Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Spencer W. Kimball - "Preparedness - the Ten Virgins"

The ancients looked forward to the coming of the Lord and asked, "When shall all these things be?" The pioneers thought it would be soon and watched for signs; our grandparents watched for the sprouting of the fig tree; our parents watched for the reddening of the sky; and we ourselves have heard all our lives that the Second Coming is near.

Do we lose faith, do we lose patience, do we lose hope, do we get weary in waiting, because the day is long and the event delayed?

The writer of Hebrews warns: Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. (Hebrews 10:35-37.) 
I suspect that many people who five years ago had a rich larder, a full pantry, and a year's supply of basic necessities have let their stock dwindle. I suspect that many people have let their insurance lapse. Death seems in the future, for at the moment calamity is absent and hunger is not knocking at the door.

It is difficult to be prepared for an event so long delayed. Many have found it too difficult and they slumber without due preparation. But the day approaches and will finally come. That is sure. It is only the "when" that is unknown.

The apostles of the ancient days were also impatient to know when these events would transpire. To them Jesus said, before he ascended, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. (Acts 1:7.)

And Paul said to the Thessalonians: 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. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4.) But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. (Matthew 24:43-44.)

Many of the Lord's parables and sayings urged men to be prepared for his Second Coming and for the end of this period of the world's existence. He gave the parable of the rich young fool who, in the feeling of temporal security, razed his inadequate barns and built greater ones in which to store his fruits and goods. The man said to himself: Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be. . . ? (Luke 12:19-20.) 

And then he gave the parable of the fish and the net:  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. (Matthew 13:47-48.)

I recall my first trip to Hawaii. The Samoan and Hawaiian Saints were gathered together in a grand celebration. On the morning program was a hukilau. I was invited to participate. Wearing some old overalls, I waded with them into the sea. The boats had spread the nets far out, and now we began to pull in the nets. "Heave ho!" they cried, and all together we pulled and strained. As the net load came closer to the shore, it was fuller and heavier and the unruly waves covered us many times. But finally the net was in shallow water and the fish began to jump frantically, trying to escape. Eventually, sweating and straining and puffing, we pulled the catch up on the sand. All kinds of fish were caught, big and little, fat and snakelike. With bulging eyes and gasping mouths they struggled. The initiated who knew fish and were able to judge picked the worthless ones and cast them back into the sea. The edible ones were saved and the catch was brought to the fire for the feast.

So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just. (Matthew 13:49.)

He gave us the parable of the farmer who sowed good seed in his ground but whose enemy planted tares in the field. As both the wheat and the tares grew up in the same field together, the question was asked of the landowner, "Shall we go and gather up the tares?" The householder said: Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. (Matthew 13:30.) 

The time of the reapers is near at hand. Certainly, the fig tree is shooting forth its leaves and the summer is nigh and the signs of the times presage the harvest with its separation of the righteous and unrighteous. Certainly, there are today false Christs and deceivers in the land such as were spoken of by the Lord from the heights of the Mount of Olives.

Has there ever been an era when so many nations, large and small, have been involved in wars? Were there ever times when there were more rumors of wars and threats and intrigues? We think of Russia and China, of Africa and VietNam, of the Near East and Ireland. The places change but the turmoil continues.

Jesus spoke of famines and pestilences and we remember Biafra and Bangladesh. He predicted earthquakes and other terrestrial disturbances and we think of earthquakes and landslides in California, Chile and Greece, Japan and Alaska, and unprecedented floods in the United States. Surely, the end is near as we read the signs of the times, but when?

For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. (Matthew 24:21-22.) 

We have the general warning that comes from these world conditions, but we have no precise timetable. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. (Matthew 24:27.) The Redeemer stated further: Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. (Matthew 24:29-31, 36. )

With no warning, no last-minute preparation is possible.

He gave us another parable to try to make clear the importance of being always prepared. It is the parable of the Ten Virgins, a powerful warning to all men. 

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. (Matthew 25:1-13.) 

I believe that the Ten Virgins represent the people of the Church of Jesus Christ and not the rank and file of the world. All of the virgins, wise and foolish, had accepted the invitation to the wedding supper; they had knowledge of the program and had been warned of the important day to come. They were not the gentiles or the heathens or the pagans, nor were they necessarily corrupt and reprobate, but they were knowing people who were foolishly unprepared for the vital happenings that were to affect their eternal lives.

