Think of it this way. Before there was the book The Holiness of God, by R. C. Sproul (1986), and Knowing God, by J. I. Packer (1973), there was Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy (1961), and The Pursuit of God, (1948). True, there were other American evangelicals writing powerful single volume books on God before this—one thinks of A.W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God (1918), and his The Attributes of God (1930). But Tozer filled the gap for a generation and his books continue to draw many into a deeper knowledge of God.
Tozer was a self taught, evangelical mystic who cultivated a close fellowship with God and sensed God’s presence everywhere. He called the church to pursue God with head and heart. He emphasized the Word and the Spirit. But he also warned that it would cost something to “walk slow in the parade of the ages” with other godly saints seeking God rather than doing what was popular or pursuing the American dream. Perhaps that is why such a broad range of evangelicals leaders, including Martin Lloyd-Jones, sought him out and appreciated his ministry and fellowship.
A.W. Tozer came from a small farming community in western, Pennsylvania. As a boy he seldom attended church. Because of his father’s ill health, the young Aiden assumed responsibilities for the farm, that is, until they sold it and he took up factory work in Akron, Ohio.
Tozer was converted in his teen years. While on his way home from work at a tire company, he overheard a street preacher say: “If you don’t know how to be saved….just call on God.” Upon returning home, he went up to his attic and did what the preacher said, soon thereafter joining the Methodist Episcopal Church.
At age 15, Tozer enrolled in high school, but after one day of school, he decided he could make better progress on his own by independent reading and study than he could by the school’s standard curriculum!
He began his public ministry preaching as an evangelist on the streets of Akron. Later, he pastored three churches (in West Virginia, Chicago and Toronto) in the Christian Missionary and Alliance denomination (for a 44 year long ministry).
Tozer was one of that rare breed who did not attend Bible college or seminary, yet became editor of the Alliance Weekly magazine (the official publication of the CMA), authored over 40 books, and received two honorary doctorates.
Two of Tozer’s best known classics are The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy.
Of The Pursuit of God, Tozer wrote, this book is a modest attempt to aid God’s hungry children so to find him. Nothing here is new except in the sense that it is a discovery which my own heart has made of spiritual realities most delightful and wonderful to me. Others before me have gone much further into these holy mysteries than I have done, but if my fire is not large it is yet real, and there may be those who can light their candle at its flame.”
Tozer admitted that he wrote this book on his knees. It is an easy-to-read book that should be read slowly.
He wrote, “We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. “No man can come to me,” said our Lord, “except the father which hat h sent me draw him” (p. 11). God, he said, is always previous.
But pursuing God is a life-long vocation. “To have found God and still to pursue him is the soul’s paradox of love,” he wrote (p. 15). Because our happiness is in God we must pursue him. So Tozer urged his readers to “follow hard after God.”
In The Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer wrote a study of the attributes of God and their meaning in the Christian life. He began his popular book with the memorable sentence–“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (p. 9).
The Knowledge of the Holy bears eloquent witness to God’s majesty, encourages reverent meditation on the being of God, and offers a way to bring back spiritual power to our lives.
When I first read these books, both of them helped me realize the greatness of God. He was much bigger than I had previously thought! I like books which make that happen.
Of course, there were other themes that Tozer wrote passionately about. He said that the love and grace of Christ were a source of recurring astonishment in his life. He wrote a lot about abiding in Christ. Tozer felt that doctrine and devotion must go hand in hand. Correct doctrine without the power of Christ does not get us far. For without Christ, Tozer said, we can do nothing.
Like every Christian leader, Tozer had his flaws and was a sinner who needed a savior. I don’t agree with everything that he writes. He vigorously opposed new Bible translations. He was against Christian movies. His marriage to his wife Ada, is not something I’d seek to imitate.
Theologically, Tozer is an Arminian. But he is one of my favorite Arminians.
He has been helpful to me and many others on our journey of discipleship. He was a godly man who had a great love for God. Besides that, he is a great writer with the gift of articulating deep spiritual truth clearly. That’s why I still recommend that people read his classics and devotional material.
And that’s enough reason for pausing on the 50th anniversary of his death to thank God yet again, for the life of one who has helped so many catch a vision of God.