Friday, January 27

That ONE Sin We Can't (Won't) Quit

Most Christians know how easy it is to become blinded to their own sin. We may do well in many other areas, but there seems to be within most of us that one pesky sin that will not leave us. Truth be known, we have to answer the very hard question, "Do I love that sin?" Before we answer, we need to step back and become quite honest. Indeed, such honesty, such candor is a necessary component to victory. Spurgeon culled out of the writings of English Puritan Thomas Manton some of his more poignant illustrations. See if this one helps with regard to your own sin. It's a picture that has stuck in my mind to a good end.

Bird Tied By A String

“A bird that is tied by a string seems to have more liberty than a bird in a cage; it flutters up and down, and yet it is held fast.”

When a man thinks that he has escaped from the bondage of sin in general, and yet evidently remains under the power of some one favored lust, he is woefully mistaken in his judgment as to his spiritual freedom. He may boast that he is out of the cage, but assuredly the string is on his leg. He who has his fetters knocked off, all but one chain, is a prisoner still. “Let not any iniquity have dominion over me” is a good and wise prayer; for one pampered sin will slay the soul as surely as one dose of poison will kill the body. There is no need for a traveller to be bitten by a score of deadly vipers, the tooth of one cobra is quite sufficient to insure his destruction. One sin, like one match, can kindle the fires of hell within the soul.

The practical application of this truth should be made by the professor ["one who professes faith in Christ"] who is a slave to drink, or to covetousness, or to passion. How can you be free if any one of these chains still holds you fast? We have met with professors who are haughty, and despise others; how can these be the Lord’s free men while pride surrounds them? In will and intent we must break every bond of sin, and we must perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord, or we cannot hope that the Son has made us free. O thou who art the free Spirit, break every bond of sin, I beseech thee. (Spurgeon, C. H. (2009). Flowers from a Puritan's garden, distilled and dispensed (7–8). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.)

Monday, January 23

Satan's Tactics to Tempt Us by John Bunyan

Need any help against sin? Here it is. The editor to the original edition (1684) recommended it especially to the youth. Would that we all absorbed these lines! I agree that the best place for this whole poem is in our Bibles and/or on the refrigerator. I know . . . it's a poem. And it's too long for a blog post. Who has time for that? PLEASE, MAKE TIME!! You'll see why once you start into it. If necessary, only read some each day. And God bless you richly!
John Bunyan
The first eight lines one did commend to me,
The rest I thought good to commend to thee:
Reader, in reading be thou rul’d by me,
With rhimes nor lines, but truths, affected be.
8 April 1684

