October 29, 2020

Tozer on the Holy Spirit

By Chaplain Mike

Today, as we look forward to Pentecost Sunday, I present one of last century’s great advocates for the Holy Spirit in the evangelical church: Dr. A.W. Tozer.

In this excerpt, with characteristically potent and plain talk, Tozer simultaneously rebukes the church and stimulates our hunger to know more of the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives.

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.

“The Forgotten One,” from The Divine Conquest (or, God’s Pursuit of Man), pp. 64-75


  1. I only recently started reading Tozer and find his writings wonderful. I just finished On Worship And Entertainment dealing with true Spiritual worship. Also just read Watchman Nee’s The Latent Power of the Soul on discerning what is truly of the Spirit and what is of human origin. Both books seem relevant for the evangelical church today for Pentecost, whether one agrees with everything in them or not.

    • Be very careful with Watchman Nee. He ended up slipping into heresy and some very bad practice. Be very very careful with him.

      • ACK, I meant Witness Lee, his disciple.

        • Understood and thanks Fr. I’m not an advocate of Nee really, but I happened to read this book recently which seemed relevant. I try to read some Orthodox perspectives once in a while too! 🙂

        • I agree with your Witness Nee comment. I got excited when I thought I saw that Watchman was online but it was Witness his nephew I believe. If he is a disciple his ideas are a poor reflection on Watchman’s teaching.

          I am a long term fan of both Tozer and Watchman Nee. If you come across Watchman Nee’s sermon series “12 baskets full” – its an awesome read. I read it as a new Christian 30 years ago and will probably understand more of it now!
          Unfortunately the books and I parted a number of years ago.


  2. I agree with 90% of what Dr. Tozer said in this quote. Even in saying that, I say it with a bit of dread, since maybe I should agree with a higher percentage of what he said. A point with which I have a problem is:

    “A doctrine has practical value only as far as it is prominent in our thoughts and makes a difference in our lives.” The theologian in me wishes to point out that details of doctrines, such as that of the Trinity and that of the dual nature of Jesus, may not be “prominent” in our life, but are important for our leaders to understand in order to ensure that the doctrines of our Church do not slip into wrong declarations and conclusions. For the pastor, to have a correct theological background will keep him from making a mistaken practical application.

    But, he is correct in what he says. All too often, the Holy Spirit is simply a theological concept used to explain how the bread and wine become Body and Blood, or how Jesus’ life is communicated to us. In this sense, the Pentecostal movement was fully correct to rebuke us for our faithlessness and failure to honor the Third Person of the Trinity.

    • Lukas db says

      I agree that not all theological doctrines need be, or even in all cases can be, prominent in our lives and thought. However, I think that some of the difference you may have with Dr. Tozer may stem from your differing churchly philosophies; protestants in general lay a greater emphasis on personal understanding of theology and scripture for the ‘common man’ than most orthodox or catholic traditions.

      When I attended a Christian school, reformed in theology, I had more than twelve years of classes in topics ranging from (at lower grades) Biblical memorization and reading, and (later) Church history, theology, and even a bit of greek. By contrast, I have at times been very surprised at the apparent lack of such knowledge among those taught in Catholic schools. I remember my uncle, a professor at a Catholic college, saying that if he mentions Job in class he is fortunate if someone asks if he was ‘that fish guy.’

      People from my old school regarded proper theology and biblical knowledge as being almost essential to salvation. I do not agree, although I greatly appreciate one effect of that belief – the very thorough education I received. Is this better than not teaching the ‘layperson’ much about theology? I’m not sure.

      Qualifications: I don’t have any real experience with people taught in orthodox schools, so I can’t comment there. And my experience with the catholic-school educated is limited, and so may be unrepresentative. I hope I haven’t been too off-topic.

      • No, you’re right. The best way to summarise the last twenty-odd years of Catholic catechesis is “abysmal”. :- (

        And I’m speaking from an Irish perspective, so I dread to think what some of the American experiences may have been. I’m old enough (and grumpy enough) to remember the days when, after Vatican II, the emphasis changed from ‘rote learning’ to ‘personal experience of God’. Which was not a bad thing in principle, but the trouble was we fell between two stools: the idea was that parents (naturally) formed the faith of their children so that school was not the place to cover the basics, but parents were accustomed to their children learning it in school and so…

        I often joke I get all my theology out of Dante, but I swear, if I wasn’t the bookworm haunting the classroom bookshelves where the dusty old books were left mouldering, I’d never have come across the old Eastman Classics in Cary’s translation and begun a life-long fascination with the work, which meant reading as many translations as I could get my hands on, which educated me in my faith because of the foot-notes explaining such things as the Catholic doctrine of purgatory for non-Catholic readers.

