(review by me, Chadd Sheffield)
Jesus Christ relentlessly divides the world into two. There are houses built on a rock, and on sand. There are sheep, and there are goats. There is wheat and there are tares. There are trees that bear fruit, and there are thorns and thistles. And, according to Jesus in Matthew chapter 25, there are wise virgins, and there are foolish virgins; and the one you are makes all the difference here now, and in eternity.
I first came across the name Thomas Shepard while reading Jonathan Edward’s classic Religious Affections. Edwards quotes Shepard in Religious Affections more than he quotes any other author—in all of Edward’s books combined. However, it was not this recommendation from Edwards that inspired me to read Shepard’s book. The words that Edwards quoted struck my heart particularly deep, and revealed to me that I tended to trust God wrongly; that I tested myself according to my culture, that I would often times try to make my election sure by mental assent and not a full, vibrant faith and love towards the Lord. It was Thomas Shepard that revealed to me by the scriptures that a foolish virgin could have just as easily passed my tests, and then the fear of God drove me to get a deeper understanding of the differences between those beloved by God and regenerated by His Spirit, and those who—as Shepard says—love the Lord Jesus only from the teeth outward.1
At first, the size of the book and the language both make it appear that reading it may seem like a burdensome task, but I would like to propose that it shouldn’t be. Dr. John Gerstner in the foreword says, “Don’t read it. Study it, a few pages at a time; decipher it… It may not save you, but it will leave you in no doubt if you are saved, and even less if you are not!” We ought not try to just read through The Parable of The Ten Virgins. When your motive is to finish the book rather than understand it—it does become burdensome. But if your motive is to learn from the faithful expositions of God’s Word, and if your motive is to have assurance about the things of God, and if your motive is to fight to enjoy Christ here and to be prepared in the hereafter then this book is not a burden; it’s a blessing.
The book is a collection of Shepard’s sermon notes on the Parable of The Ten Virgins found in Matthew 25:1-13. He takes you verses by verse, sentence by sentence, and word by word. Though the work is a little over six-hundred pages, Shepard does not repeat himself. The points of doctrine always seem reasonable, and are never forced. It is never boring, especially when you realize his sermons are directed to you.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins is a parable that covers much of the Christian life. This is precisely the reason why Shepard has written so much concerning it. It affects how we view the church, sin, wasting our time, and assurance of salvation. It affects how we view the most important of things.
Lastly, I think this book has a prophetic message to our current generation. In every church there are foolish virgins who believe they await our Lord and it will be well with them. But the Lord knows them not, and the foolish virgins will be shut out at last—and they don’t know it! They lack oil in their vessels, but they either don’t notice, or know where to buy without price! We must not let them perish in ignorance by our slumbering. Oh, that we would wake, and pray that we ourselves do not fall into temptation, and that the knowledge of the Lord would spread through our churches and the earth—in hope that some foolish virgins would wake and get oil in their vessels before he comes to them in death or at the end of time.