Reading this classic devotional book was an experience like none I have ever had. It was like hearing from the heart of a godly man from a much earlier century and a completely different Christian tradition. His writing style is also different from what I am used to it. It is more like reading a book of Christian proverbs, than the usual devotional book that follows a specific theme in each chapter and develops that theme in a logical fashion.
The author, Thomas à Kempis, was a German monk from the latter part of the 14th century and early part of the 15th century, well before the Protestant Reformation, a momentous event which has greatly shaped my thinking and the thinking of most modern evangelical Christians.
Even though The Imitation of Christ is expressed quite differently than I would have expressed it, I do not question in the least that the author was a man with a deep faith in Jesus Christ and a very holy life.
The introduction was written by Dr. Rosalie de Rosset, a professor of literature, English and homiletics at Moody Bible Institute, where she has been for forty-two years. I especially appreciated the first quote from Thomas à Kempis that she included in her introduction:
Hold fast to Jesus both in life and in death and commit yourself to His steadfast love, for He alone can help you when all others fail. Your beloved is such that he admits no other rival. He wants your heart to Himself and desires to reign there as a king on His own throne.
One thing that made the book more helpful to me personally was that Dr. de Rosset added Bible references at the bottom of each page indicating where Thomas à Kempis, a student of the Scriptures, was likely getting many of his thoughts.
I would not categorize Thomas à Kempis as a theologian, nor a preacher, nor even a mystic. He was simply a humble man of God who sought to give himself totally to Christ. In The Imitation of Christ à Kempis speaks often of humility, suffering for Christ, prayer, purity, simplicity, wisdom, patience, meekness, and other such virtues.
If I were to choose his single most common theme it would be humility. The following quotes are typical of his treatment of this subject:
Thanks be unto thee, from whom all proceedeth, whensoever it goes well with me. But I am in thy sight mere vanity and nothing, an inconstant and weak man.
Praised be thy name, not mine; magnified be thy work, not mine. Let thy holy name be blessed, but to me no part of men’s praises be given.
My son, make it no matter of thine, if thou see others honored and advanced, and thyself despised and debased.
But he that attributeth any good unto himself, hindereth the coming of God’s grace into him; for the grace of the Holy Spirit, ever seeketh a humble heart.
Never read the Word in order to appear more learned or more wise. Be studious for the mortification of thy sins; for this will profit more than knowledge of many difficult questions.
The Imitation Christ is in four sections or “books”. The first three appear quite similar, but the fourth is different. It is entitled The Fourth Book: Concerning the Sacrament. The goal of this section seems to be to prepare us for receiving the Lord’s body in Communion. Here are some sample quotes:
I confess therefore mine own unworthiness, I acknowledge thy goodness, I praise thy tender mercy and give thee thanks for this thy transcendent love.
But on what shall I think at this Communion, in making this approach unto my Lord, whom I am not able duly to honor, and yet whom I can not but desire devoutly to receive?
What can I think on better, and more profitable, than utterly to humble myself before Thee, and to exalt thine infinite goodness above me.
I praise thee, my God, and will exalt thee for ever; I do despise myself, and cast myself down before thee, into the depth of mine own unworthiness.
Behold, thou art the Holy of Holies, and I am the scum of sinner!
Is this a book you should read? Maybe not if you are a young Christian just trying to understand the basic of the Christian faith, but if you are mature in the Lord and want to prepare yourself for being in heaven with believers from other backgrounds, I recommend this book for you to read and meditate upon.