        Meanwhile, at the age of fifteen, my school catechism (or the book which replaced it) had pictures of a boy’n’girl meeting a Martian in a flying saucer (the idea, I think, was ‘how would you explain your faith to someone who knew nothing about it?’) but which was all about general discussions of social justice and no explanation of doctrine (unlike the old catechism we had up to the age of twelve, which had no pictures of any kind and taught us the Ten Commandments, the Six Laws of the Church, and other meaty concepts).

        Er – this has rather strayed from the topic of the Holy Spirit, hasn’t it? Apologies for the rant! I’ve been waiting thirty-some years to get that off my chest 🙂

        • Martha, you crackme up !! You’ve waited THIRTY yrs for that ? You should’ve ranted a LOT sooner .. Bless your Irish head, sis;

          Greg R

        • SearchingAnglican says

          Martha –

          At 37 (so, next gen after Vatican II) and a American-raised Catholic, I relate completely to what you say. I could add my own story, but I won’t. Glad you could express what I’ve felt for years. Minus the book with the aliens on it. When I met the person I’d call a “theologian” in the RC church, turns out he was actually an evangelical.

          The Holy Spirit likely stirred you to share your story. See back on track 😉

          • Hey, if you are at all familiar with the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, you’ll get the joke about the “Seat of Wisdom” that Sr. Goretti cracked about where I sat in class because I was the one answering all the questions in Religious Knowledge because I’d actually read the Bible (because my mother had just bought one of those huge black Family Bibles and, being a bookworm, I was reading my way through it).

            That’s the nearest I’ve got to the Holy Spirit since my confirmation lo, these many years ago 🙂

        • – “Hearing Martha’s confession is like getting stoned to death with popcorn.” – Archbishop Fulton Sheen…mostly…

          – One God, Two natures, Three Persons, Four cardinal virtues, Five books of Moses, Six…Laws of the Church? ??? 🙁 File me under ‘abysmally catechized’!

          • Oh, my confession is a bit more, um, interesting than that. Mainly “I’ve fallen back into committing my habitual sins” 🙁

            Yep, the Six Laws of the Church:

            1. To attend Mass on all Sundays and holy days of obligation.
            2. To fast and abstain on the days appointed by the church.
            3. To confess our sins at least once a year.
            4. To receive Holy Communion during the Easter season.
            5. To contribute to the support of the Church.
            6. To observe the laws of the Church concerning marriage.

            I admit, I had to look them up, because I always forget one or more of them. I remembered the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation; to make one’s Easter Duty; to confess and receive Communion at least once a year; and to observe the laws of fast and abstinence on the days appointed. I forgot the ones about giving to the Church and about the laws of consanguinuity, which probably means I’m a skinflint who wants to marry her first cousin 😉

  3. “[E]very act of His accords with the will of the Triune God; He feels…exactly as the Father feels; He will always act like Jesus”.

    All true – and what Tozer goes on to say is excellent – but those quotes underscore the problem. The Holy Spirit doesn’t have ‘presence’ and personality in the Bible the way the Father and the Son do; it is harder to keep Him in mind as a Person of the Trinity rather than a force employed by the Father and Son. Even what Tozer says is largely extrapolation; Scripture gives very little sense of the Spirit as a Person in HImself.

    • I don’t know that I fully agree with this assessment. Scripture tells us he “hovered over the deep” before creation; he is our counselor, comforter, consolation, seal of redemption, our sanctifier; he gives us gifts for the edification and exhortation of the body; he is the same Spirit who spoke through the prophets, inspired the apostles, and fell upon the mighty men of the Old Testament. It’s the Spirit who guides us, teaches, us, and intercedes when our own words fall short. The same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is in us–and therefore we have the mind of Christ (yes, I spliced some Scriptures together; sorry).

      I mean, you’re right; the quote seems to more clearly depict how the Spirit interacts with the Father and the Son. I’m just saying, I don’t know that Scripture says absolutely nothing about him.

      Where I see people go wrong most of the time (and this is not limited to the Pentecostal side) is they try to use the Spirit the way the Jedi use the Force; and I think that’s as errant as ignoring him.

