Collective Writings from the Books of A.W. Tozer
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It was John Milton who said that hope springs eternal in the human breast. Indeed hope is such a vital thing that were it to die out of the heart of mankind, the burden of life could not long be sustained. But precious as this hope may be, it is yet, when it is ill-founded, a dangerous thing. The hope, for instance, which almost all people feel, of long life here on earth, can be for many a deadly snare, a fatal delusion. The average man, when he thinks of his future, suspends reason, falls back on unreasoning hope and creates for himself an expectation of peaceful and unnumbered days yet to come. This blind optimism works all right till the last day, that inevitable last day which comes to all; then it betrays its victim into the pit from which there is no escape. The perils of groundless hope threaten the Christian too. James sharply rebuked the believers of his day for presumptuously assuming an earthly future they had no real assurance would be theirs, . . .
We of the twentieth century have exactly the same basic needs as the people of the first century. We feel the weight of sin and mortality just as they did. We long for peace and life eternal exactly as they did. We are tortured by fears, stunned by losses, grieved by betrayals, hurt by enmities, made heartsick by failures, scared by threatening death, chased by the devil and frightened cold by the thought of coming judgment. They sat in their simple houses and worried by candlelight. We speed along in sleek, shiny cars and do our worrying between stoplights. But the end result is the same for everybody: slow progress backward toward old age and the grave with no place to hide and no friend to help. God called His Son's name Jesus because He knew the human race needed deliverance from sin; and He sent the angels to announce "Peace on earth" because He knew the world needed deliverance from the gnawing tooth of inward fear. And nothing basic has changed. We today need Jesus, and we need Him for the same reasons they needed Him 2,000 years ago. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
While Jesus grew through the various stages of developing childhood, He never saw a mechanical device more complicated than a cart. He never saw paper, or plastic, or a telephone, or a radio, or a camera, or a printed sheet, or a paved highway, or a gun, or a steam engine, or an electric motor. No one in His day ever got vaccinated or took vitamin pills or consulted a psychiatrist or had a song recorded or rode in a balloon or airplane or elevator. The people of His time had to get along without floating soap, chlorophyll toothpaste, rubber gloves, ready-mix flour, canned peas, Alka-seltzer, parking meters, Wheaties, puffed rice, electric razors, in-a-door beds, wristwatches, typewriters and Band-aids. Jesus never nursed from a rubber nipple or ate a scientifically compounded formula or played with an "educational" toy or attended a progressive school or saw a comic book or owned a toy bomb shelter. Judged against our present highly complicated manner of life, the people of Palestine in the days of Christ's flesh scarcely lived at all. Were we forced suddenly to live as they did, we would feel that the bottom had dropped out of the world. Surely people who lived so close to nature could not be "real people" (to borrow the language of the liberals). But they were real human beings all right, those simple people of Bethlehem and Capernaum. And the striking thing is that they were exactly the kind of people we are. Not one minor variation distinguishes them from us. Only the externals were different. Those things that have changed belong to the outer man; the inner man has not changed in the slightest.
There is a well-known saying which I think originated with the French, that the more things change the more they remain the same. The wisdom of this saying may be seen in almost every department of human life, the reason probably being that of all the things that change and still remain unchanged, there is no better example than human nature itself. And when do we see the unchanging quality of human nature more perfectly than at Christmas-time? Consider the radical difference between today's world and the world into which the Baby Jesus was born. Compared with our twentieth-century civilization, everything surrounding the wondrous Child was crude and primitive. Jesus was born in a stable, not in a hospital; His mother was attended by a midwife, not by a skilled scientist; His baby face was lighted by a tallow candle, not by an electric bulb; He traveled into Egypt on the back of the lowly burro, not by auto or streamlined train.
But Paul's trials yield for us more than this negative kind of blessing. They also teach us positive lessons to help us to endure affliction by that well-known psychological law by which we are able to identify ourselves with others and "halve our griefs while we double our joys." It is always easier to bear what we know someone has borne successfully before us. From the trials and triumphs of Paul, we gather, too, that happiness is really not indispensable to a Christian. There are many ills worse than heartaches. It is scarcely too much to say that prolonged happiness may actually weaken us, especially if we insist upon being happy as the Jews insisted upon flesh in the wilderness. In so doing, we may try to avoid those spiritual responsibilities which would in the nature of them bring a certain measure of heaviness and affliction to the soul. The best thing is neither to seek nor seek to avoid troubles but to follow Christ and take the bitter with the sweet as it may come. Whether we are happy or unhappy at any given time is not important. That we be in the will of God is all that matters. We may safely leave with Him the incident of heartache or happiness. He will know how much we need of either or both.
