The Courage Of Self-conquest

THE highest courage is impossible without self-conquest. And

self-conquest is never easy. A man may be a marvel of physical courage,

and be a coward in matters of self-government. Failure here threatens

dire disaster to his entire career.

Alexander the Great conquered most of the world he knew, but he

permitted his lower nature to conquer his better self, and he died a

disappointed, defeated man.

Before the days of Alexander there was a man named Nehemiah from whom

the world-conqueror might have learned a few secrets. He was a poor

exile in the service of a foreign ruler. That ruler sent him down to

Jerusalem, the capital city of his own home land, with instructions to

govern the people there. Now, in those days, it was a common thing for

governors of cities to plunder the people unfortunate enough to be in

their charge. Thus Nehemiah would have had ample precedent to fill his

own coffers by injustice, profiteering and worse: he had the power.

Possibly he was tempted to do something of the sort. But he had the

courage to shut up tight all baser passions, and then to sit firmly on

the lid. In the brief record of his service he referred to some of the

self-seeking governors, and told of their rascally deeds. Then he added

the significant words, "So did not I."

That was certainly courage--the courage of self-conquest.

As a young man Ulysses S. Grant was a brave soldier, but he nearly

wrecked his life because of weak yielding to his appetite. His real

career began only with self-conquest. When he found the courage to fight

himself--and not until then--he became ready for the marvelous life of

high courage that never faltered when he was misunderstood by associates

and maligned by enemies, that pressed steadily onward, in the face of

biting disease, until work was done, until honor was satisfied.



A little girl four years old came trembling to her mother and asked for

pencil and paper. Then, teeth set and eyes flashing, she pounced on the

paper and began to make all sorts of vicious marks. Asked what she was

doing, she said she was writing a letter to a sister who had offended

her by an act that had been misunderstood. "She is not a nice girl," the

little critic said, "and I'm telling her so. I don't like her any more,

and I'm saying that." As she wrote her hand trembled; she was carried

away by her unpleasant emotion. After a few moments, unable to go on

with her self-appointed task, she flung herself, sobbing, into her

mother's arms and for half an hour she could not control herself.

The sight was pitiful. But far more pitiful is the spectacle of one old

enough to know better who yields to vexation and hatred, thereby not

only making himself disagreeable, but robbing himself of power to

perform the duties of the hour. For there is nothing so exhausting as

uncontrolled emotion. There is so much for each one of us to do, and

every ounce of strength is needed by those who would play their part in

the world. Then what spendthrift folly it is to waste needed power on

emotion that is disquieting, disagreeable and disgraceful!

That lesson was never impressed more forcibly than by a French officer

of whom a visitor from America asked, "Did I understand that you had

lost three sons?" "Yes, sir, and two brothers," was the proud reply.

"How you must hate the Boche," remarked a bystander. "No, no," was the

instant reply, "not hate; just pity, sir; pity, but not hate. Hate, you

know, is an excessive emotion, sir; and no one can do effective work if

he spends his vitality in an excess of emotion. No," he concluded, "we

cannot hate; we cannot work if we burn up ourselves inside. Pity, sir;

pity. 'They know not what they do.' That's the idea. And they don't."

The same lesson of self-restraint was taught by Marshal Foch in his

words to the soldiers of France. He urged them to keep their eyes and

ears ready and their mouths "in the safety notch"; and he told them they

must obey orders first and kick afterwards if they had been wronged. He

said, "Bear in mind that the enemy is your enemy and the enemy of

humanity until he is killed or captured; then he is your dear brother

or fellow soldier beaten or ashamed, whom you should no further

humiliate." He told them that it was necessary to keep their heads clear

and cool, to be of good cheer, to suffer in silence, to dread defeat,

but not wounds, to fear dishonor, but not death, and to die game.

Because so many of the soldiers under him heeded this wise admonition,

they did not waste their precious strength on useless and harmful

emotions, but they were ever ready to go to their task, with the motto

of their division, "It shall be done."

