The Imitation of Christ
THE THIRD BOOK
ON INWARD CONSOLATION
Of the inward voice of Christ to the faithful soul
I will hearken what the Lord God shall say within me.(1) Blessed
is the soul which heareth the Lord speaking within it, and
receiveth the word of consolation from His mouth. Blessed are
the ears which receive the echoes of the soft whisper of God, and
turn not aside to the whisperings of this world. Blessed truly
are the ears which listen not to the voice that soundeth without,
but to that which teacheth truth inwardly. Blessed are the eyes
which are closed to things without, but are fixed upon things
within. Blessed are they who search inward things and study to
prepare themselves more and more by daily exercises for the
receiving of heavenly mysteries. Blessed are they who long to
have leisure for God, and free themselves from every hindrance of
the world. Think on these things, O my soul, and shut the doors
of thy carnal desires, so mayest thou hear what the Lord God will
say within thee.
2. These things saith thy Beloved, "I am thy salvation, I am thy
peace and thy life. Keep thee unto Me, and thou shalt find
peace." Put away thee all transitory things, seek those things
that are eternal. For what are all temporal things but deceits,
and what shall all created things help thee if thou be forsaken
by the Creator? Therefore put all things else away, and give
thyself to the Creator, to be well pleasing and faithful to Him,
that thou mayest be able to attain true blessedness.
(1) Psalm lxxxv. 8.
What the truth saith inwardly without noise of words
Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.(1) I am Thy servant; O give
me understanding that I may know Thy testimonies. Incline my
heart unto the words of Thy mouth.(2) Let thy speech distil as
the dew. The children of Israel spake in old time to Moses,
Speak thou unto us and we will hear, but let not the Lord speak
unto us lest we die.(3) Not thus, O Lord, not thus do I pray,
but rather with Samuel the prophet, I beseech Thee humbly and
earnestly, Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth. Let not Moses
speak to me, nor any prophet, but rather speak Thou, O Lord, who
didst inspire and illuminate all the prophets; for Thou alone
without them canst perfectly fill me with knowledge, whilst they
without Thee shall profit nothing.
2. They can indeed utter words, but they give not the spirit.
They speak with exceeding beauty, but when Thou art silent they
kindle not the heart. They give us scriptures, but Thou makest
known the sense thereof. They bring us mysteries, but Thou
revealest the things which are signified. They utter
commandments, but Thou helpest to the fulfilling of them. They
show the way, but Thou givest strength for the journey. They act
only outwardly, but Thou dost instruct and enlighten the heart.
They water, but Thou givest the increase. They cry with words,
but Thou givest understanding to the hearer.
3. Therefore let not Moses speak to me, but Thou, O Lord my God,
Eternal Truth; lest I die and bring forth no fruit, being
outwardly admonished, but not enkindled within; lest the word
heard but not followed, known but not loved, believed but not
obeyed, rise up against me in the judgment. Speak, Lord, for Thy
servant heareth; Thou hast the words of eternal life.(4) Speak
unto me for some consolation unto my soul, for the amendment of
my whole life, and for the praise and glory and eternal honour of
(1) 1 Samuel iii. 9. (2) Psalm cxix. 125. (3) Exodus xx. 19.
(4) John vi. 68.
How all the words of God are to be heard with humility, and how
many consider them not
"My Son, hear My words, for My words are most sweet, surpassing
all the knowledge of the philosophers and wise men of this world.
My words are spirit, and they are life,(1) and are not to be
weighed by man's understanding. They are not to be drawn forth
for vain approbation, but to be heard in silence, and to be
received with all humility and with deep love."
2. And I said, "Blessed is the man whom Thou teachest, O Lord,
and instructest him in Thy law, that Thou mayest give him rest in
time of adversity,(2) and that he be not desolate in the earth."
