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Much is being written and said today about the stresses and strains of modern life. In many cases these are blamed as being the cause of failures and breakdowns within the Christian Church; and then the newest techniques of psychology are brought into play. But is it not possible that a more positive approach must be made to this very real problem? Is it quite inappropriate to ask, “Are there not resources in Christ more than sufficient to meet the situation?” May it not be that the root cause of the devastation attributed to these stresses and strains must be looked for in little knowledge of the Saviour, with a consequent lack of vital trust in Him? Faith is not a virtue. We do not place confidence in anyone because of any fine quality, which we possess. It is their qualities, which breed confidence in us. We trust because we know. This is not only true of human relationships, it is equally true of our dealings with God. In this connection there is a passage of Scripture, which has lately been very much in my mind. Here it is as rendered by J. B. Phillips: “Everything has been put in My hands by My Father, and nobody knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the man to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all of you who are weary and overburdened, and I will give you rest. Put on My yoke 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 v27-30).
The first verse brings to us the familiar picture of the reigning Christ invested with all authority and power. It is probable that if you were to make it the subject of a sermon someone would come to you and say, “That was a good message on the Lordship of Christ”. But if you were able to follow the same man into the ways of his everyday life, you would find him to be the victim of doubt, depression, and unbelief, living in a manner that quite fails to exalt the greatness of the Saviour before others. The fact that the Crucified is now enthroned to wield all authority and power is, however, one that affects our whole being in its deepest, neediest areas. We have neither authority, nor power, for any kind of Christian ministry or witness apart from Him. “All power”, He says to His chosen witnesses, “is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore . . .” (Matthew 28 v18-19). The very possession of eternal life is guaranteed only because His way to the throne was via the Cross. “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life . . .” (John 3 v35-36). Even at the Last Supper the knowledge of His soon coming destiny was before His eyes, “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God . . ." (John 13 v3), or again, “All things that the Father hath are Mine . . .” (John 16 v15). In His High Priestly prayer the same triumphant vein persists, “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son may also glorify Thee as Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him” (John 17 v1-2). It is this very point which the Spirit of God used on the day of Pentecost to deal with those, who heard Peter’s witness, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2 v36).
The Christian life is founded deep on this great fact, that the Crucified Saviour is indeed alive, King of kings and Lord of lords. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5 v1). Professor G. G. Findlay says about this verse, “If Jesus Christ be in point of fact what His apostles said, if the infinite God has in Him stooped to our flesh and lodged Himself there for our salvation, then the grace of God and the nearness of God to men are brought home to us indeed. Let me grasp for myself the fact that “God so loved the world”, that the man who lived the life of Jesus and died the atoning death upon the Cross, is one with the Almighty and in His own and only begotten Son, the effect upon my nature is instantaneous and immense; life and the world are changed to me The second aim of this teaching is to make clear that God has in very deed made a provision in Christ, the Almighty Saviour from sin, and in the Holy Spirit dwelling in us to make Christ with His saving power every moment real within us, by which the life of victory and rest and fellowship can be maintained. It is only as we see in God’s Word this life prepared for us, that we can have the courage to hope for it. Then comes the third point, that the transition from the old life of stumbling and oft interrupted fellowship can be by one step, and in one moment. And that only, but most certainly, because it is nothing but a new act of faith in Christ, trusting Him to work in us what we have failed to do ourselves.”
