A new version of the Bahá’í Reference Library is now available. This ‘old version’ of the Bahá’í Reference Library will be replaced at a later date.

The new version of the Bahá’i Reference Library can be accessed here »

Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era

  • Author:
  • J. E. Esslemont

  • Source:
  • US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980 edition
  • Pages:
  • 286
Go to printed page GO
Pages 41-46

Prophethood of Bahá’u’lláh

It is important to have clear ideas of Bahá’u’lláh’s Prophethood. His utterances, like those of other divine “Manifestations,” may be divided into two classes, in one of which He writes or speaks simply as a man who has been charged by God with a message to His fellows, while in the other class the words purport to be the direct utterance of God Himself.
He writes in the Book of Íqán:—
We have already in the foregoing pages assigned two stations unto each of the Luminaries arising from the Daysprings of eternal holiness. One of these stations, the station of essential unity, We have already explained. “No distinction do We make between any of them.” [Qur’án 2:136] The other is the station of distinction, and pertaineth to the world of creation and to be the limitations thereof. In this respect, each Manifestation of God hath a distinct individuality, a definitely prescribed mission, a predestined Revelation, and specially designated limitations. Each one of them is known by a different name, is characterized by a special attribute, fulfils a definite Mission, and is entrusted with a particular Revelation. Even as He saith: “Some of the Apostles We have caused to excel the others. To some God hath spoken, some He hath raise and exalted. And to Jesus, Son of Mary, We gave manifest signs, and We strengthen Him with the Holy Spirit.” [Qur’án 2:253] …
Thus, viewed from the standpoint of their oneness and sublime detachment, the attributes of Godhead, Divinity, Supreme Singleness, and Inmost Essence, have been and are applicable to those Essences of being, inasmuch as they all abide on the throne of divine Revelation, and are established upon the seat of divine Concealment. 42 Through their appearance the Revelation of God is made manifest, and by their countenance the Beauty of God is revealed. Thus it is that the accents of God Himself have been heard uttered by these Manifestations of the divine Being.
Viewed in the light of their second station—the station of distinction, differentiation, temporal limitations, characteristics and standards,—they manifest absolute servitude, utter destitution and complete self-effacement. Even as He saith: “I am the servant of God. I am but a man like you.” …
Were any of the all-embracing Manifestations of God to declare: “I am God!” He verily speaketh the truth, and no doubt attacheth thereto. For it hath been repeatedly demonstrated that through their Revelation, their attributes and names, the Revelation of God, His name and His attributes, are made manifest in the world. Thus, He hath revealed: “Those shafts were God’s, not Thine!” [Qur’án 8:17] And also He saith: “In truth, they who plighted fealty unto thee, really plighted that fealty unto God.” [Qur’án 48:10] And were any of them to voice the utterance: “I am the Messenger of God,” He also speaketh the truth, the indubitable truth. Even as He saith: “Muḥammad is not the father of any man among you, but He is the Messenger of God.” Viewed in this light, they are all but Messengers of that ideal King, that unchangeable Essence. And were they all to proclaim: “I am the Seal of Prophets,” they verily utter but the truth, beyond the faintest shadow of doubt. For they are all but one person, one soul, one spirit, one being, one revelation. They are all the manifestation of the “Beginning” and the “End,” the “First” and the “Last,” the “Seen” and “Hidden”—all of which pertain to Him Who is the innermost Spirit of Spirits and eternal Essence of Essences. And were they to say: “We are the servants of God,” [Qur’án 33:40] this also is a manifest and indisputable fact. For they have been made manifest in the uttermost state of servitude, a servitude the like of which 43 no man can possibly attain. Thus in moments in which these Essences of being were deeply immersed beneath the oceans of ancient and everlasting holiness, or when they soared to the loftiest summits of divine mysteries, they claimed their utterance to be the Voice of divinity, the Call of God Himself. Were the eye of discernment to be opened, it would recognize that in this very state, they have considered themselves utterly effaced and non-existent in the face of Him Whom is the All-Pervading, the incorruptible. Methinks, they have regarded themselves as utter nothingness, and deemed their mention in that Court an act of blasphemy. For the slightest whisperings of self, within such a Court, is an evidence of self-assertion and independent existence. In the eyes of them that have attained unto that Court, such a suggestion is itself a grievous transgression. How much more grievous would it be, were aught else to be mentioned in that Presence, were man’s heart, his tongue, his mind, or his soul, to be busied with anyone but the Well-Beloved, were his eyes to behold any countenance other than His beauty, were his ear to be inclined to any melody but His voice, and were his feet to tread any way but His way.
In this day the breeze of God is wafted, and His Spirit hath pervaded all things. Such is the outpouring of His grace that the pen is stilled and the tongue is speechless.
