Adapted from a Sermon by J.C. Ryle
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
Our text this morning deserves to be written in letters of gold. Few verses of Scripture have done more good to souls than this old familiar invitation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us examine it carefully, and see what it contains.
There are four points in the text before us, to which I want to draw your attention.
I. First. Who is the Speaker of this invitation?
II. Secondly. To whom is this invitation addressed?
III. Thirdly. What does the Speaker ask us to do?
IV. Lastly. What does the Speaker offer to give?
I. In the first place, Who is the Speaker of this invitation?
Who is it that invites so freely, and offers so largely? Who is it that says to your conscience this day, “Come: come to Me”?
We have a right to ask these questions. We live in a lying world. The earth is full of fraud, shams, deceptions and falsehoods. When we hear of someone who makes a mighty promise, we have a right to say, Who is this? and what is His name?
The Speaker of this invitation is the greatest and best friend that man has ever had. It is the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.
He is One who is almighty. He is God the Father’s fellow and equal. He is very God of very God and by Him all things were made.—In His hand are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.—He has all authority in heaven and earth.—In Him all fulness dwells.—He has the keys of death and hell.—He is now the appointed Mediator between God and man: He will one day be the Judge and King of all the earth. (John 1:3; Col 2:3, Matt 28:18; Col. 1:19; Rev. 1:18.)
When such an One as this speaks, you may safely trust Him. What He promises He is able to perform.
He is One who is most loving. He loved us to the extent that He left heaven for our sake, and laid aside for a time the glory that He had with the Father. He loved us to the extent that He was born of a woman for our sake, and lived thirty-three years in this sinful world. He loved us so, that He undertook to pay our mighty debt to God, and died upon the cross to make atonement for our sins. When such an One as this speaks, He deserves a hearing. When He promises a thing, you need not be afraid to trust Him.
He is One who knows the heart of man most thoroughly. He took on Him a body like our own, and was made like man in all things, sin only excepted. He knows by experience what man has to go through. He has tasted poverty, and weariness, and hunger, and thirst, and pain, and temptation. He is acquainted with all our condition on earth. “He himself has suffered when tempted.” (Heb 2:18) When such an One as this makes an offer, He makes it with perfect wisdom. He knows exactly what you and I need.
He is One who never breaks His word. He always fulfills His promises: He never fails to do what He undertakes. He never disappoints the soul that trusts Him. Mighty as He is, there is one thing which He cannot do: it is impossible for Him to lie. (Heb. 6:18.) When such a One as this makes a promise, you need not doubt that He will stand by it. You may depend with confidence on His word.
You have now heard who sends the invitation which is before us today. It is the Lord Jesus Christ. Give Him the credit due to His name. Grant Him a full and impartial hearing. Believe that a promise from His mouth deserves your best attention. See that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. It is written, “If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.” (Heb. 12:25.)
II. I will now show you, in the second place, to whom the invitation is addressed.
The Lord Jesus Christ addresses “all who labor and are heavy laden.” The expression is very comforting and instructive. It is wide, sweeping, and comprehensive. It describes the case of millions in every part of the world.
Where are those who labor and are heavy-laden? They are everywhere. They are a multitude that can scarcely be numbered; they are to be found in every climate, and in every country under the sun. They live in America, in Asia, in Africa, and in Europe. They abound under republics as well as under monarchies,—under democratic governments as well as under communist governments. Everywhere you will find trouble, care, sorrow, anxiety, murmuring, discontent, and unrest. What does it mean? What does it all come to? Men “labor and are heavy-laden.”
To what class do the labouring and heavy-laden belong? They belong to every class: there is no exception. They are to be found among rich as well as among poor,—among kings as well as among subjects,—among learned as well as among ignorant people. In every class you will find trouble, care, sorrow, anxiety, murmuring, discontent, and unrest. What does it mean? What does it all come to? Men are “labouring and heavy-laden.”
How can we explain this? What is the cause of this state of things?—Did God create man at the beginning to be unhappy? Most certainly not.—Are human governments to blame because men are not happy? At most to a very small extent. The fault lies far too deep to be reached by human laws.—There is another cause, a cause which many unhappily refuse to see. That cause is sin.
