by Archibald Alexander
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.— Matt. xi. 28.
As a stream of living water to a traveller perishing with thirst, as a skilful physician to one sick with a dangerous disease, as a reprieve to a condemned criminal, such is the voice of mercy to the miserable, self-condemned sinner—such, in ten thousand instances, have been these blessed words to heavy-laden, weary souls. These are words which can never lose their interest by age or repetition. As food is equally relished by the hungry appetite after having been eaten a thousand times as at first, so the precious promises of God bring the same refreshment to the soul, however often they may have been received by faith. The Christian does not desire novelties; all he wants is a heart to embrace and relish the same truths which have stood on the sacred page from the beginning There is no penury in the divine word. All fulness and riches are included in this treasure, if we are only in possession of the key of faith to unlock the ark in which it is contained. One great excellence of the sacred Scriptures is, that they never lose their power and sweetness. After the lapse of ages, God's promises to believers are as firm and consolatory as when first made; and Christ's invitations to sinners are as full and as free to those who now hear the gospel, as when first uttered.
If Christ, while upon earth, had spoken no more than these few words, they ought to be esteemed infinitely more precious than all the golden sayings of all the heathen sages. Let us, then, be truly thankful for such a gracious invitation, proceeding from the lips of him who always spake as never man spake; and let us lift up our hearts to the Father of lights, to open our eyes and prepare our hearts to understand and appreciate the grace which is exhibited in these divine words of our Redeemer.
But who are the persons here addressed by the Saviour? What class of persons are designated by the " labouring and heavy-laden ?" As the gospel is directed to be preached to " every creature," and as this call contains the essence of the gospel, there is no reason why we should not consider all who hear the invitation, as included; especially as our Lord complains of the conduct of the most proud and unbelieving of his hearers for refusing to come to him; " Ye will not come unto me, that ye may have life." All men are miserable; all men are " by nature children of wrath ;" all men are labouring in the vain pursuit of earthly happiness; all, therefore, may consider themselves
invited. None need feel themselves excluded from Christ's invitation. And the giving this universal latitude to the call, harmonizes with parallel passages of Scripture, especially with that remarkable invitation in Isaiah lv. 1—3. " Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money: come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live." And the gracious invitation of the Spirit, in Rev. xxii. 17, is equally free and universal: " And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." And the same extent ought to be given to Christ's public invitation at Jerusalem, on the last day of the feast of tabernacles; " In 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." John vii. 37.
But while we think that this kind invitation ought not to be restricted, we readily admit that it is more applicable to some of our race than others. The poor, the oppressed, the diseased, the persecuted, the halt, the blind, the friendless among men, may have been more particularly in the eye t)f the blessed Redeemer; for it was given as one characteristic of his being the Messiah that was to
come, that " the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them." Matt. xi. 5.
But there is another class to whom the Saviour's address may be considered as still more appropriate; I mean convinced sinners labouring under a sense of guilt, and almost sinking under a burden too grievous to be borne. Surely Christ had respect to these, for he came not " to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance;" " to seek and save the lost;" to heal those that are sick, namely, such as are sensible of their mortal maladies. And even they who are groaning under the burden of a blind mind and hard heart, and think that they have no conviction; even these, who are so prone to exclude themselves, are of the number invited. Yes, Christ speaks to you—he speaks to you more particularly than unto others. Do not, therefore, put away from you the gracious call, as if it were intended only for others; do not any longer ingeniously argue against your own souls; do not by unbelief shut the door of mercy, which the Redeemer has graciously opened.
Neither should penitent believers, who are burdened with a deep sense of their own defilements, and continual imperfections, be omitted when the several classes of heavy-laden sinners are designated. The great Shepherd of the sheep has always especial regard to the tender and weak of his own flock. "He carries the lambs in his bosom, and gently leads those that are with young." The kind condescension of the Son of God to the humble penitent is, in many parts of Scripture, set forth in remarkable words. He was described in prophecy, as one who would " comfort all that mourn;" and who would give unto them "who mourn in Zion, beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." " Thus saith the Lord, Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; bat to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word." " The bruised reed will he not break, nor quench the smoking flax." Let those, then, who are walking in darkness, and troubled in spirit—let all those who are harassed and cast down with manifold temptations and sore inward conflicts, which cause them to express their feelings in groanings which cannot be uttered in words, attend to the gentle accents of mercy which proceed from the lips of Jesus. Unworthy and wretched as you feel yourselves to be, he passes you not by. He addresses you, not in the language of reproach or condemnation, but in that of tender affection. Yes, he calls you also to come unto him.