      Anyway. Sorry for the hit-and-run nature of this post.

      • Lukas db says

        How do you see the personality of the Spirit? I don’t mean to pry, but even given such texts I’ve often had difficulty imagining Him as a person rather than as a force. Is the Holy Spirit someone we only really learn about through experience – by allowing Him to work in us, and by seeing the sort of things He would have us do and become? That’s the closest I can come to it. If so, it would make sense that I don’t really understand Him yet.

        • Lukas:

          How do you see the personality of the Spirit?

          You aren’t prying. No worries. I was just in a hurry and trying to be concise. In answer to your first question: I guess that somewhat is how I see him (including Chaplain Mike’s additional comments on him as Advocate, which I forgot to include). His personality is such that he is all those things and does all those things.

          s the Holy Spirit someone we only really learn about through experience – by allowing Him to work in us, and by seeing the sort of things He would have us do and become? That’s the closest I can come to it.

          I’d submit that personal experience and reputation are the means by which we come to know anyone. Scripture offers OT and NT examples, and serves as a plumb line. He speaks, but quietly, to our souls.

          I’d be a liar if I claimed to have it all figured out. I was just listing out his characteristics and his roles – at least some of them. Hopefully that somewhat answers the question; if not, I’ll hop on again tomorrow sometime and give another go.

          • I think a large part of our difficulty in relating to the Holy Spirit is that we don’t have a name for Him. We have Father, and Jesus, but all the titles of the Spirit are just that, titles. We — or at least I — have no way to address Him that doesn’t start with “the.” I don’t know why this is, and I’m not complaining; it just makes Him a more shadowy figure than the other two Persons.

          • Damaris:

            Well, you could call Him “Good One” as in: “O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who is everywhere present and fills all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of life, Come and abide among us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One.” 🙂

          • Yes, I love that prayer. But “Good One” is still not a name. Anyway, not to make too much of my point. I suspect that He is content to be shadowy, to be our means of grace and to leave the glory to Christ. I would like to be more like Him.

          • Well, when I/we pray to Him, we say, “[Please] Come, Holy Spirit!” Not, “May ‘The’ Holy Spirit come upon us and/or into our gathering,” but “Come, Holy Spirit!” as if that IS His name, not His “title.” And sometimes He does. But more often, He comes on His own, and we then thank Him – again, “Thank you, Holy Spirit, for being here with us!”, not, “Thank you, ‘The’ Holy Spirit, for being here with us.” So I guess I don’t have a problem calling Him “Holy Spirit,” although a more name-like term might be better, but I can’t think of one.

          • I was going to say, technically “Father” and “Son” are titles, not names, either. Even “God” and “Lord” are titles. So nine times out of ten, we’re not really using the Father’s name, and “Christ” is a title as well.

            Off-period’s over; I gotta go reign in some junior high kids who are far too excited they have a sub.

          • *rein

      • Kaci, no objections to hit-and-runs here; my posts probably fall in that category too.

        I don’t mean that Scripture says nothing at all about the Spirit. There’s everything you listed, and more; but those are roles and actions: the “what” rather than the “who”. Scripture tells us something of who the Father and Son are, beyond what they do; it doesn’t flesh out the Holy Spirit in the same manner. The passage cited by Chaplain Mike comes the closest to drawing aside the veil, at least for me; I’ll say a bit more in response there.

        (N.B. – I’m not putting blame on Scripture – the silence is real but it’s not accidental on God’s part. When we do get told about the Trinity, in the Person of the Son, we turn around and invent “Jesus is my buddy” theology. We have infinite capacity to get things wrong!)

        • Margaret – Not a problem. I guess I just haven’t thought about it this way. In essence, all three are going to seem inherently the same, because their character and essence are the same. So in my head, just see those roles and actions as manifestations of who he is.

    • One passage that helps me grasp the personality of the Holy Spirit is John 14:15-18—”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”

      The Greek word for “another” (another Advocate) carries the idea, “another of the same kind.” That is, the Spirit will be with us as Jesus was with his disciples. In fact, throughout the passage, Jesus links the Spirit’s coming with his own coming to them. The Spirit will mediate Jesus’ (and the Father’s) presence to his people. If we want to know what the Spirit is like, we look at Jesus.

      • Chaplain Mike writes, “The Spirit will mediate Jesus’ (and the Father’s) presence to his people. If we want to know what the Spirit is like, we look at Jesus.”

