"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Php 3:10-14

I. Introduction

Through the centuries since those words were penned have lived many saints who have echoed their cry: union with Jesus Christ at any cost. Perhaps preeminent among those whom we know of is Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon. She was born in 1648 and died in 1717; her life a testimony of one whose heart and soul were utterly consumed with passion for Jesus Christ. Her autobiography is a story on the one hand of suffering, privation, and the working of the cross, and on the other hand of unparalleled love for and intimacy with God. She firmly believed that a deep, intimate communion with the Lord was the inheritance of every Christian - not just of the cloistered monastic. Her writings on the deeper life have left a precious and indelible mark on the Body of Christ through their influence on men such as John Wesley, A.W. Tozer, and Watchmen Nee.

II. Historical Background

Jeanne Guyon's teachings and the reaction to them in her day can only be understood in light of the stream of Christian experience which formed them. Guyon belonged to a tradition known as Christian mysticism. The word "mysticism" in this context refers to the direct spiritual experience or consciousness of God. The theological foundations of this tradition are found in both Paul's epistles and the gospel of John. Paul frequently uses the word "gnosis" in His epistles to refer to a knowledge of God which is of an intimate nature, involving all aspects of the soul, and attained through love, as expressed in his prayers in Eph 1:17-18 and Eph 3:16-19. The goal, as expressed in Php 3:10-14, is to be personally joined to the eternal spirit of Christ. Likewise, chapter 17 of John's gospel describes Jesus' own desire for His followers to partake of a spiritual union in which all who are one with Him share His perfect union with the Father.

For the first 12 centuries of Church history, this state of 'divine union' was the common goal of all Christian practice. It was regarded as the consummation of one's walk with the Lord, and while varying opinions existed regarding the attainability of this state in this life, it was believed that it was a grace available to all of God's children. The common method of prayer during the first 12 centuries was called "lectio divina" - literally, "divine reading". This practice involved reading scripture at progressively deeper levels of meaning. The first level was called meditation, and simply involved reading or listening to the scriptures and reflecting with the mind on their meaning. These reflections led to what were called 'affective prayers' - spontaneous acts of worship in response to the revelation of the Lord within the text. Over time reflection and affective prayer simplified to a state of resting quietly in the loving embrace of the Lord. This state was referred to as contemplation, and was understood to be initiated, conducted, and consummated purely by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit. In this state the Lord bypassed the mind, will, and emotions, and communicated directly to the spirit, illuminating and transforming it into the likeness of Christ. The acts of meditation, affective prayer, and contemplation were interwoven and might all take place in a single period of prayer. The continued exposure to the transforming presence of God in contemplation was understood to draw one to deeper levels of maturity, culminating in 'divine union' or 'spiritual marriage' in which the spirit is so closely bound to God by love that the two can neither be separated nor distinguished from one another.

Beginning in the 12th century, however, the systematization of theology and prayer began to remove this organic evolution of prayer towards contemplation from common Christian experience. Although still considered the pinnacle of Christian experience, divine union was increasingly presented as being difficult to attain outside of some focused, ascetic environment. Despite the writings of mystics like Brother Lawrence and Bernard of Clairvaux who taught the universality of contemplative experience, contemplation came to be considered a grace reserved for a very few people, rather than an organic development of an average person's prayer life. Lacking the spiritual intimacy and transformative presence of Christ provided by the contemplative dimension of prayer, the sacraments and liturgies of the church declined into dead formalism - having the appearance of godliness, but lacking the power to restrain sensual indulgence. Thus began the slide of the church into the moral degeneracy that moved Martin Luther to nail his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg chapel in the beginning of the sixteenth century.

The Reformation triggered two responses within the Catholic Church - one from below, the other from above. The first was the appointment of St. Ignatius of Loyola - the Father General of the Jesuit order - to be responsible for the purification of the Catholic Church from the pagan elements which had reputedly caused it's moral downfall. To this end, he wrote a book called "The Spiritual Exercises" which was an attempt to modernize the practice of contemplation. Unfortunately, it was limited largely to the practice of deriving principles from scripture and applying them through sheer willpower, steeled by ascetic discipline.

