Biography of A.W. Tozer
Aiden Wilson Tozer was a titan in the Christian Church in the first half of the twentieth century. At the age of seventeen, Aiden Tozer was walking down the street when he heard a street preacher called out the words that would change the young man’s life, “If you don’t know how to be saved, just call on God.” This leads Tozer on a life of seeking after the God who saves.
As he would eventually be known, A.W. Tozer began his ministerial career in 1919, five years after that encounter with the street preacher. With no formal Christian training, he accepted a pastoral position in Nutter Fort, West Virginia, with a small collection of churches eventually known as the Christian Alliance and Missionary Alliance. Tozer would pastor three congregations, leaving Nutter Fort for Chicago, Illinois, and finally spending his final years in Toronto, Canada.
Tozer was a prolific writer, and his writings have stimulated many in the modern church. In his lifetime, A.W. Tozer wrote twelve books and four booklets; additional compilations of his writings, forty-eight, and counting, have been published posthumously, the most recent of which was in 2014. Thus, this young man from rural Pennsylvania has left behind a legacy that includes his written works, an impact on the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, a seminary in Redding, California named after him, and the deepening of the spiritual lives of countless Christians around the world.
Summary of The Knowledge of the Holy by Chapter
In A. W. Tozer’s eleventh book, The Knowledge of the Holy, the author confronts what he feels is a great abandonment of the Church, “the concept of majesty.” This understanding of majesty is something that Tozer believes has been lost because the modern Christian of his time was not versed in the classical writings of theologians such as Augustine and Anselm, the latter of which Tozer speaks particularly highly of throughout his writing. Though in his preface, Tozer shares how he does not set out to write in a lofty way, he intends to challenge the average Christian believer in their understanding of the very nature of God. It is here that we now turn our attention to the topics that Tozer covers in his writing.
In the first chapter entitled, “Why We Must Think Rightly About God,” Tozer seeks to help the Christian begin the process of viewing God in better terms. From the beginning, Tozer states, “Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.” It is statements such as this that set the reader on a path of having their very thoughts about God challenged. Yet it’s within this challenge that Tozer reveals that when a Christian has these higher thoughts of God, that they will then be “relieved of ten thousand temporal problems.”
These high thoughts and the relief they can bring to the believer are not left there, however. For, as Tozer puts forward when one’s thoughts of God become higher, the weight of the gospel can truly be felt. This concept carries the idea that the more one understands the enormity of who God is, the higher thoughts, the more gravity one thinks in the knew understanding one now has of who God is and how God relates to humanity.
Tozer contrasts these higher thoughts of God with the ideas that humanity tends to have concerning him, that of idolatry. Following this trail of unworthy thoughts, Tozer writes, “The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thought about God that are unworthy of Him.” It is these low and unworthy thoughts, which to Tozer lead idolatry, that he ends his first chapter with a connection between low thoughts on God and the decline of the Church in the world. For Tozer, as the thoughts of the Church become low, so do the worship, and moral standards decline. Yet, though the author sees this decline, there is hope. This hope is the elevation of God in the thoughts of his people. It is this same elevation that Tozer spends the following twenty-two short chapters exploring.
In the second chapter entitled, “God Incomprehensible,” Tozer seeks to unpack the concept of mystery that he brought up in the preface to his book. This mystery of God and his incomprehensibility leads us to realize that our language falls short. By referencing several passages of the Bible, Tozer seeks to show how human language cannot be direct in describing God but instead must fall “back upon the language of resemblance.” This language that the Bible uses shows us that words cannot do justice to who God is. Instead, we must recognize that our language fails in its ability to communicate the totality of God. In that inability, Tozer seeks to make us understand the mystery of God. This is where Tozer brings the reader to the realization that only through faith, trust in God’s revealing may we begin to understand who this God truly is.
In the closing pages of the second chapter, Tozer proceeds to have a rhetorical conversation. The question is rhetorically proposed, “What is God like?” To this, Tozer responds, “If by that question we mean, ‘What is God like in Himself?’” The writer believes that there is an answer and a satisfactory one at that. Tozer ends his chapter with this answer, which is found in God’s self-disclosure by revealing himself. Which, Tozer states, “These we call His attributes.”
Whereas Tozer’s first chapter challenges the reader to begin to think differently about God, the second chapter challenges the reader to recognize the vastness of God. Human language, in these first two chapters, is being challenged. Tozer seeks to show the reader that they cannot seek to begin to understand the mystery of Who God is through their ability. Instead, if one seeks an understanding of God, they must seek it on God’s terms. In the next chapter, the author aims to unpack the concept that he ends with in chapter two, the concept of attributes.
Arriving at chapter three, Tozer begins by giving the reader a definition of attribute that he will use as his basis. This definition focuses not on how humanity describes God but rather on how God reveals himself to humanity. This concept of God being beyond us, therefore it must be him that seeks to reveal himself, is a concept that is carried as an underlying current throughout this book. This idea of self-revelation leads humanity to the place where they may begin to understand God. As Tozer puts forth, God must reveal himself so that people can have “an intellectual response” to him.
There are two avenues of God’s self-revelation that Tozer puts forth. The first of these is the creation that surrounds the reader. To this revelation, Tozer states that it “is not held with much vigor by modern Christians.” Yet, the author believes that it is vital in understanding the self-revelation of God. This first avenue gives a general sense of who God is and can lead an individual into a place where they begin to seek the God who is Creator.
