Tag Archives: Devotional

Review: The Knowledge of the Holy

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: A. W. Tozer was an American pastor with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. In addition to the books that he wrote during his lifetime—of which the most famous are The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy—hundreds of his sermons have been preserved for us and published in various forms. He also wrote many short articles as editor of the Alliance Weekly, seen for instance in Of God and Men and Born After Midnight. He is Arminian in theology, but mystical in outlook.

Genre: Devotional, theology proper.

Overview:

Tozer makes a statement in the introduction of this book that encapsulates the meaning and importance of theology proper for every believer:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. (p. 1)

After this challenge, he handles attributes of God one by one in 23 chapters, each of which has been carefully distilled.

Theology proper was the task of a lifetime for Tozer. In addition to The Knowledge of the Holy, he has numerous sermons and sermon series on God’s attributes, some of which have also been published in book form. His Attributes of God series goes into more detail on specific theological questions. Of them all, however, The Knowledge of the Holy is the clearest and the best.

Tozer sees theology as leading us first and foremost to worship. As such, his book only takes on controversial topics as they tend to the kindling of renewed faith. He is the consummate devotional writer: which is to say, his goal in his writings and sermons is always to lead his listeners and readers to worship.

Meat:

The first chapter, “Why We Must Think Rightly about God,” is an obvious high point.

A high point in this book for me was Tozer’s Arminian explanation of “The Sovereignty of God.” He writes that we may know with certainty that a steamer is bound for Boston without knowing who will be on the steamer; in the same way, we know that the “elect” are going to heaven, but who is included in the “elect” is a matter subject to change over time. This explanation should be lucid and helpful to most Arminians.

Bones:

After the introductory chapters (1-4), Tozer spends five chapters introducing theology proper in a kind of Classical framework, which is obviously influenced by Greek philosophical thought. Although there is very little that I take issue with in chapters 5 through 10, the framework is based on systematic philosophical concerns. I think it could have been a more biblically grounded, rather than systematically grounded.

Probably the hardest thought of all for our natural egotism to entertain is that God does not need our help. . . . The God who worketh all things surely needs no help and no helpers. Too many missionary appeals are based upon this fancied frustration of Almighty God.

While this is clear enough in systematic theology, it is not so clear in biblical theology. One of the misconceptions of Job’s friends (42:8) was that they believed that God puts no trust in his servants (4:18-19, 15:15-16). On the contrary, the theatrical frame for the Book of Job leads us to believe that God puts too much trust in his servants. God isn’t flippant concerning our spiritual outcomes; both Testaments lead us to the conclusion that he is truly invested—if anything, more invested than we ourselves are.

Quotes:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. (p. 1)

The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but His goodness encourages us not to be afraid of Him. To fear and not be afraid—that is the paradox of faith.

God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.

Review: The Shadow of an Agony

Rating: ★★★★★


Author: Oswald Chambers was a teacher of the Bible in the United Kingdom, a chaplain to World War I soldiers in Egypt, and author of numerous devotional books, mostly compiled posthumously by his indefatigable wife, Biddy. Chambers’ dense and thought-provoking style has made his book My Utmost for His Highest (again, Biddy’s compilation) the best-selling devotional book of the 20th century.


Overview:

The chief themes of this book are the meaning of regeneration, the origin and meaning of sin, and the Spirit’s discipline. Somewhat similar to Watchman Nee (The Spiritual Man, Spiritual Knowledge), Chambers saw these biblical terms as keys to understanding the whole of human experience. He takes a verse as a heading, but he never attempts any linguistic or theological analysis of the verse; his goal is always to take the broad meaning of the text as it plainly stands and use it to explain what he sees in life.

The movement that Chambers was a part of—dubbed The League of Pentecostal Prayer, though it is not Pentecostal in its modern doctrinal meaning—must have encouraged some novelty of expression and thought. Whether he is teaching his Bible students or addressing soldiers, he takes no care to sound like a preacher. As a single example, rather than speak of “original sin” he speaks of “the curious twist” in life or the “disposition of sin”; he often explains the Bible’s meaning in novel ways without resorting to “Christianese.”


Meat:

Apart from his pithy compilations, Chambers can be surprisingly difficult to read, but Shadow of an Agony is an exception. When I have tried to read Chambers’ older books, I found them to be full of good material, but thematically incoherent. (Thus, the creation of My Utmost for His Highest and other re-arrangements of his thoughts.) This book, though, is much more cohesive than (for instance) Shade of His Hand. He stays closely to his main themes of sin, regeneration, and discipline.


Quotes:

On sin:

“The Bible does not say that God punished the human race for one man’s sin, but that the disposition of sin, i.e., my claim to my right to myself, entered into the human race by one man.” (p. 104)

“There is no such thing as sin outside the Bible; sin is a revelation fact, and it is the one fact that accounts for the curious twist we find in things.” (p. 105)

“Sin is a relationship between two of God’s creations. God did not create sin; but He took the responsibility for it; and that He did so is proved in the Cross of Jesus Christ.” (p. 46)

“A man cannot be forgiven for what he is not to blame, but God holds a man responsible for refusing to receive a new heredity when he sees that Jesus Christ can give it to him.”


On regeneration:

“A Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ’s by the possession of a new heredity (John 3:3), one who has been brought into personal relationship with Jesus Christ by the indwelling Spirit of God—not one with certain forms of creed or doctrine; these are the effects of his relationship, not the ground of it.” (p. 68)

“If I receive the Spirit of God and become a son of God by right of regeneration, God does not give me my Christian character. I have to make that. He gives me the disposition of His Son. As I obey the Spirit of God and the Word of God, I slowly form the Christian character.”

“In Redemption He has dealt with the disposition of sin.” (p. 105)


On sanctification:

“Our destiny is something fixed by God, but determined by our disposition.” (p. 103)

Character is what we make; disposition is what we are born with.” (p. 102-103)

Character must be attained; it is never given to us.” (p. 94)

“The Spirit of Christ is given to us, but not the mind of Christ. . . .The Spirit of Christ comes into me by regeneration, then I have to begin to form the mind of Christ.” (p. 110)

“Any fool will give up wrongdoing and the devil . . . but it takes a man in love with Jesus Christ to give up the best he has for Him. Jesus Christ does not demand that I give up the wrong, but the right—the best I have for Him, viz., my right to myself. Will I agree to go through my ‘white funeral’ and say I deliberately cut out my claim to my right to myself, deliberately go to the death of my self-will?” (p. 112)


On childlikeness:

“I do not live the Christian life by adherence to principles; I live the Christian life as a child lives its life. You never can calculate what a child will do, neither can you calculate what the Spirit of God will do in you. When you are born from above the Spirit of God in you works in spontaneous moral originality.” (p. 52-53)

Review: The Solitary Throne

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: Samuel M. Zwemer was a pioneer missionary among Arabs along the Persian Gulf. His later career was spent writing, teaching and mobilizing for missions among Muslims while he was based in Egypt for many years, and later at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Overview:

As the original cover shows, this book is composed of five addresses given at the Keswick Convention in 1937, “on the glory and uniqueness of the Christian message.” Their actual content is a little less focused than that, but more devotional and less apologetic than the subtitle implies.

Meat:

I have finished only a few of Samuel Zwemer’s books, but I have perused the lot of them enough to know that this may be his very best work. “The Glory of the Impossible”—a title also given to a chapter of Zwemer’s 1911 book The Unoccupied Fields and in an article by Lilias Trotter in the Missionary Review of the World—is a timeless and inspirational theme that resonates especially for apostolic missionaries. “His Ministers a Flame” was an equally compelling chapter on a disturbing but oft-neglected New Testament metaphor.

Zwemer was a voracious reader, and has a marvelous knack for compiling fascinating and rare illustrations and quotations from every imaginable source: history, biography, fiction, hymnology, poetry, and elsewhere. Several of the best are quoted below.

Bones:

The fifth chapter, “The Hinterland of the Soul,” fell a little flat for me because of its imperial language. I am rather certain than when it was written, this language was meant to be mainly spiritual; but here in the 21st century, it resonates more like a call to be united with fallen power structures of this world—an unequal yoke that the crucified Christ never called us to. Nonetheless, if I can take Zwemer’s call to “rule the world for Christ” in a spiritual sense, then I can see its merit.

Quotes:

The Solitary Throne:

Napoleon on St. Helena said: “I know men, and Jesus was no man. Charlemagne, Alexander the Great, and I, founded great empires upon force, and here is One who founded an empire upon love. And now I am alone and forsaken, and there are millions who would die for Him.”

Jean Paul Richter, of Germany, in a wonderful passage, said: “O Thou who art mightiest among the mighty, and the holiest among the holy, Thou with Thy pierced hands, hast lifted empires off their hinges, and turned the tide of human history!”

Jesus Christ is the only religious leader Who came to destroy all race barriers and class hatreds.

His Ministers a Flame:

You cannot keep your wood pile, you cannot keep your coal in the cellar, if you would have a fire on the hearth.

The very presence of Jesus always demands decision.

The Roman Catholic Church believes in Purgatory hereafter. We believe in Purgatory now.

I love to go to the University Library in Princeton. Over the fireplace in the library of that Graduate School there are carved these Latin words from the Vulgate Psalter: “In Meditatione mea exardescet ignis.” “While I sit meditating, the fire burns.”[See Psalm 39:3.]

Once I was to preach a sermon at an anniversary in a Methodist Church; there were a great number of ministers present, and I was greatly honoured to be allowed to preach there. We met in the vestry. And the sexton, whose work it was to take care of the comfort of the preacher, said to me: “Would you like a glass of water in the pulpit?” I said: “No, I would like a bonfire.” He smiled. That is what I felt that day.

Let us often read the Acts of the Apostles. It is a neglected Book amongst those who ought to be leaders of the Church of Christ.

May we never glibly pray the prayer that we may be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Photophobia:

Believe me, the principle of unbelief is not primarily intellectual, but moral.

This groping after the Light was the promise of full enlightenment. It always is, as we missionaries on the foreign field know; and our hearts leap with joy when some Nicodemus comes to us by night, saying: “Sir, we would see Jesus,” whether it be a penitent publican or an irreproachable Pharisee. Those who seek find; to those who knock, the door is opened.

There is no tragedy more real and more moving in all history, and in our own lives, than the deliberate rejection of Christ; because it is due, not to any extraordinary wickedness in the Jews, or the Romans, or the people of New York, or the people of London, but to the ordinary motives of men.

If you are neglecting your morning watch, if you are omitting your daily Bible study, if you are forsaking the assembling together of the saints as the manner of some is, you may be sure that all of these things are early symptoms of photophobia, and will end in spiritual blindness.

The Glory of the Impossible:

In 1923 I spoke on the patience of God in the evangelisation of Mohammedan lands from the text: “Master, we have toiled all the night and have taken nothing. Nevertheless, at Thy word I will let down the nets.”

The history of Missions in every land is the story of the achievement of the impossible.

One of the saintliest of British missionaries, Miss Lilias Trotter, of North Africa, wrote just before her death in Algeria; “We who are engaged in Moslem work live in a land of blighted promises. That is a fact that none of us who love its people best can deny; and the deadly heart-sickness of hope deferred, sometimes makes even the most optimistic of us almost despair of seeing abiding fruitage to the work.”

We need once again to face the glory of this impossible task. . . . There is only one thing that is impossible—it is impossible for God to lie.

It is daybreak, not sunset in the Moslem world.

The Hinterland of the Soul:

In the eighteenth century the future belonged to John Wesley; it did not belong to those influential ecclesiastics who crowded him out of their churches and forced him, against his own inclinations, to preach in the open fields. Now to whom does the future of the twentieth century belong save to those Christians who are already looking beyond the horizon, who can read the signs of the times, and who makes bold adventures for God?

Free Andrew Murray PDFs

Although almost all of Andrew Murray’s 45 books have been in print recently, most readers don’t realize how old they are because of his simple and pointed language. (Not to mention all the updated editions!) Murray was born in 1828 and died in 1917, which means everything published during his lifetime has entered the public domain.

Below is a list of all of the best PDFs available on the Internet Archive. (Those with asterisks are highly recommended.)

Abide in Christ: Thoughts on the Blessed Life of Fellowship with the Son of God
Absolute Surrender and Other Addresses
The Children for Christ
The Christian Life 
(preached Sept. 1895, Toronto)***
The Cross of Christ 
(excerpt from The Blood of the Cross)
The Dearth of Conversions (booklet)
Divine Healing: A Series of Addresses
Faith in the Power of God
The Full Blessing of Pentecost: The One Thing Needful
Helps to Intercession
 (booklet)
Have Mercy upon Me: The Prayer of the Penitent in the Fifty-First Psalm Explained and Applied
The Holiest of All: An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews
Holy in Christ: Thoughts on the Calling of God’s Children to Be Holy as He Is Holy
Humility: The Beauty of Holiness***
In My Name 
(booklet)
The Inner Chamber and the Inner Life
Jesus Himself: Two Addresses
The Key to the Missionary Problem: Thoughts Suggested by the Report of the Ecumenical Missionary Conference, Held in New York, April 1900
Like Christ: Thoughts on the Blessed Life of Conformity to the Son of God
(sequel to Abide in Christ)
The Lord’s Table: A Help to the Right Observance of the Holy Supper
Lord, Teach Us to Pray
 (excerpt from With Christ in the School of Prayer)
Love Made Perfect (booklet)
The Master’s Indwelling (preached Aug. 1895, Northfield)
The Ministry of Intercession: A Plea for More Prayer***
Money: Thoughts for God’s Stewards
The New Life: Words of God for Young Disciples of Christ
The Power of the Blood of Jesus
The Prayer Life: The Inner Chamber and the Deepest Secret of Pentecost
The Prophet-Priest: Four Addresses Delivered at Mildmay Conference, 1895
The School of Obedience (Addresses at the Students’ Convention at Stellenbosch, South Africa, July 28-31, 1898)
The Spirit of Christ: Thoughts on the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Believer and the Church
The Spiritual Life: A Series of Lectures Delivered before the Students of the Moody Bible Institute
The State of the Church: A Plea for More Prayer
The Supreme Need: In Response to a Call to the Church, in Mrs. Head’s Booklet, “The Forgotten Friend”
Thy Will Be Done: The Blessedness of a Life in the Will of God
The True Vine: Meditations for a Month on John 15:1-5***
The Two Covenants and the Second Blessing
Waiting on God
Wholly for God: The True Christian Life: A Series of Extracts from the Writings of William Law
(edited by Andrew Murray)
Why Do You Not Believe?
With Christ in the School of Prayer: Thoughts on Our Training for the Ministry of Intercession***
Working for God 
(sequel to Waiting on God)

Looking for a complete list of Andrew Murray’s books? You’ll find that here.

