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Self-Conquest

With the passing of the old year, many resolutions of amendment and reformation are formed, to be put into practice with the incoming of the New Year. At this time many of those bound by evil habit, or chained to some form of vice, determine that they will no longer be the slaves of sin and iniquity, no longer the victims of their passions and desires. Vows are now registered, that virtues hitherto neglected and forsaken, shall be resuscitated, exercised and developed, and so permitted to unfold and expand to the ennobling of the life and character.

Thus the dying year leads to a heart-searching—a probing of the springs and motives of conduct; and as a retrospect is taken, sad memories of past failings and derelictions, of time ill-spent, and of opportunities for good wasted, recur to the memory, and with deep contrition and humility we resolve that another year shall not bring its depressing reflections.

Now, there are numbers who at this period of the year, although filled with the determination to conquer self, miserably fall, or fail, again and again, not through lack of will-power or perseverance, but solely through lack of knowledge. Modes of thought and speech have become so habituated as to be almost automatic, and the failure has come about well-nigh unconsciously—the backsliding only being realized when too late to apply the check. This falling back time after time, at length has the effect of casting a doubt into the individuals mind as to whether he has not set himself a task he is unable to accomplish, and he fears he has perhaps aimed too high. He is only too conscious of possessing certain failings and vices, and painfully aware of the lack of virtues he is desirous of fostering, but his difficulty consists in not knowing how to eradicate imperfections and cultivate virtues. Experience has taught him that by simply aspiring to goodness and holiness, and exhorting himself to righteousness and purity, he will be assisted but little unless he knows how to attain these virtues. Hitherto his failings, his retrogradations, have been through lack of this definite knowledge of how to restrain evil and cultivate good.

Benjamin Franklin, when a young man, aspired to "moral perfection," and he contrived a simple method to attain this end. He inscribed in a little book a list of thirteen virtues he desired to possess, and every time he offended with respect to one of these virtues, he marked against it a black spot. Thus at the end of each day, or week, he could tell at a glance, which virtue he had the most transgressed, and could therefore pay particular attention to its cultivation. This may appear a simple and somewhat childish way of attaining virtue, but nevertheless it proved very successful in the case of a man of such great parts as Benjamin Franklin, and in our strivings for the conquest of self, we should not despise any contributory aid, however seemingly puerile.

The success which attended the efforts of Benjamin Franklin, were almost entirely due to one cause, that he worked by method, by system. He knew precisely the virtues he most needed, and arranged his plan of campaign methodically. The absence of rule and system in our endeavors to conquer self, is the main reason why we fail again and again. Spasmodic efforts, with intermittent periods of moral enthusiasm, alternated by seasons of depression and backslidings, are the precursors of disaster. No good was ever accomplished but required steady, persistent, and well-directed effort day after day, and the aspirant to self-conquest is not exempt from this law.

The first necessity then, for him who has resolved to conquer self, is the laying bare—by self-examination and introspection-of personal defects or weaknesses, and then the resolute will to overcome them. It may not be essential to put their names on paper, and place a black mark against them every time we offend, but it is indispensable that we have definite knowledge of the vices we wish to eradicate, and the virtues we desire to nourish. It is not sufficient to know we are sinful; but wherein we offend. We must come from the general to the particular.

Having thus discovered the weak places in our armory, and learned the way to commence to repair them, we may, each night, in the quiet of our chamber, calmly review the events of the day, and note what progress we have made.

In addition to the thirteen virtues inscribed in Benjamin Franklin's little hook, he also wrote two questions, one for the morning, reading: “What good shall I do this day?" and one for the evening: “What good have I done today?" To him that aspires to the virtues of purity, charity and holiness, these two questions asked and answered sincerely, would not be superfluous.

Having, in our determination to conquer self, adopted the above method of procedure, as time goes on, fresh weaknesses and failings hitherto undreamed of will become painfully obvious, but as the knowledge of our short-comings are revealed to us, so will the power to overcome them he made manifest. Thus passing on from weakness to strength and from strength to greater strength, we shall find our struggles have not been in vain, and that in our fight with the monster, self, we have been returned more than conquerors. Then when the end of another year draws nigh—reminding us of the shortness of the conflict—instead of looking backward with sad and heavy heart, we shall look forward with calmness and confidence, knowing that to him that fights the good gith faithfully and vailiantly, failure and defeat are not possible.

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Thomas W. Allen

  • Brother of author James Allen
  • Not much else is known about him. If you have information about this author to share, please contact me.
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