"Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden—and I will give you rest!" Matthew 11:28
In his most excellent sermons on these words and the verses which follow, John Newton pointed out that the dispensation of the Gospel may be compared to the cities of refuge in Israel. It was a privilege and honor to the nation in general that they had such sanctuaries of Divine appointment—but the real value of them was known and felt by only a few. Those alone who found themselves in that case for which they were provided—could rightly prize them.
Thus it is with the Gospel of Christ: it is the highest privilege and honor of which a professing nation can boast—but it can be truly understood and esteemed by none except weary and heavy laden souls, who have felt their misery by nature, are tired of the drudgery of sin, and have seen the broken Law pursuing them like the avenger of blood of old. This is the only consideration which keeps them from sinking into abject despair, in that God has graciously provided a remedy by the Gospel and that Christ bids them "Come unto Me—and I will give you rest."
If those awakened, convicted, and distressed souls would but appropriate to themselves the full comfort of that blessed invitation, and heartily obey its terms—their complaints would be at an end; but remaining ignorance, the workings of unbelief, and the oppositions of Satan combine in various ways to keep them back. Some will say, "Alas, I am not qualified to come to Christ: my heart is so hard, my conscience so insensible that I do not feel the burden of my sin as I ought to—nor my need of Christ's rest as I should." Others will say, "I fear that I do not come aright. I see from the Scriptures and hear from the pulpit, that repentance is required from me and that faith is an absolute essential if I am to be saved—but I am much concerned to know whether my repentance is sincere and deep enough and whether my faith is anything better than an historical one—the assent of the mind to the facts presented in the Gospel."
Let us then add a few words to what we have said previously on what is meant by a saving coming to Christ. It was pointed out in an earlier article that we may discover from the cases of those who sought bodily healing from Him of old—what is connoted by the invitation which Christ here makes to those who have sought diligently to secure the approbation of God and meet His just requirements in the Law, who are heavy laden by a sense of their wretched failures and weighted down by the conscious load of their guilt and pollution.
First, they were persuaded of His power and willingness and of their own deep need of His help. Thus it is in the matter of salvation: the sinner must be convinced that Christ is "mighty to save," that He is ready to receive all who are sick of sin and desire to be healed by Him.
Second, they made an application unto Him. They were not content to hear of His fame—but made proof for themselves of His wonder-working power. So, too, the sinner must not only credit the blessed message of the Gospel—but he must also venture on Christ for himself, seek unto Him and trust in Him.
As we peruse the Gospel Narratives, we see that those who sought unto Christ as a Physician of souls, continued with Him and became His followers. They received Him as their Lord and Master, renounced everything that was inconsistent with His will (Luke 9:23, 60), professed an obedience to His precepts, and accepted a share in His reproach. Some had a more definite and open call to Him, as Matthew, who was sitting at the tax collector's booth, indifferent to the claims of Christ until He passed by and said, "Follow Me" (Matthew 9:9). That word was accompanied with power and won his heart, separating him from worldly pursuits in an instant. But others were drawn to Him more secretly by His Spirit and Providence, as Nathanael (John 1:46), and the weeping penitent (Luke 7:38). In the case of the ruler who came to the Lord Jesus with no other intention than to obtain the life of his son (John 4:53), he secured much more than he asked or expected—the Lord affording such an affecting sense of His power and goodness that he, from henceforth, believed with all his house.
Now all these things are recorded for our encouragement today. The Lord Jesus is no longer here on earth in visible form, but He has promised His spiritual presence to abide with His Word, His ministers and His people to the end of time. Weary and heavy laden souls—sin-sick and conscious- burdened sinners—do not have to take a long and hard journey in order to seek and find the Savior, for He is always near to them (Acts 17:27) in a spiritual manner wherever His Gospel is preached. "The Word is near you, even in your mouth, and in your heart: that is, the Word of Faith, which we preach" (Romans 10:8). Then raise your hearts, breathe forth your complaints to Him. If you feel that you cannot come to Christ with a tender heart and burdened conscience—then come to Him for them. If you fear your repentance and faith are defective—then beg Him to bestow upon you the genuine article.
