Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
PARABLE OF THE
This and the following parable are in Matthew alone.
1. Then--at the time referred to at the close of the preceding chapter,
the time of the Lord's Second Coming to reward His faithful servants and
take vengeance on the faithless. Then
shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took
their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom--This supplies a
key to the parable, whose object is, in the main, the same as that of
the last parable--to illustrate
the vigilant and expectant attitude of faith, in respect of which
believers are described as "they that look for Him"
and "love His appearing"
In the last parable it was that of servants waiting for their absent
Lord; in this it is that of virgin attendants on a Bride, whose duty it
was to go forth at night with lamps, and be ready on the appearance of
the Bridegroom to conduct the Bride to his house, and go in with him to
the marriage. This entire and beautiful change of figure brings out the
lesson of the former parable in quite a new light. But let it be
observed that, just as in the parable of the Marriage Supper
so in this--the Bride does not come into view at all in this
parable; the Virgins and the Bridegroom holding forth all
the intended instruction: nor could believers be represented both as
Bride and Bridal Attendants without incongruity.
2. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish--They are
not distinguished into good and bad, as TRENCH
observes, but into "wise" and "foolish"--just as in
those who reared their house for eternity are distinguished into "wise"
and "foolish builders"; because in both cases a certain degree of
goodwill towards the truth is assumed. To make anything of the equal
number of both classes would, we think, be precarious, save to warn us
how large a portion of those who, up to the last, so nearly resemble
those that love Christ's appearing will be disowned by Him when He
3. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
4. But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps--What are
these "lamps" and this "oil"? Many answers have been given. But since
the foolish as well as the wise took their lamps and went forth with
them to meet the Bridegroom, these lighted lamps and this advance a
certain way in company with the wise, must denote that Christian
profession which is common to all who bear the Christian name; while the
insufficiency of this without something else, of which they never
possessed themselves, shows that "the foolish" mean those who, with all
that is common to them with real Christians,
lack the essential preparation for meeting Christ. Then, since the
wisdom of "the wise" consisted in their taking with their lamps a supply
of oil in their vessels, keeping their lamps burning till the Bridegroom
came, and so fitting them to go in with Him to the marriage, this supply
of oil must mean that inward reality of grace which alone will stand
when He appears whose eyes are as a flame of fire. But this is too
general; for it cannot be for nothing that this inward grace is here set
forth by the familiar symbol of oil, by which
the Spirit of all grace is so constantly represented in Scripture.
Beyond all doubt, this was what was symbolized by that precious
anointing oil with which Aaron and his sons were consecrated to the
(Ex 30:23-25, 30);
by "the oil of gladness above His fellows" with which Messiah was to be
even as it is expressly said, that "God giveth not the Spirit by
measure unto Him"
and by the bowl full of golden oil, in Zechariah's vision, which,
receiving its supplies from the two olive trees on either side of it,
poured it through seven golden pipes into the golden lamp-stand to keep
it continually burning bright
--for the prophet is expressly told that it was to proclaim the great
truth, "Not by might, nor by power, but by MY
SPIRIT, saith the Lord of hosts [shall this temple
be built]. Who art thou, O great mountain [of opposition to this
issue]? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain [or, be swept out
of the way], and he shall bring forth the head stone [of the temple],
with shoutings [crying], GRACE, GRACE unto it." This supply of oil, then, representing
that inward grace which distinguishes the wise, must denote, more
particularly, that "supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ," which, as it
is the source of the new spiritual life at the first, is the secret of
its enduring character. Everything short of this may be
possessed by "the foolish"; while it is the possession of this that
makes "the wise" to be "ready" when the Bridegroom appears, and fit to
"go in with Him to the marriage." Just so in the parable of the Sower,
the stony-ground hearers, "having no deepness of earth" and "no root in
though they spring up and get even into ear, never ripen, while they in
the good ground bear the precious grain.
5. While the bridegroom tarried--So in
"My Lord delayeth His coming"; and so Peter says sublimely of the
ascended Saviour, "Whom the heaven must receive until the times of
restitution of all things"
Lu 19:11, 12).
Christ "tarries," among other reasons, to try the faith and patience of
they all slumbered and slept--the wise as well as the foolish. The world
"slumbered" signifies, simply, "nodded," or, "became drowsy"; while the
world "slept" is the usual word for lying down to sleep, denoting two
stages of spiritual declension--first, that half-involuntary lethargy or
drowsiness which is apt to steal over one who falls into inactivity; and
then a conscious, deliberate yielding to it, after a little vain
resistance. Such was the state alike of the wise and the foolish
virgins, even till the cry of the Bridegroom's approach awoke them. So
likewise in the parable of the Importunate Widow: "When the Son of man
cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?"
