"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."—Matthew xi. 28 to 30
It seems a strange thing that our blessed Lord Jesus Christ should invite a weary and heavy-laden man to get rest by taking upon him a yoke. A yoke is the symbol of burdens borne. We associate it with the oxen in the field, which, taking the yoke upon themselves, draw the plough or heavy load behind them. Yet our blessed Lord, lifting up His eyes and looking on the multitudes who gave evidence even in their faces that they were weary and heavy laden, says: "Come unto Me and I will give you rest. Take upon you My yoke." Yet that paradox and apparent contradiction leads the way into some of the most delightful and beautiful truths of Holy Scripture. Now, I would make a threefold enquiry: First, whom does God invite? Second, what does He enjoin? Third, what does He promise?
Whom does God invite? The weary and the heavy laden. Now, let us not think that, because these two words are similar they mean the same thing. Weariness is not the same thing as fatigue. Fatigue implies exertion. Weariness may come upon us without any exertion. Idleness can make us weary, but it can never make us fatigued. We may weary of our pleasures because they lose their power to charm us, and get monotonous and unsatisfying. We may weary of our treasures when we have heaped them up so that we have a million of pounds sterling at our disposal. Xerxes went through the entire run of pleasure, and spent his royal resources on every form of delight known to the sons of men, and then he advertised that he would give a handsome reward to anybody who would invent him a new pleasure that he had not yet found. He was weary of all his indulgences, and he offered a reward for some new pleasure, just like Solomon the king, who undertook to find something in this world that satisfied him, and by and by pronounced them all vanity and vexation of spirit, and said that there was no profit under the sun, simply because he had found that his own soul was too big for this world, and that when a man has the whole world it is still but a trifle; for his soul, which was meant to receive God, is quite too big for this world to fill.
Now, when our Lord said, "Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and are heavy laden," He included every sort of unsatisfied soul—the soul that is unsatisfied with pleasure and treasure, with self-indulgence and self-gratification, with idleness and with ease, and the soul that is fatigued by bearing heavy burdens, bearing them too long without even resting a time. I am sure that all who have not known Jesus Christ as a Saviour will come under one of those two classes. They are either among the weary ones, or among the heavy laden ones, and so Jesus speaks to every one of you, and says, "Come unto Me; come unto Me."
Now look at what He enjoins. There are three things: "Come unto Me; take My yoke upon you; learn of Me."
"Come unto Me." That is personal approach to the Saviour. "Take My yoke." That is the assuming of work for Him. "Learn of Me." That is sitting at His feet that He may teach us by His words and by His example what manner of persons we ought to be. Now, if we briefly look at these three things, we shall come to understand this wonderful text.
"Come unto Me." He represents a finished work. When He died on the cross He completed our atonement. When He rose from the grave He completed our justification; and all through His life, from beginning to end, He was completing the perfection of obedience for our sins. Now, when He says, "Come unto Me," He means this, that you shall find in Him the pole in which your magnetic needle has its rest, its true attraction. He means that you shall cease from your own works to find in His finished work a satisfaction to the law of God, the expiation of the penalty, and the hope and assurance of everlasting life.
And, mark, you can only find that in a personal Saviour. Observe you cannot find it even in the Word of God without the Christ of God; you cannot find it in the Church of God without the Christ of God; you cannot find it in the creed of the Church of God without the Christ of God. If you leave Christ out of the Bible, you have left out the main thing for which the Bible was written. If you leave Christ out of the Church, the Church becomes a mere shell without a kernel, a mere outside without any vitalising life within it. And if you leave Christ out of the creeds they become cold forms of doctrine with the very center of doctrine wanting.
The Church of God was meant as a telescope through which men shall look at the eternal things, and, above all, at the Sun of Righteousness. The Church of God was meant as a telescope to bring a distant Christ near to the human soul and give a clear view of Jesus Christ; and when men turn to the Church and forget the Christ, they are like men who are examining the outside of the telescope instead of putting their eye to the eye-piece and looking through it at the stars. "Come unto Me; take My finished work; appropriate My complete righteousness; appropriate My sufferings for your sin and My justifying power for your salvation; and let your heart no longer move restlessly from side to side, seeking for something that meets the claims of a broken law and relieves you of the danger and the punishment of sin."
"Take My yoke upon you." What does that mean? A yoke is for two. A yoke unites cattle in bearing one burden or drawing one load. "Take My yoke upon you. Associate yourself with Me in work for God. Stand side by side with Me in bearing divine burdens and drawing loads for the sake of lost humanity. Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart. Get your inspiration for your life from Me, from My teaching and My example; and imitate Me." That is the substance of what our Lord says.
Now, I would turn to another thought which lies beneath all this, and so I only suggest this thought that we may pass over it to a greater thought. The substance of this whole exhortation of Christ is this: "Cessation from your own works." The word in the Greek which is translated "rest" is the very word from which comes the word "pause." To pause is to stop where you are, arrest your steps, and consider. Jesus Christ says, "Come unto Me, and I will give you rest. Come unto Me, and you shall rest yourselves," and the main idea is the idea of this pausing—this cessation from your own works.
Remember that we are told in the 2nd chapter of Genesis and the 3rd verse, that when God had finished His creative work of preparing this world for the habitation of men, God did rest from "all His works which God created and made." That was the beginning of what is known in the Bible as the Sabbath rest. That consecrated the Sabbath, while as yet there was no sin which had left its awful mark upon Eden and upon the nature of man. And remember now that this Sabbath resting goes before sin. It is the one thing that remains to us from the blessedness of Eden. Now, we are told in the Epistle to the Hebrews that he that hath entered into God's rest also hath ceased from his own work as God did from His. The secret of entering into the true Sabbath rest of God is this—that you cease from your own works, as God did from His. You have been doing something for yourself; you stop doing something for yourself that you may take up the unfinished work of God in which He permits you to take part, namely, the working out of the great salvation of a lost world. Cessation from your own works is the single secret of entering into the rest of God.
Let me give you another passage of Scripture which greatly helps in the understanding of this Sabbatic rest. In the 58th chapter of Isaiah, at the close of the chapter, we read these words: "If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on My holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour Him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." Now, you notice that this Sabbatic law lies midway between Moses and Christ. It is a kind of half-way house between the Old Testament Sabbath and the New Testament Sabbath. You observe that all the features that were purely ceremonial have been refined away. All the little directions and rules that cumbered the Sabbath keeping of the Jews have disappeared; and there is a kind of anticipation here of what the Sabbath is to be, or was to be when Isaiah wrote these words, when Jesus Christ should fulfil the Levitical law, and the ceremonial features of it should pass away, and only that which cannot be shaken, which is intended to be permanent, might remain. But now do you not see that in this passage in Isaiah the one thought is the ceasing from your own works? See how emphatic the prophet makes this idea: "If thou turn away thy foot from My Sabbath"—if you do not profane My Sabbath by walking heedlessly, carelessly, within the paling that separates one day from the other six—"if thou turn away thy foot from My Sabbath from doing thy pleasure on My holy day, and shalt honour the Lord, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words, then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord." What is that but ceasing from your own works? You stop doing your own ways; you stop seeking your own pleasure; you stop even speaking your own words; and you try to follow the ways of God and to find pleasure in His worship, and to take up His work and to have your mouth the means of uttering the words that God shall teach.
Now, do you not see that the whole thought of Isaiah is ceasing from your own works? What does that mean? It is a most precious thought. The essence of sin is that sin centers in self instead of God. It tries to find satisfaction in the center that is within us rather than in the center that is without us. We trust ourselves instead of trusting His finished work. We try to help ourselves instead of throwing our burden of sin and care and sorrow upon the great Sin-bearer and the Man of Sorrows, who was acquainted with grief. Now, when we come to Christ, we abandon all this self-help, and ask Him to be our helper; we abandon all this self-trust and lean on His finished work; we abandon all this self-will, and give up our will unto Him, our Master and our Lord. We take His will to be our will, and henceforth the prayer of our hearts is, "Thy will, not my will, be done." We abandon our self-seeking and our self-glorifying. We stop labouring to build up our own interests, and we are taken up with the interests of His kingdom. We stop seeking glory to ourselves, and we undertake to glorify Him. We stop seeking advantage for ourselves, and think of the profit of many souls that may be led to Jesus Christ and built up in their holy faith through our instrumentality. And I pray you to regard this word of the living God. You shall never find rest until you find rest in ceasing from your own works, as God did from His, and entering into Sabbatism, the Sabbath of rest that remains for the people of God, in this way.
Now, this thought I desire to illustrate that I may enforce it.
