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Gentle and Lowly [a review]

There are many, many books about the person and work of Christ, but there are not a lot out there like this excellent little volume that focus solely on Christ’s heart toward us.

There is not enough space to list all the books that have been written about Jesus. Of writings about his person and his work there is no end. Yet this is the first time I can recall ever reading a book simply about who Jesus is, about his very heart. What attitude or temperament does Jesus have? Is he cold and firm, hardened off by his holy expectations and a humanity that has never once met them? Is he barely keeping it together, frustrated beyond words by his dense disciples and their continuing inability to understand or obey him? Or is he merely disinterested in us, come here by the Father’s bidding to do a job that he just wants to finish and return to glory?

Dane Ortlund’s recent Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers is a book-length reflection on Matthew 11:29 where Jesus actually just tells us what his heart is toward us: "…I am gentle and lowly in heart" (ESV). Ortlund points out that Jesus didn’t actually need to ever tell us what his heart disposition toward us is, but he does, and it takes us by surprise. After all, if we take God’s holiness and our own sinfulness seriously, we expect wrath toward us for our waywardness and selfishness. Yet this is not what we find at all, and Jesus comes to us with words of comfort and kindness. His disposition is one of compassion.

The book unpacks various aspects of what this means for us and the various questions it might raise in our minds ("Well ok, but what about God the Father?"), as well as how it affects how we walk through our lives. There can actually be a sense of trust toward Jesus rather than of trepidation. One of the most helpful things for me that Ortlund addressed is that while there is a place for judgment toward sinners, judgment is really God’s "strange" work while his natural work is mercy. He wants to know and be known by his people, and while judgment of sin is the natural outworking of him being just, it is not what he wishes to do.

I found the language of judgment as his "strange work" to be immensely helpful and even comforting, but also instructive to me as a father. I’ve grappled with how to feel toward my children when it seems like they constantly vacillate between disobedience and obedience, and I have to toggle in and out of correction mode. It is easy for the day to get into a place where I feel like I’m constantly correcting them and so my heart becomes anything but gentle or lowly; I’m irritated and on edge. To think of my correction of my children as "strange work"—something I engage in because I must as a responsible father, but not a natural posture—finally resolves the tension in my mind between grace and justice toward my children.

The other interesting thing about the way Ortlund puts the book together is that each chapter reads and explains scripture with a different Puritan writer, so it’s not really a book about what the Puritans thought about Jesus’ heart, but it’s also more than just random citations of historical authors to lend an air of pedigree. His brother Gavin Ortlund published a book last year, Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals (which I reviewed here), which is all about the need to not disconnect our devotional and theological thinking from the past, but to answer our questions alongside Christians from the past. The brothers Ortlund must have a common agenda, because I couldn’t help but notice how excellent an example Gentle and Lowly is of doing exactly this sort of theological retrieval.

The book is simple and straightforward, and I’m glad I read it. I easily commend it to you as well.

You can pick up a copy from the publisher or from Westminster Books.

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.