By, John A. Broadus
Come unto me,
all ye that labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.
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.
This familiar passage of Scripture contains one of the most precious among the many precious invitations of our compassionate Redeemer. Many a feeble and fainting believer has been led by it to take fresh courage and “press toward the mark,” many a burdened sinner has found in it that the gospel of Jesus is indeed “good news,” “a word in season to him that is weary.” And since the passage is so important and so precious, we may find our profit in attending a little to its phraseology, in endeavoring to make ourselves acquainted with its precise terms.
The Saviour invites to him all “that labor and are heavy laden.”
In this he doubtless referred partly to the burden of ceremonies and observances which the scribes and Pharisees imposed upon their followers, as required by the traditions of the fathers, and as essential and sufficient for their finding favor with God. The law itself, St. Paul tells us, was, if looked upon as a means of salvation, too grievous a burden for any to bear; and these superstitious observances made it yet more grievous. Such persons, then, tolling and borne down beneath the burden of the ceremonial law, are here invited to the Saviour. But he had reference likewise to all men, Jew and Gentile, in every nation and age, who are burdened with sin. All such are invited to him, with the promise that he will give them rest, rest from their labor, and relief from their load. They wear the galling yoke of sin and Satan, and he bids them take his yoke upon them.
Wearing the yoke of another is an expression very often employed in Scripture (as all will remember) to denote subjection to him. The figure is taken, of course, from beasts of burden, as oxen; being applied thence to all who are the laboring servants of a master. Jesus is then bidding those who have been the “servants of sin,” to obey him from the heart and be his servants; those who have been subject to Satan, to take him instead as their King. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me.” He recommends himself not only as King and Master, but as Teacher too. The gospel is frequently and properly represented as something to be learned; men need to be taught the way of salvation. Thus we read that God “will have all men to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” This knowledge of the truth, these lessons of salvation, must be obtained from the Great Teacher Jesus.
And when he says, “For I am meek and lowly in heart,” the Saviour means to show that he is fitted to be a Teacher,
…that so all may come and learn of him. In order that a Teacher may win the hearts of his pupils, and thereby the better make them love to learn and love what they do learn, he must unite to other qualities a certain mildness, and gentleness, and kindliness. Such men, other things being equal, are always most beloved and most successful. There are some men who by their affection and gentleness seem able to win at once the love of a child. And when our blessed Saviour bids men learn of him, he encourages the timid and fearful to come to him, by telling them that he is meek and lowly in heart, mild and loving and gentle, that he will be kind to them, and they need not fear. He would not be rough and overbearing and haughty as were the Doctors, the teachers of the law, he is not imperious and domineering and severe like many who have since professed to teach his doctrines: he is humble and affectionate, condescending and kind.
We may learn from these words the character of the lessons, as well as of the Teacher. It is the knowledge of himself that he will give; and as he is meek and lowly, i.e., gentle and humble, so those that come to learn of him will be taught lessons of gentleness, lessons of humility. Still the chief intent of this clause would seem to be what was mentioned first, namely to recommend himself as disposed to be kind and affectionate to all who might come to learn of him. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me: [you need not fear to make me your Teacher, for I am meek and lowly in heart:] and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” He promises to free them from their grievous tolls, to relieve them of their heavy burdens, to give them rest. To appreciate fully the expressiveness of this figure, one must imagine himself bearing a heavy burden, a weight such as he can hardly sustain, and that after bearing it till he is almost crushed to the ground, he throws it off, and rests. There are few things so delightful as this rest to one who has been heavy laden. And then suppose the burden is clinging to you, bound with cords you cannot sever, though you are bowed down under the load and vainly striving to throw it off, and that as you labor thus and are heavy laden, one offers if you come to him to loose the bonds and take away the burden, and let you rest-how sweet would be the thought! how quickly, how joyfully, how thankfully, you would run to him!
But it is impossible that men should be without subjection to some higher power; by our very nature we look up to some Being that is above us.
All who are not subject to God, are the subjects of Satan: and they who wish to be delivered from the dominion of the Evil One, must find such deliverance in having God himself for their King, as he intended they should when he made them. Accordingly, when the Saviour offers to give rest, he bids them take his yoke upon them, and learn of him, and they shall find rest unto their souls. And then he concludes the invitation by encouraging them to believe that this exchange will be good and pleasant; they labor under the galling yoke of Satan, and are heavy laden with the grievous burdens of sin, but his yoke is easy. This burden is light. Such, I think, is the meaning of the various passages of this invitation, which, familiar as it is, I may read again: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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.” (Matt. 11:28-30).
Having endeavored thus to explain the language of the text, I wish to say something upon two subjects connected with it, (1) who they are that are here invited to come and (2) what is meant by coming to Jesus.
The invitations of the gospel are addressed to all; the gospel is to be preached to every creature.
