Chapter 28: Exercising Self-Control

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (1997), 202–209


President Brigham Young learned through experience that leading people of strong and often independent wills to Zion brought moments of triumph and moments of exasperation. In 1848, the wagon train of 2,000 Saints that he led encountered a herd of buffalo. Although President Young appointed camp hunters to kill just enough buffalo to provide meat for the travelers, other men left their teams to ride after the animals all day, shooting them in abundance and leaving dead buffalo on the prairie to waste. He reproved the people for the course they had taken [see JTB, 29–30 June, 2 July 1848]. He later said, “Learn to govern yourselves” (DNW, 15 Aug. 1860, 1). “Bless yourselves and friends, by conquering and controlling yourselves, [for] unless you control [your] passions [and] make all your faculties subservient to the principles God has revealed, you will never arrive at that state of happiness, glory, joy, peace, and eternal felicity that you are anticipating” (DNW, 15 Aug. 1860, 1).

Teachings of Brigham Young

We can control ourselves and submit to God’s will.

Have we a will? Yes, it is an endowment, a trait of the character of the Gods, with which all intelligence is endowed, in heaven and on earth,—the power to accept or reject (DBY, 264).

Take people in every capacity of life, and their wills are first and foremost. You can gain and lead the affections of the people, but you cannot scare them, nor whip them, nor burn them to do right against their wills. The human family will die to gratify their wills. Then learn to rightly direct those wills, and you can direct the influence and power of the people (DBY, 264).

God has placed within us a will, and we should be satisfied to have it controlled by the will of the Almighty. Let the human will be indomitable for right. It has been the custom of parents to break the will until it is weakened, and the noble, God-like powers of the child are reduced to a comparative state of imbecility and cowardice. Let that heaven-born property of human agents be properly tempered and wisely directed, instead of pursuing the opposite course, and it will conquer in the cause of right. Break not the spirit of any person, but guide it to feel that it is its greatest delight and highest ambition to be controlled by the revelations of Jesus Christ, then the will of man becomes God-like in overcoming the evil that is sown in the flesh, until God shall reign within us to will and do of his good pleasure (DBY, 264).

Learn to control yourselves; learn to be in the hands of God as clay in the hands of the potter (DBY, 265).

Let each person be determined, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to overcome every besetment—to be the master of himself, that the Spirit God has put in your tabernacles shall rule; then you can converse, live, labor, go here or there, do this or that, and converse and deal with your brethren as you ought (DBY, 265–66).

Brigham Young

President Young taught the Saints to exercise self-control in all aspects of their lives.

We can control ourselves until we bring everything “into subjection to the law of Christ.”

The sooner an individual resists temptation to do, say, or think wrong, while he has light to correct his judgment, the quicker he will gain strength and power to overcome every temptation to evil (DBY, 266).

The thousands and tens of thousands of incidents that make up the sum of human lives, whether for good or evil, depend on a momentary watchfulness and care (DBY, 267).

You cannot inherit eternal life, unless your appetites are brought in subjection to the spirit that lives within you, that spirit which our Father in Heaven gave. I mean the Father of your spirits, of those spirits which he has put into these tabernacles. The tabernacles must be brought in subjection to the spirit perfectly, or your bodies cannot be raised to inherit eternal life. … Seek diligently, until you bring all into subjection to the law of Christ (DBY, 266).

I am trying to civilize myself. Are you trying to do the same? If we have succeeded in this, then we have control over our words and over our actions, and also, so far as our influence goes, over our associates. If we are civilized ourselves, we shall be partially prepared to receive the things that our Father and God has in store for all such as prepare themselves to become recipients of his choice gifts—for enlightenment, for intelligence, for glory, for power, and for every qualification he wishes to bestow upon his children here upon the earth, to prepare them to dwell in mansions of eternal light (DBY, 266–67).

I have frequently said that the greatest endowment God ever gave to man is good, sound, solid sense to know how to govern ourselves (DBY, 265).

No man ever did, or ever will rule judiciously on this earth, with honor to himself and glory to his God, unless he first learn to rule and control himself. A man must first learn to rule himself rightly before his knowledge can be fully brought to bear for the correct government of a family, a neighborhood, or nation, over which it is his lot to preside (DBY, 265).

Until we can subdue our own passions, and bring every human feeling and aspiration into subjection to the will of God, we are not really capable of guiding and dictating others to the full possession of victory in the Kingdom of God. To conquer and subdue, and school ourselves until we bring everything into subjection to the law of Christ, is our work (DBY, 267).

