Sunday, September 7, 2014

Of the lack of all comfort. The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis. Book 2, Chapter 9

Chapter 9: Of the lack of all comfort
It is no hard thing to despise human comfort when divine is
present. It is a great thing, yea very great, to be able to bear
the loss both of human and divine comfort; and for the love of
God willingly to bear exile of heart, and in nought to seek
oneself, nor to look to one’s own merit. What great matter is
it, if thou be cheerful of heart and devout when favour cometh to
thee? That is an hour wherein all rejoice. Pleasantly enough
doth he ride whom the grace of God carrieth. And what marvel, if
he feeleth no burden who is carried by the Almighty, and is led
onwards by the Guide from on high?
We are willing to accept anything for comfort, and it is
difficult for a man to be freed from himself. The holy martyr
Laurence overcame the love of the world and even of his priestly
master, because he despised everything in the world which seemed
to be pleasant; and for the love of Christ he calmly suffered
even God’s chief priest, Sixtus, whom he dearly loved, to be
taken from him. Thus by the love of the Creator he overcame the
love of man, and instead of human comfort he chose rather God’s
good pleasure. So also learn thou to resign any near and beloved
friend for the love of God. Nor take it amiss when thou hast
been deserted by a friend, knowing that we must all be parted
from one another at last.
Mightily and long must a man strive within himself before he
learn altogether to overcome himself, and to draw his whole
affection towards God. When a man resteth upon himself, he
easily slippeth away unto human comforts. But a true lover of
Christ, and a diligent seeker after virtue, falleth not back upon
those comforts, nor seeketh such sweetness as may be tasted and
handled, but desireth rather hard exercises, and to undertake
severe labours for Christ.
When, therefore, spiritual comfort is given by God, receive it
with giving of thanks, and know that it is the gift of God, not
thy desert. Be not lifted up, rejoice not overmuch nor foolishly
presume, but rather be more humble for the gift, more wary and
more careful in all thy doings; for that hour will pass away, and
temptation will follow. When comfort is taken from thee, do not
straightway despair, but wait for the heavenly visitation with
humility and patience, for God is able to give thee back greater
favour and consolation. This is not new nor strange to those who
have made trial of the way of God, for with the great saints and
the ancient prophets there was often this manner of change.
Wherefore one said when the favour of God was present with
him, I said in my prosperity I shall never be moved,[Psalm 30:6] but he
goeth on to say what he felt within himself when the favour
departed: Thou didst turn Thy face from me, and I was troubled.
In spite whereof he in no wise despaireth, but the more instantly
entreateth God, and saith, Unto Thee, O Lord, will I cry, and
will pray unto my God; and then he receiveth the fruit of his
prayer, and testifieth how he hath been heard, saying, The Lord
heard me and had mercy upon me, the Lord was my helper. But
wherein? Thou hast turned my heaviness into joy, Thou hast put
off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness. If it was thus
with the great saints, we who are poor and needy ought not to
despair if we are sometimes in the warmth and sometimes in the
cold, for the Spirit cometh and goeth according to the good
pleasure of His will. Wherefore holy Job saith, Thou dost visit
him in the morning, and suddenly Thou dost prove him.[Job 7:18]
Whereupon then can I hope, or wherein may I trust, save only
in the great mercy of God, and the hope of heavenly grace? For
whether good men are with me, godly brethren or faithful friends,
whether holy books or beautiful discourses, whether sweet hymns
and songs, all these help but little, and have but little savour
when I am deserted by God’s favour and left to mine own poverty.
There is no better remedy, then, than patience and denial of
self, and an abiding in the will of God.
I have never found any man so religious and godly, but that he
felt sometimes a withdrawal of the divine favour, and lack of
fervour. No saint was ever so filled with rapture, so
enlightened, but that sooner or later he was tempted. For he is
not worthy of the great vision of God who, for God’s sake, hath
not been exercised by some temptation. For temptation is wont
to go before as a sign of the comfort which shall follow, and
heavenly comfort is promised to those who are proved by
temptation. As it is written, To him that overcometh I will
give to eat of the tree of life.[Revelation 2:7]
Divine comfort is given that a man may be stronger to bear
adversities. And temptation followeth, lest he be lifted up
because of the benefit. The devil sleepeth not; thy flesh is not
yet dead; therefore, cease thou not to make thyself ready unto
the battle, for enemies stand on thy right hand and on thy left,
and they are never at rest.

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