II. Having considered the objects of the invitation, let us now contemplate the character of Him from whom it proceeds.
Though we need to know more than the name of this divine Person, yet even this is " as ointment poured forth." His name is Emanuel, " God with us." Said the angel to Joseph, " Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins." When our Lord put it to his disciples to say who he was, Peter, in the name
of his brethren, answered, " Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." And because he was born of a woman, and made flesh, he often speaks of himself as " the Son of man." The prophet Isaiah, when he speaks of the child that should be born, and of the Son that should be given, adds, "And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, (or rather, the Father of Eternity,) the Prince of Peace." And in the sublime vision which John had of the white horse, "he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns, and he had a name written that no man knew but he himself. He was clothed in a vesture dipped in blood, and his name is called the Word of God." He is also styled " King of kings, and Lord of lords." And as his names indicate the dignity of his person, so they do the benign offices which he executes. He is the Redeemer—the Saviour—the one Mediator—the great High Priest—the Advocate—the great Shepherd of the sheep—the Judge of quick and dead. Immediately before he uttered the gracious invitation which we are considering, he had declared his divine knowledge and power: "All things are delivered to 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." None but he who was God with God, in the beginning, could utter these words without the highest blasphemy. But he who was in the "form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God." And
if our Redeemer was not omnipotent, his people could not trust in him; if he was not omniscient, it would be vain to call upon him. In Christ there is the most wonderful union of majesty and condescension ; of heavenly glory and human sympathy and tenderness. While he claims to be " God over all," he is not ashamed to call us brethren. He took not on him the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham. And the reason why we may come boldly to the throne of grace is, because " we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities." And the reason which he assigns here, to induce us to come to him without hesitation, is, that he is " meek and lowly in heart."
III. How must we come? Not by a bodily approach, for this is impossible. Where Christ now is we cannot come: and a local approach, if it were practicable, would be useless. Many came near to the Saviour, when he sojourned on earth, who never derived any benefit from him. His worst enemies and murderers came in contact with him, when they seized, bound, buffeted, scourged, and crucified the Lord; and the traitor Judas lived in his family, and travelled in his company for years, and kissed him in Gethsemane; but this will only serve to render his doom the more intolerable. It had been better for that man never to have seen Jesus—yea, never to have been born.
Coming to Christ is undoubtedly an act of the rational soul, irrespective of the body. It is a spiritual approach, in which the Saviour is apprehended by the enlightened mind in his true character. It is a full persuasion that he is indeed the
Son of God, and Saviour of the lost. It is the act of a convinced, distressed soul, flying from the coming wrath, to take shelter under the outstretched wings of his mercy. It is an exercise of humble confidence in the Redeemer of sinners, that he will deliver it from all the evils which are felt or feared. There is nothing difficult in this act to the soul under the influence of the Holy Spirit; nor does it require a long time. It is executed as quick as thought. It is nothing else but the soul's cordial consent to receive Christ as a complete and only Saviour. The weary and heavy-laden sinner, when almost overwhelmed with the burden of his guilt, having sought relief from other quarters, at length hears the kind invitation of Jesus, " Come unto me;" and being enabled to give full credit 4;o the truth and sincerity of the call, and to see the excellence and suitableness of Christ as a divine Saviour; and being persuaded, that every blessing needed to secure eternal salvation, is treasured up in him, receives him, as he is freely offered in the gospel, and willingly commits all its immortal interests •into his hands; and resolves to submit to him and obey him, in all time to come. In all this, the soul, though operated on by an Almighty power, is conscious of no restraint, unless it be the sweet constraint of the love of Christ. There is, indeed, an irresistible drawing towards Christ, but the more powerful it is, the more freely does the soul seem to act. Under the sweet influence of grace, the affections spontaneously go forth to him, who now appears altogether lovely; and the weary soul experiences a sweet rest by casting all
its burdens on the Lord. The principal act of faith is an act of trust. " Blessed are all they that trust in him." And having once tasted this blessedness of confiding in Christ, we never think of seeking any other refuge. The believer is not only persuaded that he is the way, but the only way. On this account he is prized above all price. " To you who believe, he is precious." Well may the name of Jesus sound sweet to the believer's ear, because there is " no other name under heaven by which we must be saved." No wonder that he values above rubies, or kingdoms, that elect and precious corner-stone — though rejected by the proud and self-righteous—which God has laid in Zion, because he is sure that it is a safe foundation on which to build for eternity; and because he is persuaded " that other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus."
Coming to Christ is not an act to be performed only once, but is to be continually repeated. Every day we need his aid ; and every hour we should have recourse to him by some confiding or grateful act. This access once obtained, the intercourse should be continually kept open. He allows his disciples the privilege of friends, to come as often as they will; and he invites them to come with freedom and confidence to his throne of grace, " to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." So intimate and endearing is the intercourse between Christ and believers, that there is a mutual indwelling; Christ in them, the hope of glory—and they in Christ as members of his body, or as branches engrafted into him, the true vine.