The first step then, “Come unto Me”; the second, “Take My yoke upon you”. Both are necessary if we are to learn from Him, and manifest before others the glory of His provision, the beauty of His rest. What a difference there is between His yoke, and that imposed by the law! The law imposes its yoke upon fallen human nature, and Peter says of it, that it is a yoke “which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15 v10). It is called “the yoke of bondage” in Galatians 5 v1. But His yoke in verse 30 is described as “easy, useful, profitable, agreeable, gentle, gracious”. We only discover its real nature, as here revealed, when from a full heart we accept that yoke without reservation. The word ‘yoke’ was used commonly amongst the Jews in connection with the idea of instruction, so that the transition from the call to take His yoke, and that to learn from Him, is a perfectly natural one. It is not always realised how important this teaching direct from God Himself is in the Christian life. The Expositor’s Greek Testament explains, “The kind of people Jesus expects to become ‘disciples indeed’ are men who have sought long, earnestly, but in vain for the ‘summum bonum’, the Knowledge of God. There is no burden so heavy as that of truth sought and not found. Scholars of the Rabbis, like Saul of Tarsus, beneath Christ’s yoke alone can give the remainder. Let your religion call Christ Master as well as Saviour, obey as well as trust. What countless multitudes have come to Christ and found rest. Why should not we?" Why indeed? The reason so often is that at bottom we are afraid to ‘venture all on Him’. Our lack of true rest is often the measure of our reservations. We would welcome rest, but on our own terms. The summons of the Saviour is, however, “Take My yoke upon you” and to aspire to rest of heart without placing our necks under His yoke is self-will in a form that destroys peace, and effectively robs us of rest. Rev. William Haslam, who God greatly used in Cornwall, and in other areas of England some hundred years back, once wrote, “Trusting God is not resting in feelings, or relying with mental firmness upon His promises, but a putting of self into and upon Him, in obedience to His invitation. When I lie down in my bed my muscles are relaxed; they are resting from all effort, there is no holding on for safety. I simply let myself lie, and the specific gravity of my body keeps me in my place. In like manner my helplessness in my work was the weight which I rested in God. Trusting Him in this way, I found that He opened out His own work to my hand, and provided helpers one after another as they were needed, sometimes even before I knew that they were needed”.
“Take My yoke upon you” - “a putting of self into, and upon Him.” Here we have described a summons and the obedient response to it. I suppose that today we should use the term surrender here. And that is certainly the meaning of this call. Before I can learn the wonder of His working, the demand for absolute submission must be acceded to with all my heart. In the preface to his book ‘Absolute Surrender’, Dr. Andrew Murray points out, “Nothing does more harm in the Church of Christ than the secret thought that obedience is impossible. Until believers see the error of this, and begin to look upon their life of continual failure as something sinful and unallowable, no preaching will profit much. The first lesson must be, that a walk after the flesh, that a life continually yielding to self-will, is contrary to what God absolutely requires and actually bestows. from that hour. This faith becomes, in those who truly have it, a spring of moral energy such as rises from no other source, a fountain of hope and resolution which nothing can overpower; its source is “the bosom of the Father” (John 1 v18). To have such inward life is, in St. John’s sense, to be “begotten of God”, it is to become a child of God through faith in His Son’s name”. That is a good phrase, “a fountain of hope and resolution which nothing can overpower”. Here is the key to all healthy Christian living, and the source of service without strain. All power is His; and the apostle teaches us the practical, balanced outworking in two great passages. “So let no one boast of men. Everything belongs to you. Paul, Apollos or Cephas; the world, life, death, the present or the future, everything is yours! For you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God! (1 Corinthians 3 v21-23, J. B. Phillips). And again, “I have become absolutely convinced that neither Death nor Life, neither messenger of heaven, nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 8 v38-39). What final power can stresses and strains, whether from outside or within, have when seen in the light of the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord so freely lavished upon those, who will trust Him?
The Royal Invitation.
