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THE WISE AND FOOLISH VIRGINS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Wednesday Evening, March 24, 2010


This sermon is a shortened and edited version of one given by Dr. Asahel Nettleton during the Second Great Awakening. The text is from the parable of the ten virgins. It was often preached during the First and Second Great Awakenings, and other revivals, as applying to the lost and the saved in the church.

“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps” (Matthew 25:1-4).

All people in a church are divided into two distinct groups. Christ calls these two groups wise and foolish. The wise are converted church members. The foolish are unconverted church members. 

I. First, what is required in the true conversion of the wise?

They are called “wise” because they are concerned about the salvation of their souls. Concern about the soul is a sign of wisdom because what happens to your soul is highly important. The Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament” (Daniel 12:3).

On the other hand, neglecting the salvation of the soul is a sign of great foolishness. Those who neglect the salvation of their souls are called “fools” and “foolish” in the Bible. The difference between the wise and the foolish may seem small. But to God they are as different as light and darkness. Thus the wise are called “children of light” and the foolish are said to be “in darkness.” In this parable it is clear that Christ makes a great distinction between the “wise” and the “foolish” in a church.

It is clear in the parable that the difference does not come from church attendance – because both groups represent those who attend church. And all of them think they are converted! They all have made a profession of faith. They all believe mentally in Jesus. They all “go forth to meet” Him. So the great difference between the wise and the foolish is not that the wise believe the Bible and the foolish do not. They all “took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom” (who is Christ). Both groups were in the church. Both groups said they believed in Christ. Both groups expected to go to Heaven when Christ came for them. Both groups expected to be raptured! But the “wise” have certain characteristics that the “foolish” do not have.

1.  A strong commitment to the cause of Christ. God requires that you give Him your heart. He commands, “give me thine heart.” Without giving your heart to Christ no real service can be done for God. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” A strong commitment to Christ and His church is therefore absolutely necessary. A false commitment is disgusting to God!

2.  A willingness to give up the world. “Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord.” “If any man will be a friend of the world he is the enemy of God.” “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed.”

3.  A willingness to suffer for Christ. “If any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, he shall suffer persecution.” He must be willing to suffer shame and reproach for the cause of Christ. If he is not prepared for this, he is not prepared to be converted.

4.  A willingness to take part in all the duties of a Christian. “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” If there is any duty which you do not intend to perform, it would not be wise to claim that you are converted.

5.  A real faith in Christ. An empty “faith” is not enough, “for the devils believe and tremble.” True faith in Christ makes Christianity real, and changes the whole way of life. “That faith which worketh by love and purifieth the heart – that overcometh the world.”

6.  A real experience of the new birth – for without the new birth there can be no real conversion. “Everyone that loveth is born of God.” And so real faith, and real love, are both the fruit of the new birth. “They that are in the flesh cannot please God.” “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” Without the change that occurs in the new birth you cannot be a friend of God. And without this change you cannot be a child of God. Those who are born again find that “old things are passed away and all things become new.” These are the characteristics of a “wise” person who is converted.

II. Second, why do some say they are converted when they are not?

The foolish virgins took no oil in their lamps. The oil represents the Spirit of God. This means that they did not have the Holy Spirit and were, thus, not converted. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9). This shows that the foolish virgins were false converts – they had never been truly born again.

In the early days of Christianity, persecution and martyrdom kept many from making false professions of conversion. This is still true in Communist countries and Muslim lands. But even there some have made false professions of conversion. If the fear of persecution and death were here, the number of false converts would be far less than it is. Thousands would leave the churches here if they were persecuted for being Christians.

