Yokefellows – The Rhythm of Service
The Master’s Invitation
It was about six months before the tragic end that Jesus sent out thirty-five deputations of two each. He was beginning that slow memorable journey south that ended finally at the cross. These men are sent ahead to prepare the way. By and by they return and make a glad exultant report of the good results attending their work. Even the demons had acknowledged the power of Jesus’ name on their lips.
As He was listening Jesus looked up, and said, “Father, I thank Thee.” And then, as though He could see those great crowds to whom they had been ministering in His name, He said, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
There are two invitations here, “come” and “take.” There are two sorts of people. Those who are tugging and straining at work, and carrying heavy burdens, and then those who have received rest, and are now asked to go a step farther. There are two kinds of rest, a given rest, and a found rest. The given rest cannot be found. It comes as a sheer out gift, from Jesus’ own hand. The found rest cannot be given, may I say? It comes stealing its gentle way in as one fits into Jesus’ plan for his life.
Many folks have accepted the first of these invitations. They have “come” to Jesus, and received sweet rest from His hand. But they have gone no farther. At the close of that first invitation there is a punctuation period, a full stop. Some of the old schoolbooks used to say that one should stop at a period and count four. Well, a great many people have followed that old rule here, and more than followed. They have stopped at that period, and never gotten past it. I want just now to ask you to come with me as we talk together a bit about this second invitation, “Take My yoke.”
Jesus used several different words in tying people up to Himself. There is a growth in them, as He draws us nearer and nearer. First always is the invitation “Come unto Me.” That means salvation, life. Then He says, “Follow Me,” “Come after Me.” That means discipleship. “Learn of Me” means training in discipleship. “Yoke up with Me” means closest fellowship. “Abide in Me” leads one out into abundant life. “As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you,” means living Jesus’ life over again. And then the last “Go ye” is the outer reach of all, service for a world.
Surrender a Law of Life
Just now we want to talk together over this little three-worded sentence from Jesus’ lips, “Take My yoke.” What does it mean? Well, that word yoke is used in all literature outside of this book, as well as here, to mean this: surrender by one and mastery by another one. Where two nations have fought and the weaker has been forced to yield, it is quite commonly spoken of as wearing the yoke of the stronger nation. The Romans required their prisoners of war to pass under a yoke, sometimes a common cattle yoke, sometimes an improvised yoke, to indicate their utter subjugation. These Hebrews to whom Jesus is speaking are writhing with sore shoulders under the galling yoke of the Romans. One can imagine an emphasis placed on the “My.” As though Jesus would say, “You have one yoke now; change yokes. Take My yoke.”
There is too a higher, finer meaning to this surrender when by mutual arrangement and free consent there is a yielding of one to another for a purpose. And so what Jesus means here is simply this— surrender. Bend your head down, bend down your neck, even though it’s a bit stiff going your own way, and fit it into this yoke of mine. Surrender to Me as your Master.
And somebody says, “I don’t like that. ‘Surrender!’ that sounds like force. I thought salvation was free.” Will you please remember that the principle of surrender is a law of all life. It is the law of military life, inside the army. Every man there has surrendered to the officers above him. In some armies that surrender has amounted to absolute control of a man’s person and property by the head of the army. It is the law of naval service. The moment a man steps on board a man-of-war to serve he surrenders the control of his life and movements absolutely to the officer in command.
It is the law in public, political life. A man entering the President’s cabinet, as a secretary of some department, surrenders any divergent views he may have to those of his chief. With the largest freedom of thought that must always be where there are strong men, yet there must of necessity be the one dominant will if the administration is to be a powerful one. It is the law of commercial life. The man entering the employ of a bank, a manufacturing concern, a corporation of any sort, in whatever capacity, enters to do the will of somebody else. Always there must be the one dominant will if there is to be power and success.
And then may I hush my voice and speak of the more sacred things very softly and remind you of this. Surrender is the law of the highest form of life known to us men. I mean wedded life. Where the surrender is not by one to the other, but by each to the other. Two wills, always two wills where there is strong life, yet in effect but one. Two persons but only one purpose.
