By J.R. Miller
An onlooker could not have told in the early hours of the evening, which were the wise virgins, and which the foolish. It was not until midnight that the difference became apparent. Even then, for a moment, the ten virgins seemed all in the same plight. They all had been asleep, and when they were suddenly awakened the lamps of all were going out. The difference then appeared--five had no oil with which to refill their lamps; the other five had made provision in advance, and were quickly ready to go out to meet the bridal procession.
Life is full of just such tragedies as occurred that midnight. Thousands of people in all lines of experience fail because they have neglected their preparation at the time when preparation was their one duty. The reserve of oil was the central feature in the preparation of the wise virgins--that was what made them ready at midnight. The lack of this reserve was the cause of the failure of the other five. The teaching is--that we should always make even more preparation than what seems barely necessary. Our safety in life, is in the reserve we have in store.
The other day a physician gave it as the reason of the death of one of his patients in typhoid fever, that the young man had no reserve of vitality, and could not make the fight. He had no oil in his vessel with his lamp. Reserve in character is also important. It is not enough that you shall be sufficiently strong to meet ordinary struggles or carry ordinary burdens. Any hour you may have to endure a struggle which will require extraordinary courage and power of endurance. If you are ready only for easy battling, you will then be defeated. Tomorrow you may have to lift a load many times heavier, than you carry in your common experiences. If you have no reserve of strength, you must sink under the extra burden.
We must build our lives for emergencies, if we would make them secure. It is not enough for a soldier to be trained merely for dress parade. It requires no courage to appear well on the drill ground; it is the battle, which tests the soldier's bravery and discipline. A writer tells of watching a ship captain during a voyage across the Atlantic. The first days were balmy, with no more than a pleasant breeze. The passengers thought the captain had an easy time, and some of them said that it required little skill to take a great vessel over the sea. But the fourth day out of a terrific storm arose, and the ship shivered and shuddered under the buffeting of the waves. The storm continued, and in the morning the captain was seen standing by the mainmast, where he had been all night, with his arms twisted in the ropes, watching the ship in the storm, and directing it so as to meet the awful strain in the safest way. The reserve was coming out in the dauntless seaman. He had oil in his vessel with his lamp.
We see the same in life's common experiences. Here is a young man who seems to get on prosperously for a time. All things are easy for him. People prophesy hopefully for him. Then life stiffens and burdens increase. Complications arise in his affairs. He fails. He had no reserve--and he went down in the stress. On the other hand, there are men who move through life quietly and serenely in times of ordinary pressure, revealing no special strength, skill, or genius. By and by they face a new order of things. Responsibility is increased, there are dangers, difficulties, struggles--and it does not seem that they can possibly weather the stormy gale. But as the demands grow greater, the men grow larger, braver, wiser, and stronger. Emergencies make men. No man ever reaches any very high standard of character, until he is tried, tried sorely, and wins his way to the goal.
Young people ought to form their life and character not merely for easy things, for common experiences and achievements--but for emergencies. When they build a ship, they build it for the fiercest tempests which it may ever have to encounter. That is the way young people ought to do with their lives. Just now, in their sweet homes, they do not have a care or an anxious thought. Everything is done for them. Flowers bloom all about them, love sweetens all the days. They hope to have the same sheltered life all their years, and they may never need to be strong. They may never have a struggle, nor know a need, nor have to face adversity, nor be called to fight hard battles for themselves. It is possible that no sudden midnight call, may ever cause fear or consternation in their hearts. But they are not sure of this. Before them may lie sorest testing. At the least, they will repeat the folly of the foolish virgins--if in the days of education and training, they prepare only for easy experiences, unburdened days, and do not build into their life sound principles, staunch character, indomitable courage, invincible strength--so as to be ready for the most serious possible future.
What is true of life in its equipment for success in other departments, is quite as true of spiritual preparation. It is not enough to be a good Christian on Sunday and in church. It is not enough to seek a religion that will keep us respectable, decorous, and true in life's easy, untested ways. You may never have to meet severe trials, or be called to endure persecution for your faith. You may never have to take up the burdens of great responsibility. Your life may always be easy. But the chances are, that you will come into times of trial. Therefore you must prepare yourself now, so that whatever you may be called upon to meet hereafter, in the way of duty, struggle, endurance, or testing of any kind--you may not fail. Build your ship for the roughest seas. Have you any reserve of oil, so that if ever your lamps are going out, you can refill them, and keep the light shining through the darkest midnight hours.
