The Virgins: Wise or Foolish?
We have here, in a few graphic sentences, a parabolic history of this present period, and how it has been and is affected by the hope of the Lord’s return. This history is divided into four parts, viz.:
1. They went forth to meet the bridegroom.
2. They went in again to sleep.
3. They again go out to meet the bridegroom.
4. The bridegroom comes!
Three of these stages have been fulfilled, and have become actual history. The fourth is immediately before us—at our very door.
1. They Went Forth to Meet the Bridegroom
This gives us the first stage of the history. “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom” (v. 1).
The company is likened to ten virgins; that is it is set forth, not in its corporate aspects, but as a company of individuals. It is those who, after the Lord’s departure from this world, took up their individual responsibility in connection with His coming back again. Ten sets forth responsibility.
They were a wonderful company, whose affections had gone after their absent Lord, and whose hearts were set on His return,
They took their lamps—They were, and it was their business to be, the light in a dark scene. Christ had been the light of the world. He said “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). And again, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). This the world would not have; it was too bright and searching for it. They caught Him and cast Him out of the vineyard, and killed Him! But He has not left the world in darkness. He said to His disciples, “Ye are the light of the world.” And when He is gone, they become the only moral light there is. “We all, looking on the glory of the Lord with unveiled face, are transformed according to the same image from glory to glory, even as by [the] Lord [the] Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18, N.T.). Thus we become reflectors morally of the light that shines from His blessed face. As in the case of Stephen, whose face they beheld actually shining as the face of an angel, so it is written, “God. . . hath shined in our hearts for the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
While it is solemnly possible for one to take a lamp—that is, to profess to be a light in this world—this is the only source of true light. It comes from the face of Christ. All else is mere profession.
They went forth—They went out of something—out of the world that had murdered their Lord to meet Him on His return. Their earthly possessions were given up for new and heavenly possessions, which filled their souls to overflowing. The Holy Spirit came down from their glorified Lord to fill their hearts with heavenly things; and as they are thus filled, they can afford to sit lightly to all earthly things. So it was in the beginning.
This helped to bring out the distinction between this company and the world in those days, which was as sharp and well defined as that between white and black. Alas, now it is all grey!—all commingled! There was also holiness inside, Ananias and Sapphira are judged therefore for lying to the Holy Ghost, who dwells in the Assembly. This prevented those who loved it not from linking themselves where a lie was punishable with death.
On the other hand, “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (Acts 5:14). That which repels unbelief attracts faith. Persecution outside also prohibited any mere professional link with that wonderful company.
In all this we see how distinctly this company was marked off from the world in early days, and how truly they “went forth,” taking nothing but a light with them. Blessed men! But the object of their thus going forth was, to meet the bridegroom.
They go to meet Him as those who know Him. They do not go as the bride, but in their individual responsibility, and as those whose hearts have been weaned from the place where He whom they love was murdered, and have been filled with the glories of the place into which He has entered, and into which He is coming to take them also with Himself. It is into this they are ushered when He comes.
There are two sets of terms used as to the Lord’s coming. One set is calculated to strike terror into the hearts of His foes; as, “He shall come in flaming fire, taking vengeance;” the other, to draw out the hearts of those who love Him to Himself; as, “I will come and receive you to Myself.” Our scripture is of the latter class. They would not be afraid of the bridegroom. They earnestly look to see Him. It will be to them the close of their night’s sojourn. In the scene of their rejection—the moment of the rising of a Sun that shall never set upon them. This sets forth the first stage of the history of the present period. It gives the true attitude of those who took up the testimony where the Lord left it. But this state of things soon yielded to the vigilance of the enemy. Man, as ever, failing in his responsibility, the enemy succeeded first in creating division among them in heart, and then in introducing his children among them, so that their condition soon fell to what is described in verse 2, “Five of them were wise, and five were foolish,” Into this state they lapse, and at the end are found thus.
