The Yoke of Christ!
"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30
Probably there is no passage in the New Testament more familiar to church-goers than the one (Matthew 11:28-30) of which our quotation is the final clause. Yet, there is scarcely any other that has been so sadly mangled by unqualified novices and unfaithful preachers. The invitation and promise with which it opens have been divorced from the conditions by which they are qualified — so that an entirely inadequate, in fact a false, apprehension of the same has been conveyed of what our Lord there taught. That which is required from those desiring rest of soul — namely, submission to the authority of Christ and the following of His example — is omitted. They emphasize His gift, but are silent upon the terms upon which He bestows it.
Far better instructed thereon than so many of our modern evangelists was good old Matthew Henry. Outlining the whole passage, that helpful commentator pointed out: "We are here invited to Christ as our Priest, Prince, and Prophet, to be saved — and, in order to that, to be ruled and taught by Him.
First, we must come to Christ as our great high-priest Priest and repose ourselves in Him for salvation.
Second, we must come to Him as our Prince or Ruler, and submit ourselves to Him, "Take My yoke upon you." This must go along with the former, for Christ is exalted to be both a Prince and a Savior (Act 5:31). The rest He promises is a release from the drudgery of sin — not from the service of God. Christ has a yoke for our necks — as well as a crown for our heads — and this yoke He requires that we should take upon us.
Third, we must come to Him as our Prophet or Teacher, and set ourselves to learn from Him. We must learn of Him to be "Meek and and humble in heart" — to mortify our pride and passion, which render us so unlike to Him. We must so learn of Christ, for He is both Teacher and Lesson, Guide and Way!"
"My yoke is easy, and my burden is light." This is not a poetic hyperbole, but the language of truth and soberness, and, therefore, is not to be denied or doubted. The Savior was there drawing a blessed contrast with the scribes and Pharisees, of whom He said, "For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Mat 23:4). In order to gratify a domineering spirit, they usurped authority, and, by their inventions and traditions, removed liberties which God allowed, and imposed irksome injunctions which He had never enjoined. They demanded a greater strictness in the observing of the ceremonial law than the Lord did, obtruding severe tasks (under pain of heavy penalties), but offering no assistance unto those who submitted to their dictates. They were the false shepherds who ruled "with force and with cruelty" (Ezekiel 34:4). Such has ever characterized a carnal-priesthood. Now, in sharp and blessed opposition thereto, the great High Priest of God's people presents a yoke which is easy and a burden that is light — and places His everlasting arms beneath those who voluntarily take and wear the same.
Christ is no cruel Egyptian taskmaster, requiring men to make bricks without straw, but "a merciful and faithful high priest" (Heb 2:17), One who can be "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (4:15). Therefore, it is not fetters and chains which He imposes upon His followers, but a yoke that is pleasant and a burden that is light. As others before us have pointed out, the Greek word rendered "easy" also signifies "good and gracious." So far from Christ's yoke being galling and painful — to the yielding neck it is benignant and delightful. It is designed not for our injury, but for our benefit.
The first reference in His "my yoke" and "my burden" is unto the one that Christ Himself wore and bore, and which He declared to be easy and light. And what did they consist of? Why, doing the Father's will, being about His Father's business. In that will He delighted (Psalm 40:8), and to do that business was what had brought Him down from Heaven to earth (Luke 2:49). Since His followers are predestined to be conformed unto His image, He requires that they should wear the yoke which He sets before them. Christ gives rest not in sin and unlawful pleasures — but from them, by engaging the heart with something infinitely better. It is rest, not in our lusts, but in Himself!
First, the Lord says, "Take My yoke upon you" (Mat 11:29).To take His yoke upon us is to enlist under His banner, to make a public profession of His Gospel, to surrender to His lordship.
"Learn of Me." To learn of Him is to take our place at His feet as little children to be instructed by Him. It is to submit ourselves wholly to His will, to obey His precepts, and to pattern our lives after His example.
