being and good doing is infinite, but the penalty of wickedness, be it what it may, is beyond the power of human language to express. I leave these definitions to be revealed by the event. No earnest man can trifle with words for the sake of ascertaining how far he may do evil and escape punishment. Punishment for sin is eternal upon earth: no man can outlive his sin in time—for ten or twenty years it appears to be forgotten, you have entered into new circumstances, surrounded yourself with new conditions, and are beginning to be glad. But yesternight in walking out, you saw a face which you supposed to be dead, and instantly the brightness was taken out of your life-scene, and the rocks under your feet began to shake, and the sin stood up before you as young as ever with an eye undimmed, and pierced you as with lightning.
Sin carries eternal consequences with it. There is only one hope then for you. What is that? Forgiveness. Thank God for that sweet, great word. We may be forgiven. The little critic will still attempt to run after the consequences, and will busy himself with the details of the question, but God is ready to forgive, and then you stand up and say, with all your sins round about you, present to your memory, with the greater grace of God shining upon you, "I was a bad man, I did what I ought not to have done; I have confessed this to God, not in words only, but with all the emotion and passion of a penitent soul, and God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven me."
O that we may know the mystery and the joy of forgiveness as we have known the pain and the shame of guilt.