Oil in the Vessel Arthur Pink, 1936
Recently a brother in the Lord wrote calling our attention to the comparisons and contrasts between the wise and foolish virgins of Matthew 25. The substance of his remarks was as follows. They have seven things in common. First, all the virgins were in “the kingdom of heaven”—by which we understand, the sphere of Christian profession. Second, they were all of them “virgins”—not five virgins and five harlots—by which we understand, they all claimed to belong unto Christ. Third, they all “went forth to meet the Bridegroom”—they were one in purpose, having a single end in view. Fourth, they all had “lamps,” the same sort of lamps. Fifth, they all “slumbered and slept.” Sixth, they all heard the cry “Behold, the Bridegroom comes.” Seventh, they all “arose and trimmed their lamps.”
There are six points of difference between them. First, five of them were “wise” and five of them were “foolish.” Second, the wise “took oil in their vessels with their lamps” (v. 4)—but the foolish ones did not do so. Third, at the crucial moment the foolish virgins had to acknowledge “our lamps are (slowly but surely) gone out” (v. 8 margin). Fourth, the foolish virgins “went to buy” oil (v. 10), the wise ones had no need to do so. Fifth, the wise were shut in with the Bridegroom—but the foolish were shut out (v. 10.) Sixth, the foolish virgins were disowned by the Lord (vv. 11, 12).
Commenting upon the above our friend pointed out that, “There is a certain class today who differ not from the children of God as to their testimony—its purity, its orthodoxy, its sincerity. These are not Spiritists, Russellites, or the daughters of the Mother of Harlots—but ‘virgins’. Doctrinally they are pure. They are pictured as going forth ‘to meet the Bridegroom,’ not one to the ‘desert’ and another to the ‘secret chambers’ (Matt. 24:26), seeking a false Christ. The Object of their service was the same Person which the wise virgins were occupied with. The vital point in their ‘foolishness’ was not that they ‘slumbered and slept’ but that they had no oil in their VESSELS. Their was oil in their ‘lamps’ —their testimony or doctrine—but none in their vessels or souls.” The above has deeply impressed the editor once more with the great importance of making sure individually whether there be oil in my vessel—the “vessel” is the soul, the “oil” is Divine grace in it. Whatever may be the precise signification of “behold the Bridegroom comes” —whether it refers to the hour of death, the “premillennial return of Christ,” or the Day of Judgment—one thing is clear—it points to the crucial testing time. As our friend further points out—Balaam had oil in his “lamp,” as also had Judas when Christ sent him forth with the other Apostles to “preach” (Matt. 10:5-7)—yet their hearts were destitute of the saving grace of God! What a terrible discovery for the foolish virgins to make, “our lamps are gone out”—a discovery made too late to do them any good. This parable of the “virgins” is indeed a searching and solemn one. It has deeply exercised many a sincere soul. It has caused not a few genuine saints to wonder if, after all, the “root of the matter” were in them. It has given real point to that exhortation “Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith; prove your own selves” (2 Cor. 13:5). On the other hand, vast numbers of professing Christians are quite unmoved by its pointed message, complacently assuming that they are numbered among the “wise” virgins, and taking no trouble to seek proof that the oil is in their vessels. Strangest of all, perhaps, some of the Lord’s own people scarcely know how to set about the task of ascertaining their state, and are so suspicious of themselves, that they readily conclude that their vessels are devoid of the vital oil. The key passage for the significance of this Scriptural figure is, “Your God has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your fellows” (Psalm 45:7), where the reference is to the Mediator, for God “gives not the Spirit by measure unto Him” (John 3:34); in consequence thereof, He is “fairer than the children of men—grace is poured into Your lips” (Psalm 45:2). The holy “oil” was first poured upon the antitypical Aaron, and then it runs down to all the “skirts of His garments” (Psalm 133:2), that is, to the lowest and feeblest Christians. Just as the little finger or toe is animated by the same life and vitality as actuates the head and heart of a person—so every Christian is vitalized by the same Spirit as was given to Christ, the Head. As the Spirit sanctified the human nature of Christ by fitting and enriching it with all grace, so His grace is communicated to all His members. The “oil,” then, in the vessels of the wise virgins—refers to the life of the Spirit in the soul of a Christian. It is the presence of Divine grace in the heart—in contrast from knowledge in the head, or correctness of outward deportment; which distinguishes the actual possessor from the empty professor. How important then is it that we spare no efforts to ascertain whether or not that Divine grace resides in us! Yet at this very point Christians encounter a real difficulty—as they honestly and diligently look within, they perceive such a sea of corruption, ever casting up mire and dirt, they are greatly distressed, and ready to conclude that Divine grace surely cannot be present in such evil hearts as theirs. But this is a serious mistake; as genuine oil is distinguishable from counterfeits by its properties, so grace in the soul may be known by its characteristics and effects. But the exercised soul should begin his search for indwelling grace with it definitely settled in his mind, that, in every heart where grace resides there is also an ocean of sin; and just as oil and water will not mix—but continue to preserve their distinct properties even when placed together in the same vessel, so the flesh and spirit will not combine in the Christian—but remain in opposition to each other unto the end. Admitting, then, a sea of depravity within, my object is to find out if there is any “oil” at all which the surgings of sin are unable to destroy. When I see smoke, I must infer fire (however flickering), and if I can discern in my heart any spiritual grace (however feeble) I must infer the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Be not unduly discouraged, then, dear Christian friend, because you discover so much filthy water in your “vessel” (the editor does the same)—but rather confine your attention unto searching for the “oil” within you, and remember that the presence of the same is to be determined by its properties and effects. Let us name a few of these. First, oil illumines, therefore are the blinded Laodiceans bidden to