The response from above was a revival of true contemplative spirituality within the monastic communities in the latter half of the sixteenth century through the writings of Teresa de Avila and John of the Cross. Teresa taught of the necessity of beholding the Lord in prayer (the classical definition of contemplation) for inner transformation. The deepening knowledge of one's sinfulness provide by this 'beholding', and the accompanying revelation of the unchanging love and grace of God produced three major works in the soul: a deep humility; an overwhelming love for God besides which all created things and temptations lost their allure (referred to as 'detachment'); and a deep love for one another springing from the revelation of God's heart for all of His children. John of the Cross' teachings were similar, but focused more on the stages of purgation from sin and surrender to God experienced by a soul undergoing sanctification. Their teachings rapidly became the authoritative works on contemplation and mysticism within the Catholic Church.

This, then, was the state of Christian practice in the middle of the seventeenth century: a church trying to recover from the dual blow of internal moral decay and the Reformation, equipped with a revived emphasis, primarily among the laity, on formalism and spiritual discipline, and a recently revived teaching on contemplation among the monastic orders.

III. Early Life and Conversion of Jeanne Guyon

Jeanne Guyon was born in central France on April 13, 1648 to a wealthy and pious family. As a child she suffered frequently from sickness and her formal education was much neglected, though her few tutors found her to be a precocious student and an avid reader. Through the example of her parents and one of her sisters - an Ursuline nun - she conceived in her youth a great devotion to the Lord and desire to serve Him. She found herself, however, in the quandary which Paul vividly describes in Romans 7 - having a desire to honor God, but being unable to carry it out. Though she conscientiously followed the devotional practices of the church, and was commended for her piety, she was riven inside by a knowledge of her inner pride, vanity, and mixed motives.

In her early teenage years she fortuitously discovered in the writings of Madame de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales the devotional practice of mental prayer. At that time, the standard devotional practice of the Catholic Church was a series of set prayers (offices) and meditations referred to as vocal prayer. Mental, or inner prayer, was a practice resembling the affective and contemplative prayer of the early Church. Guyon described it in the following words:

"a prayer of the heart, which everyone is capable of, and not of reasonings which are the fruits of study, or exercise of the imagination, which, in filling the mind with wandering objects, rarely settle it; instead of warming the heart with love to God." [1]

In this practice she found grace to overcome certain aspects of her sinful nature, but the strength of vanity coupled with the distractions of the age in which she lived drew her away from prayer at which point she fell into a morass of indifference and indevotion. She testified later that:

"I left the fountain of living water when I left off prayer...I began to seek in the creature what I had found in God. He left me to myself, because I first left Him. It was His will by permitting me to sink into the horrible pit, to make me feel the necessity I was in of approaching Him in prayer." [2]

In this state at the age of 16 she entered into what was essentially an arranged marriage to Jacques Guyon, lord du Chesnoy - a man 22 years her senior. She found her marriage to be a place of extreme persecution and humiliation, due to the contrary temper of her mother-in-law, and the somewhat melancholy and volatile nature of her husband. Despite her best attempts at devotion to her husband and her own parents, she found herself a subject of criticism and persecution from all sides. She tells that the Lord used this experience to crush her pride and turn her back to Himself as a source of refuge and strength. Finding nothing of value in the world, and despairing of herself, she returned to her earlier pursuit of God.

She was encouraged in this pursuit by the example of an exile who came to live at her father's house. She describes her as a woman of true piety and inward devotion, who spoke to her about the simplicity of inward prayer. Although Guyon did not understand much of what she was told, she found the woman's life to be a compelling example:

"I observed on her countenance something which marked a great enjoyment of the presence of God. By the exertion of studied reflection and thoughts I tried to attain it, but to little purpose. I wanted to have, by my own efforts, what I could not acquire except by ceasing from all my efforts." [3]

Encouraged by this woman's example and the exhortation of one of her cousins - a missionary to Cochin China - she spoke to her father of her desire to love God and her inability to do so. In response, her father arranged a meeting between her and a Franciscian friar whom God had called to that part of France for the purpose (so he believed) of accomplishing to conversion of some nobleman in the area. She related to him the difficulties she was suffering in prayer and her desire to love God, and he replied by telling her that her difficulties arose from seeking outside of herself what she already had within; that if she turned to seek God within her heart, she would find Him there. Those words were like a dart penetrating her soul. She writes:

"I felt a very deep wound, a wound so delightful that I desired not to be cured. These words brought into my heart what I had been seeking so many years. Rather, they discovered to me what was there, and which I had not enjoyed for want of knowing it...He had given me an experience of His presence in my soul; not by thought or any application of the mind, but as a thing really possessed after the sweetest manner...Thy love, O my God, flowed in me like a delicious oil, and burned as a fire which was going to devour all that was left of self. I was suddenly so altered that I was hardly to be known either by myself or others...those faults...disappeared, being consumed like chaff in a great fire.
...My love became a prayer of rejoicing and possessing, devoid of all busy imaginations and forced reflections; it was a prayer of the will, and not of the head. The taste of God was so great, so pure, unblended and uninterrupted, that it drew and absorbed the power of my soul into a profound recollection [4] without act or discourse. I had now no sight but of Jesus Christ alone. All else was excluded, in order to love with the greater extent, without any selfish motives or reasons for loving." [5]