The second avenue that Tozer puts forth is that of the Bible. This second self-revelation tool provides a more specific path of uncovering who the Creator is. Tozer proceeds to then use both avenues of self-revelation as complements to each other. The author gives a brief exploration of how the writers of the Bible used the creation to understand better how God reveals himself. This, in turn, helps the reader know that the Bible reveals specific attributes of the Creator, which in turn gives a better foundation on which to understand God’s attributes.
Within these two avenues of self-revelation that Tozer establishes, the reader is given a reminder that, “We must break ourselves of the habit of thinking of the Creator as we think of His creatures.” Tozer brings to the forefront a habit that he sees as easy for Christians to fall into, using the language of the creation for the Creator. Though both avenues of God’s self-revelation do use the language of humanity, Tozer warns the reader to be cautious, breaking the habit, how the reader uses the language of the creation and placing on to God. Tozer writes that when attributes are related to a person, they are “parts” of that person. In other words, they are puzzle pieces of who a person is, yet, the author puts forth, this is not so with God. God’s attributes do not form who he is; instead, God is who he is and reveals his wholeness to creation. To put this into perspective, Tozer writes, “All of God does all that God does; He doe not divide himself to perform a work, but works in the total unity of His being.”
Therefore Tozer seeks the reader to understand that, though we must use imprecise human language to understand God, we do not confuse the Creator with the creation. Where humanity is knitted together by divine action, thereby a creation of parts, God is not. The author seeks to have the reader conclude that God’s attributes are not parts of him but simply how God is always. In other words, as humanity sees God and encounters different attributes, omniscience, love, sovereignty, these are not puzzle pieces that makeup God, but rather God as he was, is, and will always be. From this mystery, these higher thoughts of God, Tozer begins to unpack nineteen of these attributes.
In chapter four, Tozer begins with one of the great mysteries of God, “The Holy Trinity.” The author writes, “Our sincerest effort to grasp the incompressible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.” From the opening page of Tozer’s fourth chapter, the author acknowledges the mystery surrounding how God is a trinity. Tozer reiterates this need for mystery by emphasizing the need to have faith in this attribute. The author warns about the need to thoroughly understand this attribute, something he does not believe is warranted in following God, nor is it needed. This warning is given to the reader that they would not base God’s self-revelation on the ability of the creature to comprehend the Creator before they are willing to accept the Creator’s self-revealing.
Once the warning is given, Tozer proceeds to speak about the Holy Trinity through both Church creeds and biblical revelation. Through this, the author seeks to help the reader understand that within this concept of God as “Trinity in Unity,” all the actions of God make sense within the revealed Word of God. Creation, salvation, glorification all work themselves out within the God who is Trinity in Unity. That to both separate and to unify, fall short of grasping the Godhead. This concept of the mystery of God as Trinity in Unity is summed up in one of the poems Tozer sites by Frederick W. Fader, “O Blessed Trinity! O simplest Majesty! O Three in One!…One God, we praise Thee.”
From the mystery of God, Trinity in Unity, Tozer turns the readers to the attribute of God’s self-existence. In the opening pages of Tozer’s fifth chapter, he seeks to help the reader understand the uniqueness of God in creation. Whereas everything the reader experiences is based on “came from” reality, God is not like that. God comes from nowhere because he has always been. Unlike humanity that comes from a previous generation going back for the whole of human history, God has no origin. As Tozer points out, it is a complex concept for the created to understand.
Yet, as Tozer points out, understanding God’s self-existence helps the reader see the interconnectedness of where they find themselves separated from God. Tozer points the reader to realize that God is self-existent and that humanity’s desire to be self-sufficient apart from God is the essence of sin. For God to be self-existent is to be who he is. For humanity to attempt self-existent is to try and be something they are not. Tozer uses both avenues of God’s self-revelation to aid in this understanding. First using creation, Tozer equates God to the Sun to which all things revolve; humanity was created to revolve around God, yet in the desire to be self-existent ourselves, humanity falls into sin by trying to become their own independent suns.
The author then turns to the second avenue of revelation, pointing to Moses, Paul, and Isaiah. God the name that Moses is to know him by, I AM THAT I AM, to which Tozer points us to God’s uniqueness apart from the creation. The reader is then directed to Paul, who realizes that he fights against this need for independence from God. Finally, Tozer ends his chapter with a quote from the book of Isaiah that speaks of sheep who have made their own way. From this, Tozer follows by stating, “I believe that no more accurate description of sin has ever been given.” Tozer seeks to point the reader to realize that whereas God is self-existent, humanity was created to be dependent; seeking one’s own self-existence is in direct opposition to the Creator. This leads naturally into Tozer’s chapter on God’s self-sufficiency.
Chapter six opens with the words of Jesus in John 5:26. Tozer uses these words of Jesus as a jumping-off point in writing about the self-sufficiency of God. Throughout the sixth chapter, Tozer focuses’ less on God’s self-sufficiency but instead spends most of the time speaking on the reader’s misunderstanding of the topic. In the first two opening pages, Tozer helps the reader understand that God requires nothing. Unlike all of creation that needs something else to survive, God needs nothing. For a created being, contingent on other things to sustain themselves, Tozer points out that this would trouble a thinking man. Tozer states, “if we cannot know why [God created the universe], we can at least know that He did not bring His worlds into being to meet some unfulfilled need in Himself.”
