When I put W. J. Dean's diary online in 2007 I attached a plea to the internet to someday uncover copies of Mr. Dean's publications, mentioned in his diary.
In the mid-1970s, when Kat Atwood was researching her book Jackson County Conversations, one of her interviewees was Mr. Dean's nephew, Ormy Goddard. Ormy gave her photographs and papers, among which were the photograph of Talent's U.M.L. Hall and Dean's "The Bible Prophecies."
When Kay gave her papers to local historian Jan Wright, Jan recognized the treasure transcribed below and made it available to me. Thanks, Kay; thanks, Jan.
The latest thing out that the Tidings literary editor has run across is entitled "The Bible Prophecies" by W. J. Dean of Talent. It is a 30-page pamphlet printed by Mr. Dean's stepson, Edward Robison, at their home, on a little 7x11 hand inking press, one page at a time, and considering that the mechanical work was done by a young man of 17 who had never spent a day in a printing office in his life, the typographical appearance is most creditable. Mr. Dean has already made considerable of a reputation locally as a liberal writer and talker and has entangled the representatives of orthodoxy not a little on frequent occasions in debates, being full of pointed argument upon Bible subjects. The little book will be sent to any address postpaid for 15¢ by Edward Robison, Talent, Oregon.
THE BIBLE PROPHECIES.
Search the Scriptures, but let Reason rather than Faith
guide you in the work.
No inquirer can fix a direct and clear-sighted gaze towards Truth who is casting side glances all the while on the prospects of his soul.--
By W. J. DEAN
TO THE READER.If apologies, as Oliver Wendell Holmes declares, are only "Egotism, wrong side out," what more fitting place for them than at the commencement of a speech, lecture or book?
This is mine: Some years ago it fell to my lot to be frequently engaged in debates with the clergy and others respecting the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. These discussions were wont to proceed with the usual varying harmony and good feeling through "atonement," "prayer," "total depravity," "miracles," "Genesis and geology," "plan of salvation" etc., etc., until prophecy was struck. Here I was given to understand that an immense stronghold was before us against whose impregnable walls all the missiles from all the Infidel batteries in the universe might be hurled without effect. While there might be a reasonable difference of opinion regarding the genuineness and convincing value of miracles, the efficacy of prayer etc., prophecy constituted evidence of the divine inspiration of the Bible that was absolutely unassailable; that the Almighty in his infinite wisdom had caused to be written in a book predictions of events that were to occur, and which actually did occur with minutest detail, hundreds of years after the predictions were uttered or written.
To be candid, a few inglorious defeats in discussing this particular theme convinced me that I needed a more thorough knowledge of Bible prophecy than I then possessed.
This I determined to obtain and spent many days in the Portland, Oregon library, an institution exceptionally well provided with ecclesiastical literature, in poring over voluminous commentaries, encyclopedias, Bible dictionaries, concordances, ponderous ecclesiastical histories, learned treatises etc., in an ardent search for the full facts regarding a subject about which the laity in the church and non-professional in general really know so little. I am obliged to say, however, that commentaries, and, too, a large portion of the literature that goes under the name of ecclesiastical history, were consulted under protest.
If the Bible needs interpreters, it is the surest sign that it emanated from no higher source than the human brain and hand.
So I concluded then and still think that the best and only way to study the Bible is to study the Bible, rather than the opinion of learned D.D.'s upon it.
If an all-wise and all-powerful creator found it necessary to communicate his will to his creatures, and if a correct understanding of that will was to determine their future weal or woe, it is evident that it would be given in a way that could be understood by all those for whom it was intended--the unlettered layman as well as the erudite priest.
Acting upon this thought, such aids were, for the most part, discarded, and a direct examination entered upon, which, though tedious and laborious, proved to be far more satisfactory. This little essay is the result. It is especially hoped that it may prove an incentive to the reader to carefully examine the subject himself. If there are errors in the following pages, and there may be many, to have them pointed out would be especially gratifying to the writer.
W. J. DEAN.
February 1st, 1894.
PROPHECY DEFINED.Prophecy, in the strictest sense of the term, is the accurate and truthful prediction of some future event under conditions which preclude the possibility of its being foreknown by the unaided finite mind.
This condition must always exist to render prophecy of any value.
To predict what we desire to come to pass, as we all so often do, is enthusiastic guesswork, based upon the fact that oftentimes the "wish is father to the thought."
In many instances prophecy springs from human sagacity and is based upon the signs of the times--upon the fact that frequently "coming events cast their shadows before."
Fourth of July orators annually predict the ever-continuing greatness and stability of this nation.
They wish it to be so; the people wish it to be so; the signs of the times are favorable; the prediction accords with the popular desire, and all hands are pleased and the orator applauded. The writer, in a Fourth of July address on one occasion, predicted in grand sophomorical style that France would be a republic in less than five years. That was shortly before the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. My prediction proved correct, yet it is hardly likely that my Christian friends would in consequence credit me with prophetical powers.
On the same occasion I predicted that England would follow closely upon France. Now I begin to be anxious about this last prophecy.
Many predicted our late war. John C. Calhoun foretold, approximately, when and where it would commence.
Some are very sagacious as weather prophets. Wiggins hit it so often that his reputation became worldwide, but unfortunately for his fame his greatest weather prediction proved a failure and Wiggins stepped down and out. During the past summer the famous scientific weather prophet, Professor Falb, launched forth a few predictions about earthquakes, storms etc., that were truly frightful to contemplate; but his great tidal wave came not, and New York City and San Francisco still stand. His prophecies were Falb-ulous indeed.
Political predictions are too numerous to mention--the victorious party promising the grandest prosperity and the wiseacres of the defeated party holding up a gloomy picture of the future. As before mentioned, many predictions are made when the signs of the times indicate to sagacious minds some coming event, but more frequently on the hit-or-miss style--the misses and hits standing to each other in the relation of perhaps a million to one. The Irishman's gunning experience offers an illustration. Let him tell his own story:
"I shot a dook three toimes; the furst toime I hit 'im I missed 'im; the next toime I hit 'im I missed roite where I hit 'im before, and the third toime I hit 'im I missed 'im altogether."
In Burns' poem, "The Brigs of Ayr," the old bridge, being jealous of the new, predicts that it will stand long after the new shall have become a "shapeless mass." A few years after this was written, the new bridge fell into the river, a "shapeless mass" indeed. So the old bridge's prophecy:
"I'll be a brig when ye're a shapeless mass" was fulfilled to the letter.
In this case either Burns or the old bridge was a true prophet.
Mother Shipton's remarkable prophecy is said to have been written in the 17th century, certainly before the discovery of the telegraph, before the steam engine, before iron ships etc., but it contains some wonderful hits. It is as follows:
"Carriages without horses shall go,The last part of this prophecy seems to have been a failure, notwithstanding the Second Advent belief that it would come true. Of late a few scientists have entertained the old astrological idea that there are regular, ever-occurring periods in the careers of individuals and nations and when the "law of periodicity" is once known, predictions of events in the remote future would be easy. But even should this be true, which is extremely doubtful, and this "law" fully known, predictions based upon it would not be predictions at all, i.e., in the general acceptance of the term, any more than foretelling an eclipse would be considered a prediction.
And accidents fill the world with woe;
Around the world thought shall fly
In the twinkling of an eye;
Water shall yet more wonders do,
Now strange, but yet they shall be true;
The world upside down shall be,
And gold be found at the root of a tree;
Through the hills man shall ride,
And horse nor ass be at his side;
Under water man shall walk,
Shall ride, shall sleep, shall talk;
In the air shall men be seen
In white, in blue, in green;
Iron in the water shall float
As easy as a wooden boat;
Gold shall be found and shown
In a land that's now not known;
Fire and water shall wonders do;
England shall at last admit a Jew;
The end of the world shall come
In eighteen hundred and eighty-one."
All nations have had prophets or persons who pretended to be endowed with superhuman powers, and to whom the gods made communications. The Jews were no exception. The main object of the Jewish, or Old Testament, prophecies was to prove the truth of God's revelation--to convince men of his wisdom and power; therefore they should have been so perfect and clear in the prediction and exact in the fulfillment as to forestall even the possibility of doubt. A failure in the least particular should stamp the whole as ungenuine.
The plea of mistranslation etc., to account for errors in prophecy or any other error in a "divine" book is too unreasonable to be entertained for a moment. A divinely inspired prophet would be accurate, and a divine book could not err. Let us examine these prophecies in the light of free reason and ascertain, if possible, if they fulfill the necessary conditions. If they do, it were folly not to accept them; but if not--if we find ample evidence that they are in most instances faulty, in some cases mere guesswork and in others predicting events either already taken place or not beyond the power of human sagacity to foresee--let us treat them as such and no longer appeal to them as conclusive evidence that the scriptures are of divine origin.
First, however, it will be in order to touch upon the general character of some of the Bible prophets as regards personal appearance, conduct and peculiar mental conditions at times.
According to Greg "they seem, like the utterers of pagan oracles, to have been worked up before giving forth their prophecies into a species of religious frenzy, produced by various means, especially by music and dancing."