Another lesson from our Lord's parable--is that each must have his own lamp, and must keep it filled with his own oil. The foolish said to the wise, "Give us of your oil; for our lamps are going out." But they answered, "Perhaps there will not be enough for us and you; but go those who sell, and buy for yourselves." Has it ever seemed to you that the wise ought to have granted the request of their sisters in their distress, sharing their oil with them? Some think they were unfeeling and cold in their refusal. But even on the ground of right and justice--the answer of the wise virgins was right. We are not required to fail in our own duty--in order to help another do his duty. But there is a deeper meaning which our Master would teach here--that the blessings of grace cannot be transferred. That which the oil represents, cannot be given by anyone to another. "Each one must bear his own burden." One cannot believe for another. One cannot transfer the results of one's faithfulness to another.
If you have lived well through your years, and have won honor by your good deeds--you cannot give any portion of that honor and good name to another who has lived foolishly and begs you to share with him the fruits of your faithful life. If one woman has improved her opportunities, and has grown into a strong, self reliant, refined, and disciplined character, while her sister with like opportunities has been negligent and has developed a weak, uncultured, and unbeautiful womanhood, the first cannot impart any of her strength, her self control, her disciplined spirit to the other, to help her through some special emergency. If one man has studied diligently, and mastered every lesson, at length reaching a position of eminence and power, of splendid manhood and character, he cannot give of his self mastery, strength, and right living--to his brother who has trifled through the days which were given for training and preparation. A brave soldier in the day of battle, cannot share his courage with the trembling comrade by his side. The same is true of all virtues, qualities and attainments--they cannot be transferred.
So it is also in the receiving of grace. The holiest mother cannot share her holiness with her child who is defiled with sin. David would have died for his son Absalom--but he could not. We cannot take another's place in life. We cannot give another our burden; it is ours and is not transferable. In temptation, one who is victorious cannot give part of his victory or part of his strength--to the friend by his side, who is about to fall.
There is no more solemn truth concerning life than this, of the individuality of each person. Each one stands alone before God in his unsharable responsibility and accountability. No one of us can lean on another in the day of stress and terror and say, "Help me!" We may want to help others. We ought to want to help others. We are not Christians if we do not have in our hearts a passion for helpfulness. But there are limits to helpfulness. There are things we cannot do for others, even for those nearest to us. A mother cannot bear her child's pain for it. A father cannot help his boy to be a man, except through persuasion and influence--he cannot make his boy good and noble. Then when his son comes to him in great spiritual need, he cannot give him divine grace. The wise virgins were right when they said, "We cannot give you any of our oil."
When we come to our times of sorrow and need, we cannot then get from our friends, the help we shall require. If you would be brave and soldierly in life's struggles and dangers, you must acquire your courage and soldierliness now for yourself, in the days of training and discipline. Too many young people do not realize what golden opportunities come to them in their school days. They make little of the privileges they enjoy. Sometimes they call them anything but privileges. They think school life wearisome. They waste the days, and shirk the lessons. Then by and by, the school door closes--shuts upon them. Now they must face life with its responsibilities and they are not ready for it. Through all their years they may move with limping step, with dwarfed life, with powers undisciplined, unable to accept the higher places that would have been offered to them if they had been prepared for them. They fail in their duties and responsibilities--all because they wasted their school days. Napoleon once said to a boy's school, "Remember that every hour wasted at school, means a chance of misfortune in future life." Never were truer words spoken; and their application reaches through all life.
"Those who were ready went in." That is always true of blessing, of privileges, of honors. Those who are ready go in; not he unprepared. Young men must be ready for life's places, if they would enter into them, when they offer themselves. The unready are barred out--and they are countless. Make yourself ready for life's best places, and you will be wanted for them in due time.
There is no such thing as chance. Men get only what they are ready for. Many young men depend upon influence--they think friends can put them into good places. Friends have their use, and do what they can. But no friend, no favoritism, no influence, can make a man ready for a place. That is his own matter. There are no good places for incompetence. The bane of life everywhere, is unreadiness. Don't be a smatterer. If you are going into business, begin at the bottom and patiently master every detail--no matter how long it may take or how much it may cost you. If you are a student, miss no lesson, for the one lesson missed today may be the key--ten, twenty years hence--to open the door to a place of honor, and you cannot go in if you do not have the key.