From "The Interpreter" 1909.


Tuesday, 27th September, 1870.


MR. KING:- With regard to the distinction between official and non-official action, I see no reason why we should have any difficulty with regard to the apostles when we can all perfectly well understand the thing with regard to any other class of officials. Can we understand what are the official acts of the government of this country? Unquestionably we can. Can we not distinguish between the merely personal acts of Mr. Gladstone and the official acts of Mr. Gladstone? Unquestionably we can. Is not the government responsible for the official acts of its agents, and at the same time non-responsible for unofficial life? The members whom you send to Parliament are responsible to you for their official acts, but not responsible for the acts appertaining to them as men.

When we talk of the official action of the apostles, we are not talking of the good Christian acts of daily life, but of the work of the apostolic office which they were called to perform in setting in order the Church of Christ, completing the Canon of Scripture, and in giving the statutes, institutions, and laws by which that Church shall be governed. What I have said is, that Christ made himself responsible for what the apostles did in these matters and for all they taught in reference thereto; and that thus Jesus was responsible only for the official action of His apostles.

Next we are asked with regard to Peter's commission. I said not that the words addressed to Peter by the Saviour in Matt. 16:19 (where He gave to him the keys of the kingdom) - "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" - were given after the sin and reformation of the apostle. I was referring to the final commission under which the Church that now is was to be set in order. The commission under which the apostles were commanded to preach to every creature was given after Peter's restoration, but he received a previous commission to go to the Jews and to tell them of the near approach of the new institution.

I distinguished between the two commissions. The binding and loosing commission was not committed to him for immediate exercise, but had reference to the work which would devolve upon him when fully commissioned. And even when the apostles received that subsequent and complete commission, they were required not to do anything in execution of it until endowed with power from on high. They were to act only as apostles of Christ, with regard to that commission, when they had received that promised baptism of the Holy Spirit which they received at Pentecost, and which was to result in their being guided into all truth and fitted for apostolic work.

Where, says our friend, are these dispensations separated in the Bible? How are we to distinguish the one from the other? What verses are there that distinguish them? What are the portions of the history of France which tell us where to separate the action of the former Republic from that of the Empire, and the action of the Empire recently brought to a close from that of the present Republic - if Republic we can yet call it? We have to examine when each came into existence. The Empire which followed the Republic marked out its own position by enabling us to know when it originated. The laws of the previous Republic do not apply necessarily to it, and, therefore, when you come to the New Testament dispensation, which was only near while Christ was on earth, and find that after He had ascended to heaven and the apostles had declared the setting up of His Church that men were said to have been translated into it, then you have clear intimation of the change of dispensation and the setting up of the new manifestation of the kingdom appertaining to God and heaven. You have at once a distinct line drawn between the two. The patriarchal dispensation stands out before you. You have the patriarchal dispensation until the giving of the law by Moses, and then comes the last, the present dispensation, as inaugurated by the apostles. Thus you have a distinct line drawn in the case of each.

With regard to the question of war, we are asked whether the declaration in Luke, "Bring forth those who will not that I should reign over them and slay them," is not war. We answer - No. We insist that it is part of the parable, and that in the common version it is so. But I care nothing as to whether it is part of the parable or not. For, what is it? You must have something taught by the parable. You have there a king whose subjects will not that he shall rule over them, and they are slain on account of their rejection of him. But what is the application of the parable? It is that Christ Himself will, by and bye, come in judgment, and that those of His subjects that would not that he should reign over them will then receive the punishment referred to in the "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Here, then, you have a very distinct reference, which no reader of the passage should fail to perceive.

We cannot conclude that the punishment was to come then and there, because the whole teaching of Christ was opposed to that idea. The disciples did not yet understand His teaching, and they had not received His doctrine in its fulness, and on one occasion when the people would not receive Him they said, "Wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume then?" What was His answer? "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." Therefore, so far from teaching that men should be then slain because they did not receive His testimony, He taught that nothing of the kind should take place, but that they should proclaim the truth, and leave the punishment of those who rejected it - supported by undeniable evidence, demonstrated as that truth was and would be - to the future judgment of Him before whom eventually all must stand, whose judgment in every particular will be just.

