"No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles; else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish; but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved." (Matthew 9:16,17)
THIS is a very remarkable saying, brethren. Luke calls it a parable. The whole of the chapter from which our text is taken having been read as the second lesson in the services of our Church this day, you have heard the occasion on which our blessed Lord spake these very remarkable words.
Several circumstances had occurred, which had called forth against our blessed Lord the strength of the Pharisaic spirit. After He had by His word called Levi, or Matthew, the Publican, from the receipt of custom, He went to his house, and He there sat in company with publicans and sinners, and He preached to those poor sinners. This aroused the proud spirit of the Pharisees and Scribes, and they could not help saying to His disciples, "Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?" And then He brought before them a doctrine which was worse than all; He told them that this was the very errand on which He had come, "not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." And by the way, brethren, let me make a remark upon that passage. I believe that it is very often misinterpreted. It has been said, that it means that our Lord Jesus did not come to call the self-righteous. Men put in that word without any authority whatever. I take it literally as it stands. The errand upon which the Lord Jesus Christ came was, to save sinners, because sinners want salvation. A righteous man does not want salvation. If we were righteous by nature, as we are by grace, when we believe the Gospel record, we should not want to be saved. Salvation is for the sinner. We have not to be saved over again when we are made righteous men in Christ, but we stand before God complete in Him, who is "Jehovah, our Righteousness;" (Jer. 23:6; Jer. 33:16) so that our Lord meant what He said, when He declared, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." It was as if He had said, I have no Gospel for righteous men at all. But He does not say, I have no Gospel for the self-righteous; it would have been a very bad case with many of us, if He had not come to call the self-righteous.
Well, this doctrine, as well as this conduct of our blessed Lord, called forth the caviling spirit of the Pharisees. Accordingly they send to Him, and they say, that they want a little explanation as to His conduct with regard to the rigid observance of the Jewish traditions. They ask, "Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast often and make prayers; but thine eat and drink?" This inquiry led to the most remarkable answer, which we have read as our text on this occasion.
The drift of this parable, as Luke calls it, is, I suppose, intelligible and obvious to us all; but perhaps we have not been in the habit of closely examining the passage, and of marking the distinction that there is between the two illustrations, or the two parts of the parable. Now, we hold it, that there is a distinction between the illustrations of the addition of the new piece to the old garment, and the putting of the new wine into old bottles, though they both bear, mark you, upon the same wrong principle. The obvious drift of the whole passage is this--that there never was a greater mistake, than to suppose that there is to be an amalgamation of the law and of the Gospel; a mixing up of Old Testament ritual, and all the bondage of external things, with Gospel liberty and the spiritual privileges of the New Testament. And now mark the distinction that we hold to subsist between the two illustrations; the first of these similes brings out the Old Testament service and dispensation as the prominent subject; the second brings out the New Testament Gospel as the prominent subject of the illustration. To explain it a little more. In the first, the prominent subject is the Old Testament--the worn-out garment; the New Testament, the Gospel, is only spoken of as an addition or appendage to it. In the other, the Gospel stands out as the prominent subject--the new wine; the old bottles are merely the subordinate matter of the illustration.
Now, a word as to the difference between the two. In the first, mark you, our Lord condemns the tendency that there is in men, to bring the Gospel (I speak it with reverence) as a mere patch, to try to help out and keep together the Old Testament ritual and service, and the Old Testament spirit of ritualism too.
In the second, our Lord shows the utter mistake that there is in men supposing that the Gospel is to find a lodgment in the natural faculties of poor, fallen man, and that man, in the miserable condition in which he is by nature, is a fit receptacle for the dews of grace. Upon these two subjects we shall speak a little more at length.
