Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly (get your free copy from Tommie!) has been of great help to me in several ways. It has helped me to see the glorious, good, and welcoming gentleness of the heart of Christ. It has encouraged me to keep preaching the gospel to myself. It has motivated me to work at improving as a preacher and pastor of the word of God. And, it has also helped me to appreciate more fully that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Specifically, Christians have a long, holy and hope-giving heritage, which we should steward well.
Though Dane Ortlund is a mere 41 years old, he has an “old soul,” at least theologically. It’s clear he has well-digested the writings of the Puritans, especially John Bunyan, Richard Sibbes and, most notably, Thomas Goodwin.
He confesses that his insights are because he is standing on the shoulders of faithful Christians who have preceded us.
Ortlund, like the Puritans, is passing on “old truth” in contemporary garb. He can do this because “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) never changes. Though our historical context (language, cultures, political situations, current events, etc.) will be different, God’s truth never changes and is therefore always relevant. I recall the warnings of a theologian concerning the contemporary church’s flirting with secularism in order to be “hip.” Counselling against such nonsense, he exhorted, “Since God’s word is always relevant, keep preaching it and your church will always be relevant.” There’s a whole lot of truth in that.
Each generation of the church needs to communicate the old and never-changing truth, and to do so in a way that an everchanging society can hear. Ortlund has admirably accomplished this. An ironic outcome is that it has pushed me back to the seventeenth century!
Ortlund’s book heavily relies on the writings of Thomas Goodwin, who lived from 1600–1680. He faithfully ministered God’s word as a pastor from the age of 26 until his death. And he left some 6,000 pages of small print, single spaced writings, which have been collated into twelve volumes. I recently began a project of reading through these, beginning with the editor’s biographical sketch. Once again, I have been reminded of our Christian heritage, a heritage of hardship as well as a heritage of hope.
Goodwin faced many of the same challenges we do. For example, many in his day professed faith in Christ but their lives gave evidence to the contrary, as in our day. Many pastors were preaching a man-centred gospel, as in our day. But I also discovered, as in our day, Goodwin pastored through a plague: the horrific London Plague that killed one quarter of that city’s population. While many ministers fled to the continent (extreme social distancing!) Goodwin stayed and preached and lived to tell us about it. As he laboured in those trying times, people were converted and the church continued. As in our day.
I recently spoke with Francois Koch in Namibia and he told me that the church there is growing as some who were on the fringe are now more serious about the gospel. He is discipling several and they are appreciating the importance of the local church. What was true of the gospel and the church in Goodwin’s day is just as true in our day.
Brothers and sisters, the Lord is building his church in the days of the coronavirus just as he was building his church in the days of the London Plague. The heritage of God’s faithfulness to the early church became the heritage of the church in Goodwin’s day. That same heritage is ours in this day. Let us steward this well, leaving behind a heritage of hope.
Stewarding with you,