Last year while pondering Christ’s famous command to take his yoke upon us, I wondered if some of the symbolism of the LDS temple might be relevant. As I explored some early Christian and ancient Jewish concepts related to the yoke and the rest that Christ offers, I found connections to covenant making and related issues, including grace and works, that I felt were worth sharing. I also found an apparent Greek word play that adds further meaning to Matthew 11:28-30. The result of my explorations became a paper that I was encouraged to submit to the Mormon Interpreter, my first attempt at a peer-reviewed publication on religious topics. The paper is “The Yoke of Christ: A Light Burden Heavy With Meaning,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 18 (2016): 171-217 (URL: http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/the-yoke-of-christ-a-light-burden-heavy-with-meaning/). I hope you’ll take a look and share your comments.
On the topic of grace and salvation, which crops up frequently in the
discussions here, I think the perspective of Christ’s yoke can be
helpful. Here’s one excerpt from near the end of the paper, which draws upon an earlier section where I discuss the various meanings of the “rest” that Christ offers to give those who take up His yoke:
Finally, returning to the theme of entering the rest of God, Paul in Hebrews 4 clarifies the relationship between the grace that is offered and our need to labor, without which even believing Christians may be at risk of losing the blessing of the Lord’s rest. Paul thus prescribes actions to preserve that blessing, actions which we could call moving forward with the Lord’s yoke:
Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. …
There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. (Hebrews 4: 1–5,9–11)
Of course, it is not the labor that merits salvation. Rather, after urging us to labor to gain access to the rest of God, Paul also charges us to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Approaching the throne of grace and entering into the rest of the Lord is the ultimate purpose of the grace and mercy the Lord offers us through the Atonement. Our light burden carried forward along the way gives us no grounds to boast and in no way undermines the reality that it is through grace we are saved.
From the LDS perspective, the yoke of Christ is a useful image to describe the interplay of yielding to Christ, learning from him, and receiving at his hand blessings, guidance, and grace. “Learn of me” reminds us that the yoke is also a teaching tool, a tool for receiving direction and other blessings from the Lord as he leads us along the straight and narrow path, where our diligence is required but where his grace only can save. That perspective is hardly a Mormon innovation, but it resonates well with the teachings of scripture and with early Christian teachings. Consider, for example, the words of a prominent early Christian Father, John Chrysostom (c. 349–407 ad), Archbishop of Constantinople:
Fear thou not therefore, neither start away from the yoke that lightens you of all these things, but put yourself under it with all forwardness, and then you shall know well the pleasure thereof. For it does not at all bruise your neck, but is put on you for good order’s sake only, and to persuade you to walk seemly, and to lead you unto the royal road, and to deliver you from the precipices on either side, and to make you walk with ease in the narrow way.
Since then so great are its benefits, so great its security, so great its gladness, let us with all our soul, with all our diligence, draw this yoke; that we may both here “find rest unto our souls,” and attain unto the good things to come, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.