(Matt. 11:29, 30.)
The Lord in this chapter already stands before us as the rejected One. The kingdom has been announced as at hand; the King is there: works of power attest His authority, and works of love display His heart. Disease, elements, devils, and that which lies at the root of man's condition everywhere, — sin, all have in turn yielded to Him, and owned Him Master. Proof upon proof has been given of who He is, who has taken in grace the lowly title of Son of Man. All is (so far as the nation is concerned) in vain. John has come mourning to them, and they have not lamented; in the Lord's sweet pipings they have not rejoiced. Neither righteousness nor grace will suit those whose hearts away from God will have none of Him, and with whom light is discerned only to be refused, and quenched, if possible. Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum, witnesses of His mighty deeds, only awaited a judgment worse than Tyre or Sodom, as guiltier than they. Driven back in His love, the Lord's heart yet finds rest in the ways of a holy God, His Father, Lord of heaven and earth, who has "hid these things from wise and prudent" — not from any particular people, but from this class of people — "and revealed them unto babes." "Even so, Father," says He, "for so it seemed good in Thy sight."
And "good" our hearts too recognize it. Would it be good that God should reveal Himself to what after all are but the attributes of a select few, rather than to the helpless and the ignorant, the poor and foolish? "To the poor," says the Lord, as the crowning witness of His mission, "to the poor the gospel is preached." Man values himself upon what distinguishes him from his fellows, but God's common blessings are also the greatest. His sun and rain and air no man gets by philosophy or skill. He who would get his religion so would have it to exclude the mass of common men.
For "wisdom" man bartered Paradise and the favor of God. Is it not "good," is it not necessary, that he should renounce this fatal acquisition to get back to God? Would it be "good" that that which is the fruit of sin should be the means of attaining the blessings lost by sin? It is not right that as to this, his way to true wisdom should be by the confession of folly and of impotence; and that the gate of the new Paradise should stand open upon the common level of humanity, rather than upon the mountaintops inaccessible but to the few?
Yet "vain man will be wise, though he be born a wild ass's colt"; and alas, the ignorant will rather look up to his leaders, than rejoice in the God of sunshine and free air, whose best gift is brought down to ignorance itself. Thus "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life." God's breadth, to man, is practical "narrowness." Open to all, man's lofty eyes overlook it. Its simplicity is its reproach; its lowliness, to pride exclusion: "few there be that find it."
And yet what seems good in the Father's sight is still what is only really good, however much man may take his own stubborn and self-willed course. God cannot give up His way, and He, who with open arms receives in the Father's name, and without question, all who come, still declares, No man cometh unto the Father but by me,"
Thus here: —
He who rests, amid all contradiction of men, in perfect satisfaction with the Father's will, — He can show to others the way of rest. And He who treads the path of obedience to the "Lord of heaven and earth" has all put into His own hand, as Lord of all. "All things are delivered unto Me of My Father; and no man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him. Come unto Me, all ye that labor 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."
The way of rest He knows: He can guide others into it. Meek and lowly of heart, they must learn of Him to find rest. He who had come down to learn obedience (as a thing before unknown) in a strange path of suffering and sorrow, could yet speak of ways of pleasantness and of peace, such as all God's ways are. Think of Him, the Son of God, the Man of love and sorrow, upon whom the mourner-dove rested as His emblem, come down to this from the throne before which angels veiled their faces, to commend to us the restfulness of self-surrender to the Father's will, the pleasantness of "ways" which as a Man in our world He had learnt! How simple, how easy, how blessed, will it be to learn of such a teacher!
How do we "labor?" why are we "heavy-laden"? Is it not because "we have turned every one to his own way?" It is a way sufficiently characterized as a way of trouble and unrest by the simple designation of it as our "own." The path marked out for us of God is that which Divine love, wisdom, power, have employed themselves about; our own way, the way of folly and self-will, what can it be but trouble and evil? Can we set up our wisdom or our will against God's, and prosper? How wonderful this call from One who seeing our infatuated rejection of God's blessed will, has come, drawn down from heaven by His love, to take it up and vindicate it against our suspicions, and in the face of the universe, proclaim its blessedness! "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O my God." And then when having proved it: "My meat and My drink is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work."
"Come unto Me," then He says; "I will give you rest." How much, here unexplained as yet, was needed in order that that might be fulfilled! No mere example was enough; no mere Teacher could He be. The Shepherd of the sheep, leading the feet of His own into green pastures, by quiet yet living waters, had, in order to be this, to be "brought again from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant." Rest for our souls is, first of all, I need not say, to be known as the fruit of His work of atonement for us. We, looking up into the heavens through which He has gone, and seeing the Lover of our souls, whose love could give Him no sabbath till His work was done, now sitting down at the right hand of God, — we can rest only because He does: because the work is finished, accepted, and abiding in value before Him in whose presence He appears for us.
