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The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis


The Seventh Chapter

Loving Jesus Above All Things

BLESSED is he who appreciates what it is to love Jesus and who despises
himself for the sake of Jesus. Give up all other love for His, since He
wishes to be loved alone above all things.

Affection for creatures is deceitful and inconstant, but the love of Jesus
is true and enduring. He who clings to a creature will fall with its
frailty, but he who gives himself to Jesus will ever be strengthened.

Love Him, then; keep Him as a friend. He will not leave you as others do, or
let you suffer lasting death. Sometime, whether you will or not, you will
have to part with everything. Cling, therefore, to Jesus in life and death;
trust yourself to the glory of Him who alone can help you when all others

Your Beloved is such that He will not accept what belongs to another—He
wants your heart for Himself alone, to be enthroned therein as King in His
own right. If you but knew how to free yourself entirely from all creatures,
Jesus would gladly dwell within you.

You will find, apart from Him, that nearly all the trust you place in men is
a total loss. Therefore, neither confide in nor depend upon a wind-shaken
reed, for “all flesh is grass” [13] and all its glory, like the flower of
grass, will fade away.

You will quickly be deceived if you look only to the outward appearance of
men, and you will often be disappointed if you seek comfort and gain in
them. If, however, you seek Jesus in all things, you will surely find Him.
Likewise, if you seek yourself, you will find yourself—to your own ruin. For
the man who does not seek Jesus does himself much greater harm than the
whole world and all his enemies could ever do.


[13] Isa. 15:6.


The Eighth Chapter

The Intimate Friendship of Jesus

WHEN Jesus is near, all is well and nothing seems difficult. When He is
absent, all is hard. When Jesus does not speak within, all other comfort is
empty, but if He says only a word, it brings great consolation.

Did not Mary Magdalen rise at once from her weeping when Martha said to her:
“The Master is come, and calleth for thee”? [14] Happy is the hour when
Jesus calls one from tears to joy of spirit.

How dry and hard you are without Jesus! How foolish and vain if you desire
anything but Him! Is it not a greater loss than losing the whole world? For
what, without Jesus, can the world give you? Life without Him is a
relentless hell, but living with Him is a sweet paradise. If Jesus be with
you, no enemy can harm you.

He who finds Jesus finds a rare treasure, indeed, a good above every good,
whereas he who loses Him loses more than the whole world. 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.

It is a great art to know how to converse with Jesus, and great wisdom to
know how to keep Him. Be humble and peaceful, and Jesus will be with you. Be
devout and calm, and He will remain with you. You may quickly drive Him away
and lose His grace, if you turn back to the outside world. And, if you drive
Him away and lose Him, to whom will you go and whom will you then seek as a
friend? You cannot live well without a friend, and if Jesus be not your
friend above all else, you will be very sad and desolate. Thus, you are
acting foolishly if you trust or rejoice in any other. Choose the opposition
of the whole world rather than offend Jesus. Of all those who are dear to
you, let Him be your special love. Let all things be loved for the sake of
Jesus, but Jesus for His own sake.

Jesus Christ must be loved alone with a special love for He alone, of all
friends, is good and faithful. For Him and in Him you must love friends and
foes alike, and pray to Him that all may know and love Him.

Never desire special praise or love, for that belongs to God alone Who has
no equal. Never wish that anyone’s affection be centered in you, nor let
yourself be taken up with the love of anyone, but let Jesus be in you and in
every good man. Be pure and free within, unentangled with any creature.

You must bring to God a clean and open heart if you wish to attend and see
how sweet the Lord is. Truly you will never attain this happiness unless His
grace prepares you and draws you on so that you may forsake all things to be
united with Him alone.

When the grace of God comes to a man he can do all things, but when it
leaves him he becomes poor and weak, abandoned, as it were, to affliction.
Yet, in this condition he should not become dejected or despair. On the
contrary, he should calmly await the will of God and bear whatever befalls
him in praise of Jesus Christ, for after winter comes summer, after night,
the day, and after the storm, a great calm.


[14] John 11:28.


The Ninth Chapter

Wanting No Share in Comfort

IT IS not hard to spurn human consolation when we have the divine. It is,
however, a very great thing indeed to be able to live without either divine
or human comforting and for the honor of God willingly to endure this exile
of heart, not to seek oneself in anything, and to think nothing of one’s own

Does it matter much, if at the coming of grace, you are cheerful and devout?
This is an hour desired by all, for he whom the grace of God sustains
travels easily enough. What wonder if he feel no burden when borne up by the
Almighty and led on by the Supreme Guide! For we are always glad to have
something to comfort us, and only with difficulty does a man divest himself
of self.