In reading Second Corinthians, it is difficult to restrain a feeling of real pity for the noble old man as he sweats under the bitter lashings of the enemy. But such pity is wasted now. He has long been where the wicked cease from troubling and the toilworn are at rest. For many long years, his eyes have gazed upon the vision beatific in the land where The red rose of Sharon Distills its heartsome bloom And fills the air of heaven With ravishing perfume. He walks now with the noble army of martyrs and shares the goodly fellowship of the prophets and the glorious company of the apostles. He does not need our pity. But from Paul and his afflictions we may learn much truth, some of it depressing and some altogether elevating and wonderful. We may learn, for instance, that malice needs nothing to live on; it can feed on itself. A contentious spirit will find something to quarrel about. A faultfinder will find occasion to accuse a Christian even if his life is as chaste as an icicle and pure as snow. A man of ill will does not hesitate to attack, even if the object of his hatred be a prophet or the very Son of God Himself. If John comes fasting, he says he has a devil; if Christ comes eating and drinking, he says He is a winebibber and a glutton. Good men are made to appear evil by the simple trick of dredging up from his own heart the evil that is there and attributing it to them.
Paul's Corinthian detractors first tried to discredit him entirely by starting a whispering campaign to the effect that he was actually no apostle but a power-hungry impostor seeking to bring them under his control. When the apostle had written his reply in defense of his apostolic authority, they then shifted their attack and accused him of other kinds of double dealing. "He gives himself as a reference for himself," they said sarcastically. "He must have letters of recommendation like a common traveling preacher. Such a man cannot be an apostle." Paul had to answer that, and he did. But it was not easy. His second epistle to the Corinthians was surely one of the most difficult he was ever called upon to write, for he was forced for the church's sake to speak in his own defense. His beloved fellow Christians must trust him if he is to help them, so he will state his case frankly, even if his whole soul shrinks from the task. The words "I am speaking as a fool," "I am become a fool," indicate how deeply he felt the humiliation. But he sacrificed himself for the good of the church and let his enemies think what they would. That was Paul's way.
The Christian who finds himself in trouble for his faith's sake may draw a lot of consolation from Paul's epistles to the Corinthians. Nowhere else in the entire New Testament is the humanity of the great apostle seen so clearly as when he staggers under the cruel attacks of the anti-Paul bloc in the Corinthian church. His sufferings are there the most poignant and nearest to the sufferings of Christ because they are inward and of the soul. For always the soul can suffer as the body cannot.
We would make a clear distinction here between moral action and mere religious activity. In truth there is already too much of that popular type of activity which does little more than agitate the surface of religion. Its never-ending squirrel-cage motion gives the impression that much is being done, when actually nothing really important is happening and no genuine spiritual progress is being made. From such we must turn away. By moral action, we mean a voluntary response to the Christian message: not merely the acceptance of Christ as our personal Savior but a submission to the obligation implicit in the doctrine of the Lordship of Jesus. We must free ourselves from the inadequate concept of the gospel as being only "good news," and accept the total meaning of the Christian message centering in the cross of Christ. We must restore again to the church the idea that the offer of salvation by faith in Christ carries with it the condition that there must be also a surrender of the life to God in complete obedience. Anything less than this puts the whole thing in the passive voice. A lifetime of passive listening to the truth without responding to it paralyzes the will and causes a fatty degeneration of the heart. The purpose of Bible teaching is to secure a moral and spiritual change in the whole life. Failing this, the whole thing may be wasted.
Most readers will remember (some with just a trace of nostalgia) his or her early struggles to learn the difference between the active and the passive voice in English grammar, and how it finally dawned that in the active voice, the subject performs an act; in the passive voice, the subject is acted upon. Thus, "I love" is active, and "I am loved" is passive. A good example of this distinction is to be found at the nearest mortuary. There the undertaker is active and the dead are passive. One acts while the others receive the action. Now what is normal in a mortuary may be, and in this instance is, altogether abnormal in a church. Yet we have somehow gotten ourselves into a state where almost all church religion is passive. A limited number of professionals act, and the mass of religious people are content to receive the action. The minister, like the undertaker, performs his professional service while the members of the congregation relax and passively "enjoy" the service. One reason for this condition is the failure of the clergy to grasp the true purpose of preaching. There is a feeling that the work of the preacher is to instruct merely, whereas the real work of the preacher is to instruct with an end to securing moral action from the hearers. As long as there has been no moral response to the instruction, the hearers are passive merely and might as well be dead. Indeed, in one sense they are dead already.