Tozer turns the reader’s attention to the reality that this is hard for a created being to grasp because it goes against one’s entire lived experience. Everywhere the reader looks, there is a natural need, yet in God, there is none. Tozer gets at the heart of the biblical message that concerns itself with both the party of God and the party of man, yet its central point is not man but God. God’s self-sufficiency is counterintuitive to the creature’s mind, and it’s in that state that Tozer sees hope. When a person begins to realize that they require God, and not the other way around, then the whole of who God is and the relationship his creation has with him becomes clearer. The mystery then for this relationship is not what need did God create us to fulfill, but instead what purpose does a self-sufficient God seek to created contingent beings?
Tozer seems to want the reader to grapple with this very thought, for he addresses this apparent conflict. If a self-sufficient God needs nothing, what would the purpose be of a creation dependent on him? To this, Tozer directs the reader to realize that this might seem contradictory and antithetical. Yet, through communion with God, the deficiency is not in the reality of God’s self-sufficiency but rather in the creatures’ “sin-damaged mind.” Thus, through the communion of obedience, one may realize that God requires nothing yet works out, in the lives of his creatures, his sufficiency for them.
From God’s self-sufficiency, Tozer now turns to his chapter on “The Eternity of God.” In this seventh chapter, Tozer reflects on the everlastingness of who God is against the finite construct that humanity lives in. Tozer writes that God’s everlasting state of being is foundational to all tenants of the Christian faith. To understand the concept of God’s eternal state of being, Tozer tries to help the reader remove God from the time itself. Time itself is a created thing, and therefore, since God is self-existing and self-sufficient, God is not seized by the powers of time. On the other hand, God’s creation is enclosed by time, and like the previous chapters, to think of God outside of time, God sees the whole scope of time, which can be challenging for the reader to ponder.
Yet, unlike the previous two chapters, where the concepts seem counterintuitive to the creature’s mind, the idea of eternity, though obtuse, is not so unfamiliar. As Tozer points out, “For we are made for eternity as certainly as we are made for time.” Though humanity lives explicitly within the confines of the temporal world, there is a desire for the eternal. Tozer recognizes this through the use of the Bible and the musings of poets. Because of the yearning that humanity has for the eternal, the message of Christ rings so true for Tozer.
Upon the three previous chapters, Tozer now turns the reader’s attention to God’s boundless nature. Up to this point, though Tozer has encouraged the reader to lose the creature mentality of words when it comes to God, it is at this point when talking about God’s Infinitude that Tozer sees the most difficulty. The reason for this is that there is nothing that is without limit in the whole of creation. Tozer uses a myriad of words within the vernacular of the English language that is used to describe limitless things, yet he shows that these words are misused time and time again. This leads to Tozer stating, “Infinitude can belong to but One. There can be no second.”
To this, Tozer brings the reader even deeper into the limitlessness of who God is by pondering the thought that God has not revealed other attributes to us. The author thinks on God’s boundless being and comes to a place where even what God has revealed to humanity is not all that he is. It is there that Tozer backs up and begins to ponder what is given to creation. Words such as mercy; God’s mercy is boundless to those who seek it. Here Tozer points the reader to see God as, unlike anything that one could understand. A Being without any of the limits; a Being that has no borders, nor anything that could hold him back. This naturally leads to Tozer’s ninth chapter.
In chapter nine of The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer writes of the immutability of God. Unlike the last several attributes that the writer has covered, Tozer writes that the immutability of God is one that we can grasp if we are disciplined to do so. To grasp this topic, Tozer proceeds to give three ways a moral person could change: better to worse, worse to better, or if moral stability is steady, then a change within the being must occur. Yet, as the author points out, any change would nullify those previous attributes due to the attributes that have been covered up to this point in his writing. Therefore a self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, and infinite God cannot be better than he is. If such a being could change, they would no longer be any of those other attributes. Therefore, a changing god is no god at all, instead simply more advanced along the development scale.
Rather than a God who changes, it is the man who changes towards the immutable God. It is in the changing of humanity towards God that Tozer finds beauty. Not only does this bring about beauty in Tozer’s perspective, but it also works for those who would be children of God. Tozer writes that those who would be God’s children are brought closer to God’s immutable characteristic through the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. This is coupled with the understanding that God infuses this eternal, immutable life into the believer through the repentant heart.
Like the previous chapter on the self-existence of God, Tozer tackles the question of what does the attribute of God being immutable has to do with the average person? To this, Tozer answers that for the unbeliever, it means nothing. Only to the believer does this attribute bring great hope; hope that though a person might do wrong, God’s immutable love for the sinner is still as true today as it was for those that walked next to Jesus. Tozer uses this understanding of hope in the believers’ life based on God’s immutability to remind the reader that “all change must be on our part.” Tozer ends his chapter encouraging the reader that through their change, we can experience the power of God in their lives.
“The Divine Omniscience” is the title of A.W. Tozer’s tenth chapter. Within the opening paragraph, Tozer understands that omniscience does not simply mean all knowledge but that God has no need to learn. It is from here that the author begins to use negatives to help in his explanation. Tozer uses the idea of God sitting at the feet of a teacher, which leads to an absurdity in the reader’s mind since the author has brought the reader this far in the attributes. Nevertheless, it is through the negative that Tozer can communicate the attribute of omniscience.