Sin and departure from God, are the true reasons why men are everywhere labouring and heavy-laden. Sin is the universal disease which infects the whole earth. Sin brought in thorns and thistles at the beginning, and forced man to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. Sin is the reason why the “whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth” and the “foundations of the earth are shaken.” (Rom.8:22; Psalm 82:5.) Sin is the cause of all the burdens which now press down mankind. Most do not know it, and weary themselves in vain to explain the state of things around them. But sin is the great root and foundation of all sorrow, whatever proud man may think. How should sin be hated!
Are you one of those who are labouring and heavy-laden? There are thousands of men and women and children in the world who are inwardly uncomfortable, and yet will not confess it. They feel a burden on their hearts, which they would gladly get rid of; and yet they do not know the way. They have a conviction that all is not right in their inward man, which they never tell anyone. Husbands do not tell it to their wives, and wives do not tell it to their husbands; children do not tell it to their parents, and friends do not tell it to their friends. But the inward burden lies heavily on many hearts! There is far more unhappiness than the world sees. Disguise it as some will, there are multitudes uncomfortable because they know they are not prepared to meet God. And perhaps you are one of them.
If anyone here is “labouring and heavy-laden,” you are the very person to whom the Lord Jesus Christ sends an invitation today. If you have an aching heart, and a sore conscience,—if you want rest for a weary soul, and do not know where to find it,—if you want peace for a guilty heart, and do not know which way to turn,—you are the man, you are the woman, you are the child, to whom Jesus speaks today. There is hope for you. I bring you good news. “Come to Me,” says the Lord Jesus, “and I will give you rest.”
You may tell me this invitation cannot be meant for you, because you are not good enough to be invited by Christ. I answer, that Jesus does not speak to the good, but to those who “labour and are heavy-laden.” Do you know anything of this feeling? Then you are one to whom He speaks.
You may tell me that the invitation cannot be meant for you, because you are a sinner, and know nothing about religion. I answer, that it matters nothing what you are, or what you have been. Do you at this moment feel you are “labouring and heavy-laden”? Then you are one to whom Jesus speaks.
You may tell me that you cannot think the invitation is meant for you, because you are not yet converted, and have not got a new heart. I answer, that Christ’s invitation is not addressed to the converted, but to the “labouring and heavy-laden.” Is this what you feel? Is there any burden on your heart? Then you are one of those to whom Christ speaks.
You may tell me that you have no right to accept this invitation, because you do not know that you are one of God’s elect. I answer, that you have no right to put words in Christ’s mouth, which He has not used. He does not say, “Come to Me, all you that are elect.” He addresses all the those who “labour and are heavy-laden,” without any exception. Are you one of them? Is there weight on your soul? This is the only question you have to decide. If you are, you are one of those to whom Christ speaks.
If you are one of those who “labours and is heavy-laden”, once more I entreat you not to refuse the invitation which I bring you today. Do not forsake your own mercies. The harbour of refuge is freely set before you: do not turn away from it. The best of friends holds out His hand to you: let not pride, or self-righteousness, or fear of man’s ridicule, make you reject His offered love. Take Him at His word. Say to Him, “Lord Jesus Christ, I am one of those whom your invitation suits: I am labouring and heavy-laden. Lord, what will you have me do?”
III. I will now show you, in the third place, what the Lord Jesus Christ asks you to do.
Three words make up the sum and substance of the invitation which He sends you today. If you “labour and are heavy-laden,” Jesus says, “Come to Me.”
There is a great simplicity about the three words now before you. Short and plain as the sentence seems, it contains a mine of deep truth and solid comfort. Weigh it: look at it: consider it: ponder it well. It is one half of saving Christianity to understand what Jesus means, when He says, “Come to Me.”
Mark well, that the Lord Jesus does not tell the labouring and heavy-laden “go and work.” Those words would carry no comfort to heavy consciences: it would be like requiring labour from an exhausted man. No: He tells them “Come!”—He does not say, “Pay Me what you owe.” That demand would drive a broken heart into despair: it would be like claiming a debt from a ruined bankrupt. No: He says, “Come!”—He does not say, “Stand still and wait.” That command would only be a mockery: it would be like promising to give medicine at the end of a week to one who is at the point of death. No: He says, “Come!” Today,—at once,—without any delay, “Come to Me.”