"Is it a sense of your load which makes you say you are not able? Then consider that this is not a work—but a rest. Would a man plead 'I am so heavy laden that I cannot consent to part with my burden; so weary that I am not able either to stand still or to lie down—but must force myself farther?' The greatness of your burden, so far from being an objection, is the very reason why you should instantly come to Christ, for He alone is able to release you. But perhaps you think you do not come aright. I ask, how would you come? If you come as a helpless unworthy sinner, without righteousness, without any hope but what arises from the worth, work, and Word of Christ—this is to come aright. There is no other way of being accepted. Would you refresh and strengthen yourself, wash away your own sins, free yourself from your burden, and then come to Him to do these things for you? May the Lord help you to see the folly and unreasonableness of your unbelief." (John Newton).
Persevere in your application to Christ. There is no promise recorded in Scripture that God will reward the careless, half-hearted, indolent seeker—but He has declared, "You shall seek Me and find Me—when you shall search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13). He has a fixed time for everyone whom He receives. He knew how long the poor man had waited at the side of the pool (John 5:6), and when his hour came He spoke and relieved him. So do you endeavor to be found in the way: where His Word is faithfully preached, and if that be not available (or even if it is) diligently search His Word in the privacy of your own room. Be much in secret prayer. As you have opportunity converse with His people—and perhaps He may unexpectedly join you, as He did the two disciples when walking to Emmaus, and cause your heart to burn within you. These are the means which the Lord has appointed. You will find many things both from within and without to discourage and weary you—but in good time, if you seek with all your heart—you shall find rest unto your soul.
"I will give you rest." What a claim to make! This was something which no mere man, no matter how godly and spiritual, could promise. Abraham, Moses, David could not have bidden the weary and heavy laden to come unto him with the assurance that they would give them rest! To impart rest of soul to another, lies beyond the power of the most exalted creature. Even the holy angels in Heaven are quite incapable of bestowing rest upon others, for they are entirely dependent upon the grace of God for their own rest. How this promise of Christ, then, makes manifest His uniqueness. Neither Confucius, Buddha, nor Mohammed ever made such a claim as this! Ah, my reader, it was no mere Man who uttered these words: "Come unto Me all you that are weary and heavy laden—and I will give you rest." Though appearing in the form of a Servant—yet was He, in Himself, infinitely more than that. He was the Son of God incarnate. He was Himself the Creator of man, and therefore could He restore him. He was the Prince of peace and therefore capable of giving rest.
As Christ is the only One who can bestow rest of soul—so there is no true rest to be found apart from Him. The creature cannot impart it. The world cannot communicate it. We ourselves cannot, by any efforts of our own, manufacture it. One of the most pathetic sights in this world, is to behold the unregenerate vainly seeking happiness and contentment in the things of time and sense, and when it is at last discovered that these are all broken cisterns which hold no water, to observe them turning to priests and preachers, penance and fastings, reading and praying, only to find as the prodigal son did when he "began to need," that "no man gave unto him" (Luke 15). Like the poor woman mentioned in Mark 5, who had "suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered—but rather grew worse" (v. 26). Of all the unregenerate, illiterate or learned, it is true that "the way of peace have they not known" (Romans 3:17).
Ah, my reader, it is much to be thankful for when we are made to realize experimentally, that none but Christ can do helpless sinners any good. This is a hard lesson for flesh and blood, and slow are we to learn it. Not that the fact is involved or intricate in itself—but because the devilish pride of our hearts makes us self-assertive and self-sufficient, until Divine grace humbles us. This is part of the gracious work of the Holy Spirit to bring us off from all creature dependence, to knock all props from under us, to make us perceive that the Lord Jesus Christ is our only hope. "Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under Heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
Strikingly was this adumbrated of old in the dove sent forth by Noah: "But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark; for the waters were on the face of the whole earth. When he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark" (Gen. 8:9). Significantly enough the very name "Noah" meant rest (Gen. 5:29, margin), and it was only as the poor dove was "caused to come unto him" that she obtained rest. Thus it is with the sinner.
