It is recorded by Gurnall, in his interesting work on the Christian Armor, that this passage was once made to a godly man the messenger to open his dungeon of soul trouble, and to bring him into the light of inward joy, and that he then said, that he had better be without meat, drink, light, air, earth, life, and all, than be without this one comfortable Scripture.
It is a passage that has addressed itself when applied by the power of the Holy Ghost, to many an aching heart. Many a sorrowful one in the family of God has drunk rich consolation out of the precious cup which God has given to him in this word.
You will observe that there is great beauty in this verse, for it not only opens out to us that which is so suited to the distressed and burdened--rest; but it is also a magnificent argument for the Deity of Him who spake the word, and whose prerogative it is to break through all the burdens and sorrows which press down the heart, and Himself to reach it with His own comfort.
I propose speaking on the two subjects into which the verse naturally divides itself.
First, the invitation that is given, "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden."
Secondly, the promise annexed to that invitation--"I will give you rest."
We speak first of the invitation--the large and precious invitation that is here given. Mark the words, brethren, "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden." I never read this passage of God's Word, and another which is very similar--the 1st verse of the 55th of Isaiah, without feeling how much man has done to damage, as far as in him lies, the truth of God. Men who hold Arminian views, and who are anxious to exalt the faculties, the powers, and perhaps, the still remaining quantity of goodness, as they think, in man, have taken these passages, and they have written, and they have preached, and they have argued thus,--You see God speaks to man as if he had power of himself to turn to the Lord; Christ says, "Come unto me." And they have brought it forward as a very salutary advice to us preachers; they have told us that instead of setting before men the sovereignty of Him who does as He pleases "in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth," (Dan. 4:35) we ought rather to come as suitors to men, and to say to everyone, "Come unto Christ," but there, very often, they stop.
Before we take notice of what really is the meaning of our text, let me, as a word of warning, say, that there is nothing more dishonoring to the Holy Ghost, than for a man to take God's Word, and setting passage in array against passage, text in conflict with text, to make the Word of God teach all kinds of error; in short, to make it teach anything. God's Word abounds with proclamations and declarations of truth and of doctrine, and also with most gracious and condescending invitations. God's Word, when it treats of doctrine, tells us that every spiritual faculty which man may be enabled to exercise is of God; thus the Apostle tells us in the 2nd of Ephesians, "You hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." In the 3rd of John our Lord says, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God." The 1st chapter of the Gospel of St. John tells us that God's people are "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." Now, when we have the doctrine set before us, as it is in Scripture; when we are told that every spiritual faculty comes from God, let me take heed, how in order to be popular, if they be ministers, or in order to pass smoothly through the world, if they be not ministers, they try to bring down God's truth to the level of man's doctrine, which he would propound as God's.
We shall now tell you what the passage means. It does not mean to teach this doctrine, that the Lord stands waiting until man condescends to receive or to reject His offer, as if there were uncertainty in the purposes of God, or contingency in the working out of His designs. Now read these passages as a plain man ought to read the Scriptures, "Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden," that is one passage; "Ho every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters," is the other passage. You observe there is a point in the address--there is a class--there is a frame of mind to which the word in each case addresses itself. But men begin to tell us, Ay, but every man is laboring--every man is heavy laden. One man is laboring in his pleasures, another man is heavy laden with his guilt, and, then, as to that word which addresses itself to every one that thirsteth, every man is thirsting after pleasure and amusement.
Now, brethren, will such an interpretation as that stand? Is it, think you, a fair way of viewing these passages? Let us, as plain men, read these words. Here are addresses to two classes; one of them is laboring, and is pressed down; the invitation to such is, "Come unto me." You do not tell me that this means pressed down with the pleasures, and amusements, and gaieties of this world. The other address is to men who are thirsting; the word to such is, "Come to the waters."