What a blessing it will be to the world that millions of young men were

trained in France to repress hurtful emotion, to exercise

self-restraint--which may be defined as the act or process of holding

back or hindering oneself from harmful thoughts or actions. And what a

wonderful thing it will be if the lesson is passed on to us, so that we

shall not be like the torrent that wastes its power by rushing and

brawling over the stones, all to no purpose, but like the harnessed

stream whose energy is made to turn the wheels of factory and mill. For

only guarded and guided strength is useful and safe.



"Every man that falls must understand beforehand that he is a dead man

and nothing can save him. It is useless for him to cry out, and it may,

by giving the alarm, cause the enterprise to fail."

This was the message to his men of the officer to whom Napoleon

committed the capture of Mt. Cenis.

The historian tells us that at one point in the ascent of a precipitous

track, three men fell. "Their bodies were heard bounding from crag to

crag, but not a cry was heard, not a moan. The body of one hero was

recovered later. There was a smile on his lips."

How that record of the silence succeeded by a smile grips the heart, for

it was not the false courage that plays to the grandstand, but the

deeper, truer courage that sinks self for the good of others, and does

this not merely because it is a part of the game, but with the gladness

that transfigures life.

Such courage does not wait for some great occasion for exhibiting

itself; it is revealed in the midst of the humdrum routine of daily

life--a routine that is especially trying to those who have been

looking forward to some great, perhaps dramatic service.

A young man of seventeen entered the navy, with his parents' consent, as

an apprentice. When he left home he had dreams of entering at once on a

life of thrilling adventure where there would be numberless

opportunities for the display of high courage. At the end of a month a

friend asked him how he liked life at the navy yard. "Fine!" was the

reply. "What are you doing?" was the next query. "They haven't given me

anything but window washing to do yet," he replied, with a smile that

was an index of character.

A newspaper writer has told of a college student nineteen years old who

enlisted in the navy. He was sent to one of our naval stations and told

to guard a pile of coal. As the summer passed he still guarded that coal

pile. He wrote home about it:

"You know, dad, when we were little shavers, you always rubbed it into

us that anything that was worth doing at all was worth doing as well as

it could be done. I've been standing over that coal pile nearly three

months now, and it looks just exactly as small as it did when I first

landed on the job."

"He was relieved from the coal pile at last and promoted," said the

writer who told of him. "At the same time the government gave him a last

chance to return to his college work. He thought it over carefully. He

realized that America was going to need trained men as never before, but

still, he decided, the best service that he individually could give was

the one that he had chosen. He had a few days of leave before going on

to his next assignment, and he hurried back to his home. He found that

his summer task was a matter of town history, and he had to face a good

deal of affectionate raillery about his coal pile. Of course he did not

mind that. But his answer revealed his spirit:

"'You may laugh, but that coal pile was all right. I'll admit it got on

my nerves for a bit, but I figured it out that while I was taking care

of that coal pile I was releasing some other fellow who knew things I

didn't know, and who could do things I couldn't do. I'm ready to stand

by a coal pile till the war ends, if that's where I can help the most.'"

"That is the spirit that will conquer because it is the spirit that

never can be conquered," was the comment made on the incident. "There is

no self in it--only consecration to duty; no seeking for large

things--only for an opportunity to serve whenever the call comes. That

is the spirit that is growing in America to-day--and only through such

spirit can we accomplish our great task in the life of the world."

The man who really desires to serve his fellows does not think of

declaring that he will not do humble tasks, but he demands that the work

he is asked to do shall be needed.

A young man who was seeking his life work made known his willingness to

be a shoe-black, if he could be convinced that this was the work God

wanted him to do. An immigrant in New York City read in the morning,

"Lord, my heart is not haughty nor mine eyes lofty." Then he went out to

sweep a store, and he swept it well. It is worthy of note that the young

man who was willing to be a shoe-black became one of the foremost men of

his generation, and that the immigrant became the pastor of a leading

city church. But a far more important fact is that the quality of the

service given counted more in their minds than the character of the


The service of the man who would be worth while in the world must

partake of the spirit of the successful figure on the baseball diamond

or the football gridiron: readiness to do everything, or anything--or

to do nothing, if he is so directed--in the interests of the team. It

must take a leaf from the book of General Pershing and his fellow

officers who, in a time of stress for the Allies, were willing and eager

to brigade their troops with the soldiers of France and England, thus

losing the identity of their forces in the interest of the great cause

for which they stood. It must learn the lesson taught by the life of Him

who emptied Himself for the sake of the world--and did it with a smile.



