Who is Jesus Christ? Do you know who he is, at the core of his heart? More importantly, do you know his heart for you? Chances are, you have not given this much thought recently. Contemporary Christian literature offers much reflection on what Christ has done, and what our practical response should be. Unfortunately, little reflection is offered on who Jesus is at his heart; on who he is for us. Naturally Jesus’ character, and his historical acts are bound together. Yet there is a distinction between these that you should not miss. this is something Dane Ortland get’s right in Gentle and Lowly.
Gentle and Lowly is written for the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty.
Do You Feel Loved?
It is one thing to know about love; to know the great and varied gospel promises that Christ’s actions – as the incarnate, suffering God – have brought about. It is another thing entirely to feel loved. To live moment by moment with the deep and satisfying awareness that Christ’s heart is lavishly loving toward you. To take every breath, conscious of the Saviour’s love for you – yes, you – amid your brokenness and sins. Knowing Jesus in this way, O tired and fearful friend, is to know the very heart of God for you.
Christ’s heart is lavishly loving toward you.
It is to the (re)discovery of this profound knowledge that Dane Ortlund invites us in his Gentle and Lowly. Each of the twenty-three short chapters meditate deeply on a specific passage that parades the gentle heart of God for his people.
Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers
Dane C. Ortlund
Christians know what Jesus Christ has done―but who is he? What is his deepest heart for his people, weary and faltering on their journey toward heaven? Jesus said he is “gentle and lowly in heart.” This book reflects on these words, opening up a neglected yet central truth about who he is for sinners and sufferers today.
These meditations are shocking in some ways, particularly in our performance-driven time. They are therefore best done with the trustworthy guidance of saints of old, saints who savoured Jesus long before us. Few are more suitable for this task than the Puritans to whom Ortlund turns. Men such as Thomas Goodwin, John Bunyan and Jonathan Edwards. These Christian giants were known not only to think carefully about Christ but were intimately and experientially familiar with his very heart.
Who is This Book For?
Ortlund’s book then, is not only intellectually and exegetically rigorous, but it is also historically informed. Yet, it was not written for seminary students or professors—although both would only benefit. This book is for the everyday, struggling and suffering Christian.
This book is for the everyday, struggling and suffering Christian.
Gentle and Lowly is written for the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty. Those running on fumes. Those whose Christian lives feel like constantly running up a descending escalator. Those of us who find ourselves thinking: “How could I mess up that bad—again?” It is for that increasing suspicion that God’s patience with us is wearing thin. For those of us who know God loves us but suspect we have deeply disappointed him. Who have told others of the love of Christ yet wonder if—as for us—he harbours mild resentment… It is written, in other words, for normal Christians. In short, it is for sinners and sufferers. How does Jesus feel about them (p13-14)?
Indeed, how does Jesus feel about us?
Come to Me… And I Will Give You Rest
There is, perhaps, no passage that more wonderfully answers the question of how Jesus feels about sinners and sufferers, than Matthew 11:28–30: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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 is light.”
These verses are Ortlund’s point of departure. They are the foundation on which the remainder of his book rests. If there is one way in which Christ defined himself for his people, it is that he is gentle and lowly. He is no fire-spewing tyrant, ready to crack the whip at the first sign of sin and weakness. No, he is in fact the very opposite. He is gentle and lowly, compassionate with even the worst of sinners.
Until we become clean (so we think), Jesus may be close but only as one who ‘holds his nose.’
But I Stink of Sin!
This runs counter to our intuitive view of relationships, particularly relationship with God. Our decidedly normal way of thinking includes all manner of works to clean up our act before approaching the holy God. Until we become clean (so we think), Jesus may be close but only as one who “holds his nose” (p23); only as one who cringes at our dirt and filth. This, however, is not the Jesus of the Bible.
Jesus is Gentle and Lowly
The biblical Jesus is gentle and lowly. He is approachable, not only despite our sin, but in our very sin. In fact, the burden that the sinner brings to Jesus is what qualifies him to come near (Matthew 11:28). In Jesus is a gentleness that no amount of sin or failure can overcome (p20). Not even yours.
Our most haunted pockets of failure and regret are where his heart is drawn most unswervingly.
This is astonishing. Jesus’ heart is drawn towards sinners, towards the sick, and towards those who need help. Despite what our own hearts may proclaim, there is no indication that the sin of those who come to him rebuffs him, or that he would ever snub those who seek him. In Ortlund’s own words, “Our most haunted pockets of failure and regret are where his heart is drawn most unswervingly” (p210).
Too Gentle and Too Lowly?
Are we – with our focus on God’s heart – “pushing” God’s gentleness at the expense of his wrath? Is God not also holy and therefore the rightful judge? This too Ortlund addresses and shows that even here our natural dispositions have to be mastered by the biblical witness of God’s abundant heart toward his people. As central as God’s judgement is to his sovereignty and character, biblically, judgement is defined as God’s “strange work” (Isaiah 28:21; Lamentations 3:33), while showing mercy is his “natural work” (p144).
At the deepest level of God’s heart is a desire to show mercy to his people: “I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul” (Jeremiah 32:41).
God delights in being merciful to his people. He delights in being merciful to you, weary Christian. Judgement is the last lever for God, not the first. Perhaps your greatest sin has been condemning yourself and turning from God, when all he bids you is to come, come as you are. Come, so that he may show you afresh just how gentle and loving he is, even with the most wayward of sinners.
Stand in Awe
Thomas Goodwin once said, “In Christ are treasures that will require digging to the end of the world.” Dane Ortlund has done much of the heavy lifting on this dig, and O the beauty of the treasure that he has unearthed! As such, I am convinced Ortlund wrote this book, in the first instance, to help us simply stand in awe of Jesus.
The slow and deliberate meditation on key passages of Jesus’ gentle heart towards his people brings about a profound sense of awe; a sense of dumbstruck wonder in the face of such an incredibly gentle God. Who could have ever thought up such a Saviour? A Saviour who is perfectly pure and holy, and yet delights in showing mercy to his people! One who is reluctant to pour out judgment, but rejoices at the opportunity to be gentle to men and women who know naught but sin?
I could not help but weep in gratitude on more than one occasion, as I was swept up in the extravagantly merciful heart of Jesus Christ.
As I was reading the book and reflecting on the texts, I could not help but weep in gratitude on more than one occasion, as I was swept up in the extravagantly merciful heart of Jesus Christ.
A Guide to the Very Heart of God
For anyone who has struggled to experience the love of God in a harsh, loveless world, for those who have felt like a disappointment in God’s eyes, no matter how much they do. For someone who feels that they are undeserving of genuine love, for an individual who feel like their sins are simply too great – Gentle and Lowly is the book for you.
It is a magnificent guide into the very heart of God.