Our blessed Lord, in order to make this more perfectly obvious to us, says, "Learn of Me"; and observe why He tells us to learn of Him. He says, "I am meek and lowly in heart." What do these two words mean? The word "meek" carries the idea of mildness and gentleness and the absence of self-vindication, and retaliation of injury, and so it carries with it the conception of unselfishness; and that is the general meaning of the word "meek" throughout the Holy Scriptures. The meek "inherit the earth" by and by, because they have never sought anything for themselves; and God always gives the most to those who seek nothing for themselves. Moses was meek, not because he was not a man that was easily angered or violently angry at times, but because he was an unselfish man, and was willing to be dropped out of the book of life himself that he might save his people from their sins. And so Jesus says, "I am lowly in heart." What is it to be lowly in heart? Why, the proud man is high-minded. The humble man is lowly-minded. The selfish man is on an exalted height, where he looks at personal advantage, and interest, and profit. The lowly-minded man is down in a humble sphere, where he is content if he can only serve. Now, our blessed Lord teaches us again, "Cease from your own works. Stop vindicating yourself. Stop retaliating injuries. Stop looking after your own personal interests, and leave yourselves in the hands of God. Be unselfish. Stop your self-seeking, your self-glorifying, your self-boasting, and get down into a lowly place where you will be ready to serve God and serve humanity out of sight of men, if you may only be, however little in the sight of God, the means of good to other souls. Do you not see that the one idea is that you cease from your own works—that you stop helping yourself, working for yourself, willing for yourself, and aiming after your own advantage, and just come where you forget yourself and lose yourself in your Master and Lord?
Now, have you never noticed that the holiest men and the most useful women have been the men and the women who have thus lost sight of themselves? Did you ever read the story of David Livingstone going from Scotland into South Africa, penetrating into the interior of Equatoria, forty times burnt in the furnace of African fever, for eighteen months or two years away from family and home, and even without a letter from Europe, losing his medicine-chest, wandering among the savage tribes of the interior—one man alone, and the only white man in all those parts; and yet hear him solemnly say, "I never made a sacrifice for my Lord." He had had such abundant compensation that he forgot that he had lost himself in Jesus—that he had ceased from his own works to do God's work, and he felt as though he never had made a sacrifice, so grandly and wonderfully had he been compensated. And that hero whom we all delight to honour, who perished down in the Soudan, Charles George Gordon—what a marvellously self-forgetful man he was! He put the rules of his life before him as follows: First, always to do the will of God; second, always to avoid all pretension; third, always to be self-forgetful; and fourth, never to follow, as a motive, the praise or the disapproval of the world; and that grand and heroic man followed out those four rules of conduct perhaps with as much singleness of aim and as much absolute devotion as any man since the days of the Apostle Paul. It is marvellous how he learnt even to hate to be talked about. He disliked decorations; he could not bear lionizing. He disliked even public gatherings that were held in his honour, however sincerely on the part of his friends. He would not accept money. He flung it from him as though it were a bribe. On one occasion, after he had suppressed the Taiping rebellion, the Regent, a Royal Prince, came to Sir Frederick Bruce, the British ambassador, and said to him, "We do not know what to do with this man. He will not receive money. We have given him all the rewards that we are able to offer him, and put upon him all the honours that we can possibly proffer, and he values them not at all. Now, will not you ask your Queen Victoria if, on his return home, she will not give him something that possibly he would value?" It was just as much out of the power of that gracious Queen to give him anything that he would value as it was out of the power of the Emperor of China, simply because, like Joan of Arc, and others who belonged to that exalted society, he had not merely renounced these things, but he was in an atmosphere where he did not care for them even enough to renounce them. And it is most remarkable that when the story of the Taiping rebellion was written, in which, as we know, he was the great hero, and he was permitted to look over the manuscript before it was printed, he saw several pages which applauded him and praised him as the hero of that great war, he simply tore those pages out of the manuscript and threw them into the fire, and, as the author said, spoiled his book. There was one thing that he did seem to value, and that was the gold medal given by the Emperor of China, and which had upon it a grateful and honourable superscription. Somehow or other that medal disappeared, and afterwards it was found that he had first erased the inscription, and then, in the time of the famine in Manchester, sent that gold medal to Canon Miller, that the proceeds of its sale might be applied to the relief of the hungry and starving poor. Oh, what rest does a man find who ceases from his own works, who has stopped glorifying himself, whom the ambitions of this world can no longer win, over whom the appetites of the flesh have no longer domination, and in whom avarice has long since lost its power to grapple with his soul.