This state is one which Guyon describes as "the union of the powers." In it, the union of the will with God causes self-will gradually to die, leaving the soul emptied of everything of its own - understanding, emotion, or intent - in order to subject itself to the purifying work of the cross administered by the Holy Spirit. The submission and love of the soul for God causes the senses to literally 'starve to death'[6] because the spirit, being constrained by love from within, is unable to indulge them, much like the state of detachment which Teresa de Avila wrote about a century earlier. Guyon describes this state of recollection in terms of Paul's experiences in 2 Cor 4:10 and Gal 2:20 of bearing around in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus and of living no longer, but letting Christ live through him. The ultimate end of it is the actual experience in the soul of being dead and hidden with Christ in God; this is her description of the state of divine union.

The profound manifestation in her life of the loving presence of God lasted for approximately eight years. She reports a twofold crucifixion which took place in her over that period of time. The first ocurred through the redoubled scorn, persecution, and ridicule of her family and friends, unable to understand her rapt attention to God and withdrawal from the pleasures of the world on the one hand and the external devotional practices of the church on the other. Whereas the combination of these things had previously driven her to bitterness and despair, the power of the inward attraction to the Lord made these persecutions easy to bear. During this period of time she was also afflicted with smallpox which, brutally disfiguring her appearance, became a source of rejoicing to her, for, as she put it, "the hopes of [the soul's] liberty, by the loss of that beauty, which had so frequently brought me under bondage [to vanity]...this total deprivation of what had been a snare to my pride and to the passions of men...rendered me so satisfied, and so united to God, that I would not have changed my condition for that of the most happy prince in the world." By the end of those eight years, this and other exterior trials, rendered her entirely indifferent to the opinions of men, and the desires of her fleshly nature. Through this period God granted her such a peace and purity of soul that even her detractors confessed that it was apparent that she never left the presence of God.

The second crucifixion she experienced was an interior one in which the Lord mercilessly purified the inner desires and motives of her soul. Whereas before her sanctification had proceeded by means of her own self-examination and external self-denial, now she found herself in the midst of a literal fulfillment of the prayer in Psalm 139:33-34. As she put it:

"Divine love so enlightened my heart, and so scrutinized into its secret springs, that the smallest defects became exposed...It was not that I was particularly attentive over myself, for it was with [difficulty] that I could look at all at myself. My attention toward God was without intermission...The manner in which God corrects His chosen...is an internal burning, a secret fire sent from God to purge away the fault...it is impossible to conceive how dreadful it is. Bear it passively, nor seek to satisfy God by anything we can do ourselves...this requires great firmness and courage." [7]

It was in this season of internal purification, initiated, conducted, and consummated by the grace and sovereign operation of God, that the sins of her youth were gradually consumed and her soul gradually transformed in the likeness of Christ. Then, in 1673, this period of purgation having run its course, the Lord plunged her for into an experience classically referred to as the Night of the Spirit.

IV. The Night of the Spirit

A century earlier John of the Cross had written of two phases of purgation which one might encounter on the way to divine union. The first was the dark night of the senses, in which God darkens the natural understanding in order to grant a divine illumination by His Spirit of scriptural truth and one's own spiritual condition. This was the night of purgation which Guyon had experienced up to this point. The second phase is referred to as the dark night of the soul, in which the soul, having previously has enjoyed the presence and favors of God in order to fortify it during the first night, suddenly and without warning loses all external and internal sense of the presence of God. It is in this night of the soul that the last barriers which separate your soul from God are finally annihilated. It is as if, having turned your attention from outward things to inward things, and then from the things of your self to the things of God, a final step is needed to remove even the awareness of your self-life so that you can be completely surrendered to God. A.W. Tozer, in his book "The Pursuit of God" speaks of a veil in our hearts which hides the full glory and face of God from us. 'The inner veil', he writes:

