INFIDELS TESTIFY FOR CHRIST
AFTER THE EMERSONS were seated the next Sunday evening, Lucile leaned over to whisper: “Do you suppose, Dad, that he can really show that sceptics admit Christ to be the most important figure in all history?”
“I don’t see how he can,” replied her father, brows puckered in deep perplexity, “for if they do admit that, they will have to be Christians.”
George, who had been listening, spoke up, “Probably he will quote only obscure writers.”
Mr. Emerson considered this for a moment. “Sounds reasonable, George; I think you are right.”
“I have noticed,” observed Mrs. Emerson, “that Mr. Dare has so far always done what he has promised — yes, even more than you would expect from his words. I am confident he will produce leading, well-known sceptics to prove his point.”
The other three members of her family regarded her in amazement. “Why, Mother,” gasped Lucile, “has he converted you?”
“No, but I cannot help noticing that one by one the supposed unbreakable props supporting unbelief have been removed until not many remain. It seems to me that the doubter’s house is tottering. And now he promises to use unbelievers themselves to finish the work. I like the way he is doing this.”
They looked in increasing surprise at the usually meek and quiet Mrs. Emerson. “But Mother ——” began George.
“Hush!” whispered Lucile. “Here comes Mr. Dare.”
The speaker regarded his frankly impatient audience with a smile of welcome.
“I am glad to see you all back again. Last week we called attention to the fact that while we cannot now cross-examine the writers of the Gospels, they were cross examined as no other witnesses have ever been examined since the world began.
“They were examined and cross-examined, not only by shrewd enemies like the Jews, astute reasoners like the Greeks, and nimble-minded lawyers like the Romans, but also by fire, sword, cross, flogging, and death. The Gospels are the only historical records in the world tested by the torture of the historians and of many who believed their accounts.
“Now if we accept the writings of other historians whose veracity has not been tested by the scorching fire of persecution, how much more should we rely on the writings of the evangelists, whose accounts have been thus tested.
“The Man about whom the evangelists wrote would of necessity be amazingly unusual to inspire such unheard-of fidelity on the part of those who wrote about Him.
“But he was not only the most amazing, the most lovable, and the most powerful man in all history to the evangelists, but to modern sceptics as well —”
“Mr. Dare,” interrupted Mr. Emerson, “you have made similar statements a number of times, but as yet have offered no evidence. With all due respect to your sincerity and truthfulness, we must have more than your say-so.”
A ripple of applause drowned out the lecturer’s first attempt to reply. The audience was clearly in a mood that demanded direct action.
“All right. You shall have it right now. Mr. Emerson, will you please come forward and read from these sceptical writers as I shall hand the books to you?”
“With pleasure,” he replied as he made his way down the crowded aisle to the platform, where he was cordially greeted by both the lecturer and Dr. Morely, the chairman.
“I hand you this book,” said the lecturer, holding out a large volume to Mr. Emerson. “Will you please tell this audience about the author and his writings?”
Mr. Emerson examined the volume in his hand, then spoke so that all could hear:
“This is volume 2 of ‘History of European Morals,’ by William E. H. Lecky, who is also the author of ‘History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe.’ Mr. Lecky was an Irish historian, statesman, and philosopher who died in 1903, and a leading unbeliever of his time and country. He wrote four large volumes to prove that rationalism is the only guide a reasonable man can follow.”
“Then you would regard Lecky as a leading unbeliever of his day?” asked Mr. Dare.
“Decidedly,” replied Mr. Emerson.
“Now, please turn to pages 8 and 9, of the book you have, and read the passages marked,” directed the lecturer.
Mr. Emerson’s clear, strong voice was heard in every corner of the large auditorium as he read from the place indicated:
“ ‘It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has not been only the highest pattern of virtue, but also the strongest incentive to its practice; and has exercised so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortions of moralists.’ “
“Thank you — that will do for the moment.” Mr. Emerson seated himself next to Dr. Morely, while the lecturer turned to the audience, from whom subdued ejaculations of amazement were heard.
“Well, that was a centre shot,” gasped Lucile. Mrs. Emerson showed pleasure, and George looked puzzled.