Now, do you think that this is all a high and ideal philosophy? Not at all. I want to ask you whether you do not find unrest in the very things in which you are seeking rest? Take avarice. Will you tell me anything that makes a man more restlessly unhappy than becoming the victim of the greed of gain? He gets a little property, but he wants more. He gets a little more. He wants still more. Avarice, like the horse-leech's daughters, cries, "Give, give, give, give"—never satisfied. It never has enough. Like the grave, it is always open for some new victim. The heart of the greedy man is always reaching out after some new accumulation of treasure, and you can never give him so much as that he is satisfied.
How is it with the ambitious man? A little higher. When he gets there, that is only the stepping-stone to higher elevations. A little higher. When he gets there, still a little higher; and if, like Alexander, he could stand with his foot on the topmost pinnacle, and look on a world that was conquered and laid at his feet, he would still sigh for another world to conquer, or for other worlds to conquer, as the historian makes Alexander to sigh at the height of his conquest.
Did you ever find any satisfaction in your appetite? Does it not clamour after new indulgence all the time? Do you not find that the more you suffer yourself to become a glutton the more gluttony ensnares? Do you not find that the more you indulge in intoxicating drink the more loudly intoxicating drink appeals for the satisfaction and gratification which never can come to that morbid appetite? Have you never noticed the fact that men that give themselves up to the gratification of their lusts and passions in a life of impurity, after they have burned out their own lusts by their indulgence, have still such an unsatisfied craving that they become the pamperers and the procurers for the passions of others after their own passions have ceased to burn? The whole history of the world shows us that never man nor woman finds rest in the sources of rest to which most of us turn, and all of us turn in a life of sin, and that the men and women who have found the sublimest Sabbath rest on earth have been the men and women that have ceased from their own works, and ceased from their own will, and ceased from their own pleasure, and ceased from their own glory, and rested in the finished work of Christ and taken up the unfinished work of God in a world's redemption, and have, in the help of Christ, found their strength, and in the glory of God found their object, and in the intensest and most self-sacrificing devotion to God found the intensest and most abundant satisfaction to their own souls? I often read that hymn of Faber, which is so well-beloved among the people of God. You remember how he sings:
I worship Thee, sweet Will of God,
And all Thy ways adore,
And every day I live I seem
To love Thee more and more.
I love to kiss each print where Christ
Did set His pilgrim feet;
Nor can I fear that blessed path,
Whose traces are so sweet.
When obstacles and trials seem
Like prison walls to be,
I do the little I can do,
And leave the rest to Thee.
I have no cares, O blessed Lord,
For all my cares are Thine;
I live in triumph, too, for Thou
Hast made Thy triumphs mine.
Ill that He blesses is our good,
And unblessed good is ill;
And all is right that seems most wrong,
If it be His sweet Will.
He only wins who sides with God,
To whom no chance is lost;
His Will is sweetest to him when
It triumphs at his cost.
Lead on! lead on triumphantly,
O blessed Lord, lead on;
Faith's pilgrim-sons behind Thee seek
The road that Thou hast gone.
It took a high Christian experience to write such a hymn as that. That man had to know what it was to lose himself in God, who could say:
Thy Will is sweetest to me when
It triumphs at my cost—
when I learn to love God so, and to trust God's will, so that even when it crosses my will, and when it defeats my inclinations, I can rejoice in the failure more than I can rejoice in the success of my own plans. I want to tell you a brief story about a hymn which, although not so well known, is one of the highest triumphs of a Christian soul. The hymn—
My Jesus, as Thou wilt:
Oh, let Thy Will be mine.
Now, you never can appreciate that hymn unless you know the story of it. Schmolke, the writer, was a German pastor. If I remember rightly the circumstances, there was first a great conflagration, which swept over his entire parish and burned the houses of most of his people, and burned his own church, if not his own parsonage. Then death came into his family and took away his wife and his daughter. Then paralysis struck him and laid him on his bed, so that he could not move; and blindness crept over his eyes, and there, his parish being burned down, his wife and daughter taken from him, himself blind and paralysed, he wrote these words:
My Jesus, as Thou wilt,
Oh, let Thy Will be mine,
Into Thy hand of love
My all I now resign.