        I like that and agree with that, Chaplain Mike.

      • Clay Knick says

        Chap. Mike: I’ve shared that same point many times in churches and people always seem to warm to it and appreciate it.

      • Chaplain – That is the passage I look to as well, thoughI like the translation ‘Comforter’ better; the Spirit as’Menachem’; the one with us through our distress and Christ’s earthly absence. Through what Job’s friends/comforters fail to do, we get an idea of what the Spirit does do – and, for me at least, a glimpse beyond that to who He is. But it is at best a glimpse; agreed that we are meant to look to/at Christ.

  4. Gotta love Tozer!

  5. Tozer was sooo seeker sensitive, gotta love him! We need more like him today. We are utterly helpless to love and follow Jesus without the Spirit’s presence and work in our lives. But I can spend so much time and energy trying to do the very little in my own strength what the Spirit can do so easily with only the slightest “let it be” from me.

  6. I don’t quite understand the point Tozer is trying to make.

    As’ orthodox’ Christians we are trinitarian in our worship, especially in liturgical churches. Is Tozer tyring to make the point we should concentrate more on the Holy Spirit in worship?

    The Spirit points to Christ and His work, and does not draw attention to Himself. Where Christ is being preached and taught about from the Scriptures, there the Holy Spirit is active, convicting of sin and bestowing faith through the Word.

    I also take deep exception to this quote;

    “A doctrine has practical value only as far as it is prominent in our thoughts and makes a difference in our lives.”

    The Triune God’s revelation of Himself through the Scriptures and through His son are eternal and foundational truths of the created universe, and don’t depend upon our thoughts and lives for their relevance. Tozer would pit eternal truths against the ‘value’ we ‘give’ them by appropriating them into our lives.

    Sorry to be the fly in the ointment on this one.

    • Tozer’s complaint in his generation was the reliance of evangelicals on human resources, strategies, organization, etc. in our Christian lives, our church life, and our mission work. He was from a revivalist tradition, but felt the modern church was more into manufacturing spiritual results rather than trusting in God’s power.

      • Good summary and whatever issues there might be with the theology of either Tozer or especially Nee, what I got from the two books I mentioned in an earlier post was exactly this point—-too much reliance in the church on manufactured results and experiences rather than reliance on the Spirit (even when the results aren’t as exciting or numbers-producing as we think they should be).

      • Clay Knick says

        Has anything really changed?

      • I think that’s exactly right. As for the irony noted below by Michael Bell, the revival and resurgence in the ministry of the Holy Spirit that perhaps Tozer didn’t anticipate, understand or approve of in some respects, you can look at 1 Cor. 12:11, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.”

        “Just as he determines.” It’s not about power or ability at our disposal, for our ends and on our terms, but to empower us to do what he wills. This is the logical extension of what Tozer was saying, IMO, but even he may have balked at submitting to all the Spirit was doing. For me that is the significance of the baptism in baptism with the Holy Spirit:, not just acknowledging the need for power but the total surrender of our will for works of service.

        Would Ananias have gone to Saul on Straight Street or Peter to Cornelius’ house or Paul to Macedonia if any one of them had sought spiritual power on their own terms only? Probably not.

  7. I find it quite ironic that Tozer is presented as one of the great advocates of the Holy Spirit, when he is likely the person most responsible for restricting charismatic expression in the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Here are some quotes taken from John Bertone in a paper available in the the Alliance’s Canadian University.

    In 1963 the Christian and Missionary Alliance issued an official statement regarding the gift of tongues in response to the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. It was an appeal to Alliance clergy and laity to reject the initial evidence doctrine and to maintain an attitude toward tongue speaking of “seek not, forbid not.”…It was most likely coined by A.W. Tozer, who prepared the final text of the statement… The “seek not” has been taken to mean “inquire not,” that is, don’t even seek information about the gift of tongues. There is little teaching on the gift of tongues in Alliance churches today. As a result, the “forbid not” has in fact become a “practice not” position…

    The reality of the matter is that a “seek not” position makes a “forbid not” possibility redundant. People that are not “seeking” and expecting God to work in this way will most likely never encounter the situation of a glossolalic expression of the Spirit. This forces God to work within the confines within which we have created for him. It puts the onus on God to break the mould and deal with prejudices against one of the ways His Spirit works in the lives of His people, a manner that is clearly explicated in His Word. Perhaps the restrictions on glossolalia that the Christian and Missionary Alliance has adopted, has in effect, resulted in putting restrictions upon God Himself. There is a possibility that if A.B. Simpson [the founder of the Alliance] were alive today, he would feel like a stranger within the church, which he himself founded.