We must now inquire, What is the nature of this "rest" which Christ gives to all who truly come to Him? "The Greek word expresses something more than rest—or a mere relaxation from toil; it denotes refreshment likewise. A person weary with long bearing a heavy burden will need not only to have it removed—but likewise he wants food and refreshment to restore his spirits and to repair his wasted strength. Such is the rest of the Gospel. It not only puts a period to our fruitless labor—but it affords a sweet reviving cordial. There is not only peace—but joy in believing" (John Newton). Thus it is a spiritual rest, a satisfying rest, "rest for the soul" as the Savior declares later in this passage. It is such a rest as this world can neither give nor take away.
In particularizing upon the nature of this rest we may distinguish between itsPRESENT and its future forms. Concerning the former we would note, first, it is a deliverance from that vain and wearisome quest which engages and absorbs the sinner, before the Spirit of God opens his eyes to see his folly and moves him to seek after the true riches. It is indeed pitiful—to behold those who are made for eternity—wasting their time and energies wandering from object to object searching for that which cannot satisfy them—only to be vexed by repeated and incessant disappointments. And thus it is with all—until they come to Christ, for He has written over all the pursuits and pleasures of this world, "Whoever drinks of this water—shall thirst again" (John 4:13). Forcibly was that fact exemplified by the case of Solomon, who was provided with everything which the carnal heart could desire and who gratified his lusts to the full, only to find that, "behold, all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind!" (Eccl. 1:14). It is from this vexation of spirit, that Christ delivers His people, for He declares "whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst" (John 4:14).
Second, it is the easing and tranquilizing of a burdened conscience. Only one who has been enlightened and convicted by the Holy Spirit can appreciate what this means. When one is made to cry out, "Surely the arrows of the Almighty have pierced me; my spirit drinks their poison. God’s terrors are arrayed against me" (Job 6:4). When the curse of God's broken Law thunders in our ears, when we have an inward sense of Divine wrath, when the terrors of a future judgment and of eternal damnation fall upon the soul—then is there an indescribable anguish of mind. When a true Law-work is wrought in the heart by the Spirit—we are made to exclaim, "Your arrows have sunk into me, and Your hand has pressed down on me. There is no soundness in my body because of Your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin" (Psalm 38:2, 3). So, too, when we first perceive the wondrous love of God for us and His abounding goodness unto us, and how vilely we have repaid Him—then we are cut to the quick—and "a wounded spirit who can bear"! But when by faith we come to Christ—all this is altered. As we view Him dying in our place and perceive that there is now no condemnation for us—the intolerable load falls from our conscience and a peace which passes all understanding becomes our portion.
Third, it is a rest from the dominion and power of sin. Here again it is only those who have been made the subjects of a work of grace that can enter into what is meant by this. The unawakened are utterly unconcerned about the glory of God, indifferent whether their conduct pleases or displeases Him. They have no concept of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and no realization of how completely sin dominates them at all times. It is only when the Spirit of God illumines their minds and convicts their consciences that they begin to see the awfulness of their state; and only then, as they endeavor to reform their ways, are they made conscious of the might of their inward foe and of their own inability to cope with it. In vain is deliverance sought from resolutions and endeavors in our own strength. Even after we are quickened and begin to understand the Gospel salvation, for a season (often a lengthy one) it is rather a fight than a rest. But as we grow more out of ourselves and are taught to live upon Christ as our sanctification, drawing our strength and motives from Him by faith, we obtain a comparative rest, by His grace, in this respect also.
Fourth, there is a resting from our own works. As the believer realizes more clearly the sufficiency of the finished work of Christ, that his Surety offered unto God a perfect satisfaction on his behalf which met every claim upon him, as he perceives by faith that Christ is "the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4), he is delivered experimentally from the law as a Covenant of Works and sees that he no longer owes it service in that sense. His obedience is no more legal but evangelical; no longer rendered out of fear, but from gratitude. His service unto the Lord is performed not in a servile, but in a gracious spirit—and what was formerly a burden is now a delight. He is no longer seeking to earn God's favor—but acts in the realization that the smile of God is upon him. So far from rendering him careless, this will spur him on to strive with might and main—to glorify the One who gave His own Son to be a sacrifice in his place. Thus, bondage gives place to liberty, slavery to worship, toil to rest, and the soul is enabled to repose on the unchangeable Word of Christ and to follow Him steadily through light and darkness.