We are trying to govern ourselves, and if we continue trying and faint not, we shall assuredly conquer (DBY, 265).

We can control our passions and emotions.

You have been taught the standard of right. Now subdue your rebellious passions, dismiss everything that you know or consider to be wrong, and embrace that which is better (DBY, 265).

In this probation, we have evil to contend with, and we must overcome it in ourselves, or we never shall overcome it anywhere else (DBY, 265).

A righteous person will never be discouraged, but will constantly contend against his evil passions, and against evil in his family and neighborhood (DBY, 267).

Many men will say they have a violent temper, and try to excuse themselves for actions of which they are ashamed. I will say, there is not a man in this house who has a more indomitable and unyielding temper than myself. But there is not a man in the world who cannot overcome his passion, if he will struggle earnestly to do so. If you find passion coming on you, go off to some place where you cannot be heard; let none of your family see you or hear you, while it is upon you, but struggle till it leaves you; and pray for strength to overcome. As I have said many times to the Elders, pray in your families; and if, when the time for prayer comes, you have not the spirit of prayer upon you, and your knees are unwilling to bow, say to them, “Knees, get down there”; make them bend, and remain there until you obtain the Spirit of the Lord. If the spirit yields to the body, it becomes corrupt; but if the body yields to the spirit it becomes pure and holy (DBY, 267).

Do not get so angry that you cannot pray; do not allow yourselves to become so angry that you cannot feed an enemy—even your worst enemy, if an opportunity should present itself. There is a wicked anger, and there is a righteous anger. The Lord does not suffer wicked anger to be in his heart; but there is anger in his bosom, and he will hold a controversy with the nations, and will sift them, and no power can stay his hand (DBY, 269).

When my feelings are aroused to anger by the ill-doings of others, I hold them as I would hold a wild horse, and I gain the victory. Some think and say that it makes them feel better when they are mad, as they call it, to give vent to their madness in abusive and unbecoming language. This, however, is a mistake. Instead of its making you feel better, it is making bad worse. When you think and say it makes you better you give credit to a falsehood. When the wrath and bitterness of the human heart are moulded into words and hurled with violence at one another, without any check or hindrance, the fire has no sooner expended itself than it is again re-kindled through some trifling course, until the course of nature is set on fire (DBY, 266).

Now I charge you again, and I charge myself not to get angry. Never let anger arise in your hearts. No, Brigham, never let anger arise in your heart, never, never! Although you may be called upon to chastise and to speak to the people sharply, do not let anger arise in you, no, never! (DBY, 265).

Cease your anger, and sullenness of temper, and serve the Lord with cheerfulness, and singleness of heart. You need not expect salvation, except you can administer the same salvation to others, both in precept and example. If you expect compassion from me, administer the same to me. If you wish kind words and kind treatment from me, give me the same blessing you desire yourself; and that is the way you will be saved (DBY, 268–69).

If you give way to your angry feelings, it sets on fire the whole course of nature, … and you are then apt to set those on fire who are contending with you. When you feel as though you would burst, tell the old boiler to burst, and just laugh at the temptation to speak evil. If you will continue to do that, you will soon be so masters of yourselves as to be able, if not to tame, to control your tongues—able to speak when you ought, and to be silent when you ought (DBY, 269).

We want the spirit, knowledge, power and principle within us to govern and control our tempers; there is no danger of having too much [anger] if we will only control [it] by the Spirit of the Almighty. Every intelligent being on the earth is tempered for glory, beauty, excellency and knowledge here, and for immortality and eternal lives in the worlds to come. But every being who attains to this must be sanctified before God and be completely under the control of his Spirit. If I am thus controlled by the Spirit of the Most High, I am a king. I am supreme so far as the control of self is concerned (DBY, 264–65).

We can control our speech.

If you first gain power to check your words, you will then begin to have power to check your judgment, and at length actually gain power to check your thoughts and reflections (DBY, 267–68).

You should succeed in bringing your tongues into subjection, so as never to let them speak evil, so that they will perfectly obey your judgment and the discretion God has given you, and are perfectly obedient to the will of the holy Gospel (DBY, 268).

We often hear people excuse themselves for their uncouth manners and offensive language, by remarking “I am no hypocrite,” thus taking to themselves credit for that which is really no credit to them. When evil arises within me, let me throw a cloak over it, subdue it, instead of acting it out upon the false presumption that I am honest and no hypocrite. Let not thy tongue give utterance to the evil that is in thine heart, but command thy tongue to be silent until good shall prevail over the evil, until thy wrath has passed away and the good Spirit shall move thy tongue to blessings and words of kindness (DBY, 266).

If any are in the habit of taking the name of God in vain, cease doing so today, tomorrow and throughout the coming week, and so continue, and you will soon gain strength to overcome the habit entirely; you will gain power over your words (DBY, 268).

Some are in the habit of talking about their neighbors, of vending stories they know nothing about, only that Aunt Sally said that Cousin Fanny told Aunt Betsy that old Aunt Ruth said something or other, or somebody had had a dream; and by the time the story or dream reaches you, it has assumed the semblance of a fact, and you are very foolishly spending your time in talking about things that amount to nothing, or that you have no concern with. A report is started that such a one has done wrong, and, by the time it has gone its round, has become anointed with the salve of the backbiter and tale-bearer—become endowed with their spirit. One and another falls in with it and says, “That is true—your cause is just, you are exactly right, and the other is surely wrong,” when they know nothing about the matter, thereby engendering entirely groundless ill feelings against each other. Before we condemn, we should wait until the heavens clearly indicate a fault in a father, brother, sister, wife, husband, or neighbor. And if heaven declares a fault, wait until the Holy Ghost manifests to you that such is a fault. Let the Father reveal to you that the person you are thinking or talking about is actually wrong. Traduce [expose to shame or blame by falsehood] no person. When you know what right is, and are capable of correcting a person that is wrong, then it is time enough for you to judge (DBY, 268).

There is no man or woman on the earth in the habit of stealing, but what can cease the practice … if they are disposed. And so with the liar, he can stop lying, and lie no more, and tell the truth. [He or she] only [needs] the will to do it, and [this will] enable the liar to be truthful, the thief to be honest, and the swearer to stop his evil speaking (DBY, 264).

While we have the privilege of speaking to each other, let us speak words of comfort and consolation. When you are influenced by the Spirit of holiness and purity, let your light shine; but if you are tried and tempted and buffeted by Satan, keep your thoughts to yourselves—keep your mouths closed; for speaking produces fruit, either of a good or evil character (DBY, 166).

There is an old maxim, and in many cases an excellent one. It is, “Think twice before you speak, and three times before you act.” If we train ourselves to think what we are about to do, before we do it, and have understanding to know, and power to perform the good, we can thereby avoid … evil (DBY, 268).

It is also a precious gift, that some people seem to be possessed of, to have knowledge enough not to talk until they can say something to advantage and benefit to themselves, or others, or both (DBY, 268).

Suggestions for Study

We can control ourselves and submit to God’s will.

  • President Young taught that will is “a trait of the character of the Gods.” He also said that our will is an endowment, or gift, from God. By what process does the will of man become Godlike? (See also Mosiah 3:19.) How can parents and leaders “rightly direct” the wills of children and others but “break not the spirit of any person”? How have your parents or leaders successfully guided your will in the right way?

  • What does it mean to be “in the hands of God as clay in the hands of the potter”? How can we completely submit to the Lord’s will and still maintain our individuality?

We can control ourselves until we bring everything “into subjection to the law of Christ.”

  • How does resisting one temptation increase our ability to resist all temptation? President Young taught that bringing our appetites “in subjection to the spirit” is necessary to “be raised to inherit eternal life.” How does obeying our spiritual inclinations rather than our physical appetites prepare us for exaltation?

  • What “choice gifts” does control of self prepare us to receive from God?

  • Why must we have self-control before we can lead others?

  • What do you think President Young meant when he taught that “the greatest endowment God ever gave to man is good, sound, solid sense to know how to govern ourselves”? How can we govern ourselves and at the same time submit to doing only the Father’s will?

We can control our passions and emotions.

  • What are some “rebellious passions” that we are to control? How can we successfully subdue such passions and actions?

  • How do we distinguish between “righteous anger,” such as shown by the Savior on occasions, and “wicked anger”? (See also 2 Nephi 1:26.)

  • What are the results of giving way to our angry feelings? (See also James 3:5–6.) What was President Young’s advice for controlling anger? How does submission to the Spirit help us control our anger?

We can control our speech.

  • How can we “gain power to check [our] thoughts and reflections”?

  • How did President Young counsel those who say they speak offensively to avoid being hypocritical?

  • How might we control our tongues when we are tempted to (1) take the name of God in vain, (2) gossip about our neighbors, (3) find fault with or disgrace the reputation of someone else (see also D&C 136:23–24), or (4) embarrass or demean a family member or a friend? (See also D&C 52:16.)

  • What should we do if we have unkind thoughts about others?