JESUS CHRIST, HERALD OF THE KINGDOM
announced, and great Prophets had described in inspired language, the
establishment of the Kingdom and the restoration of the Jews. Jesus' function
was more intimate, more constructive, more creative. He was actually the Herald
of the Kingdom, which, He said, was "at hand". But He did not reveal
it fully; "I have yet many things to
say unto you, ye cannot bear them now." The Kingdom, in His
Revelation, becomes a living, glowing reality, both within the believer's heart
and shortly to be fulfilled in the world. Jesus reveals its King as none had
done before Him, testifies of Him as "he
shall testify of me".
Jesus created a power of perceiving God which was new, and
in order that it might operate clearly, had to cleanse the spirit of man from
all worldly encumbrances. Virtue become detachment from the world, sin
attachment to it. Jesus demanded this sacrifice — losing the life of the
world for the life of the spirit, but He made God so attractive, so joyous,
loving, powerful, that the Christian was ready to abandon all for Him, and for
Christ Who revealed Him.
Thus the tremendous and fearsome Deity of the Old
Testament wins men's hearts in the New. We read of the poor sparrow whose fall
was watched by a loving Father, of the flower of the field and the bird of the
air, and the
tenderest stories that ever have won men's hearts — the prodigal son and
the good Samaritan.
A new quality of love now characterizes the Kingdom, a
love which united the believers not only with God, but with each other, and
even extended to enemies and "them
that hate you." "That ye
love one another" became the test of Christian discipleship.
The supreme ideal of this love was, as shown in John, the relationship between Christ
and the Father, and though revealed in the most simple language and the
plainest words, stands as the highest expression of Divine love in scripture.
The result was that Jesus' teachings let loose upon the
soul and heart of man a spiritual power such as never had been known in the
world before. Historians have said that Jesus' teaching has done more to elevate
human nature and civilization than all the laws of legislators and the
disquisitions of philosophers combined. By releasing religious energies
measured to the needs of the hour and the people, He opened the way to the
Kingdom of God in men's hearts. New affections and aspirations, hopes and
loyalties were brought into being and the whole moral world was carried into a
state of flux.
The early Christians taught the sacredness of human life
and the dignity of human nature. As soon as they could they stopped the
exposure of infants at birth and the practice of gladiatorial shows. Later they
promoted education, built hospitals and introduced a juster system of
legislation than had been in use in the Roman State before. Such changes as
these they made because the seat of Christ's government was fixed in their
souls and His throne was in their hearts. They lay open to the impress
of every breath the Spirit breathed on them and had consecrated their wills to
His service. A new and Christian civilization arose, centered on Byzantium,
which reached its height in the fourth century.
In Jesus' time there was a great company of brilliant
philosophers, historians and orators, poets and scholars in Rome, all of them
deeply conscious of the debasement and the disintegration of Roman life,
particularly anxious to find a way of improving it and all truly unable to do
so. The thought that the new teaching of Christ would prove equal to the task
and would rebuild a new and better social order never occurred to one of them.
They seldom mentioned Christianity and when they did, referred to it in terms
of complete contempt. Men have marvelled at their blindness, but after all the
cause is not far to seek:[colon] Jesus regards this human world as antagonistic
to the divine world. "Ye cannot
serve God and mammon" is the cornerstone of His ethics. Unless a man
hates his father and his mother, his wife and his home for His sake and the
Gospel's he cannot be His disciple. He demands, therefore, that a man shall
exercise a high degree of self-control and self-discipline. Jesus taught that
this earth life is intended to be a bridge to pass over and not a home in which
to take up one's abode. The wise man, therefore, who passes this way will not
attach himself to too many ties but will keep himself free so that he will be
able, if some higher call of duty comes to him from the divine world, to follow
it at once. He will seek to achieve a high standard of self-control and
self-discipline, happily conscious that the demands of the Gospel and of Christ
take precedence over any earthly imperative.
1. see Chap. 9.
The Roman philosophers on the other hand, immersed
completely in the affairs, interests and calls of the human world, had no
conception whatever of any obligation to sacrifice its need to those of a
Purity, therefore, is the cleansing of the human heart
from the obscuring influence of the mists and shadows of earth which do not
enable man to see any vision of God or of Christ but keep him in comparative
darkness, knowing nothing of the vision or the power which comes to the heart
that has disengaged itself from all love of Mammon. The wonders of Christ could
never have come to pass, nor could the spiritual energies, shed so bountifully,
have been released had He not been ready to sacrifice every human tie and
attachment for the sake of God and God's beloved. The mysterious power which
comes of sacrifice like Christ's, and in no other way, is similar to that of a
seed which falls into the ground and is buried in the dark. The seed gives up
its outer life and the shell perishes; instead the inner being of the seed
takes on a new life of its own which spreads and expands into a very big tree,
assuming a new form in the boughs and branches and leaves. Analogously, Christ
abandoned all that held Him to home and all the ties of earth, and this
sacrifice created the Christian community into which His own life passed. He
was the first to make the sacrifice His teachings demanded and God-intoxicated
apostles, following Him, went forth to transform the world and die as martyrs.
Bahá'u'lláh testifies: —
". . . that when
the Son of Man yielded up His breath to God, the whole creation wept with a
great weeping. By
however, a fresh capacity was infused into all created things. Its evidences,
as witnessed in all the peoples of the earth, are now manifest before thee. The
deepest wisdom which the sages have uttered, the profoundest learning which any
mind hath unfolded, the arts which the ablest hands have produced, the
influence exerted by the most potent of rulers, are but manifestations of the
quickening power released by His transcendent, His all-pervasive, and
that when He came into the world, He shed the splendor of His glory upon all
created things. Through Him the leper recovered from the leprosy of perversity
and ignorance. Through Him, the unchaste and wayward were healed. Through His
power, born of Almighty God, the eyes of the blind were opened, and the soul of
the sinner sanctified.
"Leprosy may be
interpreted as any veil that interveneth between man and the recognition of the
Lord, his God. Who so alloweth himself to be shut out from Him is indeed a
leper, who shall not be remembered in the Kingdom of God, the Mighty, the
All-Praised. We bear witness that through the power of the Word of God every
leper was cleansed, every sickness was healed, every human infirmity was
banished. He it is Who purified the world. Blessed is the man who, with a face
beaming with light, hath turned towards Him."
Wonderful is the story of Christ indeed! Yet where is the
Gospel in the world to-day?
1. Gleanings from the
Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, section xxxvi.