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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Matthew 11

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

XI.

(1) He departed thence—i.e., from the place from which He had sent forth the Twelve. Where this was St. Matthew does not tell us, but Matthew 9:36 makes it probable that it was not in Capernaum nor any other city, but from some spot in the open country where He had rested with them. Their return is narrated, or at least implied, in Matthew 11:25, and hence we must infer that the messengers of the Baptist arrived while He was carrying on His work without them. Their cities might seem grammatically to point to the towns where the Twelve had been, or to which they belonged; but it is probable that it was used here vaguely for the cities of Galilee in general.


Verse 2

(2) When John had heard in the prison.—The position of the Baptist was so far that of a prisoner treated with respect. Herod himself observed him, and heard him gladly. Herodias had not yet found an occasion of revenge. His disciples came and went freely. Some of these we have seen (Matthew 9:14) as present when our Lord was teaching, and certain to hear of such wonders as those narrated in Matthew 8, 9. He himself, in the prison of Machærus, was languishing with the sickness of hope deferred for the Messianic kingdom, which he had proclaimed. His disciples brought back word of what they had seen and heard (Luke 7:18), and yet all things continued as before, and there was no deliverance either for himself or Israel. Under the influence of this disappointment, he sent his two disciples with the question which the next verse records.


Verse 3

(3) Art thou he that should come?—There are no adequate grounds for assuming, as some have done, that the Baptist sent the disciples only to remove heir doubts. The question comes from him; the answer is sent to him. No difficulty in conceiving how the doubt which the question seems to imply could enter into the mind of the Baptist after the testimony which he had borne and that which he had heard, can warrant us in doing violence to what would seem to be the plain meaning of the history. And the meaning of the question is not far to seek. The sickness of deferred hope turns the full assurance of faith into something like despair. So of old Jeremiah had complained, in the bitterness of his spirit, that Jehovah had deceived him (Jeremiah 20:7). So now the Baptist, as week after week passed without the appearance of the kingdom as he expected it to appear, felt as if the King was deserting the forerunner and herald of His kingdom. The very wonders of which he heard made the feeling more grievous, for they seemed to give proof of the power, and to leave him to the conclusion that the will was wanting. And so he sends his disciples with the question, which is one of impatience rather than doubt, “Art Thou the coming One of whom the prophets spoke” (Psalms 40:7; Psalms 118:26; Malachi 3:1)? but if so, why tarry the wheels of Thy chariot? Are we still to look for another and a different Christ?”


Verse 4

(4) Go and shew John again.—There is no Greek adverb answering to the last word. St. Luke (Luke 7:21) adds that “in that same hour Jesus cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits,” and they were therefore to carry back their report as eyewitnesses.


Verse 5

(5) The blind receive their sight.—Apparently no facts were stated which might not have already come to the ears of the Baptist. At least one instance of each class of miracle has already been recorded by St. Matthew, the blind (Matthew 9:27), the lame (Matthew 9:6), the leper (Matthew 8:2), the dead (Matthew 9:25). The raising of the widow’s son at Nain, which in St. Luke follows closely upon the healing of the centurion’s servant, must also have preceded what is here narrated. What the Baptist needed was, not the knowledge of fresh facts, but a different way of looking at those he already knew. Where these works were done, there were tokens that the coming One had indeed come. But above all signs and wonders, there was another spiritual note of the kingdom, which our Lord reserves as the last and greatest: Poor men have the good news proclaimed to them. They are invited to the kingdom, and told of peace and pardon. It is as though our Lord knew that the Baptist, whose heart was with the poor, would feel that One who thus united power and tenderness could be none other than the expected King.


Verse 6

(6) Blessed is he.—The words at once confirm the view that the question which the messengers had brought came from the Baptist himself, and show how tenderly our Lord dealt with the impatience which it implied. A warning was needed, but it was given in the form of a beatitude which it was still open to him to claim and make his own. Not to find a stumbling-block in the manner in which the Christ had actually come, that was the condition of entering fully into the blessedness of His kingdom.


Verse 7

(7) As they departed.—There was an obvious risk that those who heard the question of the Baptist, and our Lord’s answer, might be led to think with undue harshness, perhaps even with contempt, of one who had so far failed in steadfastness. As if to meet that risk, Jesus turns, before the messengers were out of hearing, to bear His testimony to the work and character of John. But a little while before, almost as his last public utterance, the forerunner had borne his witness to the King (John 3:23-36), and now He, in His turn, recognises to the full all the greatness of the work which that forerunner had accomplished.

What went ye out . . .?—The tense points to the time when the first proclamation of the Baptist, as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, drew out crowds to listen to him. Jesus, by His question, bids them recall the impression which had then been made upon them. Had they gone out to see “a reed shaken by the wind?” The imagery was, of course, drawn from the rushes that grew upon the banks of the Jordan, but the use of the singular shows that it was meant to be understood symbolically. Had they gone out to see one who was swayed this way and that by every blast of popular feeling? No, not that; something quite other than that was what they had then beheld.


Verse 8

(8) A man clothed in soft raiment?-Had they seen, then, one who shared in the luxury, and courted the favour of princes? No, not so, again. They that wear soft clothing, or, as in St. Luke’s report, “they that are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately,” are in kings’ houses. The words had a more pointed reference than at first sight appears. Jewish historians (Jost, Gesch. Jud. I. 259.) record how in the early days of Herod the Great a section of the scribes had attached themselves to his policy and party, and in doing so had laid aside the sombre garments of their order, and had appeared in the gorgeous raiment worn by Herod’s other courtiers. The Herodians of the Gospel history were obviously the successors of these men in policy, and probably also in habits and demeanour; and the reference to “kings’ houses” admits of no other application than to the palace of Antipas. We may trace, with very little hesitation, a vindictive retaliation for these very words in the “gorgeous robe” with which Herod arrayed Him in mockery when the Tetrarch and the Christ stood for one brief hour face to face with each other (Luke 23:11).