By virtue of this station, they have claimed for themselves the Voice of Divinity and the like, whilst by virtue of their station of Messengership, they have declared themselves the Messengers of God. In every instance they have voiced an utterance that would conform to the requirements of the occasion, and have ascribed all these declarations to Themselves, declarations ranging from the divine Revelation to the realm of creation, and from the domain of Divinity even unto the domain of earthly existence. Thus it is that whatsoever be their utterance, whether it pertain to the realm of Divinity, Lordship, Prophethood, Messengership, Guardianship, Apostelship or Servitude, all is true, beyond the shadow of a 44 doubt. Therefore, these sayings which We have quoted in support of Our argument must be attentively considered, that the divergent utterances of the Manifestations of the Unseen and Daysprings of Holiness may cease to agitate the soul and perplex the mind.—Kitáb-i-Íqán, 176–181.
When Bahá’u’lláh speaks as a man, the station He claims for Himself is that of utter humility, of “annihilation in God.” What distinguishes the Manifestation, in His human personality, from other men is the completeness of His self-abnegation as well as the perfection of His powers. Under all circumstances He is able to say, as did Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Thus in His epistle to the Sháh, Bahá’u’lláh says:—
O king! I was but a man like others, asleep upon My couch, when lo, the breezes of the All-Glorious were wafted over Me, and taught Me the knowledge of all that hath been. This thing is not from Me, but from One Who is Almighty and All-Knowing. And He bade Me lift up My voice between earth and heaven, and for this there befell Me what hath caused the tears of every man of understanding to flow. The learning current amongst men I studied not; their schools I entered not. … This is but a leaf which the winds of the will of thy Lord, the Almighty, the All-Praised have stirred. Can it be still when the tempestuous winds are blowing? Nay, by Him Who is the Lord of all Names and Attributes! They move it as they list. The evanescent is as nothing before Him Who is the Ever-Abiding. His all-compelling summons hath reached Me, and caused Me to speak His praise amidst all people. I was indeed as one dead when His behest was uttered. The hand of the will of thy Lord, the Compassionate, the Merciful, transformed Me. Can any one speak forth of his own accord that for which all men, both high and low, will protest against him? Nay, by Him Who taught the Pen the eternal mysteries, save him whom the grace of the Almighty, the All-Powerful, hath 45 strengthened.—Lawḥ-i-Sulṭán (Tablet to the King of Persia), as quoted in The Promised Day Is Come, pp. 40–41.
As Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, so Bahá’u’lláh used sometimes to cook food and perform other lowly offices for His followers. He was a servant of the servants, and gloried only in servitude, content to sleep on a bare floor if need be, to live on bread and water, or even, at times, on what He called “the divine nourishment, that is to say, hunger!” His perfect humility was seen in His profound reverence for nature, for human nature, and especially for the saints, prophets and martyrs. To Him, all things spoke of God, from the meanest to the greatest.
His human personality had been chosen by God to become the Divine Mouthpiece and Pen. It was not of His own will that He had assumed this position of unparalleled difficulty and hardship. As Jesus said: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” so Bahá’u’lláh said: “Had another exponent or speaker been found, We would not have made Ourself an object of censure, derision and calumnies on the part of the people” (Tablet of Ishráqát). But the divine call was clear and imperative and He obeyed. God’s will became His will, and God’s pleasure, His pleasure; and with “radiant acquiescence” He declared:—“Verily I say: Whatever befalleth in the path of God is the beloved of the soul and the desire of the heart. Deadly poison in His path is pure honey, and every tribulation a draught of crystal water.”—Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 17.
At other times, as we have mentioned, Bahá’u’lláh speaks “from the station of Deity.” In these utterances His human personality is so completely subservient that it is left out of account altogether. Through Him God addresses His creatures, proclaiming His love for them, teaching them His attributes, making known His will, announcing His laws for their guidance and pleading for their love, their allegiance and service.
In the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, the utterance frequently changes from one of these forms to another. Sometimes it is 46 evidently the man who is discoursing, then without a break the writing continues as if God were speaking in the first person. Even when speaking as a man, however, Bahá’u’lláh speaks as God’s messenger, as a living example of entire devotion to God’s will. His whole life is actuated by the Holy Spirit. Hence no hard and fast line can be drawn between the human and divine elements in His life or teachings. God tells Him:—
Say: “Naught is seen in my temple but the Temple of God, and in my beauty but His Beauty, and in my being but His Being, and in myself but Himself, and in my movement but His Movement, and in my acquiescence but His Acquiescence, and in my pen but His Pen, the Precious, the Extolled.”
Say: “There hath not been in my soul but the Truth, and in myself naught could be seen but God.”—Súratu’l-Haykal.