The Imitation of Christ: A Timeless Classic for Contemporary Readers

by Thomas a Kempis

Other authorsWilliam C. Creasy (Translator)
Paperback, 1989





First published anonymously in 1418, Thomas à Kempis's The Imitation of Christ is a classic Christian devotional work that has been read through the ages by such notable figures as Sir Thomas More, John Wesley, and Pope John Paul I. A meditation on spiritual life, it offers instructions for renouncing worldly vanity and discovering eternal truths with the goal of living out the teachings of Jesus by taking inspiration from his life. More widely read and more influential than any spiritual work except the Bible, The Imitation of Christ has offered guidance and solace to people of all faiths since its publication and retains its power today. This edition is the translation by the Reverend William Benham.


Ave Maria Press (1989), Edition: 6th Printing, 192 pages

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(562 ratings; 4.1)

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LibraryThing member ebnelson
Deserves to be seen as a classic by all Christians—even Lutheran or Calvinistic Evangelicals. His balance between God’s sovereign grace and personal piety is masterful, but the work’s most impressive feature is how well Thomas à Kempis knows the human heart: its trials and its wickedness.
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Amazing empathetic, even to modern readers living in a highly digital and consumer-driven world. Take, for example, this passage from iii.39: “A man often goes in eager pursuit of something he wants; when he has got it, he doesn’t feel the same about it. Man’s affections are unstable, and are apt to drive him from one desirable object to the next, so that even in trivial matters it is well worth renouncing oneself.” Is he not describing what we commonly call “buyer’s remorse” and the trials of a consumer-driven society? The work is filled with timeless insights such as this, where à Kempis proves that to someone who knows that the world around may change, but the human heart does not, speaking effectively across time is possible—in fact profitable. With his focus on human depravity and the sureness of God’s good grace, à Kempis shows how humility is the path we must be set upon to find any hope of rest or comfort.

The dialog format in the second half of the book (between Christ and the learner) can be jarring at times as the voice continuously changes, but you get used to it. Great prayers are interspersed throughout the work, preventing the reader’s experience from becoming too intellectualized.

Translations matter. I had tried another translation at first and struggled. The translation by Ronald Knox was immediately engrossing.
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LibraryThing member StephenBarkley
I first read the Imitation when I was feeling especially spiritual in high school. I went to my local Christian book store with a few dollars to spend and found an abridged paperback version of it in the reduced bin. What a disaster! I don’t usually put books down once I’ve started them, but
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after reading the first few chapters carefully, I skimmed the rest. Now, a couple decades past high school, with a nice hardback Everyman’s Library edition in hand, I decided to give Thomas another try. Rather than reading it like a normal book, I read it one or two chapters per morning during my devotions.

This book challenged me immensely. It has a poetic power that pierces the superficial skin of modern Christendom. I found myself praying Thomas’ prayers and confessing the things he was repenting. The most important message of the entire volume was the call to distrust your emotions. Divine consolations come and go. We often mature more when we don’t ‘feel’ God than when we do.

I do have some difficulties with the work that I think are more than just time-period misunderstandings. For all his insight into the human condition, Thomas has missed a lot of what it means to imitate Christ. Read through the gospels at the same time as the Imitation and you’ll see what I mean. All the talk of mortification can wear you down. A more balanced imitation of Christ would not downplay self-denial, but would also stress the freedom of living eternal life without worry for tomorrow.

The second issue is the individual nature of the work, which is a little odd, coming from the fifteenth century. Imitating Christ should drive us outward to love each other. This book, at times, makes it sound like the only thing that matters is the individual’s heart-condition.

The last issue I have is a bit of a logical inconsistency. The first three quarters of the work go into detail about the need to distrust your feelings and trust God whether or not there are any heavenly consolations. In the last quarter, he practically begs for those worthy feelings that he believes he should have to celebrate the Eucharist aright.

With all that said, this book is still one of the best books on spiritual formation I’ve ever encountered. It offers an almost offensive antidote for those people (like me) who are infected by the spirit of twenty-first century Western-style Christianity. Read it slowly, thoughtfully, and prayerfully at your own risk.
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LibraryThing member gbill
Sherley-Price’s introduction sets the stage for a closed-minded and intolerant book, referring to combatting “godless Communism” and the “anti-Christ”, and including passages such as “For Thomas, as for all Christians, the sole road to God is through the power and teachings of Jesus
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Christ, true God and true Man; by the subordination of nature to divine grace; by self-discipline; and by devout use of the Sacraments of the Catholic Church, in particular that of the Holy Eucharist.”

