THE EASY YOKE
A Sermon by Rev. Terry Schnarr
Preached in Sydney, Australia August 25, 1996
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
The Lord’s yoke is easy and His burden is light. When we follow Him, our lives are easy and light. When we don’t follow Him our lives become heavy, burdensome, and tiring.
The Lord is a loving, kind, and merciful Creator. He created us to enjoy life. He does not create us and then make life hard and cumbersome for us. We make life difficult and hard for ourselves just so far as we try to lead ourselves.
“It is not so difficult to live the life that leads to heaven as is believed” (HH 528), the Heavenly Doctrines teach us. But why does it seem so hard? We make it difficult by not looking to the Word for guidance in our daily lives.
When the Lord was in the world He said, “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all people unto Me.” As you know, He conquered death and was lifted up. In the process He conquered the hells, subjecting them to His control. He now has the power to control the hells influencing each one of us, and He uses that power to draw us into heaven.
It is harder to go to hell than heaven because to go to hell you have to fight against the power of the Lord leading you to heaven. He has all power in heaven and on earth, and therefore it is harder to go against His power than to go against the power of the hells.
Some people think that the Lord’s yoke is hard and His burden is heavy because they think “they must discard worldly things, which consist chiefly in riches and honors; that they must walk continually in pious meditation of God, salvation, and eternal life; and must spend their life in prayers and in reading the Word and pious books. Such is their idea of renouncing the world, and living in the spirit and not in the flesh” (HH 528). This is a heavy burden, but it is a false idea of becoming spiritual.
In fact, people who do this acquire a sorrowful life that is not receptive of heavenly joy because they focus on negative things, evils and falsities in themselves and others. They are often quite judgmental. The truth is, we read, “to receive the life of heaven a person needs to live in the world and engage in its business and employments and by means of a moral and civil life there receive the spiritual life. In no other way can the spiritual life be formed in a person, or his spirit be prepared for heaven” (Ibid., emphasis added).
Only two things are necessary for heavenly life: thinking rightly and doing rightly. Spiritual life consists in thinking rightly, and civil and moral life consist of doing rightly. If a person thinks rightly but does not act accordingly, then his spiritual life does not really exist. If a person does good but is thinking about himself and how it is advantageous for him to act well, then his thinking is natural and not spiritual.
Going to heaven is as easy as obeying ten rules. The first three commandments are concerned with spiritual lifewith thinking rightly. We shall have no other Gods before the Lord; we shall not take the Lord’s name in vain, passing over His Word lightly; and we shall keep the Sabbath day as a day focused on the Lord and the good and truth which come from Him.
These three commandments tell us how to think spiritually. They tell us to think of the Lord first, not of ourselves. They tell us to take to heart the things that are from the Lord in His Word, to keep the Word in our hearts at all times and not merely to pay them lip service once a week. They tell us to be in constant communication with the Lord through prayer and reading His Word, especially on Sunday, and to respect what is the Lord’s in other people. In other words, the first three commandments tell us what mental attitudes we need to have toward the Lord, toward others, and toward ourselves. By consciously observing and thinking about our attitudes we can easily train ourselves to think rightly.
The last seven commandments teach us how we should and should not act. Most of us live according to the civil and moral life these seven commandments describe. However, some of us live this way for the sake of ourselves, disregarding the first three commandments. If we are guilty of neglecting the first three commandments, we are not spiritual and are not living the life which will lead us to heaven. We are living a civil and moral life with a fundamentally selfish attitude, simply for civil and moral reasons, not because God commands it.
The spiritual person lives the civil and moral life also, and the actions of his life are not distinguishable from the actions of a merely civil and moral person, but the spiritual person lives according to those laws because they are Divine laws. His attitude is that God is always watching him and always cares about the thoughts which produce his acts.
The major difference between a good moral person and a spiritual person is their motivation. The spiritual person believes in the Lord and has the Lord in mind, not himself, in everything he does. The good moral person thinks about himself and lives a moral and civil life for the sake of himself.
Because a spiritual person is consciously thinking about the Lord’s love and the truths of His Word in what He does, he has communication with the angels of heaven. His mind is linked with them unconsciously, and is open to receive their influence. This is accomplished simply by thinking the right way, by thinking of the Lord, His Word, and His truth and goodness in others.
It is a spiritual law that thought brings presence. When we think about the Lord, He draws closer to us. When we think of our own honor and reputation, the hells draw closer to us. When we think about the spiritual truths revealed in the Lord’s Word, the angels of heaven who live those truths are drawn closer to us. So when we think about these things and dwell on them in our thoughts, the Lord and the angels draw nearer, inspiring in us a love for these things and a desire to act on them for the sake of others. “It is a sure and immutable law,” we read, “that so far as a person approaches the Lord, so far does the Lord approach the person.”
Some people think they have to know everything about the Lord and His Word before they think rightly. Not true. “The Lord,” we read,”requires no more of a person than to live according to what he knows” (AC 6706).
