Man would make himself the rule of God, and give laws to his Creator. We are willing God should be our benefactor, but not our ruler; we are content to admire his excellency and pay him a worship, provided he will walk by our rule. …To think him to be what we ourselves would have him, and wish him to be, we would amplify his mercy and contract his justice; we would have his power enlarged to supply our wants, and straitened when it goes about to revenge our crimes; we would have him wise to defeat our enemies, but not to disappoint our unworthy projects; we would have him all eye to regard our indigence, and blind not to discern our guilt; we would have him true to his promises, regardless of his precepts, and false to his threatenings; we would new mint the nature of God according to our models, and shape a God according to our own fancies…
Instead of obeying him, we would have him obey us; instead of owning and admiring his perfections, we would have him strip himself of his infinite excellency, and clothe himself with a nature agreeable to our own. This is not only to set up self as the law of God, but to make our own imaginations the model of the nature of God. (Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God.)
A week ago, I came across an ad for some book called, Gentle and Lowly. At the time not knowing this was Crossway’s best-seller by PCA pastor Dane Ortlund, I condemned the book, its author, and the celebrities puffing it. From first view, it seemed like any pastor half-awake and half-aware of the temptations of those at ease in Zion would know the book was flattery and set out straightaway to warn his flock.
Soon, I found out lots of people were reading the book and (mostly) loving it. So I went back and rethought my initial judgment. A couple pastors I respected told me they’d read some or all of the book and thought Gentle and Lowly had a small, but valid, audience consisting of those who are suffering under discouragement and depression. They had appreciated Gentle and Lowly themselves, but eventually put it down and took up other older books by Puritans.
So I went back to Crossway’s ad and celebrity blurbs, then the book’s introduction and first chapter.
They were bad. Reading the chapter titles gave no indication things would improve. Chapter 20, for instance, is titled, “our law-ish hearts, His lavish heart.”
Meanwhile, person after person told me this book was big. A pastor told me some rich man had paid money for pastors around the country to be given free boxes of the book. All the pastors had to do was promise to use Gentle and Lowly in studies and reading groups within their congregations. A young couple in our congregation told me a friend had given them a copy and they were about to read it. Several others said it was on their reading list.
Then, yesterday, I read that a well-known Reformed personality had written a piece critical of the book, but pushback against his criticism had been strong and now his piece has disappeared.
Here then is the problem with this book and it’s not complicated. Gentle and Lowly teaches the false doctrine that some of God’s attributes are more essentially His nature than others, and those attributes which are most essential are gentleness and lowliness.
To teach this is to lie about God.
First, then, is this an accurate statement of what Gentle and Lowly teaches? Does it present gentleness and lowliness as somehow more special and essential to Who Jesus is? Does it present gentleness and lowliness as the deepest parts of our Lord’s character comprising the core of Who He is?
The book’s introduction begins (all emphases are original):
This is a book about the heart of Christ. Who is he? Who is he really? What is most natural to him? What ignites within him most immediately as he moves toward sinners and sufferers? What flows out most freely, most instinctively? Who is he?
The “heart” of Christ. Who He “really” is. What is “most natural” to Him. What flows out of Him “most freely.” “Most instinctively.” Gentle and lowly is who He really “is.”
We could stop here. As I said, it’s not complicated. Dane Ortlund is out of the gate with his false teaching that Jesus is really and especially and ontologically and most particularly gentle and lowly. Gentle and lowly is who He “really” is. Gentle and lowly is who He really “is.”
Working through Ortlund’s introduction, we find the question, “what is most central to who Christ is?” He speaks of “who God in Christ is, most naturally and easily.” He speaks of how “the gospel …sweeps us into Christ’s very heart.”
Again, note that gentleness and lowliness are “most central.” They are who Jesus is “most naturally and easily.” They are Jesus’ “very heart.”
Ortlund asks his readers whether they “know” that Jesus’ gentleness and lowliness “are his deepest heart for you?”
This is the project as Ortlund himself describes it in his introduction: he will open up to readers the essence, the “deepest heart” of Jesus.
Chapter 1 is titled, “His Very Heart,” and this from its first paragraph:
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.
