12. Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

SWIFT, JONATHAN (1667-1745), an English author, wrote the story Gulliver’s Travels (1726), a masterpiece of literature. Swift is called a great satirist because of his ability to ridicule customs, ideas, and habits he considered silly or harmful. [Satire is a kind of literature that uses wit to condemn wickedness and folly.] His satire is often bitter, but it is also often humorous. Swift was deeply concerned about the welfare and about the behavior of his fellow men, and he used his talent to strike out against those men, institutions, and ideas that he considered foolish.…

Scholars are still trying to discover all the ways in which real persons, institutions, and events are represented in Gulliver’s Travels. But readers need not be scholars to find pleasure in the book and to find themselves set to thinking about its distinctive picture of life. (The World Book Encyclopedia, Worldbook-Childcraft International, 1978, volume 18, page 828)

In my rereading of selections from Great Books of the Western World guided by The Great Ideas Program, I’ve reached Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the twelfth reading in the first volume of The Great Ideas Program, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education by Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959).

After identifying Gulliver’s Travels as a satire, Adler and Wolff consider its first two parts on Gulliver’s voyages to Lilliput and to Brobdingnag together, its third and fourth parts on Gulliver’s voyages to Laputa (and other places) and to the country of the Houyhnhnms separately, and three specific questions on the reading. Here I’ll sketch Swift’s life, summarize briefly Gulliver’s Travels, and share the questions which Adler and Wolff ask about the reading.

The Life of Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin, Ireland, on November 30, 1667. His father (Jonathan the elder) died a few months before his birth, leaving his wife, baby daughter, and the unborn Jonathan to the care of his brothers. Jonathan’s Uncle Godwin sent him to Kilkenny Grammar School, then the best in Ireland, at the age of six and to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1682. He received a B.A. in 1686 and continued at Trinity College as a candidate for a master’s degree until 1689, when the Irish Revolution of 1688 forced him, an Englishman, to leave Ireland.

Swift became secretary and personal assistant to Sir William Temple, an essayist and retired diplomat, at Moor Park in Surrey, England, but returned to Dublin in 1690 when King William reconquered Ireland. For the next several years he moved back and forth between Ireland and England. In 1692 he received the degree of M.A. at Oxford, and in 1695 during one of his stays in Ireland he was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church. His ten years’ connection with Temple acquainted him with men and affairs and provided him the opportunity for extensive reading and writing.

Shortly after Temple’s death in 1699, Swift became minister of a small church in Larocor near Dublin. To Larocor he invited Esther Johnson, whom he had tutored when they resided with Temple at Moor Park, and her companion, Rebecca Dingley. Later, when he was living in London (1710-13), he wrote a series of daily letters to the two ladies recording his busy life and inmost thoughts, which were collected and published as Journal to Stella after his death. There is speculation that Swift and Stella were secretly married.

After the publication of A Tale of a Tub (1704), which makes fun of some of the practices and teachings of the Church, Swift began building a reputation as a wit. When Queen Anne’s Tory ministers needed someone to write political pamphlets, they asked Swift. When Queen Anne died in 1714, Swift’s Tory friends fell from power and he returned to Dublin to be dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He spent the rest of his life in Ireland except for visits to England in 1726 and 1727.

Swift was followed to Dublin by Esther Vanhomrigh, a young girl whom he had come to know in London and nicknamed Vanessa. His relations with her are ambiguous, as they are with Stella. At length (in 1723) Vanessa wrote to Stella or Swift demanding to know whether they were married. Swift returned the letter and ended contact with her. Within a few weeks Vanessa died. Stella died five years later (in 1728).

About 1720 Swift began writing Gulliver’s Travels. It was an immediate success when it was published in 1726. Swift also wrote pamphlets supporting Irish causes.