And so you see, Jesus, the Master, the greatest of earth’s teachers and philosophers, is striking the keynote of life when here He asks us to surrender freely and wholly to Himself as the autocrat of our lives. He asks us to bend our strong wills to His, to yield our lives, our plans, our ambitions, our friendships, our gold, absolutely to His control.
And if you still do not like the sound of that word surrender. It has a harsh sound that grates upon your nerves. Will you please notice the first word of that little sentence—“Take.” Jesus does not say in sharp, hard tones, “Come here; bend down; I’ll put this yoke on you.” Never that. If you will, of your own glad accord, freely, winsomely take the yoke upon you—that is what He asks. In military usage surrender is forced. Here it must be free. Nothing else would be acceptable to Jesus.
When our commissioners went a few years ago to Paris to treat with the Spaniards, the latter are said to have desired certain changes in the language of the protocol. With the polished suavity for which they are noted the Spaniards urged that there be made slight changes in the words: no real change in the meaning, they said, simply in the verbiage. And our Judge Day at the head of the American Commissioners, listened politely and patiently until the plea was presented. And then he quietly said, “The article will be signed as it reads.” And the Spaniards protested, with much courtesy. The change asked for was trivial, merely in the language, not in the force of the words. And our men listened patiently and courteously. Then Mr. Day is said to have locked his little square jaw and replied very quietly, “The article will be signed as it reads.” And the article was so signed. That is military usage. The surrender was forced. The strength of the American fleets, the prestige of great victory were back of the quiet man’s demand.
But that is not the law here. Jesus asks for only what we give freely and spontaneously. He does not want anything except what is given with a free, glad heart. This is to be a voluntary surrender. Jesus is a voluntary Saviour. He wants only voluntary followers. He would have us be as Himself. The oneness of spirit leads the way into the intimacy of closest friendship. And that is His thought for us.
Do you remember those fine lines, “The quality of mercy is not strained”—if the thing be forced through a strainer, there is no mercy there—“it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.” Only what the warm current of His love draws out does Jesus desire from us. It is to be a free surrender.
And if you still knit your mental brows, and shrug your shoulder. The thing hasn’t yet shaken off the harshness you have been clothing it with. Please notice the second word of that sentence—“My.” “Take My Yoke.” May I say gently but frankly that I would not surrender the control of my life to any of you who are listening so kindly. And I surely would not ask that I should be the autocrat of any of your lives. But—when—Jesus comes along. The Man with the marvelous face all torn and scarred, but with that great, soft, shining light. I do not know just how all of you feel. I can guess how some of you feel. But I know one man who cannot respond too quickly and eagerly. The only thing to do is to make the will as strong as it can be made, and then to use all of its strength in surrendering eagerly to this matchless Man Jesus. Doubtless many of you know fully that same eagerness, and maybe more.
I remember a simple story that twined its clinging tendril lingers about my heart. It was of a woman whose long years had ripened her hair, and sapped her strength. She was a true saint in her long life of devotion to God. She knew the Bible by heart, and would repeat long passages from memory. But as the years came the strength went, and with it the memory gradually went too, to her grief. She seemed to have lost almost wholly the power to recall at will what had been stored away.
But one precious bit still stayed. She would sit by the big sunny window of the sitting room in her home, repeating over that one bit, as though chewing a delicious titbit, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” By and by part of that seemed to slip its hold, and she would quietly be repeating, “that which I have committed to Him.”
The last few weeks as the ripened old saint hovered about the border land between this and the spirit world her feebleness increased. Her loved ones would notice her lips moving. And thinking she might be needing some creature comfort they would go over and bend down to listen for her request. And time and again they found the old saint repeating over to herself one word, over and over again, the same one word, “Him—Him—Him.” She had list the whole Bible but one word. But she had the whole Bible in that one word. Did she not? This is a surrender to Him, the Man of the Book. The Man of all life.
