Parable of The Patched Garment, by Father Basil William Maturin

No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one. Otherwise, he will tear the new and the piece from it will not match the old cloak. – Luke 5:36

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This Parable is repeated three times, here and in Saint Matthew 9:16 and Saint Mark 2:21. While the Parable is practically the same as given by the three Evangelists, there is a slight difference in Saint Luke’s account In Saint Matthew and Saint Mark the new piece is taken from any piece of cloth, in Saint Luke, according to two readings, it is cut out of a whole garment, and there are consequently two results: it rendeth the new, and the new agreeth not with the old. The two garments, both the new and the old, are spoilt together; the new because it has been rent to patch the old, the old because it is disfigured by a piece of different cloth. Saint Matthew and Saint Mark add that the new piece taketh away a part of the old, and the rent is made worse, owing to the stronger quality of the new cloth.

In each of the three Evangelists the Parable follows a discussion about fasting. Having answered His inquiries Saint Luke proceeds, ‘And He said also.’ It has been said that this expression, which occurs so often in Saint Luke, always indicates the point at which our Lord, after having treated of the particular subject before Him, rises to a more general view, which commands the whole question. Thus, from these words on, He makes the particular difference on the subject of fasting subordinate to the contrast between the old and the new order of things.

He says, ‘I am not come to reform an old system, to patch up Judaism by certain reformations, but to substitute a new garment for an old one. You bid Me command My disciples to fast as John did; John could only act as a reformer, he could but put one more patch upon the old garment of Judaism, the very principle of fasting will be different with My disciples when they are clad in the Christian garment of grace. They must wait for the new life before they receive its forms; it is impossible to anticipate it by adapting to the 1ega1 system under which they are now living the elements of the new state which is to be given them.’

His mission is not to repair an institution decaying and waxing old, but to ‘make all things new.’ To mix up the old work with the new would be to spoil both. None could judge of the new by the piece cut off, and it never could harmonize with the old – the rent would be made worse. A patch cut out of the system of the Gospel and stitched on to some specially threadbare portion of the Law would not really mend it where it failed. Man needed to be clothed altogether in a new garment As one commentator says, ‘The work of Jesus is too good to use it in repairing the worn-out garment of Pharisaic Judaism, which could never thereby be made into anything better than the assumed garment of a beggar.’

Our Lord, then, teaches in this Parable, broadly, that He will not have fragments of His teaching fastened on to other systems; that He will not patch up a worn-out system or a worn-out nature; that His work is a higher one – He will regenerate.

And the warning of the Parable is one that is always necessary. It is not an uncommon thing to find men who constantly puzzle us; at one time they seem devout, religious, earnest, at another superficial, irreligious, positively bad; and we wonder what it means. How is it possible for a person to be so evidently sincere at one moment and so bad at another? We are sometimes inclined to think that their religion must be mere hypocrisy; but I think we may find the answer in this Parable. Their nature has lost its unity, it is patched. They have fastened a patch of religion on to their old unconverted, unsanctified self.

Such people, we shall often find, have passed through a crisis, and have turned to God so far as to bring religion into their lives and to feel, to a certain limited extent, the influence of religion, but not so far as to change their hearts. The old views of life remain, with another view added, but not taking the place of the old. The taste for the old sins remains unchecked in its full force, though upon the surface the sins may be given up. There is no penetration of their nature by the grace of God, no quickening of the pulses of a new life down in the depths of the soul. There is no transforming power acting upward from within which must eventually change the whole being, like the stirring of the sap in the tree covered with last winter’s leaves, when the spring comes. There is in a word no interior radical change, only a patch of religion stitched on to an irreligious and unconverted heart, and hence the dualism that looks like hypocrisy.

We witness the two portions, now the religious, now the real self, and we see the religious portions not, as in its normal condition, wrestling with all that is evil in the nature, and striving to gain the victory; that we could understand; but here we see them side by side, having no influence upon one another, having no organic connection; the religious influences having no power to flow over and sanctify the unhallowed nature, but merely attached to it, in a superficial way – ‘the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old.’

Those who look on at this unedifying process do not see the power of Christianity, ‘the new maketh a rent’ – the garment of the Christian life has been torn to supply the patch; if they have never seen the Christian life in its entirety, well may they disbelieve in its beauty or its power; and they do see that ‘the new piece taketh away from the old and the rent is made worse;’ the longer they study such a person the more clearly they perceive the widening breach in this double and unreal character – the separation between religion and practice, the character more and more loses its unity, and the naked, unsanctified nature is seen through the rent in the garment.

But there is another way in which the Parable acts as an illustration of what we frequently see in the Christian world.