During his last years Swift suffered acute physical torture from an ailment that had long plagued him with giddiness and nausea (now known to be Ménière’s disease). In March of 1742 guardians were appointed to care for him, and after a paralytic stroke in September of the same year he sank into complete mental apathy, which lasted until his death on October 19, 1745. He was buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and on the wall was affixed a Latin epitaph that he had himself composed and that may be translated:

The body of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Sacred Theology, dean of this cathedral church, is buried here, where fierce indignation can no more lacerate his heart. Go, traveler, and imitate, if you can, one who strove with all his strength to champion liberty. (“Swift, Jonathan,” The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1974, volume 17, page 859)

My primary sources for the above are the biographical note on pages ix-x of the volume on Swift (and another writer) in Great Books of the Western World (volume 36; Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952) and the The New Encyclopedia Britannica article on him quoted from above. For more on him, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Swift.

Gulliver’s Four Voyages

On his first voyage Gulliver visits Lilliput, where the people are only 1/12 his size. They treat him well at first and he helps them, but after a time they turn against him. On his second voyage Gulliver visits Brobdingnag, where the people are 12 times his size and treat him as a pet. All sorts of funny situations occur in the two places, examples being Gulliver’s pulling behind him a whole fleet of warships full of sailors and soldiers in Lilliput and his being carried in the mouth of a dog in Brobdingnag. He is relieved to be accidentally delivered from each place.

On his third voyage Gulliver visits Laputa, Balnibardbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan. The conduct of the people of these countries represents the kinds of foolishness that Gulliver saw in his world, especially by impractical scientists and philosophers. For example, one of the projects that Gulliver viewed in the grand academy of Lagoda in Laputa was getting sunshine from cucumbers. Again Gulliver was relieved to be able to return to England.

On his fourth voyage Gulliver visits a country ruled by wise and gentle horses called Houyhnhnms. The country also has savage, stupid animals who look like human beings. The Houyhnhnms distrust Gulliver because he resembles the Yahoos and, although he wants to stay with them, eventually force him to leave.


1. What are the similarities and differences between satire and tragedy?
Adler and Wolff answer that they are similar in that each emphasizes the insignificance of man and that they different in that in tragedy man’s insignificance is used to stir admiration of his nobility in suffering but that in satire it is used to stir amused contempt.

2. Consider the following statements about man.
The statements are Psalms 8:4-8; statements from two books which we considered earlier in this series of articles, Sophocles’s Antigone and Aristotle’s Politics; and this statement from Gulliver’s Travels: “He looked upon [men] as a sort of animals to whose share, by what accident he could not conjecture, some small pittance of reason had fallen, whereof we made no other use than by its assistance to aggravate our natural corruptions, and to acquire new ones which nature had not given us” (Gulliver’s Travels, pages 159-60).

3. Which of the four parts of Gulliver’s Travels is most successful?
After conceding that the answer to this question would probably vary somewhat from person to person according to taste, Adler and Wolff explain that they consider “Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms” the most successful because it makes Swift’s point most forcefully.


10. Shakespeare’s Hamlet

SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM (1564-1616), was an English playwright and poet. He is generally considered the greatest dramatist the world has ever known and the finest poet who has written in the English language. Shakespeare has also been the world’s most popular author. No other writer’s plays have been produced so many times or read so widely in so many countries. (“William Shakespeare,” The World Book Encyclopedia, World Book ‒ Childcraft International, 1978, volume 17, page 268)

In my rereading of selections from Great Books of the Western World guided by The Great Ideas Program, I’ve reached Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is the tenth reading in the first volume of The Great Ideas Program, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education by Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959).

Adler and Wolff introduce their study of Hamlet by commenting on the popularity of the book and of the author. They go on to consider (1) the characteristics of tragedy according to Aristotle and Chaucer and the differences between Hamlet and Oedipus the King, (2) what brings about the action and deaths in Hamlet, and (3) the character of Hamlet. Here I’ll sketch Shakespeare’s life and summarize what Adler and Wolff say about (2) and (3).

Shakespeare’s Life

William Shakespeare was baptized in the parish church of Stratford-on-Avon in England on April 26, 1564, and thus was probably born on April 23. His father, John Shakespeare, was a glove maker and filled various municipal offices in Stratford. He and his wife had at least eight children, William being the third child and oldest son.

