In Christ’s parable of Dives and Lazarus, we are told that between paradise and hell “there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” An analogous gulf seems to separate Christians of our day from the great saints and devotional writers in the Church’s past. Approaches to life such as those advocated or described in the following quotations could hardly be more foreign to the actual life pattern of the average American Christian—be he layman or pastor:
Flee the company of worldly-living people as much as thou mayest: for the treating of worldly matters abateth greatly the fervour of spirit: though it be done with a good intent, we be anon deceived with vanity of the world, and in manner are made as thrall unto it, if we take not good heed.… Therefore it is necessary that we watch and pray, that the time pass not away from us in idleness. If it be lawful and expedient to speak, speak then of God and of such things as are to the edifying of thy soul or of thy neighbour’s (Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, trans., Richard Whitford, p. 17).
I looked then, and saw a man named Evangelist coming to him, who asked, “Wherefore dost thou cry?”
He answered, “Sir, I perceive by the book in my hand, that I am condemned to die, and after that to come to judgment; and I find that I am not willing to do the first, nor able to do the second.”
Then said Evangelist, “Why not willing to die, since this life is attended with so many evils?” The man answered, “Because I fear that this burden that is upon my back will sink me lower than the grave, and I shall fall into Tophet. And, sir, if I be not fit to go to prison, I am not fit to go to judgment, ...1
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