Our friend referred to the requirement of the law that certain persons should be put to death who entice others from their religion, and we are asked, Is that part of Christianity? Of course it is not. Mr. Bradlaugh represented me as admitting what he formerly put before you - that those parts of the Old Testament which were not repealed by some immediate declaration on the part of Christ are to be allowed to stand as law to Christians. I simply say that the Jewish law was given to none but Jews. They alone were under that law - no others were. The Church of Christ was not, and is not. It is a widely different institution. According to the Bible, I never was placed under that law. I have nothing to do with any of its particulars. There may be certain of its prohibitions binding on me, but not because they are in that law, but because they are re-enacted by Christ and His apostles. I hold myself under no obligation to obey part of the Jewish law. No Christian is, unless that part is re-enacted by Christ or His apostles. If, then, I am asked to whom the law was given, I answer, to the Jewish people and to none other. It is no use talking of repealing the law bit by bit in this case, as we are not under it.

We might have come here to discuss quite another question, and it is not impossible that before Mr. Bradlaugh quits this life he may hold a discussion upon it. He might appear on a public platform with a Hebrew or Jew, and the question in debate might be "What is Judaism?" It would be no use his quoting Christ and His apostles against the Jew, as Judaism, or the Mosaic system. It is the old law as given by Moses. We of course account the prophets under that dispensation as of God. The question tonight is not "What is Judaism?" but "What is Christianity?" and those portions of the Jewish law only are part and parcel of Christianity which have been directly adopted, or re-instituted, by Christ or His apostles. That is the real position of the case.

Our friend has appealed to the common version of the Bible. I am not aware that I have submitted anything in your notice tonight which is not sustained by the New Testament in the common version; and until something is alleged by Mr. Bradlaugh, as appertaining to Christianity, the statement of which in the common version I reject and propose to amend, there can be no need to trouble ourselves about manuscripts, documents, versions, translations, and the like. I have no idea that I have departed, during this discussion, from the common version in a single instance. But Mr. Bradlaugh seems anxious to get me away from it. Why, I cannot say. Nothing of the kind has been attempted by me. I simply used the word ge-enna in place of hell, for the reason assigned. I used it in the sense of fiery punishment - the very idea that, I presume, he attached to the word hell. At present all I have presented to you as Christianity is found in the common version. When I depart from it will be the time for me to show the reasons why I do so, and I shall be quite prepared so to do. [Applause.]


MR. BRADLAUGH:- Our friend departed from the common version in his first speech, - I didn't. He read the word without the slightest intimation that it was not in the common version. He says I am anxious to get him away from it. Nothing of the kind. I am only anxious to know what he considers the standard authority, and he is only anxious to avoid giving me a direct answer to my question.

He says that he used the word in the sense of fiery punishment. Was it to last for ever? Yes or no.

Perhaps, also, he will supply the quotation from Corinthians that I have twice asked for, and say whether he adheres to his statement, that justification by faith is only named to be repudiated?

Perhaps he will tell us why he referred to a "particular document" which he knew did not exist. Why make a parade of learning as to a document which does not exist?

I am probing the questions still further home. It is no waste of time: it is only a fair subject of enquiry. I have been content to wait so far. Now, a man who pretends to so much learning as to correct translations has no business to say it is a waste of time when you press him on a certain point.

Then my friend, speaking of acts official and non-official, referred us to Mr. Gladstone. That is not the question. I referred him to an act of Peter's, particularly to the act of Peter's denial of Christ, and our friend said - and the report will show it - that Peter did not receive his special commission until after then. Now, curiously, the commission Peter received was:- "Thou art Peter: on this rock is built my church, and to you belongs the power of binding and loosing," and that was the most special commission that Peter received, and he received it long before his denial of Christ.

But how does the matter resolve itself now? First you go to the Old Testament, then you accept some of it; and how much does he accept now? Just as much of the Old Testament as the Jews believe of the New - that is, not a word. That is very satisfactory! Our friend does not repudiate it: oh, no! But you are not bound by it, except it is re-enacted.

I am afraid our friend is too clever in this debate. I appeal to him not to deal with me in this debate as if I were a child. I appeal to him, though I know he is in a position to give pain to this friends by showing his own heresy. I want to know what I have to deal with, and I won't let him chop and change to unknown versions. I will get at what is a satisfactory version to him, but I won't permit him to go to unknown versions. He may go to some that I can't read, and then see what a difficult position I shall be placed in; or he may go to some other than he can't read himself, and then see the difficult position we shall both be placed in.