At this point, Tozer then brings the reader to a point where they can begin to understand that if God has the attributes that have been discussed up to this point in the book, then it makes perfect sense that he has all the knowledge to create and govern all that is within the sphere of creation. It is because God can know all things that comfort is brought to the believer’s life. As Tozer emphasizes, there is nothing in the life of a believer that is unknown to God. If this is correct, the believer can be assured that God knows them, unlike anyone could, yet still seeks to extend compassion towards them.
Following A.W. Tozer’s chapter on God’s omniscience, he brings to the forefront God’s wisdom. In chapter eleven, the writer takes the attribute of God’s perfect knowledge to a practical application. Wisdom, in general, as Tozer states, is “the ability to devise perfect ends and to achieve those ends by the most perfect means.” God’s omniscience leads to him knowing all things, and it is his wisdom that works all things out to achieve his perfect ends. Like Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss, who Tozer references, this concept of God’s wisdom in a world where evil occurs is mocked by those who cannot conceive of God working all things out for good.
It is here that Tozer gives feet to this attributed, reminding the believer that God “constantly spreads around us providential circumstances that work for our present good.” For the unbeliever, the wisdom of God looks like foolishness, whereas the believer sees the wisdom of God guiding and directing their life to achieve good for themselves and those they encounter. Through God’s wisdom, Tozer reminds the reader that God desires a person to trust in him. As he moves the world closer to the inevitable day where all things will be made new, God works every moment of a believer’s life to a good end.
Entering the second half of the book, A.W. Tozer begins to make connections for the reader between the various attributes of God. First, Tozer connects the attribute of God’s omnipotence to God being infinite and self-existent. In chapter twelve, Tozer defines omnipotence as meaning “having all the power.” To this, Tozer adds that logically follow-through: because God is the only infinite self-existent being, he is without limitation; due to this, whatever power he wields must, in turn, be limitless. This results in a simple deduction that God is omnipotent because his power is limited by nothing. It then follows that due to God’s self-sustaining attribute, any power which he gives or delegates does not diminish him, for as Tozer notes, “All that He gives remains His own and returns to Him again.”
Here, Tozer addresses those who would see the world around them and attribute the occurrences in nature to simple acts of nature instead of their source. Tozer points to a dichotomy of how the ancients viewed this power in heart; God was active and personal. This is contrasted with the model world, where instead of a dynamic and personal being working his power out in the world, the acts themselves are hailed as all there is; this leads to an impersonal world and unsatisfying life. Tozer completes his thought by pointing out that modern man looks at the “footprints of God,” whereas the believer must look for “the One who treads the path.”
In chapter thirteen, Tozer tackles the attribute of God’s transcendence. The author’s definition of transcendence is that God is “exalted far beyond the created universe.” Tozer approaches this attribute leaning into an analogy to help with the reader’s understanding. From an analogy about a wondrous vista and lost child to an archangel and caterpillar, the former pointing the reader to understand how the abstract can help with such ideas as transcendence, while the latter helps the reader to understand just what is meant by God’s transcendence. The angel and the caterpillar analogy brings with it a clearer sense of what A.W. Tozer is trying to convey. With the separation between the two parties, i.e., angel and bug, the distance between creation and Creator can be better understood. Yet, Tozer challenges the reader to see this gulf as greater because the angel and bug, though vastly separated, are still of the same material. This material essence binds the two closer than creation and Creator, who are of different essences.
At this intersection of realization, the gulf between creation and Creator, Tozer begins to discuss how God is no longer treated as transcendent in everyday life. The author begins by writing on how men of faith in the past lived reverent lives in the reality of God being feared. This contrasts with the men of his contemporary time who treat God as an “equal.” Next, Tozer uses encounters by Daniel and Saul to illustrated a correct response that humanity should have when speaking of God’s transcendence. Finally, the author writes, “These experiences show that a vision of the divine transcendence soon ends all controversy between the man and his God.” In his writing on the attributes this far, it seems that God’s transcendence is an attribute that Tozer believes to be the most under-appreciated in a person’s daily life.
From God’s transcendence, A. W. Tozer moves to God’s omnipresence. Whereas God’s transcendent attribute reveals the gulf between the creature and Creator, the attribute of omnipresence reveals the closeness of God to the creature. By addressing these two attributes one after another, Tozer seeks to help the reader understand that both attributes are not only accurate but necessary in one’s basic understanding of God. Tozer also builds on previous attributes, namely God’s infinitude, by pointing to God’s infinite attribute to emphasize his infinite presence. In other words, in all things that God reveals himself, he is infinite in all of them.
As Tozer has done in previous chapters, the author addresses how God’s omnipresence impacts daily life. In this case, Tozer addresses the state of the world; how it runs and works. The author uses a quote by Hildebert of Lavardin to help in this area. Hildebert uses the language of God being wholly; wholly around, in, above, below, these are just some of how Hildebert describes God as omnipresent. Tozer also shares a short story about Canon W.G.H Holmes and his interaction with some Hindu worshipers. These worshipers were “tapping on trees and stones and whispering ‘Are you there?’” Tozer emphatically answers their question that “God is indeed there.” Tozer clarifies what he means by writing that God is immediately present and accessible for those seeking him.
