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Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era

  • Author:
  • J. E. Esslemont

  • Source:
  • US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980 edition
  • Pages:
  • 286
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Pages 128-131

The Bahá’í Covenant

The Bahá’í Revelation is unprecedented and unique in still another way. Before the death of Bahá’u’lláh He repeatedly put in writing a Covenant appointing his eldest son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, 129 Whom He often refers to as “The Branch,” or “The Most Great Branch,” as the authorized interpreter of the teachings, and declaring that any explanations or interpretations given by Him are to be accepted as of equal validity with the words of Bahá’u’lláh Himself. In His Will and Testament He says:—
Consider that which We revealed in Our Most Holy Book: “When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.” The object of this sacred verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch (‘Abdu’l-Bahá).
And in the Tablet of the Branch, in which He explains the station of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, He says:—
Render thanks unto God, O people, for His appearance; for verily He is the most great Favor unto you, the most perfect bounty upon you; and through Him every mouldering bone is quickened. Whoso turneth towards Him hath turned towards God, and whoso turneth away from Him hath turned away from My Beauty, hath repudiated My Proof, and transgressed against Me.
After the death of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had abundant opportunities, both in His own home and on His extensive travels, of meeting people from all parts of the world and of all shades of opinion. He heard all their questions, their difficulties and objections, and gave full explanations which were carefully recorded in writing. During a long series of years ‘Abdu’l-Bahá continued this work of elucidating the teachings and showing their applications to the most varied problems of modern life. Differences of opinion which have arisen among believers have been referred to Him and authoritatively settled, and thus the risks of future misunderstandings have been further reduced.
Bahá’u’lláh further arranged that an International House of Justice, representative of all Bahá’ís throughout the world, should be elected to take charge of the affairs of the Cause, control and coordinate all its activities, prevent divisions and 130 schisms, elucidate obscure matters, and preserve the teachings from corruption and misrepresentation. The fact that this supreme administrative body can not only initiate legislation on all matters not defined in the Teachings, but also annul its own enactments when new conditions require different measures, enables the Faith to expand and adapt itself, like a living organism, to the needs and requirements of a changing society.
Moreover, Bahá’u’lláh expressly forbade interpretation of the teachings by anyone but the authorized interpreter. In His Will and Testament ‘Abdu’l-Bahá appointed Shoghi Effendi to be the Guardian of the Faith after Him and to be empowered to interpret the Writings.
In a thousand or more years another Manifestation will appear, under the shadow of Bahá’u’lláh, with clear proofs of His mission, but until then the words of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Guardian and the decisions of the International House of Justice constitute the authorities to which all believers must turn for guidance. No Bahá’í may found a school or sect based on any particular interpretation of the teachings or any supposed divine revelation. Anyone contravening these injunctions is considered a “Covenant-breaker.” 1
‘Abdu’l-Bahá says:—
One of the enemies of the Cause is he who endeavors to interpret the words of Bahá’u’lláh and thereby colors the meaning according to his capacity, and collects around him a following, forming a different sect, promoting his own station, and making a division in the Cause.
In another Tablet He writes:—
These people (promoters of schism) are like the froth that gathers on the surface of the sea; a wave will surge from the ocean of the Covenant and through the power of the Abhá Kingdom will cast this foam ashore. … 131 These corrupt thoughts that emanate from personal and evil intentions will all vanish, whereas the Covenant of God shall remain stable and secure.
There is nothing to keep men from forsaking religion if they wish to do so. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says: “God Himself does not compel the soul to become spiritual. The exercise of the free human will is necessary.” The spiritual Covenant, however, clearly makes sectarianism within the Bahá’í community quite impossible.
1. See pp. 261–263 and 272–273 for further elucidations of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice.   [ Back To Reference]