From the Imitation of Christ: Amendment of Life

Written By Thomas à Kempis

The Fervent Amendment of Our Whole Life

Be vigilant and diligent in God’s service, and often consider to what end thou camest hither, and why thou didst leave the world: Was it not that thou mightst live for God and become a spiritual man?

Be fervent, therefore, in thy spiritual progress, for thou shalt shortly receive the reward of thy labors; and then grief and fear shall no more come near thee.

Thou shalt labor now a little and thou shalt find great rest; yea, everlasting joy.

If thou continue faithful and fervent in working, God will doubtless be faithful and liberal in rewarding.

Thou must preserve a good and firm hope of winning the victory; but must not think thyself secure, lest thou grow negligent or proud.

When a certain person in anxiety of mind was often wavering between hope and fear, and, on a time, being overwhelmed with grief had prostrated himself in prayer in the church before a certain altar, he revolved these things within himself saying: “If I did but know that I should still persevere;” and presently he heard within himself this answer from God: “And if thou didst know this what wouldst thou do?  Do now what thou wouldst then do, and thou shalt be very secure.”

And immediately, being comforted and strengthened, he committed himself to the divine will, and his anxious wavering ceased.

Neither had he a mind any more to search curiously, to know what should befall him here-after; but rather studied to inquire what was the will of God, “well pleasing and perfect” – ROM. XII. 2, for the beginning and accomplishment of every good work.

“Trust in the Lord, and do good,” saith the prophet, “and dwell in the land, and thou shalt be fed with its riches.” – PS XXXVI.3.

There is one thing which keeps many back from spiritual progress and fervent amendment of life: and that is, dread of difficulty, or the labor which must be gone through in the conflict. 

And they indeed advance most of all others in virtue, who strive manfully to overcome those things which they find more troublesome or contrary to them.

For there a man makes greater progress and merits greater grace where he overcomes himself more and mortifies himself in spirit.

But all men have not equal difficulties to overcome and mortify.

Yet he that is diligent and zealous, although he may have more passions to fight against, will be able to make greater progress than another who has fewer passions but is withal less fervent in the pursuit of virtue.

Two things particularly conduce to a great amendment: these are, forcibly to withdraw one’s self from that to which nature is viciously inclined, and earnestly to labor for that good which one wants most.

Study likewise to fly more carefully and to overcome those faults which most frequently displease thee in others.

Turn all occasions to thy spiritual profit: so that if thou see or hear any good example thou mayst be spurred on to imitate them.

But if thou observe anything that is reprehensible take heed thou commit not the same; or if thou at any time hast done it labor to amend it quickly.

As thine eye observeth others so art thou also observed by others.

Oh, how sweet and comforting is it to see brethren fervent and devout, regular and well disciplined! – PS. CXXXII.1.

How sad a thing and how afflicting to see them walk disorderly, and practice nothing of what they are called to!

How hurtful it is to neglect the intent of our vocation and turn our minds to things that are not our business.

Be mindful of the resolution thou hast taken, and set before thee the image of the crucifix.

Well mayst thou be ashamed if thou hast looked upon the life of Jesus Christ, that thou has not yet studied to conform thyself more to His pattern, although thou hast been long in the way of God.

A religious man, who exercises himself seriously and devoutly in the most holy life and passion of Our Lord, shall find there abundantly all things profitable and necessary for him; nor need he seek any better model than that of Jesus.

Oh, if our crucified Jesus did but come into our heart, how quickly and sufficiently learned should we be!

A fervent religious man bears and takes all things well that are commanded him.

A negligent and lukewarm religious man has trouble upon trouble, and on every side suffers anguish; because he has no comfort within and is hindered from seeking any without.

A religious man that lives not in discipline lies open to dreadful ruin.

He that seeks to be more free and remiss will always be uneasy; for one thing or other will always displease him.

How do so many other religious do who live under strict monastic discipline?

They seldom go abroad; they live very retired; their diet is very poor; their habit coarse; they labor much; they speak little; they watch long; they rise early; they spend much time in prayer; they read often and keep themselves in all discipline. 

Consider the Carthusians, the Cistercians, and the monks and nuns of different Orders, how every night they rise to sing psalms to the Lord.

It would, therefore, be a shame for thee to be sluggish at so holy a time, when such multitudes of religious begin with joy to give praise to God.

Oh, that we had nothing else to do but to praise the Lord our God with our whole heart and mouth!

Oh, that thou didst never want to eat, nor drink, nor sleep, but couldst always praise God and be employed solely in spiritual exercises!

Thou wouldst then be much more happy than now whilst thou art under the necessity of serving the flesh.

Would there were no such necessities, but only the spiritual refreshments of the soul, which, alas, we taste too seldom.

When a man is come to this, that he seeks comfort from nothing created, then he begins perfectly to relish God; then likewise will he be well content, however matters happen to him.

Then will he neither rejoice for much, nor be sorrowful for little, but will commit himself wholly and confidently to God, who is to him all in all; to whom nothing perishes or dies, but all tings live for Him and serve Him at a nod without delay.

Always remember thy end and that time once lost never returns.  Without care and diligence thou shalt never acquire virtues.

If thou begin to grow lukewarm thou wilt begin to be uneasy.

But if thou give thyself to fervor thou shalt find great peace, and the grace of God and love of virtue will make thee feel less labor.

A fervent and diligent man is ready for all things.

It is a greater task to resist vices and passions than to toil at bodily labors.

He that does not shun small defects by little and little falls into greater. -ECCLUS. XIX.1

Thou shalt always rejoice in the evening if thou spend the day profitably.

Watch over thyself, stir up thyself, admonish thyself, and whatever becometh of others neglect not thyself. The greater violence thou offerest to thyself the greater progress thou shalt make.

This article is taken from a chapter in My Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis which is available from TAN Books.

Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471) was a German-Dutch author and theologian of the late Medieval period.  He is best remembered for his classic on the devotional life known as The Imitation of Christ, available from TAN Books.