A gifted writer has told the story of a workman in a Bessemer steel

furnace who was jealous of the foreman whom he thought had injured him.

The foreman was making a good record, and the workman did not want to

see him succeed. So he plotted his undoing--he loosened the bolts of the

cable that controlled an important part of the machinery, and so caused

an accident that not only interfered seriously with the day's turn, but

put a section of the plant out of commission for the time being. As a

result the superintendent was discharged. When he left he vowed

vengeance on the man whom he suspected of causing his discharge: "I'll

get you for this some day," he declared. Perhaps he would have been even

more emphatic if he had known the extent of his enemy's culpability.

Years passed. The workman who had loosened the bolts became

superintendent of the mill. He, too, tried to break a production record,

and was in a fair way to succeed until some mysterious difficulty

developed that interfered seriously with results. And just when the new

superintendent was losing sleep over his problem, the old superintendent

came to town.

"He's come for his revenge!" was the thought of the new superintendent.

But the superintendent did not wait for a visit from the man he feared;

he sought him at once. "He must know the extent of my meanness," he

decided. So he told his story. To his surprise the former foreman seemed

more interested in the account of the progress of the mill than in the

sorry tale of past misdeeds. Learning of the mysterious difficulty that

threatened failure in the attempt to break the production record, the

injured man showed real concern. "I can't imagine where the difficulty

is, but I'd like to take a look around for it," he said. Arm in arm,

then, the two men, once bitter enemies, moved toward the mill. The

search was successful, the difficulty was corrected, and the record was


Fine story, isn't it? What a pity it is only a story, that such things

don't ever happen in real life!

Don't they? How about Henry Nasmyth, the English inventor of the steam

piledriver, whose ideas were stolen by French machinists? His first

knowledge of the piracy was when he saw a crude imitation of his

piledriver in a factory in France. Instead of seeking damages and

threatening vengeance, he pointed out mistakes made in construction and

helped his imitators perfect the appliance they had stolen from him.

Yes, such things do happen in daily life. They are happening every day.

As we read of them or hear of them or meet people who are actors in such

a drama, we are conscious of admiration for the deed, a quickening of

the pulse, and the thankful thought that the world is not such a bad

place after all.

But are we to stop with quickened heartbeats and gratitude for the

greatness of heart shown by others? How about the bitterness we have

been treasuring against some one who has injured us--or some one we

think has injured us (it is astonishing how many of the slights and

indignities for which vengeance has been vowed are only imaginary, after

all!) How long do we intend to persist in treasuring the grudge that has

perhaps already caused sorrow that cannot be measured? Let's be

courageous enough to own ourselves in the wrong, when we are in the

wrong, and to forgive the evil that has been kept alive by our

persistent efforts to remember it. Let the quickened pulse-beat be ours

not merely because we are hearing about forgiveness, but because we

ourselves are rejoicing in friendship restored.



There are people whose minds are like a lumber-room, littered with all

sorts of odds and ends. In such a room it is impossible to count on

laying hands promptly on a desired article, and in such a mind confusion

takes the place of order. The mind had better be empty. An empty mind

presents a fine opening for the proper kind of filling, but a confused

mind is hopeless. How is it possible to make the memory a helpful

servant unless nothing is allowed to find lodgment there that is not

worth while?

An old proverb says, "No one can keep the birds from flying about his

head, but one can keep them from nesting in his hair." That proverb

points the way to saving the mind from becoming a lodging place for

lumbering thoughts and ideas; everything that is certain to hinder

instead of help one to be worth-while to the world must be told that

there is "positively no admittance."