Now we are ready to pass on to the amazing invitation, and a royal invitation is a command. “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Note the word ‘Give’. So many of us waste years turning within, and seeking to make our own adjustments in our own way to God’s truth; adjustments which will, we hope, bring us to a place of rest. He gives freely, and we may take humbly and with thanksgiving. I do not think that I can do better than quote Richard Glover’s comment, “Without Him every soul labours and is heavy laden. The double phrase refers to the bigness of the loads of life, and the littleness of our strength to carry them. We are laden with duties, regrets, fears, evil tendencies, temptations, sorrows, cares, darkness; and we have small souls which labour, that is, are strained by carrying these loads. All want rest, above all other things, and none can find or give it; but Christ can give to every soul rest. How strange the assumption of this text. He is meek and lowly, and yet He feels within Himself a power to give to the weakest soul with the heaviest load that strong peace which He calls ‘Rest’. Facing the burdens of all mankind, He is not dismayed. He gives true rest, not the rest of letting us off our duty, but the rest of a great duty, borne by a great strength given”. “The other day at Cromer”, wrote D. E. Hoste, “I was sitting with a friend at one of the C.S.S.M. services, and the friend who was preaching had a picture of a whole lot of things supposed to be between an individual and the Saviour, Christ. One of them was ‘I’, and my friend said to me, “Yes, it is ‘I’, but it is not the sort of ‘I’ with all my weaknesses. It is the ‘I’ with self-effort. It is this good ‘I’ that says, I have to supplement Christ a little. I have to be perhaps trusting in my praying, or my Bible reading, or my resolutions, or something of that kind; as though the fruit, the life, the power come partly from us. But it does not. The fact of the matter is that our own apprehension of the Gospel is so imperfect. We want a more simple, direct apprehension and acceptance of the Gospel of the grace of God, not only in respect of the guilt of sin, Christ bearing our sins in His own body on the tree, but of the simple fact that He of God is made unto us all we need”.
It would seem that there are three things which can keep us from responding to this gracious invitation. The first is self-confidence. This dies hard; and quaintly enough is sometimes as strong, if not stronger, with weak, rather obstinate people. They know they fail, but are just too proud to give in. Peter had to learn the futility of self-confidence through failure; and most of us have to be taught the same lesson in the same way before we answer His call without reservation. The second is allied to this, and is unwillingness to lose control of our lives. I was recently asked by a girl the point blank question, “Do you mean to tell me that I have to become God’s puppet?” The answer is, of course, No. Not His puppet, His love-slave. Never forget Who it is Who extends this gracious invitation. It is the One, Who loves us so dearly that He willingly endured the Cross to win us to Himself. The struggles of disobedience cause the greatest imaginable strain, and are often the cause of unendurable stress, which leads to breakdown To accept His call means unconditional surrender. This again leads us to another hindrance, Sheer unbelief. How common this is amongst even the most earnest folk! It seems that we cannot accept His naked Word. We turn to everything and everyone but Him, when if we read our Gospels we can see that there never was a case of direct appeal to Him alone that failed to meet with immediate and effective response. Ter Steegen said of his own experience, “I sought the truth, and found but doubt; I wandered far abroad. I hail the truth already found within the heart of God.
“For we which have believed do enter into rest” (Hebrews 4 v3). Can we not set aside our burden of introspection, and the analysing of our condition, and humbly confessing our need, respond with thanksgiving to the invitation to find our all in Him? How safe this is, and there is just nothing else to do.
The Daily Walk.
So much then for the initial coming! Now for the daily walk! “Take My yoke upon you”, the Saviour’s call continues, “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”. To return to Richard Glover. He says, “He gives a strange rest; for His yoke gives, and His burden imparts it. Many find unrest by shirking duty, who would find rest by facing it. The meek and lowly find it. The meekness learned of Him does not murmur and does not shrink. The shelter of Christ’s Cross gives one half of rest, but our service knew it well. In coming thence to Christ’s School they would find rest by passing from letter to spirit, from form to reality, from hearsay to certainty, from traditions of the past to the present voice of God”. Much of our unrest, and sense of strain, and foolish use of nervous energy, stem from our turning to ways and means, to our knowledge and ability, instead of to Him. This is a dangerous form of pride. I once heard a worried minister say, “I don’t think that I should ever be tempted to leave the evangelical position”. If he was mistaking ‘a position’ for God’s giving of all to us in Christ Jesus, he had reason to be worried. Our Instructor, and I have deliberately used a practical word, is the Saviour Himself, Who, because He is ‘meek and lowly in heart’, is able to lead and teach all who have been broken from selfhood, and humbled in pride, and have therefore become avid learners, and disciples of the One, Only, Teacher in heavenly things.
