Lenten Meditation on the Cross

Written By Thomas à Kempis

To many this seems a hard saying: “Deny thyself, take up thy cross, and follow Jesus” (Matt. 16:24).

But it will be much harder to hear that last word: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire” (Matt. 25:41).

For they who now willingly hear and follow the word of the cross shall not then be afraid of eternal condemnation.

This sign of the cross will be in heaven when the Lord shall come to judge. 

Then all the servants of the cross, who in their lifetime have conformed themselves to the Crucified, shall come to Christ their judge with great confidence.

Why then art thou afraid to take up thy cross, which leads to a kingdom?

In the cross is salvation; in the cross is life; in the cross is protection from thy 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 the height of virtue; in the cross is the perfection of sanctity. 

There is no health of soul nor hope of eternal life but in the cross.

Take up, therefore, thy cross and follow Jesus, and thou shalt go into life everlasting.

He is gone before thee carrying His own cross; and He died for thee upon the cross that thou mayst also bear thy cross and love to die on the cross.

Because if thou die with Him thou shalt also live with Him, and if thou art His companion in suffering thou shalt also partake in His glory.

Behold the cross is all, and in dying to thyself all consists, and there is no other way to life and to true internal peace but the holy way of the cross and of daily mortification.

Go where thou wilt, seek what thou wilt, and thou shalt not find a higher way above, nor a safer way below than the way of the holy cross. 

Dispose and order all things according as thou wilt and as seems best to thee, and thou wilt still find something to suffer, either willingly or unwillingly, and so thou shalt still find the cross.

For either thou shalt feel pain in the body, or sustain in thy soul tribulation of spirit.

Sometimes thou shalt be left by God, other times thou shalt be afflicted by thy neighbor, and what is more, thou shalt often be a trouble to thyself.

Neither canst thou be delivered or eased by any remedy or comfort, but as long as it shall please God thou must bear it.

For God would have thee learn to suffer tribulation without comfort, and wholly to submit thyself to Him, and to become more humble by tribulation.

No man hath so lively a feeling of the passion of Christ as he who hath happened to suffer such like things.

The cross, therefore, is always ready and everywhere waits for thee.

Thou canst not escape it, withersoever thou runnest; for whithersoever thou goest thou carriest thyself with thee and shalt always find thyself.

Turn thyself upwards, or turn thyself downwards; turn thyself without, or turn thyself within thee, and everywhere thou shalt find the cross.

And everywhere thou must of necessity have patience, if thou desirest inward peace and wouldst merit an eternal crown.

If thou carry it unwillingly thou makest it a burden to thee and loudest thyself and more, and nevertheless thou must bear it.

If thou fling away one cross, without doubt thou shalt find another and perhaps a heavier. 

Dost thou think to escape that which no mortal ever could avoid?  What saint was there ever in the world without his cross and affliction?

Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself was not one hour of His life without suffering: “It behooved Christ to suffer,” saith He, “and rise again from the dead, and so enter into His glory” (Luke 24:46).

And why dost thou pretend to seek another way than this royal way, which is the way of the holy cross?

The whole life of Christ was a cross and a martyrdom, and dost thou seek rest and joy?

Thou errest, thou errest, if thou sleekest any other thing than to suffer tribulations; for this whole mortal life is full of miseries and beset on all sides with crosses.

And the higher a person is advanced in spirit the heavier crosses shall he often meet with, because the pain of his banishment increases in proportion to his love.

Yet this man, thus in many ways afflicted, is not without some comfort, because he is sensible of the great profit which he reaps by bearing the cross.

For whilst he willingly resigns himself to it, all the burden of tribulation is converted into an assured hope of comfort from God.

And the more the flesh is brought down by affliction, the more the spirit is strengthened by inward grace.

And it sometimes gains such strength through affection to tribulation and adversity, by loving to be conformable to the cross of Christ, as not to be willing to be without suffering and affliction; because it is confident that it is so much the more acceptable to God as it shall be able to bear more and greater things for Him.

This is not man’s power, but the grace of Christ, which can and does effect such great things in frail flesh, that what it naturally abhors and shuns, even this, through fervor of spirit, it now embraces and loves.

To bear the cross, to love the cross, to chastise the body, and bring it under subjection; to fly honors, to be willing to suffer reproaches; to despise one’s self and wish to be despised; to bear all adversities and losses, and to desire no prosperity in this world, are not according to man’s natural inclination. 

If thou look upon thyself, thou canst do nothing of this of thyself. 

But if thou confide in the Lord, strength will be given thee from heaven and the world and the flesh shall be made subject to thee.

Neither shalt thou fear thine enemy, the devil, if thou be armed with faith and signed with the cross of Christ. 

Set thyself then like a good and faithful servant of Christ, to bear manfully the cross of thy Lord, crucified for the love of thee.

Prepare thyself to suffer many adversities and different evils in this miserable life; for so it will be with thee wherever thou art, and so indeed wilt thou find it wheresoever thou mayst hide thyself.

It must be so, and there is no remedy against the tribulation of evil and sorrow but to bear them patiently. 

Drink of the chalice of thy Lord lovingly if thou desire to be His friend and to have part with Him.

Leave consolations to God, to do with them as best pleaseth Him. 

But prepare thou thyself to bear tribulations, and account them the greatest consolations; for the sufferings of this life bear no proportion to the glory to come, although thou alone couldst suffer them all.

When thou shalt arrive thus far, that tribulation becomes sweet and savory to thee for the love of Christ, then think that it is well with thee, for thou hast found a paradise upon earth.

As long as suffering appear grievous to thee and thou seek to fly from it, so long will it be ill with thee, and the tribulation from which thou fliest will everywhere follow thee.

If thou set thyself to what thou oughtst, that is to suffer and die to thyself, it sill quickly be better with thee and thou shalt find peace.

Although thou shouldst have been rapt up to the third heaven with St. Paul, thou art not thereby assured that thou shalt suffer no adversity.  “I,” said Jesus, “will show him how great things he must suffer for My name” (Acts 9:16).

To suffer, therefore, is what waits for thee, if thou wilt love Jesus and constantly serve Him.

Would to God thou wert worthy to suffer something for the name of Jesus! how great a glory would be laid up for thee, how great joy would it be to all the saints of God and how great edification to thy neighbor.

All recommend patience, but alas! How few there are that desire to suffer. 

With good reason ought thou willingly to suffer a little for Christ, since many suffer greater things for the world.

Know for certain that thou must lead a dying life, and the more a man dies to himself the more he begins to live to God.

No man is fit to comprehend heavenly things who has not resigned himself to suffer adversities for Christ.

Nothing is more acceptable to God, nothing more wholesome for thee in this world, than to suffer willingly for Christ.

And if thou wert to choose, thou oughtst to wish rather to suffer adversities for Christ than to be delighted with many comforts, because thou wouldst thus be more like unto Christ and more conformable to all the saints.

For our merit and the advancement of our state consist, not in having many sweetnesses and consolations, but rather in bearing great afflictions and tribulations.

If, indeed, there had been anything better and more beneficial to man’s salvation than suffering, Christ certainly would have showed it by word and example. 

For He manfully exhorts both His disciples that followed Him and all that desire to follow Him to bear the cross, saying: “If any one will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).

So that when we have read the searched all let this be the final conclusion, that “through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21).   

This article is taken from a chapter in The 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.