Sin will at first, just like a beggar, crave
One penny or one half-penny to have;
And if you grant its first suit, ‘twill aspire,
From pence to pounds, and so will still mount higher
To the whole soul: but if it makes its moan,
Then say, here is not for you, get you gone.
For if you give it entrance at the door,
It will come in, and may go out no more.
Sin, rather than ‘twill out of action be,
Will pray to stay, though but a while with thee;
One night, one hour, one moment, will it cry,
Embrace me in thy bosom, else I die:
Time to repent [saith it] I will allow,
And help, if to repent thou know’st not how.
But if you give it entrance at the door,
It will come in, and may go out no more.
If begging doth not do, sin promise will
Rewards to those that shall its lusts fulfill:
Penny in hand, yea pounds ‘twill offer thee,
If at its beck and motion thou wilt be.
‘Twill seem heaven to out-bid, and all to gain
Thy love, and win thee it to entertain.
But give it not admittance at thy door,
Lest it comes in, and so goes out no more.
If begging and promising will not do,
‘Twill by its wiles attempt to flatter you.
I’m harmless, mean no ill, be not so shy
Will ev’ry soul-destroying motion cry.
‘Twill hide its sting, ‘twill change its native hue,
Vile ‘twill not, but a beauty seem to you.
But if you give it entrance at the door,
Its sting will in, and may come out no more.
Rather than fail, sin will itself divide,
Bid thee do this, and lay the rest aside.
Take little ones (‘twill say) throw great ones by,
(As if for little sins men should not die.)
Yea SIN with SIN a quarrel will maintain,
On purpose that thou by it might’st be slain.
Beware the cheat then, keep it out of door,
It would come in, and would go out no more.
Sin, if you will believe it, will accuse,
What is not hurtful and itself excuse:
‘Twill make a vice of virtue, and ‘twill say
Good is destructive, doth men’s souls betray;
‘Twill make a law, where God has made man free,
And break those laws by which men bounded be.
Look to thyself then, keep it out of door,
Thee ‘twould entangle, and enlarge thy score.
SIN is that beastly thing that will defile
Soul, body, name, and fame in little while;
‘Twill make him, who some time God’s image was,
Look like the devil, love, and plead his cause;
Like to the plague, poison, or leprosy
Defile ‘twill, and infect contagiously.
Wherefore beware, against it shut the door;
If not, it will defile thee more and more.
SIN, once possessed of the heart, will play
The tyrant, force its vassal to obey:
‘Twill make thee thine own happiness oppose
And offer open violence to those
That love thee best; yea make thee to defy
The law and counsel of the deity.
Beware then, keep this tyrant out of door,
Lest thou be his, and so thy own no more.
SIN harden can the heart against its God,
Make it abuse his grace, despise his rod,
‘Twill make one run upon the very pikes,
Judgments foreseen bring such to no dislikes
Of sinful hazards; no, they venture shall
For one base lust, their soul, and heav’n and all.
Take heed then, hold it, crush it at the door,
It comes to rob thee, and to make thee poor.
SIN is a prison, hath its bolts and chains,
Brings into bondage who it entertains;
Hangs shackles on them, bends them to its will,
Holds them, as Samson grinded at the mill,
‘Twill blind them, make them deaf; yea, ‘twill them gag,
And ride them as the devil rides his hag.
Wherefore look to it, keep it out of door,
If once its slave, thou may’st be free no more.
Though SIN at first its rage dissemble may,
‘Twill soon upon thee as a lion prey;
‘Twill roar, ‘twill rend, ‘twill tear, ‘twill kill out-right,
Its living death will gnaw thee day and night:
Thy pleasures now to paws and teeth it turns,
In thee its tickling lusts, like brimstone burns.
Wherefore beware, and keep it out of door,
Lest it should on thee as a lion roar.
SIN will accuse, will stare thee in the face,
Will for its witnesses quote time and place
Where thou committedst it; and so appeal
To conscience, who thy facts will not conceal;
But on thee as a judge such sentence pass,
As will to thy sweet bits prove bitter sauce.
Wherefore beware, against it shut thy door,
Repent what’s past, believe and sin no more.
SIN is the worm of hell, the lasting fire,
Hell would soon lose its heat, could SIN expire;
Better sinless, in hell, than to be where
Heav’n is, and to be found a sinner there.
One sinless, with infernals might do well,
But SIN would make a very heav’n a hell.
Look to thyself then, to keep it out of door,
Lest it gets in, and never leaves thee more.
No match hast sin save God in all the world,
Men, angels it has from their stations hurl’d:
Holds them in chains, as captives, in despite
Of all that here below is called Might.
Release, help, freedom from it none can give,
But he by whom we also breathe and live.
Watch therefore, keep this giant out of door
Lest if once in, thou get him out no more.
Fools make a mock at SIN, will not believe,
It carries such a dagger in its sleeve;
How can it be (say they) that such a thing,
So full of sweet, should ever wear a sting:
They know not that it is the very SPELL
Of SIN, to make men laugh themselves to hell.
Look to thyself then, deal with SIN no more,
Lest he that saves, against thee shuts the door.
Now let the God that is above,
That hath for sinners so much love;
These lines so help thee to improve,
That towards him thy heart may move.
Keep thee from enemies external,
Help thee to fight with those internal:
Deliver thee from them infernal,
And bring thee safe to life eternal.—AMEN.

London: Printed for N. Ponder at the Peacock in the Poultrey.[1]

[1] Bunyan, J. (2006). Vol. 2: A Caution to Stir up to Watch Against Sin. (575–576). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Tuesday, January 17

Breaking from "i-Age" into Rest with God

And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. --Matthew 14:23

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wisely pointed out in his classic Life Together that for people to know how to get along well with others, they need to know how to be alone. (He also said that the opposite is true). But I focus on first part, knowing how, yes, enjoying being alone with God. A. W. Tozer highlights this deep need in light of now nearly archaic gadgetry of the early 60's in such a way as to leave us sighing at the prospect of his knowledge of today's electronic idols. 
Modern civilization is so complex as to make the devotional life all but impossible. It wears us out by multiplying distractions and beats us down by destroying our solitude, where otherwise we might drink and renew our strength before going out to face the world again.

