Text: Matthew 11: 28-30
“Come unto me all ye that labour...take my yoke... learn of me... ye shall find rest...my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.
In these familiar words, the thought is very deep, and strikes to the roots of our nature, laying bare the whole mystery and purpose of being, the fundamental fault of the human race, and the manner of its restoration.
1.Every life must carry its yoke and burden.
This is the first lesson of the text. Christ speaks to those who are wearied and heavy laden with their own burden, and offers them, not freedom from all yoke and burden, but a new servitude which should contain within itself, the secret after which all humanity vainly strives - rest.
We either wear the yoke which we have placed on our own necks, or the yoke which is Christ’s. Therein lies the choice of humanity. Not man alone, but all creatures which God has made, are under the yoke. The brute creation has its inexorable function to fulfill, birds and beasts and fish of the sea, go not beyond their spheres, but each in its own place, perfectly carries out that purpose for which it was created. Angels wear the yoke, but find it light and easy, because they delight in the perfect fulfillment of their being in the service of God. In hosts innumerable they stand around the eternal Throne, in the perfect discipline of everlasting love, one motive and one intention prevailing throughout their ranks - to do the will of God.
Fallen spirits in hell bear the yoke. Burdened down with the weight of their own rebellion, imprisoned by the evil of their own desires, they find that the freedom from God’s will which they proposed to exercise, becomes the worst slavery of all. The highest stroke of their rebellious will - the Crucifixion of the Saviour-becomes the means of their own destruction. When they thought most to please themselves, they found that they only fulfilled the highest decrees of God.
And we, as men, also bear the yoke. We are not free to do as we please. There is upon us all a restraint and a servitude from which we try in vain to escape.
The whole struggle of humanity is towards independency. The end of all our striving is to get our own way. But the goal is unattainable. The rebellious child is made to know by its parents, however indulgent, that it cannot have its own way. In schooldays it comes under the rod, for the basis of all education is discipline, submission, obedience. The release from school brings not liberty to the child, but increasing obligation and responsibility. He discovers he is not self-existent - he is imprisoned more and more by his obligations. His attempt to throw aside his restraints only brings him into misery and pain. There are prisons and gallows for the willful and the rebellious. Society will not tolerate for long the drones and the indigent and the prodigals, as all history testifies. Man finds himself on the treadmill of the daily round and the common task.
If he is sensible, he will wear this yoke cheerfully, and find his highest temporal good therein. He discovers that man is not an independent being - that there is in this whole universe, no region of independency, but in God only. He makes the discovery that the individual man is only a member of a society and part of a system, and before he can live to himself he must bend all law, history, and custom to his own will and make the world his servant. No one is free in the absolute sense, but God alone, who is above, in, and through all.
2Only God is free.
God is the only being who is, in and of Himself, sufficient unto Himself and to the requirement of His own nature. His nature requires that He should be Goodness, Wisdom, Power, Love, in the most absolute sense. He is all this. He requires nothing from outside Himself to complete His being or contribute to His happiness. His condition is changeless, not subject to disappointment or decay. He has nothing which He must yet realise, for all time and eternity are to Him an ever-present whole. He is transcendent - that is, He is above and beyond and outside all created things, yet His being pervades and penetrates all. There is no region where He is not found, and wherever He is found, He is whole and complete. He fills all eternity, transcends all space and time - yet He is whole and entire in every dew drop, and in the petal of every rose, for He is always undivided; He does not exist in parts and segments and fragments. Wherever He is found, He is whole and complete, yet the sum of all created things, to the utmost bounds of an ever-expanding universe, is NOT sufficient to contain Him. His Being is incomprehensible and transcends understanding.
Hence God is the only true and perfect personality. As persons we are imperfect; we want so many things which are necessary to independence and freedom. God lacks nothing; He is all, and in all, and nothing outside of Him, yet He transcends all, and is beyond and above all.
His being is expressed in that crowning mystery of His nature - the Holy Trinity: Three Persons in one God. When rightly viewed, the Trinity begins to show itself to us as the only true and absolute Being. The First Person, the Father, expresses Himself eternally in the Second Person, the Son, imparting to the Son His own nature, being and likeness. All that the Father is, the Son is, and eternally has been. He is the eternally unique Begotten, yet the Father never began to beget, nor the Son to be begotten. The Father does not impart a portion of His being to the Son, else He would Himself be incomplete. He imparts Himself, whole and entire, yet remains Himself; the Son receives, and is Himself, true and eternal God, yet remains Himself and not the Father. The means, by which the Father imparts Himself to the Son, is that mysterious One whom we know as the Holy Spirit, who also Himself must be God, inasmuch as He is neither the Father nor the Son, yet proceedeth from the Father and the Son. That which proceeds from God must be God. There is therefore in the Holy Trinity a society, a satisfaction, a fulness, a sufficiency, a freedom and independence which mysteriously exists in yielding and interdependence, for such is the nature of Love, which is the nature of God. We should expect to find something of this order in the Being of God, even though the Bible should not have told us. The doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine of the highest and completest form of Being, and is a doctrine of reason as well as of revelation.
