A year ago today, marked the 50 year anniversary of death of the man who has most profoundly impacted my spiritual life. Sadly, I was ill-prepared to give a proper tribute unto the man to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. However, better late than never . . . so, let me pay tribute to this mighty man of God: A.W. Tozer.
He had his flaws, as all saints do, but he also had profound virtues. Among them was an ability to sharply state what the soul so desperately needs to hear; that is, the majesty and holiness of God! It was at my high school graduation, someone gave me one of the best gifts of my life, although I didn’t know it at the time and thought the gift rather “cheap.” They gave me an old, tacky copy of “The Knowledge of the Holy.” By God’s grace I read the preface, and in reading that preface it was as if someone had opened a window of heaven, and I smelled for the first time, the pure “light and loveliness” of that place. He spoke of his generation losing “the concept of majesty from the popular religious mind.” He declared that, “the Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men.”
As I read this in the second paragraph, I knew that I had discovered a spiritual “friend,” in Tozer. As a young man, I hungered for the Christianity of old, which the New Testament describes and which Christian history is full of. I cherished the stories of men like Jim Elliot, Hudson Taylor, George Müller, and others who lived radically for Christ. But in my circle of acquaintanceship, and many of the Christians I knew, I rarely saw any hunger for the deep things of God, nor did I behold a sense of wonder and majesty before the glory of Almighty God. This is the sort of man I desired to be, and yet no one, it seemed, ever gave me permission to walk in that direction, or even insinuated that this was the direction we all should be walking. Yet, when God crossed my path with the anointed pages of Tozer’s pen, I felt for the first time a wise, elder Christian man winking at me and saying, “It’s all right, son. This is the path you ought to walk, even if no one else does.”
For that reason, I owe a spiritual debt to Tozer, and am continually grateful for his wit, his reverence for the Almighty, Holy One, his insistence upon the Bible’s authority, his deep desire to know God (not just know about God), and his razor sharp arrows which he aims at human pride and rebellion. This is a collection of the most impacting Tozer quotes/sermon excerpts that I’ve come across.
Thinking Highly of God
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. [. . .] Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.
The Knowledge of the Holy
When I first read this almost ten years ago, I was convicted beyond words. I saw my guilt. I had cherished low views of God Almighty, in order to preserve my self-centered lifestyle. This quote truly has changed me, and the trajectory of my life has been forever altered by this paragraph, written decades before I was born. Tozer taught me to never belittle God, nor to treat Him as common.
The Paradox of Love
To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.
The Pursuit of God
This is one of the key truths that pervades everything that Tozer wrote; it was like an aquifer that was under the entire terrain of Tozer’s life and ministry. He was a man thirsty for God, and though satisfied, ever cried out for more of the divine. How easily we are satisfied, when God offers us eternal joy in Christ! And though Christ is all-satisfying, the “soul’s paradox of love” is that it can never have enough of Christ! Indeed the soul that has tasted and seen does cry out, “To drink Living Waters, yet be thirsty still!”
Praying for Revival, At Whatever Cost to Self
You’ve must be willing to pray, “O, God, answer with me or without me or apart from me. But answer, God. Glorify Thyself in our midst. Send out missionaries, Lord. But if you want to send out two more from another church than you do from mine, I’m satisfied. Send revival, Lord, but if you want to bless the church across the city and not mine, all right” [. . .] “O, God, restore Thy church again to the Holy Land. But, O, God, if You use me, all right; but if you don’t want to use me I’ll be joyous and rejoice to see the church restored. O, God, honor Thyself in our midst and if You want to use me, all right, but if not, I’ll back the man Thou doest use. I’ll love him, I won’t be jealous, I’ll pray for him, and I’ll work behind the scenes, and I’ll do my dead-level best, unseen to do what I can do.” You got to pray like that.
Sermon Excerpt: How to Pray for Revival
I remember reading this and being struck with how sinful it was that I had often prayed for God to move mightily, and yet maintained the inner wish that I could be credited as being the one who brought about this mighty movement. I soon saw that when one is consumed with love for God, it matters not whether one is used or not! Instead, the soul ablaze with zeal for Christ’s glory asks only that Christ be glorified, whether I am privileged to be used or not. If I am, fine and well. If not, may I selflessly serve the man whom God chooses!