Philo is quoted (Mackay's Progress of the Intellect) as saying that "the mark of true prophecy is the rapture of its utterance; in order to attain divine wisdom the soul must go out of itself and become drunk with divine frenzy." The same word in Hebrew is said by Newman, in [A History of the] Hebrew Monarchy, to signify "to prophesy" and "to be mad." Indeed, among themselves they were in some instances regarded as madmen, i.e., insane. In 2nd Kings, 9th chapter, is an account of Elisha's sending a prophet to anoint Jehu king over Israel. The ceremony over, and the prophet having fled according to instructions, the king's attendants hasten to their master and anxiously inquire: "Is all well; wherefore came this mad fellow to thee?" From which we may infer that either the conduct of this particular prophet was such as to justify such an inquiry or that prophets in general were looked upon as mentally unsound. In Jeremiah 29:26 is another passage of similar import. Isaiah is considered the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, yet Isaiah "walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and a wonder"--Isa. 20:3--which may be regarded as evidence that even the greatest prophet of all was mentally unbalanced.
That music was brought into use as an incentive to prophecy see 1st Sam., 10th chapter, where Saul meets a company of prophets with different kinds of musical instruments, and, mingling with them, the spirit of the Lord came upon him and he prophesied. The people seeing Saul among the musicians, asked, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" the inference being that minstrels going through the country were known as prophets.
In 1st Sam. 19, there is a lively account of an attempt on the part of Saul, actuated by jealousy, to take David's life; and also, of the very novel plans of Jonathan and Michal to save him. David escapes and places himself under the protection of Samuel in Ramah. Saul discovers David's retreat, however, and sends messengers to take him.
These messengers meet a company of prophet-minstrels, and the spirit of God comes upon the messengers, and they also prophesy. This being told to Saul, he send other messengers who have the same experience. A third time messengers are sent, with like result. Then Saul goes himself, and gets under "control" and prophesies, and, as told in last verse of the chapter: "He stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner (presumably as the messengers had done) and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Wherefore they say, 'Is Saul among the prophets?'"
In 2nd Kings 3:15, Elisha seems to depend upon music for his prophetic inspiration, for "the hand of the Lord came upon him" when a minstrel played.
In like manner modern spiritual "mediums" often resort to soft music as a means to enable them to "get under control," in which condition they are wont to prophesy, preach, pray, exhort, write and perform other strange "tricks before high heaven" which ought to "make the angels weep," and out-rivaling the prophets and miracle workers of old.
The Bible prophets are believed to have been endowed with superhuman powers.
Modern so-called spirit mediums bring forward the same claims for themselves. Magicians, mind readers, hypnotists, etc. perform equally wonderful feats. Asked the source of the powers, they will tell you that there is nothing superhuman or supernatural either about them or what they do; that their performances, no matter how strange, even miraculous, they appear to be, are all within the domain of mental and physical phenomena.
In 1st Sam. 16:14-15, and also in [the] 18th chapter, we read that "An evil spirit from God came upon Saul and he prophesied." Here was a strange inspiration indeed--an evil spirit direct from the great giver of all good!
For the general moral character of some of the prophets see Hosea 9:7-8, where the Lord threatens the Israelites with terrible punishment because of their impiety and idolatry, and arraigns the prophets as being no better than the rest by declaring that "the prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is made; * * * the prophet is a snare of a fowler in all his ways"--in other words, a tool in the hands of the wicked. Their unreliability is admitted in Lam. 2:14, where Jeremiah, in mourning for his people then in captivity, cries out: "Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee; and they have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity; but have seen for thee false burdens and causes of banishment." Then could such prophets have been inspired?
Or were they true prophets and Jeremiah inspired by jealousy?
In Isaiah 28:7 we learn that "the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink; they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment." In Ezekiel 13:2, God commands that prophet to "prophesy against the prophets of Israel * * * that prophesy out of their own hearts." Also in verse 17 [he] commands him to set his "face against the daughters * * * which prophesy out of their own heart, "and to prophesy against them."
It is evident that false prophets were very plentiful in those days.
But the following passage may offer an explanation: In Jer. 29:7, we find Jeremiah mournfully exclaiming: "O Lord, thou hast deceived me and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me;" and in Ezekiel 14:9, we read: "And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people." In other words God inspires a prophet to predict wrongly and then kills him for it. Yet somehow false prophets continued to flourish. In Jer. 23:11-14, there may be found a wholesale denunciation of prophets (and priests also) as follows: "For both prophet and priest are profane; yea in mine house have I found their wickedness, saith the Lord." "I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in Baal and caused my people to err. I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem a horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evil-doers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah." And the punishment, in 15th verse: "Behold, I will feed them with wormwood and gall: for from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth into all the land." In [the] 16th verse the Lord admonishes his people to "Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you; they make you vain; they speak a vision of their own heart." And no exception seems to be made--not even Jeremiah who is doing the talking, for "all of them are unto me as Sodom" etc.
Indeed the Lord seems to have had no end of trouble with the prophets.
He was also terribly angry at times with the people because they could not, or would not, discriminate between the true and the false prophets; yet it would seem to an unbiased reader that a good share of the blame might rightfully rest with the Lord himself. Scores of passages could be adduced in support of this view, and which evidence would not tend to heighten our reverence for the Almighty, considered as a being of infinite mercy, justice and power. I ask a careful reading of the 13th and 14th chapters of Jeremiah, where God tells Jeremiah to say unto the people: "Thus saith the Lord, behold I will fill all the inhabitants of this land, even the kings that sit upon David's throne, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, with drunkenness. And I will dash them one against another. * * * I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy them."
Then in 13:23, the Lord gravely informs them that they can no more change from their evil ways (that he had for some inscrutable purpose brought upon them), than the "Ethiopian can change his skin, or the leopard his spots." Yet he will visit upon them, old and young, the guilty and the innocent alike, the most direful afflictions. Then follows a famine, and the Lord commands Jeremiah to "Pray not for this people for their good;" that when they fast he "will not hear their cry;" that he will "consume them by sword and famine and pestilence." Then, because the prophets other than Jeremiah had taken a hopeful view of the situation the Lord threatens them with terrible sufferings, together with the people to whom they prophesied. But the main object of this essay is to treat of the prophecies, rather than the prophets. Were the Scripture prophecies fulfilled? If so, it really matters little whether the utterers of these prophecies were good or bad, sane or insane, wise or otherwise.
THE MESSIANIC PROPHECIES.The New Testament writers frequently refer to passages in the Old Testament as prophecies of Christ, or of some events or circumstances connected with the Christian dispensation. Matthew has the most numerous of these references. The first is in relation to the Immaculate Conception and is found in Isa. 7:14-16; but a careful reading of the context will show that it has no more reference to the virgin Mary and Christ than it has to Queen Victoria and Grover Cleveland.
The adduced prophecy is simply an assurance to Ahaz, king of Judah, that before a certain event should take place, i.e., before a child soon to be born should be old enough to know good from evil, the conspiracy of Syria and Israel against him should be dissolved.
The next chapter explains it. The language does not profess to be prophetic beyond sixty-five years, and the reference to Assyria is of such a nature as to preclude the possibility that it could refer to any event that took place 700 years after, when the Assyrian had long since passed away.
Furthermore the prophecy seems to have been a failure all around, for from 2nd Chron. 28:5 we learn that Ahaz got the worst of the war, notwithstanding the Lord had assured Ahaz (7:7) to the contrary
In Matt. 2:4-6, that writer gives what, we are asked to believe, is a striking instance of fulfillment of prophecy concerning the birthplace of Christ. The prophecy there referred to may be found in Micah 5.
Read carefully and note the many points of failure; for instance, that Christ shall "deliver us from the Assyrian when he cometh into our land." This will not do, for the Assyrian there referred to had passed from the world's stage hundreds of years before Christ came. Had the prophecy said Romans it would have been just a little more accurate, for it was they that "trod in their palaces" during the whole time that Christ was on earth. And so far from Christ's driving the Romans out, they ordered, or gave permission for, his execution. Then the person spoken of in the prophecy was, or was to be (for the tense is badly mixed) a great military leader.
Imagine the "humble Nazarene," decked out with all the glittering trappings of a mighty general, and riding furiously at the head of a vast army!
Matthew's next is in reference to Christ's being taken down into Egypt, and probably refers to Hosea 11:1; but the second verse should be read in connection with the first.
They are as follows:
"When Israel was a child, then I loved him and called my son out of Egypt. As they called him, so they went from them; they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images."
Could that refer to Christ? Did Joseph and Mary and Christ become idolaters? The simple truth seems to be that the writer of Matthew has the child taken to Egypt that this prophecy "might be fulfilled," which is no prophecy at all, for it is in the past tense. The passage has reference to Israel, or the Israelites, as may be seen by consulting Ex. 4:22-23. Besides, the going down into Egypt is fully contradicted in Luke 2:41, unless we assume that the family's sojourn in Egypt was less than one year, for Luke has Christ's parents go every year to the feast of the passover at Jerusalem.
Matthew has Herod slay every child under two years old throughout the country, that a certain prophecy "might be fulfilled." The prophecy referred to is in Jer. 31:15, and evidently relates to the grief of Judea in consequence of the captivity of her people, accompanied by a promise, or prediction that they "shall come again from the land of the enemy." "Children" here means the people of Israel, then in bondage, not infants. Then how could the children that Herod slew return again to their own country?
Note too that the first part of the passage is in the past tense. Believers are supposed to hold this as a true prophecy and fulfilled as stated by Matthew; but is it not a little strange that no other evangelist, nor any history of the time, not even Josephus, mentions so remarkable an event as the "slaughter of the innocents?"