"The thoughtful soul to solitude retires," said the poet of other and quieter times; but where is the solitude to which we can retire today? Science, which has provided men with certain material comforts, has robbed them of their souls by surrounding them with a world hostile to their existence. "Commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still" is a wise and healing counsel, but how can it be followed in this day of the newspaper, the telephone, the radio and the television? These modern playthings, like pet tiger cubs, have grown so large and dangerous that they threaten to devour us all. What was intended to be a blessing has become a positive curse. No spot is now safe from the world's intrusion. (Of God and Men, 125)
"Intrusion." Indeed! The advent of smartphones, iPods, iPads, ebook readers, and a myriad computers only underscore the urgent need today for each of us to halt the unending onslaught of information so that we might actually learn something in the stillness. Where is such silence to be found is the question of the hour. Even while on sabbatical for a month, I am writing this on my iMac. Blessings are these contraptions. Yet, they like all good things must be conquered and not allowed to rule our lives. Be still in order to know that God is God (Ps. 46:10). 

Ah-h-h, relief. Stillness. Quiet. Tranquility. 
Speak, Lord, in the stillness,
While I wait on Thee;
Hushed my heart to listen,
In expectancy.

Speak, O blessed Master,
In this quiet hour;
Let me see Thy face, Lord,
Feel Thy touch of Power.

Monday, January 16

Of Racism and Savannah, Georgia

I'm in downtown Savannah at 6:30 AM on Martin Luther King, Jr Day. Further, I'm in the Thunderbird Inn, a refurbished kick-back to the old outdoor hotels I remember from the sixties. We spent the night here because it got good ratings and it was cheap. Yesterday, my wife and I enjoyed visiting with two fellow ministers and plan to meet them later this morning for breakfast here at J. Christophers.

"Precious In God's Sight" AND Ours?
The old song we sang in Sunday School saw racism rightly. "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red, and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight." Yes, they are. But many of the same churches that had their children singing this song were practicing segregation! 

There's to be a march today at 10:00 in honor of MLK, Jr. Streets will be blocked off (including ours it seems). Good thing we can walk to our restaurant! One cannot be a true believer without thinking hard about all the cultural "Christian" inconsistencies, the evils perpetrated, or at least tolerated by the church over the years. Down south, one still feels latent tension from the days of segregation. Last night, while talking over a nice chicken salad sandwich, Phyllis (my wife) reminded us of Morgan Freeman's comment about racism. He said something to the effect that racism would likely be reduced much if we'd just stop talking about it. Well, being African-American himself (and having lived a little bit of life) it would seem he has justification for what he says. Still, I understand why we suffer from such cultural maladies and it's not because one group is better than another. It's because the heart of man is as Jeremiah said long ago, "sinful above all things and desperately wicked; who can understand it?" (17:9) We have an almost insatiable need to vaunt ourselves over others, to laud ourselves as superior to someone else, or to another group of people. It evidences itself as we all know in racism as well as in nationalism. How many wars would've been averted had there been no nationalistic spirit prompting it?

Well, I remember working construction one summer in the early 70's and an old black gentleman labored alongside this college-aged student. Shelton (never forgot his name) called me "sir." Yep, left-overs from former days. I turned red and told him that he was my senior, and if anyone was to be called "sir" it would be him, not me! At that I think he felt as awkward as did I. But I couldn't allow that. It wasn't right. Now his son was of a  different nature. He was "black and proud." I don't think he liked white people very much at all. Neither attitude was healthy. I just wanted to scream out, we're people. That's it! Years of abuse had taken their toll. I know it affected all of us just the same. Racism becomes ingrained without thinking.

