This entry is part of 21 in the series article 27

"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 ix. 17. 

IT is the first Sunday of a new year, and there 
are none of us, I think, who are not feeling some- 
thing of that sense of newness and freshness which 
belongs to such a time. It is a strange and uni- 
versal thing this constant desire of men to make a 
fresh start. They create epochs, or starting mo- 
ments; and those which nature and time furnish, 
such as the dawn of a new day or the birth of a new 
year, are eagerly seized upon to mark a new begin- 
ning, to separate old failures or old partial successes 
from the completer success which we never get tired 
of expecting in the future. What would life be 
without its nights to rub the blurred slate clean, and 
its returning mornings, each bringing the fresh spring 
and vigor and hopefulness almost of a new creation? 
This pleasure in a fresh start comes partly from 
man's disappointment in his past, and partly from 
the way in which every best satisfaction of the past 
has always suggested another satisfaction completer 
than itself, to which it has spurred on his hopes. 
And so it belongs not to one class of minds or ex- 
periences alone; but all men, the despondent and 
the sanguine, those who have failed and those who 
have succeeded, are glad of the opportunity to start 
again; and so the New Year's dawn is welcome to 
us all. 

The world has learned to date its years from the 
coming of Jesus Christ. Then, it seems to us, many 
things became new ; as if the great caravan of hu- 
manity, which had been toiling on for centuries in 
one direction, having rested itself, as it were, in the 
stagnation of the century that preceded Him, started 
anew ; and ever since has moved in new directions, 
on a march of which He seems to be everywhere the 
Leader. As we look back to His time, we can see 
many signs that some sense of this newness, which 
His life had brought, was in the minds of men who 
felt His influence. There are clusters of figures 
which seem to be always representing this idea : an 
axe laid to the root of a tree, that it may come down 
and a sounder one grow in its place; a leaven that 
has entered into a dead, heavy mass, and made it 
stir with life ; an absent householder that has come 
to live on his estate; and finally, a new vintage just 
brought in from the wine-press, full of the ferment 
of its new, tumultuous life. It is this last figure 
which Christ is using in our text. As He thinks of 
His own new influence, He is compelled to think 
also how it will adapt itself to the old ways and 
thoughts and habits which it finds. To put this 
new life into the old world seems to be like taking 
one of the half-tanned skins in which the people 
used to carry their wine one that had been used 
before, an old one, dry and cracked and rotten 
and filling it with the exuberant and boisterous spirit 
fresh from the vine. "The bottle breaks and the 
wine runneth out." The old will not hold the new. 
The Jewish conceptions of life, hard, arid, rotten, 
cannot contain the new fiery inspirations and ways 
of living which He brings. 

It is not necessary now to go more fully into 
Christ's first application of His figure. Enough for 
us at present that it contains this idea : that what is 
new and strong and fiery must have something solid 
and strong to hold it. This is the truth which we 
need to-day. The New Year's time is full of reso- 
lutions. I should be sorry indeed to look over such 
a congregation as this, gathered on the first Sunday 
of a New Year, and not believe that there were 
many people here who had resolved on better lives, 
and taken up new ways of living for this new open- 
ing period of their life. To give up some old waste- 
ful, foolish, wicked habit; to face and wrestle with 
some old persistent sin; to take up some known 
duty that has been long neglected ; to draw away 
from some companionship which we know is harm- 
ing us; to make amends for some injury and reclaim 
some friend whom we have wronged and lost ; these 
are the resolutions of which the air is full. How 
many of us have made them in the silence of the 
first night, or the bustle of the first day, of a New 
Year! And with them all there has been a deep 
misgiving lest they should all be broken so many 
have been made before, at other New Year's times, 
and not been kept ! You cannot have been very 
thoughtful in your resolving unless you have asked 
yourselves with some anxiety, "What is the trouble? 
Why are so many strong, good resolutions scattered 
and lost?" I want, if I can, to help you to the an- 
swer to that question. The difficulty comes in great 
part, I am sure, from the absence of any large, com- 
prehensive plan of life, as strong as, and as worthy of, 
the resolutions and habits of life which we want to 
keep in it. It is the lack of a bottle fresh and 
strong enough to hold the wine. This is the idea 
to which I most earnestly ask your attention. 

For every life has two parts, is capable of being 
looked at in two different ways. It has its general 
idea or purpose, and its special habits. In every life 
there are its particular employments; the things 
which the man or woman does from morning to 
night on all the successive days; the occupations 
that employ his hands, the thoughts that occupy his 
mind, the habits of his daily living. And then, 
around them all, holding them all into some kind of 
unity, giving them all its spirit and really making a 
unit of living out of what otherwise would be a mere 
series of disjoined actions, there is the plan of life, 
what, on the whole, the man or woman means to 
be, the purpose which runs through all the days 
binding them all together. And, however it may 
seem to us, every life has both of these ; the general 
purpose and the special habits. It is not confined 
to those who are conscious of it, who have deliber- 
ately made for themselves a plan by which they live. 

