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In a Shack on the Back 40?

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Galatians 4:6

Perhaps you’ve discovered the bestselling book by Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers.[1] If not, I highly recommend it. Relying heavily on the best Puritan theologians, the author probes the inner motivations of Christ Jesus. Is God a holy, blazing fire against all sin? Of course! No other God would be worthy of our humble worship. Yet how does this mesh with his astonishing love and mercy shown to poor sinners like us, in Christ? In our feeble minds, we tend to take various biblical doctrines and throw them all into a blender, losing crucial distinctives of each one. We imagine God’s wrath on one side and his love on the other side cancelling each other out, as though his attributes were a zero-sum game. The result: his grudging resignation to take us in. We’re in the family—but barely—perpetually dwelling in a spiritual shack on the back 40.

What a terrible distortion of the Lord’s character and his work! Meditate on the selected quotes [2] below about the merciful heart of Jesus. May you hear Jesus’ voice, Come to me…for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29).

I Will Never Cast Out

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37

The atoning work of the Son, decreed by the Father and applied by the Spirit, ensures that we are safe eternally….This is not only a matter of divine decree but of divine desire. This is heaven’s delight. Come to me, says Christ. I will embrace you into my deepest being and never let you go. (p.66)

What Our Sins Evoke

…I am a God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. Hosea 11:9

Is that what you expect God to say? Don’t you actually, deep down, expect him to say the following…? “I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will therefore come in wrath.” (p.74)

The Lord, the Lord

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…. Exodus 34:6

His anger requires provocation, but his mercy is pent up and ready to gush forth. (p.148)

My heart yearns for him. Jeremiah 31:20

On the cross, we see what God did to satisfy his yearning for us. He went that far. (p.169)

Rich in Mercy

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…. Ephesians 2:1-5

Nowhere else in the Bible is God described as rich in anything. The only thing he is called rich in is: mercy. What does this mean? It means that God is something other than what we naturally believe him to be. It means the Christian life is a lifelong shedding of tepid thoughts of the goodness of God. In his justice, God is exacting; in his mercy, God is overflowing. (p.172)

Being, not becoming. (This takes us) into the inner recesses of the Creator, into heaven's Holy of Holies, behind the inner veil, disclosing to us the animating center of God's very being and nature. (p.172)

Christ was sent not to mend wounded people or to wake sleepy people or advise confused people or inspire bored people or spur on lazy people or educate ignorant people, but to raise dead people. (p.175)

[1] (Wheaton: Crossway), 2020. A “Book of the Year” for World Magazine, Gospel Coalition, Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, and others. It’s the publisher’s bestselling book of all time, and likely to become a Christian classic. A few have criticized the book for its “lopsided emphasis” on Jesus’ compassion, as though its author (and the Puritans he quotes) were somehow unaware of Christ’s holy wrath against the hypocritical Pharisees, for instance. The objection is unfair, because Ortlund is probing Jesus’ view only toward those “weary and burdened” sinners to whom he has revealed the Father. In the mystery of electing love, these are the ones who actually come to him in faith and receive forgiveness and spiritual rest. The fact remains: Matthew 11:29 is Jesus’ only self-description of his “heart.” We must allow each text to speak its distinctive message, rather than forcing our exegesis into a systematic straitjacket. Careful exegesis of many texts yields sound systematic theology. This is the approach of the best biblical scholars since the Reformation.

[2] Chapter titles are in boldface.


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