Gleanings in the Godhead
by A.W. Pink
Revised: February 14, 2005
Part 2: Excellencies Which
Pertain to God the Son as Christ
42. The Yoke of Christ
"Come Unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." This is not a broadcast invitation, addressed indefinitely to the careless, giddy masses; rather is it a gracious call to those who seriously seek peace of heart, yet are still bowed down with a load of guilt. It is addressed to those who long for rest of soul, but who know not how it is to be obtained, nor where it is to be found. To such Christ says, "Come unto me, and I will give you rest." But He does not leave it there. He goes on to explain. Our Lord makes the bare affirmation that He is the giver of rest (Matthew 11:28). In what follows He specifies the terms on which He dispenses it, conditions which we must meet if we are to obtain it. The rest is freely "given," but only to those who comply with the revealed requirements of its Bestower.
"Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls"
(Matthew 11:29). In those words Christ voiced the conditions which men must meet if they are to obtain rest of soul. We are required to take His yoke upon us. The yoke is a figure of subjection. The force of this figure may be understood if we contrast oxen running wild in the field with oxen harnessed to a plow, where their owner directs their energies. Hence we read, "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth" (Lam. 3:27). That means unless youths are disciplined, brought under subjection and taught to obey their superiors, they are likely to develop into sons of Belial, intractable rebels against God and man. When the Lord took Ephraim in hand and chastised him, he bemoaned that he was like "a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke" (Jer. 31:18).
The natural man is born "like a wild ass’s colt" (Job 11:12)—completely unmanageable, self-willed, determined to have his own way at all costs. Having lost his anchor by the fall, man is like a ship entirely at the mercy of winds and waves. His heart is unmoored and he runs wild to his own destruction. Thus he has a need for the yoke of Christ if he is to obtain rest for his soul. In its larger sense, the yoke of Christ signifies complete dependence, unqualified obedience, unreserved submission to Him. The believer owes this to Christ both as his rightful Lord and his gracious Redeemer. Christ has a double claim upon him: he is the creature of His hands, and gave him being, with all his capacities and faculties. He has redeemed him and acquired an additional claim on him. The saints are the purchased property of another; therefore the Holy Spirit says, "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
"Take my yoke upon you," by which Christ meant: surrender yourself to My Lordship, submit to My rule, let My will be yours. As Matthew Henry pointed out:
We are here invited to Christ as Prophet, Priest and King, to be saved, and in order to this,to be ruled and taught by Him. As the oxen are yoked in order to submit to their owner’s will and to work under his control, so those who would receive rest of soul from Christ are here called upon to yield to Him as their King. He died for His people that they should not henceforth live unto themselves, "but unto him which died for them, and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:15). Our holy Lord requires absolute submission and obedience in all things both in the inward life and the outward, even to "bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). Alas that this is so little insisted upon in a day when the high claims of the Savior are whittled down in an attempt to render His Gospel more acceptable to the unregenerate.
It was different in the past, when those in the pulpit kept back nothing profitable for their hearers. God honored such faithful preaching by granting the anointing of His Spirit, so that the Word was applied in power. Take this sample:
No heart can truly open to Christ that is not made willing, upon due deliberation, to receive Him with His cross of sufferings and His yoke of obedience: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me . . . Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me" (Matthew 16:24; 11:29). Any exception against either of these is an effectual barrier to union with Christ. He looks upon that soul as not worthy of Him that puts in such an exception: "he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:38). If thou judgeth not Christ to be worthy all sufferings, all losses, all reproaches, He judges thee unworthy to bear the name of His disciple. So, for the duties of obedience—called His "yoke"—he that will not receive Christ’s yoke can neither receive His pardon nor any benefit by His blood (John Flavel, 1689).
"Take my yoke upon you." Note carefully that the yoke is not laid upon us by another, but one which we place upon ourselves. It is a definite act on the part of one who seeks rest from Christ, and without which His rest cannot be obtained. It is a specific act of mind, an act of conscious surrender to His authority, to be ruled only by Him. Saul took this yoke upon him when, convicted of his rebellion and conquered by a sense of the Savior’s compassion, he said, "Lord, what wouldest thou have me to do?" To take Christ’s yoke upon us signifies setting aside of our wills and completely submitting to His sovereignty, acknowledging His Lordship in a practical way. Christ demands something more than lip service from His followers, even a loving obedience to all His commands, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven . . . "whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock" (Matthew 7:21, 24).