The first thing which is condemned in the illustration of putting a piece of new cloth upon an old garment is, that bringing the Gospel merely to tack it on to the ritual dispensation. This is a fault which exists among ourselves, brethren, as we shall have occasion to show you presently. A very little acquaintance with human nature, and a very little careful attention to ecclesiastical history will force upon our minds this fact, that the offence of the cross of Christ, or the reason why men do not like the Gospel is, because it demands exclusive submission to its principles. Surely, brethren, you do not imagine that Christ would ever have been any great stumbling-block in the way of the Romans, or the learned Greeks, if His followers had merely asked, in all humility, that He should obtain a place in their Pantheon, amongst their hundreds, or thousands, of gods. I do not suppose that such a request would have caused any offence at all. But when these poor fishermen, and preachers of the truth of Christ, made an aggression upon heathenism; when they said, We demand not merely a niche in your temples for our Jesus, but we proclaim Him to be one with the living and only true God; and we demand for Him, not an occasionally civil and polite worship, but we demand exclusive worship for Him, who is God's co-equal Son; when they went forth and told men, Sirs! you must cease from these vanities, you must turn from these idols to serve the living and only true God:--this was too great an aggression upon their principles; it was too deep an inroad upon their prejudices. And again, when they went amongst these heathen people, and when they exalted the sacrifice and sufferings of the Lord Jesus, and in doing so trampled upon all the rubbish of false doctrine which was abroad in the world, under the name of atonement, and of redemption, and of propitiation, such a proclamation made the whole fabric of human merit to totter to its very basis, and it reared upon its ruins one great, finished, all-sufficient, glorious salvation, in the name, and only in the name, of Jesus.
Well then, again, if you look over the history of the Jewish opposition to our blessed Lord when He was upon earth, you will not find that they had any great objection, or perhaps any objection at all, to have the things of Christ combined with the ceremonials of the old Jewish dispensation. Nay, I do believe, if the Lord Jesus Christ had brought out all that He says in the 5th, 6th, and 7th chapters of Matthew's Gospel; and if He had said, Tack this on to the old rites, and ceremonies, and traditions, of your religion,--I do believe that there would not have been a single cavil at it. You will make that the Jews were anxious to oppose the Gospel, not for anything supplementary that it brought, but because it stood out in all its brightness and clearness in the place of all these other things, and because it told them that there was a spiritual meaning in the external services and sacrifices of the Levitical dispensation. Now, it is this very element of a spiritual meaning which is so offensive to the carnal mind of a carnal heathen, or a carnal Jew, or a carnal nominal Christian, or a carnal Protestant. In reading the New Testament history, we observe how closely this legal spirit did cleave to the Jews.
You remember the story recorded in the 21st of Acts. We are there told of some good men who came to the Apostle Paul, and told him, We are greatly rejoiced at all these wonderful things which are going on in the world; but, dear brother, there are so many Jews here, and they do love the law so much, that you ought to gratify them a little. Here are four men, who have a vow on them, take and purify thyself with them. Paul did it; and I can never read that story without thinking that there must have been some feeling in Paul's mind against which such a proposal as this grated; and yet, he did submit to it, for peace sake; but that very act brought anything but peace upon himself afterwards.
You remember, also, what Paul tells us in the 2nd of Galatians: he says, that he was obliged to withstand Peter to the face, because he was to be blamed. He tells us, that Peter did eat with the Gentiles, until the Jews came, but then he became remarkably frightened, and did separate himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision; and the Apostle says, that all this was so bad, that Barnabas was carried away in the stream of their dissimulation.
Now, brethren, we come nearer home, and we say that this principle which our Lord, in our text condemns so strongly and so strikingly, exists in the very heart of our own community, and in the very heart of this nation, where the light of God's truth has been so largely diffused. We bring before you, brethren, the fact, that this principle has existed in all ages, in the face of the truth of God, and the liberty of His Gospel, and it seems to gather strength in its progress. It seems to put itself forward in its energy and in its fierceness, in the present day. There has, we say, existed in all ages, a tendency in the human mind to exalt ritualism--the very thing which is represented by the old garment, and to tack to it a kind of gospel merely as an appendage. Now, I do entreat attention to this. It is not a pleasing, nor is it a popular subject. But we stand forward, brethren, and we tell you with all the boldness that God may be pleased to give us, that it is of importance that your minds should be kept clear upon this point, in order that when the error comes to your doors, you may be able to stand against it, and to give men your reasons for standing against it. And we repeat what we have already said, that in whatever school, or in whatever breast this ritual principle exists, to the exclusion of the spiritual principle, there is the exact thing which our Lord condemns in this illustration, of the adding the piece of new cloth to the old garment.
