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The Price of Neglect
By A.W. Tozer
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1991 Zur Ltd.
All rights reserved.
The Price of Neglect
Plato has somewhere said that in a democratic society the price wise men pay for neglecting politics is to be ruled by unwise men.
This observation is so patently true that no one who values his reputation for clear thinking is likely to contest it.
In America, for instance, there are millions of plain men and women, decent, honest and peace loving, who take their blessings for granted and make no effort to assure the continuance of our free society. These persons are without doubt far in the majority. They constitute the main body of our population, but for all their numbers they are not going to determine the direction our country will go in the next few years. Their weakness lies in their passivity. They sit back and allow radicals and those in the minority but who shout the loudest to set the course for the future. If this continues much longer we have no assurance that we can retain that liberty which was once purchased for us at such appalling cost.
The price good and sober Christians pay for doing nothing is to be led by those highly vocal minorities whose only qualifications for leadership are an overweening ambition and a loud voice. And there have always been and always will be such persons in the congregations of the saints. They know least and talk most, while sane and godly men too often give up leadership to them rather than to resist them. Later these same docile souls may shake their heads and lament their captivity. But by that time it is too late.
Within the circles of evangelical Christianity itself there has arisen in the last few years dangerous and dismaying trends away from true Bible Christianity. A spirit has been introduced which is surely not the Spirit of Christ, methods employed which are wholly carnal, objectives adopted which have not one line of Scripture to support them, a level of conduct accepted which is practically identical with that of the world—and yet scarcely one voice has been raised in opposition. And this in spite of the fact that the Bible-honoring followers of Christ lament among themselves the dangerous, wobbly course things are taking.
So radically is the essential spirit and content of orthodox Christianity changing these days under the vigorous leadership of undiscerning religionists that, if the trend is not stopped, what is called Christianity will soon be something altogether other than the faith of our fathers. We'll have only Bible words left. Bible religion will have perished from wounds received in the house of her friends.
The times call for a Spirit-baptized and articulate orthodoxy. They whose souls have been illuminated by the Holy Ghost must arise and under God assume leadership. There are those among us whose hearts can discern between the true and the false, whose spiritual sense of smell enables them to detect the spurious afar off, who have the blessed gift of knowing. Let such as these arise and be heard. Who knows but the Lord may return and leave a blessing behind Him?CHAPTER 2
The Christian Funeral Needs a Reformation
We have long been of the opinion that for the blood-washed Christian the worst thing about dying is the funeral. Even among gospel Christians the funeral obsequies have degenerated into a gloomy ordeal that leaves everybody miserable for days. The only one not affected by the general heaviness that hangs over everything is the servant of God who has died and in whose honor the service is held. He has gone where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary be at rest. The minister and the undertaker, however, see to it that those who remain are neither untroubled nor at rest.
An odd contradiction exists here, for dolefulness is just what everybody is trying to avoid. Every effort is made to create the impression that the deceased is not really dead, and that the cemetery is not a graveyard at all but a pleasant park where everything is bright and full of cheer. Strangely enough, in spite of this obvious effort, the average funeral (even the Christian funeral) succeeds only in accenting the presence of death all the more. The dimmed lights, the low music, the smell of cut flowers, the unnatural tones of the minister and his slow march ahead of the coffin all contribute to the feeling of utter futility with which the service is charged.
We can't beat death by setting it to music. The instinct of the human heart is too strong to be cheated by little well-meant attempts to turn away its thoughts from the serious business of death and dying. Death is a solemn fact. Only unbelief or the insensibility caused by sin prevent the funeral of an unsaved man from being an agony of terror for his unsaved relatives. The honest minister can bring to the funeral of a lost man no real words of hope for the deceased. For the living there is hope, and the minster may do well to point them to the Savior, but if he has a proper regard for the sacredness of his office he will not give the living false hope concerning the dead.
The basic spirituality of any group of professed Christians may be discovered by observing the conduct of its advocates when faced with the harsh necessity of death. Where there is abounding gospel assurance among believers the funeral invariably takes on the air of a celebration rather than of a lamentation. Where that assurance is lacking, the whole atmosphere reveals it, however bravely the minister may quote, "There is no death, what seems so is transition." Where various ecclesiastical wires are pulled in an effort to secure last minute favors for the departed, where every attempt is made to placate death by timid posturing and ingratiating genuflections, we may be sure that the true gospel light has not shined. For a ransomed man knows how to die without crawling, and ransomed men know how to keep their poise in the presence of death.
