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The Promised Day Is Come

  • Author:
  • Shoghi Effendi

  • Source:
  • US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980 revised edition
  • Pages:
  • 124
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Pages 74-84

The Crumbling of Religious Orthodoxy

Dear friends! The decline in the fortunes of the crowned wielders of temporal power has been paralleled by a no less startling deterioration in the influence exercised by the world’s spiritual leaders. The colossal events that have heralded the dissolution of so many kingdoms and empires have almost synchronized with the crumbling of the seemingly inviolable strongholds of religious orthodoxy. That same process which, swiftly and tragically, sealed the doom of kings and emperors, and extinguished their dynasties, has operated in the case of the ecclesiastical leaders of both Christianity and Islám, damaging their prestige, and, in some cases, overthrowing their highest institutions. “Power hath been seized” indeed from both “kings and ecclesiastics.” The glory of the former has been eclipsed, the power of the latter irretrievably lost.
Those leaders who exercised guidance and control over the ecclesiastical hierarchies of their respective religions have, likewise, been appealed to, warned, and reproved by Bahá’u’lláh, in terms no less uncertain than those in which the sovereigns who presided over the 75 destinies of their subjects have been addressed. They, too, and more particularly the heads of Muslim ecclesiastical orders, have, in conjunction with despots and potentates, launched their assaults and thundered their anathemas against the Founders of the Faith of God, its followers, its principles, and its institutions. Were not the divines of Persia the first who hoisted the standard of revolt, who inflamed the ignorant and subservient masses against it, and who instigated the civil authorities, through their outcry, their threats, their lies, their calumnies, and denunciations, to decree the banishments, to enact the laws, to launch the punitive campaigns, and to carry out the executions and massacres that fill the pages of its history? So abominable and savage was the butchery committed in a single day, instigated by these divines, and so typical of the “callousness of the brute and the ingenuity of the fiend” that Renan, in his “Les Apôtres,” characterized that day as “perhaps unparalleled in the history of the world.”
It was these divines, who, by these very acts, sowed the seeds of the disintegration of their own institutions, institutions that were so potent, so famous, and appeared so invulnerable when the Faith was born. It was they who, by assuming so lightly and foolishly, such awful responsibilities were primarily answerable for the release of those violent and disruptive influences that have unchained disasters as catastrophic as those which overwhelmed kings, dynasties, and empires, and which constitute the most noteworthy landmarks in the history of the first century of the Bahá’í era.
This process of deterioration, however startling in its initial manifestations, is still operating with undiminished force, and will, as the opposition to the Faith of God, from various sources and in distant fields, gathers momentum, be further accelerated and reveal still more remarkable evidences of its devastating power. I cannot, in view of the proportions which this communication has already assumed, expatiate, as fully as I would wish, on the aspects of this weighty theme which, together with the reaction of the sovereigns of the earth to the Message of Bahá’u’lláh, is one of the most fascinating and edifying episodes in the dramatic story of His Faith. I will only consider the repercussions of the violent assaults made by the ecclesiastical leaders of Islám and, to a lesser degree, by certain exponents of Christian orthodoxy upon their respective institutions. I will preface these observations with some passages gleaned from the great mass of Bahá’u’lláh’s Tablets which, 76 both directly and indirectly, bear reference to Muslim and Christian divines, and which throw such a powerful light on the dismal disasters that have overtaken, and are still overtaking, the ecclesiastical hierarchies of the two religions with which the Faith has been immediately concerned.
It must not be inferred, however, that Bahá’u’lláh directed His historic addresses exclusively to the leaders of Islám and Christianity, or that the impact of an all-pervading Faith on the strongholds of religious orthodoxy is to be confined to the institutions of these two religious systems. “The time foreordained unto the peoples and kindreds of the earth,” affirms Bahá’u’lláh, “is now come. The promises of God, as recorded in the Holy Scriptures, have all been fulfilled…. This is the Day which the Pen of the Most High hath glorified in all the Holy Scriptures. There is no verse in them that doth not declare the glory of His holy Name, and no Book that doth not testify unto the loftiness of this most exalted theme.” “Were We,” He adds, “to make mention of all that hath been revealed in these heavenly Books and Holy Scriptures concerning this Revelation, this Tablet would assume impossible dimensions.” As the promise of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh is enshrined in all the Scriptures of past religions, so does its Author address Himself to their followers, and particularly to their responsible leaders who have intervened between Him and their respective congregations. “At one time,” writes Bahá’u’lláh, “We address the people of the Torah and summon them unto Him Who is the Revealer of verses, Who hath come from Him Who layeth low the necks of men…. At another, We address the people of the Evangel and say: ‘The All-Glorious is come in this Name whereby the Breeze of God hath wafted over all regions.’… At still another, We address the people of the Qur’án saying: ‘Fear the All-Merciful, and cavil not at Him through Whom all religions were founded.’… Know thou, moreover, that We have addressed to the Magians Our Tablets, and adorned them with Our Law…. We have revealed in them the essence of all the hints and allusions contained in their Books. The Lord, verily, is the Almighty, the All-Knowing.”
