Gentle and Lowly – Dane Ortlund
By Matt Cruickshank
I’ve never really found reading particularly easy. My preferred medium would probably be listening to blogs as being dyslexic, I struggle to retain information, and words jumping around a page makes it a little more tiring than usual.
I have found this to be especially true twelve months into lockdown, as I felt tired, weary and at times curiously flat on my spiritual journey. Sadly, there isn’t a ‘how to survive lockdown’ roadmap readily at hand that guarantees spiritual success, but more of an ‘expectation meets reality’. As the rubber hit the road I found myself more trying to ‘keep on keeping on’, while others were strangely flying free.
I think that is I why I found this book a welcomed oasis in the middle of a context of confusion, exhaustion and repetitive homeworking. Its simplicity reminded me of the central heart of God, and ultimately Jesus, and how he is passionately for us throughout our seasons of life.
This book is a little more than 200 pages long, comprised of twenty-three short chapters with each one being perfect for reflecting over a cup of tea, and your favourite go to biscuit. Every chapter focuses on one particular verse, with the author bringing the readers attention to God’s heart at its centre.
I found it affirming reading a book that consistently reiterated God’s heart, with references both from the old and new testament. This essentially rang true when in chapter Sixteen, ‘The lord, the Lord’ explained;
“The Christian life, from one angle, is the long journey of letting our natural assumption of who God is, over many decades, fall away and being slowly replaced with God’s own insistence of who he is. This is hard work. It takes a lot of sermons and a lot of suffering to believe God’s deepest heart is ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger”.
This book has been a welcomed tool, and one that God has used to gently wash away the grubby imperfections on the lens which we perceive him.
Not too far into my reading, I found chapter three quite refreshing, as it reminded me of the joy of Christ’s heart, and how the source of His joy was found in a place quite unexpected. The author made references to Thomas Goodwin who illustrated that;
“Christ’s own joy, comfort, happiness and glory are increased and enlarged by his showing grace and mercy, in pardoning, relieving, and comforting his members here on earth”.
The author then used a helpful analogy of a Dr going into the jungle in order to treat those who needed care the most. Why? Because it was in him, and when he treated those he loved it gave him great joy.
Sadly, I would often revisit the spiritual carrousel of life, where when I found myself going through a particular season of struggle, rather than go straight into the arms of Christ for forgiveness, cleansing and restoration, I would often be like Adam and hear the knowing call of God ‘where are you?’. It warmed my heart and recalibrated my mind to be reminded that Christ’s central heart is one to forgive, cleanse, heal and send out in order to tell others about Him. Why? Because Heb 12.2 reminds us that what was waiting for Jesus on the other side of the cross was the joy of seeing his people forgiven.
This refreshing theme of Christ’s heart continues in the superseding chapters. Like a great painting, each section adds a particular brush stroke, medium or colour to emphasize a greater picture. One example includes chapter Six where he focuses on the verse John 6.37;
‘Whoever comes to me, I will never cast out’.
Here, the author breaks down the verse into a series of isolated phrases, which he then in turn builds into a glorious crescendo with the crowning piece ‘I will never cast out’. With reference to Bunyan, he illuminates the phrase and its original Greek meaning, a double negative, to show the literary forcefulness of the phrase ‘I most certainly will never, ever cast out’, and how it exists to calm us with the persevering nature of the heart of Christ. This verse is an effective antidote to all who are willing to embrace Christ’s heartfelt call to ‘Come to me..’ with the author expanding on this heartfelt cry beautifully.
The book continues to add to its central message in chapters eight and nine showing how not only Christ’s heart compels him to continually intercede on our behalf, but to also be our advocate as Bunyan describes;
“In case of great transgressions pleads”.
Here we not only have Christ as our Saviour who longs to forgive and intercede on our behalf, but he also acts as our divine advocate when times are needed. He acts in order to remind ourselves of the legal standing we have before God because of the redeeming work he has done. Once again, Christ does this because it is who he is, it is in his heart to not leave us when saved to fend for ourselves. A well-timed reminder to any seasoned Christian who has experienced both the mountains and valleys of our walk with Him.
Without many more spoilers, it is comforting to see not only Christs heart explained throughout, but also God’s disposition towards us in the Old testament. I would often hear people say they would shy away from the God of the Old testament, as he is seen as a righteous judge, and not much emphasis is placed on his tender heart towards others as displayed in Christ as he interacted with both sinners and believers alike. However, the author investigates this further in chapter sixteen looking at Lamentations 3.33 ‘His strange and natural work’. Here he brings forth that despite God being just, he is most naturally merciful and loving. Even in his moments of justice as shown in Lamentations, there is something that recoils in the heart of God at the thought of doing it. Ultimately, all his attributes are perfect, and he sends justice for their restoration. But most naturally, he does not send affliction from his heart (Lam 3.33). His disposition is one of love and mercy towards others (Jer 32.41).
In closing, its important to say this book does not advocate what Paul warns us about in Rom 6.1. Just because it’s central focus is to warm our hearts back to our first love does not give reason to follow a life of sin so grace may abound. Rather, it brings back our attention to the heart of whom we are serving and living for. The one who for a time we can only see through a glass dimly, but one day we will see face to face.