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By the kingdom of heaven here, is meant the state of the visible church on earth; it cannot be understood of the kingdom of glory, for there are no foolish virgins in that kingdom; nor yet of the invisible kingdom of grace, for therein are no foolish virgins neither. But in the visible church here on earth, there ever has been a mixture of wise and unwise, of saints and hypocrites: Five of these virgins were wise, and five were foolish.
Where observe, Our Lord's great charity, in supposing and hoping that amongst the professors of the gospel the number of sincere Christians is equal with hypocritical professors.
Five were wise and five foolish. Teaching us, that we should not confine the church of Christ within a narrow compass, nor confine our charity to a few, and think none shall go to heaven but those of our own party and persuasion, but to extend our charity to all Christians that hold the foundation with us, and to hope well of them.
Lord! let me rather err on the charitable hand, than be found on the censorious and damning side! This is to imitate my Saviour, whose charity supposed as many wise as foolish virgins, as many saints as hypocrites in the church. All these virgins are said to take their lamps and go forth to meet the bridegroom. For understanding which we must know that our Saviour alludes to the ancient custom of marriages, which were celebrated in the night; when usually ten young men attended the bridegroom, and as many virgins attended the bride, with lamps in their hands; the bridegroom leading home his bride by the light of those lamps. By these virgins are shadowed forth the professors of Christianity.
The foolish virgins are such as satisfy themselves with a bare profession, without bringing forth fruits answerable thereunto. The wise virgins are such as walked answerably to their profession, persevered and continued steadfast therein, and abounded in the graces and virtues of a good life. They are called wise virgins for the purity of their faith, for the purity of their worship, and for the purity of their conversations.
By the lamps are meant an outward profession of faith and holiness.
By the oil in the lamps, is to be understood that solemn profession of repentance and faith, which all Christians make in baptism.
By oil in their vessels is meant the sanctifying and saving graces of the Holy Spirit; the growth and improvement of them, with constancy and perseverance in them.
Observe here, wherein the wise and foolish virgins agreed, and wherein they differed: they agreed thus far, that both took their lamps, both lighted them, they both had oil in their lamps; the difference was not that the wise had oil, and the foolish had none; but in this, that the wise took care for a future supply of oil to feed their lamps when the first oil was spent.
Some professors, like foolish virgins, content themselves with a blazing lamp of an outward profession, without concerning themselves to secure an inward principle of grace and love, which should maintain that profession, as the oil maintains the lamp. As the lamp will not long hold burning without a stock of oil to feed it; so a profession of religion, though never so glorious, will not be lasting nor persevering, wihtout a principle of faith and love in the heart to support and maintain it.
Learn hence, That the true wisdom of a Christian consists in this, to take care, that not only the lamp of his life may shine by outward profession, but that the vessel of his heart may be furnished with the graces of the Holy Spirit, as a prevailing and abiding principle.
That is, whilst Christ delays his coming to persons by death and judgment, they are not so diligent as they ought, to prepare themselves for death and judgment. Instead of being upon their watch and guard, they slumbered and slept.
Note, That not only visible professors, but the holiest and best of Christians, are very prone to spiritual slumber. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. Spiritual slumber consists in this: when graces are not lively and kept in exercise, particularly faith, hope, and love; when there is an abatement of our love and zeal, an intermission of our care and watchfulness; this is a degree of spiritual slumber: yet the saints' slumber is not a prevailing slumber; it is not an universal slumber, it is not in all the faculties of the soul; if there be deadness in the affections, yet there is no searedness in the conscience.
I sleep, says the church, but my heart awaketh, Song of Solomon 5:2. Still there is a principle in the soul which takes God's part, and the Christian groans under the burden to his dull and drowsy state. But the greatest wisdom is to maintain a constant watch, that we may at no time be surprised by the bridegroom's coming, or be in a confusion when death and judgment shall overtake us. Blessed are those virgins whose lamps always burn bright!
At midnight, that is, at the most dismal and unseasonable time, when all the virgins were fast asleep; and, when awakened in great affrightment, could not on a sudden consider what to do. Such is the case of those who put off their repentance and preparation for another world, till they are surprised by death and judgment.
Lord, how will the midnight cry of the Bridegroom's coming terrify and amaze the unprepared soul! What a surprising word will this be, Behold, the Bridegroom cometh!
