THE OIL FOR THE LAMPS
"And thou shalt command the children of Israel that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always."-Exodus XXVII. 20.
IN that remarkable parable of the wise and foolish virgins, in which our Lord teaches that those were saved who had oil in their vessels and those were lost who had not, it is evident that a most important prominence is given to the symbolical character of oil. It is the symbol of inward love, or charity in its highest, purest sense.
This, perhaps, we might conclude from. its soothing and valuable qualities, so well representative of kindness; but if we consider the passages in the Word of God in which the oil itself, and the tree from which it is obtained are presented to us, we shall have no doubt that they both are used to represent principles which are of the highest importance in heaven.
Trees grow up from seeds: they represent, therefore, principles which grow up from instruction until they are clearly perceived and adopted. In divine things, the Word is a granary from which the seeds of all things good are obtained. Our Lord said, "The Seed is the Word of God."-Luke VIII. 11.
But if the seed is the Word, and He who sows it is the Lord, then the trees which grow up from the seed must be the principles which grow up in the soul, and the best trees must symbolize the best principles, The olive occupies the most distinguished place. It is the most valuable tree of the East. The tree is beautiful, though not majestic; and both the fruit and the oil pressed from it are highly esteemed for food. Kings and priests were anointed with olive oil, on being fully inaugurated into their important offices; its branch has been from time immemorial the symbol of peace, and it is most highly esteemed as medicine; while its use for light is the quality brought before us in the text: "And thou shalt command the children of Israel that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always."
In the parable of the trees, the olive was the tree first invited to reign over the rest; and in the reply, the value of the oil; and therefore of the loving-kindness to which it corresponds, is strongly placed before us. "But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? "-Judges IX. 9. True heavenly love will serve others, but never seek to rule.
The Psalmist describing the highest heavenly character says, "But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God! I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever."-Ps. LII. 8.
In heaven itself, the two great essentials of good, love to God, and love to man, are described under the name of the two olive trees. "Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick, and upon the left side thereof? And I answered again, and said unto him, What are these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves? Then said he, These are the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth."-Zech. IV. 11, 12, 14. In the Book of Revelation also we have the same symbol. The two witnesses for God, are said to be "The two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth."-Rev. XI. 4.
All these uses and notices of the olive in the Word of God intimate the invaluable character of the principle it designates. Love, especially in its attribute of kindness, is like the olive, the producer of an oil honourable to God and man. Love is spiritual food and spiritual medicine. Love, in its two essential forms, is the essential thing in heaven, and there are no witnesses for God in the Church separate from love to God and love to man. The kindness flowing from love is the oil from the heavenly olive. It is the essential good of Christianity. Nothing soothes like that.
But the particular lesson afforded in the command before us, like that given in the parable of the virgins in Matthew, is the dependence of light upon love. The oil olive was for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always.
In the parable, the lamps of those who had no oil in their vessels ceased to burn, their lights went out.
We often do not reflect upon this intimate relation between light and love, and so do not see that love is the essential cause of light. Yet experience teaches that this is undoubtedly the case.
“How often do we see persons interested in the doctrines of religion, and setting out in the religious career with alacrity. Their step is vigorous and their light is bright. After a time, however, they slacken; they become negligent in their religious duties and at length are missing altogether; they have slumbered and slept; their light has gone out. They had taken scarcely any oil. They had been anxious after the light of religion, but heedless of the far more important part of it, the love. In all such cases their falling away is only a matter of time. Their lamps are sure to go out: Hence the divine direction in our text, "Command the children of Israel that they bring thee pure oil olive, beaten for the light."
When we reflect upon the stupendous issues which depend upon our preparation for heaven, how important does this command appear. Religious light is a beautiful thing. As we learn doctrine after doctrine, as point after point in divine truth expands within our minds, until we see the whole mental atmosphere lighted up with truth, the blessing is great, the scene is lovely. Whoso followeth the light, shall not walk in darkness. But light is not an end, it is only a means. We have light that we may enter into the principles and do the work of life. Light flows from life and leads to life. If we overlook and neglect this fact, and are satisfied, like the admirers of John the Baptist, to rejoice for an hour in the light, and do no more, we shall have forfeited the great end of our being, the hour of our darkness will not be far off. "Command the children of Israel that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light."
Considering the unspeakably blessed character of love, and seeing how, like mercy, it is twice blessed; It blesses him that gives and him that takes, it is wonderful that we should forgo so great a possession. "Above all things," said the Apostle, "put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness."---Col. III. 14.
It has been well said that to be loved is heavenly, but to love is heaven itself. Love is the centre of every grace. It radiates delight. It is the very life of angels. It is higher than knowledge, higher than talent, higher even than faith. Now, abideth faith, hope, charity (or love), these three; but the greatest of these is charity."-1 Cor. XIII. 13.