Gospel churches which mostly begin with the lowly are usually not content till they attain some degree of wealth and social acceptance. Then they gradually fall into classes, determined largely by the wealth and education of the members. The individuals that comprise the top layer of these various classes go on to become pillars of the religious society and are soon entrenched in places of leadership and influence. It is then that their great temptation comes upon them, the temptation to cater to their own class and to neglect the poor and the ignorant that make up the swarming population around them. They soon become hardened to every appeal of the Holy Spirit toward meekness and humility. Their homes are spotless, their clothes the most expensive, their friends the most exclusive. Apart from some tremendous moral upheaval, they are beyond help. And yet they may be among the most vocal exponents of Bible Christianity and heavy givers to the cause of the church. Let us not become indignant at this blunt portrayal of facts. Let us rather humble ourselves to serve God's poor. Let us seek to be like Jesus in our devotion to the forgotten of the earth who have nothing to recommend them but their poverty and their heart-hunger and their tears.
In spite of our lip-service to democracy, Americans are a decidedly class-conscious people. The very politicians and educators and church leaders among us who sound abroad the praises of the common man and plead for equal rights for all are in private practice as aloof from the plain people as the proudest monarch could ever be. There exists among us an aristocracy composed of famous people, rich men, social lions, actors, public figures and headliners of one kind or another, and these are a class apart. Beneath them, standing off in wild-eyed admiration, are the millions of anonymous men and women who make up the mass of the population. And they have nothing in their favor--except that they were in the heart of Jesus when He died upon the cross. Within the church also there exists a class consciousness, a reflection of that found in society. This has been brought over into the church from the world. Its spirit is completely foreign to the spirit of Christ, utterly opposed to it, indeed; and yet it determines to a large degree the conduct of Christians. This is the source of the evil we mention here.
No observant man will attempt to deny that a vast amount of Christian money is being spent on those who do not need it, while the poor and the needy and such as have no helper must often go unnoticed and unhelped, even though they too are Christians and servants of our common Lord. (The modern church would appear to be as blind and partial as the world in this matter.) Our Lord warned us against the snare of showing kindness only to such as could return such kindness and so cancel out any positive good we may have thought we were doing. By this test, a world of religious activity is being wasted in our churches. To invite in well-fed and well-groomed friends to share our hospitality with the full knowledge that we will be invited to receive the same kindness again on the first convenient evening is in no sense an act of Christian hospitality. It is of the earth earthy; its motive is fleshly; no sacrifice is entailed; its moral content is nil and it will be accounted wood, hay, stubble before the judgment seat of Christ. The evil here discussed was common among the Pharisees of New Testament times. In chapter twenty three of Matthew, Christ mercilessly exposed the whole thing, and in so doing earned the undying enmity of those who practiced it. The Pharisees were bad not because they entertained their friends but because they would not entertain the poor and the common among the people. One bitter accusation which they hurled against Christ was that He received sinners and ate with them. This they would not stoop to do, and in their high pride, they became seven times worse than the worst among the sinners whom they so coldly rejected.
There is an evil which I have seen under the sun--one that grows and does not diminish. And it is all the more dangerous because it is done without evil aforethought but, as it were, carelessly and without wrong intent. It is the evil of giving to them that have and withholding from them that have not. It is the evil of blessing with a loud voice them that are already blessed and letting the unblessed and the outcast lie forgotten. Let a man appear in a local Christian fellowship and let him be one whose fame is bruited abroad, whose presence will add something to the one who entertains him, and immediately a score of homes will be thrown open and every eager hospitality will be extended to him. But the obscure and the unknown must be content to sit on the fringes of the Christian circle and not once be invited into any home. This is a great evil and an iniquity that awaits the judgment of the great day. And it is so widespread that scarcely any of us can claim to be free from it. So we condemn it only with utter humility and with acknowledgment that we too have been in some measure guilty.
Absalom dwelt two full years in Jerusalem and saw not the king's face, though the king was his own father. Are there not many in the kingdom of God who have no awareness of God, who seem not to know that they have the right to sit at the King's table and commune with the King? This is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is a hard and grievous burden. To know God, this is eternal life; this is the purpose for which we are and were created. The destruction of our God-awareness was the master blow struck by Satan in the dark day of our transgression. To give God back to us was the chief work of Christ in redemption. To impart Himself to us in personal experience is the first purpose of God in salvation. To bring acute God-awareness is the best help the Spirit brings in sanctification. All other steps in grace lead up to this. Were we allowed but one request, we might gain at a stroke all things else by praying one all-embracing prayer: Thyself, Lord! Give me Thyself and I can want no more.
