The lasting power of Scripture surges through its pages.

Everyone knows the Bible is the best-selling religious book of all time. But do you know what religious book is second? Here are five hints: (1) it was originally written in Dutch and Latin; (2) was anonymous, but later given the probable author’s name; (3) went through 1,800 printings by the eighteenth century; (4) is now available in a hundred languages; and (5) has been read by over a billion people.

Still don’t know? The answer is The Imitation of Christ, the author of which, according to tradition, was Thomas à Kempis (1380–1471).

I had tried to read this book many years ago as a teen-ager, but gave up, and it has languished on my shelf ever since. Now, a flurry of new editions and translations has renewed my interest and provoked the question: Why has this book endured so long, second only to the the Bible in popularity? By the time I had the answer, the Imitation had become a vital part of one more life.

The Imitation of Christ is a devotional work with a profound, yet simple, message. It calls us to look away from our self-sufficiency to God who is all-sufficient, then to look back with transformed vision to a world in need where service replaces self-seeking. God becomes central in our lives as we systematically bring ourselves into line with his sovereign control. This will involve self-mortification, a ruthless honesty with ourselves, a determination to change, and plain, hard work. When we have done this we will be following the pattern of Jesus’ earthly life in imitation of the God-man. Such is the essence of Thomas à Kempis’s attitude toward the spiritual life.

Distinctive Approach

The lasting power of the Imitation is based on the inherent value of its message. ...

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