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LOST AND SAVED
“For Thou hast delivered my soul from death.” – Ps. LVI, 13.
IN about an hour Secundus returned with four officers, and orders to arrest the lady Beatrice. Lysias was still waiting at the mouth of the cave, and as Secundus and his party approached, he rose impatiently from his seat and advanced to meet them.
“All is safe,” he said to Secundus, “no one has attempted to pass out, and Beatrice has now no chance of escape!” Then turning to the others, he added, “You have but to follow my friend, he knows the way into the cave, and he will be your guide in this matter.”
Secundus, therefore, obeying the imperative wave of the hand which accompanied these last words, led the way into the catacomb, while Lysias remained outside as sentinel. Descending the first flight of steps, he guided his companions through the large chamber before described into the narrow passage beyond, whence he endeavoured to point out to them the spot where he and Lysias had seen Beatrice, and the turning down which she had disappeared.
But it was in vain, the obscurity prevented their discerning any object whatever, – no lanterns were now visible, no lights, natural or artificial, illumined the cave, – all was dark as the grave, and equally as silent.
The little party stood awhile in perplexity, while their guide vainly endeavoured to persuade them that search was hopeless; they were bent on obeying the prefect’s orders, to arrest Beatrice, arguing that since they had come solely for that purpose, it would be absurd to return without accomplishing it. After a little consideration, it was agreed that Secundus should go a few paces up the corridor to see if he could discover any clue to the whereabouts of their victim, or if he should chance to find any lamp or lantern which might serve to guide them in their search to bring word to that effect.
Having therefore groped his way up the passage he stumbled at another flight of steps, but fearing to descend them into what seemed a gulf of impenetrable darkness, he turned up an alley to his left, and passing along it, arrived at the entrance of another large room. Here he paused, uncertain what he should do next, when his eye was attracted by a faint ray of light streaming from an oil lamp fixed in the wall opposite to him.
This determined him to return and report
his success, secretly intending to exaggerate the horrors of the cave, in the hope of deterring the officers from proceeding farther after Beatrice. He began then slowly to retrace his steps, but soon found it not such easy work as he expected. He became entangled in the numerous paths, and by degrees wandered farther and farther away from his expectant companions, until he lost his way altogether, and sitting down despairingly on the cold damp earth of the cave, wondered what he should do next. While thus employed, a sweet voice reached his ear, evidently that of a young man, and proceeding from the end of a long corridor at his right. He listened eagerly, and caught the following words, –
“Induite vos armaturam Dei, ut possitis resistere in die malo.” (1)
Then like the rushing of the sea, came a chorus of sweet voices singing the response, –
“Quoniam non est nobis colluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem, sed adversus principles et potestates, adversus mundi rectores tenebrarum harum, contra spiritualia nequitiae in coelestibus!” (2)
Then again the first voice sang out alone in full clear tones, –
“Confortamini in Domino, et in potentiâ virtutis Ejus: – in patientiâ vestrâ possidebitis animas vestras! (1)
Secundus rose, and listened for more, but in vain, – a deep silence followed.
He then turned and crept silently up the passage till he came to a low arched room. Through this too he groped, amid perplexing darkness, until suddenly a bright light burst on his sight, and looking straight before him, he espied a large chamber illuminated with several lamps, and filled with a great concourse of people, all kneeling in prayer.
Secundus paused, and involuntarily knelt also, as be listened reverently to the words of the priest at the altar, –
“Tu Domine, bonus et facilis es, et ad clementiam proclivis erga omnes Te invocantes.
“Qui Te tum cum sum in angustiis, imploro; quod Tu mihi exorari soleas.
“Nullus Tibi deorum par est Domine: nulla cum tuis facta sunt comparanda.
“Nam Tu magnus, Tu mirificus, Tu solus es Deus!
“Erudi me Jova, ad viam tuam, ut in tuâ
fide gradiar: applica meam mentem ad tui nominis reverentiam!
