The Foolish Virgins Described - Sermon II.
William Huntington (1745-1813)
SOME time ago I gave you a discourse upon the wise virgins, and now I will endeavour to give you a description of the foolish ones, that you may see the difference between them, and judge for yourselves which class you belong to.
Such scriptural accounts of hypocrites as these which describe their setting out in a profession, the name virgin being given to them, their taking their lamps as well as the wise, to shew that they made in their profession, their constant company with the righteous, the lengths to which they run, and their continuance in their course, even till the midnight cry proclaimed the day of judgment at hand, and even then to awake and begin to trim their lamps, expecting to be admitted into the marriage chamber as well as the others; when, instead of that, they were sent away as workers of iniquity: such accounts as these, I say, are very trying to young Christians. I see more and more the need of deep and heart-searching preaching in our days, for we swarm with professors: but what are they? They know not what they bear in the general, nor in what they believe. The fan therefore, must come, and will come, to purge the floor.
About seven years ago I was much exercised in soul, for many months. Scenes of calamities and troubles were continually before me, and destruction in various form. After having carried this heavy burden for six or seven months, it wore off a little "God speaketh once, yea twice; but man perceiveth it not."
At length the present war broke out, about which I have had many night visions. These things led me to search the scriptures, and to seek the face or our heavenly Father, by prayer and supplication, for a little instruction in these things. It appears to me, that one of the heaviest times that ever fell upon Christendom, the most universal and the sharpest, is now before us. It may not last long; and it may lead on to the last conflict that ever mount Zion will have with the children of men.
This is mentioned in Daniel: "And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book," Dan. xii. 1. Whatever sufferings fell upon the Jews under Antioclius, or whatever they suffered in their last desolations by the Romans, it is my opinion that this text hath never had its full accomplishment yet; and for this reason, because it is mentioned by John in his Revelations, which book was (I believe) written after Jerusalem's destruction. The words are these: "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" Rev. iii. 10. Now this cannot have reference to the Jews, which were at this time dispersed: and besides, these things were sent to the seven churches in Asia. If the time of trouble mentioned in Daniel had been fully accomplished by Antiochus, it would not have been repeated here as something yet to come; and if it had been fulfilled in Jerusalem's desolation; it would not have been revealed as a prophecy to the Gentile churches in Asia. Nor do I believe that this storm ever fell, with all its weight, upon any one of those seven churches to which these epistles were sent; but that it is something yet to come.
However, there is some consolation to the children of God in both these passages; for "at that time Michael shall stand up." He will not be a careless or an insensible spectator; He will stand up, as he did at the martyrdom of Stephen, and exert his power in the behalf of those who suffer for his sake; for, if he be a present, yea, "a very present help in time of trouble," much more so in this time of trouble, which is to be such as never hath been since the world began. And he is "the great prince which standeth for the children of Daniel's people;" by which is meant, not the Jews, but the people of God's covenant, as Daniel was; and his sort of people, real believers, and brethren in the faith, being the spiritual children of Abraham according to the promise. "Michael stands up for these;" to support them, to give strength according to the day; to regulate the heat of the furnace; to stay the rough wind in the day of the east wind; to let the race of his enemies out, and to restrain the remainder of their wrath; to give them presence of mind in times of trial; to furnish them with wisdom how to act; and to make a way for their escape; for it is said, that "at that time thy people shall be delivered, even every one that shall be found written in the book," Dan. xii. 1. God's elect shall be delivered, whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life, slain from the foundation of the world. And with this account in Daniel John agrees in his Revelation about the deliverance of God's elect: "And, because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation," &c. The word of Christ's patience is the gospel; keeping of it, is believing in it, holding it fast, and abiding by it, in the face of all opposition, and endeavours of the wicked to wrest it out of our hands.
1. It seems by this as if those who walk in craftiness, and handle the word of God deceitfully, and those that are hypocrites in their profession, and mere formalists, will suffer a little, if not the most, in this perilous hour. And no wonder, for such persons are often the most secure; and this storm will fall very suddenly, for Christ, who threatens it, immediately adds, "Behold, I come quickly," Rev. iii. 11 ; that is, I come quickly to inflict this punishment.
2. The righteous are, in some measure, in God's secrets, but the wicked are not. God will give his people some notice of it, as he did to his disciples of Jerusalem's destruction, that they might flee from it, while the rest fled to Jerusalem for safety, and perished with the city. Moreover, this time of the most perilous and dreadful struggle is called an hour, a very short time, perhaps not a month; in which the Lord may hide his own in this day of his fierce anger: "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world to try them." Those that keep the word of his patience are called the "few names in Sardis which have not defiled their garments: they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy."
That which is to lead on, and pave the way, to this trying hour is scattering the power of the righteous: "And, when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished, Dan. xii. 7. By this power is meant, not the power of God, for who can scatter that? By this power I understand the strength and power of human laws, which keep the nations in order, and the wicked in awe, and which tolerate and protect those that fear God in their worship unmolested; and when these fences are broken down, and this power scattered, we know what must be expected.
And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he lifted up his right hand, and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever, that it shall be for a time, times, and an half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people all these things shall be finished," Dan. xii. 7. The man clothed in linen is Christ in his priestly habit. The duration of Zion's suffering under Antichrist is to be a time, times, and half a time; which, in the prophetic style, is three years and a half, or one thousand two hundred and sixty years. And it appears that when these years are run out, or nearly so, the power of the holy people shall be scattered, and this perilous hour shall come on; and this, with the slaughter of the witnesses, will be the end of Zion's sufferings by the hand of the wicked, and the last triumph of her enemies and of this we are assured by the promise and oath of Christ himself. Now we must go to John.