Verse 9

(9) What went ye out for to see? A prophet?—The words again throw the hearers back upon the impressions made on them when they first saw and heard the Baptist. They then went out to see a prophet, and they were not, disappointed. Nothing that they had seen or heard since was to lead them to think less worthily of him now. He was indeed a prophet, taught by the Spirit of Jehovah, predicting the glory of the kingdom; but he was also something more than this—a worker in the fulfilment of what he thus proclaimed.


Verse 10

(10) This is he, of whom it is written.—The words in the Greek are not taken from the LXX. version of Malachi 3:1, but are a free translation from the Hebrew. In the original it is Jehovah Himself who speaks of His own coming: “Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me.” In the Evangelist’s paraphrase it is Jehovah who speaks to the Christ—“shall prepare Thy way before Thee.” The reference to the prophecy of Malachi in the song of Zacharias (Luke 1:76) had from the first connected it with the Baptist’s work, and our Lord in thus adopting that reference, stamps the whole chapter with the character of a Messianic prophecy.


Verse 11

(11) There hath not risen a greater.—The greatness of men is measured by a divine not a human standard. The prophet, who was more than a prophet, the herald or the forerunner of the kingdom, was greater in his work, his holiness, his intuition of the truth, than the far-off patriarchs, than David or Solomon, and, à fortiori, than the conquerors and the destroyers, such as Alexander, Pompey, Herod, on whom the world bestowed the title of “the great” ones.

He that is least in the kingdom of heaven.—The Greek gives the comparative, not the superlative—he whose relative position in the kingdom of heaven is less than that of John. Very many commentators have thought, strangely enough, that our Lord referred in these words to Himself. He in the eyes of men was esteemed less than the Baptist, and yet was really greater. But this is surely not the meaning of the words. (1) It would be but a poor truism to have declared that the King was greater than the herald; and (2) there is no example of our Lord’s so speaking of Himself elsewhere. On the other hand, He does speak of His disciples as the “little ones” who believe on Him (Matthew 10:42), and as applied to them the words have a meaning at once natural and adequate. The least of His disciples, rejoicing in His presence, in communion with Him, in His revelation of the Father, though less than John in fame, work, the rigour of ascetic holiness, was yet above him in the knowledge of the truth, and therefore in blessedness and joy.


Verse 12

(12) The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence.—The Greek verb may be either in the middle voice, “forces its way violently,” or passive, as in the English version, but there is little doubt that the latter is the right rendering. The words describe the eager rush of the crowds of Galilee and Judæa, first to the preaching of the Baptist, and then to that of Jesus. It was, as it were, a city attacked on all sides by those who were eager to take possession of it.

The violent take it by force.—The Greek noun is without the article, “men who are violent or use force.” The meaning is determined by the preceding clause. The “violent” are men of eager, impetuous zeal, who grasp the kingdom of heaven—i.e., its peace, and pardon, and blessedness—with as much eagerness as men would snatch and carry off as their own the spoil of a conquered city. Their new life is, in the prophet’s language, “given them as a prey” (Jeremiah 21:9; Jeremiah 45:5). There is no thought of hostile purpose in the words.


Verse 13

(13) All the prophets and the law.—The usual order is inverted, because stress is laid on the prophetic rather than the legislative aspect of previous revelation. They did their work pointing to the kingdom of heaven in the far-off future of the latter days, but John saw it close at hand, and proclaimed its actual appearance.


Verse 14

(14) This is Elias.—The words of Malachi (Malachi 4:5) had led men to expect the reappearance of the great Tishbite in person as the immediate precursor of the Christ. It was the teaching of the scribes then (Matthew 17:10; John 1:21); it has lingered as a tradition of Judaism down to our own time. A vacant chair is placed for Elijah at all great solemnities. Even Christian interpreters have cherished the belief that Elijah will appear in person before the second Advent of the Lord. The true meaning of the words of Malachi had, however, been suggested in the words of the angel in Luke 1:17, “He shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias,” and is here distinctly confirmed. The words “if ye will (i.e., are willing to) receive it” imply the consciousness that our Lord was setting aside a popular and strongly-fixed belief: “If you are willing and able to receive the truth that John was in very deed doing the work of Elijah, you need look for no other in the future.”


Verse 15

(15) He that hath ears to hear.—The formula, which meets us here for the first time, is one which our Lord seems to have used habitually after any teaching, in parable or otherwise (Matthew 13:9; Mark 4:9), which required more than ordinary powers of thought to comprehend. To take in the new aspect of the coming of Elijah required an insight like that which men needed to take in, without an interpreter, the meaning of the parable of the Sower.


Verse 16

(16) It is like unto children sitting in the markets.—The comparison is drawn from one of the common amusements of the children of an Eastern city. They form themselves into companies, and get up a dramatic representation of wedding festivities and funeral pomp. They play their pipes, and expect others to dance; they beat their breasts in lamentation, and expect others to weep. They complain if others do not comply with their demands. To such a company our Lord likens the evil generation in which He and the Baptist lived. They were loud in their complaints of the Baptist because he would not share their self-indulgent mirth; they were bitter against Jesus because He would not live according to the rules of their hypocritical austerity. Thus interpreted, the whole passage is coherent. The more common explanation inverts the comparison, and sees in our Lord and the Baptist those who invite to mourning and to mirth respectively, and are repelled by their sullen playmates. This would in itself give an adequate meaning, but it does not fall in with our Lord’s language, which specifically identifies the children who invite the others (this rather than “their fellows,” is the true reading) with the “generation” which He condemns. The verses that follow, giving the language in which the same generation vented its anger and scorn against the two forms of holiness, agree better with the interpretation here adopted.


