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Hope of the Gospel: 9 - The Yoke of Jesus

By George MacDonald

      At that time Jesus answered and said,--according to Luke, In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said,--'I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.

      'All things are delivered unto me of my father; and no man knoweth the son,'--according to Luke, 'who the son is,'--'but the father; neither knoweth any man the father,'--according to Luke, 'who the father is,'--'save the son, and he to whomsoever the son will reveal him.'--Matthew xi. 25--27; Luke x. 21, 22.

      'Come unto me, all ye that labour, 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.' Matthew xi. 28--30.

      The words of the Lord in the former two of these paragraphs, are represented, both by Matthew and by Luke, as spoken after the denunciation of the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum; only in Luke's narrative, the return of the seventy is mentioned between; and there the rejoicing of the Lord over the Father's revelation of himself to babes, appears to have reference to the seventy. The fact that the return of the seventy is not mentioned elsewhere, leaves us free to suppose that the words were indeed spoken on that occasion. The circumstances, however, as circumstances, are to us of little importance, not being necessary to the understanding of the words.

      The Lord makes no complaint against the wise and prudent; he but recognizes that they are not those to whom his father reveals his best things; for which fact and the reasons of it, he thanks, or praises his father. 'I bless thy will: I see that thou art right: I am of one mind with thee:' something of each of these phases of meaning seems to belong to the Greek word.

      'But why not reveal true things first to the wise? Are they not the fittest to receive them?' Yes, if these things and their wisdom lie in the same region--not otherwise. No amount of knowledge or skill in physical science, will make a man the fitter to argue a metaphysical question; and the wisdom of this world, meaning by the term, the philosophy of prudence, self-protection, precaution, specially unfits a man for receiving what the Father has to reveal: in proportion to our care about our own well being, is our incapability of understanding and welcoming the care of the Father. The wise and the prudent, with all their energy of thought, could never see the things of the Father sufficiently to recognize them as true. Their sagacity labours in earthly things, and so fills their minds with their own questions and conclusions, that they cannot see the eternal foundations God has laid in man, or the consequent necessities of their own nature. They are proud of finding out things, but the things they find out are all less than themselves. Because, however, they have discovered them, they imagine such things the goal of the human intellect. If they grant there may be things beyond those, they either count them beyond their reach, or declare themselves uninterested in them: for the wise and prudent, they do not exist. They work only to gather by the senses, and deduce from what they have so gathered, the prudential, the probable, the expedient, the protective. They never think of the essential, of what in itself must be. They are cautious, wary, discreet, judicious, circumspect, provident, temporizing. They have no enthusiasm, and are shy of all forms of it--a clever, hard, thin people, who take things for the universe, and love of facts for love of truth. They know nothing deeper in man than mere surface mental facts and their relations. They do not perceive, or they turn away from any truth which the intellect cannot formulate. Zeal for God will never eat them up: why should it? he is not interesting to them: theology may be; to such men religion means theology. How should the treasure of the Father be open to such? In their hands his rubies would draw in their fire, and cease to glow. The roses of paradise in their gardens would blow withered. They never go beyond the porch of the temple; they are not sure whether there be any adytum, and they do not care to go in and see: why indeed should they? it would but be to turn and come out again. Even when they know their duty, they must take it to pieces, and consider the grounds of its claim before they will render it obedience. All those evil doctrines about God that work misery and madness, have their origin in the brains of the wise and prudent, not in the hearts of the children. These wise and prudent, careful to make the words of his messengers rime with their conclusions, interpret the great heart of God, not by their own hearts, but by their miserable intellects; and, postponing the obedience which alone can give power to the understanding, press upon men's minds their wretched interpretations of the will of the Father, instead of the doing of that will upon their hearts. They call their philosophy the truth of God, and say men must hold it, or stand outside. They are the slaves of the letter in all its weakness and imperfection,--and will be until the spirit of the Word, the spirit of obedience shall set them free.

      The babes must beware lest the wise and prudent come between them and the Father. They must yield no claim to authority over their belief, made by man or community, by church any more than by synagogue. That alone is for them to believe which the Lord reveals to their souls as true; that alone is it possible for them to believe with what he counts belief. The divine object for which teacher or church exists, is the persuasion of the individual heart to come to Jesus, the spirit, to be taught what he alone can teach.

