THE MYSTERY OF MAN

" For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of 
man that is in him ? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but 
the Spirit of God." I CORINTHIANS ii. n. 

THIS has always seemed to me to be one of the 
greatest and most powerful of arguments. It shows 
the greatness of the man who made it and whose 
mind it satisfied. For the quality of men is shown 
not so much by the opinions which they hold as by 
the grounds upon which they hold them, by the 
arguments upon which those opinions rest in their 
minds. Men may hold the greatest of truths in a 
feeble way and upon the most unsubstantial evi- 
dence. Men may believe, for instance, in the Being 
of God because they have been told that it is true, 
or because they want to believe it. On the other 
hand, men may believe the simplest and commonest 
of truths on the most solemn and majestic grounds. 
Men may believe in the duty of neatness, or of 
charity, on considerations drawn from the nature of 
God and of the universe. So it seems that men's 
greatness is decided not by the opinions which they 
hold, but by the kind of evidence on which, and by 
the kind of spirit in which, they hold them. 

The subject of which St. Paul is speaking is an 
old one. The belief which he is asserting is one 
which many men have held, nay, really one which 
all men hold who think of it at all. It is the mys- 
tery of God, the incomprehensibleness by man of 
the Almighty. That is no new thought. Every 
man who has thought of God has had it, but men 
have held it in a multitude of little ways. It has 
seemed to many of them to be God wilfully hiding 
Himself from His children, eluding them and mock- 
ing them, a bewildering, exasperating truth. But 
to St. Paul it seems to rest upon the strongest and 
deepest necessities of the very nature of God and 
man, and evidently it brings him not trouble, but 
peace and strength. 

What is St. Paul's argument? None but God can 
know God, he declares. It is only by His revela- 
tions of Himself to us, only by His entrance into us 
in one way or another, only by His Spirit imparted 
to us, that we can come to any understanding of 
what He is and how He works. "Yes," he says, 
"this is true of every nature. It must be true. All 
beings in their essential life are mysteries. Only 
by sharing their nature can any one know them. 
Beings of another kind can watch them, can see how 
they work, can catch from their character some in- 
ferences about their nature, but no one can know 
them but themselves. The things of any being only 
the spirit of that being knows." His words suggest 
how such a truth runs through the whole creation, 
how every order of brute life must have some mutual 
sympathy and understanding among its members, 
which no brute outside that order can possibly 
share. 

But where the eye of St. Paul's argument specially 
fastens itself is upon man. "Look," he says, "what 
man knoweth the things of a man, but the spirit of 
man which is in him? Look," he says, "man is a 
mystery. Humanity stands alone, and it is only by 
being man that any one can know what manhood is. 
Other orders of being may stand by and gaze, may 
see what man does, and from his doings guess at 
what man is, but in himself is still locked up his 
mystery. No brute, no angel can unravel it. It 
is man's own, locked up in his own human con- 
sciousness. And then," so runs the argument, "if 
this be so, if other beings cannot read us, what won- 
der if we cannot read that Being which is over us ! 
No man knoweth the things of a man but the spirit 
of man which is in him. Even so the things of God 
knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. The 
mystery of man justifying and illustrating to him 
the mystery of God that is St. Paul's argument. 

Let us look at this illustration of St. Paul and see 
if it will not throw some light for us upon the 
thought of God, see if it will not help us to under- 
stand something of the necessary mysteriousness of 
His life, and also of how we may gradually enter 
into that mystery and come to know more and more 
of Him. The mystery of man as it illustrates the 
mystery of God that is our subject. 

By the mystery of man, then, in the first place, 
we may mean either a Race Mystery or a Personal 
Mystery. We may be thinking either of that gulf 
which separates human life from every other kind of 
life, and binds all men together into a sympathy 
which no being who is not man can enter; or our 
thoughts may be upon the way in which each in- 
dividual man carries about a secret life which no 
other man can comprehend. Of this last there is 
the most to say, but let us turn first to the other. 

Think of the race mystery of humanity. Side by 
side with all the lower races, all the brutes, through 
many generations, there has lived this humanity, 
having to do with them, but, as we often must have 
felt, knowing almost nothing about them, not under- 
standing in the least their lower and imperfect lives. 
Emerson says in his essay on History: "I hold our 
actual knowledge very cheap. Hear the rats in the 
wall, see the lizard on the fence, the fungus under 
foot, the lichen on the log. What do I know sym- 
pathetically, morally, of either of these worlds of 
life? As long as the Caucasian man, perhaps longer, 
these creatures have kept their counsel beside him, 
and there is no record of any word or sign that has 
passed from one to the other." 

And then, when we turn the question the other 
way, when we ask not what we know of them, but 
what they know of us, we feel still more the break 
that lies between us. We have certain reasoning 
powers by which we may at least guess at something 
of what is going on in the dull lives of the lower 
animals ; we may see something in them which we 
call "instinct," and try to define it, but the brute 
that looks at man what can he see? Only certain 
habits and very dimly certain dispositions. He 
knows how you will act in certain circumstances, 
and he has a dim sense that you care for him or 
that you hate him. He treats you as he treats fire, 
which he has learned will burn him if he walks into 
it, and for which he has an affection because it keeps 
him warm. There is no understanding in him of 
your life. He does not know you. He cannot 
know you unless he be man. 

Now fancy that a brute should be endowed with 
intelligence enough to think about his relations to 
this higher race. Then suppose that he entirely 
ignores an incapacity upon his part to comprehend 
humanity. He thinks that he is fully equal to the 
task. He will allow no mystery of human life. 
Starting from himself he claims to understand it all. 
What is the result? Is it not merely that his man 
becomes to him only a more perfect brute? He 
pictures to himself no qualities outside of the little 
range of his own life. He leaves no margin for un- 
discovered qualities. He thinks he is entirely a fit 
judge and critic of this order of beings above his 
own. What shall we say? Has not the dog or the 
horse gone all wrong when he has lost sight of the 
mystery that separates another kind of life from his? 
Has he not made man a mere creature of his own 
crude fancy? Is he not robbing his life of that which 
it ought to look up to and respect and obey? And 
may not man, turning to rebuke the brute's rash and 
crude thinking, claim the dignity of his own sepa- 
rate, peculiar life? "Be still, and know that I am 
Man. You cannot judge me. You cannot under- 
stand me. My will and my kindliness you can 
discover from my action; it is your place to take 
the one with obedience and the other with gratitude, 
but never to forget the vast gulf that separates your 
life from mine. You cannot tell what plan directs 
the will, what wisdom governs the kindliness. Let 
there be a reverent acknowledgment of a larger life 
that must be past the comprehension of every brute, 
unless some day that comes which never has come 
yet, and some brute crosses the line that separates 
the races and becomes a man." 

Thus upon his distinctive manhood man stands 
and claims his mystery. " No other race can under- 
stand me. No other being can judge me. Who 
knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man 
which is in him? And is there, then, any figure, 
any analogy here, that throws light upon something 
that is higher? St. Paul follows it on instantly: 
"Even so the things of God knoweth no man but 
the Spirit of God." Shall we think of St. Paul 
speaking these words as if he were the loyal cham- 
pion of God indicating his Master's rights against 
the captious criticism of the men about him? or shall 
we think of it as part of the word of God, and so 
seem to hear God Himself rebuking the ignorance 
that presumes to judge Him? 

From whatever lips they come, the words are an 
assertion that there is in God the same mystery of 
nature that there is in man ; that for any being of 
another order than the highest there is the limitation 
which belongs to every lower being watching and 
studying a higher. Just as the brute learned of 
man how he would act under certain circumstances 
and that he was subject to certain emotions; just as 
he learned man's habits and his friendliness, but 
went all wrong the moment that he thought he had 
comprehended all his nature; so man may learn 
much of what God will do, and may gather a rich 
and certain knowledge of God's love. But the in- 
stant that he claims to understand God, so that he 
can judge of Him and criticise His actions, he is all 
wrong. He is not understanding the Eternal God ; 
he is merely imagining a God. He is not rising to 
the conception of the Almighty, he is dragging the 
Almighty down to his conception. "Be still, and 
know that I am God ; that is the rebuke that 
comes pealing down upon him in some disappoint- 
ment and confusion of his presumptuous plans. 
And by and by, if he is wise and teachable, if he 
hears the rebuke, if he learns to follow God's will 
and rest upon His love, reverently knowing that he 
cannot comprehend His nature, he is saved from 
the captious folly of criticising God, and enters on 
a higher life of peace. 

But I hasten now to say that while all this is true, 
it does not fully or satisfactorily represent the rela- 
tion between God and Man. We are not brutes be- 
fore Him ; we are His children. While we are not 
Divine, and so are of a different nature from Him, 
yet we are capable of Divinity, and so are really one 
with Him in nature. Here, then, there is some- 
thing needed to complete our truth; and that, I 
think, we shall find if we turn from the Race Mys- 
tery to what I called the Personal Mystery of Human 
Life. 

Besides that gulf which separates the human life 
from every other order of existence, there is an en- 
velope of mystery and separateness about every 
single life. This is a fact of which we think much 
oftener than of the other. It is continually forced 
upon us. The very fact that we have so much in 
common with the person by our side, reminds us 
constantly how much there is in each of us that there 
is not in the other ; how, while we both belong to 
the same race, each has his own personal distinct- 
ness which the other cannot invade. You stand 
with some friend of yours before a mighty picture 
or before Niagara. Each of you is drinking in the 
sight, and these two natures are both being filled 
with it. Both are susceptible to it, for both are hu- 
man natures, and humanity is made to drink in and 
appropriate sublimity and beauty. You both stand 
in silence till, by and by, you both speak. Each 
says his own word, which utters his own emotion, 
his own thought ; and then you see how, while each 
has drunk in the same majesty, each has taken it 
into a nature distinct and unintelligible to the other. 

Or how is it when you read the stories of the 
brightest or the blackest of mankind? We read of 
the martyrs, of men and women who would suffer 
anything rather than deny their faith, of missionaries 
who would go half round the globe to save a soul ; 
and then we turn and read the story of the wretched 
suicide who was ready to blow up a shipful of un- 
suspecting passengers for a few miserable dollars: 
are they not both of them of our race? In the 
brightness of the one and in the blackness of the 
other, is there not something that makes us say at 
once, "Both these are human"? 

But, personally, can we know either of them? 
Can we understand them? In our moderate, com- 
fortable life, moving along in the middle range of 
feeling, never exalted into any great enthusiastic 
goodness and never sinking into any hideous vice, 
we cannot picture to ourselves how a man can put 
everything aside and walk up to the stake for a prin- 
ciple, and calmly see the fire lighted ; nor how an 
other man, off at the very opposite pole of humanity, 
can contemplate with perfect coolness the horrible 
destruction of hundreds of his fellow-creatures for a 
little money. Both of these beings are wrapped in 
their own personal mystery. Around the one burns 
the fire of his glorious self-devotion. Around the 
other rolls the black stream of his hideous selfish- 
ness. You must be the martyr or the monster your- 
self, before you can know what it is to be either of 
them. 