Things are better today. At least I think they are. Yes, we can overcome a lot of this foolishness, as Morgan Freeman said, by simply not talking about it all the time. But more importantly, vastly so, we must see all peoples through the eyes of the Creator. He created us all. And when Jesus came into this world, he suffered, bled, died and rose again from the dead in order to save whoever would call upon him. "Red, and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight." Indeed. Then we best not call the precious anything but what the Lord calls them, precious. No one deserves saving. No one! So, if any is ever saved, it will have been by the sheer grace of God. And it is incumbent upon those who have received God's rich grace to most show that same grace to others. That should be obvious to every true Christian. Perhaps it IS understood by TRUE Christians. So, which are you?

We enjoy staying in this kick-back of a hotel. They even have Krispy-Kreme doughnuts! But I don't want to go back to the days of racial hatred. That's one thing we best leave behind, but not forget entirely. Let's remember how frail is our flesh, how prone to exalt ourselves over another human being made in the image of God! Let us humble ourselves in His sight. As Paul said to the Corinthian church, "Who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Cor. 4:7). Good question. How we answer it will indicate far more than just our attitude, it may also indicate our eternal destiny!

Saturday, January 14

The Bible - Forever Current

I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.” (Psalm 119:96)
All the best things in life have a limited shelf life. See the last two posts . . . 

Now, let's consider the antithesis found in the second half of the verse, "but your commandments are exceedingly broad." In short, whatever limits even the best things of this life suffer, these do not affect God's Word. The Bible rises above, yes, supersedes all the best things man can know on this side of eternity. It goes beyond all attainments, intellectual prowess, physical strength, or national superiority. 

Scripture Teaches It's Own Boundlessness

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8). Then Peter reinforces this truth, “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” (1 Peter 1:24–25). Jesus also taught, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Mark 13:31). There is an endurance in the Bible not to be found even in the existence of heaven and earth. Men tend to live as if all that we see is eternal and God's Word dispensable. But the opposite is true. This life is transitory. The Word is eternal, without bounds.

What does this mean for the Church, for the Christian?

1. Devotions. At least that's what so many of us call it. Believing God's Word to be boundless should change the way we view "reading" the word of God. At New Years many are prompted to read through the Word of God, and rightly so. Preachers encourage, perhaps even cajole their congregations because so few know the Book. And why? Is it not important? Well, you would think that this should be a fact beyond argument? And if so, would that not be enough to spur the brethren to be readers of God's Word? Still, that doesn't even come close to the kind of motivation that we find in this consideration, viz., that God's Word is boundless. My wife and I noticed as we were driving into Charleston, SC that there was a business named "European Hand Reader." Admitting ignorance re: what constitutes a "European" versus other kind of hand reader, we remarked how people really want to know the future. And they'll do just about anything or go anywhere and pay any price in order to know what is coming. But why won't they read the Book whose Author knows the end from the beginning? God's Word is boundless. Apparently most do not really believe that. And even the so-called Church does not seem to be immune to this tragedy.

2. Authority. Whatever lasts the longest, whatever endures naturally deserves to be heard. Many espouse the motto carpe diem, so they neglect Scripture and bank on today, its pleasures, its goals, its supposed solutions. One of the purposes of fulfilled prophecy in Scripture is to corroborate God's claims. No ones knows the future except God alone. God says of himself that he is One “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ . . . I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isaiah 46:10–11). Once that has been established, then it is incumbent upon thinking men (or Spirit empowered men) to pay attention to the truth. 

3. Worship. That the Eternal chose, yea invented language to communicate, that He placed all we need to know for salvation in relatively few words between two pieces of leather, and that its effect is not bound by time or restricted like a fashion should prompt our unending admiration of God's magnificent wisdom and glory!

Let me close with this consideration. Boundlessness signifies superiority to time, to place, to meaning and therefore to application. So rich is the import back of this term that it is hopeless to excuse our failure at reading, meditating and believing God's Word. The depth of God's eternal Word goes well beyond the pale of any pretender to last days wisdom. Let us bow in humble reverence before the One who gave us his commandments that are exceedingly broad.

Thursday, January 12

Seeing the Limits of This-World Pursuits

(Continued from the last post)
I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.” (Psalm 119:96)

We’ve All Seen Limitations
“I have seen a limit to all perfection, . . .” The best things for which men seek all their lives, are at best still only fleeting and limited. They may pursue great wealth or knowledge or possessions. So some say, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” But I add, they still die! Much money is spent in advertising products that makes us look better or younger, diet and exercise programs to help us live longer and feel better, clothing to improve our looks, or put us into the “in” crowd or perhaps fit in with the styles at work. We all know (certainly in America) how very important these external things are for the average person.

