A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy is a book about the attributes of God, with each chapter focused on a different attribute. Published in 1961.
1. The most important thing about us
This quote is the first sentence of Chapter One. What a great way to start a book.
“What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
2. The “net of necessity”
As humans, we have much more freedom than birds, yet we us expressions like “free as a bird.” Here, Tozer points out that birds aren’t really that free. It reminds me of the question Bob Dylan once posed: “Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?”
“But to be free as a bird is not to be free at all. The naturalist knows that the supposedly free bird actually lives its entire life in a cage made of fears, hungers, and instincts; it is limited by weather conditions, varying air pressures, the local food supply, predatory beasts, and that strangest of all bonds, the irresistible compulsion to stay within the small plot of land and air assigned it by birdland comity. The freest bird is, along with every other created thing, held in constant check by a net of necessity. Only God is free.”
3. “both the glory and the misery of men”
Tozer’s comment on Ecclesiastes 3:11, which says that God has “put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”
“’He hath set eternity in their heart,’ said the Preacher, and I think he here sets forth both the glory and the misery of men. To be made for eternity and to be forced to dwell in time is for mankind a tragedy of huge proportions. All within us cries for life and permanence, and everything around us reminds us of mortality and change.”
4. “a short and fevered rehearsal”
People often say time goes by so fast. Time really isn’t fast or slow, because there is nothing similar to compare it with. What’s shocking is not how fast or slow it can be, but how permanent. You get to plan your ideal life but your real life you have to make up as you go along. Tozer here says it’s like practicing for the big show, and when you finally learn enough to give an impressive performance, it’s time die! They say that youth is wasted on the young. As far as that’s true, then it’s also true that life is wasted on the dying.
“Life is a short and fevered rehearsal for a concert we cannot stay to give. Just when we appear to have attained some proficiency we are forced to lay our instruments down. There is simply not time enough to think, to become, to perform what the constitution of our natures indicates we are capable of.”
5. “A heaven to go to heaven in”
Practice and learning is not wasted, however, because it is not for this life only.
“By faith and obedience, by constant meditation on the holiness of God, by loving righteousness and hating iniquity, by a growing acquaintance with the Spirit of holiness, we can acclimate ourselves to the fellowship of the saints on earth and prepare ourselves for the eternal companionship of God and the saints above. Thus, as they say when humble believers meet, we will have a heaven to go to heaven in.”
6. Words should serve thoughts and not the other way around
A warning against run-away words.
“It is probably impossible to think without words, but if we permit ourselves to think with the wrong words, we shall soon be entertaining erroneous thoughts; for words, which are given us for the expression of thought, have a habit of going beyond their proper bounds and determining the content of thought.”
7. Keep those words in their place!
This theme runs throughout the whole book, here it is again 84 pages later.
“We must escape the slavery of words and give loyal adherence to meanings instead. Words should express ideas, not originate them.”
8. “Compelled to think one step short”
Even our naked thoughts are inadequate when it comes to theology. This is from the chapter entitled “God’s Infinitude.”
“Infinitude, of course, means limitlessness, and it is obviously impossible for a limited mind to grasp the Unlimited. In this chapter I am compelled to think one step short of that about which I am writing, and the reader must of necessity think a degree under that about which he is trying to think.”
9. Ideas so heavy that they threaten to crush our words
From the chapter entitled, “The Wisdom of God.”
“When Christian theology declares that God is wise, it means vastly more than it says or can say, for it tries to make a comparatively weak word bear an incomprehensible plenitude of meaning that threatens to tear it apart and crush it under the sheer weight of the idea. “His understanding is infinite,” says the psalmist. It is nothing less than infinitude that theology is here laboring to express.”
10. Though-streams in the desert of our minds
Time for a long one. The title of the book is taken from this passage.
“Neither the writer nor the reader of these words is qualified to appreciate the holiness of God. Quite literally a new channel must be cut through the desert of our minds to allow the sweet waters of truth that will heal our great sickness to flow in. We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of. God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible, and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine.
“Only the Spirit of the Holy can impart to the human spirit the knowledge of the holy. Yet as electric power flows only through a conductor, so the Spirit flows through truth and must find some measure of truth in the mind before He can illuminate the heart. Faith wakes at the voice of truth but responds to no other sound. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Theological knowledge is the medium through which the Spirit flows into the human heart, yet there must be humble penitence in the heart before truth can produce faith. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of Truth. It is possible to have some truth in the mind without having the Spirit in the heart, but it is never possible to have the Spirit apart from truth.”
The last sentence of the last chapter. What a great way to end a book.
“There is a glorified Man on the right hand of the Majesty in heaven faithfully representing us there. We are left for a season among men; let us faithfully represent Him here.”