In all the Gospels, there is “only one place” where Jesus reveals “his own heart.”
Again, that should do it for all of us. With one mind we should see it, turn away, and warn others off from such flattery and lies. I say again, it’s not complicated.
Still, we continue:
in only one place—perhaps the most wonderful words ever uttered by human lips—do we hear Jesus himself open up to us his very heart
Again, Ortlund declares his premise: “Only one place” does Jesus reveal to us His “very” heart.
Ortlund goes on to tell readers there is only
one place in the Bible where the Son of God pulls back the veil and lets us peer way down into the core of who he is
You want secret knowledge? Want to join the cognoscenti who together hold the key to the Scriptures?
Ortlund’s book will initiate you into the hidden wisdom. He will help you look behind the veil so you can “peer way down into the core” of Who Jesus is.
The “core” of Jesus is the “heart” of Jesus, and what is the heart?
Ortlund continues to explain why it’s Jesus’ heart that really matters. He tells us the heart is,
- “the central animating center of all we do”
- “the center of who we are”
- “what defines and directs us”
when Jesus tells us what animates him most deeply, what is most true of him—when he exposes the innermost recesses of his being—what we find there is: gentle and lowly.
Gentleness and lowliness are “what animates” Jesus “most deeply.” Gentleness and lowliness are “what is most true” of Jesus. Gentleness and lowliness are “the innermost recesses of” Jesus’ “being.”
Ortlund writes of Jesus’ gentleness:
The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger but open arms.
Note his phrase “most natural.”
Ortlund continues (again, emphases in the original):
If we are asked to say only one thing about who Jesus is, we would be honoring Jesus’s own teaching if our answer is, gentle and lowly. If Jesus hosted his own personal website, the most prominent line of the “About Me” dropdown would read: GENTLE AND LOWLY IN HEART.
We’re not done yet:
Gentleness is who he is. It is his heart.
Ortlund goes on to tell his readers that Christ’s,
transcending, defining reality is: gentle and lowly.
What helium does to a balloon, Jesus’s yoke does to his followers. We are buoyed along in life by his endless gentleness and supremely accessible lowliness. …his tender embrace …is his very heart. It is what gets him out of bed in the morning.
Endless gentleness and supremely accessible lowliness are not just Jesus’ “heart,” but His “very heart.” The word “heart” alone is insufficient for Ortlund’s project.
Ortlund then quotes the Puritan, Thomas Goodwin:
Men are apt to have contrary conceits of Christ, but he tells them his disposition there, by preventing such hard thoughts of him, to allure them unto him the more. We are apt to think that he, being so holy, is therefore of a severe and sour disposition against sinners, and not able to bear them. “No,” says he; “I am meek; gentleness is my nature and temper.”
What is noteworthy here is the absence of any confirmation of Ortlund’s error. Meekness and gentleness are not said to be Jesus’ “very heart.” Rather Goodwin presents meekness and gentleness as Jesus’ “disposition” toward sinners.
Goodwin does not claim that Jesus’ gentleness and lowliness are “what gets Jesus out of bed in the morning.” Rather, he presents Jesus’s “disposition” toward sinners as welcoming.
Disposition’s synonyms include predisposition, propensity, and leaning. Goodwin says Jesus is predisposed to welcome, that Jesus has a propensity to welcome, that Jesus leans toward welcoming sinners.
This is a truth everyone has always proclaimed and no one has ever denied. Two thousand years of Christian preachers have declared in the hearing of sinners that Jesus says “come to Me,” that He promises those timid of soul that He is “gentle and lowly of heart” and if they come, they will find “rest for their souls.”
What Jesus does not say is that gentleness and lowliness are His “very heart.” That they are “what gets Him out of bed in the morning.” They are His “transcending and defining reality.” They are the “posture most natural” to Him. They are what “animates Him most deeply. What is “most true of Him.” The “innermost recesses of His being.” His “central animating center.” the “core of who He really is.” They are “what flows out” of Him “most freely, most instinctively.”
But there’s more, and in the first chapter alone.
Of our Lord, Ortlund reports:
This is the one whose deepest heart is, more than anything else, gentle and lowly.
“Deepest.” “More than anything else.”