"And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein." Here John, or those ministers whom be personated, is ordered to take the word of God, and to describe a real church, the altar, and the use of it, and the real spiritual worshippers of God. By the temple I understand the church at large; by the altar Christ, and the use that must be made of him by all believers; and by the worshippers to describe the true from the false. An allusion is here made to the temple at Jerusalem, on the outside of which was a cloistered walk, called the court of the Gentiles:" next to this, and in the temple, was the large court which held the national church of the Jews; next to this was the sanctuary, where was the altar of burnt-offering, and where the priests entered to perform their service; and next to this the holiest of all. Now, under the gospel, all real believers are called "a royal priesthood;" yea, they are made "kings and priests unto God." The temple was a type of the whole visible professing church; in which there are some real worshippers, who are priests in the sanctuary; some national worshippers, who worship with their bodies only, and are graceless and undevout worshippers; and without this court is the court of the Gentiles, the papists. The outward court is not to be measured, because the Gentiles, who are in the cloistered walk, are to have it. "But the court which is without the temple leave out" [cast out], "and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles," Rev. ix. 2. This outward court I take to mean protestants who are unregenerate men, let them be of what sect, name, or party, they may, whether churchmen or dissenters: these are given to the Gentiles, they are ranked among, the papists, and will be gained over to them. And, as to the spiritual worshippers, the real citizens of mount Zion, they shall trample upon them: "And the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months." Here Daniel's three years and a half are called forty and two months, which I believe mean the same length of time. This is the whole time of Zion's suffering under the man of sin, but when they began, or when they will end, I know not; the vision will speak in time. During this term of years the gospel shall be preached notwithstanding all the opposition made against it; for so it follows: "And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth," Rev. xi. 3.
"And, when they shall have finishied their testimony;" when Daniel's time, times, and an half; when the forty and two months; when the one thousand two hundred and sixty years are expired; then their testimonies shall be finished; and then "the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them," Rev. xi. 7. This will be Daniel's "time of trouble;" the prophets' last mourning days; the last furnace that men will heat for Zion, all Antichrist's last triumphant festival. This killing of them doth not mean so much the murdering of them as the silencing or slaying, of them in their ministry, or as ministers; so that the word of life shall not be held forth by them as witness of God, for so it follows:" And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spirtually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified," Rev. xi. 8. This shews that, wherever these witnesses are, there they will be slain or silenced; and, as the place where they lay dead is called the street of the great city, it is plain that the countries where the witnesses lay must be gained over to the Roman church, or else they cannot, with any propriety, be called "the streets of that great city."
The time that they are to lie silenced, or dead, as witnesses, is three years and a half "And they of the people, and kindreds, and tongues, and nations, shall see their dead bodies three days and a half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwell on the earth." By these two prophets I understand ministers and churches, (read Rev. xi. 4) for the churches are the ground and pillar of what the prophets preached, or the living epistles of what the prophets wrote. It seems father evident that this mystical slaughter of the witnesses will be universal, wherever they are, because different people, kindreds, tongues, and nations, shall see them; and shall make, merry, send gifts, and rejoice on this occasion.
This, as before said, will be Zion's last trouble, and the hypocrite's last triumph; for so it follows: "And, after three days and a half, the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them that saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven, saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies beheld them." The Spirit of God inspires them afresh for their great work, and they ascend into a state of heavenly-mindedness, and appear again as a cloud of witnesses for God: and now Babylon falls; "and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever," Rev. xi. 15.
Now here are two different times of suffering mentioned. The one the slaughter of the witnesses, which will last three years and a half; the other, "the hour of temptation, which is to come upon all the world to try them." Now I take these two scenes of suffering to be distinct things, and to come on at two distinct periods, for the following reasons; namely, from the hour of temptation those are to be kept who keep the word of patience; and the world is to be tried; yea, all that dwell upon earth shall be tried: whereas, in the slaughter of the witnesses, the people of God are to stiffer, and the world are to rejoice, make merry, and send gifts one to another. And there is also a difference in the duration of these two sufferings seasons; the one is called "an hour," the other "three years and a half." But what this trying hour is, or when the heaviest of it will come on is unknown, though the thing, itself hath been in a measure revealed to some already, and will be revealed more plainly to them who have kept the word of his patience; but to the whole crowd of professors at large I believe it will be hid, and will fall upon them when they are most secure. "If, therefore, thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know What hour I will come upon thee," Rev. iii. 3.
It is not easy to tell in what part of scripture the late revolution in France, and the dreadful war that succeeds it stands. No commentator, that I have seen, has described it: some, in our day, have though that this was the earthquake and the downfall of the tenth part of the city mentioned Rev: xi.13; but that cannot be (though it may be an earnest of it), for the witnesses must be slain, and lie three years and a half, and rise, and ascend, here that earthquake comes on; for so it is written: "And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies beheld them: and the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell," &C. Rev. xi. 12. 13.
