Matthew 25:1. Ten virgins took their lamps — to meet the bridegroom. Homer names the like custom among the Greeks, of the bridegroom being preseded by virgins bearing lighted torches. — The virgins represent the visible church, which make a profession of the faith, that Christ the bridegroom will come from heaven.
Matthew 25:2. Five of them were wise, and five were foolish. This idea represents half the christian world as shut out of heaven for want of grace.
Matthew 25:4. The wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. Wisdom is the character of true religion; it draws the just conclusion, that with extinguished lamps we never can bear the insults of the populace. Learn then, oh my soul, to prepare by holiness to meet a holy God. Take the oil of grace, the faith that works by love and purifies the heart.
Matthew 25:5. While the bridegroom tarried. He delays till the seventh trumpet shall sound, till the mystery of God shall be finished; then shall be seen the sign of the Son of man in the clouds of heaven.
They all slumbered and slept. Some asleep, some half asleep; they sat at the appointed house, and became sleepy at the usual hour of repose. But sleep literally denotes the death of good men.
Matthew 25:6. At midnight there was a cry made. Christ will come as a thief in the night.
Matthew 25:12. I know you not. I do not approve of you, nor acknowledge you as my friends.
Matthew 25:15. To one he gave five talents. In the royal household the servants must sustain a gradation of rank, and proper talents for every station. So likewise in the kingdom of heaven. One has wisdom and genius for science, and talents for trade; another has learning and eloquence. One has a talent for training up children, and the instruction of youth; another has local influence by riches, by manufactures and commerce. In the sanctuary likewise, one is a son of thunder; another of consolation; a third speaks wisdom with them that are perfect.
But the touchstone of the parable is, that all persons must improve their talents; yea, double them, and gladden the church by the progress they make in grace, and all divine attainments. So shall the great rewards of grace be, as when a general after victory receives promotion, and the first favours of the king.
In a word, from this very important parable we learn, that God will admit of no excuse for negligence and delay; for every excuse we make, every plea we allege, is a criminal insult to the author of our being, and to the Saviour who gave his life for our redemption. Such a wretch shall have his shame covered with outer darkness, and the forfeiture of his talent. Our Lord delivered a similar parable when going up from Jerusalem to Jericho. Luke 19:12.
Matthew 25:30. Cast into outer darkness. See on Matthew 8:12.
Matthew 25:31. When the Son of man shall come in his glory. Our Saviour with perfect propriety closed his predictions, for the day, with a sublime view of his final coming, and of the last judgment. The images are impressive, and sublime in the highest degree. The curtains of heaven shall be drawn, and all the world surprised by the revelation of the Lord Jesus in flaming fire. He shall come in the glory of the Father, in all the incommunicable perfections of the Godhead. He shall come in his own glory, as the firstborn among many brethren; and as the prophet, priest, and king of his people. His holy and mighty angels shall swell the train. Having been the great ministers of his providence, their happiness and duty are most intimately connected with the closing scene. As the oriental shepherds cleared their fields and forests at certain seasons, and separated the sheep from the goats, so he will separate the righteous from the wicked, who are here called goats, because they resemble that animal in lasciviousness, as Chrysostom says, and in obstinacy of temper, haughtiness of carriage, and impurity of habit.
The Judge will proceed to try the universe according to their works; they alone are the sure tests of the dispositions of the heart and mind. The works fixed upon are, visiting the sick, the poor and the persecuted. These are all works of charity; and the end of the law and the gospel is charity, out of a pure heart, a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned. If religion do not make us love, it does not make us resemble its great author.
The king, having favoured the sheep with a seat at his right hand, shall pronounce them blessed of the Father, and invite them to his kingdom, prepared for them from the foundation of the world, for man was made in the image of God and created for his glory. But turning to the culprits on his left hand, a reprobate throng — he shall say, Depart ye cursed. Not cursed indeed of the Father, for God blessed Adam in his creation; but — cursed for violating the law, and rejecting the gospel. Depart ye into everlasting fire, prepared, not for man, but for the devil and his angels. God having chosen us in Christ Jesus, as in Matthew 25:34, from the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love. And if we are not holy, but are the servants of Satan, we shall have no portion with him for ever. Yes, the master will claim his servants, and the devourer will roar for his prey. And as Satan, now subjected to greater torments for his cruelties to the human race, cannot avenge himself on the Judge eternal, he will turn all his fury against apostate man.
Be warned then, oh unbeliever, not to come into that place of torment. Thou swearer, impious and profane, thou adulterer and drunkard, thou degraded mortal whose heart is attached to gold and corruption, and whose soul is destitute of the godlike fruits and tempers of pure religion; be warned, I say once more, not to come into that place of torment. Be it also remembered, that the punishment is eternal. The very same word is here obviously used to express both eternal blessedness and eternal misery. It may often signify seculum, an age, but in this place it must mean eternity, and in all the following texts. Matthew 6:13; Matthew 21:19. Mark 3:29. John 4:14; John 6:51; John 6:58; John 8:51; John 10:26; John 12:34; John 13:8. Matthew 12:32. The last of these is, if possible, more pointed still.
