Strong Roots or Perishing Fruits?

One of the many blessings the Lord allowed me to experience while I was growing up in a Christian home and a strong church served by two faithful pastors, was the number of outstanding, humble, spiritual leaders who spoke in our church from time to time.

Among those special men was Phil Saint, a well known Christian artist who illustrated his sermons with chalk drawings as he was preaching. I’ll never forget those drawings coming to life when he turned the black-light on the chalk at the conclusion of each message. Phil was also the brother of Nate Saint the missionary pilot who was killed along with four other missionary men, including Jim Elliot, in January 1956 by the Auca Indians in Ecuador. Our church supported Nate.

Another guest preacher who holds a special place in my life was Lorne Sanny, the President of The Navigators for thirty years following the drowning death of its founder, Dawson Trotman. Sanny was preaching in our church on the Sunday morning in October, 1958 when I surrendered my life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

There was yet one other man at the top of my list of most influential servants of Jesus, his name is A.W. Tozer. As a boy I remember Dr. Tozer coming to our church on several occasions. He was not an impressive physical figure. He was indeed a quiet and dignified man. Even as a boy, I knew there was something special about Dr. Tozer as he spoke. I was not able to measure his depth as a speaker or as a Christian thinker in my childhood. But as an adult when I began to read his many books (I have all of them) I quickly learned that God spoke to me personally through his writings in a particular way. ‘The Pursuit of God’ spoke to my heart as no other book I have ever read. I cherish its message to this very day.

Dr. Tozer was a man raised up by God for his times. But, he is also a man for our times. Truth indeed is timeless. Because of the magnitude of the changes facing West Church in 2016, and the decisions that must be made, and the impact those decisions will have on the present and future ministry of our church, I have chosen to set before you in this article salient insights and wisdom from my favorite author from his book ‘The Root of Righteousness’. If read well, these words of Dr. Tozer will help us stay the spiritual track West Church has been traveling on for so many years. The track it must continue to travel.

The following words appeared as an editorial in The Alliance Weekly, of which Tozer was also the editor, in the early 1950’s.

“One marked difference between the faith of our fathers as conceived by the fathers and the same faith as understood and lived by their children is that the fathers were concerned with the root of the matter, while their present-day descendants seem concerned only with the fruit.”

This appears in our attitude toward certain great Christian souls whose names are honored among the churches, as, for instance, Augustine and Bernard in earlier times, or Luther and Wesley in times more recent. Today we write the biographies of such as these and celebrate their fruit, but the tendency is to ignore the root out of which the fruit sprang. “The root of the righteous yieldeth fruit,” said the wise man in the Proverbs. (Prov. 12:12 KJV)

Our fathers looked well to the root of the tree and were willing to wait with patience for the fruit to appear. We demand the fruit immediately even though the root may be weak and knobby or missing altogether. Impatient Christians today explain away the simple beliefs of the saints of other days and smile off their serious-minded approach to God and sacred things. They were victims of their own limited religious outlook, but great and sturdy souls withal who managed to achieve a satisfying spiritual experience and do a lot of good in the world in spite of their handicaps. So we’ll imitate their fruit without accepting their theology or inconveniencing ourselves too greatly by adopting their all-or-nothing attitude toward religion.

So we say (or more likely think without saying), every voice of wisdom, every datum of religious experience, every law of nature tells us how wrong we are. The bough that breaks off from the tree in a storm may bloom briefly and give to the unthinking passer-by the impression that it is a healthy and fruitful branch, but its tender blossoms will soon perish and the bough itself wither and die. There is no lasting life apart from the root.

Much that passes for Christianity today is the brief bright effort of the severed branch to bring forth its fruit in its season. But the deep laws of life are against it. Preoccupation with appearances and a corresponding neglect of the out-of-sight root of the true spiritual life are prophetic signs which go unheeded.

Immediate “results” are all that matter, quick proofs of present success without a thought of next week or next year. Religious pragmatism is running wild among the orthodox. Truth is whatever works. If it gets results it is good. There is but one test for the religious leader: success. Everything is forgiven him except failure.

A tree can weather almost any storm if its root is sound, but when the fig tree which our Lord cursed “dried up from the roots” it immediately “withered away.” A church that is soundly rooted cannot be destroyed, but nothing can save a church whose root is dried up. No stimulation, no advertising campaigns, no gifts of money and no beautiful edifice can bring back life to the rootless tree.

With a happy disregard for consistency of metaphor the Apostle Paul exhorts us to look to our sources. “Rooted and grounded in love,” he says in what is obviously a confusion of figure; and again he urges his readers to be “rooted and built up in Him,” which envisages the Christian both as a tree to be well rooted and as a temple to rise on a solid foundation.

“A man shall not be established by wickedness: but the root of the righteous shall not be moved.

                                                                                                            (A.W. Tozer. The Root of the Righteous, Chapter One.)

Pastor Ralph Wetherington