Elsie's Children by Martha Finley
"But all's not true that supposition saith, Nor have the mightiest arguments most faith." --DRAYTON. "Examples I could cite you more; But be contented with these four; For when one's proofs are aptly chosen, Four are as valid as four dozen." --PRIOR.
Isa's perversion, Isa's secret, weighed heavily upon the heart and conscience of poor Violet; the child had never been burdened with a secret before.
She thought Aunt Louise ought to know, yet was not at all clear that it was her duty to tell her. She wished it might be discovered in some way without her agency, for "it was a dreadful thing for Isa to be left to go on believing and doing as she did. Oh, if only she could be talked to by some one old enough and wise enough to convince her of her errors!"
Isadore with the zeal of a young convert, had set herself the task of bringing Vi over to her new faith. The opportunity afforded by the absence of the vigilant parents was too good to be lost, and should be improved to the utmost.
She made daily errands to Ion, some trifling gift to Molly often being the excuse, was sweet and gracious to all, but devoted herself especially to Violet, insisting on sharing her room when she staid over night, coaxing her out for long walks and drives, rowing with her on the lake, learning to handle the oars herself in order that they might go alone.
And all the time she was on the watch for every favorable opening to say something to undermine the child's faith, or bias her mind in favor of the tenets of the church of Rome.
Violet grew more and more troubled and perplexed and now not on Isa's account alone. She could not give up the faith of her fathers, the faith of the Bible (to that inspired word she clung as to the rock which must save her from being engulfed in the wild waters of doubt and difficulty that were surging around her) but neither could she answer all Isadore's questions and arguments, and there was no one to whom she might turn in her bewilderment, lest she should betray her cousin's secret.
She prayed for guidance and help, searching the Scriptures and "comparing spiritual things with spiritual," and thus was kept from the snares laid for her inexperienced feet; she stumbled and walked with uncertain step for a time, but did not fall.
Those about her, particularly Eddie and her old mammy, noticed the unwonted care and anxiety in her innocent face, but attributed it wholly to the unfavorable news in regard to Lily's condition, which reached them from time to time.
The dear invalid was reported as making little or no progress toward recovery, and the hearts of brothers and sisters were deeply saddened by the tidings.
Miss Reed was still at Roselands, and had been brought several times by Virginia for a call at Ion, and at length, Violet having written for and obtained permission of her parents, and consulted Mrs. Daly's convenience in reference to the matter, invited the three girls for a visit of several days, stipulating, however, that it was not to interfere with lessons.
To this the girls readily assented; "they would make themselves quite at home, and find their own amusement; it was what they should like above all things."
The plan worked well, except that under this constant association with Isadore, Vi grew daily more careworn and depressed. Even Mr. Daly noticed it, and spoke to her of Lily's state as hopefully as truth would permit.
"Do not be too much troubled, my dear child," he said, taking her hand in a kind fatherly manner. "She is in the hands of One who loves her even better than her parents, brothers and sisters do, and will let no real evil come nigh her. He may restore her to health, but if not--if he takes her from us, it will be to make her infinitely happier with himself; for we know that she has given her young heart to him."
Violet bowed a silent assent, then hurried from the room; her heart too full for speech. She was troubled, sorely troubled for her darling, suffering little sister, and with this added anxiety, her burden was hard indeed to bear.
Mr. Daly was reading in the library that afternoon, when Violet came running in as if in haste, a flush of excitement on her fair face.
"Ah, excuse me, sir! I fear I have disturbed you," she said, as he looked up from his book; "but oh, I'm glad to find you here! for I think you will help me. I came to look for a Bible and Concordance."
"They are both here on this table," he said. "I am glad you are wanting them, for we cannot study them too much. But in what can I help you, Vi? is it some theological discussion between your cousins and yourself?"
"Yes, sir; we were talking about a book--a story-book that Miss Reed admires--and I said mamma would not allow us to read it, because it teaches that Jesus Christ was only a good man; and Miss Reed said that was her belief; and yet she professes to believe the Bible, and I wish to show her, that it teaches that he was very God as well as man."
"That will not be difficult," he said; "for no words could state it more directly and clearly than these, 'Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen,'" And opening the Bible at the ninth chapter of Romans, he pointed to the latter clause of the fifth verse.
"Oh, let me show her that!" cried Vi.
"Suppose you invite them in here," he suggested, and she hastened to do so.
Miss Reed read the text as it was pointed out to her, "I don't remember noticing that before," was all she said.
Silently Mr. Daly turned over the leaves and pointed out the twentieth verse of the first Epistle of John, where it is said of Jesus Christ, "This is the true God and eternal life;" and then to Isaiah ix. 6. "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace," and several other passages equally strong and explicit in their declaration of the divinity of Christ.
"Well," said Miss Reed, "if he was God, why didn't he say so?"
"He did again and again," was the reply "Here John viii. 58--we read "Jesus said unto them, 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.'""
"I don't see it!" she said sneeringly.
"You do not? just compare it with this other passage Exodus iii. 14, 15. 'And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you; this is children of Israel, The Lord God of your fathers my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.' The Jews who were present understood those words of Jesus as an assertion of his divinity and took up stones to cast at him."
Isadore seemed interested in the discussion, but Virginia showed evident impatience. "What's the use of bothering ourselves about it?" she exclaimed at length, "what difference does it make whether we believe in his divinity or deny it?"
"A vast deal of difference, my dear young lady," said Mr. Daly. "If Christ be not divine, it is idolatry to worship him. If he is divine, and we fail to acknowledge it and to trust in him for salvation, we must be eternally lost for 'neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.' 'But whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.'"
Virginia fidgeted uneasily and Miss Reed inquired with affected politeness, if that were all.
"No," he said, "far from it; yet if the Bible be--as I think we all acknowledge--the inspired word of God, one plain declaration of a truth is as authoritative as a dozen."
"Suppose I don't believe it is all inspired?" queried Miss Reed.
"Still, since Jesus asserts his own divinity, we must either accept him as God, or believe him to have been an impostor and therefore not even a good man. He must be to us everything or nothing; there is no neutral ground; he says, 'He that is not with me is against me.'"
"And there is only one true church," remarked Isadore, forgetting herself; "the holy Roman Church, and none without her pale can be saved."
Mr. Daly looked at her in astonishment. Violet was at first greatly startled, then inexpressibly relieved; since Isa's secret being one no longer, a heavy weight was removed from her heart and conscience.
Virginia was the first to speak. "There!" she said, "you've let it out yourself; I always knew you would sooner or later."
"Well," returned Isadore, drawing herself up haughtily, determined to put a brave face upon the matter, now that there was no retreat, "I'm not ashamed of my faith; nor afraid to attempt its defence against any who may see fit to attack it," she added with a defiant look at Mr. Daly.
He smiled a little sadly. "I am very sorry for you, Miss Conly," he said, "and do not feel at all belligerent toward you; but let me entreat you to rest your hopes of salvation only upon the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ."
"I must do good works also," she said.
"Yes as an evidence, but not as the ground of your faith; we must do good works not that we may be saved, but because we are saved. 'If a man love me, he will keep my words.' Well, my little Vi? what is it?" for she was looking at him with eager, questioning eyes.
"O, Mr. Daly, I want you to answer some things Isa has said to me. Isa, I have never mentioned it to any one before. I have kept your secret faithfully, till now that you have told it yourself."
"I don't blame you, Vi," she answered coloring. "I presume I shall be blamed for my efforts to bring you over to the true faith, but my conscience acquits me of any bad motive. I wanted to save your soul. Mr. Daly, I do not imagine you can answer all that I have to bring against the claims of Protestantism. Pray where was that church before the Reformation?"
There was something annoying to the girl in the smile with which he heard her question.
"Wherever the Bible was made the rule of faith and practice," he said, "there was Protestantism though existing under another name. All through the dark ages, when Popery was dominant almost all over the civilized world, the light of a pure gospel--the very same that the Reformation spread abroad over other parts of Europe--burned brightly among the secluded valleys of Piedmont; and twelve hundred years of bloody persecution on the part of apostate Rome could not quench it.
"I know that Popery lays great stress on her claims to antiquity, but Paganism is older still, and evangelical religion--which, as I have already said, is Protestantism under another name--is as old as the Christian Era; as the human nature of its founder, the Lord Jesus Christ."
"You are making assertions," said Isadore bridling, "but where are your proofs?"
"They are not wanting," he said. "Suppose we undertake the study of ecclesiastical history together, and see how Popery was the growth of centuries, as one error after another crept into the Christian church."
"I don't believe she was ever the persecutor you would make her out to have been," said Isadore.
"Popish historians bear witness to it as well as Protestant," he answered.
"Well, it's persecution to bring up those old stories against her now."
"Is it? when she will not disavow them, but maintains that she has always done right? and more than that, tells us she will do the same again if ever she has the power."
"I'm sure all Romanists are not so cruel as to wish to torture or kill their Protestant neighbors," cried Isadore indignantly.
"And I quite agree with you there," he said; "I have not the least doubt that many of them are very kind-hearted; but I was speaking, not of individuals, but of the Romish Church as such. She is essentially a persecuting power."
"Well, being the only true church, she has the right to compel conformity to her creed."
"Ah, you have already imbibed something of her spirit. But we contend that she is not the true church. 'To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.' Brought to the touch-stone of God's revealed word, she is proved to be reprobate silver; her creed spurious Christianity. In second Thessalonians, second chapter, we have a very clear description of her as that 'Wicked whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.' Also, in the seventeenth of Revelation, where she is spoken of as 'Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.'"
"How do you know she is meant there?" asked Isadore, growing red and angry.
"Because she, and she alone, answers to the description. It is computed that fifty millions of Protestants have been slain in her persecutions; may it not then be truly said of her that she is drunken with the blood of the saints?"
"I think what you have been saying shows that the priests are right in teaching that the Bible is a dangerous book in the hands of the ignorant, and should therefore be withheld from the laity," retorted Isadore hotly.
"But," returned Mr. Daly, "Jesus said, 'Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me.'"