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

by George Townshend

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Chapter 5


The Bible reveals that the creation of the material world was carried through by stages, in a series of separate periods each complete in itself and each following the [word missing?]

And God said. . . And the evening and the morning were the first day.

And God said. . . And the evening and the morning were the second day.

And God said. . . And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

The spiritual evolution of man from his First Birth in Genesis to his Second Birth in the Apocalypse is revealed as being likewise carried through by stages, in a series of separate periods, each complete in itself and each following the same pattern.

The Bible does not state what is meant by the word 'Day', beyond a clear indication that it had not a literal but a symbolic meaning; for the sun which makes the material day was not created till the fourth of these periods. But it gives a clear account of the division of the evolutionary movement into great Eras, all having certain

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characteristics the same and having definite epochs and moments of crisis. These Eras are generally known as Dispensations, but they are sometimes spoken of in Scripture by the same name as the Days of creation. 'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day,' said Jesus, referring to His Dispensation. And the time of the end, the time when all things are made new and the Father and the Lamb come to dwell among men is often called the Day of the Lord, meaning the Day when Christ shall reign in the Glory of the Lord God. The comparison of Christ's Dispensation to a Day is evidently appropriate because He likened Himself to the sun. 'I am the light of the world,' He said. Everything was, save for His illumination, in darkness; and those who believed in Him became children of the light, able to reflect on others the light they gained from Him, their Sun.

The time of the Second Advent is, for the same reason, fitly likened to a Day, for the Father and the Son give it light. 'The city had no need of the sun.' Besides the Dispensation of Christ and that which is to follow His Second Advent in the power of the Father, there are definitely referred to in Scripture three other Dispensations. One is that of Moses, which is narrated from its beginning to its close. Another is that of Abraham, the Father of the Faithful, which is briefly and distinctly sketched. The third is that of Noah. Christ compared the phenomena of Noah's Advent to those which would occur at the future time of His own Second Advent: 'As it was in the days of Noe.'

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coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of heaven, and would be oblivious of everything except their own mundane pursuits. Each Dispensation opened a New Covenant between God and man; each covered a term of years and was succeeded by another Dispensation. Each was inaugurated by a Master Spirit, a man who was specially called by the Most High to the task, and who after his death, continued to be the supreme sole guide and governor of his people so long as the Dispensation endured. Of the four Supreme Mediators named in Scripture, three are connected especially with Palestine and all arose in the East. It would seem as if God not only ordained certain Great Souls to play the lead in the drama of evolution, and arranged the times of their manifestation and occultation, but that He also designated certain lands for certain purposes. He appoints not only the time of the Prophet's birth, but its place also, and the place where his prophetic work is to be done.

Palestine has been a holy land for some four thousand years not to Jews and Christians only but to Muslims also. Its holiness does not attach to the inhabitants. The people who dwell in it are not holy: the Jews were called by the Baptist a generation of vipers. The land itself, the Land of Promise, is holy, because it is associated with the life and the labour of so many of God's Holiest Ones, and because it was selected by Him to be the scene of so important a phase in the spiritual evolution of mankind.

If Palestine occupies throughout the Bible a central place, the whole progress of redemption (back to mythic days and forward to times visible only in prophecy) is

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shown as belonging to the East, to the one continent of Asia. Europe and Africa come into the record: Egypt in especial seems to be a region of privilege, for not only the Hebrew people but the three outstanding figures of the Bible, Abraham, Moses and Christ, were all sojourners there, and attention is drawn in the Gospel to the prophecy 'Out of Egypt have I called my son'. (Matt. 2:15.) The West as a vast tract is likewise mentioned. But Europe, Africa and the West take a secondary position as recipients of a spiritual illumination which first arises in the Orient. The Second Coming itself (like earlier Advents) is expressly compared by Christ to the lightning which 'cometh out of the east. . . and shineth even unto the west'. (Matt. xxiv. 27.)

World-history outside the borders of the Bible testifies, as many have observed, to the same fact, and seems to corroborate the Bible principle of the primacy of the East in the origination of spiritual teaching. No world-prophet has ever arisen except in Asia. There is no world-religion extant which was not first proclaimed in Asia. There is nothing recognised as a Holy Scripture which did not make its appearance in Asia. Whatever contribution the Western world may have made to human progress and spiritual evolution, it has not. contributed a Scripture, a Religion or the Founder of a Religion.

As God chooses for a particular reason this land or that according to His wisdom and man may not alter or modify the divine decision, so, too, with the great epochs and crises of the evolutionary process. It is for God the Father to determine times and seasons. Man cannot choose the dates when Dispensations begin or end, nor by his own knowledge or calculation discover what these dates shall

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be. Joseph, who through his saintliness was in touch with the eternal plane, foretold the appearance of Moses: '. . . God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto. . .' (Gen.1:24.) But he could not indicate name or date. Moses foretold the Advent of his Successor but made no suggestion as to the time of His coming. The Scribes and Pharisees with all their learning and parade of holiness were so far from having any idea as to when the Messiah would appear that they could not even recognise the time when it arrived; and the Jews are still looking forward to a date which is nearly two thousand years behind them. God ordains the times and seasons of history, but does not communicate them to men nor to angels; nor does Scripture give any guidance to men in this respect, nor open a way into the wisdom of God. The Dispensations of the Redemptive Scheme are not of the same nor of like length: that of Moses was twice as long as that of Abraham, and no clue is given in Scripture as to the reason for this difference. Epochs and Eras are ordered by God: man's part is to recognise the transitions when God brings them to pass.