Shakespeare obtained his education, mainly of Latin studies, at the local free grammar school.. When he was about thirteen his father’s fortunes took a turn for the worse and William was apprenticed to a local trade. In 1582 he married Anna Hathaway, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer and eight years older than him, They had three children ‒Susanna in 1583 and twins (Hamnet and Judith) in 1585. Sometime before the birth of the twins, Shakespeare had to leave Stratford, according to tradition because of poaching. His history is unknown from then until his emerging as an actor and rising playwright in London in 1592.

The theatres were closed from 1592 to 1594 because of a plague. After their reopening in 1594 Shakespeare joined a newly formed acting company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. In addition to being both actor and playwright, he was also a shareholder in the company, which was so successful that it opened a theatre of its own, the Globe, in 1599. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men were frequently asked to play at court and after James I’s accession in 1603 became known as The King’s Men.

In 1597 Shakespeare purchased one of the largest houses in Stratford, New Place. Here he established his wife and two daughters, his son having died the year before, but he himself continued to work in London until 1610, when he returned to his birthplace and lived as a retired gentleman. In March of 1616 he made his will and a month later, on April 23, died and was buried in the parish church where he had been baptized 52 years earlier

My primary sources for the above are the biographical note on pages v-vi of the first volume on Shakespeare in Great Books of the Western World (volume 26; Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952) and the articles on Shakespeare in The New Book of Knowledge (Grolier, 1976) and The World Book Encyclopedia (Childcraft International, 1978).

What Brings about the Action and Deaths in Hamlet

Hamlet is a bloody and, in many respects, a sensational play. By the end of the tragedy, eight of its characters…are dead. Interspersed in the play are such phenomena as a ghost, a play within a play, real and feigned madness, a fight within a freshly-dug grave, a rapier match. What is it that brings about all these deaths and all this action? (Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 114)

Adler and Wolff begin their attempt to answer this question by summarising the play as Hamlet’s determining on revenge when he learns that his royal father had been killed by the present king but hesitating to execute his purpose. They then consider several difficulties in their summary, the first three being: its omitting the important fact that the present king is the dead king’s brother and has married his brother’s widow; much more taking place in the body of the play than Hamlet’s hesitation; and the death of the present king being only one of eight deaths, four of which take place in the last scene.

Adler and Wolff’s going on to consider the character of Hamlet (see below) suggests that they view it as a major cause of the action and deaths in the play. However they also imply that much of what happens in the play was accidental when after considering the character of Hamlet they observe that in a way the death of Polonius, the king’s advisor, led to all the other deaths but that his death was accidental.

The Character of Hamlet

Adler and Wolff assert that the character of Hamlet is the puzzle of the play. They show this by showing evidence that he is:
– markedly hesitating and indecisive and decisive and resolute
– gentle and kind and gross and cruel
– trusting and open and crafty

Adler and Wolff conclude their consideration of the character of Hamlet by discussing whether Hamlet was too intellectual to act decisively. They argue that, rather than disabling a person from acting, thinking causes him or her to perceive genuine dilemmas instead of rushing in “where angels fear to tread.”

The Word Became Flesh

Merry Christmas!

The Christmas story is told by the apostle John in just one sentence, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14a, ESV; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version). Scholarly papers have been written on that sentence’s theological significance and sermons preached on its practical import. What follows is neither. Instead it consists of a few reflections on what the sentence says to me and a closing quotation from the great church father Augustine.

John introduces “the Word” in the first verse of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The opening phrase, “in the beginning,” points to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Thus the Word was already in existence when God created the universe. In fact he was involved in that creation‒”All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).

