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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
The Ten Virgins
EVERYTHING that our Lord saw on the earth immediately made Him think of the kingdom of heaven. Our Lord was of that angel's mind who said to Adam,-'What if earth be but the shadow of heaven, and things therein each to other like, more than on earth is thought.' And thus it was that when our Lord and His disciples were called to that marriage where the original of this parable took place, as soon as He saw the five wise virgins admitted to the marriage, and the five foolish virgins shut out, He turned to the twelve and said,-The kingdom of heaven is just like that. It would have been well, and we would have been deep in their debt, had some of the twelve said to their Master at that moment: Declare to us the parable of the ten virgins also. It would have been a great assistance to us if, over and above the parable itself, we had possessed our Lord's own exposition of it. For, who and what are the ten virgins, and why are they so called? Why are they exactly ten, and why are they so equally divided into five and five? What are their lamps also, and what are their vessels with their lamps, and what is the oil that the wise had, and that the foolish had not? What does the tarrying of the bridegroom mean, and what the slumbering and sleeping of the whole ten? And then who are they that make the midnight cry, Behold the bridegroom cometh? And then the hurried trimming of the lamps, with the going out of the lamps of the foolish,-what is the meaning of all that? The request of the foolish for a share of the oil of the wise, with the refusal of the wise to part with any of their oil,-what are the spiritual meanings hidden under all that? And specially, who sell the oil, and where do they sell it, and at what price? And then the shutting of the door? And then what it is to be ready? as well as what it is to watch, and when we are to watch, and where? It would have been an immense service done to us all had the disciples petitioned their Master for His own authoritative answer to all these questions. As it is, we are left to our own insight into the things of the kingdom of heaven, and to our own experience of its mysteries, to find out for ourselves and for others the true key to this parable.
The wisdom, whatever it was, of the five wise virgins is, plainly, the main lesson set to be learned out of this whole parable. All the rest of its lessons, however good and however true, are subordinate to that. All the rest is, more or less, the framework and the setting of that. Other lessons, more or less essential, more or less interesting, and more or less instructive, may be extracted out of this remarkable parable, but its supreme and commanding lesson is the richly rewarded wisdom of the five wise virgins. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them. But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
Now if you would fain know what, exactly, this oil is of which so much is made in this parable, this oil the possession of which made the five virgins so wise, just look into your own heart for the answer to that. What is it that makes your heart to be so dark, and so sad, and so unready, sometimes? Why is there so little life and light and joy in your heart? Why is your religious experience so flat and so stale, when it should be as full of gladness as if your whole life were one continual making ready for your marriage? What is really the matter with you and with your heart? In plain English, and in few words, it is the absence from your heart of the Spirit of God. It is God's Holy Spirit Who makes God Himself to be so full of Life and Light and Blessedness. It is God's Holy Spirit Who makes our Lord Himself what He always is, and what He always says and does. The fruit of the Holy Spirit in God and in man, on earth and in heaven, is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness. Now, that is the whole of the matter with us all. It is the lack of the Spirit of God that makes all of us to be the lump of darkness and death that we are. If we had God's Holy Spirit shed abroad in our heart we would make every house in which we live, and every company into which we enter, like a continual marriage supper. Our very face would shine with heavenly light, and we would shed abroad life and love and beauty everywhere we go. No question, then, what this oil is, nor why we are such children of the day when we have it, and are such children of the night when we have it not. Fix this firmly in your mind, that the Holy Ghost is this light-giving and life-giving oil, and you will have in that, not only the true key to this whole parable, but at the same time the true key to all your own light and darkness also.
"Not so: lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves." You go to the oil-sellers when your oil is done, and when the long and dark nights are coming on. And, in the very same way, you must go to God for the Holy Spirit. God the Father is the real seller of this Holy Oil. The Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father. The Son Himself had the Holy Ghost, not of Himself, but of the Father. When the night fell the wise virgins had the oil already in their vessels. They had been at the oil-sellers in good time, and before the darkness fell. Go you in good time also. Be beforehand with the darkness. Have the Holy Ghost already in your heart, and then you will not walk in darkness, nor be shut out into the darkness, however suddenly the Bridegroom may come.
