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Heart of the Gospel:
The Bible and the Bahá'í Faith

by George Townshend

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Chapter 1

THE BIBLE AS UNIVERSAL HISTORY

The Bible is a study in world-history. It is man's first effort to write a complete history of the human race from its beginning to its climax in the unification of all peoples and the establishment of a universal religion.

Though it was written so long ago, compiled under unfavourable conditions, though as a history it is neither exhaustive nor comprehensive, nor orderly in form nor scholarly in tone and manner; yet in spite of its handicaps it presents to the soul of man the most sublime and magnificent conception of the whole human race as being in reality one family whose history, however complex, is a continuous movement towards a single and all-sufficient consummation. Perhaps nothing will fully satisfy the heart and mind of thoughtful men save this vision of the oneness of the life of the race, and of an Eternal Will guiding all things towards an event in which an ever-advancing civilisation finds at last completeness and fulfilment. Here in this ancient book, come down to us from primitive times and offered through the Authorised Version in befitting language of matchless power and beauty, this conception is set forth with a clearness and a force which has not weakened through the ages and with a fullness of meaning which no' epoch has been so well able to appreciate as ours. The early chapters of Genesis are universal in their


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outlook. They take a general survey of the whole earth and of all its inhabitants. They tell of Adam and Eve, the progenitors of the whole human race, and of the three sons of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth ('of them was the whole earth overspread'). They describe how 'the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech' until God confounded men's language and 'did scatter them abroad upon the face of the whole earth'. In the twelfth chapter the field of the narrative narrows, the action no longer embraces the whole human race, but centres henceforth round the fortunes of one people only, 'the chosen people' as they called themselves, the Hebrews, the descendants of Abraham. For a period of some two thousand years the history of mankind is seen through Jewish eyes and written from the Jewish point of view. The sacred narrative tells of the vicissitudes, the glories, the tragedies of the Hebrews. It traces their growth from a single family to a great and opulent nation and follows them through their subsequent decline and humiliation. But it does not give them this extraordinary prominence for their own sake, because of any native superiority of theirs to the rest of mankind. The Bible is not a nationalistic work. No one reading it could imagine the Hebrews enjoyed their distinction because they were really greater or dearer to God than any other people. Their failings are not extenuated; their conduct is not idealised nor eulogised. Their iniquities are frankly displayed. Their unworthiness of their blessings is mercilessly exposed. They call forth from the prophets the most scathing and tremendous denunciation's. They occupy in the Bible a central place because they are, for a time, in an especial sense the trustees of God's universal purpose. The main subject of the Bible


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does not change in the twelfth chapter of Genesis, nor is the great theme ever forgotten. The thread of universal history runs through Jewish history. The tides of world progress lap for a time round the shores of Palestine. At the very beginning of the Jewish race, in the wording of the call of Abraham, this universal outlook and purpose is proclaimed, 'I will make of thee a great nation. . . and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed'. If through the exclusiveness of the Jew the oneness of the human race and of its progress is in any passage of the Bible obscured, it is never forgotten by Him who is the inspirer and true author of the Word of God.

Had the Jews accepted Christ, they might still have retained a central place of responsibility in the history of mankind. The universal theme might still have been carried forward in the New Testament through Jewish history as it was in the Old Testament. But the Jews failed. They knew not the time of their visitation. The children of the Kingdom were cast out and others inherited their privileges. After the Crucifixion the Jews no longer march in the van of universal history. They fall aside from the main current of human progress. The cause of religion is advanced and the purpose of God goes forward - - but not through the agency of the Jews. The high trusteeship they had held so long is forfeited and passes from them to the Gentiles. In the latter part of the New Testament the action spreads rapidly outward from Palestine to Ephesus and Macedonia and Athens, to Corinth and to Rome, till finally in the closing chapters of the Bible it embraces in prophetic survey the entire earth and all the peoples that inhabit it.


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And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. . . and I . . . saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven. . . And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. . . In the midst of the street of it. . . was there the tree of life. . . and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Rev. 21 and 22.)

Christ emphasised the universality and the unifying purposes of His Message. He bade His disciples 'go teach all nations'. He predicted that a certain deed of kindness done to Him would be remembered wherever the Gospel was preached in the wide world, and He announced that the close of His Age would not come till His Teaching had been carried to the ends of the earth. He said, moreover, that His Gospel was to soften and remove those estrangements among men caused by differences of race, nation, tradition or culture; it was to harmonise men's hearts and induce a sense of fellowship; and some day the whole of humanity would be gathered into one and become as a single flock of sheep under a single shepherd.

The Bible sketches world-history; but the spirit in which this theme is conceived and the point of view from which it is written are not those taken by the modern historian. The Bible regards the history of the human race as being from beginning to end in reality one and single. However rich in incident may be the onward movement of mankind, however complex it may be in action, however manifold in interest: though men may have lost their bearings altogether, though they may have forgotten their original unity and may have no conception


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of the ultimate goal towards which they are being carried, nevertheless the course of their progress flows all in one direction and is guided by a principle of unity which persists through all divisive influences and sooner or later will make its dominant power manifest.

The first picture presented in the Bible is that of human unity in its simplest form: that of a single family. The last picture is that of a unity manifold and universal in which all kindreds and tongues and peoples and nations are gathered into one and unified in the enjoyment of a common worship, a common happiness, a common glory.

The great problem which, according to the Bible, confronts the human race in its progress is that of advancing from the barest, baldest unity through a long experience of multiplying diversities till ultimately a balance between the two principles is struck, poise is gained and the two forces of variety and unity are blended in a multiple, highly developed world fellowship, the perfection of whose union was hardly suggested in the primitive simplicity of early man.


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