We have more need to fear a certain army in the bowels of our own country than all the combined forces on the frontiers: the damnable heresies of every sort that are revived and spread in the open face of the Sun of Righteousness; the hourly insults that are offered to the dignity and majesty of his highest nature, and all the perfections of it; the daily elopements of women from their husbands, and the unclean spirit of whoredom that so universally reign and rules among the higher class of people, who ought to set an example to the lower ranks; the numberless swarms of professors, who have no more, than a form of godliness, and who hate the power thereof; the many upstarts and presumptuous pretenders which have lately appeared in public, and the deluded multitudes which have been led astray by them; the presumption of some who have pretended to take the Jews to the land of Canaan; the daring pretensions of other novices to convert them; the universal clamours of the call and commission of others to convert the heathen nations, without any account given to the Christian world of their own conversion, much less of their call or commission from God to such a work. Another thing which I fear is, the threatened stroke of heaven upon his oppressor. The last hard frost gave the coal merchant his opportunity of grinding the face of the poor to the uttermost; which will never be forgotten in the days of this generation. The year following the whole staff of life was confined in the hands of the farmer, the monopolist, the mealman, and the miller, who exhibited such unparalleled hardness of heart, covetousness, and cruel oppression, as is not to be found in the annals of time. "But will not God visit for these things, and shall not his soul be avenged on such a nation as this?" Yea, he will; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience." I have run on here till I have almost lost myself and my text too. I was to describe the foolish firms; and I believe there never were greater numbers of this sort in a profession than in the present day; and surely never was there less of the pure gospel preached, nor less faithful dealing than at this time; for it appears to me that the whole work of the greatest part of our present preachers is to collect, varnish, and ornament, just such virgins as those in my text, and nothing else; and, in handling these words, I will endeavour to describe them in the following manner:
First, I am to treat of their virginity. It seems that our Lord Jesus Christ is determined that no soul shall ever be a loser by him; all that follow him, shall gain something; and they generally gain what they seek after: "None shall kindle a fire upon his altar, or shut his doors for nought." Many followed him formerly for the loaves and fishes, and they were fed twice; many, in our days, follow him for nothing else but to get business, and they succeed. Some follow him from a real sense of their need of his mercy; and when they have got that, they follow him in faith and affection; and these get both the kingdom of heaven, and all other necessaries into the bargain; and many follow him only to get a religious name, and such obtain it. The antediluvian professors, who married the daughters of Cain, were called, on account of their profession, the "sons or God." The thousands that passed over the sea of Tiberius after Jesus, were called his disciples: "Many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." Judas obtained both a title and a fiddle; the name of an apostle, and an empty gift: "He took part of this ministry with us," says Peter. Now, as all these have gained something by trading, it can hardly be thought that the fools in my text should go altogether unrewarded. No, no. Virgins they are called, and that by the Son of God himself. There is certainly something glorious, heavenly, and honourable, in real godliness, or else the worst of creatures would never wish to imitate it. The devil himself sees something so beautiful in God, and in his glorious perfections, that he has always tried to imitate him, just as a monkey does a man; and has had more human worshippers and admirers than ever God had; yea, we read of "the devil and his angels;" so that he has got angelic adorers as well as human; and he has obtained the name of a god, for he is called "the god of this world:" and sometime he tries to transform himself into the likeness of an angel of light: and, as Satan tries to mimic God, so his children try to mimic the saints. Hence the fools in my text are called virgins; and every whore in London would like to be called, and to be thought, the same. But God hath set such a brand of infamy on their foreheads, that nothing under heaven but evangelical repentance can ever deface it.
The name Virgin, of right, belongs to the real spouse of Christ; and here it is given only on the account of a profession. They had nothing but the name, not the thing signified by it; by name they were virgins, in religion fools, and by practice workers of iniquity: and such the Judge calls them when he bids them depart from him. A professor of Godliness and a worker of iniquity is as great a contradiction in terms as an undefiled whore. Spiritual virginity lies in a soul's holding itself not its own, but sacred to its only and eternal lover; barring the heart, mind, affections, and judgment, against all rivals and bold intruders; preserving all its charms, such as the strongest affections, secret recess of the mind, most earnest desires, choicest praises, stable confidence, sweetest words, and firmest trust, for the service of the best beloved, and none else: "Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits." But the virginity of this fool lies only in name, in outward shew, and in word; they kept their carcasses out of the world, but not their hearts; they joined themselves to the saints, but they were never of one spirit with them; they went forth to meet the bridegroom with their feet, but never walked by faith; they learnt to talk of Jesus as the saints did, and as a parrot learns to speak man's words; and the parrot knows just as much what it means as these fools did of the Lord Jesus; for he tells them at last, "Depart from me, I know ye not;" and, if he did not know them, it is not likely that they should know much of him. Which leads me to consider,
II. Their folly or foolishness. These fools were not idiots; for such persons have not sense enough to act the part of an hypocrite in so complete a manner as these did, even to deceive the wise virgins themselves, until the midnight cry undeceived them. Nor can these fools mean persons of weak capacities, for the same reason: an arch hypocrite, in the general, is a cunning, subtle, sharp, keen, crafty person, as Judas, Simon Maous, Ananias, ahitbopbel, &c. These virgins are called fools on a religious account, because they deceived themselves, and were deceived; and because they took so much pains to gain an empty name, which only at last entitled them to the greater condemnation, which is threatened to an hypocrite in Zion; or else their foolishness lay in their certain expectation of heaven in their own thoughts, when of all fools they were the farthest from it.
A fool in religion is one that is ignorant of the corruption of his own nature; of the enmity, rebellion, deceit, and hypocrisy, of his own heart; of his being destitute of all righteousness, holiness, wisdom, strength, and power, either to will or to act for God; he is ignorant of the sting of death that is in his heart, and of the strong man armed that keeps his soul in a false peace; and therefore he never was chased out of his refuges of lies; he is in covenant with death, and with hell at an agreement, and rests carnally secure in flesh and blood: and "he that trusts in his own heart is a fool."
In all this fool's profession there is no self-examination, no diving into the heart and conduct, no pondering over, or reflecting upon, the long black list of crying crimes that lie behind; and in all his hearing there is no appropriation; he is charmed with the sound, as some horses are with a fiddle; and the more noise the more music. The sword of God makes no incision in him, reproof and rebuke make no impression on him; he hears the letter by the preacher's voice, and, with a feigned faith, and in carnal security, he reclines himself upon it, "Every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it." This fool never felt the burden of sin and the wrath of God sink him, and therefore never searched deep to feel for the rock to rest his burdened soul upon; it is a dead soul, resting upon that which is a savour of death unto death.
There are none more certain, or more at a point, than this fool. To attempt to convince him, counsel him, or to undeceive him, is pulling him down from his excellency; and you may just as well turn a swine as persuade him, he sees his way clear, he knows where he is going, and where he shall end; "the way of a fool is right in his own eyes," if it be wrong in the eyes of every body else.