Addressing the Jewish people Bahá’u’lláh has written: “The Most Great Law is come, and the Ancient Beauty ruleth upon the throne of David. Thus hath My Pen spoken that which the histories of bygone ages have related. At this time, however, David crieth aloud and saith: ‘O my loving Lord! Do Thou number me with such as have stood steadfast in 77 Thy Cause, O Thou through Whom the faces have been illumined, and the footsteps have slipped!’” And again: “The Breath hath been wafted, and the Breeze hath blown, and from Zion hath appeared that which was hidden, and from Jerusalem is heard the Voice of God, the One, the Incomparable, the Omniscient.” Furthermore, in His “Epistle to the Son of the Wolf” Bahá’u’lláh has revealed: “Lend an ear unto the song of David. He saith: ‘Who will bring me into the Strong City?’ The Strong City is ‘Akká, which hath been named the Most Great Prison, and which possesseth a fortress and mighty ramparts. O Shaykh! Peruse that which Isaiah hath spoken in His Book. He saith: ‘Get thee up into the high mountain, O Zion, that bringest good tidings; lift up thy voice with strength, O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings. Lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah: “Behold your God! Behold the Lord God will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him.”’ This Day all the signs have appeared. A Great City hath descended from heaven, and Zion trembleth and exulteth with joy at the Revelation of God, for it hath heard the Voice of God on every side.”
To the priestly caste, holding sacerdotal supremacy over the followers of the Faith of Zoroaster, that same Voice, identifying itself with the voice of the promised Sháh-Bahrám, has declared: “O high priests! Ears have been given you that they may hearken unto the mystery of Him Who is the Self-Dependent, and eyes that they may behold Him. Wherefore flee ye? The Incomparable Friend is manifest. He speaketh that wherein lieth salvation. Were ye, O high priests, to discover the perfume of the rose garden of understanding, ye would seek none other but Him, and would recognize, in His new vesture, the All-Wise and Peerless One, and would turn your eyes from the world and all who seek it, and would arise to help Him.” “Whatsoever hath been announced in the Books,” Bahá’u’lláh, replying to a Zoroastrian who had inquired regarding the promised Sháh-Bahrám, has written, “hath been revealed and made clear. From every direction the signs have been manifested. The Omnipotent One is calling, in this Day, and announcing the appearance of the Supreme Heaven.” “This is not the day,” He, in another Tablet declares, “whereon the high priests can command and exercise their authority. In your Book it is stated that the high priests will, on that Day, lead men far astray, and will prevent them from drawing nigh unto Him. He indeed is a high priest who hath seen the light and hastened unto the way leading to the Beloved.” “Say, O high priests!” He, again addresses them, “The 78 Hand of Omnipotence is stretched forth from behind the clouds; behold ye it with new eyes. The tokens of His majesty and greatness are unveiled; gaze ye on them with pure eyes…. Say, O high priests! Ye are held in reverence because of My Name, and yet ye flee Me! Ye are the high priests of the Temple. Had ye been the high priests of the Omnipotent One, ye would have been united with Him, and would have recognized Him…. Say, O high priests! No man’s acts shall be acceptable, in this Day, unless he forsaketh mankind and all that men possess, and setteth his face towards the Omnipotent One.”
It is not, however, with either of these two Faiths that we are primarily concerned. It is to Islám and, to a lesser extent, to Christianity that my theme is directly related. Islám, from which the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh has sprung, even as did Christianity from Judaism, is the religion within whose pale that Faith first rose and developed, from whose ranks the great mass of Bahá’í adherents have been recruited, and by whose leaders they have been, and indeed are still being, persecuted. Christianity, on the other hand, is the religion to which the vast majority of Bahá’ís of non-Islamic extraction belong, within whose spiritual domain the Administrative Order of the Faith of God is rapidly advancing, and by whose ecclesiastical exponents that Order is being increasingly assailed. Unlike Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and even Zoroastrianism which, in the main, are still unaware of the potentialities of the Cause of God, and whose response to its Message is as yet negligible, the Muḥammadan and Christian Faiths may be regarded as the two religious systems which are sustaining, at this formative stage in its evolution, the full impact of so tremendous a Revelation.
