By J. C. Ryle (1816 – 1900)
“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. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
“Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. 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.
“Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh” (Matt. 25:1-13).
I take the parable of the ten virgins as my warrant, and I address a question to every one of my readers. I ask you, “Are you ready?” Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, “They that were ready went in with [the bridegroom] to the marriage” – they that were ready, and none else. Now here, in the sight of God, I ask each and every reader, “Is this your case? Are you ready?”
I do not ask whether you are a churchman, and make a profession of religion. I do not ask whether you attend an evangelical ministry, and like evangelical people, and read evangelical books. All this is the surface of Christianity. All this costs little, and may be easily attained. I want to search your heart more thoroughly, and probe your conscience more deeply. I want to know whether you have been born again, and whether you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in your soul. I want to know whether you have any oil in your vessel while you carry the lamp of profession, and whether you are ready to meet the Bridegroom – ready for Christ’s return to the earth. I want to know, if the Lord should come this week, whether you could lift up your head with joy and say, “This is our God; we have waited for Him; let us be glad, and rejoice in His salvation.” These things I want to know, and this is what I mean when I say, “Are you ready?”
The Biblical Standard
I believe this is the standard of the Bible. I believe this is the standard Paul sets before us when he says the Thessalonians were waiting for the Son of God from heaven (1 Thes. 1:10), and the Corinthians “waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7). And surely this is the standard Peter sets before us when he speaks of “looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:12). I believe it is a mark that every true believer should be continually aiming at – to live so as to be ever ready to meet Christ. God forbid that I should place the standard of Christian practice a hair’s breadth higher than the level at which the Bible places it. But God forbid that I should ever put it a hair’s breadth lower. If I do, what right have I to say that the Bible is my rule of faith?
I want to disqualify no man for usefulness upon earth. I require no man to become a hermit, and cease to serve his generation. I call on no man to leave his lawful calling, and neglect his earthly affairs. But I do call on every one to live like one who expects Christ to return, to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world – to live like a pilgrim and a stranger, ever looking unto Jesus – to live like a good servant, with his loins girded, and his lamp burning – to live like one whose treasure is in heaven, with his heart packed up and ready to be gone. This is readiness. This is preparation. And is this too much to ask? I say unhesitatingly that it is not.
Exhortation “To Watch”
My last word shall be an exhortation to all true believers, to all who have the oil of grace in their hearts, and have fled for pardon to the blood of the Lamb. I draw it from the words of the Lord Jesus at the end of the parable. I exhort you earnestly “to watch.”
I exhort you to watch against everything which might interfere with a readiness for Christ’s appearing. Search your own hearts. Find out the things which most frequently interrupt your communion with Christ and cause fogs to rise between you and the sun. Mark these things, and know them, and against them ever watch and be on your guard.
WATCH against sin of every kind and description. Think not to say of any sin whatever, “Ah! that is one of the things that I shall never do.” I tell you there is no possible sin too abominable for the very best of us all to commit. Remember David and Uriah. The spirit may be sometimes very willing, but the flesh is always very weak. You are yet in the body. WATCH AND PRAY! “Take ye heed, watch and pray…lest coming suddenly He find you sleeping. What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch!” (Mark 13:33, 36-37).
WATCH against inconsistency of walk and conformity to the world. Watch against sins of temper and of tongue. These are the kind of things that grieve the Spirit of God, and make His witness within us faint and low. WATCH AND PRAY!
WATCH against the leaven of false doctrine. Remember that Satan can transform himself into an angel of light. Remember that bad money is never marked bad, or else it would never pass. Be very jealous for the whole truth as it is in Jesus. Do not put up with a grain of error merely for the sake of a pound of truth. Do not tolerate a little false doctrine one bit more than you would a little sin. Oh, reader, remember this caution. WATCH AND PRAY!
WATCH against slothfulness about the Bible and private prayer. There is nothing so spiritual but we may at last do it formally. Most backslidings begin in the closet. When a tree is snapped in two by a high wind, we generally find there had been some long hidden decay. Oh, WATCH AND PRAY!
WATCH against bitterness and uncharitableness towards others. A little love is more valuable than many gifts. Be eagle-eyed in seeing the good that is in your brethren, and dim-sighted as the mole about the evil. Let your memory be a strong box for their graces, but a sieve for their faults. WATCH AND PRAY!
WATCH against the sins of Galatia, Ephesus, and Laodicea. Believers may run well for a season, then lose their first love, and then become lukewarm. WATCH AND PRAY!
WATCH not least against the sin of Jehu. A man may have great zeal to all appearance, and yet have very bad motives. It is one thing to protest against error; it is quite another thing to love the truth. So WATCH AND PRAY!
“Watch” All the More
Oh, my believing readers, let us all watch more than we have done! Let us watch more every year that we live. Let us watch, that we may not be startled when the Lord appears.
Let us watch for the world’s sake. We are the books they chiefly read. They mark our ways far more than we think. Let us aim to be plainly written epistles of Christ.
Let us watch for our own sakes. As our walk is, so will be our peace. As our conformity to Christ’s mind, so will be our sense of Christ’s atoning blood. If a man will not walk in the full light of the sun, how can he expect to be warm?
And, above all, let us watch for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake. Let us live as if His glory was concerned in our behavior. Let us live as if every slip and fall was a reflection on the honor of our King. Let us live as if every allowed sin was one more thorn in His head, one more nail in His feet, one more spear in His side. Oh, let us exercise a godly jealousy over thoughts, words, and actions; over motives, manners, and walk. Never, never let us fear being too strict. Never, never let us think we can watch too much. “None of us is more than half awake!”
– J. C. Ryle, an evangelical Anglican clergyman, was known for his powerful preaching and extensive writing.