They had the saving, exalting gospel, but it had not been made the center of their lives. They knew the way but gave only a small measure of loyalty and devotion. I ask you: What value is a car without an engine, a cup without water, a table without food, a lamp without oil?

Rushing for their lamps to light their way through the blackness, half of them found them empty. They had cheated themselves. They were fools, these five unprepared virgins. Apparently, the bridegroom had tarried for reasons that were sufficient and good. Time had passed, and he had not come. They had heard of his coming for so long, so many times, that the statement seemingly became meaningless to them. Would he ever come? So long had it been since they began expecting him that they were rationalizing that he would never appear. Perhaps it was a myth.

Hundreds of thousands of us today are in this position. Confidence has been dulled and patience worn thin. It is so hard to wait and be prepared always. But we cannot allow ourselves to slumber. The Lord has given us this parable as a special warning.

At midnight, the vital cry was made, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him." Then all the virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. Even the foolish ones trimmed their lamps, but their oil was used up and they had none to refill the lamps. They hastened to make up for lost time. Now, too late, they were becoming conscious of the tragedy of unpreparedness. They had been taught. They had been warned all their lives.

At midnight! Precisely at the darkest hour, when least expected, the bridegroom came. When the world is full of tribulation and help is needed, but it seems the time must be past and hope is vain, then Christ will come. The midnights of life are the times when heaven comes to offer its joy for man's weariness. But when the cry sounds, there is no time for preparation. The lamps then make patterns of joy on the hillside, and the procession moves on toward the house of banqueting, and those without lamps or oil are left in darkness. When they have belatedly sought to fulfill the requirements and finally reach the hall, the door is shut. In the daytime, wise and unwise seemed alike; midnight is the time of test and judgment—and of offered gladness.

Paul wrote: For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 6-7.)

The foolish asked the others to share their oil, but spiritual preparedness cannot be shared in an instant. The wise had to go, else the bridegroom would have gone unwelcomed. They needed all their oil for themselves; they could not save the foolish. The responsibility was each for himself.

This was not selfishness or unkindness. The kind of oil that is needed to illuminate the way and light up the darkness is not shareable. How can one share obedience to the principle of tithing; a mind at peace from righteous living; an accumulation of knowledge? How can one share faith or testimony? How can one share attitudes or chastity, or the experience of a mission? How can one share temple privileges? Each must obtain that kind of oil for himself.

The foolish virgins were not averse to buying oil. They knew they should have oil. They merely procrastinated, not knowing when the bridegroom would come.

In the parable, oil can be purchased at the market. In our lives the oil of preparedness is accumulated drop by drop in righteous living. Attendance at sacrament meetings adds oil to our lamps, drop by drop over the years. Fasting, family prayer, home teaching, control of bodily appetites, preaching the gospel, studying the scriptures—each act of dedication and obedience is a drop added to our store. Deeds of kindness, payment of offerings and tithes, chaste thoughts and actions, marriage in the covenant for eternity—these, too, contribute importantly to the oil with which we can at midnight refuel our exhausted lamps.

Midnight is so late for those who have procrastinated.

But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure. (Helaman 13:38.)

In Tennyson's poem "Guinevere," the queen, repenting her infidelity, recognizes that the harm she has caused cannot be undone:
Late, late, so late! and dark the night and chill!
Late, late, so late! but we can enter still!
Too late, too late, ye cannot enter now.
No light had we; for that we do repent;
And learning this the bridegroom will relent.
Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now.
No light; so late! and dark and chill the night!
O let us in, that we may find the light!
Too late, too late: ye cannot enter now.
Have we not heard the bridegroom is so sweet?
O let us in tho' late, to kiss his feet!
No, no, too late! ye cannot enter now. 

The day of the marriage feast approaches. The coming of the Lord is nigh. And there are many among us who are not ready for the great and glorious event. Of such the Lord said: And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:47-48.) 

For those who heed the warning and make their preparations, for those found at midnight with the oil of righteousness in their lamps, for those with patience, long-suffering, and full dedication, the promise is that they shall sit down at the banquet with their Lord. And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins. For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day. And the earth shall be given unto them for an inheritance; and they shall multiply and wax strong, and their children shall grow up without sin unto salvation. (D&C 45:56-58.). . . and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there by any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said. . . .He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. (Revelation 21:3-5, 7.)

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