by Arthur W. Pink
THE CALL OF CHRIST
“Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
Familiar as is the sound of those words unto professing Christians, yet there is a pressing need for their careful examination, for there are few portions of God’s Word which have received such superficial treatment at the hands of preachers generally as has the above. That these verses, like all others in the Sacred Volume, call for prayerful meditation some will formally allow, but that such a “simple passage” demands protracted study few seem to realize. It is at this very point so much damage has been wrought: many took it for granted they already understood the meaning of such a passage, and hence no diligent inquiry into the significance of its terms was undertaken. The mere fact that a verse is so frequently quoted that we are thoroughly familiar with its language, is no proof that we really perceive its purport: yea, the fact that such familiarity has precluded careful examination renders it far more likely that we do not rightly apprehend it.
There is a vast difference between being acquainted with the sound of a verse of Holy Writ and entering into the sense of it. The sad fact is that today there are thousands of unqualified “evangelists” and self-appointed open-air “speakers” who glibly quote snippets from the Word of God, yet no more understand the spiritual significance of the words uttered by their lips than the telegraph wires cognize the messages which pass over them. Nor is this to be wondered at. Ours is an age which is more and more marked by industrial loafing and mental slackness, when work is detested, when how quickly a task may be disposed of rather than how well it may be done is the order of the day. And the same dilatory spirit and slipshod methods mark the products both of the pulpit and the printed page. Hence the superficial treatment which the above passage commonly receives: no regard is paid to its context, no laborious attempt assayed to ascertain its coherence (the relation of one clause to another), no pains-taking examination and exposition of its terms.
If ever a passage of Scripture was mutilated and mangled by preachers, its meaning perverted and wrested, it is the one quoted above. Nineteen times out of twenty only a mere fragment of it is quoted: that part which is most unpalatable to the flesh being omitted. A particular call is twisted into a promiscuous invitation by deliberately ignoring the qualifying terms there used by the Saviour. Even where the opening clause is quoted, no attempt is made to show what is signified by and involved in “come to Christ,” so that the hearer is left to assume that he already understands the meaning of that expression. The special offices in which the Son of God is there portrayed, namely, as Lord and Master, as Prince and Prophet, are ignored, and another is substituted in their place. The conditional promise here made by Christ is falsified by making it an unconditional one, as though His “rest” could be obtained without our taking His “yoke” upon us and without our “learning” of Him who is meek and lowly in heart.
We are well aware that such charges and strictures as we have just made would be bitterly resented by a large class of church-goers, who do not wish to hear anyone or anything criticized. But it is not for them we write: if they are prepared to remain “at ease in Zion,” if they are content whether they be deceived or not, if they have such confidence in men that they are willing to receive the most valuable and vital things of all second hand, if they refuse to examine their foundations and search their hearts, then we must “let them alone” (Matt. 15:14). But there are still a few left on earth who prize their souls so highly that they consider no effort too great in order to ascertain whether or not they possess a saving knowledge of God’s truth, whether or not they truly understand the terms of God’s salvation, whether or not they are building on an unshakable foundation: and it is in the hope that the Lord may deign to bless these writings unto them, that we are penning the same.
But let us now take a closer look at our passage. It opens with “Come unto Me . . . and I will give you rest,” and virtually closes with, “and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Now it is not (as some have strangely supposed) two different rests which are here spoken of, but the same in both cases, namely, spiritual rest, saving rest. Nor is it two different aspects of this rest which are here portrayed, but rather the one rest is viewed from two distinct viewpoints. In the former, Divine sovereignty is in view: “I will give”; in the latter, human responsibility is being enforced: “ye shall find.” In the opening clause Christ makes the bare affirmation that He is the Giver of rest: in what follows He specifies the terms upon which He dispenses rest; or to express it in another way, the conditions which must be met by us if we are to obtain the same. The rest is freely given, yet only to those who comply with the revealed requirements of its Bestower.
“Come unto Me.” Who is it that issues this call? Christ, you reply. True, but Christ in what particular character? Some may ask, Exactly what do you mean by that? This: was Christ here speaking as King, commanding His subjects; as Creator, addressing His creatures; as the Physician, inviting the sick; or as Lord, instructing His servants? Does someone reply, Such distinctions confuse, are beyond me: sufficient for me to regard this as the Saviour offering rest unto poor sinners. But do you not yourself draw a distinction in your mind between the Person of Christ and the office of Christ? and do you not distinguish sharply between His office as Prophet, as Priest, and as King? And have you not found such distinctions both necessary and helpful? Then why complain if we are seeking to call attention to the varied relations which our Lord sustains and the importance of noting which of these relations He is acting in at any given time. It is attention to such details as this which often makes all the difference between a right and wrong understanding of a passage.
In order to answer our query, In what particular character did Christ here issue this call “Come unto Me,” it is necessary for us to look at the verses preceding: attention to the context is one of the very first concerns for those who would carefully ponder any particular passage. Matthew 11 opens with mention of John the Baptist having been cast into prison, from which he sent messengers unto Christ acquainting Him with his perplexity (vv. 2, 3). Thereupon our Lord publicly vindicated His forerunner and magnified his unique office (vv. 4-15). Having praised the Baptist and his ministry, Christ went on to reprove those who had been privileged to enjoy both it and that of His own, because they profited not from the same, yea, had despised and rejected both the one and the other. So depraved were the people of that day, they accused John of being demon possessed and charged Christ with being a glutton and a winebibber (vv. 16-19).
In verses 20-24 we have one of the most solemn passages to be found in Holy Writ, recording as it does some of the most fearful words which ever fell from the lips of the incarnate Son of God. He unbraided the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, and that, because “they repented not” (v. 20). Let it be duly noted by those who seem to delight in picturing our Lord as a spineless and effeminate person, who was incapable of uttering a syllable that would hurt the feelings of anyone—a caricature of maudlin sentimentality manufactured by Romanists, but since fostered increasingly by many in the ranks of Protestantism—that the Christ of Scripture refused to gloss over the perversity of the people, instead, charging them with their sins. And let Antinomians also observe that, so far from the Christ of God ignoring human responsibility or excusing men’s spiritual impotency, He held them strictly accountable and blamed them for their impenitency.
“Willful impenitency is the great damning sin of multitudes that enjoy the Gospel, and which (more than any other) sinners will be upbraided with to eternity. The great doctrine that both John the Baptist, Christ Himself, and the Apostles preached, was repentance; the great thing designed both in the ‘piping’ and in the ‘mourning’ was to prevail with people to change their minds and ways, to leave their sins and turn to God; but this they would not be brought to. He does not say, because they believed not, for some kind of faith many of them had, that Christ was a ‘Teacher come from God’ but because they ‘repented not’—their faith did not prevail to the transforming of their hearts and the reforming of their lives. Christ reproved them for their other sins that He might lead them to repentance, but when they repented not, He upbraided them with that as their refusal to be healed. He upbraided them with it, that they might upbraid themselves, and might at length see the folly of it, as that which alone makes the sad case a desperate one and the wound incurable” (Matthew Henry).
The particular sin for which Christ upbraided them was that of impenitency, the special aggravation of their sin was that they had witnessed most of Christ’s miraculous works, for it was in those cities the Lord had for some time been residing and where many of His miracles of healing had been performed. Now there are some places which enjoy the means of grace more plentifully and powerfully than others. As certain parts of the earth receive a much heavier rainfall than others, certain countries and particular towns in them have been favoured with purer Gospel preaching and more outpourings of the Spirit than others, for God is sovereign in the distribution of His gifts both natural and spiritual. And “unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required” (Luke 12:48). The greater our privileges and opportunities the greater our obligations, and the stronger the inducements we have to repent the more heinous is impenitency, and the heavier will the reckoning be. Christ keeps note of His “mighty works” done among us, and will yet hold us to an account of them.
“Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida!” (Matt. 11:21). Christ came into the world in order to dispense blessing, but if His person be despised, His authority rejected, and His mercies slighted, then He has woes in reserve, and His woes are of all the most terrible. But how many who attend church now hear anything at all about this? O the treachery of the modern pulpit, its abounding unfaithfulness! It has deliberately taken the line of least resistance and sought only to please the pew, guiltily withholding what is unpalatable and unpopular. How often was this writer told, even twenty years ago, “our people would not tolerate such plain speaking” and, “preaching of that kind would empty our church,” to which we replied, “far better close your church altogether than keep it open for the purpose of deceiving souls.” And souls are deceived if a sentimental Christ is substituted for the Scriptural Christ, if His “Beatitudes” of Matthew 5 are emphasized and His “Woes” of Matthew 23 be ignored.
In still further aggravation of their sin of impenitency, our Lord affirmed that the citizens of Chorazin and Bethsaida were worse at heart than the Gentiles they despised, asserting that had Tyre and Sidon enjoyed such privileges as had been theirs, they had “repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” Some of the blessings which Christendom despises would be welcomed in many parts of heathendom. “We are not competent to solve every difficulty, or fully to understand the whole of this subject; it suffices that Christ knew the hearts of the impenitent Jews to be more hardened in rebellion and enmity, and less susceptible of suitable impressions from His doctrine and miracles, than those of the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon would have been; and therefore their final condemnation would be proportionally more intolerable” (Thomas Scott). It is to be noted on the one hand that this passage does not stand alone—see Ezekiel 3:6, 7; and on the other that the repentance here spoken of by Christ is not necessarily one which leads to eternal salvation. Still more solemn are the awful words of Christ recorded in Matthew 11:23, 24. There He announces the doom of highly-favoured Capernaum. Because of the unspeakable privileges vouchsafed its inhabitants, they had been lifted Heavenwards, but because their hearts were so earth-bound they scorned such blessings, and therefore they would be “brought down to Hell.” The greater the advantages enjoyed, the more fearful the doom of those who abuse them; the higher the elevation, the more fatal the fall from it. The honourable Capernaum is then compared with the dishonourable Sodom, which, because of its enormities, God had destroyed with fire and brimstone. It was in Capernaum that the Lord Jesus had chiefly resided upon entry into His public ministry, and where so many of His miracles of healing had been wrought. Yet so obdurate were its inhabitants, so wedded to their sins, they refused to apply unto Him for the healing of their souls. Had such mighty works been done by Him in Sodom its people would have been duly affected thereby and their city had remained as a lasting monument of Divine mercy.
“But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee” (v. 24). Yes, my reader, though you may hear nothing about it from the flesh-pleasing pulpit of this degenerate age, nevertheless there is a “Day of judgment” awaiting the whole world. It is “the Day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds; it is the Day “when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my Gospel” (Rom. 2:6, 7, 16). “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Eccl. 12:14). “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to reserve the unjust unto the Day of judgment to be punished” (2 Peter 2:9). The punishment which shall then be meted out will be proportioned to the opportunities given and despised, the privileges vouchsafed and scorned, the light granted and quenched. Most intolerable of all will be the doom of those who have abused the greatest advancements Heavenwards.
