Ver. 14-17. Mark hath this same history, almost in the same words, Mar_2:18-22, only he saith that some of the disciples of the Pharisees came with the disciples of John. Luke also hath it varying little, Luk_5:33-38; only he saith, fast often, and makeprayers, ( and), the piece that was taken out of the newagreeth not with the old. And he addeth at last, Luk_5:39, No man also having drank old wine, straightway desireth new: forhe saith, The old is better: which I shall consider, it plainly belonging to this history. Mark begins his narration of this history with telling us, And the disciples of John and of the Phariseesused to fast; which is implied, though not expressed, by the two other evangelists. For the Pharisees, it is plain enough from the Pharisee’s boast, Luk_18:12, that he fasted twice in the week, John also used his disciples to a severer discipline than Christ did (of which we shall afterward hear more.) It should seem that the Pharisees had a mind to make a division betwixt the followers of John and the followers of Christ, and set on John’s disciples to go and ask an account of this. Hypocrites are always hottest for ritual things, as things most fit to raise a division about. There was no precept of God for any fast, but once in a year, though indeed God left people a liberty to fast oftener, as their circumstances more fitted and called for the duty. The Pharisees had set up themselves a method, and would fain have imposed it on Christ’s disciples; especially considering John’s disciples complied with the practice of frequent fasts, and seemed to suggest as if Christ set up a new and more jovial religion. (As if religion lay only or principally in rituals, as to which God had set no rule). The papists are at this day the Pharisees’ true successors in these arts. Christ answereth them in two particulars:
1. He tells them that his disciples were not as yet under such a dispensation as called for fasting.
2. That his disciples were new converts, and to be brought on by degrees to the severer practices of external discipline and godliness. This is the sum of Mat_9:15-17. This he delivers in metaphorical expressions:
Can the children of the bride chamber mourn, as long as thebridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when thebridegroom shall be taken from them, then shall they fast. Your master John hath compared me to a bridegroom, Joh_3:29. These my disciples are the children of the bride chamber. It is as yet a festival time with them. Fasting is a duty fitted to a day of mourning and affliction. It is not yet a time of mourning for my disciples: yet do not envy them. There will shortly come a time when, as to my bodily presence, I shall be taken from them: then they shall mourn and fast. The second thing he saith he illustrates by two similitudes. First, (saith he), amongst men no discreet person will put in an old garment a new piece of cloth, for they will not agree together; the strength of the new cloth will bear no proportion to the strength of the old, which by wearing is made weak, so as if the garment comes to a stress the rent will be the greater. So as to wine, men do not use to put new wine into old bottles, that through much use are weakened, for fear of breaking the bottles and spilling the wines; but they use to put new wine into new bottles, to proportion the thing containing to the thing contained. My disciples are newly converted. Should I impose upon them the severer exercises of religion, it might discourage them, and be a temptation to them to go back; for, as Luke addeth, No man havingdrank old wine desireth new; for he saith, The old is better. Custom is a great tyrant, and men are not on the sudden brought off from their former practices, but by degrees. This is a portion of Scripture which much commendeth prudence to ministers, both teaching their people as they are able to bear, and also putting them upon duties with respect to their stature and proficiency in the ways of God; especially in such things as are but our free will offerings to God.