Learn hence, That the Bridegroom will certainly come, though at his own time; and then all shall be called upon, both prepared and unprepared, to go forth to meet him. Reason says he may come, because there is a just God, that will render to every one according to his deeds, and reward both body and soul for all the services they have done for God. The body shall not always remain like a solitary widow in the dust, but shall meet its old companion, the soul, again.
And as reason says he may come, faith says he will come, and argues from the promise of Christ, John 14:3, and from the purchase of Christ, from Christ's affection to us, and from our affection to him: faith has seen him upon the cross, and determines she shall see him in the clouds. The Bridegroom will certainly come at his own time: happy they that are ready to go forth to meet him.
The virgins' arising and trimming their lamps, doth denote, their actual preparation for Christ's coming and appearance, and their putting themselves into a posture of readiness to receive him.
Thence learn, That a believing apprehension of the certainty and suddenness of our Lord's coming and approach will rouse us out of our spiritual slumber, and prepare us to meet him with joy and assurance. Then they arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out.
Observe here, 1. A request made, Give us of your oil. There is a time when the neglecters of grace will be made sensible of the worth of grace by the want of it. Such as now undervalue, yea, vilify the grace of God, will be heard to say, O give us of your oil.
Observe, 2. The reason of the request, For our lamps are gone out.
Thence learn, That the lamp of profession will certainly go out, which has not a stock of grace to feed and maintain it.
Observe here, 1. The wise virgin's denial, Not so; they will part with no oil.
Learn hence, That it must be the care of every one to get grace of his own, otherwise the grace of others will do him no good. It is not what others have done, that will save us, without our own endeavours.
Observe, 2. The reason of their denial, Lest there be not enough for us and you.
Thence note, That such Christians as have most grace, or the largest stock of grace, have none to spare; none to spare in regard of their occasions for grace on earth, and in regard of their expectations of glory in heaven.
Observe, 3. The advice and counsel given; Go to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. Some take this for an exhortation, others for a mocking derision. Go to them that sell: That is, say some, to the shop of the ordinances where it may be had.
Thence note, That such as would have grace, must have timely recourse to the ordinances and means of grace: Go to them, and buy. Others understand the words ironically, and as spoken by way of derision, Go to them that sell, if you know where to find them, and either buy or borrow for yourselves.
Learn thence, That it is the greatest folly in the world to have oil to buy, when we should have oil to burn; to have our grace to seek, when we should have it to exert and exercise. It is no time to get grace when the Bridegroom is come, and the day of grace is past and over.
Observe here, 1. Christ will come at the great day to his people as a Bridegroom, and to the wicked as a Judge. The relation now begun betwixt Christ and his church shall then be publicly solemnized.
Observe, 2. The qualifications of the persons who shall enter with the Bridegroom into heaven: Such as were ready went in with him. The readiness is two-fold, habitual and actual; habitual readiness consists in the state of the persons, justified and pardoned; in the frame of the heart, sanctified and renewed; and in the course of life, universally and perseveringly holy and righteous, consists our actual preparation.
Observe, 3. The doleful condition of such as were unready: the door is shut against them: the door of repentance, the door of hope, the door of salvation, all shut, eternally shut, and by him that shutteth and none can open.
Learn hence, The utter impossibility of ever getting our condition altered by us, when the day of grace and salvation is once over with us. Woe to such souls, who, by the folly of their own delays, have caused the door of conversion and remission to be everlastingly shut against their own souls.
Observe here, The virgins' petition, and the Bridegroom's reply: the petition, Lord, Lord, open to us.
Learn hence, That how negligent soever men are of heaven and salvation here, there are none but will desire it earnestly and importunately hereafter; Afterward; that is, when too late.
Observe farther, the Bridegroom's reply, I know you not; that is, I own and approve you not. There is a two-fold knowledge that Christ has, a knowledge of simple intuition, and a knowledge of special approbation; the former knowledge Christ has of all men, the latter only of good men.
Learn hence, That it will be a dreadful misery for any persons, but especially for such as have been eminent professors, to be disowned by Christ at his coming, to hear that dreadful word from the mouth of Christ, Verily, I know you not.
Here we have our Lord's application of the foregoing parable, to be always upon our watch, continually upon our guard, to meet the Bridegroom in death and judgment, because we know not the time of his coming and approach.
Learn hence, That watchfulness and prepared readiness is a great duty that lies upon all those who believe and look for Christ's coming and appearance.