On Racing Against Horses

The prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament complains to God that men in his hometown are plotting to kill him. He has had a difficult ministry towards unwilling people. You would think God would say something like, “that’s okay, Jeremiah, just trust in my grace.” Instead God says, in effect, “suck it up. It’s gonna get harder.”

If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?
(God’s word to Jeremiah, Jer. 12:5)

At first, it does not sound encouraging. G. Campbell Morgan points out though, that Jeremiah had raced with men. God didn’t say he failed. He had done well in a ministry that was filled with conflict. He had already preached boldly in a temple to religious people who had missed the entire point of the temple. He had brought some brutal, yet God-sent words. The nation was in danger—not because of karma, but because God couldn’t allow himself to be misrepresented ad infinitum.

And it was going to get harder! Sometimes we expect God to set us up for success and affluence, but he sees all the chess pieces, and he knows what we can handle. He knows that he can ask us to face something that is more difficult. The logical inverse, though, is that God wouldn’t send Jeremiah to race horses when he hadn’t won against men. God knows what’s too hard for us, and the Bible says that he doesn’t ever send his children to a battle that they can’t fight with his help.

In connection with this, I have been asking, is it possible to race horses? The metaphor sounds fantastic, but there are at least two races that have pitted men against horses in long-distance running: one is a 22-mile race in Wales, and one is a 50-mile race in Arizona. In 2004, for the first time a man won the race in Wales. In Arizona, the horses have never lost, but the race is often close. In 2009, the race director said that the first man, Jamil Coury, clocked in just over seven hours for 50 miles of running, and could have beaten the first place horse if he hadn’t gotten off course.

So God’s question—how will you compete with horses? is not only relevant to long-distance runners. A man can’t compete with a horse over short distances. But it is possible for a human to beat a horse, if the human doesn’t quit. Maybe that was really God’s key to facing difficulty in ministry anyway.

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
(Paul to Timothy, 2 Timothy 4:5)

Review: Power through Prayer

Rating: ★★★★★

Who: E. M. Bounds was a chaplain in the Confederate Army and held a pastorate in Franklin, Tennessee. During his time in Tennessee, he led a spiritual revival and eventually began an itinerant ministry. He only published two books during his lifetime, but nine others were arranged from manuscripts and published after his death—most of them on prayer. He spent three hours a day in prayer and emphasizes a life of prayer as the one essential of the Christian life.

Overview: E. M. Bounds’ Power through Prayer is a modern classic and the best book we have found on prayer. I hesitate to call it a “favorite” because the book cannot be perused on a whim. All of Bounds’ books drip with spiritual imperative.

All of Bounds’ books are available cheaply as paperbacks, in numerous (and monstrous) nine-book compilations, as ebooks, or in PDF form (free). Most are also available as audiobooks.

Meat: This book deserves six out of five stars, and it has lost nothing in a hundred years of printing. I tell my friends that other books on prayer make you wonder or ponder about prayer; Bounds’ books make you run to your prayer closet. He holds up prayer in its true relation, as the key mark of a true Christian, the greatest factor in successful ministry, and the first priority of the life of devotion.

Bones: Power through Prayer is actually a later expansion of Preacher and Prayer, which was published during his lifetime. As the earlier title made clear, many of the chapters focus on the preacher’s responsibility in prayer. This could distract some believers, but does not detract from the book’s force or meaning.

Quotes: “Men are God’s method. The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men.” (ch. 1)

“Crucified preaching only can give life. Crucified preaching can come only from a crucified man.” (ch. 2)

“Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still. He will never talk well and with real success to men for God who has not learned how to talk to God for men.” (ch. 4)

“There is no real prayer without devotion, no devotion without prayer.” (ch. 10)

Related: Purpose in Prayer, The Necessity of PrayerThe Possibilities of Prayer, etc.

On Sowing Hopeseed

F. W. Boreham, The Three Half-Moons, Part I, ch. VIII

In her Glimpses of the Past, Miss Elizabeth Wordsworth tells of a visit that she paid to Mrs. Selwyn, the widow of the great Doctor Selwyn, the pioneer Bishop of New Zealand. Miss Wordsworth began to talk a little dismally about the world and his wife—shocking sinners, both of them!

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