I 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.)