Ver. 1-13. For the understanding of all parables, I have formerly showed, that parables are similitudes brought from some earthly things, or actions, to illustrate some heavenly doctrine, or spiritual mysteries, and insinuate them into our practice. For the right understanding of all parables, the first and principal thing to be attended to is the scope and main end of the parable. What heavenly doctrine it is which our Saviour by that earthly similitude designs to illustrate, or what practical thing it is which he designs by that parable to press, I have showed. Our Saviour sometimes more particularly showeth this, expressing what he meant by the several things and actions mentioned in the parable. This he did, Mat_13:1-58, in the parable of the sower, and of the tares of the field. But in most parables he doth not so; but from something going before or coming after gives us light enough to know what his main design was, and leaveth to us by that to interpret the several parts of the parable. Here he hath left us a sufficient light to know his meaning:
From his discourse in the latter end of the foregoing chapter, where he had been pressing the duty and prudence of watchfulness, from the uncertainty of the time of his coming. It is manifest that he is pursuing the same design still, by the epi parabolh, or the saying with which he closes this parable, Mat_25:13,
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. This watchfulness we had interpreted by an opposition to sin, both of omission and commission: taking heed of having our hearts overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and cares of this life, Luk_21:34,36; taking heed of smiting our fellow servants, eating and drinking with the drunken; discharging our trusts faithfully, ministers giving to the household of Christ their portion in due season, Mat_24:45,49; being ready for the coming of Christ, Mat_24:44; praying, Luk_21:36. This our Lord had pressed there particularly on ministers; he is here in this parable pressing the same duty on all; and in this parable further opens the duty of watchfulness, not only as opposed to slumbering and sleeping, but as comprehending a getting of ourselves ready, as he had said, Mat_24:44; and this readiness he also further openeth in this parable, under the notion of having not only lamps, but oil in our lamps.
To these purposes he takes up this parable, which we shall not so well understand without understanding their usual rites and customs at weddings, which were these:
1. Their marriages were ordinarily in the night.
2. They usually had young men that attended the bridegroom, and young virgins that attended the bride at her father’s house. The young men attended the bridegroom. These were called the children of the bride chamber, or the friends of the bridegroom or bride, Mar_2:19Joh_3:29.
The wedding being in the night, there was need of lamps. When the bridegroom came, the bride maids, who were attending the bride, went forth to meet the bridegroom, with lamps lighted, to conduct him and his companions into the house, and to her who was to be the bride.
When they were entered the door was shut, and the marriage proceeded. Our Saviour now, to quicken his auditors to the watchfulness before spoken of, supposes such a marriage, and ten virgins, the usual number at such solemnities. He supposes these ten virgins to have been half of them wise and half foolish: the wisdom of the one he makes to lie in getting their lamps ready and furnishing themselves in time with oil to feed them, that they might not go out, either while they waited for his coming, or in their conduct of him. The folly of the others he makes to lie in their want of this care, so as when the bridegroom came their lamps were out: they would have borrowed oil of the others, but they had none to lend them, so as they were shut out of the door of the bridal house, and though they knocked could obtain no entrance.
It is not hard now to apply the several parts of the parable to the end for which this parable is brought, provided that we do not expect that similitudes should run on four feet, or that every minute circumstance in a parable should be fitted in the explication.
The kingdom of heaven (which in Scripture always signifies that of grace or glory) here signifieth that of grace. The state of the church is likened to ten virgins: these ten virgins are professors; their lamps and their going forth to meet the bridegroom, signify their joint profession of the gospel, and their expectation joyfully to meet Christ, who is the bridegroom here meant. Psa_45:14Joh_3:29.
Five of them were wise, and five foolish. This signifieth the difference of professors; some have lamps, make a profession, but have no truth of grace; others have the root of the matter in them, a true faith and love, which feeds men’s profession.
The bridegroom’s tarrying signifies Christ’s delaying to come to judgment. Their slumbering and sleeping signifies the infirmities of the best, who sleep, though their hearts wake; and the deeper security of others in their sinful state. The coming of the bridegroom at midnight signifieth Christ’s coming in a dark time of troubles and afflictions, or at a time not looked for. The virgins trimming their lamps upon the cry made, signifies the care of pious souls, more especially upon any notices of Christ’s coming, to prepare themselves for the meeting and reception of him. The foolish virgins late discerning that their lamps were out, and that they wanted oil, lets us know that hypocrites and formal professors will too late know that profession without a root of faith and true regeneration will serve them in no stead. Their asking the wise virgins to lend them some of their oil, with their refusal, because then they should not have enough for themselves, lets us know the woeful shifts that hypocrites will at last be put to, and how vain their hopes are, who hope to be relieved from the grace and good works of others. Their going to buy oil, and their being shut out before they returned, and knocking in vain, and in vain crying, Lord, open to us, lets us know, that as the tree falls so it must lie; that after our buying time in this life, mentioned Isa_55:1,2, is expired, our state will be determined; that we are concerned to take the counsel of Solomon, Ecc_9:10, Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, especially for our souls, to do it with thy might; for here is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the place, whither thou goest.
Therefore we are all concerned to watch, that is, to look that we have not only lamps, but oil to feed our lamps, and to keep our lamps burning, because we know, that the Bridegroom Christ will come, and we do not know at what time he will come, to the general judgment, or our particular judgment; for when we die, we can do no more to make ourselves ready for the great coming of Christ to judge the world, but must appear before him as we go out of this world. No oil after the determination of our lives will be to be bought, no further preparation of ourselves is to be made, as our life leaveth us judgment will find us.