Well it’s easy to think that God just about tolerates us as His children. We often think this when we are made aware of our sin and suffering in the Christian life. How could He when He sees my life the way it is; battling the same sins, feeling a bit stuck in the mud at times and seemingly just being a “rubbish Christian.” Does God really want anything to do with me? Or in the midst of suffering, it’s easy to think at times that God has abandoned us, or just doesn’t care about us as we struggle through this or that particular situation.
If you’ve ever felt this way, then this book is for you, as it will point you to what the Bible says about how God speaks to sinners and sufferers. This book focuses In particular on God the Son, Jesus Christ’s heart towards us. What this means is how Jesus thinks of us, relates to us and loves us as His own. For instance, I love this quote from ch1,
‘We project onto Jesus our skewed instincts about how the world works. Human nature dictates that the wealthier a person, the more they tend to look down on the poor. The more beautiful a person, the more they are put off by the ugly.’
The point being made here is that in our fallen human natures and our experiences in a fallen world, this is how we reason with ourselves. We think God can’t possibly continue to love me if He truly sees my heart. How can a perfectly Holy God as the Bible describes Him possibly want anything to do with me? Well this is where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is truly amazing.
This book focuses on the explicit insight we get into Jesus’s heart from Matthew’s Gospel (11:29) ‘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.’ We see here Jesus testifying to being Gentle and Lowly in heart towards his followers, as He invites them to come to Him for true soul rest. Joining the dots, you can see where the book title came from!
This book is structured very helpfully into 23 short chapters, so it is helpful for a centennial with a short attention span like myself to get their teeth stuck into, whilst also being suited to experienced readers as well. One thing that I especially appreciated about short chapters is how you can read them meditatively; there is absolute gold-dust in these chapters, which often needs to be thought about slowly and prayerfully. So this book is perfect for quiet times with God to mull over some seriously chunky theology.
Here are two things I’d love to share with you that I particularly enjoyed about this book.
1. It draws out the important theological truths of what Jesus is doing now.
I loved this element of the book. There are chapters devoted to parts of Christ’s work that maybe we don't so often don’t think about; I certainly don’t. This is what Jesus is doing now from Heaven as our risen ascended King. In our fallen natures we tend to think of Jesus at times as distant and uncaring. This is not only unbiblical but also damaging to our Spiritual lives. After all, what Jesus is doing now is still a part of the Gospel. He has died, been buried and raised to new life so that we can have life in Him- communion with God.
Two aspects of Christ’s work in particular stood out for me; those who come to Jesus, He will never cast out (John 6:37). This chapter is simply titled ‘I will never cast out’. So often we struggle with the notion of Jesus ‘not casting us out,’ to quote the book at length:
‘We cannot present a reason for Christ to finally close off his heart to his own sheep. No such reason exists. Every friend has a limit. If we offend enough, if a relationship gets damaged enough or if we betray enough times, we are cast out. The walls go up. With Christ, our sins and weaknesses are the very resumé items that qualify us to approach him. Nothing but coming to him is required- first at conversion and a thousand times thereafter until we are with him upon death.’
The author Dane Ortlund expounds this wonderful truth in this chapter to a heart-warming degree. Jesus is our friend who loves us and ‘will never cast out’ those who come to Him for salvation.
The other element of Christ’s work that stood out was Jesus’s work as our Advocate (1 John 2:1). The author cites this as a ‘neglected teaching in the church today’, as the role of advocacy ‘flows straight from the depths of Christ’s very heart’. Jesus’s work of being advocate means that not only is He an intercessor standing between us and God but He also stands with us. Again another wonderful quote, ‘We need not only exhortation but liberation. We need not only Christ as King but Christ as Friend. Not only over us but next to us.’
These amazing truths show the wonder and Glory of the risen Lord Jesus and His work as He sits by the right hand of the Father in Heaven for us. Praise God!
2. You are given a helping hand from some past Christian heroes.
I love how Dane Ortlund, a few times throughout the book, refers to it as a study of the Heart of Christ. It’s great because it’s so specific to be studying what the Bible says about the person of Jesus together. But he isn’t the first to set out on this study. Ortlund quotes some wonderful insights, phrases and work of some of the most influential theological thinkers and writers from history. The most regularly quoted of these throughout is the puritan theologian Thomas Goodwin, who wrote a book titled the Heart of Christ, published back in 1651. This book of Goodwin’s focuses on Hebrews 4:15 ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet he did not sin’. Dane Ortlund makes regular use of Thomas Goodwin’s work as he helps us draw out more of what Scripture says of the Lord Jesus. Other theological giants we are introduced to throughout this book include Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, John Bunyan, John Owen and many more. This book actually provides a really nice introduction to some of the thoughts and labours of these theologians of the past and give us a good flavour of their work to us modern readers who aren’t very familiar with them. Even though there is amazing biblical content to the works of the puritans, they are rich and oftentimes dense to read so Dane Ortlund here gives us a helpful taste.
After a year of lockdown when we will all be feeling spiritually tired and lethargic to some degree from sin, suffering and not to mention the daily grind of being confined to our homes, it’s so easy to become numb to the truths of the Gospel. Our Christian lives may feel more like a Bear Grylls’ survival programme than joyful communion with God. I would thoroughly recommend this book if you haven't read it. It is unlike most Christian books as it is so “Jesusy,” which may sound strange as of course all Christian books surely are about Jesus. But I have not read another which solely focuses on the Biblical description of Christ’s heart towards sinners and sufferers like this one does. This is not to say that it is perfect; I do think one person who is not mentioned that much in this work is the Holy Spirit. There are 12 chapters on the work and person of Jesus, God the Son and 9 chapters on the work and person of God the Father. There is only one chapter on the work of the Spirit whose work in our lives as Christians is mentioned extensively in the New Testament (Romans 8, John 3:5-8, 14:15-20,16:7-11). But it is ‘refreshingly biblical’ which is the best feature to have. My prayer for you if you do decide to pick it up is that you may be reminded and pointed to the truth that you are truly loved by the Lord Jesus Christ who invites all who are weary and heavy laden to come to Him for rest.