    Contrast this “Seek not, forbid not” with Paul’s entreaty to ernestly desire the greater gifts. The net result of desiring the greater gifts means that the Spirit has much more latitude in your congregation than if you surpress the lesser gifts.

    So Tozer wondered: “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.”

    His own actions were part of the reasons why this became the norm in the denomination over which he was President. Check out the link above to see what the Alliance was like before Tozer became President.

    • P.S. I recieved my ministerial accreditation through the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and this would be the denomination to which I am closest theologically.

    • That’s interesting, Michael. My wife grew up attending a C&MA church in Vermont, and the head of the home health organization for which I work was a pastor’s wife in C&MA churches for years.

      By the time I became acquainted with the C&MA, my sense was that they were a group that was sort of between Pentecostalism and Fundamentalism. Your comment and the article point out the conflict pulling toward these extremes within the denomination.

      In addition, the information on tongues in the C&MA was new to me. I had always heard their emphasis on the Spirit ran more in the areas of healing, revival, and missions. It was power for service rather than a worship emphasis.

      Though he may have been on the conservative end of the spectrum in his own denomination, the fact that Tozer is viewed by many as such an advocate for the Spirit in one way shows how other Fundamentalist and Evangelical churches pulled back even further from emphasizing the Spirit’s work after Pentecostalism came on the scene. In the traditions I was first schooled in, any mention of the Spirit without simultaneously mentioning the Word was suspect. The Holy Spirit wasn’t so much forgotten as downplayed so as to avoid our being identified with the Pentecostal or Charismatic movements.

      Few non-Pentecostal voices in the evangelical world I knew spoke of and for the Spirit as forcefully as Tozer did.

      • Good points Chaplain Mike.

        Didn’t see a lot of fundamentalism in the churches in which I have been involved. I tend to describe them as half way between Baptist and Pentecostal, with a Presbyterian form of government.

        You write: “I had always heard their emphasis on the Spirit ran more in the areas of healing, revival, and missions. It was power for service rather than a worship emphasis.”

        That is a pretty good characterization, though I think it would be both/and on the service/worship emphasis.

        • Michael, when I think of Canadian revivalism and the work of the Holy Spirit, I always think of the Canadian Revival Fellowship. How familiar are you with their work? Their teachings were very prominent in the circles I was in in the 1970’s and I remember a strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit, not so much in manifesting sign gifts, but in bringing revival and renewal to individual Christians and the church.

          • I grew up in an anti-charismatic church. Until 1974 (age 11), and then moved to Africa until age 15. It wasn’t really until I moved to Western Canada in 1990 that I started bumping into people who had been impacted by the movement, but by then it was the Vineyard that everyone was talking about.

    • I wonder, though, if the “seek not, forbid not” attitude was to prevent a running after signs and wonders? Speaking from the Catholic side, we have plenty of people who will travel long distances to the site of an alleged apparition, but wouldn’t walk down the street to visit their local church for a Holy Hour.

      it may have been in the spirit of trying to encourage people to discern what were true fruits of the Spirit and what were sensational effects (slain in the Spirit’ and the like) that had little or no roots in personal spiritual growth and change.

    • I’ve found it interesting that in spite of a wide difference in theology on lots of things, Tozer’s writings on personal devotion and Spiritual worship actually align quite well with the writings of Brother Lawrence, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross (Tozer specifically refers to and uses some of the ideas from these authors). The common theme is that we should seek the Holy Spirit in humility, accepting even the painful lessons which He’ll bring into our lives as something that will make us more like Christ. If we seek ecstatic experiences, warm feelings, miraculous power, etc, we’re likely to find it—-but it won’t be from the Holy Spirit (at best, it will be self-manufactured). If the Spirit gives those things, great (forbid not), but don’t look for them (seek not)—look only for the Spirit to do His work in whatever way He chooses.

