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

by George Townshend

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Chapter 6


The world which Jesus was to master and to make anew ignored Him in His lifetime. The one authentic account of His work is contained in the New Testament, and from its record we see that the power afterwards manifested in full measure made from the first an immediate impression on His contemporaries. It astonished and pleased the open-minded and the receptive; it alarmed the ecclesiastical authorities who feared it might supplant their own. It did not cease nor weaken with His death, but deepened and extended till it became the constructive principle in Western civilisation.

Jesus' possession of this power is the more remarkable because He was himself meek and lowly in heart, compassionate and loving; and the moral elevation which He produced among the nations is associated with the gentler virtues of pity and forgiveness, of charity and self sacrifice. There is nothing in His environment to explain His extraordinary influence. It was not due to the qualities of His time and country, nor to the intellectual climate in which His human lot was cast. He did not owe it in any way to His compatriots; on the contrary, He exerted it in spite of their denial and opposition. Though in Him Hebrew tradition was lifted to world-wide eminence and glory, yet in His lifetime He was but an obscure member of a despised and down-trodden people; He had neither wealth nor social position nor any material advantage to

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use for the advance of His cause; His public career lasted less than three years and He confined His activities to the declaration of a purely spiritual truth.

From the beginning it was the singular power of Jesus' teaching which impressed those who heard Him. He had power over their minds and hearts, power over unclean spirits, power over even the winds and waves. The authority with which He spoke was quite new to them. (Matt. vii. 28-29.) It was altogether different from that of the Scribes, who would spin academic elaborations that had no penetrating or illuminating quality whatever. St. Matthew notes that 'the multitudes were astonished at his teaching: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.' St. Luke comments, 'And they were astonished at his teaching; for his word was with authority,' and again, '. . . they spake together, one with another, saying, What is this word? for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out.' (Matt. 7:28-29; Luke 4:32, 36.) Whence this power came or what was its nature none could tell. All men felt it; but none could account for it. Some said it came from God, others that it came from Beelzebub, all agreed it was beyond their experience, beyond any earthly explanation. We who read in the Gospels the record of His spoken word, can ourselves still feel in His utterance something of the quality which astonished His contemporaries. If when spoken it was unlike the manner of the scribes, when written it is unlike that of poet or orator, and has a force and winningness altogether unique. There is no special beauty of form or of diction. His teaching — all of it, even the most illustrious and moving parts of it, the Sermon on the Mount,

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for instance, or the Parable of the Prodigal-is artless, spontaneous, conversational. There is no dogmatic assertive eloquence such as might overbear and carry away an audience. There is never a straining after effect, nor any desire to impress. He promised to those who learned of Him that they would find rest unto their souls; and we find that quality in the nature of His utterance. It breathes serenity, and radiates the calm of assurance and certain knowledge. When one contemplates any of the processes of the natural world, the coming of spring, the growing of the corn, the unfolding of the leaves, one marvels at so great a demonstration of power with so little an appearance of effort. So it is with the teaching of the Lord Jesus: His power seems almost effortless. All the generations have felt that power and they feel it still — a power poured resistlessly forth from illimitable reserves. But no saint, no poet, no philosopher, has ever produced the effect that He produced, or spoken as He spoke. No man can imitate that power nor set up a like power against it. It is incommunicable and above explanation. It is Jesus' own, and remained for ordinary men a secret and a mystery. Not only did His friends, the open-minded and well-disposed, feel it. The Rabbis, too, felt it, and hated Him because of it. They quickly realised He had a power which they had not. They perceived at once that His challenge to their prerogative was formidable. His ministry had hardly begun when they resolved that this teaching could not be allowed to continue. This young man must be suppressed. It was envy pure and simple which aroused the opposition of the priests. It was envy which hardened them against Him, which induced them to seek to entrap Him, to conspire against His life. When

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by a dark intrigue, before He had been teaching three years, they compassed His death, the unjust judge who sentenced Him to the cross knew well His accusers 'had delivered him for envy'.