I would not, brethren, have you deceived by the beautiful expressions that you will meet with in the books which emanate from that school; I would not have you deceived when you hear men speak of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of righteousness, and of salvation, and of spiritual light and life in the soul--all those things which are so dear to the heart of every enlightened Christian. But I want you to mark, and closely to examine what is the substance of the teaching, of the faith, and of the hope of the men of that school; and I maintain that whatever may be said of Christ--whatever may be said of His atonement--whatever may be said of the Holy Ghost; this is not the substance, it is only the piece of new cloth; the substance is the old garment--they want to keep that; they want, perhaps, to mend it, or they want to put these glorious things--salvation, peace, righteousness, the work of God the Holy Ghost--they want, I say, to put these things as the spangles, the tinsel to deck and to ornament, in some way, that old, tattered, worn-out garment, that never did and never will cover the sinner.
Now, when these external things are urged as they are in the present day with such an undue importance, the point for us is, not to be satisfied merely with the condescension of the men of that school, because they do not repudiate the work of the Lord Jesus Christ altogether; but let us bring their teaching to the test, and see what proportion do the doctrines of the Gospel and the spirit and life which the Gospel reveals, hold to their desire for mere ritual observances.
It is a very remarkable thing, that there is such a proneness in the human mind to take shelter in external things, rather than in spiritual things. In looking over the Epistles of the New Testament, we read of men who had never been Jews at all--I refer to the Galatians and to the Colossians; and these men, rather than throw themselves implicitly upon the spiritual thing which the Gospel presents, even eternal life in the Lord Jesus Christ, and a finished salvation through Him, were anxious to take shelter under the elements of the Jewish ritual. In other words, they were afraid to venture upon the deep, resting upon the plain declarations of the Lord Jesus Christ, and upon the truth of Jehovah; and they wanted to be borne up, as they crossed that deep, by the floats, and the bladders, and the corks of the Levitical dispensation.
We now come nearer home. And, brethren, in speaking upon this subject, I must call things by their right names. This ritual system is obtaining an importance in the sister country, which, perhaps, very few of us imagine. The germ of the evil exists amongst ourselves; and if there be a restraining power which keeps it down at present, we thank God for it. But we say, let any common observer take up any newspaper which gives him any information as to what is going on in this, or that, or the other diocese in England, and I ask, will he not be told that there is a putting forth of that most prominent error, which is some head and shoulders taller than all the rest--baptismal regeneration? The actual waters of baptism are spoken of, as if they were the fountain of the streams of spiritual life.
O, brethren, if there be one thing rather than another that stings us to the very heart's core, it is the dishonor which is put upon the Lord's own ordinance, by putting that ordinance in the place of the life-giving stream of the blood of Jesus. I do wonder that men are daring and inconsistent enough to have the face to sneer at Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, when these very men are approaching as near to it as they possibly can; and I believe they go quite as far as any Roman Catholic ever went, as to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. I ask if this be not fact? Take any account of what is going on in most of the dioceses in England; and I ask, is it not so, that, instead of speaking of the great and the all-sufficient salvation that is in Jesus, the work of the Holy Ghost upon the sinner's heart, those wholesome doctrines which feed the soul--is it not so, that men put forward prominently in their place, holy baptism? You find a whole diocese agitated as to baptism, as to what is the best way of having it administered; in short, if you strip off the external covering, and come to the kernel of the thing, it just amounts to this--How can we manage to convert people best, by this ordinance of baptism?
And again, mark the mystery that is thrown round about the office of the ministry, by the men of this school. No one will exalt more than I the office of the ministry of the Gospel; I hold it to be a great honor that is conferred upon a poor sinner, when he is sent of the Lord to preach the Gospel of the grace of God; but I hold it to be an outrage upon the Lord's own ordinance, when men are niggardly of the truth to a starving people, and are merely anxious that they themselves should be wrapped around in the mysteries of their apostolic succession, or what not, that may invest them with a dignity that shall enable them to lord it over God's heritage.