      Terribly has his gospel suffered in the mouths of the wise and prudent: how would it be faring now, had its first messages been committed to persons of repute, instead of those simple fishermen? It would be nowhere, or, if anywhere, unrecognizable. From the first we should have had a system founded on a human interpretation of the divine gospel, instead of the gospel itself, which would have disappeared. As it is, we have had one dull miserable human system after another usurping its place; but, thank God, the gospel remains! The little child, heedless of his trailing cloud of glory, and looking about him aghast in an unknown world, may yet see and run to the arms open to the children. How often has not some symbol employed in the New Testament been forced into the service of argument for one or another contemptible scheme of redemption, which were no redemption; while the truth for the sake of which the symbol was used, the thing meant to be conveyed by it, has lain unregarded beside the heap of rubbish! Had the wise and prudent been the confidants of God, I repeat, the letter would at once have usurped the place of the spirit; the ministering slave would have been set over the household; a system of religion, with its rickety, malodorous plan of salvation, would not only have at once been put in the place of a living Christ, but would yet have held that place. The great brother, the human God, the eternal Son, the living one, would have been as utterly hidden from the tearful eyes and aching hearts of the weary and heavy-laden, as if he had never come from the deeps of love to call the children home out of the shadows of a self-haunted universe. But the Father revealed the Father's things to his babes; the babes loved, and began to do them, therewith began to understand them, and went on growing in the knowledge of them and in the power of communicating them; while to the wise and prudent, the deepest words of the most babe-like of them all, John Boanerges, even now appear but a finger-worn rosary of platitudes. The babe understands the wise and prudent, but is understood only by the babe.

      The Father, then, revealed his things to babes, because the babes were his own little ones, uncorrupted by the wisdom or the care of this world, and therefore able to receive them. The others, though his children, had not begun to be like him, therefore could not receive them. The Father's things could not have got anyhow into their minds without leaving all their value, all their spirit, outside the unchildlike place. The babes are near enough whence they come, to understand a little how things go in the presence of their father in heaven, and thereby to interpret the words of the Son. The child who has not yet 'walked above a mile or two from' his 'first love,' is not out of touch with the mind of his Father. Quickly will he seal the old bond when the Son himself, the first of the babes, the one perfect babe of God, comes to lead the children out of the lovely 'shadows of eternity' into the land of the 'white celestial thought.' As God is the one only real father, so is it only to God that any one can be a perfect child. In his garden only can childhood blossom.

      The leader of the great array of little ones, himself, in virtue of his firstborn childhood, the first recipient of the revelations of his father, having thus given thanks, and said why he gave thanks, breaks out afresh, renewing expression of delight that God had willed it thus: 'Even so, father, for so it seemed good in thy sight!' I venture to translate, 'Yea, O Father, for thus came forth satisfaction before thee!' and think he meant, 'Yea, Father, for thereat were all thy angels filled with satisfaction,' The babes were the prophets in heaven, and the angels were glad to find it was to be so upon the earth also; they rejoiced to see that what was bound in heaven, was bound on earth; that the same principle held in each. Compare Matt, xviii. 10 and 14; also Luke xv. 10. 'See that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you that their angels in heaven do always behold the face of my father which is in heaven.... Thus it is not the will before your father which is in heaven,'--among the angels who stand before him, I think he means,--'that one of these little ones should perish.' 'Even so, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.'

      Having thus thanked his father that he has done after his own 'good and acceptable and perfect will', he turns to his disciples, and tells them that he knows the Father, being his Son, and that he only can reveal the Father to the rest of his children: 'All things are delivered unto me of my father; and no one knoweth the son but the father; neither knoweth any one the father save the son, and he to whomsoever the son willeth to reveal him.' It is almost as if his mention of the babes brought his thoughts back to himself and his father, between whom lay the secret of all life and all sending--yea, all loving. The relation of the Father and the Son contains the idea of the universe. Jesus tells his disciples that his father had no secrets from him; that he knew the Father as the Father knew him. The Son must know the Father; he only could know him--and knowing, he could reveal him; the Son could make the other, the imperfect children, know the Father, and so become such as he. All things were given unto him by the Father, because he was the Son of the Father: for the same reason he could reveal the things of the Father to the child of the Father. The child-relation is the one eternal, ever enduring, never changing relation.

