One fine morning I was strolling on a country road encompassed by every kind of greenery that filled my soul with well-being of the highest degree. I was full of expectancy of the best when I beheld, nearby a slaughter house, two apparently hungry dogs engaged in a bloody fight over what I later discovered to be a meatless piece of bone. I wondered why they had to quarrel over a worthless portion of animal skeleton. I was amazed especially when I saw the slaughter house which undoubtedly was the source of such a bone. It should not have offered any difficulty for one of them to look and find another piece of bone with abounding flesh from the slaughter house.
One consoling thought that struck me immediately while watching with fun these two unintelligent animals was that they were not human. Without any faculty of intellect, they could not exercise self-control nor feel any compunction or shame for my presence.
Thenceforth, I continued to walk leisurely, convinced that only dogs would act they way I had just witnessed. I was certainly saddened, in spite of my surroundings, when at a distance before me I saw two men locked in physical combat. I intervened, and they stopped at a point when one of them pulled a long knife. My presence was properly timed to prevent the certain death of the other who was apparently without any defensive weapon except his hands. I inquired what was wrong, and they began accusing each other. As a lawyer, I advised them that whoever won the fight is not a winner in the true sense because not only would he be deprived of peace of mind but that the authorities would see to it that he went to jail to pay for his crime.
The cause of it all, I finally found out, was that one owed the other the measly sum of $10.00 which he could not pay at the moment but promised to do so in an uncertain future. The latter, obviously drunk, became fed up with promises and so decided to settle it his way on the assumption it would solve his problem. Naturally, I remarked that it is the duty of the courts to collect debts otherwise impossible of recovery and that to take somebody’s life is too high a price for such an insignificant amount.
I left these two men shaking hands in renewed friendship, as I volunteered to pay the debt in behalf of the debtor.
The course taken by these two men was surely less forgivable than that of the dogs. Dogs are not expected to exercise self-control. But many of us act like dogs if we don’t.
Just what is this elusive word “self-control”? Webster defines it as “restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires”. These three: impulses, emotions, and desires must be put in subjection by anyone human if he is to anticipate peace and harmony in his life, if he is to acquire the sterling embodiments of perfection and godship in the eternities.
Such is the law: both immutable and demanding but a law nevertheless. It may be obeyed or broken to the benefit or prejudice of anyone who does.
Latter-day Saints, above all other members of any community, have been regarded here and abroad, in the past and in the present, as a strange people because they have overcome a number of things which non-members engage in freely or with license. We do not touch anyone of those things embraced in the Word of Wisdom; we pay our tithes with the money that non-members otherwise spend in the passing pleasures of the day or night; we avoid any participation in anything worldly that violates the standards of things of beauty and of good report; or we depart from unwholesome companionship or association of anybody or anything that would give the appearance of evil.
To be sure, all these require extreme self-control, which when pursued faithfully ripen into self-mastery which President Spencer W. Kimball in his “Miracle of Forgiveness” says is a continuous program. It is always associated with obedience to law and order. Our Lord Jesus the Christ became the author of eternal salvation because he was made perfect through continued obedience by the things which he suffered throughout his earthly ministry.
In the Book of Doctrines of the Hindus, this one appears:
“That man alone is wise
Who keeps the mastery of himself! If one
Ponders on objects of the sense, there springs
Attraction; from attraction grows desire.
Desire flames to fierce passion, passion breeds
Recklessness; then the memory—all betrayed—
Lets noble purpose go, and saps the mind,
Till purpose, mind, and man are all undone.”
If recklessness saps the mind and the memory forgets the noble purpose of our creation, and when such a purpose, mind and man are all undone, what is left of him? Need we ask? Certainly, the dog in him, the animal in him! And when one day he quarrels with a dog over a worthless piece of human bone, we will not be surprised.
The Chinese philosopher Confucious once said that “Who contains himself goes seldom wrong”. This is logical because the simple implication is that this man is obedient to law and, therefore, commits no wrong. But the Greek philosopher Epectitus also declared that “No man is free who is not master of himself.” This again is plain because he who does not control his impulses, emotions and desires permits himself to be their slave by following them at every turn. A slave, as we know, is one without freedom but does the bidding of his master to satisfy the latter’s every whim which usually leads to destruction and death.
Self-control, whether we like it or not, is an all-embracing and paramount consideration in the life of every Christian. For the ultimate reward for obedience through self-control, and ultimately self-mastery, is kingship over cities, dominions and principalities. No one, absolutely no one, can qualify in the eternal realms to be a king exercising control over others unless he has completely mastered himself. That is why unless we now practice self-control, we cannot hope to be worthy of the reward so high and forbidding yet not a necessarily unreachable, impossible dream. Jesus Christ did it. He said we can do it. So, it can be done.
The great author John Milton once wrote in his “Paradise Regained”:
“Yet he who reigns within himself, and rules
Passions, desires, and fears, is more a king—
Which every wise and virtuous man attains;And who attains not, ill aspires to rule
Cities of man, headstrong multitudes,
Subject himself to anarchy within,
Or lawless passion in him, which he serves.
But to guide nations in the way of truth
By saving doctrine, and error lead
To know, and by knowing worship God aright,
Is yet more kingly. This attracts the soul,
Governs the inner man, the nobler part.”
President Spencer W. Kimball, echoing the sentiments of an unknown author, also said:
“The height of a man’s success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment. There is no other limitation in either direction and this law is the expression of eternal justice. He who cannot establish a dominion over himself will have no dominion over others; he who masters himself shall be king.