(This is hopefully the first in an irregular series of articles about Christians of note – at least Christians who I have a lot of time for. They will include pastors, theologians, missionaries, and other sorts of Christians who I look up to and respect, and wish to make known to an even wider audience.)
Aiden Wilson Tozer once said, “Next to the Holy Scriptures, the greatest aid to the life of faith may be Christian biographies.” And that is certainly true of the great man himself. In the past week I have read two biographies of Tozer, and perused a dozen of his important books.
What started all this was the fact that a new boxed-set of ten Tozer classic books was available for a very good price, and I realised that most of the Tozer volumes I had owned I had given away over the years. So I got the ten-pack, and realised once again what a significant Christian this man was.
Tozer of course was a renowned preacher, pastor, prophet and writer. His passionate love for God, and the deeper things of the Christian life, made him an inspiration to millions. Born in 1897, he pastored for most of his life in Chicago at a Christian and Missionary Alliance church. He died in 1963.
Like C.S. Lewis, more of his books have been sold after his death than when he was still alive. He penned nine books, and over 50 more have appeared as well, many of them collections of his articles or sermons. His classic titles include The Pursuit of God (1948), and The Knowledge of the Holy (1961).
Interestingly, Tozer had no formal education or seminary training. In fact he left school at age 14. But he was a devoted self-learner who loved to read, and had a passion for second-hand bookshops (maybe that is why I like the guy so much). He read widely in theology, philosophy, history, poetry and literature, and keenly treasured the older Christian devotional writers.
Although a committed Protestant, he especially loved the pre-Reformation Christian mystics and writers. He treasured the writings of Francois Fenelon, John of the Cross, Thomas a Kempis, Nicholas of Cusa, Julian of Norwich, Anselm, Isaac Watts, Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine, Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler, and others.
Thus he developed an ecumenical spirit, and a willingness to work with others, all the while remaining loyal to his own denomination, the C&MA. He loved anyone who had a passionate and biblical love of Jesus.
After his conversion at age 17, his overwhelming desire was always to know God and know him more deeply and intimately. He spent countless hours in prayer and Bible study. He daily wrestled with God, and read voraciously. His number one desire was to know God and make him known.
He had a genuine prophetic ministry to the church. He had no time for trendy church fads, entertainment and trivial pursuits. He did not follow after church growth, business models and humanistic methods. He especially excoriated fellow leaders for relying on methods, tactics and amusements, instead of the power of the Holy Spirit.
His call to repentance, holiness, and strict reliance on God and his Spirit made him both a popular and unpopular speaker and teacher. Those who desired to know God more and go on to the deeper things of God loved him dearly. But those who were happy to settle for second best, or wanted to be entertained and molly-coddled did not find him appealing at all.
Indeed, he boasted about the fact that he often was not invited back a second time to speak at many churches and Bible conferences. That bothered him not at all. He wanted to go where God’s people were serious about their Lord and their faith, and had a hunger for the deep things of God.
Of course no Christian is perfect, and Tozer had some glaring faults. Because of his frequent speaking engagements and travels, along with his reclusive nature, spending hours alone praying, reading, thinking and meditating each day, his family suffered. His wife and seven children never knew a close and intimate relationship with A.W.
Indeed, he was a bit of a recluse. However, one wonders if this is part of the prophetic make-up. He even wrote an important article for Eternity magazine on this “The Saint Must Walk Alone” (reprinted as the last chapter in Man: The Dwelling Place of God).
The first line of that article reads as follows: “Most of the world’s great souls have been lonely. Loneliness seems to be one price the saint must pay for his saintliness.” He finished the article this way: “The weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world. In their effort to achieve restful ‘adjustment’ to unregenerate society they have lost their pilgrim character and become an essential part of the very moral order against which they are sent to protest. The world recognizes them and accepts them for what they are. And this is the saddest thing that can be said about them. They are not lonely, but neither are they saints.”
Tozer left a wonderful legacy in his many books, articles, sermons, and devotionals. His numerous writings have produced a gold mine of quotable quotes. Even to select a few good ones is a daunting task, with so many to choose from. But let me here simply offer a few choice nuggets. This is part of his 1920 ordination prayer:
“Lord Jesus, I come to Thee for spiritual preparation. Lay Thy hand upon me. Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet. Forbid that I should become a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling. Save me from the curse that lies dark across the modern clergy, the curse of compromise, of imitation, of professionalism. Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering. Help me to remember that I am a prophet – not a promoter, not a religious manager, but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping. Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
Here are a number of other quotes, randomly drawn from various Tozer sources:
“The Bible was written in tears, and to tears it yields its best treasures. God has nothing to say to the frivolous man.”
“The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”
“Refuse to be average. Let your heart soar as high as it will.”
“We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum.”
“One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organizations do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.”
“There are rare Christians whose very presence incites others to be better Christians. I want to be that rare Christian.”
“The need today is for leaders identified so fully with the cross-carrying Jesus that they have no life apart from Him, no ambition except to make Him appear glorious in the sight of men. Such as these will seek no place, no reputation. Christ Himself will be their glory and their all.”
One could offer hundreds more such quotes. But if they give the reader a small hunger for more of Tozer, then they have done their job. I encourage everyone to grab a few of Tozer’s books and read them slowly and prayerfully, and then read them again. They are nourishment for the soul, richness for the mind, and life for the spirit.
For those who want to go further in this, there are three biographies of Tozer available:
Dorsett, Lyle, A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A.W. Tozer. Moody, 2008.
Fant, David, Tozer: A Twentieth Century Prophet. Christian Publications, 1964, 2001.
Snyder, James, A.W. Tozer: In Pursuit of God. Monarch Books, 1991, 2009.
These biographies of Tozer, along with most of Tozer’s books, including the 10-volume boxed set, are available in Australia from Koorong Books.