“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matt. 11:25). The connection between this and the preceding verses is most blessed and instructive. There the Lord Jesus intimates that the majority of His mighty works had produced no good effect upon those who saw them, that their beholders remained impenitent—so little influence had His holy and gracious presence exerted upon Capernaum, wherein He spent much of His time, that its fate would be worse than that of Sodom. But here Christ looks away from earth to Heaven, and finds consolation in the high sovereignty of God and the absolute security of His covenant. From upbraiding the impenitence of men Christ turned to the rendering of thanks unto the Father. On the word “answered” Matthew Henry said, “It is called an answer though no other words are found recorded but His own, because it is so comfortable a reply to the melancholy considerations preceding it, and is aptly set in the balance against them.”
A word of warning is needed, perhaps, at this point, for we are such creatures of extremes. In earlier paragraphs we referred to those who have substituted a sentimental Christ for the true Christ, yet the reader must not infer from this that the writer believes in a stoical Christ—hard, cold, devoid of feeling. Not so, the Christ of Scripture is perfect Man as well as God the Son, possessed therefore of human sensibilities, yea, capable of much deeper feeling than any of us, whose faculties are corrupted and blunted by sin. It must not be thought, then, that the Lord Jesus was unaffected by grief, when He pronounced the doom of those cities, or that He viewed them with fatalistic indifference as He found comfort in the sovereignty of God. Scripture must be compared with Scripture: He who wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41) would not be unmoved as He foresaw the intolerable portion awaiting Capernaum—the very fact that He was “the Man of sorrows” utterly precludes any such concept.
A similar warning is needed by hyper-Calvinists with fatalistic stoicism. “It seems plain then, that those who are indifferent about the event of the Gospel, who satisfy themselves with this thought, that the elect shall be saved, and feel no concern for unawakened sinners, make a wrong inference from a true doctrine, and know not what spirit they are of. Jesus wept for those who perished in their sins. Paul had great grief and sorrow of heart for the Jews, though he gave them this character, ‘that they pleased not God, and were contrary to all men.’ It well becomes us, while we admire distinguishing grace to ourselves, to mourn over others: and inasmuch as secret things belong to the Lord, and we know not but some of whom we have at present but little hopes, may at last be brought to the knowledge of the Truth, we should be patient and forbearing after the pattern of our heavenly Father, and endeavour by every proper and prudent means to stir them up to repentance, remembering that they cannot be more distant from God than by nature we were once ourselves” (John Newton.)
As perfect Man and as “Minister of the circumcision” (Rom. 15:8) the Lord Jesus felt acutely any lack of response to and the little measure of success which attended His gracious and arduous efforts: this is clear from His lament: “I have laboured in vain, I have spent My strength for naught” (Isa. 49:4). Striking it is to observe how Christ comforted Himself: “yet surely My judgment is with the Lord, and My work (or “reward”) with My God” (Isa. 49:4). Thus, both in the language of prophecy and here in Matthew 11:25, 26, we find the Lord Jesus seeking relief from the discouragements and disappointments of the Gospel by retreating into the Divine sovereignty. “We may take great encouragement in looking upward to God, when round about us we see nothing but what is discouraging. It is sad to see how regardless most men are of their own happiness, it is comfortable to think that the wise and faithful God will, however, effectually secure the interests of His own glory” (Matthew Henry).
Christ alluded here to the sovereignty of God under three details. First, by owning His Father as “Lord of Heaven and earth,” that is, as sole Proprietor and Disposer thereof. It is well for us to remember, especially in seasons when it appears as though Satan is complete master of this lower sphere, that God not only “doeth according to His will in the army of Heaven,” but also “among the inhabitants of the earth,” so that “none can stay His hand” (Dan. 4:35). Second, by affirming, “Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent”: that is, the things pertaining to salvation are concealed from the apprehension of the self-sufficient and self-complacent, God leaving them in nature’s darkness. Third, by declaring, “and hast revealed them unto babes”: by the effectual operations of the Holy Spirit a Divine discovery is made to the hearts of those who are made little and helpless in their own esteem. “Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight” expressed the Saviour’s perfect acquiescence in the whole.
“All things are delivered unto Me of My Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him” (Matt. 11:27). This verse supplies the immediate connecting link between the sovereignty of Divine grace mentioned in verses 25 and 26, and the offer and communication of that grace through Christ in verses 28-30. The settlements of Divine grace were made and secured in the Everlasting Covenant: the communication of the same is by and through Christ as the Mediator of that covenant. First, we have here the grand commission which the Mediator received from the Father: all things necessary to the administration of the covenant were delivered unto Christ (compare Matt. 28:18, John 5:22, 17:2). Second, we have here the inconceivable dignity of the Son: lest a false inference be drawn from the preceding clause, the essential and absolute Deity of Christ is affirmed. Inferior in office, Christ’s nature and dignity is the same as the Father’s. As Mediator Christ receives all from the Father, but as God the Son He is, in every way, equal to the Father in His incomprehensible and glorious Person. Third, the work of the Mediator is here summed up in one grand item: that of revealing the Father unto those given to Him.
Thus the context of Matthew 11:28 reveals Christ in the following characters As the Upbraider of the impenitent; as the Pronouncer of solemn “woe” upon those who were unaffected by His mighty works; as the Announcer of the Day of judgment, declaring that the punishment awaiting those who scorned Gospel mercies should be more intolerable than that meted out to Sodom: as the Affirmer of the high sovereignty of God who conceals and reveals the things pertaining to salvation as seemeth good in His sight; as the Mediator of the covenant; as the Son co-equal with the Father, and as the One by whom the Father is revealed.
WHOM DID CHRIST CALL?
“Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Having examined at some length the context of these words, that we might the better perceive their connection and the particular characters in which Christ is there portrayed, we turn now to consider the persons here addressed, the ones who were invited to come to the Rest-Giver. On this point there has been some difference among the commentators, some giving a narrower scope to this call of Christ and some a wider. It is to be noted however, that all of the leading men among the earlier expositors united in restricting this particular call to a special class. Let us quote two or three of the principal ones:
“He now kindly invites to Himself those whom He acknowledges to be fit for becoming His disciples. Though He is ready to reveal the Father to all, yet the great part are careless about coming to Him, because they are not affected by a conviction of their necessities. Hypocrites give themselves no concern about Christ because they are intoxicated with their own righteousness, and neither hunger nor thirst after His grace. Those who are devoted to the world set no value on a heavenly life. It would be vain therefore for Christ to invite either of these classes, and therefore He turns to the wretched and afflicted. He speaks of them as ‘labouring’ or being under a ‘burden,’ and does not mean generally those who are oppressed with griefs and vexations, but those who are overwhelmed by their sins, who are filled with alarm at the wrath of God and are ready to sink under so weighty a burden” (John Calvin)
“The character of the persons invited: all that labour and are heavy laden. This is a word in season to him that is weary (Isa. 50:4). Those that complain of the burden of the ceremonial law, which was an intolerable yoke, and was made much more so by the tradition of the elders (Luke 11:46); let them come to Christ and they shall be made easy . . . But it is rather to be understood of the burden of sin, both the guilt and the power of it. All those, and those only, are invited to rest in Christ that are sensible of sin as a burden and groan under it, that are not only convicted of the evil of sin—their own sin—but are contrite in soul for it; that are really sick of sin, weary of the service of the world and the flesh, that see their state sad and dangerous by reason of sin, and are in pain and fear about it: as Ephraim (Jer. 31:18-20), the prodigal (Luke 15:17), the publican (Luke 18:13), Peter’s hearers (Acts 2:37), Paul (Acts 9), the jailer (Acts 16:29, 30). This is a necessary preparative for pardon and peace” (Matthew Henry).
“Who are the persons here invited? They are these who ‘labour’ (the Greek expresses toil with weariness) and are ‘heavy laden.’ This must here be limited to spiritual concerns, otherwise it will take in all mankind, even the most hardened and obstinate opposers of Christ and the Gospel.” Referring to the self-righteous religionists, this writer went on to say, “You avoid gross sins, you have perhaps a form of godliness. The worst you think that can be said of you is, that you employ all your thoughts and every means that will not bring you under the lash of the law, to heap up money, to join house to house and field to field; or you spend your days in a complete indolence, walking in the way of your own hearts and looking no further: and here you will say you find pleasure, and insist on it, that you are neither weary nor heavy laden . . . then it is plain that you are not the persons whom Christ here invites to partake of His rest” (John Newton).
“The persons invited are not ‘all’ the inhabitants of mankind, but with a restriction: ‘all ye that labour and are heavy laden,’ meaning not those who labour in the service of sin and Satan, are laden with iniquity and insensible of it: those are not weary of sin nor burdened with it, nor do they want or desire any rest for their souls; but such who groan, being burdened with the guilt of sin on their consciences and are pressed down with the unsupportable yoke of the Law and the load of their trespasses, and have been labouring till they are weary, in order to obtain peace of conscience and rest for their soul by the observance of these things, but in vain. These are encouraged to come to Him, lay down their burdens at His feet and look to Him, and lay hold by faith on His person, blood and righteousness” (John Gill).
In more recent times the majority of preachers have dealt with our text as though the Lord Jesus was issuing an indefinite invitation, regarding His terms as being sufficiently general and wide in their scope as to include sinners of every grade and type. They supposed that the words, “ye that labour and are heavy laden” refer to the misery and bondage which the Fall has brought upon the whole human race, as its unhappy subjects vainly seek satisfaction in the things of time and sense, endeavouring to find happiness in the pleasures of sin. “The Universal wretchedness of man is depicted on both its sides— the active and the passive forms of it” (Fausset and Brown): that is, they are labouring for contentment by gratifying their lusts, only to add to their miseries by becoming more and more the burdened slaves of sin.
It is quite true that the unregenerate “labour in the very fire” and that they “weary themselves for the very vanity” (Hab. 2:13). It is quite true that they “labour in vain” (Jer. 51:58), and “what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind?” (Eccl. 5:16). It is quite true that they “spend money for that which is not bread” and “labour for that which satisfieth not” (Isa. 55:2), for “the eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear with hearing” (Eccl. 1:8). It is equally true that the unregenerate are heavy laden—“a people laden with iniquity” (Isa. 1:4), yet are they totally insensible of their awful state: “the labour of the foolish wearieth everyone of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the City” (Eccl. 10:15). Moreover, “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isa. 57:20, 21): they have neither peace of conscience nor rest of heart. But it is quite another matter to affirm that these are the characters which Christ invited to come unto Him for rest. Personally we much prefer the view taken by the older writers, for with rare exceptions their expositions are much sounder than those furnished in more recent days. As far back as a century ago a latitudinarian spirit had begun to creep in, and even the most orthodox were often, unconsciously, to some degree affected thereby. The pew was more and more inclined to chafe against what they regarded as the “rigidity” and “narrowness” of their fathers, and those in the pulpit had to tone down those aspects of the Truth which were most repellent to the carnal mind if they were to retain their popularity. Side by side with modern discoveries and inventions, the increased means for travel and the dissemination of news, came in what was termed “a broader outlook” and “a more charitable spirit,” and posing as an angel of light Satan succeeded in Arminianising many places of Truth, and even where this was not accomplished, high Calvinism was whittled down to moderate Calvinism.
That to which we have just alluded is no distorted conception of ours, issuing from an extreme theology, but a solemn fact which no honest student of ecclesiastical history can deny. Christendom, my reader, has not got into the unspeakably dreadful condition it is now in all of a sudden: rather is its present state the outcome of a steady and long deterioration. The deadly poison of error was introduced here a little and there a little, the quantity being increased as less opposition was made against it. As “missionary” activities absorbed more and more the attention and strength of the Church, the standard of doctrine was lowered, sentiment displaced convictions, fleshly methods were introduced, until in a comparatively short time nine tenths of those sent out to “the foreign field” were rank Arminians, preaching “another Gospel.” This reacted upon the homelands and soon the interpretations of Scripture given out by its pulpits were brought into line with the “new spirit” which had captivated Christendom.
While we are far from affirming that everything modern is evil or that everything ancient was excellent, yet there is no doubt whatever in our own mind that by far the greater part of the boasted “progress” of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was a progress downward and not upward, away from God and not toward Him, into the darkness and not the light. And therefore it behooves us to examine with double care and caution any religious views or ways which deviated from the common teachings and practices of the godly Reformers and Puritans. This writer sincerely trusts that he is not a worshipper of antiquity as such, nor does he desire to call any man “father,” yet in view of the awful corruption of the Truth and departure from vital godliness we are compelled to regard with suspicion those “broader” interpretations of God’s Word which have become so popular in recent times.
It behooves us now to point out one or two of the reasons we do not believe that Christ was here making a broadcast invitation, issued promiscuously to the light-headed, gay-hearted, pleasure-crazy, masses which have no appetite for the Gospel and no concern for their eternal interests: that this call was not addressed to the godless, careless, giddy and worldly multitudes, but rather unto those who were burdened with a sense of sin and longed for relief of conscience. First because the Lord Jesus had received no commission from Heaven to bestow rest of soul upon all and sundry, but only upon the elect of God. Said He, “For I came down from Heaven not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” (John 6:38, 39), and that, necessarily, regulated all His ministry.
Second, because the Lord Jesus ever practiced what He preached. Unto His disciples He said, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matt. 7:6). Can we, then, conceive of our holy Lord inviting the unconcerned to come unto Him for that which their hearts abhorred? Has He set His ministers such an example? Surely, the word He would have them press upon the pleasure-intoxicated members of our rising generation is, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment” (Eccl. 11:9).
Third, because the immediate context is entirely out of harmony with the wider interpretation. There we find Christ pronouncing most solemn “woes” upon those who despised and rejected Him (Matt. 11:20-24), drawing consolation from the sovereignty of God and thanking Him because He had hidden from the wise and prudent the things which belonged unto their eternal peace but had revealed them unto babes (vv. 25, 26), and it is these “babes” He here invites unto Himself; and there we find Him presented as the One commissioned by the Fattier and as the Revealer of Him. (v. 27).
It must not be concluded from anything said above that the writer does not believe in an unfettered Gospel or that he is opposed to the general offer of Christ to all who hear it. Not so: his marching orders are far too plain for any misunderstanding: his Master has bidden him “preach the Gospel to every creature” so far as Divine providence admits, and the substance of the Gospel message is that Christ died for sinners and stands ready to welcome every sinner who is willing to receive Him on His prescribed terms. Though His mission was the saving of God’s elect (Matt. 1:21), the Lord Jesus announced the design of His incarnation in sufficiently general terms as to warrant any man truly desiring salvation to believe in Him. “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matt. 9:13). Many are called even though but few be chosen (Matt. 20:16). The way in which we spell out our election is in coming to Christ as lost sinners, trusting in His blood for pardon and acceptance with God.
In his excellent sermon on the words before us, John Newton of blessed memory pointed out that, when David was driven into the wilderness by the rage of Saul that “everyone that was in distress, and everyone that was in debt, and everyone that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them” (1 Sam. 22:2). But David was despised by those who, like Nabal (1 Sam. 25:10), lived at their ease: they believed not that he should be a king over Israel, and therefore they preferred the favour of Saul whom God had rejected. Thus it was with the Lord Jesus: though a Divine Person, invested with all authority, grace and blessings, and declaring that He would be the King of all who obeyed His voice and that they should be His happy people, yet the majority saw no beauty that they should desire Him, felt no need of Him, and so rejected Him. Only a few, who were consciously wretched and burdened believed His Word and came to Him for rest.
We must now inquire, what did our Lord signify when He bade all the weary and heavy laden “come unto Me”? First, it is quite evident that something more than a physical act or local coming to hear Him preach was intended, for these words were first addressed to those who were already in His presence: there were many who attended His ministry and witnessed His Miracles who never came to Him in the sense here intended. The same holds good today: something more than a bare approach through the ordinances —listening to preaching, submitting to baptism, partaking of the Lord’s Supper— is involved in a saving coming to Christ, for such acts as those may be performed without the performer being any gainer thereby. Coming to Christ in the sense He here invited is a going out of the soul after Him, a desire for Him, a seeking after Him, a personal embracing of and trusting in Him.
A saving coming to Christ suggests first and negatively a leaving of something, for the Divine promise is, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13). Coming to Christ, then, denotes a turning our backs upon the world and turning our hearts unto Him as our only Hope and Portion. It is the abandoning of every idol and the surrendering of ourselves to His Lordship. It is the repudiation of our own righteousness and every dependency, and the heart going out to Him in loving submission and trustful confidence. It is in entire going out of self with all its resolutions and performances to cast ourselves upon His grace and mercy. It is the will yielding itself up to His authority to be rifled by Him and to follow Him whithersoever He may lead. In short, it is the whole soul of a guilty and self-condemned sinner turning unto a whole Christ, in the exercise of all our facilities, responding to His claims upon us, prepared to unreservedly trust, unfeignedly love, and devotedly serve Him.
We have said that coming to Christ is the turning of the whole soul unto Him. Perhaps this calls for some amplification, though we trust we shall not confuse the reader by multiplying words and entering into detail. There are three principal facilities in the soul: the understanding, the affections, and the will—and as each of these were operative and were affected by our original departure from God, so they are and must be active in our return to Him in Christ. Of Eve it is recorded, “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof” (Gen. 3:6). First, she “saw that the tree was good for food,” that is, she perceived the fact mentally—it was a conclusion drawn by her understanding. Second, “and that it was pleasant to the eyes”: that was the response and going out of her affections unto it. Third, “and a tree to be desired to make one wise”: there was the moving of her will. “And took of the fruit thereof and did eat”: there was the completed action.
Thus it is in the sinner’s coming to Christ. There is first apprehension by the understanding: the mind is enlightened and brought to see our deep need of Christ and His perfect suitability to meet our needs: the intelligence perceives that He is “good for food,” the Bread of life which God has graciously provided for the nourishment of our souls. Second, there is the moving of the affections: hitherto we discerned no beauty in Christ that we should desire Him, but now He is “pleasant to the eyes” of our souls: it is the heart turning from the love of sin to the love of holiness, from self to the Saviour—it is for this reason that backsliding or spiritual declension is termed a leaving of our “first love” (Rev. 2:4). Third, in coming to Christ there is an exercise of the will, for said He to those who received Him not, “ye will not come to Me that ye might have life” (John 5:40). This exercise of the will consists of a yielding of ourselves to His authority to be ruled by Him.
None will come to Christ while they remain in ignorance of Him: the understanding must perceive His suitability for sinners before the mind can turn intelligently and consciously unto Him as He is revealed in the Gospel. Neither can the heart come to Christ while it hates Him or is wedded to the things of time and sense: the affections must be drawn out to Him—“If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema” (1 Cor. 16:22). Equally evident is it that no man will come to Christ while his will is opposed to Him: it is the enlightening of his understanding and the firing of his affections which subdues his enmity and makes the sinner willing in the day of God’s power (Psa. 110:3). It is helpful to observe that these exercises of the three faculties of the soul correspond in character to the threefold office of Christ: the understanding being enlightened by Him as Prophet, the affections being moved by His work as Priest, and the will bowing to His authority as King over Zion.
In the days of His flesh, the Lord Jesus condescended to minister unto the ailments and needs of men’s bodies and not a few came unto Him and were healed: in that we may see an adumbration of Him as the great Physician of souls and what is required from sinners if they are to receive spiritual healing at His hands. Those who sought out Christ in order to obtain bodily relief were persuaded of His mighty power, His gracious willingness, and of their own dire need of healing. But let it be noted that then, as now, this persuasion in the Lord’s sufficiency and readiness to succour varied in degree in different cases. The centurion spoke with full assurance: “Speak the word only and my servant shall be healed” (Matt. 8:8). The leper expressed himself more dubiously, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean” (Matt. 8:2). Another used still fainter language, “If Thou canst do anything, have compassion and help us” (Mark 9:22), yet even there the Redeemer did not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax, but graciously wrought a miracle on his behalf.
But let it be carefully observed that in each of the above cases there was a personal and actual application unto Christ, and it was this very application (or approach unto and appeal to Him) which made manifest their faith, even though that faith was as small as a grain of mustard seed. They did not rest content with having heard of His fame, but improved it: they actually sought Him out for themselves, acquainted Him with their case, and implored His compassion. So it must be with those troubled about soul concerns: saving faith is not passive, but operative. Moreover, the faith of those who sought unto Christ for physical relief was one which refused to be deterred by difficulties and discouragements. In vain the multitudes charged the blind man to be quiet (Mark 10:48): knowing that Christ was able to give sight, he cried so much the more. Even when Christ appeared to manifest a great reserve, the woman refused to leave till her request was granted (Matt. 15:27).
THE REST OF CHRIST
“Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). In his most excellent sermons on these words and the verses which follow, John Newton pointed out that the dispensation of the Gospel may be compared to the cities of refuge in Israel. It was a privilege and honour to the nation in general that they had such sanctuaries of Divine appointment, but the real value of them was known and felt by only a few. Those alone who found themselves in that case for which they were provided could rightly prize them.
Thus it is with the Gospel of Christ: it is the highest privilege and honour of which a professing nation can boast, but it can be truly understood and esteemed by none except weary and heavy laden souls, who have felt their misery by nature, are tired of the drudgery of sin, and have seen the broken Law pursuing them like the avenger of blood of old. This is the only consideration which keeps them from sinking into abject despair, in that God has graciously provided a remedy by the Gospel and that Christ bids them “Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.”
If those awakened, convicted, and distressed souls would but appropriate to themselves the full comfort of that blessed invitation and heartily obey its terms, their complaints would be at an end; but remaining ignorance, the workings of unbelief, and the oppositions of Satan combine in various ways to keep them back. Some will say, Alas, I am not qualified to come to Christ: my heart is so hard, my conscience so insensible that I do not feel the burden of my sin as I ought to nor my need of Christ’s rest as I should. Others will say, I fear that I do not come aright. I see from the Scriptures and hear from the pulpit that repentance is required from me and that faith is an absolute essential if I am to be saved, but I am much concerned to know whether my repentance be sincere and deep enough and whether my faith be anything better than an historical one—the assent of the mind to the facts presented in the Gospel.
Let us then add a few words to what we have said previously on what is meant by a saving coming to Christ. It was pointed out earlier that we may discover from the cases of those who sought bodily healing from Him of old what is connoted by the invitation which Christ here makes to those who have sought diligently to secure the approbation of God and meet His just requirements in the Law, who are heavy laden by a sense of their wretched failures and weighted down by the conscious load of their guilt and pollution. First, they were persuaded of His power and willingness and of their own deep need of His help. Thus it is in the matter of salvation: the sinner must be convinced that Christ is “mighty to save,” that He is ready to receive all who are sick of sin and desire to be healed by Him. Second, they made an application unto Him. They were not content to hear of His fame, but made proof for themselves of His wonder-working power. So, too, the sinner must not only credit the blessed message of the Gospel, but he must also venture on Christ for himself, seek unto Him and trust in Him.
As we peruse the Gospel Narratives we see that those who sought unto Christ as a Physician of souls continued with Him and became His followers. They received Him as their Lord and Master, renounced everything that was inconsistent with His will (Luke 9:23, 60), professed an obedience to His precepts, and accepted a share in His reproach. Some had a more definite and open call to Him, as Matthew, who was sitting at the seat of custom, indifferent to the claims of Christ till He passed by and said, “Follow Me” (Matt. 9:9). That word was accompanied with power and won his heart, separating him from worldly pursuits in an instant. But others were drawn to Him more secretly by His Spirit and Providence, as Nathanael (John 1:46), and the weeping penitent (Luke 7:38). In the case of the ruler who came to the Lord Jesus with no other intention than to obtain the life of his son (John 4:53), he secured much more than he asked or expected—the Lord affording such an affecting sense of His power and goodness that he, from henceforth, believed with all his house. Now all these things are recorded for our encouragement today. The Lord Jesus is no
longer here on earth in visible form but He has promised His spiritual presence to abide with His Word, His ministers and His people to the end of time. Weary and heavy laden souls—sin-sick and conscious-burdened sinners—do not have to take a long and hard journey in order to seek and find the Saviour, for He is always near to them (Acts 17:27) in a spiritual manner wherever His Gospel is preached. “But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise: Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into Heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above): or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead). But what saith it? The Word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the Word of Faith, which we preach” (Rom. 10:6-8). Then raise your hearts, breathe forth your complaints to Him. If you feel that you cannot come to Christ with a tender heart and burdened conscience, then come to Him for them. If you fear your repentance and faith are defective, then beg Him to bestow upon you the genuine article.
“Is it a sense of your load which makes you say you are not able? Then consider that this is not a work, but a rest. Would a man plead I am so heavy laden that I cannot consent to part with my burden; so weary that I am not able either to stand still or to lie down, but must force myself farther? The greatness of your burden, so far from being an objection, is the very reason why you should instantly come to Christ, for He alone is able to release you. But perhaps you think you do not come aright. I ask, how would you come? If you come as a helpless unworthy sinner, without righteousness, without any hope but what arises from the worth, work, and Word of Christ, this is to come aright. There is no other way of being accepted. Would you refresh and strengthen yourself, wash away your own sins, free yourself from your burden, and then come to Him to do these things for you? May the Lord help you to see the folly and unreasonableness of your unbelief” (John Newton).
Persevere in your application to Christ. There is no promise recorded in Scripture that God will reward the careless, half-hearted, indolent seeker, but He has declared, “Ye shall seek Me and find Me when ye shall search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). He has a fixed time for everyone whom He receives. He knew how long the poor man had waited at the side of the pool (John 5:6), and when his hour came He spake and relieved him. So do you endeavour to be found in the way: where His Word is faithfully preached, and if that be not available (or even if it is) diligently search His Word in the privacy of your own room. Be much in secret prayer. As you have opportunity converse with His people, perhaps He may unexpectedly join you, as He did the two disciples when walking to Emmaus, and cause your heart to burn within you. These are the means which the Lord has appointed. You will find many things both from within and without to discourage and weary you, but in good time, if you seek with all your heart, You shall find rest unto your soul.
“I will give you rest.” What a claim to make! This was something which no mere man, no matter how godly and spiritual, could promise. Abraham, Moses, David could not have bidden the weary and heavy laden to come unto him with the assurance that they would give them rest! To impart rest of soul to another lies beyond the power of the most exalted creature. Even the holy angels in Heaven are quite incapable of bestowing rest upon others, for they are entirely dependent upon the grace of God for their own rest. How this promise of Christ, then, makes manifest His uniqueness. Neither Confucius, Buddha, nor Mohammed ever made such a claim as this. Ah, my reader, it was no mere Man who uttered these words: “Come unto Me all ye that art weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Though appearing in the form of a Servant, yet was He, in Himself, infinitely more than that. He was the Son of God incarnate. He was Himself the Creator of man, and therefore could He restore him. He was the Prince of peace and therefore capable of giving rest.
As Christ is the only One who can bestow rest of soul, so there is no true rest to be found apart from Him. The creature cannot impart it. The world cannot communicate it. We ourselves cannot, by any efforts of our own, manufacture it. One of the most pathetic things in this world is to behold the unregenerate vainly seeking happiness and contentment in the things of time and sense, and when it is at last discovered that these are all broken cisterns which hold no water, to observe them turning to priests and preachers, penance and fastings, reading and praying, only to find as the prodigal son did when he “began to want,” that “no man gave unto him” (Luke 15). Like the poor woman mentioned in Mark 5, who had “suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse” (v. 26). Of all the unregenerate, illiterate or learned, it is true that “the way of peace have they not known” (Rom. 3:17).
Ah, my reader, it is much to be thankful for when we are made to realize experimentally that none but Christ can do helpless sinners any good. This is a hard lesson for flesh and blood, and slow are we to learn it. Not that the fact is involved or intricate in itself, but because the devilish pride of our hearts makes us self-assertive and self-sufficient until Divine grace humbles us. This is part of the gracious work of the Holy Spirit to bring us off from all creature dependence, to knock all props from under us, to make us perceive that the Lord Jesus Christ is our only hope. “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under Heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Strikingly was this adumbrated of old in the dove sent forth by Noah: “But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark; for the waters were on the face of the whole earth. When he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark” (Gen. 8:9). Significantly enough the very name “Noah” meant rest (Gen. 5:29, margin), and it was only as the poor dove was “caused to come unto him” that she obtained rest. Thus it is with the sinner. We must now inquire, What is the nature of this “rest” which Christ gives to all who come to Him? “The Greek word expresses something more than rest, or a mere relaxation from toil; it denotes refreshment likewise. A person weary with long bearing a heavy burden will need not only to have it removed, but likewise he wants food and refreshment to restore his spirits and to repair his wasted strength. Such is the rest of the Gospel. It not only puts a period to our fruitless labour, but it affords a sweet reviving cordial. There is not only peace, but joy in believing” (John Newton). Thus it is a spiritual rest, a satisfying rest, “rest for the soul” as the Saviour declares later in this passage. It is such a rest as this world can neither give nor take away.
In particularizing upon the nature of this rest we may distinguish between its present and its future forms. Concerning the former we would note, first, it is a deliverance from that vain and wearisome quest which engages and absorbs the sinner before the Spirit of God opens his eyes to see his folly and moves him to seek after the true riches. Piteous indeed is it to behold those who are made for eternity wasting their time and energies wandering from object to object searching for that which will satisfy them not, only to be mortified by repeated and incessant disappointments. And thus it is with all until they come to Christ, for He has written over all the pursuits and pleasures of this world, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again” (John 4:13). Forcibly was that fact exemplified by the case of Solomon, who was provided with everything which the carnal heart could desire and who gratified his lusts to the full, only to find that, “behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit” (Eccl. 1:14). It is from this vexation of spirit that Christ delivers His people, for He declares “whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst” (John 4:14).
Second, it is the easing and tranquilizing of a burdened conscience. Only one who has been enlightened and convicted by the Holy Spirit can appreciate what this means. When one is made to cry out, “The arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me” (Job 6:4): when the curse of God’s broken Law thunders in our ears, when we have an inward sense of Divine wrath, when the terrors of a future judgment and of eternal damnation fall upon the soul, then is there an indescribable anguish of mind. When a true Law-work is wrought in the heart by the Spirit we are made to exclaim, “Thine arrows stick fast in me, and Thy hand presseth me sore. There is no soundness in my flesh because of Thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin” (Psa. 38:2, 3). So, too, when we first perceive the wondrous love of God for us and His abounding goodness unto us, and how vilely we have repaid Him: then we are cut to the quick and “a wounded spirit who can bear”! But when by faith we come to Christ all this is altered. As we view Him dying in our place and perceive that there is now no condemnation for us, the intolerable load falls from our conscience and a peace which passes all understanding becomes our portion.
Third, it is a rest from the dominion and power of sin. Here again it is only those who have been made the subjects of a work of grace that can enter into what is meant by this. The unawakened are utterly unconcerned about the glory of God, indifferent whether their conduct pleases or displeases Him. They have no concept of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and no realization of how completely sin dominates them at all times. It is only when the Spirit of God illumines their minds and convicts their consciences that they begin to see the awfulness of their state; and only then, as they endeavour to reform their ways, are they made conscious of the might of their inward foe and of their own inability to cope with it. In vain is deliverance sought from resolutions and endeavours in our own strength. Even after we are quickened and begin to understand the Gospel salvation, for a season (often a lengthy one) it is rather a fight than a rest. But as we grow more out of ourselves and are taught to live upon Christ as our sanctification, drawing our strength and motives from Him by faith, we obtain a comparative rest, by His grace, in this respect also.
Fourth, there is a resting from our own works. As the believer realizes more clearly the sufficiency of the finished work of Christ, that his Surety offered unto God a perfect satisfaction on his behalf which met every claim upon him, as he perceives by faith that Christ is “the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 10:4), he is delivered experimentally from the law as a Covenant of Works and sees that he no longer owes it service in that sense. His obedience is no more legal but evangelical, no longer rendered out of fear but from gratitude. His service unto the Lord is performed not in a servile but in a gracious spirit, and what was formerly a burden is now a delight. He is no longer seeking to earn God’s favour, but acts in the realization that the smile of God is upon him. So far from rendering him careless, this will spur him on to strive with might and main to glorify the One who gave His own Son to be a sacrifice in his place. Thus, bondage gives place to liberty, slavery to worship, toil to rest, and the soul is enabled to repose on the unchangeable Word of Christ and to follow Him steadily through light and darkness.
There is also a future rest beyond any that can be experienced here, though most inadequate are our best conceptions of the glory awaiting the people of God. First, in Heaven there shall be a perfect resting from all sin, for nothing shall ever enter there which could either defile or disturb our peace. What it will mean to be delivered from indwelling corruptions no mortal tongue can tell. The plague of their hearts is an occasion of constant grief to the saints as long as they are left in this wilderness of sin, a burden under which they groan and from which they long to be delivered. The closer a believer’s walk with the Lord and the more intimate his communion with Him, the more bitterly he bewails that within him which is ever fighting against his endeavours after holiness. Therefore it was that the Apostle cried out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). But blessed be God, we shall not carry this burden beyond the grave: the hour of death will free us from this awful incubus.
Second, we shall be delivered from beholding the sins of others. No more shall our ears be offended nor our hearts pained by those evils which flood the earth. Now, like it was with Lot in Sodom, we are grieved every day with the conversation of the godless. “Who that has any love to the Lord Jesus, any spark of true holiness, any sense of the worth of souls in his heart, can see what passes amongst us without trembling? How openly, daringly, almost universally, are the Commandments of God broken, His Gospel despised, His patience abused, and His power defied” (J. Newton). If that were the state of affairs almost two hundred years ago what would this writer say were he on earth today, and witnessed not only the wickedness of the profane world, but also the hypocrisy and degeneracy of Christendom? As the believer beholds how the Lord of glory is dishonoured in the house of those who pose as being His friends, how often is he constrained to say, “Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest” (Psa. 55:6). Ere long this wish shall be answered.
