“The instant cure of most our religious ills would be to enter the Presence in spiritual experience to become suddenly aware that we are in God and that God is in us.” (Tozer, The Pursuit of God, 38-39)
I recently finished reading and reviewing another Tozer work, Delighting in God, and found it to be a profoundly challenging book with regards to how I approach God in prayer. The Pursuit of God was also an extremely helpful book, only this time with regards specifically to how I view both God and myself. Pursuit is by far Tozer’s most famous work from his long pastoral career, and it still ought to remain atop most recommendation lists, though I imagine that’s not the case. I imagine this book has been losing a bit of its popularity in recent decades, due to Tozer’s lofty, albeit devotional, writing style. Some modern pastor-authors like Francis Chan and David Platt have had more success communicating similar truths to the Christians of today, and praise God for it! Though men like these have written in styles consistent with more modern trends, they have not watered down their message, and in this way, they carry on the torch that writers like Tozer and Nee and Spurgeon once held so popularly.
Tozer begins The Pursuit of God with a challenge against the status quo. Harking back to the saints of old who truly knew, loved, lived, and tasted God, he contrasts these blessed men and women with the stubbornly content average Christian who warms the pew each Sunday. Believers of today have fallen for the mis-assumption that at salvation we got God finally and completely. While certainly our salvation is full from the very beginning, the false concept of one’s having “accepted” Christ at salvation becomes an end-all point in time, snaring us “in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him we need no more seek Him.” Our modern church has been so infected with this fallacy that we deem any Saint who’s ever thought differently to have been unfortunately steeped in mysticism or to have had sadly Catholic leanings. “The experiential heart-theology of a grand army of fragrant saints is rejected in favor of a smug interpretation of Scripture which would certainly have sounded strange to an Augustine, a Rutherford, or a Brainerd.” (16-17)
After challenging his Christian readers to recognize the pursuits of every great Old and New Testament Saint, Tozer then introduces many distinct ways in which we can follow their leads. For example, in Chapter 2: “The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing,” Tozer describes the spiritual freedom which can be gained in renunciation. He is careful to emphasize that this need not be a pain-inducing self-sacrifice like that of the desert fathers, but rather can be done simply and within the heart. Abraham, for example, handed over his most-loved possession, his child Isaac, to God in willing sacrifice. Wealthy Abraham “had everything, but he possessed nothing. There is the spiritual secret. There is the sweet theology of the heart which can be learned only in the school of renunciation. The books on systematic theology overlook this, but the wise will understand.” (27) This single idea of inward renunciation has stuck with me the most of all Tozer’s points, even as I continued to read and finish the book. I continually ask myself which possessions—people, things, dreams, plans, etc.—have I clung to so tightly that they have caused me to weaken my grip on God?
One constant theme he references throughout the book is the Presence of God. This theme was especially helpful to me, for in my OT study recently, we have been discussing God’s omnipresence. At one point, I had to ask: “Is God in Hell?” This brought on much debate, for we’ve all been taught for so long that “Hell is eternal separation from God.” Yet many do not realize that for God to be God, He absolutely has to inhabit Hell (Ps 139) as well as the spiritual emptiness inside an unbeliever’s physical heart (Col 1:16-17). I described the difference that makes God’s omnipresence compatible with eternal separation as God’s “presence” and His “dwelling” (i.e. He inhabits Hell by His very omnipresent nature, yet He actually dwells in Heaven): Tozer describes the difference much better as God’s “Presence” and His “Manifest Presence.”
The omnipresence of the Lord is one thing, and is a solemn fact necessary to His perfection; the manifest Presence is another thing altogether…God is here when we are wholly unaware of His Presence. On our part there must be surrender to the Spirit of God, for His work it is to show us the Father and the Son. If we co-operate with Him in loving obedience God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face. (35, 64)
Continuing in this vein, Tozer then transitions to how this understanding of God’s Manifest Presence can affect my understanding of my own position before Him. In fact, how this understanding affects my prayer life becomes a necessary, fairly consistent theme throughout the book. At one point, he prays “to forget myself and find my true peace in beholding Thee” (116).
While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves—blessed riddance. 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. (118)
I don’t know any honest believer—whether from my grandfather’s generation, my father’s generation, or my own—who would argue with the many fine points Tozer makes in this book about becoming a greater follower of God Almighty. At the same time, however, it seems to me that a number of people would consider Tozer himself to have his own mystic tendencies. After all, he’s a man who sought the Presence of God—quite a buzzword against, for example, the Emergent Church. He believes that the Word of God is nothing but ink on paper, apart from the very Voice of God which continually bellows from His eternal Being. So as an honest reader, I need to ask where the difference lies between a Tozer who’s praised for explicitly calling the Church to experience God’s Presence, and a Henry Blackaby who wrote Experiencing God. I don’t recall enough of that book to give an honest answer about where the difference lies, but I do recall the harsh criticism that book received from Conservative Christians who consider it nothing more than mortar for the Emergent Church. I’ll have to do my own research, but I’d like to leave the question hanging for you as well.
I truly enjoyed this book and would consider its short chapters to be necessary go-back-tos for my continuing spiritual growth. I highly recommend it.