It is God’s ever presence in the lives of his creation that Tozer points to as a source of “moral happiness most of the time” and a place where one can be rejoicing. However, the author is not saying that a person experiencing the presence of God will always be happy; what he is saying is that in the presence of God, even sorrow can find room to rejoice. Thus, to Tozer, God’s omnipresence “cures our ills before they become fatal.” Here, Tozer ends his chapter with the encouraging words of both Dr. Allen Fleece and the lyricist Gerhard Tersteegen.
Chapter fifteen seems to constellate A.W. Tozer’s thoughts thus far in his book. The first four paragraphs focus on reminding the reader that every attribute of God is inseparable from each other. This reminder of God’s attributes being working in tandem at all times continues throughout the chapter, with Tozer stating that God “cannot divide Himself and act at a given time from one of His attributes while the rest remain inactive.” The author’s point here is that through the other attributes of God that have been dealt with thus far in the book, each one leads into, builds upon, and is active in the execution of the others. Once Tozer attends to this point, he then moves on to the subject of the chapter, God’s faithfulness.
Tozer points out that “Men are unfaithful…because of some strong influence.” Since all of God’s attributes work together, nothing would make him divert what he has previously said. There is no force from without that would cause God to change because his attributes do not allow for anything to be more excellent outside of God. In addition, there is nothing inside of God that would cause God to change because his attributes are interconnected and work in tandem. It is then, Tozer’s opinion, that every heresy of the church stems from disbelieving in God’s attributes or either underemphasizing or overemphasizing one or more. To this, Tozer employers the reader to remember that all of God works in unison, which leads to God’s faithfulness.
To the one who trusts in God, Tozer emphatically encourages that they will find “nourishing food for the soul.” Tozer connects the immutable facts of God’s personhood found in theology to the heart of those who trust in God. There, of the author, is found comfort and joy. To know that the transcendent God, so high above his creation, is not only present with his creation but true to every word he has spoken to said creation. Tozer ends with writing, “He will ever be true to His pledge and word.”
“The Goodness of God” is the chapter title for Tozer’s sixteenth chapter. Unlike previous chapters, the definition that the author uses is not as straightforward as previous definitions. Instead, Tozer ops to use various synonyms to describe what he means in communicating a definition for God’s goodness. These synonyms are: kind, cordial, benevolent, tenderhearted, open, frank, and friendly. These synonyms help the reader put into perspective the type of relationship God seeks with his creation. Understanding God’s goodness as an interconnected attribute with those previously discussed allows the reader to understand better how God desires to interact with his creation in his goodness. Yet, Tozer wants his reader to differentiate between God’s goodness and God’s holiness. In his twenty-first chapter, Tozer takes up the latter and deals with a separate yet unconnected attribute.
Tozer then moves on to write about the source of God’s goodness. For humanity, goodness comes from a desire to gain some recompense, yet God does not need this. Furthermore, humans’ goodness is based on the give and take of relationships, yet God’s goodness is based on his nature. Therefore goodness is given out to all without being based on who they are or what they do. Tozer uses the words of the Bible to emphasize this when he references how God brings rain on the just and the unjust. By doing this, Tozer strengthens his point that God’s goodness is based on himself rather than on the unreliability of his creatures.
Now it is because of God’s immutable attribute of goodness that Tozer finds comfort. If God is good without reference to the creature, then a person can be assured that God will continue to do good even when the creature does not. Here, Tozer points to the fall of humanity as something that fogs humanity’s understanding of God’s goodness. To a human under the curse of the fall, God seems like he is out to get those who sin. Yet Tozer wants the reader to see the reality that God is seeking to share his goodness, and all that a sin-soaked human must do is respond to that goodness with repentance and faith. Tozer sums up this idea when he writes, “The whole outlook of mankind might change if we could all believe that we dwell under a friendly sky and that the God of heaven, though exalted in power and majesty, is eager to be friends with us.”
Following on the heels of Tozer's chapters on God's faithfulness and goodness comes chapter seventeen, which deals with the attribute of justice. In the first line of the chapter, Tozer reveals that the word for justice and righteousness in the original language is the same. By connecting the reader here, Tozer can then use these two words interchangeably to show that God's righteousness is found in his just decrees and actions. Adding to this, Tozer explains that "Justice embodies the idea of moral equity." With this understanding, the reader can begin to understand that when Tozer speaks about God's attribute of justice, what he means is that God in himself is fair and impartial. Where God is true to his word, faithful, and good to the just and unjust, God is not partial to those he likes and those he dislikes; instead, God is fair to all his creatures. Therefore God's attribute of justice in action, when then be his judgment of creation. Tozer points out that this isn't a standard that God lives by, thereby putting God under a higher-ranking law, but rather God is just because he is righteous and all that he does is just.
