Luke 5:33

Observe -




No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old.
We appreciate easily the offensiveness of what is incongruous. It is fatal alike to beauty, to symmetry, and to effectiveness. A sparrow is not as beautiful as a bird of Paradise, yet the little brown bird is a pleasant sight. Try to fasten upon him the gorgeous plumage of the other bird, and you make him ridiculous at once. His beauty consists in being simply himself. An inferior thing that is constant to its own ideal, consistent, true, is a far more useful and a far more pleasurable thing than when you try to make it look like something else, or do the work of something else, or take it out of its place and put it in circumstances to which it has no adaptation. Take a plain stone wall, for instance. There is nothing very artistic about it, but if it be well and truly built, a simple wall and nothing else, it is not an unpleasing object. But now go to the ruins of that Gothic church, and bring away the sculptured keystone of an arch, the fragments of a carved screen, a column with an elaborately cut capital, and sundry pinnacles and gargoyles, and work these into the masonry of your wall, and set up your pinnacles along the top, and let your gargoyles protrude their hideous heads at intervals: you have made a ridiculous thing out of your stone wall. People at once see that something is there which belongs to quite another order of things. Everybody acknowledges the difference between the church and the plain wall, and the difference offends no one so long as each keeps its place and is simply itself. But the attempt to patch one with the other emphasizes the difference offensively. The rent is made worse: the beauty is taken from the church, and the wall is made ugly.

(M. R. Vincent, D. D.)

I remember an old farmer who, when he was about sixty years of age, professed faith in Christ. He was full of zeal, and, for a time, was like a flaming torch in the neighbourhood. I never saw a man who seemed to feel so keenly the awful risk he had run in delaying his salvation so long. He could not be in a prayer-meeting without rising to warn his fellow-men against his mistake. But he was also an ignorant man, and his new experience only deepened his sense of his ignorance of the things of God; and he used to shut himself in his room with volumes on systematic theology, and painfully wade through their contents, and then come down to the prayer-meeting and attempt to reproduce what he had read; and you can easily imagine the result. So long as he kept to his own experience, so long as he was just himself, speaking of what he knew and felt, he spoke with power. The moment he cried to patch the theologian upon the plain farmer, he spoiled it all. The theology was ruined, and so was the personal experience. The ignorance which no one would have thought of in the plain man speaking out of a full heart, was thrust into prominence by the ridiculous attempt to play the part of a theological teacher. The rent was made worse.

(M. R. Vincent, D. D.)

The gospel is a unit, one and inseparable. It is sufficient unto itself. It asks no aid from any source outside of itself. It needs no combination to develop its peculiar virtues. The great truth it sets before men is Christ all, and in all. And it does its work for and in man upon the condition that it be received as it is; entire, adding nothing and subtracting nothing. It does not engage that there shall be virtue in its fragments apart from the whole. You may take up the lock of that rifle, and pull and snap it as much as you please, and it will be a good while before you shoot anything. You must combine it with the barrel and the stock, Neither lock, stock, nor barrel is good for anything, except as they together make up a rifle. Similarly, 1 cannot answer for the effect of a single Christian precept or doctrine disjoined from the whole. It is only a patch, cut out from a good, solid garment, and refusing to match with any other fabric.

(M. R. Vincent, D. D.)

You say, and say honestly no doubt, that you want to be right and to do right, but you can accept the gospel only in part. Christ's moral code is all very well, but the doctrine of the new birth you cannot accept. So you go to cutting patches again. You cut the moral code clean from the new birth. You will keep Christ's precepts without being a new creature. You will sew the new code upon the old nature. Very well. Some people in a city think they will build a fountain. They engage an engineer, and a noted sculptor. A beautiful design is carried out in stone or bronze. The water is to pour from vases in the hands of sea-nymphs, and to spout from the horns of tritons. At last all is ready. The crowd assemble to witness the opening of the fountain. The signal is given, there is a little spirt from a jet here and there, and then all is dry as before. The stupid engineer has drawn his water from a point almost as low as the base of the fountain, and there is no head to send the water through the pipes. But a more competent workman comes to the rescue. He lays a large main. He leads it to a deep lake or reservoir far up above the town; and now, at the signal, the crystal waters shoot high into the air, and drape the beautiful forms with their falling spray. Oh, my friend, I greatly fear you have not rightly estimated that moral system of Christ. It is grander than you think; higher than you are aware; and to make your life flow through it to refresh the world, you will need something besides the pressure of your feeble will. Your reservoir is too low down. If your life is to fill that godlike out-line of virtue, its impulse must be Divine. If your impulse is earthly, your life will be earthly. That moral code was meant for a new man, and nothing but a birth from above, nothing but an impulse generated and maintained by God Himself, will ever enable you to live it. The new code and the new man will not be separated. If they shall not go together the gospel will be caricatured by you, and the new precepts will break loose continually from the old will and the old passions and the old habits, and the rent will be worse.

