Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly; The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, Wheaton: Crossway, 2020.
Matthew 11:29 tells us that Jesus is gentle and lowly of heart, and Dane Ortlund has the laudatory aim of uncovering some of the depths as to what that means. His book has become a best seller, and with good reason. One of the few evangelical criticisms has come from John McArthur’s ‘Grace to You’ where Jeremiah Johnson wrote a rather ill-tempered review, which accused Ortlund of wanting to tame the Lion of Judah.
Ortlund writes that ‘The one who rules and ordains all things bring affliction into our lives with a certain divine reluctance’ (p.138). I do not see how we avoid saying that. God Himself says He is ‘slow to anger’ (Ex.34:6-7), He does not afflict ‘from the heart’ (Lam.3:33), He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek.33:11), and He agonises within Himself over His judgment on Israel (Hos.11:8-9).
It is difficult to explain such texts, but we dare not explain them away. Going back to the Reformation, Matthew 11:29 was Philip Melanchthon’s favourite verse in the Bible, with good reason. In the Puritan period, Thomas Goodwin called on his hearers to go to Christ, and then added: ‘If you knew his heart, you would’ (p.216).
The major problem is that one divine truth requires another for the truth to be clear. For example, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet in John 13, acting out the part of a servant. The impact of what He does, however, depends on our understanding that He is Lord. It is the Lord who ‘deacons’. There is, it seems to me, a lack of that kind of ballast in Ortlund’s book. It is all true, but we would welcome it all the more if there was a stronger emphasis on the truth of God’s holiness and Lordship. After all, that is the context in Matthew 11. It is the One who has received all things from the Father and who alone knows Him (Matt.11:27) who is gentle and lowly (Matt.11:29). Knowing the former gives great power to understanding the latter.
But this is a book that will help many, even leading some into the kingdom of God.
– Peter Barnes
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Peter Barnes is the editor of AP and pastor at Revesby Presbyterian Church NSW.