In Matt. 2:23, we read:
"And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: He shall be called a Nazarene."
There is no such prophecy in the Bible. Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament, neither is the word Nazarene found there. Matthew no doubt refers to Judges 13:5, but it is as plain as language can make it that that passage refers to Samson. According to the account, the Israelites were in subjection to the hated Philistines, and, of course longed for deliverance. An angel comes down from heaven and assures Manoah's wife, who was barren, that she would have a son and that he should deliver her people from the hands of the enemy, and that he should be a Nazarite, i.e., one who should not shave his head nor drink intoxicating liquors, not a Nazarene, an inhabitant of Nazareth. If Christ is meant in this prophecy, then his parents lived 1100 years before he was born.
When Matthew makes such wild references, are we in duty bound to believe him inspired by the Almighty?
Again this dashing writer, in the 27th chapter, has Jeremy prophesy concerning Judas. There was no such prophet as Jeremy, but let us not quibble and admit that Jeremiah was meant. But there is no such prophecy in the latter. The nearest to it is in Zechariah 11:10-14, but Zechariah is not Jeremiah. A man writing under inspiration should be more careful. But that the staffs, "Beauty and Bands," there spoken of, have any reference to Judas or to Christ; or that it was any prophecy at all, requires a tremendous stretch of the imagination.
Note also that Matthew and Peter differ materially in their accounts of the death of Judas. Matthew says that Judas committed suicide by hanging himself; Peter, in Acts 1:18, tells us that the traitor "fell headlong, burst asunder in the midst and all his bowels gushed out."
Perhaps the two accounts can be made to harmonize by supposing that Judas hung himself in a high tree but made a miscalculation on the strength of the rope. Note again that in Peter's account, Judas himself "purchased a field with the reward of his iniquity," while Matthew has it that he "cast down the pieces of silver in the temple and went and hanged himself." Then the chief priests "took counsel, and bought with the pieces of silver the potter's field, to bury strangers in," not wishing to put the money into the treasury because it was the "price of blood." And again, Matthew has Jeremy prophesy concerning the giving of the thirty pieces of silver for a potter's field, whereas in the passage referred to, the money was "cast unto a potter," there being no hint about a field. Bearing upon this matter, I would cite Acts 1:16, where Peter informs us that David prophesied concerning Judas, but David nowhere mentions Judas.
Matthew, in 27:35, relates how the soldiers cast lots for Jesus' raiment, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet," and referring to the 22nd psalm.
But what an imposition! David, or whoever was the writer of that psalm, seems to be lamenting over his own hard lot. He calls upon God to save him from all sorts of evils with which he is contending, complaining that his enemies even rob him of his garments, which they divide among them by casting lots.
It is mostly in the present tense, and there is not a word to indicate that it was intended to apply to any event in the far future. Note, too, that while all four of the gospel writers relate the incident of casting lots for Christ's garments, only Matthew and John apply prophecy to it.
So much for the prophecies of Christ referred to by Matthew, and these references for the most part include those found in Mark and Luke. John has Jesus say, in 5:45, "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me." There are several passages in the Pentateuch, or books of Moses, which devout Sunday school teachers would have us believe apply to Christ. That in Gen. 3:15, so often quoted, certainly has no such application. A very simple fact is stated, though in an awkward manner, that perpetual enmity exists between man and snakes--that man will stamp upon and kill snakes, and snakes seem to delight in biting the heels of man. No intelligent person believes today that serpents ever walked upright, or that the devil and snakes were ever in partnership. The prophecy in Gen. 49:10 was a decided failure, as every careful Bible reader must admit, for there was not a continuous line of lawgivers among the Jews until Christ came. The other passages in Genesis are mainly extravagant promises to Abraham that his prosperity should prosper, etc.
The passage in Deut. 13:15 plainly refers to Joshua, for proof of which see Numbers 17:15-23.
To turn this into a prophecy of Christ is absurd. If that passage in Deut. refers to Christ, I would ask if all the people that did not accept him were put to death according to the prediction in the 19th verse? It is as follows:
"And it shall come to pass that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him."
I am aware that many commentators did not accept this meaning, but the apostle Peter ought to be a good authority, and he quotes the passage as follows, in Acts 3:23:
"And it shall come to pass that every soul which will not hear that prophet shall be destroyed from among the people."
Was that fulfilled, or is it yet to be fulfilled? John in his account of the death of Jesus says in 19:32-36 that, though the soldiers broke the legs of the thieves that were executed with Jesus, they did not break his legs--"that the scriptures should be fulfilled: A bone of him shall not be broken." This is often adduced as one of the many prophesies that were fulfilled to the letter. It may be found in Ex. 12:46. Anyone, however, who will take the pains to read that chapter through carefully, and can find anywhere in it a passage that has any reference or application, even circumstantially to Jesus Christ, certainly has an imagination too elastic for anything.
That chapter simply gives an account of the institution of the passover, with all the directions and instructions of the Lord regarding it. On a certain day every household shall kill a lamb "taken out from the sheep or from the goats."
Then follows directions in minute detail how it shall be cooked, how it shall be eaten, and even what those who eat of it shall wear during the repast. The prophetic passage is the following:
"And the Lord said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the passover: There shall no stranger eat thereof: But every man's servant that is bought for money, when thou has circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof.
"A foreigner and a hired servant shall not eat thereof. In one house shall it be eaten; thou shalt not carry forth aught of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall ye break a bone thereof."
Note that John finds it to his purpose to misquote so as to make the passage apply to a person. Simply a part of the ceremony; nothing more, nothing less. Why should this passage have reference to Jesus any more than any other part of the strange ordinance? By the way, it is hard to refrain from commenting at length on many passages, not considered prophetic, in this chapter, as the seeming preference for owned rather than hired servants, the Lord's slaying the first-born of all cattle, his aiding the Israelites to "borrow" jewels and clothing of the Egyptians, etc.
In Isaiah 53:9 is a so-called prophecy of Christ's suffering and death on the cross and also his burial. I find, however, that modern critics are not agreed as to whether this prophecy, if anything written in the past tense may be called a prophecy, was intended to refer to Christ at all. It is as follows:
"And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth."
In verse 7, we are told that during his terrible sufferings "he opened not his mouth." Could the above apply to Christ? Was Christ buried with the wicked? Were there any wicked persons about at the time of his burial or entombment? Did he make his grave with the rich? The account has it that his body was deposited in a sepulcher that a certain rich man named Joseph had prepared for himself "wherein never man before was laid." So it cannot be truthfully said that he made his grave with the rich. Is it true that he opened not his mouth? Luke 23:46 says that he cried out with a loud voice: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," and Matthew and Mark both testify that he cried with a loud voice: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
In Isa. 2:3-4 is an alleged prophecy that a mighty kingdom shall arise in the last days with Christ at its head:
"For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem,
"And he shall judge among the nations and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
Nothing is more evident than that this passage could not have referred to Christ, for he was far from being "judge among the nations."
Neither is there any evidence that "swords were beaten into plowshares," etc., during that warlike age. The reverse would be nearer the truth. And the prediction that wars shall cease, etc., is somewhat slow of fulfillment. Perhaps that prophecy refers to the second coming of Christ.
In Mark 1:2, and also in Luke 7:27, we read:
"Behold I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee."
This probably refers to Malachi 3:1, where we may find:
"Behold I will send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before me."
In Malachi the "way" is to be prepared before the person speaking; in Mark before the person spoken to. An explanation here would be in order.
Matthew also says that Isaiah prophesied the coming of John the Baptist and must refer to Isa. 40:3, where it says:
"Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God."
The words are similar to those in Matt. 3:3, but let us read the next two verses, which will show that the prediction is not yet fulfilled, if it had reference to Christ:
"Every valley shall be exalted; every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
It is evident that such a millennial state of affairs has not yet come.
How improbable the account that Peter carried a sword with which he cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. The Jewish people were in vassalage under the Romans at that time, and the latter would not have allowed an obscure person like Peter to carry such a warlike implement; yet the evangelists, in order to multiply instances of prophetic proof of their master's messiahship, has Peter carry a sword and use it as above mentioned that a prophecy might be fulfilled.
See Matthew 26:51-56 and Mark 14:47-49.
But will someone kindly locate that prophecy for me? I doubt that there is any passage in the Old Testament that applies, even circumstantially, to that act of Peter's.
It may be found in some apocryphal book, but what right had the gospel writers to make such reference to books not genuine?
But it is not necessary to call attention to all of the thirty or more passages in the Old Testament that are said to refer to Christ. Those generally adduced as such have been noticed, sufficient, I think, to show the utter worthlessness of the so-called Messianic prophecies. I assume to voice the sentiments of thousands upon thousands of free thinkers, in declaring that I do not care to stake my hope of salvation upon a belief in the messiahship of Jesus if I am to depend upon these prophecies as the principal proof of his divine attributes. The evidence is utterly weak.
