Occoquan, Va., March 25, 1881.
DEAR BRETHREN BEEBE. – I notice a request in the SIGNS of Feb. 15th from brother E. A. Norton, of Hampton, Iowa, for my views of the parable of the ten virgins, recorded in Matt. xxv. 1-13. I fear that I have but little light upon the parable, yet I have no objection to present what views I have upon the subject in accordance with brother Norton’s request. In the connection of the parable the Savior refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, informing his disciples of the awful signs that should precede that event and of the terrible judgments that were to be visited upon the guilty Jewish nation. I think that reference is also made to the close of the legal dispensation and ushering is also made to the close of the legal dispensation and the ushering in of the gospel day. The Savior had just informed his disciples, referring to the temple, that there should not be left in that building one stone upon another that should not be thrown down. “And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” Whether the disciples comprehended fully the meaning of the expression or not, I understand the phrase, end of the world, as used here, to refer to the end of the legal world. The Savior came as a day-spring from on high to scatter forever the dark way of the long legal night. He came as the end of the legal world, its types and figures pointed forward to and were fulfilled in him, and in his death and resurrection from the dead the first covenant was removed and the second established. All of this was to be done before the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was to stand until after the resurrection of our Lord, until after the setting up of the gospel church on the day of pentecost, and then in awful judgment the Lord would stretch forth his hand upon that guilty city and nation. “And the stars,” says he, “shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” This, I suppose, refers to the bright lights set in the legal heavens and the powers thereof. They should be removed by the omnipotent hand, and, in the unfolding of the eternal counsel of God, give place for the heavenly splendor of the gospel day. “This generation,” said the Savior, “shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” But the dear Master would impress upon the minds of his disciples the need of constant watchfulness in order that no man should deceive them, and that they should be ready and waiting for the coming of their Lord in the “clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” “Take heed,” he says unto them, “that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive man.” “For false Christ and false prophets shall rise, and shall show signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But take ye heed; behold, I have foretold you all things.” Now, to impress this solemn lesson upon their minds he used the parable of the virgins. “Then,” at the time when the startling events foretold by him should transpire, and the Lord should appear in his glory to set up the gospel kingdom, and visit his just and righteous indignation upon the guilty Jews, “shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins.” I do not feel like referring particularly to the different clauses of the parable, but to write of it in connection with the solemn lesson that it was designed to enforce. I believe, as stated, that, in its primary application, the parable has been fulfilled, but the important gospel lesson that shines through it is applicable to the saints in all ages and in every clime. It exhorts us to watchfulness and diligence in the things of the gospel kingdom, and that we should not be carried away by every wind or wave of doctrine from the truth as it is in Jesus. It exhorts us to carefulness in waiting upon our Lord in the holy ordinances of his sanctuary, and that we be not slothful, “but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” It is in this sense of special importance to the gospel subject. The parable, I suppose, is based upon a custom in the marriage ceremony of the Jews in which a party of young friends would escort the bride from the house of her parents to the house of her husband. In the figure, five of this party were wise and five were foolish. They had all professedly “went forth to meet the bridegroom,” but the foolish lacked that which would make their journey successful. “They took their lamps, and took no oil with them.” This was the essential difference between the foolish and the wise virgins. Apparently there was no difference between them, they were all virgins, each had her lamp, and they were professedly seeking the same object. “All aiming for the same place,” as the world would have it to-day. But when the cry, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out and meet him,” was heard, when the test was applied the difference between the two classes was easily discerned. It would seem that the foolish virgins had not the oil of grace in their hearts to kindle at the dear Savior’s approach, consequently they were left in midnight darkness notwithstanding their pretended zeal and outward profession. There is no lack of this class of religionists to-day. They make loud professions of love to the dear Redeemer and of zeal in his cause. They are very careful of “outward piety.” “They make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi,” (“Rev.”, “D. D.”). But they make manifest that they are in midnight darkness by their bitter opposition to divine truth. There is no light of life within them to send back a heavenly echo to gospel truth, and to kindle a sacred flame of immortal joys as the Savior