There is also aFUTURE rest beyond any that can be experienced here, though most inadequate are our best conceptions of the glory awaiting the people of God.
First, in Heaven there shall be a perfect resting from all of our sin—for nothing shall ever enter there, which could either defile or disturb our peace. What it will mean to be delivered from indwelling corruptions, no mortal tongue can tell. The plague of their hearts is an occasion of constant grief to the saints—as long as they are left in this wilderness of sin—it is a burden under which they groan and from which they long to be delivered. The closer a believer's walk with the Lord, and the more intimate his communion with Him—the more bitterly he bewails that within him which is ever fighting against his endeavors after holiness. Therefore it was that the Apostle cried out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24). But blessed be God, we shall not carry this burden beyond the grave—the hour of death will free us from all indwelling evil.
Second, we shall be delivered from beholding the sins of others.No more shall our ears be offended, nor our hearts pained by those evils which flood the earth. Now, like it was with Lot in Sodom, we are grieved every day with the vile conversation of the godless. "Who that has any love to the Lord Jesus, any spark of true holiness, any sense of the worth of souls in his heart—can see what passes among us without trembling? How openly, daringly, almost universally, are the Commandments of God broken, His Gospel despised, His patience abused, and His power defied" (J. Newton). If that were the state of affairs almost two hundred years ago—what would this writer say were he on earth today, and witnessed not only the wickedness of the profane world—but also the hypocrisy and degeneracy of Christendom? As the believer beholds how the Lord of glory is dishonored in the house of those who pose as being His friends—how often is he constrained to say, "Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest" (Psalm 55:6). Before long this wish shall be answered.
Third, there will be perpetual rest from all outward afflictions, for in Heaven there is none to oppose and harass the people of God. No more shall the saint live in the midst of an ungodly generation, which when they do not actively persecute him—yet only reluctantly tolerate his presence. Though afflictions are needful for us in this present scene, and when sanctified to us are also profitable; nevertheless they are grievous to bear. But a day is coming when such tribulations will no longer be necessary, for all the dross shall have been purged from the gold. The storms of life will all be behind, and an unbroken calm shall be the believer's portion forever and ever! Where there shall be no more sin—there shall be no more sorrow! "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever!" (Revelation 21:4). Thank God that will be an eternal morning "without clouds."
Fourth, it will be a rest from Satan's temptations.How often he succeeds in disturbing the present rest of believers! How often they have cause to say with the Apostle, "Satan has hindered me!" He seeks in various ways to hinder them from attending the public means of grace, and if he fails in that, he seeks to unfit them while they are there. He seeks to hinder them when they are endeavoring to meditate on the Word or while engaged in private prayer. Like the miserable fiend that he is—the devil cannot bear to see one of Christ's people happy, and therefore he tries constantly to disturb their peace and joy. One reason why God permits this—is that they may be conformed to their Head: when He was here on earth the devil was continually hounding Him. It is sufficient then, for the disciple to be as his Master. Even when believers come to the hour of their departure from this world, their great Enemy endeavors to rob them of their assurance; but he can pursue them no further. Absent from the body, they are present with the Lord—forever out of the reach of their adversary.
Finally, they rest from unsatisfied desires.When one has really been born of the Spirit, he yearns to be done with sin forever, that never again there may be anything in his heart or life dishonoring unto the One who has redeemed him at such infinite cost. He pants for perfect conformity to the image of Christ, and for unbroken fellowship with Him. But such longings as these are not realized in this life. Instead, the old nature is left within the believer, and it is ever opposing the new, bringing him into captivity to the law of sin which is in his members (Romans 7:23).
But death affords him a welcome relief from indwelling corruptions, and he is made "a pillar in the temple of his God, and he shall go out no more" (Revelation 3:12). In the morning of the resurrection the believer's body shall be "fashioned like unto His glorious body" (Phil. 3:21) and every longing of his soul shall then be fully realized. The change from grace to glory—will be as radical as the change from nature to grace!