Victory Through Defeat
OK, I need to make two confessions here at the outset. First, this title is not mine; it comes from A.W. Tozer. Second, I will use anything as an excuse to further push the riches of Christian spirituality as found in the works of Tozer. And my excuse here is pretty thin indeed.
It so happens that the Australian Christian bookstore chain, Koorong, advertised in its most recent catalogue a boxed set of six Tozer books. As soon as I saw this today I jumped into the car, raced down to the nearest Koorong, and snatched it up. I have been joyously reading the six volumes ever since.
Earlier on Koorong had a neat 10-pack boxed set of his works, and they are still available as well. And I of course have plenty of his books already. But any time a new collection of his sermons and writings appear, I know they must immediately be added to my library.
I have written about Tozer before and the tremendous value any Christian will gain in soaking up the wealth of spiritual gold which characterises his writings. Here are two earlier pieces:
Reading Tozer is such a breath of refreshing spiritual air. His writings contrast with the overwhelming amount of Christian pap found in most Christian bookstores. Indeed, I think I can safely say that if all the Christian bookstores in the West caught on fire right now, only about 5 per cent of the stock – 10 per cent tops – would be worth trying to rescue. The rest can be consumed by the flames and we would be better off for it.
So much of what we are taking in for our spiritual diet today is not only starving our spirits to death, but much of it is in fact spiritually poisonous. We have zillions of books telling us how to be happy, to have a better self-image, get a better job, live a better life, lose weight for Jesus, and live a problem-free life.
Tozer will give us none of that rubbish. He will simply give us Jesus. And the cross. And the cruciform life. And the cost of discipleship. And the need to die to self. And the folly of fearing anyone other than God. He gives us New Testament Christianity in other words, and nothing else.
Let’s consider just one chapter from just one of these books in the new 6-pack I purchased today. The book is God’s Pursuit of Man and the chapter is “Victory Through Defeat”. There is more spiritual dynamite in this short ten-page chapter than there is in whole libraries of contemporary Christian writing today.
He points out the old, but evidently forgotten, truth that the only person God can use is the person who has fully died to himself. Indeed, he cannot fully pour out his blessings on us as long as we cling to self, instead of Christ. Says Tozer, “The Lord cannot fully bless a man until He has first conquered him.”
He looks at the life of Jacob as a clear example of this. In particular he highlights the episode of Jacob wrestling with God through the night (something all believers who have been broken by his grace have experienced). He puts it this way:
“All night he resisted God until in kindness God touched the hollow of his thigh and won the victory over him. It was only after he had gone down to humiliating defeat that he began to feel the joy of release from his own evil strength, the delight of God’s conquest over him. Then he cried aloud for the blessing and refused to let go till it came. It had been a long fight, but for God (and for reasons known only to him) Jacob had been worth the effort. Now he became another man. The stubborn and self-willed rebel was turned into a meek and dignified friend of God. He had overcome indeed, but through weakness, not through strength. Only the conquered can know true blessedness.”
Only the broken soul, the conquered spirit, the melted heart, and the humbled life, can know the joys of relationship with God, and experience the fullness of all that he has to offer. Tozer continues:
“We might well pray for God to invade and conquer us, for until he does, we remain in peril from a thousand foes. We bear within us the seeds of our own disintegration. Our moral imprudence puts us always in danger of accidental or reckless self-destruction. The strength of our flesh is an ever present danger to our souls. Deliverance can come to us only by the defeat of the old life. Safety and peace come only after we have been forced to our knees. God rescues us by breaking us, by shattering our strength and wiping out our resistance. Then he invades our natures with that ancient and eternal life which is from the beginning. So he conquers us and by that benign conquest saves us for himself.”
We are simply talking about an old Christian verity here: the cross. The crucified life is what this chapter is all about. Tozer reminds us about how Paul so deeply understood these truths:
“‘By the cross,’ he said, ‘I am crucified unto the world.’ The cross where Jesus died became also the cross where his apostle died. The loss, the rejection, the shame, belong both to Christ and to all who in very truth are his. The cross that saves them also slays them, and anything short of this is a pseudo-faith and not true faith at all.”