Among the things one must not afford permission to pass the bars is the

thought that some associate may have said or done something that seemed

like a slight or an injury. No man can afford to injure another, but any

man can better afford to be injured than to allow his thoughts to dwell

on the injury, to brood over it, until he is in a degree unfitted for

his work. Far better is it to be like a father who said to his son when

the latter, years after the commission of the deed, was speaking of his

sorrow that he had grieved his father so: "Son, you must be dreaming; I

don't recall the incident."

Then one must know when to forget evil things heard of another.

Sometimes it is necessary to remember such facts, but so often the

insinuations made concerning other people are not worth consideration,

because they are not true. Even where there is ground for them, they are

not proper subjects for thought and remembrance.

It is best to forget past achievements, unless they are made

stepping-stones to greater achievements, spurs to work that could never

be done without them. Yet how often the temptation comes to gloat in

thought over these things, and over the good things said of one because

of them, while opportunities for greater things are passed by. Thus a

school-boy thought with delight of a word of commendation from his

teacher when he ought to have been giving attention to the recitation of

the pupil next to him; the result was a reprimand that stung. A soldier

in the trenches has no time to gaze in admiration at the medal he has

won by valor when at any moment there may sound the call to deeds of

still greater valor. No more should a civilian imperil future success by

failure to forget "the things which are behind."

The individual who refuses to forget a kindness he has done to someone

else is another cumberer of the ground. A safe rule is, never forget a

kindness received from another, but forget at once a kindness done to

another. It is not difficult to sympathize with the youth who, after

being reminded for the twentieth time by his brother of a trip to New

Orleans for which the brother had paid out of his savings, said, "Yes,

and I wish I had never taken a cent of the money!"

A thing to be forgotten always is the off-color story with which some

people persist in polluting the atmosphere. Unfortunately there are

always to be found folks like the young man of whom Donald Hankey said

"He talks about things that I won't even think." When such talk is

heard, don't think of it. If you do, you are apt to think of it again

and again, until, perhaps, you will be telling it to some one else. And

no one wants to be remembered as was the business man, proposed for the

presidency of a great concern, of whom one said, "No, don't let's have

him; he has earned a reputation for telling questionable stories."

If a good memory is to be a good servant, it must be trained to remember

only the things that are helpful. And that takes courage!



One of the trying disappointments of daily life comes with the discovery

that something on which we have been depending is no longer worthy of

confidence, because a foreign substance, some adulterant, has been mixed

with it, without our knowledge. This seemed to be the case perhaps more

than ever before during the recent days of war when a severe strain was

put on the products of nearly every kind.

In many parts of the country those who were compelled to replenish their

coal supply during the worst weather of a severe winter complained

because the anthracite then secured gave out little heat; it contained

such a large proportion of culm or other waste product which, in

ordinary times, is carefully removed before shipment, that it could not

do its work properly.

Disappointed in their anthracite, some turned to bituminous coal, only

to find that at least fifty per cent, of a shipment received during the

days of stress was made up of rock and clay.

Experience with the coal should have prepared one of the purchasers for

his disappointment in a restaurant where he had been accustomed to be

served with a splendid oyster stew. But he was surprised and displeased

when he found that at least one-third of the milk which should have gone

into the stew had been displaced by water.

At home that evening the same man was told more of the activity of

dealers who permit impurities to interfere with the comfort of those who

like pure products; the grocer had that day sent a package of soup beans

which contained at least ten per cent. of gravel.

It is easy to appreciate the disappointment and embarrassment that come

from the failure of the coal dealer, the restaurant keeper or the grocer

to supply us with pure food and fuel. Then isn't it strange that we are

apt to pay so little attention to the adulterants in character that are

the cause of so much of the world's sorrow? That is to say, it seems odd

that we pay so little attention to the things in our own lives that

interfere; we are not apt to find it a difficult matter to rail at

others because they permit evil to mix with good in their lives. Our

vision is so much better when we are looking at motes in others than

when we are looking straight past the beams in our own make-up.

There is daily need for each one of us to ask God for grace to go on a

hunt for the evil that adulterates his own life, making it a

disappointment to others and a cause of sorrow to God. Those who are

bold enough to scrutinize themselves without flinching will be apt to

find not merely things that are unquestionably evil, but they will be

dismayed to see that even much of the good in which they have been

taking comfort is adulterated with evil--as, for instance, the deed of

helpfulness performed for a friend with the unconscious thought, "Some

day he may be able to do something for me," or the gift made to a needy

cause, accompanied by the assurance that the treasurer of the fund is

one whom we particularly wish to impress with our liberality so that

possibly a future benefit will come from him to us.

The adulterants of evil mixed with the good in our lives must be

removed. And there is just one way to get rid of them--to submit

ourselves to the sifting of Him who not only knows the good from the

evil, the wheat from the chaff, but will also show the way to retain the

wheat and throw out the chaff.

Of course one does not have to yield himself to Christ's sifting. But of

one thing we can be sure; there will be a sifting. If Christ is not

invited to do the work, the Devil will take up the task. But his purpose

in sifting is always to retain the evil, and drive out all the good.

God asks for "pure religion and undefiled." There is no place in his

calculations for adulterants. Be courageous, and get rid of them!



Money is a good thing, when it is properly secured and properly used.

But there are better things than money. Honor is better, and loving

service, and thoughtful consideration of others.

This was the lesson taught by the life of a man who was a shareholder in

a mining company that was about to go out of business. The shareholders

would sustain very heavy losses, so a friend who knew the secrets of the

company determined to warn this man, whom everybody liked. The hint was

given that it would be to his advantage to sell quickly. "Why?" asked

Mr. N. "Well, you know, the value of the mines is greatly depreciated."

"When I bought the shares I took the risk." "Yes, but now you should

take the opportunity of selling while you can, so as not to lose

anything." "And supposing I don't sell, what then?" "Then you will

probably lose all you have." "And if I do sell, somebody else will lose

instead of me?" "Yes, I suppose so." "Do you suppose Jesus Christ would

sell out?" "That is hardly a fair question. I suppose he would not." "I

am a Christian," said Mr. N., "and I wish to follow my Master, therefore

I shall not sell." He did not, and soon after lost everything, and had

to begin life again.

This shareholder would have appreciated Professor A. H. Buchanan, who

was for forty years professor of mathematics in Cumberland University,

Tennessee. After his death it was told of him that at one time he was

offered an appointment in government service to which a $3,000 salary

attached. His income as professor in a church college was $600 a year.

But he saw more chance to make his life count for Christian things in

the professor's place than in public service, so he declined the $3000

and stayed by the $600. One who spoke of these facts in the professor's

life said, in comment:

"If he had taken the $3,000, everybody would have regarded him as an

ordinary sort of man. Now everybody who has heard of Professor

Buchanan's exceptional devotion appreciates that he was a very

extraordinary man. A very cheap person indeed is capable of accepting a

bigger salary."

At about the time of the death of this professor of mathematics a daily

paper mentioned a civil engineer who was transforming the appearance of

a western city, and said of him: "Two or three times he has had chances

to get three or four times his present salary. Each time he has said:

'No, my work is here; I haven't finished it. The money doesn't count, so

I shall stick here and finish my work.'"

After the death of a famous minister in St. Louis a story was told of

him that he had not allowed to be known widely during his lifetime. This

was the romantic tale, as related by a writer in The New York Sun:

"When a young man, he found to his amazement among his father's papers a

deed to five thousand eight hundred and eighty-three acres of land,

located in what is known as West Virginia. This deed was a great

surprise to all who saw or heard of it. Putting this deed in his

pocket, young Palmore, the only heir to the property, made a trip to

West Virginia, to look over his vast estate, which was far in the


"Starting from the city of Charleston, West Virginia, he drove in a

buggy into the region where his plantation was located. He traced the

boundaries of his property and found that hundreds of families had

settled on it without any right to it, but were living as if secure in

the possession of their separate little patches of territory. He found

that beneath the surface of this land there was almost limitless wealth,

but the multitudes who had built themselves humble homes on the surface

did not know of it, and had been living thus in undisturbed possession

for a number of years. He quietly walked about at night and looked

through the windows at the parents and children living on his estate.

Great lawyers were ready to inaugurate legal proceedings that would have

made him a millionaire, and such legal proceedings would doubtless have

been instituted if the heir in person had not visited the scene of his

great estate. As he dreamed in the nighttime about dispossessing such a

multitude of people of their humble homes, he began to feel that,

instead of such a fortune being a blessing, an estate received at such

an expense would be a burden.

"After earnest prayer and sleepless hours in the midst of his vast

acres, he was seized with the conviction that each member of this

multitude of families living on his property needed it more than did the

heir, and there and then he made up his mind that he would leave them in

quiet possession of his estate."

The reporter who related the story said that the man had been called a

fool, and commented, "He was God's fool."

Then he said that the incident he had related would have been

unbelievable if it had not been so well attested. But why unbelievable?

Is it because of the common idea that "every man has his price," that it

is unthinkable that a sane man would let a fortune that he could claim

honestly slip through his fingers?

Perhaps it is true that every man has his price. However, if this snarl

of the pessimist is to have universal application, the price must be

understood to be--in many instances--not selfish gratification, but the

opportunity for courageous service. There are men and women who can be

won by such an opportunity who cannot be reached by any argument of mere

private advantage. Such people silence the complaints of the croaker and

command the confidence of those who are struggling to help their


Louis Agassiz, the naturalist, was such a man. "I have no time to make

money," was his remark when urged by a friend to turn aside from the

important work of the moment to an easy, lucrative task. His reason was

thus explained at another time: "I have made it the rule of my life to

abandon any intellectual pursuit the moment it becomes commercially

valuable." It was his idea that there were many who would then be

willing to carry on work he had begun.

A contrast is presented by the famous inventor who, early in life, made

it a rule never to give himself to any activity in which there was no

prospect of financial gain. His first question was not, "Does the public

need this invention?" but "Is there money in it?" Having answered to his

satisfaction, he was ready to go ahead.

The world could not well have spared either of these men, for both

rendered valuable service. But, judging from the stories of their

careers, there was more joy in the life of the naturalist, who,

satisfied to earn a living, thought most of serving his fellows, than in

the life of the inventor before whose eyes the dollar continually loomed

large. The counting-house measure of life is not the most satisfying nor

is it the most useful.

That was the notion of Jacob Riis, of whom a minister who was devoting

his life to the interest of young working men near his church once asked

if such effort was merely thrown away, if he was pocketing himself.

"Pocketing yourself, are you?" Riis replied. "Stick to your pocket. It

is a pretty good pocket to be in. Out of such a pocket, worked in the

way you are working it, will come healing for the ills of the day that

now possess us. I would rather be in such a pocket, working for the

Lord, than in a $1,000,000 church, working for the applause of a


Those who are familiar with inside history at Washington say that the

day after Garfield's election as President, a dispatch was sent to

Milton Wells, a Wisconsin preacher, whose vote in the convention had

kept Garfield's name on the list of candidates to the very last, asking

him if he would become governor of Arizona Territory. Mr. Wells

answered: "I have a better office that I cannot leave. I am preaching

here for $600 per year."

There was once a man named Paul who might have enjoyed position and

power, if he had wished, but he chose instead a life of courageous

service of which he was able once to write, without boasting:

"In labors more abundantly, in prisons more abundantly; in stripes above

measure, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes

save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I

suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; in

journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils

from my countrymen, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city,

in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false

brethren; in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and

thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness."

How could Paul bear all these things? They were enough to break down a

dozen strong men. Probably he sometimes felt that he could not bear the

burden any longer, but always there came to him the assurance of Christ,

"My grace is sufficient for thee." Then he could bear anything; yet not

he, but Christ, who lived in him. Thus his glory was not in his own

strength but in his weakness, which made place in his life for the

strength of Christ.

Until men and women learn how to gain strength in their weakness as Paul

did, their lives will be unsatisfying, their days will be full of

complaint. Their burdens, which seemed like mountains before learning to

trust Christ, will be borne as easily as if they were feathers.

God does not promise to make us all dollar millionaires if we look at

Him for strength in our weakness, but He does promise to make us all

millionaires of faith and hope and courage. Paul was; we can be, too.