Guests in the Heart

Timothy Shay Arthur, 1869

"Above all else, guard your heart, for from it flow the springs of life!" Proverbs 4:23

The heart is full of guest-chambers which are never empty; and as the heart is the seat of life, these guests are continually acting upon the life, either for good or evil, according to their quality. As the guests are, so our states of life: tranquil and happy, if good; disturbed and miserable, if evil.

We may choose our own guests, if we are wise. None can open the door and come in, unless we give consent; always provided that we keep watch and guard. If we leave wide open the doors of our houses, or neglect to fasten them in the night season then thieves and robbers will enter and wreak havoc at will. So if we leave the heart unguarded enemies will come in. But if we open the door only to good thoughts which are guests then we shall dwell in peace and safety. We have all opened the door for enemies; or let them enter through unguarded portals. They are in all the heart's guest-chambers. They possess the very citadel of life; and the measure of their possession, is the measure of our unhappiness.

Markland was an unhappy man; and yet of this world's goods, after which he had striven, he had an abundance. Wealth, honor among men, luxury these were presented to his mind as things most to be desired, and he reached after them with an ardor that broke down all impediments. Success answered to effort, with almost unerring certainty. So he was full of wealth and honors. But, for all this, Markland was unhappy. There were enemies in the house of his life troublesome guests in the guest-chambers of his heart, who were forever disturbing, if not wounding him, with their strifes and discords. Some of these he had admitted, himself holding open the door; others had come in by stealth while the entrance was all unguarded.

Envy was one of these guests, and she gave him no peace. He could not bear that another should stand above him in anything. Envy tormented him in a hundred different ways. He could not enjoy his friend's exquisite statuary, or paintings, because of a secret intimation in his heart that his friend was honored above him in their possession. Twice he had sold almost palatial residences, because their architectural attractions were thrown into the shade by dwellings of later construction. Thousands of dollars each year, this troublesome guest cost him; and yet she would never let him be at ease. At every feast of life she dashed his cup with bitterness, and robbed the choicest viands of their zest. He did not enjoy the fame of an author, an orator, an artist, a man of science, a general, or of any who held the world's admiring gaze for while they stood in the sunlight, he felt cast in the shadows. So the guest Envy, warmed and nourished in his heart, proved a tormentor. She gave him neither rest nor peace.

Detraction, the twin-sister of Envy, was all the while pointing out defects in friends and neighbors. He saw their faults and peculiarities; but rarely their good qualities.

Then Doubt and Distrust crept in through the unguarded door, and soon after their entrance, Markland began to think uneasily of the future; to fear lest the foundations of worldly prosperity were not sure. These troublesome guests were busiest in the night season, haunting his mind with strange pictures of disasters, and with suggestions concerning the arbitrary power of God, whom he feared when the thought of Him was present, but did not love. "Whom He will, He sets up and whom He will, He casts down." Doubt and Distrust revived this warning in his memory, and seeing that it gave his heart a throb of pain, they set it close to his eyes, so that, for a time, he could see nothing else.

Thus, night after night, these guests troubled his peace, often driving slumber from his eyelids until the late morning watches. If there had been in his heart that true faith in God which believes in Him as doing all things well Doubt and Distrust might never have gained an entrance. But he had trusted in himself; had believed himself equal to the task of creating his own prosperity had been, in common phrase, the architect of his own fortunes. And now just as he was pluming himself on success in crept Doubt and Distrust with their alarming suggestions, and he was unable to cast them out.

Our thoughts, whether evil or good, are social in their character, and obey social laws. They do not like to dwell alone, and therefore seek congenial friendships. They draw to themselves companions of like quality, and are not satisfied until they rule a man in all the powers of his mind.

In the case of Markland, Envy made room for her twin-sister, Detraction. Ill-will, Jealousy, Unkindness, and a teeming brood of their malevolent kindred crowded into his heart, possessing its chambers, before a warning reached him of their approach. Is there rest or peace for a man with such guests in his bosom?

Doubt and Distrust only heralded the coming of Fear, Anxiety, Worry, Suspicion, Despondency, and Foreboding. Markland had only to open his eyes and look around him, to see, on every hand, the unsightly wrecks of palaces once as fair to the eye, as that which he had raised with such labor and forethought, and as he contemplated these Doubt, Distrust, and their companions, filled his mind with alarming thoughts, and so oppressed him with a sense of insecurity that, at times, he saw the advancing shadows of misfortune on his path.

Thus it was with Markland at fifty years old. He had all good as to the externals of life yet was he a miserable man; and, worse than all, he felt himself growing more and more unhappy as the years increased! Was there no remedy for this? None, while his heart was so filled with evil thoughts, which are always tormentors. He did not see this. Though his guests disturbed and afflicted him, he called them friends, and gave them the best entertainments that his house afforded.

Sometimes Pity came to the door of his heart and asked for admission but he sent Unkindness to double bar it against her. Generosity knocked but Avarice stood sentinel. Envy was forever refusing to let Good-will, Appreciation, Approval, Delight, come in. Detraction would give no countenance to Virtue and Excellence. Doubt made deadly assault upon Faith, and Trust, and Hope, whenever they drew near; while Ill-will stood ever on the alert to drive off Charity, Loving-kindness and Neighborly regard. Unhappy man! Fiends possessed him and he knew it not!

It so happened on a time, that Markland, while standing in one of his well-filled ware-houses, saw a child enter and come towards him in a timid, hesitating manner.

"A beggar! Drive her away," said Unkindness and Suspicion, both arousing themselves.

Markland was already lifting his hand to wave her back, when Compassion, who had just then found an old way into his heart, hidden for a long time by rank weeds and brambles, said, in soft and pitying tones:

"She is such a little child!"

"A thieving beggar!" cried Unkindness and Suspicion, angrily.

"A weak little child," pleaded Compassion. "Don't be hard with her. Speak kindly."

Compassion prevailed. Her voice had awakened into life, some old and long sleeping memories. Markland was himself, for a moment, a child full of pity, tenderness and loving-kindness. Compassion had already uncovered the far away past, and the sweetness of its young blossoms was reviving old delights.

"Well, little one, what is wanted?"

Markland hardly knew his own voice, it was so gentle and inviting.

How the pale, pure face of the child warmed and brightened! Gratefully with trust and hope in her eyes, she looked up to the merchant. There was no answer on her lips, for this unexpected kindness had choked the coming utterance. Rebuff, threat, anger, had met her so often that soft words almost surprised her into tears.

"Well, what can I do for you?"

Compassion held open the door through which she gained an entrance, and already Good-will, Kindness and Satisfaction had come in.

"Mother is sick," said the child.

"A lying vagrant!" exclaimed Suspicion, jarring the merchant's inward ear.

"There is truth in her face," said Compassion, pleading, and, at the same time, she unveiled an image, sharply cut in the past of Markland's life an image of his own beloved, but long sainted mother, pale and wasted, on her dying bed.

"Give this to your mother," he said, hastily, taking a coin from his pocket. There was more of human kindness in his voice than it had expressed for many years.

"God bless you, sir," the child dropped her grateful eyes from his face, as she took the coin, bending with an involuntary reverent motion. Then, as she slowly passed to the warehouse door, she turned two or three times, to look on the man who, alone, of the many to whom she had made solicitation that day, had answered her in kindness.

"So much for the encouragement of vagrancy," said Suspicion.

"Played on by the art of a cunning child," said Pride.

Markland began to feel ashamed of his momentary weakness. But, he was not now, wholly, at the mercy of the guests who had so long tormented him. Compassion, Good-will and Kindness were now his guests also; and they had other and pleasanter suggestions for his mind. The child's "God bless you, sir," they repeated over and over again, softening the young voice, and giving it increasing power to awaken tender and loving states which had formed themselves in earlier and purer years. Tranquility, so long absent from his soul, came in, now, through the entrance made by Compassion.

Markland went back into his counting-room, almost wondering at the peace he felt. Taking up a newspaper, he read of a rare specimen of statuary just received from Italy, the property of a well-known merchant. Envy did not move quickly enough. The old love of virtue which envy, detraction, greed of gain, and their blear-eyed companions, had kept in thrall was already in a freer state; and found in good-will, kindness and tranquility, congenial friends. So, love of virtue ruled his mind in spite of envy. It was, almost, a new sensation.

A friend came in, and spoke in praise of one who had performed a generous deed. There was an instant motion among the guests in Markland's heart: the evil inciting to envy and detraction while the good prompting to approval and emulation. Tranquility moved to the door through which she had come in as if to depart; but Good-will, Kindness and Approbation, drew her back, and held, with her, possession of the mind they sought to rule. Envy and Detraction were shorn, for the time, of their power.

Wondering, as he lay on his bed that night, over the strange peace which pervaded his mind a peace such as he had not known for many years Markland fell asleep; and in his sleep there came to him a dream of the human heart and its guest-chambers; and what we have faintly suggested, was made visible to him in living impersonation.

He saw how evil thoughts, when permitted to dwell therein became its enemies and tormentors; and how, just in the degree that kind and good thoughts gained entrance there was peace, tranquility and satisfaction.

"I have looked into my own heart," he said, on awaking.

The incident of the child, and the dream that followed, were, in divine Providence, sent for Markland's instruction. And they were not sent in vain. Ever after, he set watch and ward at the doors of his heart. Evil guests, already in possession, were difficult to cast out; but he invited the good to come in, opening the way by kind and noble acts, done in the face of opposing selfishness. Thus he went on, peopling the guest-chambers with sweet and loving thoughts until angels instead of demons filled his house of life.