It is, indeed, a certain fact that, unless the temper itself is specially controlled, and specially watched over, it may deteriorate even when the character in other respects improves; for the habit of defeat weakens the exercise of the will in this particular direction, and gradually diminishes the hope or the effort of acquiring a victory over the indulged failing. It is a melancholy consideration, if it be, as I believe, really the case, that a Christian may increase in love to God and man, while at the same time perpetually inflicting severe wounds on the peace and happiness of those who are nearest and dearest to her. Worse than all, she is, by such conduct, wounding the Saviour “in the house of his friends," bringing disgrace and ridicule upon the Holy Name by which she is called.
In the compatibility which is often tacitly inferred between a bad temper and a religious course of life, there seems to be an instinctive recognition of this peculiar vice being so much the necessary result of physical organization, that the motives proving effectual against other sins are ineffectual for the extirpation of this. Perhaps, if this recognition were distinct, and the details of it better understood, a new and more successful means might be made use of to effect the cure of ill-temper.
As an encouragement to this undertaking, there can be no doubt, from some striking instances within your own knowledge, that there are certain means by which, if they could only be discovered, the vice in question may be completely subdued. Even among heathen nations, we know that the art of self-control was so well understood, and so successfully practised, that Plato, Socrates, and other philosophers were able to bring their naturally fiery and violent tempers into complete subjection to their will. Can it be that this secret has been lost along with the other mysteries of those distant times, that the mode of controlling the temper is now as undiscoverable as the manner of preparing the Tyrian dye and other forgotten arts? It is surely a disgrace to those cowardly Christians who, having in addition to all the natural powers of the heathen moralist the freely-offered grace of God to work with them and in them, should still walk so unworthy of the high vocation wherewith they are called, as to shrink hopelessly from a moral competition with the ignorant worshippers of old.
My sister, these things ought not so to be; you feel they ought not, yet day after day you break through the resolutions formed in your calmer moments, and repeat, probably increase, your manifestations of uncontrolled ill-temper. This is not yet, however, in your case, a wilful sin; you still mourn bitterly over the shame to yourself and the annoyance to others caused by the indulgence of your ill-temper. You are also painfully alive to the doubts which your conduct excites in the mind of your more worldly associates as to the reality of a vital and transforming efficacy in religion. You feel that you are not only disobeying God yourself, but that you are providing others with excuses for disobeying him, and with examples of disobedience. You mourn over these considerations in bitterness of heart; you even pray for strength to resist this, your besetting sin, and then—you leave your room, and fall into the same sin on the very first opportunity.