Mr. ROBERTS: It suits Mr. Bradlaugh’s purpose to make these statements, but it would not suit my purpose to do what he challenges me to do, because–and he knows that well–in pursuing these unimportant enquiries, I would be prevented from doing other things which I am more particularly intent upon doing, and which are of far more consequence, and that is the exhibition before you of positive evidences which establish my proposition. Nevertheless, I affirm that I have produced the authorities he asks for. They are on the platform now, and if Mr. Bradlaugh will consent to the appointment of a committee of gentlemen, they will investigate the truth of my statement.
Mr. BRADLAUGH (pointing to the audience): Here is the committee.
Mr. ROBERTS: Meanwhile I shall do my part, and that part is to prove my case. It is no way of proving the case to combat difficulties in detail. Nevertheless I am prepared to combat all these difficulties. Let Mr. Bradlaugh give me the opportunity by accepting a challenge for another six nights, in which he will undertake to affirm that the Bible is a forgery, or a mass of sincere nonsense, or whatever else he likes to affirm it to be. In such a discussion I would be free to follow him in all his arguments. Meanwhile it is his part to follow me. I have to deal with positive evidence, and my dealing with it prevents me doing all he would like me to do.
Before I proceed further, I will fulfil the promise I made the last time we were together, that I would give evidence of the existence of the law of Moses at Shiloh for a period of centuries. The process of proof consists in reading certain texts out of the Bible. Mr. Bradlaugh does not like so much Bible reading. I can only say that more weight attaches to the contents of the Bible itself than to the ephemeral, worthless sayings of contemporary witnesses to the fact of the Bible’s existence. The first I shall quote are the directions of Moses to the priests (Deuteronomy 31:9), "And Moses wrote this law and delivered it unto the priests, the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and unto all the elders of Israel". In the 25th verse of the same chapter, Moses gave these directions: "Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee." Not "in the ark", as Mr. Bradlaugh suggested the other night, making it an objection that the place would not be large enough; but near it–by the side of it, in a manner we should understand if we had an exact knowledge of its surroundings. Then we have the information that the ark followed Joshua and the Israelites. Joshua 3rd chapter, 17th verse:–"And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan." In the 18th chapter of Joshua and the 1st verse we have:–"And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at SHILOH, and set up the tabernacle of the congregation there." The tabernacle of the congregation included all that constituted it, and one of those items was the ark and the law written by Moses. We find the tabernacle still at Shiloh in the days of Samuel (I Sam. 1:3; 3:15-21; 4:4), which was at least four centuries after it was set up by Joshua. I now proceed to show that the law was in the custody of the priests, and that it was their duty to teach it. In the 33rd chapter of Deuteronomy, 10th verse, we read: "The Levites shall teach Jacob Thy judgments, and Israel thy law; they shall put incense before thee and whole burnt sacrifice upon thine altar." In the reign of Jehoshaphat, we read (2 Chron. 17:8) that he sent Levites to teach in the cities of Judah. "And they taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of the Lord with them, and went about through all the cities of Judah, and taught the people." Again (Mal. 2:7), "The priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth." The conclusion deducible from these promises is that the priests had the law in their possession at Shiloh. I don’t attach any importance to the point; but having promised to prove it, I have fulfilled my promise, and must now proceed to the further illustration of the argument which it is my duty to unfold.
Before I do so, I would notice the statement of Mr. Bradlaugh, that superstitions and religion–which he seems to regard as interchangeable terms are the outgrowth of ages, the result of climate, and of natural peculiarities. He says that religion is not the product of particular men, or of particular circumstances. That may be true with regard to superstitions, which are not worth discussing, but it is not true with regard to the religion of the Bible. The religion of the Bible is, in a secondary sense of course, the work of particular men, and the offspring of particular circumstances of the most definite character. It is upon this, in fact, that I rely, as affording one of the most conclusive evidences of its truthfulness and divinity. It is very easy to talk of the "outgrowth of ages", but this will carry no weight with those who are acquainted with the facts of the case. My argument is that there is a method in the growth of Bible religion which, when critically investigated, will show that it was a designed affair, and not an accidental development of superstitious or any other kind of sentiment. The work of Moses in Egypt and the wilderness, for forty years with the Jews; the life and sayings of the prophets that arose in Israel; the appearance and doings of Christ and his apostles in the beginning of the Christian era, are all matters of a definite, palpable, and historic character, connected with statements of fact which, if sustained, prove the divinity of Bible religion beyond question: and the writings produced by all these men, giving an account of their proceedings, are also matters of palpable evidence; and my contention is that an examination of all these things in connection with the effects which are now visible in the world before our eyes, in true process of logic, will yield the result that the religion of the Bible is not like the religion of the Brahmin or any other superstition of unenlightened ages or nations, but is directly due to the initiative of Almighty wisdom, and therefore a coherent, and rational, and elevating, and glorious system of truth, which has already, despite of Mr. Bradlaugh’s declaration to the contrary, immensely benefited the world, and given us a far higher civilisation than any other system is capable of doing, and which, in the hands of God, like the path of the just, will yet shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day; for the world has not seen the last of the work of God on earth. The Bible informs us that Christ will re-appear and sweep away all the political nuisances which Mr. Bradlaugh tries in vain to reform, and establish a perfect system of government in the autocratic, infallible, and omnipotent despotism which Christ will give to the world. This, and not Republicanism, is the destined cure for the evils under which the world groans.
