Come, Take, Learn
C. Gahan, Ilminster
‘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’. Matt. 11. 28-30.
Verse 28 of this chapter is one of the most oft-repeated verses of the New Testament; yet, is it not a remarkable thing that so much attention should be given to this verse, and such little attention to verses 29 and 30? These verses are connected; they fill up and supplement one another; they are essential parts of one whole and if one of them is missing the others are incomplete. True exposition requires that we view them as comprehending the whole of our salvation. Our salvation involves a threefold responsibility, and that responsibility is here set before us in three words, ‘Come’, ‘Take’, ‘Learn’.
In the words of verse 28, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’. This is the first thing; first we come to the Lord Jesus for salvation, the only condition being that we ‘labour’ and are ‘heavy laden’; that we are conscious of a burden too heavy to be borne, a burden from which we would fain be free. Our Lord does not here define what the burden is, for many were the burdens He saw men bearing. Here we shall confine ourselves to three of these burdens.
The first is, the burden of sin. This is the burden which produces the greatest human weariness, and it was this terrible burden which excited most of our Lord’s pity and compassion. Whatever we may think of sin, it is a fact in every human life. Deep down in the hearts of all men everywhere there is a sense of guilt and a personal consciousness of being wrong. They may seek to stifle it, but the sense of guilt and the burden of sin remain. To all such our Lord says, ‘Come unto me . . . and I will give you rest’. But how can He do this? He can do this because He has borne the burden for them; at ‘the place called Calvary’ He took that burden of sin and guilt and bore it away on the shoulders of His atonement. In the words of Isaiah: ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all’, Isa. 53. 6. Sin has separated between us and God thus producing discord and unrest, and the Lord Jesus gives us rest by restoring us to fellowship with God. He has in Himself all that we need. We have no need to ‘labour’ by our good works and the ‘deeds of the law’ for peace and rest. He has done all the labouring for our salvation. It is our privilege to accept what He so freely offers, for ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’, 1 John 1. 9. Then it is that we have salvation; the burden of sin is removed and we have peace with God.
A second burden requires our attention here, the burden of religious ceremonial. Everywhere our Lord went He found men and women bowed down with endless, meaningless ceremonial. Jewish ritual had become a great, heavy burden, a burden of which the apostle Peter said, ‘Neither our fathers nor we were able to bear’, Acts 15. 10. The religion of mere ritualism and formalism had become a burden of which they were utterly weary. To them our Lord came and in effect He was saying: ‘You are burdened with this endless round of religious ceremonial; come unto me and I will give you what ritual can never give you, I will give you rest’. In other words they were to leave the shadows and come to Him the glorious Substance. He was the essence of which Jewish ritual and ceremonial was but the sign and symbol. How many today are making the same mistake! They are seeking rest in a constant round of religious observances, seeking it where it was never intended to be found. The Gospel of the grace of God was meant to be a source of blessedness and deliverance, not a dull round of carnal ordinances’, Heb. 9. 10. Ritual and ceremonial darken the Gospel and rob it of its simplicity, loveliness and power. The ceremonial law was ‘our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ’, Gal. 3. 24, and with His coming it is for ever done away. What folly, to cling to shadows and reject the substance; to be occupied with the carnal , ordinances of ritualism, when the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is here!
He has abolished ‘the law of commandments contained in ordinances’, Eph. 2. 15, and now peace and rest are to be found in Him alone.
Briefly, one other burden should be noted here, the burden we carry in the wrong way. Not one of us is exempt from burden bearing. The burden of sorrow, the burden of suffering, the burden of anxiety - such burdens are common to us all, but we can make them heavier by bearing them the wrong way. All too often we do this, instead of taking our burden to the Lord; instead of casting our care upon Him, we lament, we murmur and repine. But when we cast our burden on the Lord we find peace and rest in readjustment of the burden. Thus we come to Him not only for salvation and rest, but for strength and guidance in all the difficulties and conflicts of our daily fife. This is the first part of our salvation:
‘I came to Jesus as I was Weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting place, And He has made me glad’.