They tell me that on a farm the yoke means service. Cattle are yoked to serve, and to serve better, and to serve more easily. This is a surrender for service, not for idleness. In military usage surrender often means being kept in enforced idleness and under close guard. But this is not like that. It is all up on a much higher plane. Jesus has every man’s life planned. It always awes me to recall that simple tremendous fact. With loving strong thoughtfulness He has thought into each of our lives, and planned it out, in whole, and in detail. He comes to a man and says, “I know you. I have been thinking about you.” Then very softly—“I—love—you. I need you, for a plan of Mine. Please let Me have the control of your life and all your power, for My plan.” It is a surrender for service.
It is yoked service. There are two bows or loops to a yoke. A yoke in action has both sides occupied, and as surely as I bow down My head and slip it into the bow on one side—I know there is Somebody else on the other side. It is yoked living now, yoked fellowship, yoked service. It is not working for God now. It is working with Him. Jesus never sends anybody ahead alone. He treads down the pathway through every thicket, pushes aside the thorn-bushes, and clears the way, and then says with that taking way of His, “Come along with Me. Let’s go together, you and I.”
A man got up in a meeting to speak. It was down in Rhode Island, out a bit from Providence. He was a farmer, an old man. He had become a Christian late in life, and this evening was telling about his start. He had been a rough, bad man. He said that when he became a Christian even the cat knew that some change had taken place. That caught my ear. It had a genuine ring. It seemed prophetic of the better day coming for all the lower animal creation. So I listened.
He said that the next morning after the change of purpose he was going down to the village a little distance from his farm. He swung along the road, happy in heart, singing softly to himself, and thinking about the Saviour. All at once he could feel the fumes coming out of a saloon ahead. He couldn’t see the place yet, but his keen trained nose felt it. The odors came out strong, and gripped him.
He said he was frightened, and wondered how he would get by. He had never gone by before, he said; always gone in; but he couldn’t go in now. But what to do, that was the rub. Then he smiled, and said, “I remembered, and I said, ‘Jesus, you’ll have to come along and help me get by, I never can by myself.’“ And then in his simple, illiterate way he said, “and He come—and we went by, and we’ve been going by ever since.”
Ah, the old Rhode Island farmer had found the whole simple philosophy of the true life. Our Yokefellow is always there alongside. Every temptation that comes to us He has felt the sharp edge of, and can overcome. Every problem, every difficulty, every opportunity He knows, and is right there, swinging in rhythmic step alongside. It’s yoked living and yoked service.
In Step with Jesus
Then please mark keenly that this surrender is for surrendered service. No free-lancing here. No guerrilla warfare, no bushwhacking. There seems to be quite a lot of that, in this army. Some earnest folks are very busy “helping God out,” regardless of the general movement of the whole army. And a great help they are too—they think. It would be difficult to see how God would ever get along without them—they seem to think. Poor folks, they have gotten so covered with the dust made by their own feet that they’ve completely lost track of things. There is a Lord to this harvest. There is a great Commander-in-chief to this campaign. He has the whole campaign for a world carefully planned out. And each man’s part in it is planned too. He knows best what needs to be done. He sees keenly the strategic points, and the emergencies. If only He could but depend on our ears being trained to know His voice, and our wills trained to simple, full obedience, how much difference it would make to Him. Simple, full strong obedience seems to take the keenest intelligence, the strongest will, and the most thorough discipline.
“Just to ask Him what to do,
All the day.
And to make you quick and true
– Frances Ridley Havergal
This surrender is for glad, obedient surrendered service.
And note too that it is for training in service. They tell me that where cattle are yoked for work it is usual to put a young restive beast with an old, steady-going animal. The old worker sets the pace, and pulls evenly, steadily ahead, and by and by the young undisciplined beast gradually comes to learn the pace. That seems to fit in here with graphic realness. So many of us seem to be full of an undisciplined unseasoned strength. There are apt to be some hard drives ahead, and then pulling back with a sudden jerk, and side lunges this way and that. There is splendid strength, and eager willingness, but not much is accomplished for lack of the steady, steady going regardless of rocks or ruts.
