THURSDAY, 22nd JUNE, 1876,
IN THE TEMPERANCE HALL, BIRMINGHAM.
THE CHAIR WAS OCCUPIED BY MR. GEORGE H. ST. CLAIR.
THE CHAIRMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, this being the last night of the debate, time is of more consequence. I trust it is not necessary to make a single remark, and I shall sit down at once, asking Mr. Roberts to commence on the affirmative side as usual.
Mr. ROBERTS: Mr. Chairman, ladies, and gentlemen, on this, the last night of the debate, it is my duty to submit to you the strongest of the arguments which I have to bring forward in substantiation of the proposition that the Scriptures are the authentic and reliable records of Divine revelation. My contention to-night is that the prophecies of the Bible–so explicit, so sober, and so useful in their character, being in these respects 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–evidence which becomes simply overwhelming when we consider their fulfilment in the accomplished history of mankind. That you will perceive is a very large subject, but I shall have to treat it in a very small way on account of limited time.
If there is one feature more characteristic of the Bible than another, it is the peculiarity of prophecy–the foretelling of coming events. It runs–I will not say as a golden thread or vein, but rather as a broad belt or seam of precious metal throughout the book, beginning at the very beginning, and only ending at the last chapter of Revelation. Genesis 3, for example, contains a comprehensive prediction of human redemption, "That the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head", and that at last the seed of the woman shall triumph, into which in detail I do not now enter, having more palpable matter in hand. I will not enter minutely into the history of the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose history is replete with the element of prophecy; nor into the history of Israel, of which the same may be said. I will bring before you those prophecies which, both for their extensiveness and frequency, and the remarkable manner in which they have been fulfilled, are visible to the eyes of all the nations of the earth. I refer first to the predictions which have been realised in the history of the Jewish nation. Mr. Bradlaugh’s notions on the subject are somewhat indefinite, but he was bound to admit last night that the Jews were an ancient race, going back at least 3,000 years, and that they have, all that time, had documents which they have regarded as those of Moses, and which they have all that time regarded as divine. I shall quote from those documents, because their reception for so long a period is a proof that they are so entitled to be received. As I have said, the predictions are so frequent and extensive that I shall have to be content with a mere selection, at the same time premising that they are but a sample or two of hundreds.
We have in the 26th chapter of Leviticus, the 31st to the 36th verses, a statement which I will now read: "I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries into desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours. And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it. And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste. Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths. As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths when ye dwelt upon it. And upon them that are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth". I call attention to a similar statement in the book of Deuteronomy by the same speaker. In Deut. 28:49, 50, 61, we read: "The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand; a nation of fierce countenance, which shall not regard the person of the old nor show favour to the young . . . Also every sickness, and every plague, which is not written in the book of this law, them will the Lord bring upon thee until thou be destroyed". I should like to read other illustrations of the same thing, but I must be content to refer to one specimen from each of the prophets: Isaiah 6:11-12; Jer. 5:15-20; Ezek. 5:5-17; Dan. 12:7; Hosea 9:17; Joel 1: 1-6; Amos. 8:12; Micah 5-16; Zeph. 1: 12-18, &c. & c.. I add to the list the prediction of Christ himself, who spoke upon the same subject in the following terms. In Luke 21:24, he was foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem, and the calamities which should befall the Jewish nation, and at verse 24 he says: "They shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." As a comment upon all these predictions, I simply point to the fact of the desolation of Jerusalem under the foot of the Gentiles for eighteen centuries, and the dispersion of the Jews among all the civilised nations under heaven. Here is the prophecy: there is its fulfilment. Can it be possible for prophecies to be fulfilled more completely than these? The Jews are the most valuable witnesses of the Bible’s truth. Mr. Bradlaugh did not quite comprehend my argument as to their continuous existence being involved in the question of the truth of the Bible, and I will make the argument plainer now, since in itself it involves the fulfilment of prophecy in the most specific manner. The simple prophecy that the Jew would remain in all nations until a certain time, "until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled", would alone require, if true, that the Jews must be in existence at the present time. But I will make the argument more manifest than that. In Jeremiah 30:11, we read: "Though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee; but I win correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished." Again, Amos 9:8:–"Behold the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the Lord." In Deut. 32:26, we have a memorial song a prophetic song: prophetic of Israel’s future experiences, which Moses committed to the custody of Joshua, the son of Nun; a very remarkable composition, certainly, if it was the production of a patriot who wished to ingratiate himself with the people. It is worthy to be read through; but I must confine myself to an extract, as bearing on the point in view:–"I said I would scatter them into corners; I would make the remembrance of them to cease among men, were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy, lest their adversaries should behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high; the Lord hath not done all this." Here you see is an express reservation of the Jews from destruction for a season; and, accordingly, here they are in our midst. God has preserved them from generation to generation. The arrangements of human affairs are at God’s disposal and not in human hands, although men think they are the initiators in the case. Then I conclude this part of the argument by calling attention to this, that at the time spoken of when the promised Messiah shall be manifested in great glory, we read that "He shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Israel from the four corners of the earth", whence it follows that, up to that period, they will be found in that position, and there they now are.