We think about St. Paul. We are sure that he 
had thought out with himself what life was for. A 
great, pervading purpose held it all together. "To 
me, to live is Christ," he said; and every act he 
did, every thought that his mind dwelt upon, came 
out from and returned into that comprehensive 
scheme the realizations of Christ in himself and in 
the world. But just as real, though not as clearly 
realized, there is a plan of life in a poor creature of 
our town, who, cursed and satisfied with wealth, is 
merely trying to put into every hour of his useless 
days some occupation which shall bring that hour 
pleasantly on to its death. As truly as the glory of 
Christ comprehended all the activity of Paul, so his 
own amusement, his own pleasure, embrace all of 
this man's life. There is not one of us who, whether 
he keeps it out of sight and never owns it to himself, 
or holds it up before him for continual inspiration, 
has not a ruling purpose, a comprehensive thought 
of his existence within which everything that he does 
is enclosed and finds its place. 

How various they are, these plans or ideas of life! 
One man's is social ambition, another man's is po- 
litical success. One man lives that he may become 
learned, another man lives that he may be thought 
learned, another man that his children may prosper, 
another man that his country may be magnified, 
another man that his soul may be saved. Around 
all the acts that each one of us does is wrapped a 
reason for which we do them all, a great envelop- 
ing purpose in or conception of the whole of life. 

And there is a certain relationship between the 
general purpose and the special acts of life. There 
is a constant tendency for them to come into and to 
keep in harmony. The general plan, as the most 
constant element, is always trying to draw the spe- 
cial actions into its own likeness. Life is in dis- 
turbance when the two are out of harmony. Life is 
at peace only when the two completely coincide, 
only when each special action tends to fulfil the 
general purpose for which the man is living. Other- 
wise there is disturbance and unrest. 

Now, the truth which is presented by the figure 
of our text is this : that the special habits of a man's 
life cannot be effectively changed and made new 
while he keeps the old general purpose or plan of life 
to which his old habits were adapted. You cannot 
put new wine into old bottles. You must have new 
bottles for your new wine. A man says to himself 
perhaps on New Year's day, perhaps at some other 
time when life seems to him solemn and his con- 
science is awakened "I will change this habit"; 
"I will give up this wickedness"; "I will take up 
this duty." He says it to himself and he says it be- 
fore God. How is it that so soon that resolution, 
earnestly, seriously made, has melted away and been 
lost? Is it not that it came, a single, unsupported, 
uncongenial thing, into a life with which it had no 
true belonging? The general plan of the life was not 
altered. It remained what it had always been, as 
frivolous, as worldly, as unconscientious; and this 
new act of goodness found itself alone. It was not 
part of any consistent whole; and, unsupported, 
unaccounted for, by and by it fell away and died. 
It made disturbance and confusion in the life where 
it did not belong. 

It is like an artist who is painting a picture. His 
outline is all drawn. The great conception of the 
whole stands out on canvas. And then a change of 
mood makes him want to change some detail of his 
painting to something wholly different. He does it, 
but there is no adaptation of his general design to 
this new alteration; and, in a scheme where it does 
not belong, his alteration, which is really an im- 
provement, seems ugly and incongruous, and is 
painted out. So of the builder who tries to change 
some vital portion of his building, without making 
a new plan which shall suit the change. He weakens 
and distorts the whole. So of the statesman who 
tries to alter his action in this or that affair without 
forming some clear, new policy in which the altered 
action shall have its reasonable, intelligible place. 
Everywhere the general design and the details be- 
long together; and to attempt to put the new wine 
into bottles that are not new makes mischief. The 
general design is broken and loses even the sym- 
metry and wholeness that it had before, and the de- 
tailed attempts result in nothing. "The bottles 
break, and the wine runneth out." 

Let us think of one or two instances of this way 
in which a special resolution comes to nothing be- 
cause it is embraced in no comprehensive, enveloping 
purpose of a new life. I am sure you will recognize 
what two or three instances only can suggest. A 
man is used to self-indulgence. That is the rule and 
purpose of his life. To do what gives him the most 
pleasure that is his only law. His living has been 
shaped by that ever since he was a mere boy. You 
know such men. It would be strange if, out of such 
a company as is gathered here, some of you were 
not such men. Your own indulgence, the greatest 
pleasure that you can get from living, is your rule of 
life. But something stops you at some special point. 
Some deed of self-denial which you see done seizes 
upon your imagination or your conscience and fasci- 
nates it. You take your self-indulgence at one 
point and subdue it. There is some one thing 
which goes against your convenience, which you 
resolve to do. There is some one satisfaction in 
which you delight, which you resolve to surrender. 

