Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
.
>>   Books
> add tags

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

by George Townshend

previous chapter chapter 9 start page single page chapter 11 next chapter

Chapter 10

THE SPIRITUALISING OF MANKIND

In the Lord's Supper Christ gave a remembrance of Himself. In the Lord's Prayer He gave a remembrance of His work and teaching. The prayer was, of course, to be used; and not only to be used but to be copied. It was revealed expressly as a pattern prayer. It shows us how Jesus wished us always to approach His Gospel, to meditate on His work, to understand His purpose. It is not meant to be regarded by itself, as isolated from the rest of His teaching. It is not a lonely gem; it is a mirror which Christ's own hand holds up to reflect for us the essence of His message and its meaning. A little glass may reflect a great stretch of sky. As a summary of His aims and of His works and His prayers for mankind it is more authoritative than any precis or formulation which may be drawn up by men. It is from our Lord's own lips. It is expressly given not as one prayer among others, not as perhaps the best of many, but (what is much more) as typical, as showing forth that mental attitude to the Gospel which the believer is to assume in those most sacred moments when, in Christ's name, he approaches God in meditation and prayer. Here the wisdom of the Lord Himself has gathered together and set in order the major thoughts which He wishes Christians ever to keep in mind as characteristic of His work for mankind. These are the great things to pray for if we would follow the express direction of the Lord, and the order in which He names


[page 101]

them shows the proportion and the emphasis which He wishes to be observed.

'These are the essential matters in which men are to ask for God's help. Assuredly men have no right to seek this help unless they themselves earnestly desire and work for these things. Therefore this pattern prayer offers a very clear implied direction as to the principal things for which the Christian is here on earth to labour and which he is to make his prime practical objectives. If he faithfully follows the line of thought and action so strongly marked out here by Christ, he will be sure he is fulfilling the purposes of his Lord.

In its substance and in its proportions the Prayer of Jesus is parallel to the Ten Commandments of Moses. Both Prayer and Commandments divide into two parts; they are in the same order. The first deals with divine things; the second with human things. The first sets forth the honour and glory of God; the second, the needs and duties of man. But the Prayer belongs to a much more advanced stage in the spiritual evolution of mankind. The vista of social change and betterment opened in the Prayer is far more definite and more bright than anything in the earlier teaching. Christ, speaking from that point of view which he always maintained, the point of view of God and His heaven, indicated the prospect of the unification of mankind through their communion in a single spiritual ideal, their subjection to a single spiritual King, their obedience to one and the same universal law. Nineteen hundred years ago Jesus foreshadowed that very problem which circumstances have forced upon modern attention, defined the right approach to its solution, dealt with its spiritual aspects at large in his general teaching


[page 102]

and drew the main primary thoughts together in a few pregnant phrases that His followers might have the central task of His Dispensation full in front of their minds whenever they said their prayers. He taught men to look forward to a wonderful change, a complete transformation in the condition of mankind that God's power, answering man's prayers, would produce. Something which He called the Kingdom of the Father would come down on earth, and the sovereign will of God would be accepted the world over as the rule of action.

This reorientation of social life was not to be entirely new; it was to be modelled after the pattern of life in heaven, as a sculptor might mould a piece of clay to the shape of a given figure. The ways of heaven are the original; the ways of earth are to be brought into correspondence, and mortals are to study and adopt the ideals of heaven in order to reproduce them in this lower world.

The emphasis of the Lord's Prayer confirms what the whole Gospel makes more than clear, that Christ's main objective was not mystical nor metaphysical nor doctrinal: on the contrary it was social and practical. He came to earth and lived and died, that he might open before all men the path to a diviner civilisation, might lift human life to a new level of knowledge and well-being. No one can be unmoved by the impassioned spirituality of all

that Christ said; but He never suggested that spirituality and ordinary human existence do not go together. Spirituality, on the contrary, is aided by progress in education and in civilisation. On the other hand, no progress can be maintained, and no true progress can


[page 103]

be made, without the exertion of spiritual strength and energy.