Let us, then, consider what the Founders of the Bahá’í Faith have addressed to, or written about, the recognized leaders of Islám and Christianity. We have already considered the passages with reference to the kings of Islám, whether as Caliphs reigning in Constantinople, or as Sháhs of Persia who ruled the kingdom as temporary trustees for the expected Imám. We have also noted the Tablet which Bahá’u’lláh specifically revealed for the Roman Pontiff, and the more general message in the Súriy-i-Mulúk directed to the kings of Christendom. No less challenging and ominous is the Voice that has warned and called to account the Muḥammadan divines and the Christian clergy.
“Leaders of religion,” is Bahá’u’lláh’s clear and universal censure pronounced in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, “in every age, have hindered their 79 people from attaining the shores of eternal salvation, inasmuch as they held the reins of authority in their mighty grasp. Some for the lust of leadership, others through want of knowledge and understanding, have been the cause of the deprivation of the people. By their sanction and authority, every Prophet of God hath drunk from the chalice of sacrifice, and winged His flight unto the heights of glory. What unspeakable cruelties they that have occupied the seats of authority and learning have inflicted upon the true Monarchs of the world, those Gems of Divine virtue! Content with a transitory dominion, they have deprived themselves of an everlasting sovereignty.” And again, in that same Book: “Among these ‘veils of glory’ are the divines and doctors living in the days of the Manifestation of God, who, because of their want of discernment and their love and eagerness for leadership, have failed to submit to the Cause of God, nay, have even refused to incline their ears unto the Divine Melody. ‘They have thrust their fingers into their ears.’ And the people also, utterly ignoring God and taking them for their masters, have placed themselves unreservedly under the authority of these pompous and hypocritical leaders, for they have no sight, no hearing, no heart, of their own to distinguish truth from falsehood. Notwithstanding the divinely inspired admonitions of all the Prophets, the Saints, and Chosen Ones of God, enjoining the people to see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears, they have disdainfully rejected their counsels and have blindly followed, and will continue to follow, the leaders of their Faith. Should a poor and obscure person, destitute of the attire of the men of learning, address them saying: ‘Follow ye, O people, the Messengers of God,’ they would, greatly surprised at such a statement, reply: ‘What! Meanest thou that all these divines, all these exponents of learning, with all their authority, their pomp, and pageantry, have erred, and failed to distinguish truth from falsehood? Dost thou, and people like thyself, pretend to have comprehended that which they have not understood?’ If numbers and excellence of apparel be regarded as the criterions of learning and truth, the peoples of a bygone age, whom those of today have never surpassed in numbers, magnificence and power, should certainly be accounted a superior and worthier people.” Furthermore, “Not one Prophet of God was made manifest Who did not fall a victim to the relentless hate, to the denunciation, denial and execration of the clerics of His day! Woe unto them for the iniquities their hands have formerly wrought! Woe unto them for that which they are now doing! What veils of 80 glory more grievous than these embodiments of error! By the righteousness of God! To pierce such veils is the mightiest of all acts, and to rend them asunder the most meritorious of all deeds!” “On their tongue,” He moreover has written, “the mention of God hath become an empty name; in their midst His holy Word a dead letter. Such is the sway of their desires, that the lamp of conscience and reason hath been quenched in their hearts…. No two are found to agree on one and the same law, for they seek no God but their own desire, and tread no path but the path of error. In leadership they have recognized the ultimate object of their endeavor, and account pride and haughtiness as the highest attainments of their hearts’ desire. They have placed their sordid machinations above the Divine decree, have renounced resignation unto the will of God, busied themselves with selfish calculation, and walked in the way of the hypocrite. With all their power and strength they strive to secure themselves in their petty pursuits, fearful lest the least discredit undermine their authority or blemish the display of their magnificence.”
“The source and origin of tyranny,” Bahá’u’lláh in another Tablet has affirmed, “have been the divines. Through the sentences pronounced by these haughty and wayward souls the rulers of the earth have wrought that which ye have heard…. The reins of the heedless masses have been, and are, in the hands of the exponents of idle fancies and vain imaginings. These decree what they please. God, verily, is clear of them, and We, too, are clear of them, as are such as have testified unto that which the Pen of the Most High hath spoken in this glorious Station.”