Verse 18

(18) He hath a devil.—The phrase was a common one, asserting at once the fact of insanity, and ascribing it to demoniacal possession as its cause. (Comp. John 7:20; John 8:48.) This was the explanation which the scribes gave of John’s austerities. The locusts and wild honey were to them the diet of a madman.


Verse 19

(19) Eating and drinking—i.e., as in the feast in Matthew’s house, or at the marriage-feast of Cana, sharing in the common life of man. The words point almost specifically to the two instances just named, and the very form and phrase recall the question which the Pharisees had asked of the disciples, “Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?” (Luke 5:30).

Wisdom is justified of her children.—Literally, was justified. This is our Lord’s answer for Himself and the Baptist to the contradictory calumnies of the Jews. Men might accuse wisdom, true heavenly wisdom, on this ground or that, but she would be, or rather (the tense implying a generalised fact) is evermore acquitted, justified, acknowledged as righteous, alike in her severer or more joyous forms, by all who are indeed her children, i.e., by all who seek and love her as the mother of their peace and joy. Like so many of our Lord’s other sayings, the parable stretches far and wide through the ages. The evil world rejects all who seek to overcome its evil, some on one pretext, some on another; but true seekers after wisdom will welcome holiness in whatever form it may appear, cheerful or ascetic, Protestant or Romish, Puritan or liberal, so long as it is real and true.


Verse 20

(20) Then began he to upbraid.—The rebuke is inserted by St. Luke in our Lord’s charge to the Seventy (Luke 10:13-15). As in the case of the passages common to both Evangelists in Matthew 10 and Luke 10, we need not assume that the former has compiled a discourse from fragments collected separately. It is far more natural and probable to believe that our Lord in this case, as in others, used at different times the same, or nearly the same, forms of speech.


Verse 21

(21) Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida!—It is singular enough that no miracles are recorded in the Gospels as wrought at either of these cities. The latter was indeed nigh unto the scene of the feeding of the five thousand, but that comes later on in the Gospel narrative. The former is only known to us through this passage and the parallel words of Luke 10:12-16. We may at least infer from the absence of any such record the genuineness of the words reported and the truthful aim of the Evangelists. The words were not an after-thought dove-tailed into the narrative. The narrative was not expanded or modified in order to explain the words. In St. Luke the “woes” are connected with the mission of the Seventy. They may well have been uttered, as has been said above, more than once.

The position of Chorazin is described by Jerome as being on the shore of the lake, about two miles from Capernaum.

The Bethsaida here spoken of was probably that on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The name in Aramaic signifies “House of Fish;” and it was therefore, we may believe, on the shore, and not far from the two cities with which it is here grouped.

Tyre and Sidon.—The two cities are chosen as being, next to Sodom and Gomorrah (Matthew 10:15, and Matthew 11:24), the great representative instances of the evil of the heathen world, and of the utter overthrow to which that evil was destined (Ezekiel 27, 28). Over and above their immediate import the words are full of meaning as throwing light on the ultimate law of God’s dealings with the heathen world. Men are judged not only according to what they have done, but according to what they might or would have done under other circumstances and conditions of life. In other words, they are judged according to their opportunities. The whole teaching of St. Paul in Romans 2, all the wider hopes of later times as to the future of mankind, are but the development of the truth partly declared and partly suggested here.


Verse 23

(23) And thou, Capernaum.—This city had already witnessed more of our Lord’s recorded wonders than any other. That of the nobleman’s son (John 4:46-54), of the demoniac (Mark 1:21-28), the man sick of the palsy (Matthew 9:1-8), of Peter’s wife’s mother and the many works that followed (Matthew 8:1-14), of the woman with the issue of blood, and of Jairus’s daughter (Matthew 9:18-26), of the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13), had all been wrought there, besides the unrecorded “signs” implied in Luke 4:23. In this sense, and not in any outward prosperity, had Capernaum been “exalted unto heaven.” All this, however, had been in vain, and therefore the sentence was passed on it that it should be “brought down to hell,” i.e., to Hades, the grave, not Gehenna. The words point, as the next verse shows, to the ultimate abasement of the guilty city in the day of judgment, but the words have had an almost literal fulfilment. A few ruins conjecturally identified mark the site of Capernaum. Not one stone is left upon the other in Chorazin and Bethsaida.


Verse 25

(25) Answered and said.—The phrase is more or less a Hebraism, implying that the words rose out of some unrecorded occasion. St. Luke connects them (Luke 10:17-24) with the return of the Seventy; but as their mission is not recorded by St. Matthew, it seems reasonable to connect them, as here recorded, with the return of the Twelve, and their report of their work (Mark 6:30; Luke 9:10). Their presence, it may be noted, is implied in the narrative with which the next chapter opens. The words, however, were probably repeated as analogous occasions called for them.

I thank thee.—Literally, I confess unto Thee—i.e., “acknowledge with praise and thanksgiving.” The abruptness with which the words come in points to the fragmentary character of the record which St. Matthew incorporates with his Gospel. The context in St. Luke implies a reference to the truths of the kingdom which the disciples had proclaimed, and makes special mention of the joy which thus expressed itself. The two grounds of that joy are inseparably linked together. The “wise and prudent” (comp. the union of the same words in 1 Corinthians 1:19) were the scribes and Pharisees, wise in their conceit, seeking men’s praise rather than truth as truth, and therefore shut out from the knowledge that requires above all things sincerity of purpose. The “babes” were the disciples who had received the kingdom in the spirit of a little child, child-like, and sometimes even childish, in their thoughts of it, but who, being in earnest and simple-hearted, were brought under the training which was to make them as true scribes for the kingdom of heaven. He, their Lord, taught them as they were able to bear it, giving (to use St. Paul’s familiar image) the milk that belonged to babes (1 Corinthians 3:2); but beyond His personal teaching there were the flashes of intuition by which (as, conspicuously, in the case of Peter’s confession, Matthew 16:17) new truths were suddenly disclosed to them, or old truths seen with increasing clearness.


