Of yokes, or how Christianity isn’t the burden some think it to be
Henry Drummond was a Scottish evangelist of the 19th century. More about him here. I’ve been reading some of his sermons and essays and ran across this statement of his:
After the statement, “Learn of Me,” Christ throws in the disconcerting qualification, “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me.” Why, if all this be true, does He call it a yoke? Why, while professing to give rest, does He with the next breath whisper “burden”? Is the Christian life, after all, what its enemies take it for-an additional weight to the already great woe of life, some extra punctiliousness about duty, some painful devotion to observances, some heavy restriction and trammeling of all that is joyous and free in the world? Is life not hard and sorrowful enough without being fettered with yet another yoke?
It is astounding how so glaring a misunderstanding of this plain sentence should ever have passed into currency. Did you ever stop to ask what a yoke is really for? Is it to be a burden to the animal which wears it? It is just the opposite. It is to make its burden light. Attached to the oxen in any other way than by a yoke, the plough [sic] would be intolerable. Worked by means of a yoke, it is light. A yoke is not an instrument of torture; it is an instrument of mercy. It is not a malicious contrivance for making work hard; it is a gentle device to make hard labor light. It is not meant to give pain, but to save pain. And yet men speak of the yoke of Christ as if it were a slavery, and look upon those who wear it as objects of compassion. For generations we have had homilies on “The Yoke of Christ,” some delighting in portraying its narrow exactions; some seeking in these exactions the marks of its divinity; others apologizing for it, and toning it down; still other assuring us that, although it be very bad, it is not to be compared with the positive blessings of Christianity. How many, especially among the young, has this one mistaken phrase driven for ever away from the kingdom of God? Instead of making Christ attractive, it makes Him out a taskmaster, narrowing life by petty restrictions, calling for self-denial where none is necessary, making misery a virtue under the plea that it is the yoke of Christ, and happiness criminal because it now and then evades it. According to this conception, Christians are at best the victims of a depressing fate; their life is a penance; and their hope for the next world purchased by a slow martyrdom in this.
The mistake has arisen from taking the word “yoke” here in the same sense as in the expressions “under the yoke,” or “wear the yoke in his youth.” But in Christ’s illustration it is not the “jugum” of the Roman soldier, but the simple “harness” or “ox-collar” of the Eastern peasant. It is the literal wooden yoke which He, with His own hands in the carpenter shop, had probably often made. He knew the difference between a smooth yoke and a rough one, a bad fit and a good fit; the difference also it made to the patient animal which had to wear it. The rough yoke galled, and the burden was heavy; the smooth yoke caused no pain, and the load was lightly drawn. – Henry Drummond, PAX VOBISCUM, “What yokes are for”