Throwback Theology: Thomas à Kempis on Humility

Thomas-a-KempisThomas à Kempis (1380-1471) was a Medieval theologian from Germany. Thomas was most well known for his piece The Imitation of Christ. This piece was written to be a type of Christian devotional broken up into four books, consisting of Book One: Thoughts Helpful in The Life of the Soul, Book Two: The Interior Life, Book Three: Internal Consolation, and Book Four: An Invitation to Holy Communion. These key insights to the Christian life are regarded as one of the most popular devotionals written. This excerpt is entitled Having a Humble Opinion of Self.

Every man naturally desires knowledge; but what good is knowledge without fear of God? Indeed a humble rustic who serves God is better than a proud intellectual who neglects his soul to study the course of the stars, He who knows himself well becomes mean in his own eyes and is not happy when praised by men.

If I knew all things in the world and had not charity, what would it profit me before God, Who will judge me by my deeds?

Shun too great a desire for knowledge, for in it there is much fretting and delusion. Intellectuals like to appear learned and to be called wise. Yet there are many things the knowledge of which does little or no good to the soul, and he who concerns himself about other things than those which lead to salvation is very unwise.

Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life eases the mind, and a clean conscience inspires great trust in God.

The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. do not be proud therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you. If you think you know many things and understand them well enough, realize at the same time that there is much you do not know. Hence, do not affect wisdom, but admit your ignorance. Why prefer yourself to anyone else when many are more learned, more cultured than you?

If you wish to learn and appreciate something worth while, the love to be unknown and considered as nothing. Truly to know and despise self is the best and most perfect counsel. To think of oneself as nothing and always to think well and highly of others is the best and most perfect wisdom. Wherefore, if you see another sin openly or commit a serious crime, do not consider yourself better, for you do not know how long you can remain in good estate. All men are frail, but you must admit that none is more frail than yourself.

I believe if we are reading this passage honestly and carefully, we will be left on a pile of rubble, a ruin of self. Kempis pulls apart a dignified, magnified, and glorified view of one’s self. Today we are often told that we must find ourselves in order to help ourselves, or the greatest achievable goal is to find our true identity. Contrary to our culture, Kempis gives a resounding “NO!” No we do not need to find ourselves, and God does not help those who help themselves. God bestows grace upon grace! God gives merit and favor to unworthy creatures. This is where a heart of gratitude and a life of service stem from. It is this reason and this end that we live. The great catholic theologian Thomas à Kempis recalibrates for us a proper view of self and humility.

Throwback Theology is a blogging segment of classic sermons, books and articles by some of Christianity’s greatest thinkers. I hope this will encourage you and challenge you to think more deeply about our great God.


Throwback Theology: J.Gresham Machen, Christianity, and Liberalism

John Gresham Machen (1881-1937)  was the founder of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and one of the most important Christian thinkers in the 20th century. This Baccalaureate address is one of the lectures that was a precursor to Machen’s famous Christianity and Liberalism. The address was given at Hampden-Sydney College on June 9, 1929. These words cannot be any more pertinent for today’s reader.

 machenIt is a serious step, in these days, even from the worldly point of view, to become a Christian. There was a time, not so very long ago, when the faithful Christian was supported by public opinion or at least by the united opinion of the visible church. But that time has gone by. The man who today enters upon the Christian life is enlisting in a warfare against the whole current of the age.

Of Course the conflict can be avoided. It can be avoided if the one who professes Christianity adapts his message to the desires of those who are about him, if he examines various types of religious experience—attested by the Bible regarded as a religious classic, and attested also by the conditions that now prevail—if he examines various types of religious experience and chooses that one which he thinks best adapted to the modern world. There is certainly no offense in such a Christianity as that. It causes no more disturbance than is caused to a stream by a chip that floats downward with the current. But very different is the case if the Christian proclaims without fear or favor the gospel that is contained in the Word of God. A Christian who proclaims such a gospel is bound to face the opposition not only of the world but increasingly, I fear, of the church.