So it is always. When an unselfish man tries to 
tell another what the joy is which he finds in charity ; 
when the religious man wants to describe the blessed- 
ness of Christ to some indifferent friend ; what is it 
that stops the tongues that are ready to speak out 
to this other life? Or even where we cannot put 
our finger upon any single interest which is strong 
in one and not in the other, and which accounts for 
the imperfect sympathy, still there is this ultimate 
fact of personality. Around every human being, as 
around every atom, there is a wrapping of separate- 
ness ; so that however closely they touch each other 
they never really mingle. It is a strange, impressive 
idea that, closely as men have crowded each other 
all these ages, no man ever knew perfectly any man- 
hood but his own. No man ever knew his nearest 
friend so well but that it would be an utter amaze- 
ment to him if he were turned into that friend for 
an hour. Come as close to your friend as you will, 
learn as much as you will of how your natures are 
alike, you will surely come at last to some locked 
door, the very citadel of his personality, which 
you cannot enter, simply because you are not he. 
Damon and Pythias divide at last. David has some 
things which not even Jonathan can know. "What 
man knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of 
man that is in him? " 

About this personal mystery, the reserve of every 
man's life, we notice that it is not deliberate or wil- 
ful. As soon as it becomes that, it is churlish and 
conceited. It is not something which a man deter- 
mines on. To attempt to set up a line within which 
no one shall come, the nearest limit by which any 
man shall approach our life, that is folly and excites 
only derision and dislike. Men soon look over our 
fence and see that there is nothing in that barren 
pasture which we have fenced with so much care to 
make believe that we have a fine estate. 

But the true nature needs no fences. It is anxious 
to admit its brethren just as far as they can come. 
It shuts no man out by any wilfulness. Only at 
last there comes a door which no other man's feet 
can possibly pass. There are thoughts which you 
can think and feelings which you, and you alone, can 
feel, shapes of the universal human thoughts and 
feelings which are as truly your own as your presen- 
tation of the universal human face belongs to you 
and no other man in all the world, simply because 
you are you, and no other man is you anywhere. 
"If I were you, I would do so and so," we lightly 
say to one another ; but no man can know what he 
would do if he were his brother. He cannot tell 
what new forms of motive and impulse he would 
find in that sacred, secret room of his brother's per- 
sonality, where his feet have never trodden, and can 
never tread. 

But just because this personal mystery is not wil-
ful but necessary, depending on the relations which 
exist between two characters, therefore its limit is 
not fixed. A nature does not set itself one limit for 
all comers. Different people can come to different 
depths in this life of yours, which still keeps its in 
most secret to itself. One man stops at the outer 
most gate, and knows nothing about you but your 
most superficial habits, the way you walk, the 
street you walk in, and the shops at which you 
trade. Another man, with the key of mutual sym- 
pathy and understanding, opens door after door, 
explores the spiritual meaning of the things that you 
do, enters your heart and reads your motives. Now 
this key of mutual sympathy and understanding is 
what we call your "spirit." He who has the spirit 
as well as the form of your actions, he who under- 
stands your spirit as well as your habits, he may 
enter in to the depths of your life. It is conceiv- 
able that two human beings should have so perfectly 
each other's spirit that they should perfectly com- 
prehend each other's nature, and be like one heart, 
one being. That is conceivable, but it is not realized. 
Always there is some stoppage short of the complete 
penetration of one nature by another; and so per- 
sonality keeps its last, inmost mystery unexplored. 

But just as soon and just as far as one man has 
another's spirit, he may enter freely into that other's 
life. Nothing will hinder him. It is wonderful 
how the most jealously guarded doors fly open the 
moment that a newcomer brings that key. There 
is wilful, proud reserve enough ; but the largest 
reason why men keep themselves back from one an- 
other is that each does not believe that the other has 
his spirit; that is, that the other's conceptions and 
intentions of life are the same as his. The minute 
he finds that the other has, he gives himself to that 
man ungrudgingly. Look at two new men meeting ; 
see how they sit like two animals and watch each 
other. See how each takes for granted that the 
other is only in most superficial sympathy with him, 
and so they talk about most superficial things. But 
see, if they have really the same spirit, if the mean- 
ings of life, bright or sombre, are the same to them, 
how, as they find it out, each inevitably and unhesi- 
tatingly takes the other in; and, blending like two 
sunbeams or two clouds, they penetrate each other's 
inmost nature. 

