|Thomas à Kempis|
Thomas à Kempis. (b. 1379 or 1380, d. 1471). The Imitation of Christ.
A pure heart, says Thomas à Kempis, comprehends the very depths of Heaven and Hell. And it is by the wings of simplicity and purity that man is lifted above all earthly things.
Book II: Admonitions Concerning the Inner Life
IV. Of a Pure Mind and Simple Intention
BY two wings is man lifted above earthly things, even by simplicity and purity. Simplicity ought to be in the intention, purity in the affection. Simplicity reacheth towards God, purity apprehendeth Him and tasteth Him. No good action will be distasteful to thee if thou be free within from inordinate affection. If thou reachest after and seekest, nothing but the will of God and the benefit of thy neighbour, thou wilt entirely enjoy inward liberty. If thine heart were right, then should every creature be a mirror of life and a book of holy doctrine. There is no creature so small and vile but that it showeth us the goodness of God.
2. If thou wert good and pure within, then wouldst thou look upon all things without hurt and understand them aright. A pure heart seeth the very depths of heaven and hell. Such as each one is inwardly, so judgeth he outwardly. If there is any joy in the world surely the man of pure heart possesseth it, and if there is anywhere tribulation and anguish, the evil conscience knoweth it best. As iron cast into the fire loseth rust and is made altogether glowing, so the man who turneth himself altogether unto God is freed from slothfulness and changed into a new man.
3. When a man beginneth to grow lukewarm, then he feareth a little labour, and willingly accepteth outward consolation; but when he beginneth perfectly to conquer himself and to walk manfully in the way of God, then he counteth as nothing those things which aforetime seemed to be so grievous unto him.
V. Of Self-Esteem
WE cannot place too little confidence in ourselves, because grace and understanding are often lacking to us. Little light is there within us, and what we have we quickly lose by negligence. Oftentimes we perceive not how great is our inward blindness. We often do ill and excuse it worse. Sometimes we are moved by passion and count it zeal; we blame little faults in others and pass over great faults in ourselves. Quickly enough we feel and reckon up what we bear at the hands of others, but we reflect not how much others are bearing from us. He who would weigh well and rightly his own doings would not be the man to judge severely of another.
2. The spiritually-minded man putteth care of himself before all cares; and he who diligently attendeth to himself easily keepeth silence concerning others. Thou wilt never be spiritually minded and godly unless thou art silent concerning other men’s matters and take full heed to thyself. If thou think wholly upon thyself and upon God, what thou seest out of doors shall move thee little. Where art thou when thou art not present to thyself? and when thou hast overrun all things, what hath it profited thee, thyself being neglected? If thou wouldst have peace and true unity, thou must put aside all other things, and gaze only upon thyself.
3. Then thou shalt make great progress if thou keep thyself free from all temporal care. Thou shalt lamentably fall away if thou set a value upon any worldly thing. Let nothing be great, nothing high, nothing pleasing, nothing acceptable unto thee, save God Himself or the things of God. Reckon as altogether vain whatsoever consolation comes to thee from a creature. The soul that loveth God looketh not to anything that is beneath God. God alone is eternal and incomprehensible, filling all things, the solace of the soul, and the true joy of the heart.
VI. Of the Joy of a Good Conscience
THE TESTIMONY of a good conscience is the glory of a good man. Have a good conscience and thou shalt ever have joy. A good conscience is able to bear exceeding much, and is exceeding joyful in the midst of adversities; an evil conscience is ever fearful and unquiet. Thou shalt rest sweetly if thy heart condemn thee not. Never rejoice unless when thou hast done well. The wicked have never true joy, nor feel internal peace, for there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. (1) And if they say “we are in peace, there shall no harm happen unto us, and who shall dare to do us hurt?” believe them not, for suddenly shall the wrath of God rise up against them, and their deeds shall be brought to nought, and their thoughts shall perish.
2. To glory in tribulation is not grievous to him who loveth; for such glorying is glorying in the Cross of Christ. Brief is the glory which is given and received of men. Sadness always goeth hand in hand with the glory of the world. The glory of the good is in their conscience, and not in the report of men. The joy of the upright is from God and in God, and their joy is in the truth. He who desireth true and eternal glory careth not for that which is temporal; and he who seeketh temporal glory, or who despiseth it from his heart, is proved to bear little love for that which is heavenly. He who careth for neither praises nor reproaches hath great tranquillity of heart.
3. He will easily be contented and filled with peace, whose conscience is pure. Thou art none the holier if thou art praised, nor the viler if thou art reproached. Thou art what thou art; and thou canst not be better than God pronounceth thee to be. If thou considerest well that thou art inwardly, thou wilt not care what men will say to thee. Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart: (2) man looketh on the deed, but God considereth the intent. It is the token of a humble spirit always to do well, and to set little by oneself. Not to look for consolation from any created thing is a sign of great purity and inward faithfulness.
4. He that seeketh no outward witness on his own behalf, showeth plainly that he hath committed himself wholly to God. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, as St. Paul saith, but whom the Lord commendeth. (3) To walk inwardly with God, and not to be held by any outer affections, is the state of a spiritual man.
Note 1. Isaiah lvii. 21.
Note 2. 1 Samuel xvi. 7.
Note 3. 2 Corinthians x. 18.
VII. Of loving Jesus above all Things
BLESSED is he who understandeth what it is to love Jesus, and to despise himself for Jesus’ sake. He must give up all that he loveth for his Beloved, for Jesus will be loved alone above all things. The love of created things is deceiving and unstable, but the love of Jesus is faithful and lasting. He who cleaveth to created things will fall with their slipperiness; but he who embraceth Jesus will stand upright for ever. Love Him and hold Him for thy friend, for He will not forsake thee when all depart from thee, nor will he suffer thee to perish at the last. Thou must one day be separated from all, whether thou wilt or wilt not.
2. Cleave thou to Jesus in life and death, and commit thyself unto His faithfulness, who, when all men fail thee, is alone able to help thee. Thy Beloved is such, by nature, that He will suffer no rival, but alone will possess thy heart, and as a king will sit upon His own throne. If thou wouldst learn to put away from thee every created thing, Jesus would freely take up His abode with thee. Thou wilt find all trust little better than lost which thou hast placed in men, and not in Jesus. Trust not nor lean upon a reed shaken with the wind, because all flesh is grass, and the goodliness thereof falleth as the flower of the field. (1)
3. Thou wilt be quickly deceived if thou lookest only upon the outward appearance of men, for if thou seekest thy comfort and profit in others, thou shalt too often experience loss. If thou seekest Jesus in all things thou shalt verily find Jesus, but if thou seekest thyself thou shalt also find thyself, but to thine own hurt. For if a man seeketh not Jesus he is more hurtful to himself than all the world and all his adversaries.
Note 1. Isaiah xl. 6.
VIII. Of the Intimate Love of Jesus
WHEN Jesus is present all is well and nothing seemeth hard, but when Jesus is not present everything is hard. When Jesus speaketh not within, our comfort is nothing worth, but if Jesus speaketh but a single word great is the comfort we experience. Did not Mary Magdalene rise up quickly from the place where she wept when Martha said to her, The Master is come and calleth for thee? (1) Happy hour when Jesus calleth thee from tears to the joy of the spirit! How dry and hard art thou without Jesus! How senseless and vain if thou desirest aught beyond Jesus! Is not this greater loss than if thou shouldst lose the whole world?
2. What can the world profit thee without Jesus? To be without Jesus is the nethermost hell, and to be with Jesus is sweet Paradise. If Jesus were with thee no enemy could hurt thee. He who findeth Jesus findeth a good treasure, yea, good above all good; and he who loseth Jesus loseth exceeding much, yea, more than the whole world. Most poor is he who liveth without Jesus, and most rich is he who is much with Jesus.
3. It is great skill to know how to live with Jesus, and to know how to hold Jesus is great wisdom. Be thou humble and peaceable and Jesus shall be with thee. Be godly and quiet, and Jesus will remain with thee. Thou canst quickly drive away Jesus and lose His favour if thou wilt turn away to the outer things. And if thou hast put Him to flight and lost Him, to whom wilt thou flee, and whom then wilt thou seek for a friend? Without a friend thou canst not live long, and if Jesus be not thy friend above all thou shalt be very sad and desolate. Madly therefore doest thou if thou trusteth or findest joy in any other. It is preferable to have the whole world against thee, than Jesus offended with thee. Therefore of all that are dear to thee, let Jesus be specially loved.
4. Let all be loved for Jesus’ sake, but Jesus for His own. Jesus Christ alone is to be specially loved, for He alone is found good and faithful above all friends. For His sake and in Him let both enemies and friends be dear to thee, and pray for them all that they may all know and love Him. Never desire to be specially praised or loved, because this belongeth to God alone, who hath none like unto Himself. Nor wish thou that any one set his heart on thee, nor do thou give thyself up to the love of any, but let Jesus be in thee and in every good man.
5. Be pure and free within thyself, and be not entangled by any created thing. Thou oughtest to bring a bare and clean heart to God, if thou desirest to be ready to see how gracious the Lord is. And in truth, unless thou be prevented and drawn on by His grace, thou wilt not attain to this, that having cast out and dismissed all else, thou alone art united to God. For when the grace of God cometh to a man, then he becometh able to do all things, and when it departeth then he will be poor and weak and given up unto troubles. In these thou art not to be cast down nor to despair, but to rest with calm mind on the will of God, and to bear all things which come upon thee unto the praise of Jesus Christ; for after winter cometh summer, after night returneth day, after the tempest a great calm.
Note 1. John xi. 28.
IX. Of the Lack of all Comfort
IT is no hard thing to despise human comfort when divine is present. It is a great thing, yea very great, to be able to bear the loss both of human and divine comfort; and for the love of God willingly to bear exile of heart, and in nought to seek oneself, nor to look to one’s own merit. What great matter is it, if thou be cheerful of heart and devout when favour cometh to thee? That is an hour wherein all rejoice. Pleasantly enough doth he ride whom the grace of God carrieth. And what marvel, if he feeleth no burden who is carried by the Almighty, and is led onwards by the Guide from on high?
2. We are willing to accept anything for comfort, and it is difficult for a man to be freed from himself. The holy martyr Laurence overcame the love of the world and even of his priestly master, because he despised everything in the world which seemed to be pleasant; and for the love of Christ he calmly suffered even God’s chief priest, Sixtus, whom he dearly loved, to be taken from him. Thus by the love of the Creator he overcame the love of man, and instead of human comfort he chose rather God’s good pleasure. So also learn thou to resign any near and beloved friend for the love of God. Nor take it amiss when thou hast been deserted by a friend, knowing that we must all be parted from one another at last.
3. Mightily and long must a man strive within himself before he learn altogether to overcome himself, and to draw his whole affection towards God. When a man resteth upon himself, he easily slippeth away unto human comforts. But a true lover of Christ, and a diligent seeker after virtue, falleth not back upon those comforts, nor seeketh such sweetnesses as may be tasted and handled, but desireth rather hard exercises, and to undertake severe labours for Christ.
4. When, therefore, spiritual comfort is given by God, receive it with giving of thanks, and know that it is the gift of God, not thy desert. Be not lifted up, rejoice not overmuch nor foolishly presume, but rather be more humble for the gift, more wary and more careful in all thy doings; for that hour will pass away, and temptation will follow. When comfort is taken from thee, do not straightway despair, but wait for the heavenly visitation with humility and patience, for God is able to give thee back greater favour and consolation. This is not new nor strange to those who have made trial of the way of God, for with the great saints and the ancient prophets there was often this manner of change.
5. Wherefore one said when the favour of God was present with him, I said in my prosperity I shall never be moved, (1) but he goeth on to say what he felt within himself when the favour departed: Thou didst turn Thy face from me, and I was troubled. In spite whereof he in no wise despaireth, but the more instantly entreateth God, and saith, Unto Thee, O Lord, will I cry, and will pray unto my God; and then he receiveth the fruit of his prayer, and testifieth how he hath been heard, saying, The Lord heard me and had mercy upon me, the Lord was my helper. But wherein? Thou hast turned my heaviness into joy, Thou hast put off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness. If it was thus with the great saints, we who are poor and needy ought not to despair if we are sometimes in the warmth and sometimes in the cold, for the Spirit cometh and goeth according to the good pleasure of His will. Wherefore holy Job saith, Thou dost visit him in the morning, and suddenly Thou dost prove him. (2)
6. Whereupon then can I hope, or wherein may I trust, save only in the great mercy of God, and the hope of heavenly grace? For whether good men are with me, godly brethren or faithful friends, whether holy books or beautiful discourses, whether sweet hymns and songs, all these help but little, and have but little savour when I am deserted by God’s favour and left to mine own poverty. There is no better remedy, then, than patience and denial of self, and an abiding in the will of God.
7. I have never found any man so religious and godly, but that he felt sometimes a withdrawal of the divine favour, and lack of fervour. No saint was ever so filled with rapture, so enlightened, but that sooner or later he was tempted. For he is not worthy of the great vision of God, who, for God’s sake, hath not been exercised by some temptation. For temptation is wont to go before as a sign of the comfort which shall follow, and heavenly comfort is promised to those who are proved by temptation. As it is written, To him that overcometh I will give to eat of the tree of life. (3)
8. Divine comfort is given that a man may be stronger to bear adversities. And temptation followeth, lest he be lifted up because of the benefit. The devil sleepeth not; thy flesh is not yet dead; therefore, cease thou not to make thyself ready unto the battle, for enemies stand on thy right hand and on thy left, and they are never at rest.
Note 1. Psalm xxx. 6.
Note 2. Job vii. 18.
Note 3. Revelation ii. 7.