Indeed there are good grounds for believing that even the disciples themselves had a vague understanding of the so-called prophecies, at least [they] did not attach literal meanings to them. As narrated in the Gospels, Jesus, in addition to his own predictions, frequently calls their attention to the Old Testament prophecies concerning himself, particularly those supposed to relate to his suffering and death. In Matt. 20:17-19, he takes the disciples to one side and informs them, we may presume very impressively, that he would soon be betrayed, tried, condemned, mocked, scourged and crucified, and that on the third day he would rise again. His language is definite and explicit and should have made a deep impression upon them. They should have known from Jesus' explanation of the prophecies what to expect, yet not a word is there to show that they had any conception of the approaching death of their master. They were utterly shocked and confounded by his death and exceedingly slow to believe that he rose again on the third day.
For further evidence corroborative of this view, see [the] last chapter of Luke where it is related that several women who had visited the tomb were "perplexed" at finding it empty. Neither did they comprehend the situation until reminded by the two angels that Christ had told them that he would fall "into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." Then
"They remembered his words and returned from the sepulcher, and told all these things unto the eleven and to all the rest. And their words seemed to them as IDLE TALES AND THEY BELIEVED THEM NOT."--8:11.
More proof than the testimony of those women was required to convince the disciples that their master had risen. They did not even recognize Jesus himself, who soon appears on the scene and mingles with them, but [they] were "terrified and affrighted and supposed they had seen a spirit." Jesus, with seeming impatience, declares:
"O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken."
Indeed, he found it necessary to show them his "hands and feet," to let them "handle" him, and to eat in their presence to convince them that he was Jesus. Upon seeing him eat broiled fish and honey they concluded that he was not a "spirit." Then he tells them:
"These are the words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms concerning me. Then opened he their understanding that they might understand the scriptures."
Somewhat strange, all this, in connection with the following:
"From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples how he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised again the third day."--Matt. 16:21.
And this was in the early part of his ministry. Could more proof be needed that Christ's immediate followers, those who heard him daily, were slow to comprehend that there were prophecies in the Old Testament concerning Christ, or that his own predictions were predictions at all? And may we not, in this case, respect their lack of comprehension?
Indeed, it is a standing puzzle to the independent thinker--he who can see no valid reason why plain, practical common sense should be set aside in the investigation of anything, even scripture prophecy, how even a cursory examination of the subject could lead to the conclusion that Jesus--the "humble Galilean"--was the person that the so-called messianic prophecies referred to.
The Israelites were greatly annoyed by surrounding nations. They were constantly in war. Believing themselves to be under the direct guidance of the Almighty, nothing was more natural than that their temporal rulers, priests and prophets, should console and encourage them with pretended promises from God that a deliverer should arise who would subdue all their enemies. The deliverer predicted was to come in royal state. He was to be an earthly potentate with unlimited powers. He was to be of the house of David and was to sit upon the throne of David. Immediately following the advent of this deliverer, Jerusalem was to be rebuilt and at once become the capital of the world.
Now Jesus was not of the house of David but was the son of an obscure Jewish maiden. He was poor and lived upon alms. He even taught the blessings of poverty--the more his followers denied themselves the good things of this world, the greater would be their glory in the next. He was hated and persecuted by the Jews, who ought to have known the character of the messiah predicted, and was finally condemned as a malefactor and put to death. So if the prophecies called messianic are correct, the "Deliverer" has not yet appeared, which the Jews believe.
It is nowhere declared in the Bible that Jesus' mother was descended from David, and it is expressly declared--Matt. 1:18-25--that Mary's husband, Joseph, was not the father of Jesus; yet through Joseph the genealogy of Jesus is traced to David.
It is plainly stated in verses cited above that Jesus was the son of the Holy Ghost, but in the genealogy no ghost is mentioned.
And here, by the way, some plain, honest seeker after truth might ask: What constitutes the proof that the Holy Ghost was the father of Jesus?
Why, a dream of Joseph--Matt. 1:20--and a vision of Mary--Luke 1:26-35. This is all the evidence we have of an alleged occurrence so improbable.
Suppose a witness in a modern court should take the stand and gravely proceed to testify to what appeared to him in a dream or vision. He would be ruled out instantly, perhaps fined for contempt of court.
Yet we are asked to admit just such testimony, given nineteen centuries ago, and not under oath either, in confirmation of an alleged matter of fact, to establish even the probability of which would require a vast amount of circumstantial evidence and the concurrent testimony of not two only, but thousands, millions of disinterested witnesses--witnesses, bear in mind--in their normal senses. In law there is, I believe, a rule something like this: that when the testimony is weak the evidence must be strong; when the evidence is weak the testimony must be strong, but there may be cases in which the evidence is utterly weak that the testimony of a legion of witnesses should not convince.
I regard the alleged "Immaculate Conception" as very properly coming under this head.
Either Jesus was a divine being or he was not. The truth about the matter is what we desire. The truth once known we can accommodate ourselves to. It does not conduce to the advancement of the race, morally or intellectually, to perpetuate a myth as a reality, or a falsehood as a truth. Hard it is for children to give up the delightful belief that Santa Claus is a real personage, who makes his yearly rounds in a beautiful sleigh drawn by fleet reindeer, yet such cherished fantasies are not allowed to linger beyond early childhood. Why? Because we prefer to have our children's education founded upon truth.
If Jesus was what he is represented to have been, a divine character, a "Mediator between God and man," and if, through a belief that he was such, the people of earth can secure eternal bliss in heaven, and if a failure to so believe will as surely result in eternal misery in hell, it becomes an exceedingly important matter. If true, the evidence should have come down to us in such a way as to preclude even the possibility of doubt. And every human being should be endowed with power to read the record aright. No interpreter should be needed. Accounts of visions and dreams and miracles, filtering down through the centuries, and written no one knows when, where, nor by whom, do not and cannot satisfy those who are free to think.
But it may be asked, How did it come about that a being was worshiped as Jesus was worshiped in his own time by his personal followers, who were eyewitnesses of his superhuman works, and by constantly increasing numbers until, in this iconoclastic age when every thing mythical is cast side, his name is held in sacred reverence by millions of intelligent human beings, if the object of such worship was not endowed with more than human powers? By what manner of reasoning can unbelievers account for such an unchecked spread of Christian doctrines, reaching over a period of nineteen centuries, on the assumption that the founder was an impostor?
Somewhat of a problem, truly, but there are other problems in the same line just as difficult, perhaps more difficult, of solution.
Mohammedanism boasts also of a divine origin, and spread rapidly until now it numbers 200,000,000 ardent followers and extends over as large an area as does Christianity, yet its founder is declared by all Christian believers as an impostor, and the Koran, the bible of that faith, as a purely human production, reflecting no credit upon the literary or reasoning powers of its author or authors.
Mormonism originated during the lifetime of many now living and has for the corresponding period of its existence distanced, a hundred to one, the spread of Christianity, that strange doctrine now affording religious consolation to nearly 200,000 people. But was Jo Smith or Brigham Young divinely inspired?
Yet as regards the agencies or aids for the establishment and spread of the three doctrines, there is much in common. Each freely employed miracles, prophecies and direct revelation as indispensable factors in the propagation of its teachings.
In a visit to Salt Lake City during the building of the great Mormon temple, the writer, while standing with Elder Pinnock [William Pinnock, 1822-1890] upon the unfinished wall of that now-famous structure and looking down upon the busy workmen, was informed by that leading church official that miracles and special revelations were common among the Mormons, citing to several which had particular application to the temple. The writer ventured a doubt that the building would ever be fully completed, which brought out a quick response from the elder: "Certainly, sir, it will be completed," said he, "We Mormons generally accomplish what we undertake. It was prophesied centuries ago," he added, "that the temple would be built. It is in the hands of God, and he will carry out his purpose."
The temple was completed, the Mormons say, exactly according to the prophecy, but I do not believe, neither do any of my Christian friends believe, that such a prophecy was ever made, or that any miracles took place there, or anywhere else, during the building of the Mormon temple, or that direct or indirect revelations from the Almighty came to Brigham Young, or anyone else, concerning that temple. Neither does any Christian in the land entertain the slightest belief that any miracles, divine revelations or genuine prophecies can be rightfully brought forward by the Mohammedans as evidence of the truth of their religion.
Now comes the question: Why should I, or anyone else, be asked to give credence to the records of miracles, prophecies, etc., concerning the Christian religion and to condemn all others as spurious?
Viewing the matter from a Freethinker's up-a-tree standpoint, all religions that have ever consoled or perplexed mankind have had the same origin. Each is a product of human thought and action.
Does the Christian religion differ essentially from all others? The messianic prophecies, we have seen, are not trustworthy; miracles are not believed in for a moment by scientific thinkers outside of the church, and indeed are rapidly giving way before the "higher criticism" in the church. I doubt that an intelligent clergyman can be found, whose early education has not been neglected, that really believes that a genuine miracle ever took place.
Indeed the consensus of modern scholarly opinion today declares that miracles are now, always have been, and always will be impossible.
But theologians have a genius for interpretation, and ere long miracles will be conveniently interpreted as having a "symbolic" or "figurative" meaning. Valuable words these to the theologian.
The doctrine of divine revelation depends almost wholly for its support upon proofs furnished by miracles and prophecies. If these pillars are removed by the iconoclastic Samson of modern thought, the superstructure will surely totter.
OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECIES CONCERNING CITIES.While Freethought declares that miracles are impossible, it does not say that a prophecy must be untrue.
