Summary: All the boldness and knowledge in the world will not keep a man from going down in defeat if he lacks self-control.
In 1949 the Honorable Harold R. Medina was the judge who
presided at the trial of 11 communists charged with plotting to
overthrow our government by force. In his book Power To Become
Lewis Dunnington gives an account of an interesting sidelight to that
great trial. For 9 months the judge was plagued with every possible
trick to cause a mistrial. Insolence and disorder were common in
the courtroom, but judge Medina with great patience refused to do
anything to cause a mistrial. Then the communists learned of a
weakness he had. He was afraid of high places. He had had
acrophobia all his life, but had kept it under control even though his
courtroom was on the 22 floor of the courthouse, and his apartment
was many stories up as well.
Nevertheless, it was a real fear, and the communists took full advantage
of it. Shortly before the trial began Secretary of Defense
James B. Forrestal had jumped to his death. You can imagine judge
Medina's shock when he came to the courthouse and found pickets
walking back and forth chanting, "Medina will fall like Forrestal."
Only those with a phobia can appreciate the problem this caused for
the judge. As this continued day after day he could not escape his
fear, and it became an obsession.
He asked his wife, even on hot summer nights, to keep the
bedroom windows closed. In court one day, after hearing the chant
again, his head began to swim. He quickly recessed the court and
went to a couch. He prayed as he never prayed before that he would
gain control of himself, and escape the control of his fear. His
request was granted, and with renewed confidence he returned to
court and saw the trial to a conclusion, which put the communist
behind bars. It was a victory for the nation, and a personal victory
for judge Medina.
He had courage and he had knowledge, but without self-control
all could have been lost. All the boldness and knowledge in the
world will not keep a man from going down in defeat if he lacks
self-control. The Apostle Peter knew this to be a fact from personal
experience, and that is why he urges Christians to add to their
courage and knowledge self-control. Lacking this virtue in his own
earlier experience, he denied his Lord, and several times rushed
ahead of Christ and needed to be rebuked.
Another Peter, Peter the Great, was a bold conqueror and a man
of knowledge. He passed many laws for the protection of his
subjects, but he was often subject to maniacal outbursts of anger. In
fury he struck and killed his gardener and his own son. With great
sorrow he said, "Alas! I have civilized my own subjects, I have
conquered other nations, yet I have not been able to conquer and
civilize myself. Anyone of us can be greater than Peter the Great,
for the truly great ruler is the man who is king of himself.
This is a truth that has been universally recognized. If we turn
to the Orient we read Lao-Tsze who wrote, "He is strong who
conquers others; he who conquers himself is mighty." If we turn to
the Greeks we read Aristotle saying, "I count him braver who
overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the
hardest victory is the victory over self." If we turn to the Romans
we read Seneca saying, "He is most powerful who has power over
himself. If we turn to modern statesman, philosophers, and poets,
they all agree that self-control is an essential quality for success.
Shelly and one of his sonnets writes-
Man who man would be,
Must rule the empire of himself, in it
Must reign supreme, establishing his throne
On vanquished will, quelling the anarchy
Of hopes and fears, being himself alone.
Self-control is so essential to the success of any pursuit that it is
even a virtue among evil men. Successful crooks are those who
develop self-control. They have to be able to remain calm as the
night watchman makes his rounds, and as they hide behind
merchandise. They must have nerves of steel when the alarm goes
off in the bank. As soon as a thief loses his nerve and lets emotion
take over, he kills or gets killed, or makes foolish moves that lead to
his capture. You cannot even be a successful crook without the
virtue of self-control. Satan encourages his troops to add this virtue
to their equipment, just as Christians are urged to add it to theirs.
Whatever your goal, it is easier to reach it through self-control.
Burns expressed this in A Bard's Epitaph.
Reader, attend! whether thy soul
Soars fancy's flights beyond the pole,
Or darkling grubs this earthly hole