The Plowed Life

October 25, 2010

A. W. Tozer, once again, demonstrating his descriptive powers in prophetic prose:

There are two kinds of lives also: the fallow and the plowed. For examples of the fallow life we need not go far. They are all too plentiful among us.

The man of fallow life is contented with himself and the fruit he once bore. He does not want to be disturbed. He smiles in tolerant superiority at revivals, fastings, self-searchings, and all the travail of fruit-bearing and the anguish of advance. The spirit of adventure is dead within him. He is steady, “faithful,” always in his accustomed place (like the old field), conservative and something of a landmark in the little church. But he is fruitless. The curse of such a life is that it is fixed, both in size and in content. To be has taken the place of to become. The worst that can be said of such a man is that he is what he will be. He has fenced himself in, and by the same act, he has fenced out God and the miracle.

The plowed life is the life that has, in the act of repentance, thrown down the protecting fences and sent the plow of confession into the soul. The urge of the Spirit, the pressure of circumstances and the distress of fruitless living have combined thoroughly to humble the heart. Such a life has put away defense and has forsaken the safety of death for the peril of life. Discontent, yearning, contrition, courageous obedience to the will of God: These have bruised and broken the soil till it is ready again for the seed. And as always, fruit follows the plow. Life and growth begin as God “rains down righteousness.” Such a one can testify, “And the hand of the Lord was upon me there.”

The static periods were those times when the people of God tired of the struggle and sought a life of peace and security. Then they busied themselves trying to conserve the gains made in those more daring times when the power of God moved among them.

Bible history is replete with examples. Abraham “went out” on his great adventure of faith, and God went with him. Revelations, theophanies, the gift of Palestine, covenants and promises of rich blessings to come were the result. Then Israel went down into Egypt, and the wonders ceased for four hundred years. At the end of that time Moses heard the call of God and stepped forth to challenge the oppressor. A whirlwind of power accompanied that challenge, and Israel soon began to march. As long as she dared to march, God sent out His miracles to clear the way for her.

“Miracles Follow the Plow,” in The Best of A. W. Tozer / Book One, pp. 240-241.

Every page from Tozer contains a passage worth quoting, so I’ve exhibited great restraint since this is only my second post on Tozer.

Now what are the factors that you will find present in worship? Let me give you a few of them as I go along. First there is boundless confidence. You cannot worship a Being you cannot trust. Confidence is necessary to respect, and respect is necessary to worship. …

Then there is admiration — that is, appreciation of the excellency of God. Man is better qualified to appreciate God than any other creature because he was made in His image and is the only creature who was. This admiration for God grows and grows until it fills the heart with wonder and delight. “In our astonished reverence we confess Thine uncreated loveliness,” said the hymn writer.

[A. W. Tozer, “Worship: The Normal Employment of Moral Beings,” from The Best of A. W. Tozer / Book One, pp. 218, 220.]

He goes on to describe other factors in worship (such as “fascination” and “adoration”), but I am most impressed by his grasp of the importance of confidence. I’ve been reading Paul Tillich again lately, which is always enlightening, but I’m convinced that Tillich’s conception of faith as “including doubt”* was/is a toxic seeped into the mainline churches, slowly poisoning their ability to worship. “You cannot worship a Being you cannot trust. Confidence is necessary to respect, and respect is necessary to worship.” You cannot have confidence in a God whose existence and attributes are uncertain, nor are you likely to worship, with awe and reverence, an uncertainty.

*In Tillich’s estimation, the more doubt, the greater the faith. Such doubt reveals a greater concern for faith’s object. Moreover, doubt is virtuous because it requires the casting aside of idols (finite projections) which were once considered God. For Tillich, the quality of one’s “ultimate concern” is at the center of theological reflection, instead of the perfections of God displayed in classical constructions based on divine revelation.

Throughout his several books, A. W. Tozer is occupied by the cultural assimilation in contemporary evangelicalism, especially as afforded by the rise of the “leisure class” in middle class, post-war America. Enraptured by consumerism and the amusements which occupy our interests, the churches have appropriated an anthropology where the arousal of the affections is the means for action and commitment. Thus, it is believed, the heart governs the will; the latter is contingent upon the former. The delights of the Lord will make for better Christians, a healthy church, and a just society.

The problem here is that the emotions are ungovernable, at least insofar as they are made the chief faculty of the intellect and, thereby, the chief cause of influence for the obedience of faith. The emotions are not capable of bearing this weight. Instead, our acts of volition, in accordance with the obedience of faith, is the fountain from which our emotions are the spring. Obedience is the source of a more secure and stable emotional life. As such, the heightening of our affections can never be the object of faith, that for which we obey Christ. Once the affections are made the object of faith, man himself is made the object of faith — man is in service to himself. (By the way, here we have the foundations for the proliferation of the prosperity gospel in mainstream evangelicalism by the end of the 20th century.) Here is Tozer’s estimation of the dilemma:

To find our way out of the shadows and into the cheerful sunlight, we need only to know that there are two kinds of love: the love of feeling, and the love of willing. The one lies in the emotions, the other in the will. Over the one, we have little control. It comes and goes, rises and falls, flares up and disappears as it chooses, and changes from hot to warm to cool and back to warm again very much as does the weather. Such love was not in the mind of Christ when He told His people to love God and each other. We could as well command a butterfly to light on our shoulder as to attempt to command this whimsical kind of affection to visit our hearts.

The love the Bible enjoins is not the love of feeling; it is the love of willing, the willed tendency of the heart. (For these two happy phrases I am indebted to another, a master of the inner life whose pen was only a short time ago stilled by death.) …

Someone may infer from the above that we are ruling out the joy of the Lord as a valid part of the Christian life. To avoid that erroneous conclusion I offer this further word of explanation.

To love God with all our heart we must first of all will to do so. We should repent our lack of love and determine from this moment on to make God the object of our devotion. We should set our affections on things above and aim our hearts toward Christ and heavenly things. We should obey them, always firmly willing to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourself.

If we do these things we may be sure that we shall experience a wonderful change in our whole inward life. We shall soon find to our great delight that our feelings are becoming less erratic and are beginning to move in the direction of the “willed tendency of the heart.” Our emotions will become disciplined and directed. We shall begin to taste “piercing sweetness” of the love of Christ. Our religious affection will begin to mount evenly on steady wings in stead of flitting about idly without purpose or intelligent direction. The whole life, like a delicate instrument, will be tuned to sing the praises of Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.

But first of all we must will, for the will is master of the heart.

[The Best of A. W. Tozer, Book One, pp. 174-176.]