So many arrows have been shot from the bow of prophecy that it is not at all strange that now and then one should hit. But one hit in a million shots should hardly establish the claims of infallibility or inspiration. The messianic prophecies were, I hold, a complete failure--either fell short or overreached. It is now in order to examine other prophecies in the Old Testament. It is strenuously held by old-style theologians that the predictions concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, Babylon, etc., were fulfilled to the letter. These prophecies will now take up our attention.
DAMASCUS.Isaiah 17:1 prophesies the complete destruction of Damascus:
"Behold Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap."
This, according to the marginal date, was after Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria, had taken Damascus and carried its people away captive.
As was the custom in those days, however, the captivity of these people meant simply an exchange, for Damascus was at once filled with colonies from Assyria and became a dependency of that empire. So far from becoming a "ruinous heap," it continued to flourish. It is probably the most ancient city on the globe. In Gen. 15:2, we read that Abraham's chief steward, Eliezer, was a native of Damascus.
Indeed, there is ample evidence that the city has had a continuous existence from long before Abraham's time to this day. It is now one of the most beautiful and populous of oriental cities, the Arabs boasting of it as the "Paradise of Earth." Indeed, the Moslems have a tradition that Jesus will descend into Damascus on the day of judgment. So Isaiah's prophecy concerning Damascus was a failure.
BABYLON.The most complete and terrible destruction of Babylon is prophesied by Jeremiah in the 50th and 51st chapters and by Isaiah in [the] 13th chapter.
"Therefore the wild beasts of the desert and the wild beasts of the island shall dwell therein; and it shall be no more inhabited forever."--Jer. 50:39
"And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwelling place for dragons, an astonishment, and a hissing, without an inhabitant."--51:37
"And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation; neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there. . . . But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. . . . And her time is near to come and her days shall not be prolonged."--Isa. 13:19-22.
It is hardly necessary to state that these prophecies were not fulfilled, as any reliable history will show. The town of Hillah of 10,000 inhabitants now stands upon the site of the ancient city of Babylon.
Layard and many other travelers have camped on the site and tell us that it is a common thing for Arabs to pitch their tents there.
But were the above properly prophecies at all? Eminent modern critics find that the author of Jeremiah must have written several years later than the marginal dates indicate. Ezekiel himself was a captive and went along with the 10,000; so it was easy for him to "predict" the situation he was already in. Indeed, most of the book is more like history than prophecy.
Jeremiah did, however, prophesy the return of the ten tribes together with the Judaites, but defenders of prophecy are as silent about this failure as revivalists are about unanswered prayers. Scholarly critics are also agreed that chapters 50-52 were written by another hand and as late as the middle of the captivity, when the downfall of Nebuchadnezzar and the overthrow of Babylon were likely soon to take place.
Even old-school theologians are forced to admit, and up-to-date ecclesiastical critics declare, that the book of Isaiah was written by at least two persons; that one portion was written about the time indicated by the marginal dates, but that from the 9th verse of the 13th chapter to the 23rd verse of the 14th, and chapters 24-27, inclusive, and the whole of the book after the 33rd chapter, was not written by Isaiah, and that the 34th and last 26 chapters were written, probably at Babylon, during the latter part of the captivity. Chadwick in "Bible of Today" says that modern scholarship is agreed on this. Indeed, anyone who will take the trouble to carefully read the whole book cannot fail to notice the difference in style and aims.
The theme of the later writer is the deliverance of the Israelites from captivity, while the other has nothing to say about it. So it required no inspiration for the later writer of Isaiah to predict the fall of Babylon and the return of the Israelites.
Can it be supposed for a moment that the last part of the passage just quoted: "And her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged," was written over 200 years before the event?
How evident it is that, with the writer of this prophecy, the "wish was father to the thought," for he prophesies the return of the ten tribes, even going so far as to predict that their oppressors would in turn become servants of the Israelites--see Isa. 14:1-3. Of course no one claims that the Israelites, or ten tribes, ever returned, but let us excuse the enthusiasm of this writer in view of the fact that he discerned in the signs of the times some hope of deliverance for his people.
TYRE.The prediction in Ezek. 26th and 27th chapters, that Tyre should be totally destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar's army, was a failure. In 26:12 that prophet says: "And they shall make a spoil of thy riches, and make a prey of thy merchandise," but in chapter 29:18 we learn that
"Though every head was made bald and every shoulder was peeled, yet had he no wages, nor his army for the service that he had served against it."
It may be inferred from the above that Tyre was not damaged to any great extent, and that the Tyreans got all the scalps. The next verse informs us that the Lord gave Nebuchadnezzar Egypt to spoil to pay him for his services against Tyre. In 26:14, after giving details of its total destruction, it says:
"Thou shalt be built no more, for I the Lord have spoken it," and [the] 21st verse reads:
"I will make thee a terror, and thou shalt be no more; though thou shalt be sought for, yet shalt thou never be found again, saith the Lord God."
Similar language may be found in 27:36. But what are the facts?
Tyre was not only destroyed as prophesied but continued an important city, with rare intervals of decadence, until destroyed by the Moslems a few centuries ago. The Encyclopaedia Brittanica says that "Tyre was still an important city and almost impregnable fortress under the Arab empire," and that "from 1124 to 1291 it was a stronghold of the crusaders, and Saladin himself besieged it in vain." So it must be admitted that Tyre did not suffer from the prophecies.
JERUSALEM.It would require too much space to refer in detail to all the prophecies concerning Jerusalem. That sacred city seems to have been the object of much prophecy, for or against, apparently according to the mood that controlled each prophet at the time he made his prediction.
The destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in A.D. 70 is said to be fully given in all its horrible details in Deut. 28:49-58. I admit that the description there given compares favorably with historical accounts of that terrible siege, yet how improbable that the writer of this prophecy intended to refer to an event 1500 years in the future.
A brief inquiry as to when that prophecy was written will be in order. No intelligent Bible scholar believes that Moses wrote the Pentateuch or that it was written at the time indicated by the marginal dates. Indeed, the evidence is conclusive. Moses nowhere speaks of himself, but someone speaks of him in the third person. The words in Gen. 12:6, "the Canaanite was then in the land," were written to inform the reader that other people than the Israelites had occupied the Holy Land. The expression would have been inappropriate until long after Moses' time. The same may be said of the expression in Gen. 36:31, "These are the kings that reigned in Edom before there reigned any king over the children of Israel." In Deut. 34:10 may be found: "There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses," which must have been penned by someone who looks back and compares Moses with a long line of prophets that lived since his day. Much more evidence could be adduced to show that the Pentateuch was written centuries after the death of Moses. The Rev. J. W. Chadwick, in "Bible of Today," and many other critics date it in the latter part of the 7th century before Christ. A knowledge of when it was written might assist in understanding the prophecy, but really I am unable to see that it was intended to apply solely to any city at all. Nearly the whole chapter is taken up with promised curses upon the Israelites if they failed to observe the statutes of the Almighty.
In fact Jerusalem had a varying fortune. It was taken and retaken many times, and suffered nearly complete destruction more than once. The same prophecy might as appropriately apply to Athens or Rome.
In Jer. 3:17 is a more explicit prophecy concerning Jerusalem:
"At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem; neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart. In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I have given for an inheritance unto your fathers."
This prophecy shows clearly enough that Jerusalem was to become the rallying point and perpetual headquarters of the Israelites.
PROPHECIES THAT THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL SHALL BE REUNITED."Thus saith the Lord God: Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they may be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, . . . And David my servant shall be king over them. . . . And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children's children forever, and my servant David shall be their prince forever."--Ezek. 37:21-25.
Another prophecy in nearly the same words may be found in Isa. 14:1-3; also in Jer. 3:17; Ezek. 34:11-17, 22-24; 36:24; 39:35; Zech. 8:7-8; and in several other places in the Old Testament are similar prophecies.
Yet the ten tribes never returned, and Jerusalem is far from being the headquarters of the Israelites. Even the most ardent supporters of prophecy are obliged to admit that the above predictions were complete failures.
PROPHECIES CONCERNING EGYPT.Egypt came in for a full share of prophetic curses. The Lord, through his servant Ezekiel, pours out a few vials of wrath upon her sacred soil, as follows:
"Behold, therefore I am against thee, and against thy rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from the tower of Syene even unto the border of Ethiopia. No foot of man shall pass through it, nor foot of beast shall pass through it, neither shall it be inhabited forty years."--Ezek. 29:10-11.
Who believes that this prophecy was ever fulfilled? Indeed it may be considered an absolute certainty that no such terrible visitation ever befell Egypt. The same can be said of the prophecies concerning Idumea, or Edom, a country 20 by 100 miles in extent lying below the Dead Sea. Isaiah says: "From generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it forever and ever."--Isa. 34:10. He informs us also that the streams of that land "shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone" and that satyrs and other terrible monsters shall inhabit the land.
What a veritable paradise for naturalists and relic hunters!
RESCINDED PROPHECIES.A remarkable case of rescinding of prophecy may be found in the 38th chapter of Isaiah and repeated with some variations in 2 Kings 29.
Hezekiah was sick unto death; Isaiah told him he should die, for the Lord said so. Hezekiah was not ready to die; his earthly affairs were not in shape; so he turned his face to the wall and prayed that he might live. His prayer was answered.