Verse 26

(26) For so it seemed good.—Literally, Yea, Father, [I thank Thee] that thus it was Thy good pleasure. The words recall those that had been spoken at our Lord’s baptism (“in whom I am well pleased,” Matthew 3:17), and the song of the heavenly host on the night of the Nativity (“good will among men,” Luke 2:14). The two verses are remarkable as the only record outside St. John’s Gospel of a prayer like that which we find in John 17. For the most part, we may believe, those prayers were offered apart on the lonely hill-side, in the darkness of night; or, it may be, the disciples shrank in their reverence, or perhaps in the consciousness of their want of capacity, from attempting to record what was so unspeakably sacred. But it is noteworthy that in this exceptional instance we find, both in the prayer and the teaching that follows it in St. Matthew and St. Luke, turns of thought and phrase almost absolutely identical with what is most characteristic of St. John. It is as though the isolated fragment of a higher teaching had been preserved by them as a witness that there was a region upon which they scarcely dared to enter, but into which men were to be led afterwards by the beloved disciple, to whom the Spirit gave power to recall what had been above the reach of the other reporters of his Master’s teaching.


Verse 27

(27) All things are delivered.—Literally, were delivered, as looking back on the moment of the gift. The “all things,” though not limited by the context, are shown by it to refer specially to the mysteries of the kingdom implied in the word “reveal.” The wider meaning of the words appears more clearly in Matthew 28:18, and in both passages we may trace a formal denial of the claim of the Tempter resting on the assertion that the power and glory of the world had been committed to him (Luke 4:6).

Neither knoweth any man the Father.—The Greek implies full and complete knowledge, and in that sense it was true that no one knew the Son as such in all the ineffable mystery of His being and His work but the Father; that no one fully entered into the Fatherhood of God but He whose relation to Him had been from eternity one of Sonship. To those only who knew God in Christ was the Fatherhood of which Jews and Gentiles had had partial glimpses revealed in all its completeness.

To whomsoever the Son will reveal him.—The Greek gives more than the mere future—is willing to reveal.


Verse 28

(28) Come unto me.—As in the consciousness of this plenitude of power, the Son of Man turns with infinite compassion to those whose weakness and weariness He has shared, and offers them the rest which none other can give them.

Labour and are heavy laden.—The words arc wide enough to cover every form of human sin and sorrow, but the thought that was most prominent in them at the time was that of the burdens grievous to be borne, the yoke of traditions and ordinances which the Pharisees and scribes had imposed on the consciences of men. (Comp. Matthew 23:4, Acts 15:10.) The first of the two words gives prominence to the active, the latter to the passive, aspect of human suffering, by whatever cause produced.

I will give you rest.—The I is emphasized in the Greek. He gives what no one else can give—rest from the burden of sin, from the weariness of fruitless toil.


Verse 29

(29) Take my yoke upon you.—As the teaching of the Pharisees was a yoke too grievous to be borne, so the yoke of Christ is His teaching, His rule of life, and so is explained by the “learn of Me” that follows. (Comp. Sirach 51:26.)

I am meek and lowly in heart.—The stress lies upon the last words. Others might be lowly with the lowliness which is ambition’s ladder, but pride and self-assertion were reigning in their hearts. The Christ, in His infinite sympathy with men of all classes and conditions, could boldly incur the risk of seeming to boast of His humility, in order that He might win men to come and prove by experience that He was able and willing to give them rest, to hear the tale of their sorrows, and to turn from none with scorn.

Ye shall find rest unto your souls.—Here, as often elsewhere in our Lord’s teaching, we have a direct quotation from Jeremiah (Jeremiah 6:16).


Verse 29-30

Rest Under the Yoke

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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.—Matthew 11:29-30.

1. Christ saw the people as poor, toiling, jaded animals labouring in the yoke, carrying an almost intolerable load, and in sheer compassion and love He cried to them, and said, “Come unto me, … and I will give you rest.” And this “rest” He proposed to give, not by relieving them of every yoke and burden, but by an exchange of yokes and burdens. He proposed to take away the heavy yoke they were then bearing, and to give them His yoke instead. “The yoke you are bearing,” He said to them, in effect, “is too galling; the burden you are carrying is too heavy; they are more than flesh and blood can bear. Take off your yoke, lay aside your burden, and take Mine instead, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

2. So Christ also lays a yoke upon us. But what sort of yoke? Justin Martyr, who lived in the first half of the second century of the Christian era, tells us that when Jesus was a carpenter at Nazareth He used to make “ploughs and yokes for oxen.” It has been suggested that this ancient Church Father derived that curious piece of information from the now lost “Gospel according to the Hebrews.” If we may accept it as correct,—and it comes from very old times,—Jesus was a yoke-maker by trade. Then He knew what make of yoke would be hard to wear and what easy. The easy yoke would be one that would not gall the back of the poor ox on which it was fitted, one, perhaps, that was deliberately eased so as not to press on a tender place. This is what a considerate artisan would be careful to see to; and we may be sure that in His artisan life Jesus would be thoughtful for the welfare of the dumb animals with which He had to do. He is considerate as a Master of human souls. There are some whose slightest commands sting like insults, and others so gracious, genial, and considerate that their very orders are accepted by the servants as favours. It is a delight to serve such masters. Their yoke is easy. Now Jesus Christ is the most considerate of masters. As Milton said, reflecting on the unwelcome limitations imposed upon his service by his blindness, “Doth God exact day labour, light denied?”