This fact seems to me to give a simple and attrac- 
tive idea of a man's progress in the knowledge of 
men better and wiser than himself. As his spirit 
expands and purifies, purer and larger people are 
always becoming intelligible to him. As he grows a 
better man, he sweeps up to where higher and higher 
orders of his fellow-men are sitting, and he under- 
stands them there. Now I know what he means, 
he says of some one who has seemed to him to talk 
foolishness and nonsense, but whose spiritual key he 
has now found in his own growing spiritual life. 

It is just as true when we sweep downward. One 
of the most terrible things about a sinking soul must 
be the way in which lower and lower beings become 
intelligible to it. It comes to understand vileness 
which was once wholly incomprehensible. As we 
go up or go down with every new spirit that we 
gain, some new nature opens its mystery and shows 
its meaning to us. 

And now, with these thoughts of the mystery of 
humanity clearly before us, let us turn suddenly and 
try to realize that, as St. Paul suggests, all this is 
equally true about the mystery of God. My brother 
man hides his inner life from me, not because he 
wants to, but because he cannot help it. That 
same is true of God. He does not set me His 
child, His servant to seek after that which He is 
all the time holding off out of any chance of my 
finding it. He does not say, "Know me," and 
then draw the clouds about His face and sit mocking 
me behind them as I seek and seek for Him in vain. 
His mystery is necessary. It is because He is God 
that He cannot make Himself plain to me at once. 
Let me know this fully, and then the mystery that 
envelops the Divine things no more exasperates or 
depresses me than does the mystery of my best 
friend, and I am saved from all the petty complain- 
ing which talks as if God had done me wrong by not 
turning out all the depths of His life to me at once. 

And again, in the mystery of humanity different 
people come nearer to or farther from the secret of 
a life, according as they have more or less of that 
life's spirit. That, too, is true of the mystery of 
Divinity. Not by any mere favoritism, not by a 
fond and foolish arbitrary choice, does God let a few 
favored children into secrets about Himself which 
He hides from the rest. The child who has the 
Father's Spirit knows the Father. 

And then again, in the mystery of humanity, 
however reluctant a man seems, he will we may 
almost say he must unfold himself to any one 
who really has his spirit. So (and when we know 
this, what cloud can possibly come between us and 
Him?) God always will give we may almost venture 
to say God always must give the knowledge of 
Himself to every man as fast and as far as that man, 
having His Spirit, is able to receive Him. 

Apply these truths about God's mystery to the 
two great revelations which He has given us of Him- 
self in the Bible and in Christ. Would it not help 
us very much about the Bible if we could know, and 
never could forget, that the darkness which often 
meets us there is not wilful but necessary? It is not 
a book of puzzles where God has set Himself to be- 
wilder us with contradictory accounts and insoluble 
moral problems. Everywhere, in History and Psalm 
and Prophecy and Gospel, He has told us all that 
was tellable to us about Himself. And into this 

Bible one man will penetrate deeper than another, 
not by any other power than simply by having more 
of the Spirit of the God whom it reveals. And this 
Bible will enlarge its utterances to every soul just 
as that soul enters more and more perfectly into the 
meaning and intention of it all, into that love for 
holiness and truth which is the Spirit of God from 
which it came. These are the golden laws, the 
first pregnant axioms of true and spiritual Bible 
reading. 

Apply the same to Christ. He is no wilful mys- 
tery. If He who walked in the broad daylight did 
not shine through and through, transparent to the 
proud Pharisees and carnal Sadducees; and if He 
now eludes us when we attempt to follow Him into 
His deepest depths; it is not that He will not, but 
that He cannot, show us all. Oh, it makes a vast 
difference to us, in looking at Him who is so dear to 
us, whether we think of Him as One who is holding 
back what He might tell us, or as One who is strug- 
gling to utter Himself to those who are too far from 
Him to understand Him perfectly. Does the cloud 
come out from the sun or up from the earth? 

