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§ 136. Christ shows the Relation of his Contemporaries to the Baptist and to Himself.350350   Matt., xi., 17.The Easy Yoke and the Light Burden.—Jewish Legalism contrasted with Christian Liberty.

The discourse which Christ continued to the groups around him is especially important as unfolding the relation in which he stood to the Jews.

They are like children sitting in the market-place, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not wept.” The merry music and the mournful are alike displeasing; they will neither dance nor be sad. So it was with John and the Son of Man on the one hand, to the people of that time on the other. The ascetic of the desert, preaching repentance with fasting and austerity, was laughed at as a madman; the Son of Man, mingling in the intercourse of men, and sharing in their human joys, was “a glutton and a wine-bibber.” Yet “Wisdom was justified of her children,” was recognized by those who really belonged to her. (While the multitude, sunk in worldly-mindedness and self-conceit, and deaf to the voice of Divine wisdom, took offence, for opposite reasons, at both these messengers of God, the humble and susceptible disciples of the wisdom of God, on the other hand, could understand the different standpoints of John and Jesus, and appreciate the reasons for their different modes of life and action.)

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The discourse concluded with an exhortation to the gathered multitude, in which Christ, with the greatest tenderness, invited the susceptible souls among them (the children of Wisdom) to “come unto him351351   These incomparable words, preserved for us by Matthew alone (xi., 28-30), fitly conclude the discourse; the interposed passage (20-27) was probably taken from some other of Christ’s addresses by the editor of our Matthew (see hereafter), and placed here because of its affinity to the context. and find, in his fellowship, a supply for all their wants. He contrasts himself, as the Redeemer of “heavy-laden” souls, with the rigid teachers of the law, who, while they burdened men’s consciences with their multiplied statutes, imparted no power to perform them, and repelled, in haughtiness, the conscience-stricken sinner, instead of affording him peace and consolation. The contrast, perhaps, was intended to apply not only to the Pharisees, but to the Baptist, who also occupied the stand-point of the law.

The “friend of publicans and sinners” thus invites all who feel their wretchedness to enter his communion; and announces himself as the “meek and lowly” one, repelling none because of their misery, condescending to the necessities of all, taking off the load from the weary soul instead of imposing new burdens, and giving them joy and rest in his fellowship. He makes no extravagant, impracticable demands. Obedience, indeed (“the easy yoke”), he does require; but an obedience which (although it embraces more than the righteousness of the law) is easy and pleasant, flowing spontaneously from the Divine life within, and rendered in the spirit of love. “Come unto me (says he), all ye that labour and are heavy laden (all that sigh under the legal yoke and the sense of sin, like the ‘poor in spirit’ of the Sermon on the Mount), and I will free you from your burdens, and give you the peace for which you sigh. Enter the fellowship of my disciples, and you will find me no hard master, but a kind and gentle one; you shall obtain rest for your souls, for my yoke is mild, and the burden which I shall lay upon you, light.”352352   Here is the germ of Paul’s entire doctrine, not only of the contrast between law and Gospel, but also of the Gospel itself as a νόμος πίστεως, πνεύματος.

Our inference, from Christ’s own words, in respect to the relation in which he stood at that time to the Jewish people, is: That the majority of them were dissatisfied with him, as they had before been with the Baptist; but that a smaller number of those who had recognized the Divine calling of John, acknowledged also that of Christ, and passed over, in submission to the guidance of Divine wisdom, from the former to the latter.

It is clear that a strong opposition was already formed against Christ, and the chief point on which it supported itself was precisely that which distinguished the stand-point of the Saviour from that of the 203Old Testament, and also from the peculiar one of John the Baptist. It was the spirit of liberty with which, in Christianity, the Divine life takes hold of and appropriates to itself the relations of the world and society, in contrast with the spirit of ascetic opposition to the world. The Jews could see nothing of the holy prophet in a man who shared with his disciples in the pleasures of social life, and sanctified them by his presence; in a man who did not hesitate to partake of the entertainments of publicans and sinners. Striking, indeed, must have been the contrast between the comparatively unrestrained mode of life adopted by Christ’s disciples, and the austere asceticism of the pupils whom the Baptist was training to be preachers of repentance, or of the neophytes of the Pharisaic schools. No schools of spiritual life, indeed, before that time, had trained their pupils as Christ did his. We can easily imagine the amazement of the Pharisees!


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