Vol. IX — No. 49 December 8, 1968
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made. Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. 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. 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. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
In Christ Jesus, for whose coming we should always be prepared, Fellow Redeemed:
What was the final thought of the text just read? “Ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” The Lord has told us much about the last day of judgment. We studied it in our text last Sunday. But one important item He has not revealed—the day and the hour when He shall come again. In the chapter preceding our text our Lord speaks of the judgment that shall befall Jerusalem, which is a type of the final judgment. But again one item is left, undisclosed—the exact day and hour of the final judgment. “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” Matthew 24:36. All the hosts of the angels shall accompany the Lord when He comes for judgment, but they don’t know when that shall be. Even the Lord, according to His human nature, does not know the day or the hour. This is the most highly classified piece of information of all history. It is the Father’s secret. One thing we do know—that when that day shall come, it shall come unexpectedly as a thief in the night and suddenly so that each one shall be found as he is in that moment.
So it is! What is our Lord’s advice and counsel over against the suddenness and unexpectedness of His coming again for judgment? It is found in the concluding remark that our Lord added to the parable of the Ten Virgins: “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” “Watch, be on your guard, keep watching,” the Lord said. He said that not once, but He repeated it again and again in order to impress it upon the minds and hearts of His disciples. In His discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of all things He said, “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.” Matthew 24:42. And again: “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” Matthew 24:44.
But our Lord was not content with making these bare exhortations to watch, to be ready. He emphasized this warning by telling three parables, of which our text is the middle one. The first is intended especially for the ministers of the church, warning them to be faithful stewards over the Bread of Life and the Living Water of the Gospel that has been entrusted to them. The second and third parables are intended for all members of the church, the parable of our text dealing with spiritual life and the following parable, of The Talents dealing with spiritual gifts.
Our special concern this morning is with spiritual life, which is the point of the parable of The Ten Virgins. “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. Notice the number “ten,” the number of completeness. It symbolizes all the followers of Christ, from Adam down to the last one before the Bridegroom, our Lord Jesus, shall come. Of all these followers we are told that there is a basic difference among them: “And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.” This simple statement of our Lord should give us pause. It should cause us to stop and think. It should cause us to examine ourselves, for when our Lord says that there are five wise and five foolish virgins, he is asking us, all of us together and each one of us individually:
How are we to know? Our Lord tells us in the parable. The wise carried along with them a supply of oil for their lamps; the foolish took their lamps but no oil. This should be heard and read by us with the force of an exhortation:
CHECK YOUR OIL SUPPLY!
At the critical moment when the cry was made that the bridegroom was coming and all should go out to meet him, all ten virgins arose to make ready their lamps so that they could join the bridal procession and participate in the marriage festivities. All ten trimmed their lamps. But five had a problem. They lit the wicks of their lamps, but they wouldn’t burn because there was no fuel to feed them. They had the lamps, but they didn’t have the oil for their lamps. How stupid, how foolish could anyone be—to have a lamp and carry it about without taking along a supply of oil! For what is more useless than a lamp without oil?
Now let us shift from word pictures to the spiritual realities behind those pictures. What is the lamp? All ten virgins had their lamps. So this must mean something that all followers of our Lord Jesus have, and it is. The lamps are the appearance of discipleship, the appearance of a Christian life. The flame or the light that the lamp gives can be thought of as a living faith that works by love, that manifests itself by good works. The oil is the fuel that feeds the flame. It is the Gospel, the power of Christ in His Word that is brought to the individual by the working of the Holy Spirit. Now the five foolish virgins, had their lamps, but they had no oil and so their lamps could give forth no flame and no light. They had the appearance of Christianity, the form of Christianity, but that’s all they had, Jesus spoke of this kind of person already in the Sermon on the Mount, They will say on the last day, “Lord, Lord have we not prophesied in your name. Have we not done wonderful works in your name?” But the Lord will say, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity,” Matthew 7:22-23. St. Paul describes the foolish virgins who haven’t any oil for their lamps as people “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof,” II Timothy 3:5. Isaiah spoke of such people in his day, Jesus applied Isaiah’s words to the people of His times when He said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” Matthew 15:8.