I cannot tell you that the sacrifice will be light: it is a serious thing to stand against the whole current of an age: it is a serious thing to be despised and hated by the generality of one’s fellow men. Yet that is increasingly the lot of the true Christian today. He will not, indeed, be inclined to complain; for he has something with which all that he has lost is not worthy to be compared; and he knows that despite temporary opposition the ultimate future belongs to him and to his Lord. But for the present he is called upon to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. It can hardly be said that unworthy motives of self-interest can lead a man to enter into a calling in which he will win nothing but reproach.

– John Gresham Machen

The rest of this address can be found in Dr. Stephen Nichols, J. Gresham Machen’s The Gospel in the Modern World and Other Short Writings.

Throwback Theology is a blogging segment of classic sermons, books and articles by some of Christianity’s greatest thinkers. I hope this will encourage you and challenge you to think more deeply about our great God.

Throwback Theology: Charles Spurgeon on Suffering & Trials

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) is one of the most prolific preachers in Christianity. His sermons are a great mix of theology and poetry. Spurgeon was a master of words and distinguished preacher. He also knew a great deal about facing trials and suffering. His life was just as much a testimony to the type of preaching he exposited. Consider the words of Charles Spurgeon.

“You may think, my dear brethren and sisters, that you have been tried more than others; but it is only your wspurgeonant of knowledge of the trials of others which leads you to imagine that your own are unique. There are many others, besides yourself, in the furnace, and in quite as hot a part of it as that in which you are now placed. Note what Paul says: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man.” It is a human temptation, not a superhuman one, which has assailed you; that is to say, one which can be withstood by men,—not one that must inevitably sweep them away. You have never been tempted with an angelic temptation. Satan has tempted you, young man, but not with the same temptation with which he allured the angels who kept not their first estate. There may be other orders of intelligence, for whom there are other forms of temptation, because their intellects are superior to yours; but God has allowed you to be assailed in a way which is suitable as a test to you as a man. The trials, that have come upon you, have been moderated to your capacity as a man. The Lord knows that you are but animated dust, so he has not permitted you to be treated as if you were made of steel or iron. He has himself dealt with you as an earthen vessel,—a thing of clay in which he has caused life to dwell. He has not broken you with his rod of iron, as he would have done if he had smitten you with it.
“But I am very sorely tempted,” saith one. Yes, perhaps you are; but the Lord has given you the history of the children of Israel in the wilderness, to let you see that you have not been tempted more than they were. “Ah!” says another, “but I find myself placed in a very peculiar position, where I am greatly tried. I have to labour hard, and I have much difficulty in earning my daily bread, and I am beset with trials of many kinds.” Well, dear friend, even though what you say is perfectly true, I am not certain that your position is any more likely to bring temptation than was that of the children of Israel in the wilderness. “Ah!” you say, “but they had not to work to earn their bread. The manna came to them every morning, and they had only to gather it, and to eat it. They were not engaged in commercial transactions, there were no markets in the desert,—no Corn Exchange, no Stock Exchange, no Smithfield, no Billingsgate,—no taking down the shutters in the morning, and putting them up again at night, and going a great part of the day without any customers. They were separated from all other nations, and were in a peculiarly advantageous position.” Yet, dear friends, you need not wish to be placed in such a position, because, advantageous as it was, in some respects, the Israelites there were evidently tempted to all sorts of sins, and fell into them very grievously. Having often read the story of their forty years’ sojourn in the wilderness, you know their sad history. With so favourable a position granted to them, under the Lord’s own special guardianship, and enriched with many choice mercies, we might have expected that they would have been free from temptation;—or, at any rate, that they would not have fallen into its snare; yet it was not so, for the devil can tempt in the wilderness quite as well as in the city, as we know from the experience of Christ himself. The devil would tempt you even if your bread was given to you every morning, instead of your having to earn it; he would tempt you if you had no business to attend to, and never had to go into the world to meet with your fellow-men. In fact, the story of the Israelites teaches me that it is best for you to work, and best for you to be poor, and best for you not to make money as fast as you would like, and best for you to be surrounded by cares of various kinds. I think I judge rightly that the people of God, the saved ones, do not fall into such gross sins as the Israelites did in the wilderness; so that the saints’ position, though it may appear worse than that of Israel, is really better.”


– Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 50, 578-579

Throwback Theology is a blogging segment of classic sermons, books and articles by some of Christianity’s greatest thinkers. I hope this will encourage you and challenge you to think more deeply about our great God.