From The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471)
Seek a suitable time for quiet devotion and meditate often on the blessings and loving-kindness of God. If you withdraw yourself from unnecessary talking and idle running about, and also from listening to gossip and rumors, you will find time enough for meditation.
Never rest secure in this life, even though you seem to be a good and devout person. It happens very often that those who are highly esteemed are more seriously endangered by their own excessive confidence. Hence, for many it is better not to be too free from afflictions, but often to be tried, lest they become too secure, too filled with pride, or too eager to yield to worldly comforts.
It is better for a man to be obscure and to attend to his salvation, than to neglect it and be successful and famous.
If you would think more often of death (Ecclesiastes 7:2) than of living a long life, there is no question that you would more diligently amend your way of life. And if you pondered in your heart the pains that are to be in hell, I believe you would willingly endure any labor or trouble, and would not be afraid of even the greatest hardship. But if these thoughts never pierce your heart, and if you remain so in love with pleasure, you will remain very cold and indifferent. Our wretched body complains so easily because our soul is altogether too weak.
Take care, lest you be guilty of doing those things which, in others, you consider displeasing. And, if you have ever been guilty of doing such things, try to correct yourself as soon as possible. As you see others, so they see you (Matt. 7:3).
How great is the frailty of human nature which is ever prone to evil (Genesis 6:5)! Today you confess your sins and tomorrow you again commit the very sins which you confessed. One moment you resolve to be careful, and yet after an hour you act as though you had made no resolution at all. We have good cause, therefore, to humble ourselves and never think anything great of ourselves since we are so frail and inconsistent.
‘Thoughts on the Misery of Man’
Miserable you are, wherever you be, or whither you turn, unless you turn to God. So why be dismayed when things do not happen as you wish and desire? Is there anyone who has everything as he wishes? No, there is no one in the world, be he Pope or king, who does not suffer trial and anguish. Who, then, is the better off? Surely, it is the man who will suffer something for God.
Many weak-minded people say with envy: “See how well that man lives, how rich, how great he is, how powerful and mighty.” But you must lift up your eyes to the riches of heaven and then you will realize that such temporal things are nothing. Wealth and fame and pleasure are all very uncertain, and in fact, rather burdensome, because they are never possessed without anxiety and fear (Luke 12:19-21). Man’s happiness does not consist in the possession of abundant goods. A moderate portion is sufficient.
Living on earth is a misery (Job 14:1; Eccl. 2:17). Woe to those who know not their own misery, and greater woe to those who love only this miserable and corruptible life. How foolish and faithless are those who are so engrossed in earthly things that they pay no attention to anything spiritual, but only to what gives them physical pleasure! (Romans 8:5) Miserable they are indeed, for in the end they will be sorrowful to see how cheap and worthless were the things that they loved. The friends of Christ do not look to what pleases the body nor to the things that are popular in this present time. Their whole hope and aim longs for that which is eternal (Hebrews 11:13-16; I Peter 1:3-5), lest the love of what is visible drag them down to those things below which will soon perish.
Do not lose heart, then, in pursuing your spiritual life. You still have time, and your hour is not yet past (Romans 13:11). Why delay your good purpose from day to day? Begin at once and say: “Now is the time to act, now is the time to amend my ways.” When you are troubled and afflicted, that is the best time to gain a blessing. You must pass through the fire before coming to rest. Unless you are hard on yourself, you will never gain the victory over wickedness and unbelief.
Ecclesiastes 7:2b — …Death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.
I John 2:17 — The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
Matthew 7:1-3 — (Jesus said), “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
Job 14:1 — Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.
Romans 13:11b — The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
Psalm 57:1 — Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.
Be present with me, O Lord, in every time and every place. Let this be my consolation, to be cheerfully willing to do without all human comfort. And, if Thy consolation be lacking, let Thy will and just trial of me be unto me as the greatest comfort. Amen.
–Thomas a Kempis