Nothing could prove more decisively or dramatically the personal forcefulness of Jesus, nor the immediate impression of prevailing power which He made on shrewd observers than the fact that a poor and humble Galilaen so quickly filled the great and learned of the land with envy and alarm, made even the mighty Caiaphas tremble on his ecclesiastical throne, and impelled the trembling hierarchy to combine in official and public action against Him, not only in violation of ordinary justice, but also in violation of the specific provisions of their own established law. But they who felt Jesus' power most strongly were those who knew Him best. His disciples opened their hearts to His influence, and knew by a continuous personal experience how penetrating and constructive this power was. They found, too, that this power did not depend upon His presence. The authority of an earthly conqueror, Napoleon or an Alexander, ceases with his life and the empire he has won is assailed and divided and soon passes utterly away. But Jesus foretold that His disciples would be able to do greater works after He was taken from them than they had done while He was with them. Till His death was accomplished He was — He said — straitened: His influence was confined. When He was dead and they were deprived of His presence, this influence seemed to be poured upon them in a greater flood of generosity, as though the clouds had passed away and the spiritual sunshine shed its rays upon them in the fullness of uninterrupted splendour.

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However great the tributes in the Gospels to the power manifested by Jesus, those in the epistles and the apocalypse are greater still. Paul emphasised always that the Christian message was one of power and imparted power: one remembers 'the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power'. (I Cor. 4:20.) 'God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness but of power.' The properties of Christ which are kept in prominence are prevailingly those of victory, might and dominion — of terror and of awfulness. He is the Lord of Glory, the Prince of the kings of the earth Who has made believers priests and kings unto God. He is the Saviour, the Redeemer, the Judge of all men, and in His hands are the keys of hell and death. He is the effulgence of the glory of God, the image of the Divine Essence, and upholds all things by the word of His power. He is the power of God and the wisdom of God, through Whom God made the world, and He now sitteth on the right hand of the Majesty on high in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world but also in that which is to come. (Hebrews. 3; Eph. i. 19.)

'This power of Christ has from the beginning been the constant Christian tradition and vital Christian belief through the ages. It was this power which within not many years of His death carried the tidings of His dominion farther to east and west than any Roman eagles ever penetrated. It was this power which has founded and developed a vast and mighty civilisation, which through many centuries inspired artists and statesmen, poets and legislators, which uplifted the ideals and improved the character of men and of nations, which lifted the names

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of His humblest disciples to a place of honour above the proudest kings. But for that benign and creative power the history of the West would have been incalculably different, and whatever is to be found in it of justice and kindness and goodwill would be wholly absent from its lampless and melancholy pages. Jesus was Himself, in His lifetime, the most lowly and simple of men, content with poverty, and not desirous of exerting personal lordship over His fellow-men. He ruled by service and self sacrifice. Yet in all the glory and majesty accorded to Him in after ages, in all the extension and the magnificence of His dominion, there is nothing that goes beyond His own assertion of His true dignity, nothing that surpasses the homage and reverence which with His Own lips he urged to be His due. Identifying Himself with the cause of God on earth, He demanded of everyone immediate, exact and complete obedience. No other claim was to qualify or to come before this claim to man's service. When He said 'Follow me' the disciple arose, left all and followed Him. 'He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me.' (Matt. x. 37-38.) 'Whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.' (Luke xiv. 33.) He was the Judge of all. It was His right to decide finally the moral worth of men's lives and to determine their destiny: there was no appeal, not even to God the Father. All things had been committed by the Father into the hands of the Son, and this trust had been given Him not as to a Saint, but as to one who was more than man. He was the sole revealer of God to man.

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Only through Him could men see God or come to God. And yet, however much men loved Him and however ardently they strove to follow Him, they could not understand or appreciate or measure Him as they could one of their own fellow-men: He was different — not wholly beyond our reach, but assuredly beyond our grasp: 'No man knoweth the Son save the Father.' The utmost knowledge we may attain of Him is too little, is less than the truth, and however close to our hearts we may hold His perfections, His essential being is beyond our ken, and we belong to a lower order of existence than He.

These superhuman and divine claims were borne out in a way, subtle but unmistakable, by the manner of His approach to Truth. He said once that He was the Truth. His intellectual attitude was unique. No one in the Graeco-Roman culture which under His influence was so soon to pass away, and no one in the civilisation which He was to found, ever assumed towards Truth the position assumed by Him, nor taught in the manner in which He taught: He did not present His philosophy of life in the same sort of way as did Socrates or Plato or Aristotle before Him, nor Seneca nor Kant nor any other after Him. He was noted from His childhood for His wisdom. As a boy He was strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and as He grew in years He was described as increasing in wisdom. He said once (in effect) that His Gospel, and the preparation for it by the Baptist, were decreed and ordered by a transcendent wisdom which the faithful, though not perhaps the children of disobedience, would be able to appreciate and approve. The body of His teaching, regarded in its completeness, is marked by a sublime intellectual coherence and forms a

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single self consistent whole. His followers learned from Him to prove all things, hold fast that which is true. He Himself taught the multitudes to think, to use their reason, to watch the phenomena of Nature and consider how they would find in it rational ground for trust in God's care for humanity. He expressly directed His disciples, when He gave them the task of spiritualising the pagan souls of men, to be wise as serpents; and the gifts He promised with which they would overcome the superstition and secularism of the world were eloquence and wisdom. But He did not teach in the manner of one of the Wise Men of Judaea or of Greece. He did not present conclusions from experience or from observation or from learning. The first quality noticed about the authority with which He spoke was its originality. It was quite different from anything the people had ever heard, and they had heard much. Jesus did not begin with the known, the familiar, the accepted and draw inferences from it. He began with the unknown and on His own authority revealed it. He did not present a chain of argument. His aim was not merely to convince people's minds; it was that, but more also. It was to uplift character and produce action.

Though He taught men to seek the truth with open minds and fearless hearts, He did not Himself appear as a truth seeker. He did not speak as one who while He spoke was seeking the truth, nor even as one who having previously sought the truth had by enquiry found it, and was now able to present what he had found. He spoke, on the contrary, as a man who knew the truth by direct perception. The truth lay open before Him. He was one with it-was identified with it: as He said, He was the

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truth. He was able to give the instantaneous perfect answer to fit whatever occasion might present itself He brought the white light of the whole truth to bear on any question. He was the intellectual light of the world which shines forth in its fullness on all objects. If one traced back to its source any shaft of daylight that falls on the earth, one would reach the sun; in the same way, any pronouncement of Jesus followed back to its origin would lead to the very heart of truth. Thus He speaks not merely with complete conviction but with mastery, with serene certainty. In this, no thinker or teacher in the whole range of His Dispensation approaches Him. His mental and moral attitude towards the doubts and difficulties that afflict us, is that of one outside them: He may share them with us through His sympathy, but He does not experience them. He dwells always in the light. He looks on our problems as one in heaven might look upon the earth. He is above them, external to them, His gaze surrounds them. He does not speak ex cathedra but ex caelo. We aspire towards heaven; we descry an ideal far above us in the skies. He brings the ideal down to us and imparts it as a command. His knowledge of truth is not such as reason ever could arrive at. He is not a teacher and educator merely in a human sense. He is also a revealer of something which reason never could discover and of the existence of which, perhaps, it might never think. Jesus taught some truths which had been deliberately hidden by God from man, and were now disclosed by degrees, as God pleased and by God's initiative. Man could never find them out by his own uninspired effort. The Gospel shows that further truths remain yet hidden from men, to be revealed in the future, and it hints at the nature of these truths. But these

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truths never can be known without divine initiative and divine grace.

Christ not only reveals new realms of experience and knowledge otherwise inaccessible, but He rouses to activity dormant powers in man, higher faculties as yet unused and undeveloped. He enlarges human consciousness. He shows creative power as the Word of God. He lifts to a new and loftier plane men's conceptions of life and duty. He opens new purposes in life, new fields of human endeavour. And by the exercise of such powers He proves Himself to be, as Christians have always held and as He Himself asserted, a Vicegerent of the Lord of Evolution, a Being altogether apart from anyone else in His Dispensation.

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