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but from the main scope and design of this parable, how very apt a great part of Chriftians are to neglect this great concernment of their fouls, viz. a careful and due preparation for another world; and how willing they are to deceive themselves in this matter, and to depend upon any thing elfe, how groundless and unreasonable foever, rather than to take the pains to be really good, and fit for heaven. And this is in a very lively manner reprefented to us in the defcription of the foolish virgins; who had provided no fupply of oil in their veffels, and, when the bridegroom was coming, would have furnished themfelves by borrowing or buying of others, y 8. 9. 10. They contented themselves with having their lamps lighted at their first setting out to meet the bridegroom; that is, with their being admitted into the profeffion of Christianity by baptism; but either were not stedfaft in this profeffion, or were not careful to adorn it with the graces and virtues of a good life.
And the true reason why men are fo very apt to deceive themselves in this matter, and are fo hardly brought to those things wherein religion mainly confifts, I mean the fruits of the fpirit, and the practice of real goodness; I fay, the true reafon of this is, because they are extremely defirous to reconcile, if it were poffible, the hopes of eternal happiness in another world, with a liberty to live as they lift in this prefent world: they are loth to be at the trouble and drudgery of mortifying their lufts, and governing their paflions, and bridling their tongues, and practifing all thofe duties which are comprehended in thofe two great commandments, of the love of God, and of our neighbour: they would fain gain the favour of God, and make their calling and election fure, by fome eafier way, than by giving all diligence to add to their faith and knowledge, the graces and virtues of a good life.
For the plain truth of the matter is, men had rather that religion fhould be any thing than what indeed it is, viz. the thwarting and croffing of their vitious inclinations, the curing of their evil and corrupt affections, the dure care and government of their unruly appetites and paffions, the fincere endeavour and the conftant practice of all holiness and virtue in their lives; and therefore they had much rather have fomething that might hand
fomely palliate and excufe their evil inclinations and practices, than to be obliged to retrench and renounce them; and rather than amend and reform their wicked lives, they would be contented to make an honourable amends and compenfation to almighty God in fome other way.
This hath been the way and folly of mankind in all ages, to defeat the great end and defign of religion, and to thrust it by, by fubftituting fomething elfe in the place of it, which, as they think, may serve the turn as well, having the appearance of as much devotion, and respect towards God, and really cofting them more money and pains, than that which God requires of them. Men have ever been apt thus to impose upon themselves, and to please themfelves with a conceit of pleafing God full as well, or better, by fome other way than that which he hath prescribed and appointed for them.
By this means, and upon this falfe principle, religion hath ever been apt to degenerate, both among Jews and Christians, into external and little obfervances, and into a great zeal for leffer things, with a total neglect of the greater and weightier matters of religion; and, in a word, into infinite fuperftitions of one kind or other, and an arrogant conceit of the extraordinary righteoufness and merit of these things: in which fome have proceeded to that height, as if they could drive a strict bargain with God for eternal life and happinefs; and have treated him in fo infolent a manner, by their doctrine of the merit of their devotions and good works, as if God were as much beholden to them for their fervice and obedience, as they are to him for the reward of them; which they are not afraid to fay they may challenge at God's hand, as of right and justice belonging to them.
Nay, fo far have they carried this doctrine in the church of Rome, as not only to pretend to merit eternal life for themselves, but likewife to do a great deal more, for the benefit and advantage of others who have not righteousness and goodness enough of their own: which was the filly conceit of the foolish virgins here in the parable; as I fhall have occafion to fhew more fully by and by.
And it is no great wonder, that such easy ways of re
ligion and pleafing God are very grateful to the corrupt nature of man; and that men who are refolved to continue in an evil course, are glad to be of a church which will affure falvation to men upon fuch terms. The great difficulty is, for men to believe that things which are fo apparently abfurd and unreasonable can be true; and to perfuade themfelves, that they can impofe upon God by fuch pretences of fervice and obedience, as no wife prince or father upon earth is to be deluded withal by his fubjects or children. We ought to have worthier thoughts of God, and to confider that he is a great King, and will be obeyed and ferved by his creatures in his own way, and make them happy upon his own terms; and that obedience to what he commands, is better, and more acceptable to him, than any other facrifice that we can offer, which he hath not required at our hands; and likewife that he is infinitely wife and good; and therefore that the laws which he hath given us to live by, are much more likely and certain means of our happiness, than any inventions and devices of our own.