Jesus says, “Yoke up with Me. Let’s pull together, you and I.” And if we will pull steadily along, content to be by His side, and to be hearing His quiet voice, and always to keep His pace, step by step with Him, without regard to seeing results, all will be well, and by and by the best results and the largest will be found to have come. And remember that as on the farm, so here, the yoke is always carefully adjusted so that the young learner may have the easier pulling.
But it is well to put in this bit of a caution. If a man put his head into the yoke, and then pull back—well, there’ll be a man with a badly chafed, sore neck in that neighborhood, and oil will be in demand. The one safe rule is swinging straight ahead, steady, steady, without even stopping to decide if the plow has cut properly, or if it is worth while.
The Scar-marks of Surrender
Then Jesus adds this: “Learn of Me.” I used to wonder just what that means. But I think I know a part of its meaning now. You remember the Hebrews had a scheme of qualified slavery. A man might sell his service for six years but at the end of that time he was scot-free. On the New Year’s morning of the seventh year he was given his full liberty, and given some grain and oil to begin life with anew.
But if on that morning he found himself reluctant to leave, all his ties binding him to his master’s home, this was the custom among them. He would say to his master, “I don’t want to leave you. This is home to me. I love you and the mistress. I love the place. All my ties and affections are here. I want to stay with you always.” His master would say, “Do you mean this?” “Yes,” the man would reply, “I want to belong to you forever.”
Then his master would call in the leading men of the village or neighborhood to witness the occurrence. And he would take his servant out to the door of the home, and standing him up against the door-jamb would pierce the lobe of his ear through with an awl. I suppose like a shoemaker’s awl. Then the man became not his slave, but his bond-slave, forever. It was a personal surrender of himself to his master; it was voluntary; it was for love’s sake; it was for service; it was after a trial; it was for life.
Now that was what Jesus did. If you will turn to that Fortieth Psalm, from which we read, you will find words that are plainly prophetic of Jesus, and afterwards quoted as referring to Him. “Mine ears hast Thou opened, or digged or pierced for me.” And in the fiftieth chapter of Isaiah, revised version, are these words likewise prophetic of Jesus. “The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting.”
And the truth is this. May the Spirit of God burn it deep into our hearts. Jesus was a surrendered Man. Stop a bit and think into what that means. Jesus is the giant Man of the human race, thought of just now as a man, though He was so much more, too. In His wisdom as a teacher, His calm poised judgment, the purity of His life, the tremendous power of His personality in swaying man, He clear overtops the whole race of men. Now that Master Man, that giant of the race, was a surrendered Man. For instance run through John’s Gospel, and pick out the negatives on His lips, the “nots.” Not His own will, nor His own words, nor His own teaching, nor His own works. Jesus came to earth to do Somebody’s else will. With all His giant powers He was utterly absorbed in doing what some One else wished done. And now this giant Man, this surrendered Man, says, “You do as I have done. Learn of Me: I am wholly given up to doing My Father’s will. You be wholly surrendered to Me, and so together we will carry out the Father’s will.”
Some one of a practical turn says, “That sounds very nice, but is it not a bit fanciful? The lobe of Jesus’ ear was not pierced through, was it?” No. You are right. The scar-mark of Jesus’ surrender was not in His ear, as with the old Hebrew slave. You are quite right. It was in His cheek, and brow, on His back, in His side and hands and feet. The scar-marks of His surrender were—are—all over His face and form. Everybody who surrenders bears some scar of it because of sin, his own or somebody’s else. Referring to the suffering endured in service Paul tenderly reckons it as a mark of Jesus’ ownership—“I bear the scars, the stigmata, of the Lord Jesus.” Even of the Master Himself is this so.
And that scarred Jesus whose body told and tells of His surrender to His Father comes to us. And with those hands eagerly outstretched, and eyes beaming with the earnestness of His great passion for men, He says, “Yoke up with Me, please. Let Me have the control of all your splendid powers, in carrying out our Father’s will for a world.”