The natural place that this line of thinking would take a reader is to realize that if God is just and impartial, how can the Bible tell us that God forgives. If God is justice, then all judgment must be taken out on those deserving of that just action. Here, Tozer reminds the reader that the Bible speaks of redemption through the atonement of Christ. Justice is taken out on a willing substitute for humanity; this is Christ on the cross. As long as a human seeks their own way apart from God, the substitutionary sacrifice does not extend to that person; yet if that person were to repent of their wayward path, throwing themselves into God's mercy, Christ's atonement is granted to them. Thus the justice of God and the goodness of God are both seen in the believer's life. In the unrepentant life, justice is carried based on the individual's life based on their rejection of God. While at the same time, God's goodness would be seen through Christ's substitutionary sacrifice that a repentant individual accepted. It is because of the situation that humanity finds itself in that Tozer seems to almost plead with the reader, "As responsible mortal beings, we dare not so trifle with our eternal future."
s almost a need, Tozer moves into addressing the attribute of God’s mercy in his eighteenth chapter. From the outset of this chapter, Tozer is blunt as he discusses the state of humanity. Tozer utilizes no kid gloves in dealing with humanity’s sin; he directs a series of pointed questions at the reader, to which the reader must answer in the positive that they are, in fact, a sinner. Yet, when the author brings the reader to the point of accountability to their sin, it is from there that Tozer points to the mercy of God. Without the recognition of sin, the knowledge of God’s mercy is superfluous. Tozer writes, “No voice would be raised to celebrate the mercy of which none felt the need. It is human misery and sin that call forth the divine mercy.” So, the recognition of sin then leads to the revelation of God’s immutable attribute of his mercy.
This mercy attribute is then something that God has always been, is, and always will be, even apart from the current situation of sin that humanity finds itself in. Due to this immutable attribute, Tozer points out that the reader does not need to worry that God’s mercy would then be temporary. Instead, like the other attributes of God, mercy is infinite and will never cease even after God creates the new heavens and earth. Here, Tozer turns the reader’s attention to realize that this mercy did not simply happen in the past or will happen in the future but can be experienced here and now. Thus, Tozer writes, “it is not enough to believe that He once showed mercy…We must believe that God’s mercy is boundless, free and, through Jesus Christ our Lord, available to us now in our present situation.” Tozer does not want his reader to believe that God is merciful; he wants his reader to experience that mercy in their lives today.
Tozer opens his nineteenth chapter on “The Grace of God” by juxtaposing mercy and grace. God’s mercy, Tozer writes, “is God’s goodness confronting human misery and guilty.” Whereas God’s grace “is His goodness directed toward human debt and demerit.” TThrough Tozer’s writing, grace is seen as giving merit to the meritless and excess to the debtor. In other words, Tozer puts forth that God’s grace lavishes favor upon those that do not deserve it. Tozer sees this grace attribute as an eternal and immutable trait of God, as discussed throughout his book. Tozer points out that this grace is throughout the Bible and is not set only in the New Testament but hails from the first chapter of the Scriptures and interlinks with Christ and the cross. As Tozer rightly points out, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is not a development of God’s gracious actions but rather comes from who God is from the foundation of the world.
This understanding of grace being eternal and infinite, as has been shown all God’s attributes are, Tozer seeks the reader to understand that no amount of sin can be produced by a sinner that grace cannot cover. For if grace is an infinite attribute like God’s self-sufficiency and his faithfulness, then grace would have no limits in being enacted into a believer’s life. Here Tozer points to the Bible and Paul’s words in Romans 5:20. The Scripture speaks about how if sin were to increase, Tozer interprets this to mean that increase, or in his words “abounds,” this means that there are limits to how far sin can grow. Sin can only grow to a point where a finite creature can take it. Therefore, because God has no limits, his infinitude, his grace will always outgrow a creature’s sin. Tozer points the reader to encouragement in this because there is nothing, short of rejecting Christ’s work on our behalf, that can subdue the grace of God.
In A. W. Tozer's twentieth chapter, the author covers the attribute of God's love. Tozer begins his analysis of this attribute by looking at how his contemporaries misunderstand love. During Tozer's era, a large group was mishandling the attribute of God's love, making love a god, rather than recognizing God as the source of love. The result is that God is no longer worshiped as a personal being, transcendent and imminent; instead, love as a concept becomes the focus of worship. Tozer rejects this idea and reemphasizes that none of God's attributes are preeminent, where one is utilized over another.
Once this understanding is presented to the reader, Tozer then moves on to give several aspects in which God's love "manifests itself." The first of the is goodwill. Tozer explains this by letting the reader know that God's love seeks to do good for his creatures, not wrong. It is here that Tozer gives an analogy of a lost child and mother. For the child, fear grips him when he is lost, yet relief washes over him in his mother's arms. Tozer uses this analogy to help the reader understand that this removal of fear and the child's comfort is because the world the child was lost in was filled him with fear of harm. Yet the mother's arms fill the child with relief because she seeks the child's good; she loves him.
The second aspect of God's love that Tozer discusses is that God seeks to be friends with his creatures. God is in a position where he needs nothing from his creation because he is self-sufficient, yet he seeks communion with his creatures going as far as seeking their friendship. Beyond this, God not only desires friendship with humanity, but as Tozer points to another aspect of God's love, God is willing to sacrifice for humanity. This self-sacrificial aspect of love positions to, as Tozer states, "an emotional identification." A fourth aspect of love that Tozer identifies is that love "takes pleasure in its object." For this fourth aspect, Tozer points to various Bible verses that reveal that God enjoys his creation through avenues such as song. Finally, Tozer points to God's love as alive. God does not sit back in passivity with his love, where the creation must seek it. No, God's love seeks his creation. It is God's love that reaches out to save a lost world, who without God's action, would never know of him. Tozer ends his chapter on God's love with encouragement that the joy of those who have trusted in him may experience the totality of God's love.