Happy souls! who are found in a posture of readiness at the Bridegroom's approach, standing, with lamps trimmed, loins girded, lights burning! that is, improving and exercising their graces, abounding in all the fruits of the Spirit, and in all the substantial virtues of a good life: such, and only such, shall have an entrance abundantly administered unto them into the everlasting kingdom.
Observe here, the person intrusting, Christ; the persons intrusted, all Christians; the talents they are intrusted with, goods; that is, goods of providence, riches and honours; gifts of mind, wisdom, parts and learning; gifts of grace: all these goods Christ dispenses variously; more to some, fewer to others, but with expectation of improvement from all.
Learn, 1. That Christ is the great Lord of the universe, and Owner of all his servants' goods and talents.
2. That every talent is given us by our Lord to improve and employ for our Master's use and service.
3. That it pleases the Lord to dispense his gifts variously among his servants; to some he commits more, to others fewer talents.
4. That to this Lord of ours every one of us must be accountable and responsible for every talent committed to us, and intrusted with us.
The former verses gave an account of the Lord's distribution; these acquaint us with the servants' negociation. Some traded with, and made improvement of, their talents, others traded not at all; yet it is not said they did embezzle their talent, but no improve it.
Learn, It is not sufficient to justify us, that we do not abuse our talents; it is fault enough to hide them, and not improve them; the slothful servant shall no more escape punishment than the wasteful servant.
Note here, 1. That the wisdom of God dispenses his gifts and graces variously, as so many talents to his servants, to be employed and improved for his own glory, and his church's good.
2. That all such servants as have received any talents, must look to reckon and account for them: that this account must be particular, personal, exact, and impartial.
3. That all such servants as have been faithful in improving their talents, at Christ's coming shall be both commended and rewarded also. Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.
Where observe, 1. That the state of the blessed is a state of joy.
2. That the joy which the blessed partake of, is the joy of their Lord; that is, the joy which he provides, and which he possesses.
3. That the way after which the saints partake of this joy, is by entering into it, which denotes the highest and the fullest participation of it. The joy is too great to enter into them, they must enter into that: Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.
Observe here, 1. That he that received but one talent is called to an account as well as he that received five. Heathens that have but one talent, namely, the light of nature, must give an account for that one talent, as well as Christians that have five must account for five.
Observe, 2. The slothful servant's allegation: I knew thee to be an hard man, and I was afraid.
Where note, His prejudice against his master, and the effect of that prejudice, he was afraid; and the fruit of his fear, he hid his talent in the earth.
Learn hence, That sinners entertain in their minds very hard and unkind thoughts of God; they look upon him as a hard Master, rigorous in his commands, and difficult to be pleased.
Learn, 2. That such hard thoughts of God do naturally occasion slavish fear, which is a great hindrance to the faithful discharge of our duty to God.
Observe, 3. The master's reply to the slothful servant's allegation, which contains an exprobation, or unbraiding of him for his sloth and negligence; Thou wicked and slothful servant.
Where note, 1. That the slothful servant is a wicked servant, as well as the unfaithful servant.
2. The wicked and slothful servants, to excuse themselves, will not stick to charge their miscarriages upon God themselves: Thou wert an hard man.
3. That no excuses whatsoever shall serve either the slothful or unfaithful servant at the bar of Christ.
These words contain the sentence denounced by Christ upon the slothful servant: his punishment is first a punishment of loss: Take ye the talent from him.
Learn hence, That not improving the gifts of God given as talents to us, provokes God to take them from us, as well as misimproving. From him that hath not; that is, from him that improveth not, shall be taken that which he hath.
2. Follows the punishment of sense: Cast him into outer darkness, where is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Learn thence, That hell is a place and state of inexpressible misery and torment; a dismal place, as being deprived of the sight and enjoyment of God, of Christ, of saints, and of angels; a doleful place, full of over-whelming sorrow and despairing grief. The gnashing of their teeth, signifies their being full of rage and indignation against God, against the saints, and against themselves.
From hence to the end of the chapter, we have a draught and scheme of the general judgment.
Where observe, the person judging, the Son of man; the persons judged, good and bad; the one called sheep, for their innocency and meekness; the other goats, for their unruliness and uncleanness.
Observe also, The manner of his coming to judgment, most august and glorious: glorious in his person, glorious in his attendance.
Learn, That Christ's appearance at the great day to the judging of the world, will be a splendid and a glorious appearance: He will come with power, and in great glory, in regard of the dignity of his person, and the quality of his office, and the greatness of his work. He will appear as a king in the midst of his nobles, to take off the scandal and ignominy of the cross, and as a recompense for his abasement and humiliation, to strike the hearts of his enemies with dread and fear, and to fill the souls of his people with joy and confidence.