Only God then, is truly free, yet even His freedom is seen to exist in the perfection of yielding, of giving, of receiving.
Creation will be seen instantly to be a pattern of the Holy Trinity. That which is created and visible, is the mirror of the divine perfection. It is a receiving and a returning of the divine glory. This is raised to the highest point in man, who is the true image of the Eternal. In a fellowship of love, he receives all that God is in the perfection of the divine nature, and returns the same in gratitude, worship, and the adoration of love. There is nothing selfish in this objective of the divine plan to receive again what is so bestowed; we have already seen that selfishness is already excluded from the very nature of the Divine Being, where there is a giving and returning in mutual love in the Three Persons of the One God. The highest good of all being is the object of God’s arrangements, and selfishness is the negation of that good. Hence man can only be selfish at the sacrifice of his own happiness.
The interruption of the divine purpose in man, we call sin. Sin is the aim and struggle of man to be independent of God. It is receiving and not returning. It is the seeking to enjoy existence without a yoke and burden. Sin is possible with man because of his moral nature. That which he owes in love to God can only be paid voluntarily, else love were not love, and obedience would be that crude automatic instinct which makes a dog a dog, iron necessity of nature compelling it to render obedience and preference to its master. Man is not like that, else he would not be man. His moral structure, and the nature of love, require that that which he returns to the Author of his being should be voluntary, and without constraint. This is the glory of God and the glory of Man.
Sin is therefore the denial of the whole nature of being. God’s yoke has been dashed on one side and man pitifully tries to assert his independence, only to discover that he has exchanged the yoke of love for another which is far heavier and sadder. It is when, in the process of self-discovery and repentance he begins to feel the weight and the burden of it, that he is ready to hear the voice of the compassionate, yearning, incarnate God – “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I WILL GIVE YOU REST. Take my yoke...learn of me...I am meek and lowly of heart...ye shall find rest to your souls...My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
To conclude this point: we cannot live independently; we cannot have our own way. Our nature excludes the possibility; we are not made that way. Even the devil, the first to take the way of self, has discovered this. When challenged in the Book of Job to give an account of himself in his comings and goings, he contemptuously asserts that he has complete liberty to “go up and down in the earth and walk to and fro in it” - namely, to have his own way, to go where he pleases, and do what he pleases. The admirable forbearance of the divine reply must in itself prove the true inspiration of the Book. God breaks the adversary with a word of weakness –“Hast thou considered my servant Job?” The devil’s most grievous yoke, as it is ours in our fallen state, is that he cannot have his own way; in the most terrible heights of his rebellion, he makes the appalling (to him) discovery, that he only fulfils the divine will and purpose. “This”, said the Incarnate Son on His way to the Cross, “is your hour and the power of darkness”, yet in death, He laid death low; by dying, He raised fallen human nature back to the Throne of God. Peter was thus able to say on the day of Pentecost, “Him, being delivered (to death) by the eternal counsel and foreknowledge of God”; while the Church, facing the first onset of the hostility of this world, rapturously exclaims, “Of a truth, against Thy holy Child Jesus, have Herod, and Pontius Pilate and the rulers of the people, gathered together to do whatsoever thy hand and counsel determined before to be done”. (Acts 4) For there is ultimately, no wisdom, counsel or might against God. That worm which dieth not, is the gnawing pain of knowing that all we do in the fancied liberty of the selfish will is only against ourselves. This is also a law of our being.
Only in the voluntary yielding and submission of all we have and are, to God, do we realise true liberty and rest. We are not, and never can be, independent. Our existence does not depend on our own will; we came not forth by our own choosing, our daily bread, the health to win it and enjoy it, the opportunity to work for it, are not of our own. Life, health, opportunity may at any time be lost to us, outside our own choosing. We have no certain hold on life and its circumstances. How then can we think to act independently and prosperously outside of dependence on the divine mercy, wisdom and power? Herein lies the whole mystery of our bondage, disappointment, and misery. This assumed independency of existence, the Bible rightly calls ‘death’ – “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”; “You who were dead in trespasses and in sins”; “Since by man came death...” This sinful choice obstinately carried forth to all eternity, becomes in the language of Scripture, the Second death.
