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§ 138. The Parable of the New Patch on the Old Garment, and of the New Wine in Old Bottles.357357   Matt., ix., 16; Mark, ii., 21; Luke, v., 36.

Christ added another illustration in the form of a parable. “No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles (skins), else the new wine will burst the bottles and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles, and both are preserved.”

The old nature cannot be renewed by the imposition from without of the exercises of fasting and prayer; no outward and compulsory asceticism can change it. Individual points of character are significant only so far as they are connected with the tendency of the whole life: a reformation in these, indeed, may be enforced, and the stamp and spirit of the life remain unchanged. A fragment of the higher spiritual life, thus broken off from its living connexion (destroyed in the fracture), and forced upon the nature of the old man, would not really improve it; but, on the other hand, by its utter want of adaptation, would worsen the rent in the old nature—would tear it rudely away from its natural course of developement. A mere renewal from without is at best an artificial, hypocritical thing. The new cloth is torn, and a patch laid upon the old that does not fit it. The new wine is lost, and the old skins perish.358358   We deviate from the ordinary interpretation of this parable. Our explanation is not only adapted to the preceding context (Luke, v., 33-35), but also fits the minute details of the comparison, which the one commonly given does not. According to the latter, the substance of the parable is, that the outward religious exercises of Judaism are not adapted to the higher stage, Christianity, for which the disciples were training. But Christ admits (verse 35) that fasting may be a good thing at the right time; which, he said, had not then come, but would come. Instead of taking up this point, and unfolding it in the parable in another aspect, as one might expect, the common interpretation introduces a new and entirely different thought, viz., that such exercises were unsuitable (not to their condition at that time, but) to Christianity at any time. Again, one would naturally think, from v. 34, 35, that the “new wine” and the “new cloth” of the parable were intended to represent the fasting, &c., of which Christ was speaking, viz., that fasting which the Apostles were to practice at a later period. But the usual interpretation, on the other hand, supposes fasting to be something defective in itself, and as belonging to that form of life which is represented by the “old garment.” The sense thus obtained contains a thought not true in itself; for, in the case of the Apostles, the new wine of Christianity was put into the old bottle of Judaism, and was intended to break it to pieces. If the prescribed fasting was to be disregarded by the Apostles as belonging to Jewish legalism, so also, on the same principle, the whole Jewish legalism would have to be done away by them, as foreign to the new spirit introduced by Christ.
   It is remarkable that this obviously false interpretation should have kept so long in the back-ground the true one developed by Chrysostom, Hom. in Matt., xxx., § 4. Independently of my exposition, Wilke has recently declared himself (in his Urevangelisten) in favour of the view here given. De Wette styles it “forced,” but how the term can apply to an interpretation so accurately fitting the details of the parable, I cannot imagine. I should be very glad to see the attention of interpreters directed to the views which I have set forth.


The premature imposition, therefore, of such exercises upon the disciples, instead of developing the new life within them, would have hindered it by mutilating and crippling what they had.359359   Sincerum est nisi vas, quodcunque infundis, acescit. Separate branches of the spiritual life, apart from their connexion with the whole, cannot be grafted upon the stem of the old nature; that nature must be renewed from within in order to become a vessel of the Spirit. (In the case of the Apostles, the way was prepared for this by their personal intercourse with the Saviour.) The whole garment had to be new; the wine required new bottles. The new Spirit had of itself to create a new form of life.

Glancing back from this point to the words before spoken on fasting, we may refer them to the privations that lay before the Apostles in their course of duty—privations which they would joyously go to meet under the impulse of the new Spirit that was to animate them.

But although no outward impulses (no patches upon the old garment) might be needed when the interior life should freely guide, it might yet naturally be the case that “No man, having also drank old wine, straightway desireth new; for, he saith, the old is better.”360360   It is a proof of the originality and faithfulness of Luke’s narrative, that this passage, so indubitably stamped with originality, and yet so closely connected with the context, is recorded by him alone. The disciples had to be weaned gradually from the old life and trained for the new—a law applicable in all ages of the Church, and which, if faithfully observed, might have saved her from many errors in Christian life and morals.361361   Pope Innocent III. understood and applied this passage correctly, in reference to the establishment of a mission in Prussia: “Cum veteres uteres vix novum vinum contineant.Epp., 1. xv., 148.

This example affords another illustration of the truth that individual 207parts of Christ’s teaching cannot be rightly understood apart from their connexion with his whole system of truth.

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