Full Power through Rhythm
Then Jesus, with a sweep, gathers up all the results in a single sentence, “Ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Some one may be thinking, “I do not feel the need of rest or peace so much. I am hungry for power.” Will you please notice that Jesus is going to the very root of the thing here. There must be peace before there can be power. You shall find peace. Others shall find power. You will be conscious of the sweet sense of peace within. Others will be conscious of the fragrant power breathing out of your life, and service, and your very person.
These things, peace and power, are the same. They are different movements of the same river of God. The presence of God in fine harmony with you, that it is that brings the sweet peace. And that too it is that brings the gracious power into the life. The inward flow of the river is peace. The outward flow of the same stream is power. There cannot be power save as there is peace. There is nothing that hinders and holds back power as does friction. That is true in mechanics: a bit of friction grit between the wheels will check the full working of the machinery. A small nut fallen down out of place will completely stop the machine and bring all of its power to a standstill.
This is heart rest. The heart is the center, the citadel of the life. When the heart rests all is at rest. If the citadel can be captured the outworks are included. It is a found rest. It comes quietly stealing its soft way in as you go about your regular round of life. Just where you are, in the thick of the old circumstances and conditions, there comes breathing gently into your very being the great fragrant peace of God. You find it coming in. There is all the zest of finding.
It is rest in service. To many folks those two words “yoke” and “rest” have seemed to jar, as though they did not get along well together. But they do. The jarring is not in them but in our misunderstanding of them. A yoke, we have thought, means work. Rest means quitting work; no more need of work. But that is a bit of the hurt of sin that gets so many things wrong end to.
“Rest is not quitting
The busy career;
Rest is the fitting
Of self to its sphere.”
– John Sullivan Dwight
True rest is in the unhurried rhythm of action. Have you thought of when your heart rests? It does not stop, of course, while life lasts. But it rests. It rests between beats. A beat and a rest. A throb of power and a moment of perfect rest. A mighty motion that sends the warm red life through all the intricate machinery of the body; then quiet composed rest. The secret of the immeasurable power of this organ we call the heart lies just here. There is enough power in a normal human heart to batter down Bunker Hill Monument if it could be centered upon it. The secret of that power is in the rhythm of action that combines motion with rest. We call rhythm of color, beauty. Rhythm of sound is music. Rhythm of action is power.
I have often stood as a boy on the streets of old Philadelphia, and watched a gang of foreign laborers at work. As a rule they could speak only the language of their own fatherland. There would be a gang-boss to direct their movements. Perhaps it was a huge stone to be moved, or a piece of structural iron, or a heavy rail to be torn up. The ends of their crowbars were fitted under the thing to be moved. Then they waited a moment for the gang-boss to give the word. He would say, “heave ho!”
Then all together they would sing “heave ho,” and push. And a “heave ho,” and push; a “heave ho,” and a push. They made perfect music. There was always a small crowd gathered, watching and enjoying the simple music. Their work was easier because done rhythmically. This, of course, is the simple philosophy that provides music for soldiers on march. The men can walk much longer, and farther, with less fatigue if they go to the sound of music.
The story is told of the contracts for some bridge-building in the Soudan being carried off by American bidders. Their competitors in the bidding specified a year’s time or so, for the work. The Americans agreed to do it in three months. They were awarded the contract, and to the others’ surprise had the work completed within the specified time.
One of the contractors who had bid for the job on the basis of a year’s time said afterwards to the successful contractor, “I wish, if you wouldn’t mind doing so, you would tell me how you ever got that work done in so short a time with those undisciplined Soudanese natives for workmen. I have had them on other contracts and I know I couldn’t have done it. How did you ever do it?”
And the American, whose blood was British a generation or two back, and farther back yet Teutonic, smiled as he quietly said, “We had a band of native musicians playing the liveliest music they knew within earshot of every gang of laborers, while our gang-bosses kept them steadily at work.”
Rhythm is the secret of power. Full rhythm is possible only where there is full obedience to nature. The man in full sweet harmony with God in all of his life knows the stilling ecstasy of peace, and the marvelous outgoings of real power. You shall find within your heart the great stilling calm of God, as steadying as the rock of ages, as exhilarating as the subtle fragrance of flowers, and as restful as a mother’s bosom to her babe.
