“The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas A. Kempis, written in the 15th Century, has been translated into more than fifty languages. It is considered, next to the Bible, the most influential book of Christendom. It’s a book I have been reading for over fifty years with great profit for my soul. I never tire of reading it for on every page I find challenging and inspiring insights. (A modern translation of this Christian classic is now available.)
The title of the famous book is misleading for the author writes very little about imitating Christ; his focus is more on the attitudes and disciplines that are necessary for a believer to live a devout and holy life.
The author’s fervor for godliness discomfits me. His passion for holiness makes me ashamed of my willingness to live in the shallow water instead of plunging out into the deep water of genuine discipleship. Consider, for example, his intriguing observations about “the joy of a good conscience”:
“He that is moved neither by the praise nor the censure of men, enjoys great tranquility of heart. He whose conscience is pure, readily finds peace and contentment. Thou art not more holy for being praised; nor more worthless if thou be found fault with and despised. What thou art, that thou art; nor canst thou be accounted greater than thou art in the sight of God. Consider thine inward state, and thou wilt not heed what men say of thee. Man judges by outward appearance, but God sees the heart. Man weighs thine actions, but God weighs thy intentions. To seek always to do good, and to little esteem oneself is the sign of a humble soul.”
The more I ponder such heavyweight reflections, the more I understand why for centuries Christians have found help and guidance in this awesome book by Thomas A Kempis. Frankly, his teaching drives me to my knees, repenting of having settled for a less than zealous devotional life. More specifically, Thomas makes me aware that I should love Jesus more than I do.
Am I alone in this reaction? Evaluate your own love for Jesus as you read some of Thomas’ penetrating thoughts about loving Jesus more anything, and about achieving intimate friendship with Jesus:
“Jesus alone is to be loved above all things. The love of things created is deceiving and inconstant; the love of Jesus is true and enduring. Love Him, and keep Him for thy friend. When all have gone, He will not forsake thee, nor, at thine end, will He suffer thee to perish.
“Hold fast to Jesus in life and in death, and put thy trust in His faithfulness, Who alone can help thee when all others fail. The nature of thy Beloved is such that He will admit no rival; He alone must dwell in thy heart, and reign there as a king upon His throne.
“If thou look only to the outward appearance of men, thou shalt quickly be deceived; and if thou seek in others thy comfort and profit, thou will often suffer loss. Seek Jesus only in all things and thou shalt surely find Him. If you seek self, you shall also find self, but to thine own ruin. For if a man seek not Jesus, he doth injure himself more than could the whole world and all his enemies.”
“What can the world profit thee without Jesus? To live without Jesus is a grievous hell; to live with Jesus a sweet paradise…. Be thou humble and peaceable and Jesus shall be with thee. Be thou devout and quiet within, and Jesus shall abide in thee. Without a friend thou canst not live happily; and if Jesus be not thy friend above all others, thou wilt indeed be sad and desolate.
“Love all for Jesus, but Jesus for Himself. Jesus Christ alone is to be loved supremely; for He only is found good and faithful above all other friends.”
In many chapters of his book, Thomas shares what he calls “The Voice of Christ” speaking to him. When I read the following, I felt Jesus was speaking to me:
“I teach in the silence, without confusion of opinions, without ambition for honors, and without the noise of disputation. I am He Who teaches men to despise earthy things, to abhor things present, to seek heavenly things, to relish things eternal; to flee honors, to endure scandal, to put their entire hope and trust in Me, to desire nothing other than Me, and, above all things, ardently to love Me.”
Thomas responds to the voice of Christ with “the voice of the disciple.” I could identify with this disciple’s reply to Jesus for I recognize my need for the “spirit of fervor”:
“O Lord, of Thy bountiful mercy, grant me even the grace I long for, and, in the day when it shall please Thee, most graciously visit me with the spirit of fervor. For although I burn not with the vehement desire like unto that of Thy ardently devout servants, yet I do yearn for this mighty fire of the Spirit, praying and longing that, by Thy grace, I may participate with all who fervently love Thee , and be numbered in their holy company.”
Reading those words, I am moved to bow on my knees and pray earnestly, “Lord Jesus, melt me, change me, mold me into a genuine disciple who loves you supremely.”
This may be the most important question you could answer today: If your love for Jesus is not what it should be, will you begin now praying for the passion to love Him supremely?