“The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word accompanied and thus was distinct from God, and yet the Word was God Himself. How could this be? For most Christians the answer lied in the doctrine of the Trinity. According to that doctrine, God is one being in three persons‒the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each person is God in such a way that he constitutes the whole undivided substance of God, and yet each person is distinct from the other two persons allowing him to have personal relationships with them. (The doctrine may seem illogical, but’s it’s the most satisfactory explanation of what God has revealed in the Bible about His apparently triune nature that I’ve encountered.) Thus the Word was with God (the Father) and was God (the Son).

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word became a human and lived among humans. And yet he remained “the only God” (John 1:18). That John is referring to Jesus is clearly shown in John 1:16-17, which identifies both the Word (verse 16) and Jesus (verse 17) as our source of grace. I don’t understand how Jesus could be both God and man, but I know that the Bible pictures him as both. As our Men’s Bible Study group has been studying the Gospel of Luke this fall (the fall of 1997), I’ve been struck by Jesus’ very human dependence upon prayer and the Holy Spirit. Yet even a cursory reading of the Gospel of John reveals that Jesus was convinced that he was God’s “only Son” (John 3:16). A line of Charles Wesley’s well-known Christmas carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! Captures the mystery of the God-man well: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th’ incarnate Deity!”

Why did the Word become flesh and make his dwelling among us? Some expositors take the verses preceding John 1:14 as giving the reason, that he might give those who believe in him “the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12b-13). And, as John goes on to point out, as children of God we receive “grace upon grace” (John 1:16), the most important grace or blessing being eternal life. Thus Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Augustine expressed a similar idea in this statement about John 1:13 contained in a sermon on the Gospel of John which he preached to his church:

These, then, “were born not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” But that men might be born of God, God was first born of them. For Christ is God, and Christ was born of men. It was only a mother, indeed, that He sought upon earth; because He had already a Father in heaven: He by whom we were to be created was born of God, and He by whom we were to be re-created was born of a woman. Marvel not, then, O man, that thou art made a son by grace, that thou art born of God according to His Word. The Word Himself first chose to be born of man, that thou mightest be born of God unto salvation, and say to thyself, Not without reason did God wish to be born of man, but because He counted me of some importance, that He might make me immortal, and for me be born as a mortal man. When, therefore, he had said, “born of God,” lest we should, as it were, be filled with amazement and trembling at such grace, at grace so great as to exceed belief that men are born of God, as if assuring thee, he says, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Why, then, dost thou marvel that men are born of God? Consider God Himself born of men: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf107.iii.iii.html)

The above Christmas message is adapted from an article of the same name which appeared in the Christmas 1997 issue of The Hunter Family Christmas Holiday Newsletter, a newsletter which my family published on special occasions from Christmas 1999 to Summer 2000.

6. The Center of All

Yesterday evening the Life group which meets in my wife’s and my home considered how Jesus Christ is the centre of all guided by the sixth chapter of Jesus: The Life and Ministry of God the Son–Collected Insights from A. W. Tozer (Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2017), “The Center of All.”

Tozer introduces the chapter by quoting Colossians 3:11, “Christ is all, and in all” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). He then compares Jesus to the hub of a wheel around which everything revolves and observes, “When Jesus Christ has His place as hub, we are all equally close or equally far from Him” (Jesus, page 57).

The chapter contains four sections besides the brief introduction: Center of Geography, Center of Time, Center of Humanity, and Anyone Can Reach Him. We considered each of them and then discussed the Reflect questions at the end of the chapter. I’ll summarize each of the sections, present the Reflect questions, and note some of what we said in discussing the questions.

Center of Geography

At the time of the Crusades many believed that merit could be gained by making a pilgrimage to where Jesus was born and even more to where he was buried. And there is still great interest in being where Jesus had been.

Tozer describes this interest as being “spiritually obtuse” and cites what Jesus told the woman in Samaria, “I tell you that neither in this mountain or in Jerusalem do men worship the Father, for the Father seeketh such to worship Him who worship Him in spirit and in truth” (Tozer’s summary of John 4:21-24; Jesus, page 58).

Similarly geography doesn’t mean anything in our relationship to Jesus. As Tozer puts it, “Jesus is the hub and geography is all around Him” (Jesus, page 59).

