Chapter I.
The Answer to Life's Hidden Riddle

And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a great voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?—Rev. 5:2

Pope has said, "The proper study of mankind is man." And certainly no other riddle which man has tried to guess has been so hard to solve as the problem of his own origin, present status, and future career. Man himself is the sphinx of the universe when left to himself. The poet Heine is not far out of the way in his logic and reasoning for a man who throws aside the Bible and the divine Christ around whom the Bible gathers. In one of his poems he makes fun of the man who expects an answer to the questions which the unaided human mind is forever asking of the universe and of himself. He declares that a man is a fool who expects to get an answer to those great questions of What? Whence? and Whither? which men are forever asking concerning themselves. He pictures a man standing by the sea and looking out across the waves at night with the intolerable longing of his soul to know about himself and the purpose of his being, and the hope, if there be hope, of his career:


By the sea, by the desert night-covered sea,

Standeth a youth,

His breast full of sadness, his head full of doublings,

And with gloomy lips he asks of the billows:

"O answer me life's hidden riddle....

Tell me what signifies man?

From whence doth he come? And where doth he go?

Who dwelleth amongst the golden stars yonder?"

The billows are murmuring their murmur eternal,

The wind is blowing, the clouds are flying,

The stars are twinkling, all listless and cold,

And a fool is awaiting an answer.


This is a very natural view of the universe and of man if you shut out the Bible and the Christ who illuminates the Bible and for whom the Bible was written. We must never forget, when we think of the Bible, that Christ is its core. The Bible finds its reason, in Christ. It was written by many different writers, under every conceivable condition and circumstance. Some of its records have their origin so remote that we lose the trail of human evidence. All we know is that we have them and that the presence of the living God is in them. The Bible was written in different languages by men living many hundreds of years apart. Some of it is history, some philosophy, some poetry, some prophecy. It deals with everything, human and divine. It talks of God and of angels as well as of men and women. It is a natural book, in which the sun shines and the moon and the stars give their light. It is a book where the birds sing, where the grass grows green on the hillside, where the cows low in the evening, where the lion roars in the night, and the flowers lift their heads to greet the sunrise in the morning. The Bible is all that. But, above all, it is the Book of Jesus Christ. Begin back in the very first book with God's promise to Eve, and later to Abraham, and you may trace a scarlet trail across every book, over the hills and through the valleys of kingdoms and peoples, a trail that is ever growing plainer and broader, until after a while, in the Psalms and in Isaiah, it gets to be a great highway leading, always leading, with an ever-increasing number of signboards, pointing onward to the cross on Calvary, where Jesus Christ gave himself as a ransom for the sins of the world; and follow down the way beyond Calvary, through the Acts of the Apostles and their writings, up to the last word in the book of Revelation, and every hand, and every new convert, and every new people surrendering to Christianity points backward to the cross on Golgotha's rugged summit, where Jesus died for men. Christ is the center of the Bible and he is its key, and the Bible and Christ give us the key to the sealed book of man's riddle.

I

In the Bible and the Christ of the Bible we have the answer to the hidden riddle of man's origin and purpose. In the poem which I quoted from Heine he cries:


"O answer me life's hidden riddle....

Tell me what signifies man?

From whence doth he come? And where doth he go?

Who dwelleth amongst the golden stars yonder?"


Open your Bible and the very first word tells you, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." Read onward and it will tell you how light came out of darkness, how chaos came to order, how mountains reared themselves in the midst of the sea, and the continents of the dry land appeared. It will tell you how the grass grew on the plains and valleys, how the trees budded and bloomed and spread their branches on the tablelands and mountains, how the fish came in the seas, how the birds and animal life filled the air and the woods and the wide extended prairies. It will tell you how the heavens stretched above, with the dial plate of the great clock of time marked by sun and moon and stars. It will tell you, farther, that after it was all done—this beautiful world, with its sweet atmosphere, and its glory of sunshine after rain—a council was held in heaven, and the heavenly Father, communing, said, "Let us make man in our image and likeness." And so man came forth into this new home which had been fitting for him through the ages. This is man's significance. He is the child of the ever-living God; he was made to have dominion over the world, to master it, and govern it, and occupy it, and make it the theater of beauty and blessing. He is not a clod of the earth; there is in him a kinship to heaven. The breath of God is in him; he is God's son. This is man's great significance.

