Is it Well with You?
By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1868
"Is it well with you, my brother?" Such was the preacher's salutation. He was not a young man, standing erect in conscious strength, abounding in doctrine and clear in logic; nor in the vigor of middle age, with full fruited boughs just beginning to droop from their proud erectness; but an old man, in whom perception had taken the place of doctrine and logic — wise because good.
"Is it well with you, my brother?" He had grasped the hand of one in whose house, for many years, had been set apart a guest-chamber for the servant of God.
"I trust that it is well with me," replied the host, as he returned the old man's greeting, and then led him into the house, giving him of the best he had to bestow.
It was midday when the preacher arrived. In the evening, he sat alone with his brother in the church, talking on themes of immortal interest. At first, he was a listener; and then the thought of his brother dwelt wholly in things of natural life. He spoke of his farm, his mill, his money, and the prosperity with which God had blessed him.
"He has made my corn and wine to increase my stores," he said, with a confidence that was near to boastfulness.
A faint sigh parted the old minister's lips; and a slight shadow veiled the sweet serenity of his countenance.
"Have you never thought, my brother, that God's increase of corn and wine, means something more than this?"
The question had a disturbing effect.
"That there are corn and wine for the soul's nourishment and growth, as well as corn and wine for the body?" he added.
"Doubtless it is so," replied the brother, with that marked falling of the voice which accompanies the reluctant admission of truth in conflict with an existing state of mind. "We do not live by bread alone. And yet, God blesses us in our basket and store — prospers us in our outgoings and incomings."
"His providence touches us in the minutest things of external life," answered the preacher. "When it is well with us, the blessing is from his hand. But, 'well with us,' has a higher significance than you have expressed by the words 'basket and store.' Is it well with you, my brother? Let me put the question again. What is the state of your mind?"
"I trust in God," was returned, with unfaltering speech. "I know in whom I have believed. Faith is the anchor of my soul."
"Your acceptance is clear?"
"Yes." Not spoken with full confidence.
There followed a brief silence.
"A mistake in this, my brother — is the saddest of all sad things," the old man said, with an impressiveness that hurt his listener, for, both in language and tone, was an intimation that he was building his immortal hopes on foundations that might not stand.
"There are two elements that go to make up every state of mind," continued the preacher, after a pause in which there was no response, "thought and feeling. The thought is most exterior, and in it we see reflected, as from a mirror, the feelings, the desires, the impulses which have in them the essential qualities of a man's life. But, thought has wings, and the power to rise into higher and purer regions — to separate itself, for brief periods, from its bondage to base and worldly desire; and thence, the danger of self-deception — of considering our states of transient thought, and not our states of permanent feeling, as the just expression of the interior quality as it is seen by God. Do you apprehend me, my brother?"
"In a degree," was answered.
"As God sees us — so we are. And as we are, when death finds us — so will be our state in the other life. Lovers of the Lord's kingdom — or lovers of ourselves."
"But, how can we see ourselves as God sees us?" asked the brother, with a suddenly awakening concern. "He knows our hearts better than we can know them. Nay, He alone knows them."
"True, but He has given us the clearest instruction. His Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. It is full of heavenly teaching. Let us ponder a single passage, and bring our individual lives to the standard therein proclaimed. Speaking of the godly, or regenerate man, the Psalmist says, 'His delight is in the law of the Lord.' Mark the expression — His delight. Now, feeling, of which delight is predicated, is interior to thought. When there is delight in the law, then there is meditation. First, the delight; then the medication — not a mere transient uplifting of thought to purer regions, but a dwelling therein with love. Ah, my brother! Do we not find a teaching in this brief passage, as clear as noonday, and full of instruction? Not one to discourage us, because our life falls far below the state described; but one full of encouragement, because it shows us that to which our heavenly Father wishes us to aspire. And now again, as one sent to you by God — for I am his servant, and he has laid on me the duty of winning souls — let me ask, Is it well with you, my brother?"
How very tenderly, in his seriousness, did the old man speak. There was nothing of ambassadorial dignity; nothing of conscious goodness; nothing that said, "I am holier than you." But such winning gentleness; such pure concern; such earnest solicitude — that the brother who had been losing his interest in spiritual things amid the absorbing life of natural good — amid his farm, his mill, and his merchandise — felt scales dropping away from the blinded eyes of his soul, and saw by that interior light which comes in from Heaven. And seeing, he answered, with drooping head and falling voice —
"It is not well with me, I fear. My delight is not in the law of the Lord. I do not meditate thereon. Perpetually, my thought dwells in the things of this world. In my sowing and reaping; in my gathering and grinding; in my gaining and hoarding. Even as the rich gardener in the gospel, whose harvests overflowed his barns, I have been planning to pull down mine and build greater, so as to lay up goods for many years. You have sent a tremor of fear through my heart; and I hear a strange, solemn voice, asking, 'What if your soul be required of you this night?'"
"Be wise, then, my brother. Yet do not take counsel of fear; for, in fear there is bondage. Love — delight — casts out all fear. God's true service is from love, not fear. From affection, not from constrained obedience. Is this clear to your mind?"
"As noonday," was answered.
"You did not see this a little while ago," said the preacher.