6. And at midnight--that is, the time when the Bridegroom will be least
expected; for "the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night"
there was a cry made, Behold, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet
him--that is, Be ready to welcome Him.
7. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps--the foolish
virgins as well as the wise. How very long do both parties seem the
same--almost to the moment of decision! Looking at the mere form of the
parable, it is evident that the folly of "the foolish" consisted not in
having no oil at all; for they must have had oil enough in their lamps
to keep them burning up to this moment: their folly consisted in not
making provision against its exhaustion, by taking with their lamp
an oil-vessel wherewith to replenish their lamp from time to time,
and so have it burning until the Bridegroom should come. Are we,
then--with some even superior expositors--to conclude that the foolish
virgins must represent true Christians as well as do the wise, since
only true Christians have the Spirit, and that the difference between
the two classes consists only in the one having the necessary
watchfulness which the other wants? Certainly not. Since the parable was
designed to hold forth the prepared and the unprepared to meet Christ at
His coming, and how the unprepared might, up to the very last, be
confounded with the prepared--the structure of the parable behooved to
accommodate itself to this, by making the lamps of the foolish to burn,
as well as those of the wise, up to a certain point of time, and only
then to discover their inability to burn on for want of a fresh supply
of oil. But this is evidently just a structural device; and the real
difference between the two classes who profess to love the Lord's
appearing is a radical one--the possession by the one class of
an enduring principle of spiritual life, and the want of it by the
8. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our
lamps are gone out--rather, as in the Margin, "are going out"; for
oil will not light an extinguished lamp, though it will keep a burning
one from going out. Ah! now at length they have discovered not only
their own folly, but the wisdom of the other class, and they do homage
to it. They did not perhaps despise them before, but they thought them
righteous overmuch; now they are forced, with bitter mortification, to
wish they were like them.
9. But the wise answered, Not so; lest there be not enough
for us and you--The words "Not so," it will be seen, are not in the
original, where the reply is very elliptical--"In case there be not
enough for us and you." A truly wise answer this. "And what, then, if
we shall share it with you? Why, both will be undone."
but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves--Here again
it would be straining the parable beyond its legitimate design to make
it teach that men may get salvation even after they are supposed and
required to have it already gotten. It is merely a friendly way of
reminding them of the proper way of obtaining the needed and precious
article, with a certain reflection on them for having it now to seek.
Also, when the parable speaks of "selling" and "buying" that valuable
article, it means simply, "Go, get it in the only legitimate way." And
yet the word "buy" is significant; for we are elsewhere bidden, "buy
wine and milk without money and without price," and "buy of Christ gold
tried in the fire," &c.
Now, since what we pay the demanded price for becomes thereby our
own property, the salvation which we thus take gratuitously at
God's hands, being bought in His own sense of that word, becomes ours
thereby in inalienable possession. (Compare for the language,
10. 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--They are
sensible of their past folly; they have taken good advice: they are in
the act of getting what alone they lacked: a very little more, and they
also are ready. But the Bridegroom comes; the ready are admitted; "the
door is shut," and they are undone. How graphic and appalling this
picture of one almost saved--but lost!
11. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open
this reiteration of the name was an exclamation rather of surprise;
here it is a piteous cry of urgency, bordering on despair. Ah! now at
length their eyes are wide open, and they realize all the consequences
of their past folly.
12. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you
not--The attempt to establish a difference between "I know you not"
here, and "I never knew you" in
--as if this were gentler, and so implied a milder fate, reserved for
"the foolish" of this parable--is to be resisted, though advocated by
such critics as OLSHAUSEN, STIER, and ALFORD. Besides being
inconsistent with the general tenor of such language, and particularly
the solemn moral of the whole
it is a kind of criticism which tampers with some of the most
awful warnings regarding the future. If it be asked why unworthy guests
were admitted to the marriage of the King's Son, in a former parable,
and the foolish virgins are excluded in this one, we may answer, in the
admirable words of GERHARD, quoted by TRENCH, that those festivities are celebrated in this
life, in the Church militant; these at the last day, in the Church
triumphant; to those, even they are admitted who are not adorned with
the wedding garment; but to these, only they to whom it is granted to
be arrayed in fine linen clean and white, which is the righteousness of
to those, men are called by the trumpet of the Gospel; to these by the
trumpet of the Archangel; to those, who enters may go out from them, or
be cast out; who is once introduced to these never goes out, nor is
cast out, from them any more: wherefore it is said, "The door is
13. Watch therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein
the Son of man cometh--This, the moral or practical lesson of the
whole parable, needs no comment.
