Many years ago, while counseling a troubled married couple, the wife asked me, “How do you deal with anxiety in your life?” I don’t remember what precipitated the question, but I remember my response: “I’m not sure what to tell you. [I hadn’t had any biblical counseling training yet, as you can tell by the beginning of my answer!] I’m just not an anxious person. I just don’t worry about things.”
Over the more than two decades that followed that presumptuous response, the Lord has revealed my anxiousness and my propensity for worry in many ways. Too many nights I have awakened at 2:00, mind racing with pressures and weights, with worried, foolish, and ungodly thoughts. I now have some tools to help myself: I know Scriptures that should be a source of meditation; I know how to pray for help; I know what needs confession; I know to be thankful. But still the mind races, seemingly uncontrollably at times, careening down the dual tracks of worry and fear.
Into that temptation, a book arrived a couple of months ago. And this book has been as much a balm to my 2:00 a.m. fretting soul as a bottle of milk at 2:00 a.m. to a hungry newborn. On multiple occasions, struggling to control my thoughts, I have reached for my phone, opened my Kindle app, and soaked myself in the comfort of Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly: the Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. And after a few minutes of reading, meditation, and occasionally shedding tears of joy, I have turned off my phone, put it back on the nightstand, and fallen into contented sleep.
That’s the best commendation I can give this book. It comforts my heart with reminders of the steadfast love of Christ for me, and all those who are in Christ.
The book is structured around 23 stand-alone chapters that all focus on some aspect of the love of Christ for His people. Some sample chapter titles are:
- He Can Deal Gently
- To the Uttermost
- An Advocate
- A Tender Friend
- Father of Mercies
- Rich in Mercy
- To the End
Each chapter typically takes one verse and expands its truth to reveal the heart of Christ as a dispenser of unyielding, relentless, persistent grace to His bride. If there is one theme that runs though most of the book it is the idea that God is not opposed to His children. He cannot ever be opposed to His children because they are connected to His perfect, eternal Son and Christ’s infinite righteousness. He is not only for His children, but God in Christ is particularly for His children when they struggle with sin. Consider just one extended quotation from the chapter, “An Advocate,” his meditation on Hebrews 7:25 —
“To the uttermost” in Hebrews 7:25 means: God’s forgiving, redeeming, restoring touch reaches down into the darkest crevices of our souls, those places where we are most ashamed, most defeated. More than this: those crevices of sin are themselves the places where Christ loves us the most. His heart willingly goes there. His heart is most strongly drawn there. He knows us to the uttermost, and he saves us to the uttermost, because his heart is drawn out to us to the uttermost. We cannot sin our way out of his tender care.…
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. Picture a glider, pulled up into the sky by an airplane, soon to be released to float down to earth. We are that glider; Christ is the plane. But he never disengages. He never lets go, wishing us well, hoping we can glide the rest of the way into heaven. He carries us all the way.
He repeatedly returns to this theme of Christ’s kindness, mercy, and gentleness when we are most struggling with sin. He is our Brother who has sent His Helper to minister to us in that need. It is a repeated message that will bring comfort to every sin-weary soul. While I always delete books off my Kindle app when I have finished reading them, this book is and will be an exception. I want it handy when I am tempted to discouragement.
The book is also loosely based on Thomas Goodwin’s, The Heart of Christ. So there are numerous references to that fine work as well as other contemporaries of Goodwin, like John Bunyan, John Flavel, and Richard Sibbes. So the book leans heavily on Scripture, with expanded explanations from trustworthy theologians who have thought deeply on the passages and themes Ortlund discusses.
So should you buy this book? Yes. (I not only have purchased a copy for myself and read it, but I’ve already purchased and given away two more copies.) If you are prone to worry, this book is for you. If you are a counselor or discipler, this book will become a staple for your ministry to weary and anxious souls. If you are still reading this review, this book is for you. If you are a sufferer in this world, this book is for you. If you are a sinner, this book is for you. There. I think I have covered every kind of individual. You need this book. You need to read this book. You need to read this book and soak your soul in its truths because it will lead you to the comfort of Christ and the Triune God.