Third, there will be perpetual rest from all outward afflictions, for in Heaven there is none to oppose and harass the people of God. No more shall the saint live in the midst of an ungodly generation, which when they do not actively persecute him, yet only reluctantly tolerate his presence. Though afflictions be needful for us in this present scene, and when sanctified to us are also profitable, nevertheless they are grievous to bear; but a day is coming when such tribulations will no longer be necessary, for the fine gold shall have been purged from all the dross. The storms of life will all be behind, and an unbroken calm shall be the believer’s portion forever and ever. Where there shall be no more sin, there shall be no more sorrow: “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Thank God that will be an eternal morning “without clouds.”
Fourth, it will be a rest from Satan’s temptations. How often he succeeds in disturbing the present rest of believers! How often they have cause to say with the Apostle, “Satan hath hindered me.” He seeks in various ways to hinder them from attending the public means of grace, and if he fails in that, to unfit them while they are there. He seeks to hinder them when they are endeavouring to meditate on the Word or while engaged in private prayer. Like the miserable fiend that he is, the devil cannot bear to see one of Christ’s people happy, and therefore he tries constantly to disturb their peace and joy. One reason why God permits this is that they may be conformed to their Head: when He was here on earth the devil was continually hounding Him—sufficient then for the disciple to be as his Master. Even when believers come to the hour of their departure from this world, their great Enemy endeavours to rob them of their assurance; but he can pursue them no further. Absent from the body, they are present with the Lord—forever out of the reach of their adversary.
Finally, they rest from unsatisfied desires. When one has really been born of the Spirit, he yearns to be done with sin forever, that never again there may be anything in his heart or life dishonouring unto the One who has redeemed him at such infinite cost. He pants for perfect conformity to the image of Christ, and for unbroken fellowship with Him. But such longings as these are not realized in this life. Instead, the old nature is left within the believer, and it is ever opposing the new, bringing him into captivity to the law of sin which is in his members (Rom. 7:23). But death affords him a welcome relief from indwelling corruptions, and he is made “a pillar in the temple of his God, and he shall go out no more” (Rev. 3:12). In the morning of the resurrection the believer’s body shall be “fashioned like unto His glorious body” (Phil. 3:21) and every longing of his soul shall then be fully realized. The change from grace to glory will be as radical as the change from nature to grace.
THE YOKE OF CHRIST
“Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). As we have previously intimated, this was not a broadcast invitation, addressed indefinitely to the careless and giddy masses, but rather is it a gracious call unto those seriously seeking peace of heart and yet are still bowed down with a conscious load of guilt. It is addressed to those who long for rest of soul, but who know not how it is to be obtained nor where it is to be found. Unto such Christ says, “Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.” But He does not leave it at that: He goes on to explain Himself. We pointed out previously that in verse 28 our Lord makes the bare affirmation that He is the Giver of rest, and in what follows He specifies the terms upon which He dispenses it— conditions which must be met by us if we are to obtain the same. Though the rest be freely “given,” yet only to those who comply with the revealed requirements of its Bestower. “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:29). In those words Christ made known the conditions which we must meet if we are to obtain the rest of soul that He graciously bestows. First, we are required to take His yoke upon us. Now the “yoke” is a figure of subjection. The force of this figure may be easily perceived if we contrast in our mind oxen running loose and wild in the field, and then harnessed to a plow where their owner directs their energies and employs them in his service. Hence we read that, “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lam. 3:27), which means that unless youths are disciplined, brought under subjection and taught to obey their superiors, they are likely to develop into sons of Belial—intractable rebels against God and man. When the Lord took Ephraim in hand and chastised him, he bemoaned himself that he was like “a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke” (Jer. 31:18), which was a sad confession for him to have to make.
The natural man is born “like a wild ass’s colt” (Job 11:12)—completely unmanageable, self-willed, determined to have his own way at all costs. Having lost his anchorage by the Fall, man is like a ship which is entirely at the mercy of the winds and waves. His heart is unmoored and he runs hither and thither to his own destruction. Hence his imperative need for the yoke of Christ if he is to obtain rest for his soul. In its larger sense, the yoke of Christ signifies complete dependence, unqualified obedience, unreserved submission unto Him. The believer owes this to Christ both as his rightful Lord and as his gracious Redeemer. Christ has a double claim upon him. First, he is the creature of His hands: He gave him being, with all his capacities and facilities. But more—He has redeemed him, and thereby acquired an additional claim upon him. The saints are the purchased property of Another, and therefore does the Holy Spirit say to them, “Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your bodies and in your spirits, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20).
“Take My yoke upon you,” by which Christ connoted: surrender yourself to My Lordship, submit to My rule, let My will become yours. As Matthew Henry rightly pointed out, “We are here invited to Christ as Prophet, Priest and King, to be saved, and in order to this, to be ruled and taught by Him.” As the oxen are yoked in order to submit to their owner’s will and to work under his control, so those who would receive rest of soul from Christ are here called upon to yield to Him as their King. He died for His people that they should not henceforth live unto themselves, “but unto Him which died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:15). Our holy Lord requires absolute submission and obedience in all things both in the inward life and the outward, even to “the bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Alas that this is so little insisted upon in a day when the high claims of the Saviour are whittled down in an attempt to render His Gospel more acceptable to the unregenerate. Different far was it in the past, when those who occupied the pulpit kept back nothing that was profitable for their hearers, and when God honoured such faithful preaching by granting the unction of His Spirit, so that the Word was applied in effectual power. Take the following as a sample: “No heart can truly open to Christ that is not made willing, upon due deliberation to receive Him with His cross of sufferings and His yoke of obedience: ‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me . . . Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me’ (Matt. 16:24; 11:29). Any exception against either of these is an effectual barrier to union with Christ. He looks upon that soul as not worthy of Him that puts in such an exception: ‘he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me’ (Matt. 10:38). If thou judgeth not Christ to be worthy of all sufferings, all losses, all reproaches, He judges thee unworthy to bear the name of His disciple. So, for the duties of obedience—called His ‘yoke’—he that will not receive Christ’s yoke can neither receive His pardon nor any benefit by His blood” (John Flavel, 1689).
“Take My yoke upon you”: it is to be carefully noted that this yoke is not laid upon us by another, but one which we are to place upon ourselves. It is a definite act on the part of one who is seeking rest from Christ and without which His rest cannot be obtained. It is it specific act of mind: an act of conscious surrender to His authority— henceforth to be ruled only by Him. Saul of Tarsus took this yoke upon him when, convicted of his rebellion (kicking against the pricks) and conquered by a sense of the Saviour’s compassion, he said, “Lord, what wouldest Thou have me to do?” To take Christ’s yoke upon us signifies the setting aside of my own will and completely submitting to His sovereignty, the acknowledging of His Lordship in a practical way. Christ demands something more than lip service from His followers, even a loving obedience to all His commands, for He has declared, “Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in Heaven” And again—“Whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock” (Matt. 7:21, 24).
“Take My yoke upon you.” As our “coming” to Christ necessarily implies the turning of our backs upon all that is opposed to Him—“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him” (Isa. 55:7): so the taking of His “yoke” upon us presupposes our throwing off the yoke we had worn formerly, namely, the yoke of sin and Satan, the yoke of self-will and self-pleasing. “O LORD our God, other lords besides Thee have had dominion over us”; confessed Israel of old: then they added, “but by Thee only will we make mention of Thy name” (Isa. 26:13). Thus the taking of Christ’s yoke upon us denotes a change of Masters, a conscious and cheerful change on our part: “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God . . . Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death or of obedience unto righteousness” (Rom. 6:13, 16).
“Take My yoke upon you.” It may sound very much like a paradox to bid those who labour and are heavy laden and who come to Christ for “rest” to bid them take a “yoke” upon them. Yet in reality it is far from being the case. Instead of the yoke of Christ bringing its wearer into bondage, it introduces him into a real liberty, the only genuine liberty there is. Said the Lord Jesus to those who believed in Him, “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed, and ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free” (John 8:31, 32). That is His unchanging order. First, there must be a “continuing in His Word”—that is, an actual and constant walking in the same. As we do this He makes good His promise, “and ye shall know the Truth”—know it in an experimental way, know its power, its blessedness. The consequence is, “and the Truth shall make you free”—free from prejudice, from ignorance, from folly, from self-will, from the grievous bondage of Satan, from the power of sin. Then it is that the obedient disciple discovers that the Divine Commandments are “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). Said David, “I will walk at liberty: for I seek Thy precepts” (Psa. 119:45).
By means of the yoke two oxen were united together in the plow. The “yoke,” then, is a figure of practical union. This is clear from, “Be ye not uncleanly yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). Here the Lord’s people are forbidden to enter into any intimate relations or associations with unbelievers, prohibited from marrying, forming business partnerships, or having any religious union with them. As 2 Corinthians 6:14 intimates, the “yoke” speaks of a union which issues in a close communion. And this is also what is in view in the text we are now considering. Christ invites those who come to Him for rest to enter into a practical union with Him so that they may enjoy holy fellowship together. Thus it was with one of old concerning whom we read, “and Enoch walked with God” (Gen. 5:24). But “can two walk together except they be agreed” (Amos 3:3)? No, they cannot: they must be joined together in sameness of aim and unity of purpose—that of glorifying God.
“Take My yoke upon you” said Christ. He does not ask us to wear something He has not Himself worn. O the wonder of this! alas that our hearts are so little affected thereby. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-8). Yes, the One who was equal with God “made Himself of no reputation.” He who was the Lord of glory took upon Him “the form of a servant.” The very Son of God was “made of a woman, made under the Law” (Gal. 4:4). “Even Christ pleased not Himself” (Rom. 15:3): as He declared, “I came down from Heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me” (John 6:38). This, then, was the “yoke” to which He gladly submitted: complete subjection to the Father’s will, loving obedience to His commands. And here He says, “Take My yoke upon you”—do as I did, making God’s will yours: His precepts the regulator of your life.
“Take My yoke upon you.” John Newton pointed out that this is threefold. First, the yoke of His profession, which is a putting on of the Christian uniform and owning the banner of our Commander. So far as faith is in exercise, this is no irksome duty—rather it is a delight. Those who have tasted for themselves that the Lord is gracious are so far from being ashamed of Him and of His Gospel that they are desirous and ready to tell all who will hear of what God has done for their souls. It was thus with Andrew and Philip (John 1:41, 43): and it was thus with the woman of Samaria (John 4:28, 29). As another has said, “Many young converts in the first warmth of their affections have more need of a bridle than of a spur in this concern.” No Christian should ever be afraid to show his colours, nevertheless, he should not flaunt them before those who detest the same. We shall not go far wrong if we heed that injunction, “Be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). It is only when, like Peter, we follow Christ “afar off,” that we are in danger of denying our discipleship before others.