The Lord through Isaiah rescinded the prophecy and added fifteen years to Hezekiah's life, and agreed furthermore to heal his disease and deliver him out of the hands of the Assyrian. But Hezekiah was in doubt and asked Isaiah what sign the Lord would give him that he "would do the thing that he had spoken"; whereupon Isaiah gave the king a choice between two signs: he could have the sun's shadow "go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees." Hezekiah, still doubting, answered: "It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees; nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees." Then Isaiah informed the Lord of what sign would satisfy the king, and the sun's shadow as turned backward ten degrees; i.e., the earth was instantly checked in its revolution of a thousand miles an hour and caused to revolve in a reverse direction ten degrees, which of course required another stop and reversal in resuming its regular motion. Did that ever take place? Only on paper.
In 1st Sam. 2:30-31 is another instance; the Lord takes back his own solemn promise to Eli that his house should stand forever and extends very doubtful consolation to him for the future.
The case of Jonah is another. That prophet is commanded by the Lord to go to Nineveh and prophesy its destruction. Jonah doesn't want to go. Very naturally he concludes that it might not be conducive to his personal welfare to go into a large city and "cry out against it."
He fears also the anger of the Lord if he fails to obey orders. His only safe course, he thinks, is to flee the country. So he goes down to Joppa and buys a ticket for Tarshish. Deluded man! The All-Seeing Eye witnesses every move; the Infinite Ear hears every word; Omniscience knows every thought.
God sends a mighty wind; the ship is tossed by the angry waves; the sailors are alarmed; they know that something is wrong, that someone is to blame. Jonah, the only passenger, is found asleep in his bunk. The shipmaster rouses him and suggests that if he has a God it would be an excellent opportunity to call upon him for aid. Whether Jonah does so or not the account does not state, but the tempest continues to rage. The sailors are terror-stricken. As a last resort they cast lots to find the guilty man. Jonah draws the unlucky card and is pitched overboard to calm the waves. But it is only a transfer. A big fish, sent by the Lord (it will be noticed that the fish is not slow to obey orders), opens his mouth and takes poor Jonah into his capacious stomach.
In his new and novel quarters, the lone cabin passenger has an excellent opportunity to observe the workings of the internal machinery of the monster cetacean, and in the meantime to meditate upon the ever-changeful conditions in the careers of prophets.
Not being digestible, the fish kindly takes Jonah to the nearest shore and casts him up on dry land. Now the prophet is ready to obey orders, which are given anew. He goes at once to Nineveh and wanders through the streets shouting: "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown." Jonah's undignified appearance--so like a prophet (for we may presume that in his haste to carry out instructions he had not stopped to take a bath or have his garments laundered after parting company with the whale) together with his frightful prediction, alarms the Ninevites. They pray fervently for deliverance. Their prayers are answered. The Lord tells Jonah to take back the prophecy.
Now it is Jonah's time to be angry. He had prophesied the destruction of Nineveh, and his reputation as a prophet would suffer if his predictions were not fulfilled.
His feelings are so ruffled that the Lord finds it necessary to have him undergo a few more strange experiences by way of reproof.
MISCELLANEOUS PROPHECIES.The predictions concerning the Israelites have been a perplexing puzzle to the defenders of prophecy.
According to the Scriptures, the Israelites were God's chosen people.
His directing care was over them. Indeed, for a time their government was a pure theocracy. When they had kings, these rulers were supposed to be chosen of God or to hold their positions by his sufferance.
Yet the Lord had no end of trouble with his people. They repeatedly went after other gods.
At times the Lord is hopeful and promises them prosperity and happiness; at other times his patience gives way and curses most terrible are heaped upon them. For instance, in 2 Sam. 7:10, and in many other places, he promises them a perpetual home in Canaan:
"Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more as before-time."
This language is definite and unequivocal. From it we should judge that God, having full power, had determined to cause the "children of wickedness" to cease from afflicting his people. Even after the dispersal of the ten tribes, there are repeated promises (some of which have been noticed) that they shall return and dwell together; yet the ten tribes are indeed "lost tribes," for they never returned, and the two others are scattered over the earth, absorbed by other nations, having no government of their own.
It seems strange, passing strange, that a being of infinite power should so utterly fail in carrying out his purposes.
The predictions of the captivity of the Jews were only partially fulfilled, were not remarkable and required no divine inspiration, for there is ample evidence that the prophecies were made either during the captivity or shortly before (see Jer. 34:1, et seq.), when Nebuchadnezzar was already besieging and was likely soon to take Jerusalem, and the carrying away of many of the people into captivity was, in such cases, the custom of the age.
Moreover the captivity cannot be made out to have been 70 years.
The capture of Jerusalem was in about 590, or according to Jer. 52:5-7, 588 B.C.; Babylon was taken by Cyrus about 538, and he issued a proclamation for the captives to return in 536, according to 2 Chron. 36:22 and Ezra 1:1, which would make the captivity about 55 years. Some put the time still less.
I am aware that the writer of Kings--see 24th and 25th chapters of 2 Kings--has Jerusalem captured twice by Nebuchadnezzar, in 599 and 588 B.C., and has a far greater number taken into captivity, but I would call attention to the fact that the 52nd chapter of Jeremiah and the 25th chapter of 2 Kings are almost identical and must have been written by the same person. In Jer. 52:23-30, the number taken into captivity is given as 4600, including those taken in the first capture of Jerusalem in 600 or 599 B.C., but in 2 Kings 24:14-16 the number taken captive in 599 is placed at 10,000, the number taken in the capture of 588 not being given. I have no explanation for this inspired discrepancy.
A plain case of contradiction may be found in Hosea. In the 8th chapter, verse 13, and third verse of [the] 9th chapter, it is distinctly stated that "Ephraim shall return to Egypt," while in 11:5 it is plainly prophesied that he shall not return to Egypt, but that "the Assyrian shall be his king."
The prediction in Jer. 22:19 that Jehoiakim "shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem," is contradicted in 2 Kings 24:6, where we read that "Jehoiakim slept with his fathers," which implies a natural death and regular burial.
David's prophecy relating to the establishment of his throne forever was somewhat of a failure. Note the promise he has God make to him in Psalms 89:4: "Thy seed will I establish forever and build up thy throne to all generations."
The promise is still further confirmed in verse 35 where God swears by his holiness that he "will not lie unto David." In verses 36-37 the promise is repeated in yet stronger language: David's throne shall exist "as the sun before me," and "be established forever as the moon," etc. Was that true prophecy? The sun and moon we have with us yet, but it would require a powerful searchlight to find David's throne.
The above does not well harmonize with the 28th chapter of Deut. In that chapter is mentioned about all the afflictions ever known to mortal man, and all to be brought upon the chosen people of the Lord if they fail to obey his statutes.
If they hearkened not unto voice of the Lord they were to suffer not only the plagues written in the law. They were to be completely destroyed many times over and finally were to be taken to Egypt and sold to their enemies, though it is declared--in [the] last verse--that "no man shall buy you." Yet the Israelites were almost continuously disobedient, as charged by nearly every prophet.
The prophecies of Daniel are a puzzle that Bible scholars work on when they have nothing else on hand. Years upon years of labor and research and gallons upon gallons of good printer's ink have been wasted in a vain endeavor to unravel the mysteries of Daniel's visions, and to figure out the number of years, months, days and minutes before the winding up of all things earthly, by interpreting the meaning of that prophet's cabalistic "time, times and a half time." But it strikes me that the whole matter could have been more easily explained on the supposition that the terrible monsters he sees in his dreams were the productions of a brain under the influence of an abnormal physical condition. Such an explanation is brief, less laborious, more in accordance with our everyday experiences and corresponds with the facts of history about as well.
But I have evidence upon which to base this view of the case. In the 10th chapter of Daniel, verses 2 and 3, it says: "In those days I Daniel was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled." After treating himself in this manner he was in a condition to have a first-class vision. He has it. He goes out beside a river and looks up and beholds a "certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold. His body was like the beryl, and his face was as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire and his arms and his feet like in color to polished brass, and his voice like the voice of a multitude."
Now I will guarantee that anyone, not a prophet, can have an experience as remarkable as that after living on bad bread for three weeks.
But Daniel was not the only prophet who resorted to bad food as, presumably, an inspiration to prophecy. In Ezek. 3:1-3, God had that prophet eat a "roll of a book" and then at once sends him out on a lecturing and prophesying tour. In the 4th chapter the Lord prescribes an exceedingly strange diet, which, had Ezekiel partaken of it, would undoubtedly have resulted in marvelous prophetic ability; but Ezekiel, though generally ready and willing to obey every command of the Lord, had to draw the line somewhere, and mildly but firmly objected to that sort of nourishment; so the Lord was obliged to slightly alter the prescribed bill of fare. The curious reader will find a full recipe for preparing the bread upon which that prophet was to subsist for 390 days, in Ezek. 4:9-16.
Daniel's vision of the four horrid monsters coming out of the sea, an account of which may be found in the 7th chapter, can easily be explained on the theory outlined above. The first beast was like a lion with eagle's wings, but Daniel watched it until the wings were plucked and it was lifted up and made to stand upon its feet like a man, and finally a man's heart was given to it. Wonderful metamorphosis indeed! The second beast was like a bear with three ribs in his mouth, and the ribs say unto the bear, "Arise and devour much flesh." By the way, it would seem to the worldly minded that this was an unnecessary request on the part of the ribs when the bear had them already in his teeth.