Center of Time

It is good to meditate on the life and ministry of Jesus when he was on earth. We sing a song that says:

I think when I read that sweet story of old,
When Jesus was here among men,
How he called little children as lambs to His fold,
I should like to have been with Him then!
(quoted in Jesus, page 59)

However, as Tozer observes, “There were hypocrites and Pharisees and opposers, murderers, and unbelievers in the time of Christ! You would not have found things any better two thousand years ago” (Jesus, page 60). And, as he also observes, the people who were with Jesus then were not as well off as they were ten days after they left him, for “ten days after He departed, He sent the Holy Spirit, and the disciples who understood only in part suddenly knew the plan of God as in a blaze of light” (Jesus, pages 59-60),

Center of Humanity

In this section Tozer demonstrates that with Jesus Christ there are no favoured races, levels of education, or ages. Here are a few quotes from what he says:

He is the Son of all races no matter what the color or tongue.
It is just as near to Jesus from the jungle as it is from the halls of ivy.
The distance we are from God is no greater when we are ninety than when we were youngsters.
(Jesus, pages 60-61)

Anyone Can Reach Him

Both a child with little experience in life and an old person with wide experience can reach Jesus. “Jesus Christ stand in the middle of life experiences and anyone can reach Him, no matter who he is!” (Jesus, page 62)

The superscription on Jesus’ cross was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. “Someone has pointed out that in doing this, God had taken in the whole world. Hebrew stands for religion, Greek for philosophy, and Latan for Rome’s military prowess. All the possibilities of human experience on a world scale were taken in.” (Jesus, page 63)

Why then doesn’t everybody come? Tozer suggests these reasons: inexcusable stubbornness, unbelief, preoccupation with other things, and not believing that we really need him.

Tozer concludes: “The most important thing about you and Jesus is that you can reach Him from where you are!” (Jesus, page 64)

Reflect Questions

1. How is it that Jesus is the center of all things? How does this knowledge impact your life?
We discussed how Jesus is the centre of geography, time, and humanity (see above) and said that this impacts our lives because it assures us that we can reach Jesus wherever we are whenever we want to. (In an earlier study of the chapter by my family, we also discussed in connection with “Centre of Humanity” the special role of the Jews in the Old Testament and in prophecies of the end-times.).

2. Why do you think it is so difficult to reach out for the help of Christ in everyday life?
We suggested several reasons including the four Tozer gives for why not everybody comes to Jesus (see under “Anyone Can Reach Him” above).

9. Montaigne’s The Essays

In my rereading of selections from Great Books of the Western World guided by The Great Ideas Program, I’ve reached Montaigne’s The Essays. The ninth reading in the first volume of The Great Ideas ProgramA General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education by Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959) considers a small selection of the essays (6 of 107) in The Essays.

Adler and Wolff consider what the essay is and why Montaigne used it, Montaigne’s aim and method, and four specific questions on the reading. Here I’ll sketch Montaigne’s life, summarize what Adler and Wolff say about Montaigne’s use of the essay, make a brief quotation from each of the six essays in The Essays which they assign for reading, and share the questions which they ask about the reading.

Montaigne’s Life

Montaigne was born Michel Eyquem on February 28, 1533, in the Château of Montaigne near Bordeaux. His father was a prosperous merchant and lord of the seigneury of Montaigne, and his mother wsa descended from a family of Spanish Jews that had recently converted to Catholicism. He was their third son, but by the death of his older brothers became heir to the estate.

Montaigne was brought up gently and until he was six was taught to speak only Latin. At that age he was sent to the Collège de Guyenne in Bordeaux. After seven disappointing years there, he studied law at Toulouse. In 1554 his father obtained a position for him in a new tax court in Bordeaux. In 1557 the court was abolished and its members were absorbed into one of the regional bodies that composed the Parlement of France, the king’s highest court of justice.