It appears to me, that one of the greatest beauties of Scripture is the peculiar application that there is always of an address to the circumstances of the people addressed. For instance, in the 2nd of Acts, I am told of a multitude of Jews, whose hands were stained with the blood of Jesus. I find the servants of God addressing these men, and charging home upon them guilt, in having been the betrayers and murderers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and I find them pricked in their consciences, and crying out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Now, mark the adaptation of the address to the circumstances of the people addressed--"Repent." O let your minds be changed; "Repent, and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ." On another occasion recorded in the 7th of Acts, I find the Lord's servant, Stephen, addressing men who were gnashing their teeth against him, and against the truth of God, and saying, "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye." Again, in the 14th of Acts, I read of Paul and Barnabas addressing a number of idolaters who brought garlands and oxen, and would have done sacrifice, supposing that the gods had come down in the likeness of men, and I find these men of God saying, "Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein." Now, mark the adaptation of all these addresses to the circumstances, or the frame of mind of the people who were addressed; and so here, the very context, in which this word stands, teaches us that it is addressed to men who wanted rest, and who had it not, for such is the promise which the Lord Jesus Christ gives, "I will give you rest." There would be no meaning in the word, and there would be no graciousness in it, unless it were directly applicable to a particular case.
Now, it is remarkable that in this passage, and in the 1st verse of the 55th of Isaiah, both of which passages are, I speak it with reverence, the Arminian texts of the Bible, I mean the texts which the Arminians bring forward in proof of their doctrines; in both of these passages you find the strongest declarations of God's sovereignty standing in connection with these gracious invitations. You remember the 25th verse of the 11th of Matthew--"At that time Jesus answered 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." And immediately after our Lord says--"All things are delivered unto me of my Father, and no man knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him." In the other passage, the 55th of Isaiah, I find these declarations of God's sovereignty--"My word that goeth forth out of my mouth, shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." There is no such thing as the Lord being disappointed in His efforts to bring the sinner to Himself--"It shall not return unto me void."
But we have done with this part of our subject, and we wish to speak of the particular class of people to whom the word seems to be addressed--"All ye that labour and are heavy laden."
What a deeply interesting study to the enlightened mind is the history of the heathen world. The craving of the heart after the very thing which the Gospel reveals to us, is so legibly written upon all their superstitious services. There is a natural desire in the human heart for rest; I do not say that the conscience of every man is pressed down under the weight of unforgiven sin, but I repeat it, there is a natural craving in the heart for rest. Now, when I want to see human nature in its wild state, I look at the heathen world; but you may take the plant, and you may put it in a better soil; you may have your varieties, if you will; but the nature, the character, the habit of the plant remains the same. And so I look at the Jewish history, and as I turn over the pages of God's Word I see the Jewish mind pressed down under the stingings of conscience, and I find these people seeking for rest in pharisaic observances, and in all that yoke of bondage which neither they nor their fathers were able to bear.
Well, we come nearer home, and this is the point to which we want to bring you. Who are the people to whom this word seems to be addressed? Those who labor and those who are heavy laden. As for instance, take one class, men burdened in their conscience, men who feel the weight of unpardoned guilt resting upon them; men who are striving to find peace; and in our own day there is much teaching abroad the tendency of which is to send men to pharisaic observances, to all that yoke of bondage, of which we have been speaking, in order that they may there find rest for their souls.
O what a department is here opened out to us of the wants and necessities of the human breast. I do not say that these words are addressed to men who are laboring for pleasure. I think there is no greater mistake than to tell worldly men, You are very unhappy. A man living in the midst of the pleasures of the world would at once tell me that his experience contradicts what I say; he would tell me, I love the world, I have enjoyment in the world. The man is going after his idols, and we would remind him that there is a condition which is described in God's Word, and which is the most awful condition in which a man can be--"Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone." (Hosea 4:17) Let him, as it were, intoxicate himself with the cup that Satan gives him, "Let him alone."
But there may be those here this day who know something of a burdened conscience; there may be those amongst us who know what it is to have every chamber of memory haunted, as it were; there may be those whom the recollection of the past tortures, whom the feeling of present weakness depresses; who have been brought to feel their own misery and their own sinfulness, and who want rest for their souls. Some there may be whose case is aptly described by the account of two individuals of whom we read in the Scriptures of the New Testament; the one, that poor woman mentioned in the 13th of Luke, who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in nowise lift up herself. The other, that woman who is mentioned in the 9th of Matthew, who had spent all that she had in seeking to the physicians for the cure of her bodily disease, but instead of getting better she rather grew worse. We think that these are most apt descriptions of the consciences of many who have sought rest here and there, and who cannot find it.
