If we wanted to read a book about what Jesus did, we would have many options available to us. But if we wanted to read a book about who Jesus is, well, the options would be far fewer. Obviously the two studies are closely connected, for what Jesus did is inexorably tied to who he is. Yet the two studies are not identical, for his heart can’t be conflated with his actions.
So who is Jesus? If we carefully separate his person from his actions, what will we find? This is the question at the heart of Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. “This is a book about the heart of Christ. Who is he? Who is he really? What is most natural to him? What ignites within him most immediately as he moves toward sinners and sufferers? What flows out most freely, most instinctively? Who is he?” A study like this could easily be framed around abstract qualities of character, perhaps like some of those studies on the attributes of God that somehow seem to reduce the living God to a dry, bulleted list of characteristics. But Ortlund’s treatment is far better than that. He hasn’t written his book for theologians as much as for
the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty. Those running on fumes. Those whose Christian lives feel like constantly running up a descending escalator. Those of us who find ourselves thinking: ‘How could I mess up that bad—again?’ It is for that increasing suspicion that God’s patience with us is wearing thin. For those of us who know God loves us but suspect we have deeply disappointed him. We have told others of the love of Christ yet wonder if—as for us—he harbors mild resentment. Who wonder if we have shipwrecked our lives beyond what can be repaired. Who are convinced we’ve permanently diminished our usefulness to the Lord. Who have been swept off our feet by perplexing pain and are wondering how we can keep living under such numbing darkness. Who look at our lives and know how to interpret the data only by concluding that God is fundamentally parsimonious.
That’s all to say, of course, that it’s written for ordinary Christians like you and me, for people who sin and who suffer. In the aftermath of our sin and in the grief of our suffering, who is Jesus right then and right there? How does he act toward us? What does he think about us? Though books asking and answering questions like these are quite rare today, they were once widespread, especially during the era of the Puritans. For this reason, Ortlund leans on the work of Puritan authors like Thomas Goodwin, Richard Sibbes, and John Bunyan, though he also relies on some slightly more contemporary authors like Charles Spurgeon and B.B. Warfield. And, of course, he relies most heavily on the Bible.
Through 23 short chapters—chapters that can easily be read in a sitting, and chapters that are as suited to out-loud reading as silent reading—he shows us the heart of Christ. He begins with Jesus’s own self-description: “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:28-30). The heart of Jesus is meek and humble and therefore he is kind and accessible and both willing and able to help those who need him. Those who qualify for his attention are not those who are cleaned up and put together, but those who are weary and heavily burdened. To these he makes the sweet promise of rest. “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.”
But Jesus is far more than that. Jesus is happy and sympathetic. He treats us with gentleness and promises never to give up on us. He is an advocate for us and a committed friend. He is rich in mercy and tender in his affections and eternal in his love. He is all this and so much more. All the great things he has done for sinners like us flow out of the very heart of who he is. To know him is to love him.
Gentle and Lowly is a sweet and comforting book that will grow your knowledge, provoke your worship, and inspire your devotion. Best of all, it will help you to know, love, and trust our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.Buy from Amazon