The Yoke of Christ!
George Everard, 1884
"Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." Matthew 12:29, 30
The thoughts of Christ moved constantly in the atmosphere of the Old Testament Scriptures. In every one of His discourses, we find proofs of this. Even when no scripture is directly referred to, a careful study of the passage will often make it plain that some prophecy or narrative was before our Lord's mind. I cannot but think that such was the case here, when He spoke of "the easy yoke and the light burden."
You may remember words very different to these. A young monarch was about to take the throne. The later days of his father's kingdom had been marked by grievous idolatry, and also by cruel oppression of his subjects. So the people earnestly desired that the young king should rule with a gentler sway.
So Jeroboam and all the congregation came to Rehoboam and spoke to him, saying, "Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you." 1 Kings 12:4
But pride and self-will carried the day. The old men around him gave good counsel, that he should speak kind words to the people and so win them to serve him. But he refused their counsel and followed that of the young men. So he spoke roughly to them. "My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions." 1 Kings 12:14
So they fled from and forsook him. They cast off his yoke and joined themselves to Jeroboam, who established his kingdom over the ten tribes.
Here was the son of a mighty king, Solomon, by rough words alienating his subjects and driving them into rebellion. What a contrast have we in the Lord Jesus, the Son of the Most High God, who gently draws to Himself the hearts of His people by the cords of tender love! What a contrast have we in the rough, proud words of young Rehoboam, threatening the heavy yoke and the increased burden — yes, and scorpions for whips — compared to the easy yoke and light burden of the One who is meek and lowly in heart! And if the words of Rehoboam drove away the people, that they were glad to serve another as a way of escape from his authority — then shall not the words of the Lord Jesus attract us and fix our wavering spirits so that it shall be our joy and delight to render unswerving loyalty to our King?
Yes, Lord, You shall be my Lord, my King, the One Monarch of my heart, the One Director of my life! I will take Your yoke, yes, I will glory in it. I shall find it an easy one, even "perfect freedom." More than this, I will commend Your yoke wherever I can, that multitudes may learn to cast off the yoke of evil and follow with me in that blessed service, "whose ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."
"How blessed, from the bonds of sin
And earthly fetters free,
In singleness of heart and aim
Your servant, Lord, to be!
The hardest toil to undertake
With joy at Your command,
The meanest office to receive
With meekness at Your hand!"
"Come unto Me — and I will give you rest" (verse 28).
"Take My yoke upon you — and you shall find rest unto your souls" (verse 29).
Mark the order of these words. There is a universal obligation to serve Christ; but if there is to be success and comfort in doing this, we must observe the Divine order. Some begin with verse 29 and utterly fail. They have been living a life of sin or indifference — and they try at once to take up the yoke of Jesus, and find it an intolerable burden. They do not begin aright. They attempt the performance of duties without having either the right motive or the due strength to fulfill them. So after a time they fall back, and imagine that the service of Christ is altogether impossible.
But begin with verse 28: Begin with faith, and then happy obedience will naturally follow. Begin with bringing your burden of guilt and wrong-doing to the Lord Jesus, trusting in His promise, in His precious blood, in His power and willingness to save. Look to Him for the rest of pardon, of acceptance, of a Father's loving favor. Then go forward. Show forth the love that begins to inspire your bosom. Embrace gladly the yoke of service, and surrender yourself to the Lord without reserve. So will the rest you have found become deep and lasting. It shall not only be given, but found, "You shall find rest unto your souls."
"Take My yoke upon you." I love to notice here the outspoken faithfulness of Christ. He tells us plainly there is a yoke to be taken up and a burden to be carried. We are not to rest in coming to Him and trusting in Him for pardon, but we must go forward to obey and work and do His will.
The same fidelity we see in other sayings of Christ. "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there are who find it" (Matthew 7:12).
"If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23).
"Whoever does not forsake all that he has, cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:33)
Such words as these strengthen our faith in Christ. He hides nothing from us. He points out the difficulties we may look for and the losses for which we must be prepared. Yet in His mercy He shows that the gain far outweighs the loss. His presence and favor make every cross to be light — and every sorrow is the inlet of some counterbalancing joy and consolation.
What a contrast to the life of a Christian, is that of one who casts away faith in God and tries only to live in the present!
Here are the words of a working man who brooded on life's hardships until he utterly renounced all faith in God. He believed nothing. He rejected even the idea of a Supreme Being. And when he gave his creed, it was a sorrowful contrast to the words by which Christ would draw us to His service. "My creed," said the man, "is to live hard, to work hard, and to die hard." And is there nothing better for man than this terrible creed of unbelief? Is there no hope to cheer us in dark and gloomy days?
Lately I met with a few words with respect to one of England's princesses that may answer the question.
The late Princess Alice for a time yielded to the spirit of skepticism which is so prevalent in Germany. She had expressed her doubts as to the existence of God. She had taken a sort of philosophy which leaves no room for any true faith. But she found out how hollow it was. When she suddenly lost her little boy by a terrible fall, and other sorrows quickly followed — she found no rest for the sole of her foot away from the faith of Christ. Listen to her words: "The whole edifice of philosophical conclusions which I had built up for myself I find to have no foundation whatever — nothing of it is left — it has crumbled away like dust. What would we be, what would become of us — if we had no faith — if we did not believe there is a God who rules the world and each single one of us? I feel the necessity of prayer; I love to sing hymns with my children — we have each one a favorite hymn."