Our history, as we look back upon it, is flecked 
and spotted all over with such resolutions. You 
make your resolution of self-sacrifice earnestly, but 
it stands all alone in your life. Never does it occur 
to you that your whole thought of life is wrong. 
Never do you think how the whole life ought to be 
self-devotion, how the noblest life, the true life, can- 
not be lived for a man's self, but must be counted 
only as belonging to one's brethren, must be con- 
secrated as a whole. Into a plan of life all self- 
indulgent, this one self-sacrificing habit is set down ; 
and when it dwindles and grows puny, wasting itself 
away and only worrying and exasperating the uncon- 
genial life in which it stands, you wonder. You 
need not wonder. It is the weakness that belongs 
to every attempt to reform the details of living with- 
out conceiving a new plan of life. 

You make a rule for yourself that you will visit 
some poor people, teach in some charity school, 
work for some hospital. How dull and weary it 
grows by and by, when the novelty is worn away, 
unless you have begun by rising to the great con- 
ception that your life is not your own, that it be- 
longs to God, and therefore that it belongs to God's 
children. Start out from that. Let that be your 
great habitual, controlling thought of life, and then 
your visit to the poor or to the hospital or to the 
school will come in simply as one utterance of this 
great consecrated life. It will be enshrined and 
preserved by all the thoughts and hopes of life about 
it. It will be like a tree growing in its native soil, 
not like a foreign plant set out in its own little 
flower-pot of earth in the midst of the great foreign 

Or, take the matter of honesty. Your law of life 
is not the law of truth. There is nothing in you of 
that high moral health which feels a falsehood just 
as the physical health feels a tremor of weakness or 
a sting of acute disease. Your life is false and un- 
real. But in the midst of your unreal life something 
sets you against one special act or kind of falsehood. 
Some circumstances reveal to you its meanness, and 
you feel that you would be ashamed to commit it. 
You resolve that that one special lie you will not 
tell ; in that one point you will be honest. You fail. 
Your resolution goes to pieces. By and by you are 
false in that one guarded point, and why? Because 
this act of truth is guarded by no large, consistent 
law of truth. Imagine, if you can, that a sense of 
the wickedness and meanness of all falsehood had 
taken possession of you. Imagine that by the know- 
ledge of Christ the very spirit of truth had entered 
into you, so that to do or say the truth was your new 
nature ; to do or say the false was utterly abhorrent 
to you. Then, how different it would have been ! 
Each truthful act then would have been only a new 
flower on the great, healthy tree, only another 
natural effort of the new nature that is in you. It 
would not be then, as now, a single drop struggling 
against the stream, struggling up while the stream 
is all hurrying down ; but a changed stream, with 
this one drop borne on its bosom to the end which 
it is all seeking. 

Or, take again a business man's life. Two busi- 
ness men's conceptions may differ much about it all 
what it is all for, this striving and wrestling and 
laboring for wealth. To one man it seems to be for 
the mere getting of the wealth nothing beyond. 
To another man it seems to be for charity ; in get- 
ting wealth, he may be able to give help and comfort 
to his fellow-men. Let those two men be stirred 
together to some charitable resolution, both together 
set to relieve some misery. Is not the result differ- 
ent? How, in the one life, this new impulse is all 
strange and foreign ! How the mercenary merchant 
flutters and worries over his one act of charity! 
How, in the other life, it falls like the most natural 
and familiar thing, like one more snowflake dropped 
on the great white mountainside, which is preserved 
by finding itself at once with its own, where it 
belongs ! 

There is hardly anything sadder than to see a man 
trying to do a single noble act in the midst of an 
ignoble conception, a low idea, of life. It is not an 
uncommon sight. Some cynic who has taught him- 
self to think that life is all a fraud, some trifler who 
has persuaded himself that life is all a play, cannot 
escape the impulse to do some one generous, brave, 
earnest action, which implies that life is serious and 
real. It is contrary to all the cynic's or the trifler's 
theories of living. It finds no countenance in any 
of his other actions. He is ashamed of it and does 
it stealthily. Its freshness and vigorousness confuse 
all his daily composure. How like it is to what the 
figure of our text describes. A brave and generous 
deed has in it all the fire and life of new wine. It is 
full of ferment and disturbance. It is tumultuous 
with the very essence of the grape. It must have 
room to grow and to mature. It cannot be shut 
up. It must have a fresh, large life-idea to hold it. 
It must have room to work in ; otherwise the life is 
all confused and broken by it. A hypocrite who is 
betrayed into one earnest word, a misanthrope who 
catches one strong clear glimpse of the dignity of 
man, a brutal employer who tries just at one point 
to be kind and gentle to his underlings, all of these 
have the single effort crowded and hampered by the 
general spirit ; and the struggle, after a little spas- 
modic heaving and restlessness, dies out and is 

