Very various were the positions of the dead in that buried city. Many were in the streets, in the attitude of running, trying to make their escape from the city gate; others were in deep vaults whither they had gone for safety, crouching, in their fear of what might fall upon them; others were on staircases and flights of stone steps leading to the roof, in the attitude of climbing to a place where they hoped the lava might not bury them. Two men were found by the garden gate of a large and beautiful mansion. One was standing with the key in his hand, a handsome ring on his finger, and a hundred gold and silver coins scattered round him. The other, who was probably his slave, was stretched on the ground, with his hands clutching some silver cups and vases. These men had evidently been suffocated whilst trying to carry off the money and treasure.
But one man in that buried city deserves to be remembered to the end of time. Who was he? One Roman soldier, the brave sentinel at the gate. There he had been posted in the morning, and there he had been bidden to remain.
And how was he found? Standing at his post, with his hand still grasping his sword, faithful unto death. There, by the city gate; whilst the earth shook and rocked, whilst the sky was black with ashes, whilst showers of stones were falling around him, and whilst hundreds of men, women and children brushed past him as they fled in terror from the city, there he stood, firm and unmoved. Should such a man as I flee? thought the sentinel. And in that same spot, in that post of duty, he was found 1800 years after, faithful to his trust, faithful unto death.
Oh, that the Lord’s soldiers were more like that brave man in Pompeii! It is so easy to begin a thing, so hard to stick to it; so easy to start on the Christian course, so difficult to persevere; so easy to enlist in the army, so very hard to stand unmoved in the time of danger or trial. Yet what says the Master? He that endureth to the end (and he alone) shall be saved. What says the Captain? chat it is the soldier who is faithful unto death (and no one else) who shall receive the crown of life.
Who then amongst us are faithful, true and unmoved? Who amongst us can stand firm in spite of Satan’s efforts to lead us aside? Who can hold on, not for a week only, but still faithful as the weeks change into months, and the months into years, faithful unto death? About 100 years before the time of Nehemiah, there lived a wise old Chinaman, the philosopher Confucius. Looking round upon his fellow-men, Confucius said that he noticed that a large proportion of them were ‘Copper-kettle-boiling-water men.’ The water in a copper kettle, said Confucius, boils very quickly, much more quickly than in an iron kettle; but the worst of it is that it just as quickly cools down, and ceases to boil.
So, said Confucius, is it with numbers of my fellow-men: they are one day hot and eager, boiling over with zeal in some particular cause; but the next day they have cooled down, and they take no interest in it whatever. Soon up, soon down, like the water in a copper kettle.