      • Jeff, how wonderful to see you are familiar with Carmelite spirituality, at least through the writings of the Carmelite reformers Tereasa of Avila and John of the Cross. One of Tereasa’s most common expressions and convictions was: “I know by experience.” Regardless of the fact she knew she was a woman at a time women were deemed un-knowledgeable; regardless of the fact she knew she was experiencing God’s presence in a powerful way during the dreadful inquisition when spiritual experiences were so suspect; regardless of the fact it was against the Church ‘norm’ of her time to speak of the humanity of Jesus as central to our relationship with God, to speak of going to Jesus as our friend, having a personal relationship with him; regardless of all these realities she was living with she knew what she knew by experience and no one was going to convince her otherwise.

        It is from this basis of the interior life and prayer she experienced and taught that I see the heart of the matter concerning The Holy Spirit. There is such a thing as head knowledge… and then there is a greatly different reality of “knowing”. Just as in human relationships we can be told or read all kinds of things about another person; which may or may not be true. This is head knowledge…stuff we know. But it is only when we actually meet face to face this other person and spend time and more time with this person that we come to truly “know them” from within… Our head knowledge is filtered and we have the “experience of knowing” the person which will stand firm against anything contrary some else may want to speak about them.

        So, with the Holy Spirit, I believe it is only through spending time with Him, alone with Him, where, in deep prayer, that we come to truly Know Him, a “knowing based on experience”. Only from this experience do doctrines, no matter how true they are, become alive within the heart and spirit of a person because they are no longer head-knowledge doctrines of truth…but a deep and personal “knowing” based on the “experience” OF Person(Holy Spirit) to person(the human soul and spirit).

      • Jeff I would dare say I have been one of Tozer’s greatest fans in my youth, and in my quest I came to discover as Tozer himself said paraphrase, “nothing I say is original but real, come and light your flame at my candle.” How little did I know in those days he was simply a blast from the past a Catholic mystic minus Rome.

    • “Seek not, forbid not” sounds like the ecclesiological cousin of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

      I really struggled with how gifts were expressed / repressed in my local church, until a pastor friend suggested that I apply the phrase “earnestly desire spiritual gifts” as “earnestly desire spiritual tools”. This shifted the focus from my own ecstatic experience towards the building of the body of Christ, and made it easier to process my own thoughts as to how the gifts of the Spirit would be utilized in my primarily non-charismatic church.

  8. David Cornwell says

    I was a student at Asbury College way back in another century. This school, along with Asbury Theological Seminary were both closely associated with the Holiness movement, which in turn was an outgrowth of Wesleyan theology. The doctrine of entire sanctification as a definite 2nd work of grace was the chief emphasis. The Holy Spirit was the principle agency in that work of grace. The doctrine teaches that one may be completely cleansed of the carnal nature (indwelling sin) through the infilling of the Spirit. One must “pray through” to this experience. It also involved the Wesleyan doctrine of “assurance” which was associated with Wesley’s “heart warming experience.” Entire sanctification would make one “perfect in love” and sin free. There was a differentiations between “sin,” “sins,” and mistakes.

    In the 1950’s Asbury had two revivals a year, one in the Fall, the other in the Winter. The preacher was always a person who believed fervently in this version of Wesleyan holiness and the preaching was aimed chiefly at the converted who were still struggling with the “carnal nature.” Ken Frazier, who was then president of the C&MA was the preacher in one of those revivals. His son was a student at Asbury at the time. Several spontaneous revivals broke out at the college during these years.

    I took a course in this doctrine during a summer term so at that time knew all the terminology. Later when I attended Asbury Seminary (in the1970’s) the emphasis on this doctrine had been modified in such a way that it seemed far more biblical to me.

    I could write a long paper on both the positives and the negatives of this emphasis and the unneeded struggles it produces within.

    • David Cornwell says

      Frazier may have been Fraser; escapes me.

    • David Cornwell says

      His name was Kenneth Fraser. However in doing some internet research can find no account of him being president of CMA. I know, at least, he was a pastor from PA.

  9. MOnk,
    The Truth is that your observation regarding ignorance of the Holy Spirit in the church also results in clear practical damage to the church. A church that disregards the Holy Spirit is by definition doomed to division, conflict, sin, anger, etc. In other words, the direct opposite of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as outlined in the Word of God. We can see this acted out in many churches today. Its a clarion call to humble ourselves, confess our Spiritual arrogance and return the Triune God to His proper place as the head of our churches and Church.

    • Can someone explain more clearly what Tozer is talking about? This sentence:

      It is time for us to repent, for our transgressions against the blessed Third Person have been many and much aggravated.