Without love the soul is cold, for love gives warmth. Without love the soul is poor, for love is celestial gold. Without love the soul is hard, for love softens and mellows. Without love the soul is stiff and weak, for love is power. Without love the soul is deceased, for love gives health. Without love the soul is dead for love is life. Children of Israel, not circumscribed by the limits of the old dispensation, but of the Israel in every age, see" that ye bring pure oil olive, beaten for the light."
But oil corresponds to loving-kindness, not only in being presented to us so definitely in the Word, but in all its natural properties. How often is the jarring, wearing friction of machinery removed by a little oil. And is it not equally so in the wear of human life? How often do minds rudely jostle each other, view with surly unkindness the movements of those around them, and refuse with dry dislike the small courtesies which are essential to comfort in daily life. Sometimes a deadlock is arrived at, and severe distress and damage are threatened until some kind soul comes in, and gently places things in a better light, softens the harsh feelings, and by restoring good humour, leads all to see how much the happiness of life is promoted by a little human oil.
It is said that oil smoothes troubled waters, and not only so, but communicates transparency to them also; lost objects are said to have been recovered in shallow waters, by pouring oil upon the surface. It may be so. Certain it is that the troubled waters of human passion are smoothed by the display of kindly feeling. "A soft answer turns away wrath." Many an excitement of boisterous persons has been hushed to calmness, when one gentle spirit has applied itself to allay the storm, and led the jarring and excited minds, bitter with offended pride, and vehement passion, to own the sway of the Prince of Peace. Often, very often, we fail in our efforts to improve others, because we do not use this softening influence of kindness. They are faulty and we are indignant. They resent our sharpness, and we are still harsher in look, manner and words. We fume at their persistence, and grow keener and sterner, and we are met by equally repellent glances, and harsh, defiant words. We are almost in despair. We say we cannot tell what to do. We are sure we mean right, and we have tried reiterated arguments, repeated admonitions and accusations. We have uttered reproaches without number, and all has not done the good we seek. Try love. Pour this human oil over the troubled surface, and often you will find the human billows sink down and all around be peace. When the mind is calm too, it becomes transparent. When peace has taken the place of passion, we may oftentimes see considerations that had been overlooked, and facts that had been forgotten while all was stormy. Never, then, let us forget this use of mental oil, but remember that it is the divine will that brotherly love should descend into the human soul like the oil that anointed the head of Aaron. "Behold, how good, and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments: as the dew of Hermon and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore."---Ps.CXXXIII.
The oil, however, must be pure. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." Yet the unregenerate soul is impure, impure to an inconceivable extent. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." How, then, can a pure thing come out of an impure? How can the pure oil be obtained? The answer to these questions is, BY OBEDIENCE TO THE WORD OF GOD. The apostle Peter says, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." This work of obedience from faith in the Lord Jesus is the only way to purity. We must obey first, just as we are. The commandments of the Lord are chiefly negative. As we refrain from doing the things forbidden, the Lord purifies the soul. "And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness." Mal.III. 3.
Our motives may be so alloyed by selfishness for a considerable time, that we scarcely know or think that our efforts can be at all blessed by the Lord. But let us persevere in prayer to the Lord Jesus, the manifested God; in reading the Word, in judging ourselves, in repudiating every known evil, in cultivating all the virtues of our station and employment, and we shall find our efforts crowned with confidence and humble trust, with heartfelt satisfaction and peace. Thus will the olive tree of loving principle grow up within us, and we shall obtain pure oil olive.
The oil, it is said, must be BEATEN, beaten for the light. The softening influence of tribulation is well known. None have so deep a sympathy for others as they who have themselves suffered. "Sweet are the uses of adversity." The soul that is full of self-sufficiency, because in the youth and buoyancy of life it has known no trouble, may be a fair field, but it will mainly be a fallow one, until sorrow breaks it up. The spirit needs to be broken, and if rough experiences are required they must be given. No angel ever reached heaven, but who came there through much tribulation. Temptation, trial, loss, years of sickness and suffering, are all cheap payments if they fit us for eternal joy.
Then welcome the earthquake, the wind, and the storm,
If these to the spirit of Jesus conform.
The heart must be broken and contrite, ere it can be the fit abode for the divine love. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."-Psalm LI. 17.
It is sometimes a great mystery to the inquiring mind, that many of the evil are among the most prosperous of the earth, and many of the good are sorely tried. The Psalmist confesses a similar perplexity, " I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Behold, these are the ungodly who prosper in the world; they 'increase in riches. When I thought to know this it was too painful for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood r their end."-Psalm LXXIII. 5.