But, after all, what is meant by coming to Christ? It is an expression often used, but often misunderstood. Beware that you make no mistake at this point. Here, unhappily, thousands turn aside out of the right path, and miss the truth. Beware that you do not make shipwreck at the very mouth of the harbour.
(a) Take notice, that coming to Christ means something more than coming to church. You may fill your place regularly at a place of worship, and attend all outward means of grace, and yet not be saved. All this is not coming to Christ.
(b) Take notice, that coming to Christ is something more than coming to the Lord’s table. You may be a regular member and communicant; you may never be missing in the lists of those who eat that bread and drink that wine, which the Lord commanded to be received, and yet you may never be saved. All this is not coming to Christ.
(c) Take notice, that coming to Christ is something more than coming to ministers. You may be a constant hearer of some popular preacher, and a zealous supporter of all his opinions, and yet never be saved. All this is not coming to Christ.
(d) Take notice, once more, that coming to Christ is something more than coming to the possession of head-knowledge about Him. You may know the whole system of evangelical doctrine, and be able to talk, argue, and dispute on every detail of it, and yet never be saved. All this is not coming to Christ.
Coming to Christ is coming to Him with the heart by simple faith. Believing on Christ is coming to Him, and coming to Christ is believing on Him. It is that act of the soul which takes place when a man, feeling his own sins, and despairing of all other hope, commits himself to Christ for salvation, ventures on Him, trusts Him, and casts himself wholly on Him. When a man turns to Christ empty that he may be filled, sick that he may be healed, hungry that he may be satisfied, thirsty that he may be refreshed, needy that he may be enriched, dying that he may have life, lost that he may be saved, guilty that he may be pardoned, sin-defiled that he may be cleansed, confessing that Christ alone can supply his need,—then he comes to Christ.
When he uses Christ as the Jews used the city of refuge, as the starving Egyptians used Joseph, as the dying Israelites used the bronze serpent,—then he comes to Christ. It is the empty soul’s venture on a full Saviour. It is the drowning man’s grasp on the hand held out to help him. It is the sick man’s reception of a healing medicine. This, and nothing more or less than this, is coming to Christ.
And at this point: a word of caution. Beware of mistakes as to this matter of coming to Christ. Do not stop short in any half-way house. Do not allow the devil and the world to cheat you out of eternal life. Do not suppose that you will ever get any good from Christ, unless you go straight, directly, thoroughly, and entirely to Christ Himself. Do not trust in a little outward formality: do not content yourself with a regular use of outward means. A lantern is an excellent help in a dark night, but it is not home. Means of grace are useful aids, but they are not Christ. No! Press onward, forward, upward, till you have had personal, business-like dealings with Christ Himself.
Beware of mistakes as to the manner of coming to Christ. Dismiss from your mind forever all idea of worthiness, merit, and fitness in yourself. Throw away all notions of goodness, righteousness, and merit. Do not think that you can bring anything to recommend you, or to make you deserving of Christ’s notice. You must come to Him as a poor, guilty, undeserving sinner, or you might just as well not come at all. “To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Rom. 4: 5.) It is the peculiar mark of the faith that justifies and saves, that it brings to Christ nothing but an empty hand.
Last, but not least, let there be no mistake in your mind as to the special character of the man who has come to Christ, and is a true Christian. He is not an angel; he is not a half-angelic being, in whom is no weakness, or blemish, or infirmity: he is nothing of the kind. He is nothing more than a sinner who has found out his sinfulness, and has learned the blessed secret of living by faith in Christ. What was the glorious company of the apostles and prophets? What was the noble army of martyrs? What were Isaiah, Daniel, Peter, James, John, Paul, Polycarp, Bunyan, Baxter, Knox, Whitefield? What were they all, but sinners who knew and felt their sins, and trusted only in Christ? What were they, but men who accepted the invitation I bring you this day, and came to Christ by faith? By this faith they lived: in this faith they died. In themselves and their doings they saw nothing worth mentioning; but in Christ they saw all that their souls required.