But, perhaps, the anxious inquirer still asks, " How must I come ?" To which I answer—come poor and naked, and helpless, and unworthy—come renouncing all dependence on your own righteousness. If you attempt to come with a price in your hand, you will be rejected. Christ must be acknowledged and received as our only Saviour. He will have nothing to do with those who place any confidence in their own works, or in their religious privileges. He will not save you on account of your natural amiableness; or on account of your moral honesty, or diligent attention to external duties. You cannot in these respects go beyond the rich young ruler in the gospel, and yet he " lacked one thing," and that was the main thing. In the punctilious observance of external duties and rites, you cannot exceed the Scribes and Pharisees, and yet your righteousness must exceed theirs, or you can never enter the kingdom of heaven. You must come to Christ for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. As long as sinners think that they are "rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing," they will not come to Christ; but when they are convinced that they are " poor, and wretched, and blind and naked," they will be inclined to hear his counsel, and come unto him, " to buy gold tried in the fire that they may be rich, eye salve that they may see, and white raiment that they may be clothed, and that the shame of their nakedness appear not." In short, delay not, that you may make yourselves better, or prepare your hearts for the reception of Christ, but come at once—come as
you are. If you are sick, apply at once to the Physician. If you are defiled, come to the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness. If you are burdened with guilt, come to a crucified Saviour, whose blood cleanses from all sin. If you are miserable, Christ promises you rest if you will come to him. Are you kept back by a deep sense of unworthiness? this is the very reason why you should come. Christ came to save sinners. The deeper your guilt, the greater your need of just such a Saviour. He saves none because their sins are small; he will reject none because their sins are great. He is as willing to receive the penitent who is the chief of sinners, as the amiable youth whose life has been stained with no acts of gross transgression. Where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound. " This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom,'' says Paul, " I am chief." Come, then, with confidence, trusting in that great assurance, " Him that cometh, I will in no wise cast out."
But as your case is urgent and dangerous, let me intreat you to come speedily. Make no delay. In such a case, delays are dangerous. Now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation. Enter while the door of mercy is open. Work out your salvation while it is day, before the night cometh when no work can be done. And the work which you are required to perform, is to believe on him whom God hath sent. You have no need to leave your seat to perform this act. " Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." Help
is near. The Deliverer is present. Application to him is as easy now as it ever can be. Take words and return unto him. Fall down before him with confession and humble supplication; " for he that calleth on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Venture on him, for you are perishing where you are, and you will but perish if he should slay you. But if you are rejected and spurned from his feet, you will be the first that has thus perished; for God cannot lie, and he hath promised to receive the soul that comes.
IV. What will be gained by coming to Christ ? One thing only is promised. " Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." But in this one thing, every thing good is included. They only can be said to be at rest, who are in a state of happiness; and true happiness can only be found in the favour and love of God. Can that man be said to be at rest, whose sins are unpardoned, whose passions are unsubdued, and on whom the wrath of God abides? M There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." " The wicked are like the troubled sea, which cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt." Wicked men are like the evil spirit which went through dry places, seeking rest and finding none. They are in constant pursuit of a phantom, which for ever eludes their grasp. There is in this world no foundation of solid rest. To be preserved from perpetual agitation, our anchor must be cast within the veil. Noah's dove, which found no rest even for the sole of her foot, is an emblem of the restless condition of men. But the same dove, returning
Id the ark, is an emblem of the distressed soul flying to Christ from the deluge of deserved and coming wrath. And, O how kind is that hand which is stretched out of the ark, to take in the fluttering weary soul! Then, indeed, rest is enjoyed. " I will give you rest," says the gracious Redeemer. And when he gives this precious blessing, it is found in experience to be a solid, undisturbed, sweet, and permanent rest. It is in no respect different from that peace which Christ so often and so emphatically promised : " Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." It is the declared will of the blessed Jesus, that the joy of his people should be full; therefore he says to his disciples, " Your sorrow shall be turned into joy" —"your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you." Delightful, indeed, is that peace which Jesus not only speaks, but breathes into the soul, and sweet is that rest which the weary soul experiences, when it takes refuge under the outstretched wings of his mercy, from the gathering storms of wrath. In that auspicious moment, the troubled spirit not only rests from fear and remorse, but also from its own fruitless struggles of self-exertion. It rests from the unprofitable works of self-righteousness, and finds complete repose in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. A believing view of the cross causes the heavy burden of guilt to fall off; and, although the coming soul bows to the yoke of Christ, and takes up his burden, yet love makes " his yoke easy," and his "burden light." How sweet is the calm which the first
lively exercise of faith in Christ produces! The cheerful light of day is not so pleasant to the eyes of one long immured in a dark dungeon, as the light of his Father's reconciled face to a prodigal just returned from his wanderings. It is, indeed, "a marvellous light" which the gospel beams on the renewed soul. It is justly a day of feasting and rejoicing, when one that was lost is found, and when he that was dead is alive again. How affectionately and confidentially does the believing soul repose on the bosom of Jesus! and when his love is shed abroad in the heart, how intimate, how precious is the communion which it enjoys ! Here, truly, it has found rest. But while in the body, these bright views and pleasing prospects are often obscured. While the Bridegroom is present, the bride rejoices, but when he is absent, she mourns, and often inquires, " saw ye him, whom my soul loveth ?" If we lose sight of the objects of faith ; and, especially if sin be indulged, and the Spirit grieved, darkness and sorrow will again visit the soul; and rest can only be found by coming again to Jesus, from whom it was first received; and as often as we come to him, we find his promise verified ; rest is obtained.