And then again, in the very face of rubrical authority, of which they talk so much, see the manner in which, by their crossings, and their bowings, and so on, if there be not an adoration of the elements of bread and wine, there is something very like it. And then, brethren, to follow out the subject, never did Jewish bondage bind a ritual Jew with more shackles than those which are imposed upon the followers of that school. Look at all their fastings, and their observances of days, and so on. Mark you, I condemn no man for fasting, if he chooses to fast; I condemn no man for observing of a day, if he chooses to observe it; but when these things are imposed as the substance, for so it is, and the Gospel is made to be nothing but the patch on the old garment, then do things assume a very bad aspect indeed. Now, I would put it to a jury of the first twelve honest men that I should meet; I would ask them impartially and candidly to examine the matter, and to tell me if the ceremonial be not the prominent, and the spiritual the subordinate thing, with the men of that school? I believe that this was the point of our Lord's illustration. These people were anxious to tack the Gospel to their ceremonial services, and that was all.
Now, as to the second part of the illustration. Here the Gospel comes out as the prominent subject. Our Lord says, "Men do not put new wine into old bottles," because the old bottles could not hold it. You have in this illustration, brethren, a principle which runs through the whole of the New Testament doctrine, which principle is this, that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is, not a provision made of God to mend the poor sinner in detail, but it is a revelation of a something that is altogether new, something that stands out in the magnificence of its peculiarity. It is not taking this old nature and mending it, by infusing into it the Gospel of the grace of God, but it is a new thing. The new wine must be put into new bottles, or into those sacks of leather, which were used by the inhabitants of eastern countries at the time when our Lord spoke this parable.
I would now ask you to observe some few passages in the New Testament, in which you have this idea presented to you, that the Gospel is a something which is altogether new in itself, and that the vessel which is to contain it must be the new creation of God, for nothing else can hold it. In the first place, let us look at that very expression which I have just used, "the New Testament." Why, hundreds of years before the Lord Jesus came at all, the Prophet Jeremiah said that the days should come when the Lord would make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. The Apostle, in the 8th of Hebrews, quotes this very passage from Jeremiah 31, and he tells us that this is the glorious tenor of the new covenant, that it was unlike that national covenant which God made with their fathers, which they brake; but he tells us that this was the tenor of the new covenant, and a blessed truth it is for you and for me--that God would do it all Himself, that He would put His laws in their mind, and write them in their hearts; that He would be their God, and that they should be His people; that they should not depart from Him; and He would be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities would He remember no more.
Perhaps, you have never thought of the beauty of that expression which our blessed Lord used, when, as He gave the cup to His Disciples at the last supper, He said, "This is my blood of the New Testament," or new covenant. Why, He meant to teach, that it was the pledge then, as it is now, in every participation of that holy ordinance, spiritually and believingly--the pledge, I say, to every believing soul, that the covenant has been ratified with the blood of God's dear Son. So that all the provisions of that covenant, which rests upon the promise, and upon the truth, and upon the faithfulness of Jehovah--all the provisions of that covenant--pardon, eternal life, the writing of the laws upon the fleshly tables of the heart--these provisions, I say, are all sealed in the blood of Christ, of which we have the solemn pledge given to us in that communion ordinance; and when we take that cup into our hands, we should be able to say, Here is a solemn pledge given to me by the Lord, that I am a partaker of every blessing of the new covenant, which is sealed with the blood of Jesus. It is in this way that the intelligent recipient of the Lord's supper comes to the table of the Lord. He does not come to worship the wine as the blood of Christ, but he comes to partake of it as the emblem of that blood, which is the seal of the whole covenant being carried out.