Thomas A Kempis himself isn’t much better:
“Everyone naturally desires knowledge, but of what use is knowledge itself without the fear of God?”
“We are born with an inclination towards evil.”
“all those others who strove to follow in the footsteps of Christ … all hated their lives in this world, that they might keep them to life eternal.”
“And were you to ponder in your mind on the pains of Hell and Purgatory, you would readily endure toil and sorrow, and would shrink from no kind of hardship.”

The messages of humility and simplicity in other parts of the text quickly get lost for me. Man is a worm. God is great. Don’t you dare think of pleasure, or you’ll burn in Hell forever. Ugh.

Read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations instead. Somehow these two have been linked by many, and they shouldn’t be at all. Marcus the pagan was far, far more enlightened.
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LibraryThing member alrtree
There is always something fresh and inspiring to contemplate, no matter where I open this book to! I didn't read this cover to cover, but picked it up now and then.
LibraryThing member 9inchsnails
Read this for a class and was pleasantly surprised. It's both an unmistakable product of its time (denouncing the secular entanglements of the medieval Church--I can't help but feel the Avignon Exile was at the back of his mind) and a surprisingly relevant devotional. A Kempis explores the ideas of
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Augustine and Plato and produces a simple exegesis that emphasizes faith and grace.
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LibraryThing member stephenjchow
Counsels relentless self-deprecation on Earth for the sake of God in Heaven. Every sentence is pure gold. An unassuming, compact little black book that simultaneously devastates the mundane and pleases the spirit.

I treated this binding with Obenauf's Heavy Duty Leather Preservative, let dry, and
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then polished thoroughly with a cloth. The leather now looks and feels very much like my 19th century calf bindings. The more you polish it, the better the light brings out the bubbly texture of the leather, which is beautiful.
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LibraryThing member hansarns
This late Medieval classic, once a Catholic adjunct to the Bible, has suffered much neglect and even derision in recent years. However its emphasis on personal sanctification, acquiring self-knowledge and love of God prepares men and women better for making a contribution to society than activism
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without a solid spiritual base.
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LibraryThing member RubislawLibrary
After the Bible, The Imitation of Christ is probably the best known and best loved book in Christendom. Its author, Thomas a Kempis (1380 - 1471) had a wide knowledge of the Scriptures and classical philosophy, and although most of his life was spent in a Dutch monastery, he also possessed a deep
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understanding of human nature. His acquired wisdom convinced him of man's complete dependence on God's love and the empty futility of life without it. The book has exercised a profound influence for over 500 years, and Thomas More, Ignatius Loyola and John Wesley are among the many who have acknowledged their debt to it.
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LibraryThing member MrDickie
I just finished reading the William C. Creasy translation of this Christian classic by the monk, Thomas 'a Kempis. I've read this book several times and enjoyed it each time. This version is easy to read. I'd recommend reading this book to anyone interested in being exposed to a timeless work of
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literature that has survived for centuries.
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LibraryThing member deusvitae
A justly famous devotional work of the 15th century in an accessible translation.

Creasy's translation allows the modern reader to really get into and understand the premises of The Imitation of Christ. It is highly recommended.

The work itself is a masterpiece of devotional literature: even though
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Thomas a Kempis may have lived almost six hundred years ago, many of his comments makes it seem that he understands you today. It truly speaks to the unchanging condition of mankind.

The author's goal is to increase devotion to Christ and writes compellingly to that end. He uncovers a lot of the difficulties and challenges under which we live and directs us in every respect to Christ. It is a work worth going over time and again.

The author lived in medieval Catholicism and the work reflects this at times, but the language and concepts are easily accommodated.

Highly recommended.