The holy martyr, Lawrence, with his priest, conquered the world because he
despised everything in it that seemed pleasing to him, and for love of
Christ patiently suffered the great high priest of God, Sixtus, whom he
loved dearly, to be taken from him. Thus, by his love for the Creator he
overcame the love of man, and chose instead of human consolation the good
pleasure of God. So you, too, must learn to part with an intimate and
much-needed friend for the love of God. Do not take it to heart when you are
deserted by a friend, knowing that in the end we must all be parted from one

A man must fight long and bravely against himself before he learns to master
himself fully and to direct all his affections toward God. When he trusts in
himself, he easily takes to human consolation. The true lover of Christ,
however, who sincerely pursues virtue, does not fall back upon consolations
nor seek such pleasures of sense, but prefers severe trials and hard labors
for the sake of Christ.

When, therefore, spiritual consolation is given by God, receive it
gratefully, but understand that it is His gift and not your meriting. Do not
exult, do not be overjoyed, do not be presumptuous, but be the humbler for
the gift, more careful and wary in all your actions, for this hour will pass
and temptation will come in its wake.

When consolation is taken away, do not at once despair but wait humbly and
patiently for the heavenly visit, since God can restore to you more abundant

This is neither new nor strange to one who knows God’s ways, for such change
of fortune often visited the great saints and prophets of old. Thus there
was one who, when grace was with him, declared: “In my prosperity I said:
‘I shall never be moved.’” But when grace was taken away, he adds what he
experienced in himself: “Thou didst hide Thy face, and I was troubled.”
Meanwhile he does not despair; rather he prays more earnestly to the Lord,
saying: “To Thee, O Lord, will I cry; and I will make supplication to my
God.” At length, he receives the fruit of his prayer, and testifying that he
was heard, says “The Lord hath heard, and hath had mercy on me: the Lord
became my helper.” And how was he helped? “Thou hast turned,” he says, “my
mourning into joy, and hast surrounded me with gladness.” [15]

If this is the case with great saints, we who are weak and poor ought not to
despair because we are fervent at times and at other times cold, for the
spirit comes and goes according to His will. Of this the blessed Job
declared: “Thou visitest him early in the morning, and Thou provest him
suddenly.” [16]

In what can I hope, then, or in whom ought I trust, save only in the great
mercy of God and the hope of heavenly grace? For though I have with me good
men, devout brethren, faithful friends, holy books, beautiful treatises,
sweet songs and hymns, all these help and please but little when I am
abandoned by grace and left to my poverty. At such times there is no better
remedy than patience and resignation of self to the will of God.

I have never met a man so religious and devout that he has not experienced
at some time a withdrawal of grace and felt a lessening of fervor. No saint
was so sublimely rapt and enlightened as not to be tempted before and after.
He, indeed, is not worthy of the sublime contemplation of God who has not
been tried by some tribulation for the sake of God. For temptation is
usually the sign preceding the consolation that is to follow, and heavenly
consolation is promised to all those proved by temptation. “To him that
overcometh,” says Christ, “I will give to eat of the Tree of Life.” [17]
Divine consolation, then, is given in order to make a man braver in enduring
adversity, and temptation follows in order that he may not pride himself on
the good he has done.

The devil does not sleep, nor is the flesh yet dead; therefore, you must
never cease your preparation for battle, because on the right and on the
left are enemies who never rest.


[15] Ps. 29:7-12.

[16] Job 7:18.

[17] Apoc. 2:7.


The Tenth Chapter

Appreciating God’s Grace

WHY do you look for rest when you were born to work? Resign yourself to
patience rather than to comfort, to carrying your cross rather than to

What man in the world, if he could always have them, would not readily
accept consolation and spiritual joy, benefits which excel all earthly
delights and pleasures of the body? The latter, indeed, are either vain or
base, while spiritual joys, born of virtue and infused by God into pure
minds, are alone truly pleasant and noble.

Now, since the moment of temptation is always nigh, since false freedom of
mind and overconfidence in self are serious obstacles to these visitations
from heaven, a man can never enjoy them just as he wishes.

God does well in giving the grace of consolation, but man does evil in not
returning everything gratefully to God. Thus, the gifts of grace cannot flow
in us when we are ungrateful to the Giver, when we do not return them to the
Fountainhead. Grace is always given to him who is duly grateful, and what is
wont to be given the humble will be taken away from the proud.

I do not desire consolation that robs me of contrition, nor do I care for
contemplation that leads to pride, for not all that is high is holy, nor is
all that is sweet good, nor every desire pure, nor all that is dear to us
pleasing to God. I accept willingly the grace whereby I become more humble
and contrite, more willing to renounce self.