The invitation of Christ is now before you. If you never listened to it before, listen to it today. Broad, full, free, wide, simple, gentle, kind, if you refuse to accept it, that invitation will leave you without excuse. There are some invitations, perhaps, which it is wiser and better to decline. There is one which ought always to be accepted: that one is before you today. Jesus Christ is saying, “Come: come to Me.”
IV. I will now show you, in the last place, what the Lord Jesus Christ promises to give.
He does not ask the one who “labours and is heavy-laden” to come to Him for nothing. He holds out gracious inducements: He allures them by sweet offers. “Come to Me,” He says, “and I will give you rest.”
Rest is a pleasant thing. Few are they in this weary world who do not know the sweetness of it. The man who has been working hard with his hands all week, working in wood, or cement, or stone, or bricks,—digging, lifting, hammering, cutting,—he knows the comfort of going home on Saturday night, and having one day of rest. The man who has been toiling hard with his head all day,—writing, copying, calculating, composing, scheming, planning,—he knows the comfort of laying aside his papers, and having a little rest. Indeed, rest is a pleasant thing.
And rest is one of the principal offers which the Gospel makes to man. “Come to me,” says the world, “and I will give you riches and success and pleasure.”—”Come with me,” says the devil, “and I will give you greatness, power, and wisdom.” —“Come to Me,” says the Lord Jesus Christ, “and I will give you rest.”
But what is the nature of that rest which the Lord Jesus promises to give? It is no mere rest of body. A man may have that and yet be miserable. You may place him in a palace, and surround him with every possible comfort. You may give him money in abundance, and everything that money can buy. You may free him from all care about tomorrow’s bodily needs, and take away the need of working for a single hour. All this you may do to a man, and yet not give him true rest. Thousands know this only too well by bitter experience. Their hearts are starving in the midst of worldly plenty. Their inward man is sick and weary, while their outward man is clothed in purple and fine linen, and lives sumptuously every day! Yes: a man may have houses, and lands, and money, and cars, and soft beds, and the best food and yet not have true rest.
The rest that Christ gives is an inward and spiritual thing. It is rest of heart, rest of conscience, rest of mind, rest of affection, rest of will. It is rest, from a comfortable sense of sins being all forgiven and guilt all put away. It is rest, from a solid hope of good things to come, laid up beyond the reach of disease, and death, and the grave. It is rest, from the well-grounded feeling, that the great business of life is settled, its great end provided for, that in time all is well done, and in eternity heaven will be our home.
(a) Rest such as this the Lord Jesus gives to those who come to Him, by showing them His own finished work on the cross, by clothing them in His own perfect righteousness, and washing them in His own precious blood. When a man begins to see that the Son of God actually died for his sins, his soul begins to taste something of inward quiet and peace.
(b) Rest such as this the Lord Jesus gives to those who come to Him, by revealing Himself as their ever-living High Priest in heaven, and God reconciled to them through Him. When a man begins to see that the Son of God actually lives to intercede for him, he will begin to feel something of inward quiet and peace.
(c) Rest such as this the Lord Jesus gives to those who come to Him, by implanting His Spirit in their hearts, witnessing with their spirits that they are God’s children, and that old things are passed away, and all things are become new. When a man begins to feel an inward drawing towards God as a Father, and a sense of being an adopted and forgiven child, his soul begins to feel something of quiet and peace.
(d) Rest such as this the Lord Jesus gives to those who come to Him, by dwelling in their hearts as King, by putting all things within in order, and giving to each faculty its place and work. When a man begins to find order in his heart in place of rebellion and confusion, his soul begins to understand something of quiet and peace. There is no true inward happiness until the true King is on the throne.
(e) Rest such as this is the privilege of all believers in Christ. Some know more of it and some less; some feel it only at distant intervals, and some feel it almost always. Few enjoy the sense of it without many a battle with unbelief, and many a conflict with fear. But all who truly come to Christ, know something of this rest. Ask them, with all their complaints and doubts, whether they would give up Christ and go back to the world. You will get only one answer. Weak as their sense of rest may be, they have got hold of something which does them good, and that something they cannot let go.
