Thomas Kempis on the “Withdrawal of God’s Grace”

Several years ago I went through a devastating time in my life. I’ll spare you the details but a huge part of that time was accompanied by the loss of any feeling of God. It seemed he was not there, didn’t hear my prayers and I was alone. It made the situation very bleak. I’ve learned that this is not an uncommon experience for Christians. But since the immediate reaction is to blame oneself and to search for some unconfessed sin, these periods of despair are rarely shared with other believers especially while they’re in the midst of it. Thomas Kempis talks of these times when we experience the withdrawal of God’s grace. The passage below is from The Imitation of Christ. It is written from the perspective of God. The wisdom of the passage is profound and his advice is solid.

“My child, it is beneficial for you and more peaceful to conceal the grace of devotion, neither to raise yourself on high, not speak much of it, not think about it much, but rather disparage yourself to a greater extent and be apprehensive about the gift, as being undeserved, so to speak.

There is no reliable holding on to this feeling, for it can quickly change to the opposite. Consider when you are in the midst of grace how miserable and helpless it was to be without it.

Making progress in the spiritual life is not so much evident when you have the consolation of grace but when humbly and selflessly and patiently you bear the withdrawal of that grace.

So when that occurs, do not become lethargic in the pursuit of prayer nor let the rest of your usual devotional work melt away entirely, but what you are best able and know how to do, willingly do what is in you, nor wholly neglect yourself because of how much aridity or mental anxiety you feel.

There are many who, seeing that it has not turned out well for them will immediately become impatient or sit idle. I mean, one’s way is not always within one’s power, but it is for God to give and console whenever he wishes and as much as he wishes, and to whom he wishes, as is pleasing to him and no more.” (245)

He then advises that we should give counsel to those less experienced in the Christian walk so that they may be prepared for such occassions. He continues,

“It is good counsel that in the fervor of the spirit’s beginnings you should think what the future would be like with the departure of that light, because when it does happen realize that the light can be returned to you again (that I removed for a time to caution you and for my glory). Such testing is often more useful than if you always had desirable things, as you prefer. For the merits are not reckoned from this: that one has many visions or consolations, or if one is expert in Scriptures, or is set in a more lofty rank; rather if he has a foundation in true humility and full of divine love, if he always seeks the honor of God purely and honestly, and if he counts himself as nothing, and in truth looks down on himself and even rejoices to be looked down upon and humiliated by others more than to be honored.” (249)


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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One Response to Thomas Kempis on the “Withdrawal of God’s Grace”

  1. Thanks for the quotes. I haven’t read the book. I suppose maybe that’s why God is always saying that he doesn’t leave us, that he will keep us to the end, etc. It isn’t always obvious that he is but wants us to keep believing it and persevering in spiritual disciplines with as much fervency as possible. Who was it that came up with “The Dark Night of the Soul”?


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