“The leaders of men,” He has likewise asserted, “have, from time immemorial, prevented the people from turning unto the Most Great Ocean. The Friend of God [Abraham] was cast into fire through the sentence pronounced by the divines of the age, and lies and calumnies were imputed to Him Who discoursed with God [Moses]. Reflect upon the One Who was the Spirit of God [Jesus]. Though He showed forth the utmost compassion and tenderness, yet they rose up against that Essence of Being and Lord of the seen and unseen, in such a manner that He could find no refuge wherein to rest. Each day He wandered unto a new place, and sought a new shelter. Consider the Seal of the Prophets [Muḥammad]—may the souls of all else except Him be His sacrifice! How grievous the things which befell that Lord of all being at the hands of the priests of idolatry, and of the Jewish doctors, after He had uttered the blessed words proclaiming the unity of God! By My life! My pen 81 groaneth, and all created things cry out by reason of the things that have touched Him, at the hands of such as have broken the Covenant of God and His Testament, and denied His Testimony, and gainsaid His signs.”
“The foolish divines,” another Tablet declares, “have laid aside the Book of God, and are occupied with that which they themselves have fashioned. The Ocean of Knowledge is revealed, and the shrill of the Pen of the Most High is raised, and yet they, even as earthworms, are afflicted with the clay of their fancies and imaginings. They are exalted by reason of their relationship to the one true God, and yet they have turned aside from Him! Because of Him have they become famous, and yet they are shut off as by a veil from Him!”
“The pagan priests,” in yet another Tablet is written, “and the Jewish and Christian divines, have committed the very things which the divines of the age, in this Dispensation, have committed, and are still committing. Nay, these have displayed a more grievous cruelty and a fiercer malice. Every atom beareth witness unto that which I say.”
To these leaders who “esteem themselves the best of all creatures and have been regarded as the vilest by Him Who is the Truth,” who “occupy the seats of knowledge and learning, and who have named ignorance knowledge, and called oppression justice,” and who, “worship no God but their own desire, who bear allegiance to naught but gold, who are wrapt in the densest veils of learning, and who, enmeshed by its obscurities, are lost in the wilds of error”—to these Bahá’u’lláh has chosen to address these words: “O concourse of divines! Ye shall not henceforward behold yourselves possessed of any power, inasmuch as We have seized it from you, and destined it for such as have believed in God, the One, the All-Powerful, the Almighty, the Unconstrained.”
In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas we read the following: “Say: O leaders of religion! Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring Balance established amongst men. In this most perfect Balance whatsoever the peoples and kindreds of the earth possess must be weighed, while the measure of its weight should be tested according to its own standard, did ye but know it. The eye of My loving-kindness weepeth sore over you, inasmuch as ye have failed to recognize the One upon Whom ye have been calling in the daytime and in the night season, at even and at morn…. O ye leaders of religion! Who is the man amongst you that can rival Me in vision or insight? Where is he to be found that dareth to claim to be My equal in 82 utterance or wisdom? No, by My Lord, the All-Merciful! All on the earth shall pass away; and this is the face of your Lord, the Almighty, the Well-Beloved…. Say: This, verily, is the heaven in which the Mother Book is treasured, could ye but comprehend it. He it is Who hath caused the Rock to shout, and the Burning Bush to lift up its voice, upon the Mount rising above the Holy Land, and proclaim: ‘The Kingdom is God’s, the sovereign Lord of all, the All-Powerful, the Loving!’ We have not entered any school, nor read any of your dissertations. Incline your ears to the words of this unlettered One, wherewith He summoneth you unto God, the Ever-Abiding. Better is this for you than all the treasures of the earth, could ye but comprehend it.”
“O concourse of divines!” He moreover has written, “When My verses were sent down, and My clear tokens were revealed, We found you behind the veils. This, verily, is a strange thing…. We have rent the veils asunder. Beware lest ye shut out the people by yet another veil. Pluck asunder the chains of vain imaginings, in the name of the Lord of all men, and be not of the deceitful. Should ye turn unto God, and embrace His Cause, spread not disorder within it, and measure not the Book of God with your selfish desires. This, verily, is the counsel of God aforetime and hereafter…. Had ye believed in God, when He revealed Himself, the people would not have turned aside from Him, nor would the things ye witness today have befallen Us. Fear God, and be not of the heedless. …This is the Cause that hath caused all your superstitions and idols to tremble…. O concourse of divines! Beware lest ye be the cause of strife in the land, even as ye were the cause of the repudiation of the Faith in its early days. Gather the people around this Word that hath made the pebbles to cry out: ‘The Kingdom is God’s, the Dawning-Place of all signs!’… Tear the veils asunder in such wise that the inmates of the Kingdom will hear them being rent. This is the command of God, in days gone by, and for those to come. Blessed the man that observeth that whereunto he was bidden, and woe betide the negligent.”
