Book Review: From Heaven

from-heavenI like to read a Christmas devotional during December, so I got From Heaven: A 28-Day Advent Devotional by A. W. Tozer when I saw it on a recent Kindle sale for 99 cents since I have enjoyed what I have read of Tozer in the past.

Compiled by unnamed editors at Moody Publishing from Tozer’s various writings and sermons, it is probably different than a book like this that Tozer would have written himself. There is not really a logical progression from point A to point B or developing and building on truths throughout the book. It’s just a series of isolated bits somewhat on the theme of Christ’s coming to Earth in both His first advent, which we celebrate at Christmas, and His second advent, when He returns. That lack of progression or development plus the entries’ being taken out of context from their original sources are the book’s greatest weaknesses. Introductory remarks convey that profits from the book sales will go to help Moody students, so this may have even been assembled as something of a fund raiser.

But it is Tozer, after all, who is a deep thinker and often has something noteworthy to say, which is the book’s greatest strength.

Some of the chapter titles are What the Advent Established, The Meaning of Christmas, The Logic of the Incarnation, Three Truths Behind Christmas, Light and Life to All He Brings.

Some of the quotes that stood out to me:

Even though you may still be unconverted and going your own way, you have received much out of the ocean of His fullness. You have received the pulsing life that beats in your bosom. You have received the brilliant mind and brain within the protective covering of your skull. You have received a memory that strings the events you cherish and love as a jeweler strings pearls into a necklace and keeps them for you as long as you live and beyond. All that you have is out of His grace. Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us, is the open channel through which God moves to provide.

We must love someone very much to stay awake and long for his coming.

Another reason for the absence of real yearning for Christ’s return is that Christians are so comfortable in this world that they have little desire to leave it.

All of the mercy God is capable of showing, all of the redeeming grace that He could pour from His heart, all of the love and pity that God is capable of feeling–all of these are at least suggested in the message that He came!

All of our hopes and dreams of immortality, our fond visions of a life to come, are summed up in these simple words in the Bible record: He came!

The idea that the Old Testament is a book of law and the New Testament a book of grace is based on a completely false theory. There is certainly as much about grace and mercy and love in the Old Testament as there is in the New. There is more about hell, more about judgment and the fury of God burning with fire upon sinful men in the New Testament than in the Old

The only contrast here is between all that Moses could do and all that Jesus Christ can do. The Law was given by Moses—that was all that Moses could do. Moses was not the channel through which God dispensed His grace. God chose His only begotten Son as the channel for His grace and truth, for John witnesses that grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. All that Moses could do was to command righteousness. In contrast, only Jesus Christ produces righteousness. All that Moses could do was to forbid us to sin. In contrast, Jesus Christ came to save us from sin. Moses could not save, but Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior.

The big thing is to be sure we are not lulled to sleep by a false hope, that we do not waste our time dreaming about days that are not to be ours. The main thing is to make today serve us by getting ready for any possible tomorrow. Then whether we live or die, whether we toil on in the shadow or rise to meet the returning Christ, all will be well.

[This one really helped me with the concept of “of His fullness have we all received” in John 1:16]: If you could ask the deer that goes quietly down to the edge of the lake for a refreshing drink, “Have you received of the fullness of the lake?” the answer would be: “Yes and no. I am full from the lake but I have not received from the fullness of the lake. I did not drink the lake. I only drank what I could hold of the lake.”

Christmas as it is celebrated today is badly in need of a radical reformation. What was at first a spontaneous expression of an innocent pleasure has been carried to inordinate excess.

In our mad materialism we have turned beauty into ashes, prostituted every normal emotion, and made merchandise of the holiest gift the world ever knew. Christ came to bring peace and we celebrate His coming by making peace impossible for six weeks of each year. Not peace but tension, fatigue, and irritation rule the Christmas season. He came to free us of debt and many respond by going deep into debt each year to buy enervating luxuries for people who do not appreciate them. He came to help the poor and we heap gifts upon those who do not need them. The simple token given out of love has been displaced by expensive presents given because we have been caught in a squeeze and don’t know how to back out of it.

So, we live between two mighty events—that of His incarnation, death, and resurrection, and that of His ultimate appearing and the glorification of those He died to save. This is the interim time for the saints—but it is not a vacuum. He has given us much to do and He asks for our faithfulness. In the meantime, we are zealous of good works, living soberly, righteously, godly in this present world, looking unto Him and His promise. In the midst of our lives, and between the two great mountain peaks of God’s acts in the world, we look back and remember, and we look forward and hope! As members of His own loving fellowship, we break the bread and drink the wine. We sing His praise and we pray in His Name, remembering and expecting!

