"Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden—and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart—and you shall find rest unto your souls." Matthew 11:28-29
It has been pointed out in the preceding remarks upon this passage, that the Lord Jesus began by uttering a gracious invitation which is accompanied by a precious promise, and then He proceeded to make known the conditions on which that promise is made good. To those whose consciences are weighted down by a felt and intolerable burden of guilt, and are anxious for relief, He says, "Come unto Me—and I will give you rest." He and He alone is the Giver of spiritual and saving rest. But His rest can only be obtained as we meet His requirements: these are that we take His "yoke " upon us, and that we "learn" of Him. It was shown that this taking of Christ's yoke upon us, consists of surrendering our wills to Him, submitting unto His authority, and consenting to be ruled by Him. We will now consider at more length, what it means to "learn" of Him.
"Learn of Me." Christ is the antitypical Prophet, to whom all the Old Testament Prophets pointed, for He alone was personally qualified to fully make known the will of God, "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways—but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son" (Hebrews 1:1, 2). Christ is the grand Teacher of His Church, all others being subordinate to and appointed by Him: "He gave some Apostles, and some Prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers—for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11, 12). Christ is the chief Shepherd and Feeder of His flock, His under-shepherds learning of and receiving from Him. Christ is the personal Word in whom and through whom the Divine perfections are most illustriously displayed: "No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son—the One who is at the Father's side—He has revealed Him" (John 1:18). Thus it is to Christ we must come in order to be instructed in the Heavenly doctrine—and be built up in our most holy faith.
"Learn of Me." Christ is not only the final Spokesman of God, the One by whom the Divine will is fully uttered—but He is also the grand Exemplar set before His people. Christ did more than proclaim the Truth—He was Himself the living embodiment of it. He did more than utter the will of God—He was the personal exemplification of it. The Divine requirements were perfectly set forth in the very character and conduct of the Lord Jesus. And therein He differed radically, essentially, from all who went before Him—and all who come after Him. In the lives of the Old Testament Prophets, and in the New Testament Apostles—we behold broken and scattered rays of light—but they were merely reflections and refractions of the Light—Christ is in His own blessed and peerless Person, "the Sun of righteousness." Therefore is He fully qualified to say, "learn of Me." Not only was there no error whatever in His teaching—but there was not the slightest blemish in His character—or flaw in His conduct. Thus, the very life that He lived presents to us a perfect standard of holiness—a perfect pattern for us to follow.
When His enemies asked Him, "Who are You?" He answered, "I am altogether that which I spoke unto you" (John 8:25). In replying to their interrogation, the incarnate Son of God affirmed that He was essentially and absolutely that which He declared Himself to be. I have spoken of "light": I am that Light. I have spoken of "Truth": I am that Truth—the very incarnation, personification and exemplification thereof. Wondrous declaration was that! None but He could really say I am Myself that of which I am speaking to you. The child of God may speak the Truth and walk in the Truth—but He is not the Truth itself—Christ is! A Christian may let his light "shine," but he is not the light itself. Christ is, and therein we perceive His exalted uniqueness. "We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us all understanding, that we may know Him who is true" (1 John 5:20). That is, not "Him who taught the truth," but "Him who is true."
Now it is just because the Lord Jesus could make this claim, "I am altogether that which I spoke unto you" —I am the living embodiment, the personal exemplification of all which I teach—that he is a perfect Pattern for us to follow—that He can say "Learn of Me." "He has left us an example, that we should follow his steps" (1 Peter 2:21). As we bear His name (being called Christians) it is fit that we should imitate His holiness. "Be followers of me (said the Apostle), as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). The best of men—are but men at the best. They all have their errors and defects, which they freely acknowledge, and therefore, wherein they differ from Christ—it is our duty to differ from them. No mere man, however wise or holy he may be—is a perfect rule for other men. The standard of perfection is found in Christ alone. He alone, is the rule of every Christian's way and walk. "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me" (Phil. 3:12). Though we fall far short of reaching such a standard in this life—yet nothing short thereof must be our aim!
"He who says he abides in Him—ought himself also so to walk even as He walked" (1 John 2:6). Many reasons might be given in proof of that "ought." It is utterly vain for any man to profess he is a Christian—unless he furnishes evidence that it is both his desire and endeavor to follow the example which Christ has left His people. As one of the Puritans put it, "let him either put on the life of Christ—or put off the name of Christ; let him show the hand of a Christian in works of holiness and obedience—or else the tongue and language of a Christian must gain no belief or credit." God has predestined His people "to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29). That is, a work which is begun here on earth, and perfected after death. But that work is not consummated in Heaven—unless it is commenced on earth. "We may as well hope to be saved without Christ—as to be saved without conformity to Christ" (J. Flavel).