"Take my yoke upon you." Our coming to Christ necessarily implies turning of our backs upon all that is opposed to Him. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him" (Isa. 55:7). So taking His yoke presupposes our throwing off the yoke we had worn before, the yoke of sin and Satan, of self-will and self-pleasing. "O LORD our God, other lords besides thee have had dominion over us" confessed Israel of old (Isa. 26:13). Then they added, "but by thee only will we make mention of thy name." Thus taking Christ’s yoke upon us denotes a change of master, a conscious, cheerful change on our part. "Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin . . . Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey: whether of sin unto death or of obedience unto righteousness" (Rom. 6:13, 16).
"Take my yoke upon you." It may sound much like a paradox—to bid those who labor and are heavy laden, who come to Christ for "rest," to take a "yoke" upon them. Yet, in reality it is far from the case. Instead of the yoke of Christ bringing its wearer into bondage, it introduces a real liberty, the only genuine liberty there is. The Lord Jesus said to those who believed in Him, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32). There must first be a "continuing in His Word," a constant walking in it. As we do this He makes good His promise, "and ye shall know the Truth": know it in an experimental way, know its power, and its blessedness. The consequence is, "the Truth shall make you free"—free from prejudice, from ignorance, from folly, from self-will, from the grievous bondage of Satan and the power of sin. Then the obedient disciple discovers that divine commandments are "the perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25). David said, "I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts" (Ps. 119:45).
By the yoke, two oxen were united together in the plow. The yoke then is a figure of practical union. This is clear from, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Cor. 6:14). The Lord’s people are forbidden to enter into any intimate relationships with unbelievers, prohibited from marrying, forming business partnerships, or having any religious union with them. This yoke speaks of a union which results in a close communion. Christ invites those who come to Him for rest to enter into a practical union with Him so that they may enjoy fellowship together. So it was with Enoch, who "walked with God" (Gen. 5:24). But "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3). They cannot. They must be joined together in aim and unity of purpose, to glorify God.
"Take my yoke upon you." He does not ask us to wear something He has not worn. O the wonder of this! "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:5-8). The One who was equal with God "made himself of no reputation." He, the Lord of glory, took upon Him "the form of a servant." The very Son of God was "made of a woman, made under the law" (Gal. 4:4). "Even Christ pleased not himself" (Rom. 15:3); "I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me" (John 6:38). This was the yoke to which He gladly submitted, complete subjection to the Father’s will, loving obedience to His commands. And here He says, "Take my yoke upon you." Do as I did, making God’s will yours. John Newton pointed out this is three-fold:
First, the yoke of His profession,putting on of the Christian uniform and owning the banner of our Commander. This is no irksome duty, rather is it a delight. Those who have tasted that the Lord is gracious are far from being ashamed of Him and of His Gospel. They want to tell all who will hear what God has done for their souls. It was true of Andrew and Philip (John 1:41, 43), and with the woman of Samaria (John 4:28-29). As someone has said, "Many young converts in the first warmth of their affection have more need of a bridle than of a spur in this concern." No Christian should ever be afraid to show his colors; nevertheless he should not flaunt them before those who detest them. We will not go far wrong if we heed, "Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (1 Pet. 3:15). It is only when, like Peter, we follow Christ "afar off," that we are in danger of denying our discipleship.
Second, the yoke of His precepts.
These the gracious soul approves and delights in: but still we are renewed but in part. And when the commands of Christ stand in direct opposition to the will of man, or call upon us to sacrifice a right hand or a right eye; though the Lord will surely make those who depend upon Him victorious at the last, yet it will cost them a struggle; so that, when they are sensible how much they owe to His power working in them, and enabling them to overcome, they will, at the same time, have a lively conviction of their own weakness. Abraham believed in God, and delighted to obey, yet when he was commanded to sacrifice his only son, this was no easy trial of his sincerity and obedience; and all who are partakers of his faith are exposed to meet, sooner or later, with some call of duty little less contrary to the dictates of flesh and blood (John Newton).
