Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Greater Covenant of Baha'u'llah: His Promise of the Next Manifestation of God


The Covenant of Baha'u'llah is comprised of His Greater Covenant, promising the next Manifestation of God; and His Lesser Covenant—His Covenant with His followers to guide them until the next Manifestation of God appears. The Universal House of Justice has explained this succinctly:

A Covenant in the religious sense is a binding agreement between God and man, whereby God requires of man certain behaviour in return for which He guarantees certain blessings, or whereby He gives man certain bounties in return for which He takes from those who accept them an undertaking to behave in a certain way. There is, for example, the Greater Covenant which every Manifestation of God makes with His followers, promising that in the fulness of time a new Manifestation will be sent, and taking from them the undertaking to accept Him when this occurs. There is also the Lesser Covenant that a Manifestation of God makes with His followers that they will accept His appointed successor after Him. If they do so, the Faith can remain united and pure. If not, the Faith becomes divided and its force spent. It is a Covenant of this kind that Bahá'u'lláh made with His followers regarding 'Abdu'l-Bahá and that 'Abdu'l-Bahá perpetuated through the Administrative Order...
(From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer dated 23 March 1975, from the Compilation on the Covenant; Compilation of Compilations, Vol. I, p. 112)

The Greater Covenant

“There is . . . the Greater Covenant which every Manifestation of God makes with His followers, promising that in the fullness of time a new Manifestation will be sent, and taking from them the undertaking to accept Him when this occurs.”

The Bab wrote of the succession of Manifestations of God, including the Revelation of the Manifestation who will appear after Baha'u'llah:

Thou beholdest how vast is the number of people who go to Mecca each year on pilgrimage and engage in circumambulation, while He, through the potency of Whose Word the Ka'bah [the sanctuary in Mecca] hath become the object of adoration, is forsaken in this mountain. He is none other but the Apostle of God Himself, inasmuch as the Revelation of God may be likened to the sun. No matter how innumerable its risings, there is but one sun, and upon it depends the life of all things. It is clear and evident that the object of all preceding Dispensations hath been to pave the way for the advent of Muhammad, the Apostle of God. These, including the Muhammadan Dispensation, have had, in their turn, as their objective the Revelation proclaimed by the Qa'im. The purpose underlying this Revelation, as well as those that preceded it, has, in like manner, been to announce the advent of the Faith of Him Whom God will make manifest. And this Faith -- the Faith of Him Whom God will make manifest -- in its turn, together with all the Revelations gone before it, have as their object the Manifestation destined to succeed it. And the latter, no less than all the Revelations preceding it, prepare the way for the Revelation which is yet to follow. The process of the rise and setting of the Sun of Truth will thus indefinitely continue -- a process that hath had no beginning and will have no end.
Well is it with him who in every Dispensation recognizeth the Purpose of God for that Dispensation, and is not deprived therefrom by turning his gaze towards the things of the past.
(The Bab, The Persian Bayan, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 106)

The Shrine of the Bab at Sunset
Copyright 2006, Baha'i International Community, reproduced with permission
Please click photograph for larger image

`Abdu'l-Baha wrote of this same succession of Manifestations of God, including the Greater Covenant of Baha'u'llah promising the Manifestation to succeed Him:

His Holiness Abraham, on Him be peace, made a covenant concerning His Holiness Moses and gave the glad-tidings of His coming. His Holiness Moses made a covenant concerning the Promised One, i.e. His Holiness Christ, and announced the good news of His Manifestation to the world. His Holiness Christ made a covenant concerning the Paraclete and gave the tidings of His coming. His Holiness the Prophet Muhammad made a covenant concerning His Holiness the Bab and the Bab was the One promised by Muhammad, for Muhammad gave the tidings of His coming. The Bab made a Covenant concerning the Blessed Beauty of Baha'u'llah and gave the glad-tidings of His coming for the Blessed Beauty was the One promised by His Holiness the Bab. Baha'u'llah made a covenant concerning a promised One who will become manifest after one thousand or thousands of years.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith, p. 358)

Baha'u'llah has not given much information about the next Manifestation of God; at least not identified as such, in the translations we have of His Writings in English. However, on the very first day of His public declaration in the Garden of Ridvan in Baghdad, one of the things He announced was that no new Manifestation of God would come for at least 1000 years. (Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha'u'llah, Vol. I, p. 279)

Likewise, in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha'u'llah reveals:

Whoso layeth claim to a Revelation direct from God, ere the expiration of a full thousand years, such a man is assuredly a lying impostor. We pray God that He may graciously assist him to retract and repudiate such claim. Should he repent, God will, no doubt, forgive him. If, however, he persisteth in his error, God will, assuredly, send down one who will dealmercilessly with him. Terrible, indeed, is God in punishing! Whosoever interpreteth this verse otherwise than its obvious meaning is deprived of the Spirit of God and of His mercy which encompasseth all created things. Fear God, and follow not your idle fancies. Nay, rather, follow the bidding of your Lord, the Almighty, the All-Wise. Erelong shall clamorous voices be raised in most lands. Shun them, O My people, and follow not the iniquitous and evil-hearted.
(Baha'u'llah, The Most Holy Book, Paragraph 37, p. 32)

Please note that not only does Baha'u'llah state that it will be a “full” thousand years before the next Manifestation of God appears; He also states that this phrase, “a full thousand years” is to be understood in its “obvious meaning,” i.e. not a shorter period of time based on a symbolic reading.

