Recently, I wrote on the usefulness of studying the Puritans for the Christian life, and made this remark:
“Today, some of the Puritans are forgotten. Ohers are little-known. Most are largely ignored. The Puritans and their writings are often waved off, accused of being too archaic or too tough to relate to. But what it boils down to for most people, I believe, is an unwillingness to put in the work to engage Puritan works firsthand.”
As I’ve brought up these works in sermons and conversations, I have found that the riches of their writings have gone mostly undiscovered, to my dismay. I’m not so much disappointed that people do not know who John Bunyan is, for example. I’m more disappointed that they haven’t yet seen what John Bunyan (and his contemporaries) shows us about Christ.
In his new book Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund has unlocked the treasure chest and not only exposed us to those wonderful Puritan writers, but has himself invited us to look upon the glory of our present Christ for all that he is. Right out of the gate, Ortlund helps us see that this is a book we all need:
“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. This of us who find ourselves thinking, “How could I mess up that bad—again?” It is for that increasing suspicion that God’s patience with us is wearing thin. 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 is—as for us—he harbors mild resentment. Who wonder if we have shipwrecked our lives beyond what can be repaired. Who are convinced we’ve permanently diminished our usefulness to the Lord. 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. (15)
If none of that resonates with you, maybe you don’t need this one. But my hunch is that it does, or that you’ll soon be able to.
In short, we all carry our unique yoke, but most of us find it heavy and burdensome. Thankfully, Jesus offers us a yoke that is easy and light. He answers our weariness with an invitation to rest. And he argues, in Matthew 11:28-30, that he is that rest.
Taking Jesus’s own famous words in Matthew, Ortlund wrings dry the “gentle and lowly” nature of Christ and helps us meditate deeply on that truth. Ortlund gives us a commentary not on what Christ has done so much as who he is. A friend. An advocate. An intercessor. A man of sympathy.
There are plenty of healthy, solid churches today that have decided with Paul to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2), and to let this be the central force of their ministry. God be praised that, in a day and age of shallow, underwhelming preaching, that there are churches laboring to point us to the work of Christ.
But oftentimes, it seems that this pointing is oriented to the past and not as much to the present. In other words, we are often trying to be roused to Christ’s beauty by looking only backwards. But the Christ we worship is a risen Christ today. He remains the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). And there are glorious truths and riches about Him that affect our day-to-day lives, that usher into further intimacy with Him. This is where Gentle and Lowly really succeeds, as it presents to us a Christ for our today.
One of the aspects of Gentle and Lowly that I love most is its pace. The chapters are fairly short, making for an easy, devotional read. Ortlund is obviously well-steeped in the original languages and historical theology, but this book is not intimidating or daunting. It is written with precision and care. Every sentence matters, and is worth pondering. Ortlund argues forcefully that “it is impossible for the affectionate heart of Christ to be over celebrated, made too much of, exaggerated. It cannot be plumbed. But it is easily neglected, forgotten. We draw too little strength from it” (29).
Though the book is theologically strong, Gentle and Lowly is not written for our heads. It is written for our hearts. It is 100 proof doxology. It draws us into right relationship and worship of our Maker and helps us gaze into His beauty.
I know I will be recommending this tremendous work for a long time to come. I consider Gentle and Lowly to be an excellent introduction into the writings of Puritan authors, most especially the likes of Thomas Goodwin, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, and more. If you have never taken the time to read their works, this is a great place to start.
It is the refreshing drink that many parched souls, like my own, needs to take in. It has strengthened my prayer life, and opened my eyes to the beauty of Christ. It has not only helped me better love my Savior, but to better grasp my Savior’s love for me. Could we ask for more from a book?