Spiritual Meaning of
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THE TEN VIRGINS.
Then shall the Kingdom of Heaven be like ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the Bridegroom, And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the Bridegroom was a long time in coming they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the Bridegroom comes; go out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily, I say to you, I know you not. Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man comes.
The Kingdom of Heaven is compared to ten virgins, because by the Kingdom of Heaven is to be understood, the government of the divine love and wisdom; and by the ten virgins are denoted, all those of the Church to whom this government is presented for salvation and eternal happiness.
Lumps, when the term is used in the Sacred Scriptures, always denote the truths of God's Most Holy Word, in which sense it is written, Your word is a lamp to my feet (Ps. 119:105).
By the Bridegroom is meant the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, or the incarnate God, who is called a bridegroom in regard to His bride the Church, according to which idea He speaks of Himself when He says to His disciples, Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn when the Bridegroom is with them? but the days will come when the Bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast (Matt. 9:15, Mark 2:19, Luke 5:34). By the virgins going forth, therefore, to meet the Bridegroom, is to be understood, their preparation to enter into the presence of Jesus Christ, and into a state of communication and conjunction with Him.
It is said, that five of these virgins were wise, and five were foolish, and this is explained in the following verses of the parable, where it is written, They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil in them; but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. By taking their lamps and taking no oil in them, is signified, that they received the truths of God's Most Holy Word in their understandings, which is meant by taking their lamps; but they did not admit into their wills the good of heavenly love and charity, which is meant by oil, to which good the truths of God's Word were designed to conduct them. And this is the eternal distinction between folly and wisdom, because nothing is true wisdom but a life according to the knowledge of the truth, and nothing is so great a proof of human folly as to receive knowledge and not to apply it to the purposes of a good life for which it was given. Man, therefore, is not wise, merely because he knows what is true and good, but he becomes wise by forming his life accordingly; neither can he properly be called foolish, merely because he is ignorant of truth and knowledge, but he becomes foolish in the degree in which he neglects to improve and amend his life according to the knowledge of truth which he has received.
It may be proved that oil signifies the good of love and charity, from the continual application of the term, both in the Old and New Testament, since, wherever it is used, it is intended to express some communication with the Almighty in the heavenly principle of his own mercy and love. Thus it is written in the book of Psalms, You anoint my head with oil, (23:5), where by oil is manifestly meant spiritual oil, because it is said that God anoints with it, and, consequently, it can mean nothing but the communication of the divine mercy and love. It was for the same reason that oil was commanded to be so frequently used in the Jewish sacrifices, to denote that no sacrifice can be acceptable to the Deity but what proceeds from His own spirit of pure love, compassion, and mercy.
It is written, that while the Bridegroom was a long time in coming, they all slumbered and slept.
By the Bridegroom tarrying, we are to understand the delay in His appearing and full manifestation, until His children, or Church, are duly prepared for His reception. This delay is grounded in the wisdom of His divine order and providence, which requires that mankind should be tried and exercised in various ways, before they can be admitted to the high honour and happiness of eternal conjunction with their Divine Lord. For man, being naturally born in evil, cannot hope to be a partaker of the heavenly blessings to which he is invited, until his natural evils be in some degree removed; and this removal cannot be effected but by a variety of trials, and troubles, and the apparent absence of the heavenly Bridegroom: this apparent absence, therefore, in the process of regeneration, is what is here to be understood by the Bridegroom tarrying.
We find frequent mention made of slumbering and sleeping in the Sacred Scriptures; and by slumbering is always meant a natural state of the understanding in regard to the apprehension of truth; and by sleeping is meant a natural state of the will in regard to the perception of good. This, therefore, is what is here meant by slumbering and sleeping, to denote that both the wise and foolish virgins cherished doubts in their understandings respecting the bridegroom's coming, and were likewise sluggish in their affections on the same subject. This is a consequence of not admitting, in its fullness, the operation of spiritual good and spiritual truth from the Word of God, to raise them out of a natural state of thought and will. For every man is said, spiritually, to slumber and sleep, so long as he is under the dominion of mere natural thought and affection; as, on the other hand, he is said, spiritually, to awake, whenever he suffers the truth of God's Holy Word to raise him out of, and above, such a natural state of affection and thought.
By midnight, in the spiritual sense of the word, is understood the last state of the Church, when there is no longer in it any light of heavenly truth, because there is no love of heavenly good. Whenever this is the case, then presently comes morning, which is here signified by Bridegroom coming, because by the Bridegroom is understood the Lord, who is said to come when He reveals to His Church new truths, by opening the internal sense of His Holy Word. In the Sacred Scriptures, therefore, the coming of the Lord is frequently called morning.
The command, Go you forth to meet Him, signifies, as was said above, an exhortation to prepare for the reception of His holy love and wisdom, by which reception alone man is admitted to the high honour and happiness of becoming a pure bride and wife of the heavenly Bridegroom and Husband.
Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps, by which words is meant, that all began to prepare themselves; for they who are without charity, believe they shall be accepted alike with those who have charity, since they suppose that faith alone is saving, not aware that there is no faith where there is no charity.
And the foolish said to the wise, Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out. Hence, it appears, they were willing that charity should be communicated to their empty knowledge, or to their void faith, from others; but this is a thing-impossible, since the law, respecting- the possession of charity, requires that every man shall himself receive it from God, and this in the degree in which he removes from his heart and life the affections which are contrary to charity. This appears from the answer of the wise virgins on the occasion, who said, Not so, lest there be not sufficient for us and for you: go rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves; by which words we are taught, that no one can be saved by the virtues of another, only so far as he endeavours to make those virtues his own, by incorporating them into his life through repentance and faith in the Incarnate God.
It is afterwards written, that while they went to buy, the Bridegroom came, and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut, by which words is signified and expressed, that the application of the foolish virgins was then preposterous and useless, because it was an application grounded in their fears rather than in the conviction of their own minds and consciences. For no man was ever known to be reformed from fear, which operates only on the external man, and not at all on the internal, to turn it towards the love of God and Heaven.
By they that were ready are meant, they who had joined charity to their faith, or the good of life to their knowledges; and by their entering in with the bridegroom into the marriage, is signified, that they were admitted into Heaven, because Heaven is Heaven from the conjunction of charity and faith, or, what is the same thing, from the conjunction of heavenly knowledge with the life of knowledge, on which account Heaven is compared to a marriage, and really is a marriage.
The door being shut, on this occasion, denotes that none else could enter but the wise virgins, that is to say, they who were in faith grounded in charity, or whose knowledge was united with the life of knowledge. For such is the case in regard to Heaven, that none are admitted there but such as are ready, or prepared, and all preparation for Heaven implies the conjunction of heavenly principles, such as love and wisdom, charity and faith, goodness and truth, speculation and practice, piety and the life of piety; therefore, where there is no such conjunction, there can be no admission into Heaven, in which case the door is said to be shut; not that the Lord shuts it, but that men shut it against themselves by their impenitence, unbelief, and want of application for the conjunction of the above heavenly principles.
But it is said, that afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. Thus they flattered themselves with the groundless hope of being admitted into Heaven by the divine mercy alone, though they were void of that charity, in and by which the divine mercy can alone operate. They trusted to be saved by faith alone, from which they supplicated the Divine Being, not aware that the supplication of faith alone, separate from the life of faith, which is charity and good works, is not heard by the Almighty, and does not penetrate into Heaven, because God and Heaven are moved by no prayers but those of the penitent, who are desirous of uniting in themselves all the principles of Godlike and heavenly life.
We read, further, that he answered and said, Verily I say to you, I know you not. Jesus Christ is said not to know the wicked and the thoughtless, because there is nothing in their minds which is in agreement with His own. On the other hand, He is said to know the good and the faithful, because the principles of their lives are both derived from, and in accord with, the principles of His own divine love and wisdom. Accordingly, He says, of His true disciples, I know my sheep, and am known of mine (John 10:14), because His disciples, or His sheep, are formed after His own image and likeness, and thus partake of His holy spirit and life. When, therefore, He says to the foolish virgins, I know you not, it is the same thing as if He had said, there is nothing in you which is in any agreement with My own divine love and wisdom, because you have received only the knowledge of Me and of My will in your understandings, but have not conjoined that knowledge with the love of Me and of My will in your hearts and lives. The consequence is, that we cannot dwell together in the same kingdom, and you cannot be admitted to the heavenly marriage, inasmuch as my kingdom is a kingdom of love, of wisdom, and of use united, and the heavenly marriage is a conjunction of the same heavenly principles. Depart from me, therefore, you that work iniquity.
In the conclusion of the parable it is said, Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day, nor the hour, wherein the Son of Man comes. Watching is a term which applies to the mind of man, and not to his body; and the mind of man is said to watch when it keeps itself open to the light of heavenly truth, and when it thus applies itself to fulfil the duties of life, by acting, on all occasions, and in every employment, according to the life and spirit of the commandments of God, that is to say, according to justice and judgement, sincerity and uprightness. On the other hand, man is said not to watch, or to fall asleep, when he suffers his mind to be influenced by mere natural loves and their delusive persuasions, and thus separates himself from all the light and comfort of the guidance of the eternal truth.
The day and the hour of the Son of Man's coming denote the time, or state of man's acceptance with God, or the time and state of a perfect conjunction with Him, which is altogether unknown to man, wherefore he is commanded to watch.
We are taught, by this parable, that the folly of all follies is to possess knowledge without the life of knowledge, or faith without charity, or speculation without practice; and that the wisdom of all wisdom is, to conjoin knowledge with its life, faith with its charity, and speculation with its practice, since, where these principles are separated in the mind and life, there can be no admission to the heavenly marriage, or kingdom of God, but where they are conjoined, they never fail to introduce to that kingdom, or marriage, and all its joys.