“These words do affirm that Christ is the heart of all history: and not only that, but that three years of His life were more powerful for good than all the lives and productions of all the moralists and philosophers in the world. These are the words of a confirmed, avowed, world-renowned sceptic, written after years spent in carefully weighing all the evidence as an impartial historian.
“Such enthusiasm you might well expect to come from a warm believer, but I, equally with you, am amazed that such abounding extravagance of praise should come from a famous sceptic. But such is the fact, and it is not my business to explain it.
“If he were the only one to say such laudatory things, we might well regard it as a puzzling exception among the bold attackers of the Bible. But now I hand you another volume, Mr. Emerson. Will you please examine it and tell the audience about this writer?”
After a minute examining the book, Mr. Emerson said: “This is ‘Three Essays on Religion: Nature, the Utility of Religion, Theism,’ by John Stuart Mill, an English economist and philosopher who died a few years before Lecky. He was likewise noted as a pronounced unbeliever.”
“Very well,” said David Dare. “Please read from pages 253 to 255, as indicted.”
“ ‘Christ is still left; a unique figure, not more unlike all His precursors than all His followers, even those who had the direct benefit of His personal teaching. It is of no use to say that Christ as exhibited in the Gospels is not historical, and that we know not how much of what is admirable has been super-added by the tradition of His followers. . . . Who among His disciples, or among their proselytes, was capable of inventing the sayings ascribed to Jesus, or of imagining the life and character in the Gospels? Certainly not the fishermen of Galilee; as certainly not St. Paul, whose character and idiosyncrasies were of a totally different sort; still less the early Christian writers. . . .
“ ‘When this pre-eminent genius is combined with the qualities of probably the greatest moral reformer, and martyr to that mission, who ever existed upon earth, religion cannot be said to have made a bad choice in pitching on this Man as the ideal representative and guide to humanity; nor, even now, would it be easy, even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the rule of virtue from the abstract into the concrete, than to endeavour so to live that Christ would approve our life.’ “
“Observe,” said the lecturer, “that Mr. Mill, the sceptic, specifically says that an unbeliever cannot do better than to live so that Christ would approve his life. That is perilously near to saying that sceptics should be Christians! I agree with him.”
“But,” interrupted Mr. Emerson, “Mill never did make the slightest profession of Christianity. I am puzzled by his words.”
“I am puzzled, too; but there are his words, and when his sceptical friends remonstrated with him for writing them, he refused to have them omitted from successive editions of his book or to take them back. It is not for me to explain the inconsistency of unbelievers who say the most enthusiastic things about Christ and yet remain avowed unbelievers.
“All I am endeavouring to show is that the world’s leading sceptics take occasion, after they have spent years fighting Christianity, to praise Christ and Christianity with the same verve and vigour one would expect of ardent Christians. And while these two are noted sceptics, they are not all who have sounded the praises of Christ and Christianity. I shall now call to the witness stand even more famous unbelievers than these.”
David Dare handed a book to Mr. Emerson. “Please tell the audience who wrote this,” he said.
Mr. Emerson examined the volume in question, turned to the crowd, and spoke so that all could hear: “This is titled ‘Journal of Researches,’ and is written by Charles Darwin the famous evolutionary naturalist.”
“Would you class him as a Christian?” asked Mr. Dare.
“On the contrary, he cared nothing whatever for the Bible,” responded Emerson. “He was noted as an unbeliever.”
“During the years 1831 to 1836 Darwin circled the globe in the Beagle,” said the lecturer. “He reported that in New Zealand were the darkest spots found on all his journey.
“After he returned to England, he found vigorous attacks being made against missionaries and missionary activity. Writing of those making these attacks, he made the statements Mr. Emerson will now read from pages 414, 425, and 505.”
Mr. Emerson turned to the pages indicated and read:
“ ‘They forget, or will not remember, that human sacrifices and the power of an idolatrous priesthood — a system of profligacy unparalleled in another part of the world — infanticide, a consequent of that system — bloody wars, where conquerors spared neither women nor children — that all these have been abolished; and that dishonesty, intemperance, and licentiousness have been greatly reduced by Christianity. In a voyager to forget these things is base ingratitude; for should he chance to be at the point of shipwreck on some unknown coast, he will most devoutly pray that the lesson of the missionary may have reached thus far.’