Now, the invitation is addressed to such, and there is something very beautiful in the words, "Come unto Me." Just as on another occasion, mentioned in the 7th of John, "On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." And it is this that gives such comfort to the enlightened, believing soul, that we are not brought to an abstraction, but to a person; that we are not brought to a redemption, but to a Redeemer; that we are not brought to a salvation, but to a Saviour; that we are brought to Jesus Christ Himself. The words of our text remind us that all the fullness of the Godhead bodily dwells in the Lord Jesus Christ, in order that He may supply all the wants of His burdened people.
When He says, "Come unto Me," He seems to direct us to the glory of His person as the Son of God; this is a truth which is not realized by us as it ought to be. When we go to pray in the name of Jesus, we do not sufficiently remember that He, the Son of God, has all things committed unto Him by the Father; that He can do as He pleases, that the earth is His, and the fullness thereof. So that there is not a heart that He cannot bend, there is not a circumstance that He cannot bring into the train of good to His people.
Then, again, the glory of His person as the Son of Man is also brought before us; and therefore does the Apostle teach us in that interesting passage in the 2nd of Hebrews, that "it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself hath suffered, being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted."
And, again, when we read these words, "Come unto Me," we view Him not only in the glory of His person, as the Son of God and as the Son of Man, but we view Him in all the offices of the mediatorial engagement, which He has undertaken to carry out for the people given unto Him by the Father.
"Come unto Me," says Christ. Come unto Me as the Saviour. We all profess to believe that He is the Saviour; but remember, it is one thing to say we believe; it is another thing to trust the salvation of our souls to the Lord Jesus Christ.
"Come unto Me," says Christ. Come unto Me as the great Head of the Church. Read at your leisure the 1st of Colossians and 1st of Ephesians, and you will there learn that He is "Head over all things to the Church."
"Come unto Me," says Christ. Come unto Me as the Responsible One--the great Shepherd of the sheep--the Servant of Jehovah. We tell you, brethren, no man who is burdened in his conscience, no man who feels distress rising in his soul, will ever find peace until he learns to look to Jesus Christ as the Responsible One, and thus gets rid of all responsibility himself. The man who believes in Christ has all responsibility rolled off himself on Christ; He is the Responsible One--the Saviour--the Almighty Saviour; and therefore He says, "Come unto Me."
Now a word as to the promise--"I will give you rest." There is great force in the word, for it means not only relief from the labor, and rest from the toil into which such a state of mind brings an individual, but there is also the idea of refreshment, and therefore you remember that in our Communion Service these words are translated, "Come unto Me all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you." The word implies that the Lord has everything, and that He will give everything that shall rest, and comfort, and refresh the hearts of those who thus come to Him. Coming to Him is simply believing in Him, in all those relations in which He stands towards His people, and in all those offices which He fulfills for them.
The rest which He gives to His people is, in the first place, rest to the conscience. The man who has been enabled to believe the Gospel, who has learned by the teaching of the Holy Ghost that "the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth us from all sin," that man must have peace in his conscience. So long as his eye is directed to his own strivings, his own prayings, his own watchings, he will never find rest to his soul; but when he is enabled to believe that his sins have been laid on Jesus, that his iniquities have been cast into the depths of the sea, that he is amongst those whom the Scripture pronounces "blessed," because his sins have been forgiven, then shall he find rest, and not till then.
Persons who are thus burdened ask us continually what they are to do. One man says, he does not feel such sorrow for sin as he ought to experience; another says, he has not those strong convictions of sin of which others speak. We say to such, then, If you had these feelings, perhaps, you would be satisfied with them, instead of being satisfied with Christ. We cannot tell men, Pray more, grieve more for your sins, and then you shall find rest; but we tell them that Jesus Christ gives rest. They often want us to say that they are to find rest in the achings of their own hearts. It may answer a pharisaic questioner to tell him, as our Lord told that man whom he answered as a fool, according to his folly, to keep the law; but the Lord never told that man that he should thus find rest to his soul. The man who knows the Gospel finds rest in Jesus, and in Him alone. Thus it is that he has the answer of a good conscience towards God. The 10th of Hebrews tells us something of that good conscience. It says, in the 22nd verse, "Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water."