III. I obferve, that even the better and more confiderate fort of Chriftians are not fo careful and watchful as they ought, to prepare themfelves for death and judgment: Whilft the bridegroom tarried, they all flumbered and flept. Even the difciples of our Saviour, whilst he was yet perfonally prefent with them, and after a particular charge given them from his own mouth, Watch and pray, left ye enter into temptation; yet did not keep that guard upon themfelves, as to watch with him for one hour. In many things, fays St. James, we offend all; even the best of us. And who is there that doth not, fome time or other, remit of his vigilancy and care, fo as to give the devil an advantage, and to lie open to temptation, for want of a continual guard upon himfelf? But then, the difference between the wife and foolish virgins was this, that though they both flept, yet the wife did not let their lamps go out; they neither quitted their profeffion, nor did they extinguish it by a bad life: and though, when the bridegroom came fuddenly upon them, they were not fo actually prepared to meet him by a continual vigilancy; yet they were habitually prepared by the good difpofition of their minds, and the general courfe
courfe of a holy life: their lamps might burn din for want of continual trimming; but they had oil in their veffels to fupply their lamps, which the foolish virgins had taken no care to provide. But, furely, the greatest wisdom of all is, to maintain a continual watchfulness, that fo we may not be furprised by the coming of the bridegroom, and be in a confufion when death or judgment fhall overtake us. And bleffed are thofe fervants, and wife indeed, whofe lamps always burn bright, and whom the bridegroom when he comes fhall find watching, and in a fit pofture and preparation to meet him.
IV. I obferve likewife, how little is to be done by us, to any good purpose, in this great work of preparation, when it is deferred and put off to the laft. And thus the foolish virgins did: but what a fad confufion and hurry they were in at the fudden coming of the bridegroom, when they were not only asleep, but when, after they were awakened, they found themfelves altogether unprovided of that which was neceffary to trim their lamps, and to put them in a posture to meet the bridegroom; when they wanted that which was neceffary at that very inftant, but could not be provided in an inftant; I fay, what a tumult and confufion they were in, being thus furprised, the parable reprefents to us at large, y 6. 7. 8. 9. And at midnight, there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him. Then all thofe virgins arofe, and trimmed their lamps; that is, they went about it as well as they could. And the foolish faid unto the wife, Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out.
At midnight there was a cry made; that is, at the most difinal and unfeasonable time of all other; when they were fast asleep, and fuddenly awakened in great terror; when they could not on the fudden recollect themselves, and confider what to do; when the fummons was fo very fhort, that they had neither time to confider what was fit to be done, nor time to do it in.
And fuch is the case of those who put off their repentance, and preparation for another world, till they are furprised by death or judgment; for it comes all to one in the iffue which of them it be. The parable indeed feems more particularly to point at our Lord's coming
to judgment: but the cafe is much the fame as to those who are furprised by sudden death; fuch as gives them but little, or not fufficient time for fo great a work; because such as death leaves them, judgment will certainly find them.
And what a miserable confufion must they needs be in, who are thus urprised, either by the one or the other? How unfit fhould we be, if the general judgment of the world fhould come upon us on the fudden, to meet that great judge at his coming, if we have made no preparation for it before that time? What fhall we then be able to do in that great and univerfal confternation; when the Son of man fhall appear in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory; when the fun fhall be darkened, and the moon turned into blood, and all the powers of heaven fhall be fhaken; when all nature fhall feel fuch violent pangs and convulfions, and the whole world shall be in a combuftion, flaming, and cracking about our ears; when the heavens fhall be shrivelled up as a fcroll, when it is rolled together, and the earth fhall be toffed from its centre, and every mountain and ifland fhall be removed? What thoughts can the wifeft men then have about them, in the midst of so much noife and terror? or, if they could have any, what time will there then be to put them in execution? when they fhall fee the angel that ftandeth upon the fea, and upon the earth, lifting up his hand to heaven, and fwearing by him that liveth for ever and ever, that time fhall be no longer; as this dreadful day is described Rev. x. 5. 6. and chap. vi. 15.; where finners are reprefented, at the appearance of this great judge, not as flying to God in hopes of mercy, but as flying from him in utter despair of finding mercy with him. The kings of the earth, and the great men, and the mighty men, and the rich men, and the great captains, hid themfelves in the dens, and in the rocks of the earth; and faid to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that fitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to ftand? The biggest and the boldeft finners that ever were upon earth, fhall then fce from the face of him whom they have fo often blafphemed and denied; and fhall fo far defpair of finding