(M. R. Vincent, D. D.)

Men talk of turning over a new leaf — of beginning over again. How many times you hear it. "Yes, I have been careless, self-indulgent, hasty and passionate; I am going to try to do better." Never does the old year strike its last hour, that hundreds and thousands of people are not lying wakeful and thoughtful upon their beds, or sitting with sober meditation in their closets, and gathering up their faculties into mighty resolutions for the year to come. " I will swear no more. I will drink no more. I will go to the house of God. I will begin to read my Bible." The resolutions are good and honest, no doubt. It is a good thing that one's attention has been called to those faults. It will be a better thing if he can carry out his resolution and master them; but, alas, neither the good resolutions nor their accomplishment go far enough. It is patch-work still; patching pieces of the gospel on the old nature; a temperance piece, and a Bible-reading piece, and a church-going piece, upon a nature which, in its very quality and essence, is estranged from God. The man gives up an indulgence here and there, says to God in effect, "Your moral law may come and occupy this ground which has been occupied by my misdoing"; but such an entrance of God's law is like the occupation of some remote outpost of a fortified town by an invader. The citadel is still unreached. The situation is commanded by the garrison of the town. There is no conquest until the invader gets in there.

(M. R. Vincent, D. D.)

If any of the Pharisees, moved by the miracles which Christ wrought, had felt disposed to receive Him as a teacher from God, the thing which they would most naturally have attempted would have been the making a compound of their own religion and the Christian, so that, whilst they kept what they liked most in their tenets and observances, they might have the advantage of the new revelation; and therefore, what Christ had to denounce in the case of these Pharisees was the lurking notion that Christianity might admit some admixtures from other religions, so that men might bring into its profession their own favourite theories, and find them amalgamate very well with its doctrines. This notion Christ denounces most emphatically. Christianity, though far enough from being a new revelation, required that the scene should be swept clear for its institutions, peremptorily refusing that there should be blended with the revealed mode of a sinner's acceptance anything of ceremonial ordinance, demanding to be received without admixture, or rejected without reserve. And it is against this that men in every age have rebelled. They have wanted not only to keep some part of their own favourite systems, but to keep it for the very end which, according to their own theory, it had heretofore answered. Thus generally with good works. It does not content them that Christianity demands good works, that it makes salvation impossible without them, and thus transfers to its system the favourite part of their own; they have been accustomed to account their works meritorious, and they would fain have Christianity account them so too; and this Christianity will not do. If it require and retain fasting and almsgiving, it will not allow them any justifying merit; it may be said to alter their character in granting them admission. Thus, whilst it has much in common with other systems, it is wholly against the being compounded with those systems, in order that the produce may give a mixed mode of obtaining salvation.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Our Lord is referring to the proposal to enforce the ascetic leanings of the forerunner, and the pharisaic regulations which had become a parasitic growth on the old dispensation, upon the glad simplicity of the new dispensation. To act thus was much the same thing as using the gospel by way of a mere adjunct to — a mere purple patch upon — the old garment of the law. The teaching of Christ was a new and seamless robe which would only be spoilt by being rent. It was impossible to tear a few doctrines and precepts from Christianity, and use them as ornaments and improvements of Mosaism. If this were attempted(1) the gospel would be maimed by the rending from its entirety;(2) the contrast between the new and the old system would be made more glaring;(3) the decay of the evanescent institutions would only be violently accelerated.

(Archdeacon Farrar.)

Jesus here applies a great principle to all external rites and ceremonies. They have their value. As the wineskin retains the wine, so are feelings and aspirations aided, and even preserved, by suitable external forms. Without these, emotion would lose itself for want of restraint, wasted like spilt wine, by diffuseness. And if the forms are unsuitable and outworn, the same calamity happens, the strong new feelings break through them, "and the wine perisheth, and the skins." The coming of a new revelation meant the repeal of old observances, and Christ refused to sew His new faith like a patchwork upon ancient institutions, of which it would only complete the ruin. Thus He anticipated the decision of His apostles releasing the Gentiles from the law of Moses.

(Dean Chadwick.)

