What follows is my provisional translation (in other words, not official or authorized; see here for more) of a talk given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the original text of which is published in Manáhiju’l-Aḥkám, vol. 2 (also known as INBA, vol. 6), pp. 629–632. A less complete version with a few discrepant words has also been published in Risáliy-i-Ráhnamáy-i-Tablígh, pp. 86–88. The words which are present in the former source but absent from the latter one are colored in blue. I am grateful to Bill Collins for his suggested improvements to this translation.
It is not decisively known where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave this talk. Certain notes appended to an anonymous and much less faithful translation of this talk from 30 May 1996 indicate that it was given during His first stay in London at the home of Lady Blomfield (97 Cadogan Gardens) in 1911; however, I have not found any corroborative references to the theme of this talk in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, which coincides with that trip. It may be that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá delivered it during His second or third sojourn in London instead (December 1912 or January 1913), but the two contemporaneous records by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s secretaries—Mírzá Maḥmúd Zarqání’s Badáyi‘u’l-Áthár, vol. 2 and the diary letters of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab—are similarly without any references to a talk along these lines.
UPDATE: Some months after posting this translation, the Department of the Secretariat at the Bahá’í World Center informed me, in response to some questions I had asked about this talk, that “the Research Department reports that no original-language transcript of this talk exists, and it has no information about the circumstances in which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá might have made these remarks or who might have recorded them.” I have made their reply to me available here.
* * *
Teachers of the Cause must have courtesy and forbearance. They must be the essence of sanctity—informed, moved by the divine teachings, knowledgeable and well apprised. Their hearts must be a treasury brimming with the gems of the love of God, and their souls must be stirred by His sweet savors. Such teachers must be the embodiment of qualities both human and divine. They must have the power of clear expression, and be eloquent and articulate in speech. In every city to which they travel, they must seek to consort with rich and poor alike—being neither sanctimonious literalists nor irreligious libertines—so that all who associate with these teachers may see that they are spiritual, that they are pious, that they are heavenly, that they are consummate humans possessed of great knowledge and learning. Such teachers must keep company with those of every sect and walk along with them, that the teachers may exert a firm influence in the midst of these people and blow even as the breath of the Holy Spirit upon their lifeless bodies. Let these teachers observe and investigate others to determine in what capacity and along what lines they work—what opinions they have, what beliefs they cling to—and then speak to these souls accordingly, that they may draw near and declare their acceptance. More important than all this is the condition of the teachers themselves, who must always be like a candle that illumines the darkness.
In America, for instance, I associated with all groups and denominations. When I entered their gatherings, if they were members of the clergy, I spoke to them about the functioning of the spirit. If they were philosophers, I spoke of philosophy. If they were Esperantists, I discussed the benefits of a universal language. If they were devout, I cited the fulfillment of religious prophecies in this Most Great Dispensation. If they were unaware of this Cause, I would enumerate for them its teachings and historical events. If they were Theosophists, I would speak of matters relevant to their creed. In brief, I would raise a new call every time and sing a fresh melody every day. Hence, this proved effective. People declared their acceptance in greater numbers, and no one went away sad or unanswered; all were satisfied. The greatest service teachers of the Cause can render is to first draw peoples’ attention to themselves, and to then instill a love of the Cause in the hearts of those people. When this has taken place, those souls, naturally and of their own accord, will enter into the Cause of God and embrace its teachings.
This Cause needs people to teach it. Such teachers must be constantly on the move; they must be perceptive and enkindled. The wafting of the vernal breeze revives the trees, but the blowing of the autumn wind brings decay and lifelessness. In short, it is very good to be on the move in the Cause of God.
For the next two hundred years, the thoughts of the friends must be limited only to teaching the Cause and guiding souls. There is no delegation of one’s duties to another in this Cause; its responsibilities rest with the believers collectively in every city, as well as those teachers of the Faith who possess the utmost holiness, sanctity, and freedom of thought, and who arise to diffuse the fragrances of God. Whoever among them rises up in a better way and acts in accordance with my conduct, that one will be aided to success.
For the next two hundred years, all thoughts must be limited to the thought of teaching the Cause. It is certainly true that ministering to the weak, educating children, caring for the poor, and tending to the internal affairs of the Faith must all be done, but these matters should not be deemed so important that the task of teaching the Cause is forgotten and discarded. The needs of such teachers, and the obligation of teaching the Cause itself, must first be met. Once trained, these teachers should be sent to the various corners of the world into the midst of every people. Books and treatises which demonstrate the truth of this Cause, as well as holy thoughts that shall make it widely known, should also be promoted and disseminated. After the world has entered beneath the shade of the Word of God, the time will have come to attend to other matters. For example, should one wish to build a place of worship or other edifice, one first prepares the stones, the lumber, the metals, the bricks, and the like; then begins the construction; and last of all undertakes the decoration and gathering of furnishings. If, however, that one should wish to engage, at the very beginning, in decorating and gathering furnishings, it will yield no result; the edifice must be built first.
A typescript of the original Persian text of this talk appears below (all punctuation mine).