And then, again, when the work of grace in the soul is spoken of, it is said, that "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." (2 Cor. 5:17) The Apostle Peter says to those whom he addresses as Christian men, "As new born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." (1 Peter 2:2) Now, what is the meaning of that expression, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature?" What is a creature? A creature is a something that is made out of nothing. Creation is God's prerogative. Therefore, when the Apostle says, speaking of Christian men, that they are God's creation, it is as much as to say, that they are not made out of old materials, but that they are born of God. In the 6th of Romans, when the Apostle is speaking of the principle which actuates those who are spiritual men, he says, that "like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Again, in the 7th of Romans, he says, "Now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held, that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." And in the 4th of Ephesians he says, "If ye have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, that ye put off concerning the former conversation (that is, your old habits), the old man, which is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts." He does not say, Try to reform the old man; he says, It is corrupt; you cannot make any thing of it; it is as far gone as it can be; but he adds, "And be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."
Now, these are but specimens of the numerous passages which you will find in the New Testament, in which this wonderful work, which takes place in the sinner's soul, when he is brought to believe in Jesus Christ, is spoken of as altogether a new thing. This, I believe, is what our Lord calls, "the new wine."
Now, He says this new wine must not be put into old bottles; for as the new wine, when it would become fermented, would burst these old, worn-out, and corrupt bottles, and the wine would leak out, and be lost; so our Lord says, there must be a new vessel for the receiving of such a precious deposit as this. Brethren, I do believe that much as we hear in the present day of the instrumentality which is abroad for the reformation and for the improvement of the world, the crying mistake is this, that men are trying to manufacture the old materials into something better. Our Lord teaches us that this will not do; this work is a new creation. It is not, as I before said, a mending of the man in detail, but it is the putting within us the new man, which has all the faculties of a living man. They may be in their childish state, they may be in their adolescent state, they may be in their more matured state, but still it is a new man.
Now, there may be a putting of the new wine into these old bottles by education, by circumstances of various kinds, pride, self-interest, or so on. We have seen it, brethren; we know not what God may be yet pleased to do in His own sovereignty and in His almighty purpose; but we have seen this parable, as it were, a living mirror of facts, which have been presented to our view. We have seen the new wine in the old bottles; we have seen the young trained up on a clear apprehension of the theory of Gospel doctrine; we have seen others who are older, submitting with all acquiescence to the truths of the Gospel; but the seed has fallen on stony ground, and when the persecution of the world, or what is far worse, the hot sun of prosperity has beamed with all its strength upon that which has no root, it has withered away.
Brethren, we have seen this, and therefore, as faithful men commissioned to preach these truth, we feel it to be most important to tell you, parents, to let your children know that it is not mere education in the Gospel principles which saves the soul, but that there is a divine power which must be at work; that God Himself must build the temple in which God Himself would dwell. Remember this; there may be, and there often is, reformation without any spiritual life, though, you may depend upon it, wherever there is spiritual life, there must be reformation.
Now, when men are anxious to take these old bottles and to put new wine into them, the result must be disappointment. You will say, What, then, are we preachers to do? Why, brethren, the very thing that we are doing. I trust that I can appeal to the Lord, that I have never felt it to be my calling, to try to mold corrupt human nature into something of a spiritual life. Men may say, Ay, but what discouragement this must give to your congregation (God knoweth that it is no such thing);--why do you not tell sinners to mold themselves after this form, or the other form? Brethren, we would not mock you by so doing--we have learned how God is pleased to bring the poor sinner from darkness to light. We know that it is by the very instrumentality which we use; it is by the proclamation of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ; by the telling men that God Himself must shed light into the sinner's soul, and that He who gives the light stands engaged to maintain, that light. We would preach with all affection to our poor fellow-sinners; we would tell them what Jesus is, what Jesus has, what Jesus does; we would tell them what a great salvation His people find in Him: and it may be, that whilst we have been putting forward these things, some poor sinner who may have come into this congregation this day, cold and indifferent to the things of God, may have been aroused--perhaps some word has found its way through the joints of the harness, into the center and core of the man. Who know? We do not, but God does.
You may depend upon it, there is no corner in the carnal heart for Christ; it has not room for Him. It has room for the world, it has room for pleasure, it has room for anything to which men attach any importance, but it has no room for Christ. When God makes the man a new vessel, he then receives the new wine into his soul--he is a temple of the living God.