The Yoke of Christ
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain
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The Yoke of Christ
“Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mat 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” (Mat 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” (1Co 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” (2Co 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” (2Co 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’ (Mat 16:24; Mat 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’ (Mat 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” (Mat 7:21, Mat 7:24).
“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, Rom 6:16).
“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” (Joh 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” (Jas 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?” (2Co 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 2Co 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” (Amo 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” (Php 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” (Joh 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 (Joh 1:41, Joh 1:43): and it was thus with the woman of Samaria (Joh 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” (1Pe 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” (Joh 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” (2Ti 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?” (Joh 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” (2Co 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” (Luk 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” (1Pe 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 1Pe 3:4 the “meek and quiet spirit” has to do with the subjection of a wife to her husband (1Pe 3:1-6), 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” (2Co 10:1); “gentle, showing all meekness unto all men” (Tit 3:2). In 1Co 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” (Mat 20:28). And again—“I am among you as He that serveth” (Luk 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” (Mat 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” (Joh 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” (Joh 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” (1Jn 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” (1Pe 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” (1Co 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” (Php 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” (1Jn 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” (j): 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” (1Co 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” (2Co 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” (Php 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 (Joh 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 (Mat 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?’ (Joh 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 Mat 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” (Mat 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” (1Pe 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 empty handed 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” (Mat 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” (Pro 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” (Pro 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” (2Ti 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 (Mar 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” (2Pe 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” (Joh 15:5), but it is equally true that he “can do all things” through Christ strengthening him (Php 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” (Deu 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, Exo 4:12). 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” (2Co 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” (j)—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).