And again: “How long will ye, O concourse of divines, level the spears of hatred at the face of Bahá? Rein in your pens. Lo, the Most Sublime Pen speaketh betwixt earth and heaven. Fear God, and follow not your desires which have altered the face of creation. Purify your ears that they may hearken unto the Voice of God. By God! It is even as fire that consumeth the veils, and as water that washeth the souls of all who are in the universe.” 83
“Say: O concourse of divines!” He furthermore addresses them, “Can any one of you race with the Divine Youth in the arena of wisdom and utterance, or soar with Him into the heaven of inner meaning and explanation? Nay, by My Lord, the God of mercy! All have swooned away in this Day from the Word of thy Lord. They are even as dead and lifeless, except him whom thy Lord, the Almighty, the Unconstrained, hath willed to exempt. Such a one is indeed of those endued with knowledge in the sight of Him Who is the All-Knowing. The inmates of Paradise, and the dwellers of the sacred Folds, bless him at eventide and at dawn. Can the one possessed of wooden legs resist him whose feet God hath made of steel? Nay, by Him Who illumineth the whole of creation!”
“When We observed carefully,” He significantly remarks, “We discovered that Our enemies are, for the most part, the divines.” “Among the people are those who said: ‘He hath repudiated the divines.’ Say: ‘Yea, by My Lord! I, in very truth, was the One Who abolished the idols!’” “We, verily, have sounded the Trumpet, which is Our Most Sublime Pen, and lo, the divines and the learned, and the doctors and the rulers, swooned away except such as God preserved, as a token of His grace, and He, verily, is the All-Bounteous, the Ancient of Days.”
“O concourse of divines! Fling away idle fancies and imaginings, and turn, then, towards the Horizon of Certitude. I swear by God! All that ye possess will profit you not, neither all the treasures of the earth, nor the leadership ye have usurped. Fear God, and be not of the lost ones.” “Say: O concourse of divines! Lay aside all your veils and coverings. Give ear unto that whereunto calleth you the Most Sublime Pen, in this wondrous Day…. The world is laden with dust, by reason of your vain imaginings, and the hearts of such as enjoy near access to God are troubled because of your cruelty. Fear God, and be of them that judge equitably.”
“O ye the dawning-places of knowledge!” He thus exhorts them, “Beware that ye suffer not yourselves to become changed, for as ye change, most men will, likewise, change. This, verily, is an injustice unto yourselves and unto others…. Ye are even as a spring. If it be changed, so will the streams that branch out from it be changed. Fear God, and be numbered with the godly. In like manner, if the heart of man be corrupted, his limbs will also be corrupted. And similarly, if the root of a tree be corrupted, its branches, and its offshoots, and its leaves, and its fruits, will be corrupted.”
“Say: O concourse of divines!” He thus appeals to them, “Be fair, I 84 adjure you by God, and nullify not the Truth with the things ye possess. Peruse that which We have sent down with truth. It will, verily, aid you, and will draw you nigh unto God, the Mighty, the Great. Consider and call to mind how when Muḥammad, the Apostle of God, appeared, the people denied Him. They ascribed unto Him what caused the Spirit [Jesus] to lament in His Most Sublime Station, and the Faithful Spirit to cry out. Consider, moreover, the things which befell the Apostles and Messengers of God before Him, by reason of what the hands of the unjust have wrought. We make mention of you for the sake of God, and remind you of His signs, and announce unto you the things ordained for such as are nigh unto Him in the most sublime Paradise and the all-highest Heaven, and I, verily, am the Announcer, the Omniscient. He hath come for your salvation, and hath borne tribulations that ye may ascend, by the ladder of utterance, unto the summit of understanding…. Peruse, with fairness and justice, that which hath been sent down. It will, verily, exalt you through the truth, and will cause you to behold the things from which ye have been withheld, and will enable you to quaff His sparkling Wine.”