In using the metaphor of a yoke, Christ was probably employing an expression which was already proverbial. In the Psalms of Solomon, which are a little earlier than the time of Christ, we have: “We are beneath Thy yoke for evermore, and beneath the rod of Thy chastening” (Psalms of Solomon ); and “He shall possess the peoples of the heathen to serve Him beneath His yoke” (Psalms of Solomon 17:32). “The yoke” was a common Jewish metaphor for discipline or obligation, especially in reference to the service of the Law. Thus, in the Apocalypse of Baruch: “For lo! I see many of Thy people who have withdrawn from Thy covenant, and cast from them the yoke of Thy Law” (xli. 3). Comp. Lamentations 3:27; Sirach 51:26; Acts 15:10; Galatians 5:1; Pirqe Aboth, iii. 8. In the Didache (vi. 2) we have “the whole yoke of the Lord,” which probably means the Law in addition to the Gospel.1 [Note: A. Plummer.]

Taking the text in its own simplicity we find three things in it—

The Yoke—“Take my yoke upon you.”

The Lesson—“Learn of me.”

The Rest—“Ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

I

The Yoke

“Take my yoke upon you.”

1. When Jesus spoke these words He referred to the yoke He Himself wore as Man. That was the yoke of a perfect surrender to the will of God, and absolute submission to His throne. To all who came to Him He said, “Take my yoke; the yoke I wear is the yoke I impose upon you. As I am submissive to government, so also must you be, if you are to exercise authority.” Said the Roman centurion, “I also am a man under authority, having under myself soldiers.” The condition for the exercise of authority is ever that of submission to authority.

At the very beginning of His career Christ had to make His choice between self and God. The significance of the temptation in the wilderness is surely this, that Christ then deliberately chose to walk in God’s way, and with His eyes wide open submitted Himself to the yoke of God’s holy will. That is, indeed, the key of our Lord’s life. Deus vult was His watchword. He pleased not Himself. It was His meat to do the Father’s will, and to accomplish His work. He shrank from nothing which the will of God brought to Him. When it brought Him to Gethsemane and the cross, He said, “The cup which the Father hath given me to drink, shall I not drink it?” And that is the yoke He is commending here to the people, the yoke He had all His life borne Himself.

2. It is not easy at first to lay aside every other yoke and accept the yoke of Christ. The yoke is easy when you have put your neck beneath it; but to bring yourself to that point may involve a wrestle with self that almost tears the heart asunder. The burden is light when you have forced your reluctant shoulders to bear it; but to do that may be the most difficult thing in all the world. There are some things that are easy enough to do, once you have made up your mind to do them; it is making up the mind that is the straining, torturing thing. And easy as may be the burden that Christ imposes, calmly as the soul’s experience may go on when once the soul has settled down to the Christian conditions, there remains for all of us the battle with stubbornness and pride, the coercion of the stiff and resisting will, before we pass into the Christian peace. It is a difficult thing to take up the easy yoke. It is a heavy task to make ourselves carry the light burden. And we need not, therefore, distrust the genuineness of our Christward desires because we are conscious of so much difficulty in driving our rebellious natures to the point of Christly submissiveness.

“How hard it is to be a Christian,” cried Browning in the opening words of his “Easter Day.” To-day some people are trying to make it more easy. So they are discreetly silent about the yoke, and the cross, and the denying of self, concerning all of which Jesus spoke so plainly—while they make the most of the joy, and peace, and comfort of the Gospel. The experiment does not appear to be very successful. Chivalrous souls would be more drawn by the spirit of adventure in response to a trumpet-call to battle than to listen to these soothing songs of ease. But if it did succeed, what would be the value of a Christianity so one-sided, so enervating, so self-indulgent? In fact, I do not see how you can call it Christianity at all. The ship is stranded at the bar of the harbour. What is to be done to float her? You can throw the cargo overboard; but then the very purpose of her voyage will be destroyed. It will be better to wait till the flood-tide, and then the ship will rise in the deep water and sail out to sea, cargo and all. It is vain to float our Gospel ship by throwing cargo overboard. The only wise course is to take Christ’s full message. To have the yoke and the cross as well as the pardon and the peace.1 [Note: W. F. Adeney.]

Is there no difference when you are on your bicycle between bicycling with the wind, when you scarcely feel the wind and go smoothly and firmly down the road, and bicycling against the wind? There is all the difference. In one there is peace and rest, and swiftness and progress. In the other it is beating up, beating up this way and that. You could hardly have a simpler and yet a truer illustration of the difference between being borne by the Spirit along the course of the will of God and trying to beat against the will of God and against the action of the Spirit. It is to fling ourselves into the tide of the Spirit—Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness—to yield ourselves to the action of the Spirit, and to pass down the will of God before the wind. That is peace; that is rest. And there is no other in the world.2 [Note: Bishop A. F. W. Ingram.]

3. Ease comes by practice. When we have fully surrendered ourselves to Christ, the yoke becomes easy and the burden light. To yield to Christ, to obey His conditions, brings us into harmony with the eternal order of things, and makes us realize this; we know, when once we have yielded and obeyed, that we are in the spiritual position—if one may employ the phrase—where we have all along, although perhaps without understanding it, wanted to be; and they who hear Christ’s call and answer to it are sure, so soon as their responsive movement towards the calling Christ is made, that the soul’s questions are settled once for all, the soul’s requirements met and its instinctive, deep-seated capacities filled. It is difficult to force ourselves to the yoke; but once it is taken up, the yoke fits, sits lightly, does not fret or gall. Christ is found to do no violence to the soul. Really to accept Christ’s conditions is to find ourselves where we want to be, set going on the true and satisfying line of life. We give ourselves to Christ—and in that surrender we, so to say, receive ourselves back again, made great and free. Christ’s whole method and spirit of life, once we comprehend and accept it, comes to us as the one right and natural thing.