The man who has been taught by the gift of grace, and who learns by the lash
of its withdrawal, will never dare to attribute any good to himself, but
will rather admit his poverty and emptiness. Give to God what is God’s and
ascribe to yourself what is yours. Give Him thanks, then, for His grace, but
place upon yourself alone the blame and the punishment your fault deserves.

Always take the lowest place and the highest will be given you, for the
highest cannot exist apart from the lowest. The saints who are greatest
before God are those who consider themselves the least, and the more humble
they are within themselves, so much the more glorious they are. Since they
do not desire vainglory, they are full of truth and heavenly glory. Being
established and strengthened in God, they can by no means be proud. They
attribute to God whatever good they have received; they seek no glory from
one another but only that which comes from God alone. They desire above all
things that He be praised in themselves and in all His saints—this is their
constant purpose.

Be grateful, therefore, for the least gift and you will be worthy to receive
a greater. Consider the least gift as the greatest, the most contemptible as
something special. And, if you but look to the dignity of the Giver, no gift
will appear too small or worthless. Even though He give punishments and
scourges, accept them, because He acts for our welfare in whatever He allows
to befall us.

He who desires to keep the grace of God ought to be grateful when it is
given and patient when it is withdrawn. Let him pray that it return; let him
be cautious and humble lest he lose it.


The Eleventh Chapter

Few Love the Cross of Jesus

JESUS has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His
cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He
finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All
desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many
follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice
of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the
Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and
bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides
Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or
into deep dejection. Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake
and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of
heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give
them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to
give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus—love that is
free from all self-interest and self-love!

Do not those who always seek consolation deserve to be called mercenaries?
Do not those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they
love themselves rather than Christ? Where can a man be found who desires to
serve God for nothing? Rarely indeed is a man so spiritual as to strip
himself of all things. And who shall find a man so truly poor in spirit as
to be free from every creature? His value is like that of things brought
from the most distant lands.

If a man give all his wealth, it is nothing; if he do great penance, it is
little; if he gain all knowledge, he is still far afield; if he have great
virtue and much ardent devotion, he still lacks a great deal, and
especially, the one thing that is most necessary to him. What is this one
thing? That leaving all, he forsake himself, completely renounce himself,
and give up all private affections. Then, when he has done all that he knows
ought to be done, let him consider it as nothing, let him make little of
what may be considered great; let him in all honesty call himself an
unprofitable servant. For truth itself has said: “When you shall have done
all these things that are commanded you, say: ‘we are unprofitable
servants.’” [18]

Then he will be truly poor and stripped in spirit, and with the prophet may
say: “I am alone and poor.” [19] No one, however, is more wealthy than such
a man; no one is more powerful, no one freer than he who knows how to leave
all things and think of himself as the least of all.


[18] Luke 17:10.

[19] Ps. 24:16.


The Twelfth Chapter

The Royal Road of the Holy Cross

TO MANY the saying, “Deny thyself, take up thy cross and follow Me,” [20]
seems hard, but it will be much harder to hear that final word: “Depart from
Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” [21] Those who hear the word of the
cross and follow it willingly now, need not fear that they will hear of
eternal damnation on the day of judgment. This sign of the cross will be in
the heavens when the Lord comes to judge. Then all the servants of the
cross, who during life made themselves one with the Crucified, will draw
near with great trust to Christ, the judge.

Why, then, do you fear to take up the cross when through it you can win a
kingdom? In the cross is salvation, in the cross is life, in the cross is
protection from enemies, in the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness, in
the cross is strength of mind, in the cross is joy of spirit, in the cross
is highest virtue, in the cross is perfect holiness. There is no salvation
of soul nor hope of everlasting life but in the cross.

Take up your cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, and you shall enter eternal
life. He Himself opened the way before you in carrying His cross, and upon
it He died for you, that you, too, might take up your cross and long to die
upon it. If you die with Him, you shall also live with Him, and if you share
His suffering, you shall also share His glory.

Behold, in the cross is everything, and upon your dying on the cross
everything depends. There is no other way to life and to true inward peace
than the way of the holy cross and daily mortification. Go where you will,
seek what you will, you will not find a higher way, nor a less exalted but
safer way, than the way of the holy cross. Arrange and order everything to
suit your will and judgment, and still you will find that some suffering
must always be borne, 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 be forsaken by God, at times troubled
by those about you and, what is worse, you will often grow weary of
yourself. You cannot escape, you cannot be relieved by any remedy or comfort
but must bear with it as long as God wills. For He wishes you to learn to
bear trial without consolation, to submit yourself wholly to Him that you
may become more humble through suffering. No one understands the passion of
Christ so thoroughly or heartily as the man whose lot it is to suffer the
like himself.