But he rightly argues that few of us today know anything about the cross. Indeed, we have replaced the old cross with a new cross: a cross that does not slay us but entertains us. He is again worth quoting at length:
“If I see right, the cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the New Testament. It is, rather, a new bright ornament upon the bosom of a self-assured and carnal Christianity whose hands are indeed the hands of Abel, but whose voice is the voice of Cain. The old cross slew men; the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it. The old cross brought tears and blood; the new cross brings laughter….
“I well know how many smooth arguments can be marshalled in support of the new cross. Does not the new cross win converts and make many followers and so carry the advantage of numerical success? Should we not adjust ourselves to the changing times? Have we not heard the slogan, ‘New days, new ways’? And who but someone very old and very conservative would insist upon death as the appointed way to life? And who today is interested in a gloomy mysticism that would sentence its flesh to a cross and recommend self-effacing humility as a virtue to be practiced by modern Christians? These are the arguments, along with many more flippant still, that are brought forward to give an appearance of wisdom to the hollow and meaningless cross of popular Christianity.”
He concludes, “Real faith must always mean more than passive acceptance. It dare mean nothing less than surrender of our doomed Adam-life to a merciful end upon the cross. That is, we own God’s sentence against our evil flesh and admit his right to end its unlovely career. We reckon ourselves to have been crucified with Christ and to have risen again to newness of life. Where such faith is, God will always work in line with our reckoning. Then begins the divine conquest of our lives. This God accomplishes by an effective seizing upon, a sharp but love-impelled invasion of our natures. When he has overpowered our resistance He binds us with the cords of love and draws us to Himself.”
What more can I say? I encourage you to pull out your old dust-covered volumes of Tozer. If you have none, please go out and get some. They will do your soul a world of good in these troubled times.
7 Replies to “Victory Through Defeat”
Your article touches a raw nerve for me: the endless pile of excellent Christian books that I never seem to get around to reading, of which The Pursuit of God by Tozer is one! So many good books, so little time…
Victory through defeat is an amazing concept, and thoroughly revolutionary in a world where personal strength and pride are hallmarks of the victorious. One of my favorite passages in the NT is 1 Corinthians 1 & 2, which emphasises that our strength and wisdom as Christians comes through the seemingly weak, ineffective message of the crucified Saviour. Being fallen humans, we struggle with the temptation to seek power and strength within ourselves. Praise God for the humbling power of the cross!
I love Tozer too, but don’t have any of his volumes at the moment. But if there is one writer and one book I have that ministers to me similarly, it is J. Sidlow Baxter’s “Going Deeper,” which I have just pulled off the shelf again having just read your article, vowing to read what I can before lunch time. (I hadn’t even realised til now when I googled his name that he was actually an Australian.) Like Tozer, J.Sidlow Baxter also recognised the true cross and joyfully let himself be crucified upon it. His writing joyously depicts the abundant life that flows from that, and paints a picture of a man who revels in it, but wants to go further still – onward and upward into knowing Christ more and more. Nothing else matters to him apart from knowing Christ and being found in him, and having the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.
At age 11 I heard J Sidlow Baxter preach at the Keswick convention at Belgrave Heights and then he came and preached at the church I went to. It was packed. I remember he said “look to the Light” and “want the young people here to love Jesus”. In his face one could see the Light of Christ.
Jeremiah 6:16 is a steadier always for me.
‘Indeed, I think I can safely say that if all the Christian bookstores in the West caught on fire right now, only about 5 per cent of the stock – 10 per cent tops – would be worth trying to rescue. The rest can be consumed by the flames and we would be better off for it.’
Bill I have to say I think you’re a great witness and whilst not agreeing with everything you say believe your spot on most things. Keep up the good work in that regard. As a frequenter of Koorong I cant agree with only 5-10%. Why do you say that ? Is that hyperbole or do you really mean that?
The truth is, A.W. Tozer wouldn’t be welcome in most of the churches today. He would come into the category of the guest speaker who’s never invited a second time.
The use of hyperbole is a common rhetorical flourish, so yes I do sometimes employ it, and can therefore be guilty as charged! But then again what I said would not be far from the truth! And I too am a regular frequenter of Koorong. I really only find its theology section to be of interest. And most other Christian bookstores would not have anywhere near such a good theology section as they do, so my hyperbole could well be understated for those other stores!
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch