25 October, 2013
The Call of Christ -Whom Did Christ Call? – Part 4
"Come unto Me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest" (Matthew ).
Having examined at some length the context of these words, that we might the better perceive their connection and the particular characters in which Christ is there portrayed, we turn now to consider the people here addressed, the ones who were invited to come to the Rest-Giver. On this point, there has been some difference among the commentators, some giving a narrower scope to this call of Christ—and some a wider. It is to be noted however, that all of the leading men among the earlier expositors united inrestricting this particular call to a special class. Let us quote several of the principal ones:
"He now kindly invites to Himself those whom He acknowledges to be fit for becoming His disciples. Though He is ready to reveal the Father to all—yet the great part are careless about coming to Him, because they are not affected by a conviction of their necessities. Hypocrites give themselves no concern about Christ because they are intoxicated with their own righteousness, and neither hunger nor thirst after His grace. Those who are devoted to the world set no value on a heavenly life. It would be vain therefore for Christ to invite either of these classes, and therefore He turns to the wretched and afflicted. He speaks of them as 'laboring' or being under a 'burden,' and does not mean generally those who are oppressed with griefs and vexations—but those who are overwhelmed by their sins, who are filled with alarm at the wrath of God and are ready to sink under so weighty a burden" (John Calvin)
"The character of the people invited: all that labor and are heavy laden. This is a word in season to him that is weary (Isaiah 50:4). Those who complain of the burden of the ceremonial law, which was an intolerable yoke, and was made much more so by the tradition of the elders (Luke ); let them come to Christ and they shall be made easy . . . this is to be understood of the burden of sin, both the guilt and the power of it. All those, and those only, are invited to rest in Christ—who are sensible of sin as a burden and groan under it, who are not only convicted of the evil of sin—their own sin—but are contrite in soul for it; who are really sick of sin, weary of the service of the world and the flesh, who see their state sad and dangerous by reason of sin, and are in pain and fear about it: as Ephraim (Jer. 31:18-20), the prodigal (Luke 15:17), the publican (Luke 18:13), Peter's hearers (Acts 2:37), Paul (Acts 9), the jailer (Acts 16:29, 30). This is a necessary preparative for pardon and peace" (Matthew Henry).
"Who are the people here invited? They are those who 'labor' (the Greek expresses toil with weariness) and are 'heavy laden.' This must here be limited to spiritual concerns, otherwise it will take in all mankind, even the most hardened and obstinate opposers of Christ and the Gospel." Referring to the self-righteous religionists, this writer went on to say, "You avoid gross sins, you have perhaps a form of godliness. The worst you think that can be said of you is, that you employ all your thoughts and every means that will not bring you under the lash of the law—to heap up money, to join house to house and field to field; or you spend your days in a complete indolence, walking in the way of your own hearts and looking no further: and here you will say you find pleasure, and insist on it, that you are neither weary nor heavy laden . . . then it is plain that you are not the people whom Christ here invites to partake of His rest" (John Newton).
"The people invited are not 'all' the inhabitants of mankind—but with a restriction: 'all you who labor and are heavy laden,' meaning not those who labor in the service of sin and Satan, are laden with iniquity and insensible of it: those are not weary of sin nor burdened with it, nor do they want or desire any rest for their souls; but only such who groan, being burdened with the guilt of sin on their consciences and are pressed down with the unsupportable yoke of the Law and the load of their trespasses, and have been laboring until they are weary, in order to obtain peace of conscience and rest for their soul by the observance of these things—but in vain. These are encouraged to come to Him, lay down their burdens at His feet and look to Him, and lay hold by faith on His person, blood and righteousness" (John Gill).
In more recent times the majority of preachers have dealt with our text as though the Lord Jesus was issuing an indefinite invitation, regarding His terms as being sufficiently general and wide in their scope as to include sinners of every grade and type. They supposed that the words, "you who labor and are heavy laden" refer to the misery and bondage which the Fall has brought upon the whole human race, as its unhappy subjects vainly seek satisfaction in the things of time and sense, endeavoring to find happiness in the pleasures of sin. They are laboring for contentment by gratifying their lusts, only to add to their miseries by becoming more and more the burdened slaves of sin.
It is quite true that the unregenerate "labor in the very fire" and that they "weary themselves for the very vanity" (Hab. ). It is quite true that they "labor in vain" (Jer. 51:58), and "what profit has he who has labored for the wind?" (Eccl. 5:16). It is quite true that they "spend money for that which is not bread" and "labor for that which satisfies not" (Isaiah 55:2), for "the eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear with hearing" (Eccl. 1:8). It is equally true that the unregenerate are heavy laden, "a people laden with iniquity" (Isaiah 1:4)—yet are they totally insensible of their dreadful state: "the labor of the foolish wearies them" (Eccl. 10:15). Moreover, "The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, says my God, to the wicked" (Isaiah 57:20, 21). That is, they have neither peace of conscience nor rest of heart.
But it is quite another matter to affirm that these are the characters which Christ invited to come unto Him for rest. Personally we much prefer the view taken by the older writers, for with rare exceptions their expositions are much sounder than those furnished in more recent days. As far back as a century ago a latitudinarian spirit had begun to creep in, and even the most orthodox were often, unconsciously, to some degree affected thereby. The pew was more and more inclined to chafe against what they regarded as the "rigidity" and "narrowness" of their fathers, and those in the pulpit had to tone down those aspects of the Truth which were most repellent to the carnal mind if they were to retain their popularity. Side by side with modern discoveries and inventions, the increased means for travel and the dissemination of news, came in what was termed "a broader outlook" and "a more charitable spirit," and posing as an angel of light Satan succeeded in Arminianising many places of Truth, and even where this was not accomplished, high Calvinism was whittled down to moderate Calvinism.
That to which we have just alluded, is no distorted conception of ours, issuing from an extreme theology—but a solemn fact which no honest student of church history can deny. Christendom, my reader, has not got into the unspeakably dreadful condition it is now in, all of a sudden: rather is its present state the outcome of a steady and long deterioration. The deadly poison of error was introduced here a little and there a little, the quantity being increased as less opposition was made against it. As "missionary" activities absorbed more and more the attention and strength of the Church, the standard of doctrine was lowered, sentiment displaced biblical convictions, fleshly methods were introduced, until in a comparatively short time nine tenths of those sent out to "the foreign field" were rank Arminians, preaching "another Gospel." This reacted upon the homelands and soon the interpretations of Scripture given out by its pulpits were brought into line with the "new spirit" which had captivated Christendom.