Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers
Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020. Pp. 224. Hardback, $19.99. ISBN: 978-1-4335-6613-4.
Ever since the catastrophe of Genesis 3 the descendants of Adam and Eve have wrestled with the pervasive effects of sin on their lives. And while God, in His mercy, has brought redemption thru the death and resurrection of His Son, all too often Christians tragically fail to appropriate the merits of Christ’s ministry on their behalf. Our seeming inability to allow the Savior to minister to our souls only leads to more shame, guilt and even despair. So, what are believers to do when they feel the oppressive weight of sin and suffering? Dane Orlund’s marvelous new book, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, seeks to provide an answer to this timeworn spiritual dilemma.
Theologically, Gentle and Lowly is designed to overcome an insufficient and insipid Christology that can easily lead to tepid Christian living. Ortlund’s use of various texts of Scripture gives the lie to a picture of Jesus who rejects His followers for their personal stumbles, spiritual ineptitude, and moral failures. Instead, we’re brought face to face with the resurrected Christ who even restored the denier Peter to his apostolic office on a Galilean beach. That Jesus is the One who advocates with the Father for each one of His people, however lost, hurt, or damaged they may have become by the sin that so easily entangles us all.
To reinforce his theology of Christ’s superlative love and grace, Ortlund leverages the Puritans, who comprised some of the most influential writers, preachers, and thinkers in the history of the Faith. Richard Sibbes, John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, and a host of others are quoted along the way to show us the gentle and gracious heart of Christ towards his own. Ortlund’s grasp of these pastor-theologians is not only spiritually uplifting but intellectually impressive. His expertise in leveraging their insights on the Savior’s work moves this book way beyond the pale of superficial devotionalism. One cannot read Gentle and Lowly without recognizing that at least some of what we’ve all been taught about the nature of Christ in contemporary evangelicalism has been at best, limited, and at worst theologically tainted. As Ortlund observes…
“It is one thing to describe what your husband says and does and looks like. It is something else, something deeper and more real, to describe his heart for you. So with Christ. 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 (p. 16).”
Another of the many strengths of this fine work is its careful integration of God’s holy wrath towards sin and His gentle heart towards sinners. Drawing on texts out of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentations (who among us has recently read that book?), the author shows that judgment is always God’s strange work, something He is reluctant to invoke. I first came across this idea years ago in the work of pastor-theologian Ronald Wallace, and I was appreciative of Ortlund bringing it to my attention once again. It validates the core message of this book: that Jesus really is gentle, lowly, and humble in heart towards us all.
Potential readers might be tempted to think that a pastoral treatise on the heart of Christ for His people would be dense, abstract, and, perhaps, even unintelligible. But this volume is broken up into twenty-three short chapters that are not only digestible but exceptionally clear. I don’t know if Ortlund is a great writer or if he had a good editor but either way, this book is a joy to read and a blessing to the soul. If you’ve ever fallen into what John Bunyan called the Slough of Despond and wondered about how Jesus feels about you, grab this book and take your time going thru it. You’ll discover a Savior who is not only gentle and lowly but a great Lover who has your name written on the palm of His nail-pierced hand.
Scott A. Wenig, PhD
Professor of Applied Theology