THE EMERSON FAMILY had comfortably seated themselves and greeted a few friends, but it was not quite time for the lecture to begin.
“I can’t help admiring the workmanlike way in which David Dare has gone about his task,” observed Lucile. “Instead of simply saying that many prophecies cannot be denied or explained away by unbelievers, he produces them and invites the unbeliever to do his worst. And, frankly, so far the unbeliever hasn’t done very much.”
“That’s a fact,” agreed her brother. “And instead of saying sceptics admit Christ to be the greatest character of all time, he has dad on the platform reading it out of the sceptic’s very own books. I call that a clever move. I wonder who the converted infidels are he promised to tell us about tonight.”
“You may be sure,” said Mrs. Emerson, “that they are more than ordinary unbelievers.”
“I agree with you all,” said Mr. Emerson, smiling. “Mr. Dare is handling this whole discussion in a most original and pleasing manner. He has indulged in no cheap sarcasm, has given every speaker a fair, courteous hearing, and has answered all questions in a clear, convincing manner. And — but there he goes to the platform.”
The lecturer nodded to several with whom he had become acquainted, among them the Emerson’s, and began:
“Two infidels once sat in a railway car discussing Christ’s wonderful life. One of them said, ‘I think an interesting romance could be written about Christ.’
“The other replied, ‘You are right; and you are just the man to write it. Set forth the correct view of His life and character. Tear down the prevailing sentiment as to His divinity, and paint Him as He was — a mere man among men.’
“The suggestion was acted on, and years later the romance appeared. The man who made the suggestion was Colonel Robert Ingersoll, the world-famous infidel; the author was General Lew Wallace; and the book was ‘Ben Hur.’
“In studying his sources — the Gospels — for material to write the romance, General Wallace found himself facing the unaccountable Man Jesus. The more he studies Christ’s life and character, the more profoundly he was convinced that He was more than a man among men.
“He was amazed by the fact that out of an obscure Galilean village, so mean and low that its very name was a reproach, came this young man, versed in neither Greek nor Hebrew — a young carpenter who had hardly been outside His province, but whose first public utterance, the Sermon on the Mount, is the most original and revolutionary address on practical morals the world has ever heard.
“Lew Wallace, like the rest of the world, wondered at His words. Age has not dimmed their light, lessened their appealing sweetness, or diminished their force. Familiarity has not spoiled their freshness or destroyed their fragrance. His words shine out peerless as ever, the sweetest, calmest, wisest words ever spoken to men.
“Lew Wallace discovered Christ to be the person that literature feels to be its loftiest ideal, philosophy its highest personality, criticism its supreme problem, theology its fundamental doctrine, religion its cardinal necessity, and man his closest Friend.
“He found Christ to be the great central fact in the world’s history. To Him everything looks forward or backward; all lines of history converge in Him and radiate from Him. At last, unable to resist the evidence, Lew Wallace, the infidel friend of the infidel Ingersoll, was constrained to cry, like the centurion under the cross, ‘Truly this was the Son of God.’ So in the writing of ‘Ben Hur,’ a book that was to exhibit Christ merely as a human man, Lew Wallace was converted, and painted Him as the Son of God.
“About ten years ago Europe was thunderstruck by a book about Christ. The author had been noted as a most rabid atheist. He says that he ‘affronted Christ as few men before him have ever done.’ He wrote sneering books, letting his ‘mad and voluble humour run wild along all the roads of paradox’ and ‘negation’ to arrive at ‘perfect atheism.’
“He went on to say that he did not turn to Christ ‘out of weariness, because his return to Christ made life become more difficult and responsibilities heavier to bear; not through the fears of old age, for he could still call himself a young man [he was forty]; and not through desire for worldly fame, because as things go nowadays he would receive more commendation if he continued in his old ideas.’ In short, after one has written books attacking Christ and Christianity, and is noted as a leader of infidels, it is indeed hard to turn around and confess he has been mistaken.
“But this is what Giovanni Papini, the renowned and self-proclaimed atheist, did. His ‘Life of Christ’ so amazed the world that it has been translated into all the modern languages. I read it with tingling delight.”
Mr. Emerson stood and obtained recognition. “I have not interrupted, because I desired to hear your stories of ‘converted infidels’ fairly complete. But these men never left their own countries to investigate. They merely read the Bible, a few histories, and changed their minds. Although it is evidence that unbelievers do become believers — which we knew before — it is hardly convincing.”
“You admit that Lew Wallace, Papini, and others changed their views after reading the Bible and a few histories,” replied Dare. “Well, few sceptics bother to make that much research, and not one in a thousand ever reads the evidence on both sides. But I will now tell you about an unbeliever who electrified the doubting as well as the Christian world by announcing that he was going to demonstrate that the Bible could not be true.
“Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, in 1881, was a young man of sterling integrity, unimpeachable character, culture, and high education. He had a sincere desire to know the truth. He had been educated in an atmosphere of doubt, which early brought him to the conviction that the Bible was fraudulent.