comes in his holy commandments, in the preaching of his word, and in the revelation of his divine power unto his people. There is no gospel light in all of that system of religion that springs from the heart. “Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out,” must ever be the cry of the quickened sinner who trusts to its dark, delusive ways. A mere nominal profession of christianity will not do. It must go deeper than this. The way of truth must “take root downward, and bear fruit upward,” to the honor and glory of the Lord’s great name. The trembling sinner is much troubled here. He fears that his religion goes no further than an obedience to the outward forms of gospel truth. Yet when a Savior’s love is shed abroad in his heart, when he meets in the solemn assemblies of Zion, and the Lord grants his gracious presence, this same doubting, fearing one can say, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way?” A sacred flame of heavenly peace and holy joy was kindled in the dear Savior’s presence, chasing away, for a moment, the dark clouds of sorrow, the melancholy fears and gloomy forebodings that hung so heavily about his earthly pathway. He goes from the solemn service of the sanctuary strengthened and refreshed to struggle anew with life’s unceasing conflict, and to press onward, by grace divine, through its keen temptations, bitter sorrows and sore bereavements. This sacred love for divine things, this bursting forth of the enraptured heart with heavenly joy in the holy presence of the King of kings is an unmistakable evidence of life from the dead. It was this light shed abroad upon the pathway of the wise virgins that led them to the festive door and admitted them to the sacred joys of the feast. There was nothing about them naturally to call for such distinction. It was certainly not their natural ability to watch, for in this respect all were alike; “while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.” But the bridegroom’s approach kindled the light within the lamps of the wise. So with the approach of the blessed Savior to-day, it kindles within a gracious heart the sacred light of holy peace. The rich river of his love shed abroad in our heart melts us in humble contrition, and causes our hearts to “burn within us,” to warm with holy love as we contemplate the heavenly glory. There is that within the trembling child of gospel grace that ever turns to the warming influence of the Savior’s love. It is the Savior’s love shed abroad in his heart. “We love him,” says John, “because he first loved us.” The little needle in the mariner’s compass points ever to the poles of the earth. In the dark storm it betrays not its trust. So with this holy principle of gospel faith and light shed abroad in the christian’s heart. It turns ever to its heavenly source. In the darkness or in the light it is ever the same. When the heavens are curtained with the frowns of his countenance it points the trembling child to the floods of living light that roll above his dark surroundings. It leaps with joy as the Savior comes o’er the dark waters of trial at the break of day, to calm the storm’s tumult, and spread light where darkness reigned. It is always morning when he comes. He brings the day with him. “From the end of the earth,” says the psalmist, “will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” The poet has paraphrased this point of truth in the beautiful lines:
“My God, the spring of all my joys,
The life of my delights,
The glory of my brightest days,
The comfort of my nights.
In darkest shades if he appear,
My dawning is begun;
He is my soul’s sweet morning star,
And he my rising sun.”
I have sometimes thought that there was a sense in which the character of the foolish virgin also found an application among believers, in the negligent and slothful follower in the way of truth. Especially have I felt so when I remember the introductory clause of the parable, “the kingdom of heaven” shall “be likened unto ten virgins.” But when we follow those virgins through the parable and to the door of the feast and see them turned away from the closed door with the withering sentence from the bridegroom’s lips, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not,” it does not seem possible that, in its primary application, this could refer to the believer. When we remember the condition of Israel at the time of the fulfillment of this parable, and the numbers who were professedly looking forward to the coming of a Messiah, I think that we will not find difficulty in applying the phrase, “kingdom of heaven,” in the text to those who were professedly looking for the coming of the Lord and claiming an identity in the membership of his kingdom. A somewhat similar application is found in Matt. viii. 12, “The children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness.” This refers to the unbelieving Jews under the former dispensation, the foolish virgins of the text. But let the application of the wise and foolish virgins of the parable be in either sense, the solemn admonition to watchfulness and diligent attention to the things of the kingdom is the important lesson of the parable to which I desire to call special attention. Leaving the early days of the gospel morning, when the Son of man had come in the gospel heavens “with power and great glory” to spread the holy banquet of love for his hungry and thirsty ones, and tracing the years of time through the long, shadowy way of the past, we ever find an urgent need of constant watchfulness and careful attention in the way of truth. There is the same urgent, and, it may be, special need for this to-day. There is need that we should watch lest the glittering toys of earth, its houses and lands, its wealth and honors, should engage our attention more than the things of the kingdom. Long enjoyment of religious liberty and opportunity to accumulate the things of earth, I fear, has chilled the zeal of many in gospel things. It is certainly a matter of but little moment how many thousands of dollars beyond a comfortable living a brother or sister may possess, but it is a matter of the greatest importance regarding his or her interest in the cause of truth. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Look at the bright galaxy of holy men who, in radiant glory, encircle the gospel church. See them in the person of an Elijah, a Jeremiah, a Paul, lonely and unpopular wanderers over the earth, esteeming the things of the kingdom above the things of the earth, and “of whom the world was not worthy.” May their blessed example encourage us to follow in the holy ways of gospel truth, though it might be to the loss of our earthly possessions, and lead us to prison, or to death. There is from another cause need of constant watchfulness. Our country is full of false men who profess great piety and knowledge of divine things, but whose preaching and actions give evidence that they know not the Lord. The saints need watchfulness that they should not be carried away by the “cunning craftiness” of those men who “lie in wait to deceive.” The Savior solemnly warned his disciples against this class. He declared concerning the days of which he spake that false Christs and false prophets should arise. Their name is legion to-day. An individual in Indiana whose “prophecies” gives us liberty to place him upon this list, has informed us that the gospel dispensation will expire at midnight the 12th of next November. “A city made of pure gold is” then, according to this prophecy, “to descend out of heaven from God.” It seems impossible for this class to have a religious theory without gold in it. “If thou return to the Almighty,” said Eliphaz to Job, “then shalt thou lay up gold as dust, and the gold of Ophir as the stones of the brooks.” What a powerful reward this would be for one of our fashionable religionists. The individual who makes a profession in order to enter society or that it may assist him in his business. The modern preacher who is making such great sacrifices to save sinners, but who can barely live on a few thousands a year. But the Indiana prophet anticipates the need of this class: the city is to be four-square, and fifteen hundred miles in circumference, consequently there will be an ample sufficiency of gold to gratify the desire of the most sanguine. I ask candid attention to this “prophet’s” idea of heaven, a square block of pure gold fifteen hundred miles in circumference. But the enemies without are not all that the child of grace have to contend with, his own evil nature is one of the most formidable of his foes. His heart is “deceitful above all things,” therefore, he is in constant danger of being led astray by it. But it is well to remember that it is only as the Lord gives strength that we can perform any of these things. It is only as we have the oil of grace and faith in our hearts that we can obey the heavenly summons in the pathway of obedience to the Redeemer’s commands. It is comforting to know that the Lord presides over the revelation of truth unto a quickened sinner, and guides him in the narrow way of life. Without our God we can do nothing, and having him we possess all things. How fearful and solemn is this warning voice and how important that we take heed to what he says. How necessary for our comfort and instruction is every word that proceedeth out of his mouth. Terrible dangers and keen temptations darken the pathway of time, but Jesus guides us through them all. “The christian’s hope can never fail.” Important events are transpiring in the present age of the world. The “thunder of his power” is heard in our own and other lands. The political powers of the earth are shaken, governments melt under the withering touch of his hand, and kings tremble upon their thrones. The unfolding of his eternal purpose is written in certain lines upon the wing of time.
“With feeble light, and half obscure,
Poor mortals his arrangements view;
Not knowing that the least are sure,
And the mysterious just and true.
His flock, his own peculiar care,
Though now they seem to roam uneyed,
Are led or driven only where
They best and safest may abide.”
May we ever be found waiting upon him with our lamps trimmed and burning. Soon we shall be forever done with the scenes of earth. “The end of all things,” says Peter, “is at hand; be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” Frequently at an unexpected moment the Master cometh and calleth for us. Dissolution and decay are everywhere written upon the scenes of time. The proudest monuments of earth’s greatness must crumble under the weight of years. “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.”
The above remarks upon an important subject are submitted to brother Norton and the brethren. May the Lord guide us in the way of truth. I realize constantly my unworthiness of the least of his mercies. We are dependent upon him for all life and light, and all temporal as well as spiritual good, and it is utterly impossible for us to have the slightest knowledge of divine things only as he is pleased to reveal them to us. With an earnest desire for his guidance and mercy, we bow in reverence before him who is the friend of the friendless, and the only hope of the guilty.
Yours in gospel fellowship,
WM. M. SMOOT.
Signs of the Times
Volume 49, No. 9.
May 1, 1881.