We know what a galling bondage an uncongenial service may be; we know, on the other hand, what a genuine, an unalloyed delight that work is which is absolutely congenial. We make most of our children learn some musical instrument or other. But to many a boy the hours he spends at the piano are sheer drudgery. His practice-hour is Egyptian task-work to him. He has no taste or aptitude for music. But watch the man with music in his soul at the piano! Watch a Paderewski play! His hands ripple over the keys in a kind of ecstasy. Playing is not task-work to him, it is a rapturous delight. It is congenial work. When sons are growing up and the time draws near when they must face life for themselves, their parents’ great anxiety is to discover what their special aptitudes are, for in the long-run no man can be really happy or useful in his work unless he has some taste and fitness for it. A boy with mechanical aptitudes is unhappy if put to a literary or intellectual calling. A boy with intellectual tastes is wasted if put to mechanical employment. If a man is to be happy and useful he must find a congenial sphere in life. And the law holds good in higher concerns than the choice of a trade or calling. It is valid also in the moral and spiritual realm. If a man is to be at rest and peace, his soul must be in congenial service. And that is why Christ’s yoke is easy—the service of God is congenial service.1 [Note: J. D. Jones.]

At the time of the great Civil War in America, the call went round the land for men to take up the cause of their country’s freedom. The men responded, and it was noticed that men whose lives had been made a very burden to them by all sorts of trifles, men who were always suffering friction and irritation because little things went wrong, men who, perhaps, could not stand any little trial or trouble without becoming almost unendurable to live with—these were the people who, not groaning and making a misery of it, but with a certain exultation of the heart, took upon them the great yoke of their country’s emancipation, and straightway all the little burdens were forgotten, they became absolutely trivial and insignificant, and the burden that they bore was light.1 [Note: C. Silvester Horne.]

Matthew Henry characteristically says that Christ’s yoke is “lined with love”; and St. Bernard cried in his distant day, “O blessed burden that makes all burdens light! O blessed yoke that bears the bearer up!”

II

The Lesson

“Learn of me.”

1. We understand now why Jesus adds, “Learn of me.” To take His yoke is to be trained in His school. It was a common thing for Jewish teachers to issue such invitations, just as to-day men issue prospectuses. Here, for instance, is a passage from the book of Sirach, written several centuries before the birth of Jesus: “Draw near unto me ye unlearned, and lodge in the house of instruction. Say wherefore are ye lacking in these things and your souls are very thirsty? I opened my mouth and spake. Get her for yourselves without money. Put your neck under the yoke, and let your souls receive instruction. She is hard to find. Behold with your eyes how that I laboured but a little, and found myself much rest.” The disciple must sit at his Master’s feet, and patiently learn of Him, drinking in His teaching, absorbing His spirit, gradually growing into the knowledge and character that He desires to impart. This is required of the disciple of Christ who would learn His secret of rest.

When He says, “Come unto me, and learn of me,” we are not to think merely that we have to learn something; but we have to know that if we learn it in any other way than from Jesus, it is a lost learning.2 [Note: Erskine of Linlathen.]

It must have been at one of the early meetings [with University students at Edinburgh], when he had for text the grand Gospel invitation in the end of the eleventh of Matthew, that Mr. Drummond used an illustration which caught their attention and guided some to the discipleship of Christ. “You ask what it is, this coming to Christ. Well, what does Jesus Himself tell you here? He says, ‘Learn of me.’ Now, you are all learners. You have come to Edinburgh, some of you from the ends of the earth, to learn. And how did you put yourself in the way of learning what is here taught? You went to the University office and wrote your name in a book. You matriculated; and becoming a University student, you went to get from each individual professor what he had to teach. So, with definite purpose to learn of Christ, must you come to Him and surrender yourself to His teaching and guidance.” Sometimes thereafter, when a happy worker had to tell of a new addition to the number of Christ’s disciples, he would pleasantly say that So-and-so had “matriculated.” 1 [Note: G. A. Smith, The Life of Henry Drummond, 300.]

2. Jesus gives us a perfect pattern of submission. “I am meek and lowly in heart.” Here alone in the New Testament is mention made of the heart of Jesus. He whose yoke we take, whose service we enter, whose lesson we learn, is lowly in heart; His love stoops from heaven to earth; His care is for all who are weary with earth’s vain service, all who are down-trodden in the hurry and rush of life. In Him they shall find what their souls need; not freedom from sickness, sorrow, or death, not deliverance from political or social injustice. No; He Himself suffered patiently; He endured these hardships and the agony of loneliness, desertion, and misunderstanding. He gives rest and refreshment to the soul. When meekness enters into the heart and is enthroned therein as a queen, a revolution takes place in that heart. At the gentle swaying of her wand many a Dagon crumbles to the ground. Pride must go, false ambition must go, resentment must go, jealousy must go; all these false gods must go, and take their baggage with them. And when all those have left, the roots of restlessness and worry will be plucked from that heart.

In the meekness and lowliness of Jesus lies great part of His mastery over men; in meekness and lowliness like those of Jesus lies our rest.… The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit is like the dust from flowers in bloom. It insinuates and instils. The meek man is not without opinions, or a stranger to enterprise. He does not live in an untroubled sphere, but he has no desire to see his opinion imposed on any. Children find out the meek; for meekness is the childhood of the soul. Haughty men are never young, the meek never grow old. Most of us have known some. The young are warmed by them, the middle-aged soothed, the old supported. Meek hearts live for ever: they are the stock of an immortal tree. They inherit lives that live after them, they are spiritual children. David says, “God is meek”: Christ says, “I am meek.” The Holy Spirit’s emblem is a dove. The dove comes when you do not stir it. Ask gently in silent prayer. He came thus to Christ, and will to you when kneeling and broken down. Thou, who art Thyself meek and lowly, take pity and create in us Thy meekness.1 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 105, 112.]