The difference between the wise and the foolish is that the foolish took their lamps, but “took no oil with them. The wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps” (vv. 3-4). The lamp sets forth profession; they who carry lamps profess to have light. Oil is what sustains light, and whenever oil is spoken of typically in Scripture it sets forth the Holy Spirit. He alone can sustain God’s people as a light here. Profession is not enough. This is the crucial test of the difference between the wise and the foolish: Have they the Holy Spirit, or have they not? “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” May we here ask our reader, “Are you a WISE virgin, or a FOOLISH one?—a professor merely, or a possessor?” All eternity, for you, hangs upon the true answer to the above question.
The second stage in this parabolic history is contained in the next verse: “While the bridegroom tarried, they ALL slumbered and slept” (v. 5).
2. THEY WENT IN AGAIN TO SLEEP
This state of things is described in Revelation 2:13 “I know where thou dwellest, where the throne of Satan [is]; . . . where Satan dwells” (N. T). The world, with its attractions and offers of a present rest, was too much for hearts in which the glories of heaven were growing dim through lack of faith and patience; and they yielded to the siren world, and are found here again within the sphere where Satan is god and prince, where also he makes his abode. Here, alas, they dwell together. Satan dwells there. They dwell there—at a place which offered escape from the exigencies and asperities, the pressure and distress of the night vigils, and into which, with disloyalty of heart to their Lord, the virgins turned.
That they did go back into the world to sleep is evident; for when the midnight cry was raised, they had again to “go forth” to meet Him. Indeed, there was no sleep for them elsewhere. Maintaining a position of separation from the world, they could know nothing but its hatred and persecution. The only hope of escape from this was to answer to its seductions and enchantments, and faithlessly yield to its embrace. And this, helped on by the foolish virgins, who, in that declining state, had found easy entrance among them, produced the condition described in these words: “While the bridegroom tarried, they ALL slumbered and slept.”
This answers to what transpired in Constantine’s days, by which time the so-called bishops—man-made—clamoured for the honours and emoluments of this world. Being made great men in the empire, they put their hands upon each other’s throats in shameless rivalry as to who should hold the highest places, albeit many of them were godly men and yielded their lives for the truth, as indicated by Antipas, God’s faithful witness, who was slain among them where Satan dwelleth.
The world then fawned upon the Church in order to be accredited by it; and the Church smiled upon the world in return for its favours. The world lifted up its hand from its low moral platform, and the Church falsely gave its hand to the enemy of her Lord from off its high spiritual platform, and common ground was taken upon which the murderers of the Lord and those who should have testified against them, could walk hand-in-hand together. This, no doubt, was an elevation for the world, but it was a lowering of both standard and crest for the saints, and this to the falsest of friends—their most murderous enemy! Meantime, while the Bridegroom tarried, His eye was upon them and His heart yearning over them still. His Spirit was still with them to sustain and comfort them! Their eyes and heart had, alas, ceased to be wholly occupied with Him; and while He who loved them tarried, they allowed that which had sprung from the heart of the wicked servant of the previous parable, “My Lord delayeth his coming,” to enter into their hearts. The effect of evil communications soon makes itself apparent, and a listlessness and sleep, as death, seizes upon them.
Oh, why did they not maintain their position? Why did they yield to the enemy? Ah, why? Alas for human hearts!
They did not maintain their position. They yielded to the enemy. They went back into the world from which they had come out, to go to sleep!
All, ALL alike, wise and foolish, they ALL slumbered and slept. Very little difference between them while all were thus asleep. Very little use to Him for whom they waited would sleeping virgins be, even though they had oil for sustaining light. A sleeping man is all as good as dead for any practical purpose.
Sleep! And all is lost. Sleep! And a wily enemy that never sleeps has gained his point, whatever it may be.
Sleep! Aye; and while men slept the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way, well satisfied with that day’s work (Matt. 13:25).
Sleep! And the hearts of true men give up hope even as the hearts of fools! All that should distinguish and characterize them is yielded, and Christ, the Coming One, has no more a testimony held for Him in the scene of His rejection. Light may shine from His blessed face, but it shines in vain for those who are asleep, even as for those who have no eye. The eye, given of God to discern, is thus practically put out.
By the same means wherewith he holds sinners from coming to Christ for salvation does the enemy hold saints from practically taking their place in expectancy of His return.
Here’s a good place in the empire for you, my lord bishop. Go to sleep! Go to sleep!
Here’s a gold mine for you who love the glitter of the perishing metal! Go to sleep! Go to sleep!