Third, the yoke of His dispensations,His dealings with us in Providence. If we enjoy the favor of the Lord, it is certain that we will be out of favor with those who hate Him. He has plainly warned, "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:19). It is useless to suppose that, by acting prudently and circumspectly, we can avoid this. "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12). It is only by unfaithfulness, by hiding our light under a bushel, by compromising the Truth, by attempting to serve two masters, that we can escape "the reproach of Christ." He was hated by the world and has called us to fellowship with His sufferings. This is part of the yoke He requires His disciples to bear. Moreover, "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." It is hard to bear the opposition of the world, but it is harder still to endure the rod of the Lord. The flesh is still in us and resists vigorously when our wills are crossed; nevertheless we are gradually taught to say with Christ, "the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11).
"And learn of me: for I am meek and lowly in heart." Once again we call attention to the deep importance of observing our Lord’s order here. Just as there can be no taking of His yoke upon us until we "come" to Him, so there is no learning of Him (in the sense meant) until we have taken His yoke upon us—until we have surrendered our wills to His and submitted to His authority. This is far more than an intellectual learning of Christ, it is an experimental, effectual, transforming learning. By painstaking effort any man may acquire a theological knowledge of the person and doctrine of Christ. He may even obtain a clear concept of His meekness and lowliness; but that is vastly different from learning of Him in so as to be "changed into the same image from glory to glory" (2 Cor. 3:18). To "learn" of Him we must be completely subject to Him and in close communion with Him.
What is it that we most need to be taught of Him? How to do what will make us objects of admiration in the religious world? Or how to obtain such wisdom that we will be able to solve all mysteries? How to accomplish such great things that we will be given the preeminence among our brethren? No indeed, nothing resembling these, for "that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15). What, then, Lord? This: "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart." These are the graces we most need to cultivate, the fruits which the Husbandman most highly values. Of the former grace it is said, "even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price" (1 Pet. 3:4); of the latter the Lord declared, "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit" (Isa. 57:15). Do we really believe these Scriptures?
"For I am meek." What is meekness? We may best discover the answer by observing the word in other verses. For example, "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" (Num. 12:3). This refers to the gentleness of Moses’ spirit under unjust opposition. Instead of returning evil, he prayed for the healing of Miriam. So far from being weakness (as the world supposes), meekness is the strength of the man who can rule his own spirit under provocation, subduing his resentment of wrong, and refusing to retaliate. The "meek and quiet spirit" also has to do with the subjection of a wife to her husband (1 Pet. 3:1-6); her chaste conversation (or behavior) which is to be "coupled with fear" (v. 2); even as Sarah "obeyed Abraham, calling him lord" (v. 6). It is inseparably associated with gentleness: "the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:1); "gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men" (Titus 3:2). The "spirit of meekness" is in sharp contrast from the apostle using "the rod" (1 Cor. 4:21).
Thus we may say that "meekness" is the opposite of self-will. It is pliability, yieldedness, offering no resistance, as clay in the Potter’s hands. When the Maker of heaven and earth exclaimed, "I am a worm, and no man" (Ps. 22:6), He referred not only to the unparalleled depths of shame into which He descended for our sakes, but also to His lowliness and submission to the Father’s will. A worm has no power of resistance, not even when it is stepped on. So there was nothing in the perfect Servant which opposed the will of God. Behold in Him the majesty of meekness, when He stood like a lamb before her shearers, committing Himself to the righteous Judge. Contrast Satan, who is represented as "the great red dragon"; while the Lamb stands as the symbol of the meekest and gentlest.
The meekness of Christ appeared in His readiness to become the covenant head of His people, and to assume our nature; in being subject to His parents during the days of His childhood; in submitting to the ordinance of baptism; in His entire subjection to the Father’s will. He made no retaliation; He counted not His life dear unto Himself, but freely laid it down for others. We most need to learn of Him not how to become great or self-important, but how to deny self, to become tractable and gentle, to be servants—not only His servants, but also the servants of our brethren.
"For I am meek and lowly in heart." As meekness is the opposite of self-will, so lowliness is the reverse of self-esteem and self-righteousness. Lowliness is self-abasement, yes, self-effacement. It is more than a refusing to stand up for our own rights. Though He was so great a Person, this grace was preeminently displayed by Christ. "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister" (Matthew 20:28); "I am among you as he that serveth" (Luke 22:27). Behold Him as he performed the menial duties of washing: the feet of His disciples. He was the only one born into this world who could choose the home and the circumstances of His birth. What a rebuke to our foolish pride His choice was! My reader, we must indeed learn of Him if this choice flower of paradise is to bloom in the garden of our souls.