The Easy Yoke "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew xi. verse 30)
In many respects, this is one of the most wonderful and appealing passages in the Divine Word. It throws into relief the Humanity of the Lord's Divinity. It proclaims in no uncertain way the Divinity of the Lord's Humanity. It is an appeal, that is to say, that could not possibly come from the God of Science or of Metaphysics. It is no utterance of a mere unfeeling all-pervading Force. It is essentially the call of a man to man, of One who knows our labour and the irksomeness of our burdens, and of our need and desire for rest. It comes, too, from One who knows our fears, the fears born of evil and the consciousness of evil, and One who, that these fears may not stand between us and the source of our happiness, assures us of His meekness and lowliness of heart. How essentially Human is the Divinity that here speaks! It is the Word of tender appeal crowned with gracious promise. And yet, human as the voice would seem to be, it is supported by omnipotence. Human as Jesus is, there is no escaping the finality, the sufficiency, the authority of His words. Human as this appeal is, it could come only from the Divine. " Come unto Me "." I will give you rest "." Learn of Me "." Ye shall find rest unto your souls ". How useless the cry, how hollow the promise, if no Divine sanction lies behind the human voice! Even as Jesus was born Emmanuel, God with us, so His every utterance is the translation of Divine and Infinite purpose into the language of human appeal. By His Word, we learn that Divinity, immeasurable, distant, omnipotent as it is, is yet intensely understanding in nature, is yet so near, that our faintest sigh is heard by it, our most secret sorrow is known to it; is yet so human that it can plead and beckon, though it could so readily compel.
The nature of the Lord's yoke is not difficult to ascertain. The whole realm, of what we call inanimate nature displays a myriad substances and forces yoked to the Infinite Will of God. In obedience to unseen control the distant and mighty suns of the physical universe move in silence and with mathematical precision. The meanest speck of meteoric dust, the mighty nebulae in Orion and Andromeda, the stupendous whirl of solar systems we know as the Milky Way, all are yoked to the Divine Will, and the yoke is easy.
Wherever we turn in the physical universe there is law, and that term law is the name we give to the behaviour of things in their yoked-labour; their obedience to the Infinite Will. By this unquestioning obedience on the part of material things, the Lord's purposes can be effected in the material universe. His Love can reveal itself, because His Wisdom holds sway. Now if the Will of God were such that it found satisfaction in the contemplation of a gigantic mechanical universe obeying with absolute precision His every order, His Will would be no higher in kind - though of course much greater in degree - than the will of the little boy who gets his mechanical engine to go when he wishes it to go, and to stop when he wishes it to stop. The attempt to reduce all creation to mechanical terms presupposes a very puerile will in the Creator. But there is evidence of a vastly higher kind of will even in mankind. The little boy may be said to will that his engine shall go; but this will is but poor stuff when we consider that if made to go, if forced to go, the engine can in no way refuse. Vastly higher in kind is that will which finds its satisfaction in freely-given obedience and in voluntary love. And that is the only obedience the Lord would ask of man. Mankind differs from the rest of creation in that this yoke of obedience must needs be assumed freely, if at all. And that freedom to obey is man's highest gift, his crowning glory. It is what makes him spiritual that raises him eternally above the character of the natural universe. It gives him, too, immortality, for that element of free response to the Divine Will satisfies an essential quality of the Divine Will, that quality which is above delight in mechanical obedience and which demands an unforced, voluntary love.
Thus it is that the Lord pleads with humanity. He pleads that we bring ourselves into the right order of our creation. He appeals to us that we, with our freedom to respond or not, come under that same yoke under which all other creations are working. By assuming that yoke, there is rest for our souls. Before we take His yoke upon us, we live in the illusion of freedom. We live, it seems to us, unyoked. And yet in this imagined freedom there is no rest. Countless cares obsess the soul. And this is because our seeming freedom is a positive slavery - it is the burden of a yoke that is chafing - destroying us instead of bringing us into the right order of our creation. It is this slavery to self which society and the individual so willingly submit to, that makes rest - real peace of soul and mind - an unknown and undreamt-of treasure. It is the yoke under which mankind has sown its selfishness and reaped its harvest of ignorance and unhappiness, of hunger and poverty, of hatred and crime, of impurity and distrust. We have only to trace, in the annals of the world's history, the effect of evil, the merciless nature of evil's reaction, to realise how hard a yoke this one of our own selfish life can be. And that story, writ large in the pages of history, is written none the less clearly in the conscious experience of every individual soul.
Now, the Lord's yoke is easy. Let us beware of how we understand this. From what we have already seen of the meaning of yoke, this will mean that the government of the Lord in our life is not felt as a government, a government in which we shall seem to be free, rather than perpetually feeling the pressure of control. There is nothing in this passage to suggest that the relinquishment of our own yoke and the assumption of the Lord's is a particularly easy change to effect in our own life. And that is what the passage is popularly understood to mean, and those are the grounds on which it is frequently criticised. How hard or how easy to us appears the change from slavery to freedom depends entirely upon our own state of life and particularly upon the faith we have when the change is contemplated. Theoretically, even this abandonment of the selfish yoke and the assumption of the Lord's yoke is simplicity itself, because Omnipotence is on our side. But how far our practical effort approximates to this theoretical fact again depends on us. But according to the Writings of the New Church, the word " easy " here applies not to any facility by which any man can change from his present yoke to the Lord's, but to the character of the Lord's yoke once it has been positively assumed. And the meaning is that the Lord's yoke is such that it is not felt as a yoke. His government of the regenerate, of those who have abandoned all other control for His control, is through our affections and therefore by our delights. The life that lies beyond our temptations, that is the life of man when he is securely yoked to the Divine control, is a peaceful or restful life because the yoke is not pulling us contrary to what we love to do or to what we delight in. That which the Lord desires us to do, we do of our own pleasure because it is our will, too. He has no need to urge, to command, to pull. We are led apparently by our own delight. It is this fact which obscures from us the other fact that the Lord is really directing, or that we are under a yoke. We seem to go where we will to go, to do what we will to do. But it is the Lord's presence in our will that makes His purpose our delight. The yoke is easy. We do not labour under it - we do not tire of it - we do not strive against it. On the contrary, because it works not against our will, but actually through our will (made one with His) we go ever from one delight to new and higher ones. This is the life which the Lord in His Mercy and Love offers to each one of us. His yoke is His government, His command. And His command is that we love one another. That command, made the yoke or guiding principle of life, leads us to perfect freedom, and then to perfect peace. It is a call to make life the exercise of unselfish affection, one long and happy errand of mercy and charity. We may call it a yoke, but it is one we shall not feel as such when once we have assumed it. It is rather the grasp of the hand of a friend, or those golden cords which link us eternally with the source of love.