29 November, 2019

Matthew 11:28-30—“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest”

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).

“Here Christ expresses His will that all indiscriminately should come unto Him.  To limit this command only to the few hundreds or thousands that heard Christ’s audible words on that one time occasion does no good:  there were still reprobates in the crowd to whom He expressed His desire that they should come to Him.  Nor was Christ speaking of earthly rest:  the following verses make it very clear He was speaking of spiritual rest and the forgiveness of sins … Further, it is illegitimate to limit this expression of His will to his original hearers:  all mankind, to whom the Gospel of Matthew is to be preached to (Mk. 16:15) is included.  This is seen in that the principle object in view is spiritual salvation, which is applicable to not just His original hearers, but to the whole world, transcending local and temporal circumstances.”


Rev. Martyn McGeown

[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 55, no. 2 (April 2018), p. 69]

In Matthew 11:28 (similar to Isaiah 55:1) Jesus does not give a general invitation—He calls the labouring and heavy laden (the burdened) to come.  While the command is universal, for all must come whether they feel the burden or not, the promise “I will give you rest” and “ye shall find rest unto your souls” (v. 29) is only for the ones who are burdened and who, therefore, come. Indeed, Jesus prefaces His call in verse 28 with a declaration of God’s will or desire—God wills to or desires to reveal His Son to only some, while He hides the truth from others (vv. 25-27).



Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)


[Source: The Protestant Reformed Churches in America (1947), p. 347]

4.  But is there no general offer of grace in the words of Christ: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”?
On the contrary; for:
a.   It must not be overlooked that Christ here calls those that labor and are heavy laden. They are such in the same sense as in which He promised them rest, i.e., in the spiritual sense. Although, therefore, the preaching of this calling is general, its content is, evidently, particular.
b.   The Lord does not preach a general offer in these words, but a very specific and particular promise. He promises rest to them that come unto Him. And these are the elect, for no man can come to Him except the Father draw him.



Under discussion here is especially the first verse of this section. [It is often thought] that we may not here limit “ye that labor and are heavy laden,” but that this refers to all men without distinction.

Now we may remark, first of all, that even though we would concede to [this opinion] that the laboring and heavy laden mentioned in the text are all men, [the general, well-meant offer advocate] would still be not one step farther with his proof for a general offer. The case is simply this … there is in this text not only no general offer, but no offer whatsoever. What we have [here] … is a calling and a promise; and the promise is not to all without distinction, but only to those who heed and obey the calling. The calling is: “Come unto me!” The promise is: “I will give you rest.” If therefore we cast the text in the form of a dogmatic declaration, then we get this: Christ promises all who come to Him rest of soul. Thus the Canons have it also, in III/IV:8.

… [The] promise pertains only to those who come to Christ. And this coming to Christ is an act of faith. Coming to Jesus is by no means as simple as it is presented to be in many Methodistic revival meetings and in street preaching, or as it is presented to be in many corrupt hymns. It implies, in the first place, that he who comes to Jesus has knowledge, spiritual knowledge, of his own sin and misery, and has come to acknowledge before the Lord that all his righteousnesses are filthy rags, so that his own works cannot serve as righteousness before God. He is lost in himself. He is a poor sinner. He is empty. There is in him no righteousness and holiness, no wisdom and no knowledge; nothing but guilt and sin and corruption, nothing but foolishness and darkness and enmity against God. It implies, in the second place, that he has learned to know Christ in all the fullness of His salvation, of righteousness and holiness, of wisdom and knowledge of God, and complete redemption: has learned to know not merely in the sense of knowing about Him, but in the spiritual sense, which becomes manifest in the longing to possess Him, in order that His fullness may fill his own emptiness. All that is of Christ has become altogether desirable. This coming to Jesus includes, in the third place, that one completely casts away his own work, in order to cast himself at the feet of the Savior, trusting only in His suffering and death and resurrection, with the plea, “Be merciful to me, a sinner!” And it implies, in the fourth place, finally, that a man embraces Him through faith, becomes conscious that he belongs to Him, and now is a partaker of all His benefits.

