What is the meaning of a wineskin? Why can new wine not be put in the old wineskin? Some have said that we are the old wineskin. This is wrong. If we are not the old garment, can we be the old wineskin? We should consider the context. It is impossible for the previous verses to refer to one thing and the following verses to refer to something else. Since the old garment refers to human righteousness in the previous verses, the old wineskin in the subsequent verse must refer to our natural conduct. In other words, the old wineskin is related to the fasting mentioned above. To fast means to boast; it is saying that one is not like the publicans, that one fasts twice a week, and that one tithes. In other words, one can boast before God. This is the old wineskin. The old wineskin is the goodness we had before we believed in the Lord. It is the aspects of our temper and good behavior which excelled above the temper and behavior of others. The old wineskin is not sin, and it is not something torn. (The torn garment is the only thing that is torn.) The old wineskin is our natural, good behavior. It is also the good works which we perform after we are saved. It is going back to being a Galatian again after one has become a Christian, trying to accomplish what man cannot accomplish through the law. It is trying to please God through keeping the law and trying to gain God’s favor through one’s own strength. This is what Paul meant when he asked if the Galatians could be perfected by the law, after they had begun by grace. "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (3:3). All those who have begun by the Lord Jesus, but who nevertheless try to be perfected by themselves, are putting the new wine into the old wineskin.
I can say strongly that never in history has there been a case where a person tried to mix Christianity with Judaism and the two were preserved. The result of such a mixture always makes Christianity no longer Christianity, and Judaism no longer Judaism. In the end both are not what they were. God has no intention to have such a thing. Throughout history, Catholicism has tried to mix Judaism with Christianity. On the one hand, they adopted the customs and ceremonies of the Old Testament, and on the other hand, they displayed a signboard on the outside which said, "The New Testament." They say that the high priest is on earth and the temple is also on the earth. Actually, the temple is no longer on earth; it is in heaven. Is Catholicism Christianity? No. Is Catholicism Judaism? No. We do not recognize Catholicism to be Christianity, and Judaism will never recognize Catholicism to be Judaism either, because the Catholics have been the ones who persecuted Judaism the most. Catholicism combines Judaism and Christianity together, like patching a tear together. The result is that the tear becomes worse. The end result of putting Christianity and Judaism together is nothing.
The new wine can only be put in the new wineskin. Only then will the power and effect be preserved. The new wine can perform only that which pleases God according to the ordinance of the new covenant and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Once you have the new wine within, you have the power to uphold yourself. If you are not saved, you will not have the experience, and you will not see much change. But if you are saved, you will feel a law controlling you within. One sister has many relatives on her husband’s side. There is always the danger of engaging in gossip when she is with them. As a result she is very careful in the things she says. But her son is very talkative. Every time she goes to her relatives’ homes, she reminds the son not to speak too much and that when she tugs his sleeve, he should shut up and not speak further. But every time her son opens his mouth, he cannot stop; it is useless for the mother to do anything. He will say, "Let me finish this and I’ll shut up." I have personally witnessed this. This boy has his mother beside him to tug at him. But when a Christian walks about, it seems that he walks alone; no one is beside him tugging at him. When he goes to his relatives’ homes, he may act politely when others are very polite to him. But after half an hour or an hour, his conversation may heat up. Then something within will seem to be tugging at him, saying, "That’s enough. If you go on, it will become ungodliness, and you will not be behaving like a Christian." If he listens to this inner voice and stops, he will have the peace. What is this? This is the new wine. This is not the only experience a Christian can have; there are hundreds of experiences that are similar to this.
But friends, can the new wine be put in the old wineskin? No, it will not work. It is right to put the word of the Scripture within us. But some have tried to put the word of the Scripture on the wall in order to practice according to what is written. This is an act related to the old wineskin. In other words, this is to act according to oneself. The law in the Old Testament was on the outside, while the law of the New Testament is on the inside. This is the difference between the New Testament and the Old Testament. An Old Testament saint cannot keep the Ten Commandments. Neither can a Christian keep the Ten Commandments. The old wineskin is a kind of outward restriction; it requires that we do things ourselves and remember things with our mind. The Old Testament was written on tablets of stone, and it did not give anyone the power to keep it. The New Testament is written on tablets of the heart (2 Cor. 3:3), and we have the power to keep it. Thank the Lord that we do not need slips of paper here and there to remind us; there is One within us to remind us.
The new wine cannot be put in the old wineskin, because the old wineskin cannot preserve the new wine. The new wine can only be put in the new wineskin. We have to realize that God has not asked us to keep the outward law, but to keep the inward law. God asks us only to keep His law of freedom. This law is not dead, but living. Romans 7 speaks of the law of the Ten Commandments, but Romans 8 speaks of the law of the Spirit of life. This law brings the Spirit of life to us, and it abides in us, enabling us to keep God’s law.
One day I was talking about 2 John 7-9 to a brother who could not read very well. He had had a very interesting experience. He said, "It is strange that the Bible would write about such things. I once met an old pastor in a chapel who did not believe that the Lord was born of a virgin; he did not believe in resurrection or ascension. Yet at the same time, he was a pastor of a Presbyterian church and the editor of a certain publishing house. He was actually an outsider as far as Christianity is concerned. When I realized that he was such a person, I began to wonder if I should have communications with him. I turned the pages of the Scripture and could not find any answer, and besides, I did not understand the words. Then I knelt down and prayed, `God, You have put the Holy Spirit within me to be my overseer. Please ask this overseer to show me if I should communicate with this man.’ I then knew that I should exhort him, and that if he ignored my exhortation, I should not communicate with him anymore. I did not realize that this word of the Bible exactly matches the Holy Spirit’s leading within me!" This is a fact. Although this brother could not read very well, he was led by the new wine within. If God required that we depend on the outward letter alone, what could the people who cannot read do? God is not a respecter of persons. Man despises the illiterate ones, but God does not despise them. Not only do we have the new garment outside of us, we have the new wine inside of us. It is useless for us to make a resolution to fast twice a week. We are not merely justified and saved, we have the new wine in the new wineskin, which enables us to overcome all outward things.
"And no one who has drunk the old desires the new, for he says, The old is better" (Luke 5:39). This is common knowledge in the world. Everyone who has tasted old wine does not like to taste new wine. I have a friend who always insists on drinking old wine. It is true that man likes old wine and thinks that new wine is not as good. But God does not give man old wine. Why is this? It is because the old wine does not have the strength; its fermenting power is gone. The new wine, however, has the strength. The Jews rejected the Lord Jesus because they had drunk too much of the old wine. I am not saying that Christians do not need to fast, to offer money, or to do good. I am saying that it is useless and meaningless to try to use these things to obtain our salvation and please God. Our mentality is the mentality of those who have drunk the old wine. We all want to do good. We think that with some change and improvement all will be well. Actually, if a man drinks only old wine, he will not have the fresh strength and the bursting power. Day after day, and even year after year, it will be ineffective. It is futile to try to please God by fasting and by good behavior. Only those who drink of the new wine through the Lord Jesus Christ will be accepted by God.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 2) Vol. 21: The Christian (1934-1940), Chapter 11, by Watchman Nee)