Those are the conditions which must be fulfilled by us if we are to obtain rest unto our souls.
Then, second, He assures us "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." That is the inducement to comply with His terms. By those words, each professing Christian reader should honestly and seriously examine himself. They afford a sure criterion by which we may test ourselves and ascertain whether or not we have really taken His yoke upon us.
Each one may identify himself by his answers to these questions: Am I finding the yoke I am wearing easy or difficult? Is the burden I am carrying light or heavy? As John Newton (1725-1807) declared, "This verse alone, if seriously attended to, might convince multitudes that, though they bear the name of Christians and are found among the Lord's worshiping people, they are as yet entire strangers to the religion of the Gospel. Can it be supposed that our Lord would give a false character of His yoke? If not, how can any dream that they are His followers while they account a life of communion with God and entire devotedness to His service, to be dull and burdensome? Those, however, who have made the happy trial, find it to be such a burden as wings are to a bird. Far from complaining of it, they are convinced that there is no real pleasure attainable in any other way."
Christ's commandments are not, in themselves, "grievous" (1 Jo 5:3), but are "holy, just, and good" (Rom 7:12). They are given in love, and are to be fulfilled by love. "In keeping of them there is great reward" (Psalm 19:11). For the keeping of them, full assistance is obtainable from Him if we do but seek the same. It is the way of transgressors that is "hard" (Pro 13:15), but strong consolation is to be found in the way of Christian duty, and in Christ's presence there is fullness of joy. Wisdom's ways "are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace" (Pro 3:17). It must be so, for every part is lighted from above, the whole path is strewn with precious promises, each step is heavenward. The only happiness worth seeking is to be found therein. Yes, it must be so, for there is comfort and contentment in walking with God.
If, then, the way along which the reader is journeying is unpleasant, he is a stranger to Wisdom's ways and is a fool. Those ways are pleasant only to Wisdom's children. The yoke of Christ is irksome and distasteful to the unregenerate, for it makes directly against the motions of the carnal nature. The service of Christ is veritable drudgery to those who are in love with the world and who find their delight in gratifying the lusts of the flesh. To the self-willed and self-seeking, the commandments of the Lord cannot but be offensive — for they require the denying of self and the pursuit and cultivation of personal holiness.
But to one whose heart has been captivated by Christ, to be under His yoke is delectable. If he comes to Him daily to be renewed in the inner man, yields himself afresh to His rule, sits at His feet to be taught of Him the loveliness of meekness and lowliness, enjoys communion with Him, then, His will is "good and acceptable" (Rom 12:2) to him.
"And my burden is light" (Mat 11:30). It is so to those who "learn of him"(Eph 4:20). No burden is heavy, if it is shouldered by love. "Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her" (Gen 29:20)! Is it a burden for a father to work and provide for his wife and children? Not if he has real affection for them. Is it a burden for a fond mother to sit through the night tending her little one when it is sick? So far from it, she refuses to entrust the task unto another. Where there is a genuine desire to please Christ, the wheels of Christian duty run smoothly. Wisdom's children find their burden light, because they have the assurance that their efforts are acceptable to Christ — not for any excellence in their performances, but because they have been done from a desire to glorify Him. What is heavy to flesh and blood, is light to faith and grace, and because it has to be borne but for a moment (2 Corinthians 4:17). The burden is light just in proportion as we lay aside every weight (Heb 12:1), and because He gives strength to bear it.
None can adequately describe the radical contrast there is between the bondage and misery of the service of sin — and the liberty and peace of practical holiness. But anyone who has personally experienced both, need have no difficulty in determining whether he is out of Christ — or yoked to Him. If you have a peace which passes understanding and a joy which the world knows nothing of — you are a godly person. If despite both inward and outward opposition, you find obedience to Christ desirable and agreeable — then, His Spirit must indwell you, and the more you grow in grace, the easier His yoke and the lighter His burden.