In 1565 Montaigne married Françoise de La Chassaigne, whose father was also a member of the the Parlement of Bordeaux. Although fond of women, he accepted marriage unenthusiastically as a social duty. However he lived on excellent terms with his wife and bestowed some pains on the education of their daughter, Léonore, the only one of six children to survive infancy.

In 1568 Montaigne’s father died, leaving him the lord of Montaigne. Two years later he sold his Parlement position, abandoned the name of Eyquem, and retired to his estate, intending to collect his ideas and write. While there (1571-1580) he wrote the first two books of the Essays, which were published in 1580 at Bordeaux.

The year after publishing the Essays Montaigne left the estate for extensive travel determined to find relief from internal disorders that had been troubling him. In 1581 while he was at La Villa in Italy, he learned that he had been elected mayor of Bordeaux. Returning there he served as mayor efficiently and was re-elected to a second term, which ended in 1585. He again retired to Montaigne but shortly after was driven from his estate by the plague.

Montaigne had begun revising the Essays almost immediately after their publication, perfecting their form and added new ones. While in Paris in 1588, he supervised the publication of the fifth edition of the Essays, the first to contain Book III. However he continued working on the Essaysafter returning to his estate, not writing any new books or chapters but adding numerous passages.

Sometime after returning to his estate in 1588, Montaigne was stricken with quinsy, which brought about a paralysis of the tongue. On the evening of September 13, 1592, he had his wife call together some of his neighbours so that he might bid them farewell. He requested mass to be said in his room and died while it was being said. He was 59.

My primary sources for the above are the biographical note on pages v-vi of the volume on Montaigne in Great Books of the Western World (volume 25; Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952) and “Montaigne, Michel de” in The New Encyclopedia Britannica (volume 12; Encyclopedia Britannica, 1974).

Montaigne’s Use of the Essay

An essay is “a literary composition of moderate length, dealing in an easy, cursory way with a single subject, usually representing the writer’s personal experience and outlook” (page 963 of volume III of The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1974). Although earlier authors wrote essays, the term essai was first applied to the form by Montaigne, to emphasize that his compositions were just attempts to express his personal thoughts and experiences.

Adler and Wolff say that the most outstanding property of Montaigne’s essays is their intensely personal nature. They note that he often observes that his essays are products of leisurely speculation rather than products of experimentation and that he establishes his position by use of quotations and examples rather than by argument. Thus “both in method and intent … Montaigne is not a philosopher” (page 103, Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff , A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959).

However they continue by asserting that “in aim and outlook, though not in method, Montaigne is akin to the modern social scientist. His concerns and subject matter fall into the field of history, anthropology, psychology, and sociology; all of these are the branches of social or behavioral science. And so, though the matter of his book is on one way himself, in another it is all of human behavior.” (same source as the previous quotation).


XXII. Of custom, and that we should not easily change a law received
There is nothing, in my opinion, that [custom] does not, or may not do; and, therefore, with very good reason it is, that Pindar calls her the queen, and empress of the world. (The Essays, page 46; volume 25 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952)
XXIV. Of pedantry
These pendants of ours … are, of all men they who most pretend to be useful to mankind, and who alone, of all men, do not better and improve that which is committed to them, as a carpenter or mason would, but make them much worse, and make us pay them for making them worse, to boot. (The Essays, page 58)
XXV. Of the education of children
Since philosophy is that which instructs us to live, and that infancy has there its lessons as well as other ages, why is it not communicated to children betimes? (The Essays, page 72)
XXVI. That it is folly to measure truth and error by our capacity
‘Tis not, perhaps, without reason, that we attribute facility of belief and easiness of persuasion, to simplicity and ignorance.… But then, on the other hand, ‘tis foolish presumption to slight and condemn all things for false that do not appear to us probable. (The Essays, page 80)
XXX. Of cannibals
I conceive there is more barbarity in eating a man alive, than when he is dead; in tearing a body limb from limb by racks and torments, that is yet in perfect sense; in roasting it by degrees; in causing it to be bitten and worried by dogs and swine … than to roast and eat him after he is dead. (The Essays, page 95)
XL. That the relish of good and evil depends in a great measure upon the opinion we have of them
If the original being of those things we fear had power to lodge itself in us by its own authority, it would then lodge itself alike, and in like manner, in all; … but the diversity of opinions we have of those things clearly evidences that they only enter us by composition; one person, peradventure, admits them in their true being, but a thousand others give them a new and contrary being in them. (The Essays, page 115)


1. Are all customs equally good? (on XXII)
2. Is custom itself responsible for what we consider good or bad? (on XXII and XL)
3. Do you agree with |Montaigne’s view that philosophy should be studied by the young? (on XXV)
4. How valid is Montaigne’s argument that good and evil depend on opinion? (on XL)

5. The Mystery of the Incarnation

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). John goes on to identify “the Word” with “the only Son from the Father … Jesus Christ” (John 1:14, 17). We call the Son’s becoming flesh and dwelling among us as a human his “incarnation.”

Yesterday evening the Life group which meets in my wife’s and my home considered the incarnation guided by the fifth chapter of Jesus: The Life and Ministry of God the Son–Collected Insights from A. W. Tozer (Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2017), “The Mystery of the Incarnation.”

Tozer introduces the chapter thus: “We are told that the Word was made flesh. May I point out that within the statement of these few simple words is one of the deepest mysteries of human thought” (Jesus, page 47). He goes on to explain that there are only two things in the universe, God and not God, and that there is a “wide, yawning gulf” (Jesus, page 47) between them.

The chapter contains three sections besides a brief introduction: Bridging the Gulf, No Compromise, and The Lost Presence. We considered each of them and discussed the Reflect questions at the end of the chapter. I’ll summarize each of the sections, present the Reflect questions, and note some of what we said about them.

Bridging the Gulf

Tozer opens this section by asserting that how God could bridge the great gulf between God and not God is a profound mystery. He reminds us that there are other orders of beings between God and mankind and observes that we would suppose that if God were to step down He would stop with the angels or seraphim instead of coming down to our order. About God’s doing so, Paul declares, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness” (1 Tim. 3:16).

Tozer concludes the section by repeating John Wesley’s advice that we should distinguish an act from the way in which it is done and not reject the incarnation just because we don’t know how it was done and observing:

I think also that it is very becoming for us to enter into the presence of God reverently, bowing our heads and singing His praises, and acknowledging His loving acts on our behalf even with our words, “It is true, O God, even if we do not know or understand how You brought it all top pass” (Jesus, pages 49-50).

No Compromise

Tozer opens this section by asking, “How much, then, can we know of this great mystery?” (Jesus, page 50)

Tozer identifies two things that we can know for sure about it:
(1) We can know that God did not compromise Himself. The mythical gods of the nations often compromised themselves in the tales that were told about them. However the incarnation was accomplished without God’s making Himself less than God in any way. Instead of God’s being degraded, man was elevated.
(2) We can know that God can never back out of His bargain. The incarnation remains a fact forever.

Tozer illustrates these facts with God’s walking with Adam in the Garden of Eden. Because God had made man in His own image, He could commune with him without degrading Himself. But Adam’s sin broke the communion and God sent him from the garden.

The Lost Presence

Tozer opens this section by observing that after Adam lost the presence of God God never dwelt with men again in the same way until “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Tozer devotes the rest of the section to explaining how “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18) shows that Jesus Christ was both the Son at the Father’s side and human. It was as a human that he cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). And it was as the Son that he cried, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)

Tozer concludes: “So the cross did not divide the Godhead‒nothing can ever do that. One forever, indivisible, the substance undivided, three persons unconfounded” (Jesus, page 55)

Reflect Questions

1. How is the incarnation of God the Son different from the legends of Roman, Greek, and Scandinavian gods?
Tozer observes that the gods of the Roman, Greek, and Scandinavian legends could and often did compromise themselves but the incarnation of God the Son was accomplished without any compromise of his deity.

2. What happened to humanity when God became man?
Tozer observes that the incarnation takes man up into God (rather than degrading God).

3. When God the Son became man and suffered on the cross, was the Godhead divided? Why or why not?
Saying that it was the human Jesus, not the divine Son, who cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Tozer claims that when God the Son became man and suffered on the cross, the Godhead was not divided because nothing can do that (see above under “The Lost Presence”). Although we appreciated Tozer’s position, we also felt that Jesus’ cry indicated a temporary loss of contact between God the Father and God the Son despite their being of one substance.

4. The Revelation of God

What is the essence of God’s message to us?

Yesterday evening the Life group which meets in my wife’s and my home considered that question guided by the fourth chapter of Jesus: The Life and Ministry of God the Son–Collected Insights from A. W. Tozer (Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2017), “The Revelation of God.”

Tozer opens his consideration of the question by quoting and commenting on “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:2, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). He observes that, although when the writer of Hebrews wrote this God had been speaking in many ways for some 4000 years, most people were alienated from Him and that that situation might have continued. However in His love and wisdom God spoke again‒this time through Jesus, His Son‒and completed His revelation in the Old Testament.

The chapter contains two sections besides the introduction: “God’s Message in the Past” and “God’s Message to Us.” We considered each of them and then discussed the Reflect questions at the end of the chapter. I’ll summarize each of the sections, present the Reflect questions, and note some of what we said about them.

God’s Message in the Past

Hebrews was written to confirm Jewish Christians in their faith in Jesus, the Messiah-Saviour, showing that he is superior to angels, Moses, and the Levitical priests. It lets us know that while our Christian faith grew out of Judaism it isn’t dependent on it. Thus if Judaism should cease to exist, Christianity would continue to stand, resting on the same living, speaking God that Judaism rested on.

Tozer emphasizes the uniformity and yet ever-widening elements in God’s spoken messages in the past from His speaking in early Genesis of a warfare between the serpent and the Seed of the woman to His giving the Law to Moses and telling of the coming Prophet who would be like him but superior to him. Between them Tozer notes God’s messages to Abel and Cain, to Noah, and Abraham.

God’s Message to Us

To us God says, “Jesus Christ is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Tozer, Jesus, page 42). But many don’t want to hear what God is saying to us through Jesus. Why not? Because, according to Tozer, God’s message in Jesus is, as it is throughout the Bible, a moral pronouncement. He quotes in this regard what Jesus said in John 12:47-48: “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”

Fundamental to human morality is acceptance of the sovereignty of God and of His last word to us, Jesus Christ. We may not like what Jesus says about us and our sin but, as Peter told Jesus in John 6:68-69, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Tozer concludes:

This is the Savior whom God is offering. He is the eternal Son, equal to the Father in the Godhead, co-eternal and of one substance with the Father.
He is speaking. We should listen! (Tozer, Jesus, page 45)

Reflect Questions

1. How is it that divine revelation, whether from the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, is always the same?

We found the question ambiguous because it could mean “Why is the divine revelation always the same?” or could mean “In what way is the divine revelation always the same?” If it means the former, the answer would be that the three Persons of the Trinity are always in full agreement with each other. If it means the latter, the answer would be, according to Tozer, that it points to Jesus Christ and the salvation from sin that he would bring.

2. What is the essence of God’s message in Jesus?

Again we had two answers. One was that it is that we came from God and must return to Him by admitting Jesus into our lives as Lord and Saviour. The other was this quote from Tozer, “Jesus Christ is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Jesus, page 42).

3. Are there any ways in which you have tried to get a “second opinion” about |Jesus or His message?

All of us said that we hadn’t tried to get a “second opinion” about Jesus or his message. However we appreciated this answer to the question in a discussion by the Hunter Family Bible Study group at Facebook: “Tozer said we shouldn’t try to get a ‘second opinion’ about Jesus and His message. To me, each time I read what other Christians say about the Bible, I am getting a second opinion.”