Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane C. Ortlund is an important book for my soul.
In Gentle and Lowly, Dane C. Ortlund (not to be confused with his pastor-father Ray Ortlund or theologian-brother Gavin Ortlund who also write for Crossway) unpacks gospel riches in 23 bite-sized chapters that each focus on one Scripture verse and interact with a Puritan.
Ortlund spends a bulk of his time interacting with Thomas Goodwin, the Puritan who “more than anyone who has opened my eyes to who God in Christ is, most naturally and easily, for fickle sinners.” Other Puritans making the cut include John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, John Flavel, and John Calvin (a key predecessor of Puritans).
Gentle and Lowly is devotional theology at its best; accessible for the layman and spiritually challenging for every Christian. So many Christians feel distant from God or unloved, and Ortlund brings readers to the Savior to hear and feel the very heartbeat that led Him to the cross for us.
If you’re in ministry, this is a must read. Michael Horton calls it “medicine for broken hearts.” I picked it up because I serve with an organization whose mission is to “equip and encourage pastors around the world to teach God’s Word with God’s heart” (emphasis mine)—and figured any time meditating along with hearts of old ablaze for the gospel is time well spent. I will likely read this again, savoring spiritual morsels of the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
While you could run your highlighter dry on Gentle and Lowly, below are twenty-five choice quotes and excerpts to whet your appetite.
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.
It is Goodwin more than anyone who has opened my eyes to who God in Christ is, most naturally and easily, for fickle sinners.
You might know that Christ died and rose again on your behalf to rinse you clean of all your sin; but do you know his deepest heart for you? Do you live with an awareness not only of his atoning work for your sinfulness but also of his longing heart amid your sinfulness?
You don’t need to unburden or collect yourself and then come to Jesus. Your very burden is what qualifies you to come.
Consider what Jesus is saying [in Matthew 11:28–30]. A yoke is the heavy crossbar laid on oxen to force them to drag farming equipment through the field. Jesus is using a kind of irony, saying that the yoke laid on his disciples is a nonyoke. For it is a yoke of kindness. Who could resist this? It’s like telling a drowning man that he must put on the burden of a life preserver only to hear him shout back, sputtering, “No way! Not me! This is hard enough, drowning here in these stormy waters. The last thing I need is the added burden of a life preserver around my body!” That’s what we all are like, confessing Christ with our lips but generally avoiding deep fellowship with him, out of a muted understanding of his heart.
What helium does to a balloon, Jesus’s yoke does to his followers. We are buoyed along in life by his endless gentleness and supremely accessible lowliness. He doesn’t simply meet us at our place of need; he lives in our place of need. He never tires of sweeping us into his tender embrace. It is his very heart.
The more robust one’s felt understanding of the just wrath of Christ against all that is evil both around us and within us, the more robust our felt understanding of his mercy.
Jesus Christ is closer to you today than he was to the sinners and sufferers he spoke with and touched in his earthly ministry. Through his Spirit, Christ’s own heart envelops his people with an embrace nearer and tighter than any physical embrace could ever achieve. His actions on earth in a body reflected his heart; the same heart now acts in the same ways toward us, for we are now his body.
A compassionate doctor has traveled deep into the jungle to provide medical care to a primitive tribe afflicted with a contagious disease. He has had his medical equipment flown in. He has correctly diagnosed the problem, and the antibiotics are prepared and available. He is independently wealthy and has no need of any kind of financial compensation. But as he seeks to provide care, the afflicted refuse. They want to take care of themselves. They want to heal on their own terms. Finally, a few brave young men step forward to receive the care being freely provided. What does the doctor feel? Joy. His joy increases to the degree that the sick come to him for help and healing. It’s the whole reason he came. How much more if the diseased are not strangers but his own family? So with us, and so with Christ. He does not get flustered and frustrated when we come to him for fresh forgiveness, for renewed pardon, with distress and need and emptiness. That’s the whole point. It’s what he came to heal. He went down into the horror of death and plunged out through the other side in order to provide a limitless supply of mercy and grace to his people.