Let us therefore propound it to our faith, to believe it; to our fear, to tremble at the thoughts of it; to our hope and love, that we may expect and wait, look and long for it.
Observe farther, The work of this Judge: he shall first gather all nations.
Learn, That at the general judgment all that have lived shall be summoned to the bar of Christ: persons of all sects, of all ages, of all nations, of all conditions; having gathered them together; he shall next separate them, as a shepherd his sheep.
Thence learn, That though there be a mixture and confusion of the godly and the wicked here, yet at the day of judgment there will be a separation made betwixt them, and they shall never come together more.
Here follows the sentence which Christ will pronounce upon the righteous and the wicked at the great day: first the sentence of absolution upon the righteous; then the sentence of condemnation upon the wicked.
Learn thence, That at the day of judgment the godly shall be absolved before the wicked are condemned. The reasons are, because it is more delightful to God to reward than to punish, to save than to destroy; because it is suitable to Christ's love to begin with his saints, and to be admired by them upon the throne with himself, as assessors and judges of the wicked world, Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world? 1 Corinthians 6:3.
Lastly, With respect to the wicked, that they may be the more affected with their loss, and have a vexatious and tormenting sense of that happiness which they have refused.
Observe next, The joyful sentence pronounced, Come ye blessed of my Father.
Where note, 1. The joyful compellation, Ye blessed. Which term is opposed to these two things:
1. To the world's judgment of them, which accounts them vile and accursed. Here is an absolution from their unjust censures.
2. To the sentence of the law, which pronounces all its transgressors accursed, Galatians 3:19. But, says Christ; I, that have redeemed you from the curse of the law, pronounced you blessed.
But why blessed of my Father?
1. To point out the fontal cause of all our happiness, the love of the Father; this prepared the kingdom.
2. This expression shows how the divine Persons glorify one another. As the Spirit glorifies the Son, so the Son glorifies the Father, and refers all to him.
Therefore Christ says not, Come, my redeemed ones; but, Come, ye blessed ones: not, Come, you that were redeemed by me; but Come, ye blessed of my Father: it is his good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Learn hence, That the Lord Jesus Christ at his second coming will adjudge all his people into a state of glorious and everlasting happiness, which his Father has prepared, and himself has purchased, for them. Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.
Here our Saviour sets forth, not the meritorious cause of his saints' happiness, but the infallible signs of such as should inherit that happiness, the character of the persons that might expect it. Such as fed him, clothed and visited him, in his members.
Where note, 1. That the godly having their sins forgiven in this world, some would gather that there should no mention be made of them in the day of judgment.
For they observe, that Christ here only mentions the good works of his saints: ye fed me, ye clothed me, not a word of their failings.
Observe, 2. That they are not the duties of the first, but of the second table, which here Christ mentions, because works of charity are more visible to the world than works of piety.
Learn hence, 1. That at the great day every man's sentence shall be pronounced according to his works.
2. That works of charity done out of love to Christ, shall be particularly observed, and bountifully rewarded, by Christ at the great day. The question will be, not only how have you heard, prayed, or preached, but whom have you fed, clothed, and visited.
3. That whatever good or evil is done to the poor members of Christ, Christ reckons it as done unto himself, I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat. Christ personal is not the object of our pity and charity, but Christ mystical is exposed to want and necessity; he feels hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness, in his members, and is refreshed and comforted in their refreshments and comforts. He takes it as a courtesy, who might demand it by authority.
How can we be close-handed or hard-hearted to the necessitous Christians, did we steadily believe that in administering to them, we minister refreshments to Christ himself, who parted with the glory of heaven, yea, with his heart's blood, for us?
Here we have a dialogue or interchangeable discourse betwixt Christ and his faithful servants at the great day.
Where observe, Their question and his reply. Their question, Lord, when did we feed thee, clothe, or visit thee? We have forgot the time, though such is thy goodness to remember it.
Learn thence, That Christ keeps a faithful record of all our acts of pious charity, when we have forgotten them. If we remember to do good, Christ will be sure to remember the good we have done; aye, and reward it as well as remember it.
Again, this question of theirs may proceed from admiration and wonder, and from an humble sense of their own nothingness, and from the greatness of Christ's condescension, in taking notice of such mean services, and requiting them with such a transcendent reward.