Wisdom asserts that the confidence of this fool is as strong as his way is nigh: he is not one that is given to stagger; few fits of incredulity fall to his share; and no wonder, for his faith is never tried; he walks boldly, and well he may, for against him there is no rising up. He has neither the world, the flesh, nor the devil to cope with. Not the world, for that loves its own; not the flesh, for his confidence is in it; not the devil, for he is the author and finisher of this faith; and he is not divided against himself. If his confidence meets with any checks, it is now and then brought on by a stroke from the lips of the righteous: this sometimes touches him a little; and this he highly resents, and calls it making the righteous sad, whom God would not have made sad; such are not builders up, but destroyers of God's heritage: and he deems it the effects of a bad spirit, of narrowness, of pride, of bigotry, and contraction of soul; and, in order to keep all light and conviction out, and to fortify himself against all truth and equity, he storms till he has silenced his adversary, and contends with the more violence for his full assurance of faith; fully persuaded in his own mind that no legal bondage, fear, trial, or trouble, will ever move him: his heart is fixed; and he daringly persisteth in his presumption. "A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil; but the fool rageth and is confident," Prov. xiv. 16.
This fool often deceives the simple by a collection of such general terms as are peculiar to religious characters: the words truth, righteousness, faith, experience, grace, the Spirit of God, the old man, temptations, persecution, good hope, the fear of God, election, the gospel, the trial of faith, the inward man, the children of God, the promises, the covenant of grace, sanctification, justification, the saint's final perseverance, progressive work, instantaneous work, the good work of grace, the buffetings and conflicts of God's people, &c. when he knows not what he means by any one of these phrases; nor can he explain, define, or clear, one of them. But poor, simple souls, who are used to gospel language, they hear and find that these are such terms as they have been used to; and therefore swallow them down, and admire his sound speech, and his experience, only because they hear the names of these things mentioned; but, when troubled souls come to seek unto him to solve their doubts and fears, they find the voice to be Jacobs voice, but the heart and hands both belong to Esau. "Excellent speech becometh not a fool; much less do lying lips a prince."
The whole work of this fool lies in one single branch of exercise, and that is, "the talk of the lips." Self-denial the daily cross, the furnace of affliction, the perpetual warfare between flesh and spirit, the plague of the heart, the stirrings of corruption, the hiding of God's face, legal bondage, doubts and fears of miscarrying, never trouble him; be eats the lamb without the bitter herbs, and drinks his wine without mingling; his days are prosperity, not adversity; his soul knows its own joy, but not its own bitterness; his heart is in the house of feasting, not mourning; his a religion lies all in his mouth, as cathedral worship does in an organ; it is all wind music: "For a dream cometh through a multitude of business, and a fool's voice is known by a multitude of words."
The fool is bomb-proof against all the artillery of a good soldier of Jesus Christ; no bow bends him, no arrows enters his reins; no weapons, however mighty, bring down his imaginations, nor any high thing in him that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God; no thoughts of his heart are brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; Satan keeps full possession of his palace, and God the Saviour lets Satan hold his own: "He is joined to fools; let him alone." The hammer of truth never smites him, the fire of God never melts him, the sword of the Spirit never pierces him, the incarnate word never searches his heart, nor tries his reins; all attempts at his conscience is beating the air, getting one's self a blot, or braying a fool in a mortar; for a presumptuous sinner thus swolen and puffed up with pride, seated in the scorner's chair, and hardened in perilous presumption, is seared with a hot iron, and past feeling. Hence the scriptures represent one word in a living soul to have more effect than a flogging at a cart's tail hath with a callous hypocrite. "A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool."
The folly of this fool is further described by his inverting all truth, and acting counter to all the paths of it, and to all the pillars and grounds of it. Hence Paul tells us that the Galatians were bewitched, that they should not obey the truth, but lies; that another gospel and another spirit suited them best; and poor Paul became their enemy, and they of course hated him, for telling them the truth. These were wise men; they submitted to circumcision, that the cross of Christ might profit them nothing; they went over to the law to be justified by the works of it; and, having begun in the spirit, or with the dispensation of the gospel, they were going to perfect the same by the works of the flesh. This was a way that seemed right in their own eyes, but the end thereof is the way of death. From this the apostle tried to dissuade them; but he was their enemy, and truth was the cause of it. Those who preached another aospel, and influenced them with another spirit, were the men; those that Paul wished to be cut off for troubling them, were their only comforters. Truth was error; the gospel became a handmaid to the law; the work of the Spirit led to the perfection of the flesh; justification by faith was to lead them to the law to complete the work of righteousness; and falling from grace was to be the completion of life, and rendering Christ unprofitable to them was the only way to gain by trading. "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth?"
The fool in my text is one that is very fond of displaying his own abilities, that he may appear to be as wise in the eyes of others as he is in his own conceit: and we seldom read of one fool contending with another, for this would hurt the common cause, which every fool is under some obligation or other to support. The antagonist of this fool is, in the general, some poor, simple soul or other, that loves and fears God; and if, by brow-beating, an inch of ground can be gained over one of this stamp, this is a feather in his cap. "The fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes." I shall now,
Consider the lamp of this fool. "They took their lamps and went forth," &c. They did not all take one and the same sort of lamps: the wise took the lamps that were peculiar to them, and the foolish took the lamps that were peculiar to them; as at a Jewish wedding, every one took his own lamp or torch. I proved, in my last discourse, from the prophet Isaiah, that "salvation is a lamp that burneth:" but no fool ever took this; if he did, it would never go out; for we are saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation, and shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end. This lamp we receive from the Saviour, and it is given to the daughters of Zion. "The Lord hath chosen Zion; this is my rest for ever. I will abundantly bless her provision, and satisfy her poor with bread. There will I make the horn of David to bud: I have ordained a lamp for mine anointed. His enemies will I clothe with shame; but upon himself shall his crown flourish," Psalm cxxxii. 16, 17, 18.
