“Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls” (The Book of Proverbs).
IF WE FAIL TO LEARN SELF-CONTROL, WE LEAVE OURSELVES DEFENSELESS AGAINST THE WORST ENEMIES OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT. It is simply a fact that some things have to be refused, and while we may sometimes err in distinguishing between what should and should not be refused, the inability to say “No” to anything is a disastrous deficiency. Without the power of “No,” we are doomed.
Consider anger, for example. While not inherently wrong, anger is a form of emotional dynamite that most of us are not capable of handling without hurting ourselves and others. Anger requires restraint, but it is extremely hard to restrain. The person who can do it is a person of uncommon strength and courage. As another text from Proverbs says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”
Ultimately, self-control means we yield to the commands of our conscience. I like how W. K. Hope described it: “Self-discipline is when your conscience tells you to do something and you don’t talk back.” But since following our conscience is not always what we want to do, it’s a hard habit to acquire. For most of us, subordinating our impulses and desires to our conscience takes years of practice.
Life is full of tests, and some are bigger than others. Before we die, two or three situations are probably going to arise that will test us far beyond the limits of life’s normal trials. Some people think they can repeatedly default on life’s little responsibilities, but when the big moment arrives (and the spotlight is on), they’ll be able to rise to the occasion and do what’s right. But H. P. Liddon was telling the truth when he said, “What we do upon some great occasion will probably depend on what we already are; and what we are will be the result of previous years of self-discipline.” So if honest evaluation indicates that we’re “a city broken down, without walls,” now is the time to work on our self-control. When we’ve mastered our impulses, we’ll be rulers over a treasure-city with riches no enemy is strong enough to take from us.
Lord of himself, though not of lands;
And having nothing, yet hath all.
(Sir Henry Wotton)