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Thomas a Kempis was born in Kempen (40 miles northwest of Cologne) in 1380 and died near Zwolle (52 miles east northeast of Amsterdam in 1471). His paternal name was Hemerken or Hammerlein, “little hammer” (name given to him as a church father who rules and instructs others under paternal rule). Thomas was sent to school at Deventer conducted by the Brethren of the Common Life. He became skillful as a copyist and was thus able to support himself. Later he was admitted to the Augustian convent of Mount Saint Agnes near Zwolle, where his brother John had been before him and had risen to the dignity of prior. Thomas received priest’s orders in 1413 and was made subprior in 1429. According to the writings he spent his life in quietness, except for a time when the house was disturbed in consequence of the pope’s rejection of the bishop-elect of Utrecht, Rudolph of Duphalt. Here we can see that there are always some disturbers and their number will increase till the end of time. The time that Thomas spent was divided between devotional exercise and composition copying. He copied the Bible no less than four times, one of the copies is preserved at Darmstadt in five volumes. His teachings were widely read and his works abound in Biblical quotations, especially from the New Testament.

Thomas a Kempis was a German mystic and author of Imitation of Christ. His life was characterized as a man who sought quiet in all things and found it only in books. Thomas a Kempis belonged to the school of mystics who were scattered along the Rhine from Switzerland to Strassburg, Cologne and in the Netherlands. He was a follower of Geert Groote and Florentine Rodewijns, the founders of the Brethren of Common Life. His writings are all of devotional character and include tracts, meditations, letters, sermons, a life of St. Lydeivigis, (the story of a Christian woman who remains steadfast under a great stress of afflictions), and biographies of Groote, Rodewijns and nine of their companions. Works similar in content to the Imitation of Christ and pervaded by the same spirit are his prolonged meditations on the life and blessings of the Savior and another on the Incarnation. Both of these works overflow with adoration of Christ.

The book, Imitation of Christ was the work which has given Thomas a Kempis universal frame in the western churches. It is the pearl of all the writings of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and with the Confessions of Augustine and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress it occupies a front rank among useful manuals of devotion, after the Bible. Protestants and Roman Catholics alike join in giving it praise. The Jesuits give it an official place among their “exercises.” Some men put it among the work that influenced them at their conversions. General Gordan carried it with him to the battlefield. The number of counted editions exceeds 2000, and 1000 different editions are preserved in the British Museum. The work of this book is a manual of devotion intended to help in communion with God and the pursuit of holiness. Its sentences are statements, not arguments, and are pitched in the highest key of Christian experience. It was meant for monastics and recluses. Behind and within runs all its reflections the council of self-renunciation. The book gives counsel to read the Scriptures. The life of Christ is presented as the highest study possible to a mortal. They have statements about warnings and against temptation and how to resist it, reflections about death and the judgment, meditation upon the oblation of Christ, and admonitions to flee the vanities of the world. Christ himself is more than all the wisdom of the schools and lifts the mind to perceive more of eternal truth in a moment of time than a student might learn in the schools in ten years. Excellent as these counsels are, especially adapted for souls burdened with care, sorrow, and sitting in darkness; they present only one side of the Christian life, and in order to compass the whole of it they must be supplemented by counsels of integrity. The charge has been made that the piety commanded by the Imitation is of a selfish monkish type. It was written by a monk and intended for the convent; it lays stress on the passive qualities and does not touch with firmness the string of active service in the world. That which makes it acceptable to all Christians is the supreme stress it lays upon Christ and the immediate communion with Him and God. Thomas a Kempis exalts Mary as the queen of heaven, the efficient mediatress of sinners, and advises that all should flee to her as to a mother. He also gives prayers to Mary.
There has been much dispute about the authorship The Imitation of Christ. Some say that not Thomas a Kempis wrote this hook but, that the possibility could be that others wrote this book. Several names are mentioned. To some extent, national sentiments have entered into this controversy which has been waged for 300 years. Some claim that Gerson was the author; they based their claims upon editions and manuscripts made before 1500 bearing his name and also of Gerson’s style and mystical temper of thought. But after close examination they claim Gerson in his judgment would have required the endowment of a wholly new tongue to write the book and the author of his own statement was a monk and Gerson was not a monk, and after further examination, they have come to the decision that Thomas a Kempis was the author. This agrees with the time, style, and content of his writings. Also Jan Busch in his Chronican Windishemense written 1464, seven years before the death of Thomas a Kempis, expressly states that he wrote the Imitation.

We see all kinds of belief and doctrine and most certainly Scripture does not teach us to pray to Mary, the mother of Jesus, hut Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father Which Art in Heaven,” etc. No wonder that Paul writes in Ephesians 4:14, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive: Let therefore the word of God speak only.”

The Christian is placed in many different circumstances while on this earth. Some are characterized by hardships and trials, and others are full of joy and peace. How should the Christian respond? Throughout the Bible there are numerous times where God’s people sang in response to their various circumstances. Singing in response to God’s ordering […]

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The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]

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The group of churches that John writes to in this trio of epistles had recently experienced a split because of doctrinal controversy. We do not know the exact content of the error that these false teachers were spreading, but it is apparent from John’s writing that their teaching somehow denied the truth of the incarnation—that […]

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Jael: An Example of Christian Warfare

This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021. Jael lived during the era of the judges. Deborah the prophetess was the judge who served Israel at the time of Jael. During this time, the Canaanites under the rule of king Jabin […]

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Indiana Mini Convention Review 2021

One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]

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Editorial, November 2021: Catechism Season

At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]

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Tennessee Young People’s Retreat 2021

The 2021 Tennessee young people’s retreat was held August 9 to 13 by Providence, Hudsonville, Unity, and First (Holland) Protestant Reformed Churches. The retreat took place at Eagle Rock Retreat Center in the city of Tallassee. It was about an eleven-hour drive, give or take a bit due to stops for food and restrooms. Though […]

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