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The Imitation of Christ
By Thomas à Kempis, Paul M. Bechtel
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2007 Moody Bible Institute
All rights reserved.
Of the Imitation of Christ, and Contempt of All the Vanities of the World
"HE THAT followeth me, walketh not in darkness," saith the Lord. These are the words of Christ, by which we are taught, how we ought to imitate his life and manners, if we will be truly enlightened, and be delivered from all blindness of heart.
Let therefore our chief endeavor be, to meditate upon the life of Jesus Christ.
2. The doctrine of Christ exceedeth all the doctrines of holymen; and he that hath the Spirit, will find therein a hidden manna.
But it falleth out, that many who often hear the gospel of Christ, are yet but little affected, because they lack the spirit of Christ.
But whosoever would fully and feelingly understand the words of Christ, must endeavor to conform his life wholly to the life of Christ.
3. What will it avail thee to dispute profoundly of the Trinity, if thou be lacking in humility, and art thereby displeasing to the Trinity?
Surely high words do not make a man holy and just; but a virtuous life makes him dear to God.
I had rather feel compunction than understand the definition thereof.
If thou didst know the whole Bible by heart, and the sayings of all the philosophers, what would all that profit thee withoutthe love of God, and without grace?
Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity, except to love God, and to serve him only.
This is the highest wisdom, by contempt of the world to tend toward the kingdom of heaven.
4. Vanity therefore it is, to seek after perishing riches, and to trust in them.
It is also vanity to hunt after honors, and to climb to high degree.
It is vanity to follow the desires of the flesh, and to labor for that for which thou must afterward suffer more grievous punishment.
Vanity it is, to wish to live long, and to be careless to live well.
It is vanity to mind only this present life, and not to foresee those things which are to come.
It is vanity to set thy love on that which speedily passes away, and not to hasten thither where everlasting joy abides.
5. Call often to mind that proverb that, "The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing."
Endeavor therefore to withdraw thy heart from the love of visible things, and to turn thyself to the invisible.
For they that follow their lusts, do stain their own consciences, and lose the favor of God.CHAPTER 2
Of Thinking Humbly of Ourselves
ALL MEN naturally desire to know; but what does knowledge avail without the fear of God?
Surely an humble husbandman that serveth God is better than a proud philosopher that, neglecting himself, laboreth to understand the course of the heavens.
Whoso knoweth himself well, is lowly in his own sight and delighteth not in the praises of men.
If I understood all things in the world, and were not charitable, what would that help me in the sight of God, who will judge me according to my deeds?
2. Cease from an inordinate desire of knowing, for therein is much distraction and deceit.
The learned are well-pleased to seem so to others, and to be accounted wise.
There are many things, which to know is of little or no profit to the soul:
And he is very unwise, that is intent upon other things than those that may serve for his salvation.
Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life comforteth the mind, and a pure conscience giveth great assurance in the sight of God.
3. How much the more thou knowest, and how much the better thou understandest, so much the more severely shalt thou therefore be judged, unless thy life be also more holy.
Be not therefore extolled in thine own mind for any art or science which thou knowest, but rather let the knowledge given thee make thee more humble and cautious.
If thou thinkest that thou understandest and knowest much; know also that there be many things more which thou knowest not.
Do not seem to be overwise, but rather acknowledge, thine own ignorance.
Why wilt thou prefer thyself before others, since there be many more learned, and more skillful in the Scripture than thou art?
If thou wilt know or learn anything profitably, desire to be unknown, and to be little esteemed by man.
4. The highest and most profitable reading is the true knowledge and consideration of ourselves.
It is great wisdom and perfection to esteem ourselves as nothing, and to think always well and highly of others.
If thou shouldest see another openly sin, or commit some heinous offence, yet oughtest thou not to esteem the better of thyself; for thou knowest not how long thou shalt be able to remain in good estate.
We are all frail, but thou oughtest to hold none more frail than thyself.CHAPTER 3
Of the Doctrine of Truth
HAPPY IS HE whom truth by itself doth teach, not by figures and words that pass away; but as it is in itself.
Our own opinion and our own sense do often deceive us, and they discern but little.
What availeth it to make a great dispute about dark and hidden things; whereas for being ignorant of them we shall not be so much as reproved at the day of judgment?
It is a great folly to neglect the things that are profitable and necessary, and give our minds to that which is curious and hurtful: we have eyes and see not.
2. And what have we to do with genus and species?
He to whom the Eternal Word speaketh, is delivered from a world of unnecessary conceptions.
From that one Word are all things, and all speak that one; and this is the beginning, which also speaketh unto us.
No man without that Word understandeth or judgeth rightly.
He to whom all things are one, he who reduceth all things to one, and seeth all things in one; may enjoy a quiet mind, and remain peaceable in God.
O God, who art the truth, make me one with thee in everlasting charity.
It is tedious to me often to read and hear many things: in thee is all that I would have and can desire.
Let all doctors hold their peace; let all creatures be silent in thy sight; speak thou alone unto me.
3. The more a man is united within himself, and becometh inwardly simple, so much the more and higher things doth he understand without labor; for that he receiveth intellectual light from above.
A pure, sincere, and stable spirit is not distracted, though it be employed in many works; because it works all to the honor of God, and inwardly being still and quiet, seeks not itself in anything it doeth.
Who hinders and troubles thee more than the unmortified affections of thine own heart?
A good and godly man arranges within himself beforehand those things which he is outwardly to act;
Neither do they draw him according to the desires of an evil inclination, but he ordereth them according to the direction of right reason.
Who hath a greater combat than he that laboreth to overcome himself?
This ought to be our endeavor, to conquer ourselves, and daily to wax stronger and to make a further growth in holiness.
4. All perfection in this life hath some imperfection mixed with it; and no knowledge of ours is without some darkness.
An humble knowledge of thyself is a surer way to God than a deep search after learning;
Yet learning is not to be blamed, nor the mere knowledge of anything whatsoever to be disliked, it being good in itself, and ordained by God; but a good conscience and a virtuous life is always to be preferred before it.
But because many endeavor rather to get knowledge than to live well; therefore they are often deceived, and reap either none, or very slender profit.
5. Oh, if men bestowed as much labor in the rooting out of vices, and planting of virtues, as they do in moving of questions, neither would there be so much hurt done, nor so great scandal be given in the world, nor so much looseness be practiced in monasteries.
Truly, at the day of judgment we shall not be examined what we have read, but what we have done; not how well we have spoken, but how virtuously we have lived.
Tell me now, where are all those doctors and masters, with whom thou wert well acquainted, while they lived and flourished in learning?
Now others possess their livings and perhaps do scarce ever think of them. In their lifetime they seemed something, but now they are not spoken of.
6. Oh, how quickly doth the glory of the world pass away!6Oh, that their life had been answerable to their learning! then had their study and reading been to good purpose.
How many perish by reason of vain learning in this world, who take little care of the serving of God:
And because they rather choose to be great than humble, therefore they become vain in their imaginations.
He is truly great, that is great in charity.
He is truly great that is little in himself, and that maketh no account of any height of honor.
He is truly wise, that accounteth all earthly things as dung, that he may gain Christ.
And he is truly learned, that doeth the will of God, and for-saketh his own will.CHAPTER 4
Of Wisdom and Forethought in Our Actions
WE MUST NOT give ear to every saying or suggestion, but ought with caution and patience to ponder things according to the will of God.
But alas! such is our weakness, that we often rather believe and speak evil of others than good.
Those that are perfect men do not easily give credit to everything one tells them; for they know that human frailty is prone to evil, and likely to fail in words.
2. It is great wisdom not to be rash in thy proceedings, nor to stand stiffly in thine own opinions;
As also not to believe everything which thou hearest, nor presently to relate again to others what thou hast heard or dost believe.
Consult with him that is wise and conscientious and seek to be instructed by a better than thyself, rather than to follow thine own inventions.
A good life maketh a man wise before God, and giveth him experience in many things.
The more humble a man is in himself, and the more subject unto God; so much the more prudent shall he be in all his affairs, and enjoy greater peace and quiet of heart.
Excerpted from The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Paul M. Bechtel. Copyright © 2007 Moody Bible Institute. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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