When a person lives the spiritual life described in the first three commandments, and brings the attitudes and thoughts of that life to bear on his civil and moral life, his spiritual mind is opened to receive the influences of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, through the angels of heaven. The Holy Spirit then leads his affections and thoughts imperceptibly, stirring up good loves and enlightened thoughts. He ministers to the person so gently that there is nothing whatever of yoke or dominion. The person is led by means of his heavenly delights.
On the other hand, the person who lives a civil and moral life without a spiritual life at the same time has his mind closed to the influence of the angels and the Holy Spirit. The reason is simple. He does not look to the Lord and His Word for guidance, but to himself instead. He is filled with the pride of self-intelligence and chooses to ignore or deny the Lord and His Word. When the angels are in this way shut out, evil spirits from hell are allowed to enter the person. They puff him up with self-esteem and self-love. They lead him in the direction of satisfying his own selfish loves and worldly desires. They sneak in and begin to dominate him, and drive him on. They do not care about him, but only about getting him to do evil so they can feel some selfish delights by being associated with him. Insofar as they can they try to enslave him quite the opposite of the leading the angels do. He who sins becomes a slave of sin.
Yet even then the situation is not hopeless for such a person. All he needs to do is to return to the Lord, study His Word, and train himself to think about Divine things as he goes through his daily routine. “All a person needs to do,” we read, “is to learn truths from the Word and to live according to them” (AE 790:14e). If a person will merely reform the externals of his life, the Lord will regenerate his internals.
The Lord will overcome the evils in each individual as easily as He overcame them in Himself when He was in the world. “By a like Divine power the Lord fights at this day against hell in every person who is being regenerated,” we read, “for hell attacks with such diabolical fury, unless the Lord resisted and tamed that fury a person could not but give in” (TCR 123:6). A person needs to shun only one evil thought or attitude to be saved so long as he continues in that path. We read, “If a person by means of combat against evils as sins has acquired anything spiritual in the world, be it ever so small, he is saved, and afterwards his uses grow like a grain of mustard seed into a tree” (D. Love XVII:5e).
The Lord maintains a balance, or equilibrium, between the forces of heaven and the forces of hell operating on our minds. We are free and able to control the subjects of our thoughts. “Evil and falsity are injected into the thoughts of people from hell and are sent back again. These things cannot defile the person,” we read, “because they are sent back. A person cannot stand apart from thinking evil, but from doing it” (AC 8910:3). In other words, we cannot stop evil thoughts from coming into our minds, but we can send them out again. This is simply a matter of mental discipline, a matter of habit.
This habit is formed first by reading and studying the Word so that you know what is evil and from hell. Secondly, through prayer several times a day in which you ask the Lord to help you recognize the evil thoughts when they come, the habit begins to be formed. Eventually, the state described in the following passage becomes the norm:
When any thing presents itself to a person that he knows to be dishonest and unjust but to which his mind is borne, it is simply necessary for him to think that it ought not to be done because it is opposed to the Divine precepts. If a person accustoms himself so to think, and from so doing establishes a habit of so thinking, he is gradually linked to heaven. So far as he is linked to heaven the higher regions of his mind are opened. So far as these are opened he sees whatever is dishonest and unjust, and so far as he sees these evils they can be dispersed. For no evil can be dispersed until it is seen. Into this state a person is able to enter because of his freedom, for is not anyone able from his freedom so to think? Furthermore, when a person has made a beginning, the Lord quickens all that is good in him, and causes him not only to see evils, but also to refrain from willing them, and finally to turn away from them. This is meant by the Lord’s words, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (HH 533).
The passage adds:
The difficulty of so thinking and of resisting evils increases so far as a person from his will does evils, for in the same measure he becomes accustomed to them until he no longer sees them, and at length loves them and from the delight of his love excuses them, and confirms them by every kind of fallacy, and declares them to be allowable and good. This is the fate of those who in early youth plunge into evils without restraint (Ibid.)
The Lord’s yoke is easy and His burden is light. If life is a laborious burden for you, go to the Lord and He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you and learn from Him. He is gentle and loving, and will give you peace. Peace is described as “bliss of heart and soul arising from the Lord’s relationship with heaven and the church, and this is from the relationship of good and truth with those who are there; consequently there is no longer combat of evil and falsity” (AE 365:18). “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light,” says the Lord. Amen.
Lessons: Ezekiel 34, Matt. 11:28-31, HH 359
Heaven and Hell 359
Since a man can live outwardly as others do, can grow rich, keep a plentiful table, dwell in an elegant house and wear fine clothing according to his condition and function, can enjoy delights and gratifications, and engage in worldly affairs for the sake of his occupation and business and for the life of both the mind and body, provided he inwardly acknowledges the Divine and wishes well to the neighbor, it is evident that to enter upon the way to heaven is not so difficult as many believe. The sole difficulty lies in being able to resist the love of self and the world, and to prevent their becoming dominant; for this is the source of all evils. That this is not so difficult as is believed is meant by these words of the Lord: “Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest to your souls; for My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:29,30).
The Lord’s yoke is easy and His burden light because a man is led by the Lord and not by self just to the extent that he resists the evils that flow forth from love of self and of the world, and because the Lord then resists these evils in man and removes them.