II

It is only in the Bible and the Christ of the Bible that we can find an answer to the riddle of sin, atonement for sin, and pardon for sin. When we read the Bible and learn of man's creation as a free moral agent, with power to choose, with will to do the right or the wrong, we come to understand what sin is. We know then why it is that when we disobey God and break his laws, whether it be the law of gravitation, or the law of our own bodies, or the law of love in relation to our fellow men, there is something in our own breast which we have learned to call conscience that has its own judge and jury and prosecutes us at its bar, and gives us fear, and warning of peril, and remorse for the evil thing which we have done. We come to know that sin is a rebellion against the law of Him who made us, and who has a right to our service. In the light of that knowledge we come to understand the atonement of Jesus Christ. Few writers in literature have had such a clear understanding of the atonement as Victor Hugo. In that oft-quoted incident in "Les Misérables" he puts the truth in the story of the escaping convict, Jean Valjean, who had been graciously entertained by the kindly old bishop, and, waking in the night, under the mastery of his old passions and wicked habits, had robbed the good bishop of his silver candlesticks and had fled. Later, when the police caught and brought him back with the candlesticks in his possession, the bishop said: "Why should he not take them? They are his." Then, when the astonished officers of the law had retired, the good man leaned forward and looked the poor, miserable, amazed thief in the face and said, "Jean Valjean, I have bought you from yourself; go, and be a better man." There is the essence of the gospel of the atonement. Christ's forgiveness buys us from ourselves, and lifts us into a higher life.

I wish to emphasize with all the power I have this mightiest truth of the gospel, that Christ is the only key that will unlock the riddle of man's sin and bring pardon and forgiveness. Some years ago Dr. Henry van Dyke wrote a very beautiful little Christmas story entitled "The Lost Word." It gives a striking account of a young man named Hermas, the son of Demetrius, who became a Christian. Because of this, his father, a man of large wealth, disinherited him. He became a disciple of John, the dearest friend of Jesus, and at last, wearied of his discipleship and utterly discouraged, he wanders back into the vicinity of his old home. There he meets a magician, who reads his fortune in a leaf, and finally promises that if he will give him but one word out of his vocabulary he will restore him to the joy that once was his. The promise is at last made, and suddenly Hermas is in his home again without the one word, and the one word is the name of his Lord. He finds his father dying and the old man welcomes his return and cries out: "My son, when you left me you found something that made your life beautiful. Mine has been a failure; will you not tell me what I must do now, for I am to die?" And unconsciously the boy began, "Father, you must believe in—" and, behold, the word had gone from him. He had parted with it, and he stands shamefaced in the presence of his dying father. He marries a beautiful girl and God gives them a lovely child. They are seated one day in the garden with their hearts overflowing with gratitude, when the wife suggests that they kneel down and express their thanks for all their treasures, and again he begins, "We thank thee, O—" and speech fails him, for he has sold his Lord and he cannot even recall his name. He is a competitor in the chariot races and wins the prize, but cares nothing for it, because his heart is heavy. He takes his little son in the chariot with him and whirls about the course. The horses become unmanageable and the child is thrown from the chariot and seriously injured. Nearer dead than alive, he is carried back to their luxurious home, and the father kneels down by his bedside. There is no hope now except in prayer. He cried out, "Spare him, O spare him, O—." And there is no word to fill the place, for he has sold his Lord. Then suddenly his old friend, the beloved disciple John, appears, and after tears of repentance he is restored again to his priceless position. The lost word, the name of Christ his Saviour, is his again, and in his name heaven's forgiveness is unlocked and his peace restored.

