Of the Imitation of Christ/Book I/Chapter XX
OF THE LOVE OF SOLITUDE AND SILENCE.
Meddle not with things too high for thee; but read such things as may rather yield compunction to thy heart, than occupation to thy head.
If thou wilt withdraw thyself from speaking vainly, and from gadding idly, as also from hearkening after novelties and rumours, thou shalt find leisure enough and suitable for meditation on good things.
The greatest Saints avoided the society of men, when they could conveniently; and did rather choose to live to God in secret.
2. One said, "As often as I have been among men, I returned home less a man than I was before."
And this we find true, when we talk long together. It is easier not to speak at aU, than not to exceed in speech.
It is easier for a man to lie hid at home, than to be able sufficiently to watch over himself abroad.
He therefore that intends to attain to the more inward and spiritual things of religion, must with Jesus depart from the multitude and press of people.
No man doth safely appear abroad, but he who can abide at home.
No man doth safely speak, but he that is glad to hold his peace.
No man doth safely rule, but he that is glad to be ruled.
No man doth safely rule, but he that hath learned gladly to obey.
3. No man rejoiceth safely, unless he hath within him the testimony of a good conscience.
And yet always the security of the Saints was full of the fear of God.
Neither were they the less anxious and humble in themselves, for that they shone outwardly with grace and great virtues.
But the security of bad men ariseth from pride and presumption, and in the end it deceiveth them.
Although thou seem to be a Religious person, yet never promise thyself security in this life.
4. Oftentimes those who have been in the greatest esteem and account amongst men, have fallen into the greatest danger, by overmuch self-confidence.
Wherefore to many it is more profitable not to be altogether free from temptations, but to be often assaulted, lest they should feel too safe, and so perhaps be puffed up with pride; or else should too freely give themselves to worldly comforts.
O how good a conscience would he keep, that would never seek after transitory joy, nor entangle himself with the world.
O what great peace and quietness would he possess, that would cut off all vain anxiety, and think only upon divine things, and such as are profitable for his soul, and would place all his confidence in God.
5. No man is worthy of heavenly comfort, unless he have diligently exercised himself in holy compunction.
If thou desirest true contrition of heart, enter into thy secret chamber, and shut out the tumults of the world, "Commune with your own heart, and in your chamber, and be still." In thy chamber thou shalt find what abroad thou shalt too often lose.
The more thou visitest thy chamber, the more thou wilt enjoy it; the less thou comest thereunto, the more thou wilt loathe it. If in the beginning of thy conversion thou art content to remain in it, and keep to it well, it will afterwards be to thee a dear friend, and a most pleasant comfort.
6. In silence and in stillness a religious soul advantageth itself, and learneth the mysteries of Holy Scripture.
There it findeth rivers of tears, wherein it may wash and cleanse itself; that it may be so much the more familiar with its Creator, by how much the farther off it liveth from all worldly disquiet.
Whoso therefore withdraweth himself from his acquaintance and friends, God will draw near unto him with His holy angels.
It is better for a man to live privately, and to have regard to himself, than to neglect his soul, though he could work wonders in the world.
It is commendable in a Religious person, seldom to go abroad, to be unwilling to see or to be seen.
7. Why art thou desirous to see that which it is unlawful for thee to have? The world passeth away and the lust thereof.
The lusts of the flesh draw us to rove abroad; but when the time is past, what carriest thou home with thee but a burdened conscience and distracted heart.
A merry going forth bringeth often a mournful return; and a joyful night maketh often a sad morning.
So all carnal joy enters gently, but in the end it bites and stings to death.
What canst thou see elsewhere, that thou canst not see here? Behold the Heaven and the earth and all the elements; for of these are all things created.
8. What canst thou see anywhere that can long continue under the sun?
Thou thinkest perchance to satisfy thyself, but thou canst never attain it.
Couldst thou see all things present before thine eyes, what were it but a vain sight?
Lift up thine eyes to God in the highest, and pray Him to pardon thy sins and negligences.
Leave vain things to the vain; but be thou intent upon those things which God hath commanded thee.
Shut thy door upon thee, and call unto thee Jesus, thy Beloved.
Stay with Him in thy closet; for thou shalt not find so great peace anywhere else.
If thou hadst not gone abroad and hearkened to idle rumours, thou wouldst the better have preserved a happy peace of mind. But since thou delightest sometimes to hear new things, it is but fit thou suffer for it some disquietude of heart.