In these two parables we see evidently the Lord dealing with the responsibility of those who have been called out for Him; some of them not only called, but called upon to act, whether in thoughts, or feelings, or outward actions, in reference to His return to them.
The coming of the Lord is not merely some special doctrine, but is what ought to, and at first did characterise the Christian; not merely the fact that He will come again (every person that calls himself a Christian believes that): the present expectation of the Lord characterises the Christian. Here they went out to meet the bridegroom. Again the apostle says of the Thessalonians that they were converted to wait for God's Son from heaven - they were converted to wait. So in Matthew 24, it was not that they denied His coming. "But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming": it ceased to be a present expectation. So with the virgins, "they all slumbered and slept": it was not given up as a truth (though in fact it has been given up in a great measure), but it ceased to be a present expectation. Therefore when the Lord is exhorting His disciples He says (Luke 12:35), "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning, and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord." Then He adds, "Verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and come forth and serve them." He ministers to their blessedness. What I press, then, is, that the more you look at the scriptures, the more you see that it was constantly as a first principle before the hearts of the saints.
The Thessalonians were not converted above a month. The apostle was only a few weeks with them; a persecution arose, and he was sent away, yet there he had fully brought it before them. There is no epistle so full of the Lord's coming as the two to the Thessalonians, the first as to the joy of the saints (the Lord taking them to Himself), the second the solemnity of His coming in judgment. They were quite recently converted to God, yet they had learned all this. It was the thing brought before their souls: "Ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven." Two things characterised them: they went out to meet the bridegroom, and they served Him meanwhile. They were like unto men that wait for their Lord. As we all know, even unconverted men know perfectly well, if saints were waiting for Christ their whole lives would be changed. There is not a man does not know it. Do you think people would be heaping up money, or dressing themselves in finery, to meet the Lord? If this was acted upon, it would change everything in our lives; that is what the Lord gave it for. "Let your loins be girded about" - a figure for all the heart in order, the state you are always to be in - like a porter at the door, "that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately." That is what the Lord looks for in the saints.
283 This truth is everywhere strikingly presented all through 1 Thessalonians. This characterised them there. Their faith to God-ward was spread abroad: the world was saying, What an extraordinary set of people! They have given up all their idols (and you can have idols without being heathen), and have got one true God, and expect His Son from heaven to take them up there. The world was in one sense preaching the gospel, declaring what these things were. Because they were waiting for His Son from heaven, their walk and ways in respect of that became a testimony that all the world talked about. They were persecuted for it, but that is another thing. In the second chapter he speaks of the coming in connection with joy in service, Ye are my crown and joy - I shall have it when the Lord comes, "for what is our hope or joy or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?" In the third chapter it is connected with holiness - "To the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints." He is looking for the practical effect in conduct. Then in the fourth chapter he explains how they will go up. "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." As He was coming to execute judgment (I mean on the living), so when Christ comes to judge this world, we come with Him: a blessed part of it - our thorough association with Christ. He still speaks in the same way in the fifth chapter, where it is more judgment and the day of the Lord, with some remarkable signs. "For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night; for when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape." The elements of the thing are seen now, the full time is not yet come, but it is a solemn thing. It seems a contradiction: people are saying, Peace, peace; yet their hearts are failing them for fear, and for looking after those things that are coming on the earth. It is just what is going on now. Progress, progress, everybody says, and yet all in confusion, and they do not know what is coming.
284 But my desire now is to look at it as to the saints. All the Epistles (except Galatians and Ephesians) take up this; and the Gospels. When the Lord was comforting His disciples, how does He begin? "Let not your hearts be troubled … I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again" - the thing He first of all holds up. My object is to shew the way the word of God kept it before the hearts of the saints, that they might live in that expectation. When the Lord was ascending to heaven, the angels say, "Why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner." If the Lord was leaving comfort in the hearts of His disciples when going away, He says, "I will come again and receive you unto myself." If angels are comforting them, they say, "He shall so come in like manner." It is thus practically pressed on the disciples. The last word in scripture is, "Amen. Even so come, Lord Jesus."
Accordingly, the more you look into scripture, the more you will see not merely that it is a truth taught, but a truth held up before the hearts and minds of the disciples, that they should habitually be looking for the Lord. It would change everything; it is no use saying it would not: every unconverted person knows it would. They would do their ordinary duties, of course, and be the more diligent in them. This is the special blessing in Luke 12: "Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching." He ministers to them heavenly blessing. Then when He goes on to service, "Who then is that faithful and wise servant whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing." When I get the state of the heart watching for Christ, it is heavenly blessedness with Him: when I get service, it is the kingdom.
