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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 122-124

Progressive Revelation

A great stumbling block to many, in the way of religious unity, is the difference between the Revelations given by the different Prophets. What is commanded by one is forbidden by another; how then can both be right, how can both be proclaiming the Will of God? Surely the truth is One, and cannot change. Yes, the Absolute Truth is One and cannot change, but the Absolute Truth is infinitely beyond the present range of human understanding, and our conceptions of it must constantly change. Our earlier, imperfect ideas will be by the Grace of God replaced, as time goes on, by more and more adequate conceptions. Bahá’u’lláh says, in a Tablet to some Bahá’ís of Persia:—
O people! Words are revealed according to capacity so that the beginners may make progress. The milk must be given according to measure so that the babe of the world may enter into the Realm of Grandeur and be established in the Court of Unity.
It is milk that strengthens the babe so that it can digest more solid food later on. To say that because one Prophet is right in giving a certain teaching at a certain time, therefore another Prophet must be wrong Who gives a different teaching at a different time, is like saying that because milk is the best food 123 for the newborn babe, therefore, milk and nothing but milk should be the food of the grown man also, and to give any other diet would be wrong! ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says:—
Each divine revelation is divided into two parts. The first part is essential and belongs to the eternal world. It is the exposition of Divine truths and essential principles. It is the expression of the Love of God. This is one in all the religions, unchangeable and immutable. The second part is not eternal; it deals with practical life, transactions and business, and changes according to the evolution of man and the requirements of the time of each Prophet. For example. … During the Mosaic period the hand of a person was cut off in punishment of a small theft; there was a law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but as these laws were not expedient in the time of Christ, they were abrogated. Likewise divorce had become so universal that there remained no fixed laws of marriage, therefore His Holiness Christ forbade divorce.

According to the exigencies of the time, His Holiness Moses revealed ten laws for capital punishment. It was impossible at that time to protect the community and to preserve social security without these severe measures, for the children of Israel lived in the wilderness of Tah, where there were no established courts of justice and no penitentiaries. But this code of conduct was not needed in the time of Christ. The history of the second part of religion is unimportant, because it relates to the customs of this life only; but the foundation of the religion of God is one, and His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh has renewed that foundation.
The religion of God is the One Religion, and all the Prophets have taught it, but it is a living and a growing thing, not lifeless and unchanging. In the teaching of Moses we see the Bud; in that of Christ the Flower; in that of Bahá’u’lláh the Fruit. The flower does not destroy the bud, nor does the fruit destroy the flower. It destroys not, but fulfills. The bud scales must fall in order that the flower may bloom, and the petals must fall that 124 the fruit may grow and ripen. Were the bud scales and the petals wrong or useless, then, that they had to be discarded? Nay, both in their time were right and necessary; without them there could have been no fruit. So it is with the various prophetic teachings; their externals change from age to age, but each revelation is the fulfillment of its predecessors; they are not separate or incongruous, but different stages in the life history of the One Religion, which has in turn been revealed as seed, as bud and as flower, and now enters on the stage of fruition.