Dane C. Ortlund is a thoughtful writer. And he has produced a gem of a book! His central focus in “Gentle and Lowly” is not primarily what Christ has done, but who He is. He is concerned about answering these questions – What is the ‘bent’ of Christ’s heart? What animates Him most deeply? What is His deepest impulse?
His main thesis is taken from Matthew 11:29, but he also fleshes out the heart of God in Christ through the Spirit, from both from the Old and New Testaments. He heavily depends on the Puritans (especially Thomas Goodwin and John Bunyan) and succeeds admirably in explaining their thoughts with clarity. Here are some highlights from the book’s 23 short chapters:
Gentle and Lowly
Dane begins with the meaning of the words “Gentle” and “Lowly”. Jesus is gentle in the sense of being meek and kind. He is lowly in the sense of being accessible. Dane writes, “If we are asked to say only one thing about who Jesus is, we would be honoring Jesus’s own teaching if our answer is, gentle and lowly”. Christ is gentle and lowly not to everyone “indiscriminately” though; only to those who come to Him and call on Him! We see this heart in action in the gospels. Christ’s heart-impulse seeing sin and suffering was always to move toward it, not to go away. When He saw the prostitutes and lepers, He moved toward them and healed them. The anguish of others brought Him great anguish. Their tears brought Him to tears as well. What a Savior!
Intercessor and Advocate
From Hebrews 4:15, Dane then shows us why Christ can sympathize with our sin and suffering. From Hebrews 5:2, he shows us why Christ is able to deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward (meaning ‘all of us’). From John 6:37, Dane shows us that Christ will never cast out the ones who come to Him. From Hosea 11:8, He shows us how God’s compassion grows warm and tender in the light of His people’s sins. Chapters 8 and 9 were the best chapters in the book for me! Dane looks at Christ as intercessor as well as advocate – “An intercessor stands between two parties; an advocate doesn’t simply stand in between the two parties but steps over and joins the one party as he approaches the other”. He then clarifies that intercession is something Christ always does for us, while advocacy is something He does on specific occasions (when we commit certain sins, for example). He explains, “Hebrews 7:25 says that Christ always lives to make intercession for us, whereas 1 John 2:1 says, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate.” Do you see the difference? Intercession is something Christ is always doing, while advocacy is something He does as occasion calls for it”. These two chapters are so comforting! What joy to know that Christ prays for us even when we don’t! What a privilege to have such radical grace poured out on us daily!
A merciful God
In the rest of the chapters, Dane again sets out to show how delightfully merciful this triune God is! In Chapter 10, he looks at Christ’s beautiful heart, particularly His gentleness which adorns Him with beauty and attracts us to Him. In Chapter 11, Dane looks at Christ’s emotional life, both His compassion and anger and how they rise and fall together. Chapter 12 looks at Christ as the friend of sinners, both His joy with them and His welcoming heart toward them. Dane then talks about the role of the Holy Spirit in making Christ’s heart real to us, followed by a sharp focus on the Father’s rich mercy toward us (Chapters 13 and 14). From Lamentations 3:33, he shows us that mercy is God’s natural work while judgment is His strange work (Chapter 15). From the famous Exodus passage in 34:6-7, he points out that the natural bent of God’s heart is mercy, not retribution to our waywardness (Chapter 16). From Isaiah 55:8, he shows us that God’s natural bent is different and higher than ours (Chapter 17). From Jeremiah 31:20, he looks at God’s yearning for His people – again, a heart full of mercy (Chapter 18). From Ephesians 2:4, he reminds us that God is rich in mercy, not poor in mercy (Chapter 19) and from Galatians 3:10, he shows us that our legalistic hearts need a fresh grasp of God’s rich and lavish heart (Chapter 20). From Romans 5:6-11, he points out that if God loved us when we were orphans, He will surely continue to love us now as sons (Chapter 21). Further, He will love us to the end (Chapter 22) and thus bring glory to His name (Chapter 23). The insights in each chapter are rich and thoroughly edifying!
We serve a God who desires to show us mercy – always! If we truly understand God’s natural bent toward those in Christ, it will radically change the way we live our lives! Dane has succeeded in his task of showing us the tender heart of God. And I can attest with the author that the Savior we serve is indeed gentle and lowly! I give this book my glad and highest commendation!
*Thanks to Crossway and NetGalley for an Advanced Review Copy. I was not required to write a positive review.*