285 Thus we see here or elsewhere, in the word of God, the coming of the Lord is kept as a present thing before the heart. If I take the unconverted person, there cannot be a more solemn thing than to be kept in constant expectation; he cannot say the Lord will not be here to-night. The Lord alone knows when He is coming. They were to wait for Him. If the saints were waiting, there would be the testimony; and do you not think the unconverted would find it out? They might hate and persecute them; but they would know that the saints had something that they had not, something which characterised them in their walk and affections. Two things are needed for this. There are two characters in which the Lord comes: He takes them to be with Himself; and then comes the question of judgment. First, then, the judgment must have no kind of fear or terror for me; but, on the other hand, to really expect Him, the coming One must be the object of my affections and my delight. If you told me some Prussian was coming, I would not care about that; but if it was my wife or my mother, how different! To have it really as our desire, then, all questions as to judgment must be settled, and we must have our affections on the Lord. We get this by the first coming of the Lord. We wait for His Son from heaven - even Jesus, which delivereth us from the wrath to come. There is wrath coming; but we know the Lord's coming is before the scene of judgment, and it is the coming of the One who has wrought salvation: we wait for the One who has delivered us. Judgment to me is not a subject of fear.
A word on this: what God has done in the coming of the Lord Jesus (I speak of His first coming) is this - all that would have to be dealt with in judgment at His second coming has been, for the believer, so dealt with on the cross: He who is to come as judge, has come as the Saviour. That is what I get in the gospel. He who is to come as judge, has come in an entirely different way and character: He has come as a Saviour. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself"; "He hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin." Suppose I believe the testimony that the Lord is coming and am not ready for it, I fear judgment; then I turn to the first coming and see He has delivered me from the wrath to come. God has dealt with the world as to its sins in grace before He deals with it in judgment. He deals with them as sinners, as responsible and lost, but not in judgment - He came "to seek and to save that which was lost."
286 Suppose my heart looks, then, at Christ, I ask, and this is important, How was it He came into the world? My sins brought Him. But what was His motive in coming? What put it into God's heart to send Him? Was it any asking of mine? Any wish I had for Him? None. When He did come they rejected Him. Thus I am brought to the simple blessed truth - "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son." I get the knowledge of what was in God's heart as proved by His acts. He has thought of my state when I was a mere sinner and needed His love - "God commendeth his love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." I have thus the heart of God, as the spring and source of all this - that His own Son has become a man, and has put away the sin that He would have to judge me for if He had not so put it away. I get Him as a Saviour before He becomes a Judge. Just see the place this sets us in. I see God occupied with my sins already on the cross. When? Long ago. I learn this as a fact, that He has been occupied with them: He knows all about me. I see Him there bearing my sins in His own body on the tree, and faith says, "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." He bore my sins; He sweat great drops of blood at the thought of it, but He has done it, and was made a curse, in the same blessed love. He has bowed His head under the weight, this terrible weight, and goes through it. All was against Him. Satan's power was there - broken by it, but still there; and all that God is against sin. Thus He goes down to death and the grave, and is risen in glory now. Where are all the sins He bore? Does He bear them in glory?
I get this truth, then, that the Saviour has thus given Himself for me, and God has been occupied with my sins before Christ comes as judge. The apostle speaks of it as the "terror of the Lord," 2 Cor. 5:10-11. But when the believer comes before the judgment-seat, he finds there the Person who has put away all his sins, and has the peaceful settled consciousness that his sins are all gone. "Having made peace through the blood of his cross," God has attested the value of it by raising Him from the dead and setting Him at His own right hand: and has given you the peace, that you might believe and know the love that God has to you. "When I see the blood I will pass over you." He has set forth Christ to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, and instead of fearing His coming I rejoice. I could not desire His coming if a stranger: but we see the way Christ has interested and brought back our hearts. "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Out and out Christ has given Himself for us, not only His life - His precious blood - but Himself. Thus I find One who loved me, and purged my conscience; Heb. 9:14. And not only is my conscience perfectly purged, but my heart is free to be on Him, because I have learned the perfect love of Him who gave Himself for me.