**--galley received as part of early review program
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LibraryThing member ggodfrey
I was forced for many years to attend hateful retrograde churches where the vitriolic rage spewed by parishioners against anyone slightly different from themselves was completely at odds with Christ's teachings. I could see this as a young kid of ten or eleven, and would often simply read the Bible
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in church, paying no mind to the damnation envisioned by some fulminating nincompoop behind the pulpit. As soon as my turn for Baptism arrived at age 12, I said 'no thanks' and took my gift Bible from the Church of the Brethren in Loganville PA and never looked back. I admire Kempis because he understands the New Testament the way I understand it: Jesus (and I don't think Jesus ever existed as anything other than a literary character) wants people to act like him, not worship him. It's difficult to bilk funds from people who give away all their sh*t and act like little children, however, so established churches have distorted his utterings down through the ages to justify doing so. Kempis cuts through all that bullshit, and provides a solid underpinning for a moral existence. Yeah, there's a bit too much of 'inviting Jesus into your heart,' etc., but whatever.
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LibraryThing member ProfessorKeel
One of the "must-read-in-one's-lifetime" books. One cannot consider themselves to be educated and literate if they have not read "The Imitation of Christ." A foundational book of Christian theology and Western thought and philosophy. Originally published in 1418, Protestants and Roman Catholics
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alike join in giving it praise. The Jesuits give it an official place among their "exercises". John Wesley and John Newton listed it among the works that influenced them at their conversion. General Gordon carried it with him to the battlefield. It is said Pope John Paul I was reading a copy when he died.
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LibraryThing member neverstopreading
Thomas à Kempis' classic work needs no introduction. What makes this edition (Saint Joseph-GIANT TYPE Edition) better than the rest is that it is presented as the devotional that it is, and not as just another "classic writing." The print is giant type, which should make it easier to readfor those
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with vision problems, especially the elderly. There are also plenty of pictures (some in color, others in black in white) of biblical scenes. I bought this edition because the binding is the most sturdy, which, along with the large print, will enable me to enjoy this book for the rest of my life.

"The Imitation of Christ" is best read as a daily devotional. I recommend reading one chapter in the morning and one in the evening. It can be read over and over again, gaining continual spiritual benefit.
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LibraryThing member seoulful
Although written in the 15th century to a mainly monastic audience, The Imitation of Christ has great relevance for anyone today seeking a deeper spiritual life. His counsels are not easy to read and apply to one's life for his basic premise is dying to self which he explains with great clarity
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lest anyone should be slow to understand. Thomas a Kempis speaks as one who has struggled mightily with his own passions and demons, "The war against our vices and passions is harder than any physical toil; and whoever fails to overcome his lesser faults will gradually fall into greater. Your evenings will always be tranquil if you have spent the day well. Watch yourself, bestir yourself, admonish yourself and whatever others may do, never neglect your own soul. The stricter you are with yourself, the greater is your spiritual progress." These are not the words that people in any age are interested in hearing and yet he continues to draw large audiences more than five centuries later. There is a power in his writing because he has put into practice the difficult words of Jesus and thereby achieved a position of authority to teach others.
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LibraryThing member saintjudeslibrary
Christ, spiritual classics
LibraryThing member poetreehugger
A beautiful edition of the edifying classic, to be read repeatedly.
LibraryThing member atduncan