Then he says with regard to Luke 19:27 that that is part of the parable, but he did not care whether it is or not. Then, for the purpose of the argument, we will treat it as if it were not. But I am afraid he has not read it. He says it did not apply to anything to be done then, but to the future judgment, when Jesus comes to judge the world and punish them. Now I say that if our friend read the text before he uttered that, then he directly misrepresented the entire sense of it. That is taking it on his own admission that it is not part of the parable. I will read it to you:- "For I say unto you, that unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not even that he hath shall be taken away from him. But those mine enemies, which would not I should reign over them, bring hither and slay them before me." Our friend says that does not mean bring them before me and slay them, but that it means, bring them before me at the last day and I'll punish them. I say that it says nothing of the kind, and that it is a wilful misrepresentation of the text. I come here to debate fairly, and I will not submit to wilful misrepresentations, or to jugglery in debate. I will have a fair, candid, and upright advocacy of the matter in hand. He must not go back and say that this was part of the parable. I bind him to his own admission, and deal with him on that.

Then let us see how far our friend and I have progressed. We began with a doubtful position as to the Old Testament, then we had it swept out of Christianity, and we have now only the Old Testament, where it is re-enacted. Is the fall re-enacted? Then I can go into the Old Testament. Is the story of Abraham and Jacob re-enacted? Then we can deal with them as part and parcel of Christianity.

He says - and it is a very unhappy illustration - that there is just the same difference between the patriarchal and Christian dispensations as between the Empire and Republic of France, inasmuch as the laws of the Republic did not apply to the Empire. I thought the Code Napoleon had gone through the laws of the old Empire and the new Republic, and did still. Do you mean, by the illustration, that they apply just as much - did you mean that the Old Testament applies to the New just as much as the old Republic applies more or less to the new one? If you have used an illustration which you know nothing about, I will not rebuke you for putting it. The history of France must be sufficiently understood to prevent his misleading you.

What is Christianity according to our friend's point of view? Is it the Old Testament? No. Is it the New? No. It is those portions of the Book which suit our friend, and it is a waste of time to discuss how much of it belongs to Christianity. If it is a waste of time to discuss our authority, then this discussion is a waste of time altogether. Do you tell the people, whom you called together here, that it is a waste of time to go into these matters? If this is to be a debate in which we are to understand one another, let me know what book it is I am to take as the standard of appeal, or else let him at once confess that he has none, or that his book is so full of blunders and errors that he dare not appeal to it.

If there is no difference between ge-enna and hell, why change the one for the other? Mr. King made a show of learning by referring to a "particular document" which he says the translators used, but which I told you did not exist, and yet, challenged by that, he don't refer to it.

Then, again, as to justification by faith alone being only named to be repudiated, I ask you to read Romans 3:10, Acts 3:20, and Galatians chapter 6 and verse 16, and I ask if he still believes in that doctrine, though I don't hope to convince him.

If my friend had not professed to be reminded of Mr. Holyoake, and how he, the great gladiator in this debate, had been concerned in a former controversy, I might have been content to suppose that some of these things to which I refer had been the result of unacquaintance with the subject, but when I remember that in John Street, nineteen years ago, my opponent was debating with Mr. Holyoake, I cannot come to any such conclusion. When challenged to this debate, I told him that I did not want to meet him. I only wanted to meet one who was honest, fearless, and frank, and I did not want to meet a man who shuffles from one document, and from one doctrine to another in order to evade the truth. [Cheers, and cries of "Shame," and "No personalities."]

Well, my friends, you must leave me, as I told you in my first speech, to conduct this debate in my own way. In the first speech which I delivered, there was not the semblance of an attack on our friend. In my second, I supposed that the replies to my questions had been, in the hurry of debate, accidentally omitted. In my third, I was more struck with their continued omission. In my fourth, I have nailed down the thing, because it is utterly impossible any longer to believe that he has blundered out of it. And from this time forth I refuse to accept any document without clear reference to the page quoted from, and I refuse to accept any reference to any portion of the Bible without distinct reference to chapter and verse.

I was driven into this debate for nine nights, and I knew what would happen in it. I have come not for any pleasure to myself for these nine nights: I have all my toil from my desire for truth, and I am determined that so far as possible the truth I will have. My friend has promised to starve me, and I have promised to shame him off the platform as one who dare not defend the truth. [Applause, and cries of "Shame."]