The early Methodists enjoyed a degree of spiritual victory that lifted them above sorrow at the passing of their brethren. One of their funeral songs, for instance, ran like this: Hosanna to Jesus on high!
Another has entered her rest:
Another has 'scaped to the sky,
And lodged in Immanuel's breast;
The soul of our sister is gone
To heighten the triumph above;
Exalted to Jesus' throne,
And clasped in the arms of his love.
Another song often heard when the Methodists lay away their beloved dead was this:
Weep not for a brother deceased;
Our loss is his infinite gain;
A soul out of prison released,
And freed from its bodily chain;
With songs let us follow his flight,
And mount with his spirit above.
Escaped to the mansions of light,
And lodged in the Eden above.
How inferior the songs we sing today at the graves of our Christian dead. The note of joyous triumph is gone. The whole mood reflects the plaintive hopelessness of paganism. By our conduct at the funeral of those who sleep in Jesus we effectually cancel out the testimony they gave while they lived. It is time for a change.
We share with other believers the hope that for many of us the return of Christ may circumvent death and project us into the Immaculate Presence without the necessity of dying. But if not, then let there be no gloomy faces among the few that gather to pay their last regards. We lived with the Resurrection in our heart and died in the Everlasting Arms. Hosanna! There's no room there for lamentation.
"I have observed," said the old historian, "that these Christians die well." A Christian can die well because he is the only one who dares to die at all. The lost man cannot afford to die, and that he must die is his infinite woe. A Christian dares to die because his Savior has died and risen. Let us renounce paganism at our funerals and die as we lived, like Christians.CHAPTER 3
We Must Have True Faith
To many Christians Christ is little more than an idea, or at best an ideal; He is not a fact. Millions of professed believers talk as if He were real and act as if He were not. And always our actual position is to be discovered by the way we act, not by the way we talk.
We can prove our faith by our committal to it, and in no other way. Any belief that does not command the one who has it is not a real belief; it is a pseudo-belief only. And it might shock some of us profoundly if we were brought suddenly face to face with our beliefs and forced to test them in the fires of practical living.
Many of us Christians have become extremely skillful in arranging our lives so as to admit the truth of Christianity without being embarrassed by its implications. We fix things so that we can get on well enough without divine aid, while at the same time ostensibly seeking it. We boast in the Lord but watch carefully that we never get caught depending on Him. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)?
Pseudo-faith always arranges a way out to serve in case God fails it. Real faith knows only one way and gladly allows itself to be stripped of any second ways or makeshift substitutes. For true faith, it is either God or total collapse. And not since Adam first stood up on the earth has God failed a single man or woman who trusted Him.
The man of pseudo-faith will fight for his verbal creed but refuse flatly to allow himself to get into a predicament where his future must depend upon that creed being true. He always provides himself with secondary ways of escape so he will have a way out if the roof caves in.
What we need very badly these days is a company of Christians who are prepared to trust God as completely now as they know they must do at the last day. For each of us the time is surely coming when we shall have nothing but God. Health and wealth and friends and hiding places will all be swept away and we shall have only God. To the man of pseudofaith that is a terrifying thought, but to real faith it is one of the most comforting thoughts the heart can entertain.
It would be a tragedy indeed to come to the place where we have no other but God and find that we had not been trusting God at all during the days of our earthly sojourn. It would be better to invite God now to remove every false trust, to disengage our hearts from all secret hiding places and to bring us out into the open where we can discover for ourselves whether or not we really trust Him. That is a harsh cure for our troubles, but it is a sure one. Gentler cures may be too weak to do the work. And time is running out on us.CHAPTER 4
Religious productions which come into being during times of great spiritual blessing are to be valued above those which appear during times of spiritual decline. Especially is this true if the production is a fair reflection of the spiritual state which prevails at the time it is written.
Examples are not hard to find. Take for instance the hymnody that sprang up around the Methodist revival of the nineteenth century. One hymnal put out by the Methodists lies at hand as we write. It was published in the year 1849. It contains 1,148 hymns, 553 of them written by Charles Wesley, and the amazing thing about the book is that there is hardly an inferior hymn in it. One quality which marks the hymns is the large measure of sound doctrine that is found in them. Quite a complete course in theology could be gotten from the hymnal alone without recourse to any other textbook.