The outcome of lessons well learned is, “and ye shall find rest unto your souls”. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges points out that this thought should be compared with Jeremiah 6 v16. “Thus saith the Lord, ‘Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, we will not walk therein’.” The call, and the promise are the same. The old paths of complete reliance upon the Lord Himself, and the avoidance of every form of idolatry, led to “the green pastures”, and “beside the waters of rest” (Psalm 23 v2). But to Israel the call came in vain. In your case and mine there can only be one final reason for remaining in a condition of mental frustration, and burdened care, and that is refusal to listen. You may feel that that statement is too harsh; but it is in harmony with the broad principles of Scripture. Look at this verse, “For thus saith the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength; and ye would not’” (Isaiah 30 v15). Listen also to the cry of the Eternal Lover: “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not” (Matthew 23 v37). The battle is so often on the will; and it is clean contrary to all ordinary human standards to accept the fact that we are indeed “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3 v17); and therefore to throw open all the inner avenues of our life to the King, Who waits for our capitulation before He takes over, but died in order that He may lead us into the way of rest.
Writing to a friend, William Romaine once opened his heart in these terms, “God has humbled me, and has made me feel more of my own poverty and has thereby led me to live more upon Christ’s everlasting treasury. You do not suspect me of boasting. No. I would glorify the Word and work of the Almighty. A beggar would not be reckoned proud for saying, ‘When I was just starving, I met a charitable person, who not only fed me, but feasted me: and then most generously provided for me all the rest of my days’. Should not such a one acknowledge his benefactor, and bless him? So do I. Thanks be to Him Who realised to me His Word, Who opened my eyes to see wondrous things out of His law, Who often made me to look up and say, ‘O how sweet are Thy words unto my taste; yea, sweeter than honey unto my mouth. Blessed be God for His good Word: it is really manna; it is angels’ food; it comes from Heaven, it tastes of Heaven”. Do you notice William Romaine’s love for and reliance upon the Word of God? Is it not a cause of great confusion today, that we are so rarely taught in the Word by the Great Teacher Himself? We read books about the Bible, but not the Bible itself. We go the round of the opinions of human teachers, and bypass Him. We listen to sermons much as we would to lectures on some secular subject in which we were interested, and fail to hear His voice. There can be no rest along this road. Bishop Ryle in one of his little books of ‘Home Truths’ pleads as follows, “As ever you would grow in grace, and have joy and peace in believing, . . . Cease to regard the Gospel as a mere collection of dry doctrines. Look at it rather as the revelation of a mighty loving Being in Whose sight you are daily to live. Cease to regard it as a mere set of abstract propositions and abstruse principles and rules. Look at it as the introduction to a glorious personal Friend. This is the kind of Gospel that the apostles preached. They did not go about the world telling men of love and mercy and pardon in the abstract. The leading subject of all their sermons, was the loving heart of an actual living Christ . . . There is all the difference in the world, between an idea and a person”.
The invitation and call of our verses is the voice of the Saviour, Who died for our sins, and is alive for evermore. When, dealing as it is our privilege to do direct with Him, we respond to His call, our inner problems that make us so susceptible to strains and stresses will be solved, and we shall go forward with a lightened step, and a joyful heart, proving from day to day that His yoke is indeed easy, and His burden light. Turn over the pages of Matthew’s Gospel, and you will find the Saviour’s own estimate of those, who teach only ‘religion’. I am giving this in J. B. Phillips’ vigorous rendering, “They pile up backbreaking burdens and lay them on other men’s shoulders . . .”' (Matthew 23 v4). How difficult we seem to like to make things. I wonder how many different theories of sanctification there are, and how many earnest people are trying desperately to fit themselves into one or other of them? Men are being crushed under condemnation in the process. And yet Ter Steegen knew the answer in its glorious simplicity. He wrote, “Where is the school for each and all, where men become as children small, and little ones are great? Where love is all thy task and rule, the fee our all, and all at school, small, poor, of low estate? Where to unlearn all things I learn, from Self and from all others turn, One Master hear and see? I learn and do one thing alone, and wholly give myself to One Who gives Himself to me.”
Do not our hearts cry out, “Teach me to do thy will; for Thou art my God . . .” (Psalm 143 v10)? And if they do, will He not certainly open to us the gates of rest?