Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened to ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.…
This parable illustrates chiefly these three things: the meaning of our Lord's command to watch; its reason; and the means of fulfilling it.
I. IT SHOWS US THAT IT DOES NOT MEAN, BE ALWAYS ON THE WATCH, BUT, BE ALWAYS PREPARED. The fisherman's wife who spends her time on the pier head watching for the boats cannot be so well prepared to give her husband a comfortable reception as the woman who is busy about her household work, and only now and again turns a longing look seaward. Our life is to bear evidence that one of the things we take into account is the approach of our Lord.
II. IT ILLUSTRATES ALSO THE REASON OF THE COMMAND. NO one can tell when the second great interruption of the world's even course is to take place. It may be nearer than some expect; or it may be more distant. The virgins who neglected to carry oil were those who expected the bridegroom would soon appear. It is your baseless supposition that the Lord will not come quickly that betrays you into carelessness. If any one feels that this comes to no more than an appeal to fear, it can only be said in reply that the expectation of Christ's coming does not give rise only to fear, but also to hope; that it braces the Christian energies, and, in accordance with human nature, quickens the spiritual life. The expectation of Christ's coming becomes merged in the sense of his presence.
III. IT SHOWS US HOW WE ARE TO PREPARE FOR MEETING THE LORD. The lamps of the virgins were meant to add brilliancy to the scene. They were in keeping with it. Everything in us that heartily welcomes Christ's presence, and heartily rises to do him honour, everything that will seem a suitable accompaniment in the triumph of a holy Redeemer, is a preparation for Christ's coming. Passing, however, to some detail brought before us in the parable, we are at once brought race to face with the warning that all who may at one time show preparedness for Christ's presence do not in the end show the same. The folly of the foolish virgins consisted in this - that they lit their lamps, but made no provision for feeding them: the flame was to all appearance satisfactory, but the source of it was defective. They are a warning to all who are tempted to make conversion everything, edification nothing; who can remember the time when they had very serious thoughts and very solemn resolutions, but have made no earnest effort, and are making none, to maintain within themselves the life they once began. The wise are those who recognize that they must have within them that which shall enable them to endure to the end; not only impressions, right impulses, tender feelings, but ineradicable beliefs and principles which will at all times produce all right impulse and feeling, and bring us into contact with Christ and with things unseen. Another hint may be accepted from this part of the parable - that there must be regard paid both to the outward and inward life. On the one hand, if you do not renew your supply of grace, if you do not carefully see to the condition of your own spirit, your good works will soon become less frequent, less sincere, and less lovely, your flame will burn low. But on the other hand, if you tend only the life of your own soul, if you are not letting your light shine before and upon men, then you will soon find it impossible to receive oil, your internal life, the graces of your own spirit, will languish and stagnate. If you are to be prepared to meet your Lord, the vessel of oil is not enough without the burning lamp, nor the lamp merely lighted and with no supply of oil. This being the distinction between the wise and foolish virgins, that which brings it to light is that the bridegroom did not come while all the lamps were burning, and that during his delay they all slumbered and slept. This seems to mean no more than that all having made such preparation as they judged sufficient, calmly and securely waited the approach of the bridegroom. But the security which is excusable and the repose which is necessary in one condition is in another utter madness. It is one thing to turn away your attention from the Person and coming of Christ when you have made sure you are prepared to meet him, and altogether another thing to turn your attention to other things in mere thoughtless security. But we may learn from the slumber of the wise as well as from the rash sleep of the foolish. There is a kind of sleep in which the sense of hearing at least is on the alert, and takes note of the one sound it waits for. Whatever necessary occupation turns our direct attention from the approach of our Lord, there should still be an openness of sense in his direction, an inwrought though latent expectation of his coming, a consciousness which but a whisper will arouse. "At midnight the cry is heard, Behold the bridegroom cometh!" And now the difference between the really and apparently prepared is manifested. This sudden and appalling reversal of their hopes, this mingling at a marriage feast of exultant joy and the most melancholy and calamitous ruin, seems intended to fix in our minds an idea opposite to, and that should extirpate, the idle fancy that things somehow will come all right, that there is no real need of all this urgent warning and watching. Men cannot believe that out of a life that may be jested or trifled away consequences so lasting and so awful can possibly flow. You may defer all seriousness, all thought of God, all trying of your hope and security till the coming of your Lord, but further you cannot defer it, then it will be made manifest that this life has momentous issues. Then it is not an easy, lazy turning to one's neighbour for help that will do any good. Those who are ready pass in to the marriage, and "the door is shut." A new thing it is for that door to be shut. So long has it stood open, thrown wide back, that we forget there is a door that can shut that entrance. But the time comes when whosoever will shall not be saved, when it will be vain pointing men to the door, when whosoever is outside there remains. The great lesson our Lord himself draws from the parable is that since we know not the day nor the hour of his coming, our only safety is to watch through them all. And for those who have found in Christ salvation and life, the expectation of his speedy coming can only be grateful and stimulating. It is this which occupies the future; whenever you look in that direction it is the Person of Christ that meets the eye. He teaches us to look forward from the sorest day of our lives to that certain day when we shall meet and enjoy himself, and enter into that joy that is satisfying his ample nature. From the saddest, darkest night he bids us watch for that morning that shall more surely rise upon us than tomorrow's sun. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.