The Holy Spirit was upon the Methodists in fullness of grace, and they sang of God and Christ and the Scriptures and of the mysteries and joys of redemption personally experienced. The hymnal is lyric theology, a theology that had been strained through the pores of the men and women who wrote and sang their joyous songs. The hymns are warm with the breath of worshipers, a breath that may still be detected fragrant upon them after the passing of a century.
Lay this hymnal beside almost any of the productions of the last fifty years and compare them. The differences will be found to be pronounced, and to the devout soul more than a little depressing. The last half-century has been for the most part a period of religious decline, and the hymnody which it has produced has expressed its low spiritual state. With the coming of the great religious campaigns, with their popular evangelists and their mass appeal, religious singing started on a long trip down, a trip which from all appearances has not yet ended. Experience took the place of theology in popular singing. Writers became more concerned with joy bells than with the blood of sprinkling. Ballad tunes displaced the graver and more serious type of melody. The whole spiritual mood declined and the songs expressed the mood faithfully.
At the risk of being written off as hopelessly outmoded, we venture to give it as our studied opinion that about the only good thing in the average modern songbook is the section of great hymns which most of them carry in the back—hymns which for the most part were written when the Church was at her flood and which are included now as a gesture of respect to the past, and rarely sung.CHAPTER 5
During the early days of the wilderness journey of the Israelites an odd and significant transaction took place between Moses and an in-law named Hobab.
And Moses said unto Hobab ... We are journeying unto the place of which the LORD said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good ... And he said unto him, I will not go; but I will depart to mine own land, and to my kindred. And he said, Leave us not, I pray thee; forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be to us instead of eyes. And it shall be, if thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what goodness the LORD shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee. (Numbers 10:29-32)
Imagine! Moses hired a guide to lead Israel through the wilderness! The circumstances being what they were, this seems almost incredible, but Moses was a man capable of making mistakes like the rest of us. And hiring Hobab was a serious mistake. Here is why.
God had already told Moses that He himself would lead Israel into the promised land. "Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared" (Exodus 23:20). God had also provided the wondrous cloud and fire to lead them (Numbers 9:15-23). Furthermore, in the very chapter that tells of Moses' effort to enlist Hobab' aid it is written, "And they departed from the mount of the LORD three days' journey: and the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them in the three days' journey, to search out a resting place for them" (Numbers 10:33). So through the divinely appointed angel and by means of the ark and the cloudy pillar God Himself was guiding Israel through the wilderness. What need then had they of Hobab's eyes?
Hobab was not to blame for his part in this strange doing, but his presence added nothing to the safety of the marching army; and there is reason to believe that he may have been a spiritual stumbling block both to Moses and to the nation of Israel. The more they trusted to Hobab the less they trusted in God. And that was bad for Israel.
The Church also has her appointed Guide to lead her in her earthly journey. "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26). "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Romans 8:14). These and a wealth of other Scriptures assure us that we are under the direct care of the Holy Spirit. Safety and fruitfulness require only that we accept the leadership of God. Blessing lies in the way of submission and obedience.
What need do we have of Hobab's eyes? Surely none at all. Yet the Church has a whole army of Hobabs to which it looks eagerly for guidance and leadership. That Hobab has no place in the divine plan never seems to matter at all. That Hobab is an intruder, that his eyes are not sharp enough to search out the path, that he is altogether superfluous and actually in the way is passed over by almost everyone. God seems so far away, the Bible is such an old book, faith makes such heavy demands upon our flesh, and Hobab is so near at hand and so real and easy to lean on so we act like men of earth instead of like men of heaven, and Hobab gets the job.
Now, who is Hobab? and how can we identify him? The answer is easy. Hobab is anything gratuitously introduced into the holy work of God which does not have biblical authority for its existence. At first this new thing may seem innocent enough and even look like an improvement over the biblical pattern; and because it is new it is sure to catch on fast and spread quickly among the churches. We Christians are soon playing "follow the leader," trotting along docilely behind Hobab and justifying his presence by appealing to his popularity. Anyone as popular as Hobab cannot be wrong, no matter how far he may be from the Word of God.
Hobab is not an individual. He is whatever takes our attention from the cloud and fire; he is whatever causes us to lean less heavily upon God and look less trustfully to the guiding Spirit. Each one of us must look out for him in our own life and in our church. And when we discover him we must get rid of him right away.
Excerpted from The Price of Neglect by A.W. Tozer. Copyright © 1991 Zur Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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