This experimental and practical conformity between God's Son and His sons—is rendered indispensably necessary by their relation in grace: this relation is that which exists between body and head. Believers are made members of a living organism of which Christ is the Head. Of the members we read, "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body, whether we are Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13). Of Christ we are told, "and God gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (Eph. 1:22, 23). The two together— members and Head—form Christ-mystical. Now as Christ, the Head, is pure and holy, so also must be the members.
An animal with a human head would be a monstrosity. For the sensual and godless to claim oneness to Christ—is to misrepresent Him before the world, as though His mystical Body were like unto the image of Nebuchadnezzar, with the head of fine gold and the feet of iron and clay (Dan. 2:32-33, etc.).
This resemblance and conformity to Christ appears necessary from the communion which all believers have with Him in the same Spirit of grace and holiness. Not only is Christ the "Firstborn among many brethren," but it is also said of Him that God anointed Him, "with the oil of gladness above Your fellows" (Psalm 45:7). That "oil of gladness" is an emblem of the Holy Spirit, and God gives the same unto each of the "fellows" or partners which He more abundantly communicated to Christ. Now where the same Spirit and principle are, there the same fruits and works must be produced, according to the proportions and measures of the Spirit of grace bestowed. This is the very design for which the Holy Spirit is given to believers, as it is written, "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord—are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
To name but one other reason—the very honor of Christ demands the conformity of Christians to His example. In what other way can they close the mouths of those who despise and reject their Master, and vindicate His blessed name from the vile reproaches of the world? How can Wisdom be justified by her children—but by regulating our lives by His example? The wicked will not read the inspired record of His life in the Scriptures, and therefore is there all the more need that they should have His excellencies set before them in the lives of His people. The world has eyes to see what we practice—as well as ears to hear what we profess. Unless we manifest consistency between our profession and practice—we cannot glorify Christ before a world which has cast Him out.
Let us next point out—that there must be an inward conformity to Christ—before there can be any external resemblance. There must be an experimental oneness with Christ—before there can be a practical likeness to Him. How can I possibly be conformed to Him in external acts of obedience, unless there is a conformity to Him in those springs from which such actions proceed? We must live in the Spirit—before we can walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25). "Let this mind be in you," says the Apostle, "which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5), for it is the mind which should regulate all our other faculties, and therefore are we told, "for to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace" (Romans 8:6). And what was "the mind which was in Christ Jesus?" The verses that follow tell us: it was that of self-abnegation and devotedness unto the Father. That we must begin with inward conformity to Christ is evident from our text, for after saying "learn of Me," He at once added, "for I am gentle and humble in heart."
In our last article, we emphasized the need of attending closely to our Lord's order in this passage, insisting that we cannot possibly "learn" of Him (in the sense meant here) unless and until we have taken His "yoke" upon us; that is, until we surrender ourselves to Him and submit to be ruled by Him.
"Learn of Me." It is not merely to all intellectual learning of Him, which Christ here calls us—but to an experimental, practical, effectual, and transforming learning; and in order to that we must be completely subject to Him.
John Newton suggested in his sermons on this passage, that there is another relation between these two things: that not only is our taking of Christ's yoke upon us an indispensable requirement for our learning of Him—but that our learning of Him is His only appointed means for enabling us to wear His yoke. We believe that both these things are included, so we will now work out Mr. Newton's suggestion:
" 'Learn of Me.' Be not afraid to come to Me for help and instruction, 'for I am gentle and humble in heart.' Here is encouragement indeed. You need not hesitate to apply unto such a one—though He is Maker of Heaven and earth, King of kings and Lord of lords! O what a wondrous person is the Lord Jesus Christ! What varied excellencies meet in Him: both God and man in one person. The Lion of the tribe of Judah—yet at the same time the gentle Lamb. The One before whom the Roman soldiers fainted (John 18:6)—yet the One who took into His arms little children and blessed them. The One before whom all the angels of Heaven prostrate themselves in adoring homage—yet the One who is the Friend of sinners. Because He is God, possessed of omniscience and omnipotence, therefore is He able to solve our every problem and supply strength for the weakest; because He is Man, possessed of human sensibilities, therefore is He capable of being 'touched with the feeling of our infirmities.' How gladly, then, should we turn unto such a one!"
" 'Learn of Me.' I know the cause why these things appear so hard. It is owing to the pride and impatience of your hearts. To remedy this, take Me for your example; I require nothing of you—but what I have performed before you, and on your account. In the path I mark out for you—you may perceive My own footsteps all the way. This is a powerful argument, a sweet recommendation, of the yoke of Christ, to those who love Him—that He bore that yoke Himself. He is not like the Pharisees, whom He censured (Matthew 23:4) on this very account: who bound heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and laid them on men's shoulders—but they themselves would not move them with one of their fingers."