It may be that I now speak to some who find their own story in substance told in this story of "The Lost Word." It may be that in an unguarded moment, because of your love for the world, and your desire for worldly riches and worldly power, you parted with your Saviour, who alone can give peace and satisfaction to your soul. If that be true, I preach you the mercy of God who gives men a second chance when they come in the name of Jesus. My friend, Dr. Alfred J. Hough, of Vermont, has recently written a poem entitled "The God of Another Chance," which ought to be a message of hope to your soul:


A man named Peter stumbled bad,

Lost all the love he ever had,

Fouled his own soul's divinest spring,

Cursed, swore, and all that sort of thing.

He got another chance, and then

Reached the far goal of Godlike men.


Your boy goes wrong, the same as he

Who fed swine in the far country;

He seems beyond the utmost reach

Of hearts that pray, of lips that preach;

Give him another chance and see

How beautiful his life may be.


Paul cast the young man, Mark, aside,

But Barnabas his metal tried,

Called out his courage, roused his vim

And made a splendid man of him.

Then Paul, near death, longed for one glance

At Mark, who had another chance.


King David one dark day fell down,

Lost every jewel from his crown;

He had another chance and found

His kingly self redeemed, recrowned.

Now lonely souls and countless throngs

Are shriven by his deathless songs.


Far-fallen souls, rise up, advance,

Ours is the God of one more chance.


III

The riddle of man's peace and abiding happiness finds its answer in Jesus Christ. In him we see a man with none of this world's wealth, not ministered to by others, but ministering to others with constant humility and love, and yet we find in him the supreme optimist of the ages. Nothing could cast him down into despair. No persecution, no abuse, no pain, no sorrow, nothing the world could do to him could put him into despair. What was the secret of his peace? What was the secret of that abiding joy that nothing could overcome or destroy? The secret was unselfish service. His life was a constant ministration of mercy to the poor and the tempted and the sick. His heart and life flowed out, a stream of unselfish love. Therefore was he glad and his heart at peace. Unselfishness is the supreme heroism. It is not by getting but by giving that we tap the fountain of supreme joy. Some one says that a man who stands where into his life there flows out of the past a great stream of benefit which he absorbs and retains is like one of those thirsty plains into which flows and disappears a mountain stream. The stream has trickled down in rain from heaven, in snow from the mountain top, and in melting ice in the glacier bed. In frost it has riven rocks asunder. In the avalanche and the glacier it has plowed and planed the mountain side. It has leaped the precipice, tunneled the ravine, and flowed along its turbulent way, until, reaching the plain which it has strewn with the sediment and soil of a hundred centuries, it laughs and shines and reflects the clouds of heaven from under the trees which it sustains, amidst the grass of the fields which it fertilizes. So on its way it goes, rejoicingly, until it reaches a dry and thirsty land, riven and rent and undermined by the earthquake and the volcano. There the stream sinks into the barren sands, which are watered but not fertilized. On the one side of the line are sparkling waters and green fields, on the other side a desert. Such is the life of a man who says, "I am my own, and what comes to me is mine." He is a desert that drinks up the stream of happiness like a sponge of sand, but no true joy nor abiding peace can blossom and bear fruit in his soul. Alongside a man like that, hear Paul crying, "Ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price, even the precious blood of Christ," and let a man feel that as Paul felt it, and let him pour out his life in unselfishness in the service of his fellow men, and he not only blesses them, but his own happiness is assured.

Unselfishness is the great key to human peace and triumphant joy. Mr. Bingham, the mine inspector of Illinois, tells a story connected with a cave-in that took place in an Illinois coal mine. The earth and coal, in settling, had imprisoned sixty men. But there was left an opening between where they stood and the outer world through which a small boy could barely crawl. The foreman of the rescuing party said to Fred Evans, a boy who worked on the dump: "You are just small enough to crawl through that opening and drag a pipe with you. If you get that pipe in there we shall be able to pump air through it to the men to keep them alive until we dig them out. But you have to be mighty careful in crawling through, because if you jostle the coal, it will settle down on you and instantly crush out your life. Are you willing to try it?" The boy's face was black with coal soot, his hands bruised from toil; he had been so poor all his life that he had never been able to learn to read and write, but at the same time he was supporting his mother. He looked straight into the foreman's eyes, and replied, "I'll try my best."