Through sorrow or through joy,
Conduct me as Thine own,
And help my soul to say, my Lord,
Thy Will be done.
My Jesus, as Thou wilt,
Though seen through many a tear,
Let not my star of hope
Grow dim, or disappear
Since Thou so oft hast wept
And sorrowed all alone,
If I must weep with Thee, my Lord,
Thy Will be done.
My Jesus, as Thou wilt,
All shall be well with me;
Each changing future scene
I gladly trust to Thee.
Straight to my home above
I travel calmly on,
And say in life and death, my Lord,
Thy Will be done.
Think of that man, when he could not see a star in the heaven, praying that his star of hope might not grow dim or disappear; when he could not move hand or foot, praying that he might be conducted as God's own through each changing future scene, and affirming that he would travel straight on toward the throne of God.
I cannot convince you that there is no rest but in Christ, but you may look all over human history, and you will find that only as men and women have forgotten themselves in Him, and lost their will in His will, and ceased from their own pleasure for the pleasure of God, and stopped their own works that they might do the works of God, have they ever found joy, peace, rest and satisfaction.
But now I want to notice briefly, in conclusion, that if you cease from your own works you may do God's works, and that is the significance of "Take My yoke upon you." The Lord would not have you cease from your works to do nothing. But you are to associate with Him in blessed labour and in suffering. You remember that the taking of the yoke implies the adoption of Christ as a Master. Oh, that the Church of God could learn, and oh that impenitent wills could learn, the blessedness of the Mastership of Christ, just to have Christ absolute Master, to have Him ruling my thoughts and ruling my life, and ruling my choices, guiding the work of my hands and guiding the walking of my feet, and taking care of every interest of my soul. Mr. Archibald Brown was once telling the story of Nellie, his daughter, that when she was asked how it was she came to go to China, she said before that great audience in the East London Tabernacle: "I thought that I knew something about Jesus as my Saviour; and I thought that I knew something about Jesus as my Friend; and I thought that I knew something about Jesus as my helper. But I was asked, 'Nellie, have you ever known Jesus as your Master?' and I said, 'I am afraid not'; and I went down on my face before Jesus, and I said, 'O Jesus, O Jesus, be my Master'; and Jesus said to me, 'Well, Nellie, if I am to be your Master, go to China.' So I am going to China."
But if it is Mastership, it is also fellowship. The yoke is for two, and you can well afford to take Christ's yoke upon you, because He bears the heaviest end of it. In fact, when you stand with Him beneath the yoke, you feel no burden at all. He bears it all. I remember that when I was a boy I used to go out into the country in the rural districts of New Jersey in the summer season. I have often seen my uncle there when he was yoking up the oxen. The oxen might be separated far in the pasture field, but he would take the heavy yoke over his shoulder, and then go where the near ox was standing, and he would put the yoke on the neck of the near ox, and then he would stand off and hold up the other end of the yoke. Would the other ox think that he would keep clear of his end of the yoke? Would he not run along as if he was very glad to be associated with his fellow, and put his neck down until the yoke was fastened about his neck? Jesus puts the yoke upon His neck, and then holds up the other end of the yoke, and says, "Take My yoke upon you"; and what a sweet thing it is just to come and bow your head before the Mastership of Christ, and accept the fellowship of Christ in the work which He does for God and for souls.
Did you ever read the story of Ignatius, one of the martyrs of Christ? I remember to have stood in the midst of the Coliseum of Rome many years ago, and I thought of that martyr, as he came out there to be torn in pieces, folding his arms as the fierce Numidian lion advanced from his den, and he was heard to say these words: "I am grain of God. I must be ground between the teeth of lions to make bread for God's people, and in hope that to be crushed between the jaws of a fierce wild beast might be the means of feeding God's people with the martyr spirit, and leading even enemies of God to see that there is a power in the religion of the Nazarene." Ignatius welcomed death in the arena of Rome. There are many of you that are weary and heavy laden. You have been seeking yourselves, and your own glory, and your own advantage. There are some of you that are weary with the seeking of treasure and the enjoyment of pleasures. I pray you come unto Jesus. Come now. Take His yoke upon you. It is very easy, and His burden is very light. Take Him as your Master; take Him as your fellow in work; and learn to be meek and to be lowly in heart. He will rest you, and you will rest yourself when you come to Him.
From Dr. Pierson and His Message... edited by J. Kennedy Maclean. London: Marshall Brothers, [1911?].
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