Book Review: Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund

“This is a book about the heart of Christ.” So begins Dane Ortlund’s book Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. I am an avid reader of Christian books of all types, including, but not limited to, devotional, theological, historical, commentaries, apologetics, and more. Yet, only a few times in my life have I reacted to a book like I did to Gentle and Lowly.

My usual response to reading a good book is to underline or highlight key passages. If it’s really good then I will tell my family and friends about it and perhaps recommend it, though I try to limit my suggestions. In addition to those two responses, at times, I had to put Gentle and Lowly down on my lap, close my eyes, and praise God with a heart full of joy that what Ortlund writes about Jesus is true.

Though Ortlund’s book about the heart of Christ is firmly rooted in teachings found in the New Testament, his presentation of these truths is unique, fresh, and desperately needed. No Christian is above or beyond needing the insights found in its pages, no matter how long they have followed Christ.

In Ortlund’s words, Gentle and Lowly is “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” (p. 13).

Also see Did Jesus Wash Judas’ Feet? to learn more.

Gentle and Lowly
Gentle and Lowly: front and back

The Bible, the Puritans, and the heart of Christ

I embraced the central truths that Ortlund writes about long before reading Gentle and Lowly, but over and over again, I would read a passage of the book and think to myself, “I can’t believe this is true!”

Though phrases like “soul-stirring,” “life-changing,” and “unforgettable,” are overused in reviews, they are nevertheless true descriptions of this book, yet fail to do justice to the teaching found inside it.

Ortlund’s book is biblical, theological, and devotional, and there is an aesthetic quality that touches the emotions as well.

In the Westminster Theological Journal, William Van Doodewaard writes, “The strengths of this book are hard to overstate; it is gripping, beautiful, eye-opening and heart-expanding in drawing us to see and know Jesus.” (83 no 1 Spr 2021, p 210-211)

Ortlund seeks wisdom from the Puritans

With accessible and easy-to-understand explanations, descriptions, and illustrations, Ortlund expounds key texts of Scripture, with an assist from Puritan writers like Thomas Goodwin and Richard Sibbes, to communicate to readers the nature of Christ’s love for them.

He also utilizes insights from more recent scholars like B.B. Warfield, J.I. Packer, and D.A. Carson

Regarding the aim of Gentle and Lowly, Ortlund writes, “We are not focusing centrally on what Christ has done. We are considering who he is” (p. 15). Even though the atonement isn’t at the center of what Ortlund writes in the book, the meaning of the cross is clearly found in every chapter.

In response to Ortlund’s teaching, some readers will weep with joy, others will shout out praise, and all will grow in their affections for Christ.

Dane Ortlund
Chapter 1 Title Page

The gentle and lowly heart of Christ

The idea for Gentle and Lowly originated from a conversation Dane had with his father, Roy. “My dad pointed out to me something that Charles Spurgeon pointed out to him,” writes Ortlund. “In the four Gospel accounts given to us in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — eighty-nine chapters of biblical text — there’s only one place where Jesus tells us about his own heart.” (p. 17)

The verse Ortlund is referring to is Matthew 11:29, “I am gentle and lowly in heart.”

Alan Strange, in the Mid-America Journal of Theology, writes, “Simply put, Ortlund’s book opens up, in a way that this writer has never seen collected together, the very heart of Jesus in a way that is unfailingly encouraging and heartening.”

He continues: “We know that when we draw near, he will draw near to us because he’s never gone away. It is we who have. This sensibility imbues Ortlund’s book and makes it the best book of its sort that I think I have ever read. This is the kind of book that I give to all my family at Christmas. It is that good.”

Gentle and Lowly: Chapter Overviews

Ortlund leans heavily on the Puritans in Gentle and Lowly. He explains, “The way the Puritans would write books is to take a single Bible verse, wring it dry for all the heart-affecting theology they can find, and two or three hundred pages later, send their findings to a publisher.” (p. 43)

While Ortlund doesn’t write 200 or 300 pages on a single verse, he does write a chapter on one (or part of one). Below is the course that Ortlund charts for readers.

Chapter TitleScripture Focus
1 His Very Heart“I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29)
2 His Heart in Action“And he had compassion on them” (Matt. 14:14)
3 The Happiness of Christ“For the joy that was set before him…” (Heb. 12:2)
4 Able to Sympathize“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15)
5 He Can Deal Gently“He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward” (Heb. 5:2)
Chapter TitleScripture Focus
6 I Will Never Cast Out“Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37)
7 What Our Sins Evoke“My heart recoils within me” (Hos. 11:8)
8 To the Uttermost“He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25)
9 An Advocate“We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1)
10 The Beauty of the Heart of Christ“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37)
Chapter TitleScripture Focus
11 The Emotional Life of Christ“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33)
12 A Tender Friend“…a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt. 11:19)
13 Why the Spirit?“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper” (John 14:16)
14 Father of Mercies“…the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3)
15 His “Natural” Work and His “Strange” Work“He does not afflict from his heart” (Lam. 3:33)
Chapter TitleScripture Focus
16 The Lord, the Lord“A God merciful and gracious, slow to anger…” (Exod. 34:6)
17 His Ways Are Not Our Ways“My thoughts are not your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8)
18 Yearning Bowels“My heart yearns for him” (Jer. 31:20)
19 Rich In Mercy“But God, being rich in mercy…” (Eph. 2:4)
20 Our Law-ish Hearts, His Lavish Heart“The Son of God, who loved me…” (Gal. 2:20)
Chapter TitleScripture Focus
21 He Loved Us Then; He’ll Love Us Now“God shows his love for us…” (Rom. 5:8)
22 To the End“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1)
23 Buried in His Heart Forevermore“…so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us” (Eph. 2:7)

“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?” (p. 15-16)

Dustin Hart, in the journal, Presbyterion, writes: “When a member of my church has asked for a book recommendation in the last year, I have without hesitation and whole-heartedly recommended Gentle and Lowly time and time again.”

Hart continues: “Christians and pastors who are struggling to know if God even cares in the muck of your life, please head the words of Ortlund. Return time and time again to the Savior who has loved us from eternity past and will love us to the very end.”

Who is Dane Ortlund? Ortlund is the senior pastor of Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is an editor for the Knowing the Bible series and the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series and is the author of several books. His father is Ray Ortlund, a well-known pastor and author.

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Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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