O Sentinel at the loose swung door of my impetuous lips,
Guard close today! Make sure no word unjust or cruel slips
In anger forth, by folly spurred or armed with envy’s whips;
Keep clear the way today.
Arnold Townsend, in the Outlook.
All life should be beautiful. God is a God of beauty. He never made anything that was not beautiful. St. Paul, in designating certain qualities of character which every Christian should strive to attain, names “whatsoever things are lovely.” Nothing that is unlovely should be allowed in the life of any Christian. We should always strive to be beautiful in life. F.W. Farrar says, “There is but one failure; that is, not to be true to the best one knows.” O.S. Marden names as signs of deterioration in character, “when you are satisfied with mediocrity, when commonness does not trouble you, when a slighted job does not haunt you.”
Self control is one of the finest things in any life. It is not a single element in character, but something that has to do with all the element. It binds them all together in one. In one of St. Paul’s clusters of the qualities of a noble character, he names love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, ending with self control. Self control is self mastery. It is kingship over all life. At the centre of your being sits yourself. Your seat ought to be a throne. If you are not in control, if there are any forces in your nature that are unruly, that do not acknowledge your sway, you are not the king you should be. Part of your kingdom is in insurrection. The strength of your life is divided. The strong man is he whose whole being is subject to him.
Perfect self control is ideal life. You are like a man driving a team of spirited horses. So long as he sits on the driver’s set and the horses obey him implicitly, acknowledging the slightest pressure upon the reins, all is well. But if the animals become restive, begin to champ on the bits, and cease to obey the driver’s impulse, and then dash away from his guidance, he has lost his control. A man has self control when he sits in his place and has his hands on all the reins of his life. His is kingly when he has complete master of his temper, his speech, his feelings, his appetites; when he can be quiet under injury and wrong, hurt to the quick but showing no sign, patient and still under severe provocation; when he can stand amid temptations and not yield to them.
A man when insulted may break out into a passion of anger, and become a very “son of thunder” in the vehemence of his rage. But that is not strength. The man who when treated unjustly remains silent, answers not a word, with cheeks white, yet restraining himself, showing no resentment, but keeping love in his heart, is the strong man. The Wise Man puts it thus:
“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city.”
There are men who rule other men and cannot rule themselves. They are victorious in battle, but they cannot control their own temper, restrain their own speech, or hold in calm quiet their own spirits. There is nothing beautiful in such a life. Nothing more effectually mars a life than fretfulness, discontent, worry, impatience. Nothing is more pitiful than a life made to be strong, kingly, noble, calm, peaceful, but which is, instead, the play of every excitement, every temper, every resentment, every appetite and passion. Someone says, “Alexander conquered all the world, except — Alexander.”
Not only is self control strong — it is also beautiful. Anger is not beautiful. Ungoverned temper is not lovely. Rage is demonic. But a spirit calm, strong, and unflustered, amid storms of feeling and all manner of disturbing emotions, is sublime in its beauty. “A temper under control, a heart subdued into tenderness and patience, a voice cheerful with hope, and a countenance bright with kindness, are invaluable possessions to any man or woman.”
The Bible furnishes examples of self control. One is in the story of King Saul’s anointing. The people received him with great enthusiasm. “All the people shouted, and said, Long live the King.” He then went to his house, and there went with him the host. But there were a few who refused to shout. “Certain worthless fellows said, how shall this man save us? And they despised him, and brought him no present.” Saul might have resented the insult offered him, for he was king now, and might have slain those who refused to receive him; but he restrained himself and spoke not a word. Amid the sneers and scoffs of these worthless men he was as though he heard nothing of all they said. He held his peace.
We are apt to resent insults and retaliate when others do us evil. But the Christian way is either not to speak at all, or to give the soft answer that turneth away wrath. The way to conquer an enemy is to treat him with kindness. Ignoring slights and quietly going on with love’s duty, returning kindness for unkindness, is the way to get the true victory. The best answer to sneers, scoffs, and abuse is a life of persistent patience and gentleness.
It is in Jesus that we have the finest illustrations of self control, as of all noble qualities. The tongue is the hardest of all the members of the body to control. No man can tame it, says St. James. Yet Jesus had perfect mastery over his tongue. He never said a word that he would better not have said. He never spoke unadvisedly. When bitterly assailed by enemies, when they sought to catch him in his words, when they tried by false accusations to make him speak angrily, he held his peace and said not a word. Not only did he refrain from hasty and ill tempered speech, but he kept his spirit in control. Some men can keep silence with their lips though in their hearts the fire burns hotly; but Jesus kept love in his heart under all provocation. He was master of his thoughts and feelings. He never grew angry or bitter. When he was reviled he reviled not again; when he was hated he loved on; when nails were driven through his hands the blood from his wounds became the blood of redemption. Nor was it weakness in Jesus that kept him silent under men’s reproaches and reviling, and under all injuries and insults. There was no moment when he could not have summoned legions of angels to defend him and to strike down his persecutors. He voluntarily accepted wrong when he could have resisted. He never lifted a finger on his own behalf, though he could have crushed his enemies. He returned kindness for unkindness. Thus he set us the example of patient endurance of wrong, of silent suffering, rather than angry accusation.
In his words, also, Christ teaches us this lesson of self control. Meekness is one of the Beatitudes. It is the ripe fruit of restraint under insult and wrong. “Accustom yourself to injustice” was the counsel of an English preacher. It is not easy to accept such teaching. We do not like to be treated unjustly. We can learn to endure a good many other things and still keep patient and sweet. But to endure injustice seems to be beyond the “seventy times seven” included in our Lord’s measurement of forgiving. Yet it is not beyond the limit of the law of love. Certainly the Master in his own life accustomed himself to injustice. He was silent even to this phase of wrong, and he leaves the lesson of his example to us.
The beauty of self control! It is always beautiful, and the lack of it is always a blemish. A lovely face which has won us by its grace instantly loses its charm and winsomeness when in some excitement bad temper breaks out. An angry countenance is disfiguring. It hides the angel and reveals the demon. Self control gives calmness and poise. It should be practiced not only on great occasions, but on the smallest. A hundred times a day it will save us from weakness and fluster and make us strong a quiet. It is the outcome of peace. If the heart be still and quiet with the peace of Christ, the whole life is under heavenly guard. The king is on his throne and there is no misrule anywhere.
How can we get this self control which means so much to our lives? It is essential if we would live beautifully. We are weak without it.
How can we get the mastery over ourselves? It is not attained by a mere resolve. We cannot simply assert our self mastery and then have it. We cannot put self on the throne by a mere proclamation. It is an achievement which must be won by ourselves and won by degrees. It is a lesson which must be learned, a long lesson which it takes many days to learn. As Lowell says:
We need divine help in learning the lesson. Yet we must be diligent in doing our part. God helps those who help themselves. When we strive to be calm and self controlled he puts his own strength into our heart. Then we shall find ourselves growing strong and gaining in self mastery. The attainment will come slowly.
But however long it may take us to reach this heavenly achievement we should never be content until we have reached it. This is the sum of all learning and experience. It is the completeness of all spiritual culture. The man in us is only part a man while we are not master of ourselves. We are in grave peril while any weak hour we may lose our kingliness and be cast down. It took Moses forty years to learn self control, and he did not learn it in the world’s universities; it was only when God was his teacher and his school was in the desert that he mastered it. Then in a sad, unwatched moment he lost his kingly power for an instant and spoke a few words unadvisedly, and failed and could not finish his work.
Think what the want of self control is costing men continually! One moment’s dropping of the reins and a wrong decision is made, a temptation is accepted, a battle is lost, and a splendid life lies in ruin. Let us achieve the grace of self control.
from the book “The Beauty Of Self Control” by J.R. Miller D.D.