The third was like a leopard with wings of a foal and four heads. In imagination the reader can place this beast in fair view and admire its graceful proportions.
The 4th was so strange and terrible that Daniel couldn't find language to describe it in full. He only tells us that it had teeth of iron and ten horns, and that as he watched it, another little horn with eyes like those of a man and a mouth speaking great things sprang up, plucking up three of the ten horns by the roots.
Physicians claim that it is not difficult to predict with approximate correctness the nature of the resulting dreams when the quantity and quality of the dreamer's supper is known, together with the condition under which it was eaten. In other words, dreams are good or bad according to the dietary habits. This is no doubt a scientific fact and aids in accounting for Daniel's horrid visions and dreams.
Probably there has been more importance attached to the prophetic utterances of Daniel than to those of any other prophet in the Old Testament, perhaps on account of the ease with which some of his prophecies, on the principle of accommodation, can be interpreted to apply to certain historic events.
But I would note that late investigators make it quite clear that the book of Daniel was written subsequent to many of the events it claims to predict. Arnold, in "Life and Correspondence," says, "I have long thought that the greater part of the book of Daniel is most certainly a very late work, * * * and the pretended prophecy about the kings of Greece and Persia and of the North and the South is mere history like the poetical prophecies of Virgil and elsewhere." And again he says that "criticism proves the non-authenticity of a great part of Daniel, though that there may be genuine fragments in it is very likely." De Wette and Greg take the same view, the latter giving it as his opinion that "the book that bears the name of Daniel was written not earlier than 110 B.C., or in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes."
That such a person as Daniel lived is very probable; he is mentioned in Ezek. 14:14, and I believe in another place in Ezekiel, but as it was common in early times to write books and ascribe their authorship to great names to give the books a standing, someone, or different persons, wrote a book and ascribed it to Daniel; but even a superficial examination will show that the writer was a careless historian.
Please note the following inaccuracies: The first verse of Daniel informs us that in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim came Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon unto Jerusalem and besieged it and took the king captive and Daniel also. But we turn to Jer. 25:1, and find that Nebuchadnezzar was not even king of Babylon until the fourth year of Jehoiakim's reign, and from 2 Chron. 36:5 we learn that Jehoiakim reigned eleven years; therefore, it was seven years later before Nebuchadnezzar could have taken Jerusalem. Inspired prophets should be accurate, even when they predict past events.
Arnold says in "Literature and Dogma,"
"The great prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah are not strictly predictions at all; and predictions which are strictly meant as such, like those in the book of Daniel, are an embarrassment to the Bible rather than a main element of it."
William Greg, in "Creed of Christendom," page 131, uses this language:
"It is probably not too much to affirm that we have no instance in the prophetical books of the Old Testament of a prediction, in the case of which we possess at once a combined, clear and unsuspicious proof of the date, the precise event predicted, the exact circumstances of that event, and the inability of human sagacity to foresee it. There is no case in which we can say with certainty--even where it is reasonable to suppose that the prediction was uttered before the event--that the narrative has not been tampered with to suit the prediction, or the prediction modified to correspond with the event."
De Wette, Dr. Westcott, Prof. Davidson and indeed nearly all of the advanced Bible scholars of the age hold the same view. In fact up-to-date ecclesiastical scholarship is rapidly losing faith in prophecy, sacred or profane.
Gibbon says truly: "The revolutions of eighteen centuries have taught us not to press too closely the language of prophecy."
Prof. Davidson, who was chosen by the editors of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica to write the article "Canon of the Bible" for that work, may well be considered good authority. He says that the book of Daniel was not written until long after the events prophesied had occurred. He tells us also that Ezra, who redacted the religious writings of the Jews, could not have considered them as inviolate. With him "canonical and holy were not identical." He says of the scribes who followed Ezra, "They did not refrain from changing what had been written, or inserting fresh matter."
The prophetical books especially were not looked upon by them as inspired, when we consider the liberties that were taken with them.
It is evident that when the Old Testament was forming, the divine inspiration of the different writings was a secondary consideration. The books were venerable, perhaps, but not sacred in the sense in which Christians now hold them. In proof I would instance the fact that the ten tribes when they established their government at Samaria retained only the Pentateuch, refusing to accept the other books. For some reason these books did not suit them and were rejected. It is clear that, as some writer has said, "The Bible did not form the beliefs, but the beliefs formed the Bible."
Returning to the subject of prophecy, it may be interesting to mention the manner of judging of a prophet's character. In Deut. 18:22 a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord if his prediction comes to pass, but if the thing follow not, he is a false prophet. But in Deut. 13:1-5, this test is rejected to the effect that if a prophet speaketh in the name of other gods, he shall be stoned to death even if his predictions do come to pass.
From Jer. 29:26-27, we infer that the high priest assumed the right to judge whether a prophet be true or false. In Jer. 20, Pashur, the priest, has the prophet Jeremiah put in the stocks as a false prophet, whereupon as soon as the latter is free, he uses the weapon of prophecy against Pashur and predicts the most terrible calamities to him and his friends.
There are several cases in which true prophets, so considered, denounce others equally true as prophesying liars. Now when priests denounce and punish so-called true prophets; when one true prophet denounces another equally true; when God himself denounces his own prophets; when we find so much that is inconsistent, unreasonable, uncertain and untrue in connection with the Old Testament prophecies, should free thinkers be censured for humbly waiting for more light?
But let us turn to the New Testament and examine a few of Christ's own prophecies. In Matt. 24:34 is the prediction in plain language: "This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled"--that is, the winding up of things earthly.
Also in verse 29, same chapter, one may read: "And the moon shall not give her light and the stars shall fall from heaven," and then all the earth "shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven"--verse 30. Here, by the way, we have the old idea that the earth is the center and largest body in the universe and that the stars--little twinkling things--are to fall upon it.
"There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom"--Matt 16:28. "Verily I say unto you, ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come"--Matt. 10:23.
It cannot be reasonably questioned that these passages were intended to foretell the near approach of the end of the world; and I would add in passing that this doctrine had no little influence in aiding the growth of the early church. But was Christ a true prophet?
The obvious meaning of these passages, the sense in which they were understood by the early Christians, was that the coming of Christ from heaven was near at hand--that the event was soon to follow the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. For further proof I would cite to 1 Cor. 10:11; also Phil. 4:5, where it is said, "The Lord is at hand." In 1 Thess. 4:15 we find:
"For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep."
James 5:8 also reads: "Be ye also patient * * * for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." 1 Peter 4:7 contains the emphatic declaration "But the end of all things is at hand. Be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer"; and in 1 John 2:18 is another statement to the same effect. Rev. 1:3 asserts that "the time is at hand." In the 22nd chapter the declarations "I come quickly" and "the time is at hand" are repeated several times.
The Second Adventists attach great importance to the above. They "watch unto prayer," are always ready, and continue to wait with commendable patience.
What more evidence is needed to prove that those who ought to have known better than we believed that the above predictions attributed to Christ had reference to the near approach of the end of the world? And what more evidence is wanting that those prophecies were failures?
If Christ himself was not a true prophet, what could be expected from common mortals?
An apparently opposing proof may be adduced from Matt. 24:14, where we are told: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations and then shall the end come." Now this would seem to upset our other proof, but let us turn to Col. 1:5,6,23, [where] we shall find that Paul considered that that had already been done. I will quote the 23rd verse: "If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven, whereof I, Paul, am made a minister," etc. Romans 10:18 is to the same effect. Now, how can we escape the conclusion that the Son of God as a prophet was a failure?
He prophesied that earthly affairs would come to an end during the lifetime of some of the young men then living and inspired the Evangelists to write his prophesies. Those young men have undoubtedly passed away, but the world still holds together, else we are under a strange mental delusion.
But have we further evidence? Let us read Mark 16:16, where Christ assures his followers, in language which may be called prophetic, that they shall be able to take up serpents, that if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them, that they can cure the sick by the laying on of hands, etc. Do my Christian friends really believe all this? If so, they should be able to do as Christ declared they could do.
Indeed one successful test would be more convincing to skeptics than a million fervent prayers or lugubrious exhortations.
If Christians cannot perform these things are we landed in the conclusion that they are unbelievers--infidels--or that the prophetic words of their Master were untrue?
In Matt. 24:35, Christ says, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away"; but if his words are true, there is not a Christian on earth.
A question suggests itself here. If heaven and earth pass away, where will be the home of God, and the redeemed? Where will the New Jerusalem be located?
Hoping it will not be considered blasphemy, I will ask: Did God himself prophesy truly? In Gen. 2:17 God tells Adam:
"But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
This prophecy was a failure, but note that the devil's prophecy in the next chapter was a true one, for their eyes were opened and they did not die. Mark Satan's emphatic words:
"Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day that ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."
And God admits the truth of the devil's words in the 22nd verse. He declares:
"Behold the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever" etc.
. So God drives him--or them--out of the garden and stations a guard with a flaming sword to keep them from returning.
Need further evidence be adduced?
Thus far I have found but one prophecy the truthfulness of which is comparatively free from suspicion--and that one prophecy was uttered by the devil himself.
