By J.R. Miller
The three parables in this chapter teach great lessons. They are based on the promise of Christ's return. He is surely coming again, but when--no one can know. But we should live always so as to be ready for His most sudden coming any moment.
The ten virgins were alike in some ways. An onlooker in the early evening could not have told which were the wise, and which the foolish. Each had her lamp. In any Christian congregation the members may all seem alike true friends of Christ, as they sit in their pews in common worship or at the Lord's Table. The testing comes in other ways.
All the virgins slept while the bridegroom tarried. There was nothing wrong in this. We all have to sleep some time. We should be sure that we are safe against any surprise while we are asleep, that no duty has been omitted before we slept, which is essential to a complete life. The wise virgins were ready for the coming of the wedding party at any hour, however long the delay might be. We are not required to wake and watch every moment for the coming of Christ; we are to be ready for the event so that we cannot be surprised. For example, we are not to think every moment of death--but we are so to live always that whenever death may come, however suddenly, it will not find us unprepared. "Not what death finds us doing--but how death finds us furnished, is the important question."
The lamps of the foolish virgins did not hold much oil and would soon burn out, and these maidens had no oil in reserve to refill their lamps when they became empty. This was their folly. The difference in the other virgins, was that besides having their lamps filled, they had oil in reserve with which they could quickly refill them when they had burned out.
This is plain enough as regards these virgins. Applied to human lives, the teaching is also clear. The wise Christian is the one who is not content with a mere profession or with external marks of godliness. These may seem to be satisfactory in the easy days when there is no stress but in the hour of trial, they will not stand the test. The essential thing is the grace of God in the heart, or real union with Christ. This is represented in the parable by the supply of oil by which the wise virgins were made ready for the need which the midnight brought. If we have only the little lamp of our own life, we may get along while there is not great stress--but in the hour of trial, we shall fail. But if we have Christ with His Divine fullness--we can draw from Him for any sorrow, struggle or hard duty.
Midnight came and brought great commotion. The virgins were all sleeping, waiting until they should be summoned out to meet the bridegroom. Life is full of emergencies which come so suddenly that there is not time to prepare for them. If we are not ready at the moment of need we cannot become ready. Now it was that the watchfulness of all the virgins was tested. The delay had been so long, that all the lamps were burning low. Now appeared the wisdom of the five who had oil in reserve. Their lamps were quickly filled, and they were ready to go with the bridegroom. Now was brought out also the folly of the other virgins. Their lamps were going out, and they had no oil to refill them.
It is such occasions as these that test character. They show what is in us. No one is ready for life's sudden emergencies unless he has made preparation in advance for anything that may happen. One who has missed his lessons and trifled in school days--will by and by find the doors of opportunity shut to him, because he is not ready to go in. Many a man fails in life, because through early neglect he has not the training for his place or business, the reason being that he wasted the time when it was his duty to make the preparation. Many a woman fails in her homemaking and wrecks her own happiness and that of her family, because at the right time she did not learn the simple household arts which fit a girl for being a good wife.
The foolish virgins missed the wedding joy and were shut out in the darkness, because earlier they had not laid up a reserve of oil. Many people's religion fails them in times of need, because they have not really the Word of God laid up in their hearts. "A man has only as much religion, as he can command in trial."
It was a natural request that these distressed virgins made: "'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out!" At first thought, too, we would say that the wise virgins should have granted this pathetic request of their sisters. If you were very hungry and I had even a crust of bread, it would not be right for me to eat all of my crust myself. We are taught that we should bear one another's burdens and that the strong should help the weak. Yet the refusal of the wise is reasonable and right when we look at it thoughtfully. If you and your neighbor have each signed a note for a certain sum, to fall due on a certain date, and you by dint of economy and perseverance have been able to lay by just enough to meet your obligation, while your neighbor, wasting his hours on trifles, has made no provision for the day of settlement; and if on the morning when the note falls due, he should come beseeching you to give him some of your money to help him pay his debt--would you give it to him? Does the law of love require that you should?
There is also an important spiritual lesson which the parable is meant to teach--that the gifts and blessings of grace are not transferable. No matter how eagerly one may wish to impart them, he cannot do it. If one woman has improved her opportunities and grown into refined and disciplined character, while her sister has missed her chance and has grown up into weak and uncultured womanhood; the first sister cannot give of her strength, self-control, and noble spirit to the other, to help her through some special emergency.
If one man has studied diligently and learned every lesson, at last reaching a position of eminence and power---he cannot give of his trained ability to his brother, who has trifled through years, to help to make his life a success. A brave soldier in the battle cannot share his discipline and courage with trembling comrade by his side. In temptation, one who is victorious cannot give part of his strength to a friend by his side who is about to fall. We cannot share our forgiveness of sin with our dearest friend. Each one must live his own life, bear his own burden, and have the grace of the Holy Spirit for himself. No one can give another these gifts.
It was a tragic moment when the foolish virgins got back to the house and found themselves too late: "The door was shut!" It had stood open long enough for all who were ready to enter. Then it was closed and could not be opened again. This teaches us the meaning of opportunity. We may apply it to the matter of personal salvation. There is a time to be saved, and when that time is past, the door is shut! Life is full of opportunities. There is a time when we can enter God's family, receiving all blessing. Then there is a time when the door is closed, and all the powers of the universe could not open it again.
To the young people every door stands open. They can get an education and a training to fit them for noble, beautiful and worthy life. They can make good friends, friends whose companionship and help would enrich their whole life. They can form good habits which would build up fine character in them and make them respected and influential in the community. They can read good books which will fill their minds and hearts with noble thoughts and upward inspirations. They can win victory over their own lives and become self-controlled and kingly among men. But the doors stand open only a reasonable time--there is not a moment to lose. By and by they will be shut. Then no imploring cry will open them again.
The lesson for all is, "Watch therefore!" We know not the day nor the hour. That is true of our Lord's coming. It is true of death. But it is true also of nearly every other experience of life. We go on, not knowing. The future is closed to our eyes. We know not what awaits us at any turning of a street corner, or what we shall have to meet any moment as we go. The only way to be ready for the unknown events of tomorrow, is to improve every opportunity of today.