3. "I," saith the Lord, "taught the prophets from the beginning,
and even now cease I not to speak unto all; but many are deaf and
hardened against My voice; many love to listen to the world
rather than to God, they follow after the desires of the flesh
more readily than after the good pleasure of God. The world
promiseth things that are temporal and small, and it is served
with great eagerness. I promise things that are great and
eternal, and the hearts of mortals are slow to stir. Who serveth
and obeyeth Me in all things, with such carefulness as he serveth
the world and its rulers?
Be thou ashamed, O Sidon, saith the sea;(3)
And if thou reason seekest, hear thou me.
For a little reward men make a long journey; for eternal life
many will scarce lift a foot once from the ground. Mean reward
is sought after; for a single piece of money sometimes there is
shameful striving; for a thing which is vain and for a trifling
promise, men shrink not from toiling day and night."
4. "But, O shame! for an unchangeable good, for an inestimable
reward, for the highest honour and for a glory that fadeth not
away, it is irksome to them to toil even a little. Be thou
ashamed therefore, slothful and discontented servant, for they
are found readier unto perdition than thou unto life. They
rejoice more heartily in vanity than thou in the truth.
Sometimes, indeed, they are disappointed of their hope, but my
promise faileth no man, nor sendeth away empty him who trusteth
in Me. What I have promised I will give; what I have said I will
fulfil; if only a man remain faithful in My love unto the end.
Therefore am I the rewarder of all good men, and a strong
approver of all who are godly.
5. "Write My words in thy heart and consider them diligently, for
they shall be very needful to thee in time of temptation. What
thou understandest not when thou readest, thou shalt know in the
time of thy visitation. I am wont to visit Mine elect in twofold
manner, even by temptation and by comfort, and I teach them two
lessons day by day, the one in chiding their faults, the other in
exhorting them to grow in grace. He who hath My words and
rejecteth them, hath one who shall judge him at the last day."
A PRAYER FOR THE SPIRIT OF DEVOTION
6. O Lord my God, Thou art all my good, and who am I that I
should dare to speak unto Thee? I am the very poorest of Thy
servants, an abject worm, much poorer and more despicable than I
know or dare to say. Nevertheless remember, O Lord, that I am
nothing, I have nothing, and can do nothing. Thou only art good,
just and holy; Thou canst do all things, art over all things,
fillest all things, leaving empty only the sinner. Call to mind
Thy tender mercies, and fill my heart with Thy grace, Thou who
wilt not that Thy work should return to Thee void.
7. How can I bear this miserable life unless Thy mercy and grace
strengthen me? Turn not away Thy face from me, delay not Thy
visitation. Withdraw not Thou Thy comfort from me, lest my soul
"gasp after thee as a thirsty land." Lord, teach me to do Thy
will, teach me to walk humbly and uprightly before Thee, for Thou
art my wisdom, who knowest me in truth, and knewest me before the
world was made and before I was born into the world.
(1) John vi. 63. (2) Psalm xciv. 13. (3) Isaiah xxiii. 4.
How we must walk in truth and humility before God
"My Son! walk before Me in truth, and in the simplicity of thy
heart seek Me continually. He who walketh before Me in the truth
shall be safe from evil assaults, and the truth shall deliver him
from the wiles and slanders of the wicked. If the truth shall
make thee free, thou shalt be free indeed, and shalt not care for
the vain words of men."
2. Lord, it is true as Thou sayest; let it, I pray Thee, be so
with me; let Thy truth teach me, let it keep me and preserve me
safe unto the end. Let it free me from all evil and inordinate
affection, and I will walk before Thee in great freedom of heart.
3. "I will teach thee," saith the Truth, "the things which are
right and pleasing before Me. Think upon thy sins with great
displeasure and sorrow, and never think thyself anything because
of thy good works. Verily thou art a sinner, liable to many
passions, yea, tied and bound with them. Of thyself thou always
tendest unto nothing, thou wilt quickly fall, quickly be
conquered, quickly disturbed, quickly undone. Thou hast nought
whereof to glory, but many reasons why thou shouldest reckon
thyself vile, for thou art far weaker than thou art able to
4. "Let, therefore, nothing which thou doest seem to thee great;
let nothing be grand, nothing of value or beauty, nothing worthy
of honour, nothing lofty, nothing praiseworthy or desirable,
save what is eternal. Let the eternal truth please thee above
all things, let thine own great vileness displease thee
continually. Fear, denounce, flee nothing so much as thine own
faults and sins, which ought to be more displeasing to thee than
any loss whatsoever of goods. There are some who walk not
sincerely before me, but being led by curiosity and pride, they
desire to know my secret things and to understand the deep things
of God, whilst they neglect themselves and their salvation.