“Respice me, et miserere mei: praebe tuam potentiam tuo servo, et ancillae tuae filium tuere!
“Ede mihi faustum omen: quo viso, meos pudent osores, quod Tu mihi Jova, succurreris meque fueris consolatus!” (1)
As these last words reached the young pagan’s ear, he hid his face in his hands, and after vainly endeavouring to repress his tears, he fell prostrate on the ground, at the entrance of the chamber, and wept unrestrainedly. Presently, he heard a benediction pronounced, and the worshippers rose, and all passed out at the opposite side of the room. Only two men remained, the venerable old priest, and with him a young man, who appeared to be his attendant, probably the same whom Secundus had heard singing. These advanced towards him, and he, half ashamed, half imploringly, threw himself at the old man’s feet, and begged him to stay and hear what he had to tell him. The aged priest started with surprise at so unexpected an address, but he immediately hastened to raise Secundus from the ground, and kindly bade him speak freely. Availing himself of this permission, the latter in as few words as possible, acquainted him with the
entire plot Lysias had designed against the lady Beatrice, his search after the caves, and the arrival of the officers to arrest his victim, thus accounting for his own presence in the catacombs.
“My son” said the good old man, when Secundus had ceased speaking, “I can tell from your words, that you are not a heathen in heart at least, although one by profession. Surely,” he added, taking him lovingly by the hand, and gazing into his tearful blue eyes, “GOD will not suffer one so generous and sincere to perish! Yet, alas!” he said, sighing, “how many like yourself, poor boy, with noble and upright hearts, are perverted by men’s evil teaching, and though naturally inclined to good, are led astray by others, nourished in a false religion, and left ‘ without GOD in the world.’”
Secundus gazed with mingled awe and astonishment at the speaker, vainly endeavouring to interpret the meaning of his words, and wondering to himself of what God he spoke. Presently he looked up, and said hesitatingly,
“Venerable sir, are you a Christian?”
“By GOD’s grace I am, my child.”
“And were all those I saw just now kneeling here Christians too?”
“Certainly they were,” said the old man.
“Then, sir, I will be a Christian also.”
“Why, my child?” said the aged pastor, calmly.
“Because,” replied Secundus, his countenance glowing with emotion, “words such as I have heard from your lips today cannot have been inspired by an unholy religion, none but a good man could have prayed so sublimely, no Deity but one perfectly pure and just could have been pleased with such prayers. Sir, I am persuaded that Christianity is holy, and its disciples sincere, and therefore I too would be a Christian.”
“Young man,” said the priest, “you must have better and stronger motives for turning to CHRIST than the impulse of a moment; for when the enthusiasm of feeling has died away, you will leave Him again for the world. You have heard us just now at prayer, you admired our sentiments, you were solemnly impressed by the words we used, you felt at the instant that Christianity must be good and noble, and so you wish to be one of its professors. But as yet you know nothing of its realities, you are acquainted with none of its truths or doctrines, you have been merely caught by impressions, not convictions, and did we admit you at once among us, you would soon sink under the sorrows and privations we are forced to endure, and would leave us again for the worship of the gods.”
“O, sir,” said Secundus, his large blue eyes swimming in tears, “I do indeed desire to be a Christian! for I have not been merely attracted as you imagine by the beautiful words I heard today, – long I have felt the want of some reality in religion, something to cling to, and to lean upon: often I have wished that among the gods I could find one to love as well as to adore, one to whom I could trust my whole heart, one to whom I could pray as I have heard you pray. O, sir, our religion is very empty; I am persuaded there must be a better and a truer one; and that it is yours, I am equally convinced; for I saw Simplicius and Faustinus die for their faith; I thought then that it must be very good and lovely, or they would not have refused to buy so dear a thing as life by its denial. It must be a noble religion too, that can make such heroes of weak men, that can teach them to endure calmly the fire and the rack, that can lead them peacefully to death, and tortures worse than death, without a word of lamentation or complaint. I cannot believe, venerable father, the accounts and stories generally circulated with regard to Christianity; my senses tell me differently, and everything I see and hear of you contradicts the popular idea of your religion, and convinces me of its holiness and purity. O, good sir, let me be one of you, do not refuse
to grant the most earnest petition of my soul, – let me be a Christian as you are!”
The old man heard his passionate intreaty in silence, and then clasping his hand more tightly within his own, he exclaimed in fervent accents, “GOD forbid, my son, that I should refuse to admit you among us! the way of salvation in open to all, nor can the Church shut her gates against any man, for her Master has promised that whosoever cometh unto Him He will in no wise cast out. But what I wished to represent to you is this, that so grave a profession as a Christian’s you should not take up rashly, and without due consideration, lest in time of persecution faith fail you, and you fall away from the Church, not being built on the true Foundation, but on unstable ground. Persecution and sorrow are our attendants in this world, and we are often required to lay down our lives for our faith. Think well and earnestly therefore, my child, before you join yourself to us, that you may not disgrace us by falling away in time of trial. Do not imagine for one instant that I would endeavour to dissuade you from entering CHRIST’S fold, – I only warn you that within it you must not expect to find unmingled delights and pleasures; there are thorns in the path, and ravening wolves ready to devour the flock. You must, if you leave your
fathers’ religion for Christianity, prepare to meet unmoved your friends’ reproaches and derision, you must expect temptations and trials, nor be dismayed even at persecution and martyrdom itself. It behoves you therefore, my son, to build your house discreetly and securely, not on unstable sand, but on the true Rock, lest when the floods descend, and the winds blow and beat upon it, it fall, and overwhelm you in its ruins.”
The tears rose quickly to the bright blue eyes of Secundus as he answered firmly,
“Father, will you not believe me? I am resolved to face every danger if you will but admit me into your community.”
“Dear child,” rejoined the venerable pastor, laying his trembling hands on the youth’s head, “you must not trust in your own strength to face the dangers I have spoken of. If you desire sincerely to be a Christian, you must ask help of Him Who ‘giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.’ He will never refuse prayer nor turn away from those who with hearty desire and true faith present unto Him their petitions. I have only yet spoken to you of the temptations and trials you must expect as a member of CHRIST’S Church, but if you are determined to meet these bravely arrayed in that celestial armour, of which you have heard us sing today, I will
put you under the care of the deacon Cyriacus whom you see by my side, and he shall teach you the sweets and the glories of Christianity. Good Cyriacus,” he continued addressing his companion, “I entrust this youth to your care. Instruct him well in the faith, that he may be prepared shortly to receive the sacrament of baptism.”
Then laying his hands upon the head of Secundus, he gave him his blessing, and bade him depart with the deacon Cyriacus.
As Secundus, thus admonished, turned to his future guardian and instructor, the aged priest withdrew with a kindly smile, and disappeared into an adjoining corridor.
“It seems to me,” said Cyriacus, to his young charge, as he led him away, “that from what I have heard, this man Lysias has been making you his tool in this villanous scheme, sending you to work out all the difficult and dangerous part of the undertaking, with the intention himself to reap the advantageous results of your labour. He must be a bad man, and an unworthy friend, who would probably have led you to the commission of some great crime. Thank GOD, young man, that you’ve escaped him!”
Secundus did not reply, his heart just then was too full for words. He could only repeat to himself, with a new feeling of gratitude and
joy, the concluding words of the beautiful psalm he had heard that morning, – “Thou, LORD, hast holpen me and comforted me!”
(42:1) “Put on the whole armour of GOD,” &c. Eph. VI, 11.
(42:2) “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood,” &c. Eph. VI, 12.
(43:1) “Be strong in the LORD,” &c. Eph. VI, 10. “In your patience possess ye your souls.” S. Luke XXI, 19.
(44:1) Psalm LXXXVI, verses 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 16, 17.
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