(f) Rest such as this is within reach of all who are willing to seek it and receive it. The poor man is not so poor but he may have it; the ignorant man is not so ignorant but he may know it; the sick man is not so weak and helpless but he may get hold of it. Faith, simple faith, is the one thing needful in order to possess Christ’s rest. Faith in Christ is the grand secret of happiness. Neither poverty, nor ignorance, nor tribulation, nor distress can prevent men and women and children feeling rest of soul, if they will only come to Christ and believe.
(g) Rest such as this is the possession which makes men independent. Banks may fail, and money make itself wings and flee away. War, epidemics, and famine may break in on a land, and the foundations of the earth be shaken. Health and vigour may depart, and the body be crushed down by awful disease. Death may cut down wife, and children, and friends, until he who once enjoyed them stands entirely alone. But the man who has come to Christ by faith, will still possess something which can never be taken from him. Like Paul and Silas, he will sing in prison. Like Job, bereaved of children and property, he will bless the name of the Lord. (Acts 16:25; Job 1:21) He is the truly independent man who possesses that which nothing can take away.
(h) Rest such as this is the possession which makes men truly rich. It lasts; it wears; it endures. It lightens the solitary home. It smoothes down the dying pillow. It goes with men when they are placed in their coffins. It stays with them when they are laid in their graves. When friends can no longer help us, and money is powerless,—when doctors can no longer relieve our pain, and nurses can attend to our needs,—when sense begins to fail, and eye and ear can no longer do their duty,—then, even then, the “rest” which Christ gives will be poured out in the heart of the believer. The words “rich” and “poor” will change their meaning entirely one day. He is the only rich man who has come to Christ by faith, and from Christ has received rest.
This is the rest which Christ offers to give to all who “labour and are heavy-laden.” This is the rest for which He invites them to come to Him. This is the rest which I want you to enjoy, and to which I bring you an invitation this day. May God grant that the invitation may not be brought to you in vain!
(1) Does anyone feel ignorant of the “rest” of which I have been speaking?
If so, what have you got from your religion? You profess and call yourself a Christian. You have probably attended a Christian place of worship many years. You would not like to be called an infidel or a heathen. Yet all this time what benefit have you received from your Christianity. What solid advantage have you obtained from it?
Resolve even this day to possess the realities of Christianity as well as the name, and the substance as well as the form. Do not be content until you know something of the peace, and hope, and joy, and consolation which Christians enjoyed in times past. Ask yourself what is the reason that you are a stranger to the feelings which men and women experienced in the days of the Apostles. Ask yourself why you do not “rejoice in the Lord,” (Phil 4:4) and feel “peace with God,” (Rom 5:1) like the Romans and Philippians, to whom the apostle Paul wrote.
Religious feelings, no doubt, are often deceptive; but surely the religion which produces no feelings at all is not the religion of the New Testament. The religion which gives a man no inward comfort, can never be a religion from God. Examine yourself. Never be satisfied until you know something of the rest that is in Christ.
(2) Does anyone want rest of soul, and yet does not know where to turn for it?
Remember today that there is only one place where it can be found. Governments cannot give it; education will not impart it; worldly amusements cannot supply it; money will not purchase it. It can only be found in the hand of Jesus Christ: and to His hand you must turn, if you would find peace within.
There is no other road to rest of soul. Let that never be forgotten. There is only one way to the Father,—Jesus Christ; one door into heaven,—Jesus Christ; and one path to peace of heart,—Jesus Christ. By that way all who “labour and are heavy-laden” must go, whatever their rank or condition. The rich in their mansions and the wandering poor, are all on the same level in this matter. All alike must come to Christ, if they feel soul-weary and thirsty. All must drink of the same fountain, if they would have their thirst relieved.
To the one who does not really believe this, time will show who is right and who is wrong. Go on, if you will, imagining that true happiness is to be found in the good things of this world. Seek it, if you will, in eating and drinking, in games and travel and in sports. Seek it if you will, in reading and scientific pursuits, in music and painting, in politics and business. Seek it: but you will never find it, unless you change your plan. Real heart-rest is never to be found except in heart-union with Jesus Christ.
(3) Does anyone want to possess the rest that Christ alone can give, and yet feel afraid to seek it?
