This song presents the Biblical theme of the wise and foolish virgins in the musical idiom of the southern United States. The pentatonic scale that generates the strong, beautifully shaped melody is found in many kinds of folk and traditional musics, as well as in certain areas of the medieval repertoryThe lyrics are a bit unconventional for Christmas, talking not about the familiar Nativity story but about the crucifixion instead. Lately, I have come to appreciate this kind of holiday song because it helps me keep the “reason for the season” at the forefront of my Christmas observance, that reason being the birth of Christ so that He can become death for us at Easter. For those who wish to sample the tune itself, click here. Otherwise, here are the words of the song for your perusal.
When the midnight cry began,
O what lamentation,
Thousands sleeping in their sins,
Neglecting their salvation.
Lo, the bridegroom is at hand
Who will kindly treat him?
Surely all the waiting band
Will now go forth to meet him.
Some, indeed, did wait awhile,
And shone without a rival;
But they spent their seeming oil
Long since the last revival.
Many souls who thought they’d light,
O, when the scene was closed,
Now against the Bridegroom fight,
And so they stand opposed.
While the wise are passing by,
With all their lamps prepared,
Give us of your oil, they cry,
If any can be spared.
Others trimm’d their former snuff,
O’ is it not amazing!
Those conclude they’ve light enough,
And think their lamps are blazing.
Foolish virgins! Do you think
Our bridegroom’s a deceiver?
Then may you pass your lives away,
And think to sleep forever;
But we by faith do see his face,
On whom we have believed;
If there’s deception in the case,
‘Tis you that are deceived.
Virgins wise, I pray draw near,
And listen to your Saviour;
He is your friend, you need not fear,
O, why not seek his favour?
He speaks to you in whispers sweet,
In words of consolation:
By grace in him you stand complete,
He is your great salvation.
Dying sinners, will you come,
The Saviour now invites you;
His bleeding wounds proclaim there’s room
Let nothing then affright you---
Room for you, and room for me,
And room for coming sinner:
Salvation pours a living stream
For you and all believers.