287 Now I get the flow of blessed affections: the Lord Jesus is coming - now I care for it! The one whose visage was more marred than any man's, who loved us, and charged Himself to put away our sins, who drank the bitter cup, and has taken away my terror - taken it away justly too. That is where the believer is. Then I say, Oh, what I would give to see Him! the One who hung upon the cross for me, where Satan's power was and God's wrath, but with a love stronger than death! Nothing stopped Him, the love with which He loved us, going through that which no heart can fathom - the bitterness of death and the cross. It is finished and done. And the One who thus loves me becomes the object of an affection which completely commands the heart. The heart longs and desires to see Him, and He gives the blessed assurance that we shall see Him, and (what is more) be like Him. "We know that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."
The thing, then, that is set out before the Christian is, that Christ Himself will come. He is waiting now, but He will come and receive us to Himself, that where He is we may be also. And therefore the heart waits thus; Christ is waiting, expecting till His enemies be put under His footstool. He is not slack concerning His promise. As to the desires of our hearts, I am waiting to see Christ, to be like Christ, and I have the certainty of it because I have His word - "We know that when he shall appear we shall be like him."
There are the two things that make the heart ready, to be in a condition to wait: His first coming to salvation - "The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared," and "looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us." The grace of God has brought salvation. Then we have the whole Christian life summed up: denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, looking for that blessed hope: grace has appeared and brought salvation, and we look for glory. The passage sums up the whole condition, only that besides, the Holy Ghost is given us that He may be the earnest of the inheritance. A Christian is a person who stands between the first coming of Christ (the Holy Ghost dwelling in Him), and the second coming. He looks back at the perfectness of what Christ has done, and he looks forward to be with Him and like Him, while he is expecting: just as a mother would expect her child from a far country - constantly expecting because her heart is on the one that is coming. That is what forms the affections, to be waiting for Christ to take us out of the world. The friendship of the world is enmity with God; our hearts with Him, we are waiting to be taken out of it. The Christian has to wait God's time, yet knowing the value of Christ's first coming as taught of God, and the Holy Ghost dwelling in him, he has learned to love that One, and is waiting for Him. Salvation is accomplished, and the hope certain, because Christ has accomplished it. Thus we have seen the blessed ground upon which the Christian has his hope - that is, the value of the first coming of Christ as a Saviour. We get this so distinctly that the whole object of His coming in judgment hast been met, for the believer, by His coming in grace. Now His coming again is to us all joy and blessedness; He comes, and raises or changes us, and makes us like Himself in the glory: the first coming gives the ground.
288 Now, when you come to apply it, first there is what we have in the parable of the virgins: there is the spiritual warning of the appearance of Christ. "While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept." I press this, that you will find - so careful is the Holy Ghost to keep this thought as a present expectation - that neither in this parable nor elsewhere, does He present a circumstance, which would force a person to put it beyond his own lifetime. Thus, as to the form of the parable, the virgins that went to sleep are the virgins that awoke. Similarly in that of the servant. The Holy Ghost will never give anything beforehand, so as to weaken the present expectation. It is a moral thing affecting the condition of the soul: the evil servant says, "My Lord delayeth his coming." This is the judgment of the professing church.
289 But to apply the parable before us individually - "They went out to meet the bridegroom." That was their business, what characterised them. All had their torches, their profession: the foolish had no oil. "The bridegroom tarried": now I get the fact, not what ought to be, but what was; for all slept. How is it, it is asked, that men for hundreds of years saw nothing of it? They all slept, wise as well as foolish - " While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept." They slept together, they woke together. What would be the meaning of separating them while asleep? But the moment they woke at the cry, "Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him," He calls them back to the place they were originally in. "Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps" - immediately they had some work to accomplish. Now comes the separation: "And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil, for our lamps are going out." After the awakening cry, the Bridegroom delayed long enough to test the heart, whether there was that real grace which kept the heart waiting for Him. Now it was the time of judgment for the foolish virgins, not of their getting oil; they were not fit to go in. Here it takes the character of warning: while they all went to sleep together, the moment they were awake to the fact of not having grace, they could not stand. There could not be a more solemn warning. "Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour." Now let me ask, Is this so in your case? Are your affections enough upon Christ to be watching for Him, because you do not know the moment - still watching for Him (for "we shall not all sleep"), so that if He came you could say, This is the Lord, we have been waiting for Him? Are your hearts actively waiting, set on His coming, bowing to God's ways as to the time, but still waiting as to your hearts' affections for Christ; your lamps burning, your loins girded, so that you could open to Him immediately if He was to come this moment? It is the state of the heart I look to, so that if Christ were to come this moment, it would be that which you were looking for. Then will all His saints be with Him, and all glorified.