God's gifts are many; His best gift is one. It is the gift of Himself. Above all gifts, God desires most to give Himself to His people. Our nature being what it is, we are the best fitted of all creatures to know and enjoy God. "For Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee" (from The Confessions of St. Augustine). When God told Aaron, "You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites," He in fact promised a portion infinitely above all the real estate in Palestine and all the earth thrown in (Numbers 18:20). To possess God--this is the inheritance ultimate and supreme. There is a sense in which God never gives any gift except he gives Himself with it. The love of God, what is it but God giving Himself in love? The mercy of God is but God giving Himself in mercy, and so with all other blessings and benefits so freely showered upon the children of atonement. Deep within all divine blessing is the Divine One Himself dwelling as in a sanctuary.
We have all seen the person who begins all arguments with the unassailable proposition that he is right and reasons from there. We have received a few letters which purported to settle all questions, not by bringing forth reasons, but by establishing the writer's qualifications to pronounce judgment. "How dare you question my actions," he says. "I am the foremost leader in my field. I have written this many books and spoken to this many people over a long period of this many years." Ergo, I am not to be trifled with, nor are my opinions to be questioned. If I do it, it is right. Ispe dixit. He has said it. This kind of thing would be comical if it were not tragic. We mention it only to point up the truth under present consideration and to show by horrible example what long continued self-assurance will do to a human character. Let the public accept a man as unusual, and he is soon tempted to accept himself as being above reproof. Soon a hard shell of impenitence covers his heart and chokes his spiritual life almost out of existence. The cure, if there is to be a cure, would be simple, of course. Let him look to his past and to the cross where Jesus died. If he can still defend himself after that, then let him look into his own heart and tell what he finds there. If after that he can still boast, close the coffin lid. We might point out a danger here (for there will always be perils in the way of spiritual progress): it is that we become morbidly introspective and lose the legitimate happy cheer from our souls. This we must never do, and we can avoid it by permitting Christ to engage our attention, rather than our own souls. The safe rule is, whenever we look at ourselves, be penitent; when we look at Christ, be joyous. And look at Christ most of the time, looking inward only to correct our faults and grieve for our imperfections.
The rapidity with which improvement is made in the life will depend altogether upon the degree of self-criticism we bring to our prayers and to the school of daily living. Let a man fall under the delusion that he has arrived, and all progress is stopped until he has seen his error and forsaken it. Paul said, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me" (Philippians 3:12). Some Christians hope in a vague kind of way that time will help them to grow better. They look to the passing of the years to mellow them and make them more Christlike. This is such a tender and pathetic thought that one hesitates to expose its essential error. But we had better know the facts now while we can do something about them rather than go on moist-eyed and dreamily hopeful--and wholly wrong. A crooked tree does not straighten with age; neither does a crooked Christian. All this is to say that a growing Christian must have at his roots the life-giving waters of penitence. The cultivation of a penitential spirit is absolutely essential to spiritual progress. The lives of great saints teach us that self-distrust is vital to godliness. Even while the obedient soul lies prostrate before God, or goes on in reverent obedience convinced that he is carrying out the will of God with a perfect conscience, he will yet feel a sense of utter brokenness and a deep consciousness that he is still far from being what he ought to be. This is one of the many paradoxical situations in which the humble man will find himself as he follows on to know the Lord.
All things else being equal, a Christian will make spiritual progress exactly in proportion to his ability to criticize himself. Paul said, "But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment" (1 Corinthians 11:31). We escape the critical judgment of God by exercising critical self-judgment. It is as simple as that. We often hear the axiom "Practice makes perfect." The fact is that practice, far from making perfect, actually confirms us in our faults unless it is carried on in a humble, self-critical spirit. The whole philosophy of instruction rests upon the idea that the learner is wrong and is seeking to be made right. No teacher can correct his pupil unless the pupil comes to him in humility. The only proper attitude for the learner is one of humble self-distrust. "I am ignorant," he says, "and am willing to be taught. I am wrong and am willing to be corrected." In this childlike spirit, the mind is made capable of improvement.
Sometimes our hearts are strangely stubborn and will not soften or grow tender no matter how much praying we do. At such times, it is often found that the reading or singing of a good hymn will melt the ice jam and start the inward affections flowing. That is one of the uses of the hymnbook. Human emotions are curious and difficult to arouse, and there is always a danger that they may be aroused by the wrong means and for the wrong reasons. The human heart is like an orchestra, and it is important that when the soul starts to sound its melodies, a David or a Bernard or a Watts or a Wesley should be on the podium. Constant devotion to the hymnbook will guarantee this happy event and will, conversely protect the heart from being led by evil conductors. Every Christian should have lying beside his Bible a copy of some standard hymn book. He should read out of one and sing out of the other, and he will be surprised and delighted to discover how much they are alike. Gifted Christian poets have in many of our great hymns set truth to music. Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley (possibly above all others) were able to marry the harp of David to the Epistles of Paul and to give us singing doctrine, ecstatic theology that delights while it enlightens.