go to Christ for eye-salve (anointing oil) that they may see (Rev. 3:18). Now where Divine grace has been bestowed, that soul is enlightened. True, says a serious reader—but the point which exercises me so much is—Is my enlightenment a spiritual and supernatural one, or merely a natural and intellectual one, acquired by the mind being instructed through sitting under sound teaching? Those mentioned in Hebrews 6:4 were “once enlightened,” yet no saving work of grace had been wrought in them! Some of our readers may be total strangers to all such distressing experiences, and wonder why any real Christian should call into question the exact character of his or her illumination, troubling themselves not at all whether their enlightenment is natural or supernatural. Poor souls, it is greatly to be feared that a crude awakening is awaiting them from their Satan-induced sleep. But what shall we say to those who are awake and deeply concerned about their eternal interests? How are such to determine the matter? We answer, test the point. Was there not a time when you “saw no beauty in Christ that you should desire Him?” Is it so with you now? Or has He become in your eyes, the “altogether lovely” One? You may be afraid to call Him yours, yet if your heart truly yearns for Him, then you must have been spiritually enlightened, the “oil” is in your vessel. Second, oil softens. Oil was much used by the ancients for medicinal purposes, and we moderns might well take a leaf out of their books. It will melt caked wax in the ear; it will make tender a calloused bunion. It is very useful for tumors—repeated applications softening, then causing to burst, and then healing. Thus it is in the operation of the Holy Spirit. He finds the elect hard and obdurate by nature, and swollen with pride and self-conceit; but Divine grace softens them, melting their flinty hearts, bursting the tumors of self-righteousness, and imparting a contrite spirit. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you—and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Eze. 36:26). When Divine grace has been imparted—the heart is supernaturally softened. But right here the sincere soul experiences still greater difficulty, and is ready to exclaim emphatically, Then I must still be in an unregenerate state, for my heart is as hard as the nether millstone! Wait a moment, dear friend, and test the matter. What are the marks of a “hard heart” as given in Scripture? Are they not a total absence of a feeling sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, an utter unconcern whether God be pleased or displeased with my conduct, no mourning in secret when Christ has been dishonored by me? Is that true of you, who are so ready to conclude that you are still in a state of nature? If it is not, if sin is your burden and your soul grieves over your lack of conformity to Christ, then your heart must have been spiritually softened—the “oil” is in your vessel. Third, oil heals. Hence we find the great Physician, under the figure of the good Samaritan, having compassion on the assaulted traveler, binding up his wounds and “pouring in oil and wine” (Luke 10:34); and He is still caring thus for His people through the gracious ministry of the Spirit. How often the blessed Comforter applies “the balm of Gilead” to the sin-afflicted people of God. What horrible bruises and putrefying sores—do sin and Satan inflict upon the souls of the saints—yet how frequently and tenderly does the Spirit mollify and relieve them. First, He works repentance in the heart, which is a purging grace, carrying away the foul and poisonous love of sin. Then He strengthens hope, which is a comforting grace so that the joy of the Lord once more becomes his strength. Divine grace removes the load of guilt from the conscience, applies the cordial of the promises, and gives the weary pilgrim a lift by the way—”Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him” (Luke 10:34). Here, then, is another property and effect of Divine grace—it heals the soul. We can well imagine some fearful reader exclaiming, Alas, that cuts off my hope, for there is no soundness in me! Listen, dear friend, no Christian is completely and perfectly healed from the disease of sin in this life—but he is delivered from the most fearful and fatal effects of it; and it is at this point you are to examine yourself. What are the worst things which the Fall has produced in man? Enmity against God, the love of sin, the idolizing of self. Test yourself by these things. Do you still hate God? If so, would you repine because you love Him so feebly! Are you still in love with sin? If so, why do you grieve over its workings! Is self now your idol? If so, why do you, at times, loath yourself! Sin has not been eradicated—but its wounds are being healed—the “oil” is in your vessel. The limited space now at our disposal, prevents us doing more than barely mentioning a number of other features. Oil makes the joints flexible and nimble, and therefore was much used by athletes; so grace enables the Christian to “serve in newness of spirit” (Romans 7:6) and run the race set before him. It is an excellent thing for those who have stiff joints, for it penetrates to the bones (Psalm 109:18). Oil makes the countenance fresh and lovely (Psalm 104:15)—what is more attractive to the spiritual eye than a gracious character. Oil sweetens our persons, so that we are unto God a “sweet savor of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:15), whereas the wicked are a “smoke in His nostrils” (Isaiah 65:5). Oil gladdens, and thus we read of “the oil of joy” (Isaiah 61:3)—the heart is exhilarated when grace is active. Oil is an aid to digestion; so, only as grace is active within us, can we assimilate our spiritual food. Oil and water will not intermingle—the old man is not bettered by the new, nor is the new corrupted by the old. Oil cannot be made to sink beneath the water—but always floats on top; so grace in the believer is indestructible, and at the end it will be seen to have fully triumphed over sin. Oil is a super-eminent liquid, for it will not incorporate itself with anything lighter; it will have the highest place above all other liquids. Just so, the graces of the Spirit are of a superior character—as far above the gifts of nature as spiritual blessings excel earthly things. Oil quiets troubled waters, giving relief to a ship in a storm—so grace often subdues the turbulent workings of sin. What a blessed promise is that in Psalm 92:10, “I shall be anointed with fresh oil”—new supplies of grace, blessed revivings are granted God’s tried people. Yes, there is “oil in the dwellings of the wise” virgins (Proverbs 21:20. The Lord be pleased to add His blessing to this little Meditation.