Tozer is not one to leave you with warm fuzzy feelings, but he does make you think. And though the chapters seem a little disjointed, there is much good food for thought and conviction here.

Genre: Christian non-fiction
Objectionable elements: None.
My rating: 8 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)



Book Review: The Pursuit of God

Pursuit-of-GodI had not originally planned to reread The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer for Carrie‘s Reading to Know Classics Book Club, this month because I thought I had read it just last year. When I actually checked, however, what I had read last year was Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy. (Good thing I don’t rely much on my memory. 🙂 ) It had been years since I had read The Pursuit of God and I couldn’t remember much about it, so I decided to delve into it again. And I am glad I did.

In his preface, Tozer expresses concern that though there are good Bible teachers teaching vital right doctrine and the fundamentals of the faith, they seem “strangely unaware that in their ministry there is no manifest Presence,” that “God’s children [are] starving while actually seated at the Father’s table,” that “there may be a right opinion of God without either love or…right temper toward Him (pp. 8-9). “The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts” (p. 10). This book is his “modest attempt to aid God’s hungry children so to find Him” (p. 10).

The ten chapters explore different aspects or pursuing God. I had thought about jotting a few notes about each chapter as I finished and wish I had now.

The first chapter, “Following Hard After God,” reminds us that our pursuit of God is preceded by His pursuit of us. Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44a).  “The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him” (p. 12). “We Christians are in real danger of losing God amid the wonders of His Word. We have almost forgotten that God is a person and, as such, can be cultivated as any person can” (p. 13). We still pursue Him even after we first find Him, as Moses and David and others did. “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present” (p. 17). One of my all-time favorite quotes closes this chapter:

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long (p. 20).

The second chapter. “The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing,” according to the introduction “reflected his desperate struggle to turn his only daughter over to God” (p. 7). He begins by acknowledging that all good gifts come from God, but we have a tendency to grasp them for ourselves and even elevate them in our hearts rather than Him. Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.” In our pursuit of God, we need to come to a place of “having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (II Corinthians 6:10b), holding all things, as some have said, with an open hand, remembering that they are His to do with as He will.

We are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety; this is especially true when those treasures are loved relatives and friends. But we need have no such fears. Our Lord came not to destroy but to save. Everything is safe which we commit to Him, and nothing is really safe which is not so committed.

Our gifts and talents should also be turned over to Him. They should be recognized for what they are, God’s loan to us, and should never be considered in any sense our own. We have no more right to claim credit for special abilities than for blue eyes or strong muscles. “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?”

Since these truths must be learned by experience and not just as facts, sooner or later God will bring every one of His children through such a test as Abraham underwent with Isaac. Though the struggle is immense, when all is yielded to God, blessedness follows.

Chapter 3 speaks of removing the veil of self-life (“self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them”) which hinders our following God and our need of renunciating it. Chapter 4 talks about the reality of the invisible world and our need to set our hearts on unseen and eternal realities. Chapter 5 excellently explains the difference between pantheism (the mistaken thought that God is in everything) and God’s immanence, which means that God is everywhere. Since God is everywhere and wants to manifest Himself to people, “Why do some persons ‘find’ God in a way that others do not? Why does God manifest His Presence to some and let multitudes of others struggle along in the half-light of imperfect Christian experience?” (p. 67).

I venture to suggest that the one vital quality which they had in common was spiritual receptivity. Something in them was open to heaven, something which urged them Godward. Without attempting anything like a profound analysis I shall say simply that they had spiritual awareness and that they went on to cultivate it until it became the biggest thing in their lives. They differed from the average person in that when they felt the inward longing they did something about it. They acquired the lifelong habit of spiritual response. They were not disobedient to the heavenly vision. As David put it neatly, “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek” (p. 67).

Receptivity is not a single thing; it is a compound rather, a blending of several elements within the soul. It is an affinity for, a bent toward, a sympathetic response to, a desire to have. From this it may be gathered that it can be present in degrees, that we may have little or more or less, depending upon the individual. It may be increased by exercise or destroyed by neglect. It is not a sovereign and irresistible force which comes upon us as a seizure from above. It is a gift of God, indeed, but one which must be recognized and cultivated as any other gift if it is to realize the purpose for which it was given (pp. 68-69).

He then reminds that this takes time, something our instant and push-button generation needs to reminds ourselves of. “And always He is trying to get our attention, to reveal Himself to us, to communicate with us. We have within us the ability to know Him if we will but respond to His overtures. (And this we call pursuing God!) We will know Him in increasing degree as our receptivity becomes more perfect by faith and love and practice” (p. 71).