      …is dramatic, but not illuminating. What are those transgressions? I’m sure Chris MacCourtney is correct in the preceding post, that neglect of the Spirit results in deficiencies in the gifts of the Spirit. Yet in what way is the Spirit neglected?

      Surely we are not intended to divide our devotions equally among the Three. Surely devotion to One is devotion to All. We are instructed to pray to the Father, in the name of the Son. Baptism in each of the several churches I know is performed in the three names as scripture instructs. So in that, the Spirit’s role is honored.

      Is “transgressions against the Holy Spirit” a euphemism for sin. Or is there more to this?

      • I have heard the question asked: “If the Holy Spirit was removed from the church, would you notice a difference, or would things pretty much carry on as if nothing had changed?”

        • In a not-unrelated vein re: the Holy Spirit’s lack of relevance to many Christians, Clark Carlton, a Southern Baptist convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church, said:

          …Without question, however, the single most important book involved in my conversion to Holy Orthodoxy was John Zizioulas’ Being as Communion.11 This is also probably the most difficult book I have ever read. I had to read the first chapter three times before I even began to understand it. And yet, as I began to get a handle on what Zizioulas was saying, I realized that if he was even partially correct, I could no longer remain a Protestant much less a free-church Baptist.

          In short, Zizioulas introduced me, for the first time, to the Holy Trinity, in Whose image I had been created. Although Baptists profess faith in the Trinity; when you get right down to it, that belief is not much more than lip-service. The Trinity is rarely mentioned in Baptist churches, except at baptisms, and has absolutely nothing to do with how the church is organized or how Baptists view themselves as persons created in the image of God. In the final analysis, the Trinity is simply the solution to a theological problem: “how can Jesus be both God and different from the Father at the same time?.” The doctrine, as understood by Baptists and most other Protestants has no positive content. If every reference to the Trinity were removed from Baptist hymnals and books, few people would even notice. (my emphasis)

          What I learned from Zizioulas is that my own being as well as the being of the Church is inextricably tied up with the being of God Himself but not simply with the fact that God exists and that I derive my existence from Him. Rather it is tied up with the way God exists, His mode of existence. For the first time I read that God is not an individual. If God exists, it is not because He is Necessary Being, but because He eternally begets His Son and breathes forth His Spirit in an unbroken communion of absolute love and self-giving. To say that God is love (1 John 4:16) is not to describe an attribute of God but to define His very being; it is to affirm that He is the Father Who exists by the total gift of Himself to His Son and His Spirit. “In this manner the ancient world heard for the first time that it is communion that makes things ‘be’: nothing exists without it, not even God.”12

          The necessary conclusion from such an understanding of God is that the individual, that ultimate concern of Protestantism, ontologically cannot exist. Individualism is the denial of being, the content of which is love. For the first time in my life, the very foundations of my evangelical faith were shaken to the core. Certainly, I had grown dissatisfied with evangelical “worship” and had been searching for “historical Christianity,” but this was different. Now it was my understanding of God and myself that was tumbling down around me. In true Freudian fashion, I had taken my own fragmented, individualistic nature, endowed it with a host of superlative attributes, and called it “God.” Yet, when the real God the God of Triune Love revealed Himself to me and destroyed my idol, I shed no tears. On the contrary, my soul took wings because for the first time in my life Christianity made sense. I do not mean intellectually, but existentially.

          11 (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1985).

          12 Zizioulas, p. 17.


          • EricW — Zizioulas aside, is this what Tozer is saying? What is Tozer’s take on how the Holy Spirit is being abused in evangelical churches? Maybe Mike can illumine us here.

            (I’m not denigrating Zizioulas, who always has some compelling points, although I wish he had some English vocabulary of Germanic roots and not just five-syllable words of Greek and Latin origin.)

          • All I know about Zizioulas is that I had no problem understanding him (or thinking I understood him) when I read Being As Communion a few years ago, mostly because of Clark Carlton’s recommendation (he spoke in Dallas at a Festival of Orthodoxy several years ago, along with Peter Gillquist and others). Also IIRC, Zizioulas said some things about the structure of the church needing many, many more bishops so as to properly reflect the nature of the Trinity, rather than priests who only have authority delegated to them by the bishops. I.e., he felt bishops, not priests, should preside over every local congregation eucharist (shades of Ignatius?).