But there is a limit isn’t there? Money and knowledge do not guarantee happiness. The health and diet crazed cannot be assured beyond doubt that they will not suffer from devastating disease or keel over from a heart attack. It still can happen even though exercise is a profitable thing to do. Indeed, as Paul tells Timothy, “bodily exercise does profit a little, but godliness profits unto all things” (1 Timothy 4:8). There are limits that no man can know. But experience has taught us all that we cannot depend upon these things. “You’ve got to stop and smell the roses.” Truly. And many overlook this bit of wisdom in the endless pursuit of things or health? Have we seem the limit to all perfection?

Pursue True Contentment
Thomas Manton writes that even the best of attainments will be lacking for they cannot truly make us happy. In the midst of those things we are still empty. “Carnal affections must be mortified [put to death] before they can be satisfied. Grace must do that for you; it is godliness that brings contentment to the heart of man” (1 Tim. 6:6). Contrary to popular belief “the way to contentment is not to increase our substance, but to limit our desires.”

Further, the pursuit of “perfection” cannot make us more acceptable to God. Isn’t this after all the rub? Is this not wherein the battle lies? We fight within ourselves over whom we will please. Truly it is said of the wicked, that “God is not in all his thoughts” (Ps. 10:4, KJV). Of how many Christians might this also be said at least to some degree? Do true believers see the limits of great pursuits? What bling does God desire of us? “The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Peter 3:4). Remember, says Manton, “God loves his people for the grace he puts into them, not for the outward gifts he bestows upon them.” It is grace that makes us acceptable and beautiful to God, HIS grace.

I’ll stop here. More to come on this subject . . . 

Monday, January 9

God's Word Never Outdated; It's Boundless

"I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad" (Psalm 119:96).
This is a meditation, a series of thoughts that germinated in my mind some years ago, but about which I cannot hope to comprehend. So, why bother? Well, when we consider God in any fashion we can never hope to have a full understanding of him. Still, to meditate on this very Subject is the essence of knowing God. So, it IS worth it. 

Let me put a word before you. Plenitude. Simply put, it refers to the condition of being full or complete. In reference to God, it refers to one of his attributes, viz., his fullness, his total completeness, or his inability (if you will) to ever be lacking in any fashion. The above verse caught my attention some years ago, and it seems time to write something about it. 

Perfection Is Limited
"I have seen a limit to all perfection, . . ." The Hebrew for this word (tiklah) can mean "finished, completed, accomplished, or fulfilled." We praise those of whom we can say they are "accomplished at something." Absalom, though the most handsome and charismatic in the land, had his great weaknesses. And though Solomon was the wisest of all time, even he fell dreadfully low due to his weaknesses. The best fade.

To do a good job, we describe with this saying: "You have to work hard at it." How many of us have heard or said, "Practice makes perfect?" It is an honorable thing to finish a job for sure. We admire men like Edison who labored fastidiously over the invention of the light bulb. He failed over a thousand times. But to him, those weren't failures. He said that they showed him a thousand ways it wouldn't work. Again, we admire his tenacity, his "sticktoittiveness." But at their very best, even the best things in life will all have a terminus.

Let me mention one more analogy. Think of a perfectionist. Know one? My Mom was that way. I have some tendencies that way. A job is never quite good enough for a perfectionist. They may have done a marvelous job, but they don't think so! Brahms threw music away, or didn't publish it if it didn't meet up to his high standards. The point? Even a perfectionist can only go so far. They will inevitably do marvelous work, far better than most, even to those in their own field who'd know the difference. Still, they are not happy. But they have to be finished some time. Even the best things in life will all have their terminus.

Enter Scripture.