The lamp that the foolish virgins took is the law: "For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light," Prov. vi. 23. Salvation by grace is the lamp of the wise, and the law is the lamp of the fool. When God writes his law of faith on the sinner's heart by his Spirit, and puts his fear within him; when he appears to be merciful to his unrighteousness, and to remember his sin no more; this is his lamp; he takes it, and in faith and love goes forth to meet the bridegroom. And, on the other hand, the fool who has got "the works of the law" (as Paul says) "written on his heart," he must of course go forth with this, for he has no other. The works of the law are written in his heart, and all the dreadful contents of the law are in him; the curse, the wrath, the fear, the bondage, and the torment, of the law are in him; only, being carnally secure, and dead in sin, he neither knows it nor feels it. Hence you read, "The curse of God is in the tabernacle of the wicked. He that believes not is condemned already, and the wrath of God abideth on him." Bondage, fear, and torment, are in him: love never made him free, then he must be bound; love never cast fear and torment out of him, then they must be in him.
The alarms of heaven have not roused his conscience; no army of terrors have awakened him the strong man armed keeps possession of the palace, and his goods are in peace. He was drawn by love, but never chastened; he is reconciled to God, though he never felt his enmity; he loves the Lord, though he never knew what it was to hate him; he believes, but never felt himself shut up in unbelief: this is the new wine put into the old bottle, and the new cloth put upon the old garment. He rages and is confident in his life; and it sometimes happens that he has no bands in his death, but his strength is firm; his life and his lamp both go out together: "Yea, the light of the wicked shall be put out, and the spark of his fire shall not shine. The light shall be dark in his tabernacle, and his lamp shall be put out with him," Job, xviii. 5, 6. One blessed effect of the new birth is to clear the soul of bondage, fear, wrath, and torment: and the other is to make it meet for heaven. But a man feels no more the wrath and bondage of the law than he does of his own guilt, sin, and misery, till he is alarmed, awakened, and quickened, by the Spirit of God. And how shocking must that sinner's state be whose soul is daubed over with a profession, while all these dreadful combustibles lie at the bottom undiscovered and unsuspected. This is healing the wound slightly. But the midnight cry alarms the fool, and stirs all this army of terrors up, and out goes his lamp, and all the blackness and darkness of Sinai succeed. I come now,
To speak a little of the blaze that these fools made before their lamps went out, for their going out presupposes that there was something of a light. This light I take to be a little head knowledge, which at times greatly pleases the fool, and of which be is sworn with pride: "Knowledge puffeth up." Hence you read of some that "rejoiced in Jobn's light for a season;" and of others who "heard the word, and anon with joy received it." Their passions were moved; their natural affections were stirred up and drawn forth, and with much glee it was received, and they rejoiced in it; and well they might, for they felt no wounds. The word was not a hammer to them, nor a fire, nor a sword; there was no piercing, smiting, cutting, reproving, nor rebuking; the wolf lay fast asleep, and the sheep-skin was put on. I have thought, at times, that the devil applies the word to such hypocrites on purpose to deceive them, and that it is he that fills them with their joy, in the same manner as he will sometimes throw a person into fits, and sometimes deprive others of their rationality, and set them to laughing ready to kill themselves, and keep them at it for an hour together; for I know some in a profession who are always joyful, all the year round, and sometimes quite filled with it, and yet have no more experience or hope than the devil himself. Such joy is not called the joy of the Lord, nor the joy of faith, nor rejoicing in the Spirit; but it is called "the joy of the hypocrite:" and their laughter is called, the laughter of fools;" and their light is called darkness. "Take heed lest the light which is in thee be darkness. If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness." We know that the hypocrite is the devil's own child; and no wonder if the devil furnish him with this light and joy upon hearing the word; for he hears it, and anon with joy receives it, and suddenly springs up into a profession.
The carnal mind is influenced with a feigned faith; the corrupt affections put on a dissembled love; Satan, transformed into an angel of light, shines into the understanding; much knowledge of the scriptures is given to puff up, but no knowledge of the sinfullness of the human heart. Just so the devil acted with Eve: he highly applauded "the tree of knowledge," and the wonderful effects of it, but not one word in praise of "the tree of life:" and so here Satan highly extols the scriptural knowledge of his child, but not one word of the knowledge of his own wicked heart, for this the devil was the author of; and to attempt to discover it would be exposing his own work, and acting against himself.
That the devil is the author of the whole stock of this hypocrite's professing materials may be gathered from this: they have some bowels of mercy, and mantles of love, for every rank of sinners, and for every tribe of hypocrites under heaven; but for the poor broken-hearted, honest, faithful sinner, that believes on Jesus Christ, they have no affection, pity, compassion, bowels of mercy, or mantles of love, neither for them, not yet for their characters. Take them to your table and keep them; bed them, board them, make them your counsellors, guides, companions, and familiar friends as David did Ahithopbel; give them titles of honour, gifts; make them your purse-bearers, and stewards of the household, as Christ did Judas; and all will not do; they will still hate you in their hearts with perfect hatred, and be plotting for your life: and the reason is, the God of heaven is in the one, and the devil himself in the other; and who can bring God and mammon, Christ and Belial, light and darkness, faith and infidelity, together? The north and south poles will as soon meet together as any union ever subsist between such parties.
When the devil has influenced, varnished, polished, set forth, and equipped, such a professor as this, he persuades him that his hearing the word, his receiving it with joy, his springing up in zeal, in knowledge, in a profession, in a reformation, and in a separation from the world, and joining, with God's saints; that this is conversion, it is regeneration, and the joy that he felt is the power of God, and the confidence that attended it is the work of faith wrought in the heart with power. And he furnishes the world with preachers to confirm such in their profession. To counterfeit every distinct operation of the Spirit of God is the devil's masterpiece; and to set a sinner down in a false hope, and under an infernal influence, is the fool's deepest cell, the next to that of utter darkness.