`Abdu'l-Baha further writes, in confirmation of the literal meaning of the “thousand years”:

O servant of God! We have noted . . . thy question regarding the verse: 'Whoso layeth claim to a Revelation direct from God, ere the expiration of a full thousand years, such a man is assuredly a lying impostor.'
The meaning of this is that any individual who, before the expiry of a full thousand years -- years known and clearly established by common usage and requiring no interpretation -- should lay claim to a Revelation direct from God, even though he should reveal certain signs, that man is assuredly false and an impostor. . . .
The substance is, that prior to the completion of a thousand years, no individual may presume to breathe a word. All must consider themselves to be of the order of subjects, submissive and obedient to the commandments of God and the laws of the House of Justice. Should any deviate by so much as a needle's point from the decrees of the Universal House of Justice, or falter in his compliance therewith, then is he of the outcast and rejected.
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 68)

And again,

'Abdu'l-Baha is himself a servant at the Threshold of the Blessed Beauty and a manifestation of pure and utter servitude at the Threshold of the Almighty. He hath no other station or title, no other rank or power. This is my ultimate Purpose, my eternal Paradise, my holiest Temple and my Sadratu'l-Muntaha. With the Abha Blessed Beauty and the Exalted One, His Herald -- may my life be a sacrifice for Them both -- hath ended the appearance of God's independent and universal Manifestation. And for a thousand years all shall be illumined by His lights and be sustained by the ocean of His favours.
(Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Baha, p. 295)

As if this were not sufficient, there is yet more from the Pen of Baha'u'llah:

"Should a man appear," is yet another conclusive statement, "ere the lapse of a full thousand years -- each year consisting of twelve months according to the Qur'an, and of nineteen months of nineteen days each, according to the Bayan -- and if such a man reveal to your eyes all the signs of God, unhesitatingly reject him!"
(Baha'u'llah, quoted in The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 132)

Despite the abundance of such clear and emphatic statements, unparalleled in the Writings of any of the Sacred Scriptures, there are still Covenant-breakers who claim that a new Manifestation of God, which they claim is a Third Manifestation of God for this Dispensation, is soon coming.

This illustrates one of the characteristics of Covenant-breaking—that they defy the clear Texts. A Covenant-breaker seeks to cause confusion. No matter how clear and explicit a matter is, there are always some who will, for selfish reasons, oppose it. As Abdu'l-Baha wrote, “Certain weak, capricious, malicious and ignorant souls have been shaken by the earthquake of hatred, of animosity, have striven to efface the Divine Covenant and Testament, and render the clear water muddy so that in it they might fish.” (Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith, p. 429)

Such people strive to gain the attention of the friends with calls to be “open-minded” and “not so literal” in the understanding of the sacred Texts. Being open-minded is a desirable trait, except when it comes to false claims to divinely-appointed leadership. There are a great many areas in the Baha'i teachings where differences of point of view are encouraged. The Covenant—in the sense of who is the Guide for humanity—is not one of them. In this one area, Abdu'l-Baha writes “To none is given the right to put forth his own opinion or express his particular conviction.” (The Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 25)

In my opinion, there is really no clearer statement in this, or any other Revelation from God, than that no new Manifestation of God will appear for at least one thousand literal years. Shoghi Effendi reinforces the clarity of this statement. He wrote that another Manifestation is "never to reappear ere the lapse of a full millennium" (God Passes By, p. 223), and that the ascension of Baha'u'llah "brought to a definite termination the period of Divine Revelation..." (World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 143). He also wrote, “That . . . no one else except the Bab and Baha'u'llah can ever lay claim to such a station before the expiration of a full thousand years are verities which lie embedded in the specific utterances of both the Founder of our Faith and the Interpreter of His teachings.” (The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 132)

The Universal House of Justice, which Shoghi Effendi describes as a House which posterity will regard as the last refuge of a tottering civilization, will guide humanity until the appearance of the next Manifestation of God:

The provenance, the authority, the duties, the sphere of action of the Universal House of Justice all derive from the revealed Word of Baha'u'llah which, together with the interpretations and expositions of the Centre of the Covenant and of the Guardian of the Cause - who, after 'Abdu'l-Baha, is the sole authority in the interpretation of Baha'i Scripture - constitute the binding terms of reference of the Universal House of Justice and are its bedrock foundation. The authority of these Texts is absolute and immutable until such time as Almighty God shall reveal His new Manifestation to Whom will belong all authority and power.
(The Constitution of The Universal House of Justice, p. 4)

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