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"New Wine in New Bottles," Sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.

Date: October 17, 1954

Location: Montgomery, Ala.

Genre: Sermon

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry


King warns that throughout history, “new and creative ideas” were not accepted when the “historical atmosphere at that time was not sufficiently new and strong to contain them.” He cites Henry Wallace's “vision of Racial equality” as a recent example of an idea ahead of its time and, in contrast, highlights the timeliness of Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesus Christ.

“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.”—Matt. 9:17.

Introduction: Jesus came in the world conscious that he was bringing something essentially new. The long caravan of humanity had been moving in one direction for centuries, now it was to stop and change its course. Wherein it had been moving toward the city of legalism, it was now to move toward the city of Grace. Wherein it had been moving toward an earthly Kingdom of God political in scope, it was now to move toward a spiritual kingdom which is both “now” and “not yet.”1 It was the recognition of this newness which funished the figure which Christ is using in our text [strikeout illegible] as he thinks his own new ideas, 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 patterns of thinking was like putting fresh flowing wine in a dry and rotten bottle. It is inevitable that the bottle will break and the wine will run out. The old will not hold the new.

It is not necessary to go into the full application of Christ [strikeout illegible] figure. By now we can see the central idea which it imparts: that what is new and strong and creative needs something new and strong to hold it.

  1. Note how the truth of this text can be applied to historical events. There have been times in history when good new and creative ideas appeared on the scene, but they ended up unaccepted because the very historical atmosphere at that time was not sufficiently new and strong to contain them. This is the meaning of the statement that a man is ahead of his times. It often happens that an individual comes forth with a new dynamic ideas, only to find that it perishes is temporarily defeated because it can only find abode in an old worn out bottle.{As he thinks his own new ideas, he was compelled to think also how they would adapt themselves to the old way thoughs and habits which they found. To put this new life into the old pattern was like putting fresh flowing wine . . It is inevitable that the bottle will break and the wine will run out.} (use ill of Wilson And League of Nations.2 (Wilkie's vision of one World.3 (Wallace vision of Racial equality)4

    On the other hand there are times when history is ready to accept a new event. This was the case in the event of the coming of Jesus. That is why it can be said that he came at the fullness of time.5 The atmosphere of time and history had been so impregnated with a newness and fullness that the new event of God's revelation that appeared in his person was destined to succeed. The new event which appeared in the coming of Jesus was so world shaking because it was contained in a new bottle of historical receptivity. Time and history were ready for his coming. (ill Luther's reformation (Lincoln's ending of slavery)

  2. This text has not only meaning for history
    Note how the truth of this text applies to our personal lives.
    We often attempt to get rid of bad habits. Here is a made who has a new and fresh desire to stop drinking, to be more honest etc, but in a few days he is doing the same thing. The real problem lies in the fact that this new fresh resolution is not coupled with a change in one general or overall structure of life. He has a new and fresh desire to change one segment of his life, but this new desire is placed in the same old worn out general structure.
    1. Deal with our concern for internationalism
    2. Give example of people going coming to Church In revivals. They bring a new emotional determination to an old mental framework. We must teach people that when they get new wine to get a bottle strong and new enought to contain it.
  3. Within this text is the ultimate meaning of Jesus answer to Nicodemus. The partake of the new moving that comes as a results of salvation, you've got to born anew. You must be born all over.6

Why is it that we find it difficult to follow resolutions?

1. We concentrate on changing this one bad habit, forgeting that this one bad habit infiltrates the whole personality, and to change this habit means changing the whole habit structure, the whole general make up. The fresh new desire for changing is poured back into the same old general framework.
2. We often accept a thing intellectually, but not emotionally. The new intellectual change must be poured into an [strikeout illegible] old rotten emotional make up. (White students)
3. We often accept a thing emotionally, but not intellectually. (Revivals)

Preached at Dexter Third Sunday Oct. 17, 1954

1. “The Kingdom Present” and “The Kingdom Not Yet” are chapter subheadings in L. Harold DeWolf's A Theology of the Living Church (New York: Harper, 1953), pp. 302-303. DeWolf was King's advisor at Boston University.

2. President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) presented the idea of the League of Nations as part of his fourteen-point plan for a post-World War I world in a speech given before Congress on 8 January 1918. Although adopted and implemented by many nations, the United States Senate refused to ratify this provision.

3. Wilkie, One World.

4. King refers to Henry A. Wallace (1888-1965), vice president under Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1941-1945) and the unsuccessful 1948 Progressive Party candidate for the presidency. During the 1948 campaign, Wallace spoke out against segregation and for voting rights for African Americans. A student poll conducted at Morehouse College during the campaign supported Wallace's candidacy (see note 146 to Introduction, in Papers 1:45).

5. Cf. Galatians 4:4 and Ephesians 1:10.

6. Cf. John 3:1-8.

Source: CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands: Sermon file, folder 146, “New Wine in New Bottles.” 

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