Chapter 6 explores the ways God speaks to us. Chapter 7, “The Gaze of the Soul,” perhaps my favorite, is about faith: not so much a definition as a study of how it works, what it looks like.

In the New Testament this important bit of history [Numbers 21:4-9] is interpreted for us by no less an authority than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is explaining to His hearers how they may be saved. He tells them that it is by believing. Then to make it clear He refers to this incident in the Book of Numbers. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Our plain man in reading this would make an important discovery. He would notice that “look” and “believe” were synonymous terms. “Looking” on the Old Testament serpent is identical with “believing” on the New Testament Christ. That is, the looking and the believing are the same thing. And he would understand that while Israel looked with their external eyes, believing is done with the heart. I think he would conclude that faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God. (pp. 88-89).

I made a note in my book that that is perhaps one reason why God often puts us in situations where we must look to Him, not just for salvation but for our everyday lives as well. “The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do” (p. 91).

“Neither does place matter in this blessed work of believing God. Lift your heart and let it rest upon Jesus and you are instantly in a sanctuary though it be a Pullman berth or a factory or a kitchen. You can see God from anywhere if your mind is set to love and obey Him” (pp. 94-95).

Another of my all-time favorite quotes is from this chapter:

Someone may fear that we are magnifying private religion out of all proportion, that the “us” of the New Testament is being displaced by a selfish “I.” Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified. The body becomes stronger as its members become healthier. The whole Church of God gains when the members that compose it begin to seek a better and a higher life (p. 96).

This is refreshing to me because there is such an emphasis on community today – a needed emphasis, but we can always get unbalanced one way or another. I don’t hear as much these days about being individually “tuned” to the Lord as I used to, yet without that, we’re not going to be of much use to each other when we do come together in community. But if each individual member is growing closer to the Lord and more like Christ, then we’ll become closer to and more unified with each other.

In chapter 8, “Restoring the Creator-Creature Relation, I have far too many places marked to reproduce here, and chapter 9, “Meekness and Rest,” contains another favorite and piercing quote:

The labor of self-love is a heavy one indeed. Think for yourself whether much of your sorrow has not arisen from someone speaking slightingly of you. As long as you set yourself up as a little god to which you must be loyal there will be those who will delight to offer affront to your idol. How then can you hope to have inward peace? The heart’s fierce effort to protect itself from every slight, to shield its touchy honor from the bad opinion of friend and enemy, will never let the mind have rest. Continue this fight through the years and the burden will become intolerable. Yet the sons of earth are carrying this burden continually, challenging every word spoken against them, cringing under every criticism, smarting under each fancied slight, tossing sleepless if another is preferred before them.

Such a burden as this is not necessary to bear. Jesus calls us to His rest, and meekness is His method (p. 112).

Chapter 10, “The Sacrament of Living,” talks about what it means to truly “do all to the glory of God” – not just spiritual exercises, but everyday life.

The “layman” need never think of his humbler task as being inferior to that of his minister. Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For such a man, living itself will be sacramental and the whole world a sanctuary. His entire life will be a priestly ministration. As he performs his never so simple task he will hear the voice of the seraphim saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (p. 127).

I echo Tozer’s closing prayer in the book” “I beseech Thee so for to cleanse the intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of Thy grace, that I may perfectly love Thee and worthily praise Thee” (p. 128).

I hope you’ll forgive the lengthiness of this review. I was just thinking recently, in wondering how to cultivate time for other writing, whether to make shorter work of the book reviews I write, especially since they don’t seem to be viewed as much as other blog posts. But I write them not just for blog readers, but also as a reminder to myself not only as I go through a book but also as I look back on it in the future.

There is good reason this book is a Christian classic, and I heartily recommend it to you. I am sure I will revisit it again a number of times in the future. At the moment it is 99 cents for the Kindle and free online at Project Gutenberg, and of course it is available as a paper and ink or audiobook as well.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Book Review: The Knowledge of the Holy

Knowledge of the HolyI read The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer some years decades ago, but The Cloud of Witnesses Challenge inspired me to pick it up again, and I am so glad I did.

“True religion confronts earth with heaven and brings eternity to bear upon time,” Tozer begins. He writes that the church has lost its view of the majesty of God and their awe of Him, and that in turn is having an effect on what kinds of Christians it is producing (if that was true at the time of the book’s publication in 1961, how much more is is true now!) “No people has ever risen above its religion…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” (p. 1).

“A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God” (p. 3).