But this is here left for the future to develop, and there is something else needed also in order for the rest to be complete. To give rest in this way He gives a "yoke." To find rest we must accept His yoke. "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls."
The yoke is what He gives, but never wore. It is a mistake to suppose that He in any sense wore a yoke, — a mistake to suppose that in it we are yoked with Him. A yoke is always a restraint: useful and good it may be, and is here surely; but still a restraint. He never needed, nor could have it. It is the distinctive contrast between Him and us, that His type is that "red heifer upon which never came yoke." In untrammeled freedom, because with a will always with God's, He was the perfect workman, devoted even to death, as this figure signifies. God never had to impose a yoke upon the neck of His perfect Servant. And beautiful it is to see in the figure of that which cleanses away our defilement in the wilderness, the blessed picture of a wholly devoted, and therefore uncurbed, will.
We need a yoke, — an easy one, but still a yoke. Look at the picture in Lamentations (Lam. 3:27-29). "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope." The very goodness of the yoke here shows that the Lord never could have borne it; but for us it is indeed good, because of that in us ever needing to be restrained, ever ready to break out if it be not restrained.
Then again, it is not a yoke in which we are yoked with Him, but a yoke we get from Him. He is here One to whom "all things are delivered by the Father." As He served the Father, we are to serve Him. How ready we are to forget, when we speak and think of following Christ, the difference between us and Him which yet exists, and must exist. "Following" must be distinguished from mere unintelligent imitation which ignores the difference. He was the Son of the Father, sent into the world by the Father to represent the Father. We cannot and do not represent the Father, but Christ. He Himself points out the difference: "As my Father hath sent Me into the world, even so have I sent you into the world." "As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love. If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love, even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love."
In the passage before us this is marked, for the Lord has just said, "All things are delivered to Me of My Father," and then follows it with "Come unto Me" and "Take My yoke." Nor is there a hint of yoking together in the passage. A single yoke is just as much a "yoke."
But the force of the passage is that the yoke of Christ's commandments, easy and blessed as it is, needs to be in fact practically submitted to, in order to find rest to our souls. Alas, there is danger, because we are so little like the Lord, of our mistaking the doing of our own wills for the "perfect freedom" which is only in true "service." The liberty of grace, the deliverance from legality, which we are entitled to enjoy, are liberty to follow our Shepherd only and this is living guidance, which requires our watchful eyes to be upon Himself. Let us not mistake, if our wills are crossed by His, as if it were legality to be too intently listening to His voice, or keeping too strictly to His "narrow" way. It is true we are "sanctified to the obedience of Christ," and His obedience was not that of a stopped will. It is true that our obedience should be therefore that of a changed will and not a stopped one. But let us take along with this, as remembering that we have in us what our Lord never had, the truth which it needs to meet this, that therefore is the necessity of submitting to a yoke which for our blessing checks and restrains what would otherwise ensure the toil of labor with a heavy burden.
It reminds us how the book of Exodus, the redemption-book, is not complete with the ending of Egyptian bondage and the song of salvation on the shore of the sea, but ends only with the law of Jehovah their deliverer established over them. It reminds us too of how when Balaam's unwilling lips have pronounced that "neither hath He beheld 'labor'" — 'perverseness' is what this results from, but 'labor,' such as the Lord speaks of in Matthew, is the word employed — "neither hath He beheld labor in Israel," he explains how this is in fact accomplished, when he goes on to say that, not only "the Lord his God is with him," but also "the shout of a king is among them." That ringing shout of loyalty which welcomes the King, is indeed the jubilee-cry which proclaims liberty to the toil-worn. No rest but in "the shout of a King!" Would that our hearts knew it better, and echoed it with the joyous anthems which are its fit accompaniment! A King! our King! all the more that He loves rather to take a nearer and more familiar title. Who would not take gladly His enfranchising yoke, who has borne for us the burdens under which our souls would have been whelmed forever, and given us His path delivered from the shadows under which He knew it, and bright with light of the glory into which He is gone!
His yoke! how little really we apprehend its liberating character! how little frankly it is accepted now! Self-will is rampant among those who have most claim to have been set free from Egyptian bondage, but whose uncircumcision proclaims the "reproach of Egypt" not yet "rolled away." Our morals are more utilitarian than divine, and the "broken spirit" which God pronounces His "sacrifices," have we not almost classed it among the things of law which it is the mark of evangelical liberty to discard? "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart," are words how needful for us to recall! how full of sweet rebuke from Him whose meat and drink were to do the Father's will, and to finish His work! Blessed Lord! may He not have to say of us as of old of His own: "I have meat to eat that ye know not of."