The boy stripped off all the clothing he could spare, put a rough cap on his head, grabbed the end of the pipe, and began his six-hundred-foot crawl in a race against death. Time and again the pipe ceased to move, and those at the outer end thought the boy had been entrapped, but it would start up again, and at last a faint call through it announced the lad's safe arrival. For a week milk, air, and water were forced through that pipe, and then the sixty men and the heroic boy were restored to their families.

The governor of Illinois, hearing of the boy's unselfish heroism, sent for him. "Youngster," said the governor, "the State of Illinois wants to recognize your unselfishness and your pluck. What can I do for you?" Fred Evans nervously twitched his fingers about his cap and looked frightened at the big man who spoke so kindly to him. But finally, finding his voice, he replied, "I would like to know how to read." I need not tell you that that boy got his education and I am happy to tell you that he is now an intelligent and successful farmer in Illinois. But I beg you not to overlook the secret of his happy life. It was born when he seized his opportunity to risk his life and consecrate everything he had to unselfish service. Let me repeat it again, that the secret of happiness is not in getting, but in giving, and it is Jesus Christ who reveals it to us.

A writer in one of our magazines brings out very beautifully that the greatest givers in our time are not the millionaires but the men and women who give themselves, and he illustrates it with Phillips Brooks, who founded no college and endowed no hospital, but who is to be counted among the greatest givers of his time. Other men poured out wealth lavishly for good and great ends, and are worthy of all honor, but it was the high privilege of the great preacher to give himself with the prodigality of a man possessed of a vast treasure; to pour himself out year after year on the spirits of morally confused, wayward, starving people, to whom he gave a vision beyond the perplexities of the hour, a clear view of the right path and strength to walk in it, the bread which feeds the soul. And no man who ever caught a glimpse of the great joy of Phillips Brooks in such service will ever doubt that unselfish service is the answer to the riddle of man's peace. But Phillips Brooks learned it from his Lord. Jesus Christ, the great giver brought no money, clothes, or food with him. No man ever had less at his command those things of which men usually make gifts; he was, during the wonderful years of his active life, penniless and homeless; but he was incomparably the greatest giver who has appeared among men. "No one of all the great benefactors of mankind has approached him in the reach, power, and eternal value of his gifts. The secret of his divine generosity is in the sublime fact that he was, himself, a gift. And O, the sublime joy of Jesus Christ! When he started on his last journey to Jerusalem to be crucified there was such a glow of heavenly peace on his face that his friends could not understand it, for he had told them he was going there to die. It was for the joy that was set before him that he marched straight to Pilate's hall and to the cross.

I pray that God may teach us the great lesson. You want to find your true significance as a man or as a woman. You want to fill your place in creation. You want that sublime peace, that noble joy, which comes from the consciousness that you are not beating the air, but that you are answering the purpose God has for you in the world. The answer to the riddle is in giving yourself in loving service for your fellow men. As you approach Jesus Christ in unselfishness and love, you will approach his sublime peace and his triumphant joy that nothing can disturb. In that service we shall catch the new song in our hearts and go singing down the avenues of the New Year.


Quit you like men, be strong;

There's a burden to bear,

There's a grief to share,

There's a heart that breaks 'neath a load of care—

But fare ye forth with a song.


Quit you like men, be strong;

There's a battle to fight,

There's a wrong to right,

There's a God who blesses the good with might—

So fare ye forth with a song.


Quit you like men, be strong;

There's a work to do,

There's a world to make new,

There's a call for men who are brave and true—

On! on with a song!


Quit you like men, be strong;

There's a year of grace,

There's a God to face,

There's another heat in the great world race—

Speed! speed with a song.