As Christ followers, we are called to live as children of light. Instead of engaging in darkness, our job is to expose it. Yet, sin crouches at the door of every Christian home. It stings and produces guilt in the lives of otherwise faithful Christ followers. For many, reoccurring sin can make questions arise about whether or not the Father still loves them.
In his recent book, Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund dislodges our false beliefs about how God responds to our sin and suffering. In essence, there is never a moment when the Father rejects His children. Because of Jesus and his heart for sinners and sufferers, every Christian can come to Him for mercy.
There are many things to praise about Ortlund’s book. Chief among them is his persistence on fixing our eyes squarely on who Christ is. Christ’s heart posture is gentle and lowly toward sinners. As Ortlund describes, “Jesus Christ’s desire that you find rest, that you come in out of the storm, outstrips even your own.” Jesus wants you to find freedom from sin more than you do.
Many of us are aware of what Christ has done on our behalf but ignore the reality of his ongoing compassion. According to Ortlund, “It is one thing to know the doctrines of the incarnation and the atonement and a hundred other vital doctrines. It is another, more searching matter to know his heart for you.”
Gentle and Lowly is rich in theological truth. Each chapter, though relatively short, could be read and mediated on daily. One of the highlights of the book is Ortlund’s continuous use of Puritan authors. The thoughts of John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, Jonathan Edwards, and John Bunyan are cited regularly.
It’s difficult to pinpoint standout chapters in a book that contains so many. There is a ton packed into this book. A person would benefit from reading it multiple times. In fact, I read it first in November and again before writing this review. Honestly, it’s that good.
I’ll briefly summarize four chapters which stood out to me during both readings.
In the chapter titled, “I Will Never Cast Out,” Ortlund utilizes the writing of John Bunyan to make the case that Jesus will never “close off his heart to his own sheep.” The Biblical text in view is John 6:37. There, Jesus makes the breathtaking claim that “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (ESV). Christians are professionals at conjuring up reasons why Jesus would cast them out. No sin or failure will keep Christ from his sheep. Ever.
We Christians often assume our sin causes Christ to separate himself from us. In the chapter, “What Our Sins Evoke,” Ortlund labors from Scripture to make the opposite assertion, that is, “when we sin, the very heart of Christ is drawn out to us.” God’s children, all of whom are fighting sin at some level, desperately need to hear this truth. Ortlund makes the point that Jesus sides with us against our sin, not against us because of our sin. Read that last sentence again slowly. I believe such truth could go far in liberating captives.
Another great chapter titled “The Lord, the Lord,” contains two of my favorite quotes in the book (and that’s saying a lot). I’ll quote them here at length because they’re really well said and will give you an overview of the chapter.
The Christian life, from one angle, is the long journey of letting our natural assumption about who God is, over many decades, fall away, being slowly replaced with God’s own insistence on who he is.
Unlike us, who are often emotional dams ready to break, God can put up with a lot. This is why the Old Testament speaks of God being “provoked to anger” by his people dozens of times (especially in Deuteronomy; 1-2 Kings; and Jeremiah). But not once are we told that God is “provoked to love” or “provoked to mercy.” His anger requires provocation; his mercy is pent up, ready to gush forth. We tend to think: divine anger is pent up, spring-loaded; divine mercy is slow to build. It’s just the opposite. Divine mercy is ready to burst forth at the slightest prick.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Isaiah 55:8-9. Ortlund spends an entire chapter discussing it. The verses tell us God’s thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways. I’ve always looked at this passage as a proclamation that God is holy and we are not. Although that’s certainly true, the verse, according to Ortlund, is describing God’s ways as loving and compassionate, not just high and lifted up. In context, it makes perfect sense. I never saw it as such before reading Ortlund’s book.
In closing, Gentle and Lowly has lived up to its reputation. I’ve seen numerous reviews with high praises. I second them all. There are so many things to praise about the work. I hope to read and discuss this book with a small group soon. Be warned, however, you will do yourself a major disservice if you read it quickly. The content feels designed for slow and thoughtful reading. Buy it. You will be thankful you did.