The Yoke and the School
J. R. Miller, 1910
"Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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." Matthew 11:28-29
Every heart longs for rest and seeks it. The world cannot give it. It is not found in the paths of worldly pleasure; pleasure's flowers have thorns among them. It is not found in honor's rewards; men chase fame—but when they seek to clasp it, it is only a bubble which bursts in their hands! It brings no rest. Money is one of the coveted prizes in this world. If only they can gather and amass money, they will be happy—so men think. Money will supply all their desires. It will build palaces and fill them with the splendors of art. It will gather from all lands, the luxuries that will load their tables and leave nothing to be desired by the daintiest appetites. Money seems to be able to meet all human needs. But there are some things which money cannot buy. It cannot give rest to the human soul; nor can it quiet the conscience and impart peace to a heart. Nothing earthly can.
Jesus says to the whole race of men, to all weary ones, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest!" Then he says again, "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." It is important that we understand just how this prize of peace can be attained.
First of all, we must come to Christ. There he stands, looking with love and compassion upon the whole world, with its needs, its sorrows, and its sin—inviting all to come to him. He is the Friend of friends. He is not a tyrant, to make gain of men; he comes to help them, to comfort them in their sorrows, to enrich them in all noble ways, to lead them into the best possibilities of character.
To come to Christ, means to receive him as our Friend, to come into companionship with him, to take all the good he would give. We know what it is to come to a friend. We trust him, we love him, we give ourselves to him. A young girl hears the invitation and wooing of love, and she comes to the man who offers her his affection, believes in him, confides in him, entrusts the happiness of her life to him, and becomes his. This is like what it is to come to Christ. This is the first thing in becoming a Christian.
The next thing is to take Christ's yoke upon us. Yoke is not an attractive word. In the olden days—it meant subjection. A captive nation came under the yoke of the nation conquering it. Christ speaks to those who come to him—as taking his yoke upon them. This means voluntary acceptance of Christ as Master. He never compels us to become his, to be his friends, to do his will. We must take our place willingly with him. He has no slaves among his followers. They must offer themselves freely.
Jesus says that his yoke is easy. We do not usually think of any yoke as easy. Submission to anyone is not to our mind. We like to be our own master. We do not like to be anybody's slave. Yet the yoke of Christ, he says, is easy. He means, for one thing, that he does not lay any unnecessary burden upon those who take his yoke. He is not a cruel master. He does not exact more than is right. He is very patient with our weakness. He sympathizes with our infirmities. He knows how frail we are; he remembers that we are dust. His commandment is not grievous.
The weight, or comfort of a yoke—depends much upon our feeling toward the master we serve. It irks you and makes you chafe to serve one you dislike—but love makes any yoke easy. An old man, used to working with oxen, told the minister he could have helped him with his sermon. Then he said: "Jesus meant that his yoke fits well. It is made to suit the neck, so as not to hurt it." A badly fitting shoe hurts the foot. A yoke which is rough or badly shaped is not easy—it chafes. An easy yoke is one that suits the neck, that causes no friction. The yoke of Christ is easy, because it suits the soul. It is natural to accept it and wear it. Sin is not natural. It means missing the mark. Sin is failure. It is violation of law. Obedience is natural; disobedience hurts, jars, breaks the harmony, interrupts the peace. The yoke of Christ, as God made it, fits the soul, hence it is easy, brings happiness, gives peace to the conscience. "The soul of man was made for God and never finds rest until it rests in God."
We talk about God, as the home of the soul. We never are really at home until we accept God's will; but when we do this, we soon begin to find joy, peace, and comfort in it. There is no truly happy life, but the Christian's. The reason some Christians do not appear happy, is because they do not really take the yoke of Christ. They do not love to obey. They do not completely give themselves up to Christ. They do not absolutely trust their lives, their affairs, to him. If we truly take Christ's yoke upon us, we shall find it a yoke of love and it will give rest to our souls.
Then we are to enter Christ's school. "Learn of me," is the word. We begin as little children in the lowest grades. The curriculum of this school includes the whole line of study, from the merest beginnings until we reach perfection. Christian life is not something we attain in fullness at once, that we finish in a single act. At first it is only a decision, a choice, a determination. We then have everything to learn. We enter the school at the lowest grade. For example, the whole of Christian duty, is love. Love is the fulfilling of the law. Jesus said we should be known to the world by our love to one another. Because our natures are jangled and perverted by sin, we are naturally selfish, envious, jealous, unforgiving, uncharitable. It is not natural for us, with our evil hearts, to be kind to those who are unkind to us, to return good for evil, to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us. Therefore the whole wonderful lesson of love, has to be learned. And we will not master it in a day—it will take all our life.