Protestants rarely gain great spiritual benefit from the writings of a 15th century Roman Catholic monk. Yet to read the spiritual classic “The Imitation of Christ,” and to walk away spiritually empty handed is almost impossible. A Kempis writes with a zeal, a depth of conviction and spiritual
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devotion that is combined with his keen insight into the nature of man, the Christian benefits from his insights. the trouble with A Kempis is, however, that he breathes the air of an Era in Roman Catholicism of a dark and hazy understanding of the gospel. While A Kempis is good at convicting his readers of spiritual laxity and self deception he often times turns them toward greater effort over greater grace. But A Kempis does maintain the importance of God’s grace
As to a Kempis’ own spiritual condition the Protestant reader is left unsure. A Kempis is repentant, there is no doubt about that, but does he trust in the work of Christ alone to save him or does he place his own contrition, good works and place in the church as his grounds for salvation. This remains the mystery of A Kempis, his work is evidently and obviously devotional, yet he lacks a Biblical precision in terms of the way to salvation.
A Kempis often mentions spiritual zeal and humility, but rarely faith, and never faith alone. Yet, he comes close at times, “Cling, therefore to Jesus, in life and death; trust yourself to the glory of him who alone can help you when all others fail.”(c. 7) He does medicate on the crucifixion of Christ, he claims to love and have an “intimate friendship with Jesus,”
Flirting with self-atonement and purgatory, he misunderstands the gospel and the nature of Christ’s saving work. In one disturbing passage he writes, “It is better to atone for sin now and to cut away vices then to keep them for purgation in the hereafter. In truth, we deceive ourselves by our ill-advised love of the flesh. What will that fire feed upon but our sins? The more we spare ourselves now and the more we satisfy the flesh, the harder will the reckoning be and the more we keep for the burning.”(c. 24) Self abasement is good, even necessary but it must be within the parameters and context of the absolute graciousness of God and the substitutionary work of his only Son. A Kempis’ statement about atonement and purgation completely miss the central New Testament teaching on justification.
The reader can also see that A Kempis knew the scriptures, entwined in his writing are biblical metaphors, direct quotations and allusions. At times he is theologically troubling, the church of his time was doctrinally murky, theologically vague and ecclesiastically mysterious. Major theological ground had been and was being lost in his time and a much needed reformation was on the horizon. His knowledge of the scriptures lacks the precision that would be gained a few centuries later in the Reformation, but he is to be commended for his writing and prayer exude a knowledge and affinity for God’s word.
To have a Kempis’ resolve and determination to mortify sin is sorely lacking in Christianity today, his devotion to Christ is commendable, his obvious affection for divinity is inspirational, his hatred for sin is convicting, but his understanding of justification is shady, and it is on this single doctrine that all Christian hope must stand. After the Bible, The Imitation of Christ is the most widely read book in the world, its value as a devotional classic is weighty, but its theological value is questionable, thus infringing on its quality as a devotional piece. There remain some keen insights into the aspects of pride, and fighting fleshly desires. But the means to fight sin must be rooted in the grace of God, for it is only by his grace that we can do battle against sin. Spiritual devotion, no matter how resolute must be empowered, motivated and practiced in light of the grace of God. He is the one who receives the credit and glory for the Christian life.
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LibraryThing member ProfessorKeel
one of the primary books that any educated reader should read in their lifetime.
LibraryThing member Borg-mx5
A profound meditation on the interior life and sin.
LibraryThing member thadeus
Part 4 is an excellent help in preparing yourself for Holy Communion. A must read if you are Catholic!
LibraryThing member IonaS
In his Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton tells how a friend advised him to read this work, when Merton was contemplating becoming a Catholic priest, and since I had the book in my library (dated 1903 and inherited from my maternal grandfather), I decided to read it.

