Important Discovery, story about temperment


Background Notes

This tract, written by John Philip (1755-1851) around 1833, came at the middle of what was known as the Benevolent Empire.  Many societies, such as the American Bible Society, the American Moral Reform Society, and the American Tract Society (for which this was published) were founded during the 1830s and 1840s.  These societies tended to be nondenominational or pan-denominational, founded about the time of disestablishment of state churches, providing activities and services the state governments had traditionally completed with the help of the established churches.

The American Tract Society was a proving ground for ministers in the early nineteenth century.  Often these young men would work part time for a society such as this as part-time distributors, while they were studying towards the ministry.  This tract is a good example of the types of products the Tract Society put out.  This takes something that is wrong but often excused - anger - and reintroduces the gravity of sin into the context.

Transcription of Primary Source



Taking a walk in the fields, the other day, I met with an old woman, who inquired very particularly after her brother who lived at a distance, and whom I had lately seen. I told her that he was very well when I saw him, and that Providence had been very kind to him, in providing him with a suitable wife. “Very well,” said the old woman, “I am happy to hear that; for he suffered a great deal by his first wife.” “Why,” said I, with a degree of surprise, “I have always heard that she was a pious woman, and I never heard any thing objected against her, excepting her temper!” Pronouncing the last words, I hesitated a little, breaking off at the same time rather abruptly, and making


a kind pause:-“Temper!” replied the old woman, (raising her voice toward the end of the sentence,) “Well, Mr. ⎯, Temper is Every Thing.” I was so much struck with the expression, and the manner in which it was uttered, that I could not help reflecting upon it after I had parted from her.

Returning home, I happened to call at the house of an acquaintance, and found the husband and wife engaged in a trifling dispute. It was the fault of those folks to have acquired such a habit of contradicting each other, that they seemed to take a pleasure in it; and the children had caught so much of the spirit of their parents, that you seldom heard them open their mouths but in an angry tone of voice. On this occasion, the wife still continued to maintain her ground, and the husband, in a fit of ill-nature, left the room. A few minutes afterwards, a boy of about nine years of age quarrelled with his sister, who appeared to be about eleven, and gave her a violent blow. The mother began to bluster, and the boy put on so surly a countenance, and assumed such an air of defiance, as plainly indicated that he had no apprehension that his mother’s threats would be carried into execution. By this time my mind was completely irritated, and I took my hat, and came away, muttering to myself, “Well, I see that temper is every thing!”

A short time after this, I drank tea in a family where I expected to spend an agreeable evening; but I was greatly disappointed, owing to the following circumstance. The wife had received an intimation, some way or other, that her husband had given away more money to a charitable institution than she thought he should have done; and there was no pleasing her. She continued scolding her husband, and telling him that he would give away all that he had; that he would reduce her and her family to beggary; and a great many things of the same kind. The husband bore it with a great deal of patience, and I made my visit as short as possible. Coming away from this scene with my mind much disturbed, I could not help repeating to myself all that evening, “Well, I see that temper is every thing.”

A few weeks after, a friend of mine told me that he was going to introduce me to a person who was a very good young man, but that he was very much tried with a bad


wife, and he hoped I would say something to him to support him under his cross. He added, that his friend’s wife treated him in such a haughty and unreasonable manner, that, had it not been for the consolations of the Gospel, he believed that before now, his friend must have died of a broken heart. “It is a pity,” said I, “that he did not know her temper before marriage.” “He was not altogether ignorant of it,” replied my friend; “but she had many other things.” “Poor, man!” said I, “then it seems he has found, by experience, that many other things are nothing, and that ‘temper is every thing.’”

I was lately called in to assist in settling a difference that had taken place between some persons, and which might have been easily done, had either of the parties yielded to the other; but I could not prevail on any one of them to give way in the least, and I left them, more than ever convinced, that “temper is every thing.”

A friend of mine, who is connected with the town of A⎯, and who has a vote in the election of the ⎯, told me, a few days ago, that one of the candidates for that office had formerly used him in a very ungentlemanlike manner; but finding that his election was doubtful, he came to him, and apoligised for his former conduct, and solicited his vote. After hearing his apology and his request, my friend told me, that he addressed him in the following manner: “Sir, had you not called on me upon this occasion, I was determined to support you in your election; to convince you that the religion which I profess possesses a better spirit than yours.” This, said I, my friend, was noble, and I am glad to find that you have learnt that important lesson, that “temper is every thing.”

Calling one day upon a poor man, who appeared to be serious, I asked him what were the means by which he was brought to the knowledge of the truth? After pausing a little, while the tears ran down his cheeks, he told me, that his wife was brought to the knowledge of the truth before him; that he treated her very ill because of her religion; and that it was her amiable and engaging carriage under his ill-treatment of her, that was the first means of lodging conviction in his mind. “Well,” said I, “temper is every thing.”

I happened to dine one day at the house of a valuable


friend, who had a numerous family. After dinner the husband conducted us into the drawing-room, to entertain us with the sight of some valuable pictures. While we were examining and admiring one of them, his wife said to him, “My dear, that is mine.” “Yes,” said he, “my dear all mine are thine!!” This delicate and unexpected return from the husband was received with such a graceful and approving smile by his amiable wife, as diffused pleasure over the whole room, and excited in every heart the highest ideas of domestic felicity. During my visit to this lovely family, nothing was to be seen or heard but what was very pleasing, as all of them spoke kindly and tenderly to each other. What added greatly to my pleasure was, that every expression seemed to flow from the heart, and the children were the living copies of their parents. “Like parents, like children,” (as it respects harmony and mutual affection,) is a maxim which, with very few exceptions, will be found to hold good; and I have seldom found those children wanting in their affection, one to another, of whose education proper care had been taken, and who were accustomed to see examples of mutual tenderness and affection in their parents. Leaving this happy family, and returning home, I could not help comparing the pleasure I had experienced on this visit, with the pain I had felt on some of the occasions which I before mentioned, and repeating aloud, as I walked along, “Temper is every thing.”

The greater part of our happiness and misery, in this vale of tears, appears to me to be referable to temper. When I see a man envious, angry, ambitious, revengeful, or stung with disappointment, uneasy himself, or the cause of uneasiness to others, I still say, that “temper is every thing.”

From the conduct of most persons, one would be tempted to entertain a different opinion, and to think that temper was scarcely any thing. Yea, I met with a person the other day, to whom I had occasion to repeat my favourite maxim, who insisted, with a great deal of ill-nature, that “temper is nothing.” I was not to be borne down by mere assertion, and I told him, that he himself was an illustration of what I had asserted, for he was always unhappy himself, and he made everyone else around him unhappy. When I hear people speak against temper, I always inquire whether the persons speaking have not themselves a


bad temper; and when I find this to be the case, as I generally do, I allow their testimony to have no weight, because I consider that a person who is found to be a party, is not allowed to pass judgment in his own cause. This austere acquaintance professes to be very orthodox in his opinions; and he referred me to the Scriptures in proof of what he had said. As my favourite maxim had not yet been tried by the touchstone of truth, I began to be a little startled for its safety; but I took up the Bible, and was happy to find the following passages, which I read to him. Prov. xii. 18. “He that regardeth reproof shall be honoured.” 1 Pet. ii. 1. “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speaking.” James, iii. 15⎯18. “This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion, and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace, of them that make peace.” Gal. v. 19⎯24. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest; which are these, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; as I have told you time in the past, that they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against which there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” 1 John, iii. 14. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” 1 Cor. xii. 1, 2. “Though I speak, with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” To mention no more, “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit; and if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”


My opponent was now silent; and I not only considered myself as having gained a complete victory, but as having made a great discovery also. Now, said I to myself, the greater part of the professors of religion in ⎯ do not know that these passages are in the Bible. I shall make known my Discovery to all with whom I happen to meet, and from its nature, it cannot fail to obtain a favourable reception. I shall tell them, said I, that Jesus was meek and lowly in heart, that he railed not, he threatened not; and that if they knew the power of his cross, they will subdue their evil temper; that the correction of the temper is of great importance to their own happiness, and to the happiness of their families and connexions; that the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit is of great price in the sight of God; and that they can have no evidence that they are the children of God without it. But how much was I disappointed, when some to whom I made known my Discovery, told me, with a great deal of coldness and indifference, that they knew all that before; others said it was cold and legal, and they wanted another kind of doctrine; while others remarked that I had a good natural temper myself, which was the reason I talked so much about it; but that I ought to remember, that nature is not grace. Of this I was reminded very frequently. I told them, however, that if a good temper was the mere offspring of nature, it was not for that reason to be undervalued; that God was naturally good, and that angels were naturally pure; but that we were not on that account to despise the goodness of the one, nor the purity of the other. But all that I said was to no purpose; they still persevered in justifying themselves, and represented as nothing, what I considered as “every thing.”

Now I hope this will not be the case with my Reader, if he will permit me to explain myself before we part.

Let not the temper which is here enjoined, be mistaken. It is a compound of firmness and complacency, of peace and love; it manifests itself in acts of kindness and courtesy; a kindness not pretended, but genuine; a courtesy not false and superficial, but cordial and sincere. The person who has such a temper, will be unshaken in constancy, unwearied in benevolence, firm without roughness, and attentive without servility. A disposition like this,


however, belongs not to any one by nature, and it becomes every reader to reflect whether he is now possessed of it, in a degree at least; or, if not, how it is to be produced in him.

In regard to the subject of temper, as well as every other mark of genuine Christianity, we ought constantly to recollect the injunction of our blessed Lord, “Make the tree good,” as the necessary means of obtaining good fruit; for the mistake of many in religion appears to be, that they do not begin with the beginning. They do not lay their foundation in the persuasion, that man is by nature in a state of alienation from God. They consider him rather as an imperfect than as a fallen creature. They allow that he requires to be improved, but deny that he requires to be renewed, or as the Scriptures emphatically say, “born again.” It is well if these persons are not finally and fatally deceived, by considering the gentle and pacific temper which is owing to constitution, as making up for the want of Christian principle. We must carefully avoid adopting the external display of an amiable temper, as a substitute for piety; and carefully observe, that without repentance toward God, and faith in his dear Son, it is impossible to please God.

Mistakes on this subject, however, are, alas! not confined to one class, or character. The cause of real religion suffers inconceivably in the eyes of the world, by the bad humour of many of its professors. Yes; persons are to be found among us, who, while they profess Christianity, pay little regard to their temper and disposition. They approve Christianity as it is knowledge, rather than as a principle which should maintain a sovereign influence over the spirit of their mind. They do not sufficiently consider, that gentleness, peace, and meekness, are the “fruit of the Spirit,” nor that “courtesy,” and “whatsoever things are lovely,” are enjoined upon them by divine authority. The possession of these essential ornaments of the Christian faith, they ascribe to natural disposition; and, alas! so far from lamenting the indulgence or display of an unchristian temper in themselves, they treat the subject as though it were unconnected with that faith which saves the soul.

In thus speaking, do I address the heart of my Reader? Then let me entreat him to reperuse what has been said


above, and then consider, that the Holy Scriptures uniformly represent divine truth as the seed in the believer of every holy disposition; the graft through which the tree is made good, and its fruit good, and the mould into which the soul is cast, and from which it receives its form and impression, as the metal is fashioned by the skill of the artist. Thus we are not only justified, but sanctified, by faith.

Though some treat this subject as matter of inferior moment, perhaps my Reader is of a different mind. He may plead guilty. Nay, he often confesses the inequality of his temper, and before God, in secret, he says, he laments it. But does he also implore the Spirit, that he may mortify the deeds of the body? And are you, my friend, making no provision for the flesh to fufil the lusts thereof? Are the fruits of the Spirit earnestly sought for in Christ’s name, and watchfully reared with unremitted prayer for divine grace; or are you declining in religion? No wonder, then, you complain! How can you be otherwise than unhappy? How can you thus ever adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour? Oh remember, that Christianity enjoins the same temper, the same spirit, the same dispositions on all its real professors; so that if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his!


Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
Important Discovery, or Temper is Everything
8 pages
Probable Date: 
1827 to 1833
Philip, John
American Tract Society
Place of Publication: 
New York
18 cm.
American Antiquarian Society
Catalog Code: 
Tracts Pams A60 No. 151 1827; Tracts A60 E-05