The CHAIRMAN: Mr. Roberts will now deliver his concluding speech for which he is to be allowed the full time.
Mr. ROBERTS: And now, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the end of the discussion. It has not been so entirely satisfactory as might have been wished; but it has been as much so as was to be expected with the limited time at disposal and the broken form into which the discussion has necessarily been thrown. I, for one, am well content with the result. I have established a series of propositions which, in their combined force, place it beyond all reasonable doubt, that the Scriptures are the authentic and reliable records of divine revelation.
I have proved that, beginning where we stand, the state of the facts now existing in the world is such as ought to exist on the hypothesis that the Bible is true.
I have proved that there is in contemporary literature sufficient evidence of the fact of the Scriptures having existed at the time they profess to have begun to be in circulation, although admitting that such evidence is not necessary in the presence of the far weightier evidences of their divinity that exist.
I have proved that the unquestionable facts connected with the establishment of Christianity in the world in the first century, are incapable of being explained on any rational principle apart from the New Testament account that Christ rose from the dead, and that power to work miracles was bestowed on the apostles. I have proved 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 entire Scriptures. I have proved that the literary and moral peculiarities of the Bible are at variance with the supposition of its being a human production, though this argument I have not had time to elaborate to the extent I should have liked. I have proved that the history of the Jewish nation, 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.
And lastly, I have proved that the prophecies of the Bible–fulfilled in the past, and now fulfilling before our eyes–are an irresistible evidence of their divine character.
How have these arguments been met? Has there been any attempt to grapple with them on their merits? None whatever. Mr. Bradlaugh, instead of attempting to break the chain of my reasoning, has hurled at me, in his undiscriminating way, a number of detached features of Bible things, which he alleges to be contradictory of the professed character and teaching of the Bible. Even if his contention about them had been correct, their citation was no answer to the argument I have submitted. But what are we to say to them when they turn out to be mere points of ex parte declamation. Mr. Bradlaugh professes to find things in the Bible inconsistent with what he thinks God ought to be and to do; therefore these things are inconsistent with the God the Bible reveals. Extraordinary reasoning! I have disposed of some of his objections; and it will be on public record in this discussion that I offer at any time, in public contest with Mr. Bradlaugh, to answer or explain all that he can produce, when he will consent to affirm the Bible is an imposture, and so give me the opportunity of disproving the arguments he will advance in support of his affirmation.
Then he has endeavoured to embarrass me on the mere question of technical reference to writings whose existence is notorious to all the world. He knew that in one or two cases the name of a non-existent work was all that was relied upon as proving the existence of the New Testament at the date of that work’s production; yet he insisted on the production of the work, while refusing to recognise the weight of those actually produced. It is immaterial to the purpose for which I used them whether they were really the works of their professed authors or not. They were written in the first and second centuries; it matters not by whom. They quote the New Testament many times over, which shows the New Testament existed at the time they were written, and this was all the use I sought to make of them . But I could have dispensed with them; the argument is irresistible without them. My reference to them only gave Mr. Bradlaugh an opportunity of appearing to advantage, which he would otherwise have lacked.
Well, I do not blame Mr. Bradlaugh for his tactics. They were the only tactics available to him in the discussion if he was to appear to show any fight at all. He could make no headway against the overwhelming arguments in defence of the Bible. In the eyes of his friends he could not even appear to make a stand, except by giving to these irrelevant matters a prominence that does not logically belong to them. I will allow he has made a good handling of a very bad case.
But what does his contention amount to, even supposing we were for a moment to allow, for the sake of argument, that he had established what he has been contending for? Merely this, that he (Mr. B.), does not believe in the New Testament. It may be true for anything he knows to the contrary; he is inclined to think it is not true, but he cannot prove that is not so, and it is not his business! Is that a position with which a wise man ought to be content on a subject of such tremendous importance? Rather, will not the highest reason impel a man, in such a case, to seek for solid ground of conviction one way or other? A wise man will not be content with a "maybe" in such a matter as this. He will not rest till he is able to say with confidence, "I know this to be a forgery and a lie, for I can prove it", or "I know this to be the truth of God; for it is in my power to give conclusive evidence of it."
I have unfolded an argument during these six nights, imperfect and fragmentary though it be, which justifies a man in taking the second of these confident positions. I have shown by the facts accessible to all men, in connection with the Bible, that God exists, and that He has a glorious purpose with the earth and with man upon it, involving immortal life and perfect well-being to all who may become beneficially related in the way revealed by Christ. Is there no antecedent presumption in favour of such a conclusion, in our own constitution and in the spectacle of heaven and earth around us? Is it reasonable to suppose that the stupendous system of the universe exists for no higher end than the feeble gratification of an ephemeral and decaying race of animals? Is it reasonable to suppose that the aspirations of the noblest of mankind are without a counterpart in the region of the possible? Is it reasonable to suppose that the earnest uplifting of the human heart in agonising desire towards a Higher than man are without a meaning in the universe of being? The vibrations of the needle pointed to the pole long before the existence of such a point on the earth’s surface was known. So, in true philosophy, do our fervent longings point to the Almighty Father and Disposer of all things, even if He had not chosen to reveal Himself.
