"But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps." Matthew 25:4.
Oil for the Virgins’
"Without the Spirit of God a knowledge of His word is of no avail. The theory of truth, unaccompanied by the Holy Spirit, cannot quicken the soul or sanctify the heart. One may be familiar with the commands and promises of the Bible; but unless the Spirit of God sets the truth home, the character will not be transformed. Without the enlightenment of the Spirit, men will not be able to distinguish truth from error, and they will fall under the masterful temptations of Satan." —Christ’s Object Lessons, pages 407, 408, 411.
The parable Christ told of the wise and the foolish virgins is undoubtedly one of the best-known lessons in Scripture. There are few Bible students who do not know of the plight of the five foolish virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom, taking no extra supply of oil with their lamps; and of the lamps that dimmed out, causing them to miss joining the wedding procession while they went in frantic search of a fresh supply of oil.
Since this is one of the "kingdom of heaven" parables used by Christ in His public teaching, we will do well to comprehend the import of this object lesson of the Master. A woman in prophetic symbolism refers to a church. Jeremiah 6:2. The character of the woman described determines whether the church so designated be true to her Lord or an apostate. Revelation 12:1; 17:3-6. The virgins of Matthew 25 depict the church awaiting the return of Christ, the antitypical Bridegroom. 2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:8. This is a church that espouses pure doctrine. Their avowed virginity indicates their freedom from false doctrine. Revelation 14:4. They are Adventists in that they are expecting Christ’s imminent return, they are commandment keepers, and there is no defilement from human or pagan tradition. As much as it is humanly possible to separate from worldliness and man-made substitutes for Bible truths, these have done so. So far as they know, they are ready to meet Christ and are confidently awaiting His coming.
But His coming is delayed, and all of them, wise and foolish alike, go to sleep. The difference between the two classes cannot be seen up to this point. All have left the world behind, all expect the return of Christ, all publicly testify to their belief in His return by going out to meet Him. All have carried with them their lamps, and all ten lamps are lighted as they set forth.
The difference becomes apparent only after their sudden awakening at the cry, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh." Because of the prolonged delay which none of them had expected, all ten lamps have burned low. Faced with the sudden call to meet the One whom they were awaiting, all arise and begin to trim their lamps. Now the difference between the two classes is evident. Only five of the number have an extra supply of oil to take care of their lamps.
These lamps have long been identified as the word of God, the Holy Bible revered by all ten as needful preparation to meet the Bridegroom. Psalm 119:105. The obvious difference between the wise and the foolish ones lies in the extra supply of oil with which the former are provided. This invaluable possession is recognized as symbolic of the Holy Spirit.
"The two classes of watchers represent the two classes who profess to be waiting for their Lord. They are called virgins because they profess a pure faith. By the lamps is represented the word of God. … The oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit."—Christ’s Object Lessons, pages 406, 407.
Therefore Christians earnestly beseech God to send them the outpouring of His Holy Spirit to prepare them for the coming of Christ. But are they prepared to receive that for which they ask? Or do the majority of Christians today stand squarely in the way of God’s answering such pleas?
This symbolic oil, so necessary for a readiness to go home to the Father’s house with Christ (John 14:2, 3), must have reference to something more than the conviction of sin (John 16:8), for they have already come out from the world and professed a pure faith. It is more than the guidance into God’s truth (verse 13) for they all carry lamps to light the pathway ahead. It goes beyond revelation of future events, because, they all expect the return of Christ as Bridegroom. All these promised functions of the Holy Spirit represent the early rain, symbolic of the needed preparation of soil for germination of seed. All the virgins have had this experience and profited by it. Yet five of them lack a vital quality necessary to prepare them to go in to the marriage feast with the Bridegroom and His bride.
Apparently all ten of the virgins believe in the Third Person of the Godhead. The teaching of the Bible concerning the Holy Spirit has not been a stumbling block to them. Then it must be the work of the Holy Spirit in their individual lives that is lacking. They have heard, they have believed, they have acted on their convictions. They have taken a public stand for the Bible truths brought home to them by the Spirit’s power, but they have not followed through with the character development needed to prepare them for entrance into eternal living.
"By implanting in their hearts the principles of His word, the Holy Spirit develops in men the attributes of God. The light of His glory—His character—is to shine forth in His followers. Thus they are to glorify God, to lighten the path to the Bridegroom’s home, to the city of God, to the marriage supper of the Lamb."—Christ’s Object Lessons, page 414.
The frightening implication is that apparently they are totally unaware of this lack in their needful preparation. They have been associating daily with those who are supplied with the oil, yet have noticed no discrepancy between themselves and their companions. Indeed, they have come to the final stage of their preparation not knowing that they are unready to meet their Lord and Master. Yet we read in Scripture that one of the first duties of the Holy Spirit is to convict of sin. John 16:8. We are taught that no Christian need fear that he will fall short of the goal, with no remaining time for preparation, since it is the work of our Divine Guide to warn us "if in anything ye be otherwise minded." Philippians 3:15.
There must have been a factor in the lives of the five foolish virgins which dulled their perceptions so that the promised warnings of the Holy Spirit failed to reach them. Surely it leaves little room for complacency when we realize how very nearly these foolish five qualified for eternal life. They were almost there, and yet they are left standing outside the shut door. Foolish indeed! To have sacrificed so much of what the world counts dear, and still not have made room enough for a sufficient supply of oil to see them through!
"Saddest of all words that ever fell on mortal ear are those words of doom, ‘I know you not.’ The fellowship of the Spirit, which you have slighted, could alone make you one with the joyous throng at the marriage feast. In that scene you could not participate. Its light would fall on blinded eyes, its melody on deaf ears. Its love and joy could awake no chord of gladness in the world-benumbed heart. You are shut out from heaven by your own unfitness for its companionship."—Christ’s Object Lessons, page 413.
There is a clue to their trouble in the quotation from Christ’s Object Lessons at the head of this chapter. "Unless the Spirit of God sets the truth home, the character will not be transformed." This evidently refers to the higher education which the Spirit makes available to those learning in the school of Christ, since all ten virgins give evidence that they are not beginners. The Spirit of God has long since made them Sabbath-keepers, taught them to look forward to Christ’s return, and brought them out of the world. Isn’t this enough to furnish a soul with eternal security? Apparently not.
The truths of the Bible have evidently been "set home" for all ten of the virgins; but the next step in their development—character transformation—has not yet taken place sufficiently to warrant recognition from the Bridegroom. And what is it that should make such recognition a foregone conclusion, but a likeness to Himself and to His Father and ours? Is not this the solution to the problem—the finishing work of the Holy Spirit on sanctified lives?
"The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to he given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love. The children of God are to manifest His glory. In their own life and character they are to reveal what the grace of God has done for them."—ibid., pp. 415, 416.
The apostle Paul, in writing his letter to the church in Galatia, describes the development of just such a character in chapter 5:22, 23. It begins with love, the pure, unselfish variety that stems only from the Fountainhead of love—God Himself. The effect of such a quality flooding the starved life creates such an out-pouring element in the life that the result is pure joy. The Christian who has awakened to this more abundant life knows the delight of just being alive, even though he can recall no special reason for such an emotion. With pettiness, jealousy, and animosity washed from his soul he is at last at peace with himself and the world.
Because not all of his associates reach this state of blessedness at the same time he does, he learns to develop long-suffering, to hold his tongue against the sharp report or the irritating remark that seems called for on occasion. Next in line comes the gentleness with which he learns to deal with his family and friends as the Spirit teaches him to understand why they react as they so often do to his new-found faith. No longer does he need to hold back the rising temper nor bite off the caustic remark. These have melted away in the sunshine of God’s revealed love upon his own unworthy life.
Goodness, which is but godliness or godlikeness, is the next stage in the development of a character like Christ’s. It is the natural step to follow when the preceding ones have been taken in order. Faith, which is otherwise translated as trustworthiness or steadfastness, follows surely, with meekness or humility the next to the last stage in the fruitage of the Spirit in human lives. The last stage is temperance, or self-control. Only when self is completely surrendered to God can such control be maintained. Therefore, a perfectly well-balanced life is the life which is God-controlled.
For further commentary on the sanctified life read: "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace." James 3:17, 18.
Yet another inspired writer counsels on the steps by which this sanctified experience is obtained: "Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity." 2 Peter 1:5-7. Peter adds, in verse 10, "For if ye do these things, ye shall never fall."
These characteristics are easily recognizable as Christlike. The Bridegroom would have recognized the five foolish virgins as being related to His Father had they come demonstrating such heavenly qualities as those outlined by Paul, James, and Peter. Can it be, then, that these represent the oil that was in too short supply to see them into the kingdom? And are not these qualities the natural result of utter surrender of the will to the guidance and molding of the Spirit of God? Righteousness which is by faith admits of none of these qualities as inherent, but makes way for their being built into the character by the Comforter who is to "teach you all things." John 14:26. Have we not been urged as a people to seek more perfect understanding of the meaning of righteousness by faith?
"The religion of Christ means more than the forgiveness of sin; it means taking away our sins, and filling the vacuum with the graces of the Holy Spirit. It means divine illumination, rejoicing in God. It means a heart emptied of self and blessed with the abiding presence of Christ. When Christ reigns in the soul, there is purity, freedom from sin. The glory, the fullness, the completeness of the gospel plan is fulfilled in the life. The acceptance of the Saviour brings a glow of perfect peace, perfect love, perfect assurance."—Christ’s Object Lessons, pages 419, 420.
Evidently the Holy Spirit has more for God’s people than most of them are receiving, more than they anticipate when they dutifully pray for the latter rain.
"The class represented by the foolish virgins are not hypocrites. They have a regard for the truth. … They receive the word with readiness, but they fail of assimilating its principles. … [They] have been content with a superficial work. They do not know God. They have not studied His character; they have not held communion with Him; therefore they do not know how to trust, how to look and live. Their service to God degenerates into a form."—Ibid.,p.411.
It is the purpose of this book to discover more concerning the true nature of the divine oil that will keep our lamps alight, so that we may be prepared to go in with the Bridegroom when He comes.
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