Perhaps all this is truer about the religious life 
than anywhere else. For it would seem as if there 
were no place where men's good sense deserts them 
so utterly as where they need it most, in their re- 
lationships to Him who requires our highest and 
completest service. Tut men make one religious 
resolution or take up some one religious habit. 
Men make up their minds that they will go to 
church. Men set apart some hour which shall 
always find them on their knees in prayer. Men 
determine that every day they will read a chapter 
of the Bible. The resolution is a good one, and 
has in it the power of great things. It has in it the 
crude and unripe essence of holiness. It is big even 
with the capacity of heaven. 

But what does some man do? He takes that one 
religious resolution and sets it down into the midst 
of a perfectly unreligious life. That daily prayer to 
God, which implies a complete dependence on the 
Almighty strength, is flung into the midst of a day 
that is all hard with self-reliance. That reading of 
the Bible brings a stray idea of Christ and plants it 
into the most secular associations. The going to 
God's House is a solitary, exceptional act, right in 
the midst of a career that never otherwise goes up 
or looks up to God. What chance is there for such 
a resolution? What wonder if, before the year 
grows two months old, the prayer has dwindled to a 
moment's form, the Bible has become a wearisome 
book, the church a barren duty that will soon drop 
altogether, that any small excuse can easily dispense 
with ! It is the commonest of sights. I doubt not 
many a prayer has been said and many a chapter 
read to-day, and there are many men and women in 
many a church from just that new sense of duty. 
It is clear enough what you need : some compre- 
hensive reverence and faith into which these reverent 
and faithful acts may enter as its most natural ex- 
pressions, and in which they shall be able to utter 
and develop their full life. You must begin by 
loving and fearing God, and then your several acts 
of love and fear will find their places and blossom 
into interest and delight. 

So, my dear friends, what we want to plead for 
to-day is not primarily new resolutions. It is a new 
life. I hope that I have made you see the differ- 
ence. You need a new conception of what you are 
living for, a new picture of the sort of life which it 
is worthy of a man to live. You must have this or 
your good resolutions surely come to nothing. 

This is what is really meant by what puzzles us 
sometimes, as we find it in the Bible and in religious 
books that the bad deed in a life that has a noble 
plan is not desperate, and that a good deed in a life 
that is set on evil scarcely gives us any encourage- 
ment or hope. David is very wicked in one in- 
stance, and yet God claims him for His own. 
Pharaoh and Judas feel some impulse of pity or re- 
pentance, but it is swallowed up and lost in the un- 
godliness and evil of their whole plan and thought 
of life. This seems to us strange at first. I hope 
that we begin to understand what a deep reason, 
what a true philosophy, is really at the bottom of it. 
The life rules the action as the stream rules its drops. 
That is the primary, the essential, need of a con- 
version. Before there really can be a new conduct 
there must be a new plan of life. 

And how can that be? The master of a life really 
is the plan of that life. He whom we serve really 
marks out for us the ambition which becomes our 
law. How simple, then, that makes it ! If you want 
a new life you must have a new master. Not by 
sitting down and saying with yourself, "Now I will 
change. I will be reverent. I will not be selfish. 
I will make a high plan of life instead of a low one." 
Not that will change you. That comes to nothing. 
You must make Him your Master whom you can 
completely reverence, who can draw you away from 
your slavery to yourself, who can lift you to His 
own exaltation. 

Men say, "Why do you always preach, Believe 
in and follow Christ? Why not say always, Do 
this ! Do that ! Make this new habit ! Leave off 
that old sin? Why always faith? Why not al- 
ways duty?" Because there can be no truly new 
habit without a truly new life, and there can be no 
new life without a new master. And there is no 
other master strong enough. There is no other 
name by which we can be saved but Christ's. 

Again, men stand off and look at what Christians 
are doing, and they say: "How could I ever do 
such things as those? Can you think of me as pray- 
ing? Can you imagine me praising God? My life 
will not hold this habit. It never can." No, 
surely ; it never can ; not this life, this worldliness, 
this selfishness, this sensuality. But there is a life 
more truly yours than this in which you live. If 
you will make Christ your Master, this new life shall 
open to you ; and in it all these new, deep, bright 
habits shall enter and not seem strange, new wine 
in new bottles, the service of Christ in the faith of 

Oh, let that new service come with the New Year 
a new Master, a new life, and then new words and 
deeds and thoughts, new pleasures and new hopes, 
filling the years that you are yet to live here, and 
making them anticipations of the blessed New Year 
of Eternity.
Series Navigation
Spread God's love