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

by George Townshend

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Chapter 9

THE INDEPENDENCE OF CHRIST

The Grand Redemptive Scheme of God carried forward through the process of spiritual evolution is shown in the Bible as a perfectly co-ordinated whole. Every part of it has its special place, its special use. And each one of these parts not only contributes to the completeness of the general scheme, but is itself a unit and within its own limits is in itself complete. If Jesus asserted the continuity of His teaching with that of Moses, in words at least as emphatic He affirmed its independence and self sufficiency. His mission was not that of a reformer. He was not an Isaiah nor a greater Malachi. The Old Testament had already made it clear that there are two separate ranks of prophets, a lower and a higher. Of the lower it is said that to him God shows himself in a vision or speaks in a dream; with the higher God holds direct communion and speaks immediately. Moses belonged to the latter of higher order, and therefore stood apart from all the other lesser prophets and seers of his time and Dispensation. When Moses predicted that God would raise up 'a Prophet. . . like unto me' he did not refer to a prophet of the second rank, to an Isaiah or a Jeremiah, but to a supreme prophet of his own degree, the lord of a Dispensation. (Num. xii. 6 ff.; Deut. xviii. i 5 .)

The significance of Moses' words and the essential difference between the two ranks of prophethood is


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brought out even more fully in the New Testament than in the Old.

The station of the Hebrew prophets is indeed exalted and sublime; but the superiority of the Prophet of Nazareth to even the greatest of the prophets of Israel is manifold and immeasurable. They were, it is true, like unto Him in some respects: they were not ordained as inheritors of a formal succession; they did not receive their authority from men; they were personally commissioned by God Himself in some mystical manner. But the prophet of Israel would declare, 'Hear ye the word of the Lord', or 'Thus saith the Lord': while Jesus would say, 'It hath been said by them of old time, but I say unto you'; or 'A new commandment I give to you'. The ancient prophet gave in God's name counsels or commands in some special crisis or emergency; but he did not give a complete revelation of ordered truth, nor did he give a world-wide message; he did not abrogate any of the Mosaic statutes or ordinances; he did not found a new religious system, institute new rites and civil laws, ordain disciples to take the place of the former priesthood and entrust to them supreme spiritual authority on earth. The ancient prophet foretold the coming of a king, a deliverer, a Messiah; but he did not claim that he was himself the fulfilment of earlier prophecies nor declare in public or in private that he was the Messiah. Nor would any ancient prophet presume to make such statements as these of Jesus, that His Father had delivered all things unto Him (Matt. 11:27), and hath given Him authority over all flesh (John 17:2) even to the extent of executing judgment upon them (John 5:27).

How glorious and sublime the real status of the Lord


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Christ was, we mortals never shall be able to understand or to divine, for these etherial mysteries lie above the range of human comprehension. But we can with the utmost certainty perceive that He dwelt in a height of power exalted far above that of an Isaiah or of a Daniel. The angels at His birth announced Him as a Saviour; while He was yet an infant the aged Simeon recognised in His birth the coming of God's salvation to mankind; and His invitation 'Come unto me' was an offer of redemption to all the world. No longer in the name of Moses, but now in the Name of Christ, the Jews-and all mankind likewise — were henceforth to seek deliverance from sin and access to God's pleasure. In Jesus' Name men were to be saved, and whatever was now necessary for salvation was to be found in His teaching.

Jesus made it clear that His mission was not only independent and self sufficient, but that it had also its definite function; it served a special and bounded purpose. It had its assigned beginning and its assigned conclusion. As at the nearer end it fitted the Mosaic Revelation, so at the further end it was to fit the future Revelation of the Second Advent. The mission with which Moses was entrusted is exhibited in the Old Testament with some clearness. His task was to deliver the Israelites from their bitter bondage in Egypt and lead them to the Land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, which had been promised to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This he was to do through the express might of God, Who would reveal Himself to Moses under a New Name — meaning that Moses would give to the people a fuller revelation of God's nature than had been given them before.


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In order to accomplish this work Moses was obliged to take command of the whole Israelitish people and to assume the entire burden of leadership both in war and in peace. He was organiser, administrator, executive, lawgiver, spokesman as well as general-in-chief against all hostile tribes.

Jesus' personal task had no such material aim as that of Moses. He was not to lead the people to an actual Land of Promise, but to a heavenly city, to the Kingdom of God. The lofty and intense spirituality which distinguished His mission is shown by the whole tenor of His teaching and especially by such pronouncements as 'Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world' (John 1:29); 'I am the resurrection, and the life' (John 11:25); I am the bread of life (John 6:35); 'I am the way the truth, and the life. . .' (John 14:6), 'To this end was I born and to this end am I come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.'

Jesus testified that the work on earth entrusted to Him was not indefinite nor discursive, but was to a degree marked out beforehand by His Father. He spoke of the works that He did as being 'the works which the Father hath given me to accomplish' (John 5:36), and He stated that He sought not His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him (5:30). In the Gospel of St. Matthew He defines the terms of His mission more precisely. Making as if to decline the request of a Canaanitish woman, He gives as a reason, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel', where the word Israel must have its literal sense. When after calling the twelve He sent them out on their first mission He gave them the same restricted field of teaching.


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Go not into any way of the Gentiles, and enter not into any city of the Samaritans. . . But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matt. x. 5-6; See also 15:24.)

His Gospel was one of God's love for all mankind regardless of any bounds of country or race: 'God so loved the world. . .' He bade His disciples after His death, 'Go teach all nations'; and He foretold that His message would be carried to the ends of the earth. But He Himself, except for His sojourn as a small child in Egypt, never dwelt for any length of time outside of Palestine. He hardly crossed the boundaries of His own land and His great teaching tours were in Galilee and Judaea. He made no effort to do what He bade His disciples do, and what after His ascension they in fact did. He did not, as St. Paul did, journey forth to spread the Gospel far and wide throughout the Roman Empire. He was born, He lived and worked and died among the Jews. He chose as His apostles Jews only, and He evangelised the world through Jews.

The story of the Temptation (Matt. 4, Luke 4) shows strongly and vividly that in planning out the course of His life-work Jesus from the beginning had this restricted field of operation in plain view.

Jesus Himself told the story of His experience, and according to His usual practice He made mental images and abstract things more clear by shaping them into concrete form and presenting them as a parable. 'The event occurred on the vigil of His ministry. He had withdrawn alone into the wilderness and in concentrated thought was considering what means or policy He should adopt in


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order best to carry out among them the tremendous responsibility laid on Him by His Father.

The actual narrative of Jesus' life and work as given in the Bible makes known the course which Jesus chose and what came of that choice. The story of the Temptation shows that before He began His ministry other courses presented themselves to Jesus' mind; that He might have chosen one or more of these and that in that case the development of the Gospel on earth would have been along another line.

There alone in the wilderness He considered what various ways there were of approaching His great world-task, and which among these ways would be most pleasing to God.

He rejected at once any suggestion of letting any personal needs or desires influence His course; He set His face deliberately from the first towards the way of hunger and hardship and even — if need should be — of martyrdom. As He contemplated the scope of the work which the Heavenly Father had entrusted to His care (extending as it did over the whole wide world in which whosoever believed on Him should be saved) His thoughts and His love stretched over all mankind and He wondered how He would win these uncountable multitudes to God. At once He rejected any suggestion of using means, however promising or tempting, that might not agree with the definitely spiritual mission He had received from His Father-means,that in other circumstances would be in themselves permissible and right. Moses' task, though essentially religious, had been in large part material: his duty was to free his people from subjection to a foreign


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yoke and lead them out to a land which they should make their own. He found it obligatory to make himself a national deliverer and to organise and to rule with the strong hand of a military commander. But Jesus' task included no such practical commission; the administrative element was small and altogether secondary; He was 'to take away the sins of the world', to lead men towards the Kingdom of God, to open the gates of eternal life and bring into being on earth a new kind of spiritual fellowship transcending all material limits. The assumption of some kind of national leadership might have been permissible and necessary had some less spiritual world objective been in view; but it was not for Him to seek material power. For Him, charged with a spiritual aim, to seek such power would have been unfitting, and He discarded it at once utterly as displeasing to God. He decided to use a purely spiritual appeal, to be a Divine Teacher, and to draw all men to Him by the force of His spiritual love.

It was in the Sacred Temple, in Jerusalem, in the centre of Hebrew religion and civilisation, that Jesus was to make His appearance and His appeal. How was He to attract the attention of these devoted and even fanatical religionaries, and to show forth His heavenly power with much effect that they would abandon the time-honoured Mosaic rites and statutes and accept from Him a new system of order and worship? Here again He rejected at once any suggestion that He should make an unspiritual approach to the hearts of the faithful or to their religious sense. He would not take any personal advantage of His extraordinary endowments. He would not disarm disbelief by any miraculous amazing display of His


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superiority, nor reduce all alike to a common submissiveness by cowing their imaginations.

No. Not by spectacle, nor by force, nor by any means save those of an utterly humble, selfless love, and spiritual power would He give His Message to the Hebrews and through them to all the kingdoms of the earth. Anything other than this would in His case be of the Evil One.

When the forty days were over and He returned from His solitary vigil in the wilderness, His course was laid out and He travelled straight forward in it till He was able to say upon the Cross, 'It is finished'.

Scripture testifies that Jesus' mission on earth was in a general sense defined for Him by the Father; it reveals something of what the terms of that mission were; and it shows how Jesus before entering on His ministry thought out with care the principle of action He would follow in His enterprise.

Jesus' teachings are imbued with the same singleness of purpose and unity of spirit as all the rest of His life and work. They fall within a prearranged scheme. They are designed for a definite effect; they form a distinct pattern and convey a single spiritual impression. His manner in teaching was so simple and so spontaneous that it is easy not to discover how many depths of wisdom are hidden in His utterances. He Himself drew attention to this fact when He addressed Himself not to all who stood by, but only to those who had ears to hear, that is, had ears to receive His spiritual meaning. If, He said, there was one kind of heart which would truly mark, learn and inwardly digest His words, there were three several kinds (the hard heart, the shallow heart, the preoccupied heart) which could not. Only deep reverence


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and long familiarity can help the soul to realise that Jesus' simplicity was due to His entire mastery of His subject and to His being able to express the essence of truth in the most clear and appealing way.

So unstudied and artless are Jesus' utterances, often called forth by some sudden emergency or some casual question, that one may easily miss the fact that they all fall within a certain scheme, they are in their range and level chosen according to plan, and they form when taken together a unified whole. The presence not only of enthusiasm and kindness, but of restraint and of order and of method in His work, and the firm coherence of it all, becomes most clearly apparent when His teaching is not examined in isolation, but in relation to the rest of Scripture and in particular to the preceding Revelation of Moses. In regard His teaching in its true perspective as given in the Bible; to observe how it looks back to the teaching of the past and forward to the teaching of the future, is to be aided in seeing that whatever Jesus said was in strict accord with the commission He had received from God and with the plan which He had decided on for Himself. His own judgment fixed for Him how much He might bring forth out of the infinite treasury of God's truth and give to the people of His Dispensation. He gave to men knowledge which Moses had withheld; and He withheld knowledge at His First Advent which He might be able to give at His Second Advent. A strong will and a firm intellectual grasp determined the limits of His teaching. An utterly selfless spirit impelled Him to declare as much of the Truth as befitted the evolving capacity of the age without the least regard for the consequences to Himself.


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To keep the Gospel of Jesus, when studied, in its determined place in the Bible, which means to keep it in its place in the spiritual evolution of mankind, is to be in the best position to interpret its many significances, both great and small. There is yet one further relation in which the Gospel may be regarded, in addition to its relation to Mosaism and to the Second Advent and to the whole evolutionary scheme. It is a relation of lesser importance (it seems) than these; yet since it is indicated in Scripture and by the words of Christ Himself, it is not to be passed by: the relation of Jesus' teaching to that of Abraham and Moses taken together, as if His revelation in a particular sense summed up and consummated theirs. Abraham had founded a spiritual family. Moses founded a spiritual nation. Jesus spiritualised humanity.

Scripture suggests in several ways that the Master Prophets Abraham, Moses and Christ are not only connected by a special tie of race and of place, but that also in some spiritual manner they form a distinct group, a threefold unity, and that their combined work constitutes a particular and crucial episode in the grand progress of human evolution. Their figures stand out far above all others in the Old and New Testaments: Abraham and Moses are the mightiest of the mighty, the sublimest heroes of the Old Testament; Christ is the divine hero of the New. While the sacred narrative covers the whole period of manhood's existence from the date of its birth to that of its spiritual maturity, the life and work of these three fill almost the whole book. In the twelfth chapter of Genesis there is a suggestion that God's call of Abraham marked a critical epoch, a new departure in the spiritual


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history of humanity. As the story proceeds everything is done that art can do to create a sense of suspense and expectancy, to arouse wonder and hope and forward-looking thoughts. In the Gospels the strongest claim is advanced that what men were taught to hope for had come, that what they had awaited was here. A hundred prophecies are quoted as fulfilled in Jesus, and Jesus endorses such quotations. Spiritually sensitive minds recognise intuitively in Jesus the Consolation of Israel. The heightening of the moral level of the Teaching is so marked that this climax is felt as reaching to the spiritual realm and as being an eternal fact. The awfulness of the mistake of those whose minds are dead to any sense of uplift and progress and who destroy as a malefactor the world's guide, enforces still further the reality of the climax.

Jesus emphasised on many occasions the continuity of His work with that of Moses; but on one occasion, in language so strange and challenging as to call for pause and special thought, He referred to the connexion between His own Dispensation and that of an earlier Prophet, of the predecessor of Moses, of the Father of the faithful, Abraham. His statement, 'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad' (John viii. 56), conveyed to His hearers at the time no intelligible meaning; one might wonder why He uttered it. The only effect was to mystify and exasperate. But to the faithful heart its significance is radiant and sublime. It shows that the great service which the Hebrew people through their saints and seers rendered to mankind and which is treated at large in the Bible, is to be regarded as a smaller system


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of Revelation within the larger system, as being in its lesser way a spiritual whole with three Master-Figures and three Parts, leading up to its climax and its highest glory in Christ. A fitting subject for so great a book as the Bible! Abraham, that majestic and lonely being of the ancient past, the Father of the Faithful, inaugurates under God's command a great religious movement. By that divine light which was his he saw in vision on the eternal plane (as lesser prophets in a later day saw less clearly than he) the Dawning and the Glory of the Day of Christ, the fulfilling in Christ's world-wide spiritual revelation of the work which he himself as a pioneer of God began two thousand years and more before. As on the material plane Moses had looked out from the mountain-top of Pisgah upon the Promised Land into which another than he would lead his people, so on the spiritual plane in a manner somewhat similar Abraham was privileged to see far off the Spiritual Land into which a sacred Son of the


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