One who knew her intimately adds — "The Princess returned to the faith in which she was reared, and died as a devout Christian."
Happy they who so learn of Christ! Happy they who refuse to follow the clever but baseless vision of an ungodly philosophy, and submit themselves to the yoke of the Great Teacher! "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world — and not after Christ!" Colossians 2:8
There is another illustration of this I would like to put beside the words of the Princess Alice which I have just quoted. A young lady in our own country had been turned aside from her early teaching by the pernicious articles which are often found in our magazine literature. She went from one error to another, and followed various leaders of new views until she was wandering in a maze of doubt and uncertainty. She had given up all that once she held — and had found nothing to replace it. Then came a long period of failing health. Her misery was extreme. She knew not what to believe or what to do. But a faithful friend wrote her a letter, and this became the first means of leading her to retrace her downward steps. Without assuming anything of the truth of those Scriptures which she had learned to question, he asked her to receive Christ Himself as her teacher. He bade her leave the multitude of voices to which she had been hearkening, and see if she could not find more certainty and sure guidance in the words of the Lord Jesus. So she did. She sought out all the words He has left us — and a divine light fell upon her heart. The shadows all fled away. And in the words of Him who "spoke as never man spoke," she found life and peace and the hope of glory.
Yes, this is the path of safety. Here we may rest.
"Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart."Three things seem combined in these words.
Enter Christ's service.
Learn at Christ's footstool.
Follow His holy example.
1. Enter Christ's service.Myriads of angels delight to do His will. All the hosts of Heaven hasten to do His bidding. And shall I hold back? Shall one redeemed, pardoned, saved, and blessed of Him — hesitate in taking His yoke? Nay, every other yoke will I cast aside: the yoke of sin, the galling yoke of priestcraft, the fear of man, the self-will and selfishness that have hitherto borne sway far too much — that I may serve henceforth Christ and Christ only.
2. Learn at Christ's footstool.I must be careful here. I must not substitute any other voice, for that of the Great Prophet. One word from the lips of Christ, must weigh with me more than ten thousand words of other teachers. Popes, churches, councils, preachers, books, traditions have erred and do err — and if I follow them, I may forsake the doctrine of Christ. I may lawfully use all help and assistance in the right understanding of Divine truth; but I must call no man master but Christ Himself — and on Him I must wait continually for the light and guidance of His Holy Spirit.
3. Follow His holy example.I must not only learn the secrets of divine truth from His Word — but I must learn the secret of a holy life, by walking as He walked. "Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart." Among all lessons, none is better than this.
I must copy Christ's humility.
I must imitate His gentleness, His forbearance, His willingness to stoop even to the cross.
I must cast to the winds all haughtiness and self-conceit, and be content to be nothing, if only He may be glorified.
And where there is true humility, self-sacrifice and loving charity — purity of heart and life will not lag far behind. For Christ Himself dwells with the humble; and where Christ and His Spirit abide, every Christian virtue will spring forth and grow.
Of all means of usefulness, such holy living is the very greatest. Of all causes of unbelief and ungodliness, the lack of this godly consistency among professors is about the strongest.
One who was an utter unbeliever, was asked why he held infidel views. "Through reading Christians instead of reading the Scriptures," was his reply.
But why should "reading Christians" make a man an infidel? Was it not through "reading Christians" in the primitive times that men forsook their heathen idolatries and chose to follow the despised Nazarene? And may it not be so again? Is it not so in the case of many a child who through the godly life of a parent has in his own life manifested the same spirit? Oh that Christ might be seen in every one who bears His name! Oh that we might one and all so learn of Him that the outside world would see through us the mighty reality of His grace!
Let the Christian ever remember the strong encouragement which the Master gives to all who take His yoke.
It is a yoke lined with love. He who lays it on you is no hard man, no cruel tyrant — but the meek and lowly One, the Savior, the Friend, the Brother, the Bridegroom of His people. In love, He breaks the heavy yoke of the great adversary. In love, He bids you take His yoke. In love He fits it to the neck of each who bears it. In love, He stands by you and helps you to carry it, and gives daily grace for daily need.
From beginning to end love is the guiding principle of the Christian's life. It is this that makes the service of Christ so bright and happy. Cultivate the love of Christ. Do everything out of love — and love will lighten every burden, and make you rejoice to do the will of God.
Nor forget that if there is a yoke, it is a yoke inseparably linked with soul-rest: "You shall find rest to your souls."
In this service you will find rest, because the more you fulfill it, the more will you be acting in harmony with the noblest powers and faculties of your nature.
You will be in harmony with an enlightened conscience, witnessing on your behalf that you are living the only life which will leave no regret behind.
You will be in harmony with the best of holy men, with the holy angels, and with the spirits of just men made perfect.
You will be in harmony with the will of God, and walking in His favor and love. And to do the will of God must be rest, and leads on to the everlasting rest which remains for the people of God.