They who cannot bear trials, or would not benefit by them, do not have them. They who can only be made useful in the world by directing their affairs in prosperity are allowed to subserve the Providence of the Most High in the only way possible for them. They will not bear being beaten, nor would they yield oil. They have gathered the riches of earth: they have increased their balance at their bankers: they have surrounded themselves with the signs of prosperity and splendour. For these things they worked, and they have them. They did large service to society, and they have their reward. But when death comes, and they have no riches within, how poor, how miserable, how blind, and how naked, are they! Not the least of all their wealth can go with them, and that which they could have taken, they have despised and neglected. Their life has been a failure, their success has been their direst defeat.
"Blessed are they that mourn," said our Lord, "for they shall be comforted." "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy." The oil must be pure and beaten. Nay, how can it be pure without being beaten! No great good is ever arrived at, without much suffering. Of all the good, it must be said, "These are they that have come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."---Rev. VII. 14.
But the last particular to which we would call attention, is that the oil is supplied to feed the light. Without the oil the light would go out. The relation in the mind between love and truth is not always regarded as equally close with that between the oil and the light. It is, however, really so. Love is not only the hidden fire that sets the intellect to work but the quality of the love which actuates anyone gives a quality to his intellect. Where there is a love for truth, truth is rapidly acquired. Where that love of truth is powerful, deep, and persevering, there will be a constant meditation upon truth, a constant application to the Word of God, a constant turning to the inner light streaming in from the Sun of heaven. Hence the inner lamps will be trimmed, they will be lighted up whenever required, they will burn always.
How many there are who overlook this dependency of the intellect upon the state of the will, and hence, deny that a thing is true because they do not see it. They have made no effort to see it. They have turned their face another way, and when the great things of eternity have been brought plainly and blankly before them, they have closed their eyes, and then stolidly declared they do not see. It is utterly impossible they should see divine things unless they first come into the love of seeing them. They must cherish that love in trials and difficulties until it becomes purified by affliction and grief; and then, like the pure oil olive which has been beaten, it is supplied to the intellect, the lamp of the mind always. How far more abundant would be our reception of truth, if we constantly prayed for more love. The little pot of oil belonging to the widow, at the command of the prophet; flowed on as long as she brought vessels to receive it, and by it she freed her children, and if we sought constantly more oil, as well as more light, we should doubtless obtain both in greater abundance.
The worldling who scarcely gives a care or a thought to the things belonging to his peace, complains that they are rot all perfectly simple and easy. They soon become easy to him who desires to understand them. Let a person grow in love, and the truths of love will rapidly multiply within him. Let him grow in heavenly-mindedness, and the truths of heaven will become plainer and plainer every day. "Unto you," said the Lord" it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to others in parables."---Luke VIII. 10. We enter into divine things by love. Until we love, we are outside the kingdom. We cannot know the things of heaven by one sense only, that of seeing; we must feel them, touch them, taste them, and thus live in them, to know them. In the magnificent vision of the wheels recorded in Ezekiel 1., the prophet saw wheels wonderful in their construction and their grandeur, and to each wheel there was a living one like fire. When the living ones went, the wheels went; when the living ones stood, the wheels stood. Is it not ever so? When the heart becomes cold, the wheels of progress stand; when the heart becomes ardent, the wheels roll rapidly on. What steam-engine works unless the fire is kindled? What lungs play, unless the heart is beating? Though in the order of time we are led by truth to goodness; having got goodness it will enrich our truth abundantly; it will give us particulars and details. "A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation."-Isaiah LX. 22.
How different a world would this be, if every Christian were as anxious after oil as he is after light! The oil of joy would be given for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. The cold, harsh speech, the bitter taunt, the scornful insult, would never then be heard; but gentle counsel, loving sympathy, joyous calls to duty would cheer the earnest, and reclaim the erring.
"Oh! loving and forgiving-
Ye angel-words of earth;
Years were not worth the living,
If ye, too, had not birth!
Oh l loving and forbearing--
How sweet your mission here;
The grief that ye are sharing
Hath blessings in its tear."
Oh, that all the children of the spiritual Israel felt the divine command, "Bring ye pure oil olive, beaten for the light! " How much more light would come! and how much more gentle it would be! The heart filled with the spirit of love from the Lord would diffuse around itself an atmosphere of heaven. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth would speak, and the light within would shed a light around. A religion without celestial oil is cold, hard, and ungenial; but a religion of love is blest in itself, and blesses others.
Let us pray, then, for that obedience of life, and study of the Word, which will enable the trees of righteousness to grow up in our minds, especially those most valuable of all, the holy olive trees of love to God, and charity to man. May our Divine Saviour give us power to bear the discipline of life, so that the oil of loving-kindness and tender sympathy may ever flow within, and we may be able to utter the words of grateful thanksgiving. "Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."-Psalm XXIII. 5,6.
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY --From From Egypt to Canaan (1867)