PARABLE OF THE
This parable, while closely resembling it, is yet a different one from
MEYER, and others identify them--but not
NEANDER. For the
difference between the two parables, see the
on that of The Pounds.
TRENCH observes with his usual felicity, "the
virgins were represented as waiting for their Lord, we have the
servants working for Him; there the inward spiritual life of the
faithful was described; here his external activity. It is not,
therefore, without good reason that they appear in their actual
order--that of the Virgins first, and of the Talents following--since it
is the sole condition of a profitable outward activity for the kingdom
of God, that the life of God be diligently maintained within the heart."
14. For the kingdom of heaven is as a man--The ellipsis is better
supplied by our translators in the corresponding passage of Mark
"[For the Son of man is] as a man," &c.,
travelling into a far country--or more simply, "going abroad." The
idea of long "tarrying" is certainly implied here, since it is expressed
who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods--Between
master and slaves this was not uncommon in ancient times. Christ's
"servants" here mean all who, by their Christian profession, stand in
the relation to Him of entire subjection. His "goods" mean all their
gifts and endowments, whether original or acquired, natural or
spiritual. As all that slaves have belongs to their master, so Christ
has a claim to everything which belongs to His people, everything which,
may be turned to good, and He demands its appropriation to His service,
or, viewing it otherwise, they first offer it up to Him; as being "not
their own, but bought with a price"
(1Co 6:19, 20),
and He "delivers it to them" again to be put to use in His service.
15. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to
another one--While the proportion of gifts is different in
each, the same fidelity is required of all, and equally
rewarded. And thus there is perfect equity.
to every man according to his several ability--his natural capacity as
enlisted in Christ's service, and his opportunities in providence for
employing the gifts bestowed on him.
and straightway took his journey--Compare
where the same departure is ascribed to God, after setting up the
ancient economy. In both cases, it denotes the leaving of men to the
action of all those spiritual laws and influences of Heaven under which
they have been graciously placed for their own salvation and the
advancement of their Lord's kingdom.
16. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with
the same--expressive of the activity which he put forth and the labor
and made them other five talents.
17. And likewise he that had received two he also gained other two--each
doubling what he received, and therefore both equally faithful.
18. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid
his lord's money--not misspending, but simply making no use of it.
Nay, his action seems that of one anxious that the gift should not be
misused or lost, but ready to be returned, just as he got it.
19. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth
with them--That any one--within the lifetime of the apostles at
least--with such words before them, should think that Jesus had given
any reason to expect His Second Appearing within that period, would seem
strange, did we not know the tendency of enthusiastic, ill-regulated
love of His appearing ever to take this turn.
20. Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents; behold, I have gained
besides them five talents more--How beautifully does this illustrate
what the beloved disciple says of "boldness in the day of judgment," and
his desire that "when He shall appear we may have confidence, and not be
ashamed before Him at His coming!"
(1Jo 4:17; 2:28).
21. His lord said unto him, Well done--a single word, not of bare
satisfaction, but of warm and delighted commendation. And from what
thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over
many things, &c.
22. He also that had received two talents came . . . good
and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will
make thee ruler over many things--Both are commended in the same
terms, and the reward of both is precisely the same. (See on
Observe also the contrasts: "Thou hast been faithful as a
servant; now be a ruler--thou hast been entrusted
with a few things; now have dominion over many
enter thou into the joy of thy lord--thy Lord's own joy.
24. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I
knew thee that thou art an hard man--harsh. The word in Luke
reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not
strawed--The sense is obvious: "I knew thou wast one whom it was
impossible to serve, one whom nothing would please: exacting what was
impracticable, and dissatisfied with what was attainable." Thus do men
secretly think of God as a hard Master, and virtually throw on Him the
blame of their fruitlessness.