Now to those who thus come to Jesus, in order to abandon themselves upon Him alone, the Savior promises rest: rest of soul, consisting in this, that the soul enters into the finished work that has come to light through the resurrection of Christ and the everlasting rest that remaineth for the people of God. And thus understood, [it can no longer be maintained] that we have here a general offer of grace and salvation, but … that we have to do with a very particular promise … [The] Savior Himself very plainly teaches us that those who come are the elect. For: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” And also: “Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” (John 6:37, 65). And again: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (v. 34). [If we wish] to explain Scripture in its own light … simply bring these words of the Savior in connection with Matthew 11:28, and [it can be seen that the] assertion that we have in the latter passage a general offer of grace and salvation is not valid. The Savior promises rest. To whom? To those who come to Him. Who are those who come to Him? They who are given Him by the Father, they who are drawn by the Father. And who are drawn by the Father? The elect. There is no escaping it. Also Matthew 11:28 is thoroughly particular. And the particular character of the text does not for a moment depend upon a certain explanation of ‘laboring and heavy laden’ …

Furthermore, we do not concede … that “laboring and heavy laden” are all men. And we also deem it important that the text should not be explained in that general sense, because precisely those to whom the promise pertains would lose the comfort and encouragement which is in this word for them, through such an explanation. And this may not be. The bread of the children may not be cast before the dogs. [We are placed before the following question]: in what sense does the Savior mean laboring and heavy laden here? Someone can be weary and heavy laden in the physical sense of the word … Men can also be weary of soul in the natural sense of the word. They can be bowed down under the burdens of life, burdens of every sort. And also such men are not meant by the Savior. About this there is no dispute. No; this weariness belongs to the same category as the rest which the Savior promises. And therefore it must be understood in the spiritual sense. There are men who are weary because they seek after righteousness, but can find nothing else but sin. Men who say of their sins that as a heavy burden they are too heavy to them. And this can simply not be said of all men. Although therefore we freely concede that there are all sorts of burdens borne, also all sorts of weariness in the world and that apart from the text under discussion it certainly can be said that all men are weary and heavy laden, nevertheless we maintain that they are not weary and heavy laden in the sense in which the Savior promises them rest, that is, in the true spiritual sense of the word. Although therefore this call of the Savior indeed comes to all who hear the Gospel, nevertheless every hearer of this call demonstrates by coming or not coming whether he is weary of sin or whether he loves sin. Through the calling separation comes about. And through the calling the Savior mentions His own by name. They come and receive the rest which remains for the people of God.

Finally, this altogether particular character of the text is very plainly confirmed by both the broader and the immediate context. In the broader context the Savior speaks of two sons of men from the viewpoint of their attitude over against the preaching of the kingdom of heaven. The one class is the violent, who since the days of John the Baptist already take the kingdom of heaven by force. It makes no difference to them who proclaim the gospel of the kingdom. They certainly enter in. They have waited long for that kingdom. And now John proclaims that it is at hand, and as it were through his preaching sets the door of that kingdom ajar and they press to enter in. And also when Jesus comes and proclaims the same Gospel, they manifest themselves as the same violent who are desirous to enter in. But over against that spiritually strong generation there is also another generation which the Savior compares with children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows: “We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.” They always stand wrong over against the kingdom of heaven and never enter in. They always find an excuse for their refusal to enter in. In the case of John they piped, and wanted him to dance; but John the Baptist was a Nazarite and could not dance. He came neither eating nor drinking. And when John did not dance to their piping, they said of him that he had a devil. Who can endure it in the desert, with locusts and wild honey? But then came Jesus, Who was no Nazarite, who could not be conquered by the world, but came in order to overcome the world, who therefore came eating and drinking. But when He came, they mourned unto Him and wanted Him to lament. And when Jesus continued to eat and to drink, they said of Him that He was a glutton and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. Meanwhile, neither upon the preaching of John, nor at that of Jesus, did they enter in. And then follows the pronouncement of judgment upon that miserable generation as it came to manifestation especially under the preaching of Jesus and under His many works at Capernaum, at Chorazin, and at Bethsaida. And as far as the immediate context is concerned, there the Savior resumes as it were that twofold effect of His preaching, revealing and hiding, and with it turns in thanksgiving to the Father, to Whom He ascribes that twofold fruit. It is all according to the good pleasure of the 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.” In the light of this context … the very possibility of suddenly thinking in verse 28 of a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation fails.