On these whom God appoints as the Suns of the Days of Spiritual Creation, or Lords of Dispensations, He bestows spectacular power. They stand out in greatness above all other men. The two thousand two hundred years and more of Hebrew history narrated in the Bible are dominated by three heroic figures, and the earlier period of pre-Hebrew history is, in like manner, dominated by the earlier Covenant-bringer Noah. The Dispensations of these four Leaders are treated in a very unequal manner. The Age of Moses is sketched in its full length,and from its inauguration in Egypt to its close in the

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epoch of Jesus Christ. The four books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are parallel to the four Gospels of Christ, Joshua to the Acts of the Apostles, the Prophets to the Epistles, and perhaps the Apocalypse of Daniel to the Apocalypse of John. But there is nothing in the New Testament to correspond to the historical books of Judges and Kings and Samuel and Chronicles and Ezra and Nehemiah. Only two generations are covered by the New Testament narrative, and the rest of Christian history is written elsewhere than in the canon of Scripture. But the Bible record shows that as Christ in His time overshadowed the peoples, so did Abraham and Noah likewise in their time. Each was supreme in his own Day over the people committed to him, and was remembered and venerated long ages after his Day had passed away. Of Moses, God said to Aaron: 'He shall be to thee as God.' Moses' essential superiority to any other seer or saint or prophet in his time is emphasised in God's rebuke to Miriam and Aaron. (Num. 12:6-9.)

God spoke and said:

Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against, my servant Moses? And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them. . .

Even Isaiah and his brother prophets did not equal

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themselves with the Lord of their Era, nor do more than elucidate and apply the meanings of his Revelation. Moses, prophesying the coming of the Messiah, compared his own status to that of Christ: 'The Lord thy God will raise up. . . a Prophet. . . like unto me. . .' (Deut. 18:15.) The same attribution of divine honour to Moses appears in prophecy at the close of the New Testament, when the Redeemed chanting in heaven the praise of God are thus described:

And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty. . . (Rev. xv. 3.)

Not until Christ did anyone arise to give a New Teaching instead of that of Moses and to take to Himself the authority which once had been Moses', as fifteen hundred years before Moses had taken the Torch of Revelation from Abraham. Day succeeds Day. Each Day has one Sun; and there is no light to challenge that of the sun.

But to the power even of the greatest of these prophets there is one definite limitation. Spiritual evolution does not move forward through any coercion of the wills of men. God requires that men of their own volition shall co=operate with Him. He does not substitute His will for their wills, nor does He, so to speak, drive their development onward by any output of main force. He educates and trains them little by little and measures His requirements to their growing strength of mind and heart. 'Those Supreme Prophets, therefore, who are His Agents and the Masters of Evolution, are limited by the capacity

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of the people. They cannot put a bushel of truth into a pint measure. They cannot teach more than their hearers can learn. The fact that Moses revealed only elementary religious truths does not prove that Moses knew no more, but that the people were unwilling and unable to receive more. The scope and range of his teachings, if we had an accurate record of them, would indicate the moral and spiritual condition of the twelve tribes at that time, but it would not suggest at all the extent of Moses' wisdom.

Jesus frequently lamented over the people's slowness of understanding, the feebleness of their faith; and this sorrow of His was not caused by any personal impatience, but by His sad knowledge that they thus forfeited many blessings and happinesses He might have bestowed upon them had they been worthy to receive them. It is written of Him once expressly, that 'He could there do no mighty work because of their unbelief', and on another occasion, when conversing with His disciples, towards the end of His life, He said, 'Other things I have to tell you but ye cannot bear them now.' In all the speeches and addresses of Moses and of Christ there is no sign of an overbearing attitude of mind nor of a desire to browbeat opposition or to startle or stun the imagination of their hearers. In spite of the power they exercised and the divine authority they claimed, both of these Mighty Ones were personally gentle and humble. Jesus was meek and lowly in heart. A disciple who knew and loved Him well described Him as one who 'when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not. . .' (1 Peter 2:23.) And of Moses it is written: 'Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth'. (Num. 12:3.)

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With scrupulous care Jesus respected the personal independence of everyone He addressed. He gave everybody full liberty of choice, even when by this He was Himself involved in danger. He knew well that Judas would betray Him; yet Judas was a man of great spiritual possibilities, and Jesus gave him every opportunity, admitting him to the intimacies of discipleship and treating him with every kindness to the end: the use that Judas made of the privileges was an act of his own unfettered will for which the responsibility was entirely his own. The simplicity and quietness with which Jesus appeared among men, like that of Moses' appearance long before was due to the demands of the same great principle. Had His Advent been accompanied by signs and wonders on a great scale, the faith and sincerity of the people would not have been tested. There would have been no room for freedom of choice. Men's minds would have been appalled; their judgment dethroned; their imagination enslaved; their wills coerced to accept and to submit to an evident proof of superhuman power. Every human being (good, bad and indifferent alike), Caiaphas, Herod, Pilate, the Scribes, the Pharisees, the fickle mob, the Gentiles, along with Peter and James and John, would all have been reduced to a common level of moral surrender and of compelled subjection to the New Revelation. Whereas, to recognise a Lord of the Ages in a humble artisan from Galilee, or a young shepherd from the mountains of Midian, would be a proof of intuitive vision and sincerity of heart. Through this freedom of choice, the Cause of God has brought among men division, combat and confusion. No man can refuse or escape

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from the responsibility of decision: he must be on one side or the other, with God's Cause or against it. Whichever side he espouses, the choice is his own. God does not coerce him to join the army of light nor yet prevent him from joining the army of darkness. If we read of Pharaoh that God hardened his heart, that is to say, God could have softened it but did not: God permitted Pharaoh to make his own choice.

Men are judged by God according to the attitude they adopt to His Cause. If they choose to forward it, Christ compares them to white-fleeced sheep, calls them His children or children of light, and pronounces blessings on them. If they oppose it, He likens them to black-fleeced goats, and warns them that darkness and retribution will be their lot.

Social classifications made on the ground of wealth, rank, learning, appearance, reputation and the like, such as the world uses, are in the Bible regarded as of small importance. The true basis for division is spirituality. There are in God's eyes two kinds of men only — the spiritual and the unspiritual. Between these two groups an internecine struggle is waged for ever. One unceasing relentless battle continues down the ages without intermission. The participants change with the generations: the battle changes not. Abel, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Joshua, Elijah, Nathan, David, Job, Isaiah and Amos, Rachel and Hannah and Huldah, and Peter and Paul and Mary Magdalene: and over against them, Cain and Pharaoh and Agag and Ahaz and Ahab and Jezebel and Ahaziah and Herod and Pilate and Judas and Caiaphas — always, in every age, there are men and women to be found who, of their own choice, range themselves on either side to carry

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on the everlasting conflict. And though the members of each army seem a strangely mixed and highly heterogeneous company, yet they are regarded by God as all alike either in eternal glory or eternal shame.

The Kingdom of God is not shown in Scripture as progressing in its own strength or pursuing in history a smooth and even course. Its chief supporters are not always the mighty and the great, the cultivated and the learned. The Divine Cause moves forward through tumult and uproar, through bitter struggles and discouragement and defeat and recovery and indefatigable perseverance. Its advance is secured through the aid of brave and earnest human souls, through the efforts of men and women (most of them poor, obscure, unknown), who in their hearts faithfully accept the decree of the Beloved, and submitting to his good pleasure with deeper and ever deeper humility, contend steadfastly against their own self will and the misdirected wills of those who, through self love, would thwart the unfolding purpose of the Creator. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is a moving picture of this great battle. The issue hangs always in the balance. 'There is never a definite decision, a conclusive victory. Again and again Truth and Righteousness are worsted. The combat grows fiercer with the centuries, and evil in the New Testament seems to win its extremest victory. John the Baptist, 'a prophet and more than a prophet' is beheaded; Jesus Christ, the most glorious Figure of all, the beloved Son of God, is Himself brought to destruction and crucified. Even the apostles sink for a moment into despair.

Such are in history the fruits of man's free-will. Such are the results of the respect which God's Messengers pay to

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the independent volition of men. Because men are free, therefore in the world the Kingdom of God is neglected, ridiculed, scorned, opposed, perverted. Because men are free, God's Holy Ones are assailed and martyred. But though the High Prophets, such as Jesus or Moses, thus withhold the use of personal force or any form of compulsion; though they, themselves, submit to violence and wrong and show forbearance and gentleness under every provocation, yet they have a reserve of power which enables them to accomplish fully the work committed to them by God. They cannot be resisted. In spite of every difficulty, in spite of the unworthiness of the world, in spite of the incapacity, the vacillation, the faithlessness of the people, they do not fail. They are the Lords; the Divine Agents of the Spiritual Evolution of the race; and this Evolution is an integral system ordained by the Almighty. The power of the whole is behind its every phase, its every movement. Ignorant and foolish men can bring about their own undoing; they cannot frustrate the purpose of God. Every Dispensation is charged with ample power to fulfil its part and function in the grand Creative Scheme of God. And the Bible reaches its stupendous climax when Jesus Christ announces that the triumphant conclusion of that Scheme is now near at hand, and when St. John's apocalypse unveils in prophetic narrative a celestial picture of the victories of God and the exaltation of righteousness and justice to the throne of the world.

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