25. And I was afraid--of making matters worse by meddling with it at
and went and hid thy talent in the earth--This depicts the conduct
of all those who shut up their gifts from the active service of Christ,
without actually prostituting them to unworthy uses. Fitly, therefore,
may it, at least, comprehend those, to whom
TRENCH refers, who, in the
early Church, pleaded that they had enough to do with their own souls,
and were afraid of losing them in trying to save others; and so, instead
of being the salt of the earth, thought rather of keeping their own
saltness by withdrawing sometimes into caves and wildernesses, from all
those active ministries of love by which they might have served their
Thou wicked and slothful servant--"Wicked" or "bad" means
"falsehearted," as opposed to the others, who are emphatically styled
"good servants." The addition of "slothful" is to mark the precise
nature of his wickedness: it consisted, it seems, not in his doing
anything against, but simply nothing for his master.
Thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have
not strawed--He takes the servant's own account of his demands, as
expressing graphically enough, not the hardness which he had basely
imputed to him, but simply his demand of
a profitable return for the gift entrusted.
27. thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the
and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury--interest.
29. For unto every one that hath shall be given, &c.--See on
30. And cast ye--cast ye out.
the unprofitable servant--the useless servant, that does his Master
into outer darkness--the darkness which is outside. On this
expression see on
there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth--See on
The close connection between this sublime scene--peculiar to
Matthew--and the two preceding parables is too obvious to need pointing
31. When the Son of man shall come in his glory--His personal glory.
and all the holy angels with him--See
Da 7:9, 10;
with Heb 1:6;
then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory--the glory of His
32. And before him shall be gathered all nations--or, "all the
nations." That this should be understood to mean the heathen nations,
or all except believers in Christ, will seem amazing to any simple
reader. Yet this is the exposition of OLSHAUSEN,
(though latterly with some diffidence), and of a number, though not
all, of those who hold that Christ will come the second time before the
millennium, and that the saints will be caught up to meet Him in the
air before His appearing. Their chief argument is, the impossibility of
any that ever knew the Lord Jesus wondering, at the Judgment Day, that
they should be thought to have done--or left undone--anything "unto
Christ." To that we shall advert when we come to it. But here we may
just say, that if this scene does not describe a personal, public,
final judgment on men, according to the treatment they have given to
Christ--and consequently men within the Christian pale--we shall have
to consider again whether our Lord's teaching on the greatest themes of
human interest does indeed possess that incomparable simplicity and
transparency of meaning which, by universal consent, has been ascribed
to it. If it be said, But how can this be the general judgment, if only
those within the Christian pale be embraced by it?--we answer, What is
here described, as it certainly does not meet the case of all the
family of Adam, is of course so far not general. But we have no
right to conclude that the whole "judgment of the great day" will be
limited to the point of view here presented. Other explanations will
come up in the course of our exposition.
and he shall separate them--now for the first time; the two classes
having been mingled all along up to this awful moment.
as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the
33. And he shall set the sheep on his right hand--the side of honor
Ps 45:9; 110:1,
but the goats on the left--the side consequently of dishonor.
34. Then shall the King--Magnificent title, here for the first and
only time, save in parabolical language, given to Himself by the Lord
Jesus, and that on the eve of His deepest humiliation! It is to intimate
that in then addressing the heirs of the kingdom,
He will put on all His regal majesty.
say unto them on his right hand, Come--the same sweet word with which
He had so long invited all the weary and heavy laden to come unto Him
for rest. Now it is addressed exclusively to such as have come and
found rest. It is still, "Come," and to "rest" too; but to rest in a
higher style, and in another region.
ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the
foundation of the world--The whole story of this their blessedness is
given by the apostle, in words which seem but an expression of these:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath
blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ;
according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the
world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love."
They were chosen from everlasting to the possession and enjoyment of all
spiritual blessings in Christ, and so chosen in order to be holy and
blameless in love. This is the holy love whose practical manifestations
the King is about to recount in detail; and thus we see that their whole
life of love to Christ is the fruit of an eternal purpose of love to
them in Christ.
35. For I was an hungered . . . thirsty . . .
a stranger, &c.
36. Naked . . . sick . . . prison, and ye came unto
37-39. Then shall the righteous answer him, &c.