The higher minds of the nation are on the side of my argument in an indirect way. Mr. Gladstone in his article on "Phases of Modern Thought", just published in the Fortnightly Review, has told us that in his judgment, the system of negation represented by Mr. Bradlaugh and his friends, is calculated, if generally received, to disintegrate society in the next generation, though its present advocates, through the bias of inherited principles, might continue subject to moral restraint. Professor Tyndall, in the preface to his published addresses, says that mankind requires the lifting power of a noble ideal. Even John Stuart Mill, born and bred a sceptic, in his last days assumed an attitude indicative of something higher than his atheistic proclivities. The Daily News says "Mr. Mill was so far true to his early training that he tried hard to show how small was the intellectual warrant for the misty aspirations; but the ‘Time-Spirit’ led him again and again to the brink of the abyss after logic had made its final declaration; and his last book reveals him in the attitude of one looking across the ocean of eternity with wistful eyes and something of a fond expectancy. Thus he presents one of the most pathetic figures in all the literature of negation. His aspirations for something to believe in beyond this petty life will speak to doubting intellects with intense force. He and such as he testify not that this age is sceptical, but that even sceptical minds hunger for a religion in which they can believe. The last century tried to feed the mind on the husks of dry and negative logic, but again has come that yearning for something higher, which has often before been the harvest of new faiths. When essentially scientific intellects like Mill and Tyndall link reverential hopes to strict deduction of the reason, the most careless observer may detect an immense transformation of opinion, and the most timid heart may take comfort."
All these utterances of the intellectual men of our day, point in the direction of a need which the Bible supplies. The Bible gives us the purifying and reforming restraint which Mr. Gladstone sees human society needs. It gives us a divine interdict of evil doing and a divine command of well-doing. The Bible gives us the uplifting ideal of professor Tyndall’s declared want. It gives us an ideal glorified man–the manifestation of the Eternal invisible Father of all–a man who once lived in our weak and afflicted state, whose work has already filled the world with light compared with the darkness that reigned before his appearance; a man who now exists in an incorruptible, immortal, omnipotent nature; whose reappearance in the world will take place at an appointed time for the abolition of every existing form of human government, and the establishment of a divine despotism for the blessing of all mankind, on the foundation of glory to God, to whom alone glory is reasonably due; with whose appearance there is associated this glorious prospect for every friend of his, that he will use the power God has given him to recall them from the oblivion of the grave, or transform them to an immortal state identical with his own, and associate them with himself, with every circumstance of honour and renown, in the perfect order of things he will establish and administer among men in that blessed day of promise, when there shall be no more curse and no more pain, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. A more uplifting ideal it is impossible to conceive; and as for poor John Stuart Mill’s wistful wonderment of the future, the gospel of Chrsit is the satisfactory and the only answer. There is no solution apart from it. There is no consolation to the intellectual mind apart from it. It gives the believer of it a permanent interest in the universe and its affairs. It takes away the blackness which darkens and shortens the Atheist’s horizon; it dispels the fear, the ennui, and the gloom, which, at some time or other, invade every man’s thought, and rescues him from that depressing companionship with fossils and death which Mr. Bradlaugh’s faith compels him to accept; and gives him instead a fellowship with the Almighty through His Son, and a destiny as glorious and endless as the sun itself.
A knowledge of the truth puts its possessor in the privileged position of being able to explain the conflicts that distract the intellectual world, and to see his way through the labyrinth where others are lost. He turns his back on the priest and preacher, as the scientist does: but he grasps the Bible to his bosom, as the scientist does not, having in the understanding of it, attained to the possession of a religion that he can believe in, without closing his ear to science like the dogmatist, or to the voice of Jewish historic evidence like the scientist–a religion which solves the problem of human existence, mellowing the present with the tranquility of faith, and gilding the future with the brightness of well-founded and rational hope. This is truly a great possession, the value of which is enhanced by the foregoing newspaper picture of intellectual unbelievers looking (vainly) across the ocean of eternity with wistful eyes. Christ is the solution of all anxiety in this direction, and he is to be obtained in the belief and obedience of the truth. "If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins."
I admit the glory of it has been obscured by a false theology, whose hideousness is due to a mixture of the philosophical speculations of ancient Pagans with the fables of Romish priests, glossed by the thinnest varnish of Scripture phraseology. I admit that, for this reason, men like Mr. Bradlaugh are more to be pitied than blamed. I do pity him. In some respects I like him. And I would tell even him to hope; for the Creator of heaven and earth is gracious and forgiving, and will forgive even blasphemies equal to his, if he will turn and repent and submit himself as a dutiful child to the Everlasting Power, in whose hand his breath is, and whose are all his ways. But he may not hope if he does not repent. Though the reigning darkness of Christendom may excuse him, and his courage and manliness may extenuate the blacker features of his case, the truth compels every friend of it to regard him as a misleader of men to their utter ruin both now and hereafter. In this character I have, at the request of the truth’s friends, accepted the present opportunity of strenuously opposing him, in the proof that the Scriptures are the authentic and reliable records of divine revelation.