These often fall into great temptations and sins because of their
pride and curiosity, for I am against them.
5. "Fear thou the judgments of God, fear greatly the wrath of the
Almighty. Shrink from debating upon the works of the Most High,
but search narrowly thine own iniquities into what great sins
thou hast fallen, and how many good things thou hast neglected.
There are some who carry their devotion only in books, some in
pictures, some in outward signs and figures; some have Me in
their mouths, but little in their hearts. Others there are who,
being enlightened in their understanding and purged in their
affections, continually long after eternal things, hear of
earthly things with unwillingness, obey the necessities of nature
with sorrow. And these understand what the Spirit of truth
speaketh in them; for He teacheth them to despise earthly things
and to love heavenly; to neglect the world and to desire heaven
all the day and night."
Of the wonderful power of the Divine Love
I bless Thee, O Heavenly Father, Father of my Lord Jesus Christ,
for that Thou hast vouchsafed to think of me, poor that I am. O,
Father of Mercies and God of all comfort,(1) I give thanks unto
Thee, who refreshest me sometimes with thine own comfort, when I
am unworthy of any comfort. I bless and glorify Thee
continually, with thine only begotten Son and the Holy Ghost, the
Paraclete, for ever and ever. O Lord God, Holy lover of my soul,
when Thou shalt come into my heart, all my inward parts shall
rejoice. Thou art my glory and the joy of my heart. Thou art my
hope and my refuge in the day of my trouble.
2. But because I am still weak in love and imperfect in virtue, I
need to be strengthened and comforted by Thee; therefore visit
Thou me often and instruct me with Thy holy ways of discipline.
Deliver me from evil passions, and cleanse my heart from all
inordinate affections, that, being healed and altogether cleansed
within, I may be made ready to love, strong to suffer, steadfast
3. Love is a great thing, a good above all others, which alone
maketh every heavy burden light, and equaliseth every inequality.
For it beareth the burden and maketh it no burden, it maketh
every bitter thing to be sweet and of good taste. The surpassing
love of Jesus impelleth to great works, and exciteth to the
continual desiring of greater perfection. Love willeth to be
raised up, and not to be held down by any mean thing. Love
willeth to be free and aloof from all worldly affection, lest its
inward power of vision be hindered, lest it be entangled by any
worldly prosperity or overcome by adversity. Nothing is sweeter
than love, nothing stronger, nothing loftier, nothing broader,
nothing pleasanter, nothing fuller or better in heaven nor on
earth, for love was born of God and cannot rest save in God above
all created things.
4. He who loveth flyeth, runneth, and is glad; he is free and not
hindered. He giveth all things for all things, and hath all
things in all things, because he resteth in One who is high above
all, from whom every good floweth and proceedeth. He looketh not
for gifts, but turneth himself to the Giver above all good
things. Love oftentimes knoweth no measure, but breaketh out
above all measure; love feeleth no burden, reckoneth not labours,
striveth after more than it is able to do, pleadeth not
impossibility, because it judgeth all things which are lawful for
it to be possible. It is strong therefore for all things, and it
fulfilleth many things, and is successful where he who loveth not
faileth and lieth down.
5. Love is watchful, and whilst sleeping still keepeth watch;
though fatigued it is not weary, though pressed it is not forced,
though alarmed it is not terrified, but like the living flame and
the burning torch, it breaketh forth on high and securely
triumpheth. If a man loveth, he knoweth what this voice crieth.
