1880: Self-Mastery


Brethren Of The Graduating Class :— When our Lord sent out his eleven disciples to subdue the world, there was only one thing that prevented its looking like the prelude to a tragedy, and that was that they obeyed him. A few perfectly disciplined soldiers are stronger than a mob, and a little baud of Christians who move at the word of Christ can beat down all opposition. As you go out to-night to reinforce the noble army of his ministers, we have hope for you because we trust that you have got yourselves under control. We know that if you have mastered yourselves, you can master the world. And this is the theme of the few remarks I make to you in parting :— Selfmastery essential to power in the ministry.

What sort of self-mastery, each one of you knows for himself better than I can tell him. All your experience and all my teaching has been in vain, if you have not learned that self is our worst enemy; that Satan has no power over us except when he finds an ally within us ; that this traitorous element inside the citadel lurks in different places in different men ; and that, wherever this is, there the fight for self-mastery must be fought. Christian ministers may find their besetting sin in the indulgence of bodily appetites. An excessive vitality may find mere common food and drink a source of temptation. Defective vitality may look to stimulants for strength. Constitutional indolence may need the continual spur of strenuous resolve. Excitable passions may need the constant bridle of watchfulness and prayer. I say to you, my brethren, that if you cannot conquer yourselves, on this lowest plane of mere physical habits, the ministry is no work for you. No man can bring others into subjection to Christ, so long as he is a slave himself. He need not be an ascetic, but he must keep the body under— like the boxer, strike it under the eye and make it his servant — lest, after having preached to others, he should be himself a castaway.

There is another sort of self-mastery which pertains to the intellectual being. There is no success in the ministry, for the man who cannot use his own mind. The preacher who compels the attention of this intensely active generation must know how to think. Thoughts, and not pious phrases, must be the staple of his public address. But thinking, until it becomes habit and delight, is the hardest of work. The power of thinking can be attained only by giving over the nursing of one's moods, and by setting one's self resolutely to do each day's task of study or of prayer. Let me exhort you from the very beginning of your ministry to have your fixed hours — the earliest and the best hours — for actual grappling with the great subjects of preaching. Abhor dawdling. Give yourselves no rest, until you have made your minds facile instruments to do your bidding. There is no recipe for driving out evil, like keeping the mind full of the good. Enthusiastic absorption of one's self in study and in work will scatter the whole brood of low desires and frivolous ambitions which crowd into every vacant corner of the soul and clamor for dominion. Of all men, the minister of Christ needs most to keep his own heart, lest the voice of flattery, or the love of power, or the attractions of society, or the pursuit of abstract truth, or even the selfish seeking of his own personal religious joy, should draw him aside from his one duty of publishing Christ. The surface of the ocean which men can see is nothing to the great invisible depths. God demands the consecration to himself of the hidden world of the thoughts. And no Christian minister is safe himself, or a safe teacher of others, who does not feel the deep necessity of bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

There are other regions still in which self-mastery is a condition of success, but I can mention only those which have to do with the will, and which require not so much active exertion as they do submission. Many a man fails in life because he is bent on acting upon some merely ideal plan, and is unwilling to work under actual conditions. This is rebellion against divine Providence, and argues pride and selfishness — not nobility of purpose., The first lesson for the statesman and for the pastor alike is that he must take things as they are, and consult the practicable. He may do this, without at all lowering his standard of right, or altering in the least his fixed determination to realize that right in ultimate practice. But he has certain constitutional limitations of talent; his opportunities are narrower than he might desire; his helpers may be few. He may find that he is misapprehended and opposed; that those for whom he works need a process of education, before they can accept his standards or enter into his plans ; that the imperfections and negligences of Christians are directly in his way. There are two wrong methods of dealing: first, that of denunciation, and secondly, that of despair. The first is the failure of passion; the second, the failure of unbelief. The servant of the Lord, on the one haud, must not strive,— ill-temper is confession of defeat; nor, on the other hand, must he abandon the conflict,— abandonment is defeat. But the true way is the way that is hardest to mere human nature — the way of self-restraint, of patient preparation for victory, of giving up one's own will and plan, for the time, until others can be trained to adopt and further it. Our democratic church-polity is a very good system for very good people. But sometimes the people are not very good. Then our polity is the best of all schools for the minister. But how will he ever pass the test, unless he has learned to rule his own spirit? Xenophon tells us that the youthful Cyrus was taught to obey, in order that he might know how to command. Be willing to bide your time, my brethren. Do not let the first breath of trouble in your churches frighten you from your posts. Stand by ; be masters of yourselves, though it cost you days of bitterness ; hold on to God aud to the truth, and your submissive persistence, your humble boldness, your contagious faith, will bring even your enemies to rally as one man to your support, or will deprive them of all power to hinder your trinmph. These victories over self are the greatest victories gained in this world. No paeans are sung over them, but God sees them and blesses them, and the conquest of their own wills, on the part of his ministers, is the precursor of conquest for the cause which they serve.

These are the various spheres in which the minister of Christ must be master of himself. Why must he thus conquer himself 1 Because this only can give him conscious sincerity. No man can fight a devil outside of him, when he is harboring that same devil in his own heart. He must cast out the devil from within, or the outward struggle will be only a pretense. And he will be more or less conscious that it is a pretense. It is a dreadful thing to face — those hundreds of scrutinizing eyes that peer into your soul from the public audience — a dreadful thing to face, when you are not quite honest with yourself. You thought you were going to brave it out, with superficial fervors or with curious intellectualisms. But ah, the very sinews of your strength are cut,—you are divided against yourself; the secret sin is blazoned before your eyes, if not before the eyes of your congregation; you might as well be dumb, so far as effective speech is concerned. What you want is such conscious sincerity as shall enable you to throw yourself and your whole life without reserve into the battle,— but a miserable simulacrum and shell of yourself is all that is left you. And so we have the preaching of compromises — compromises with fashionable customs, with smoothlynamed immoralities, with current skepticisms, with novelties in churchorder or church-disorder. The truth is, that no man can possibly preach the cross of Christ and all that cross represents, unless he has been and is crucified with Christ in his own personal life. The Jesuits did well when they prefaced all public work by that long retreat for self-mortification and self-renunciation. And the Church, the true Society of Jesus, should not think its ministers qualified for service, until they have so mastered themselves as to bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.

Only such self-mastery can enable the preacher to impress others. Men look at the preacher, and their first question is: "What is there in him? Has he any religion — anything different from what we have ourselves?" He needs to answer that question by showing in his own person two things: first, the penetration and spirituality of God's law; and, secondly, the conquering power of the personal Christ. How can he be an example of what God requires, unless in his measure he presents like Christ the law of God drawn out in living characters? How can he be an example of what Christ can accomplish, unless he shows in himself that desires and affections, habits and inclinations, which he once could not conquer, are brought now into subjection, and that he is a victor, inviting others to come and share in his trinmph and rejoicing? Oh, my brethren, the young men of your congregations will learn more from your personal habits of self-indulgence or selfdenial, than they will ever learn from your sermons! Only as Christ leads you in trinmph, will you be able to induce others to swell his conquering train. And your preaching, whether true or false, cannot be indifferent in its results. It will either be a savor of life uuto life, or of death unto death. Most of all, it is important to remember that only the self-ruling spirit can secure for a minister the favor and blessing of God. For God sees the heart. He knows whether it is trnly submitted to him; though man may not see through disguises, God does. We have learned, I trust, that it is not our talent or administration that wins true success, but only the mighty working of his Spirit. Oh, the absurdity and madness of expecting success in the ministry, when our own being is a chaos of warring elements, not subject to our true selves nor to God, aud so not able or worthy to be made the channel for God's grace to flow in to others! It was well for Mr. Moody that he resolved to show in himself how much God was willing to do through a man perfectly consecrated to his service. Are you willing, my brethren, to bring your whole being under control, in order that God's Spirit in its fullness may rest upon you?

And now how may this self-mastery be acquired? We do not endanger the divine side of the truth, when we say that there is requisite a resolute will. Christianity does not make man a self-less organ of God's working. We are not to lose our wills, but, in a true sense, to have more of will than ever before. God works in and through man's working. Your true selves must rise up against the false, and put these down. But then all this, in sole dependence upon him who worketh in us. In Christ alone do we find our true selves,— in him alone attain real freedom and power. This truth

of union with Christ, as you well know, has been the centre and burden of my teaching. I bring you to it once more at this critical moment of your lives, when like the king of Babylon, you stand at the parting of the ways. In that truth lies the solution of all mysteries, the answer to all perplexities, the overcoming strength for all conflicts, and specially for the conflict with yourselves. You desire to know how you may attain this self-mastery? The answer is: "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with its affections and lusts." Christ has himself conquered, and he waits to make you partakers of his victory. By faith receive him, and you shall be more than conquerors through him that loved you. Only the Son of God, joining his almighty wisdom and strength to yours, can enable you to subdue yourselves. But he is able to save, unto the uttermost, all them that come to God through him.

My dear brethren, we have loved you, and have followed your course with the deepest interest, until now. But love itself prompts us, as we look on toward your future, to reiterate this one precept, that you prepare for work outside of you, by work in your own souls. The life that is before you is but a little thing, and soon over. It may be a mere beating of the air, with nothing done, at the end of it. There may be less of purity and strength at the end, than at the beginning ; less of thought and of power, both in preaching and in life. Or, it may be the constantly widening battle-field and victory of a constantly stronger combatant — a combatant more believing, more successful, more humble — as the years pass on. And beginnings make endings. He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much. Beginning in your own heart and mastering that for Christ, then carrying your victorious arms into the small field of your first service and winning that also for your Redeemer, you shall be preparing for yet wider conflicts and wider responsibilities. For though beginnings make endings, they are not themselves the endings. These last are beyond the sphere of sense and time. There, he who has been faithful over a few things shall be ruler over many things, and they who have mastered self and the world shall be advanced to positions of high responsibility in God's great empire. There are bad endings and good endings. In the case of every one of you, may God prevent the former; may he grant the latter! Preaching Christ's gospel, may you save both yourselves and those who hear you! And may you have the evidence and pledge of this final victory, in the present daily and hourly conquest of yourselves!