Self-Control

2 Peter 1:6  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 7
The word " temperance," in 2 Pet. 1:66And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; (2 Peter 1:6), means a great deal more than what is usually understood by that term. It is customary to apply the expression " temperance" to a habit of moderation in reference to eating and drinking. No doubt it fully involves this, but it involves very much more. Indeed, the Greek word used by the inspired apostle, may, with strict propriety, be rendered " self-control." It gives the idea of one who has self habitually well reined in.
This is a rare and admirable grace, diffusing its hallowed influence over the entire course, character, and conduct. It not only bears directly upon one, or two, or twenty selfish habits, but upon self in all the length and breadth of that comprehensive and most odious term. Many a one who would look, with proud disdain, upon a glutton or a drunkard, may himself fail, every hour, in exhibiting the grace of self-control. True it is that gluttony and drunkenness should be ranged with the very vilest and most demoralizing forms of selfishness. They must be regarded as amongst the most bitter clusters that grow on that wide-spreading tree. But, then, self is a tree, and not a mere branch of a tree, or a cluster on a branch; and we should not only judge self when it works, but control it that it may not work.
Some, however, may ask, "How can we control self?" The answer is blessedly simple: " I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me." (Phil. 4.) Have we not gotten salvation in Christ? Yes, blessed be God, we have. And what does this wondrous word include? Is it mere deliverance from the wrath to come? Is it merely the pardon of our sins, and the assurance of exemption from the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone? It is far more than these, precious and priceless though they be. In a word, then, "salvation" implies a full and hearty acceptance of Christ as my " wisdom," to guide me out of folly's dark and devious paths, into paths of heavenly light and peace; as my "righteousness," to justify me in the sight of a holy God; as my "sanctification," to make me practically holy in all my ways; and as my "redemption," to give me final deliverance from all the power of death, and entrance upon the eternal fields of glory.
Hence, therefore, it is evident that " self-control" is included in the salvation which we have in Christ. It is a result of that practical sanctification with which divine grace has endowed us. We should carefully guard against the habit of taking a narrow view of salvation. We should seek to enter into all its fullness. It is a word which stretches from everlasting to everlasting, and takes in, in its mighty sweep, all the practical details of daily life. I have no right to talk of salvation, as regards my soul, in the future, while I refuse to know and exhibit its practical bearing upon my conduct, in the present. We are saved, not only from the guilt and condemnation of sin, but also, and as fully, from the power, the practice, and the love of it. These things should never be separated, nor will they by any one who has been divinely taught the meaning, the extent, and the power of that precious word " salvation."
Now, in presenting to my reader a few practical sentences on the subject of self-control, I shall contemplate it under the three following divisions, namely-the thoughts, the tongue, and the temper. I take it for granted that I am addressing a saved person. If my reader be not that, I can only direct him to the one true and living way, " Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." (Acts 16) Put your whole trust in Him, and you shall be as safe as He is Himself. This grand theme is largely dwelt upon, and variously illustrated, throughout the pages of this magazine, and to them I would refer the unconverted sinner, or the anxious inquirer, while I proceed to deal with the practical and much-needed subject of self-control.
I. And, first, as to our thoughts, and the habitual government thereof. I suppose there are few Christians who have not suffered from evil thoughts-those troublesome intruders upon our most profound retirement-those constant disturbers of our mental repose, that so frequently darken the atmosphere around us, and prevent us from getting a full, clear view upward into the bright heaven above. The-Psalmist could say, " I hate vain thoughts." No wonder." They are truly hateful, and should be judged, condemned, and expelled. Some one, in speaking of the subject of evil thoughts, has said, " I cannot prevent birds from flying over me, but I can prevent their alighting upon me. In like' manner, I cannot prevent evil thoughts being suggested to my mind, but I can refuse them a lodgment therein."
But how can we control our thoughts? No more than we could blot out our sins, or create a world. What are we to do? Look to Christ. This is the true secret of self-control. He can keep us, not only from the lodgment, but also from the suggestion of the evil thoughts. We could no more prevent the one than the other. He can prevent both. He can keep the vile intruders, not only from getting in, but even from knocking at the door. When the divine life is in energy-when the current of spiritual thought and feeling is deep and rapid-when the heart's affections are intensely occupied with the Person of Christ, vain thoughts do not trouble us. It is only when spiritual indolence creeps over us that evil thoughts-vile and horrible progeny!-come in upon us, like a flood; and then our only resource it to look straight to Jesus. We might as well attempt to cope with the marshaled hosts of hell, as with a horde of evil thoughts. Our refuge is in Christ. He is made unto us sanctification. We can do all things through Him. We have just to bring the name of Jesus to bear upon the flood of evil thoughts, and He will, most assuredly, give full and immediate deliverance.
However, the more excellent way is, to be preserved from the suggestions of evil, by the power of pre-occupation with good. When the channel of thought is decidedly up-ward, when it is deep and well formed, free from all curves and indentations, then the current of imagination and feeling, as it gushes up from the deep fountains of the soul, will naturally flow onward in the bed of that channel. This, I repeat, is, unquestionably, the more excellent way. May we prove it in our own experience. " Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are venerable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things which ye have both learned and received, and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you." (Phil. 4:8, 98Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. 9Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. (Philippians 4:8‑9).) When the heart is fully engrossed with Christ, the living embodiment of all those things enumerated in verse 8, we enjoy profound peace, unruffled by evil thoughts. This is true self-control.
II. And, now, as to the tongue, that influential member, so fruitful in good, so fruitful in evil-the instrument whereby we can either give forth accents of soft and soothing sympathy, or words of bitter sarcasm and burning indignation. How deeply important is the grace of self-control in its application to such a member! Mischief, which years cannot repair, may be done by the tongue in a moment. Words, which we would give the world, if we had it, to recall, may be uttered by the tongue in an unguarded hour. Hear what the inspired apostle saith on this subject: " If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasted great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind. But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." (Jas. 3:2-82For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. 3Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. 4Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. 5Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! 6And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. 7For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: 8But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:2‑8).)
Who, then, can control the tongue? "No man" can do it; but Christ can; and we have only to look to Him, in simple faith which implies, at once, the sense of our own utter helplessness and His all-sufficiency. It is utterly impossible that we could control the tongue. As well might we attempt to stem the ocean's tide, the mountain torrent, or the Alpine avalanche. How often, when suffering under the effects of some egregious blunder of the tongue, have we resolved to command that unruly member somewhat better next time; but, alas! our resolution proved to be like the morning cloud that passeth away, and we had only to retire and weep over our lamentable failure in the matter of self-control. Now, why was this? Simply because we undertook the matter in our own strength, or, at least, without a sufficiently deep consciousness of our own weakness. This is the cause of constant failure. We must cling to Christ as the babe clings to its mother. Not that our clinging is of any value; still we must cling. Thus, and thus alone, can we successfully bridle the tongue. And oh! let us remember, at all times, the solemn searching words of the same apostle, James, " If any one (man, woman, or child) among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain." (chap. 1: 26.) These are wholesome words for a day like the present, when there are so many unruly tongues abroad. May we have grace to attend to these words! May their holy influence appear in our ways!
III. The last point to be considered is the temper, which is intimately connected with both the tongue and the thoughts. Indeed, all three are very closely linked. When the spring of thought is spiritual, and the current heavenly, the tongue is only the active agent for good, and the temper is calm and unruffled. Christ dwelling in the heart by faith regulates everything. Without Him, all is worse than worthless. I may possess and exhibit the self-command of a Franklin or a Socrates, and, all the while, be wholly ignorant of the " self-control" of 2 Pet. 1:66And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; (2 Peter 1:6). The latter is founded on " faith;" the former on philosophy, two totally different things. We must remember that the word is " Add to your faith." This puts faith first, as the only link to connect the heart with Christ, the living source of all power. Having Christ, and abiding in Him, we are enabled to add "courage, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, charity." Such are the precious fruits that now from abiding in Christ. But I can no more control my temper than my tongue or my thoughts; and if I set about it, I shall be sure to break down every hour. A mere philosopher, without Christ, may exhibit more self-control as to tongue and temper, than a Christian, if he abides not in Christ. This ought not to be, and would not be, if the Christian simply looked to Jesus. It is when he fails in this that the enemy gains the advantage. The philosopher, without Christ, seems to succeed in the great business of self-control, only that he may be the more effectually blinded as to the truth of his condition, and carried headlong to eternal ruin. But Satan delights to make a Christian stumble and fall, only that he may thereby blaspheme the precious name of Christ.
Christian reader, let us remember these things. Let us look to Christ to control our thoughts, our tongue, and our temper. Let us " give all diligence." Let us think how much is involved. " If these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins." This is deeply solemn. How easy it is to drop into a state of spiritual blindness and forgetfulness! No amount of knowledge, either of doctrine or the letter of Scripture, will preserve the soul from this awful condition. Nothing but " the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ will avail; and this knowledge is to be increased in the soul by "giving all diligence to add to our faith" the various graces to which the apostle refers in the above eminently practical and soul-stir ring passage. " Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."