Cast this needless fear away. For what did Christ die on the cross, if not to save sinners? For what does He sit at the right hand of God, if not to receive and intercede for sinners? When Christ invites you so plainly, and promises so freely, why should you rob your own soul, and refuse to come to Him?
Is there anyone who desires to be saved by Christ, and yet is not saved at present? Come, I urge you: come to Christ now. Though you have been a great sinner, COME.—Though you have long resisted warnings, counsels, sermons, COME.—Though you have sinned against light and knowledge, against a father’s advice and a mother’s tears, COME.—Though you have plunged into every excess of wickedness, and lived without religion and without prayer, yet COME.—The door is not shut, the fountain is not yet closed. Jesus Christ invites you. It is enough that you feel labouring and heavy-laden, and desire to be saved. COME: Come To Christ now!
Come to Him by faith, and pour out your heart before Him in prayer. Tell Him the whole story of your life, and ask Him to receive you. Cry to Him as the penitent thief did, when he saw Him on the cross. Say to Him, “Lord, save me also! Lord, remember me!”
If you have never come to this point yet, you must come to it at last, if you mean to be saved. You must apply to Christ as a sinner; you must have personal dealings with the great Physician, and apply to Him for a cure. Why not do it at once? Why not this very day accept the great invitation? Once more, I repeat the exhortation. COME: Come To Christ Without Delay!
(4) And has anyone found the rest which Christ gives?
Have you tasted true peace by coming to Him and casting your soul on Him? Then go on to the end of your days as you have begun, looking to Jesus and living on Him. Go on drawing daily full supplies of rest, peace, mercy, and grace from the great fountain of rest and peace. Remember that, however long you may live, you will never be anything but a poor empty sinner, owing all you have and hope for to Christ alone.
Never be ashamed of living the life of faith in Christ. Men may ridicule and mock you, and even silence you in argument; but they can never take from you the feelings which faith in Christ gives. They can never prevent you feeling, “I was weary until I found Christ, but now I have rest of conscience. I was blind, but now I see. I was dead, but I am alive again. I was lost, but I am found.”
Invite all around you to come to Christ. Use every lawful effort to bring father, mother, husband, wife, children, brothers, sisters, friends, relatives, companions, coworkers, —to bring all and every one to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Spare no effort. Speak to them about Christ: speak to Christ about them. Be ready in season, out of season. Say to them, as Moses did to Hobab, “Come with us, and we will do good to you.” (Num. 10:29.) The more you work for the souls of others, the more blessing will you get for your own soul.
Last, but not least, look forward with confidence to a better rest in a world to come. “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay.” (Heb 10:37) He will gather together all who have believed in Him, and take His people to a home where the wicked shall cease from troubling, and the weary shall be at perfect rest. He will give them a glorious body, in which they will serve Him without distraction, and praise Him without weariness. He will wipe away tears from all faces, and make all things new. (Isa. 25:8.)
There is a good time coming for all who have come to Christ and committed their souls into His keeping. They will remember all the way by which they have been led, ( Deut 8:2) and see the wisdom of every step in the way. They will wonder that they ever doubted the kindness and love of their Shepherd. Above all, they will wonder that they could live so long without Him, and that when they heard of Him they could hesitate about coming to Him.
Ryle tells us of a pass in Scotland called Glencoe, which supplies a beautiful illustration of what heaven will be to the man who comes to Christ. The road through Glencoe carries the traveller up a long and steep ascent, with many a little winding and many a little turn in its course. But when the top of the pass is reached, a stone is seen by the wayside, with these simple words engraven on it, “Rest, and be thankful.”
Those words describe the feelings with which everyone who comes to Christ will at last enter heaven. The summit of the narrow way will be reached. We will cease from our weary journeying, and sit down in the kingdom of God. We will look back over all the way of life with thankfulness, and see the perfect wisdom of every little winding and turn in the steep ascent by which we were led. We will forget the toils of the upward journey in the glorious rest. Here in this world our sense of rest in Christ is at best feeble and partial: but, “when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1 Cor. 13:10.)
Thanks be to God, a day is coming when believers shall rest perfectly, and be thankful.