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WHAT YOKES ARE FOR
THERE is still one doubt to clear up. After the statement, “Learn of Me,” Christ throws in the disconcerting qualification, “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me.” Why, if all this be true, does He call it a yoke? Why, while professing to give Rest, does He with the next breath whisper “burden”? Is the Christian life after all, what its enemies take it for—an additional weight to the already great woeof life, some extra punctiliousness about duty, some painful devotion to observances, some heavy restriction and trammelling of all that is joyous and free in the world? Is life not hard and sorrowful enough without being fettered with yet another yoke?
It is astounding how so glaring a misunderstanding of this plain sentence shouldever have passed into currency. Did you ever stop to ask what a yoke is really for? Is it to be a burden to the animal which wears it? It is just the opposite. It is to make its burden light. Attached to the oxen in any other way than by a yoke, the plough would be intolerable. Worked by means of a yoke, it is light. A yoke is not an instrument of torture; it is an instrument of mercy. It is not a malicious contrivance for making work hard; it is a gentle device to make hard labour light. It is not meant to give pain, but to save pain. And yet men speak of theyoke of Christ as if it were a slavery, and look upon those who wear it as objects of compassion? For generations we have had homilies on “The Yoke of Christ,” some delighting in portraying its narrow exactions; some seeking in these exactions the marks of its divinity; others apologising for it, and toning it down; still others assuring us that, although it be very bad, it is not tobe compared with the positive blessings of Christianity. How many, especially among the young, has this one mistakenphrase driven for ever away from the kingdom of God? Instead of making Christ attractive, it makes Him out a taskmaster, narrowing life by petty restrictions, calling for self-denial where none is necessary, making misery a virtue under the plea that it is the yoke of Christ, and happinesscriminal because it now and then evades it. According to this conception, Christians are at best the victims of a depressing fate; their life is a penance; and their hope for the next world purchased by a slow martyrdom in this.
The mistake has arisen from taking the word “yoke” here in the same sense as in the expressions “under the yoke,” or “wear the yoke in his youth.” But in Christ’s illustration it is not the jugum of the Roman soldier, but the simple “harness” or “ox-collar” of the Eastern peasant. It is the literal wooden yoke which He, with His own hands in the carpenter’s shop, had probably often made. He knew the difference between a smooth yoke and a rough one, a bad fit and a good fit;the difference also it made tothe patient animal which had to wear it. The rough yoke galled, and the burden was heavy; the smooth yoke caused no pain, and the load was lightly drawn. The badly fitted harness was a misery; the well fitted collar was “easy.”
And what was the “burden”? It was not some special burden laid upon the Christian, some unique infliction that he alone must bear. It was what all men bear. It was simply life, human life itself, the generalburden of life which all must carry with them from the cradle to the grave. Christ saw that men took life painfully. To some it was a weariness, to others a failure, to many a tragedy, to all a struggle and a pain. How to carry this burden of life had beenthe whole world’s problem. It is still the whole world’s problem. And here is Christ’s solution: “Carry it as I do. Take life as I take it. Look at it from My point of view. Interpret it upon My principles.Take My yoke and learn of Me, and you will find it easy. For My yoke is easy, works easily, sits right upon the shoulders, and therefore my burden is light.”
There is no suggestion here that religion will absolve any man from bearing burdens. That would be to absolve him from living, since it is life itself that is the burden. What Christianity does propose is to make it tolerable. Christ’s yoke is simply His secret for the alleviation of human life, His prescription for the best and happiest method of living. Men harness themselves to the work and stress of the world in clumsy and unnatural ways. The harness they put on is antiquated. A rough, ill-fitted collar at the best, they make its strain and friction past enduring, by placing it where the neck is most sensitive; and by mere continuous irritation this sensitiveness increases until the whole nature is quick and sore.
This is the origin, among other things, of a disease called “touchiness”—a disease which, in spite of its innocent name, is one of thegravest sources of restlessness in the world. Touchiness, when it becomes chronic, is a morbid condition of the inward disposition. It is self-love inflamed to the acute point; conceit,with a hair-trigger. The cure is to shift the yoke to some other place; to let men and things touch us throughsome new and perhaps as yet unusedpart of our nature;to become meek and lowly in heart while the old nature is becoming numb from want of use. It is the beautiful work of Christianity everywhere to adjust the burden of life to those who bear it, and them toit. It has a perfectly miraculous gift of healing. Without doing any violence to human nature it sets it right with life, harmonizing it with all surrounding things, and restoring those who are jaded with the fatigue and dust of the world to a new grace of living. In the mere matter of altering he perspective of life and changing the proportions of things, its function in lightening the care of man is altogether its own. The weight of a load depends upon the attraction of the earth. But suppose the attraction of the earth were removed? A ton on some other planet, where the attraction of gravity is less, does not weigh half a ton. Now Christianity removes the attraction of the earth, and this is one way in which it diminishes men’s burden. It makes them citizens of another world. What was a ton yesterday is not half a ton today. So, without changing one’s circumstances, merely by offering a wider horizon and a different standard, it alters the whole aspect of the world.
Christianity as Christ taught it is the truest philosophy of life ever spoken. But let us be quite sure when we speak of Christianity that we mean Christ’s Christianity. Other versions are either caricatures, or exaggerations, or misunderstandings, or short-sighted and surface readings. For the most part their attainment is hopeless and the results wretched. But I care not who the person is, or through what vale of tears he has passed, or is about to pass, there is a new life forhim along this path.
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