There are many people who profess to be Christians, who may attend worship services and Sunday School regularly, who may contribute liberally to the church, who may hold positions of leadership and influence in the church—but who are “foolish virgins.” All of their activity is spiritual window-dressing. It’s all form without godliness, without spiritual life. Such people may say rather loudly that the church should “go by the Bible,” until the Lord in His Word tells them something they don’t like. Then it may become convenient to find another stage for their spiritual window-dressing, their spiritual parading—to find a church that will conveniently push the Word of God aside and agree that right is wrong and wrong is right. Now as you listen to this, don’t be thinking about other people. Each one of us has got enough to do to think about himself. Ask yourself: “Am I a foolish virgin?” “Do I go through the forms and pretenses of being a Christian without daily humble repentance and faith in my Lord?” “Am I a hearer, but not a doer of the Word?” “Do I want to dictate to the Lord, or am I always willing to sit and listen and be guided and instructed by Him?” Let each man examine himself, for there is nothing more foolish than carrying a lamp around without oil. There is nothing more stupid than trying to cover up unbelief with the pretense of Christianity.
This is an urgent matter. It brooks no delay, for—
“While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And. at midnight there was a cry made. Behold, the bridegroom Cometh; get ye out to meet him.” The Lord comes at midnight—when sleep is soundest. He shall come as a thief in the night. Life will be going on as usual, business as usual with sales advertised and buying and selling all over. Social life will continue with engagements announced and marriages reported. Then all of a sudden, without any previous warning, the Bridegroom shall come!
In that moment the question will not be: Do you have your name on the membership roll of some church? Do you occupy a seat during Sunday School and worship services? Are you an officer of the church? Do you support the church regularly and liberally? No, the question will be: Do you have oil for your lamps so that they will burn brightly? Are you truly connected with the Lord as the branch must be to the vine, if it is to remain alive and bear fruit? Do you live in daily repentance and faith? Do you come daily with the prayer, “Lord, have mercy upon me,” and leave with the comforting assurance that through the grace of Christ your sins are forgiven, that you are a child of God and a heir of eternal life. I keep on reminding the young people that they don’t have to become old before they die. An accident can cut any of us down at any moment. I keep on reminding the older people that they won’t live forever. That is why the most important thing in life is not PRETENDING to be a Christian, but BEING one! For who can know when the Bridegroom shall come?
The foolish virgins, the pretend-Christians, show their foolishness by trying to borrow oil from the wise. It’s a spiritual fact of life that—
“Then all those virgins—all ten of them—arose, and trimmed their lamps.” But the foolish couldn’t keep their wicks agoing. Why? Because they had no oil! “And the foolish said unto the wise. Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. 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.”
The point is simple and clear: No one can believe for another. We’re living in the age of the heart transplant, but spiritual life can never be transplanted. It can’t be borrowed from another or loaned or given to another. On the last day no one will be saved by pleadings “But Lord, my mother and my father were such strong believers. But Lord, my daughter sang in the choir and my son taught Sunday School for years and years.” Each one is responsible for himself. We can and we are urged to exhort and admonish one another—parents their children, some times children their parents, one member of a family another member, a friend his friend. But no one can transplant his spiritual life into the heart of another. Each one of us will be judged by the presence or the absence of a living faith in the Lord Jesus in his own heart.
Now a final truth:
The foolish virgins rushed off to get some oil, but while they were gone “the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.” The Lord patiently keeps the door of grace open for sinners. Aaron made himself guilty of idolatry, but the Lord kept the door open for him and welcomed him back. David made himself guilty of adultery and homicide, but the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to hold open the door of grace for him. Peter denied his Lord three times, but the Lord Himself appeared to him after His resurrection to assure him that the door was still open. But there comes the time when the door is closed. Sometimes this occurs already in this life. Our God is longsuffering and patient, but when men try to play games with Him, He may shut the door of His grace in their faces. This happened to Pharoah, to King Saul, to the sons of Eli. Let us always remember that these things were recorded for our warning.
“Afterward came also the other virgins, saying. Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said. Verily I say unto you, I know you not.” In the moment of death or in the moment when the Lord comes, the door is shut once and for all. Those who die in faith in the Lord Jesus are saved! For the rest there is no second chance—just eternal wailing and gnashing of teeth for ever and ever. “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.