One reason that many profess to be converted, when they are not, is the influence of bad examples. They see people who profess to be converted fall away from the church, “which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13) – that is, “go away, withdraw” (Reinecker). They see people who “go forth” [go on their way] because they are “choked with cares…of this life” (Luke 8:14). After a few years, they have seen some of these same people deny the very idea of conversion. Some have gone so far as to even ridicule the idea of conversion. Others even write, as well as speak, against revival and real conversions. Some attack a man who preaches conversion, calling such a preacher a false prophet – and worse! And yet many of them have dared to say they are Christians, even as they fight against true Christianity. This confuses the unconverted people who remain in the church, and they begin to think there may not be any such thing as conversion. Thus, these confused people become like the foolish virgins, of whom Christ gave warning, “The foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them.”

Others continue for a long time in a state of anxious concern, under conviction, without finding relief. After a while their consciences become hardened, and gradually become quiet, and so “The foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them.”

Another person, under deep conviction, thinks he has done too much already. He grows tired and discouraged, and finally decides that there is no such thing as conversion, and so he becomes like the “foolish [who] took their lamps, and took no oil with them.”

Another, who is under great conviction, looks around for some relief. He then has an emotional feeling that he thinks is conversion. But, not being careful to examine himself, he settles down in a false hope and sleeps in dangerous security. And so he becomes like the “foolish [who] took their lamps, and took no oil with them.”

Sometimes the sinner who has been under conviction and anxiety for a long time thinks that he should say he is saved, and by saying it, he will be relieved. This has been followed with sad disappointment – no love for God, no renewing of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes this ends with great security – and they then say, “I know I am converted.” Now they are doomed! In this way they that were “foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them.”

The wise, it is said, “took oil in their vessels with their lamps.” This showed their wisdom. The condition of their hearts was what they considered all-important. They were very careful to make sure that their hearts were converted. They were convinced that there must be a change in their hearts – a change which was not there before – which was not in their Adamic natures. They did not dare to go out to meet the Lord without their hearts being converted, and changed by the grace of God. However difficult it was, they knew that they must have a real conversion. Like the wise man who built his house upon the rock – they dug deep. They were willing to be searched and convicted until their foundation was settled on the rock of ages – Christ Himself.

But not so with the foolish. When they proclaimed that they were converted they did not pay deep attention to their hearts. When they met with unexpected difficulties, and found the way was so narrow – they avoided further convictions and searchings – and began their Christian journey without any grace in their hearts. Since they avoided the pain and self denial of real conversion, “They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them.”

III. Third, why are they called “foolish”?

We answer – because they were wicked – not any different from other sinners, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). But they were also foolish! They were both foolish and wicked – because they claimed to be converted without having real conversion! They were both foolish and wicked because they dared to call themselves Christians without being converted – for Christ said,

“Except ye be converted…ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

A false conversion is both foolish and wicked because Christ has commanded us to “Strive to enter in at the strait gate” (Luke 13:24) – and they refused to do so. They are both foolish and wicked because they refused to obey Christ when He said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate” (Matthew 7:13). The parable of the wise and foolish virgins ends with this terrible warning:

“Afterward came also [the foolish] virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not” (Matthew 25:11-12).

Matthew Henry said of these verses,

The foolish virgins came when it was too late…There are many that will seek admission into heaven when it is too late… They…demand entrance, and yet are shut out, lifted up…in a fond conceit of [their own goodness], and yet thrust down to hell (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, 1991 edition, volume 5, p. 301; note on Matthew 25:11).

(This sermon was edited and shortened from “The Wise and Foolish Virgins” by Dr. Asahel Nettleton (1783-1844), Asahel Nettleton: Sermons From the Second Great Awakening, International Outreach, 1995 edition, pp. 97-102).

(END OF SERMON)
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THE OUTLINE OF

THE WISE AND FOOLISH VIRGINS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps” (Matthew 25:1-4).

I.   First, what is required in the true conversion of the wise?
Proverbs 9:10; Daniel 12:3.

II.  Second, why do some say they are converted when they are not?
Romans 8:9; Luke 8:13-14.

III. Third, why are they called “foolish”? Ephesians 2:1;
Matthew 18:3; Luke 13:24; Matthew 7:13; 25:11-12.