From The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471)
Consideration of Oneself (from chapter 5)
We must not rely too much upon ourselves (Jeremiah 17:5), for grace and understanding are often lacking in us. Oftentimes we fail to perceive how great is our inward blindness. Meanwhile, we do wrong, and then do worse in excusing it. We take others to task for small mistakes, and overlook greater ones in ourselves (Matt. 7:5). We are quick enough to feel and brood over the things we suffer from others, but we think nothing of how much others suffer from us. If a man would weigh his own deeds fully and rightly, he would find little cause to pass severe judgment on others. The inward Christian keeps watch over himself more than others; and he who attends to himself carefully does not find it hard to hold his tongue about what his neighbor is doing.
The Joy of a Good Conscience (from chapter 6)
The glory of a good man is the testimony of a good conscience. Therefore, keep your conscience pure and you will enjoy happiness, for a good conscience can bear a great deal, and can bring joy even in the midst of adversity. But an evil conscience is always restless and fearful, for “there is no peace for the wicked” (Isaiah 48:22). Even if they say: “We are at peace, no evil shall befall us and no one dares to hurt us” (Luke 12:19), do not believe them; for the wrath of God will suddenly arise, and their deeds will be brought to naught and their thoughts will perish.
He has great tranquility of heart who cares neither for the praises nor the fault-finding of men. Praise adds nothing to your holiness, nor does blame take anything from it. You are what you are; and not by the words of men can you be made better or worse than what you are in the sight of God. They look to appearances but God looks to the heart (I Samuel 16:7).
Loving Jesus Above All Things (from chapter 7)
The love of Jesus is true and enduring. He who clings to anything else will fall with its frailty, but he who gives himself to Jesus will ever be strengthened. Love Him, then, and keep Him as a friend. He will not forsake you as others do, nor suffer you to perish in the end. Sometime, whether you want to or not, you will have to part with everything. Cling, therefore, to Jesus in life and death, and commit yourself unto his faithfulness. He alone can help you when all else fails. For the man who does not seek Jesus does himself much greater harm than the whole world and all his enemies could ever do.
Friendship With Jesus (from chapter 8)
How foolish and vain if you desire anything more than Jesus. The man who lives without Jesus is the poorest of the poor, whereas no one is so rich as the man who lives in His grace. If you drive Him away and lose Him, to whom will you go (John 6:68)? Choose the opposition of the whole world rather than offend Jesus.
Loving the Cross of Jesus (from chapter 11)
Jesus has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who willingly endure trials. All desire to be happy with Him; but few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many love Him so long as they encounter no hardship. Many praise and bless Him, so long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself for a while, they fall either into complaints or deep dejection. But they who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all tribulation and anguish of heart, as well as in the highest comfort. What power there is in pure love for Jesus; love that is free from all self-interest and self-love. Those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ (Philip. 2:21).
Gratitude for the Grace of God (from chapter 10)
Why seek rest, since you are born to trouble? Job 5:7 says, “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” Resign yourself to patience rather than to comfort, to bearing your cross rather than to enjoyment. God does well in giving the grace of comfort and joy; but man does evil in not returning unto God with thanksgiving and praise. Thus, the gifts of grace cannot flow in us when we are ungrateful to the Giver.
Matthew 16:26 — What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
John 6:66-68 — From this time many turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Luke 14:27 — (Jesus said), “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
O kind and loving Lord, you know the weakness and the necessity which I suffer; in what great evils and vices I am involved; and how often I am depressed, tempted, defiled, and troubled. To you I come for help, to you I pray for comfort and relief. I speak to you who knows all things, to whom all my thoughts are open, and who alone can comfort and help me. Behold I stand before you, asking for your grace and imploring your mercy. Inflame my coldness with the fire of your love. Enlighten my blindness with the brightness of your presence. Turn all grievance and adversity to patience. Help me to remember that only you are eternal, and all earthly things are passing away. Raise my heart to you in heaven. Amen.
–Thomas a Kempis
PART TWO: MORE ON BEARING YOUR CROSS
To many this seems a hard saying, “Deny thyself, take up thy cross and follow Me,” (Matt. 16:24). But it would be much harder to hear that final word: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire” (Matthew 25:41). Those who hear the word of the cross and follow it willingly now, need not fear that they will hear the word of eternal damnation on the day of judgment. Then all the servants of the cross, who in their lifetime conformed themselves unto Christ the crucified, will draw near unto Christ the judge with great confidence. Take up your cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, and you shall enter eternal life (Luke 14:27). He Himself opened the way before you in carrying His cross (John 19:17), and upon it He died for you. If you die with Him, you shall also live with Him (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:8), and if you share His suffering, you shall also share His glory (II Cor. 1:5). Behold, in the cross is everything, and on it, everything depends. There is no other way to life and to true inward peace than the way of the holy cross. Go where you will, seek what you will; you will not find a higher way, nor a safer way, than the way of the cross.
Arrange and order everything to suit your will and judgment, and still you will suffer, willingly or unwillingly; and thus you will always find the cross. Either you will experience bodily pain, or, you will undergo tribulation of spirit in your soul. At times you will seem to be forsaken by God, at times troubled by those about you and, what is worse, you will often grow weary even of yourself. The cross, therefore, is always ready; and everywhere awaits you. No matter where you may go, you cannot escape it, for wherever you go you take yourself with you. Turn where you will– above, below, without, or within– you will find a cross in everything, and you must have patience if you would have peace within.
If you bear the cross cheerfully and willingly, it will bear you, and will lead you to the desired goal where indeed there shall be no more suffering. But if you carry your cross unwillingly, you create an added burden for yourself and increase the load; and still you have to bear it. If you cast away one cross, you will find another and perhaps a heavier one. Do you expect to escape what no mortal man could ever avoid? Which of the saints was without a cross or trials on this earth? Not even Jesus Christ, of whom it is written, “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:26). How is it that you look for another way than this, the holy cross?
The whole life of Christ was a cross and a martyrdom, and do you seek rest and enjoyment for yourself? You deceive yourself if you seek to avoid all suffering, for this mortal life is full of miseries (Job 7:1) and is marked with crosses on all sides. Indeed, the more spiritual progress a person makes, so much heavier will he find the crosses, because as his love increases, the pain of his exile also increases.
Yet such a man, though afflicted in so many ways, is not without hope, because he knows that great reward is coming to him for bearing his cross. For while he willingly puts himself under it, all the burden of tribulation is turned into the confidence of divine comfort. Besides, the more the flesh is wasted by affliction, so much the more is the spirit strengthened by inward grace (II Cor. 4:16).
Set yourself, then, like a good and faithful servant of Christ, to bear bravely the cross of your Lord, who out of love for you was crucified. As for comforts, leave them to God; let Him do for you as shall best please Him. On your part, be ready to bear the suffering, for even if you alone were to undergo them all, the sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to come (Romans 8:18).
Matthew 16:24-26 — Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
II Corinthians 4:16-18 — Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Romans 8:18 — I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.