How do we find rest in a troubled world? Can we find rest by our own endeavour? Can we only find rest when we have fulfilled all our dreams and aspirations?
In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus offers to give us rest and teaches us how to find it: “28 Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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”.
The word weary expresses effort and toil, the other a burden and endurance. The one speaks of the active, the other of the passive, side of human misery and evil. Toil is work which is distasteful in itself, or which is beyond our faculties. Such toil, sometime or other, more or less, sooner or later, is the lot of every man. All work becomes labour, and all labour, sometime or other, becomes toil. The text is, first of all, and in its most simple and surface meaning, an invitation to all the men who know how ceaseless, how wearying, how empty the effort and energy of life is, to come to this Master and rest.
But that is only surface. The twofold designation here before us goes a great deal deeper than that. It points to two relationships to God and to God’s law of righteousness. Men labour with vague and yet with noble effort, sometimes, to do the thing that is right, and after all efforts there is left a burden of conscious defect. In the purest and the highest lives there come both of these things. And Jesus Christ, in this merciful invitation of His, speaks to all the men that have tried, and tried in vain, to satisfy their consciences and to obey the law of God, and says to them, ‘Cease your efforts, and no longer carry that burden of failure and of sin upon your shoulders. Come to Me, and I will give you rest.’
We know that, whether we like to think about it or not, we have broken God’s law, and are sinners. We carry a burden on our back whether we realise the fact or not, a burden that clogs all our efforts, and that will sink us deeper into the darkness and the mire. ‘Come to Me, all you who are weary,’ and with noble, but, at bottom, vain, efforts have striven after right and truth. ‘Come to Me all you that are burdened,’ and bear, sometimes forgetting it, but often reminded of its pressure by galled shoulders and wearied limbs, the burden of sin on our bent backs.
‘Come to Me … Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me.’ These two things are not the same. ‘Coming to Me,’ as is quite plain to the most superficial observation, is the first step in the approach to a companionship, which companionship is afterwards perfected and kept up by obedience and imitation. The ‘coming’ is an initial act which makes a man Christ’s companion. And the ‘Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me,’ is the continuous act by which that companionship is manifested and preserved. So that in these words, which come so familiarly to most of our memories that they have almost ceased to present a sharp meaning, there is not only a merciful summons to the initial act, but a description of the continual life of which that act is the introduction.
And now, to put that into simpler words, when Jesus Christ says ‘Come to Me,’ He Himself has taught us what is His inmost meaning in that invitation, by another word of His: ‘He that comes to Me shall never hunger, and he that believes in Me shall never thirst’; where the parallelism of the clauses teaches us that to come to Christ is simply to put our trust in Him. There is in faith a true movement of the whole soul towards the Master. I think this metaphor teaches us a great deal more about faith than many a book of theology does. To ‘come to Him’ implies, distinctly, that He, and no mere theological dogma, however precious and clear, is the Object on which faith rests.
And, therefore, if Christ, and not merely a doctrinal truth about Christ, be the Object of our faith, then it is very clear that faith, which grasps a Person, must be something more than the mere act of the understanding which assents to a truth. And what more is it? How is it possible for one person to lay hold of and to come to another? By trust and love, and by these alone. These be the bonds that bind men together. Mere intellectual consent may be sufficient to fasten a man to a dogma, but there must be will and heart at work to bind a man to a person; and if it be Christ and not a theology, to which we come by our faith, then it must be with something more than our brains that we grasp Him and draw near to Him. That is to say, our will is engaged in our confidence. Trust Him as we trust one another, only with the difference befitting a trust directed to an absolute and perfect object of trust, and not to a poor, variable human heart. Then, just as husband and wife, parent and child, friend and friend, pass through all intervening hindrances and come together when they trust and love, so we come closer to Christ as the very soul of our soul by an inward real union, than we do even to our dear ones, if we grapple Him to our hearts with the hoops of steel, which, by simple trust in Him, the Divine Redeemer forges for us. ‘Come to Me,’ being translated out of metaphor into fact, is simply ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.’
And still further, we have here, not only the initial act by which companionship and union with Jesus Christ is brought about, but the continual course by which it is kept up, and by which it is manifested. The faith which saves a man’s soul is not all which is required for a Christian life. ‘Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me.’ The yoke is that which, laid on the broad forehead or the thick neck of the ox, has attached to it the cords which are bound to the burden that the animal draws. The burden, then, which Christ gives to His servants to pull, is a metaphor for the specific duties which He enjoins upon them to perform; and the yoke by which they are fastened to their burdens, ‘obliged’ to their duties, is His authority. So to ‘take His yoke’ upon us is to submit our wills to His authority. Therefore this further call is addressed to all those who have come to Him, feeling their weakness and their need and their sinfulness, and have found in Him a Saviour who has made them restful and glad; and it bids them live in the deepest submission of will to Him, in joyful obedience, in constant service; and, above all, in the daily imitation of the Master.
We must put both these commandments together before we get Christ’s will for His children completely expressed. The people who say that Christ’s call to the world is ‘Come to Me,’ and whose Christianity and whose Gospel is only a proclamation of indulgence and pardon for past sin, have laid hold of half of the truth. The people who say that Christ’s call is ‘Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me,’ and that Christianity is a proclamation of the duty of pure living after the pattern of Jesus Christ our great Example, have laid hold of the other half of the truth. Many Christians do not understand that Jesus Christ has a twofold summons to His servants; and that it is of no avail once, long ago, to have come, or to think that we have come, to Him to get pardon, unless day by day we are keeping beside Him, doing His commandments, and copying His sweet and blessed example.
Dear brothers, there is rest in coming to Christ; the rest of a quiet conscience which gnaws no more; the rest of a conscious friendship and union with God, in whom alone are our soul’s home, harbour, and repose; the rest of fears dispelled; the rest of forgiveness received into the heart. Do you want that? Go to Christ, and as soon as you go to Him you will get that rest.
But, brothers, that is not enough, and, blessed be God! that is not all. There is a further, deeper rest in obedience, and emphatically and most blessedly there is a rest in Christ-likeness. ‘Take My yoke upon you.’ There is repose in saying ‘You are my Master, and to You I bow.’ We are delivered from the unrest of self-will, from the unrest of contending desires, we get rid of the weight of too much liberty. There is peace in submission; peace in abdicating the control of our own being; peace in surrender and in taking His yoke upon us.
And most especially the path of rest for men is in treading in Christ’s footsteps. ‘Learn from Me,’ it is the secret of tranquillity. We have done with passionate hot desires, — and it is these that breed all the disquiet in our lives — when we take the meekness and the lowliness of the Master for our pattern. The river will no longer roll, broken by many a boulder, and chafed into foam over many a fall, but will flow with even foot, and broad, smooth bosom, to the parent sea. There is quietness in self-sacrifice, there is tranquillity in ceasing from mine own works and growing like the Master.
I believe St. Augustine must have experienced the rest Christ offers when he says: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” (St. Augustine’s Confessions).
Brothers, ‘the wicked is like the troubled sea that cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.’ But if we come to Christ, and if we cleave to Christ, may be like that ‘sea of glass, mingled with fire,’ that lies pure, transparent, calm before the Throne of God, over which no tempests rave, and which, in its deepest depths, mirrors the majesty of ‘Him that sits upon the Throne, and of the Lamb.’
Let us praise God with the song “Come to Me”: