January 11, 2011

“Before Abraham was, I am”! – by Thornton Chase, “The First Baha’i in America”

(A letter written by Thornton Chase, of Chicago, Ill., on September 27th, 1902, to a Christian studying the Baha’i Revelation)

Your letter to me was duly received. I am not inclined to feel discouragement or disappointment, when a true soul is seeking the Light and yet does not grasp its wonderful presence rapidly. We have seen too many, who have "accepted" all with little or no hesitation, and then when the first winds of testing blew, "faith" proved to be of shallow depth, and passivity proved more attractive than endurance.

"Hasten slowly" is a good motto. Some seemed to be truly prepared and waiting for this Truth, and it comes to them as satisfactorily as water to a thirsty traveler, but even in those cases, there is required a process of growth through trials and tests of the most severe kind. The seed may fall into rich and deep soil, and begin to grow immediately and perhaps rapidly, but the full tree is not sown, only the seed. It must be nourished, cared for, cultivated and yet not overfed, and tried by difficulties, that it may become strongly rooted, and thus fitted to stand all winds of opposition.

This Truth offers the wonderful opportunities of a fresh Dawn, in which all things are become new, and are presented in newly charming dress, but the truths themselves are as old as Eternity, and have been told to God's creatures throughout their existence, in such guise as their varying conditions could, from time to time, permit them to comprehend. But no more now, than then, is any "royal road" to Paradise offered. The path is strewn and hedged with thorns, although sweet roses bloom above them. The way is one of testing, trials and fire, that "searches the reins" and tears away from us one beloved stronghold after another, until the very essence of the creature realizes its utter helplessness, its nakedness, its need of the presence of its Maker. It must come to realize that every birth is only through death, and that the spiritual birth can only be through the natural death.

This Truth has been forever taught and ever misinterpreted, thus leading to asceticism, seclusion, self-punishment, the professions of cowardice, rather than to heroic battling with the actual self in the arena of the world, with the self of animal and ignoble tendencies -- the spirit of the world. But ever during this contest for Life, there shines before us the glorious prize of that magnificent and inexpressible "destiny" which God has made possible for us. (Do not mistake this for "fatalism," it has not a tinge of it.) It is the very essence of the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, but it seems to have been strangely clouded by the darkness of the doctrines of fear, which for so long held sway in the Christian (?) Churches.

We look forward and upward to the "Prize that is set before us" with longing eyes, and having the "evidence of things not seen," with certainty of attainment by "God's Help” -- if we will, and our hearts are melted in gratitude and praise to the

Generous One, the Giver, for His Great Mercy toward us in offering and making possible such exaltation and joy. It is the old story of looking forward to the goal and striving for it through all vicissitudes, trials or hindrances. If need be, we will forsake all to follow Him.

Will you pardon me if I take up one portion of your kind letter, which seems to me distinctive and natural, and try to throw a little light on our views in that connection. I quote from you: "The same hard question is in my way. I have thought so long of My Master in the Father's Mansions, I fear to, as it were (it seems to me), transfer my affections to this other Master, who to you is the same come again."

Yes, there is the very essence of loyalty and difficulty to a nature such as I conceive yours to be. The loyal soul fears ever an apparent temptation to disloyalty. To us, however, the Word and Work and Mission and Personality of Jesus the Christ, becomes clarified, glorified and made more precious through the Light thrown upon them by the knowledge of this Manifestation. Knowledge of Him has increased our knowledge and love for Jesus. In all times, the tendency of the world has been toward a cognition and esteem for the outward rather than the inward. We judge the people by their garments, their acquaintance with etiquette, and the several politenesses of the time. We are such slaves to our senses that we invariably demand first their satisfaction. The first question concerning a Prophet is: "What miracles does he work?" The natural desire is for novelty and this is supplemented by a natural idea, that a Messenger of God can work "miracles," and therefore ought to do so to prove his claim. Man wishes, and actually demands of God, that He shall prove himself to man according to the latter's method. There seems to be a wish to be convinced by that which he does not believe in fact can be, to be overwhelmed by evident incontestible and even incontrovertible proof, and then he thinks he will "believe" and "be saved" when the conditions shall be such, that it shall be utterly impossible for him to disbelieve. Yet, we find that according to the record few people obtained any lasting belief through witnessing the reported Miracles of Christ. When but a testing came those who had professed belief on account of miracles fell away and walked no more with Him. It is a fact that today the claimed foundation of the Christian Religion, and the cause for which belief is demanded, are the Miracles of Christ, and especially those which most confound the intellect and challenge the reasoning powers of men. (I do not deny the miracles; I cannot assent to a literal interpretation of all those reported; but if performed they were at best but a secondary, not a primary proof, of Christ's Authority.)

If a man believes because of what are termed miracles, his belief is compelled, forced. His reason is practically dethroned, his judgment is unbalanced and his free will destroyed. The greatest gift of God to man in his present condition is "Free Will," the power of freely choosing what he wills to choose. God will surely never interfere with that gift of His to man, because, the instant that its action is forcibly affected it is destroyed, the man ceases to be man, and becomes only an animal, a machine. It is probably true that every great prophet and representative of God on earth has performed unusual and miraculous works, but if so, it had a deeper purpose in that direction by inculcating the "beginning of wisdom" which is the "fear of God" in him who could not be started on the path otherwise, on account of his "hardness of heart," and such miracles were only the outward garment of "inner significances" in which the real teachings lay.

The Great Miracle, the primary proof of the Divine Authority and Mission of Christ, was the Word that He spoke. He was the incarnated Word.

Down there in the streets of the City of Jerusalem walked a poor man, "who had not where to lay His head." His clothing was neat, but everything plain and poor, especially so when compared to the silken robes and broad phylacteries of the dignified priests of the Temple. He was uneducated, this "foot-traveler," none of the doctors of the law had ever had him for a pupil. He came from that despised mountain country of the Nazarenes. He was the son of a carpenter. His few followers were, like himself, poor illiterate laborers, fishermen from the shores of Galilee. He was despised, rejected, ridiculed and spurned, "gluttonous and a wine bibber," "possessed of a devil," a crazy man holding forth to the people in the streets. Indeed, such an one should be confined and not permitted, even in his insanity, to blaspheme by announcement of Himself as the "Son of God," and especially so now, as at this very time, according to the prophecies, the "Messiah" should come to redeem Israel, to overcome the Roman rule and conquer all nations and bring them beneath the feet of the triumphant "chosen people of God, the Jews." Messiah would come in Might and Power and Majesty with legions of the hosts of heaven, with lightnings; the sun will be darkened, the moon turned to blood, the stars fall to earth; the old earth and Heaven will pass away and a new Heaven and a new earth will be created, and over all, with Him at the head, shall the House of Judah and Levi reign. What a glorious prospect -- and the time is ripe! Where is He? Surely He will come and His hosts with Him! What audacity, what blasphemy, that this poverty-stricken wretch, with not a sword even -- to say nothing of angels – should openly declare himself to be "the Christ, the Son of God!" (He never came, that "Messiah.")

But alas, for the pride and short-sightedness of man! The Word which That One spoke caused the fisherman to leave his livelihood and follow Him who seemed poorer than himself, caused the troubled, the oppressed, the sick unto death, to cling to Him; caused the learned and great to be confounded; caused the powerful priests of the great Temple to tremble, and finally to clamor vehemently for His life; caused the ignominious condemnation and the glorious death; caused the sacrifices of broken hearts "acceptable to God," and the martyrdom of the faithful; and it has swept on over a great section of the earth, causing untold millions to look to that Word, to learn thereby the Way of Life, and to come into that Life by following, each in His own station, the Way lived before him by that Mighty One. Was it His reported miraculous birth, His material resurrection, His ascension into the watery clouds surrounding the earth, and His cure of illness, winds, waves, and of material death, that caused all of these wonders? I think not. It was the divine power of Life Eternal inherent in the blessed words that He, as the incarnated Word of God, spoke from His pure mouth, and lived through His pure life. It was the wonder-working power of the Holy Spirit which dwelt within Him and spoke through Him. It was the invincible might of divine love, which poured itself forth from man through Him. It was the unspeakable Force of the example of patient suffering and sacrifice in the Path of God for the sake of humanity. Of Himself He could do nothing, and claimed to do nothing; but the Father, Who dwelt within Him, worked and spoke through Him, that which all the hosts of earth and Heaven could not accomplish otherwise.

It is very difficult for us sensuous creatures to get away from the individuality. Jesus taught with utmost clearness, that His individuality was as nothing, that He was nothing as a person, save a mouth-piece used by the Father, and that all creatures must look to the Father only. Whenever He spoke of Himself as the One to be believed upon and as the Saviour, it was always in the same sense as when He said to Philip: "He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father." It is evident that He did not refer to His personal self, His individuality, but to that pure essence, that clear mirror of His purified and glorified character in which naught could be seen save the reflection and shining forth of the Father. He had in very Truth "overcome the world," and naught of it could be seen in Him. How little they understood Him, when He said: "Before Abraham was, I am." They could conceive of nothing but the person, and not at all of the Indwelling Spirit, which is the Reality. Do not think I am decrying the personality of Jesus. No! It is sacred, the "Perfect Man"; but it is not that personality which is to "come again."

The "Second Coming" must bear evident marks of similitude to the first; in manner, character, instruction and in spirit, but it must be greater in results, wider in extension and different in effect. "I came not to bring 'Peace,' but a sword," said He. The later Manifestation said: "The Most Great Peace must come," and He established the laws and provisions for that Time of Peace, not only for the individual, but for the nations, because that "Second Coming” must be for the whole round earth, so that God shall be One, and "His name One," and that "Knowledge of God shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea." The "Second Coming" reiterates every doctrine of the "First Coming," but enlarges and clarifies their meanings until "He who runs may read." The seals placed upon the books of the prophets, and even upon the words of Christ (He spoke only in parables), have been "broken," and the contents revealed to our happy sight in this blessed Day. Indeed, He has come again, come in the Kingdom of His Father, the Revealer, come as the Interpreter of that which was and is. Again, is He living in humility, suffering poverty and oppression, but bringing this time to the nations of the earth the heralding of Universal Peace, the Universal Worship of One God.

We know the Mission of Jesus, the Christ, as few, if any, of His followers in the past have known. We love Him and acknowledge Him and praise Him, as the floods of Light now pour over Him. We do not for one moment desert Him, but look to Him with Praise and Thanksgiving, and we hail with joy Him, whom God has now sent in the later Day, to reveal the Christ a second time. The true loyalist is true, not to James, or William, or Edward, but to the King. It is not the personality but the Authority and Station to which he is loyal. (This is a weak illustration, but it may serve.)

You know we believe in the Oneness and Singleness of God, and that He manifests Himself through Chosen Ones from time to time, in varying degrees of light and power, as His great Mercy takes pity upon the conditions and needs of men. Whoever the Manifester may be, worship the One God, and we acknowledge the Manifestation, when we witness His evident Signs, the greatest of which is the Power of His Word.

We are seeing the days and the scenes of the time of Jesus now being repeated, only on a larger scale, and with further reaching and more rapid effects. We are seeing the advance guards of the differing beliefs and nations of the earth coming together from their strongholds of opposition and seclusion into the plain of unity of Religion and greeting each other with love and the hand of fellowship. Already were you going to Persia, Egypt, Russia, India, China, Japan, France, England, Italy, Australia, or the Islands of the Sea; to Muhammadans, Buddhists, Brahmins, Zoroastrians, Confucians, Jews, or Christians, I could give you introductions or even one Word, which should cause you to be greeted with the utmost warmth, kindness and service, by those who a little while ago were of those varying faiths. We here in Chicago, are constantly receiving the most beautiful, spiritual, sincere, and loving letters from these scattered peoples, and they are written by men (and women) who are evidently not lacking in either material culture or spiritual knowledge. A network of love and friendship and loyalty to the one Cause and the One God, and to His Holy Manifestations, past and present, a net of spiritual brotherhood and faith, tied with knots of sincere friendship, without regard to nationality, country, or previous faith, is being woven around the world. It is the harbinger of that "Most Great Peace." Not for one moment do we "transfer our affections" from "one Master" to another; but the knowledge of the One, that is, increasing our love for the One that was, because the present throws light upon the past, and because we know, that in reality, there is no "is" nor "was," but, "before Abraham was, I am"; and in "that Day," which is known only to the Father. That "coming" is, was, and ever shall be, in the Manifestation by the Holy Spirit of the Word of God to man, through man.

You know that we believe and acknowledge Baha'u’llah to be the Manifestation of God in this age; that God, the Father has manifested Himself through Baha’u’llah, and has again revealed His Word, His Commands and Will to man, in a more complete and higher degree than ever before, and that He has ascended and left His Spiritual Kingdom on earth under the guidance of His Son, 'Abdu'l-Baha, 'Abbas, "The Master."

He, 'Abdu'l-Baha, has never claimed or acknowledged that He is the Christ, and has not permitted others to claim it for Him, but He lives the life of Christ, He fills the Office of Christ, He teaches the doctrines of Christ, and is saying to us many things of which Jesus said: "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear these now. But, when He, the Spirit of Truth, shall come, He will guide you unto all Truth, will reveal all things unto you." (This is the revealing of the present time, not that of the Pentecost.) His great and constant claim is simply that of servitude to all the beloved of God, to all the world of those who seek God, and entire self-abnegation in the Cause of God.

His declared office is the Servant of God and of man.

In a Tablet from Him, which is just received here, He answers certain questions asked Him regarding His Station. I will quote a portion of it for your assistance:

"Thou hast asked in regard to my station, the loftiness of my position and my greatness:

"Know, verily that I am 'Abdu'l-Baha (the servant of Baha) calling unto the Kingdom of God, spreading the teachings of God, and heralding unto the people the Favors of God. I am the banner of Peace, unfurled over the domes of the Kingdom, which gives shelter to the hosts of salvation. I am a star of love for the world (the people), which is shining unto the horizons. I am a caller unto union, harmony, concord, among all the nations of the world, summoning them unto the Light of Reality, and the Divine Truth; and I hold in My Hand the Chalice of guidance, give joy unto the people by the Wine of the Love of God, calling the people unto the Kingdom of God, and making firm the Way unto the Lord of Hosts, unto the Supreme Concourse, so that the souls may attain to the Divine Lights, the intellect may gain the Heavenly Attainments, and be trained under the shadow of the Word of God."

A great difficulty, even with earnest hearts, in the time of Jesus, was that they felt they could not abandon Abraham and Moses, for that One; but Jesus told them plainly that if they believed in Abraham and Moses they would believe in Him; and so today we say that if one believes in

Jesus, the Christ, he will believe in this One, when He is made known to him. Those Jews did not abandon Moses when they accepted Christ, because they understood that Jesus came not to destroy the law and teachings of Moses, but to "fulfill" them on a higher and broader scale; and so it is again in this blessed Time.

The Word is the bearer of the seed of Eternal Life. The vocaliser thereof, or the writer, the revealer thereof, is an instrument in the Hands of God. We honor the Instrument, we love It as an instrument and the giver of the Word, the exemplar, the sacrifice of self for humanity, the Mouth-Piece of God; but It is God and Him only that we worship, praise and adore. He only is the recipient of our central and real Love. We must not allow ourselves to confuse the lantern with the Light within it. What we love and cling to in Jesus is the character, the Attributes of God, manifested in Him; not to the man of such a height, build, weight and appearance. It all finally leads to God, only God the Father. We bow down and revere and love His Manifestations, because they are His Manifestations, not because of their personalities. Those who sought spiritual things looked into "The Master's Face and saw therein exactly what was perceived in the face of Jesus by those who had seen Him."

When He (Jesus) replied to Philip, the disciples understood and asked no more; but only they who were disciples, received that knowledge. In the Master's ('Abdu'l-Baha's) personality is nothing remarkable, save wonderful sweetness and humility, combined with an indescribable power, dignity, and majesty; but these attributes are not those of the natural man, but of the Spirit, and it is the indwelling Holy Spirit that makes Him what He is. Mrs. Brittingham can tell you, she has "seen" Him. But He is not seen by all, who come into His Presence, although none escape a consciousness of an unusual influence ever emanating from Him. Before His Ascension, the Manifestation commanded all to turn their faces toward this One, and all who have sincerely obeyed that Command have found in Him such satisfaction of knowledge and of life, of interpretation and of example, that the advancing souls from all nation bow before Him and acknowledge Him "The Master."

You say you wish your life to please Him. The way is simple, but difficult. It is to learn the Commands, and as much as you can, to live them. It is to seek the priceless "Pearl," the Truth, and to abandon all self-desires, to attain one thing, the Love of God. The first form of evidence of that Love is obedience, finding the truth, "receive it gladly," and live it. Not asceticism, nor self-degradation, nor fleeing from earth's activities, but rather all that which love to God and love to man implies, the cutting of the self from the lower loves of jealousy, envy, greed, and putting on the garment of love, kindness, justice, mercy, the "Characteristics of God."

If it be "He" Who hath manifested in this great Day, it is wise for us to seek and know and acknowledge Him. (The Baha’i World 1928-1930)