He is Our Peace
But there is something here finer yet by far than this. Everything God provides for us is personal. There is always the personal touch and presence. Do you remember that during the earlier days of the recent war with Spain this occurrence frequently took place? In the Caribbean waters a Spanish merchantman would be overtaken by an American warship. A few shots were sent over the bows of the merchantman with a demand for surrender. And then the Spanish flag was seen to drop from the merchantman’s masthead in token of surrender.
Then this was the method of procedure. A prize crew, consisting of an officer with a few ensigns, was lowered from the American boat, pulled across, and taken aboard the captured boat. The moment the prize crew stepped aboard they were masters of the boat in their government’s name. Their presence signified the surrender of the foreigner, and the forced peace now between the two boats.
On a much higher plane this is what takes place with us. There has been flying at my masthead a flag with a big I upon it. As quickly as I drop it in token of my surrender to Somebody else, a prize crew is sent aboard to take possession, and assume control. Who is the prize crew? The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus the Master sends to represent Himself. He steps aboard at once.
He paces the deck as the ship’s Master. His presence is peace. “He is our peace.” “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace.” And while He occupies the captain’s quarters, with full cheery obedience on board, there is ever the fine aroma of peace everywhere, and the fullness of power.
The Master’s Touch
One morning a number of years ago in London a group of people had gathered in a small auction shop for an advertised sale of fine old antiques and curios. The auctioneer brought out an old blackened, dirty-looking violin. He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, here is a remarkable old instrument I have the great privilege of offering to you. It is a genuine Cremona, made by the famous Antonius Stradivarius himself. It is very rare, and worth its weight in gold. What am I bid?” The people present looked at it critically. And some doubted the accuracy of the auctioneer’s statements. They saw that it did not have the Stradivarius name cut in. And he explained that some of the earliest ones made did not have the name. And that some that had the name cut in were not genuine. But he could assure them that this was genuine. Still the buyers doubted and criticised, as buyers have always done. Five guineas in gold were bid, but no more. The auctioneer perspired and pleaded. “It was ridiculous to think of selling such a rare violin for such a small sum,” he said. But the bidding seemed hopelessly stuck there.
Meanwhile a man had entered the shop from the street. He was very tall and very slender, with very black hair, middle-aged, wearing a velvet coat. He walked up to the counter with a peculiar side-wise step, and without noticing anybody in the shop picked up the violin, and was at once absorbed in it. He dusted it tenderly with his handkerchief, changed the tension of the strings, and held it up to his ear lingeringly as though hearing something. Then putting the end of it up in position he reached for the bow, while the murmur ran through the little audience, “Paganini.”
The bow seemed hardly to have touched the strings when such a soft exquisite note came out filling the shop, and holding the people spellbound. And as he played the listeners laughed for very delight, and then wept for the fullness of their emotion. The men’s hats were off, and they all stood in rapt reverence, as though in a place of worship. He played upon their emotions as he played upon the old soil-begrimed violin.
By and by he stopped. And as they were released from the spell of the music the people began clamoring for the violin. “Fifty guineas,” “sixty,” “seventy,” “eighty,” they bid in hot haste. And at last it was knocked down to the famous player himself for one hundred guineas in gold, and that evening he held a vast audience of thousands breathless under the spell of the music he drew from the old, dirty, blackened, despised violin.
It was despised till the master-player took possession. Its worth was not known. The master’s touch revealed the rare value, and brought out the hidden harmonies. He gave the doubted little instrument its true place of high honor before the multitude. May I say softly, some of us have been despising the worth of the man within. We have been bidding five guineas when the real value is immeasurably above that because of the Maker. Do not let us be underbidding God’s workmanship.
The violin needed dusting, and readjustment of its strings before the music came. Shall we not each of us yield this rarest instrument, his own personality, to the Master’s hand? There will be some changes needed, no doubt, as the Master-player takes hold. And then will go singing out of our persons and our lives, the rarest music of God, that shall enthrall and bring all within earshot to the Master-musician.