"I knew that it was so; knew it from thought — but, until now, not from perception. Ah, my brother! You have shown me a way to walk in, which I did not see before; but it is a more difficult way, and I do not see the gate of entrance. I can think and do, by constraint; can force my thought, for a time at least, up into heavenly regions, and compel myself to keep, in act, the law of God. But I cannot change my affections by any effort of will — I cannot force delight. If I do not love God's law, what is to help me? And soberly and sadly, I fear that I do not love it. I have said, often, among the brethren — 'This is my assurance; Whereas, once I was blind, now I see; therefore, have I passed from death unto life' — but now, I have no assurance, for I do not love; and love is the fulfilling of the law. You have come to me as a disturber, and not as a comforter. I believed myself one of God's chosen ones; now the light of His countenance is withdrawn."
"It is never withdrawn," answered the preacher, "but always turned towards men. God's love never fails. It is in love, that he now troubles you, darkening false hopes that he may establish such as are true and abiding. Over the heart, he alone has empire. He alone can change its quality; he alone can give that delight in his law, without which we can never enjoy his companionship."
"He changes the heart, I know."
"And you believed, long ago, that he had changed yours!"
"I did, but, alas! I am not changed. My delight is not in his law."
"You left Him to do the work alone," said the preacher, "and all at once — to wash you every whit clean from inherited evils in a moment of time. And in the belief that this had been done, you thought yourself fit to dwell with him; and thus secure, turned to your farm, and your mill, and gave up your life to the world. You forgot that salvation must progress from the feebleness of a simple vivified germ of life, to birth; and onward from tender infancy to the stature of a full man — that you must cooperate with God, and work out your salvation with fear and trembling before him — that while he stood outside, knocking, you must open the door. 'Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hears my voice and open the door, I will come in to him.' The opening of the door is our work, my brother; and until that work is done, the Lord cannot enter and give delight in his law."
"But how are we to open the door?"
"That question involves the all of a religious life," answered the preacher. "And until it is clearly answered and fully comprehended, we grope in the dark, and our feet stumble along uncertain ways. But here again, his word is a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path. Note this remarkable feature in the Ten Commandments, which are an epitome of the whole Divine Word, and contain, in a summary, all the laws of spiritual life. We are not required to do difficult or impossible things — but simply not to do evil things. Not to have idols; nor take the name of God in vain; nor profane the Sabbath day by worldly thoughts and employments; not to murder, or commit adultery, or steal, or bear false witness, or indulge a spirit of covetousness. I have often heard it said that these Divine laws could not be kept by man; and that faith alone must save him. But obedience is the essential of faith. A true faith in God, is vital with effort. Just look at these commandments. How plain and easy the way they point out. There is no requirement of good deeds; but a simple shunning of what is wrong. 'Behold I stand at the door and knock.' You hear the summons, but how shall the door be opened? What will draw back the bolt, and turn the rusty hinges? The answer is ready. Put away evil."
"I do not break the Ten Commandments. So far as they go, I am blameless," said the brother.
"His words are spirit and life," answered the preacher. "To the mere natural man, they speak of natural things, and bind him by external restraints; to the spiritual man, they speak a higher language, and illustrate his reason; to the spiritual man, they give divine laws for the government of the thoughts and intents of the heart. The natural man sees in the precept, 'You shall not steal,' only a prohibition of actual theft; while the rational man understands it as binding him to upright dealing; but, the spiritual man looks down into his heart, and in the very desire to appropriate to himself what is another's — goods, honor, or praise — recognizes a broken commandment. Nay, my brethren! We are all commandment-breakers in some degree of their significance. And it is in ceasing to break them, as we understand them, that we open the door at which the Lord stands knocking. At his entrance, the evil desires that ruled us are removed, and he implants good desires in their stead.
"And now," continued the old preacher, in his tender, impressive way, "let me add this essential doctrine, which must ever be kept in mind. Simply of ourselves — we can do nothing. We are but finite — created — have in us no life that is not the perpetual gift of God — and, therefore, cannot even open the door by the putting away of evil, except through strength from above; and so, in every effort of resistance to evil allurement, we must look to God for strength. If we so look, in acknowledgment of our weakness, power will come, and we shall say effectually as he said, in the hour of temptation, 'Get behind me, Satan!' Now, if it is well with you, my brother — if you have really begun to open the door of your heart — then you are beginning to feel delight in the law of the Lord; are beginning to love the things of Heaven, more than the things of this world; and to desire the riches of Divine love, more than gold and silver that perish; for, just in the degree that God enters into our hearts, does he bring in with him affections opposite to those through the resistance of which the door was opened. But if there be none of this love and delight, it is not well with you, my brother."
"It is not well with me, I fear," was answered in all sadness of spirit; "but, God helping me, I will open the door at which I hear him knocking, and may he give me delight in his law."
On the morning of the third day, the white-haired preacher left his benediction, and passed onward. Many days afterwards, as his entertainer stood at the door of the empty guest-chamber and looked in, these few words fell softly from his lips, "An angel unawares." A short time he lingered with clasped hands, and eyes most earnestly glancing upwards. There had come, even as he stood there, an evil allurement, and with prayer to God for strength, he had resisted its power. Then flowed in through the open door of his heart, a love of good, before which that evil enticement disappeared, as night when the day advances, and his soul was filled with blessedness and peace.