THE LOST WORD
THE LOST WORD
HENRY VAN DYKE
"DEDICATED TO MY FRIEND HAMILTON W. MABIE"
I The POVERTY OF HERMAS
II A CHRISTMAS LOSS
III PARTING BUT NO FAREWELL
IV LOVE IN SEARCH OF A WORD
V RICHES WITHOUT REST
VI GREAT FEAR AND RECOVERED JOY
THE POVERTY OF HERMAS
"COME down Hermas come down! The night is past. It is time to be
stirring. Christ is born to-day. Peace be with you in His name. Make
haste and come down!"
A little group of young men were standing in a street of Antioch in
the dusk of early morning fifteen hundred years ago. It was a class
of candidates who had nearly finished their two years of training
for the Christian church. They had come to call their fellow-student
Hermas from his lodging.
Their voices rang out cheerily through the cool air. They were full
of that glad sense of life which the young feel when they awake and
come to rouse one who is still sleeping. There was a note of
friendly triumph in their call as if they were exulting
unconsciously in having begun the adventure of the new day before
But Hermas was not asleep. He had been waking for hours and the
dark walls of his narrow lodging had been a prison to his restless
heart. A nameless sorrow and discontent had fallen upon him and he
could find no escape from the heaviness of his own thoughts.
There is a sadness of youth into which the old cannot enter. It
seems to them unreal and causeless. But it is even more bitter and
burdensome than the sadness of age. There is a sting of resentment
in it a fever of angry surprise that the world should so soon be a
disappointment and life so early take on the look of a failure. It
has little reason in it perhaps but it has all the more weariness
and gloom because the man who is oppressed by it feels dimly that
it is an unnatural and an unreasonable thing that he should be
separated from the joy of his companions and tired of living before
he has fairly begun to live.
Hermas had fallen into the very depths of this strange self-pity. He
was out of tune with everything around him. He had been thinking
through the dead still night of all that he had given up when he
left the house of his father the wealthy pagan Demetrius to join
the company of the Christians. Only two years ago he had been one of
the richest young men in Antioch. Now he was one of the poorest. And
the worst of it was that though he had made the choice willingly
and accepted the sacrifice with a kind of enthusiasm he was already
dissatisfied with it.
The new life was no happier than the old. He was weary of vigils and
fasts weary of studies and penances weary of prayers and sermons.
He felt like a slave in a treadmill. He knew that he must go on. His
honour his conscience his sense of duty bound him. He could not
go back to the old careless pagan life again; for something had
happened within him which made a return impossible. Doubtless he had
found the true religion but he had found it only as a task and a
burden; its joy and peace had slipped away from him.
He felt disillusioned and robbed. He sat beside his hard little
couch waiting without expectancy for the gray dawn of another empty
day and hardly lifting his head at the shouts of his friends.
"Come down Hermas you sluggard! Come down! It is Christmas morn.
Awake and be glad with us!"
"I am coming" he answered listlessly; "only have patience a moment.
I have been awake since midnight and waiting for the day."
"You hear him!" said his friends one to another. "How he puts us all
to shame! He is more watchful more eager than any of us. Our
master John the Presbyter does well to be proud of him. He is the
best man in our class. When he is baptized the church will get a
While they were talking the door opened and Hermas stepped out. He
was a figure to be remarked in any company--tall
broad-shouldered straight-hipped with a head proudly poised on the
firm column of the neck and short brown curls clustering over the
square forehead. It was the perpetual type of vigourous and
intelligent young manhood such as may be found in every century
among the throngs of ordinary men as if to show what the flower of
the race should be. But the light in his dark blue eyes was clouded