"1. Are you terrified with the difficulties attending your profession? Are you disheartened by hard usage—or too ready to show resentment against those who oppose you? Learn of Jesus, admire and imitate His steadfastness: 'Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart' (Hebrews 12:3). Make a comparison (so the word imports) between yourself and Him, between the treatment which He endured, and that which you are called to struggle with; then surely you will be ashamed to complain. Admire and imitate His gentleness: when He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; He wept for His enemies, and prayed for His murderers. Let the same mind be in you—which was also in Christ Jesus."
"2. Do you find it hard to walk steadfastly in His precepts, especially in some particular instances, when the maxims of worldly prudence and the pleadings of flesh and blood, are strongly against you? Learn of Jesus. He pleased not Himself (Romans 15:3). That is, He considered not what was safe and easy—but what was the will of His heavenly Father. Entreat Him to strengthen you with strength in your soul, that as you bear the name of His disciples, you may resemble Him in every part of your conduct, and shine as lights in a dark and selfish world—to the glory of His grace."
"3. Are you tempted to repine at the dispensations of Divine providence? Take Jesus for your pattern. Did He say, when the unspeakable sufferings He was to endure for sinners were just coming upon Him, 'The cup which My Father has given Me—shall I not drink it?' (John 18:11); and shall we presume to have our own will? especially when we further reflect that as His sufferings were wholly on our account—so all our sufferings are by His appointment, and all designed by Him to promote our best, that is our spiritual and eternal welfare?" (John Newton).
"Learn of Me." Christ, then, teaches His disciples not only by precept—but by example; not only by word of mouth—but chiefly by His own perfect life of obedience and submission to the Father's will. When He uttered these words of Matthew 11:29, He was Himself wearing the "yoke" and giving a personal exemplification of gentleness and humility. O what a perfect Teacher, showing us in His own utter selflessness, what these lovely graces really are! Gentleness and humility revealed themselves in all that the Redeemer said and did. He did not associate with the noble and mighty, the rich and influential—but made fishermen His ambassadors, and sought those most despised, so that He was dubbed "a Friend of publicans and sinners!" We read of but one triumph in all His earthly life, when He entered Jerusalem to the acclaiming Hosannas of the people: yet observe how He then carried Himself: "Behold, your King comes unto you, gentle, and sitting upon an donkey!" (Matthew 21:5)"
"Learn of Me—for I am gentle and humble in heart." Those heavenly graces, which are the roots from which all other spiritual excellencies spring, can only be learned from Christ. The colleges and seminaries cannot impart them, preachers and churches cannot bestow them, no self-culture can attain unto them. They can only be learned experimentally and vitally at the feet of Christ, as we take our proper place in the dust before Him. They can only be learned as we take His yoke upon us. They can only be learned as we commune with Him day by day and drink more deeply of His spirit. They can only be learned as we ponder the details of His recorded life and then follow the example which He has left us. They can only be learned as we turn those ponderings into earnest prayers that we may be more fully conformed unto His holy image. They can only be learned as we definitely and trustfully seek the enablement of His Spirit to mortify the deeds of the body.
What cause have we to mourn—that there is so little gentleness and humility in us! How we need to confess unto God, our lamentable deficiency. Though it is much to be thankful for if we are conscious of and humbled over our sad lack—yet merely mourning over it will not improve matters. We must go back to the root of our folly, and judge it. Why have I failed to learn these heavenly graces from Christ? Ah, has it not to be said of me, as of Israel of old, "Ephraim is a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke"? If so, how I need to cry unto Christ with all my might, and beg Him to give me a heart for His yoke. Not until my proud spirit is broken and my will is completely surrendered to Christ—can I truly "learn of Him." Only then shall I take pleasure in pondering the Psalms and the Gospels, wherein I may discover the recorded manifestations of His gentleness and humility. Only then shall I delight in making Christ the Object of my heart—and the pattern of my character and conduct.
And this taking of Christ's yoke upon us and learning of Him is to be a daily thing—the chief business of my life. Christianity is far more than an orthodox creed and ethical code—it is a being practically conformed to the image of God's Son. It is a learning to be nothing, that He may be all in all. So many make the great mistake of supposing that coming to Christ and taking His yoke upon them is a single act, which may be done once and for all. Not so! It is to be a continuous and daily act, "To whom coming, (again and again) as unto a living Stone" (1 Peter 2:4). We need to continue as we began. The most matured Christian who has been fifty years in the way—needs Christ as truly and urgently now—as he did the first moment he was convicted of his lost condition! He needs Christ's cleansing blood, His quickening power, His healing virtue! He needs to come as an empty-handed beggar to receive of His grace. In like manner he needs to daily take His yoke upon him and learn of Him.