And then this is the remarkable law of this oil-market. "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." That is to say, as soon as in prayer you ask the Father for the Holy Spirit, immediately believe that your prayer is answered. Immediately begin to live in the Spirit. Immediately begin to walk in the light. Do not put off walking in the light till you feel your heart full of light and love and joy and peace and all such holy illumination. But begin at once to live in the Spirit, and He will begin to live in you. As soon as you begin to ask for the Spirit of love and joy and peace to be shed abroad in your heart, begin yourself to shed that Spirit abroad in all your life. Let all your words and deeds, let all your moods of mind, and all your affections of heart, be full of love and joy and peace, and He will not fail to work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure. This is a most wonderful oil, and a most wonderful oil-market, and a most wonderful oil-merchant! Go all of you to Him who sells, and buy for yourselves, and you will soon be wiser in this divine marketry than all your teachers. Were I to enter on all the times, and all the places, when and where, this holy oil is bought and sold, I would have to say of it that there is no time and no place when and where you may not buy this oil. At the same time there are special seasons, and special spots, when and where, as a matter of experience, that oil is specially dispensed to all buyers. Olive oil, and all other kinds of oil, are to be bought in the oil-shops. And the Holy Ghost is best to be bought, is only to be bought, in secret prayer. Oil merchants advertise their oil; its qualities and its prices and where their place of business exactly is. And here is a copy of the heavenly advertisement: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him." And again: "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." Could anything be clearer? Could anything be plainer? A wayfaring man, though a fool, could not miss where this oil is to be had. "What," demanded his Master, in shame and pain at Peter's sloth and indifference in this very same matter, "What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?" Watch and pray for the Holy Spirit, He means. For it was just this heavenly oil that Peter needed above all things that dark and sudden midnight. And had Peter but spent that one hour with Him who hears prayer and thus sells His oil, he would have played a far better part all through the thick darkness of that dark night, and all through the still thicker darkness of tomorrow and tomorrow night. It is still the old story, my brethren. There is no getting past the old story. You had better yield and surrender at once. That "hour" of prayer, which is now so haunting you, will never all your days let you alone. It will follow you wherever you go and whatever you are doing. Not till the door is shut will that secret "hour" of prayer give over pursuing you. Not till it ceases pursuing you and says, Sleep on now, and take your rest!
Though it is literally true that this holy oil is to be had for the asking, at the same time, and as a matter of fact, what amounts to a tremendous price has to be paid down for it. As Seneca says, "Nothing is so dear as that which is bought by prayer." A man may buy oil for his household lamps to last him for a whole winter, and yet may not be sensibly the poorer for his purchase. He may pay his oil bill, and yet have plenty of money left wherewith to buy wine and milk for himself and for his family. But not in this oil-market. To buy the Holy Spirit is as costly to a sinner as buying Christ Himself and all His righteousness. And you know how penniless that purchase left Paul. Indeed, ever since Paul's day the price of Christ and His righteousness has been a proverb of impoverishment in the Church of Christ. And had the apostle been led to tell us how much he had to lay down to win the Holy Spirit, it would just have been the same all-impoverishing story over again. Not one penny had Paul left. Not one farthing. And so is it with every man who once really enters this same oil-market. If you do not follow my argument, just take an hour tonight in that market for yourself, and tell me tomorrow morning how you get on in it. Tell me how much you have left to call your own after you have once bought this priceless oil. See what it will cost you so much as to enter this oil emporium. There are some places of sale, bazaars and such like, where a great income is made just by the entry-money. Tell me how much is demanded of you before you are able to shut your door upon God and yourself alone tonight, not to speak of what He will charge you for the oil after you are in. You will see how everything you have hitherto valued will have to go. No wonder that only the half of the ten virgins had the heart to make the impoverishing purchase. For my part, I often wonder there were so many.
Our Lord does not explicate, point by point, all this parable to us, but He is most emphatic, and even alarming, in His application of it. Watch, therefore, He warns us, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh. He may be here, and your time may be at an end any moment. And then, it takes far more time than you would think to buy this oil and to have it always ready. Even to get well into the place where this oil is sold takes time. To get your money ready takes time. To get your vessel well filled takes time. And to make due allowance for all the obstacles and accidents by the way, and for all the unforeseen interruptions and delays in the market,-all that, taken together, takes up more time than any one would believe beforehand; immensely more time and trouble than any one would believe who has not gone through it all. And thus it is that our Lord is always pleading with us to give an hour to it every night. Better too much time, He argues with us, than too little. You may get through the transaction quicker than some others, He admits. But then there is this also, that it may turn out to take much more time in your case than you have left to give it.
And, once more, watch, for the wisest are sometimes to be found playing the fool, like the foolish, in this tremendously precarious matter. The five wise virgins slumbered and slept when they should have been employing their spare time in trimming their lamps, and in keeping both themselves and their fellows awake and ready. And had it not been that they were, all the time, much wiser than they seemed to be, they would have been shut out with the rest. But as it turned out they had oil, all the time, in their vessels with their lamps. And that made all the difference when the bridegroom came so suddenly. Now, where, and how, will the same difference come in among ourselves? It will come in, and you will see it, this very night, and in this very way. Tonight some here will hasten home as soon as the blessing is pronounced. They will try to escape their talkative neighbours at the door. All the time of supper and prayers at home they will be hiding this terrible parable in their hearts. And then when the house is quiet, the true business of this whole day will begin with those wise men. I have told you before, but not once too often, of a Sabbath night I once spent long ago in the Alrick with old John Mackenzie. After supper and prayers I petitioned for another half-hour's reading of the notes he had preserved of Dr. John Duncan's Persie sermons. "Pardon me," said the old saint. "but we always take our candles immediately after prayers." The difference will be that the foolish among us will sit tonight and talk and talk till they extinguish this parable and all its impressions clean off their minds and their hearts, while the wise among us will take their candles.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'The Ten Virgins'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wbc/t/the-ten-virgins.html. 1901.