The Service of Christ
"For my yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 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" (Proverbs 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 Savior's may also be regarded as the sequel to His opening words in this passage. There He is inviting to Himself those who were laboring (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 laboring 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 endeavor 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 you that labor 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 you 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; yes, 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 to yield ourselves afresh to His rules. If we sit at His feet to be taught of Him the loveliness of meekness and lowliness. If we enjoy spiritual communion with Him and partake of His rest. Then whatever 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" (Proverbs 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, "Yes, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 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 lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other" (Galatians 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?" (Romans 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 cotton-wool. 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" (Genesis 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 endeavor. And the believer does not love with uncertainty: he knows that Christ loved him before he had any love for the Savior, yes, 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 constrains me": I want to learn more of His wondrous love for me, and how I can more fully please and honor Him.
A pleasant assurance of acceptance. What a difference it makes when we are able to ascertain whether that which we do will be favorably 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 labors will meet with a smile of approval, how much easier is the labor 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 offered immediately to Himself (Mark 9:41).
Second, service is made still easier and lighter if it is agreeable to our inclinations. Esau would probably have done anything to please his father in order to obtain the blessing, but no commandment could have been more agreeable to him than to be sent for venison, because he was a hunter and his pleasure lay in that direction (Genesis 25:27). Now the Christian has received from God a new nature, yes, he has been made "a partaker of the Divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4), and just as the magnetic needle ever points to the north star, so does this spiritual principle ever turn unto its Author. Consequently, God's Word is its food, communion with Him its desire, His Law its delight. True, he still groans under inward corruption, but these are part of sin's burden and no part of Christ's yoke, and he groans because he cannot serve Him better. But just so far as faith is in exercise, he rejoices in every part of Christ's yoke: the profession of His name is esteemed a holy privilege, His precepts are the subject of profitable meditation, suffering for Christ's sake is counted a high honor.
Third, the burden of Christ is found light because sustaining grace is given to its wearer. Service to a loved one would be impracticable or impossible if you were yourself infirm and incapacitated. You could not take a long journey to minister unto a friend, no matter how dear he were to you, if you were crippled. But the yoke of Christ is easy in this respect, too, that He supplies sufficiency of strength to the bearer. What is hard to flesh and blood is easy to faith and grace. It is true that apart from Christ the believer "can do nothing" (John 15:5), but it is equally true that he "can do all things" through Christ strengthening him (Philippians 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" (Isaiah 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" (Ephesians 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 your days, so shall your strength be" (Deuteronomy 33:25). Moses may complain, "I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue," but the Lord assures him, "I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say" (Exodus 4:10, 12). Paul acknowledged, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves"; yet he at once added, "but our sufficiency is of God" (2 Corinthians 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 honor, 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 nothing: in the keeping of His Commandments there is "great reward" (Psalm 19:11)—not of debt, but of grace. This is not sufficiently dwelt upon. There is a reward here and a reward hereafter. The Christian may have much to cast him down, but he has far more to cheer him up and send him on his way rejoicing. He has free access to the Throne of Grace, precious promises to rest upon, and the consolations of the Holy Spirit to comfort his soul. He has a Friend who sticks closer than a brother, a loving Father who supplies his every need, and the blessed assurance that when the appointed hour arrives he shall be removed to another world where there is no sin or sorrow, but "fullness of joy" and "pleasures for evermore" (Psalm 16:11).