3. We must learn humility, because without it there can be no true obedience or service. Humility is the keynote of the Divine music which Jesus came to make in our world. It is because we have lost it that all has become discord. It is the keystone of the arch of the Christian virtues. It is because that is wanting that the whole structure of the Christian character so often crumbles into ruin. We are loth to give meekness that prominent position among the Christian virtues which Christ assigned to it. We often go so far as to put pride in its place, though pride is probably the most hateful of all vices in the sight of God. Without meekness it is impossible to perform any good and acceptable service to our fellow-men, for pride vitiates and stultifies all we do; and it is impossible to love and serve God, for pride banishes us from Him, since it is written: “As for the proud man, he beholdeth him afar off.” True humility, therefore, must be ours if we would obtain rest unto our souls.

The man that carries his head high knocks it against a great many lintels which he who stoops escapes. The lightning strikes the oak, not the grass. If you wish to be restless and irritated and irritable all your days, and to provide yourself with something that will always keep you uncomfortable, assert yourself, and be on the look-out for slights, and think yourself better than people estimate you, and be the opposite of meek and humble, and you will find trouble enough.2 [Note: A. Maclaren, A Rosary of Christian Graces, 154.]

III

The Rest

“Ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

1. When we respond to Christ’s invitation and come to Him, we enter into the rest of faith. The very act of trust brings tranquillity, even when the person or thing trusted in is human or creatural, and therefore uncertain. For, to roll the responsibility from myself, as it were, upon another, brings repose, and they who lean upon Christ’s strong arm do not need to fear, though their own arm be very weak. The rest of faith, when we cease from having to take care of ourselves, when we can cast all the gnawing cares and anxieties that perturb us upon Him, when we can say, “Thou dost undertake for me, and I leave myself in Thy hands,” is tranquillity deeper and more real than any other that the heart of man can conceive. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee.” Cast yourself upon Christ, and live in that atmosphere of calm confidence; and though the surface may be tossed by many a storm, the depths will be motionless and quiet, and there will be “peace, subsisting at the heart of endless agitation.”

Two painters each painted a picture to illustrate his conception of rest. The first chose for his scene a still, lone lake among the far-off mountains. The second threw on his canvas a thundering waterfall, with a fragile birch-tree bending over the foam; at the fork of a branch, almost wet with the cataract’s spray, a robin sat on its nest. The first was only Stagnation; the last was Rest. For in Rest there are always two elements—tranquillity and energy; silence and turbulence; creation and destruction; fearlessness and fearfulness. This it was in Christ.1 [Note: Henry Drummond.]

2. This was Christ’s own rest. In reading the story of Christ’s life you are struck by that wonderful self-possession, that quiet dignity of soul which never forsook Him. There is never anything approaching to the agitation which betokens smaller minds. There is that large equanimity which never forsakes Him even in the hour of profoundest distress. Look at Him during the quiet years in the home. Though conscious of the high calling which awaited Him He never showed any impatience during those thirty years. Though He knew He should be about His Father’s business, He first found it in the little home in which He lived. Watch Him, too, when He moves out into the busy activities of His ministering life; you still find the same quiet self-possession and restfulness of soul. He stands absolutely unmoved amongst those temptations and seductions which were set before Him. So, when the crowd thronged round Him while on His way to the healing of Jairus’s daughter, you see His quietness, self-possession, and restfulness of spirit. Even when you come to the final scenes of the agony, there is the same equanimity, for it is equanimity which can detach self from the urgency and the duties of the moment. When you turn to the pages of the evangelists, what is uppermost in the mind surely is this, the thought of the quietness, the dignity, the unrivalled tranquillity, the self-possession, the restfulness of soul which never deserts their Lord and Master. Throughout all, He possessed that restfulness of soul of which He speaks here. And this is the secret which the world has so often longed for. All men are disposed to say at a later stage of their life, “Give us what you will, I do not ask now for joy or happiness; give me the capacity for sweet contentment, give me quietude of soul, give me the power to be at rest.”

We can no more leave the path of duty without danger of ruin than a planet could without danger break away from the path of its orbit. The moral law is as binding and beneficent in its action, if duly obeyed, as the physical law. The yoke is a badge, not of servitude, but of liberty; duty and law are not stern and forbidding, but gentle and friendly; they are but two names for the fostering care of God over all His works. Wordsworth, who with clearer insight than all others caught a glimpse of the face of God beneath the veil of Nature, thus addresses Duty:

Stern Lawgiver! Yet thou dost wear

The Godhead’s most benignant grace;

Nor know we anything so fair

As is the smile upon thy face:

Flowers laugh before thee on their beds

And fragrance in thy footing treads;


Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;

And the most ancient heavens, through thee, are fresh and strong.


To humbler functions, awful Power

I call thee: I myself commend

Unto thy guidance from this hour;

Oh, let my weakness have an end!

Give unto me, made lowly wise,

The spirit of self-sacrifice;

The confidence of reason give;

And in the light of truth thy Bondman let me live.1 [Note: A. M. Mackay.]

3. This strange gift of rest is at once immediate and progressive. “I will give you rest,” that is, “on your coming to Me”; and “ye shall find rest,” that is, “on your continuance with Me.” The experiment of faith is to issue in an experience of rest which pervades every part of life until the whole is under its dominion, and until the peace of God reigns unhindered in the throne-room of the heart. As the tide setting in from the deep rises steadily until every dry inlet and creek along the coast-line is filled with the ocean’s fulness, so is the experience of Christ’s rest to increase and enlarge in the lives of His people. No man has learned all there is of a language or its literature when he has but mastered the alphabet. And no man finds all that the rest of Christ is who is content with a mere casual acquaintance with the Son of God. For the relationship which is adjusted on our first coming to Him must be strengthened on our side by a constant increase of the area of surrender, answering to increasing light. And it is in this ever-enlarging obedience that rest is increasingly found.