Now, the other thing is service. The twelfth chapter of Luke gives us not only watching but serving. So here (Matt. 25:14-30) it is the servant. You get more of the sovereignty of God here, than in the analogous parable in Luke, where it is more the responsibility of man. Here the Lord gives to every man according to his several ability: to one five talents, to another two, etc. Every one will be responsible for his wealth, but this is not a talent. The talents are what Christ gave when He was going away. He gave gifts - apostles, prophets, and so on. He did not give money! I quite admit the responsibility of it, but it is not the point here.
290 Thus, then, when Christ went away, He called His own servants and gave them according to their ability. When He comes back, He reckons with them. He that had received five talents made them other five; he that had received two had also gained two. But their lord was dealing in grace and wisdom, and says to both alike, "Enter thou into the joy of thy lord." Then comes the third: what characterised him was want of trust in the character of his master. It was not a question of not having oil in his lamp, but he says, "I knew thee that thou art an hard man," etc. He did not know the blessedness of the grace that is in Christ's heart. The others had the mind of Christ; they trusted His heart, and were therefore good and faithful servants. Thus I find the responsibility of service resting upon the knowledge of the heart of Christ. One said, "I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth"; he judged by his own selfish heart; the others trusted the heart of their master and acted on it. He trusts us if it is only a cup of cold water, or the gift of an apostle; He trusts His servant and expects him to act. If you have five talents, trade with them; if a cup of cold water, trade with it. I get this blessed principle that, perfect grace having been exercised, and you see how it is so, the heart in cheerful readiness trusts the grace - trusts the Lord Himself.
Now, take the case of Peter, and you will see how it is connected with the conscience. Peter had to learn himself; he had confidence in himself, and it all broke down; he little knew Christ. And now just see how the Lord deals with him. He says, "Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not," and it did not fail. He needed to be sifted: it was good for him, as it is often for us, to be sifted and humbled. If he had been left to himself, it would have been all over with him. But here was the Lord just going to be crucified, answering for Himself against His bitter enemies: but you never find Him in any place or circumstances where, if one wanted Him, His heart was not free to go out to the need. He looks at Peter, whose heart is broken down: he caught the Lord's eye just at the right moment, and weeps bitterly for his sin. Now, when He comes back to Peter, there is another lesson. He says, Well, Peter, "lovest thou me more than these?" That is what he boasted of doing. He does not say, Why did you deny Me? but "Lovest thou me?" etc. He tests Peter's heart to get it right with Him. "Thou knowest all things," says Peter, "Thou knowest what is at the bottom of my heart." And then, when thoroughly humbled in the dust about the sin, Peter is given to take care of the things dearest to Him. As soon as He had entirely broken Peter down, and taught him not to trust in himself, then He says, If you love Me, feed My sheep. In the exercise of perfect grace He trusts Peter because He had taught Peter not to trust himself. Look now how Peter stands up and says to the Jews, "Ye have denied the Holy One and the Just." Did he blush? He can bring the very things he had done himself on their conscience. Why? Because his conscience is as white as snow. He had learned to trust His love. He can charge them with the sins he had done himself; his conscience is purged. He has been thoroughly probed, but he can through the work of Christ and the power of the Holy Ghost stand up and speak of his own terrible sin. Just as I can say to a sinner, You are lost in your sins: that is what I was myself.
291 It is this confidence in Christ that is the spring of all true service; that entire blessed confidence in the grace of Christ, in His heart for us, who are unworthy of anything. He has trusted us, and the heart trusts Him, and the servant goes on to serve Him and trade with his talents; with the consequent effect, that we enter into the joy of our Lord, with Him and like Him, in the sense of His love because He is love. And there will not be a soul that it will not be my delight to see there. I am sure that, after the glory of Christ Himself, it is the next best thing to see the saints with Him and like Him. What is the great desire of the heart now but to see them as like Christ as possible? Then it will be perfectly. He comes and takes us there, and brings us into His joys - "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
If you want to go on well and brightly, then, it is resting on the perfect work of Christ at His first coming (the Holy Ghost dwelling in us), and looking for that blessed hope, with true liberty of service, and the confidence that, when He comes, it is to enter into that blessed place of joy with Him. It is His own joy that He gives. The joy of our hearts is to think that He is coming, and soon, to receive us to Himself.
292 The Lord give you to understand that the soul stands in the efficacy of His work at His first coming, so that with unclouded confidence you may look for His second coming, saying, "Even so come, Lord Jesus." The state of a soul in the church really hangs upon that: the simple, constant, blessed expecting of Christ to come for us.