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From time immemorial, God has entered into a covenant with His creation. Baha’u’llah’s writings describe that essential agreement, which basically guarantees that the Creator will never cease to guide humanity through the periodic appearance of His divinely ordained manifestations:
Gather them, then, together around this Divine Law, the covenant of which Thou hast established with all Thy Prophets and Thy Messengers, and Whose ordinances Thou hast written down in Thy Tablets and Thy Scriptures. Raise them up, moreover, to such heights as will enable them to perceive Thy Call.
In his writings Baha’u’llah explained the distinction between two categories of such divine covenants relevant to the education of humanity.
He first identified the eternal covenant between God and humankind, represented most notably in recorded religious history by God’s covenant with Abraham. According to this pact, God will never leave humanity without appropriate guidance and assistance in the form of these divine emissaries and the spiritual sustenance they impart, the new knowledge they reveal, and the exemplary lives they live.
The Greatest Covenant Between God and Humanity
This eternal covenant is sometimes alluded to in the authoritative Baha’i texts as the “Major Plan of God” or as the “Most Great Covenant.” Those descriptive phrases designate the entire systematic process whereby God sends successive prophets, messengers, and manifestations to educate humankind by degrees, with the abiding objective of fashioning a global society run according to spiritual principles. Or, stated in the terms Christ employed, the purpose of the “Major Plan of God” is the gradual construction of the kingdom of God on Earth.
Humanity plays an important role in this agreement or covenant – we are expected to seek out the manifestations whenever they appear. Once we have discovered them and believe in their teachings, we are then obliged to abide by whatever guidance they reveal, until such time as another manifestation appears to continue this ongoing program of human advancement.
The Role of Humankind in Each New Covenant
The second sort of covenant is an agreement between each individual manifestation and the followers generated by the new revelation. The new messenger or manifestation assures us that his teachings will enlighten and guide us until the appearance of the succeeding emissary. The central role of humankind in this pact is that we must uphold those new teachings for our personal growth, comportment, and refinement, and also be faithful to whatever instructions the manifestation provides for the promulgation and security of the religion they establish. In particular, this pact requires we follow whatever successors or institutions the manifestation has designed or designated to endure after his passing.
The Link Between the Physical and the Metaphysical
These two kinds of covenants thus establish the systematic basis of the link or intermediary communication between the metaphysical realm and the physical realm. They also describe the means by which humanity can establish the beginning stage of our intimate and enduring love relationship with a Being we personally have neither seen nor heard in any direct physical sense. We thus come to communicate with God and effectively “enter His presence” by virtue of our covenant with God through His manifestations and teachers.
By appearing periodically in human history, the manifestations advance by degrees our understanding of the Creator, and facilitate the progress of our love relationship with Him. In fact, the Baha’i writings assert that without these intermediaries, the gap between the Creator and ourselves could not be bridged, and our own individual and collective advancement would be impossible, as Abdu’l-Baha wrote:
As to the Holy Manifestations of God, They are the focal points where the signs, tokens and perfections of that sacred, pre-existent Reality appear in all their splendour. They are an eternal grace, a heavenly glory, and on Them dependeth the everlasting life of humankind.
In this way, then, the manifestations of God do not only bring humanity a new spiritual message – they act as the rays of the spiritual sun, giving life, warmth, and sustenance to all existence.