“ ‘The lesson of the missionary is the enchanter’s wand. the house has been built, the widows framed, the fields ploughed, and even the trees grafted by the New Zealander.’
“ ‘The march of improvement, consequent on the introduction of Christianity throughout the south Seas, probably stands by itself in the records of history.’ “
“Why did an avowed unbeliever write in defence of Christian missions after having expressed his belief that they would utterly fail?” asked the lecturer after Mr. Emerson had handed the book back and seated himself. “Because he saw in person the indisputable evidence that his theory was wrong, and he had the honesty and manhood to confess his mistake. The results of the mission in New Zealand, which excited the surprise and elicited the eulogy of Darwin, are no different from the effects of Christian missions in every other part of the earth.
“Since sceptics generally will not concede the Bible to be more than a man-made book, why have they not given us a book to take its place? Since the majority of unbelievers think that the human race is constantly progressing — growing better — why don’t they prove it by producing a better book? But they have not even attempted to do this!
“From the time of Celsus to the present not a single rival has been put out by any sceptic or by any body of sceptics. There is no one book in all the world of which even one unbeliever, much less a thousand, will say: ‘This is the wisest of books in all the earth; this is the Book of books. Here all mankind may come for nurture of mind and elevation of heart and soul. Let’s translate it into every language of earth, and go with it to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, and, with sacrifice of life itself, show them a better way.’ But sceptics do come very near to saying this of the Bible, as we have seen, and as we shall see further.
“Sceptics now have numberless printing presses and great schools, and they claim the greatest scholars. They have immense wealth, boundless leisure, all the advantages of science. The world has been ransacked from pole to pole, its highest mountains scaled, its deepest oceans sounded; its telegraph and radio have made immediately available the knowledge of all nations, and books have made the past accumulations of the whole world the servant of us all.
“The rocks beneath, the stars above, by use of the microscope, crucible, and telescope have had many of their secrets wrested from them. Yet, with the advantage of all this two thousand years’ additional history and experience possessed by modern sceptics over the writers of the Bible, the sceptics have never even attempted to give us a book they claim to be better than the Bible. They usually spend the first twenty or more years after their maturity attacking the Bible, and before ending their lives, devote a few thoughtful pages in refutation of their previous attacks and in enthusiastic praise of the very Book they had so long vigorously opposed.
“Thus it came about that Thomas Huxley, after writing many articles against the Bible, faced the issue, and realizing how important it was that something better be found, if possible, searched ancient and modern literature with eager eye for such a book. Not finding it, he pleaded for the use of the Bible in public schools as the source of highest education.
“Mr. Emerson,” suggested Mr. Dare, “I am sure you can tell this audience what famous word was coined by Huxley.”
“Yes,” answered Mr. Emerson, he coined the word ‘agnostic,’ meaning, ‘one who does not know; an unbeliever.’ He called himself an agnostic.”
“I am handing you, Mr. Emerson, the Contemporary Review for December, 1870, which contains an article by Huxley. Please read the passages marked.”
All present listened carefully to these words:
“ ‘I have always been strongly in favour of secular education, in the sense of education without theology; but I must confess that I have been no less seriously perplexed to know by what practical measures the religious feeling, which is the essential basis of conduct, was to be kept up, in the present utterly chaotic state of opinion on these matters, without the use of the Bible. The pagan moralists lack life and colour. . . .Take the bible as a whole; make the severest deductions which fair criticism can dictate; . . .and there still remains . . . a vast residuum of moral beauty and grandeur.
“ ‘And then consider. . . that, for three centuries, this Book has been woven into the life of all that is best and noblest in English history; . . . that it is written in the noblest and purest English, and abounds in exquisite beauties of a mere literary form; and finally, that it forbids the veriest hind who never left his village to be ignorant of the existence of other countries and other civilizations, and of a great past, stretching to the farthest limits of the oldest nations in the world.’ “
“And now,” said David Dare, “here is another word by Huxley, from a book entitled ‘Science and Education,’ page 398.”