Here’s a general managership or inspectorship for you, Hushabye! Go to sleep! Go to sleep!
Here’s a farm (five yoke of oxen) for you; a good business (a piece of merchandize) for you; a wife for you. Hushabye! Hushabye! Go to sleep! And ALL slumbered and slept while the bridegroom tarried. And there, all alike are held in sleep as in death. With lamps indeed, but all untrimmed. With light, but hidden under a bed, or under a bushel. A lamp alone will do when all are asleep; no light is needed then. And so the foolish are as good as the wise, and the wise, alas, upon a common practical level with the foolish.
These were “dark ages” indeed—ages in which the light that was in them was darkness. The coming of the Lord is indeed found in the rubrics of those times, but it is relegated to “the end of the world”. He delays His coming! even then it is known only as the coming of a Judge, before whom all, even His own, must stand, to know there, and for the first time, whether they are His or not!
If any were true, they were lost amid the crowd, or persecuted for the truth’s sake, and Christendom, that vast professing thing, sailed on as if they were not.
History repeats itself, and that which is true of the company becomes true at various times of the individuals that form that company. Many a man has in later years gone brightly forth to meet the bridegroom, and by reason of the same tarrying has gone in again to go to sleep in that world from which he came out.
He who loves them, however, will arouse them. Awake! awake! He cries. Therefore,
3. THEY AGAIN GO OUT TO MEET HIM
God is not satisfied that He who is His Son should come and find a sleeping company, and so at midnight, when things are at their darkest, He sends forth the cry, “Behold the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet Him” (v. 6).
God woos again His people, as He will also Israel in a coming day. He says, “Awake, awake, stand up, O My people. Awake, awake, put on thy strength, put on thy beautiful garments! Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing, go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isa. 51:17; 52:1, 11).
Again, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee” (Isa. 6:1).
Wherefore He saith, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from among the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee” (Eph. 5:14, N.Tr.).
The Midnight Cry has thus in grace been raised in Christendom. In the 1830’s God sent forth His heralds in the power of the Spirit to shake a sleeping Christendom to its very centre with the astounding cry, Awake! awake! Behold, behold the Bridegroom! Go ye forth to meet Him! Some few saints were first awakened by this cry. Enquiry was raised, scriptures were opened up, proofs were forthcoming, and hundreds of preachers again heralded it, until at last there is scarcely a portion of Christendom where, with a greater or lesser degree of light and accuracy as to details, the coming of the Lord as a doctrine is not known.
So has our God in His mercy given another opportunity to that company in this stage of its history to prove its desire for, and faithfulness to, Him for whom they should wait. Infinite mercy of our God! A revival of truth in the midst of the years! “Happy the people that is in such a case, yea, happy the people whose God is the Lord.”
At the first this happiness was possessed by a few, who again went forth, taking nothing but a light. They trimmed their lamps, they sold their possessions, and laid aside their honours to announce again their coming absent Lord. In unison with the Spirit and the bride they called upon Him to come, and in view of His near approach took up the cry, Behold the Bridegroom! The ironical world looked on, chagrined at this renewal of divine and living power, and asked, How long will this new freak satisfy their hearts?
All those Virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. Trim a lamp that has oil in it and up shoots the light. But of what use is it to trim a lamp that has no oil in it? The more it is trimmed the more surely it will go out. While all slept all were alike. A spiritually dead man is as good as a live sleeping man for a moment. A mere lamp will do for this state of things. All are at ease and in quiet. But let all be aroused as God has aroused them according to His own purpose, and then the difference between the wise and foolish appears. The brightness of the light from the lamps of the wise shines out, and the failure on the part of the foolish becomes apparent even to themselves. So they turn to the wise, saying, “Give us of your oil, for our lamps are going out!”
This cry at midnight has certainly produced an awakening almost universal in Christendom. Wise and foolish are all awake and all at work. We hear very little, if at all now-a-days, of the old-fashioned card-playing and fox-hunting parsons. The dark days when all slept were more suitable to this kind of thing, and produced it. But when the thought of the Lord’s coming takes possession of hearts, and all are more or less alive to it, these things will not pass muster.
