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How can we understand the scriptures?
In his Book of Certitude, Baha’u’llah exhorts the seeker to investigate the word of God unhindered by the faulty standards that prevail at the beginning of every new religion. Baha’u’llah makes clear that true spiritual understanding does not depend on human knowledge. Nor can reliance upon past traditions serve as a true guide, even if those traditions are based upon scripture.
Rather, true understanding calls for rectitude of conduct, purity of heart, love of God, and a sincere desire to discover the truth:
. . . they that tread the path of faith, they that thirst for the wine of certitude, must cleanse themselves of all that is earthly—their ears from idle talk, their minds from vain imaginings, their hearts from worldly affections, their eyes from that which perisheth. They should put their trust in God, and, holding fast unto Him, follow in His way. Then will they be made worthy of the effulgent glories of the sun of divine knowledge and understanding, and become the recipients of a grace that is infinite and unseen, inasmuch as man can never hope to attain unto the knowledge of the All- Glorious, can never quaff from the stream of divine knowledge and wisdom, can never enter the abode of immortality, nor partake of the cup of divine nearness and favor, unless and until he ceases to regard the words and deeds of mortal men as a standard for the true understanding and recognition of God and His Prophets.—The Book of Certitude, pp. 3–4.
In The Book of Certitude Baha’u’llah upholds the validity of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He describes these faiths as integral parts of one grand, unfolding process for the eventual spiritualization of the human race. He also vigorously defends the claims of the Bab, characterizing him as the latest in the succession of divine messengers and the forerunner of the one foretold in all of the sacred scriptures of past ages. Moreover, he praises the heroism of the countless followers of the Bab, who suffered death rather than disavow their faith. He considers the Bab’s career itself as one of the greatest proofs of his divine mission.
Baha’u’llah revealed The Book of Certitude near the end of His sojourn in Baghdad. Written in a masterful style, challenging and original in its themes, it is now regarded as the most important of his voluminous writings, second only to his Most Holy Book (which we’ll hear more about later in this series of articles). Although encompassing some two hundred pages, Baha’u’llah revealed the book, a masterpiece of erudition, spiritual guidance and knowledge, in the space of no more than two days and nights.
In it Baha’u’llah subtly alludes to his own station, and it becomes clear that this book was meant to prepare the followers of the Bab for the imminent announcement that Baha’u’llah was the Promised One the Bab heralded and foretold:
Only when the lamp of search, of earnest striving, of longing desire, of passionate devotion, of fervid love, of rapture, and ecstasy, is kindled within the seeker’s heart, and the breeze of His loving-kindness is wafted upon his soul, will the darkness of error be dispelled, the mists of doubts and misgivings be dissipated, and the lights of knowledge and certitude envelop his being. At that hour will the mystic Herald, bearing the joyful tidings of the Spirit, shine forth from the City of God resplendent as the morn, and, through the trumpet-blast of knowledge, will awaken the heart, the soul, and the spirit from the slumber of negligence. Then will the manifold favors and outpouring grace of the holy and everlasting Spirit confer such new life upon the seeker that he will find himself endowed with a new eye, a new ear, a new heart, and a new mind. He will contemplate the manifest signs of the universe, and will penetrate the hidden mysteries of the soul. Gazing with the eye of God, he will perceive within every atom a door that leadeth him to the stations of absolute certitude. He will discover in all things the mysteries of divine Revelation and the evidences of an everlasting manifestation.—Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, p. 195.