Mr. Emerson took the book and read clearly:
“ ‘By the study of what other book could children be so much humanized and made to feel that each figure in that vast historical procession fills, like themselves, but a momentary space in the interval between two eternities; and earns the blessings or the curses of all time, according to its effort to do good and hate evil?’ “
He closed the book with a very sober expression on his face.
“Yes, this is the same man who spent several years in a heated debate with Gladstone over the Bible,” said Mr. Dare. “Huxley later entered his protest against the ‘heterodox Philistine’ who found in the Bible ‘nothing but a subject for scoffing and an occasion for the display of his conceited ignorance.’ Then in another book, ‘Essays Upon Controverted Questions,’ pages 39 and 40, he makes it clear that his opinions as just exhibited to you were not momentary, but were a settled conviction.” This book the lecturer also handed to Mr. Emerson. He read:
“ ‘The Bible has been the Magna Charta of the poor and of the oppressed; down to modern times, no state has had a constitution in which the interests of the people are so largely taken into account, in which the duties, so much more than the privileges, of rulers are insisted upon, as that drawn up for Israel; . . . nowhere is the fundamental truth that the welfare of the state, in the long run, depends on the uprightness of the citizen, so strongly laid down. . . . I do believe that the human race is not yet, possibly may never be, in a position to dispense with it [the Bible].’ “
“Now, according to the great unbeliever, Thomas Huxley, the best way to educate children, to inculcate morals, to aid the poor and oppressed, to instruct rulers and train citizens, is by means of the bible,” said the lecturer.
“We have found that leading unbelievers, one after another, have frankly turned to the bible as the only source of moral and religious and practical education. In closing today’s lecture I shall refer to another great scientist, a contemporary of Darwin and Huxley, and nearly as well know — George Romanes. He was a pronounced sceptic. Shortly before his death he wrote some reflections on religion, born of his dissatisfaction with scepticism. He reviewed the whole field of moral and religious literature, hunting for the best, and at the close of his book, posthumously published, he sums up his convictions. I desire Mr. Emerson to read from ‘Thoughts on Religion,’ page 170 and 171.”
Mr. Emerson took the book, fingered it thoughtfully for a minute, and then read:
“ ‘Not only is Christianity thus so immeasurably in advance of all other religions, it is no less so of every other system of thought that has ever been promulgated, in regard to all that is moral and spiritual. Whether it be true or false, it is certain that neither philosophy, science, nor poetry has ever produced results in thought, conduct, or beauty in any degree to be compared with it.’ It is ‘the greatest exhibition of the beautiful, the sublime, and of all else that appeals to our spiritual nature, which has ever been known upon our earth.’ ‘What has all the science or all the philosophy of the world done for the thought of mankind to be compared with the one doctrine, “God is love”?’ “
Mr. Emerson stood as in a daze, looking at the words he had just read. A voice in the audience shouted, “Read that again.” Others made the same request. So he repeated the passage, slowly, thoughtfully, almost reverently. As he finished and sat down, the whole audience was meditatively silent. Finally, David Dare spoke:
“Had these glowing eulogies been written by some famous preacher, you might even then have expressed surprise at their warmth. But I must confess that I share your amazement that they are the expressions of world-famous infidels. Now, if the world leaders in unbelief issue such panegyrics on the bible, Christianity, and Christ, why should any of you continue in unbelief? When the world’s leading sceptics see in the Bible the most beneficent power on earth, it is high time we all gave it more careful study.”
Mr. Emerson arose to speak. “I have read these extracts with mingled emotions,” he said. “I admit that I never imagined these men had said such things. However, influential as these men are known to have been, they are now dead, and have been dead from sixty to eighty years. Much has been discovered in the past thirty years to affect the beliefs of thinkers. I should like to know what leading modern sceptics have said by way of admissions.”
The applause that followed Mr. Emerson’s words indicated a similar desire on the part of the audience. The lecturer stepped forward and said:
“Very well. Next week
we will consider confessions of leading modern infidels.”