The Sweetness of “The Imitation of Christ”

My first exposure to The Imitation of Christ came from a church history textbook in the form of a few excerpts from The Imitation. (That text was the Eerdmans Handbook to the History of Christianity, p. 356. Sadly, now out of print.) After reading those few paragraphs I remember thinking I wanted to read more even though my textbook advised (warned?) me that The Imitation “teaches justification by works.” (355) Below is one of my favorite sections from The Imitation and I offer it as today’s post. If you like what you read I encourage to seek out this classic and to mine it for the riches contained therein. This is from Book 2, chapter 9 entitled “Of the Lack of All Solace.”

“When you are given comfort of spirit by God, receive it with thanks and know that it is a gift of God and not from your own merit and refuse to be puffed up. Do not rejoice too much nor vainly presume but rather be more humble because of the gift, more cautious and timid in your actions, because that hour will pass and a trial will follow.

When comfort is withdrawn, do not at once despair, but with humility and patience wait for the heavenly visitation, for God can give you greater consolation than before.

It has been shown to be true that this is not a new or unusual way of God, for among the great saints and ancient prophets it was often like this: the presence of comfort alternating with the absence. Whence someone, with grace then present, declared: ‘I said in my abundance that I shall never be moved.’ On the other hand, when grace was absent in his own experience, he added some, saying: ‘You turned your face from me and I was troubled.’ Yet in the midst of this he did not despair, but prayed to the Lord more urgently, and said: “To you, O God, I will cry, and to you my God make my prayer.’ At last he carried back the fruit of his prayer, and testified that he had been heard, saying: ‘The Lord heard and has had mercy on me: the Lord is my helper.’ But in what way? ‘You turned my sorrow into joy,’ he said, ‘and surrounded me with gladness.’

And if this were so with great saints, despair is not for us ignorant and poor, because we are sometimes indifferent and sometimes ardent, because the Spirit comes and then withdraws according to his gracious will.

And blessed Job says: ‘At early dawn you come to him, and you suddenly test him.’

That being the case, what is it possible to hope about or in what should I put my confidence except in the great mercy of the Lord alone and in the single hope of the favor of heaven?

Whether there are good people with me or the Devout Brothers, and faithful loved ones, or the handling of holy and beautiful books, or sweet songs and hymns, all these please me a little and they give me a little taste when I am abandoned by grace and left in my own humble circumstances. Then there is no better remedy than patience, and the submission of myself to the will of God.

I have never found a monastic who has not had, now and then, a loss of grace or has not felt a lessening of ardor. No saint was to such an extent lifted up on high, or so enlightened who sooner or later was not tempted. Indeed, he is not worthy of the contemplation of the profundities of God who has not been disciplined to some extent by the tribulation for God—that is to say, tribulation is a sign of the consolation to follow. For to those proved by trial, the consolation of heaven is promised. ‘He who overcomes,’ it is said, ‘I will grant to him to eat of the tree of life.’

Furthermore, one is given divine consolation so that he will be a braver person to stand up under adversity. Still temptation follows, that one may not be proud of his goodness. The devil does not sleep, nor is the flesh dead yet. Therefore, do not cease to prepare yourself for the battle for on your right hand and on your left are enemies who never rest.”

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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