I will now allude to the second point which Mr. Bradlaugh equally failed to comprehend, which is that the truthfulness of the Scriptures requires that there should be at this day a dominant Christianity–political, tyrannical, and corrupt–a complete perversion of the original thing. I now call attention to the proofs of this. I begin with Paul, who, in Acts 20:28, says: "Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves, and unto all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers; feed the flock of God which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this that, after my departure, shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock, also of your own selves shall men arise and SPEAK PERVERSE THINGS." In writing to Timothy (4th chapter 3rd verse) he says: "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine: but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." There we have a prediction of departure from the truth as apostolicary delivered. I now produce the evidence that this was to grow into a political shape, and give the world an ecclesiastical imposture, supported by the sword. Paul’s brethren in Thessalonica had been agitated about the coming of Christ as an event which was about to happen, but he knew it could not happen until certain things occurred. In 2 Thess. 2 he tells us what these certain things are. he says: "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God . . . And now ye know what withholdeth that he should be revealed in his time. Only he who hindereth will hinder till he be taken out of the way. And then shall that wicked be revealed whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming." Therefore, according to Paul’s prophetical foresight, there ought to have been in our past times an extensive corruption of Christianity, resulting in the development of a pretender to divine authority, who, as one head over all, should exhibit himself as a prominent object of the highest homage upon earth. I ask if the whole of this great prophecy has not exactly been realised? What is the most conspicuous feature of the history of Europe but the spectacle of a man in the name of Christ claiming the highest authority, and lording it over the kings and governments of the earth? And what is the foundation upon which he rests but an extensive professedly Christian society in all the countries of Europe, which has nothing in common with the faith originally preached by the apostles? The mischief that led to this result had begun to work in the days of the apostles. Paul says to Timothy that a whole district had turned away from him (2 Timothy 1: 15):–"This thou knowest that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me, of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes." According to John, the longest-lived disciple of Christ, the departure from apostolic principles had become so serious in his day that it was necessary to try every professor whether he was true or not. See I John 4:1-7 for this. The history of European Christianity is not the history of a truly apostolic thing. Mr. Bradlaugh was not too fervid in his denunciations of the system which has cursed Europe for so many centuries. His mistake was to make the Bible responsible for that system, to the symbolic prediction of whose uprise and success I now call your attention. Revelation 17:1:–"And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, ‘Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness, and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of naines of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand, full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication; and upon her forehead was a name written Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots, and Abominations of the Earth." We are told in the 6th verse that John "wondered with great admiration", at the spectacle, and the angel explains to him the meaning of what he has seen. It is to that explanation I now call attention as furnishing the prophecy in question. First of all what is the meaning of the woman? and before we seek the answer to that, I would remind you that the community of Christ those who are true to him and keep his commandments, are likened to a bride, a chaste virgin, espoused to an absent husband for whom she is waiting. Here, in the symbol before us, we have a false woman riding upon a scarlet-coloured beast. It is important to notice this in preparation for the explanation which identifies a false church with the symbol. I hope Mr. Bradlaugh won’t make fun of the scarlet-coloured beast, for I presume he does not despise the British Lion. Symbolism is appropriate in its place. If we have a more hideous symbol than the British Lion to deal with here, it is because we have a more hideous system represented. In the 18th verse, we have the answer as to who the woman is: "And the woman which thou sawest is that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth." I am sure there will be no dispute between Mr. Bradlaugh and myself as to what city that was. Rome exercised imperial power over the whole world at that time.
Mr. BRADLAUGH: No.
Mr. ROBERTS: Over the whole civilised world. Rome is here represented as having ecclesiastical relations with the kings of the earth, which answers to history exactly. "The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sitteth" Rome is on seven hills. And there are seven kings: five are fallen, one is and the other is not yet come." The Roman symbol comprehended a representation of the seven forms of sovereignty that have been located on the seven hills of the topographical Rome. Up to the time of John’s prophecy five forms of government had passed over those seven hills since the time of Romulus: the sixth (the imperial) existed at the time of the vision. The seventh prevailed for a short time, as the prophecy states, and the eighth, the Papal, is of the seven, for it is only another form for the Pagan; it is Paganism under a new name. I say that the history of Rome verifies in a marked manner these predictions of the apostles Paul and John. The complaint that the present system is a hideous system is well founded, but that complaint is an unwitting testimony to the truth of this great prediction. A religious apostacy, taking a political shape was to make all the nations of the earth drunk with false doctrine and sentiment; and the proof of its having accomplished this befuddling mission is seen in the fact that when anyone attempts to present the sober truth of God, he is set down by religious people as an infidel or heretic.