Enlarged and updated November 16, 2010 (first published March 21, 2001) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, firstname.lastname@example.org; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) -
Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon (1648-1717), commonly known as Madame Guyon, was a Roman Catholic mystic who lived in France.
Guyon wanted to enter a convent when she was a girl but her parents would not allow it and arranged her marriage to a 37-year-old man when she was only 15. It was an unhappy marriage and she turned increasingly to her mystical experiences and a search for “union with God.”
After her husband died when she was 28 years old, she gave herself wholly to her mystical pursuits. She joined a group of ascetic Catholics led by a Barnabite monk named Francios La Combe. She toured parts of France, Switzerland, and Italy for five years with La Combe, from 1681-86.
La Combe taught that meditation of God requires a passive (quiet) state of contemplation that goes beyond the level of the conscious thinking process.
It was an extreme type of mysticism that became known as Quietism:
“The school of mysticism that Guyon adhered to, sometimes called Quietism, was an extreme form of Roman Catholic mysticism that emphasized the cleansing of one's inner life and included the belief that one could see Christ visibly. Before Guyon’s day, in the Middle Ages, this took strange forms in erotic ‘bride mysticism’ with some visionaries believing they were married to Jesus. Guyon and the Quietists went further, into something called essence mysticism. They believed that their being was merged with God’s being and the two became one. This unbiblical idea survives today in the New Age and other non-Christian religions. ... She taught that we can know of God by ‘passing forward into God,’ going into a mindless, meditative state where we can get in touch with the Christ within the self, merge with that Christ and be lifted into ecstasy” (The Mindless Mysticism of Madame Guyon).
Guyon claimed that she went through a series of spiritual states by means of her ascetically driven mystical experiences. These are the same type of states that Catholic mystics have always promoted. The first, which she called “union of the powers,” lasted eight years. During this time, she felt drawn to God alone and drawn away from people. The second state, which she called “mystical death,” lasted seven years, during which she had a feeling of detachment from God and was plagued with deep mental depression and thoughts of hell and judgment. She frequently had dark, weird dreams, which she considered a form of revelation. In the third state, which she called “the apostolic state,” she claimed that she was absorbed into and united with God. During this time, she preached, but she did not preach the gospel; she preached mystical experiences.
She promoted contemplative “silence in the presence of God,” which is an attempt to empty the mind of conscious thoughts to commune with God experientially.
Guyon’s contemplative mysticism led her to the heresy of panentheism, that God is in all things. Of the contemplative state she wrote, “Here everything is God. God is everywhere and in all things” (Willigis Jager, The Search for the Meaning of Life, 1995, p. 125).
Lighthouse Trails observes:
“The God of the Bible would not have someone say that God is in everything. This very mindset is what prompted contemplative Brennan Manning to quote Thomas Merton in his book, The Signature of Jesus:
‘During a conference on contemplative prayer, the question was put to Thomas Merton: “How can we best help people to attain union with God?” His answer was very clear: “We must tell them that they are already united with God.” ... Contemplative prayer is nothing other than coming into consciousness of what is already there’ (The Signature of Jesus, pp. 211, 218 , as cited in A Time of Departing).
“As Merton and Guyon did, those practicing contemplative prayer ultimately come to believe that God is in all people and in all things. This is the “fruit” of contemplative prayer. The reason for this is that in that altered state of silence (the same as the Hinduistic Transcendental state) are demonic influences. It’s as simple as that” (“Concern Expressed over Voice of the Martyrs Article on Mystic Madame Jeanne Guyon,” Lighthouse Trails, Nov. 22, 1010).
In 1688, Guyon was arrested on heresy charges and imprisoned in a convent for several months. In December 1695, she was again imprisoned, this time for seven years.
Released in March 1703, she spent the final 15 years of her life in silence and isolation on the estate of her son-in-law.
THE POPULARITY OF GUYON’S WRITINGS
After her death, Guyon’s works were published by a Dutch Protestant pastor named Poiret. In the 1700s, her books were popular among some Lutherans, Methodists, and Moravians.
Today they are popular throughout evangelicalism and even among many fundamentalists.
