Of the Different Motions of Nature and Grace

By Thomas a Kempis in The Imitation of Christ

My son, mark diligently the motions of nature and grace; for in a very contrary and subtle manner these are moved, and can hardly be discerned but by him that is spiritually and inwardly enlightened.

All men indeed desire that which is good, and pretend some good in their words and deeds; and therefore under the appearance of good, many are deceived.

Nature is crafty, and seduceth many, entangleth and deceiveth them, and always proposeth herself for her end and object.

But grace walketh in simplicity, abstaineth from all appearance of evil, pretendeth not deceits, and doeth all things purely for God’s sake, in whom also she finally resteth.

Nature will not willingly die, nor be kept down, nor be overcome, nor be subject to any, nor be subdued without reluctance: but grace studieth self-mortification, resisteth sensuality, seeketh to be subject, is willing to be kept under, nor wishes to use her own liberty; she loves to be kept under discipline, and desires not to rule over any, but always to live and remain and be under God, and for God’s sake is ready humbly to bow down unto all mankind.

Nature striveth for her own advantage, and considereth what profit she may reap by another: grace considereth not what is profitable and commodious unto herself, but rather what may be for the good of many.

Nature willingly receiveth honor and respect: but grace faithfully attributeth all honor and glory unto God.

Nature is afraid of shame and contempt: but grace rejoiceth to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus.

Nature loveth leisure and bodily rest: but grace cannot be idle, but cheerfully embraceth labor.

Nature seeketh to have those things that be curious and beautiful, and abhorreth that which is cheap and coarse: but grace delighteth in what is plain and humble, despiseth not rough things, nor refuseth to wear that which is old and patched.

Nature hath regard to temporal things, rejoiceth at earthly gain, sorroweth for loss, is irritated by every little injurious word: but grace attends to things eternal, cleaves not to things temporal, is not troubled with losses, nor disturbed with hard words; because she hath placed her treasure and joy in heaven, where nothing perisheth.

Nature is covetous, doth more willingly receive than give, and loveth to have things private and what she can call her own. But grace is kind-hearted and communicative, shunneth private interest, is content with a little, judgeth that it is more blessed to give than receive.

Nature inclines a man to the creatures, to his own body, to vanities, and running to and fro: but grace draweth unto God and to every virtue, renounceth creatures, avoideth the word, hateth the desires of the flesh, restraineth wanderings abroad, blusheth to be seen in public.

Nature is willing to have some outward comfort, wherin she may be sensibly delighted: but grace seeketh consolation in God alone, and t have delight in the highest good above all visible things.

Nature manages everything for her own gain and profit, she cannot bear to do anything gratis, but for every kindness she hopes to either obtain what is equal, or what is better, or at least praise of favor; and is very earnest to have her works and gifts much valued: but grace seeketh no temporal thing, nor desireth any other reward than God alone, nor asketh more of temporal necessaries, than what may serve her for the obtaining of things eternal.

Nature rejoiceth to have many friends and kinsfolk, she glorieth in her noble place and noble birth, smiles on the powerful, fawns upon the rich, applauds those who are like herself: but grace loves even her enemies, and is not puffed up with a multitude of friends, nor things much of high birth, unless it be joined with more exalted virtue. Grace favoreth the poor rather than the rich, hath more compassion for the innocent than for the powerful, rejoiceth with the true man, not with the deceitful. She is ever exhorting good men to labor for the best gifts; and by all virtue to become like to the Son of God.

Nature quickly complaineth of want and trouble: grace endureth need with firmness and constancy.

Nature referreth all things to herself, striveth and contendeth for herself: but grace bringeth back all to God, whence originally they proceed; she ascribeth no god to herself, nor doth she arrogantly presume, she contendeth not, nor preferreth her own opinion before others; but in every matter of sense and understanding submitteth herself unto the eternal wisdom ad to the divine judgment.

Nature is eager to know secrets and to hear news; she likes to appear abroad, and to make proof of many things by her own senses; she desires to be noticed, and to do things for which she may be praised and admired: but grace cares not to hear news, nor to understand curious matters; because all this takes its rise from the old corruption of man, since upon the earth there is nothing new, nothing durable. Grace teacheth therefore to restrain the senses, to shun vain complacency and ostentation, humbly to hide those things that are worthy of admiration and praise, and of everything, and in every knowledge, to seek profitable fruit, and the praise and honor of God. She will not have herself nor what belongs to her praised, but desireth that God should be blessed in his gifts, who through mere love, bestoweth all things.

This grace is a supernatural light, and a certain special gift of God, and the proper mark of the elect, and pledge of everlasting salvation; it raiseth up a man from earthly things to love the things of heaven, and of a carnal maketh him a spiritual man. The more therefore nature is kept down and subdued, so much the greater grace is infused, and daily by new visitations the inward man becomes more reformed according to the image of God.

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