3.The Restoration of Man by Man.
There is a mysterious unity in the human race. We are all strangely united in the First Man, Adam. In the racial sense, the Bible only recognises the coming of Two Men; there is the First Man, and the Last (or Second) Man. The first man is of the earth, earthy (or mortal); the second is the uncreated Lord from Heaven, who, from His place in the Godhead, took unto Himself the human nature which He loved, and as Man appeared, to assume into Himself all the obligations, and with them all the sorrows and sins of the Race, yet remaining truly Himself, perfect and pure Man. The broken harmony and the lost life must be created anew. There must be a fresh beginning, a new creation, into which the old must enter, not now by a necessity outside of itself, but by its own voluntary choice, that all that was lost in the first, might be restored in the second -and more than restored; that the first and most glorious creation might have no glory by reason of that which far exceeds it in glory, as the day exceeds the night, and the spiritual excels the natural. Christ expresses it in the pregnant words, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; That which is born of the Spirit is Spirit; marvel not that I said unto you, Ye must be born again”. The Last Adam is a quickening Spirit.
This Second Man is the Son of God, the divine Image, the Second Person of the Trinity, wholly God and truly Man, in whom man can realise his true self and be restored to his lost harmony; in whom too man can attain to oneness with God. Who else could this Second Man be? He who was Himself the pattern and the agent of all creation, for whom all things were made, is the only one qualified to be the Restorer and Re-creator of all things. The Word is made flesh; the New Man lies in the Manger, on a lowly mother’s breast, is rejected by the world (as they had already rejected Him from the beginning in spirit); He stands at the world judgment seat, is cast out to die (because in Him is all the world’s shame and sin); He hangs on the cursed tree, cries aloud of being the Forsaken, dies to finish His task, is laid in that end of all the world’s hopes, the Tomb, and He, as Man, rises again, breaking the bands of sin and death; raises in Himself our fallen humanity to the very throne of God in unity and harmony with His divinity, and so fulfils in Himself the whole cycle of Creation and of Being. This is what is called the Atonement - or At-One-Ment; the great Reconciliation. As we are joined in the oneness of the Spirit to this New Man, we too, individual men, born again, realise in Him our true selves, and begin to fulfill at last the object of our being, in the harmony of love with the Eternal God.
How may this be? How may this harsh and burdensome yoke of self be removed? How may I escape from this treadmill of existence with its broken purposes, its unsatisfied yearnings, its pollutions and shames, its envies and hates, its delusive independence, its cruel selfishness? The Incarnate gives the answer in words the depth of which and the grace of which can never be fathomed – “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I WILL GIVE YOU REST”. It is not a command or fiat to do violence to our moral nature, but an invitation of Eternal Love and mercy. As we give even momentary heed thereto, there trembles into existence in our troubled heart, the germ of longing, and of desire. It expresses itself in the sudden awareness of our self-knowledge – “Truly it speaks of me, for I am weary and heavy laden, and have no true rest”. The call of Eternal Love, with its outstretched hands on which are discernible to all creation the marks of wounded humanity, sounds in our soul, and awakens our true and buried self to a life which throbs first with contrition, and then with the new intention of growing love - love for the Giver, and love for all who bear His image - or are capable of bearing His image. We learn of Him who is meek and lowly in heart, Who forswears independency; Who regards His being as not an end in itself; but a means of communicating blessing and glory and love to all (for so is humility). We take this yoke, His yoke, upon us in exchange for that which weighted us down, and find that this submission is not what we thought it to be - it is a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light, it is a bondage which makes us truly free, it is a self-surrender which places us in the largest realm of liberty; we breathe the air which God breathes - for if the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.
The yoke we thus receive, has a name - the greatest name in the universe-LOVE. That is its secret. It is at one and the same time, the heaviest, and yet the least burdensome of all yokes. In the words of the holy Bernard: “What can be lighter than a burden which takes our burdens away; and a yoke which bears up the bearer himself?” Or Thomas a Kempis: “Love never feels a burden, never thinks things tasks, willingly attempts what is above its strength, never argues that things are impossible; because all things seem to it possible and lawful to be undertaken.”
That is why the symbol of man’s redemption, and the key to the mystery of his being, must for ever be….a CROSS.