Second, the yoke of His precepts. “These the gracious soul approves and delights in: but still we are renewed but in part. And when the commands of Christ stand in direct opposition to the will of man or call us to sacrifice a right hand or a right eye; though the Lord will surely make those who depend upon Him victorious at the last, yet it will cost them a struggle—so that, when they are sensible how much they owe to His power working in them, and enabling them to overcome, they will, at the same time, have a lively conviction of their own weakness. Abraham believed in God, and delighted to obey, yet when he was commanded to sacrifice his only son, this was no easy trial of his sincerity and obedience: and all who are partakers of his faith are exposed to meet, sooner or later, with some call of duty little less contrary to the dictates of flesh and blood’ (John Newton).
Third, the yoke of His dispensations: that is, His dealings with us in Providence. If we enjoy the favour of the Lord, it is certain that we shall be out of favour with those who hate Him. He has plainly warned us of this: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19). It is useless to suppose that, by acting prudently and circumspectly, we can avoid this. “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). It is only by the unfaithfulness, by hiding our light under a bushel, by compromising the Truth, by attempting to serve two masters, that we can escape “the reproach of Christ.” He was hated by the world and has called us unto fellowship with His sufferings. This is part of the yoke He requires His disciples to bear.
Moreover, whom the Lord loves, He chastens. It is hard to bear the opposition of the world, but it is harder still to endure the rod of the Lord. The flesh is still in us and resists vigorously when our wills are crossed, nevertheless, we are gradually taught to say with Christ, “the cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11). “And learn of Me: for I am meek and lowly in heart.” Once again we call attention to the deep importance of observing our Lord’s order here. As there is no taking of His yoke until we “come” to Him, so there is no learning of Him (in the sense here meant) until we have taken His yoke upon us—that is, until we have surrendered our wills to His and submit to His authority. It is far more than an intellectual learning of Christ which is here in view, namely, an experimental, effectual, transforming learning. By pains-taking effort any man may acquire a theological knowledge of the Person and doctrine or Christ: he may even obtain a clear and admiring concept of His meekness and lowliness; but that is a vastly different thing from learning of Him in such a way as to be “changed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18), which is what our Lord here alluded unto. To thus “learn” of Him we must be completely subject to Him and in close communion with Him, daily drinking in His spirit.
“Learn of Me.” And what is it, blessed Lord, that I most need to be taught of You? How to do that which will make me an object of wonderment and admiration in the religious world? How to obtain such wisdom that I shall be able to solve all mysteries? How to accomplish such great things in Thy name that I shall he given the pre-eminence among my brethren? No indeed: nothing whatever resembling this, for “that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). What, then, Lord? This: “Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” These are the graces I most need to cultivate: these are the fruits which the Heavenly Husbandman most highly values. Of the former grace it is said, “even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price” (1 Peter 3:4): and of the latter the Lord has declared, “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit” (Isa. 57:15). Do we really believe these Scriptures? Do our prayers and strivings indicate that we do so?
“For I am meek.” What is meekness? We may best discover the answer by observing the connections in which the word occurs in other verses. For example, we read, “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). In view of what precedes, and follows, this has reference to the mildness and gentleness of the spirit of Moses under unjust opposition, who instead of returning evil, prayed for the healing of Miriam! So far from being weakness (as the world supposes), meekness is the strength of the man who can rule his own spirit under provocation, subduing his resentment under wrong, refusing to retaliate. In 1 Peter 3:4 the “meek and quiet spirit” has to do with the subjection of a wife to her husband (vv. 1-5), her chaste conversation (or behaviour) which is to be “coupled with fear” (v. 2), even as Sarah “obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (v. 6). It is inseparably connected and associated with gentleness: “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1); “gentle, showing all meekness unto all men” (Titus 3:2). In 1 Corinthians 4:21 the “spirit of meekness” is placed in sharp contrast from the Apostle using “the rod.”
Thus we may say that “meekness” is the opposite of self-will and self-assertiveness. It is pliability, yieldedness, offering no resistance, being as clay in the hands of the Potter. When the Maker of Heaven and earth exclaims, “I am a worm, and no man” (Psa. 22:6), He had reference not only to the unparalleled depths of shame into which He descended for our sakes, but He also alluded unto His lowliness and submission to the Father’s will. A “worm” has no power of resistance, not even when it is trodden upon: so there was nothing whatever in the perfect Servant which opposed to the slightest degree the will or dispensations of God. Thus, this beautiful grace, like all other moral excellencies, was found in its purest form in our glorious Exemplar. Behold in Him the majesty of meekness, when He stood like a lamb before her shearers dumb, committing Himself to the righteous Judge. Contrast Satan, who, in the fierceness of self-assertiveness, is represented as “the great red Dragon”; whereas the Lamb stands as the symbol of Him who, though the most exalted of beings, is the meekest and gentlest.
The meekness of Christ appeared in His readiness to become the Covenant-head of His people, in His willingness to assume our nature, in His being subject to His parents during the days of His childhood, in His submitting, to the ordinance of baptism—to the wonderment of John the Baptist; in His entire subjection to the Father’s will, in the whole course of His obedience. When He was reviled. He reviled not again. When He was smitten and spat upon, He made no retaliation. He counted not His life dear unto Himself, but freely laid it down for others. How the pondering of these things should melt our hearts before Him. How they should condemn and fill us with shame. How they should drive us to our knees. How they should show us how little we have learned of Him. That which we most need to learn of Him is not how to become great and self-important, but how to deny self, how to mortify self-will, how to become tractable and gentle, how to be servants —not only His servants, but the servants of our brethren.
“For I am meek and lowly in heart.” As meekness is the opposite of self-will and self-assertiveness, so lowliness is the reverse of self-esteem and self-righteousness. Lowliness is self-abasement, yea, self-effacement. It is more than a refusing to stand up for our own rights: it is taking our place in the dust. Though so great a Person, yet this grace was pre-eminently displayed by Christ. Hear His declaration—“The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister” (Matt. 20:28). And again—“I am among you as He that serveth” (Luke 22:27). Behold Him performing the most menial duties: girding Himself with a towel, washing, and wiping the feet of His disciples. He was the only one born into this world who could choose the home and the circumstances of His birth: what a rebuke to our poor, foolish pride was the choice He made!
Ah, my reader, we must indeed learn of' Him if this choice flower of Paradise is to bloom in the garden of our souls. O that it may be so for His name’s sake.
THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST
“Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29). It has been pointed out in the preceding months upon this passage that the Lord Jesus began by uttering a gracious invitation which is accompanied by a precious promise, and then He proceeded to make known the conditions on which that promise is made good. To those whose consciences are weighted down by a felt and intolerable burden of guilt and are anxious for relief, He says, “Come unto Me and I will give you rest.” He and He alone is the Giver of spiritual and saving rest. But His rest can only be obtained as we meet His requirements: these are that we take His “yoke “ upon us, and that we “learn” of Him. It was shown last month that this taking of Christ’s yoke upon us consists of surrendering our wills to Him, submitting unto His authority, and consenting to be ruled by Him. We would now consider at more length what it means to “learn” of Him.
“Learn of Me.” Christ is the antitypical Prophet, to whom all the Old Testament Prophets pointed, for He alone was personally qualified to fully make known the will of God: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers, by the Prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1, 2). Christ is the grand Teacher of His Church, all others being subordinate to and appointed by Him: “He gave some Apostles, and some Prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11, 12). Christ is the chief Shepherd and Feeder of His flock, His under-shepherds learning of and receiving from Him. Christ is the personal Word in whom and through whom the Divine perfections are most illustriously displayed: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (John 1:18). Thus it is to Christ we must come in order to be instructed in the Heavenly doctrine and be built up in our most holy faith. “Learn of Me.” Christ is not only the final Spokesman of God, the One by whom the Divine will is fully uttered, but He is also the grand Exemplar set before His people. Christ did more than proclaim the Truth, He was Himself the living embodiment of it. He did more than utter the will of God: He was the personal exemplification of it. The Divine requirements were perfectly set forth in the very character and conduct of the Lord Jesus. And therein He differed radically, essentially, from all who went before Him and all who come after Him. In the lives of the Old Testament Prophets and in the New Testament Apostles we behold broken and scattered rays of light, but they were merely reflections and refractions of the Light—Christ is in His own blessed and peerless Person— “the Sun of righteousness.” Therefore is He fully qualified to say, “learn of Me.” Not only was there no error whatever in His teaching, but there was not the slightest blemish in His character or flaw in His conduct. Thus, the very life that He lived presents to us a perfect standard of holiness—a perfect pattern for us to follow.
When His enemies asked Him, “Who art Thou?” He answered, “even the same that I said unto you from the beginning” (John 8:25). The force of that remarkable utterance (as expressed in the Greek) is brought out yet more plainly in Bagster’s Interlinear and the margin of the American R.V.—“Altogether that which I also spoke unto thee.” In replying to their interrogation, the incarnate Son of God affirmed that He was essentially and absolutely that which He declared Himself to be. I have spoken of “light”: I am that Light. I have spoken of “Truth”: I am that Truth—the very incarnation, personification and exemplification thereof. Wondrous declaration was that. None but He could really say I am Myself that of which I am speaking to you. The child of God may speak the Truth and walk in the Truth, but He is not the Truth itself—Christ is! A Christian may let his light “shine,” but he is not the light itself. Christ is, and therein we perceive His exalted uniqueness. “We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us all understanding that we may know Him that is true” (1 John 5:20): not “Him who taught the truth,” but “Him that is true.”
Now it is just because the Lord Jesus could make this claim, “I am altogether that which I spoke unto thee”: I am the living embodiment, the personal exemplification of all which I teach, that he is a perfect Pattern for us to follow, that He can say “Learn of Me.” “He has left us an example, that we should follow his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). As we bear His name (being called Christians) it is meet that we should imitate His holiness. “Be ye followers of me (said the Apostle), as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). The best of men are but men at the best: they have their errors and defects, which they freely acknowledge, and therefore wherein they differ from Christ, it is our duty to differ from them. No mere man, however wise or holy he may be, is a perfect rule for other men. The standard of perfection is found in Christ alone: He is the rule of every Christian’s way and walk. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12). Though we fall far short of reaching such a standard in this life, yet nothing short thereof must be our aim. “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked” (1 John 2:6). Many reasons might be given in proof of that “ought.” It is utterly vain for any man to profess he is a Christian unless he furnishes evidence that it is both his desire and endeavour to follow the example which Christ has left His people. As one of the Puritans put it, “let him either put on the life of Christ, or put off the name of Christ; let him show the hand of a Christian in works of holiness and obedience, or else the tongue and language of a Christian must gain no belief or credit.” God has predestinated His people “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29): a work which is begun here and perfected after death, but that work is not consummated in Heaven unless it is commenced on earth—“we may as well hope to be saved without Christ, as to be saved without conformity to Christ” (J. Flavell).
This experimental and practical conformity between God’s Son and His sons is rendered indispensably necessary by their relation in grace: this relation is that which obtains between body and head. Believers are made members of a living organism of which Christ is the Head. Of the members we read, “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13); of Christ we are told, “and (God) gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22, 23). The two together—members and Head—form Christ—mystical. Now as Christ, the Head, is pure and holy, so also must be the members. An animal with a human head would be a monstrosity. For the sensual and godless to claim oneness to Christ is to misrepresent Him before the world, as though His mystical Body were like unto the image of Nebuchadnezzar, with the head of fine gold and the feet of iron and clay (Dan. 2:32-33, etc.).