God commandeth all men everywhere to repent, he promises that whosoever believeth on Jesus shall not perish, but have everlasting life, and “whosoever will,” is invited to take of the water of life, freely. The purposes of Him who inhabiteth eternity, and who seeth the end from the beginning, will all be fulfilled. Those purposes we cannot declare, that God will have (i.e., wishes) all men to be saved, that he bids all the ends of the earth look unto him, that he that cometh unto Jesus shall in no wise be cast out.
And it is worth observing that the gospel invitations, while they extend to all, are so varied. The same bountiful and gracious Being who suits the blessings of his providence to our various wants, does also adapt the invitations of his mercy to the varied characters and conditions of men. Are men enemies to God?-they are invited to be reconciled. Have they hearts harder than the nether millstone?-he offers to take away the stone, and give a heart of flesh. Are they dancing gaily, or rushing madly, along the way that leads to death?-he calls upon them to turn, “Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?” Are they sleeping the heavy sleep of sin?-“Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead.” Are men hungering with a craving hunger?-he tells them of the bread that came down from heaven. Are they thirsty?-he calls them to the water of life. And are they burdened with sin and sinfulness?-he invites them to come to Jesus for rest. It is those who are “bowed down beneath a load of sin,” that are here especially invited to come to Jesus.
Sin is great and grievous burden: and no man can ever see it as it is and feel it in its weight without wishing to be relieved of it.
My hearers, are there not many among you who have often felt this-who have often felt heavy laden with the load of your transgressions, and the burden of your sinfulness? Are there not those among you who feel this now? If you do not all feel so, it is because your perceptions are blunted, you do not see things as they are. You have been servants of sin for a long time-have you not found it a hard master? You have been wearing the yoke of Satan lo! these many years-have you not found that his yoke is indeed galling and grievous? How many things you have done at his bidding that you knew to be wrong? How often you have stifled the voice of your conscience, and listened to the suggestions of the Tempter! How often you have toiled to gratify sinful desires and passions, and found that still the craving, aching void was left unfilled!
What has sin done for the world and for you that you should desire it? It brought death into the world, and all our woe. It has filled the earth with suffering and sorrow. It has made it needful that Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, should suffer and die, to make atonement for it. It has brought upon you much of unhappiness now, and many most fearful apprehensions for the future. By your sins you have incurred the just anger of Him that made you-already they rise mountain high, and yet still you go on in your sinfulness, accumulating more and more, heaping up wrath against the day of wrath. You shudder when you think of death, you tremble when you think of God, for you know well that you are not prepared to die, that you cannot meet your Maker and Judge in peace. And not only has sin brought on you all these sufferings and fears, but you cannot rid yourself of it. You have bowed your neck to the yoke, and now you cannot free yourself from it. Never did any old man of the sea cling so closely upon the shoulders of the deluded traveler, as the hideous form of sin clings to you, and you cannot shake it off, struggle as you may. No poisoned garment of ancient fable ever adhered so closely to him that wore it, sending death through all his frame, as does the garment of iniquity.
Sum it up again –what has sin done for you?
It has made you unhappy, filling you with craving, unsatisfied desires, it has made you captive, and bound you with cords you cannot burst, it has brought upon you the indignation and wrath of Almighty God, which you cannot expiate. Is it not then a burden, of which you would like to be relieved? If so, hear the Saviour’s own invitation, and come to him. He will take off the heavy load that crushes you, and you shall find rest to your souls. He will intercede in your behalf before God, he will take away your guilt by the sacrifice he has offered, he will “wash you thoroughly from your iniquity, and cleanse you from your sin.”
Let all then, who are burdened with sin and sinfulness, who long to know how their transgressions may be forgiven and their souls saved, all who are inquiring what they must do, let them hear the gracious words of the text, and come to Jesus.
Do you fear that God is angry with you, and will not hear your prayer? It is true. God is angry with the wicked every day; and the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination unto the Lord. You may not mock the offended majesty of God Most High, you may not dare to mock him by coming unto him in your own name, and trusting in your own righteousness. You ought to fear before him, and to tremble at the thought of coming to him thus. But you may come to Jesus-you are invited to come to him. He is the appointed mediator between God and man. Come and ask him to intercede for you. And then through him draw near to the throne of grace. Make mention of his merits, plead his atoning sacrifice, rely wholly on what he has done, and God’s anger is turned away-he will hear, he will pardon, and your soul shall live. If then you are burdened with a sense of your unworthiness, come to Jesus, and you shall not come in vain.
All that labor, with whatever toil, all that are heavy laden, with whatever burden, may take this invitation as addressed to them. “Thou callest burdened souls to Thee, And such, O Lord, am I.” Whatever it is that bears you down, the consciousness of sin, the terror of judgment, distressing doubts or manifold temptations, whatever else may torment your soul and weigh down your spirit, this invitation is for you. If you are burdened with affliction or sorrow or fearful apprehension, in short (to repeat it again and again) if you bear any burden, you are invited to Jesus. “Come unto me, all ye,” etc.