The book was written in Latin
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in 1470 and translated to English in 1677; this accounts for the old-fashioned language in which it is penned.

It tells us how we should imitate Christ if we are to be enlightened:

“’He that followeth Me, walketh not in darkness’, saith the Lord. The author states that learning is not to be blamed, it being good in itself, and ordained by God, “but a good conscience and a virtuous life is always to be preferred before it”.

“Truly, at the day of judgment we shall not be examined what we have read, but what we have done; not how well we have spoken, but how religiously we have lived.”

The book is filled with wisdom. There are edifying chapters on the profit of adversity, resisting temptation, bearing with the defects of others, the examples of the holy Fathers, spiritual exercises, the love of solitude and silence, meditation on death, etc, etc.

We learn:

“He that seeketh anything else but merely God, and the salvation of his soul, shall find nothing but tribulation and sorrow. … Thou camest to serve, not to rule (good to remember). Know that thou wast called to suffer and to labour, not to be idle, or to spend thy time in talk.”

Regarding death, “To-day the man is here, tomorrow he is gone. And when he is out of sight, quickly also is he out of mind. … Think on nothing but the salvation of thy soul, care for nothing but the things of God.”

However, I have no wish to become a Catholic priest, like Thomas Merton did, and I did not feel I got enough out of the book to read it in its entirety, though it is indeed a classic. Though perfectly comprehensible, it is also slightly hard reading.
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LibraryThing member gdill
I tried reading this classic, but just couldn't bring myself to finish it. There were certainly a lot of great quotes in it. But, I found the content too dark, lacking joy, very gloomy, with a strong focus on mortification of the soul. This is clearly a Catholic book (duh), with a focus on external
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deeds and works. Kempis also emphasizes being a hermit, staying away from "worldly" people and not associating with the things of this world. Then, I must ask, how does one possibly communicate the Gospel to those who need Christ the most if we are to stay away from them and their environs? How is the Gospel lived out and modeled to those who are seeking and observing if we are to stay locked in our chambers all day? The Imitation of Christ is clearly a product of Middle Ages Europe, with an emphasis on self-sanctification, mortification of the soul, suffering, and Roman Catholic monasticism. Not that it's bad or wrong, but it just doesn't seem to jive with the Christ that I have come to know as a believer for 20+ years.
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LibraryThing member MarieFriesen
The Thomas à Kempis fan club includes St. Ignatius, Thomas Merton, Thomas More, and even Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. (She reads a chapter of The Imitation of Christ every night before sleep.) Imitation has exerted immense influence on Christian worship, ethics, and church structure, because it
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gives specific yet broad-minded guidance about the central task of Christian life--learning to live like Jesus. Better to read this book a little here and there, now and then, than to try gobbling it cover to cover. Imitation is no triumph of orderly thinking, but it's a great monument and incentive to deep living. --Michael Joseph Gross
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LibraryThing member lamb521
Title: The Imitation of Christ (Classic Devotions in Today’s Language)
Author: Thomas A. Kempis; edited by James N. Watson
Pages: 288
Year: 2016
Publisher: Worthy Inspired
My rating is 5 stars.
Thomas A. Kempis wrote a very serious and compelling even convicting devotional to use in personal quiet time
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with the Lord. I looked up some information on Thomas A. Kempis who was a very intelligent and serious man who sought God. I also learned that this devotional has been the second highest seller of books right behind the Bible. Not only that, this writing has been around for centuries plus it is in several languages. When many other works have long since disappeared, why has The Imitation of Christ not only continued to be around but is still being demanded by readers all over the globe?
While it is true that it isn’t inspired and without error like the Bible, I can say I now understand the draw to many people. Originally written in Latin this new edition is in today’s language, making the compelling words easier to understand and apply to our lives. In the edition put together by James N. Watson, the writings are compiled by topic making the devotions easier to find when searching by topic.
A couple of the devotions I really marked up because they spoke to my heart by exhorting, pruning or sheering my spirit to imitate the Savior in my life. For example, here is part of a devotion I marked so I can return to it to contemplate it often: “In the cross is health, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection from enemies, in the cross I heavenly delight, in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross is joy of the spirit, in the cross is the height of good deeds, in the cross is holy living.” (pg. 19). What do you think of the quote or better yet what do you sense in your heart as the Spirit speaks to you?
There are devotions that are underneath topic headings such as trust, loving, wisdom or obedience. While this is not the complete list at least I hope it gives you enough to really consider obtaining a copy. Then sit before the Lord with your Bible, journal or notebook, writing utensils and this devotional. I promise it won’t take long before you just sit there in awe of God along with coming away from quiet time with a challenge if you really think about the pearls of wisdom within the book.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255. “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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LibraryThing member erwinkennythomas
Thomas ὰ Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ was presented in Four Books concerning how Christian believers should act, and the rules they ought to follow in the eyes of God.
Book One – Thoughts Helpful in the Life of the Soul
Book One covered many topics including the doctrine of truth, prudence
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in action, reading the holy Scripture, obedience and subjection, the value of adversity, avoiding rash judgment, thoughts on the misery of man, thoughts on death, and judgment and the punishment of sin. But a 14th century approach about the judgment and punishment of sin was quite lurid.
Book Two – The Interior Life
Ὰ Kempis wrote about how to build one’s interior life through the dedication to Jesus Christ. In this book there was a great deal of emphasis on taking up Christ’s cross. In these meditations suffering like Christ was key requirement. This was how a believer would claim victory. It was stated that those who suffered should expect to do so. They were considered the followers of the risen Christ in the truest sense of the word. It was even explained that if a believer came to the point of enjoying such suffering he or she would be experiencing heaven on earth.
Book Three – Internal Consolation
This book was itself as a conversation between Christ and a disciple. It was clear that the disciple’s attitude had to be humble and unassuming. He or she shouldn’t think much of their life in the eyes of God. They should realize that all blessings come from his Divine Providence. So no one should endeavor to be puffed up, think highly about themselves, or act as though they are happy by the things of this world. From the dialogue it was clear that all earthly gifts would soon pass away, and that believers would be disappointed if their faith wasn’t in God alone.
Book Four – An Invitation to Holy Communion
In Book Four the conversation between the voice of Christ and the disciple continued. The disciple is told how to prepare for Holy Communion. It was good to receive this sacrament in the right frame of mind, and with a clear conscience. Communicants have to make sure that they were on good terms with other believers. They should ask for forgiveness of all their sins, and approach the altar with repentant hearts. It was the Lord who knows their hearts and is always willing to forgive them. This voice of Christ stated was the correct way before communicants should partake of the bread and wine.
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