“He had spent years deliberately preparing himself for the announced task of heading an exploration expedition into Asia Minor and Palestine, the home of the Bible, where he would ‘dig up the evidence’ that the Book was the product of ambitious monks, and not the Book from heaven it claims to be. He regarded the weakest spot in the whole New Testament to be the story of Paul’s travels. These had never been thoroughly investigated by one on the spot. So he announced his plan to take the Book of Acts as a guide, and by trying to make the same journeys Paul made over the same routes that Paul followed, prove that the apostle could never have made them as described.
“The enemies of the Bible were enthusiastic over what they were confident would prove a complete and final refutation of the Book; and it must be admitted that some believers trembled at the prospect. For this was the boldest attempt to disprove the Bible since the days that Julian, the emperor of Rome in the fourth century, set himself with his wealth to annihilate belief in the Bible by deliberately breaking its prophecies — a project that miserably failed, as Gibbon the infidel historian admits.
“The factor that made the Ramsay expedition unique was the confidence that its leader inspired from opposing camps. Here was a man who was not a boisterous blasphemer, content to sit in Paris, London, or Berlin, and from these remote points assail a book that had its origin and setting in ancient Palestine. He had the courage of his convictions and the intellect and physical equipment to carry out his purpose to make investigation. So all parties believed in Ramsay, and when he said he would publish his findings just as he discovered things to be, his word was accepted.
“Equipped as no other man had been, he went to the home of the Bible. Here he spent fifteen years literally ‘digging for the evidence.’ Then in 1896 he published a large volume on ‘St. Paul, the Traveller and the Roman Citizen.’
“The book caused a furore of dismay among the sceptics of the world. Its attitude was utterly unexpected, because it was contrary to the announced intention of the author years before. The chagrin and confusion increased, as for twenty years more, book after book from the same author came from the press, each filled with additional evidence of the exact, minute truthfulness of the whole New Testament as tested by the spade on the spot. The evidence was so overwhelming that many infidels announced their repudiation of their former unbelief and accepted Christianity. And these books have stood the test of time, not one having been refuted, not have I found even any attempt to refute them.
“Quotations cannot do justice to forty years’ exploration and writing, but I cannot refrain from a few extracts. Speaking of the Book of Acts, Ramsay, on page 238 of his ‘St. Paul,’ says:
“ ‘The narrative never makes a false step amid all the many details, as the scene changes from city to city.’ And on page 240: ‘Every minute fact stated in Acts has its own significance.’
“ ‘The characterization of Paul in Acts,’ says Ramsay on pages 21, 22, ‘is so detailed and individualized as to prove the author’s personal acquaintance. Moreover, the Paul of Acts is the Paul that appears to us in his own letters, in his ways and his thoughts, in his educated tone of polished courtesy, in his quick and vehement temper, in the extraordinary versatility and adaptability that made him at home in every society, moving at ease in all surroundings, and everywhere the centre of interest, whether he is the Socratic dialectician in the agora of Athens, or the rhetorician in its university, or conversing with kings and proconsuls, or advising in the council on shipboard, or cheering a broken-spirited crew to make one more effort for life. Wherever Paul is, no one present has eyes for any but him.’
“Turn now to one of his later books, ‘The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament,’ published in 1914. In the introduction, page v, he says: ‘My aim. . . is to show through the examination, word by word and phrase by phrase, of a few passages which have been exposed to hostile criticism, that the New Testament is unique in the compactness, the lucidity, the pregnancy, and the vivid truthfulness of its expression. That it is not the character of one or two only of the books that compose the New Testament; it belongs in different ways to all alike.’
“ ‘From Strauss to Schmiedel, what a series of distinguished and famous scholars have blindly assumed that their inability to estimate evidence correctly was the final and sure criterion of truth.’ — Page 262.
“ ‘Such progress as the present writer has been enabled to make in discovery is largely due to the early appreciation of the fact that Luke is a safe guide.’ (Page 259). ‘Wherever the present writer followed Luke’s authority absolutely, . . . he was right down to the last detail.’ — Page 262.
“And so it happened that Sir William Ramsay, who set out to destroy belief in the Bible, has done more than any other one man in modern times to establish, to demonstrate beyond possibility of cavil, the absolute, minute trustworthiness and truth of the New Testament.
“Also I would like to tell you of Adolf Deissmann, the great young German scholar whose findings rank second only to those of Ramsay. He began his investigation in mood similar to Ramsay’s. After years of exploration he arrived, as had Ramsay, at a settled belief in the very Bible he had expected to disprove. Deissmann’s ‘Light From the Ancient East’ is the most revolutionary book on the Bible of this century as Ramsay’s was of the last century. Together these two men, who set out as doubters determined to explore and prove for themselves the unreliability of the Bible, have erected an indestructible Gibraltar of evidence in its favour. Until the evidence of these two men has been overcome, the cause of unbelief is lost.
“This subject has only been touched; and now I must close. But I commend to you the thrill of joy you will certainly experience if you follow these men in their fascinating adventures of exploration in Bible lands and truths.
“Next week we will consider what the sceptic has to offer us.”