The life of those who dwell in the secret place of the Most High may be called a Hidden Life, because the animating principle, the vital or operative element, is not so much in itself as in another. It is a life grafted into another life. It is the life of the soul, incorporated into the life of Christ; and in such a way, that, while it has a distinct vitality, it has so very much in the sense, in which the branch of a tree may be said to have a distinct vitality from the root.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

A Journey to Orleans and Touraine

Reflections on
the Life of
Madame Jeanne de la Mothe Guyon.

Journey to Orleans and Touraine — Temptations and religious infidelities and falls repeated

Her husband, with the keen eye of one, who did not consider the value of her natural character as enhanced at all by her religious traits, saw her position [of spiritual conflict], and we may well suppose secretly rejoiced at it. It was no disquiet to him, looking at the matter in the worldly light, that she had made her appearance in the fashionable companies of the most gay and fashionable city in the world. And still he could not but see that the snare, which was thus laid for the faith and piety of his wife, in the attractions and assemblies of Paris, had in some degree failed. He was not ignorant that she had both seen her danger, and had exhibited the wisdom and the decision to flee from it. But certainly, if her religious principle was thus severely tested at Paris, there could be no hazard to it, in her making an excursion into the country, among mountains and rivers, and others of  God's great works. This, obviously, was a very natural suggestion. It was proposed, therefore, that she should take a distant journey. Her husband could go with her, and was ready to do it. His state of health was such, that it could hardly fail to be beneficial And if her own health should not be improved, as it would be very likely to be, it would certainly contribute to her happiness. And it was an incidental consideration which had its weight, that her parents came from Montargis, the place of her early life and recollections, which could be visited in the way. Orleans, too, which it was contemplated to visit in the tour was a celebrated and beautiful city. Nor was it a small thing to an imaginative mind like hers, to tread the banks and to behold the scenery of the magnificent Loire. With that great river there were some interesting recollections connected. Not many years before, its waters had been wedded to those of the Seine by the Canal of Briare — an astonishing work, a monument of the enterprise of her husband’s father, and the principal source of the wealth of her family. Hence arose the journey to the distant province of Touraine, in the spring or summer of 1670.

But this journey also was attended with temptation and sin. During the life of her husband, she generally journeyed in a carriage, and with such attendants and equipage as were thought suitable to her position in society, or as her husband’s desires and tastes might dictate. As she travelled from town to town, in the Orleanois and down the Loire, known in history and song, her eye betrayed her heart, and she found the spirit of worldly interest again waking up within her. But the company of others, involving as it does the suggestions and solicitations of unsanctified nature, is sometimes more dangerous than the sight of cities or of the works of nature and art. In that part of France her father’s family and her husband’s had been known, so that her movements were not likely to be kept secret. Her personal reputation had preceded her. Her powers of conversation were remarkable, and were always felt when she was disposed to exert them. Men were taken also with her beauty and wealth. 

“In this journey,” she says, “abundance of visits and applauses were bestowed upon me; and I, who had already experienced the pangs of being unfaithful to God, found emotions of vanity once more springing to life within me. Strange as it may appear, and after all the bitterness I had experienced, I loved human applause, while I clearly perceived its folly. And I loved that in myself which caused this applause, while in the conflict of my mind’s feelings, I desired to be delivered from it. The life of nature was pleased with public favour; but the life of grace made me see the danger of it, and dread it. Oh, what pangs the heart feels in this situation! Deep was the affliction which this combat of grace and nature cost me! What rendered my position the more dangerous was, that they not only praised my youth and beauty, but passed compliments upon my virtue. But this I could not receive. I had been too deeply taught that there is nothing but unworthiness and weakness in myself, and that all goodness is from God.”
“We met with some accidents,” she says, “in this journey, which were sufficient to have impressed and terrified any one. And it is proper for me to say, with gratitude, that though the corruptions of my nature prevailed against me, my heavenly Father did not desert me. He kept me submissive and resigned in dangers, where there seemed to be no possibility of escape. At one time, on the banks of the Loire, we got into a narrow path, from which we could not well retreat. The waves of the river washed the base of the narrow road before us, and partly undermined it, so that it was necessary for our footman to support one side of the carriage. All around me were terrified; but God kept me in tranquility. Indeed, sensible of my weakness, and fearful that I might still more dishonour Him, I seemed to have a secret desire, that He would take me out of the temptations of the world, by some sudden stroke of His providence.”

It  is obvious, I think, that in this excursion. which she designates as her journey to Orleans and Touraine, she yielded in some degree to the temptations to which she was subject. Such was her own impression, at least; and in the sorrow and depression of her spirit, she went in search of religious friends and teachers, to confess and lament her backslidings. But they did not, or perhaps could not, enter into her feelings. 

"They did not condemn," she says, "what God condemned; and treated those things as excusable and proper, which seemed to me to be disapproved and even detestable in His sight. But in saying that they wholly extenuated my faults, or did not consider them very great, I ought to add, that they did not understand, (nobody but myself could understand,) how much God had done for me. Instead of measuring my faults by the mercies and graces which God had conferred upon me, they only considered what I was, in comparison with what 1 might have been. Hence, instead of blaming me, their remarks tended rather to flatter my pride, and to justify me in things which incurred the Divine displeasure and rebuke. 

"It is an important remark, that a sin is not to be measured merely by its nature, in itself considered;  but also by the state of the person who commits it; as the least unfaithfulness in a wife is more injurious to a husband, and affects him more deeply, than far greater acts of unkindness and neglect in his domestics. I had given myself to God in a bond of union more sacred than any human tie. Was it possible, then, to bestow my thoughts and affections on another, without offending Him to whom my soul had already betrothed itself? My trials were connected, in part, with the fashions of those gay times, the modes of dress, and methods of personal intercourse. It seemed to me, that the dress of the ladies, with whom, in my journey to Orleans and Touraine, I was led almost necessarily to associate, was hardly consistent with Christian, or even natural modesty and decorum. I did not wholly conform to the prevalent modes, but I went too far in that direction. 

"It is true, that my associates, seeing that I covered my neck much more than was common for females at that time, assured me that I was quite modest, and Christian-like in my attire; and as my husband liked my dress, there could be nothing amiss in it. But there was something within me, which told me that it was not so. The Christian knows what it is to hear the voice of God in his soul. This inward voice troubled me. It, seemed to say, whither art thou going, thou "whom my soul loveth"? Divine love drew me gently and sweetly in one direction; while natural vanity violently dragged me in another. I was undecided; loving God, but not wholly willing to give up the world. My heart was rent asunder by the contest."

This was indeed a sad state to be in. But it is proper to say, that there was one marked difference between the present and her former state. In the days of her life of nature, at least in that period before which God began to operate in her by his Holy Spirit, she not only sinned, but had in reality no disposition to do otherwise. She loved to sin. It was different now. Renovated, though imperfect, — sincerely desirous to do right, though often failing to do so, because she was not enlightened in the way of holy living by faith alone, — she could not fall into transgression without experiencing the deepest sorrow and torment of mind. Sin had lost the sweetness which once characterized it. She began to perceive, that even the smallest transgression cannot fail to separate from God. The wretchedness, therefore, which it occasioned, when she found in any case that she had sinned against her Heavenly Father, was inexpressible.

— edited from The Life of Madame Guyon (1877), Volume 1,  Chapter 9.

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