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In the first place, the period of the espousals must have been over, when the time of the bridal solemnity was come; but the celebration of a marriage at last implied the formation of the nuptial contract between the parties previously. In like manner the future union between Christ and his church must have been contemplated from all eternity, though it can be consummated only in the fulness of time; and from whatever time it began to be contemplated,
the case, that every representation applicable to the existing relations of the ministers of religion, unless specially distinguished to the contrary, would be applicable to those of all Christians.
The particle of time, (tóre,) which connects the beginning of this chapter, with the end of the last, must be referred either to the beginning or to the close of the parabolic allegory just preceding ; that is, either to the point of time denoted by Matt. xxiv. 45, or to that denoted by xxiv. 51.-between which the connection is such that the one refers to the first commencement, the other to the close and consummation, of one and the same intermediate economy, specially applicable, as we have seen, to the particular probation and particular responsibility of the ministers of religion: the former determined by the departure of Christ from the government of his church in person, the latter by his return to take cognizance of it again. In this case, the object of the reference in what follows, to what has just preceded, will be to shew, that at either of the periods in question, whether that of the departure, or that of the return of Christ, in person — the same event should produce effects upon the Christian world in general, analogous to what the parabolic allegory just recited, shewed it to have produced with respect to the ministers of religion in particular. The parable then which follows, was intended to be as applicable to the moral probation and moral responsibility of all who agreed in the character of Christians in general, as the parabolic allegory which had preceded, to those of the ministers of religion in particular.
from the same time the nuptial contract between the church and her future Lord might be said to have been formed and taken effect.
The bridegroom, as one of the principal parties concerned in the supposed celebration of a marriage, had a proper part and agency assigned to him in the parable; but the bride, though the party correlative to the bridegroom, had not; the reason of which distinction must now begin to appear. For the marriage supposed to be solemnized between them, being the consummation of the union of Christ and his true church, whensoever that takes place; this union is not really, but metaphorically the union of parties joined together in the estate of marriage; in relation to which kind of union, the bridegroom and the bride as such, must be both as figurative and both as mystical, as the union which takes place between them. But the bridegroom, besides his figurative character in relation to a figurative solemnity, has a real character in his relation of the Head of the church; the bride, as the representative of the communion of faithful believers in the abstract, whose union with their Lord and Master is adumbrated by that of a wife with her husband, has no real or personal character, in any sense, but is a figurative or mystical personage throughout.
The economy of the parable was strictly confined to the nuptial preparation; and the nuptial preparation, beginning with the arrival of the nuptial evening, extended to the verge of the nuptial consummation: and the economy of probation, which answers to it, considered as that proper state of trial in which Christians, as Christians, are placed in this life, began with the Gospel dispensation or first promulgation of Christianity, and must continue until the time appointed for the economy of retribution ; which is in fact for the duration of the Gospel dispensation, and coextensively with the existence of the visible church. The beginning of that period in the parable was defined by the first going forth of the virgins to meet the bridegroom ; its end by the arrival of the bridegroom himself: as the beginning of the scheme of Christian probation was defined by the overt publication of the Gospel on the day of Pentecost, followed by the overt formation of a Christian society, the first of its kind ; its close will be determined by the return of Christ himself. The whole of that period was an interval of preparation for the marriage solemnity, and an interval of expectation of the coming of the bridegroom: as the whole of the present æconomy of the trial of Christians is a period of constant preparation for one and the same oeconomy of their retribution, and of constant expectation of the same coming of Christ, to close the one, and to usher in the other. The coming of the bridegroom was expected at the very beginning of that period, but did not take place until the very end of it: as the return of Christ in person began to be expected by the church from the moment of his departure in person, and yet it has not yet taken place. There was a probability that the bridegroom would appear at the usual time, and yet a possibility that his coming might be delayed to an unusual time: and with respect to the return of Christ, after his departure in person—the fact only of that event having been certainly predicted, not the time-it might take place early, and it might take place late; and it might be expected early, (as indeed we know it to have been,) and it might be expected late : but it must take place sometime, however long it may be delayed previously, and therefore it must be expected sometime; and however long it continues to be still delayed, so long it must continue to be still expected.
The bride in the mystical ceremony of the union of the true church with Christ, being the representative of the communion of faithful believers in the abstract—the friends and attendants of this bride, described as a company of virgins, are the congregation of believers in Christ, who compose the church; the relation between whom and Christ is that of the members and the Head of one and the same society. These virgins go forth, as the friends and retinue of the bride in her approaching nuptial procession, and as the guests invited to the consequent nuptial feast; and therefore though the members of the church of Christ, they are first and properly the members of the present and visible, not yet of the future and invisible church. They go forth on their errand with the first arrival of the nuptial evening, and therefore with the first expectation of being wanted to attend in the train of the bride: as the making of converts to Christianity, and the formation of Christian societies on Christian principles, and subject to the discipline of a Christian probation, bear date almost from the very moment of the personal departure of the Head of the church, and the first beginning of the consequent expectation of his return, to take cognizance of what has transpired in the æconomy of his church in his absence. The place from which they went forth,
could not be the same with the place to which they went forth on their errand; the former was probably their own homes, the latter the home of the bride: and Christian converts to the Gospel, whether obtained from the bosom of the Jewish, or from that of any Gentile community, yet as placed by themselves within the pale of the Christian church, and forming by their union the complex of a distinct spiritual society, agreeing with themselves, but differing from all others, in such and such respectsmay be said to have belonged to one community before their conversion, and to another after it; to have lived among Jews or Gentiles, without the pale of the church at one time, and apart from Jews or Gentiles, within the pale of Christianity at another. The purpose for which they repaired to the home of the bride, was to wait there for the coming of the bridegroom, and to discharge about the person of the bride, before and after that event, such duties as became her personal friends and attendants : and the purpose for which converts of every description were alike made to the Gospel, and incorporated in the body of the same Christian church, was that they might undergo in their capacity of Christians, and within the pale of the Christian church, whatever trial and probation was necessary beforehand to qualify the members of the present and visible church, on the grounds of a proper desert, to become the members of the future and invisible church. The virgins assembled in that house, consequently, formed together but one company, collected for a common purpose, and bearing in common the name of the friends and attendants of the bride; as the members of the visible church of Christ, wheresoever