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    gold being refined

    Profitable Temptations

    Just as fire proves gold, temptation proves the righteous person.

    By Thomas à Kempis

    August 21, 2022
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    As long as we live in this world we cannot be fully without temptation, for, as Job says, the life of man upon earth is a warfare. Therefore, every man should be well on guard against his temptations, and watch in prayer so that his spiritual enemy, who never sleeps but always goes about seeking whom he may devour, may find no time or place to deceive him.

    There is no man so perfect or so holy in this world that he does not sometimes have temptations, and we cannot be fully without them. Though they be for a time very grievous and painful, yet if they are resisted they are very profitable, for by them a man is made more humble and is purified and instructed in various manners which he would never have known save through the experience of such temptations. All the blessed saints who are now crowned in heaven grew and profited by temptations and tribulations; those that could not well bear temptations, but were finally overcome, are held perpetual prisoners in hell.

    There is no station so holy or any place so secret that it is fully without temptation, and there is no one fully free from it here in this life, for in our corruptible body we bear the matter whereby we are tempted, that is, our inordinate concupiscence with which we were born. As one temptation goes, another comes; and so we shall always have something to suffer, and the reason is that we have lost our innocence.

    gold being refined

    Photograph by Zsolt Biczó

    Many people seek to flee temptation and fall the more deeply into it, for by merely fleeing we cannot win the victory, but by humility and patience we may be made stronger than all our enemies. He who merely flees the outward occasions and does not cut away the inordinate desires hidden inwardly in his heart shall gain little; temptation will easily come to him again and grieve him more than it did at first. Little by little, with patience and fortitude, and with the help of God, you will sooner overcome temptations than with your own strength and persistence. In your temptation it is good often to ask counsel. It is good not to be severe on any person who is tempted; rather, be glad to comfort him as you would be glad to be comforted.

    The beginning of all evil temptations is inconstancy of mind and too little trust in God. As a ship without a rudder is driven hither and thither by every storm, so an unstable man who soon leaves his good purpose in God is variously tempted. Fire proves gold, and temptation proves the righteous man.

    Many times we know not what we can bear, but temptation shows plainly what we are, and what virtue is in us. It is necessary at the beginning of every temptation to be well aware, for the enemy is soon overcome if he is not allowed to enter the heart, but is resisted and shut out as soon as he attempts to enter.

    As medicine for the body is administered too late when the sickness has been allowed to increase by long continuance, so it is with temptation. First, an unclean thought comes to the mind, then follows a strong phantasm, then pleasure in it and various evil motions, and at the end follows a full consent; so, little by little, the enemy gains full entrance, because he was not wisely resisted at the beginning. The slower a man is in resisting, the weaker he is to resist, and the enemy is daily stronger against him.

    It is necessary at the beginning of every temptation to be well aware, for the enemy is soon overcome if he is not allowed to enter the heart, but is resisted and shut out as soon as he attempts to enter.

    Some people have their greatest temptation at the beginning of their conversion, some at the end, and some after a fashion are troubled with temptations all their life, and there are many who are but lightly tempted. And all this comes from the great wisdom and righteousness of God, who knows the state and merit of every person, and ordains all things for the best and for the everlasting health and salvation of his elect and chosen ones.

    Therefore, we shall not despair when we are tempted, but shall the more fervently pray to God, that of his infinite goodness and fatherly pity he may vouchsafe to help us in every need; and that, according to the saying of Saint Paul, he may so go before us with his grace in every temptation that we may be able to bear it. Let us, then, humble ourselves under the strong hand of Almighty God, for he will save and exalt all who are here meek and lowly in spirit.

    In temptations and tribulations a man is proved, and how much he has gained is shown, and his merit is thereby the greater in the sight of God, and his virtues the more openly manifest. It is no great marvel if a man is fervent and devout when he feels no grief. But if he can suffer patiently in the time of temptation or other adversity and, despite it, stir himself also to fervor of spirit, it is a token that he will advance greatly thereafter in virtue and grace. Some people are kept from any great temptations, and yet are daily overcome in little and small occasions; that happens because the great goodness and patience of God would keep them in humility, so that they will not trust or presume of themselves, since they see themselves daily overcome so easily and in such little things.


    From Thomas à Kempis, “Of Temptations to be Resisted” in The Imitation of Christ, a modern version based on the English translation made by Richard Whitford around the year 1530, edited with introduction by Harold C. Gardiner, SJ (New York: Image Books, 1955). Copyright © 1955 by Penguin Random House LLC. Used by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

    Contributed By aKempis Thomas à Kempis

    Thomas à Kempis (ca. 1380–1471), a German-Dutch mystic, was an Augustinian canon and the likely author of The Imitation of Christ, a book of devotional readings.

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