"is woven of the fine threads of the self-life, the hyphenated sins of the human spirit. They are not something we do, the are something we are, and therein lies both their subtlety and their power...it seems actually to feed upon orthodoxy and is more at home in a Bible conference than in a tavern. Our very state of longing after God may afford it an excellent condition under which to thrive and grow....In human experience that veil is made of living spiritual tissue; it is composed of the sentient, quivering stuff of which our whole beings consist, and to touch it is to touch us where we feel pain. To tear it away is to injure us, to hurt us and make us bleed...Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus, and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free." [8]

Guyon, in her book "Union with God", describes this experience in a similar manner:

"A man's will is still very much part of the man himself, however good and however honorable. These, too must be destroyed that the will of God alone may remain. Everything born of the will of the flesh, everything that comes out of even the good will of man needs to be brought into complete death. When this happens, nothing but the will of God is left. When the old will has been completely extinguished, then God's will begins to take its place. Gradually, the Lord's will changes the human will into faith itself...The soul is in union with God when the life of the soul is vanished." [9]

The mystic theologians liken the dark night of the soul to the experience of Jesus on the cross when He suffered utter abandonment by the Father. In His incarnation, Jesus acted as a will subject to and in concert with the Father; perfectly submitted, but retaining a degree of separation due to the fallen Adamic nature endemic to the incarnation. The crucifixion destroyed the nature which was separated from God, and in His resurrection, He returned to His eternal position of unbroken union with God. The crucifixion and resurrection of our spirits with Jesus by which we are born again begins the process of sanctification - the crucifixion of our souls - which, when consummated, leads us to a similar state of unbroken communion with God. It is the difference between possessing God and being possessed by Him.

During this dark night, Guyon found herself completely alienated from the God from whom she had formerly derived her sustenance. Heaven seemed to be shut to her, and she reports that she lost all ability to pray or practice any virtue, be it internal or external. This apparent coldness of heart and inability to do anything pleasing to the Lord or to men filled her with misery. Though she never ceased to desire to see and know nothing except Jesus Christ alone, her apparent inability to pursue and encounter God added to the pain of that separation. During that time her husband passed away and she received a letter from her spiritual director - Father Pre La Combe - telling her that the Lord had called her to Geneva (at that time the stronghold of Protestant Calvinism). Following eight years of desolation, on Magdalene's day, 1680, the Lord delivered her from the dark night and into the first stages of unbroken divine union. She says,

"I found myself as much raised above nature as before I had been depressed under its burden. I was inexpressibly overjoyed to find Him, who I thought I had lost forever, returned to me again with unspeakable magnificence and purity. It was then, O God, that I found again in Thee with new advantages, in an ineffable manner, all I had been deprived of; the peace I now possessed was all holy, heavenly, and inexpressible. All I Had enjoyed before was only a peace, a gift of God, but now I received and possessed the God of Peace...the apostle Paul tells us, that 'the sufferings of this life are not to be compared with the glory that is prepared for us.' How true is that of this life! One day of this happiness was worth more than years of suffering." [10]

Shortly after this she received permission from the Bishop of Geneva to join a convent of the New Catholic[11] order where she was joined by Father La Come. Her going there, however, around a great outcry in France, led by Father de la Mothe - her elder brother. This, in conjunction with resentment of the interior piety which Guyon practiced and taught to the other nuns at the convent led the Bishop of Geneva to expel her from that city. She returned to the city of Turin in France where the Lord used her to mentor a large number of people in the inward walk with the Lord. Her autobiography reports a wide range of miraculous healings, verdicts, and insights into the scripture which the Lord was pleased to accomplish through her in that time.

Shortly thereafter, in 1685, she wrote an exposition on the internal sense of the scriptures, and a book entitled "A Short and Easy Method of Prayer". This book was an expansion of an earlier tract which she had written on internal prayer, dedicated to "those dear, simple followers of Jesus Christ who are not qualified for intensive research but who, nonetheless, desire to be wholly given to God." Drawn from the experiences of her own life, it presented (as it's title implies) a simple way by which even the most common Christian could move from a life of formalism to an experience of the inward presence of Jesus Christ. This book became wildly popular within France, passing through six editions in 20 years. Unfortunately, the revolutionary view it expressed [recall that for the past 400 years, that kind of experience had been progressively restricted to only the most pious monastics] aroused a great deal of opposition, which ended in her leaving Grenoble for Paris in 1686.

The Beginning of the End

Elsewhere in Europe a storm was brewing that would eventually put the final nail in the coffin of Christian contemplative practice. In 1662 a young Spanish priest named Miguel Molinos, steeped in the mystical traditions of Teresa de Avila and John of the Cross began to popularize their teachings on contemplative piety and practice. In 1675 he published a book called "The Spiritual Guide" which was a compilation of his teachings. It is very similar in flavor and style to Guyon's "A Short and Simple Method of Prayer", teaching that life itself is one continual act of faith and love to God. Within six years it had gone through twenty editions and had been translated into every major language of Western Europe. Molinos himself had become one of the most influential clerical leaders in all of Rome. His teachings sparked a widespread revival in contemplative practice throughout Italy.

At this point, however, Molinos ran afoul of the Jesuits; more accurately, of Jesuit devotional practice. The spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius relied heavily on vocal prayer and external discipline - which historically had merely been starting points for a believer's prayer as it grew towards contemplation. Molinos' teachings indicated that as one advanced in the state of contemplation those external disciplines were no longer necessary or useful. In 1682 the Archibishop of Naples wrote a letter to the Pope expressing his concern at the growing departure from these disciplines on the part of Molinos' followers, who came to refer to themselves as Quietists. The Jesuits backed this letter with accusations of heretical teachings within Molinos' book and in 1685 he was summoned before the Inquisition. In 1687 his work was condemned as heretical and all followers of his teachings ordered to cease on pain of excommunication. The term 'Quietist' became synonymous with 'heretic'.

A key figure in the condemnation of Molinos was King Louis XIV of France. Led by Guyon's brother - Father La Mothe - and Archibishop Bousset of Paris to believe that Guyon was teaching Quietism in France, King Louis had Father La Combe and Jeanne Guyon imprisoned in the Bastille in 1688. La Combe died in prison, but Guyon was examined by a number of theologians and eventually released. She traveled to Meux where she was introduced to the Abbé de F&eacutenelon. Radically transformed by her teachings and piety, F&eacutenelon became an ardent disciple of her teachings, introducing them into religious circles in the French court where he served as a spiritual director.

In 1695, however, she was arrested again, and commanded to present a full account of her teachings in writing to Bousset and two other Roman Catholic Bishops. In the period of 50 days she wrote three 400-page volumes called "The Justifications" which detailed her teachings and the orthodox sources from which she derived them. This time her teachings were officially condemned as semi-Quietism, though even her detractors testified to her unimpeachable moral character and personal piety. She remained imprisoned until March, 1703, when she was exiled from Paris and went to live in Blois until her death in 1717. Following the condemnation of F&eacutenelon's teachings by Bousset in 1699, all mystical teachings considered to be akin to Quietism - including the classic works by John of the Cross and Teresa de Avila were covered in a pall of disrepute, virtually ending a seventeen-century long tradition of intimate personal experience of the manifest presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Passing of the Torch

Despite her censure in the Catholic Church, Guyon's teachings have found strong support among different strains of Protestantism, particularly the Quakers and the Moravian Brethren under Count Zinzendorf. Through them her influence spread to the Methodists, The Little Flock in China, and even the Christian and Missionary Alliance, as both A.W. Tozer and A.B. Simpson were both profoundly affected in their ministry and walk with the Lord through a Quaker compilation of teachings by Guyon, Molinos, and F&eacutenelon.

I welcome, then, with heart sincere,

The cross my Saviour bids me take:

No load, no trial is severe,

That's borne or suffered for His sake:

And thus my sorrows shall proclaim

A love that's worthy of His name.

Author's Note

As long as this article is, it cannot even begin to do justice to the tremendous vibrancy of the teachings or life of Jeanne Guyon. In December of 1996 I asked the Lord to teach me what it meant to love Him, and He gave me her autobiography. When I put it down, my understanding of my entire Christian walk and the meaning of scripture had been taken to a deeper level than I ever imagined possible. We miss so much of the meaning in Paul's writings because we lack the detail of the interior events which shaped the brief and often puzzling conclusions which are recorded for us in his epistles. Jeanne Guyon's autobiography records a set of details which, while clearly different in nature, provide a framework of spiritual experience from which those conclusions could easily have been drawn. I would eagerly encourage anyone reading this to obtain a copy of her autobiography - not for its teachings so much as for the interior record of a life completely abandoned to the love of Jesus Christ. If it does anything for you, in Guyon's own words, "I pray that it may serve to engage you to seek nothing but God for Himself alone...I shall remember you as I worship before Him."

An account of her teachings on prayer can be found in the book "Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ" (a modern re-print of her work on prayer).

A concise discussion of her view of the progression of life in Christ can be found in her book "Union with God." Both books are published by The Seedsowers, P.O. Box 285, Sargent, GA 30275.

Guyon's autobiography is published by Moody Press (1-800-678-6928).