[Source: Whosoever Will, (RFPA, 2002), p. 26]

[The natural man] is weary, to be sure, but not of sin. He is weary of unrest, of war, of destruction, of bloodshed, of sickness, of sorrow, of death. And he labors and toils to improve his condition, to establish peace and happiness, to make a better world. But he does not acknowledge that his burden is his sin, and that all his unrest finds its cause in the fact that he has forsaken God. He does not want to cease from sin. He does not seek after God. He seeks rest in the sphere of sin. Speaking beautiful words of peace, he makes war, boasting of righteousness he hates the righteousness of God, claiming to labor for a better world, he destroys it. And he does not will to enter into the rest of God, and to come to Christ.

But [in Matthew 11:28] Christ speaks: Come! And when He speaks, who can still resist? Ah, when I speak, when mere man speaks, when a preacher begs and calls and persuades, it is of no avail. You hear with the natural ear, you see with your natural eye, you understand the meaning of the gospel, but you refuse to come, you reject the Christ, you only prove that you are blind, and deaf, and very corrupt, and aggravate your guilt. But Christ speaks! He that once stood at the open grave of Lazarus, calling: “Lazarus, come forth,” and he came out, speaks. He speaks by his Spirit and Word. And through the power of His almighty Word you receive eyes to see, ears to hear, an enlightened understanding to know your misery, the longing to be delivered and to enter into the rest of God, the will to come to Christ!



If I preach in my congregation: I promise ten dollars to all who have no work and are in need, if they come to me, then that is a general proclamation of a particular promise. The proclamation is general, the promise is particular. It is a particular offer … When God says: To all those who labor and are heavy laden, who come to Me, I will give rest, then that is indeed a general proclamation, but the promise is particular … And since it is God Himself who must work the true labouring … it is as plain as day that all these passages basically concern only the elect.



Herman C. Hanko


[Source: Covenant Reformed Fellowship News, vol. 1, no. 8]

Many times various texts in Scripture which are calls of God or Christ to sinners are interpreted as general calls which come to all men and invite all men to come to Christ for salvation.

Many interpret this text in this way.

The meaning of the text then is that all men are labouring and heavy laden. To all men comes the call to come to Christ to receive rest.

There are many reasons why such an interpretation cannot be the meaning.

One reason is the immediately preceding context. Jesus has pronounced terrible woes on Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum because of their unbelief. It would be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom than for these critics of Israel.

Did the unbelief of these cities indicate in any way that the Lord’s ministry had been a failure? Not at all.

It is precisely at this point that Jesus makes an astonishing prayer: “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.”

Jesus states that the unbelief of Chorazin and Bethsaida is rooted in the good pleasure of His Father. And He adds that He has come to do His Father’s will, which will He knows as the eternal Son (v. 27).

It would be strange then that Jesus would, in fact, oppose that will by earnestly seeking the salvation of all men.

The text in Matthew 11:28 is a beautiful one.

Jesus calls “all that labour and are heavy laden.”

The translation is probably not entirely accurate. We could better translate it as, “all who are weary and heavily burdened.”

Who are these?

The word which means “heavily burdened” refers, according to Thayer’s Greek lexicon, to those who are heavily burdened “with the burdensome requirements of the Mosaic law and of tradition, and with the consciousness of sin.”

The law, because of the impossibility of keeping it, had become an impossible burden to God’s people. They could bear it no longer.

And, especially because the law worked the consciousness of sin, they grew weary under its heavy load, especially when the law came with the threats of the curse.

The consciousness of sin is always a mark of the person in whom the Spirit of Christ has begun the work of salvation. While there may certainly be a certain consciousness of sin in the unregenerate, it is not that consciousness of sin which leads to great weariness.

God always begins the work of salvation in His people by revealing to them their sin. For, in this way, He shows to them the need of the cross and causes them to flee to the cross for a refuge.

So it is to these people, first of all, that Jesus comes with that beautiful call: “Come to me!”

So it is throughout the ages in the call of the gospel. Those in whom the Spirit has wrought the consciousness of sin are those who are called.

They, knowing their sin, hear that call, for Jesus calls His sheep “name by name” (John 10:3).

That call to come to Him is a sovereignly efficacious call, for “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44).