      Note that, while the Lord here represents the knowledge his father and he have each of the other as limited to themselves, the statement is one of fact only, not of design or intention: his presence in the world is for the removal of that limitation. The Father knows the Son and sends him to us that we may know him; the Son knows the Father, and dies to reveal him. The glory of God's mysteries is--that they are for his children to look into.

      When the Lord took the little child in the presence of his disciples, and declared him his representative, he made him the representative of his father also; but the eternal child alone can reveal him. To reveal is immeasurably more than to represent; it is to present to the eyes that know the true when they see it. Jesus represented God; the spirit of Jesus reveals God. The represented God a man may refuse; many refused the Lord; the revealed God no one can refuse; to see God and to love him are one. He can be revealed only to the child; perfectly, to the pure child only. All the discipline of the world is to make men children, that God may be revealed to them.

      No man, when first he comes to himself, can have any true knowledge of God; he can only have a desire after such knowledge. But while he does not know him at all, he cannot become in his heart God's child; so the Father must draw nearer to him. He sends therefore his first born, who does know him, is exactly like him, and can represent him perfectly. Drawn to him, the children receive him, and then he is able to reveal the Father to them. No wisdom of the wise can find out God; no words of the God-loving can reveal him. The simplicity of the whole natural relation is too deep for the philosopher. The Son alone can reveal God; the child alone understand him. The elder brother companies with the younger, and makes him yet more a child like himself. He interpenetrates his willing companion with his obedient glory. He lets him see how he delights in his father, and lets him know that God is his father too. He rouses in his little brother the sense of their father's will; and the younger, as he hears and obeys, begins to see that his elder brother must be the very image of their father. He becomes more and more of a child, and more and more the Son reveals to him the Father. For he knows that to know the Father is the one thing needful to every child of the Father, the one thing to fill the divine gulf of his necessity. To see the Father is the cry of every child-heart in the universe of the Father--is the need, where not the cry, of every living soul. Comfort yourselves then, brothers and sisters; he to whom the Son will reveal him shall know the Father; and the Son came to us that he might reveal him. 'Eternal Brother,' we cry, 'show us the Father. Be thyself to us, that in thee we may know him. We too are his children: let the other children share with thee in the things of the Father.'

      Having spoken to his father first, and now to his disciples, the Lord turns to the whole world, and lets his heart overflow:--St Matthew alone has saved for us the eternal cry:--'Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.'--'I know the Father; come then to me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden.' He does not here call those who want to know the Father; his cry goes far beyond them; it reaches to the ends of the earth. He calls those who are weary; those who do not know that ignorance of the Father is the cause of all their labour and the heaviness of their burden. 'Come unto me,' he says, 'and I will give you rest.'

      This is the Lord's own form of his gospel, more intensely personal and direct, at the same time of yet wider inclusion, than that which, at Nazareth, he appropriated from Isaiah; differing from it also in this, that it is interfused with strongest persuasion to the troubled to enter into and share his own eternal rest. I will turn his argument a little. 'I have rest because I know the Father. Be meek and lowly of heart toward him as I am; let him lay his yoke upon you as he lays it on me. I do his will, not my own. Take on you the yoke that I wear; be his child like me; become a babe to whom he can reveal his wonders. Then shall you too find rest to your souls; you shall have the same peace I have; you will be weary and heavy laden no more. I find my yoke easy, my burden light.'

      We must not imagine that, when the Lord says, 'Take my yoke upon you,' he means a yoke which he lays on those that come to him; 'my yoke' is the yoke he wears himself, the yoke his father lays upon him, the yoke out of which, that same moment, he speaks, bearing it with glad patience. 'You must take on you the yoke I have taken: the Father lays it upon us.'

      The best of the good wine remains; I have kept it to the last. A friend pointed out to me that the Master does not mean we must take on us a yoke like his; we must take on us the very yoke he is carrying.

      Dante, describing how, on the first terrace of Purgatory, he walked stooping, to be on a level with Oderisi, who went bowed to the ground by the ponderous burden of the pride he had cherished on earth, says--'I went walking with this heavy-laden soul, just as oxen walk in the yoke': this picture almost always comes to me with the words of the Lord, 'Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me.' Their intent is, 'Take the other end of my yoke, doing as I do, being as I am.' Think of it a moment:--to walk in the same yoke with the Son of Man, doing the same labour with him, and having the same feeling common to him and us! This, and nothing else, is offered the man who would have rest to his soul; is required of the man who would know the Father; is by the Lord pressed upon him to whom he would give the same peace which pervades and sustains his own eternal heart.