God's Word Is Without Limits
The Psalmist continues, ". . . but your commandment is exceedingly broad." The NIV uses "boundless." What does that mean? Well, in stark contrast to perfection, it would mean that whereas the most glorious gifts have inherent flaws built within; the most fastidious labors may produce great results and still their best can only go so far. On the other hand, God's commandment (viz., his Word) is very broad, boundless. What strikes me about this comparison is that there are definitely limits to God's Word. I mean that there are only so many chapters and verses and words in the Bible. All of the words fit within a defined limit, that is between two pieces of leather. So, what amazes me is that even though there are a set number of pages, the reach of the Bible is limitless . . . boundless.

Now, what does this mean to us? Tune in tomorrow or Wednesday for how this applies to you and me.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, January 4

When Good News Becomes Bad News!

Even the important truth re: the conviction of sin can be overdone IF it forces the knowledge of God out. But what comes first? What do I mean? Well, I think John Newton explains it quite well in small paperback book entitled "A Pen Dipped in Love." He writes in a letter:
We commonly speak as if conviction of sin was the first work of God upon the soul that he is in mercy about to draw to himself. But I think this is inaccurate. Conviction is only a part, or rather an immediate effect of that first work; and there are many convictions which do not at all spring from it, and therefore are only occasional and temporary, though for a season they may be very sharp, and put a person upon doing many things. 
This insight is in itself enough to garner at least some respect for Newton's grasp of the work of God in salvation. But he goes further to make the larger point:
In order to a due conviction of sin, we must previously have some adequate conceptions of the God with whom we have to do.
J. C. Ryle also sees this issue:  "If you do not love Christ, let me plainly tell you what is the reason: You have no sense of debt to Him." For me to know that I have offended someone, it is evident that I must know that person. Newton goes on:
Sin may be feared as dangerous without this; but its nature and demerit can only be understood by being contrasted with the holiness, majesty, goodness, and truth, of the God against who it is committed. No outward means, no mercies, judgement, or ordinances can communicate such a discovery of God, or produce such a conviction of sin, without the concurrence of this divine light and power to the soul.
What does this mean to the Gospel message? Everything. Men by nature have a natural disinclination toward God and especially Jesus Christ. But he is exactly whom we must preach. It seems that these days, we are finding a tendency arising that wants to skirt the person of Jesus Christ in deference for his gifts. But who can want the gift he offers unless he sees his own need? And how will one see his own need until he sees how far short he comes from the absolute and majestic holiness of him whom Paul describes as a God, “who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” (1 Timothy 6:16) To the Jews who had a great knowledge of Scripture, Jesus responded, but "you will not come to me that you might have life." Do you not see it? The knowledge of the person of Jesus is at the heart of salvation, both in its proclamation and its experience. 

Ask not, "How will people receive this?" That is not our problem. That belongs rightly to the work of the Holy Spirit who does his job perfectly. Just like Job, men who truly come into contact with God will say, "I thought I knew you, but now I see you and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5-6).

Tuesday, January 3

Maybe We Really Don't Want to Overcome Our Lusts!

Thomas à Kempis tells the truth but strikes a real nerve when he writes:
"We are too occupied with our own whims and fancies, too taken up with passing things. Rarely do we completely conquer even one vice, and we are not inflamed with the desire to improve ourselves day by day; hence, we remain cold and indifferent. If we mortified our bodies perfectly and allowed no distractions to enter our minds, we could appreciate divine things and experience something of heavenly contemplation.

The greatest obstacle, indeed, the only obstacle, is that we are not free from passions and lusts, that we do not try to follow the perfect way of the saints. Thus when we encounter some slight difficulty, we are too easily dejected and turn to human consolations. If we tried, however, to stand as brave men in battle, the help of the Lord from heaven would surely sustain us. For He Who gives us the opportunity of fighting for victory, is ready to help those who carry on and trust in His grace. 

If we let our progress in religious life depend on the observance of its externals alone, our devotion will quickly come to an end. Let us, then, lay the ax to the root that we may be freed from our passions and thus have peace of mind.

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.

If we did a little violence to ourselves at the start, we should afterwards be able to do all things with ease and joy. It is hard to break old habits, but harder still to go against our will.

If you do not overcome small, trifling things, how will you overcome the more difficult? Resist temptations in the beginning, and unlearn the evil habit lest perhaps, little by little, it lead to a more evil one.

If you but consider what peace a good life will bring to yourself and what joy it will give to others, I think you will be more concerned about your spiritual progress."
Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996), 17-18.