When the devil sends one of his ministers to counterfeit the first operation of God's Spirit, the deceiver may be discovered by the following appearance: he comes with a gloomy countenance, and commands a solemn awe; his deportment is grave, his voice hollow, his looks declarative of pensiveness and deep thought; he deals much in mortality, death, and judgment to come; his eyes stare, his face is pale, and his accents are weighty; a solemn gloom, dismal sensations, follow, and are communicated to all the audience; a cold chill runs through the blood, and every thought of the heart is brought into captivity to the house appointed for all living. This is a solemn meeting, and a solemn opportunity; and is called the powerful operations of the Holy Spirit: whereas this influence, according to scripture, used to be brought on by necromantic art, such as lodging in the tombs, consulting the dead; and was produced in king Saul by the peeping and muttering of the witch of Endor, who brought up Samuel; and may now be obtained by attending the play of Macbeth. "But should not a people seek unto their God, to the living from the dead?" Old wives' fables about then night-mare, will-o'- the-wisp, and apparitions, will bring on this influence even upon children, till they will conceive that the whole house is haunted.
The second branch of this deception Satan carries on by those who come to us with all the terrors and bondage of the law, driving us to the obedience of faith with the repeated discharges of hell and damnation; terrifying and frightening us out of sin, out of self and the world, and into holiness of heart, lip, and life, by resolutions, vows, fears, and toiling, in our own strength. These tell us that they have been shook over hell, and they are got out of all the storm without either the witness of God's Spirit, the voice of the blood of sprinkling, or the sweet "yea of everlasting love." This passes for deep experience, for the real convictions of the Spirit of God; whereas it has been found in Cain, Judas, Esau, Ahab, and in every reprobate that is given up to a fearful looking-for of judgment; in all the surprised hypocrites in Zion, in all the fallen angels, and in all the damned in hell. It is not an experience of the wrath and curse of God, but an experience of deliverance from it, that worketh hope.
The third branch of this mimicry is displayed by the unhumbled, unpardoned, unsanctified, and unrenewed Antinomian, who has the word assurance on his tongue, evangelical scraps in his head, hardness in his spirit, filthiness in his life, and Satan in his heart. These mount the scorner's chair; arrogance comes out of their mouth, and they talk exceeding protidly; they brow beat and banter both law and conscience, and bid defiance to both; and, like Balaam, call God their own: they urge their plea, put in their claim, and puff at meekness, righteousness, peace, charity, contrition, godly sorrow, and repentance; they become men, and put away childish things; and, having made shipwreck of all feeling, they are safe ashore, out of the reach of all fear, storm, wind, or wave, under this hardening, daring, presumptuous, spirit; the alarmed, the awakened, the seeker, the watcher, the waiter, the sick, and the wounded, are often deceived; they leave their couch and quit their cells, and up into the fall assurance of faith they leap, without the operation of pardoning love, or repentance unto life. But, alas! they soon find that they have all this ground to go over again. Such believers make haste, and, like Ishmael, come forth before the time of the promise. If you tell them that they spring up too soon, that they will wither for want of root, deepness of earth, and moisture; this is making the heart of the righteous sad, whom God would not have made sad. Under the influence of this spirit Korah raised his company to confront Moses, to assert the holiness of all the people, and to invade the priest's office. Under the same influence the false apostles swayed the Corinthian church. Numbers of them, all on a sudden, were fit for orders: these were zealous of spiritual gifts; others flocked to the idols' temples; another kept his father's wife; and these desired a proof of Christ's speaking, by Paul.
The fourth branch of this deception of Satan is intended to imitate brotherly love. This is carried on by those who "allure through the lust of the flesh and much wantonness." This influence, according, to Paul, is carried on privately, "by creeping into houses, and leading captive silly women;" by using, exhortations which favour of "deceit, uncleanness, and guile," 1 Thess. ii. 3. Milton represents this in its first operation on Adam and Eve after the fall as so intoxicating that they thought that new divinity was springing up within them. Some of Paul's wanton widows, under this influenza, "kicked against Christ, waxed wanton, and turned aside after Satan." Eli's sons were both priests of Belial; men of this cast, who used such guile in their office as led them to sacrifice to Venus at the porch of the tabernacle. These professors are great admirers of love feasts. Peter tells us that they were spots in their feasts of charity, feeding themselves without fear; that they turned the orace of God into lasciviousness, had eyes full of adultery; cursed children, that could not cease from sin, beguiling unstable souls. The way to find such men out is, to look at their congregations; and, when you see two or three women to one man, you may be sure that Belial is in the pulpit; for God has fixed it as an eternal rule, and we may judge by it, that there shall be, "like people like priest."
The fifth influenza is intended to counterfeit the melting operations of the spirit of love, which is produced by those who are skilled in empty oratory. Such feel out and play upon the corrupted passions of flesh and blood; they make their bowels yearn and sound like an harp. This produces a voluntary humility, natural meekness, weeping, and lifting up the hands; glee, joy, and the raptures of the way-side hearers, follow. This is called a refreshing time; every plant is watered at such seasons as these. I once heard of an old lady who went into a meetinghouse accidentally to hear a sermon, and there was an orator in the pulpit; and the good old matron was wrought upon, and went after the sermon was over and offered herself to the minister as a member; informing him of the power that she had felt, and of her conversion under the discourse. He wanted to know what part of his discourse it was that had done the execution; but her heart was so big, and her tears flowed so fast, that she was obliged to give some vent to her passions before she could speak. The word, she said, she should never forget as long as she lived; and at last, with a mighty burst of noise, passion, and tears, she said the word was Mesopotamia; that is the name of a country. From this sort of fire the foolish virgin gets her spark; for this is strange fire. "Walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that you have kindled: this shall you have at my hand, you shall lie down in sorrow."