            I don’t think Zizioulas is saying the same thing Tozer is saying. I used Michael Bell’s remark re: the neglect of the Holy Spirit in Evangelical life and practice and church activities to add Carlton’s remarks about how the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead (which is probably the most important thing in the EOC, as it permeates and informs and structures and guides and directs Eastern Orthodox theology, ecclesiology, soteriology, liturgy, and prayers) is similarly largely irrelevant for all practical purposes for most Evangelicals, and specifically for his fellow Baptists.

          • I must say, EricW, that your comments are always educational, thought provoking, and generally enjoyable.

      • Thanks, Tim, for the compliment (*blushes*). And I would say the same thing in spades re: Chaplain Mike’s comments/essays, as well as the comments of most of the posters here. There is very good spiritual and intellectual koinônia at IMonk.

      • I think Tozer specifies what he means in his last two sentences:

        “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.”

  10. Tozer is quite the pyromaniac.

    Every time he shows up, a fire seems to break out. His prophetic zeal is so contagious.

    I hope that in my life, the fire is an enduring forge, not just momentary fireworks.

    Thanks for sharing this treasure.

    Singed yet again,

  11. My favorite Tozer quote on this topic (and in general):

    “The church or individual who is Bible taught without being Spirit taught has simply failed to see that truth lies deeper than the theological statement of it. We only possess what we experience. The devil is a better theologian than any of us and is a devil still.”

    I believe it is from Man: The Dwelling Place of God.

    Charlie Peacock quotes from this in his song, Experience, and puts it well:

    We can only possess what we experience
    We can only possess what we experience
    Truth to be understood must be lived
    We can only possess what we experience

    There is a difference, a qualitative difference
    Between what I know as a fact, and what I know as truth
    It stands as a great divide to separate my thinking
    From when I’m thinking foolishly and when I’ve understood

    The facts of theology can be altogether cold
    Though true in every way they alone can’t change me
    Truth is creative, transforming and alive
    it’s truth that keeps me humble, saved and set free

    Straight up honesty, that’s my obligation
    That’s the point when I obey the truth without hesitation
    When faith gains consent of my stubborn will
    And makes the irreversible commitment real

    To the Jesus of my journey, to the Christ of crucifixion,
    Resurrection and redemption, to the Father of mercy,
    To the God of all comfort
    Then and only then, then and only then,
    Then and only then, truth begins its
    Saving and illuminating work within the heart

    And not a moment sooner, not one moment sooner

    If there be no sympathy, there can be no understanding
    You must surrender to a truth to really understand it


  12. Tozer was indeed a tremendous advocate for the Holy Spirit in the Church, but his views on the workings of the Spirit were always constrained by Tozer’s understanding of primary revelation, as contained in Scripture. Here’s Tozer himself on the subject:

    “Some of my friends good-humoredly – and some a little bit severely – have called me a ‘mystic.’ Well I’d like to say this about any mysticism I may suppose to have. If an arch-angel from heaven were to come, and were to start giving me, telling me, teaching me, and giving me instruction, I’d ask him for the text. I’d say, ‘Where’s it say that in the Bible? I want to know.’ And I would insist that it was according to the scriptures, because I do not believe in any extra-scriptural teachings, nor any anti-scriptural teachings, or any sub-scriptural teachings. I think we ought to put the emphasis where God puts it, and continue to put it there, and to expound the scriptures, and stay by the scriptures. I wouldn’t – no matter if I saw a light above the light of the sun, I’d keep my mouth shut about it ’til I’d checked with Daniel and Revelation and the rest of the scriptures to see if it had any basis in truth. And if it didn’t, I’d think I’d just eaten something I shouldn’t, and I wouldn’t say anything about it. Because I don’t believe in anything that is unscriptural or that is anti-scripture.”
    — What Difference Does the Holy Spirit Make?, AW Tozer

    • I don’t know if I’d call that constraining; I’d probably call it discerning. I would suggest this is a healthier position than advocated by some people in Pentecostal or Charismatic circles who are blown about by nearly every wave of new doctrine.

      • I actually meant “constraining” as a positive term here–i.e. a safeguard against exactly the type of problem you describe. “Discernment” would certainly have been an apt descriptor as well.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          However, “Discernment” has also come to mean “seeing demons under every bed.”

  13. Roy Cadow says

    You can read most of Watchmen Nee’s books online for free.

    There are 2 links.




    Thank you Holy Spirit for being alive in our minds, our hearts and our thoughts, for directing us in Godly paths.