It is a call to the elect and regenerated sinner who finds no peace for his soul in his own works and who is overburdened with the grief and sorrow which is his lot because of his sins.

Jesus’ call still comes today to those bowed down with grief and sorrow over their sins. And when He calls through the gospel, they hear, in amazement and wonder, that their Saviour calls them. To Him they come, anxiously and hesitantly perhaps, wondering at the greatness of it all, but rushing to Him to find their hope in this dark valley of grief.

That call is rooted in the cross. Jesus can and does call because He made perfect atonement for sin by His suffering and death. He tells His sheep of this great work, and calls them to faith in Him. To come to Christ is to believe in Him (John 6:35). To them who come is given rest. It is a rest which comforts the sinner in the consciousness of the full forgiveness of his sins. It is a rest which brings joy and peace, tranquillity and serenity to the troubled heart of the sinner.

To you, therefore, who are burdened by your sin, comes the great call of the gospel: “Come to Christ!” There in Him is rest for your souls.



[Source: Covenant Reformed News, vol. 14, no. 2 (June 2012), emphasis added]

“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” (vv. 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” (v. 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!”



John Knox (1513-1572)

[Source: On Predestination, in Answer to the Cavillations by an Anabaptist [1560], p. 118; (spelling and punctuation modernized)]

And wonder it is, that in the words of the prophet and in the words of our master Christ Jesus also, you see not a plain difference made, for the prophet calls not all indifferently to drink of these waters but such as do thirst [Isa. 55:1-3]. And Christ restrains his generality to such as did travail and were burdened with sin [Matt. 11:28]; such, I say, he confesses himself to call to repentance, but to such as were just and whole, he affirms that he was not sent [Mark 2:17].



Pierre du Moulin (1568-1658)

[Source: Anatomie of Arminianism, pp. 321-322]

They [i.e., the Arminians] scatter some little motives [i.e., appeal to certain texts?], as that Isaiah 55:1. They that thirst are invited by God, that is, those that are desirous of reconciliation with God, and of salvation. And that Matthew 11:28. They that are heavy laden are called, Come unto me ye that are weary and heavy laden: By those that are laden, are noted out, those that are pressed down with the conscience of their sins, and sighing under the burden of them: Therefore (say they [i.e., the Arminians]) they were already desirous of salvation, and were pressed down with the conscience of their sins, before they were [externally] called, and regeneration is after calling: And therefore in the unregenerate there may be a saving grief, and a desire of remission of sins; but I affirm that those men so thirsting, and so laden, were not unregenerate: For that very desire of salvation and the grace of God, and the sighs of the conscience, panting under the weight of sin, by which we are compelled to fly to Christ, is a part of regeneration: And that beginning of fear (if it be acceptable to God) is an effect of the Holy Spirit moving the heart: For what hinders, that he who thirsts after the grace of God, hath not already tasted of it, and as it were licked it with his lips? What hinders that he who is commanded to come to Christ, should not already move himself and begin to go, although with a slow pace? Doth Christ as often as he commands men to believe in him, speak only to unbelievers? Yea, this exhortation to believe and to come to him, doth especially belong to them, whose faith being new bred, and weak, doth strive with the doubtings of the flesh.



More to come! (DV)


Q. 1. “Who, in your view, is being addressed by Christ as those who ‘labour and are heavy laden’?”

The elect, according to their spiritual names.

Ronald Hanko, in his best-selling book Doctrine According to Godliness, in the section on “Calling,” writes:

John 10:3 says, “He calleth his own sheep by name.” The call is not general, but very specific. It implies that Christ already knows his sheep. And indeed he does, for they were given him by the Father before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-6).
When Christ calls his sheep by name, however, they do not hear their natural names, Mary or William. They hear their spiritual names, the names they have received by the very first work of God’s grace in their hearts: names such as Thirsty One (Rev. 22:17), Hungry One (Isa. 55:1), Laboring and Burdened One (Matt. 11:28).
Indeed, it is the calling that makes sinners hungry, thirsty, burdened by sin and guilt, and finally willing also to come to Christ. That is why it is referred to as the efficacious call. Christ’s word in calling is a creative word that brings into existence the thing called for.
What a blessing and a joy, then, to hear Christ’s voice calling and to know that he calls us to himself.


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