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Christ and Baha'u'llah

by George Townshend

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Chapter 10


      ABOUT the beginning of the eighteenth century a  new influence swept across Europe affecting the minds of all men. It showed itself in a spirit of confidence and enterprise, the sense of a new power. Hitherto men had tended to look back to the past and to old civilizations for the Golden Age, for their ideals and their models. Scholars, historians, religionists had looked back at Greece and Rome and Palestine, but now they looked rather at the present and at the future, seeking to make the world better, richer, fuller and to do this on their own initiative.

      This was the age when the industrial Revolution arose, changing the face of the world and the lives of men. Idealists dreamed of reform, seeking it not only in national terms but in universal. In all phases of life new hopes were born and sought fulfillment. As the century wore on indications of the origin and the meaning of this general impulse began to appear.

      The Jews had, since the first and second centuries, territorially and politically ceased to be a nation, yet no people held more grimly to the sense of nationhood than they. Expelled from the Holy Land after the capture of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, under Titus, and again with more rigour  about sixty years later under Hadrian, they were dispersed among nearly all the nations of the earth and

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they suffered every form of humiliation and misery for well-nigh sixteen centuries. But now in the eighteenht century for the first time a national life began to assert itself among them. It was the time for the Jewish Renaissance. In Europe and America nation after nation began to restore to them by slow degrees rights which for long centuries had been denied them. In 1723 Louis XV gave the Jews permission to hold real estate in France. In the same year England acknowledged them as English subjects. In 1738 Charles VI of Denmark opened all trades to the Jews. In 1750 Frederick II granted toleration to the Jews in his dominion. Joseph II of Austria in 1780 opened the schools and Universities of the Empire to the Jews, allowing them to follow any trade or establish manufacturing. In the year 1788 Louis XVI of France appointed a royal commission "to remodel on principles of justice all laws concerning the Jews." And so the tale goes on.

      The United States of America was the first nation to embody in its laws the principle that Gentiles and Jews were equal in rights and privileges before the law (A.D. 1776). The same process of gradual concession was continued through the nineteenth century, the year 1844 being a time of special importance, since in it the Turkish Government pledged to the Jews protection from persecution throughout the Ottoman Dominion, including of course the Holy Land, though it was not until 1867 that the Sublime Porte gave them the right to own real estate in the land of their fathers.

      What could all this mean but the approach of the second coming of Christ?

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      Contemporary with this eighteenth century emancipation of the Jews there swept quietly into the minds of European men the impulsion of a new spiritual force, an impulsion the beginnings of which can hardly be traced but which gradually brought into men's minds a new spirit of hope and enterprise and happiness and creative vigor and which by steady gradations at the turn of the century and during the early years of the nineteenth century took the definite shape of the dawning on earth of a New Age, of the divinely-aided appearance of a new and better world, and in Christian circles of the return of Christ and the descent of the Kingdom of God from heaven.

      The poet Wordsworth gives an excellent contemporary account of the new creative joy that mysteriously was wafted upon the world at that time, and of the confidence that possessed the hearts of men.

"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven! — Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights,
When most intent on making of herself
A prime enchantress — to assist the work
Which then was going forward in her name!
Not favoured spots alone, but the whole Earth,
The beauty wore of promise, — that which sets
(As at some moment might not be unfelt
Among the bowers of Paradise itself)
The budding rose above the rose full blown.
What temper at the prospect did not wake
To happiness unthought of? The inert
Were roused, and lively natures rapt away! . . .

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Did now find, helpers to their heart's desire,
And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish; —
Were called upon to exercise their skill,
Not in Utopia, — subterranean fields, —
Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where!
But in the very world, which is the world
Of all of us, — the place where in the end,
We find our happiness, or not at all!
            Prelude, Book XI and X[2]

      But at the end of the eighteenth century and during the first decades of the nineteenth the intuitions of spiritual men spoke in clearer language. A burst of lyrical greetings welcomed the approaching coming of the Kingdom.

"The Night is ended and the Morning nears:
Awake, look up! I hear the gathering sound
Of coming cycles, like an ocean round;
I see the glory of a thousand years
Lightening from bound to bound."
            Frederick Tennyson (1807-98)

"These things shall be: a loftier race
Than e’er the world hath known, shall rise,
With flame of freedom in their souls
And light of knowledge in their eyes . . .

"New arts shall bloom of loftier mound,
And mightier music thrill the skies,
And every life shall be a song
When all the earth is paradise."
      J. A. Symonds (1840-93)

1. See also Wordsworth's "Excursion."

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      "The Day of the Lord is at hand, at hand:
      Its storms roll up the sky:
The nations sleep starving on heaps of gold;
      All dreamers toss and sigh;
The night is darkest before the morn;
When the pain is sorest the child is born,
      And the Day of the Lord is at hand...."

      "Who would sit down and sigh for a lost age of gold,
      While the Lord of all ages is here?
True hearts will leap up at the trumpet of God,
      And those who can suffer, can dare.
Each old age of gold was an iron age too,
And the meekest of saints may find stern work to do,
      In the Day of the Lord at hand."
            From Charles Kingsley's
           The Day of the Lord (written 1849).

      The poets' enthusiasm crossed the Atlantic. It touched Whittier. It moved Julia Ward Howe to write, in 1861, the Battle Hymn of the Republic:

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loos’d the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword,
His truth is marching on."

      Apart from such verses stand apocalyptic works of Shelley; Lyrics like the Ode to the West Wind, narratives

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such as The Revolt of Islam and especially his great poetical drama Prometheus Unbound, which many critics regard as the sublimest poem in the English language. Here in the poem the form of apocalypse does not appear, nor is any Christian imagery employed. The theme of the drama is verily and indeed that of the actual coming of the Kingdom. The hero is a godman  who, moved by love and pity for mankind, in their ignorance and error and misery, through deliberate self- sacrifice and acute suffering for their sake, challenges and finally destroys the principle of evil, hurling into the abyss the Tyrant from his throne, thus redeeming permanently the human race. The very universe itself rejoices to share the universal regeneration of all living things.

      Not poets alone but the generality of the people in town and in country, high and low, learned and unlearned, felt this new transcendent power stirring creation. The time was one of religious revival, of church building, of missionary expansion, the central motive being always the belief in the imminent coming of Christ.[1] For a full generation and more men and women everywhere dreamed, thought, talked and discussed this Advent. They met in church and chapel, in street and roadside, held assemblies and camp meetings that lasted far into the night. In many parts of England, in Southern Wales, in many parts of the United States from the East to the Middle West the fervor of the expectation spread. Adventist sects were started, a few of which remain to the present day, such as the Latter Day Saints and the Seventh Day Adventists. So strong was the feeling in one shape or another that the Messianic expectation lasted through the

1. See the author's The Promise of All Ages, chap v.

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whole of the nineteenth century and, reappearing in the apocalyptic sense of mission which has characterized communism and fascism, has tempted more dictators than one to regard themselves as Messianic beings.

      For two centuries, it may perhaps be said, this new wave of power affected all the Western world except one section only, the institutions which claimed to be custodians of religious truth, which claimed to have a monopoly of keeping watch for Christ according to His command. The old established, historic churches of Christendom showed themselves irresponsive and uninterested. The false prophets had done their deadly work with full success. So misleading had been their interpretations of religious history that Christ had indeed come and no men had been so utterly ignorant of His presence as those who had appointed themselves to be His special guardians.

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