When Lyle W. Dorsett, A. W. Tozer’s biographer and a fan of his writings, confessed to his friend a three-decades-long habit of reading Tozer, his friend told him he might be getting into a rut. To that friend and us Dorsett replies in the “Foreword” of From the Library of A. W. Tozer:
“…one cannot get into a Tozer rut. His writings first and foremost point readers to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures in ways that are refreshing. Second, Aiden W. Tozer points us to the writings of men and women throughout church history who have been personally and intimately acquainted with our glorious God because they have learned to truly praise and worship Him” p. 9.
James Stuart Bell has done Dorsett, other Tozer fans, and all who enjoy Christianity’s classic devotional writings a favor by compiling this collection. The authors span hundreds of years from Saint Augustine (354 – 430) to G. Campbell Morgan (1863 – 1945). There are over 200 entries by 35 writers taken from over 90 books. The entries are short – most are one to two pages – organized within eight topics that reflect the major themes of Tozer’s life and writings: 1] Worship: the Chief End of Man; 2] Prayer and Contemplation; 3] Exhortations and Prophetic Words; 4] Our Counselor: the Holy Spirit; 5] Jesus Christ: Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King; 6] Practicing the Presence of God; 7] On Christian Doctrine; and 8] On Living the Christian Life.
The breadth of writers Tozer loved and quoted may surprise some. Lyle Dorsett in his biography of Tozer says:
“Ironically Tozer incurred heavy criticism from some Protestants by being too irenic and charitable toward Roman Catholics. From their perspective, Tozer erred by celebrating the writings of early church mothers and fathers such as Julian of Norwich, Augustine, Francis of Assisi, and Michael de Molinas to mention a few. These writers, according to some of his critics, were not ancestors of the church universal – they were Roman Catholics. Tozer handled these naysayers the same way he dealt with negative comments from his frequent references to Ante-Nicene Church Fathers or moderns such as Thomas Merton. These saints, from Tozer’s angle of vision, knew the Lord intimately and he learned from their writings about drawing closer to Christ – even if he did not agree with everything they believed” – A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer, Kindle Location 2074.
And so we have in this collection Roman Catholic writers as well as many well-known Protestants like Charles Spurgeon, D. L. Moody, George Mueller, John Bunyan, Martin Luther, C. S. Lewis and others.
The short readings certainly enlighten us on the thinking about the Christian faith of other times and provide an interesting contrast to devotional writings of our time. The tone of these classic pieces is generally more reverent, even fearful toward God. Absent is the emphasis on how God caters to us. Instead, the stress is on what we can do to please and honor Him.
Missing too is the fear of turning off a skeptical audience by portraying God as absolutely holy and righteous – even angry at sin. Note, for example, this bit from American Reformation writer Jonathan Edwards’ (1703-1758) sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (Rob Bell, writer of Love Wins, would have a heart attack!):
“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire. He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire. He is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight. You are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince.” – p. 100.
(Of course Edwards doesn’t stop there but goes on to explain that in His very act of holding the sinner above the flames of hell and not letting him go, God is expressing mercy by giving the individual the opportunity to repent.)
The back-matter of From the Library of A. W. Tozer begins with a one-paragraph bio of each writer. As well it has a list of books from which the writings are excerpted and an author index of where to find each writer’s selections.
The short readings make this book perfect for daily devotional use. The organization of the pieces in topics make it a good resource of ideas and quotes for teachers or preachers. The clear citations make for easy identification of the complete books from which these writings are taken should the reader be interested in reading the full-length works.
Christians of all varieties and generations, whether or not they are familiar with A. W. Tozer, will find much to think about in this rich collection.