Just as it was forbidden by the law of Moses to wear a mixed garment of linen and of wool, so there was a deeper and a more essential incongruity involved in every attempt to patch the old and tattered garments of the law with the new and seamless robe of the gospel. Just as the insertion of a piece of undressed cloth, which shrinks when wetted, and takes along with it a part of the old and worn garment, does but increase the rent which it is designed to mend; just as the unfermented wine put into old skins, bursts the skins and perishes with them, even so our Lord declares that all attempts to combine the bondage of the law with the liberty of the gospel involves a fundamental ignorance of the nature and design of both. The two similitudes employed by our Lord seem to exhibit this truth in different ways.

1. The similitude of the old garment patched with a piece of new cloth seems more immediately applicable to external rites and ceremonies, such as the observance of those prescribed days and months and years which caused St. Paul to stand in doubt of the Galatian Church.

2. The similitude of the new wine seems to have reference to the inner life and spirit — the very life and soul of the Christian dispensation which could not be restrained within the trammels of the worldly sanctuary of Judaism. The history of the Church, in all after ages, teaches how greatly this lesson was needed, and how imperfectly it has been learned.

(C. J. Elliot, M. A.)

This, we may add, is what the Church of Christ has too often done in her work as the converter of the nations. Sacramental ordinances, or monastic vows, or Puritan formulae, or Quaker conventionalities, have been engrafted on lives that were radically barbarous or heathen, or worldly, and the contrast has been glaring, and the rent made worse. The more excellent way which our Lord pursued, and which it is our wisdom to pursue, is to take the old garment and to transform it, as by a renewing power from within, thread by thread, till old things are passed away and all things are become new.

(Dean Plumptre.)

The doctrines of religion demand a certain suitableness, or preparedness, in the persons to whom they are taught; and if there be no attempt in the persons to fit themselves for the doctrines — to adapt the bottles to the wine — there is nothing to be looked for but that the doctrines will be wasted, and the persons, like the bottles, be only injured by what they have received. It may be the pure, the generous wine which is poured forth — the preacher may dispense nothing but the unadulterated gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the great mass of hearers come up to God's house without the smallest preparation of heart, with scarce a thought given beforehand to the solemn duty in which they are about to engage. In place of having been secretly in prayer that God would give unto them the hearing ear and the understanding heart; in place of having been endeavouring to purge out the old leaven of worldliness and prejudice, that so they might bring with them candid and unoccupied minds; they rush to the sanctuary, as they would to some scene of business or pleasure; conversing, perhaps, up to the moment of entering it on politics, or scandal, or commerce, or fashion; and continuing to give the same things their thoughts, when restrained by the place from giving them their tongues. And what is to be looked for from the attempt to pour the new wine into these unseasoned bottles, but that the wine will be lost and the bottles themselves broken? Yes — you are not to overlook this peculiarity in the parable — the bottles are broken through the action of the wine; not through any external violence, but simply through the workings of the generous liquid. It is thus with the moral facts which the parable illustrates. The preaching of the gospel is no inefficient thing, producing no injury where it produces no benefit. is "the savour of death unto death," where it fails to be "the savour of life unto life." This may be little thought of by numbers who, perhaps, attend church regularly on Sundays, and spend the intermediate days as those who are ignorant of judgment to come. Yet it is of all hardening things the most hardening, to remain unrenewed under the preaching of the gospel. Alas l for an audience accustomed to hear the gospel, but to hear it only with the understanding whilst they shut up the heart! I may pour in the wine — but, at every fresh pouring, there is, so to speak, a fresh rent in the bottles. Every Sunday does but make the matter worse, dismissing the hearers to their engrossing pursuits, and their ensnaring amusements, but with another unimproved opportunity for which to account, another warning neglected, another effort on God's part resisted, and, therefore, another nerve added to the power of resistance.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

As the action of organized churches has too often reproduced the mistake of sewing the patch of new cloth on the old garment, so in the action of enthusiastic or mystic sects, in the history of Montanism, Quakerism in its earlier stages, the growth of the so-called Catholic and Apostolic Church, which had its origin in the history of Edward Irving, we have that of pouring "new wine into old bottles."

(Dean Plumptre.)

When Mr. Lincoln was a young man, he was awakened one night by the good deacon with whom he boarded, and told that the stars were falling and the world coming to an end. He looked out of the window, and saw the air full of meteors, but, looking beyond, he saw the grand old constellations firm in their places where he had always seen them from childhood; and he went to bed, feeling that all was well so long as the old constellations were unmoved.

(D. E. Lancing, D. D.).

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