Let us set it down then, as a first principle in religion, that all of us must come to Christ, in some sense or other, through things naturally unpleasant to us; it may be even through bodily suffering, such as the Apostles endured, or it may be nothing more than the subduing of our natural infirmities and the sacrifice of our natural wishes; it may be pain greater or pain less, on a public stage or a private one; but, till the words "yoke" and "cross" can stand for something pleasant, the bearing of our yoke and cross is something not pleasant; and though rest is promised as our reward, yet the way to rest must lie through discomfort and distress of heart.
This I say must be taken as a first principle in religion; it concerns us all, it concerns young and old, rich and poor, all of whom are apt to consider it a valid reason for disregarding and speaking against a religious life, that it is so strict and distasteful. They shrink from religion as something gloomy, or frightful, or dull, or intrusive, or exorbitant. And, alas, sometimes it is attempted to lead them to religion by making it appear not difficult and severe. Severe truths are put aside; religion is made to consist in a worldly security, or again in a heated enthusiastic state of mind. But this is a deceit. I do not of course mean, far from it, that religion is not full of joy and peace also; "My yoke," says Christ, "is easy, and My burden is light:" but grace makes it so; in itself it is severe, and any form of doctrine which teaches otherwise forgets that Christ calls us to His yoke, and that that yoke is a cross.
If you call to mind some of the traits of that special religious character to which we are called, you will readily understand how both it, and the discipline by which it is formed in us, are not naturally pleasant to us. That character is described in the text as meekness and lowliness; for we are told to "learn" of Him who was "meek and lowly in heart." The same character is presented to us at greater length in our Saviour's sermon on the Mount, in which seven notes of a Christian are given to us, in themselves of a painful and humbling character, but joyful, because they are blessed by Him. He mentions, first, "the poor in spirit;" this is denoted in the text, under the word "lowly in heart;"—secondly, those "that mourn;" and this surely is their peculiarity who are bearing on their shoulders the yoke of Christ;—thirdly, "the meek;" and these too are spoken of in the text, when He bids us to be like Himself who "is meek;"—fourthly, those which do "hunger and thirst after righteousness;" and what righteousness, but that which Christ's Cross wrought out, and which becomes our righteousness when we take on us the yoke of the Cross? Fifthly, "the merciful;" and as the Cross is in itself the work of infinite mercy, so when we bear it, it makes us merciful. Sixthly, "the pure in heart;" and this is the very benefit which the Cross first does to us when marked on our forehead when infants, to sever us from the world, the flesh, and the devil, to circumcise us from the first Adam, and to make us pure as He is pure. Seventhly, "the peace-makers," and as He "made peace by the blood of His Cross," so do we become peace-makers after His pattern. And, lastly, after all seven, He adds, those "which are persecuted for righteousness' sake;" which is nothing but the Cross itself, and the truest form of His yoke, spoken of last of all, after mention has been made of its fruits.