For the ardent affection of the soul is a great clamour in the
ears of God, and it saith: My God, my Beloved! Thou art all
mine, and I am all Thine.
6. Enlarge Thou me in love, that I may learn to taste with the
innermost mouth of my heart how sweet it is to love, to be
dissolved, and to swim in love. Let me be holden by love,
mounting above myself through exceeding fervour and admiration.
Let me sing the song of love, let me follow Thee my Beloved on
high, let my soul exhaust itself in Thy praise, exulting with
love. Let me love Thee more than myself, not loving myself
except for Thy sake, and all men in Thee who truly love Thee, as
the law of love commandeth which shineth forth from Thee.
7. Love is swift, sincere, pious, pleasant, gentle, strong,
patient, faithful, prudent, long-suffering, manly, and never
seeking her own; for wheresoever a man seeketh his own, there he
falleth from love. Love is circumspect, humble, and upright; not
weak, not fickle, nor intent on vain things; sober, chaste,
steadfast, quiet, and guarded in all the senses. Love is subject
and obedient to all that are in authority, vile and lowly in its
own sight, devout and grateful towards God, faithful and always
trusting in Him even when God hideth His face, for without
sorrow we cannot live in love.
8. He who is not ready to suffer all things, and to conform to
the will of the Beloved, is not worthy to be called a lover of
God. It behoveth him who loveth to embrace willingly all hard
and bitter things for the Beloved's sake, and not to be drawn
away from Him because of any contrary accidents.
(1) 2 Corinthians i. 3.
Of the proving of the true lover
"My Son, thou art not yet strong and prudent in thy love."
2. Wherefore, O my Lord?
3. "Because for a little opposition thou fallest away from thy
undertakings, and too eagerly seekest after consolation. The
strong lover standeth fast in temptations, and believeth not the
evil persuasions of the enemy. As in prosperity I please him, so
in adversity I do not displease.
4. "The prudent lover considereth not the gift of the lover so
much as the love of the giver. He looketh for the affection more
than the value, and setteth all gifts lower than the Beloved.
The noble lover resteth not in the gift, but in Me above every
5. "All is not lost, though thou sometimes think of Me or of My
saints, less than thou shouldest desire. That good and sweet
affection which thou sometimes perceivest is the effect of
present grace and some foretaste of the heavenly country; but
hereon thou must not too much depend, for it goeth and cometh.
But to strive against the evil motions of the mind which come to
us, and to resist the suggestions of the devil, is a token of
virtue and great merit.
6. "Therefore let not strange fancies disturb thee, whencesoever
they arise. Bravely observe thy purpose and thy upright
intentions towards God. It is not an illusion when thou art
sometimes suddenly carried away into rapture, and then suddenly
art brought back to the wonted vanities of thy heart. For thou
dost rather unwillingly undergo them than cause them; and so long
as they displease thee and thou strivest against them, it is a
merit and no loss.
7. "Know thou that thine old enemy altogether striveth to hinder
thy pursuit after good, and to deter thee from every godly
exercise, to wit, the contemplation of the Saints, the pious
remembrance of My passion, the profitable recollection of sin,
the keeping of thy own heart, and the steadfast purpose to grow
in virtue. He suggesteth to thee many evil thoughts, that he may
work in thee weariness and terror, and so draw thee away from
prayer and holy reading. Humble confession displeaseth him, and
if he were able he would make thee to cease from Communion.
Believe him not, nor heed him, though many a time he hath laid
for thee the snares of deceit. Account it to be from him, when
he suggesteth evil and unclean thoughts. Say unto him, 'Depart
unclean spirit; put on shame, miserable one; horribly unclean art
thou, who bringest such things to mine ears. Depart from me,
detestable deceiver; thou shalt have no part in me; but Jesus
shall be with me, as a strong warrior, and thou shalt stand
confounded. Rather would I die and bear all suffering, than
consent unto thee. Hold thy peace and be dumb; I will not hear
thee more, though thou plottest more snares against me. The Lord
is my light and my salvation: whom then shall I fear? Though a
host of men should rise up against me, yet shall not my heart be
afraid. The Lord is my strength and my Redeemer.'(1)
8. "Strive thou like a good soldier; and if sometimes thou fail
through weakness, put on thy strength more bravely than before,
trusting in My more abundant grace, and take thou much heed of
vain confidence and pride. Because of it many are led into
error, and sometimes fall into blindness well-nigh irremediable.