This brings us to the second part of our salvation; our Lord not only said ‘come unto me’, He also said, ‘Take my yoke upon you’. Thus He has a yoke for our necks as well as a crown for our heads. There is no such thing as a yokeless life, and the yoke most becoming to us is the yoke of Christ. Here He is virtually saying, ‘You have a hard, heavy, ill-fitting yoke, shake it off and take mine, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’. This is, of course, the point of these verses; our Lord is here contrasting His yoke with that other yoke, the yoke which causes men and women to be weary and heavy laden. The Christian life, therefore, is intended to be a yoked life. What is this yoke? It is a yoke of restraint. Before the ox or the horse can be of service to man it must be yoked to harness; its liberty must be restrained and its movements guided. This is no less true of the Christian. If we are to be of any use to our Lord we must be yoked to His harness; our freedom must be circumscribed and our activities controlled. The horse must have no will but the will of its master, and we who are the bondslaves of Jesus Christ must have no will but His. This is a fundamental principle of discipleship; indeed, it is a fundamental principle of the universe. The vast potentialities of earth, air and sea can be of little value to us until they are yoked to our purpose. Likewise, we can be of little use to our Lord if we are not yoked to ‘the good pleasure of his will’, Eph. 1.5. Our potentialities will never be realized if He cannot do with us what He would. From which it follows, the yoke of Christ is also a yoke of obedience. The moment we accept it we must bend our necks to His authority. Our Lord Himself exemplified this; the whole course of His earthly life was one of perfect obedience, the obedience of the perfect servant of God. Will He be satisfied with anything less from us? Will He not measure our sincerity not by the measure of our success but by the measure of our obedience? What we are as Christians will depend on His presence with us, but how can we expect His presence with us if we are not doing His will! The truest service we can render Him is that of simple, unquestioning, childlike obedience. We must beware of treading any self-chosen path; we must have no plan but His. In other words, the yoke of Christ is a yoke of service, a yoke of loving, intelligent, disciplined, obedient service. A yoke implies work, it is proportioned and intended for service. Is not this a reminder that Christians are very necessary to the Lord Jesus Christ? Without them He would be without any visible witnesses here on earth, and without any audible exponents of His truth. For this purpose the Holy Spirit has joined us to Him in active, living fellowship. What a dignity it is and what a privilege to be among those who ‘serve the Lord Christ’, Col. 3. 24. Such is the yoke of Christ; and for our encouragement He says, ‘For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’. It is the yoke of sin which is so troublesome, it is the crooked man-made yokes that give us twisted necks and aching hearts. The yoke of Christ is not the yoke of a tyrant, it is the yoke of a kind, loving, sympathetic, understanding Master.
Thus we come to the third part of our salvation. In the first part we receive the rest He promises; in the second part we take the yoke He imposes; in the third we are to learn the lesson He teaches. We are not only labourers in the field of Christian service, we are learners in the school of grace. Now a particular lesson is emphasized here, our Lord says, ‘Learn of me’. Some understand this to mean that we are to learn of Him, of Him as our example. There is certainly more than a hint of this here. In His love, in His kindness, in His gentleness, in His meekness, in His humility, in His compassion for the lost and fallen, in His forbearance with sinful men, in His devotion to His Father’s will, in His patience in suffering, in all these things the Lord Jesus is an example for our imitation. We must love the things He loved, we must hate the things He hated, we must mind the things He minded, we must value the things He valued. In all our ways we are to emulate and exemplify Him. Others, however, because the word ‘of’ here is somewhat ambiguous, represent our Lord as saying, ‘Learn from me’. That is to say, we are to learn from Him, from Him as our teacher. The world has its teachers, but in His divine realm He is the only authentic teacher, the only infallible teacher, the only teacher who can say, ‘the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life’, John 6. 63. Other teachers may have some wisdom and knowledge, but in Him ‘are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’, Col. 2. 3. In Him are the deep and secret things of God and He alone can bridge the gulf between that which is known and that which is unknown. In Him is gathered up the sum of all truth both human and divine. This involves for the Christian absolute and unquestioning subjection to His teaching. Not only our hearts but our minds must be subject to the overruling mind of Christ.
But having said this we have not said all; the lesson we have to learn involves a whole Christ and not merely something of Him and from Him. We are accustomed to learning ‘things’ but in the school of grace we have to learn a ‘Person’. The Scriptures not only speak of preaching Christ, they speak of learning Christ, Eph. 4. 20. Our Lord Himself, therefore, is the lesson we have to learn and not merely some of His graces, attributes and offices. This lesson is an important lesson. It is the chief lesson the Christian has to learn. To learn the Lord Jesus Christ is to learn everything. In God’s school all other lessons are comprehended in this one. This lesson is a Spirit-taught lesson. Speaking of the Holy Spirit our Lord says: ‘He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you’, John 16. 14. The Holy Spirit shews us the essential deity of Christ; He shews us the glorious offices of Christ; He shews us the great and precious promises of Christ; He shews us the deep, deep love of Christ; He shews us the altogether loveliness of Christ; He shews us the atoning work of Christ. The Holy Spirit glories in the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is never so happy as when He is shewing the Lord Jesus to the Lord’s people. This lesson is an inexhaustible lesson. We may learn other lessons and make ourselves master of them but it is not so with this lesson. The more we learn of the Lord Jesus, the more we discover we have yet to learn. Here is a deep that knows no sounding. This lesson is a humbling lesson. Learning the Lord Jesus Christ will take the ego out of us. Here is a lesson in true humility. To learn the Lord Jesus Christ is to become like Him, meek and lowly in heart. This lesson is an intensely practical lesson. Herein lies its true value to the Christian. In Ephesians 4 the apostle paints a dreadful picture of heathen Gentiles. They were guilty of lying, of theft, of drunkenness, of corrupt practises and all the vices of heathenism, ‘But’, says the apostle, ‘ye have not so learned Christ’. They had learned the Lord Jesus Christ and now they were under solemn obligation no longer to live as the Gentiles do. The way of the Gentiles was a constant offence to God, but they had been brought into a new and better way, a way characterized by holiness and heavenly-mindedness.
Such are the three parts of our salvation. All three parts hang together, all are necessary to make the complete Christian, all are essential if we are to reach the fulness of Christian faith, hope and love.