What elicits tenderness from Jesus is not the severity of the sin but whether the sinner comes to him.
If you are part of Christ’s own body, your sins evoke his deepest heart, his compassion and pity. He “takes part with you”—that is, he’s on your side. He sides with you against your sin, not against you because of your sin. He hates sin. But he loves you. We understand this, says Goodwin, when we consider the hatred a father has against a terrible disease afflicting his child—the father hates the disease while loving the child. Indeed, at some level the presence of the disease draws out his heart to his child all the more.
[Christ’s] Intercession is the constant hitting “refresh” of our justification in the court of heaven.
Christ continues to intercede on our behalf in heaven because we continue to fail here on earth. He does not forgive us through his work on the cross and then hope we make it the rest of the way.
One way to think of Christ’s intercession, then, is simply this: Jesus is praying for you right now. “It is a consoling thought,” wrote theologian Louis Berkhof, “that Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent in our prayer life.”
Whereas the doctrine of the atonement reassures us with what Christ has done in the past, the doctrine of his intercession reassures us with what he is doing in the present.
Our sinning goes to the uttermost. But his saving goes to the uttermost. And his saving always outpaces and overwhelms our sinning, because he always lives to intercede for us.
Do not minimize your sin or excuse it away. Raise no defense. Simply take it to the one who is already at the right hand of the Father, advocating for you on the basis of his own wounds. Let your own unrighteousness, in all your darkness and despair, drive you to Jesus Christ, the righteous, in all his brightness and sufficiency.
[T]he Spirit makes the heart of Christ real to us: not just heard, but seen; not just seen, but felt; not just felt, but enjoyed. The Spirit takes what we read in the Bible and believe on paper about Jesus’s heart and moves it from theory to reality, from doctrine to experience.
Perhaps Satan’s greatest victory in your life today is not the sin in which you regularly indulge but the dark thoughts of God’s heart that cause you to go there in the first place and keep you cool toward him in the wake of it.
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.
The central message of Galatians is that the freeness of God’s grace and love is not only the gateway but also the pathway of the Christian life.
His heart was gentle and lowly toward us when we were lost. Will his heart be anything different toward us now that we are found?
When you sin, do a thorough job of repenting. Re-hate sin all over again. Consecrate yourself afresh to the Holy Spirit and his pure ways. But reject the devil’s whisper that God’s tender heart for you has grown a little colder, a little stiffer. He is not flustered by your sinfulness. His deepest disappointment is with your tepid thoughts of his heart. Christ died, placarding before you the love of God.
“We will be less sinful in the next life than we are now, but we will not be any more secure in the next life than we are now. If you are united to Christ, you are as good as in heaven already.”
Christ’s glory is preeminently seen and enjoyed in his love to sinners.
[D]o you realize what is true of you if you are in Christ? Those in union with him are promised that all the haunted brokenness that infects everything—every relationship, every conversation, every family, every email, every wakening to consciousness in the morning, every job, every vacation—everything—will one day be rewound and reversed. The more darkness and pain we experience in this life, the more resplendence and relief in the next.
The Christian life boils down to two steps: 1. Go to Jesus. 2. See #1.
 Here’s a list of some of the passages unpacked, mainly for my reference and future meditation: Matthew 11:28–30, Matthew 14:14, Hebrews 12:2, Hebrews 4:14–16, Hebrews 5:2, John 6:37, Hosea 11:8, Hebrews 7:25, 1 John 2:1, Matthew 10:37, John 11:33, Matthew 11:19, John 14:16, 2 Cor 1:3, Exodus 34:6, Isa 55:8, Jeremiah 31:20, Eph 2:4, Galatians 2:20, Romans 5:8, John 13:1, Ephesians 2:7.
Here’s Dane C. Ortlund on the Crossway podcast answering the question, “Does Jesus Really Like Me?”