Learn hence, That when Christ comes to reward his children and people, they will wonder and be astonished at the poverty and meanness of their own services, and at the transcendency and greatness of his rewards.
Observe next, Our Lord's reply, In as much as ye did it to the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.
Where observe, 1. The title put by Jesus Christ upon his poorest and meanest members, My brethren.
2. The resentment of the kindness showed to his brethren, as shown unto himself: In as much as ye did it to them, ye have done it to me.
Learn thence, That such is the endearing intimacy between Christ and his members, that whatsoever is done to any of them, is esteemed by him as done unto himself.
Here we have the sentence of condemnation denounced against the wicked.
Where observe, 1. The posture in which they are found; at Christ's left hand. this doth not so much denote the ignominy of the place (though placing at the left hand is less honourable) as the impiety of their choice; they took up with left-handed mercies, the mercies of the footstool, wealth and riches, dignity and honour. As for the good things which are at God's right hand for evermore, they never sought after these. Verily a man may know his future state by his present choice.
Observe, 2. The title given to wicked men, Ye cursed. Not cursed of my Father, because cursing is God's strange work; we force him to it, he delights not in it.
Observe, 3. The sentence itself.
Where note, 1. The punishment of loss, Depart from me.
Learn thence, 1. That it is the hell of hell to the damned, that they must everlastingly depart from, and lose the comfortable fruition and enjoyment of, God in Christ: it is to be deprived of an infinite good. Hell is a deep dungeon, where the sunshine of God's presence never cometh.
2. The punishment of sense, Depart into everlasting fire.
Where note, Its severity it is fire: its eternity, it is everlasting fire.
Learn thence, That there are everlasting torments in hell prepared for the wicked; there is a state of torment, and a place of torment, provided by God. All princes have not only their palace, but their prison. God has the palace of heaven, for the enjoyment of himself and his friends; and the prison of hell, for punishing his enemies. The nature of the damned's misery is set out by fire; the whole man, body and soul, shall be tormented in it.
1. The body in all its members, their eyes with affrighted spectacles, the devil and his angels, and their old companions in sin: every time they behold these, it revives their guilt, and enrages their despair. Their ears are filled with yellings and howlings, and hideous outcries.
2. The soul shall suffer in hell, by reflecting upon its own choice, by remembering time sinfully wasted, seasons of grace sadly slighted, the mercies of God unworthily abused.
Lord! how will the rememberance of past mercies aggravate present miseries!
Note farther, 1. That Christ saith not of the punishment, as he doth of the blessing, that it was prepared from the beginning of the world, lest it should be thought that God designed men's punishment before they sinned.
Note, 2. That although Christ saith, Come, ye blessed of my Father, he saith not, Go, ye cursed of my Father, because God is the Author and Procurer of men's happiness, but man only is the author of his own misery.
Note, 3. That Christ speaks of this eternal misery by fire, as designed originally not for man, but for the devil and his angels; but man, by giving up himself to the power and thraldom of sin and Satan, and working himself down to the infernal regions, becomes like unto him in torments, whom he so much resembled in manners and qualities.
Observe here, 1. How Christ lays the charge of the wicked's damnation upon themselves alone, Ye gave me no meat, ye took me not in: man, and man alone, is the cause of his own destruction and damnation.
Observe, 2. The kind of sin charged on the wicked at the great day.
Consider it, 1. In general, it is a sin of omission.
Whence learn, That sins of omission are certainly damning as well as sins of commission, or want of love to Christ and his members.
Learn thence, That one reigning sin, one prevailing corruption, is enough to damn a person, because it deprives a man of the grace of the gospel, and excludes him from all the benefit of the promises.
Note lastly, If such as do not give to Christ in his members shall be miserable at the great day, what will the condition of them be that take from them, who strip and starve them, who persecute and hate them, who imprison or banish them? If the uncharitable shall scarcely be saved, yea, shall certainly be damned, where shall the unmerciful and cruel appear?
Observe here, 1. That though the righteous are first judged, yet the sentence is first executed on the wicked. They shall go into everlasting punishment.
Observe, 2. That men's states and conditions in another world will be different, as their ways and doings have been in this world.
3. That everlasting life shall be the portion of the godly, and everlasting punishment the portion of the wicked.
God grant that the horrors of eternal darkness,and the dismal thoughts of a miserable eternity, may effectually discourage every one of us from a wicked and impenitent course of life! For who can dwell with devouring fire? Who can dwell with everlasting burnings?
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Matthew 25". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18