Of Adversity and Resisting Temptation*
OF THE PROFIT OF ADVERSITY
1. It is good that we have sometimes troubles and crosses; for they often make a man enter into himself, and consider that he is here in banishment, and ought not to place his trust in any worldly thing. It is good that we be sometimes contradicted, and this, although we do and intend well. These things help often to the attaining of humility, and defend us from vainglory: for then we are more inclined to seek God for our inward witness.
2. And therefore a man should settle himself so fully in God, that he need not seek many comforts of men. When a good man is afflicted, tempted, or troubled with evil thoughts; then he understandeth better the great need he hath of God, without Whom he perceiveth he can do no good thing. Then also he sorroweth, lamenteth, and prayeth, by reason of the miseries he suffereth. Then he is weary of living longer, and wishest that death would come, that he might depart and he with Christ. Then also he well perceiveth, that perfect security and full peace cannot be had in this world.
OF RESISTING TEMPTATION
1. So long as we live in this world we cannot be without tribulation and temptation. Hence it is written in Job, “The life of man upon earth is a life of temptation” [cf Job 7:1]. Everyone, therefore, ought to be careful about his temptations, and to watch in prayer, lest the devil find an advantage to deceive him; for he never sleepeth, but goeth about seeking whom he may devour. No man is so perfect and holy, but he hath some temptations, and we cannot be altogether without them.
2. Nevertheless, temptations are often profitable though they be troublesome and grievous; for in them a man is humbled, purified, and instructed. All the Saints passed through man’s tribulations and temptations and profited thereby. And they that could not bear temptations, became reprobate and fell away. There is no order so holy, nor place so secret, but there are temptations or adversities in it.
3. There is no man that is altogether free from temptations: for the root thereof is in ourselves, who are born with inclination to evil. When one temptation or tribulation goeth away, another cometh; and we shall ever have something to suffer, because we are fallen from the state of our felicity. Many seek to fly temptations and fall more grievously into them. By flight alone we cannot overcome, but by patience and true humility we become stronger than all our enemies.
4. He that only avoideth them outwardly, and doth not pluck them up by the roots, shall profit little; yea, temptations will the sooner return unto him, and will be more violent than before. By little and little, and by patience with long-suffering through God’s help, thou shalt more easily overcome, than by violence and thine own disquietude. Often take counsel in temptations, and deal not roughly with him that is tempted; but, give him comfort, as thou wouldest wish to be done to thyself.
5. The beginning of all evil temptations is inconstancy of mind, and small confidence in God. For as a ship without a helm is tossed to and fro by the waves; so the man who is careless and forsaketh his purpose is many ways tempted. Fire trieth iron, and temptation a just man.
We know not oftentimes what we are able to do, but temptation shows us what we are. Yet we must be watchful, especially in the beginning of the temptation; for the enemy is then more easily overcome, if he be not suffered to enter the door of our hearts, but be resisted at the very gate, on his first knocking. Wherefore one said, “Withstand the beginnings; the remedy comes often too late, when the evil has grown strong through delay.” [cf James 4:7]. For first there cometh to the mind a bare thought of evil, then a strong imagination thereof, afterwards delight, and evil motion, and then consent. And so by little and little our wicked enemy getteth complete entrance, for that [which] he is not resisted in the beginning. And the longer a man is negligent in resisting, the weaker does he become daily in himself, and the stronger the enemy against him.
6. Some suffer great temptations in the beginning of their conversion; others in the end. Others again are much troubled almost through the whole of their life. Some are but slightly tempted, according to the Divine wisdom and equity, which weigheth the states and deserts of man, and ordaineth all things for the welfare of His chosen ones.
7. We ought not therefore to despair when we are tempted, but so much the more fervently to pray unto
God that He will vouchsafe to help us in all tribulations; for He will surely, according to the words of St. Paul, make with the temptation a way to escape, that we may be able to bear it [cf 1 Corinthians 10:13]. Let us, therefore, humble our souls under the hand of God in all temptations and tribulations, for He will save and exalt the humble.
8. In temptations and afflictions a man is proved, how much he hath profited; and his reward is thereby the greater, and his graces do more eminently shine. Neither is it any such great thing if a man be devout and fervent, when he feeleth no affliction; but, if in time of adversity he bear himself patiently, there is hope then of great growth in grace. Some are kept from great temptations, and in small ones which do daily occur are often overcome to the end that, being humbled, they may never presume on themselves in great matters.
*An excerpt from the Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.
Art for this post “On Adversity and Resisting Temptation”: Partial restoration of Temptation of Saint Anthony Abbot, Master of the Osservanza, circa 1435, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.