The incidents connected with the development of the work of Christ upon earth, to which Mr. Bradlaugh alluded, in my judgment, tell the other way from Mr. Bradlaugh’s construction of them. I could not understand his logic about Peter. It seems to me that Peter’s denial of Christ constitutes the greatest possible proof that Peter afterwards had good reason for preaching his resurrection. Not only so, but it is a positive evidence of the genuineness of the narrative. How came it to be recorded that Peter denied his Master? The very fact that we should have so distinct a record of Peter’s denial of his Lord is a proof that the record is a Divine work; for if Christianity had been a human movement, the writers on its behalf would carefully have suppressed such a fact; and we have, in the very fact that such a man should be chosen as the principal apostle, another evidence of the Divine work; for men devising such a work would not have placed in the forefront the man who had disgraced himself most; but because there is a God, and because He so works that there is no room for human boasting, Peter who had so humbled himself, was placed in a position where another man might have been uplifted. God’s authority and God’s honour are placed in the forefront, when the work is in the hands of a man who has everything to be personally ashamed of and nothing to boast of. Therefore that Peter, the leader of the apostles, should be recorded as having denied Christ, to my mind, leads to an exactly opposite conclusion to that which Mr. Bradlaugh extracts from it. It is a peculiarity we find in other cases; for not only was Peter, who denied Christ, chosen as the mouthpiece of the apostles, but Paul who persecuted the Church, was used as the most influential and successful agent in the dissemination of the religion of Christ throughout the world. Mr. Bradlaugh is obliged to admit that the Christians were an extensive community at the end of the first century, and that they were persecuted for the name of Christ which they professed. This is established by the letter of Pliny to the Emperor Trajan, and however he may try to obscure the bearing of the fact, here comes a problem which Mr. Bradlaugh says he is not bound to explain. It is a problem, the historic reality of which rests upon unquestionable grounds. The evidence I produce is not Justin Martyr, nor any of those other men with whose writings he is so particularly familiar, and who, in my judgment, are trashy writers. I rely upon historic facts, which Mr. Bradlaugh cannot overturn, and which his class have never been able to explain in harmony with their theory of Christ’s resurrection being a myth. We know that men will not sacrifice everything and go to prison and death for a myth; but men did this for Christ, and Christ was commended to them on personally attested and solid facts. Paul said, "I preach unto you Christ. I have seen him. I give proof of his working with me in these signs and to you personally if you believe in him and obey him." If that is accepted, there is a reasonable explanation of the circumstance that vast crowds believed and submitted to disadvantage for their belief. But Mr. Bradlaugh says there never was a Paul. I call upon him to explain how it comes to pass that the vast community, whose existence he cannot historically deny, came into being without a Paul; and how that community, in all the ages of its existence, came to believe in Paul? It is playing with the subject to go recklessly in the face of manifest truth. The New Testament explanation is a rational explanation. There is no other rational explanation. It shows the straits of unbelievers that Mr. Bradlaugh should have to suggest that the New Testament was a forgery, written A.D. 150. It cannot be. How could it be? There were then large communities who would have been witnesses to the imposition. How could they, in various parts of the world, have been brought for the first time to accept as Paul’s letters documents professing to have been written a hundred years before, but of which they had never heard anything till then for the first time? It is utterly contrary to all reason.
I have but a minute and a half, and I conclude by saying that the general character of the gospel teaching of Christ is of itself evidence of its divinity. For what is it? That by submitting to present denial in a variety of ways, without any hope of compensation in this present life, we may afterwards attain to a higher benefit which nobody can confer but God. Would any man have invented a doctrine like that? Would any man have deferred the hope of advantage to a remote and subsequent time as the benefit of present sacrifice? We have only to examine the whole range of human philosophy to see how utterly non-human such a system is.–(Time called.)