40. And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto
you, &c.--Astonishing dialogue this between the King, from the
Throne of His glory, and His wondering people! "I was an hungered, and
ye gave Me meat," &c.--"Not we," they reply. "We never did that, Lord:
We were born out of due time, and enjoyed not the privilege of
ministering unto Thee." "But ye did it to these My brethren, now beside
you, when cast upon your love." "Truth, Lord, but was that doing it to
Thee? Thy name was indeed dear to us, and we thought it a great honor
to suffer shame for it. When among the destitute and distressed we
discerned any of the household of faith, we will not deny that our
hearts leapt within us at the discovery, and when their knock came to
our dwelling, 'our bowels were moved,' as though 'our Beloved Himself
had put in His hand by the hole of the door.' Sweet was the fellowship
we had with them, as if we had 'entertained angels unawares'; all
difference between giver and receiver somehow melted away under the
beams of that love of Thine which knit us together; nay, rather, as
they left us with gratitude for our poor givings, we seemed the
debtors--not they. But, Lord, were we all that time in company with
Thee? . . . Yes, that scene was all with Me," replies the
King--"Me in the disguise of My poor ones. The door shut against Me by
others was opened by you--'Ye took Me in.' Apprehended and imprisoned
by the enemies of the truth, ye whom the truth had made free sought Me
out diligently and found Me; visiting Me in My lonely cell at the risk
of your own lives, and cheering My solitude; ye gave Me a coat, for I
shivered; and then I felt warm. With cups of cold water ye moistened My
parched lips; when famished with hunger ye supplied Me with crusts, and
my spirit revived--/YE DID IT UNTO ME.'" What thoughts crowd upon us as we listen to such a
description of the scenes of the Last Judgment! And in the light of
this view of the heavenly dialogue, how bald and wretched, not to say
unscriptural, is that view of it to which we referred at the outset,
which makes it a dialogue between Christ and heathens who never
heard of His name, and of course never felt any stirrings of His love
in their hearts! To us it seems a poor, superficial objection to the
Christian view of this scene, that Christians could never be
supposed to ask such questions as the "blessed of Christ's Father" are
made to ask here. If there were any difficulty in explaining this, the
difficulty of the other view is such as to make it, at least,
insufferable. But there is no real difficulty. The surprise expressed
is not at their being told that they acted from love to Christ, but
that Christ Himself was the Personal Object of all their
deeds: that they found Him hungry, and supplied Him with food:
that they brought water to Him, and slaked His thirst; that
seeing Him naked and shivering, they put warm clothing upon Him,
paid Him visits when lying in prison for the truth, and sat by
His bedside when laid down with sickness. This is the
astonishing interpretation which Jesus says "the King" will give to
them of their own actions here below. And will any Christian reply,
"How could this astonish them? Does not every Christian know that He
does these very things, when He does them at all, just as they are here
represented?" Nay, rather, is it conceivable that they should
not be astonished, and almost doubt their own ears, to hear such
an account of their own actions upon earth from the lips of the Judge?
And remember, that Judge has come in His glory, and now sits upon the
throne of His glory, and all the holy angels are with Him; and that it
is from those glorified Lips that the words come forth, "Ye did all
this unto ME." Oh, can we imagine such a word
addressed to ourselves, and then fancy ourselves replying, "Of
course we did--To whom else did we anything? It must be others than we
that are addressed, who never knew, in all their good deeds, what they
were about?" Rather, can we imagine ourselves not overpowered with
astonishment, and scarcely able to credit the testimony borne to us by
41.Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me,
ye cursed, &c.--As for you on the left hand, ye did nothing for Me.
I came to you also, but ye knew Me not: ye had neither warm affections
nor kind deeds to bestow upon Me: I was as one despised in your eyes."
"In our eyes, Lord? We never saw Thee before, and never, sure,
behaved we so to Thee." "But thus ye treated these little ones that
believe in Me and now stand on My right hand. In the disguise of these
poor members of Mine I came soliciting your pity, but ye shut up your
bowels of compassion from Me: I asked relief, but ye had none to give
Me. Take back therefore your own coldness, your own contemptuous
distance: Ye bid Me away from your presence, and now I bid you from
Mine--Depart from Me, ye cursed!"
46. And these shall go away--these "cursed" ones. Sentence, it should
seem, was first pronounced--in the hearing of the wicked--upon the
righteous, who thereupon sit as assessors in the judgment upon the
but sentence is first executed, it should seem, upon the
wicked, in the sight of the righteous--whose glory will thus not
be beheld by the wicked, while their descent into "their own
place" will be witnessed by the righteous, as BENGEL notes.
into everlasting punishment--or, as in
"everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Compare
&c. This is said to be "prepared for the devil and his angels," because
they were "first in transgression." But both have one doom, because one
but the righteous into life eternal--that is, "life everlasting."
The word in both clauses, being in the original the same, should have
been the same in the translation also. Thus the decisions of this awful
day will be final, irreversible, unending.