“Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law.”

Do you recognize those lyrics? Can you name that tune?

In case you’re drawing a blank, it’s from America The Beautiful, near the end of verse two.

Whether you’re more ashamed at the state of our nation or “proud to be an American” this post is for you. Despite the twin truths that peace and righteousness do not reign in this land and that our real citizenship is in heaven, we would do well to consider the words of Catherine Lee Bates today.

Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law. 

Free To Do What One Ought To Do

Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, Benjamin Franklin wrote.

A country’s soul can’t be stronger, or more free, than the sum of its parts. Without individual ability to self-govern, without willpower, federal government has no hope. States of souls enslaved to sin cannot a free nation make.

Michael Novak explains that true freedom is not found in being able to do what one desires in the moment or is impelled by passion to do. Rather,

To be free as a human being … is not the capacity to do what one wishes but the capacity to do what one ought. It is, in short, to be capable of self-government, self-mastery, and self-control.

Apostle Paul knew this too.

He knew that freedom is not found in following our hearts and acting out our selfish desires. Rather, it is found in subduing our desires to serve one another. Paul knew how easy it was remain slaves to sin:

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)

Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law. 

Strong Souls Are No Accident

Consider this common refrain among my strong Christian friends. Can you hear the repeating theme?

Believe me, I could definitely down that whole pan of brownies tonight. I could. That’s why I can’t even sneak a bite. I’ll share them Friday.

It’s hard to get to bed by 11. There’s so much I can do when the kids are asleep. But when I stay up so late I overeat. Then I’m short and grumpy come morning.

I’d sure love to sleep in, but I make myself get up and work out early. There is some value in exercise. I’ve learned it won’t happen if I wait.

It seems a little over the top, I know, but I add my husband whenever I text or email another man. It’s just a safeguard. I’ve seen how affairs start.

I try to give others the last word, especially when we disagree. It’s hard to bridle my tongue and resist setting the record right. But it’s good.

In short, my fruitful Christian friends didn’t get that way by accident.

Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law. 

Strong Walls Make Strong Cities 

I happen to know that my strong friends exercise much Spirit-powered, self-control behind the scenes. Day after day, they discipline themselves for godliness. In mundane, daily decisions to obey the law of Christ—to set no vile thing before their eyes but to set the Lord always before them, not to rejoice at wrongdoing but to rejoice in the truth—they grow strong. 

These little decisions to resist impure images and to think about what’s good, to resist self-indulgence and spend themselves for others strengthen their walls.

But a person without self-control is like an unprotected city. When we don’t exercise self-control, when we don’t say yes when we should and no when we shouldn’t, we are vulnerable to our soul’s enemies. In time, our city-souls will crumble.

“Like a city with its walls broken down is man who lacks self-control.” 

Proverbs 25:28 (ESV)

Self-control matters. In this age of distraction and constant temptation to drift online, we are in dire need of self-control. In an 1838 address, Abraham Lincoln prophesied,

If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

Cities with weak walls will fall. When the walls crumble, they are vulnerable to enemies. Soul-strength or city strength depends on walls of self-control and obedience. As we throw off restraint we destroy our city from the inside, we die by suicide. As go its people, so goes the nation.

“When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild,” another Proverb says. “But whoever obeys the law is joyful.”

Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.

Foundational, Not Flashy

Alongside love and holiness, self-control is the essence of Christian conduct (2 Timothy 1:7; Titus 2:6, 12; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 1:6).

When Apostle Paul was called to explain the Christian faith to the Roman Governor Felix, he summed up the Christian message as “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25). He didn’t discuss peace, patience or kindness with Felix. He talked about self-control.

Not surprisingly, a secular Felix did not bow the knee to Christ and convert on the spot. “Go away for the present,” he ordered. Self-control is not flashy or flamboyant or fun, at least not in the moment.

Author David Mathis describes self-control frank, functional, and difficult.

It doesn’t turn heads or grab headlines. It can be as seemingly small as saying no to another Oreo, French fry, or milkshake — or another half hour on Netflix or Facebook — or it can feel as significant as living out a resounding yes to sobriety and sexual purity. This is the height of Christian virtue in a fallen world, and its exercise is quite simply one of the most difficult things you can ever learn to do.

Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law. 

It’s not easy. But it’s possible.

Not only is it possible, but if the Spirit dwells in you, joyful, peaceful fruit will come. And self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.

But as with any fruit, tending the soil can help it grow. So, the really difficult thing might be to take Jesus at his word and take time to abide in the Word. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, Jesus said. We must dwell in Christ to be self-controlled.

Even then, it’s still a fight to rein in my tongue, my stomach, my mind. By the grace of God, self-control is possible.

America, you listening? God has shed his grace on thee.

But America, the grace God shed on us is the very same grace that confirms our souls in self-control. It is a training grace, and on our 247th anniversary, it is still ours. He has appeared.

So America, Happy Independence Day!

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
—Titus 2:11–13 (ESV)


O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

—Katherine Lee Bates

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  1. O beautiful for pilgrim’s feet
    That see beyond the years
    Thine alabaster cities gleam
    Undimmed by human tears.
    America, america,
    May God thy gold refine,
    Til all success be nobleness
    And every grace Divine.

  2. Hi there!

    I enjoyed this post! Thank you for your work. As a former journalist, I’m a stickler for fact-checks. 🙂 So, I researched the Lincoln quote you referenced.

    This one: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, President Lincoln said, it will be because we destroyed ourselves”

    In a nutshell, the quote is commonly misattributed to Lincoln and many prominent people are perpetuating this inaccuracy. So, it’s only reasonable that you would use the same quote! One would think our leaders are reliable sources of information. But sadly, not always.

    However, Lincoln never said those exact words. It’s not a quote. One could call it opportunistic paraphrasing because the quote is actually a distortion of Lincoln’s Lyceum Address on January 27, 1838, to the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois.

    Here’s the link to the verified research.

    Please review and update the post. As you know, a society’s freedoms and values erode as the truth is diluted little by little. 🙂

    Thank you!

    1. Dear Diana,
      I extend my sincere thanks. I appreciate your correction and have amended the post so that I am in fact quoting Lincoln: “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” I have linked the source to that 1838 Springfield Lyceum address.

      Yes, a society’s freedoms and values erode as the truth is diluted little by little.

      With gratitude,

      P.S. Please let me know where I can read one of your pieces.

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