There is something very interesting in thinking of life as a school. There will come to you tomorrow a sharp temptation. When God permits it, he does not mean that you shall be overcome by it, that you shall sin. Neither does he want to make life hard with struggle for you; he wants you to learn to meet and endure temptation victoriously. He wants you to become strong—and you can be made strong only by exercise. One cannot become a brave and skillful soldier by studying drill books—he must actually enter the battle. Jesus himself learned to be victorious in temptation, by experience. Every temptation is a lesson set for you; it is an opportunity to grow. It is a part of the school of life.
A new duty comes to your hand, something you have never had to do before—a new task, a new responsibility. God is setting you a new lesson. The first baby came the other day to the home of two young people. They are very happy—but happiness is not all. They have a new lesson set for them now, one they never have had before—fatherhood, motherhood.
The Christian virtues are lessons set for us to learn. They are not put into our hearts full grown, when we first become Christians; we have to learn them as lessons. Paul said he had learned contentment, and he seems to have been a good many years at it. In the same way we all have to learn patience; patience does not come natural to any of us.
Meekness is also a lesson to be learned. To be meek is to be gentle, mild of temper, self-controlled, not easily provoked, overcoming evil with good. We have to learn meekness, and it takes most of us a long while.
Forgiveness is a lesson. We are taught to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Perhaps some of us have been learning the lesson for many years, and have not yet got it well learned.
We have to learn unselfishness. Probably this is one of the hardest lessons in our whole course. Selfishness is ingrained in the very fibre of our nature. We know how it persists, how it keeps coming up again and again at every point, no matter how you think you have it vanquished. It is very hard to forget self in our contacts with others, to honor the other person, to take cheerfully for ourselves the second place, to deny ourselves, that the other person may have the better portion. Unselfishness is a very long and hard lesson, and one of the last of Christian life's lessons to be mastered—but it is one we must learn—if we are ever to be a beautiful Christian.
The same is true of all the sweet details of love. We are to be kindly affectioned. We are to be thoughtful and gracious. We are to love people that are disagreeable. That is, we are to be gentle to them, patient with them. We are to serve them if they need our service, to relieve them if they are in distress. We are to be kind to those who are unkind to us. We are to go miles to do some gentle deed to one who has treated us ungently. These are all lessons in Christ's school.
"I never can learn these lessons!" says one. "If that is required in being a Christian, I must give it all up. I never can cease to be jealous; I never can be kind to one I despise; I never can pray for one who does me an injury; I never can return good for evil!" Not today perhaps—but perfection cannot be reached at once; it is the attainment of all one's years. We have to begin with little more at first than a desire to be kind, gentle, patient; a desire growing into a decision. You are a Christian the moment you really begin to learn—but a Christian only in the lowest class. Then you are to continue in the school, learning every day, until at last you are graduated and receive your diploma and your degree.
There is comfort in the form of the Master's words. His life is our lesson-book. "Learn of me," he says. Every lesson was perfectly learned and practiced by him, in his own actual experience. Patience, humility, meekness, gentleness, kindness, unselfishness—he learned them all, learned them just as we have to learn them. They did not come to him in a miraculous way. Being with him, living with him, we shall see every lesson mastered and perfectly lived out in his life.
Then "Learn of me" means also that Christ himself is our great Teacher. And he is a wonderfully patient Teacher. He never chides us for our slowness and dullness in learning. Nor is that all—he helps us with our lessons. Other teachers can do little more than set the lessons for us, and then encourage and inspire us—but our great Teacher can do more. He can give us skill and will even help us, will do the work for us or with us, when the lesson is hard.
One tells of an artist's pupil who tried his best to paint his picture—but could not do it well. After trying hard he grew discouraged and weary, and then sank to sleep beside his easel. While he slept the master came, and seeing the boy sleeping, and knowing he had done his best and was disheartened, he took the brush from his limp hand and completed the picture for him in most beautiful way. That is the way our Teacher does with us. When we have done our best, he takes our poor picture—and finishes it for us.
Let no one ever be discouraged in the school of Christ. Let no one ever say he cannot learn the great and hard lessons of Christian life. We never can—alone. We cannot even make one hair of our head black or white ourselves. We cannot give up our jealousy, our envy, our bitterness, our selfishness; and put sweetness, generosity, kindness, and love in their place—we cannot, alone. But Christ and we can, and that is the lesson.
We are told that love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness—the very things it is said we must learn as lessons—are the fruit of the Holy Spirit. That is, the Holy Spirit alone can produce these graces in us. You cannot make yourself loving—it is the Spirit's work in you. Let the Spirit into your heart, give him charge of your life, and he will produce all these new and beautiful graces in you.
We have seen also that the first thing in becoming a Christian, is to come to Christ. We come into his companionship, we live together, henceforth,-our Lord and we. Being with a lovely human friend transforms our life, makes it like our friend's life. Being with Christ will transform us into his beauty.
Let no one then say it is impossible for him to become a Christian, to learn the things that Christ wants us to learn. In Christ you can do all things. Enter Christ's school, therefore, join his classes, and let him teach you, help you, transform your life—and then you will grow into his loveliness! Then you can learn the lessons.