When our surrender is made, the pain of our sacrifice is great in proportion to our former selfishness. It is also harder to bear, or more protracted when there is any looking back. When we have once renounced our self-will and deliberately chosen the Will of God, if we look back we not only expose ourselves to grievous risk, but also we make everything so much harder to accomplish. If we would be brave in the surrender of the will, we must set our faces in the way of the higher life, contemplate the beauty of the graces proposed to us, and deny the former gratifications and appeals of self-love. We shall indeed prove that the surrender of our will and the acceptance of God’s Will is no pleasing action of the soul; but rather that, again and again, as grace increases so love will be tested. And yet, so perfect is the response of Divine love, that habitual surrender of the will to God leads to great peace in the fact that we have no will but His. Thus St. Catherine of Siena was enabled to make so complete a surrender of her own will that our Lord gave her His Will. She had made her communion with such devotion that she was led to pray “that He would take away from her all comforts and delights of the world that she might take pleasure in none other thing, but only in Him.” If we are moved by a like holy desire, we should persevere in the constant surrender of the will; nor let us be discouraged though we have to renew our efforts at ever-increasing cost. New and higher ways of self-surrender will appear, new opportunities of sacrifice will be presented, greater and more interior sufferings will test us, whether our love is equal to really great things; whether we will aspire to the heroism of the Saints in the effort after perfection. “Be ye perfect” is the Divine precept which echoes in the soul inflamed by love.1 [Note: Jesse Brett, Humility, 14.]

4. When we give ourselves up to the Father as the Son gave Himself, we shall find not only that our yoke is easy and our burden light, but that they communicate ease and lightness; not only will they not make us weary, but they will give us rest from all other weariness. Let us not waste a moment in asking how this can be; the only way to know that is to take the yoke upon us. That rest is a secret for every heart to know, for never a tongue to tell. Only by having it can we know it. If it seem impossible to take the yoke upon us, let us attempt the impossible, let us lay hold of the yoke, and bow our heads, and try to get our necks under it. If we give our Father the opportunity, He will help and not fail us. He is helping us every moment, when least we think we need His help: when most we think we do, then may we most boldly, as most earnestly we must, cry for it. What or how much His creatures can do or bear God alone understands; but when it seems most impossible to do or bear, we must be most confident that He will neither demand too much nor fail with the vital Creator-help. That help will be there when wanted—that is, the moment it can be help. To be able beforehand to imagine ourselves doing or bearing we have neither claim nor need.

They tell me that on a farm the yoke means service. Cattle are yoked to serve, and to serve better, and to serve more easily. This is a surrender for service, not for idleness. In military usage surrender often means being kept in enforced idleness and under close guard. But this is not like that. It is all upon a much higher plane. Jesus has every man’s life planned. It always awes me to recall that simple tremendous fact. With loving, strong thoughtfulness He has thought into each of our lives, and planned it out, in whole, and in detail. He comes to a man and says, “I know you. I have been thinking about you.” Then very softly—“I—love—you. I need you, for a plan of Mine. Please let Me have the control of your life and all your power, for My plan.” It is a surrender for service. It is yoked service. There are two bows or loops to a yoke. A yoke in action has both sides occupied, and as surely as I bow down my head and slip into the bow on one side—I know there is Somebody else on the other side. It is yoked living now, yoked fellowship, yoked service. It is not working for God now. It is working with Him. Jesus never sends anybody ahead alone. He treads down the pathway through every thicket, pushes aside the thorn bushes, and clears the way, and then says with that taking way of His, “Come along with Me. Let us go together, you and I. Yoke up with Me. Let us pull together.” And if we will pull steadily along, content to be by His side, and to be hearing His quiet voice, and always to keep His pace, step by step with Him, without regard to seeing results, all will be well, and by and by the best results and the largest will be found to have come.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Service, 79.]

Rest Under the Yoke

Literature

Ainger (A.), Sermons Preached in the Temple Church, 39.

Allon (H.), The Indwelling Christ, 43.

Brandt (J. L.), Soul Saving, 251.

Burrows (W. O.), The Mystery of the Cross, 141.

Chadwick (W. E.), Christ and Everyday Life, 11.

Curnock (N.), Comfortable Words, 56.

Denney (J.), The Way Everlasting, 308.

Dods (M.), Christ and Man, 38.

Fürst (A.), True Nobility of Character, 302.

Holden (J. S.), The Pre-eminent Lord, 180.

Holden (J. S.), Life’s Flood-Tide, 70.

Kelman (J.), Redeeming Judgment, 19.

Knight (H. T.), The Cross, the Font, and the Altar, 1.

Little (W. J. K.), Characteristics of the Christian Life, 223.

Little (W. J. K.), The Hopes of the Passion, 156.

Maclaren (A.), A Rosary of Christian Graces, 145.

Neville (W. G.), Sermons, 9.

Owen (J. W.), Some Australian Sermons, 93.

Rate (J.), Leaves from the Tree of Life, 1.

Russell (A.), The Light that Lighteth Every Man, 293.

Temple (W.), Repton School Sermons, 84.

British Congregationalist, Jan. 18, 1914 (A. E. Garvie).

Christian World, May 20, 1909 (J. D. Jones).

Christian World Pulpit, x. 309 (H. W. Beecher); xii. 222 (H. W. Beecher); xl. 396 (H. Ross); xli. 156 (T. R. Stevenson); lxv. 305 (J. H. Jowett); lxix. 81 (A. F. W. Ingram); lxxix. 68 (A. B. Scott); lxxxii. 43 (A. C. Dixon).

Church of England Pulpit, lxi. 414 (H. E. Ryle).


Verse 30

(30) Easy.—The Greek has a wider range of meaning—good, helpful, kind, profitable.

My burden is light.—The “burden” of Christ was the commandment that most characterised His teaching—the new commandment that men should love one another; and those who obeyed that commandment would find all to which it bound them light and easy.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Matthew 11:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/matthew-11.html. 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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