For many decades, Moody Press has published an edition of Madam Guyon’s Autobiography. It contains no disclaimer of Guyon’s spiritual and doctrinal errors. In fact, the introduction states, “We offer no word of apology for publishing the autobiography of Madame Guyon, those expressions of devotion to her church, that found vent in her writings.”
At its online web site, Campus Crusade compares Madame Guyon’s Autobiography with John Bunyon’s Pilgrim’s Progress and recommends it without reservation.
On visits to evangelical colleges and seminaries, I have noticed that Madame Guyon’s works are featured prominently in the bookstores and are used in courses on spirituality.
Madame Guyon was included in the book Women Used of God by Ed Reese. The Joyful Woman magazine ran a half-page ad for the book in the September-October 1994 issue. The book contains brief biographies of 50 “Women Leaders of the Christian Cause” and is described as “Ideal for young people (especially girls) looking for role models.” In addition to Guyon, these “role models” include radical Pentecostal female preachers Kathryn Kuhlman and Aimee Semple McPherson.
FOLLOWING ARE SOME OF HER ERRORS:
There are some genuine spiritual insights in Guyon’s writings, but taken as a whole they are unscriptural and dangerous.
1. She emphasized the surrender of herself to the Catholic Church without reservation.
Madam Guyon spoke of her goal as “perfect obedience to the will of the Lord, submission to the church” (Guyon, Autobiography). Though charged with heresy by the Catholic Church it was not because she rejected Rome’s dogmas such as the papacy, the priesthood, or salvation through the sacraments. She died submissive to Rome.
2. She focused on having an experience of God rather than knowing him by faith through the Bible.
This is the essence of mysticism. To the contrary, though, the Lord Jesus exalted faith over sight and experience (John 20:29). Paul said “we walk by faith not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7) and taught us that faith comes from the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Faith does not come from within or from mystical experiences. Madame Guyon was not Bible-centered in her Christian walk, and that is a grave and fatal error.
3. She warned against “critical” examination of spiritual things.
In the introduction to her book on prayer, Madame Guyon says, “Beloved reader, read this little book with a sincere and honest spirit. Read it in lowliness of mind WITHOUT THE INCLINATION TO CRITICIZE. If you do, you will not fail to reap profit from it.”
That is extremely dangerous and unscriptural. Everything is to be proven by the Bible (Isaiah 8:20; Acts 17:21; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1). If we do not test everything carefully by the Word of God, we are open to spiritual deception (2 Cor. 12:1-4). Jesus warned that we must not allow anyone to deceive us, which takes for granted the fact that they will try to deceive us (Mat. 24:4). It is each individual’s responsibility to be on guard.
3. She employed pagan methods of emptying the mind in meditation and prayer. Note the following quote:
“May I hasten to say that the kind of prayer I am speaking of is NOT A PRAYER THAT COMES FROM YOUR MIND. It is a prayer that begins in the heart . . . . Prayer offered to the Lord from your mind simply would not be adequate. Why? Because your mind is very limited. The mind can pay attention to only one thing at a time. Prayer that comes out of the heart is NOT INTERRUPTED BY THINKING” (Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p. 4).
“All the prayers that proceed from your mind are merely preparations for bringing you to A PASSIVE STATE; any and all active contemplation on your part is also just preparation for bringing you to a passive state” (Guyon, Experiencing Union with God through Inner Prayer).
One of the types of prayer taught by Guyon was a form of meditation whereby the soul is emptied of all self-desire and interest and passively awaits possession by God. This is much more akin to Hinduism than to biblical prayer.
Consider 1 Peter 5:8, which says the believer is to be sober and vigilant, continually alert for spiritual danger. The Bible does not say the mind should be passive in prayer. To the contrary, the believer is to gird up the mind (1 Pet. 1:13) and watch in prayer (Col. 4:2). That describes a use of the mind. We are to love the Lord with all our hearts AND all our minds (Lk. 10:27). The Bible does not play the heart against the mind as Madame Guyon did. In fact, the two are often used synonymously in Scripture.
4. She looked for God within herself.
In her book on prayer Guyon says, “God is, indeed, found with facility, when we seek Him within ourselves.”