The cross, therefore, is always ready; it awaits you everywhere. No matter
where you may go, you cannot escape it, for wherever you go you take
yourself with you and shall always find yourself. Turn where you will—above,
below, without, or within—you will find a cross in everything, and
everywhere you must have patience if you would have peace within and merit
an eternal crown.

If you carry the cross willingly, it will carry and lead you to the desired
goal where indeed there shall be no more suffering, but here there shall be.
If you carry it unwillingly, you create a burden for yourself and increase
the load, though 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 can ever avoid? Which of the saints was without a cross or trial
on this earth? Not even Jesus Christ, our Lord, Whose every hour on earth
knew the pain of His passion. “It behooveth Christ to suffer, and to rise
again from the dead, . . . and so enter into his glory.” [22] How is it that
you look for another way than this, the royal way of 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, you are mistaken if you
seek anything but to suffer, for this mortal life is full of miseries and
marked with crosses on all sides. Indeed, the more spiritual progress a
person makes, so much heavier will he frequently find the cross, because as
his love increases, the pain of his exile also increases.

Yet such a man, though afflicted in many ways, is not without hope of
consolation, because he knows that great reward is coming to him for bearing
his cross. And when he carries it willingly, every pang of tribulation is
changed into hope of solace from God. Besides, the more the flesh is
distressed by affliction, so much the more is the spirit strengthened by
inward grace. Not infrequently a man is so strengthened by his love of
trials and hardship in his desire to conform to the cross of Christ, that he
does not wish to be without sorrow or pain, since he believes he will be the
more acceptable to God if he is able to endure more and more grievous things
for His sake.

It is the grace of Christ, and not the virtue of man, which can and does
bring it about that through fervor of spirit frail flesh learns to love and
to gain what it naturally hates and shuns.

To carry the cross, to love the cross, to chastise the body and bring it to
subjection, to flee honors, to endure contempt gladly, to despise self and
wish to be despised, to suffer any adversity and loss, to desire no
prosperous days on earth—this is not man’s way. If you rely upon yourself,
you can do none of these things, but if you trust in the Lord, strength will
be given you from heaven and the world and the flesh will be made subject to
your word. You will not even fear your enemy, the devil, if you are armed
with faith and signed with the cross of Christ.

Set yourself, then, like a good and faithful servant of Christ, to bear
bravely the cross of your Lord, Who out of love was crucified for you. Be
ready to suffer many adversities and many kinds of trouble in this miserable
life, for troublesome and miserable life will always be, no matter where you
are; and so you will find it wherever you may hide. Thus it must be; and
there is no way to evade the trials and sorrows of life but to bear them.

Drink the chalice of the Lord with affection it you wish to be His friend
and to have part with Him. Leave consolation to God; let Him do as most
pleases Him. On your part, be ready to bear sufferings and consider them the
greatest consolation, for even though you alone were to undergo them all,
the sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory to

When you shall have come to the point where suffering is sweet and
acceptable for the sake of Christ, then consider yourself fortunate, for you
have found paradise on earth. But as long as suffering irks you and you seek
to escape, so long will you be unfortunate, and the tribulation you seek to
evade will follow you everywhere. If you put your mind to the things you
ought to consider, that is, to suffering and death, you would soon be in a
better state and would find peace.

Although you were taken to the third heaven with Paul, you were not thereby
insured against suffering. Jesus said: “I will show him how great things he
must suffer for My name’s sake.” [23] To suffer, then, remains your lot, if
you mean to love Jesus and serve Him forever.

If you were but worthy to suffer something for the name of Jesus, what great
glory would be in store for you, what great joy to all the saints of God,
what great edification to those about you! For all men praise patience
though there are few who wish to practice it.

With good reason, then, ought you to be willing to suffer a little for
Christ since many suffer much more for the world.

Realize that you must lead a dying life; the more a man dies to himself, the
more he begins to live unto God.

No man is fit to enjoy heaven unless he has resigned himself to suffer
hardship for Christ. Nothing is more acceptable to God, nothing more helpful
for you on this earth than to suffer willingly for Christ. If you had to
make a choice, you ought to wish rather to suffer for Christ than to enjoy
many consolations, for thus you would be more like Christ and more like all
the saints. Our merit and progress consist not in many pleasures and
comforts but rather in enduring great afflictions and sufferings.

If, indeed, there were anything better or more useful for man’s salvation
than suffering, Christ would have shown it by word and example. But He
clearly exhorts the disciples who follow Him and all who wish to follow Him
to carry the cross, saying: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny
himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” [24]

When, therefore, we have read and searched all that has been written, let
this be the final conclusion—that through much suffering we must enter into
the kingdom of God.


[20] Matt. 16:24.

[21] Matt. 25:41.

[22] Luke 24:46, 26.

[23] Acts 9:16.

[24] Luke 9:23.



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