A. W. Tozer on Our Neglect of the Holy Spirit

A W Tozer

A. W. Tozer‘s book, Knowledge of the Holy, is a favorite of mine. One of my college roommates was highly influenced by another of his books, The Pursuit of God. The rest of Tozer’s work is, in my opinion, a bit hit and miss, but I came across this treasure from him on the neglect of the Holy Spirit. While the words were written more than 50 years ago, I think they are just as relevant today.

A doctrine has practical value only as far as it is prominent in our thoughts and makes a difference in our lives. By this test the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as held by evangelical Christians today has almost no practical value at all. In most Christian churches the Spirit is quite entirely overlooked. Whether He is present or absent makes no real difference to anyone. Brief reference is made to Him in the Doxology and the Benediction. Further than that He might well as not exist. So completely do we ignore Him that it is only by courtesy that we can be called Trinitarian….

…The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of life and light and love. In His uncreated nature He is a boundless sea of fire, flowing, moving ever, performing as He moves the eternal purposes of God. Toward nature He performs one sort of work, toward the world another and toward the Church still another. And every act of His accords with the will of the Triune God. Never does He act on impulse nor move after a quick or arbitrary decision. Since He is the Spirit of the Father He feels toward His people exactly as the Father feels, so there need be on our part no sense of strangeness in His presence. He will always act like Jesus, toward sinners in compassion, toward saints in warm affection, toward human suffering in tenderest pity and love.

It is time for us to repent, for our transgressions against the blessed Third Person have been many and much aggravated. We have bitterly mistreated Him in the house of His friends. We have crucified Him in His own temple as they crucified the Eternal Son on the hill above Jerusalem. And the nails we used were not of iron, but of the finer and more precious stuff of which human life is made. Out of our hearts we took the refined metals of will and feeling and thought, and from them we fashioned the nails of suspicion and rebellion and neglect. By unworthy thoughts about Him and unfriendly attitudes toward Him days without end.

Excerpted from “The Forgotten One,” from God’s Pursuit of Man.

Five from A. W. Tozer

This past week, I read Lyle Dorsett’s recent biography of Aiden W. Tozer (1897-1963), A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer. Tozer is the author of many books but is especially well-regarded for his timeless works The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy (one of my favorite books of all time). I read the book out of my great respect for Tozer but also because Lyle Dorsett was a mentor of mine through college and afterwards.

Here are five things that I gleaned from this book that have me thinking about my faith and ministry differently these days:

  1. A. W. Tozer was a man of prayer. While many of speak about prayer and urge the necessity of prayer, Aiden Tozer was a man who prayed. Dorsett writes: “Tozer spent incalculable hours in prayer. Most of his prolonged prayer time – with his bible and hymnals as his only companions – took place in his church office…He maintained that anyone who wanted to know Christ better and love Him more must devote time to closet prayer” (122-123). Surely we can pray without ceasing throughout our days, but I must ask whether or not we are the kind of people who draw near in prayer alone with God daily?
  2. A. W. Tozer spoke prophetically. In an era that was dominated by ever-increasing attention to ‘trends’ in the church and effective ‘methods’ of ministry, Tozer spoke out powerfully for a return to biblical Christianity focused on the greatness of God. Tozer was  not impressed with what he termed “the Hollywood mentality” (179) of sensational activity and big name preachers that was invading the church of his time. He spoke out against it strongly and was unpopular for it. Still, his words resound today as a critique of the times in which we find ourselves.
  3. A. W. Tozer sought the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Shortly after his conversion as a teenager, Tozer was lead into a deeper experience of the Holy Spirit through the prayers of others. While not necessarily Pentecostal in outlook, Tozer had what Dorsett termed “a robust view of the Holy Spirit.” This impacted Tozer’s view of God but also his approach to ministry. He was dramatically reliant upon the Holy Spirit for effectiveness in ministry, which leads right into this next point about his preaching.
  4. A. W. Tozer preached from his experience of God not just abstract knowledge. Pastors are sometimes tempted to talk about God at arm’s length, as if the Holy One is a subject to be examined. Tozer did nothing of the sort. His talk about God flowed from his experience of God. Dorsett reflects: “Tozer’s investment in prayer time with God was…the source of his anointing and power through the pulpit and pen” (132). It was from his personal encounters with the Holy God that Tozer could communicate so powerfully about the Holy God to others. I was challenged as a pastor to consider whether I am doing the same.
  5. A. W. Tozer loved Jesus, but was not affectionate with his family. One theme that runs through Dorsett’s biography of Tozer is the fact that although Tozer loved Jesus Christ thoroughly and was completely surrendered in ministry, he failed to really give the necessary emotional and practical support to his wife, Ada, and seven children. This was succinctly summarized by his wife Ada’s statement, where she reflected on her life after Aiden’s death and second marriage to Leonard Odam: “I have never been happier in my life. Aiden loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me” (160). As I reflected on this with my own wife, Kelly, she mentioned that ideally love of Jesus would flow into healthy love of others, particularly our families. I agree, but the story is too often the same that those who are deeply committed to the ministry of Jesus seem to overlook their families. As pastors, we do well to give attention to our own ‘little flock’ of family!

Further online resources related to A. W. Tozer are: