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Christ and Baha'u'llah

by George Townshend

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Chapter 14

'ABDU'L-BAHÁ

      BAHÁ’U’LLÁH appointed in His written Will His son 'Abdu'l-Bahá as His successor and with this successorship joined powers to which no successor of any earlier Prophet had attained and which give 'Abdu'l-Bahá a position altogether unique in religious history. Bahá'u'lláh designated Him as the Centre and pivot of His peerless Covenant; as the perfect mirror of His life, to exemplify His teachings; as the unerring interpreter of His Word; as the embodiment of every Bahá'í ideal and virtue.

      Bahá'u'lláh called Him the Mystery of God and wrote further of Him, "a Word hath, as a token of Our grace, gone forth from the Most Great Tablet — a Word which God hath adorned with the ornament of His own Self; and made it sovereign over the earth and all that is therein, and a sign of His greatness and power among its people . . . Render thanks unto God, O people, for His appearance; for verily He is the most great Favour unto you, the most perfect bounty upon you; and through Him every mouldering bone is quickened."

      Such was He who was now to give a large part of His time and effort to the service of the Christian West.

      'Abdu'l-Bahá was the age-fellow of the Bahá'í Faith; He had been born on the same evening as the Declaration of the Báb; had been the first to recognize, at the age of nine, the exalted transformation of Bahá'u'lláh after His


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Call, and had gone at the same time into exile with His Father. In 1868 He entered with His Father the Most Great Prison of 'Akká, remaining in captivity for forty years till the Young Turk Revolution in the year 1908 gave Him His liberty. In 1910, although in poor health owing to His prison suffering, He set out to visit the West, and made two tours occupying three years. His chief addresses given at this time are recorded in The Promulgation of Universal Peace (Talks in America), Paris Talks and 'Abdu'l-Bahá in London.

      As He knew well, the position of the West at this time was already one of great danger, although the Christians of the West had no idea whatever of the retribution that was confronting them. 'Abdu'l-Bahá has briefly explained what had happened in one of His Tablets which begins with the following lines:

      "O Army of Life! East and West have joined to worship stars of faded splendour, and have turned in prayer unto darkened horizons. Both have utterly neglected the broad foundation of God's sacred laws, and have grown unmindful of the merits and virtues of His religion. They have regarded certain customs and conventions as the basis of the Divine faith, and have firmly established themselves therein. They have imagined themselves as having attained a glorious pinnacle of achievement and prosperity, when in reality they have touched the innermost depths of heedlessness and deprived themselves wholly of God's bounteous gifts."

      The people of Europe and America whom He addressed were not only completely oblivious of their real condition as seen by Him, but held the very opposite opinion. They were assured that the great and mighty civilization of the Christian West was due to their own effort, and that it


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was the final product of all civilizations of the past, of the Greek and Roman and that of Persia and India and China and Egypt, which had been preparatory only. They had no doubt that they at this time were the most enlightened generation of the most enlightened age the world had ever known. Physical science had, they thought, reached the limit of reality and probed all the problems and in fact knew all that was to be known. White man in the plenitude of his power was now established in material control of the weaker nations of the world and would hold the economic, military and political domination of the world indefinitely.

      Some such views as these were probably held by every educated person in audiences to whom 'Abdu'l-Bahá spoke in the West; more particularly by those in England; and that such views of the achievements of the Western mind prevailed twenty years or more after 'Abdu'l-Bahá's visit will be suggested by the following quotation from a famous historical work by a brilliant and illustrious Oxford scholar:

      "Our civilization, then, is distinct: it is also all-pervading and preponderant. In superficial area Europe is surpassed by Asia, Africa, and America, in population by the vast stable peasantry of Asia, which outnumbers not Europe only, but the rest of the world put together. Yet if a comprehensive survey of the globe were to be made, it would be found that in almost every quarter of it there were settlements of European men, or traces of the operation of the European mind. The surviving aboriginal peoples in the western hemisphere are a small, unimportant, and dwindling element in the


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population. The African negroes have been introduced by white men as an economic convenience. Northern and southern America are largely populated by colonists from Europe. Australasia is British. The political direction of Africa has fallen, with the ambiguous exception of the lower reaches of the Nile into European hands. In Asia the case is not dissimilar. The political influences of Europe are apparent, even where they are not, as in India or Palestine, embodied in direct European control. The ideas of nationality and responsible government, of freedom  and progress, of democracy and democratic education, have passed from the west to the east with revolutionary and far-reaching consequences.

      "It is, moreover, to European man that the world owes the incomparable gifts of modern science. To the conquest of nature through knowledge the contributions made by Asiatics have been negligible and by Africans (Egyptians excluded) non-existent. The printing press and the telescope, the steam engine, the internal combustion engine and the aeroplane, the telegraph and telephone, wireless broadcasting and the cinematograph, the gramophone and television, together with all the leading discoveries in physiology, the circulation of the blood, the laws of respiration and the like, are the result of researches carried out by white men of Europe stock. It is hardly excessive to say that the material fabric of modern civilized life is the result of the intellectual daring and tenacity of the European peoples."[1]

1. H.A.L. Fisher, A History of Europe, Introduction pp. 1, 2. Edward Arnold & Co., London, 1936.


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      'Abdu'l-Bahá, of course, knew that such opinions of the importance of Western civilization were utterly and cruelly illusive. He knew that the Báb had called on the peoples of the West to come forth from their cities and aid the Cause of God, warning all humanity of the "most terrible, the most grievous vengeance of God"; that Bahá'u'lláh had said that the time for the destruction of the world and its people had arrived. "The days are approaching their end, and yet the peoples of the earth are seen sunk in grievous heedlessness, and lost in manifest error." "Great, great is the Cause! The hour is approaching when the most great convulsion will have appeared. I swear by Him Who is the Truth! It shall cause separation to afflict every one, even those who circle around Me." "Say, O concourse of the heedless! I swear by God! The promised day is come, the day when tormenting trials will have surged above your heads, and beneath your feet, saying: ’Taste ye what your hands have wrought!'" "The day is approaching when its (civilization's) flame will devour the cities, when the Tongue of Grandeur will proclaim: ’The Kingdom is God's, the Almighty, the All Praised!'"

      He knew that Bahá'u'lláh had declared that divine chastisement would assail the kings of the earth. He knew from the sudden doom of the Emperor Napoleon and of the Pope, a year after the warnings given them, how sudden and terrible this retribution might be. And the Christian Bible was the accepted authority as to-the coming of the Kingdom of God and of the great events that should be associated with it, and He was not likely to forget the pronouncements of horror and doom and the abasement of man's pride that according to prophets like Isaiah, Joel, Zechariah and many another were to be


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among the signs of the Day of the Lord. Nor would He forget how, by prophets like Ezekiel, terrible warfare  and vast carnage were foretold as preceding the final  victory of God on earth. He would not forget the  prediction of Jesus that affliction such as the world had never known would precede that victory and that no flesh would be saved unless the time were shortened. In the book of Revelation the hosts of righteousness are shown as being led by Christ against the hosts of evil and the awfulness of the bloodshed that would ensue is dramatically portrayed by pictures of the wine vats flowing blood-red with the blood of the grapes.

      All these Bible prophecies agreed in large and in little with the events that were now taking shape through the Word of Bahá'u'lláh, and were in utter contrast with the character and the outlook of history as the people of the West saw them. God's Will was the ruling force in the Bible as man's will dominates the direction of events in the Western mind.

      It would have been easy and natural for 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the circumstances to have challenged the Western fallacy, exposed its error, developed an argument brilliant and overpowering to emphasize the agreement of His teaching with that of the Bible, and the hollowness of the Western expectation of a man-made kingdom and of materialistic hegemony of one race over others. But 'Abdu'l-Bahá did nothing of the kind. The great ideal which He held before His audiences was at all times and places one and the same: Unity Through Love. His Paris Talks are full throughout of a spiritual wisdom, a spontaneous warmth of heart and sweetness and winning tenderness that would be hard to match in the world's


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revealed religious literature. His first public address was delivered in a Christian Church in London.[1] He said,

      "This is a new cycle of human power. All the horizons of the world are luminous, and the world will become indeed as a garden and a paradise. . .  The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion. Wars shall cease between nations, and by the will of God the Most Great Peace shall come . . ."

      This truth of a new dawning of power in the world became the master thought of all His speeches throughout His work in the West. In America, however, He addressed the Americans particularly as Christians and made an appeal to them not to be listeners only but to become the reapers whom Christ had prophesied would arise in His harvest day. He sought not only to instruct and illumine the minds of His audience but to awaken in them the power of spirituality and enthusiasm which would overcome the materialism that infected mankind and would develop in them a new loving spirituality which would enable His message to get home to their hearts.

      He presented a new picture of Christ in contrast to the Christ of orthodoxy, of sect and schism and dogma; one which showed that Christ's real purpose was to unite human hearts with the power of Divine love; such a Christ as none had really conceived, eager, vigorous, bringing together people of all sorts and kinds and races arid nations and overwhelming the prejudices and

1. City Temple, Sept. 15th, 1911.


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traditions which separated them. The natural force of His own warm, buoyant, loving nature gave power and reality to His presentation so that He was able to reveal a new Christ such as the people had never realized.

      His American addresses open on a note of joy, of spontaneous abounding happiness and gratification at His meeting so many radiant hearts ready to listen to the Message which, in spite of His old age and imperfect health, He had come so far to give them. Only love from God and them would have brought Him. Heart and soul 'Abdu'l-Bahá radiated a triumphant confidence, clear and strong as can be, as He extolled the glory of Christ and Bahá'u'lláh, showing their closeness, the unity of the effort and their purpose.

      His appeal was not to authority as was that of Bahá'u'lláh addressing the kings. He did not command. His appeal rather was to reason, to logic, to faith and to facts. He exposed the false hopes of the arrogant white race, not by disproof but by drawing in a quite natural manner a picture of the true antecedents of the Kingdom, showing it to be involved in the original creation of man.

      He drew, in many aspects, a picture of the whole universe as governed by one unchanging law, as being  created, ruled over and directed by one universal, independent, living Will. This great, out-working Spirit actuated the affairs and movements of all creatures in the world; it was the one Power which animated and dominated all existence. 'Abdu'l-Bahá spoke on this subject in an attitude of soul as logical as it was religious, as much in the mood of science as of faith. He treated the subject not only in a broad and general manner but in close detail. He traced, for example, the coursing of the atom


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through the kingdoms of nature — mineral, vegetable and animal— showing the changes that it assumes in its progress, through an activity not originating by itself. He showed that the one, living, independent Will of God which directed the transition of the atom directed likewise the movements which led mankind from one stage to another on its journey to the Kingdom. Thus He brought all nature into the same plane as man and showed, not only the oneness of mankind but of the whole universe— everything contributing, each in its own way — even if it be a preparatory way — towards the one great spirit goal shown at its highest in the Kingdom of God.

      He taught His auditors to meet the materialism of the day with reason and hard facts and He gave them Himself examples of how it could be done.

      'Abdu'l-Bahá's first aim in His Western teaching was, as He says Himself, to create in the minds of His hearers capacity to understand and appreciate this great new Revelation. He did not wish them to be as the kings had shown themselves to be, so infected by the pride of man and the haughty skepticism of the age that they could not see the truth when it was put plainly and clearly before them. Christ, He reminded His auditors, had had the same difficulty and had spoken the parable of the sower to show it. 'Abdu'l-Bahá sought, as Christ in His day had done, to transform and spiritualize the very hearts and outlook of those to whom He spoke. Unless He could do this the exposure of one error in the minds of the people would only be followed on the next occasion by another error. No remedy was adequate except that of creating a real capacity in the human heart to see and love the truth. This and nothing less was the first and last aim of 'Abdu'l-Bahá.


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      His own personality was His greatest argument: He was so utterly sincere, so full Himself of truth and love that He had the power to convince (it would seem) even the most faithless.

      In the second place His happy joyous way of present the argument appealed to those He spoke to and has its own penetrating power.

      Those who knew 'Abdu'l-Bahá would say they could feel His overflowing love for mankind pouring from Him in great waves, and some have told how to sit beside Him in a motor-car was to feel oneself being charged by spiritual energy. What strikes many in reading His writings is that they possess a quality different from that which belongs to any human being. There is a cadence, a  power in them which definitely comes from a higher world than that in which we live. It is natural, therefore, that His writings should be spoken of as Revelation. Yet He was human, not a Manifestation, and His scripture, though valid, has not the rank of the Revelation of a full Prophet. What explanation can there be of this except that the Holy Spirit is now in this Age of Truth touching men's souls with a higher degree of power than ever in the past. Our age has risen from the levels of the Kingdom of Man to the heights unapproached before of the Kingdom of God. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the embodiment of every Bahá'í ideal, the incarnation of every Bahá'í virtue, presents man (revealed as made in the image of God) at a level higher than any we associate with man before.

      Completing His Western tours, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, after nine months' ceaseless lecturing in the United States and Canada, reluctantly announced the imminent outbreak of the First World War and then went by Europe back to His home in


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Haifa. He had, however, published translations of a number of Bahá'í Scriptures in America; organized Bahá'í communities in that country on a firm foundation; laid the foundation stone of a Bahá'í Temple in Wilmette on a site purchased at His direction. His efforts, however, to spread the Glad Tidings of the new Day far and wide found all too little response. After the outbreak of the First World War He tried to take the fullest advantage of the horror of war which the carnage  had aroused by writing in and after 1916, a stirring summons to all Bahá'ís to arouse themselves and go forth through the length and breadth of the world to call all nations to the Kingdom of God. Once more He quoted the wonderful examples of the Apostles of Christ as a challenge to self-sacrifice. Fourteen of these letters constitute 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Divine Plan in which He detailed a vigorous and forthright programme  for the carrying of the message of the New Day throughout the continents and the islands of the sea, — a plan fully worked out and likely to be in use for many generations to come. No great response was aroused among the Bahá'ís by this appeal, a fact which caused 'Abdu'l-Bahá poignant sorrow, compelling Him to realize how deep the suffering of the world would be which all His efforts had not been able to mitigate. Broken in heart He passed to His end three years after the War, foretelling that another war, fiercer than the last, would follow before long.

      On His death the most deeply conceived and constructive of His works was published, known as The Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. It completed the great masterpiece of Bahá'u'lláh — His book of laws[1] — the two works together composing one complete and harmonious whole.

1. Kitáb-i-Aqdas


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