But whatever is experienced here — whatever seasons of calm repose may be enjoyed—whatever moments of ecstatic joy—yea, " unspeakable and full of glory," may transport us, these are but drops from the fountain above—a mere foretaste of the river of pleasure which flows from the throne of God. Here our pilgrimage is through a wilderness. But soon all our sorrow shall cease, and we shall enter into that rest which remains for the people of God.
The last conflict of the believing soul is in death; for this is the last enemy. The last darkness which will ever be experienced, is that of " the valley and shadow of death." The last bitterness which will ever be tasted is the " bitterness of death." The last waves of sorrow which shall ever roll over such a soul, are the swellings of Jordan. The last fiery dart which the enemy shall ever be permitted to aim at the friend of Christ, will here be cast Yea, better than all, the last consciousness of indwelling sin is experienced in this hour. Pain will no more be known but in the joyful consciousness that it is gone for ever. Admitting then that this is a dark passage—an appalling scene—an unnatural separation—a painful agony—a direful conflict; yet even here, the Shepherd of Israel can give us rest. Even here, the Captain of salvation can make us " conquerors, and more than conquerors." In the midst of the darkness of death, a celestial beam often shines to guide and cheer the heavy-laden traveller. Even the sting of death may be absent; and all fear and all doubt removed. Rest may be—has been, enjoyed on a dying-bed. The pious dead sweetly rest in the bosom of Jesus. How calm—how serene—how confident—hew abstracted from earth—how heavenly they sometimes appear, before they forsake their clay tabernacle: knowing that they have a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens.
'• Jesus can make a dying-bed Feel soft as downy pillows are, While on his breast I lean my head, And breathe my life out sweetly there. 1 *
But we should not make too much of the comforts of a dying hour. Some of God's dear children pass through this gloomy way, with scarce a twinkling ray to animate or guide them; yea, some who in life enjoyed pleasing prospects of future bliss, have had their day turned into night, and the death-scene to them has indeed been a tremendous conflict. The powers of darkness have been let loose to assault them; the sweet light of divine favour has been withdrawn, and added to this, the confusion of physical derangement has contributed to spread over the pious mind a dense cloud, even in the departing hour. But still, Christ is in the cloud; Christ has not forgotten his promise—" I will never leave thee, never, never, never, forsake thee." He will shield his own from real evil; and will speedily grant a rich recompense for every pang He especially knows how to sympathize with those dying in agony and under darkness. It was his own sore experience. O how bitter was that cry above all others: " My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" And in proportion as the agony is severe, will be his promptitude to grant deliverance. It may be, that desertion at such a time is permitted, that the soul may know something of the intensity of the suffering of the dear Redeemer at that moment. But it is soon over. The passage, though dark, is short, and the transition is glorious. The sweetness of the promised rest, when first enjoyed, will bear some proportion to the bitterness of the death just escaped. At any rate, Heaven will be as truly a rest to such as die under a cloud, as those who experienced an
anticipation of heaven on their death-bed. We need make no distinction; rest is promised to all, and the joy of all shall be full. If some experience a delight superior to that of other believers, it will be because they are capable of taking in more of the bliss and glory of that boundless ocean in which all swim. There indeed is rest—rest from labour —rest from trouble—rest from persecution—rest from sickness—rest from conflict and temptation— rest from doubt and fear—rest from sin—in short, rest from every evil, and the enjoyment of every good, of which a purified, glorified, immortal soul is capable.
This, then, is the motive to induce you to come to Christ, for all this, and much more is included, when he says, " Come unto me, al) ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."