The Saint Must Walk Alone
by A W Tozer
Most of the world's great souls have been lonely. Loneliness seems to be one price the saint must pay for his saintliness.
In the morning of the world (or should we say, in that strange darkness that came soon after the dawn of man's creation), that pious soul, Enoch, walked with God and was not, for God took him; and while it is not stated in so many words, a fair inference is that Enoch walked a path quite apart from his contemporaries.
Another lonely man was Noah who, of all the antediluvians, found grace in the sight of God; and every shred of evidence points to the aloneness of his life even while surrounded by his people.
Again, Abraham had Sarah and Lot, as well as many servants and herdsmen, but who can read his story and the apostolic comment upon it without sensing instantly that he was a man "whose soul was alike a star and dwelt apart"? As far as we know not one word did God ever speak to him in the company of men. Face down he communed with his God, and the innate dignity of the man forbade that he assume this posture in the presence of others. How sweet and solemn was the scene that night of the sacrifice when he saw the lamps of fire moving between the pieces of offering. There, alone with a horror of great darkness upon him, he heard the voice of God and knew that he was a man marked for divine favor.
Moses also was a man apart. While yet
attached to the court of Pharaoh he took long walks
alone, and during one of these walks while far
removed from the crowds he saw an Egyptian and a
Hebrew fighting and came to the rescue of his
countryman. After the resultant break with Egypt he
dwelt in almost complete seclusion in the desert.
There, while he watched his sheep alone, the wonder
of the burning bush appeared to him, and later on
the peak of Sinai he crouched alone to gaze in
fascinated awe at the Presence, partly hidden,
partly disclosed, within the cloud and fire.
Most revealing of all is the sight of that One of whom Moses and all the prophets did write, treading His lonely way to the cross. His deep loneliness was unrelieved by the presence of the multitudes.
He died alone in the darkness hidden from the sight of mortal man and no one saw Him when He arose triumphant and walked out of the tomb, though many saw Him afterward and bore witness to what they saw. There are some things too sacred for any eye but God's to look upon. The curiosity, the clamor, the well-meant but blundering effort to help can only hinder the waiting soul and make unlikely if not impossible the communication of the secret message of God to the worshiping heart.
Sometimes we react by a kind of religious reflex and repeat dutifully the proper words and phrases even though they fail to express our real feelings and lack the authenticity of personal experience. Right now is such a time. A certain conventional loyalty may lead some who hear this unfamiliar truth expressed for the first time to say brightly, "Oh, I am never lonely. Christ said, `I will never leave you nor forsake you,' and `Lo, I am with you alway.' How can I be lonely when Jesus is with me?"
Now I do not want to reflect on the sincerity of any Christian soul, but this stock testimony is too neat to be real. It is obviously what the speaker thinks should be true rather than what he has proved to be true by the test of experience. This cheerful denial of loneliness proves only that the speaker has never walked with God without the support and encouragement afforded him by society. The sense of companionship which he mistakenly attributes to the presence of Christ may and probably does arise from the presence of friendly people. Always remember: you cannot carry a cross in company. Though a man were surrounded by a vast crowd, his cross is his alone and his carrying of it marks him as a man apart. Society has turned against him; otherwise he would have no cross. No one is a friend to the man with a cross. "They all forsook Him, and fled."
The pain of loneliness arises from the constitution of our nature. God made us for each other. The desire for human companionship is completely natural and right. The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world. His God-given instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorption in the love of Christ; and because within his circle of friends there are so few who share inner experiences, he is forced to walk alone. The unsatisfied longings of the prophets for human understanding caused them to cry out in their complaint, and even our Lord Himself suffered in the same way.
The man who has passed on into the divine
Presence in actual inner experience will not find
many who understand him. A certain amount of social
fellowship will of course be his as he mingles with
religious persons in the regular activities of the
church, but true spiritual fellowship will be hard
to find. But he should not expect things to be
otherwise. After all he is a stranger and a pilgrim,
and the journey he takes is not on his feet but in
his heart. He walks with God in the garden of his
own soul - and who but God can walk there with him?
He is of another spirit from the multitudes that
tread the courts of the Lord's house. He has seen
that of which they have only heard, and he walks
among them somewhat as Zacharias walked after his
return from the altar when the people whispered, "He
has seen a vision."
It is this very loneliness that throws him
back upon God. "When my father and my mother forsake
me, then the Lord will take me up." His inability to
find human companionship drives him to seek in God
what he can find nowhere else. He learns in inner
solitude what he could not have learned in the crowd
- that Christ is All in All, that He is made unto us
wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and
redemption, that in Him we have and possess life's
The second thing is that the lonely saint
is not the withdrawn man who hardens himself against
human suffering and spends his days contemplating
the heavens. Just the opposite is true. His
loneliness makes him sympathetic to the approach of
the brokenhearted and the fallen and the
sin-bruised. Because he is detached from the world,
he is all the more able to help it. Meister Eckhart
taught his followers that if they should find
themselves in prayer and happen to remember that a
poor widow needed food, they should break off the
prayer instantly and go care for the widow. "God
will not suffer you to lose anything by it," he told
them. "You can take up again in prayer where you
left off and the Lord will make it up to you." This
is typical of the great mystics and masters of the
interior life from Paul to the present day.