But, again, it is not only rest as to the inner man, but there are the ten thousand difficulties which press upon God's people; there are the ten thousand little things which weigh them down, and under all this, where are they to find relief? It does appear to me that that woman, of whom we read in the 1st and 2nd chapters of 1st Samuel, is a type of the rest which the Lord gives to His poor tried people. You remember her story, when one, who though himself a servant of God, misunderstood her; and as he saw her lips move when her voice was not heard, he supposed that she had partaken of that which had intoxicated her; "Eli thought she had been drunken." He knew not what transactions were going on between her soul and the Lord at that time; she tells her little interesting story of herself, and says, "I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord." And in the 18th verse we are told, "So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad." She found rest to her soul.
Now, when I read the Gospel narratives, and when I am told that they brought to our blessed Lord those that were sick of divers diseases, and "He healed them all," it seems to me that this was written for the comfort of the Church of God. Be that case ever so desperate, in spiritual or temporal things, the Lord can reach it, and can afford relief.
Surely the Holy Ghost meant to teach us very much in the story of the prodigal son, as recorded in the 15th chapter of St. Luke's Gospel. That man was made to feel his want; there was a famine in the land, but when that famine touched himself; for there is a force in that word, "when he himself began to be in want," as it is in the original; when all that could be done was to send him into the fields to feed swine, and when he would fain have satisfied the cravings of hunger with the husks that the swine did eat, then it was that he came to himself, and then he said, "I will arise and go to my father." There was teaching there that was not human. It is the teaching of God Himself when He sends us to His own bosom.
We believe that that prodigal son is a type which brings out most vividly, for the comfort of the Church of God, that truth, that never has a sinner been brought by the power of the Holy Ghost to Christ--for He Himself has said, "No man cometh unto the Father but by me"--never has a sinner thus come to the Lord who has not found rest to his soul. And as that father ran and fell on the neck of his prodigal son, and kissed him, so does the Lord receive the sinner who has learned to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot tell men they must find something good in themselves, before they can come to Christ. Our warrant is His own gracious Word; and our plea, when we come before the Lord is, that He has promised. We do not want anything of our own, and we cannot bring Him anything of our own, for we have nothing but misery and distress.
You remember the narrative that is recorded in the 7th of Luke. It appears to me, that the Gospel stands out in its brightest colors in the story of that poor woman, whose cheeks, perhaps burned with shame when the Lord taught her to feel what a sinner she was, hardened as she had been before, as she walked with a countenance of brass through the streets, where every one knew what she was; but when God showed her her sin, she broke through all obstacles; she could not be hindered from going to Him who alone could give her rest. And what was His gracious word to her? "Go in peace."
Now, it may be that we are speaking in the hearing of those who know something of this burdened conscience. It may be that we are speaking in the hearing of those who know much of their own weakness, and much of the pressure of outward duties, trials, and difficulties of one kind or another. We just ask you, have you ever, on the faith of this promise of the Lord Jesus Christ to His poor, broken-hearted people, cast your care upon the Lord? I know well what the heart replies; I believe that, "as in water, face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man." I know the question which the devil would suggest; Am I to bring such and such trials before the Lord? Am I warranted to believe, that, at the very moment I ask, the Lord will hear me, and will give me the things which I desire of Him? Brethren, if the Lord Jesus Christ has spoken this word, and if you believe the Gospel, you ought to take it in its largeness, and to its fullest extent, and you ought to believe that you shall find rest to your soul.
The Lord Jesus Christ says, "I will give you rest." But when there is a hesitating before the throne of grace; when you say, I do not know whether the Lord will give me that for which I ask, you are not in the frame of mind in which you ought to come into the presence of the Lord. You ought to come with a good conscience, I mean a conscience sprinkled with the blood of Jesus. So long as you think there is a quarrel between the Lord and you; so long as you think that God has one single hard thought of you; so long as you think you have not a right to come to the throne of grace, you have not received the Gospel as you ought to receive it. One stain of guilt should not be allowed to disturb the conscience. You ought to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has said, "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Look for it, expect it.