Thursday, November 5, 2020

Gentle and Lowly {A Book Review}

One of my favorite C. S. Lewis quotes comes from the preface to his book 
The Problem of Pain“…when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all. The newest offering by Dane OrtlundGentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Crossway, 2020), offers more than a little courage, profound human sympathy, and an overflowing abundance of the love of God. It is the soul medicine God knew we needed to rest in Him in these tumultuous and Homesick times. This is a book for ragamuffins, black sheep, and dutiful disciples in desperate need of fresh wonder at the glorious grace of God in Christ. In short, it is my favorite book of 2020 to this point.

Ortlund’s thinking has clearly been steeped in the Puritans’ writings as well as the Scriptures. He often quotes their work, especially Thomas Goodwin and Richard Sibbes, but not in an intimidating or academic way. Instead, it’s like sharing a meal with a well-read friend who is so captivated by these books that he can’t help himself from sharing the joy of his favorite passages.


The writing is beautiful, companionable, sometimes funny, and often moving. The last non-fiction book that brought tears to my eyes the way this one did was F. B. Meyer’s The Shepherd Psalm, and that read was 5 years ago. Ortlund’s prose reaches the wounded places of the heart with healing balm. As soon as I finished,  I wanted to read it over again. Truly, it is that good and a well-timed help.


Here are a few of my favorite passages:



This book is written 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. Who 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. It is written, in other words, for normal Christians. In short, it is for sinners and sufferers” (Kindle location 146).



But I am a great sinner, say you. I will in no wise cast out,says Christ. But I am an old sinner, say you. I will in no wise cast out, says Christ. But I am a hard-hearted sinner, say you. I will in no wise cast out, says Christ. But I am a backsliding sinner, say you. I will in no wise cast out, says Christ. But I have served Satan all my days, say you. I will in no wise cast out, says Christ.  But I have sinned against light, say you. I will in no wise cast out, says Christ. But I have sinned against mercy, say you. I will in no wise cast out, says Christ.  But I have no good thing to bring with me, say you. ‘I will in no wise cast out,’ says Christ. This promise was provided to answer all objections, and does answer them” (quoting John Bunyan, Kindle location 756).



Have we considered the loveliness of the heart of Christ? Perhaps beauty is not a category that comes naturally to mind when we think about Christ. Maybe we think of God and Christ in terms of truth, not beauty. But the whole reason we care about sound doctrine is for the sake of preserving God’s beauty, just as the whole reason we care about effective focal lenses on a camera is to capture with precision the beauty we photograph. Let Jesus draw you in through the loveliness of his heart. This is a heart that upbraids the impenitent with all the harshness that is appropriate, yet embraces the penitent with more openness than we are able to feel. It is a heart that walks us into the bright meadow of the felt love of God. It is a heart that drew the despised and forsaken to his feet in self-abandoning hope. It is a heart of perfect balance and proportion, never overreacting, never excusing, never lashing out. It is a heart that throbs with desire for the destitute. It is a heart that floods the suffering with the deep solace of shared solidarity in that suffering. It is a heart that is gentle and lowly. So let the heart of Jesus be something that is not only gentle toward you but lovely to you. If I may put it this way: romance the heart of Jesus. All I mean is, ponder him through his heart. Allow yourself to be allured. Why not build in to your life unhurried quiet, where, among other disciplines, you consider the radiance of who he actually is, what animates him, what his deepest delight is? Why not give your soul room to be reenchanted with Christ time and again? When you look at the glorious older saints in your church, how do you think they got there? Sound doctrine, yes. Resolute obedience, without a doubt. Suffering without becoming cynical, for sure. But maybe another reason, maybe the deepest reason, is that they have, over time, been won over in their deepest affections to a gentle Savior. Perhaps they have simply tasted, over many years, the surprise of a Christ for whom their very sins draw him in rather than push him away. Maybe they have not only known that Jesus loved them but felt it” (Kindle location 1222).


Christ’s heart for us means that he will be our never-failing friend no matter what friends we do or do not enjoy on earth. He offers us a friendship that gets underneath the pain of our loneliness. While that pain does not go away, its sting is made fully bearable by the far deeper friendship of Jesus. He walks with us through every moment. He knows the pain of being betrayed by a friend, but he will never betray us. He will not even so much as coolly welcome us. That is not who he is. That is not his heart. (Kindle location 1493).


To you I say, do you know what Jesus does with those who squander his mercy? He pours out more mercy. God is rich in mercy. That’s the whole point. Whether we have been sinned against or have sinned ourselves into misery, the Bible says God is not tightfisted with mercy but openhanded, not frugal but lavish, not poor but rich. That God is rich in mercy means that your regions of deepest shame and regret are not hotels through which divine mercy passes but homes in which divine mercy abides. It means the things about you that make you cringe most, make him hug hardest. It means his mercy is not calculating and cautious, like ours. It is unrestrained, flood-like, sweeping, magnanimous. It means our haunting shame is not a problem for him, but the very thing he loves most to work with. It means our sins do not cause his love to take a hit. Our sins cause his love to surge forward all the more. It means on that day when we stand before him, quietly, unhurriedly, we will weep with relief, shocked at how impoverished a view of his mercy-rich heart we had. (Kindle location 2290).



This is a book about the heart of Christ and of God. But what are we to do with this? The main answer is, nothing. To ask, Now how do I apply this to my life?’ would be a trivialization of the point of this study. If an Eskimo wins a vacation to a sunny place, he doesn’t arrive in his hotel room, step out onto the balcony, and wonder how to apply that to his life. He just enjoys it. He just basks. But there is one thing for us to do. Jesus says it in Matthew 11:28. Come to me.

“Go to him. All that means is, open yourself up to him. Let him love you. The Christian life boils down to two steps: 1. Go to Jesus. 2. See #1. (Kindle location  2739, 2749)



(Note: Crossway provided me a complimentary digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review posted to an online bookstore.)

To purchase a copy of Gentle and Lowly,  here are a few options.

Directly from the publisher:

Christian Book Distributors:


Amazon: (This one is an affiliate link. At no additional cost to you, I will receive a small commission for purchases made through it.)

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