New Wine and Old Bottles

Galatians 2 - 4.

From the testimony of the Lord Himself we learn that "no man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better." The reason is that the "old" suits the taste of man as man better than the new; and the consequence is that from the days of the apostles until the present moment the attempt has been made to adulterate the new wine of grace by putting it into the old bottles of legality and Judaism. All the corruptions of Christendom, certainly the Galatian state of things which everywhere prevails, may be traced back to this instrumental means. The natural heart of man does not love grace, because grace makes everything of God and nothing of man. As the apostle has written, "There is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Paul had proclaimed this gospel to the Galatians, and he had declared that the man who had sinned had come up before God for judgment in the death of Christ, and had disappeared from His eye for ever. But no sooner had the apostle departed to other fields of service than teachers of another sort appeared and sought to deny this foundation truth by the revival of Judaism; and thus, turning to another gospel, they perverted the gospel of Christ. To add to the difficulty, certain who "came from James" obtained such influence over Peter that he was tempted to follow in the same path, as also Barnabas and "the other Jews," so that the whole truth of Christianity was endangered by their unfaithfulness.

To meet these corrupting tendencies, Paul, under the powerful action of the Holy Ghost, was roused to expose and to protest with intense energy against the teaching and practice which were subverting the foundations which he had laid in the souls of these believers. Or, to recur to the illustration of the old bottles, he took them up one by one and broke them before their eyes. In a series of rapid contrasts, he points out that the new wine of grace cannot be confined in the old bottles, that the new thing which God had brought to light in the resurrection of Christ, for the accomplishment of His eternal purposes, had for ever displaced the old, and that therefore to revive the old was to destroy the new. We shall do well to lay this instruction to heart; for it is not only in the open and avowed Judaism of Christendom that the same evils may be seen, but the tendencies, out of which these have sprung, may be discovered in our own hearts. We propose, therefore, without going into the details of the apostle's argument, to point out what the old bottles were among the Galatian saints, and how the apostle dealt with them, that these believers amongst whom he had laboured might be delivered from them, and still retain the truth of the grace of God in all its lustre and purity.

The first contrast drawn by Paul may be perceived in his controversy with Peter. In ceasing to eat with the Gentiles, and confining himself to those "of the circumcision," Peter was not only unfaithful to the light he had formerly received from God (Acts 10:28), but he was also going back to the ground of the first man, and thus denying Christianity. For to maintain the superiority of the Jew, and to imply that he possessed a particular sanctity and peculiar privileges, was really to revive the man in the flesh, and to ignore the blessed fact, as Paul afterwards points out, that in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature (creation). Hence it was that the apostle met this retrogression on the part of Peter with such uncompromising sternness, and declared that, as far as he himself was concerned, he through the law was dead to the law that he might live unto God; that he was crucified with Christ, and consequently that he was no longer a Jew, inasmuch as all that he was, as to his former status, had gone from his eyes, as well as from before God, in the cross of Christ. Almost with vehemence he thus broke the old bottle which Peter and those with him were dangling before the saints, and tempting them to revive the man who had for ever been dealt with in the death of the Lord Jesus. He thus breaks out with the cry, "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?" To learn the blessed significance of this aspect of the death of Christ is to find deliverance from all that is of the man here, and to discover the pathway to the sphere of the new man, "Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all [everything], and in all." (Colossians 2:11.)

If this truth be apprehended the key is possessed to all the subsequent argument of the apostle. It will not, therefore, be necessary to explain the character of each of his contrasts, as it will suffice to indicate them and to point out their general bearing upon our subject. It may be seen, then, that the next contrast is between the Spirit and the flesh. There is ever-abiding and absolute antagonism between these, as Paul shows in chapter 5 And yet - and this is the remarkable feature of the case - these Galatians were really reviving the flesh by their acceptance of Jewish teachings, and, at the same time, getting off the ground of Christianity. Paul leads them back to Abraham instead of Moses, to justification by, or on the principle of, faith, instead of works, to the promises, to grace instead of law. So then, he says, "They which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham"; and also, "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." (vv. 9-14.) He had before said that "if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain"; and now he, in reply to his own question, "Is the law then against the promises of God?" says, "If there had been a law given, which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe." Seeking to revive the distinctions of Judaism, these Galatian saints were altogether abandoning grace, and the truth of the Holy Spirit, and Christ was "become of no effect to you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." (Chap. 5:4.) This is a solemn word, and one which needs to be weighed by all who are treading in the footsteps of the Galatians.

There are several more contrasts to which attention may be called before adding some words of application. "The heir [Paul explains], as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all"; and he adds, "Even so we (Jews), when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world" (and it was to this bondage the Galatians were returning). But now, since God had sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, they had received the adoption of sons. And because they were sons, God had sent forth the Spirit of His Son into their hearts, crying, Abba, Father. They were therefore no longer servants (bondsmen), but sons; and if sons, heirs of God through Christ. What folly, therefore, to renounce their sonship, together with its liberty, privileges, and prospects, and to become again entangled with the yoke of bondage! Then, moreover, he contrasts the two covenants, the new and the old; Jerusalem above, which is our mother, with Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children; and lastly Isaac with Ishmael. In every possible way the apostle thus exposed the foolishness of turning back to the old forms, and the legal system, of Judaism; and as he does so, he proclaims, with no uncertain tones, that to combine the two, Judaism and Christianity, is to destroy the latter. The old bottles must not on this account be preserved on any pretext whatever, but must be wholly and entirely refused, if the truth of grace is to be maintained in the soul and in testimony.

In order to resist the constant wiles of Satan in these directions, it is important to see that the antidote to the danger is found in the cross of Christ, and in what has been there effected for God. It has already been adverted to, but it may once more be stated, that a more distinct impression may be left upon our souls. Judaism, the law and its rites, were of God, divinely ordained, but ordained as His standard for, the expression of His claims upon, man in the flesh. Hence Paul teaches us that he "had not known sin, but by the law." Being God's standard, it became man's test, and it proved him to be a sinner and a transgressor, to be both guilty and lost, for under law all had sinned and come short of the glory of God. On the ground of law then man's condition was hopeless - he was lost; but what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. Both the man, who had been demonstrated to be lost under the law, and his sins, have been dealt with in the death of Christ, who bore all the judgment that lay upon us to the satisfaction of God, yea, glorified Him in all that He is by His one sacrifice. It is in Christ therefore - Christ risen and glorified, the Second Man out of heaven, the Only Man before the eye of God that all our hope lies; and hence if we turn back to law in any of its specious forms, we in reality turn our backs upon Christ, the Man of God's purpose, and recognize the first man who is of the earth earthy, who has disappeared for God under His just judgment. This was the conflict waged in Galatia, and which needs to be waged everywhere today. The question is simple. Is it law or grace? Is it Adam or Christ? Let us hear then the words of the apostle: "Ye are all the children [sons] of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."