Then, bringing the chapter to an end, Ortlund speaks of the “perfections” of the Second Member of the Trinity, our Lord Jesus Christ:
His perfections include his perfect gentleness. It is who he is. It is his very heart. Jesus himself said so.
No, Jesus Himself did not say so.
Jesus did not say His “deepest heart is, more than anything else, gentle and lowly.”
Jesus did say He is “meek and gentle of heart.”
The first statement is Ortlund’s big loud lie. The second is Jesus’ meek and gentle truth.
Today’s climate of cheap grace leads directly to adding to God’s word in this sort of way. The Bible doesn’t make Jesus nearly soft enough on its own. It needs a little bit of extra help. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s not exactly a surprise that Ortlund chose verse 29 instead of verse 22 “it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.” If you’re going to claim that one of them represents the deepest, truest Jesus, it’s natural to pick the nice one. Nevertheless, both of these are truest Jesus, as revealed in His word.
It is the most basic truth of the doctrine of God that all God’s perfections are in perfect harmony with one another. His justice is not in conflict with His love. His jealousy does not compete with His kind-heartedness. He does not always chide, nor are our sins hidden from Him.
Pagans have always worshipped an inscrutable and unreachable God who never stops demanding sacrifices, including the slaughter of their precious little children. He doesn’t reach down to them; they only strain upwards towards him, and bearing their own gifts.
If they were to write Ortlund’s book, they would title it,
Wrath and Vengeance: The Will of God for All Infidels
On the contrary, our God—the only true God—is full of mercy. He Alone forgives sins.
But is mercy His “very heart?”
Is mercy “what gets Him out of bed in the morning?”
Is mercy His “transcending and defining reality?”
Is mercy the “posture most natural” to Him?
Is mercy what “animates Him most deeply?”
Is mercy what is “most true of Him?”
Is mercy the “innermost recesses of His being?”
Is mercy His “central animating center?”
Is mercy the “core of who He really is?”
Is mercy “what flows out” of Him “most freely, most instinctively?”
We read this declarative statement in the Apostle John’s first letter:
God is love. (1John 4:8, and again 1John 4:16)
This is the clearest statement of Who God is: “God is love.”
Add to it this declaration, also by the Apostle John, that it was the love of God that sent His Son to save those who believe on Him:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Yes, God is love. But is that all that John, the Apostle of love, says here? Is there no qualification of God’s love? Does John write a whole book about Who God really is down deep at the innermost recesses of His heart?
Absolutely not. The Apostle John doesn’t have as his goal getting those who are complacent in Zion to make his book a best-seller.
At the expense of their souls and God’s judgment.
Even here, at this supreme statement of God’s love shed abroad in Jesus Christ, does the Apostle John leave it at that?
No, being a good shepherd, he proceeds immediately to warn those souls under his pastoral influence and care that God is wrath and judgment of man’s sin.
Following one of the most memorized and beloved verses of Scripture are these:
For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. (John 3:17-19)
Just as heart speaks to heart, so complacent to complacent and presumptuous to presumptuous. Yes, certainly the gentleness and lowliness of our Lord should be preached, and this endlessly.
Nothing is more intended by Him and useful to draw weak and despondent sinners to come to Him with our sins, seeking His rest both now and eternally. His gentleness and lowliness have drawn countless of us to Him, and will by God’s mercy draw countless more.
But our Lord’s gentleness and lowliness of heart are not more Who He is than His love and power and jealousy, justice, and wrath. All God’s perfections are together in perfect harmony Who He has always been and Who He always will be forevermore.
To put one or two of His perfections up against the rest is to flatter the readers with the very real danger of lulling many of them into a false security that will remove the fear of God before their eyes and put them to sleep until they die, only to awake to His justice, judgment, and eternal wrath.
That some pastor trained by Wheaton and Covenant preaches this to his congregation is tragic, but common. The PCA and Covenant have provided a safe home for Revoice as anyone watching the past couple of years knows full well. Gentle and Lowly fits Revoice and Revoice fits Gentle and Lowly hand-in-glove.
Who then is faithful to warn the flock day and night, with tears? Shepherds, too, will be judged. By the Chief Shepherd.