      But a yoke is for drawing withal: what load is it the Lord is drawing? Wherewith is the cart laden which he would have us help him draw? With what but the will of the eternal, the perfect Father? How should the Father honour the Son, but by giving him his will to embody in deed, by making him hand to his father's heart!--and hardest of all, in bringing home his children! Specially in drawing this load must his yoke-fellow share. How to draw it, he must learn of him who draws by his side.

      Whoever, in the commonest duties that fall to him, does as the Father would have him do, bears His yoke along with Jesus; and the Father takes his help for the redemption of the world--for the deliverance of men from the slavery of their own rubbish-laden waggons, into the liberty of God's husbandmen. Bearing the same yoke with Jesus, the man learns to walk step for step with him, drawing, drawing the cart laden with the will of the father of both, and rejoicing with the joy of Jesus. The glory of existence is to take up its burden, and exist for Existence eternal and supreme--for the Father who does his divine and perfect best to impart his glad life to us, making us sharers of that nature which is bliss, and that labour which is peace. He lives for us; we must live for him. The little ones must take their full share in the great Father's work: his work is the business of the family.

      Starts thy soul, trembles thy brain at the thought of such a burden as the will of the eternally creating, eternally saving God? 'How shall mortal man walk in such a yoke,' sayest thou, 'even with the Son of God bearing it also?'

      Why, brother, sister, it is the only burden bearable--the only burden that can be borne of mortal! Under any other, the lightest, he must at last sink outworn, his very soul gray with sickness!

      He on whom lay the other half of the burden of God, the weight of his creation to redeem, says, 'The yoke I bear is easy; the burden I draw is light'; and this he said, knowing the death he was to die. The yoke did not gall his neck, the burden did not overstrain his sinews, neither did the goal on Calvary fright him from the straight way thither. He had the will of the Father to work out, and that will was his strength as well as his joy. He had the same will as his father. To him the one thing worth living for, was the share the love of his father gave him in his work. He loved his father even to the death of the cross, and eternally beyond it.

      When we give ourselves up to the Father as the Son gave himself, we shall not only find our yoke 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 on 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 on 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. Giving 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 only understands; but when most it seems 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.

      It is vain to think that any weariness, however caused, any burden, however slight, may be got rid of otherwise than by bowing the neck to the yoke of the Father's will. There can be no other rest for heart and soul that he has created. From every burden, from every anxiety, from all dread of shame or loss, even loss of love itself, that yoke will set us free.

      These words of the Lord--so many as are reported in common by St Matthew and St Luke, namely his thanksgiving, and his statement concerning the mutual knowledge of his father and himself, meet me like a well known face unexpectedly encountered: they come to me like a piece of heavenly bread cut from the gospel of St John. The words are not in that gospel, and in St Matthew's and St Luke's there is nothing more of the kind--in St Mark's nothing like them. The passage seems to me just one solitary flower testifying to the presence in the gospels of Matthew and Luke of the same root of thought and feeling which everywhere blossoms in that of John. It looks as if it had crept out of the fourth gospel into the first and third, and seems a true sign, though no proof, that, however much the fourth be unlike the other gospels, they have all the same origin. Some disciple was able to remember one such word of which the promised comforter brought many to the remembrance of John. I do not see how the more phenomenal gospels are ever to be understood, save through a right perception of the relation in which the Lord stands to his father, which relation is the main subject of the gospel according to St John.

      As to the loving cry of the great brother to the whole weary world which Matthew alone has set down, I seem aware of a certain indescribable individuality in its tone, distinguishing it from all his other sayings on record.

      Those who come at the call of the Lord, and take the rest he offers them, learning of him, and bearing the yoke of the Father, are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.

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See Also:
   1 - Salvation From Sin
   2 - The Remission of Sins
   3 - Jesus in the World
   4 - Jesus and His Fellow Townsmen
   5 - The Heirs of Heaven and Earth
   6 - Sorrow the Pledge of Joy
   7 - God's Family
   8 - The Reward of Obedience
   9 - The Yoke of Jesus
   10 - The Salt and the Light of the World
   11 - The Right Hand and the Left
   12 - The Hope of the Universe


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