Gentle and Lowly
Jesus, in Matthew 11:28–30, describes himself as "gentle and lowly." Dane Ortlund's book expounds on its implication to the Christian life.
This article was first published in English at AOR and in French at TPSG.
How would you describe Jesus in two words? Many might focus on his holiness, his wisdom, his righteousness, his justice, his power, his authority. Dane Ortlund, however, looks to the lips of Jesus to answer the question. For, in his own words, Jesus encapsulates his own heart toward sinners with two adjectives: gentle and lowly:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt 11:28–30)
Who Gentle and Lowly is Written For
From his opening pages, Ortlund addresses his readers with candor:
This book is written for the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty. … For those of us who know God loves us but suspect we have deeply disappointed him. … 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. How does Jesus feel about them?
We discover the answer from a pastor-theologian who has drunk deeply from the well of Scripture and from the writings of 17th century English Puritans such as Thomas Goodwin, Richard Sibbes, and John Bunyan. In so doing, he shares his discoveries of “the single diamond of Christ’s heart from many different angles.”
What Does Scripture Mean by Gentle and Lowly?
Gentle, Ortlund explains, speaks of Jesus’ meekness, of his humility. “Jesus is not trigger-happy. Not harsh, reactionary, easily exasperated. He is the most understanding person in the universe. The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger but open arms.
And lowly “refers not to humility as a virtue but to humility in the sense of destitution or being thrust downward by life circumstance. … The point in saying that Jesus is lowly is that he is accessible. For all his resplendent glory and dazzling holiness, his supreme uniqueness and otherness, no one in human history has ever been more approachable than Jesus Christ.”
So, when Jesus pulls back the veil and reveals to us the very essence of his person, we discover a Saviour who is tender, open, welcoming, accommodating, understanding, willing. Ortlund spends the rest of the book unpacking what that means in the earthly ministry of Christ, in the inner life of the members of the Trinity, in God as revealed in the Old Testament, and the implications of this for the life of the believer.
Let Us Be Gentle and Lowly Like Jesus
Ortlund’s argument in this book seemed almost too good to be true. Could Jesus really love a sinner like me that deeply? Doesn’t he get tired of my coming to him again and again? The resounding no in answer to this exhausting accusation will lift the spirit of any Christian who has ever wondered how Christ could put up with them. It’s his heart! What wonderful news for sinners! Read this book and find comfort for your souls. Let’s not only bask in the glory of such tender love, but let it also affect how we parent, how we treat our spouse, and how we make disciples. Because if Jesus can be gentle and lowly towards me, how can I not be like him in how I treat others, by the grace that he gives me?
There is No Contradiction
Is “gentle and lowly” all that Jesus is? By no means. But is it possible that in our Reformed circles, we have gone to such lengths to rightfully redress an emphasis on God’s immanence that we have overemphasized his transcendence? In other words, do we at times place such emphasis on God’s holiness and other-ness that we neglect his tenderness and with-us-ness?
As a Presbyterian pastor and frequent author at The Gospel Coalition, Dane Ortlund understands his audience well, and it’s into this theological milieu that he speaks with clarity, wisdom, and grace. It’s no wonder that, in 2020, his book was listed within the top 10 books of scores of our favourite pastors and bloggers. I join my voice to theirs in recommending “Gentle and Lowly” as my favourite read of 2020 as well. May this pearl help you see and savour Jesus more as you revel in his great love for sinners and sufferers.
Together with her husband Dan, Angie served the Lord in Senegal for 10 years in leadership training with Crossworld. Based in Montreal with their 2 daughters since August 2017, they continue to serve as missionaries in leadership training in the FEB/AEBEQ. Angie holds an MDiv from Moody Theological Seminary.