The Holy One
God is not now any holier than He ever was. For He, being unchanging and unchangeable, can never become holier than He is, and He never was holier than He is, and He’ll never be any holier than now. It means self-existence, for He did not get His holiness from anyone nor from anywhere. He did not go off into some vast, infinitely distant realm and there absorb His holiness; but He is Himself the Holiness. He is the Holy. He is the All Holy. He is the Holy One. He is holiness itself, beyond the power of thought to grasp or of word to express, beyond the power of all praise. [. . .] The problem with this is that we let our churches stay dingy gray instead of pleading for holy whiteness. [. . .] oh I want to know that I am shielded by the Advocate, by the blood. I want to know that by the grace of God and the indwelling Spirit I can bear the burning bliss. I want God to do something new for me – to revive my spirit, to change my dingy gray to white, to make me sick of compromise, weary of this checkered living. Pray for me that I might become a holy man, a holy woman indeed by the blood of the Lamb and the fire of the Holy Ghost.
Sermon Excerpt: The Holiness of God
Tozer’s best sermon, in my opinion, is this one. His words are perfumed with the scent of one who spent long hours in prayer and in the Word, and we are blessed by the wisdom with which He dispenses. Oh, to realize that all our attempts at holiness are a “dingy grey” in comparison with God’s blazing whiteness. Oh, to be one who is found “pleading for holy whiteness.”
Standing on the Promises
The promises are only as good as the character of the One who made the promises.
Sermon Excerpt: Believing Prayer
For a while now, I’ve regularly said something similar to this quote whenever I’ve taught or preached. It wasn’t until I began preparing this tribute to Tozer that I ran across this and had to laugh, because it would seem Tozer was quoting ME! I then realized how deep Tozer’s wisdom is interwoven into me! However, I’ll still be quoting this on my death bed . . . our faith doesn’t rest in the promises which God has made to us, it rests upon Him!
Born After Midnight
Among revival-minded Christians I have heard the saying, “Revivals are born after midnight.” This is one of those proverbs which, while not quite literally true, yet points to something very true. [. . .] Occasionally there will appear on the religious scene a man whose unsatisfied spiritual longings become so big and important in his life that they crowd out every other interest. Such a man refuses to be content with the safe and conventional prayers of the frost- bound brethren who “lead in prayer week after week and year after year in the local assemblies. His yearnings carry him away and often make something of a nuisance out of him. His puzzled fellow Christians shake their heads and look knowingly at each other, but like the blind man who cried after his sight and was rebuked by the disciples, he “cries the more a great deal.” And if he has not yet met the conditions or there is something hindering the answer to his prayer, he may pray on into the late hours. Not the hour of night but the state of his heart decides the time of his visitation. For him it may well be that revival comes after midnight. [. . .] Yet for all God’s good will toward us He is unable to grant us our heart’s desires till all our desires have been reduced to one.
This gem from Tozer is one of my more recent discoveries. I found it a little over a year ago, and while I recognize that I am far from being the sort of man he describes here, it is the desire of my heart to endeavor to be this sort of man who wrestles with God “after midnight.” Oh to have all my desires reduced to One glorious desire: Christ Himself!
The Fellowship of the Burning Heart
Tozer had a term for Christians throughout history that were marked by fiery zeal for Christ and His Gospel. All too often Christians become complacent, indifferent to our calling, weary of good works. However, there is a need in every generation for someone (even if they stand alone) to stand up and seek after God no matter what the cost! Tozer called this the “fellowship of the burning heart.” Oh, how I would desire to be numbered in such a fellowship. To be eaten up with zeal for the Lord’s house, to shamelessly proclaim His truth, to fight until my dying breath to know Him and make Him known . . . indeed this is the sort of man Tozer was, and the sort of man which we desperately need at this juncture of human history! I would encourage every saint to let the unction-filled truth of Tozer’s pen to be a faithful guide in their spiritual pilgrimage!
Read my tribute for C.S. Lewis here.