“The one mighty single burden of eternity begins to press down upon him with a weight more crushing than all the woes of the world piled one upon another. That mighty burden is his obligation to God. It includes an instant and lifelong duty to love God with every power of mind and soul, to obey Him perfectly, and to worship Him acceptably. And when the man’s laboring conscience tells him that he has done none of these things, but has from childhood been guilty of foul revolts against the Majesty in the heavens, the inner pressure of self-accusation may become too heavy to bear.

The gospel can lift this destroying burden from the mind, give beauty for ashes, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. But unless the weight of the burden is felt, the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden. Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them” (p. 4).

Tozer’s purpose, then is to help people think about God “as He is in Himself, and not as…imagination says He is” (p. 16), at least as much as we can know about Him from His Word, for we could never comprehend Him totally. He does so in readable everyday language rather than that of a theologian.

“The study of the attributes of God, far from being dull and heavy, may for the enlightened Christian be a sweet and absorbing spiritual exercise. To the soul that is athirst for God, nothing could be more delightful” (p. 19).

After a chapter on the Trinity and on what an attribute is, Tozer then discusses some of God’s attributes one by one, from omniscience, self-sufficiency, and self-existence to His justice, love, mercy, grace and several others. As He discusses each one, he also discusses how they relate to each other.

“I think it might be demonstrated that almost every heresy that has afflicted the church through the years has arisen from believing about God things that are not true, or from over emphasizing certain true things so as to obscure other things equally true. To magnify any attribute to the exclusion of another is to head straight for one of the dismal swamps of theology; and yet we are all constantly tempted to do just that” (p. 123).

“We can hold a correct view of truth only by daring to believe everything God has said about Himself. It is a grave responsibility that a man takes upon himself when he seeks to edit out of God’s self-revelation such features as he in his ignorance deems objectionable. Blindness in part must surely fall upon any of us presumptuous enough to attempt such a thing. And it is wholly uncalled for. We need not fear to let the truth stand as it is written. There is no conflict among the divine attributes. God’s being is unitary. He cannot divide Himself and act at a given time from one of His attributes while the rest remain inactive. All that God is must accord with all that God does. Justice must be present in mercy, and love in judgment. And so with all the divine attributes” (p. 124).

“God is never at cross-purposes with Himself. No attribute of God is in conflict with another” (p. 136).

“Both the Old and the New Testaments proclaim the mercy of God, but the Old has more than four times as much to say about it as the New” (p. 140). (Interesting! Especially as people seem to think the NT is more “merciful” than the Old.)

“When viewed from the perspective of eternity, the most critical need of this hour may well be that the Church should be brought back from its long Babylonian captivity and the name of God be glorified in it again as of old. Yet we must not think of the Church as an anonymous body, a mystical religious abstraction. We Christians are the Church, and whatever we do is what the Church is doing. The matter, therefore, is for each of us a personal one. Any forward step in the Church must begin with the individual” (p. 180).

It’s not unusual for me to think of God as He is or to think high thoughts of Him: that comes with having regular times in the Word of God and hearing His Word proclaimed by faithful preachers. Yet too often my response is something like “Wow, that’s neat!” or a quick prayer of thanks as I go on to the next verse or go about the tasks for the day. Having this sustained time of focusing on what He says about Himself and Who He is has been both humbling and uplifting. I highly recommend this book to everyone.

I wanted to say just a word about reading what some friends have called “deep” books. It’s actually been a long time since I’ve read this kind of book, and I’m thankful to the The Cloud of Witnesses Challenge for encouraging me to get back into them. It works best for me to read a little bit from a book like this after my regular devotional time. It’s not that I couldn’t pick it up at odd times during the day and get something out of it, but personally I just get more out of it by regularly plodding through in the morning before my attention is diverted. For some people other times of day work best. Mere Christianity was a little easier to do this with because the chapters were very short: the chapters here were longer, so some days I was only able to read a few pages at a time. Someone encouraged me once that just fifteen minutes a day in a book will eventually get you through it, and get you through more in a year than you’d think. Neither of these books was hard to read or understand.

I’ll close as Tozer does:

Thus far we have considered the individual’s personal relation to God, but like the ointment of a man’s right hand, which by its fragrance “betrayeth itself,” any intensified knowledge of God will soon begin to affect those around us in the Christian community. And we must seek purposefully to share our increasing light with the fellow members of the household of God.

This we can best do by keeping the majesty of God in full focus in all our public services. Not only our private prayers should be filled with God, but our witnessing, our singing, our preaching, our writing should center around the Person of our holy, holy Lord and extol continually the greatness of His dignity and power. There is a glorified Man on the right hand of the Majesty in heaven faithfully representing us there. We are left for a season among men; let us faithfully represent Him here (pp. 183-184).

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)