In her autobiography, Guyon says that when she was 19 years old a Catholic Franciscan monk told her, “It is, madame, because you seek without what you have within. Accustom yourself to seek God in your heart, and you will there find Him.”
Though she was a Roman Catholic and she did not profess a scriptural salvation experience, trusting rather in her infant baptism and the sacraments, she began from that point forward looking within herself for God and truth. She prayed:
“O my Lord, Thou wast in my heart, and demanded only a simple turning of my mind inward, to make me perceive Thy presence. Oh, Infinite Goodness! how was I running hither and thither to seek Thee, my life was a burden to me, although my happiness was within myself. ... Alas! I sought Thee where Thou wert not, and did not seek Thee where thou wert. It was for want of understanding these words of Thy Gospel, ‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. ... The kingdom of God is within you.’”
Madame Guyon often misused Scripture, and she did so in this case. In Luke 17:21 Jesus was addressing the unsaved Pharisees, and He certainly was not saying that the kingdom of God was inside of them, because on another occasion He told the Pharisees that their father was the devil (John 8:44). In Luke 17:21 Christ was actually saying that the kingdom of God was right there in the midst of the Pharisees, because He, the King, was there presenting Himself as the Messiah and working miracles as evidence thereof. (For more about this “The Kingdom of God” at http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/kingdom-of-god.html.)
Further, Jesus taught us to pray to God in Heaven, not to God inside of us. See Matthew 6:9.
5. She believed in sinless perfection.
Madame Guyon believed that her mystical experiences would “devour all that was left of self” and that she would be rid of “troublesome faults” (Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p. 73).
To the contrary, the great apostle Paul testified that in himself dwelt “no good thing” (Rom. 7:18). We are taught in Scripture that the sin nature is not removed in this present life, and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves (1 John 1:8-10).
6. She believed she could achieve a complete union with God, an absorption into God.
Madame Guyon said: “So was my soul lost in God, who communicated to it His qualities, having drawn out of it all that it had of its own.” She spoke of being plunged “wholly into God’s own divine essence” (Guyon, p. 239).
“... any and all active contemplation on your part is also just preparation for bringing you to a passive state. They are preparations. They are not the end. They are a way to the end. The end is union with God” (Guyon, Experiencing Union with God through Inner Prayer).
This is a pagan concept that has no basis in Scripture. The believer is a child of God, but he is not absorbed into God and does not partake of his divine essence. Only Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, can say that He is one with and of the same essence with God. Christ alone dwells in the light “which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Tim. 6:15). In Revelation 22:3, in the New Heaven and New Earth, the Bible says that God is still God and “his servants shall serve him.” God is God, and though the believer is His child through Christ, he is not God and never will be. When 1 Peter 1:4 speaks of being a “partaker of the divine nature,” it refers to partaking of God’s moral qualities, which is what the Bible means when it speaks of man as made in the image of God. Adam was made in God’s image morally, as an upright being, but Adam was not God. 1 Peter 1:4 refers to the same thing as Ephesians 4:24, “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” and as Colossians 3:10, “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.”
7. She spent her life looking within herself and seeking mystical experiences rather than obeying the great commission of Jesus Christ.
Madame Guyon thought she was caught up with God, but really, she was caught up with herself. She consumed her life largely upon her own personal religious devotions. She did not know the true Gospel of Jesus Christ for herself nor did she carry it to others. Though she spoke of the grace of Christ, it was intermingled with and corrupted by Catholic sacramental heresy.
This has been one of the foundational errors of monastic mysticism from the early centuries until now. God has not called the believer to remove to a remote cave or mountain top hideout or solitary cell, or to sit around looking inside of himself for God, or to seek to put oneself into a passive meditative state, or to be caught up in visions and trances. The Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles did nothing like this. Their prayer and meditation was much more practical than that. And Christ has commanded His churches to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15).
Beware of Madame Guyon and other Catholic mystics. They are not the wise pattern for prayer and spirituality that God’s people need. In fact, they are the blind leading the blind, and those who dabble with their writings are in danger of following them into a ditch.
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