The cry has set in motion a huge wheel of work, as it were, which goes round and round, and groans out work! WORK!! WORK!!! The wise are really at work again for their Master now, and in His light down here while awaiting His return. The foolish are working to get that which they know they have not, and thus prepare themselves for His coming, whom they are consciously unready to meet. One set, therefore, is at work for the Lord as His, servants, the other for themselves. The one with some sense of their shame in having gone to sleep, and it may be with some of the effects still hampering them; the other, with a foolish idea that they can obtain by their own efforts and means what they lack.
“Give us of your oil; for our lamps are going out.” What a discovery for them to make! They seek the wise. Ah! they that are foolish know who are wise. In other words, the mere professors know who are real men. And though they may revile them and belittle them in the eyes of others, yet when real alarm lays hold of them they know who has what they need.
But the wise virgins can not give them of their oil. If this were possible, how many are there who would at this moment impart it to some one—how many a wife to her husband, or father or mother to their children. Only Christ can impart life and the Spirit, and it is with Him they must have to do. The advice of the wise virgins is “Go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.” They direct the foolish to the source whence this oil could be “bought,” in a Scriptural sense, that is, “without money and without price.” But the foolish go to “buy” by their own efforts, and this introduces us to the moral state which surrounds us at this moment. It is a day of activity; a day of Christian endeavour: with multitudes perhaps an endeavour to become Christians by that activity rather than through repentance.
Do not all the unchristian methods introduced into so-called Christian work tell of the influence of foolish virgins in their endeavour to buy the oil? Their bazaars and bruce auctions; their fancy and international fairs and sacred concerts, all tell of the desire to be accredited as those who are what they are conscious they are not.
But all this, though it may pass muster with some, cannot deceive Him who is coming as the Bridegroom, and, alas for them, as the Judge. All attempts to buy the oil thus come near to that which Peter so scathingly denounced, “Thy money perish with thee because thou hast thought that the gift of God can be purchased with money.” My reader, of which are you? The wise or the foolish? Which? The wise have eternal life. Their sins are forgiven—washed away by the blood of Jesus. The Spirit of Christ is in them, they work too, but their work is the “work of faith, and labour of love,” wrought in the “patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:3). They are ready for His coming.
4. “WHILE THEY WENT TO BUY THE BRIDEGROOM CAME”
We have reached the last stage, and some are not ready. Spite of all fair appearances, and all the works—Christian works, so-called—in which these foolish virgins are engaged, there is underneath it all a sense that the Lord is coming; that things can not go on as they are, and that they are not ready. All the bestowal of money, goods, time, has not really satisfied the heart. There never has been a real desire for the Lord Himself in the hearts of these foolish virgins. Their activity has been but a salve to an uneasy conscience. The Lord’s arrival brings everything to light, and makes manifest the essential difference between the wise and the foolish.
“They that were ready went in with Him to the marriage.”—Happy moment for the ready virgins! A bliss supreme, divine! To the heart that loves Him and is ready in the spirit of expectancy for Him, to be with Him is the chief, primary satisfaction. Blessed, indeed, to be found among that company who, with girded loins and burning lamps, shall hail the coming of the Lord for whom they have waited with joy. Not in vain will have been the sorrows of the night to them when they behold His blessed face. They come into His presence, to go no more out for ever.
“And the door was shut.” These are five of the most solemn words that were ever uttered. When in their fulfilment, the horrors contained in them flash into the consciences of those who are outside that closed door, one can conceive nothing more appalling, nothing so like hell upon earth. Mercy’s stream, as it now flows throughout Christendom, will be cut off from that channel for ever. The stream may flow into another channel, but no more toward a Christ-despising Christendom. Oh, the horrors of that moment when the truth forces itself upon the heart! When the doom pronounced by the Lord shall burst upon the soul, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still” (Rev. 22:11)! When friends and relatives whose company has comforted us are suddenly taken from us and we left behind bereft of all hope!
“Lord, Lord, open to us!” they cry. But His only answer from behind the closed door is, “Verily, I say unto you, I know you not,” In hopeless despair they must now turn away, the wail of the lost wringing from their hearts, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” (Jer. 8:20).
Reader, that hour is near. “Watch, therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh.”