Is it not often the case that people endeavour to use the power of religion to cover up some specially worn-out and threadbare portion of their character? They do it, indeed, in all sincerity, yet it is bound to fail. We can never remind ourselves sufficiently that God does not demand of us merely a victory over this sin or that, but the elevation and sanctification of our whole character. It may be better for us to feel the full power of some sin or of some evil habit that we cannot get rid of for years, than to be able to gain the victory over it and feel no further need of God. We desire often, quite unconsciously, to stitch a religious patch over some tattered portion of our character, to bring the influence of grace and prayer upon that specially mean looking bit of ourselves; but we do not care to grow holy to love God, to grow in grace. We want religion to conquer our humiliating sins, but not to raise the whole tone of our character, and this our Lord will not, cannot do. We pray and struggle with this sin, and it will not give way; we wonder why God refuses to hear or to answer our prayer. Our eyes are constantly turned with shame upon that gaping rent in the garment of our character, and we believe there is nothing we would not do to overcome that sin, but we don’t care for a new garment It has scarcely occurred to us how shabby and threadbare the whole garment is; we are not conscious how many other faults we are making no effort against; how unholy our whole nature is; how our thoughts of God are earthly and utilitarian. What we long for is a patch to cover one rent; what our Lord will alone supply is a new garment.

And so He leaves our prayer apparently unanswered; the sin is to all appearance as deeply rooted and has as firm a hold upon us as ever. We grow more despairing; it seems to us that God has forgotten us. But no, if He were to answer our prayer as we wish and expect, it would be the worst thing that could happen to us. At last we are driven to our Lord Himself with the cry for renewal; our heart is wakened to the sense of the need of our Lord’s Personal Presence ever with us. It is like the opening of the eyes of one born blind; like the coming out of darkness into light It is the realization of all that Regeneration and its consequences mean – ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly; (John 10:10) ‘Apart from Me ye can do nothing.’ (John 15:5) It is not the mere victory over this one sin we need, but holiness, union with our Lord, Life. I desired that God would patch up my old dead nature that I might not see its shame – now I see that what I need is to realize in all its simple great- ness what our Lord meant when he said, ‘Behold, I make all things new;’ (Revelation 21:5) ‘No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old.’ The New Man cannot patch up the life of the old man; we must put off the old man with his affections and lusts, and put on the new.

The same principle explains the failures in various special forms of life to which different people have been called. The priesthood, the religious life, and other states in which some are called to serve God. The priesthood may be but a patch upon a life that has no priestly character, no spirit of consecration. A man may pass from a very worldly and unspiritual life into the priesthood without having undergone any inner change, and at once we see it His life, his interests, are in other things; this is but something added. The true priest is penetrated and controlled by his vocation, everything else is subservient to it; it is not an appendage to his life, it is his very life itself.

So with the religious life and other forms of dedication – ‘Where your treasure is there will your heart be also’ (Matthew 6:21) – if what we really value be elsewhere, there our heart will be, and consequently that which must be first and chiefest in our life to be of any real value becomes merely an appendage. In every call of God the command is ‘Give Me thy heart;’ it demands deep interior surrender; a superficial yielding to a call is but an unsightly patch.

The same line of thought might be followed out in regard to faith as well as practice. Our faith is not to be a patchwork, made up of pieces cut from other systems and stitched together; it must not even have one patch, it must be woven without seam from top to bottom. The acceptance of the faith is the acceptance of a system, the threads of whose doctrines interweave and form one whole. The interlacing of these threads, woven so as to form a definite shape, is the blending and the harmonizing of the many truths of Christianity in perfect proportion and in perfect form. It is necessary to preserve the proportion of faith as well as to accept its doctrines. Unbalanced truth or exaggerated forms of truth deteriorate into positive error. The Garment of Christ which is to clothe the Christian is the faith of Christ containing ail the doctrines of revelation, and all in due proportion and relation one to the other. Therefore, to cut a piece out of this garment and to stitch it on to our own system where it is ragged and unseemly is to spoil both. Its truth consists in its unity. A piece of the truth, one doctrine of the faith, or twenty doctrines separated from the rest, may in fact be untruth. The faith of the Christian does not consist, therefore, in various pieces or doctrines of Christianity stitched on to the system of his own unsanctified reason. Such a patchwork system is not Christianity at all. These isolated doctrines detached from the seamless garment of the truth do but arouse antagonism to Christianity, and justly so. ‘The piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old, and the rent is made worse.’ The rent between the old and new becomes so obvious as in many cases to make shipwreck of faith altogether. Saint Paul shows us that, if we leave out of the Creed the one article on the Resurrection of the body, we cannot hold the Christian faith at all. ‘If the dead rise not then is not Christ raised, and if Christ be not raised your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins.’ (1 Corinthians 15:16,17) In a vast number of cases, no doubt, the difficulties that present themselves to men’s minds in accepting Christianity is the fact that what they are considering is not really Christianity, but some such patchwork system of reason and certain isolated doctrines of the faith. They see the unreasonableness, the disagreement, between the new and the old; they see the rent, and reason revolts against accepting what in truth is most unreasonable.

The faith, therefore, must be accepted as a whole; and as a whole it fits and suits our nature. It will be found that it does not really hamper, but rather lends grace to every movement of the mind; that it does not need to be worn for long before it manifests that marvellous power of adapting itself to the form of the wearer while preserving its own essential shape unchanged. Such is the offer of Christ to man – a perfect robe to clothe and beautify every faculty of his nature – man’s method is but a clumsy effort to conceal defects by patchwork.