Heart of the Gospel:
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Whatever obstacles were put in their way by the force of tradition or the pride of learning were overcome by the Apostles' love for Christ and their vision of His great purpose. He dwelt in their hearts and they longed to serve Him, to please Him, to walk in the path He had laid out for them, to give His Message and to impart the joy of knowing Him. This love which held them so fast to Jesus was a wholly new experience to them. They had been brought up in an atmosphere of reverence, accepting a religion which came to them by inheritance and which they had received without question and without ecstasy. But now through this association with Jesus they entered a new spiritual world. He poured on them a warmth and wealth of love and happiness. All joy and bounty seemed to be His. His presence brought a sunshine in which fears and sorrows melted and lost their power. He was always their Master, their Lord, their Leader. His heart, His mind, outreached their range on every side. His sweetness and charm and wisdom and knowledge seemed boundless. His goodness and holiness awed them. But though they felt themselves immeasurably beneath Him, and He in His greatness remote, afar, yet they knew He loved to be with them; He loved to praise them; they had never had so true, so dear a friend on earth as this Jesus; and however exalted in reality He might be, yet He drew them
to Him more and more and in His companionship they expanded and matured.
With complete detachment they devoted themselves to His service. They left their homes. They abandoned their positions. They scattered north, south, east, west, spreading their message from God of love and joy and hope. He had promised: 'lo, I am with you always.' (Matt. 28:20.) Yes, He was in their hearts never to be parted from them, and now they need ask nothing of the world for He Himself was with them-and He, their own Beloved, was the Son of God.
They were as sheep in the midst of wolves, advocates of peace in a world that gloried in war, of justice and mercy in a civilisation founded on conquest and slavery, of unity when men and nations cherished their divisions, votaries of a universal God of love in an age of a thousand fratricidal hates. Gladly they welcomed toil and hardship, calumny, persecution, loneliness; through suffering they drew nearer to their Master's presence. No doubt dwelt in their minds. They were as men walking in the glory of the sunshine through a city of the blind.
When He had been taken from them and they had gained from the strong faith of Mary an acuter insight into heavenly things, and began to recognise the greatness of their Lord's exaltation, they reached new degrees of self surrender untouched before. As days and months of faithful fearless witness to Him went by, their enthralment and their adoration deepened. With wondering, throbbing hearts they entered into the mystery of His pronouncement: 'Before Abraham was, I am.' (John 8:58.) They felt that in Him was being made manifest to them the image of a mystic Divine Spirit, the Truth of Truth, the Word
that was in the beginning with God, that was God, the Word without Whom nothing was made that was made, the Word that now was continuing His creative work and bringing into being a new creature, a new degree of manhood, a new and more abundant life than men had before enjoyed.
A deep content, a deep happiness was theirs. In the morning they woke to it, and at night they carried it into their sleep. 'Lo, I am with you always,' said Christ; and He was faithful Who promised. The earth indeed was at the moment in the grasp of His enemies. Those who knew Him and loved Him were few, persecuted, powerless. But His ultimate and complete victory was assured, was near. Their special privilege and glory it was to prepare the world for the Great Day of His conquest and to make the people worthy to meet Him when He came.
All through the Old Testament had run a thread of eager expectancy looking far out towards a Golden Age to come. The modern mind might recognise it as a dim awareness of man's progress towards an inevitable evolutionary goal. The Gospel did not allay this expectancy. On the contrary it confirmed and heightened it. It declared that this joyous and triumphant message of Love and Life was itself but a prelude. A greater message was to follow. For the first time in the history of Revelation a messenger of God made the intensifying of this age-old Expectancy the central feature of His teaching. The objective of all prophecy was but a step away, the promised Kingdom was at hand. The bounties and salvation brought to men by Christ was not the fullness of the Promise but rather the channel and the power through which man
would be made strong enough to receive the crowning blessedness of Unity.
The nature of that blessedness was for the present to remain insensible. Its mysteries could not, as the Sacred Record shows, be made known by Christ even in private to His own chosen disciples; they must be reserved for a future Revelation when the minds of men had been brought to maturity. Mankind must yet pass through direful afflictions and be brought near to destruction before, chastened by suffering, it emerged from the long cycle of Ignorance and Rebellion to the Haven of Perpetual Peace and Surrender to the Will of God. The careful study of Scripture with a spiritual mind will show every reader that the promised Kingdom would not appear on earth till after the Return of Christ and the coming of the Spirit of Truth. It was to be not spiritual only but material; not an individual achievement only but a collective; to rule over outward conditions of life as well as inward. In the complete loving obedience to the will of God which it would involve, prejudice between races, nations, and religions would be outgrown, justice and security would be established, war forgotten, mankind would become thoroughly unified, a system of universal responsiveness and co-operation would produce a new social order which would be maintained through new laws and new institutions.
That the Christ of the second coming, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, would bring a new, different, and. more advanced Revelation, that He would have a new Mission, a distinct Function, is made by Christ and Holy Writ as clear as well can be. The whole narrative of the Scripture as illuminated by Bahá'u'lláh testifies to the
error of the common Christian view that the Revelation given to the Jews in Palestine was terminal, that it imparted all the knowledge of God destined for mankind upon this planet, that the Second Coming of Christ would bring to the Christians nothing challenging nor new but would universally fix the Christian Faith as the one and only true Faith and would exalt those diverse and discordant dogmas, creeds, interpretations, rites, ceremonies, customs and observances which constitute what now is called Christianity to the throne of the world and abase all the other religions which have hitherto vied with it for the allegiance of mankind. How (it may well be asked) does this traditional expectation of the Churches difFer in spirit from the calamitous superstition of Scribe and Pharisee about their Messiah? How does it differ in spirit from the orthodox view of the Muslim concerning Muhammad as the 'Seal of the Prophets'?
Nowhere is it suggested that even the establishment of the Kingdom of God and the fulfilment of all the prophecies of the two Testaments will bring the close of the evolutionary unfolding of man's heart and soul and the end of Revelation. Who could doubt that when God's victory is complete, when harmony between His will and man's has been attained, when the meek have inherited the earth and the righteous are enthroned, man's intellectual and moral progress will go forward more rapidly than ever and will continue indefinitely? The Bahá'í Faith teaches expressly that this is the fact, and opens a prospect of man's individual evolution through many aeons ahead under the sacred guidance of a succession of High Prophets.
It was not however to the further unfolding of man's
powers but rather to the actual coming of the Kingdom, to the dangers of the Advent of the New Messenger from God that Christ drew the attention of the apostles and of posterity. This Advent would be wholly different from Christ's personal presence either in a believer's heart or in the midst of a gathering of two or three of the faithful. If He said on the one side 'I am with you always even to the end of the Age', he said on the other 'I will come again': two distinct promises. The Second Coming would be a dated historical event, the time and hour of which were already known to the Father. It would have a material as well as a spiritual side, and would follow the pattern of other manifestations. The Prophet, for all His glory and sovereignty would, when He appeared, be an ordinary man, like everyone else about Him — as Abraham had been, or Moses or Jesus Christ Himself His appeal would be to the detached heart, to the spiritual mind. He would not coerce belief by any outward display of divine majesty, any more than Jesus had done. His coming would be (like that of Jesus) a test, to distinguish the worthy from the unworthy, the righteous from the unrighteous. It might happen that an unbelieving mankind might not recognise the Divine Judgment that was being passed upon them. It might even be that professing Christians might not know their Lord when He came back. He plainly indicated indeed that this would occur, when He pictured Himself at the Great Assize pronouncing to those who used His Name but did not do His works the dreadful sentence 'I never knew you'! He foretold that affliction such as had never been known before nor ever would be known again would fall upon mankind before the final Redemption of the race. But on
this Second Coming He would be invested with what no earlier Prophet had had — power to enforce the Rule of God on earth, to overwhelm the resistance of the forces of evil, to put down all rebellion and establish on an impregnable basis the dominion of God in the hearts of men and in the outward conditions of life upon the planet.
He promised His disciples — who can have little realised to what He referred — that the Gates of Hell would not prevail, that the meek should inherit the earth, assured them that it was their Father's good pleasure to give them the Kingdom and that in it the righteous should shine forth as the sun. The long reign of Darkness was near an end. The Day was at hand: the Day of God on which should fall no night!
This Faith in the coming victory of God; the vision of their Risen Lord riding forth conquering and to conquer in the final battle for Righteousness and Truth endued the early Christians with a power which nothing could gainsay or resist. So long as that faith and vision remained, that power never wholly failed the Christian Church.
When those who would bring the canon of Christian Scripture to a close sought a befitting climax to that majestic story of the spiritual evolution of the race, they chose the Apocalypse of St. John the Divine in which is depicted with a glowing love and an ecstasy of faith that has charmed the heart and enthralled the imagination of the faithful down all the ages, the final triumph of the cause of Christ and God on earth. Here in prophetic symbol the Seer of old time portrays the spiritual history of
the days in which we now are living, recounts the mission and the achievement of the Bab and of Bahá'u'lláh, and spreads in golden words before our eyes the glory of the Dawning Day of God which for a hundred years has shone on all mankind, though seen of none save those in whom had returned the spirit of the early founders of our faith.
'And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever. . . (that) in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.' (Rev. 10:5-7.)
'And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly. And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.' (Rev. 11:13-15 .)
'And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
'And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
'And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and
there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.' (Rev. 21:1-4.)
'And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God'
'Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. . .' (Rev. 21:10-11.)
'And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. 'In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
'And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: 'And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.
'And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.' (Rev. 22:1-5.)
Out of that Gospel, and in the hope of the Coming of the Kingdom of God on earth there arose in Europe a mighty civilisation which called itself by the name of Christ and carried the Christian message around the globe. It reached an unparalleled degree of prestige, of power, and prosperity. Its industry, commerce and finance overshadowed the rest of the planet. It was the fountain-head of the science, the culture, the political ideas which exercised unchallenged supremacy over mankind.
In the eighteenth century the great historian Gibbon, in prophetic mood, sketched the prospect which he then saw before his country.
. . . in war, the European forces are exercised by temperate and undecisive contests. . . 'The balance of power will continue to fluctuate, and the prosperity of our own or the neighbouring kingdoms may be alternately exalted or depressed; but these partial events cannot essentially injure our general state of happiness, the system of arts, and laws, and manners, which so actvantageously distinguish, above the rest of mankind, the Europeans and their colonies.*
When, some hundred years later, a scholar-statesman reminded his fellow citizens that they were the most
enlightened generation of the most enlightened age in history, or an illustrious proconsul wrote that the political system to which he belonged 'is under Providence the most beneficent institution which the world has ever seen. and its work in the Far East is not yet accomplished', they did but record the general impression of the time. At the opening of the twentieth century, the West believed that through the guidance of Reason and of Science its security and continued advance in wealth and power was assured. It regarded the Order it had established as the apex of the entire process of human history and as synonymous with civilisation itself In its religious aspect, its many churches were thought to represent the Kingdom of God and the success of their foreign missions was expected in due time to inaugurate the reign of God on earth.
Then suddenly in an hour when they looked not, taking them unawares, catching them as it were in a snare from which there was no escape, the floods of human hate and jealousy and greed were let loose. The whole vast system began to disintegrate. Its strength, its glory, its dominion, its pride and affluence passed away not through the impact of a foreign foe as in the case of ancient Rome or Jerusalem, nor through any external influence, but through some undiagnosed disease within its own system. Statesman, philosopher, scientist, scholar and divine, all were at a loss. None could tell whence the visitation came nor whither it would lead. None could shore up the tottering structure of the social order, nor check the ever-extending process of decay and dissolution.
The earnest and open-minded Christian saw that the
foundations of Church and State were gone. Religion had become a collection of forms, phrases and customs which men borrowed from their predecessors or from their environment. The disputations of rival sects proved that the teaching which in its purity had been the cause of concord, union and progress, had changed its character and become the cause of discord, of division and of immobility. Leaders of the Faith when asked for the light and guidance it was their business to give showed neither vision nor foresight nor initiative nor constructive power: they would give such an answer as would sustain their own prestige or protect some man-made tradition which they served. The Gospel, as divines interpreted it, had become irrelevant. Love had long since grown cold. Faith was but the shadow of a name. Men watched no longer for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Their eyes were fixed in helpless horror on the opening gates of hell. The Christian looks eastward at the other world-faiths, sisters of his own faith. He looks at the cults, worships, mysticisms, ideologies that beset his path. He sees that all is vanity. The shadow of spiritual death lies over the whole wide world. Search as he will, he finds nothing to win the allegiance of his heart and spirit, no hope, no vision that resembles Christ's glorious pattern of the future of redeemed mankind — till the day when there breaks upon his soul the dawning splendour of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh.
There within the Bahá'í Faith the spirit of the early Christian Church has risen again. There stand the great essentials — spirituality, love, reverence, obedience. There the Gospel standards of loyalty and faith are restored in their fullness. Christ is adored as the very Word of God,
sharing God's glory from all eternity. Faith is not a profession, nor an imitation, but is as that of Peter described by Christ flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.' True membership is tested as Christ prescribed; 'By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another', and 'If ye love me, keep my commandments,* — tested and proved that is by obedience to Christ and love to one another. Christ's message is renewed, elucidated, expanded, carried forward. The Gospel (along with the whole Bible) being explained in every point through a divine interpretation, it becomes once more a guide to truth and human life. Christ's crowning promise of the Kingdom, which the Churches have failed to realise and have for all practical purposes abandoned, stands in the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh where in any Christian system it ought to stand, in the very centre, supplying the great objective of every Bahá'í endeavour as it once was the objective of the Apostles and their teaching.
Here he recognises the Return of Christ indeed, the Return of those qualities by which the Apostles identified Him on His first coming — His Return in spirit, in power, in His cause and purpose. The individual is different, the names and dates, ordinances and rites are changed. God now, as in the past, tests His creatures; He provides touchstones by which sincerity is tried. The external aspect of the teaching is changed that men's lack of insight may be exposed, and the continuity of bounties and blessings is hidden that only the true-hearted may discern it.
The Prophecies are fulfilled! The Promises one and all
in their fullness have been kept! the Ancient Faith of all the ages is vindicated! The Call of Christ is heard through all the earth summoning His faithful ones to join the Legions of Light and work in the Name of Bahá'u'lláh for the prosperity and salvation of mankind and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.
And this volume on the Bible and the Bahá'í Faith is issued that Christians everywhere, following the Guidance of the Gospel, may pass into the Bahá'í community, may hear the promised words spoken to them 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world', and may at once arise for the regeneration of the human race.
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