I strongly recommend Thomas a Kempis’ book “Imitation of Christ” as a devotional book and I feel it should be in every serious Christian’s library. The only caution I have is to keep in mind that this book was written by a Roman Catholic monk and he refers to purgatory in some chapters. Aslo, in the forth book concerning communion you will find references to the Papal teaching of transubstantiation.
Other than that, you need to have your holiness glasses on when you read – as in a number of places he refers to the Christian sinning as normal and you should read that as faults – not sins – for “whosoever is born of God sinneth not” (1Joh 3:8). In numerous books I have read, I have found it common for even deeply spiritual people to refer to the unlawful desires of their flesh and their many faults as sin.Regarding such, I like the definition that John Wesley uses.
The following is a quote from each chapter so you that you get an idea of the quality of writing. This is not a book to be read and then laid down but a book that you can read and read again – and you should spend time meditating on the principles laid out in the book.
I hope you can get as much good out of this book as I have!
Quotes From Book One — Thoughts Helpful in the Life of the Soul:
1. Imitating Christ and Despising All Vanities on Earth — What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God.
2. Having A Humble Opinion of Self — He who knows himself well becomes mean in his own eyes and is not happy when praised by men.
3. The Doctrine of Truth — What good is much discussion of involved and obscure matters when our ignorance of them will not be held against us on Judgment Day? Neglect of things which are profitable and necessary and undue concern with those which are irrelevant and harmful, are great folly.
4. Prudence in Action — Perfect men, however, do not readily believe every talebearer, because they know that human frailty is prone to evil and is likely to appear in speech.
5. Reading the Holy Scripture — If you would profit from it, therefore, read with humility, simplicity, and faith, and never seek a reputation for being learned.
6. Unbridled Affections — True peace of heart, then, is found in resisting passions, not in satisfying them. There is no peace in the carnal man, in the man given to vain attractions, but there is peace in the fervent and spiritual man.
7. Avoiding False Hope and Pride — Put no trust in your own learning nor in the cunning of any man, but rather in the grace of God Who helps the humble and humbles the proud.
8. Shunning Over-Familiarity — Associate with the humble and the simple, with the devout and virtuous, and with them speak of edifying things.
9. Obedience and Subjection — If, though your own be good, you accept another’s opinion for love of God, you will gain much more merit; for I have often heard that it is safer to listen to advice and take it than to give it.
10. Avoiding Idle Talk — Devout conversation on spiritual matters, on the contrary, is a great aid to spiritual progress, especially when persons of the same mind and spirit associate together in God.
11. Acquiring Peace and Zeal for Perfection — If we were to uproot only one vice each year, we should soon become perfect. The contrary, however, is often the case — we feel that we were better and purer in the first fervor of our conversion than we are after many years in the practice of our faith. Our fervor and progress ought to increase day by day; yet it is now considered noteworthy if a man can retain even a part of his first fervor.
12. The Value of Adversity — It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradiction, to be misjudged by men even though we do well and mean well.
13. Resisting Temptation — First, a mere thought comes to mind, then strong imagination, followed by pleasure, evil delight, and consent. Thus, because he is not resisted in the beginning, Satan gains full entry. And the longer a man delays in resisting, so much the weaker does he become each day, while the strength of the enemy grows against him
14. Avoiding Rash Judgment — Turn your attention upon yourself and beware of judging the deeds of other men, for in judging others a man labors vainly, often makes mistakes, and easily sins; whereas, in judging and taking stock of himself he does something that is always profitable.
15. Works Done in Charity — Without charity external work is of no value, but anything done in charity, be it ever so small and trivial, is entirely fruitful inasmuch as God weighs the love with which a man acts rather than the deed itself.
16. Bearing With the Faults of Others — Try to bear patiently with the defects and infirmities of others, whatever they may be, because you also have many a fault which others must endure.
17. Monastic Life — If you would persevere in seeking perfection, you must consider yourself a pilgrim, an exile on earth.
18. The Example Set Us by the Holy Fathers — Consider the lively examples set us by the saints, who possessed the light of true perfection and religion, and you will see how little, how nearly nothing, we do.
19. The Practices of a Good Religious — With good reason there ought to be much more within than appears on the outside, for He who sees within is God, Whom we ought to reverence most highly wherever we are and in Whose sight we ought to walk pure as the angels.
20. The Love of Solitude and Silence — If you withdraw yourself from unnecessary talking and idle running about, from listening to gossip and rumors, you will find enough time that is suitable for holy meditation.
21. Sorrow of Heart — Keep an eye primarily on yourself and admonish yourself instead of your friends.
22. Thoughts on the Misery of Man — When you are troubled and afflicted, that is the time to gain merit. You must pass through water and fire before coming to rest. Unless you do violence to yourself you will not overcome vice.
23. Thoughts on Death — Oh, the dullness and hardness of a heart which looks only to the present instead of preparing for that which is to come!
24. Judgment and the Punishment of Sin — The poor and humble will have great confidence, while the proud will be struck with fear. He who learned to be a fool in this world and to be scorned for Christ will then appear to have been wise.
25. Zeal in Amending Our Lives — A man makes the most progress and merits the most grace precisely in those matters wherein he gains the greatest victories over self and most mortifies his will.