It would be natural and reasonable enough for one thus frequently and earnestly invited to come to Jesus, especially for one who is “an alien from God, and a stranger to grace,” who knows not the blessed Saviour in the pardon of his sins, who has never “come boldly unto the throne of grace,” and obtained mercy and found grace to help in time of need, it would be natural enough for him to inquire now, “What is meant by coming to Jesus? Suppose I feel myself to be burdened, and want to seek relief, how shall I come to Jesus for rest?” This is the remaining subject of which I propose to speak. I shall not try to explain, for I can add nothing to that which is, in itself, plain already, but only to illustrate.
First then I say, come to him as men came when he was on earth.
We sometimes hear it said, “Oh, that I had lived when Jesus was sojourning among men; how would I have gone to him for peace and prayed that I might follow him whithersoever he went! What a privilege it must have been to the people of Bethany, for instance, when again and again Jesus came among them, when they might, even in their own homes, sit as Mary sat at the feet of the great and good Teacher and learn lessons of heavenly wisdom!” Yes, it was a great privilege; and it is true that the case is somewhat different now. We cannot now go sensibly to Jesus as a man, living somewhere among us. We are not now to go from one part of the country or the world to another, in order to be where the Saviour is. There is no sensible coming to him now. But it is only a change from sight to faith-from a moving of the body to a moving of the thoughts and affections. It may be thought a great privation that we cannot go somewhere, as they did then, and find him. But is it not on the other hand a great privilege that we need not now go anywhere, we may always find him here? He is everywhere, and as much in one place as another. Men have often forgotten this great and consoling and gladdening truth. Many a weary pilgrimage has been made in the centuries that are past to the Holy Land, in the hope that forgiveness of sin and peace of conscience, which could not be found at home, might be found there. It is pleasant, and may do the heart good, to stand where Jesus stood, to weep where he wept on Olivet, to pray where he prayed in Gethsemane, but he is here now as well as there. Wherever one seeks him there he may be found “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Wherever there is a tear of penitence, or a sigh of godly sorrow, wherever there is earnest prayer to him or the desire to pray felt in the heart, there is Jesus to see and to hear and to answer.
If then we lose the sensible coming, do we not gain greatly in that we can always find him where we are? And since this is so, since he is really and always near to every one that seeketh him, may I not say again, come to him as men came when he was on earth. Come with the same confidence in his power that they felt who asked him to heal their disease. There are many to testify that they have come and been heard, and none been sent empty away-do you come, and you too shall hear him say, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” Come with the same humility the Syrophoenician woman felt, when she pled that the dogs, though they should not eat the children’s food, might yet have the crumbs that fell under the table-and that she, though a Gentile, might yet have some humble share in that salvation which was of the Jews. Come with all the earnestness the poor blind man felt. He heard that Jesus was passing, and none could hinder him with all their charges, from crying, “Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.” And when the compassionate Saviour stopped, and commanded him to be called, they said to him, “Be of good comfort, rise! he calleth thee.” Even so, my hearer, Jesus commands you to be called, as you sit in your spiritual blindness. Just as Bartimeus threw away his cloak that nothing might hinder him, and went eagerly to Jesus, so you come at once unto him, and ask that you may receive your sight. You too shall hear him say, “Go thy way; thy faith bath made thee whole.”
Again, and this is the last thing I shall say now, come to Jesus just as you are.
Wait not to be ready; think not of being prepared; dream not of being fit; to come. The readiness, the preparation, the fitness, all must be his gift. How wrong to put off your coming to him till you have that which he alone can give. You are a burdened sinner-is it not so? Do you not feel the truth, here on my heart the burden lies, past offenses pain mine eyes-you are heavy laden with sin-then Jesus here invites you to come unto him. Do you say you are not sorry for sin as you ought to be? I know you are not. But come to Jesus, and ask that he will help you to repent. If you have no faith, ask that he will give you faith. All must come from him. Let him be your Lord, your life, your sacrifice, your Saviour and your all. You are a sinner, and Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
It is said (many here have doubtless read the account) that a brother of the famous Whitefield was once conversing, in great distress, with Lady Huntingdon. She told him of the infinite love and mercy of Jesus, but he replied, “I know all that; but there is no mercy for me-I am lost, I am lost.” “I am glad to hear it, Mr. Whitefield, very glad to hear it.” “How, my dear Madam, glad to hear that I am lost?” “Yes, Jesus came to save the lost.” That word moved him; he believed on Jesus, and lived and died a Christian. And so may you, if you believe on him who is the Saviour of the lost and ruined. Then come to Jesus, come earnestly, come just as you are.Just as I am, without one plea Save that thy blood was shed for me, And that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come.
Come, and you will be heard-you shall find rest. He will not send you away. He came into the world to save sinners-he suffered and died to save sinners-he invited burdened sinners to him. Then take this blessed, this precious invitation to yourself, come to Jesus, and your soul shall live. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And Jet him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: John Albert Broadus (1827–1895) was an American Baptist pastor and professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the most famous preachers of his day. Charles Spurgeon deemed Broadus the “greatest of living preachers.” Church historian Albert Henry Newman later said “perhaps the greatest man the Baptists have produced.”
Excerpts from Wikipedia, source material from ilyston