I have endeavored to write the foregoing in a spirit of candor and fairness. With the same candor I will acknowledge that it was hard to resist the frequent and strong temptations to treat the subject with levity; for it is difficult for a Freethinker to comprehend how any intelligent person can consider the prophecies of the Bible as other than a jumble of absurdities, contradictions and meaningless phrases. If, however, any reader finds evidence of my having been at times "led into temptation" in this respect I humbly beg his pardon.
--------But why the prophecies? I put this question to an eminent clergyman. He responded: "There is evil in the world. The Bible tells us how to resist and overcome that evil. Prophecies and miracles were intended mainly to convince men of the truth of the Bible." Dr. Arnold says:
"Prophecy is God's voice speaking to us respecting the issue in all times of that great struggle between good and evil. Beset as we are with evil, within and without, it is the natural and earnest question of the human mind: What shall be the end at last? And the answer is given by Prophecy."
It seems then that if there were no evil in the world there would be little or no need for the Bible prophecies.
Then why evil? Why did a being of infinite wisdom, of infinite goodness and unlimited power to carry out his wishes, create evil or permit it to exist? As this is an exceedingly troublesome question, I deem it not inappropriate to give, in conclusion, a few thoughts on the subject from the standpoint of a Liberal.
Evil, Whence and What Is It?
Viewing the subject from a Christian's standpoint and taking the Bible as authority, the answer must be that God created evil.
"I form the light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things."--Isa. 45:7.
"Evil came down from the Lord unto the gate of Jerusalem."--Micah 1:12.
"The Lord repented of the evil he thought to do."--Ex. 32:14.
"Behold I will raise up evil against thee."--2 Sam. 12:11.
"The Lord shall bring upon you all evil things."--Josh. 23:15.
"Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made."--Gen. 3:1.
The Bible tells us--Ex. 20:11; Rev. 10:6--that God created everything in heaven and earth. The devil it seems was in heaven before he fell from grace. Furthermore we are told--Gen. 1:31--that "God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good."
There seems to be two horns to this devil-ish dilemma, as follows:
God created the devil (evil) or he did not. If he did not, then the devil has existed co-eternal with God, and God is not now, and never was, the supreme power in the universe. Indeed the devil seems to have had all along the greatest power, for the Bible tells us that the road that leads to the devil's dominions is broad, while the gate that leads to the heavenly paradise is extremely narrow.
If God did create the devil--an evil being destined to walk up and down the earth, and to and fro in it, frustrating most of the creator's purposes and finally taking all but a small fraction of God's creatures to an eternal home in hell--it certainly baffles the reasoning powers of any free thinker to find any great amount of wisdom, justice and "loving mercy" in the plan.
So we have abundant authority in the Bible that God created evil.
Of course there are theologians who do not so interpret it, but they do not seem to be aware that a denial that God created evil--the devil--lands them in a poor position to defend the proposition that God is the supreme power; in other words, that the Almighty is indeed almighty. Nearly all peoples have full accounts in their religious writings of the supernatural origin of good and evil, and in nearly every case each of these two principles is continually striving for the mastery over the other. All these conceptions, however, are the result of ignorance of natural law. Scientific materialism holds that most if not all [of] the so-called evils that afflict humanity arise from a failure to properly adjust ourselves to our environments, through ignorance of the laws of nature--that evil is not a "thing" or "principle" which can be traced back to a cloven-footed monster who at one time had a corner on all the evil in the universe.
And by a parity of reasoning it is held that no personal being was or is the sole source of all the good in the universe. Not many centuries ago diseases were regarded as evil spirits that took possession of our bodies and played the mischief with our happiness. Those evil spirits, or emanations from the devil, generally possessed great staying qualities and had to be "cast out" or frightened away by means of prayers, incantations, etc. No intelligent person thinks so now. The rational view is that disease is the result of natural causes and is to a great extent subject to natural remedies. For instance, malarial air is often found in low, marshy places. This is in accordance with a law of nature that rapidly decaying vegetation poisons the atmosphere. Should a man build his house in such a locality, and sickness and death in his family follow, he would be very inconsistent to attribute such a result to any evil principle whatever. A simple law of nature is involved in the case.
His being ignorant of this law would not affect the result. In common law we are told that "ignorance of the law excuseth no man." Such is the case, only more unyielding, in relation to Nature's laws. Nature is no respecter of persons. The evil--so called--falls alike on the just and the unjust. The wise and intelligent, however, more fully understanding these laws, avoid much of the pain and misery that affect the ignorant.
My Christian friends, however, would class the above as physical evils, and insist that the kind of evil for which we shall be called to account is the evil that springs from human depravity; the evil that we inherited from father Adam and which he got from Old Satan, Satan perhaps receiving it as a direct gift from the Almighty, who created it for some inscrutably wise purpose.
Such may be the New Testament evil, or sin, but I fail to see clearly the dividing line between moral and physical evils. Is it not true that both arise from the same general cause--ignorance? Admitted that certain men are born with inherited tendencies to do bad acts, yet I would claim that these inborn tendencies have a cause-and-effect relation to some more or less ignorance of the consequences of the so-called bad acts.
Animals oftentimes commit acts which if committed by man would be called evil. This tendency is displayed more by some animals than by others. We say of some dog that he is a worthless cur, always doing something mean. Now where [did] the dog get his mean disposition? Was there some canine Adam that fell from grace and transmitted his "fall" to all his dogish posterity? And is the good in any dog due wholly to his having taken advantage of a "plan of salvation" intended for the benefit of his race? Of course the idea is absurd. Then is it not reasonable to suppose that a mean dog comes by his mean disposition in about the same manner that a mean man comes by his?--that it is to a great extent the outcropping of a transmitted trait? It will be admitted that some animals, more noticeably domestic, present evidence of having progressed farther than others of their own kind; so it is apt to be said of them that they are better than others. Now who shall say that the case of man is not an analogous one? To those who accept evolution the subject is largely freed from its difficulty. Fortuitous circumstances have enabled some to progress or evolve more rapidly than others; therefore some have cast off that barbaric selfishness, that look-out-for-number-one policy, and fully recognize their duty to others and the claims of others upon them. Others, and by far the greater number, are more or less actuated by man's primitive promptings.
Superior intelligence enables some to trace the effects of an act further than can others. With such there would be a great incentive to commit any act that would result largely in good, and a restraint should their hereditary impulses urge them to deeds which their intelligence tells them would ultimately result in pain and misery, to themselves or others.
Of course believers in total depravity hold that morality does not increase with education. On the contrary, we Freethinkers claim that morality and education go hand in hand; but we must be permitted to attach our own meaning to the term education. Unfortunately most of our high schools of learning are still under religious domination, and an education demanded by the times is seldom obtained in such institutions; for every avenue that leads to a real education is guarded as if these avenues were infested with venomous reptiles. The pupil's mind is put into a straitjacket. Should any naturally progressive student succeed in breaking these mental fetters and attempt to freely rove on the broad, breezy common of the universe, he is at once sent home and his parents requested to keep him where he can do no mischief. No such free roving is tolerated. Thinking, except in a prescribed channel and with prescribed conclusions, is virtually forbidden; but students are taught, aside from mathematics and dead languages, that Christ died for sinners and that the chief end and object of life is to make our "peace, calling and election sure."
Such an education is of doubtful benefit to the race; but an education that accepts no mental fetters, an education that expands the mind and stimulates it to reach out to the remotest corners of the universe and even speculate as to what is beyond; an education founded on truth and reason and whose object is the universal welfare of humanity--such an education will make a man better, braver, nobler and grander in this life and the better fit him for the next, if such there be.
To sum up, Freethinkers accept the scientific fact that in morals as in physics every cause has its certain effect, and that all the supernatural beings in the universe and all the holy saints in the calendar cannot make it otherwise; that if the effect of an act be evil--pain, misery--the only proper thing to do is to avoid a repetition of the cause.
Thus experience becomes a basis of good--morality. Through repeated experiences we learn that actions are good or bad accordingly as they result in an increase of happiness or misery; that happiness, earthly happiness, to self and others should be the end and object of all human endeavor. We believe that undeveloped savages were our more or less remote ancestors and that some of their characteristics, by the law of heredity, have come down to us in spite of many generations of civilized life; that instead of being the degenerate sons of a "fallen" Adam, we are, and always have been, slowly perhaps, but surely improving on our ancestors. While Christianity teaches that an action is good--morally speaking--if done in obedience to a so-called divine law, and that religion is the basis of true morality, we hold that religion is not only not necessary to the highest morality, but is oftentimes a hindrance to it. Religion, from religare, means to bind back. Now if this applies to the mind, we want none of it. Instead of binding back we would let loose, let thought soar, unlimited, unrestrained. Indeed to the breaking loose from religion the world is indebted for most of the progress it has made, both moral and mental. In a word, Freethought declares that there can be right without a revelation; happiness without a heaven; justice without a Jesus; purity without priests; sincerity without saints; benevolence without a Bible; salvation without a Savior, and goodness without a God.
ERRATA; On page 16, 1st column, 6th line, is an error. Having the case of Ezekiel in mind I inadvertently ascribed it to Jeremiah. Also, 12th line, read "ten tribes" for "10,000." [I've made these corrections.--ed.]
NOTE--This booklet was printed at home, a page at a time, on a hand-inking 7x11 press, by a young man just turning 17, who had never spent a day in a printing office. Should the reader discover--and he surely will--typographical errors, he will please bear this in mind. All other errors may be charged to the author.
Last revised April 15, 2012