The holiness of God is where Tozer turns his attention in his twenty-first chapter. Unlike many of the chapters before, Tozer does not go quickly to define God's holiness. Instead, Tozer seeks the reader to understand, as he did concerning mercy, the condition in which humanity finds itself. Tozer points out that humans cannot truly grasp God's holiness, because unlike the other attributes of God, there is nothing to which holiness can be compared. All other God's attributes have a ring of experience to humanity that can be alluded to, not so with God's holiness. The reason for this, Tozer explains, is due to sin. Sin is the antithesis to holiness; where sin is, holiness is not. Because humanity is steeped in sin, Tozer points the reader to understand that we cannot hope to understand the topic unless God reveals it.
Yet, Tozer does confess that there is a sense of holiness ever-present within the human mind. From his use of Rudolf Otto, Tozer discusses "the awesome Mystery" that seems to be out there in the universe. The author relays that this feeling that a dreaded thing out there in the world is the "back of all religion." In pointing to this mysterious, awful thing that seems to call to all people, Tozer lets the reader know that there is a sense that the world is not right, and this mysterious entity is there to make it right in one way or the other. Religion, then, is a way to appease this mysterious force from devouring those it finds wanting. Yet, as Tozer explains, this isn't some feral creature, but rather a personal, loving, all-powerful, to be sure, God who seeks communion with his creatures. Due to his own self-revealing, it is not a mystery why humanity feels that something is wrong; it is because he tells us that it is sin that has marred the creation.
It is here that Tozer then gives us a semi-definition of holiness. First, it is not a standard by which God judges if something is sinful or not. No, it is God himself which is the standard. God is not becoming holy; he is holy, just as he is all-powerful, merciful, or infinite. All his attributes, in turn, are holy because they are inseparable from each other. Secondly, holiness is "wholeness." God created the creation in perfect moral health; sin marred the creation, making it imperfect. God's perfect state is a whole state, and his creation in its perfect state reflects that wholeness. Thus, God's holiness is reflected in the perfection of his creation. Yet, when sin marred the creation, it fell into an unholy state, to which it now falls under God's wrath because of the unhealthiness of its current state. As Tozer puts it, these three things, God's "holiness," "wrath," and "health of creation," "are inseparably united."
Yet, Tozer does not want the reader to be discouraged when they realize that there is nothing that a person can do to gain holiness. Instead, by referring back to the previous chapters of God's attributes, Tozer desires that the reader lean into and rest in Christ to have God's holiness be imparted. Trust in God's faithful work through Christ on the cross brings the believer into God's holiness, imparting that which cannot be achieved on one's own to the one who needs it. Through faith in the holy God, who works in goodness and is faithful to his word, the sinner is made righteous through Christ and is now seen as holy in the sight of the Creator.
In A. W. Tozer's final chapter on the attributes of God, the author delves into the Sovereignty of God. Here, Tozer lets the reader know that God's sovereign attribute rules the creation he has made. This attribute sees within it the other attributes that have been discussed thus far. For God to be sovereign, he must be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all free. It is perfect freedom that God enjoys that Tozer spends the following several paragraphs on. In comparing human freedom to God's freedom, Tozer shows how humans, like other creatures, do not have true freedom. Because creatures are not self-existent, nor are they self-sufficient, they cannot be truly free. Yet, because God is both self-existent and self-sufficient, he can be free to fulfill whatever he desires to do. This leads to God having "universal authority" to accomplish all that he sees fit to do.
It is from God's sovereignty that Tozer addressed problems that have been raised both theologically and philosophically, with God being an absolute sovereign. The first problem is that of evil. Though Tozer does not take the time to vet this question thoroughly, he concludes that the Christian "does not have the final answer to the riddle" of evil. Instead, Tozer relies on the wisdom, justice, and goodness of God, that God will work things all out, making all things work for good. The second problem that Tozer addresses when writing about God's sovereignty is man's freedom of choice. In this problem, Tozer recognizes the two broad camps that the Christian Church has found itself between: simplistically as that of Calvin with God sovereignty as absolute, and Arminius with the man's free voice as the forefront. For Tozer, however, he desires that neither be rejected. Instead, these two ideas be reconciled together. Tozer's belief, in a nutshell, looks at the whole of human history as God's sovereign work. As individuals, humanity can choose to either fall at the feet of Christ or reject him; this action does not negate God's sovereignty but instead works within its perimeters. By this, Tozer seeks to have God's sovereignty intact and have the words of Scripture be fulfilled in that both are realized in Christ's work on the cross.
In the final chapter of The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer takes on a more pastoral tone. For Tozer, theology is not meant to be thought about; it is intended to be applied. To this, he tells the reader to "Acquaint thyself with God." The god of Tozer's day that many were embracing was not the God of Creation; Tozer implores the reader to know in full the God whom he has discussed through the course of the book. Tozer then gives six conditions that the reader may move forward in so that they may be better acquainted with the God of the Bible.
The first of these is that the reader "must forsake sin." By this, Tozer means that to get to know God, a person must reject the idea that sin is okay. That God overlooks our sin, and there is no need to repent. Too often, people do not take sin seriously, and Tozer wants the reader not to be like most people. The second condition is to commit one's life to Christ. This is to love Christ by obeying his commands. To pick up our cross daily and follow him. It is losing one's life to gain the life of Christ. Tozer seeks that the reader would attach themselves to Christ in all things for Christ's glory.
The third of these conditions is to count ourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit. For Tozer, this means that a person walks in the self-discipline that the Scriptures call humanity to. To reject sinful desire and to embrace the transforming work of the Spirit who produces good fruit. Tozer's fourth condition seeks to reject anything that would tether the believer to the sins of this world. The author is not calling for a monastic lifestyle but rather a lifestyle that seeks to use God's blessings for the work of God. Thus, not allowing one's hearts to be attached to the things of this world that are perishing, but instead uniting one's heart to Christ and his will.
Meditation on the majesty of God is Tozer's fifth condition for the reader. Tozer encourages the reader to reject the humanistic focus of his current contemporary world and instead look beyond the creation to the Creator. To various degrees, the reader can know who God is through relationships; Tozer wants the reader to know God in an ever-increasing way. Yet this increase must mean a decrease in how the reader views themselves as more than they are. The final condition that Tozer presents is that of service to others. The knowledge that God shares with humanity through his self-revelation is not to be hoarded. No, it is to be shared and practiced. Believers who desire to know God must know him in his work. By joining God's work in the lives of others, a believer can know more profound things of God as he reveals them. These conditions are to Tozer, "ointment," to better know the Majestic God who reveals himself to his creation. A. W. Tozer closes his book by encouraging the reader to know God deeper and represent him faithfully.
In the following section, I will discuss several areas on which I agree with A.W. Tozer's writing in The Knowledge of the Holy, one critique, and one area I'm afraid I ardently have to disagree with. The first area I wish to write on is the parallel between Tozer's day and the early twenty-first century. Humanism is rampant, the Church two quickly trades the majesty of God for the newest craze of church growth, and the love attribute of God seems to be the only one that gets preached about. Though Tozer was writing to people in his contemporary setting in the mid-nineteenth century, his words are just as valid sixty years later.
Secondly, I am a part of the holiness movement, as was Tozer. I have appreciated reading, and in this case, re-reading, Tozer's books because he had a passion for God and a pastoral mind that seeks not only to illuminate people to Christ's life but also to have them live it out. Many might see the final chapter and its application aspect as a works-based set of rules. Yet, those that see in Tozer's words works based theology were not paying attention through the whole of his book. The holiness movement at its best is seen in Tozer. A call to not simply say a prayer and get your ticket out of hell, but a life devoted to Christ, as were those first several generations of disciples.
A third area that I wish to mention is that of Tozer's use of analogies. He is correct that words fail where God is concerned, yet analogies help bring home the lofty thoughts of God to more understandable realms. Throughout the book, there have been several well-thought-through analogies, but the one that best communicates Tozer's thinking is found on page 76, in the chapter on transcendence. This analogy had to do with the separation between the caterpillar and the archangel. As I sat and pondered this, the gulf between the two helped me see the gulf between man and God. It was Tozer's words of "They both belong in the category of that-which-is-not-God and are separated from God by infinitude itself." This brought home the transcendence of God in my mind.
Moving from those things that I found agreeable in Tozer's book, I would like to cover my critique. On page 81 in the chapter entitled, "God's Omnipresence," Tozer shares a story from Canon W. G. H. Holmes' life. Tozer tells the story that Holmes sees some "Hindu worshippers tapping on trees and stones whispering 'Are you there? Are you there?'" To which Tozer adds, "God is indeed there. He is there as He is here and everywhere…." My critique here is that we must emphasize that, unlike the Hindu who believes their ultimate god is all and all is this god, the Bible purports an altogether different reality. I do not believe that Tozer is in error here. Still, a simple sentence by him explaining this difference would go a long way to clearly distinguish between the Hindu's pantheistic belief and the omnipresence of God.
Now for my disagreement, on pages 27 and 68, Tozer undercuts his overall argument. Tozer writes, "What God declares the believing heart confesses without need of further proof. Indeed, to seek proof is to admit doubt, and to obtain proof, is to render faith superfluous." Tozer would again return to this idea by writing, "Any faith that must be supported by the evidence of the senses is not real faith." I disagree with Tozer because he seems to handwave evidence as not being a part of faith. There appears to be an underlining belief in blind faith. It is true that when Thomas heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, he stated, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe." This is the passage that Tozer points to in making his point. Yet, throughout the Scriptures, God himself presents evidence for belief. It was God who spoke through the prophet Isaiah, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign." Then Christ answered the disciples of John when asked if he was the Christ with, "Go and tell John what you hear and see." Even the Greek word for faith, pistis, carries with the connotation of being persuaded. In other words, evidence of God's working is a factor in the faith of his people.
For Tozer to say that "faith that must be supported by the evidence…is not real faith" contradicts the very reason for writing his book. This line of thought, take to its logical conclusion, would end up leading to someone just sitting there waiting for God to place the necessary knowledge in their mind. Scripture is evidence essential for faith. As Tozer himself points out in his third chapter, it is in the Scripture that we get God's self-revelation. I do not believe that Tozer dismisses the use of evidence, yet it seems that in the two times he addresses it in this book, he is flippant about its necessity for faith.
In the end, A.W. Tozer's book, The Knowledge of the Holy, is accessible, all be it brief, addressing God's attributes. Though Tozer, for some, can be a little too lofty in his language, once a reader begins to follow his line of thinking, the journey he desires to take his reader on wets the appetite for more. A. W. Tozer writes many other great works, and not only would I recommend this particular work, but his others as well.