Let this ruin of the proud, who foolishly lift themselves up, be
to thee for a warning and a continual exhortation to humility."
(1) Psalms xxvii. 1-3; xix. 14.
Of hiding our grace under the guard of humility
"My Son, it is better and safer for thee to hide the grace of
devotion, and not to lift thyself up on high, nor to speak much
thereof, nor to value it greatly; but rather to despise thyself,
and to fear as though this grace were given to one unworthy
thereof. Nor must thou depend too much upon this feeling, for it
can very quickly be turned into its opposite. Think when thou
art in a state of grace how miserable and poor thou art wont to
be without grace. Nor is there advance in spiritual life in this
alone, that thou hast the grace of consolation, but that thou
humbly and unselfishly and patiently takest the withdrawal
thereof; so that thou cease not from the exercise of prayer, nor
suffer thy other common duties to be in anywise neglected; rather
do thy task more readily, as though thou hadst gained more
strength and knowledge; and do not altogether neglect thyself
because of the dearth and anxiety of spirit which thou feelest.
2. "For there are many who, when things have not gone prosperous
with them, become forthwith impatient or slothful. For the way
of a man is not in himself,(1) but it is God's to give and to
console, when He will, and as much as He will, and whom He will,
as it shall please Him, and no further. Some who were
presumptuous because of the grace of devotion within them, have
destroyed themselves, because they would do more than they were
able, not considering the measure of their own littleness, but
rather following the impulse of the heart than the judgment of
the reason. And because they presumed beyond what was
well-pleasing unto God, therefore they quickly lost grace. They
became poor and were left vile, who had built for themselves
their nest in heaven; so that being humbled and stricken with
poverty, they might learn not to fly with their own wings, but
to put their trust under My feathers. They who are as yet new
and unskilled in the way of the Lord, unless they rule themselves
after the counsel of the wise, may easily be deceived and led
3. "But if they wish to follow their own fancies rather than
trust the experience of others, the result will be very dangerous
to them if they still refuse to be drawn away from their own
notion. Those who are wise in their own conceits, seldom
patiently endure to be ruled by others. It is better to have a
small portion of wisdom with humility, and a slender
understanding, than great treasures of sciences with vain
self-esteem. It is better for thee to have less than much of
what may make thee proud. He doeth not very discreetly who
giveth up himself entirely to joy, forgetting his former
helplessness and the chaste fear of the Lord, which feareth to
lose the grace offered. Nor is he very wise, after a manly sort,
who in time of adversity, or any trouble whatsoever, beareth
himself too despairingly, and feeleth concerning Me less
trustfully than he ought.
4. "He who in time of peace willeth to be oversecure shall be
often found in time of war overdispirited and full of fears. If
thou knewest always how to continue humble and moderate in
thyself, and to guide and rule thine own spirit well, thou
wouldest not so quickly fall into danger and mischief. It is
good counsel that when fervour of spirit is kindled, thou
shouldest meditate how it will be with thee when the light is
taken away. Which when it doth happen, remember that still the
light may return again, which I have taken away for a time for a
warning to thee, and also for mine own glory. Such a trial is
often more useful than if thou hadst always things prosperous
according to thine own will.
5. "For merits are not to be reckoned by this, that a man hath
many visions or consolations, or that he is skilled in the
Scriptures, or that he is placed in a high situation; but that he
is grounded upon true humility and filled with divine charity,
that he always purely and uprightly seeketh the honour of God,
that he setteth not by himself, but unfeignedly despiseth
himself, and even rejoiceth to be despised and humbled by others
more than to be honoured."
(1) Jeremiah x. 23.