“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Christ declares in Matthew 11:28. “In this text,” asks a reader, “is Jesus inviting us or commanding us to come to Him?”
The text in question is often (though wrongly) cited by the defenders of a gracious and well-meant gospel offer to everybody. Jesus’ words are interpreted to mean that Christ is inviting all men to come to Him. The text, then, is not a command, but an invitation. It is an invitation in which Christ graciously expresses His desire that all men head for head will come to Him to receive salvation. That interpretation teaches that, because the text is an invitation, the coming to Christ is the work of man who chooses to come. An invitation can be accepted or rejected, after all.
The gracious and well-meant gospel offer is contrary to Scripture. Jesus is most emphatically not inviting all men to come to Him. He has just prayed to His Father, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight” (25-26). Is it even remotely possible that Jesus would thank God for hiding the truth from some and revealing it to others and then turn around and beg every man to come to Him? A man is not thinking straight if he talks that kind of language.
Moreover, after concluding this prayer to His Father, Jesus goes on to say, “All things are delivered unto 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 [i.e., desires to] reveal him” (27).
Jesus makes it abundantly clear that while it is God’s will to hide spiritual truths from the wise and reveal these same truths unto babes, He, who alone knows the Father, is commissioned to accomplish His Father’s will. Those who teach a gracious and well-meant offer want us to believe that Christ, who carries out the will of His Father in hiding and revealing, now suddenly turns around and tells everyone to whom He preaches that both He and God earnestly desire that everyone head for head be saved.
It is preposterous! Nor will it help to scurry away from the text and hide behind the bush of “apparent contradiction.” That is a coward’s escape.
No wonder Jesus tells the multitude in Capernaum, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). Christ assures His disciples and all who hear Him that all the elect, given Him by the Father, will and do, in fact, come to Him. Therefore, not only is it certain that all the elect will come to Him, but it is also certain that only the elect will come to Him; no one else. Is it not, therefore, preposterous to say that Jesus, in spite of this fact, still pleads with everyone to come to Him? It will not work to take refuge in the crumbling tower of “apparent contradiction.”
Nor does Scripture leave room for man’s free will, something the defenders of the well-meant offer cunningly do. Christ says, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44).
There is no safety from the clear words of Scripture in the lame excuse of “apparent contradiction.” Nor does the arrow, shot from a broken bow, hit anything by calling those who deny this “apparent contradiction” and the gracious well-meant offer “rationalists.” Name-calling can never successfully defend the lie.
Matthew 11:28 is a beautiful text. Briefly, its beauty lies in the fact that Jesus is not calling all men, but only His beloved people. Those who “labour and are heavy laden” are, in the first instance, those, still in the old dispensation, who heard the demands of the law and knew in their hearts they could not keep that law. The law had become to them a burden too great to bear and it confronted them with an obligation that they knew they could never accomplish.
Jesus words are beautiful: “In the law there is no peace and the burden to keep it is too great to carry. Come to Me; My yoke is easy and My burden light.” It is the call to every sin-crushed sinner, whether Jew or Gentile, whether in the first or twenty-first century, who has tried to save himself, but finds God’s demand forever beyond him.
Those who know this are those who are given to Christ by God, that is, the elect. The Spirit of Christ has begun His work, for the only way to Christ is the way of sorrow for sin, shame that fills the soul of the child of God with horror, and a deep longing to escape the consequences of not doing what he knows he must do, but cannot.
Is this an invitation of Christ? Well, only if you understand that an invitation from the King of kings comes as a command. An invitation to a birthday party of a friend you may accept or reject. An invitation from the Lord of heaven and earth is a command that you had better obey—or lose your life!
It is, therefore, a command, without doubt. But it is couched in a way that, in the Lord’s command to come to Him with the burden of sin, He speaks tenderly and with infinite love, for He woos God’s elect to Him by sweet words. He knows how great the burden of the sin of His people can be. He knows how, crushed beneath their sin, they wonder whether God can possibly ever receive them. He knows that they are so ashamed that to come to Christ seems a boldness too great for an unworthy sinner.
The words are calculated to give us courage, courage in Christ’s love for us, a love that is too great for us to comprehend. The Lord does not say to you and me, “Come to Me—or else.” His voice is not harsh and threatening. He comes in His love for poor, chastised, frightened sinners who know their sins make them unworthy even for Christ to take a quick glance in their direction. “Come to Me ... I fulfilled the law for you who cannot keep it. I will give you rest—rest in salvation by grace alone!”
- Volume: 14
- Issue: 2
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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