Chapter VII Self-Control-Self-Restraint-Self-Command–Self-Denial

Moral Self-culture.––The four types of behaviour now to be considered are not attractive. An instinct, perhaps a true instinct, repels us from all substantives compounded with 'self.' 'What's the good?' we say, when an ideal of self-culture is held up for our admiration, and the Will jibs. It is not to be moved to any constant action for self-centred ends. To be sure, as we have seen, a score of self-originated motives––self-esteem, self-respect, and the like––that come of vanity and pride move us to action, not against our will, but without our will. And the self-control and self-constraint to which we have been exhorted from infancy, and rightly so, even self-denial, may be practised and perfected, all for the sake of that dear Self which perceives that serenity is blessed, that self-approval is a happy state, that self-complacency is singularly agreeable to the one who has it; that, in fact, this sort of moral self-culture pays. Then, has not Self a right to be complacent on the score of such results; for, how they tend to the comfort of everyone else! How they make for peace and pleasantness!

Self-Absorption.––I am not sure. The moral self-culture which is practised for its own sake is apt to give a curious apartness to the self-cultured person. There is a loss of spontaneity, a suggestion of a 'higher plane,' which stops the flow of simple, natural sympathy, the only gift we have for one another. Any sort of absorption has this effect; no one expects much of a lover, or a poet, or of a student cramming for an examination; but the lover's case is, we know, only a phase, and so is the student's; and as for the poet, in so far as there is anything in him, he is working for the world. But nothing comes of self-absorption beyond that personal culture which is its aim. The rest of us are not very willing to be benefited by persons who are evidently on another plane: even Christ reached us where we are, for was He not in all points tempted like as we are?

I remember once meeting, amongst a large party, a lady who was rather a puzzle to me. She was striking-looking and very agreeable. She was a leader in whatever went on in the house––acting, reciting, games, talk––and excelled everyone else in whatever she did. She was very kind, too; wherever there was a little need or ailment, she was on the watch to give help. This lady was a puzzle to me, because, with so much that was charming, there was a certain aloofness about her that was repellent. I thought, perhaps she was a woman with a story; but, no, everybody knew all about her. At last her kind wish to help me disclosed the mystery. If I laid myself upon my bed in such and such a position, and said, 'I am very happy, there is nothing the matter with me,' etc., etc., for so long every day, the result would be perfect serenity of mind and health of body.

Then I saw what put this interesting woman out of touch with the people about her. She had a distinct personal cult, a cult of her own well-being, which, notwithstanding many kindnesses, proved like a wall topped with broken glass to the rest of us; we could not get at her, and though she practised every one of the behaviours at the head of this chapter, and more of the kind, I believe it was nothing to the rest of the party.

A Better Way.––Self-restraint, the ordering of our appetites; self-control, the keeping back the expression of our passions and emotions; self-command, which keeps our temper from running away with us; self-denial, which causes us to do without things that we want––all these may be excellent; but there is a better way.

When the Will aims at what is without self and more than self, the appetites are no longer ravenous, nor the emotions overpowering, nor the temper rebellious (except for a quick, impulsive instant, followed by regret and recovery). As for self-denial, it is impossible for love to go without what it wants, because it is not aware of personal wants. The mother who feeds her child with the last crust, covers it with her last rag, does not exercise self-denial, but love. Probably a great deal of harm to ourselves and others is done by what we call our self-denials. "I won't have you saving yer dirty sowl upon me," said an Irish woman to her district visitor; and it is just possible that she expressed a law of life,––that we are not allowed to be good to others, or even to be good in ourselves, just for the sake of being good. Love, and the service of love, are the only things that count.

Give the Will an object outside itself, and it will leap to service, even to that most difficult of all service, the control of the forces of Mansoul. It is not by one grand fiat, but by many ordered efforts of Will, that we overcome those failures in self-restraint, self-control, self-denial, which are the misery of our lives, and which we know to be sin by the wretchedness they bring upon ourselves and others, and the separateness from others which they set up in our hearts. It is not self-ordering, but an object outside of ourselves, leading to self-forgetfulness and a certain valiant rising of the will, to which we must look for a cure for the maladies that vex us.

But, you will say, our Lord Himself has bidden us to deny ourselves. Yes, but He asks of us the self-denial of a disciple who follows his Master and denies himself in the sense that he has no self, for the love that constrains him.