Hence it is plain that the joy of the Lord which is produced in the soul under the operations of the Holy Ghost, is the oil of the wise virgin; and the joy that springs up in the heart at the stirrings and motions of natural affections, is the light and blaze of this foolish one. Their zeal, fervour, gifts, and profession, spring, up from the heat of inward passions; and so the Saviour intimates: "He receives the word with joy, yet hath he not root in himself, but endures for a while, and in temptation falls away." This the Lord calls withering; and when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root, it withered. "All the trees of the field are withered; because joy is withered away from the sons of men," Joel, i. 12.
There is no mention made in my text of any vessel that these fools took: "They took their lamps, but took no oil with them." I have shewn it as my opinion, that the lamp of this fool is the law; and by their having no oil we may see that God doth not minister the spirit by the works of the law, but by the hearing of faith; nor does grace flow in that channel; faith comes by hearing of faith, and grace is communicated by God's giving testimony to the word of his grace; and all real joy is produced by the Spirit of God; nothing of all which comes by the preaching of the law, nor by the works of the law. The reason that there is no mention made of a vessel is, because all this profession is carried on without the heart; they took their lamps and went forth, but their hearts stayed at home in the world: "Their heart is far from me, therefore in vain they worship me." God requires a heart sensible of its own plague, a broken and a contrite heart; a believing heart, and a heart circumcised to love him; and without this vessel all religion is nought, and without the "oil of joy," all worship is a task. I come now,
Lastly, To shew the cause of these lamps going out, and what it was that extinguished them. Sometimes the light of these hypocrites is from God; and I believe that the light of some others is not from God, but from Satan. It is said that "the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in his way, and his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed his head and fell flat on his face." Hence he so often boasts and says, "Balaam, the son of Beor, hath said, and the man whose eyes are open, hath said; he hath said which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the Most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open." And what does he see? He sees his own way to be perverse before God; be sees beforehand a drawn sword, which was to shew him, had he understood it, that be should fall in his rebellion by the sword of Israel, and afterwards be cut asunder with the sword of justice, and have his portion appointed with hypocrites and unbelievers. And this every hypocrite sees in this world, who, in strict justice, is given up to a fearful lookin-for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries; and all other hypocrites, who die without these awful visions, will have them hereafter; for we read of some who in hell lift up their eyes. But Balaam's eyes were opened in this world; and he sees the safety of Israel, the death of the righteous, and the destruction of Amalek, and perhaps his own banishment: "I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not nigh." He would see him at the day of judgment, though not now; and he would in hell behold him, but not nigh; for there is a great gulf fixed between these two parties. How lofty, how pompous this poor, proud, boasting hypocrite speaks; how does this knowledge puff him up! and so it doth all others, as well as he, who never knew the plague of their own heart.
The light that Jehu had in the scriptures, which he discerned when he executed God's judgments on the house of Ahab, seems to be from the same fountain with this of Balaam. But the light of some hypocrites seems to come from another quarter; for, if Satan can transform himself into the likeness of an angel of light, there must be some sort of shining rays about him, which must be intended to deceive some of his own children, who are given up to his strong delusions. Saul saw that David would surely be king, and that the kingdom would be established in his hand, and that he should go on and prosper. But who could shew him this? The Lord was departed from him long before, and an evil spirit troubled him. This light was from Satan; and so was the light of Haman's wise men, and of Zerish his wife, who told Haman that, if Mordecai was of the seed of the Jews, he should not prevail against him, but should surely fall before him. The light that was in Judas seems to come from this transformation of Satan. "Take heed," says the Saviour, "lest the light that is in thee be darkness:" and in this darkness are all those who in their hearts hate the saints of God, let them have what light, knowledge, or understanding, they may: "For he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes." And this was the case with Judas; he hated Christ in his heart, though he followed him in order to get into the ministry, to get the name of an apostle, and to bear the bag, and rob the common stock; be hated Christ, betrayed him, and sold him; and Christ plainly called him a devil, for the devil shined upon him, and actuated him, and at last entered into him, and took full possession of him. But the devil would not kill him when he had got him, for that would have been Satan's sin, and not Judas's; but the devil tempted him to kill himself, that the sin of suicide might be added to all the rest: and here we may see the wisdom of the serpent. Thus it appears that God opens the eyes of some hypocrites, as Balaam, Jehu, and the Egyptians in the Red Sea, when "the eye of the Lord looked through the cloud, and troubled the host of Pharaoh; and they said "Let us fly from Israel, for the Lord fighteth for Israel against the Egyptians."
The false rays of these hypocrites may be discovered by the discerning Christian by the following observations. I have, in the general, perceived that they are noted for finding out some new mysteries, or some new discoveries, or some new interpretations, of scripture, which, as they think, never were seen before. This makes them intolerably proud; and, when once Satan has deceived them in this way, their wisdom is exalted as if it was almost infinite; for, after this, all who attempt to undeceive them, are fools. Hence the Spirit tells you, "They hold fast deceit; they refuse to let it go." When the devil has got a man safe in his net, he will roll and tumble him farther and farther, till he is bound both hand and foot, so that "be cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand? A deceived heart hath turned him aside, and he feedeth upon ashes." Hence the cautions that God gives his children, "Reprove not a scorner:" and again, "He that remains an heretic, after the first or second admonition, reject; knowing, that such an one is subverted, and sinneth, being, condemned of himself."
The ways that the devil leads these hypocrites are various. Those which I have observed are these: some are led to stumble at the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ. Here Satan drives them, by pride, into most daring and desperate presumption, and all manner of errors, and God resists them as forcibly.
Others are continually working, at the great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh, until they stumble, and take offence at the Rock of our strength, which they are sure to do, sooner or later; for they have no light but in the head, which lifts them up; no feeling, sense of their own ignorance to keep them humble; nor the Spirit of God to guide them. Almost every arch-heretic mentioned in the history of Eusebius, stumbled and fell here.
Others, like Pelagius, begin in the Spirit and end in the flesh. Satan sets them to exalt themselves, and debase the grace of God. These leave the doctrine of the Trinity alone; as the papists, arminians, and others.
