Years ago, I saw a picture colored by a small kid sitting in a church service. Looming over the whole page was a big-headed man on a big platform behind a big pulpit holding a big Bible, with a prominent scowl and dark, frowny eyebrows. I don’t know the artistic intent, but this Crayola preacher came across as elevated, inaccessible, and generally disappointed in everybody. And I wondered, given his pastoral portrait, how would this little boy draw God?
Let me ask you. When you think about God, what images come to mind? What picture would you draw? No, not facts, not a list of His attributes. What is His very essence, His core vibe, His heart? When you read His Word, enjoy His world, pray, sing, attend church—what comes across to you?
The content of Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly is wholly focused on this one question: what is the heart of Christ? Because, “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 [Christ’s] heart for you.” (16)
A book for sinners and sufferers
From beginning to end, this book is a salve to the soul. Puritan-like, Ortlund takes a single concept and holds it up like a diamond to the light. From every angle, he alluringly shows God’s heart toward His people: as demonstrated in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as reflected in the Old and New Testaments, for sinners and sufferers. Citing Matthew 11:28-30, Ortlund writes:
“In the one place in the Bible where the Son of God pulls back the veil and lets us peer way down into the core of who he is…[Jesus’] surprising claim is that he is ‘gentle and lowly in heart.’” (18)
The author’s tone reflects his content—he writes with disarming warmth, grace, and tenderness. Like Richard Sibbes (whom he often draws from), Ortlund is a “honey-mouthed” communicator, who draws even the most hard-bitten sinners, cynics, and self-sufficient into the sweetness of Christ. But this is no cuddly book on cheap grace—the theological truths are deep, rich, and vibrant. You will be repeatedly surprised as the author seems to anticipate your objections: “That’s Jesus, not God,” “But God is exalted, not humble!” “What about His wrath, justice, holiness?” I won’t spoil things for you, but prepare to be wonderstruck.
Each bite-sized chapter is easy to absorb in a short amount of time, making this a perfect book for busy people and people who don’t love to read. But the nuances spanned in these 23 short chapters are anything but small: the advocacy of Christ, the intercession of Christ, the emotional life of Christ, friendship with Christ, the Spirit, the Father of mercies, etc.
Living into Christ’s heartbeat
I struggle to live in the liberating reality of Christ’s heartbeat. My own heart is so often crusted over with Bible trivia, and I miss the beauty of the Person Whom the Bible leads me to. Many of us are guilty of amassing facts about God, serving and performing for God, yet we don’t delight in His warm welcome, His winsome kindness toward us. But, as you will discover in the pages of Gentle and Lowly, savoring the true heart of our gentle and approachable Savior changes everything. It changes the way we study Scripture, the way we serve, battle sin, suffer disappointment, navigate relationships, and respond to pain. Beholding God’s heart changes ours (2 Cor. 3:18).
Only as we walk ever deeper into this tender kindness can we live the Christian life as the New Testament calls us to. Only as we drink down the kindness of the heart of Christ will we leave in our wake, everywhere we go, the aroma of heaven, and die one day having startled the world with glimpses of a divine kindness too great to be boxed in by what we deserve. (22)