Yes ; Christ shows us all of God that He can show. 
And He is different to different men, a hard, cold, 
barren study to one, the mere agent of a me 
chanical salvation to another, the very Lord of the 
Heart, the Life of Life, to another, according as 
each has more or less of His Spirit. And He will 
give Himself to men, open deeper and deeper visions 
of His life, just as fast as they can take Him in. 
What a buoyant, hopeful Christian life it makes if 
one believes all that ! How the souls who, gather- 
ing more and more of Christ's Spirit, are always 
coming nearer to Christ, seem like the long -proces 
sion that David saw moving along across the valleys 
and the hills from the far ends of the country, and 
always getting nearer to the Temple at Jerusalem 
till at last they entered into its very gates. "They 
go from strength to strength ; every one of them in 
Zion appeareth before God." 

If we should change for a moment our thought of 
Christ, we might consider Him not as the Revealer 
of God, but as the Man, struggling after the com- 
prehension of His Father just as all his brother men 
are doing. He is both. He is the Revealer of God, 
and the struggling Son of Man. And yet not 
"struggling"; for, when we think of Christ's hu- 
manity, we feel that we have reached that which we 
said a little while ago was conceivable, but never 
had been perfectly realized between two human 
lives so absolute a possession by one of the spirit 
of the other that there is no break or hindrance in 
the perfect knowledge. Jesus Christ had perfectly 
God's Spirit. With that key He opened doors be- 
fore which men had always waited hopeless, and 
walked through chambers of the Divine Mystery 
where no human feet before had ever trodden. He 
knew what was the divine meaning of pain, the 
divine hate of sin, the divine ideal of man. He had 
perfectly God's Spirit, and so He knew the things of 
God; and, taking us into His life, He makes us 
sharers of His Spirit and of His knowledge. As He 
said Himself, "No man knoweth the Son but the 
Father, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal 
him." 

As I look back over the ground where we have 
walked, and then look round upon our life, I seem 
to see the argument of St. Paul bursting forth every- 
where, out of every association which man has with 
his fellow-men. All these intimacies which we have 
with one another become prophetic of a higher in- 
timacy, declare its possibility, and suggest its limita- 
tions and its laws. As we go about, knowing one 
another, touching each other's life in all the satisfy- 
ing and stimulating intercourses of mind and heart, 
there is a voice which comes out of the whole and 
says to us: "So you might know God. Do not be 
perfectly satisfied with any knowledge, any friend- 
ship, short of His." 

But out of these same associations which we have 
with one another come these other voices: "Be 
hold ! your brother is a mystery to you. Do not 
then think or wish to find God unmysterious. Be 
hold ! he who has most of your brother's spirit 
knows him best. Do not complain, then, if one 
who has more of God's Spirit than you have, who is 
humbler, truer, purer, manlier than you are, knows 
Him as you do not, sees Him as you fail to see 
Him. But behold ! as soon as you are fit to know 
your brother, he cannot help showing himself to 
you. By that right of fitness you enter in and com- 
prehend him. Be ambitious, then. As fast as you 
can contain more knowledge of God, it shall be 
given to you. The pure in heart shall certainly 
see God. As impossible as it is for the impure 
to see Him, so impossible is it for the pure not to 
see Him." 

Whatever gives us more of God's Spirit makes a 
new knowledge of Him possible. Here is the meet- 
ing ground of goodness and knowledge. When we 
are in heaven and revelling in the absolute, unhin- 
dered vision of Divinity, seeing God face to face, we 
shall look back to some experience of this life, 
perhaps paltry, perhaps painful, some time when 
God broke our pride and won our hearts and gave 
us His Spirit, and we shall see that in that experi- 
ence was really the opening of the mystery of God 
for us, the beginning of the endless knowledge of 
eternity. Oh, if we really understood that to know 
God is the only true end of life, we should be look- 
ing into every experience to see if He were not trying 
there to give us a little more of His Spirit, and so to 
make possible a little deeper revelation of Himself.