Others he deceives by stuffing their heads with high notions and setting them up to be something when they are nothing. This draws many poor, simple souls to look up to them as wonders from the Lord of Hosts; and then Satan tempts them to final apostacy. This stumbles and staggers many poor souls, who used to view them as eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. However, God's elect must pluck out these right eyes, and cast them from them, and cut off those right feet whose apostacy offends them, and cast them from them, and enter into life halt and maimed, rather than, having such eyes and such feet, to be cast into hell fire.
This light of the foolish, which goes out, never shines into their heart. It is not that candle of the Lord which searches all the innermost parts of the belly: it shines only in the head. "But God, who caused the light shineout of darkness, shines into the heart (of his people), to give them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." This is "searching Jerusalem as with candles." It discovers the enmity, rebellion, wickedness, and hypocrisy, of the heart, while dreadful rebukes and reproofs follow. "All things which are reproved are made manifest by the light which doth appear; for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake, thou that sleepest, arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." And this light leads the believer into an experience which no foolish virgin, nor hypocrite in Zion, ever attained to, and that is to "love God, because God first loved him;" and to love Christ who loved him, and gave himself for him; and to love the saints for Christ's sake, and because of the grace of God which is in them: and so it is written, "Again, A new commandment write I unto you, which thing is true in him and in you, because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him." This new comnandment is given by Christ: "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another, as I have loved you," John, iii. 34. "This commandment," John says, "is true in him and in us." It is true in him, because he loved us, and gave his life for us; and it is true in us, because we love him, and the brethern for his sake: and where this is, the true light is now shining, and there is none occasion of stumbling in such, for such are passed from death unto life. The world loves its own, but hates the saints; and real saints hate the world, and love one another.
One cause of the lamps of these foolish virgins going out at the midnight cry is, Satan at this time laid aside his transformation, the business was done, the prey was safe in the trap. Besides, at this dreadful period Satan cannot use such trifling, deception as this; he must appear in all his madness, rage, and desperation, for he himself believes and trembles at God's judgments, and is as much afraid of future torment as the hypocrite himself; hence his outcry, "Art thou come to torment us before the time?"
2. This alarm made these secure hypocrites set about a work which they had never done before, and that is, self-examination; upon which they soon discovered that their "lamps were out," and that they had "no oil with them;" which is what they never found out till now. This sudden alarm awakened them out of their security, and began to terrify them; their false notion of being drawn all the way to heaven by love failed them, and left them doubtful; their speculative knowledge fled; the joy that sprung from the stirrings-up of natural affections withered away; blind zeal, external reformation, feigned faith, and dissembled love, were soon blasted; when all on a sudden the enmity, rebellion, deception, hypocrisy, and deceitfullness of their own hearts, began to appear; for this dross and tin had never been discovered, nor purged off in the furnace of affliction. Upon the back of this, the terrors of God, the bondage and slavish fear of the law, the wrath and curse of it, began to stir up in them; for all these things are in the tabernacles of the wicked, as was the case here; and they are in every one else, except those where perfect love hath cast them out. Their deceitfullness in their profession, the wicked works that they allowed themselves in, stared them in the face, for such they were; and "workers of iniquity" Christ calls them. Conscience now began to lay about him, and to act his part; and at this their hope perished, and it gave up the ghost, and all their trust became a spider's web. The motions of their natural passions, under the empty oratory of the ministers of Satan, which used to pass for godly sorrow, become of no use here, for at this time their spirits appeared hardened, and as callous as a rock; and the checks and rebukes of conscience, which used to be called the workings of Satan, and the struggles of the old man, and be resisted as such, must now be attended to as a worm that never dies.
All these things were found out when they came to "trim their lamps." Well may Solomon call their joy "the joy of the hypocrite, which is but for a moment. They heard the word, and anon with joy received it;" but they had no root in themselves; and now the world has left them, and all their joy is withered away: "Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out." These knew who had oil, though they had none themselves. This they might easily discern, by the composed frame that the wise were in, by the health and cheerfullness that shewed itself in their countenances; by the life, fervour, and power, that appeared both in them and in their devotions, even in the worst of times; and they might know this from what they had heard and seen of their past experiences; and from the many suspicions which the wise had had of the state of these foolish ones in times past, and by the repeated reproofs which they had received from them. And I have seen not a little of this in my time; not a few, who have hated me and my doctrine too, have on a sick-bed craved an interest in my prayers, and wished to see me.
"Give us of your oil;" speak to us, try to comfort us, and pray for us, and communicate some of your joy and comfort to our hearts. But the wise knew pretty well what preachers and what doctrines used to suit them best; and therefore they say unto them, "Go to them that sell, and buy for yourselves." They did not go to Christ to buy without money and without price; but they went to some of their former favourite preachers, who had extolled the power of man's free-will, his faithfulness to grace received, and the talents which fall to the share of all men, and the improvements of these; for none but such as these, and the pope of Rome, ever pretend to sell these things; and these foolish souls knew that these wise virgins were averse to all these tenets, and therefore they never offered to buy of them, but to beg; "Give us of your oil." But they sent them to those that pretend to sell; Go to your old builders-up, to those that used to daub you with untempered mortar; those who prophesied smooth things to you, and whom you used so much to applaud; who have got such power, such talents, such a stock of inherent grace to improve, and a power to come to Christ if they will, and to stay, away if they please; to keep the whole law, and to work out a righteousuess for themselves. And to these they went, in hopes they would confirm their former doctrine, and not to Christ; for "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; "and afterward came the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us." But it was too late; the top-stone was brought forth, the door of faith, the door of hope, and mercy's door, were closed; and none were within but the regenerate, nor any without but the workers of iniquity. An open door is now before us; the gate of life still admits weary and heavy-laden sinners. Enter this, and you shall enter the other: Strive "to enter in at the strait gate," for this stands at the head of the way of life; "and they that enter here shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture."