TUESDAY, 13th JUNE, 1876,
IN THE TEMPERANCE HALL, LEICESTER.
THE CHAIR WAS OCCUPIED BY MR. W. STANYON OF LEICESTER.
THE CHAIRMAN having stated the order of proceedings, and asked the meeting to restrain the manifestation of their feelings, he called upon Mr. Roberts to open the Debate.
Mr. ROBERTS: Mr. Chairman, Ladies, and Gentlemen,–I would not have been so bold as to encounter a man of Mr. Bradlaugh’s ability had it not been for two things–a persuasion of the invulnerable strength of the cause which I have to maintain this evening, and a deep sense of the unspeakable consequence of the matter to be debated; and perhaps I ought to add a third–a conception of the duty that rests upon everybody holding the convictions which I represent, to avail themselves of every opportunity of impressing those convictions upon others. With regard to the first of these points, there may, probably, be a great many here present who will not agree with me; with regard to the second, I should scarcely think there can be present one who will say that it is unimportant whether or no there be a hope of a better life for mankind than they have now, whether there is or is not ever to be a better state of things upon the earth than there is at the present time. I will not waste much time in discussing that point: all will agree that the question is one of vital moment, and, if my side of the question be the right one, then we have a good matter to realise–a matter so good as to justify the rapturous exclamation which we find in the Scriptures, "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace!" while, if the position represented by Mr. Bradlaugh be the right one, the skull, cross-bones, coffins, dust, corruption, despair, brood over the entire prospects of every man who has ever lived upon earth, or ever will live. The real question to which I have to address myself is the first one–the question as to whether or no the position I represent, be of the invulnerable strength which I assert it to be; and upon that I feel no quailing. There is no test that can be applied to the Scriptures but will yield the one result which I shall seek to make manifest to your understanding, whether we regard it in the light of the circumstances that ought to exist in the world if the Bible be true; or with respect to the historic harmony that ought to subsist between this book, if it be true, and the records of mankind; or in the light of its intrinsic character; whether we consider the character of its histories; whether we consider the nature of its prophecies in relation to the accomplished history of man; whether we consider it with regard to the sentiment that animates it from beginning to end, we cannot fail, by a logical construction of the facts of the case, to arrive at the conclusion that the Bible is no human production. Upon all these points I have every confidence in being able to make manifest the justice of my contention that is, that these Scriptures are the authentic and the reliable records of Divine revelation.
But we must proceed by stages. I have but one fear–and perhaps before the discussion is concluded you will see how well-founded that fear is–that I shall be unable to crowd into a six nights’ debate the host of arguments, the mass of evidence, which I can adduce in support of the proposition which I stand here to affirm. I must be content to do what is possible, and, in a hurried, condensed, and sketchy way, to rehearse before you the reasons, which I am convinced must be regarded as conclusive in favour of my affirmation by any logical mind acquainted with all the facts, and taking time enough, under a sense of the importance characterising the subject, to consider those facts. I shall divide the argument into six sections, corresponding with the six nights during which we shall be together. I shall contend to-night that the state of affairs now existing in the world is in harmony with the view that the Bible is the Word of God, and inconsistent with the notion that it is the production of ignorant and fanatical men. Further, to-night I will try to show that, if there is a book circulating among men whose authenticity can be demonstrated, it is this entire volume. I confine not my remarks to the writings of the apostles. I apply it also to the writings of the prophets and Moses himself, notwithstanding all the perverse erudition that has been brought to bear in our age to try to displace Moses from the confidence of the people. But I will say, and perhaps ought to say, before proceeding, that while entertaining that strong view, there is some pity to be entertained for men in Mr. Bradlaugh’s position, because there are circumstances that justify, or appear upon the surface to justify, the conclusion to which they have come. There is a dark, a corrupt, an inhuman, a degraded, a dreadful, history to look back upon during the past eighteen centuries, and, if you make the Bible responsible for that history, you have a good argument against it; but it will not require a very extensive argument to show that there is no connection between the corruptions of Papal domination in Europe and these holy oracles. There is also extant in the world, and established under many circumstances of influence and importance, a set of doctrines which, if true–which, if the teaching of the Bible, I grant would also constitute a difficulty in receiving them, and might justify the unbelievers in the position which they have assumed. I will then, on the second night–which will be to-morrow night– contend that the unquestionable facts connected with the establishment of Christianity in the world in the first century, including the history and the character of Christ, are incapable of being explained on any rational principle, if Christ did not rise from the dead, and if the apostles were impostors.
On the third night I will contend that the single case of the apostle Paul, when all the facts of his unimpeachable history are distinctly realised and logically construed, is sufficient of itself to prove the divinity of Christ, and, therefore, of the whole of the Scriptures of which the record of his case constitutes a part. On the fourth night I will contend that the literary and moral peculiarities of the Bible, the character of its sentiments, so entirely alien to the universal tendencies of human nature, Jew and Gentile; its clear, chaste, vigorous, and concise diction; its agreement one part with another throughout, notwithstanding the great intervals of time at which its different parts were composed; its perfectly artless candour in the record of facts, irrespective of the bearing of those facts for or against its main contention, are totally at variance with the supposition that the book is the production of ignorant and designing men, and proves that its production is due to that divine guidance and initiative in the writers to which both Paul and Peter, and others as well, attribute it. On the fifth night I will contend that the history of the Jewish race, particularly as involving the character and career of Moses, cannot be explained on the Freethinker’s hypothesis of the Bible; but, on the contrary, is an irrefragable proof of its Divine character and authorship. On the last night I will contend that the prophecies of the Bible–so explicit, so sober, so useful in their character, being in this respect so unlike the vague, incoherent, irrational predictions of the Greek augurs and other contemporary pretenders–are an evidence of the divinity of the authorship of the Bible, an evidence which becomes simply overwhelming when we consider their fulfilment in the accomplished history of mankind.
I am not about to deny that there are difficulties; I will not deny that there are obscurities; but I do contend that those difficulties, and those obscurities, are not inconsistent with the main conclusion deducible from those extensive premisses which I have indicated in that synopsis of the argument for this six nights’ debate. I contend that those are rather in the nature of the apparent inconsistencies which arise in all cases, and in every matter, for there is no argument, there is no question, there is no character, there is no book, there is no case, in connection with which a hostile ingenuity is not able to create apparent discrepancies, and to lay hold of, perhaps, real discrepancies on the surface, and to make an apparently successful use of them in an antagonistic sense; but I will admit this, that in all true cases the apparent anomalies, and contradictions, and discrepancies, ought to be capable of reconciliation with the main drift of the proof. In fact, this is the sort of test in every case that comes before a court of law. There are always two sides to every case, and, when argued by capable men, the argument on each side is so plausible as to bewilder the jury and disqualify them for coming to a confident conclusion; but a judicial analysis of the evidence, is able to point out that the positive proof points one way, and that the other, which points in the opposite way, can be explained in harmony with the positive evidence, though it may appear to be in contradiction to it; whereas, the other side of the question, when sifted in the same judicial and impartial manner by the judge, cannot be so explained or reconciled in harmony with the bulk of the evidence. And that is the nature of the case to-night, and throughout this entire debate, that the positive evidence is all one way. There are points of difficulty and there are obscurities, but there are no points of difficulty, there are no obscurities, which I am afraid to face. There are things which appear to be difficulties, but which, nevertheless, disappear upon a thorough examination.
I will begin the argument to-night, that is to say, at the point at which we now stand–1876. If the Bible is true, there ought to be Jews; if the Bible is true, there ought to be a corrupt Christianity as the basis of the political system of Europe. If Mr. Bradlaugh should afterwards ask me to prove these two propositions, I will; but, meanwhile, I will take them for granted: they are so self-evident to those who know the Scriptures; and, therefore, I will simply ask, Are there Jews? Is there a political Christianity in the world? With regard to the first item, at all events, no one will hesitate in the answer; the Jews exist everywhere throughout the world, in all civilised countries. You will see the importance of that point if you consider with what pointed effect Mr. Bradlaugh might have asked this question; had there been no Jews, he might have said: "In the prophecies of Jeremiah it is said, God will never make an end of the Jewish nation;" and he might have said, Where are the Jews?" The Bible does say that, and there the Jews are. So far, therefore, I contend that the state of facts is in harmony with the hypothesis that the Bible is true. And I will also contend that the continued existence of the Jewish race under the terrible circumstances which have characterised their history during the past 1,800 years was a greatly improbable thing; that a race without national organisation, without a capital, and scattered among every nation under heaven, should have continued to retain its racial identity, what a highly improbable thing! The existence of corrupt Christianity, foretold in the Scriptures, is the great fact in the European system of the present day, for what is the most conspicuous feature of that system but the one against which Mr. Bradlaugh, and many others in this country, are now directing their energies–the union of Church and State? They are aiming to procure the separation of Church and State. Why, that very endeavour is evidence of the correspondence between the theory of the Bible’s truth and the existing state of facts, in so far as the Bible’s prophecies require such a system to exist in the present day. We may at a later stage of the discussion, have to look at this matter a little more closely; but meanwhile, it is sufficient as a starting point to show that the existing state of things in the world is such as it ought to be on the hypothesis of the Bible being the Word of God.
Let us now go backwards, and ask whether there is evidence of the authenticity of these books; and I will take the last part of the Bible in the first part of the argument, because, if I establish the argument with regard to the last part, I establish it with regard to the first, though I will argue the first also upon its separate merits. The writings of the apostles: are they the writings of the apostles? I do not know exactly what position Mr. Bradlaugh will take upon this question; and, therefore, so far as he is concerned, I must argue somewhat in the dark; but nevertheless, with regard to the main question, there need be no difficulty; and there is none. The evidence is so extensive upon the point, that it is difficult to condense it into the few sentences that remain of my half-hour. Nevertheless, it is capable of being condensed in a forcible manner. I will not waste time in arguing that the Bible was not produced last century, or a thousand years ago. Mr. Bradlaugh–or, at all events, the party he represents–have abandoned their first theory of the question, that is to say they now no longer contend that the Bible is a monkish production of the fourth and fifth centuries, for literary labours have exhumed book after book, document after document, and the investigation of them has been conducted with such complete effect as to dissipate the possibility of such a theory being sustained, and to prove that the second part of the Bible was produced in the beginning of the Christian era, and the first part in the ages antecedent to that, at the several times at which it professes to have been produced. Let me give you a specimen of the kind of evidence I am referring to. There are the writings of Tertullian, a writer of the second century. In the middle of the second century, he takes cognisance of the fact that these books were in circulation at that time, under the several names which they now bear, and among the people to whom they purport to have been originally addressed. He says:
"Come now, thou who desirest better to exercise thy curiosity in that which relates to thy salvation. Go through the apostolic churches, in which the chairs of the apostles preside in their places, in which their authentic letters are recited, resounding the voice and representing the face of each one. Is Achaia near thee? thou hast Corinth. If thou art not far from Macedonia, thou hast Philippi, thou hast Thessalonica. If thou canst direct thy course into Asia, thou hast Ephesus. But if thou art near Italy, thou hast Rome, whence authority is ready at hand for us also."
Now, that takes you back to the middle of the second century–that is to say, if you credit Tertullian, as I presume you will, for I do not suppose that Mr. Bradlaugh will call in question the authenticity of that deliverance of Tertullian written in the second century; I say that it takes us back to that period of time from which we look back to an even earlier time, when it was a matter of common notoriety that there were present at Philippi, Corinth, and other cities, where they were then in circulation, letters of Paul which were at that time recognised as having been written by Paul. But we can go further back than that, for there is a genuine letter extant of one Clement of Rome, who is claimed by the Roman Catholic Church to have been the first Pope; we need not consider that, because Clement did not consider himself a Pope, and he was not one. But he wrote a letter to the Corinthian Church. These were troublous times for those who professed the faith of Christ; it subjected them to all the evils to which men can possibly be subjected; and the Corinthians, suffering also from disagreements amongst themselves, wrote to Clement of Rome, the Clement referred to by Paul in his letter to the Romans, asking his advice how they should do. Now, in his letter–which I have with me here, if it be at all doubted, and I think the date of this letter of Clement’s is somewhere about the end of the first century; I do not remember the year exactly, but it was before the century was out–he says to the Corinthians, "Ye have Paul’s letter; ye know what he says there", and he also makes a quotation from the letter to the Romans, which Paul addressed to that community. That is to say, within forty years of the time that Paul is alleged to have written the letters, these documents are, by the evidence I am now adducing, proved to have been in circulation amongst those to whom they profess to have been written, and to have been owned by them as the production of the apostle Paul. Now, the force of that argument will be very apparent to those who are acquainted with the nature of the epistle to the Corinthians particularly, for it is a document in which Paul does not speak very complimentarily about them. In it, he tells them they are carnal and walking as men.-(I Cor. 3:3.) He says to them in Ist Corinthians 11:22: "What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the Church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not." And in his second epistle to the same Church he speaks to them in the same terms of disagreeable admonition: "Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye [Corinthians] might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely? I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man; for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied; and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself."-(2 Corinthians 11:7-9). Now, the fact that a letter to a community that is condemned in it is still owned by that community as an authentic document, written to them by the alleged writer, is the strongest proof that it is authentic. Imagine a parallel case: suppose Mr. Bradlaugh writes a letter to some Secularist Society, blowing them up for some course they are taking, and they treasure this letter amongst their archives as a thing precious to be preserved, and forty years afterwards it is found in their hands, every member of them consenting to the proposition that that was Mr. Bradlaugh’s letter; would that not be evidence of the fact that Mr. Bradlaugh had written it? This is the kind of evidence that exists in this particular case, as applicable not only to this letter to the Corinthians, but to the other letters of the apostles. The authenticity of the Four Gospels is proved in the same way. I think it is Justin Martyr, in a book addressed to the Roman Emperor of the day, in his Apology for Christianity, that alludes to them in a form of speech, which clearly identifies the Four Gospels as being that to which he is alluding. Origen, I think, also alludes to the Four Gospels. There are other contemporary allusions of the same description, which I refer to merely to show this–that the gospels have a sufficient contemporary recognition to commend them to our confidence, so far as such recognition can do so; for when we come to the merits of the thing itself, when we come to look into the constitution of the New Testament, we do not require any outside evidence whatever. I require it not for my own individual conviction, but nevertheless people are generally more susceptible to impression from these foreign sources than from the nature of the thing itself. The allusions I am now referring to are evidence that in the beginning of the Christian era the letters of Paul and the Four Gospels were in circulation amongst those who knew whether or no they were authentic documents.