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The Yoke and the Burden

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.
—Jesus in Matthew 11:29
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.
—Jesus in Matthew 5:48

Humanity is essentially divine. Every precept of Jesus rests upon this truth. If man were not divine, the precepts would be both worthless and meaningless, as there would be nothing within him (no divine spirit) to which they could appeal. The very fact that man is capable of loving his enemies, and of returning good for evil, is an attestation of his inward and essential divinity. If sin were man's natural and rightful condition, it would be right that he should remain in it, and there would be no necessity to exhort him to virtue and holiness, for it would be impossible for him to act otherwise than in accordance with his original nature. Whenever men exhort their fellows to virtue, nobility of action, purity of thought, and unselfishness, they unconsciously assert and emphasize man's originally divine nature, and proclaim, though perhaps they know it not, his superiority to sin, and his God-like power to overcome it.

So long, however, has man dwelt in the habitations of sin, that he has at last come to regard himself as native to it, and as being cut off from the Divine Source, which he believes to be outside and away from him. He has thereby lost the consciousness and knowledge of his own divinity, of his essential oneness with God, the Spirit of Good. Humanity at present is in the position of the Prodigal Son, wandering in the Far Country of Sin, and attempting to live upon the swinish husks of base desires and false beliefs; and every divine precept and command is a call to man to return to his Father's House, his Original Innocence, and to recover and reestablish the knowledge of his substantial oneness with the Divine.

The whole of the teaching of Jesus is an exhortation to men to do as he did, to live as he lived; he thereby recognizes and affirms the inherent equality of Humanity with Himself, and in declaring "I and my Father are One," he speaks not alone for himself but for all men. The difference between the life of Jesus and that of other men is not arbitrarily imposed, nor does it exist in essentiality, it is self-imposed and exists in individual choice. Jesus fully recognized his oneness with the Father (the Divine Source), and lived consciously in that oneness; other men (speaking broadly) not only do not recognize their oneness with the Divine, but do not believe it; it is therefore impossible for them, by virtue of their unbelief, to rise to the dignity and majesty of the Divine Life. Whilst a man regards himself as being the creature of sin, believing himself to be originally degraded, he must necessarily remain degraded, and subject to sin; but let him realize that he is originally divine, that he is not, never was and never can be, cut off from the Divine except in his own ignorance and willful choice, and he will at once rise above sin, and commence to manifest the Divine Life.

Man is primarily a spiritual being, and as such, is of the nature and substance of the Eternal Spirit, the Unchangeable Reality, which men call God. Goodness, not sin, is his rightful condition; perfection, not imperfection, is his heritage, and this a man may enter into and realize now if he will grant the condition, which is the denial or abandonment of self, that is, of his feverish desires, his proud will, his egotism and self-seeking—all that which St. Paul calls the "natural man."

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes the way of action and thought by which the divine life is to be lived, and after having laid down the whole duty of man as a spiritual being, a son of God, He exhorts men to live as becomes their divine relationship, in the words, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect." In sounding this high call to perfection, Jesus, far from commanding an impossibility, merely urges men to live their true life of divine perfection, and to give up their false life of self-seeking and sin.

The "yoke" which Jesus calls upon men to take upon themselves is the yoke of obedience—obedience to the divine nature which is in every man, no longer obeying the lower desires and impulses; and the "burden" is the burden of a sinless life. Such a yoke is "easy," because it entails no suffering, and such a burden is "light," for it is relieved of the weight of sorrow, anxiety and fear. It is the life of self-seeking which is so uneasy, while the burden of sin, even of the mildest forms of sin, is heavy and wearisome. To know the truth of this, a man has only to look around upon the world, and then within his own soul.

Jesus recognized the divine in all men, even those called "evil," and he dwelt upon it and reiterated it. The idea of man being innately degraded, a lost creature, incapable of lifting himself to the heights of Goodness and Righteousness, nowhere enters into either the words, conceptions, or teaching of Jesus. On the other hand, the whole of his teaching affirms and emphasizes man's innate Goodness, and his unlimited capacity for practicing goodness. When he says, "Condemn not and ye shall not be condemned; forgive and ye shall be forgiven; give and it shall be given unto you; good measure pressed down, shaken together, and running over shall men give into your bosoms," he plainly tells us that if we will only put away all resentment, and treat others with kindness, forgiveness and gentle consideration, we shall then find that men are so intrinsically good that they will heap kindnesses without number upon us. He who would find how good at heart men are, let him throw away all his ideas and suspicions about the "evil" in others, and find and practice the good within himself.

Jesus also speaks of the "righteous," and those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness," of "the meek," "the merciful," "the pure in heart," and "the peacemakers," and declares that all such are blessed. He draws our attention to the fact that those who regard themselves as evil, are so far from being evil that they know how to give good gifts to their children, and that even the publicans and sinners return love for love. His testimony to the guileless innocence of little children seems to have been much overlooked and ignored by those who call themselves his followers, and in all his references to and treatment of, the fallen; he looks behind and away from the surface defilement (which other men regard as the real man, and dwell upon and exaggerate its enormity), and sees and brings forth the divine beauty and goodness hidden away under the accumulation of sin.

He speaks of sinners as "captives" and "blind," and that it was his mission to preach deliverance and restore sight, clearly indicating that sin is foreign to man, and that sinlessness is his true state; and he even declares that men shall do greater works than he did.

Nowhere in the whole range of history or inspiration is there to be found such testimony to the lofty nobility and essential purity and goodness (doubtless more or less latent) of human heart than in the words and deeds of Jesus. In his divine goodness he knew the human heart, and he knew that it was good.

Man has within him the divine power by which he can rise to the highest heights of spiritual achievement; by which he can shake off sin and shame and sorrow, and do the will of the Father, the Supreme Good; by which he can conquer all the powers of darkness within, and stand radiant and free; by which he can subdue the world, and scale the lofty pinnacles of Truth. This can man, by choice, by resolve, and by his divine strength, accomplish; but he can only accomplish it in and by obedience; he must choose meekness and lowliness of heart; he must abandon strife for peace; passion for purity; hatred for love; self-seeking for self-sacrifice, and must overcome evil with good; for this is the holy Way of Truth; this is the safe and abiding salvation; this is the yoke and burden of the Christ.

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James Allen

James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.

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