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Christ and Baha'u'llah

by George Townshend

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Chapter 13


      IMMEDIATELY after His Declaration at Riḍván, Bahá'u'lláh and His party set out on the long journey to Constantinople. Here they remained only four months, the Sulṭán  sending them in mid-winter and in the most severe conditions on a third journey into exile. In Adrianople Bahá'u'lláh remained about four years and in 1868 was sent on His fourth and last exile, this time to 'Akká, the dungeon city of which it was said the very birds fell dead as they passed over it.

      It was during this period and chiefly during His residence in Adrianople that Bahá'u'lláh proclaimed in great Tablets His station and His mission to the rulers of the world. Some of these are of especial moment to Western and Christian readers; first His Tablet to the Kings of the earth collectively, issued in 1864, and secondly His individual Tablets to the four chief monarchs of Europe. The first of these is described by the Guardian[1] as the most momentous of all His Tablets,[2] and in it He summons all the kings and the ecclesiastical rulers of the world to turn to Him and follow his dictates. What sublimer exordium could there be to such a document than this:

1. The Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, Shoghi Effendi, Bahá'u'lláh's great-grandson. See chap. 15.
2. Suriy-i-Muluk.

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      "O Kings of the earth! Give ear unto the Voice of God . . . intoning the words: ’There is none other God but He, the Mighty, the All-Powerful, the All-Wise.’ . . . Fear God, O concourse of kings, and suffer not yourselves to be deprived of this most sublime grace. Fling away, then, the things ye possess, and take fast hold on the Handle of God, the Exalted, the Great. Set your hearts towards the Face of God, and abandon that which your desires have bidden you to follow, and be not of those who perish."

      Bahá'u'lláh then tells them of the martyrdom of the Báb by the unjust and cruel divines of Persia. He holds them one and all responsible for this crime and requires that they make amends for it. He demands that they follow that which He speaks unto them, with their hearts, and calls on them to arise and set themselves towards the Holy Court of God.

      Bahá'u'lláh made it clear He was going to establish the Kingdom of God throughout the world; but He did not ask the kings to give Him any aid whatsoever in the task. What He did ask was that they should consider that their glory consisted in obedience to God, not in the width or wealth of their dominions; that they should rule their subjects with the utmost nicety of justice, should regard the poor among them as a particular trust from God; that they should reduce taxation and heal their dissensions till they were able to do without armies and their expensive upkeep except for police purposes.

      Unless they obeyed the directions of this kind which He gave, He warned them that assuredly calamities, heavy and many, would descend upon them from every direction; they would not be able to escape but would be caught and overwhelmed.

[page 81]

      For Himself, He demanded that the kings should scrutinize the wrongs which He and His had had to endure through twenty years and judge justly between Him and His enemies.

      He assured the kings that God had promised to exalt His Cause even if no king on earth helped Him.

      This call, however, (which as He expressly stated was that of the Most Great Peace) was immediately and with disdain rejected by the kings, one and all.

      By an act of forgiveness Bahá'u'lláh made to the Christian kings of Europe a further offer. He addressed to the Emperor Napoleon III of France, to Pope Pius IX, to Queen Victoria and to Czar Alexander, individual letters in which He asked of them their aid in establishing God's Kingdom among the nations. Napoleon was at the moment the most powerful and brilliant of the European sovereigns and to him Bahá'u'lláh offered the leadership in this great undertaking. He called on Napoleon to introduce the new Revelation and told him that the clergy who held to the old worship and refused the new would be as fallen stars and lose their status and authority. He revealed to Napoleon several of the great new principles of the new Faith; explained the succession of religions, Islám succeeding Christianity, Christianity succeeding Judaism, Moses succeeding Abraham. He stated that His own Mission was to regenerate and to unify the whole human race, which was to be regarded as one great family, in fact as one individual, as one soul in many bodies. He asserted that force, which had so long been used in teaching, must be abandoned, and methods of persuasion and wisdom only should be used; and that effective teaching would depend on the single-hearted

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sincerity of the teacher. He said that the monks were to leave their monasteries, to marry and mingle with the life of the people; and celibacy was not and never had been approved by the Almighty as a better way of life than marriage.

      He called on Napoleon to give up his crown, or if he retained it, to use it only for the service of God, and promised to assure the success of Napoleon in carrying out His, Bahá'u'lláh's programme. He would be regarded as king of the world.

      At the same time He told Napoleon that he had shown insincerity and insolence; retribution was pursuing him and if he delayed in obeying Bahá'u'lláh, he would be utterly humiliated and overthrown and would lose everything.

      Napoleon's rejoinder was a contemptuous refusal. Within a year he was defeated at Sedan and lost his empire and his throne.

      Bahá'u'lláh announced to Pope Pius IX "He Who is the Lord of Lords is come," and he who is the Rock (meaning Peter), crieth out "Lo, the Father is come, and that which ye were promised in the Kingdom is fulfilled." He bade him "Arise in the name of thy Lord, the God of Mercy, amidst the peoples of the earth, and seize thou the Cup of Life with the hands of confidence, and first drink thou therefrom, and proffer it then to such as turn towards it amongst the peoples of all faiths. . . . sell all the embellished ornaments thou dost possess and expend them in the path of God. . . . Abandon thy kingdom unto the kings, and emerge from thy habitation . . . speak forth the praises of thy Lord betwixt earth and heaven."

      Bahá'u'lláh added an appeal couched in language of the warmest love and longing to the followers of Christ,

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urging them to recognize and flock into the Kingdom of God which others were already entering though they had not the first right to it.

      The Pope ignored the letter altogether, and the following year by a stroke less spectacular than that which befell Napoleon, but equally significant, was by force deprived of the temporal rule which he had refused to surrender voluntarily, and became the prisoner of the Vatican.

      Thus the year 1870 may be regarded as marking the disruption and decline of Western civilization.

      To Queen Victoria Bahá'u'lláh revealed that the Gospel prophecies were fulfilled in His advent and He offered her a prayer exquisitely tender in its feeling which she might use in turning to Him as He admonished her to do. He commended her for two measures which had been recently adopted in the spirit of the new age, one the stoppage of the slave-trade, the other the extension of the franchise. He wrote at some length to her on the divine art of government, tracing historically the causes of its failure and indicating that it was now in a dangerous condition.

      Through her He sent a reprimand to the kings for refusing the Most Great Peace and urgently advised them to adopt the Lesser Peace which would in some degree better their condition.

      His fourth letter, addressed to Czar Alexander II was couched in warm language and He advised the Czar to arise and make known this Cause to the nations of the world.

      It is reported that Queen Victoria, on reading His letter, remarked, "If this is of God, it will stand. Otherwise it

[page 84]

can do no harm." But neither she nor any of the other Christian rulers turned to Him, nor paid any heed whatever to His counsels.

      He remarked of them that they were intoxicated with pride, unable to see what was best for their own material interest, much less to recognize so stupendous a Revelation.

      Bahá'u'lláh had now been rejected by all the rulers of the world and His removal to 'Akká cut Him off completely from active touch with world affairs. It should be noted, however, that in exiling Him to 'Akká, the Holy Land, the Sulṭán  had fulfilled the ancient prophecy to the effect that the Lord of Hosts would give His Revelation there and thus made it impossible for anyone to say that Bahá'u'lláh had fulfilled the prophecy of His own free will.

      Bahá'u'lláh's trust in the Christians and in their support of His teachings never weakened. Towards the end of His life He wrote the Holy Tablet,[l] an important work addressed to them in which He rebukes them for their slowness in recognizing Him, promises He will be faithful and pours forth a succession of enthusiastic beatitudes on the Christians, who will turn to Him with loving hearts and serve His Faith.

      About the same time Professor Edward Granville Browne, of Cambridge University, came in touch with the light of the Báb, became His lifelong admirer and pursued a vigorous research of the Báb’s history which led him in the end to 'Akká where he was received by Bahá'u'lláh and was thus enabled to write, in that famous introduction to A Traveller's Narrative:

1. Lawḥ-i-Aqdas.

[page 85]

      "The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one's very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow; while the deep lines on the forehead and face implied an age which the jet-black hair and beard flowing down in indistinguishable luxuriance almost to the waist seemed to belie. No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!"[1]

      And that other quotation from the lips of Bahá'u'lláh Himself which, when quoted at the world parliament of religions in Chicago in 1893, proved to be the instrument of bringing Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation to the knowledge of the Western world. The words were spoken to Browne during the interview with Bahá'u'lláh in 'Akká.

      "Thou hast come to see a prisoner and an exile . . .  We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment. . .  That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and difference of race be annulled — what harm is there in this . . . Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ’Most Great Peace’ shall come . . .  Do not you in Europe need this also . . . Is not this that which Christ foretold . . . Yet do we see your kings and rulers lavishing their treasures more freely on means for the destruction of the human race

1. E.G. Browne, A Traveller's Narrative, Introduction. Cambridge.

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than on that which would conduce to the happiness of mankind . . . These strifes and this bloodshed and discord must cease, and all men be as one kindred and one family.. . . Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind . . . "[1]

      Bahá'u'lláh passed away in 1892. Communication between America and 'Akká began soon after 1893 and before the end of the century American pilgrims began to arrive after a difficult and uncertain journey, by way of the sea, at the prison city where 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Son of Bahá'u'lláh, was still immured.

1. ibid.

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