This resemblance and conformity to Christ appears necessary from the communion which all believers have with Him in the same Spirit of grace and holiness. Not only is Christ the “Firstborn among many brethren,” but it is also said of Him that God anointed Him, “with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows” (Psa. 45:7). That “oil of gladness” is an emblem of the Holy Spirit, and God gives the same unto each of the “fellows” or partners which He more abundantly communicated to Christ. Now where the same Spirit and principle are, there the same fruits and works must be produced, according to the proportions and measures of the Spirit of grace bestowed. This is the very design for which the Holy Spirit is given to believers: as it is written, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).
To name but one other reason: the very honour of Christ demands the conformity of Christians to His example. In what other way can they close the mouths of those who despise and reject their Master and vindicate His blessed name from the vile reproaches of the world? How can Wisdom be justified of her children except in this way? By what means shall we cut off occasion from those who desire occasion, but by regulating our lives by His example? The wicked will not read the inspired record of His life in the Scriptures, and therefore is there all the more need that they should have His excellencies set before them in the lives of His people. The world has eyes to see what we practice, as well as ears to hear what we profess. Unless we evince consistency between our profession and practice we cannot glorify Christ before a world which has cast Him out.
Let us next point out that there must be an inward conformity to Christ before there can be any resemblance without: there must be an experimental oneness before there can be a practical likeness. How can I possibly be conformed to Him in external acts of obedience unless there is a conformity to Him in those springs from which such actions proceed? We must live in the Spirit ere we can walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). “Let this mind be in you,” says the Apostle, “which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5), for it is the mind which should regulate all our other faculties, and therefore are we told, “for to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). And what was “the mind which was in Christ Jesus?” The verses that follow tell us: it was that of self-abnegation and devotedness unto the Father. That we must begin with inward conformity to Christ is evident from our text, for after saying “learn of Me,” He at once added, “for I am meek and lowly in heart.”
We have emphasized the need of attending closely to our Lord’s order in this passage, insisting that we cannot possibly “learn” of Him (in the sense meant here) unless and until we have taken His “yoke” upon us, that is, until we surrender ourselves to Him and submit to be ruled by Him. It is not merely to all intellectual learning of Him which Christ here calls us, but to all experimental, effectual, and transforming learning; and in order to that we must be completely subject to Him. John Newton suggested in his sermons on this passage that there is another relation between these two things: that not only is our taking of Christ’s yoke upon us an indispensable requirement for our learning of Him, but that our learning of Him is His only appointed means for enabling us to wear His yoke. We believe that both these things are included, so we will now work out Mr. Newton’s suggestion:
“ ‘Learn of Me.’ Be not afraid to come to Me for help and instruction, ‘for I am meek and lowly in heart.’ Here is encouragement indeed. You need not hesitate to apply unto such an One, Maker of Heaven and earth, King of kings and Lord of lords though He be. O what a wondrous Person is the Christ of God! What varied excellencies meet in Him: both God and man in one Person. The Lion of the tribe of Judah, yet at the same time the gentle Lamb. The One before whom the Roman soldiers fainted (John 18:6), yet the One who took into His arms little children and blessed them. The One before whom all the angels of Heaven prostrate themselves in adoring homage, yet the One who is the Friend of sinners. Because He is God, possessed of omniscience and omnipotence, therefore is He able to solve our every problem and supply strength for the weakest; because He is Man, possessed of human sensibilities, therefore is He capable of being ‘touched with the feeling of our infirmities.’ How gladly, then, should we turn unto such an One!
“ ‘Learn of Me.’ I know the cause why these things appear so hard. It is owing to the pride and impatience of your hearts. To remedy this, take Me for your example; I require nothing of you but what I have performed before you, and on your account: in the path I mark out for you, you may perceive My own footsteps all the way. This is a powerful argument, a sweet recommendation, of the yoke of Christ, to those who love Him, that He bore it Himself. He is not like the Pharisees, whom He censured (Matt. 23:4) on this very account: who bound heavy burdens, and grievous, to be borne, and laid them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves would not move them with one of their fingers. “1. Are you terrified with the difficulties attending your profession: disheartened by hard usage, or too ready to show resentment against those who oppose you? Learn of Jesus, admire and imitate His constancy: ‘Consider Him who endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself’ (Heb. 12:3). Make a comparison (so the word imports) between yourself and Him, between the contradiction which He endured, and that which you are called to struggle with; then surely you will be ashamed to complain. Admire and imitate His meekness: when He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; He wept for His enemies, and prayed for His murderers. Let the same mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.
“2. Do you find it hard to walk steadfastly in His precepts, especially in some particular instances, when the maxims of worldly prudence and the pleadings of flesh and blood, are strongly against you? Learn of Jesus. He pleased not Himself (Rom. 15:3): He considered not what was safe and easy, but what was the will of His heavenly Father. Intreat Him to strengthen you with strength in your soul, that as you bear the name of His disciples, you may resemble Him in every part of your conduct, and shine as lights in a dark and selfish world, to the glory of His grace.
“3. Are you tempted to repine at the dispensations of Divine providence? Take Jesus for your pattern. Did He say, when the unspeakable sufferings He was to endure for sinners were just coming upon Him, ‘The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?’ (John 18:11); and shall we presume to have a will of our own? especially when we further reflect that as His sufferings were wholly on our account, so all our sufferings are by His appointment, and all designed by Him to promote our best, that is our spiritual and eternal welfare?” (John Newton).
“Learn of Me.” Christ, then, teaches His disciples not only by precept but by example, not only by word of mouth but chiefly by His own perfect life of obedience and submission to the Father’s will. When He uttered these words of Matthew 11:29, He was Himself wearing the “yoke” and giving a personal exemplification of meekness and lowliness. O what a perfect Teacher, showing us in His own utter selflessness what these lovely graces really are! Meekness and lowliness discovered themselves in all that the Redeemer said and did. He associated not with the noble and mighty, the rich and influential, but made fishermen His ambassadors and sought those most despised, so that He was dubbed “a Friend of publicans and sinners.” We read of but one triumph in all His earthly life, when He entered Jerusalem to the acclaiming Hosannas of the people: yet observe how He then carried Himself: “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass” (Matt. 21:5)!
“And learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” Those heavenly graces, which are the roots from which all other spiritual excellencies spring, can only be learned from Christ. The colleges and seminaries cannot impart them, preachers and churches cannot bestow them, no self-culture can attain unto them. They can only be learned experimentally and vitally at the feet of Christ, as we take our proper place in the dust before Him. They can only be learned as we take His yoke upon us. They can only be learned as we commune with Him day by day and drink more deeply of His spirit. They can only be learned as we ponder the details of His recorded life and then follow the example which He has left us. They can only be learned as we turn those ponderings into earnest prayers that we may be more fully conformed unto His holy image. They can only be learned as we definitely and trustfully seek the enablement of His Spirit to mortify the deeds of the body.
What cause have we to mourn that there is so little meekness and lowliness in us! How we need to confess unto God our lamentable deficiency. Though it is much to be thankful for if we are conscious of and humbled over our sad lack, yet merely mourning over it will not improve matters. We must go back to the root of our folly, and judge it. Why have I failed to learn of Christ these heavenly graces? Ah, has it not to be said of me, as of Israel of old, “Ephraim is a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke”? If so, how I need to cry unto Christ with all my might and beg Him to give me a heart for His yoke. Not until my proud spirit is broken and my will is completely surrendered to Christ, can I truly “learn of Him.” Only then shall I take pleasure in pondering the Psalms and the Gospels wherein I may discover the recorded manifestations of His meekness and lowliness. Only then shall I delight in making Christ the Object of my heart and the pattern of my character and conduct.
And this taking of Christ’s yoke upon us and learning of Him is to be a daily thing, the chief business of my life. Christianity is far more than an orthodox creed and ethical code: it is a being practically conformed to the image of God’s Son. It is a learning to be nothing, that He may be all in all. So many make the great mistake of supposing that coming to Christ and taking His yoke upon them is a single act, which may be done once and for all. Not so: it is to be a continuous and daily act, “To whom coming, (again and again) as unto a living Stone” (1 Peter 2:4). We need to continue as we began. The most matured Christian who has been fifty years in the way needs Christ as truly and urgently now as he did the first moment he was convicted of his lost condition—needs His cleansing blood, His quickening power, His healing virtue—needs to come as an emptyhanded beggar to receive of His grace. In like manner he needs to daily take His yoke upon him and learn of Him.
THE SERVICE OF CHRIST
“For my yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). As pointed out earlier, the “yoke,” when employed figuratively, is the symbol of service, for it is by means of such an instrument oxen are united together in the plow or wagon, that they may work for their master and perform his will. Here in our text it is the service of Christ which is brought before us, in contrast from the service of sin and Satan. The Devil promises his subjects a grand time of it if they will follow his promptings, but he is a liar, and sooner or later they discover that “the way of transgressors is hard” (Prov. 13:15). Sin deceives. Its deluded victims imagine they are enjoying liberty while indulging the lusts of the flesh, but when failing health or the dictates of prudence suggest they had better change their ways, they discover they are bound fast by habits they cannot break. Sin is a more cruel taskmaster than ever were the Egyptians to the Hebrews, and the service of Satan imposes far heavier burdens than ever Pharaoh placed upon his slaves. But “My yoke is easy,” says Christ, “and My burden is light.”
This declaration of the Saviour’s may also be regarded as the sequel to His opening words in this passage. There He is inviting to Himself those who were labouring (weary) and heavy laden, which may be understood in a twofold sense: those who are sick of sin and bowed down by a sense of its guilt, and those who are labouring to meet the requirements of Divine holiness and are cast down by their inability to do so. Those who, in a servile spirit, seek to fulfill the letter of God’s Law, so far from finding it “easy,” discover it to be very hard; while those who earnestly endeavour to work out a righteousness of their own in order to gain God’s esteem, prove it to be a heavy task and not a “light burden.” And there is no relief for such until they come to Christ and put their trust in His finished work. Coming to Christ requires us not only to turn our backs upon the world, but also to repudiate all our own merits and works. “For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” Exactly what is the relation between this verse and the one preceding? To which of the previous clauses is it more immediately connected? We cannot discover that any of the commentators have made any special attempt to answer this question. Personally we deem it wise to link these closing remarks of the Redeemer with each of the earlier utterances. Thus, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest; for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” There is encouragement for us to come and prove that He will give us rest. “Take My yoke upon you”: you need not fear to do so, “for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” “And learn of Me,” for not only am I “meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls,” but “for My yoke is easy.”
“For My yoke is easy”: the Greek word is variously rendered—“good,” “kind,” “gracious.” There is nothing about it to chafe or hurt, rather is it pleasant and delightful to wear. The question has been raised, Is Christ here speaking absolutely or relatively? That is, is He describing what the yoke is in itself, or how that yoke appears unto His people? We believe that both senses are included. Most assuredly, Christ’s “yoke” or service is a light or gracious one in itself, for all His Commandments are framed by infinite wisdom and love, and are designed for the good of those who receive them. So far from being a harsh Tyrant who imposes hard duties for the mere sake of exerting His authority, or satisfying an arbitrary caprice, Christ is a kind and gracious Master who ever has in mind the welfare, the highest interests of His subjects. His Commandments “are not grievous” in themselves, but beneficial and gracious. It is the father of lies who proclaims Christ’s yoke to be difficult and heavy.
