Twentieth-Century Prophet

by Bernard R. DeRemer

Prophet, scholar, mystic, theologian, pastor, poet,missionary, author, editor-all these titles A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) bore with distinction. Warren Wiersbe called him "the conscience of evangelicalism at large."1 Tozer "walked a path in his spiritual life that few attempt, characterized by a relentless and loving pursuit of God.He longed to know more about the Savior-how to serve and worship Him withevery part of his being."2

His origins were humble. Born at La Jose (now Newburg),Pennsylvania, he grew up working as a hired hand on the family farm and completed only elementary school. But from his grandmother he acquired a zeal for reading which continued throughout his life and contributed greatly to his ministry.

In 1912 the family moved to Akron, Ohio, where Tozer worked at Goodrich Rubber Co. There he attended church for the first time and three years later was saved following a street meeting.

His spiritual growth was immediate and rapid. Hismother-in-law's library inspired and facilitated his disciplined study;and in 1919, without any formal training, he became pastor of a small store front church in Nutter Fort, West Virginia. That humble beginning thrust him and his new wife, Ada Cecelia Pfautz, into a 44-year ministry with theChristian and Missionary Alliance Church. In West Virginia the Tozers had the first of seven children, six boys and a girl.

Money was extremely tight in the early days of his ministry.The Tozers made a pact to trust God for all their needs, regardless of thecircumstances. "We are convinced that God can send money to His believing children" he wrote later, "but it becomes a pretty cheap thing to get excited about the money and fail to give the glory to Him who is the Giver!"2

Other pastorates followed, culminating in his greatest ministry, at the Southside Alliance Church in Chicago, from 1928-1959.

"The congregation grew under his leadership, as didTozer's reputation. Missionary giving mushroomed, and dozens of young people, still active today in churches and missions world wide, responded to the call for Christian service."1 Throughout his life and ministry, Tozer called believers to return to an authentic, biblical position that characterized the early church-a position of deep faith and holiness.

Tozer avoided anything that smacked of materialism. Curiously in this age, "he owned neither a car nor real estate, and refused any venture that might have brought financial profit. He sometimes turned down salary increases[and] boasted that he never took a vacation; if given one, he would go off on a preaching trip."1

His love for reading prompted him to haunt second-hand bookstores and he spent many hours memorizing Scripture and great poetry. He delighted in quoting Shakespeare, Emerson, Wesley, Watts, and others in hispreaching and writing.

He preached the great doctrines of the faith and went through the books of the Bible-messages "marked by the same directin-depth quality that was reflected in his writing."1 Immersed as he was in "study and the pulpit," he avoided "the everyday duties such as visitation, counseling, and committee work, turning them over to his associates."1

Tozer wrote more than 40 books, which were translated into a number of languages. Most of them are still available today; this in itself is a remarkable achievement, since books generally are "stone cold dead after two years."1

Space permits mentioning only a few of his many titles. His classic The Pursuit of God was written in his study, interspersed with prayingon his knees. All his books came out of personal struggle. In Born After Midnight, he points out that revivals "require a serious mind and a determined heart to pray past the ordinary into the unknown." In The Best of Tozer, Warren Wiersbe has compiled two volumes of 52 and 44 messages, respectively, containing major themes of Tozer's writings.

Tozer became editor of The Alliance Weekly, (now The Alliance Witness), the denominational magazine. Wiersbe comments that it was"perhaps the only evangelical publication people read primarily for the editorials!"1

Wiersbe also urges that you read Tozer "leisurely, meditatively, almost as a worship experience."

By 1959 Tozer felt that he had completed his work in Chicago and accepted a call to a church in Canada, which was crowded, especially with university students. But only four years later, he suffered a heart attack and went to be with the Lord.

Tozer never asked for praise and "remained uncorruptedby fame." His godly example provokes us to raise our standards and calls us "back to Christian truth as we live out our lives in a secularworld."1

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