He did not at all condemn earth-life nor deplore its existence nor minimise its importance. Far from it. There is not a hint of any kind of pessimism in His outlook. There is nothing in His utterances to correspond with such despairing denunciations as that of the great poet, who was so saddened by the human misery and wickedness about him that He cried out against man's birth as eclipsing the beauty of a world which God otherwise had made so lovely. He does not lament, nor encourage others to lament, the gathering of the shadows of mortality around human life as the years of childhood pass away. He proclaimed man's life on earth as a glorious privilege, an opportunity of winning an unending and unimaginable blessedness. He sought in every way, by precept and example, to impress on all the religious importance of social health and happiness. His purpose was to show men how to get the maximum of good results from their life on earth. The announcement of the herald angels had been Peace on Earth. One of Jesus' great prophecies was that the Meek shall inherit the Earth, meaning those who, like Moses and himself, had surrendered their wills to the will of God. He did not teach His disciples to pray that they might go to heaven when they died, but that they might do God's will on earth while they lived. God long ago had made the earth and everything and everybody in it and had seen that all was good; and now He so loved all the inhabitants of the earth that He sent His Son to teach and uplift them and be as one of themselves. There was nothing of the recluse nor of the ascetic about Jesus. He himself drew attention to this fact. The Baptist


[page 104]

was bred in the wilderness and preached in the wilds, he dressed in the roughest garments and fed on the coarsest food; he was a lonely figure, and the burden of his eloquence was denunciatory. The contrast between him and Jesus was evident and striking; and the reason for it was hardly less evident. John's special task was to prepare men's hearts for the advent of the Messiah. He had to destroy the old corruptions and perversions, to break the mental idols set up by men, to warn, to condemn, to purify. He had to clear a highway for the approach of the Lord; and that highway was within the hearts of men. He did not attempt to reveal a system of new truth, as Jesus did later. His one positive pronouncement was the immediate Advent of Christ. Outside of this proclamation, the rest of his teaching was a rebuke and a call to repentance.

But Jesus, on the contrary, combined the closest communion with God with constant social intercourse. He moved as a man among men. He drew crowds about Him and welcomed them. He kept His disciples continually by Him. He was criticised because He shared men's feasts as well as their prayers, and mingled with people of all classes, not refusing His company even to outcasts — 'a gluttonous man, and a winebibber', they cavilled, 'a friend of publicans and sinners'. He exemplified all that was best and most charming in social accessibility. He insisted on the social virtues — compassion, goodwill, forgiveness, charity, justice. He rebuked the Pharisees for their social iniquities and oppression of the poor — for devouring widows' houses and laying on others burdens which they would not touch with a finger themselves. He showed the Rich Man condemned after death to torment for no other


[page 105]

reason than callous self indulgence and neglect of the beggar who lay, day after day, helpless and in pain at his gate. The questions which He said the Divine Judge would ask of men at the Great Assize did not, in one instance, concern questions of orthodoxy or belief, but concerned only men's practical conduct to one another and especially to those in need. He heightened the moral standard of behaviour set by Moses, and in order to lift civilisation to a higher level, He introduced new social ordinances at the peril of His life. It was not so much on account of His purely spiritual revelation concerning the kingdom of heaven, eternal life and the like, that He incurred the hatred of the Scribes and Pharisees, as on account of His interference with the temporal regulations of Moses on such matters as divorce and the keeping of the Sabbath. How great must have been the importance He attached to social laws and customs, if for their sake He would defy the powerful classes and hasten His own destruction! Destitute as He was, a wandering teacher without a place to lay His head at night, He started among His companions a benevolent fund and dispensed charity to those who were as poor as He.

He showed that every single human being was loved and cared for by God; He strongly insisted on every man's direct personal responsibility for his acts; but He never treated the individual as an isolated unit, but always and essentially as a member of society. No man could live to himself; he must live in relation to others. People in those days, much as to-day, divided all human society into two parts: their own fellow-countrymen and foreigners. The Jew put the Gentile in a different class from himself; as


[page 106]

the Greek or Roman did with the 'barbarian'. The Baptist, preparing the minds of his listeners for the broader teaching of Jesus, had warned the Jews not to trust to their special privileges, nor to think that their being inheritors of the Promise would be enough to satisfy the approaching Messiah. . . . begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.' (Luke 3:8.) Jesus from the first refused to countenance the prejudice against a foreigner, and went even further than John. He proclaimed that all men are equal in the sight of God and are to be henceforth equal in the sight of one another. His first sermon, as recorded in Luke 4, was directed against the national and religious exclusiveness of the Jew, and He quoted in His support the incident of Elias and the widow of Sidon, and that of the cleansing of Naaman, the Syrian, from his leprosy. The immediate result of this address on the congregation was that 'all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way.' (Luke 4:28-30.)

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, He taught that in the New Dispensation the duty of being kind to a neighbour meant the duty of answering the need of every human being within reach, regardless of any difference in race, religion, tradition or any such thing. Spiritual kinship overbridged any such boundaries as these. His Gospel was to be preached to all nations indifferently;


[page 107]

and it must be carried to the uttermost ends of the globe before the next great step in world-evolution could be taken. To the Christian, as there was but one God and one heaven, so there was but one earth, a single home for the upbringing of all the Father's spiritual children. All human beings everywhere were to be regarded as members of one and the same universal spiritual society. In one of His comparisons, He likened them to sheep who, He said, would one day become one flock. He went even farther than this, and spoke of believers as being united in a way like that of the branches of a single tree, He himself being the central trunk from which all sprang and through which they all were joined to one another. The world-unity which He had in view was not outward nor of a superficial kind: it was very real and deep-seated. It was an inner unity of thought and feeling, of outlook on life, of spiritual experience and knowledge. He said very little about organisation and He postponed questions of world-government. He dealt with the first things.

It was always His insistence that the unification of the human race was a matter to be proceeded to by steps and degrees. There were certain measures which must be taken in hand first, and others second. It was not for man to determine the order of these steps; it was for God. The right and proper order had long ago been established by divine law; and man's part was to discover and follow the provisions of this law. If man preferred his own way to the way laid out by the principles of evolution, good results could not be obtained; there must of necessity be delays and disappointment. Christ defined with the utmost clearness and emphasis what was the order of progress; man must, under the law of the universe, seek first the


[page 108]

kingdom of God and God's righteousness: he must before all else in his heart hallow God's name. Other things must come second and would follow if the first forward step were rightly taken.

So direct, so strong, so telling was Christ's attack upon every kind of divisive prejudice and pride, that He paid for His teaching the price of His life, and showed Himself very ready to sacrifice Himself in the cause of truth and unification. All His commandments, negative and positive, were such as to put an end to estrangement and to promote affection, harmony and concord. He sought in every way to cleanse men's hearts of selfishness and to educate them from self centredness to world-centredness. Love is the first commandment. Love is the second commandment. There is no third commandment. Turn in the New Testament where one will, the counsels of Christ are all in the direction of one effect, one end: amity, fellowship, unity. To glance over the Sermon on the Mount is to see that Christ there blesses the merciful and the peacemakers; He bids men be reconciled with one another before they come to worship God; He denounces anger and enjoins truthfulness; He commends forbearance and generosity and a goodwill that has no thought of reciprocity: a man is to do to others as he would have them do to him, and whatever they do to him (be it as bad as it may) he is to be as kind to them as he can, to help them, bless them and pray for them. So important did He think the duty of forgiveness that He included it in the Lord's Prayer and made a man's forgiveness of his brethren the measure of the forgiveness he might expect from God. So strongly did Christians long ago realise the importance of the need and the duty of


[page 109]

forgiveness that they introduced their hope of God's forgiveness of their sins into the Apostles' Creed. Christ revealed nothing about the organisation of a system of international law. He did not take, in Isaiah's phrase, 'the government. . . upon his shoulder'. (Isa. ix. 6.) He did not define any social pattern of world-order. Such a problem did not arise. 'The earth at that time had not been explored. No one's imagination then could picture all the empires and peoples of the planet as unified into a single co-ordinated system, as forming some kind of universal theocracy. Mankind was altogether too immature to develop those powers of heart and soul which would be needed for so great a feat of co-operation. It was as yet too inexperienced in the arts of government. Jesus' mission was spiritual only. It dealt with men as men, as units of the Kingdom to be, and brought them individually a new degree of consciousness, which, when spread from heart to heart through the world, would enable them to face the further and higher tasks involved in reconstituting the whole social order of the planet.

The union of all mankind at which Christ aimed was not a mere brotherhood. Men were not only to become like one flock but at the same time they were to have one shepherd. Believers were not to be as so many dismembered boughs of a tree, but were to be boughs living and growing on one trunk. The world-ideal which Christ sought to realise is given most commonly in the figure of a family. All men were indeed brothers; but the primary fact was they were sons, sons of one Father. God was to be conceived of as Father; the apostles prayed to him as Abba, Father; every Christian was instructed to pray to him as Father; Christ's own particular title, Son of God,


[page 110]

reminded every believer of the Heavenly Father. Whenever one prayed, one's first thought was always to be of reverence for the Father and for all that was of the Father.

So vigorously did Christ urge upon men this remembrance of a unifying Fatherhood that He bade men call no man on earth father; they had only one Creator, the Father in heaven; and instead of thinking of their human fathers on earth, through whom they were divided into many families, they were to acknowledge as a reality only one true Fatherhood, that of the One Universal God, the Maker of all, Who loved all and watched over all and provided for all.

If they would make a steadfast effort and develop within themselves that deep spiritual love with which Christ endowed them, the earth verily would become one home and all the members of the human race one family.


[page 111]

previous chapter chapter 9 start page single page chapter 11 next chapter
Back to:   Books
Home Site Map Forum Links Copyright About Contact
.
. .