But not only is the yoke of Christ “easy” in itself, but it should be so, it may be so, in the sense and apprehension of His people; yea, it will be so, if they do as He here bids them. It is indeed the case that the unregenerate find the yoke of Christ irksome and heavy, for it makes against the motions and the carnal nature. The service of Christ is veritable drudgery to those who are in love with the world and find their delight in gratifying their fleshly lusts—but to those whose heart has been, by His grace, captivated by the excellence of Christ—to be under His yoke is indeed pleasant—if we come to Christ daily to be renewed by His grace. Pleasant if we yield ourselves afresh to His rules. Pleasant if we sit at His feet to be taught of Him the loveliness of meekness and lowliness. Pleasant if we enjoy spiritual communion with Him and partake of His rest. Then whatsoever He commands is delightful to us, and we prove for ourselves that, “Wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace” (Prov. 3:17). Such an one can bear testimony that Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden is light.
Herein the Christian may discover the best and most conclusive evidence that a good work of grace has begun in his heart. How many poor souls are deeply exercised and sorely distressed over this very point, continually asking themselves the question, Have I been genuinely converted, or am I yet in a state of nature? Thus they keep themselves in needless suspense because they fail to apply the Scriptural methods of confirmation. Instead of measuring themselves by the rules laid down in the Word, they await some extraordinary sensation in their heart or some verse of Scripture being powerfully impressed on their minds. But not only have many been deceived at this point—for Satan can produce happy sensations in the heart and deep impressions on the mind—but even where the Holy Spirit is the Author of such impressions, the effect is only transient and soon fades. How much better, then, is the testimony of an enlightened conscience, which, judging by the Word of God, perceives that I have been enabled to take upon me the yoke of Christ and that I find it to be “easy” and “light”!?
But this principle works both ways. If I find by experience that Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden light and that such an experience evidences I am one of His disciples indeed, then what must be said of that vast number of professing Christians who, by their own conduct and often by their confession avow that the Lord’s service is wearisome and burdensome? Though members of evangelical churches and assemblies, must we not conclude they are of that class who have a name that they live, and yet are dead (Rev. 3:1)? Certainly we cannot allow for a moment that Christ here made a false predication of His yoke. Then only one alternative is left: we are obliged to regard as strangers to vital godliness those who account a life of communion with the Lord and entire devotedness of His service, dull and irksome. Unspeakably solemn is this, for it makes evident what a high percentage of lifeless professors there are among us, who go through the outward forms of religion but find no joy and satisfaction therein. Let us not be misunderstood at this point. We are far from affirming that the Christian life is nothing but a bed of roses, or that once a person truly comes to Christ and takes His yoke upon him, that his troubles are then at an end. Not so. Instead, there is a very real sense in which his troubles only then really begin. It is written, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). Wearing the yoke of Christ unites us to Him, and union with Him brings us into “fellowship with His sufferings” now, as it also guarantees fellowship with His glory in the future. The members of Christ’s body share, in their measure, the experience of their Head. The world hated Him, and it hates those who bear His image. The world persecuted Him, and sufficient for the disciple to be as his Master. The more closely we walk with Christ, the more shall we bring down upon our heads the hostility of and opposition of Satan, for his rage is stirred up when he finds he has lost another of his captives. Not only does the one who truly comes to Christ and takes upon him His yoke evoke the hatred and persecution of Satan and of a world which despises and rejects God’s Son, but he is now the subject of inward conflicts and trials to which he was hitherto a stranger. That corrupt nature which was his when born into this world is neither removed nor refined when he becomes a Christian. It remains within him, unchanged. Not only so, but he is now made more conscious of its presence and its vileness. Increasing light from God discovers what a mass of corruption indwells him. Moreover, that evil nature opposes every movement of the holy nature he received at the new birth: “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other” (Gal. 5:17). Now this discovery of the plague of his own heart and the consciousness that there is that within which is ever opposing all holy aspirations, preventing him from living as he would, is a source of deep anguish unto the child of God, so that he often finds himself crying, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).
But again we would say: let us not be misunderstood at this point. While we cannot affirm that the Christian’s life in this world is one of unclouded sunshine and unalloyed bliss, yet we must be careful lest we convey the impression that the believer’s lot is far from being an envious one and that for the present he is worse off than the unbeliever. Far, very far from it. If the Christian is using diligently the means of God’s appointing, if he draws upon the fullness which there is in Christ for him, if he cultivates daily communion with Him, if he walks in the path of His Commandments he will possess a peace which passes all understanding and experience such joys as the worldling knows nothing about. The world may frown upon and the Devil rage against him, but a conscience approving instead of condemning, the felt smile of God upon him, the sweet communion enjoyed with fellow believers, and the assurance of an eternity of bliss in the presence of his Beloved are ample compensations so that he would not, if he could, change places with a millionaire in his mansion or a king in his palace who was a stranger to Christ.
Let us now inquire, What is there in the yoke of Christ which makes such amends for the enmity it evokes and the suffering it entails, so that taking everything into consideration the believer will set to his seal that it is an “easy” one? In seeking to answer this question we shall again avail ourselves of the help furnished by John Newton’s sermons, adopting his outline at least. First, those who wear the yoke of Christ act from a principle which makes all things easy. This is love. Any yoke will chafe when resisted, but even a cast-iron one would be pleasant if it were lined with felt and well padded with cottonwool. And this it is which renders the yoke of Christ easy unto His people: it is lined with love—His to them, and theirs to Him. Whenever the shoulder becomes sore, look to the lining! Keep the lining right and the yoke will be no more a burden to us than wings are to a bird, or her wedding ring is to a bride.
We are told in Scripture that when Jacob served a hard master seven years for Rachel, that they seemed but a few days to him, “for the love he had to her” (Gen. 29:20). What a difference it makes when we perform a difficult task whether it be done for a stranger or a dear friend, an exacting employer or a close relative. Affection makes the hardest job easy. But there is no love like unto that which a redeemed sinner bears to Him who bled and died in his place. We are willing to do and suffer much in order to gain the affection of one whom we highly esteem, even though we are not sure of success; but when we know the affection is reciprocal, it gives added strength for the endeavour. And the believer does not love with uncertainty: he knows that Christ loved him before he had any love for the Saviour, yea, loved him even when his own heart was filled with enmity against Him. This love, therefore, supplies two sweet and effectual motives in service.
A desire to please. This is the question it is ever asking: What can I do to gratify, to make happy the object of my affection? Love is ever ready to do whatever it can, and regrets that it cannot do more. Neither time, difficulties nor expense concern the one whose heart is warmly engaged. But the world is not in the secret: they neither know nor appreciate the principles which motivate and actuate the people of God. Not only are they at a loss to understand why the Christian is no longer willing to join with them in the pleasures of sin, but they quite fail to see what satisfaction he can find in reading the Scriptures, secret prayer, or public worship. They suppose that some mental derangement is responsible, and advise him to leave such gloomy exercises to those who are on the verge of the grave. But the believer can give them a short answer: “the love of Christ constraineth me”: I want to learn more of His wondrous love for me, and how I can more fully please and honour Him.
A pleasant assurance of acceptance. What a difference it makes when we are able to ascertain whether that which we do will be favourably received or not. If we have reason to fear that the one for whom we are working appreciates not our efforts, we find little delight in the task and are tempted to spare ourselves all we can. But if we have good reason to believe that our labours will meet with a smile of approval, how much easier is the labour and how much more readily will we do it with all our might. And it is this encouragement which stimulates Christ’s disciples. They know that He will not overlook the smallest service undertaken in His name or the slightest suffering endured for His sake, for even a cup of cold water which is given on His account is accepted and acknowledged as though proffered immediately to Himself (Mark 9:41).
Second, service is made still easier and lighter if it is agreeable to our inclinations. Esau would probably have done anything to please his father in order to obtain the blessing, but no commandment could have been more agreeable to him than to be sent for venison, because he was a hunter and his pleasure lay in that direction (Gen. 25:27). Now the Christian has received from God a new nature, yea, he has been made “a partaker of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and just as the magnetic needle ever points to the north star, so does this spiritual principle ever turn unto its Author. Consequently, God’s Word is its food, communion with Him its desire, His Law its delight. True, he still groans under inward corruption, but these are part of sin’s burden and no part of Christ’s yoke, and he groans because he cannot serve Him better. But just so far as faith is in exercise, he rejoices in every part of Christ’s yoke: the profession of His name is esteemed a holy privilege, His precepts are the subject of profitable meditation, suffering for Christ’s sake is counted a high honour.
Third, the burden of Christ is found light because sustaining grace is vouchsafed to its wearer. Service to a loved one would be impracticable or impossible if you were yourself infirm and incapacitated. You could not take a long journey to minister unto a friend, no matter how dear he were to you, if you were crippled. But the yoke of Christ is easy in this respect, too, that He supplies sufficiency of strength to the bearer. What is hard to flesh and blood is easy to faith and grace. It is true that apart from Christ the believer “can do nothing” (John 15:5), but it is equally true that he “can do all things” through Christ strengthening him (Phil. 4:13). It is true that “even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall,” yet we are Divinely assured that “they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa. 40:30, 31). What more can we ask? It is entirely our own fault if we are not “strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Eph. 6:10).
Whatever the Lord may call upon us to do, if we depend upon Him in the use of appointed means, He will most certainly qualify and equip us for it. He is no Pharaoh, requiring us to make bricks and providing no straw for the same. So far from it, He promises, “as thy days, so shall thy strength be” (Deut. 33:25). Moses may complain, “I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue,” but the Lord assures him, “I will be with thy mouth and teach thee what thou shalt say” (Exo. 4:10, 12). Paul acknowledged, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves”; yet he at once added, “but our sufficiency is of God” (2 Cor. 3:5). So, too, whatever sufferings the Lord calls upon His people to endure for His sake, He will assuredly grant sustaining grace. “All power in Heaven and in earth” belongs unto Christ and therefore is He able to make our enemies flee before us and deliver from the mouth of the lion. Even though He permits His servants to be beaten and cast into prison, yet songs of praise are put into their mouths (Acts 16).
Finally, the easiness of Christ’s yoke appears in the rich compensations accompanying it. Under sin’s yoke we spent our strength for that which satisfies not, but when wearing Christ’s yoke, we find rest unto our souls. If we live the life of pleasing self and seeking our honour, then we reap misery and woe—but when self is denied and Christ is glorified —peace and joy is our portion. No man serves Christ for nought: in the keeping of His Commandments there is “great reward” (Psa. 19:11)—not of debt, but of grace. This is not sufficiently dwelt upon. There is a reward here and a reward hereafter. The Christian may have much to cast him down, but he has far more to cheer him up and send him on his way rejoicing. He has free access to the Throne of Grace, precious promises to rest upon, and the consolations of the Holy Spirit to comfort his soul. He has a Friend who sticks closer than a brother, a loving Father who supplies his every need, and the blessed assurance that when the appointed hour arrives he shall be removed to another world where there is no sin or sorrow, but “fullness of joy” and “pleasures for evermore” (Psa. 16:11).
Originally edited by Emmett O'Donnell for Mt. Zion Publications, a ministry of Mt. Zion Bible Church, 2603 West Wright St., Pensacola, FL 32505. www.mountzion.org