Were we to admit the explication which certain men have attempted to give to this word, we should have no bible. Every sacred word, the basis of all our hope, would have a vague and unsettled import. Do these men say, that if a father be very angry with a son, and if that son shall repent and implore mercy, will not the father forgive him? True; and I always love humanity. The bible everywhere represents God as clothed with mercy, and waiting to be gracious. But if the appeal be made to humanity, there is a crisis in human crimes which all nations have agreed to punish with death: and if the appeal be made to the bible, it is everywhere clear, that with men, with nations, and with the finally impenitent there is a period of vengeance, when the age of mercy is absolutely past.
Matthew 25:35. I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat. The Lord has taught us to appreciate a tree by the excellence of its fruit. A good man is satisfied from himself; he tastes the fatness of God’s house, and walks in the comfort of the Holy Ghost. Acts 9:31. The church however requires exterior and more certain proofs. Hereby we know that we know him, because we do his commandments. 1 John 2:3. Revelation 22:12. Charity to the poor therefore, and charity in every form is the grand, the sure test, that He whose nature is love, dwells in the heart, and kindles it with a flame of charity to all mankind. It is thus that the love of God to a fallen world is the moving cause of our salvation, and good works demonstrate the operations of grace in the heart. John 3:16.
Matthew 25:37. Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee. Christ addresses the righteous in new language, language to which they had not been accustomed. Habituated only to magnify grace, and sing of His lovingkindness, works of charity had passed away as summer showers. They had kept no memorials, except of their sins which he remembers no more. This is the mutual delight of Christ and the church, which shall augment the felicities of heaven for ever.
The jews, on betrothing a virgin, which comprised the conditions and promises of marriage, usually gave a dowry to the father or guardian of the virgin, which was a caveat against divorce, and a deposit sacredly preserved for the benefit of the children. The bridegroom did not consummate the marriage in the house of his father-in-law, till he had publicly received his bride; for no nation ever sanctioned private or clandestine marriages. On these occasions it was usual for ten virgins, dressed in white, to meet and presede the bridegroom in the streets with burning lamps; and if any lamp should go out, the scorn and laugh of the populace would inevitably follow. Their feasts and marriages were all celebrated in the evening, because the excessive heat of the day prompted to repose rather than pleasure. These circumstances our Saviour most aptly improved to instruct the church, and to warn the world against the inefficacy of a protracted repentance. From hence we may learn the following particulars.
First, That Christ is the Lord and husband of the church. Ephesians 5:23. He has loved her, and washed her in his own blood, that she may appear without spot in his presence. He has drawn her to love him again by the glory and grace of his person. He is her protection and defence, he adorns her with diadems and beauty, she shares in all his glory, and he will present her faultless before the Father with exceeding joy.
Next, exterior professors are distinguished into two classes, the wise, and the foolish; and the distinction is highly instructive. The five wise virgins said, we have oil enough indeed for the present; but it may happen that the bridegroom shall be detained in the house of his father-in-law, and that we shall have a mishap with our lamps; it is prudent therefore to take a little oil in our vessels. Just so the wise man says, I have a holy God to meet, and I must be holy. I have to appear in his presence, and I must be ennobled with his image, and have my heart and countenance irradiated with truth and grace.
Folly is the character of men who live unprepared to meet their God. They may have high claims to civil and religious knowledge, and they may regard the faithful as somewhat below them in point of intellect; but walking in the momentary blaze of a religious profession, and occasional good impressions, they slumber on till the voice of vengeance awakes them to confusion and shame.
The coming of the bridegroom may farther be considered as applicable to different periods of the church. In particular, when our Lord came to execute judgment upon the jewish nation, in the destruction of Jerusalem. Then they who continued in the faith fled, as soon as Gratus raised his temporary siege; but all the apostates, or foolish virgins, presently saw the Romans return under Titus, and then all their cries and knockings were in vain. He that made them would not save them.
The parable may also be applied to the night of death, as the fathers have in general applied it. Then they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. But ah, the hearer, negligent of his salvation, is alarmed by a cry of the bridegroom’s approach at the midnight hour of life. The lamp of his profession is extinguished, and his former light encreases his darkness by adding aggravation to his sins. All is consternation in his soul, all is terror and darkness on the side of heaven: he must die, and he has no evidence, no earnest of glory. He implores the prayers of saints, but they can give him no oil. They are all lying priests who grant absolution and oil to the sick, and can do no more. The true saint, still holding the gospel language, exhorts him to buy oil in the means of grace; but ah, it is midnight, nor can he go to the house of God. In this despair he would next storm heaven by prayers and cries. But ah, the door is shut — for ever shut; and mercy reigns no more for him.
Finally, the parable is applicable to the day of judgment. Waiting for the Lord, the wise and foolish sleep in the grave till the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God shall announce the bridegroom’s approach. Now, all those who are ready and fully prepared shall enter the celestial mansion, and the doors shall be closed against all who have been negligent of their salvation. Watch therefore, said the Lord. And may Almighty God break the charm of worldly incitements, of concupiscence, and of every obstruction to conversion. May religion be our first and chief, as well as our last concern. Then we shall have joy, and the consummation of bliss at the appearing of the Lord Jesus.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 25". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany