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Life Letters

The Imitation of Christ
by Thomas A. Kempis

Dear Saints and Soldiers of the Cross: Pagosa Springs, Colorado
March 14, 2002

When Peter gets excited about something or someone, it's like getting free advertising space on the front page of your local newspaper. Peter is excited again!

I have just rediscovered the book: The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis. The book had been sleeping on our bookshelf for the past 30 years. The book did not change, but I have. It is making me radically eager to "imitate Christ." I would like to recommend the book to everyone who is in serious pursuit of the presence of God. It was written over 500 years ago, but is still shining brightly like the morning star. Buy or borrow a copy and see if you don't agree. Before quoting a few passages, allow me to tell you how I rediscovered this rare treasure.

Occasionally I go to a local thrift shop to look for a specific item. In this case it happened to be a glass fixture for our ceiling fan. I did not find what I needed and momentarily stopped at the used book section. I was overwhelmed by the variety of available books and thought to myself, "Unless the right book is supernaturally highlighted, how can anyone find that rare treasure?" Then I walked out of the store without making a purchase.

At the same time I had been pondering what to send to my son John for his 39th birthday. I wanted it to be the "just right" gift. Out of seemingly nowhere the book "The Imitation of Christ" came to mind. I looked for our very ancient copy and after reading a few passages was convinced it would be the perfect gift. But neither my wife nor I were ready to permanently part with our copy.

I was hoping that it would still be in print and found three different versions at the Borders bookstore in Albuquerque, NM. And here is the point I would like make. Unless a particular book or author is supernaturally highlighted, it is impossible to find that proverbial needle in the haystack. If you happened to stumble across this particular web page, you have found that proverbial needle.

And now, here are two excerpts from the book "The Imitation of Christ." .

BOOK THREE
Chapter 43
AGAINST VAIN AND WORLDLY LEARNING


1. My son, let not the fair speeches and subtle sayings of men move thee; for the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. Attend to My words, which inflame hearts and enlighten minds, which excite to contrition, and afford manifold consolations. Never read My word to appear more learned or more wise. Study to mortify thy vices, for this will profit thee more than the knowledge of many hard questions.

2. When once thou hast read, and known many things, thou must always come back to the one beginning. I am He that teacheth man knowledge, and I give clear understanding to babes than can be taught by man. He to whom I speak will quickly be wise, and he shall make much progress in spirit. Woe to them that make curious inquiries of men, and care little about the way of serving Me. The time will come when Christ, the Master of masters, the Lord of angels, shall appear, to hear the lesson which every man has learnt, that is to examine the conscience of every one. And then will He search Jerusalem with candles, and the hidden things of darkness shall be brought to light, and the arguments of tongues shall be silent.

3. I am He that in an instant raises the humble mind to comprehend more reasons of the eternal Truth than could be got by ten years' study in the schools. I teach without noise of words, without confusion of opinions, without ambition for honours, without contention of arguments. To endure scandals, to repose all hope in Me, to desire nothing apart from Me, and above all things ardently to love Me.

4. For there was one who, through loving Me entirely, learned divine things, and spoke wonderful things. He profited more by forsaking all things, than by studying subtleties. But to some my words are general, to others special; to some I sweetly appear in signs and figures, to others in full blaze of light I reveal mysteries. The voice of books is the same, but it teacheth not all men alike; because I am the Teacher of truth within, the Searcher of the heart, the Understander of thoughts, the Promoter of action: distributing to every one as I judge fitting.

Chapter 46
OF HAVING CONFIDENCE IN GOD WHEN EVIL WORDS ARE AIMED AT US

1. My son, stand firm, and hope in Me; for what are words but words? They fly through the air, but they hurt not a stone. If thou art guilty, see that thou have the will to amend thyself. If thy conscience accuse thee not, see that thou be willing to suffer this for God's sake. It is a small matter that thou shouldst sometimes bear with words, if thou hast not as yet the courage to endure hard stripes. And why do such small things go to thy heart, but because thou art still carnal, and regardest men more than thou oughtest? For because thou art afraid of being despised, thou art not willing to be censured for thy faults, and seekest to shelter thyself in excuses.

2. But look better into thyself, and thou shalt find that the world is still living in thee, and a vain desire of pleasing men. For when thou art unwilling to be humbled and confounded for thy defects, it is plain indeed that thou art not truly humble, nor truly dead to the world, nor the world crucified to thee. But give ear to My word, and thou shalt not care for ten thousand words of men. Behold, if all should be said against thee which the utmost malice of men could invent, what harm could it do thee, if thou wouldst but let it pass and make no account of it? Could they even so much as pluck one hair away from thee?

3. But he who keeps not his heart within, nor God before his eyes, is easily moved with a word of dispraise. Whereas he that trusts in Me, and desires not to stand by his own judgment, will be free from the fear of men. For I am the judge and discerner of all secrets: I know how the matter passed; I know both him that inflicts the injury, and him that suffers it. From Me this word went forth; by My permission it happened, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. I will judge the guilty and the innocent; but by a secret judgment I would beforehand try them both.

4. The testimony of men oftentimes deceives: My judgment is true, it shall stand and not be overthrown. It is hidden for the most part, and revealed in every respect to few; yet it never errs, nor can it err, though to the eyes of fools it may seem not right. To Me therefore must thou have recourse in every decision, and not depend upon thy own judgment. The just man shall not be troubled, whatever may happen to him from God. And if anything be wrongfully preferred against him, he will not much care; neither will he vainly rejoice if by others he be reasonably acquitted; for he considers that I am He that trieth the heart and reins, who judgeth not according to the face or to human appearance. For oftentimes that is found blameworthy in My eyes, which in the judgment of men is esteemed commendable.

5. O Lord God, the just judge, strong and patient, who knowest the frailty and depravity of men, be Thou my strength and all my confidence, for my own conscience is not sufficient for me. Thou knowest that which I know not; and therefore upon every rebuke I ought to humble myself, and bear it with meekness. Pardon me, I beseech Thee, in Thy mercy, as often as I have not done thus, and give me again grace to suffer still more. For Thy abundant mercy is better to me for obtaining pardon, than my own imagined righteousness for the defense of my hidden conscience. For although I am conscious of no guilt, yet cannot I hereby justify myself; for apart from Thy mercy no man living shall be justified in Thy sight.

    Peter D. Laue

The above translation was published by Samuel Bagster and Sons limited, 4 New Bridge Street, London, England. It is possible and likely that our edition was printed 100 plus years ago. The newer editions are available in modern English.



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