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.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Wholly Devoted to God: Mortifications

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

We are to consult our own improvement and good, as well as of others — Desires to be wholly the Lord’s — Efforts to keep the outward appetites in subjection

“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Our own vineyard is not to be neglected. True Christianity verifies its existence and its character, not merely in doing good to others, but partly, at least, in the regulation of our own inward nature. It is not enough to visit the sick and teach the ignorant, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, while we leave our own appetites and passions unsubdued, unregulated.


[Madame Guyon], however warm-hearted and diffusive may have been her charity to others, felt that there were duties to herself. Something within her, told her that God's providence, which searches through all space and reaches all hearts, had designated her, not merely as a subject of forgiveness, but as a subject of sanctifying grace; not merely as a sinner to be saved, but as a living Temple in which His own Godhead should dwell. And He who, in dwelling in the soul, constitutes its true life, inspired desires within her, corresponding to these designs. 

Referring to the great change, which she dates specifically as having taken place on the 22d of July 1668, she says, “I had a secret desire given me from that time, to be wholly devoted to the disposal of my God. The language of my heart, addressing itself to my heavenly Father, was, What couldst thou demand of me, which I would not willingly sacrifice or offer thee? Oh, spare me not! It seemed to me that I loved God too much, willingly or knowingly to offend Him. I could hardly hear God or our Lord Jesus Christ spoken of, without being almost transported out of myself.”

And in accordance with these views, she endeavored to recognize  practically  the Savior's direction, "Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." And also that other direction, "If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee;  for it is profitable for thee, that one of thy members should  perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into Hell." It is hardly necessary to say, that no man can properly be accounted as wholly the Lord's, whose appetites, which have their moral as well as physical relations, are not under control. It is very possible, that such a person may be a Christian; that is to say, a Christian in the ordinary and mitigated sense of the terms. It would certainly be reasonable to say, that he may possess a soul, which may properly be described as forgiven; but still it is a soul, which continues to be characterized by undue imperfections. He may possess a soul, as undoubtedly he does, to which the blood of the Atonement has been applied; but still it is a soul which is neither fully nor adequately renovated. If it be true, that the penalty of the Divine Law, in its application to him as an individual, has been satisfied, it is equally true, I think, that the new creation of the Gospel, the reign inwardly of the Holy Ghost, has not yet, fully come. The great work of sanctification must be carried on and rendered complete. And it is hardly necessary to add, that the inward man cannot be sanctified without the sanctification, in some proper sense of the terms, of that which is outward. And, accordingly, under the influence of such views as these, she was enabled, with that assistance which God always gives to those who add faith to their efforts, to subdue and to regulate, on Christian principles, this important part of our nature.

I am aware, that some of the methods she took seem to imply an undue degree of violence to principles of our nature, which are given us for wise purposes, and which in their appropriate action are entirely innocent. But it may properly be said, I suppose, that there is a principle involved in the practical subjection of the appetites, which will in part justify her. course. It is, that an inordinate exercise of the appetites is to be overcome by what may be termed an inordinate repression; that is to say, by a repression, which under other circumstances would neither be necessary nor proper.

She refused for a time to indulge them in anything, in order that she might regain her lost control, and be enabled afterwards to employ them aright. She curbed them strongly and strictly, not only to break their present domination, but to annul the terrible influence of that law of habit which gave to their domination its permanency and power. “I kept my appetites,” she says, “under great restraint; subjecting them to a process of strict and unremitting mortification. It is impossible to subdue the inordinate action of this part of our nature, perverted as it is by long habits of vicious indulgence, unless we deny to it, for a time, the smallest relaxation. Deny it firmly that which gives it pleasure; and if it be necessary, give to it that which disgusts; and persevere in this course, until, in a certain sense, it has no choice in anything which is presented to it. If we, during this warfare with the sensual nature, grant any relaxation, giving a little here and a little there, not because it is right, but because it is little, we act like those persons who, under pretext of strengthening a man who is condemned to be starved to death, give him, from time to time, a little nourishment, and thus prolong the man’s torments, while they defeat their own object.

“And these views will apply,” she adds, “to the propensive and affectional part of our nature, as well as the appetites; and also to the understanding and will. We must meet their inordinate action promptly. The state in which we are dying to the world, and the state in which we are dead to the world, seem clearly set forth by the apostle Paul as distinct, from each other. He speaks of bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus; but lest we should rest here, he fully distinguishes this from the state of being dead, and having our life hid with Christ in God. It is only by a total death to self that we can experience the state of Divine union, and be lost in God."
“But when a person", she remarks further, "has once experienced this loss of self, and has become dead to sin, he has no further need of that extreme system of repression and mortification which, with the Divine blessing, had given him the victory. The end for which mortification was practiced is accomplished, and all is become new. It is an unhappy error in those who have arrived at the conquest of the bodily senses, through a series of long and unremitted mortifications, that they should still continue attached to the exercise of them. From this time, when the senses have ceased from their inordinate action, we should permit them to accept, with indifference and equanimity of mind, whatever the Lord sees fit in His providence to give them—the pleasant and the unpleasant, the sweet and the bitter."
“And having obtained the victory over the appetites, he who seeks after entire holiness will pass on to other parts of our fallen nature, and endeavour to subject the wandering intellect, the misplaced affections, and the inordinate will. Severely repressive acts, analogous to the cutting off the right hand, or the plucking out of the right eye, must be put forth here also. And success may be expected, if the efforts of the creature, which are always utter weakness without the inspiration of God and the Divine blessing, are attended with prayer, faith, and the spirit of serious and devout recollection."

Her views of austerities or acts of mortification, in her Autobiography, as they are interpreted and perhaps somewhat modified in her Short Method of Prayer, and her other works, are less objectionable than some might suppose, who have not carefully examined them. It is very probable, that her earliest views on this subject were incorrect and dangerous. But after she had become emancipated (which was the case at an early period of her experience) from certain early impressions, it is obvious that she regarded acts of austerity and mortification as having relation to the laws of our nature, and not as furnishing an atoning element; as disciplinary and not as expiatory — a distinction which is radical and of great consequence. And, in accordance with this view, she thought that such austere and self-mortifying acts, which are to be practiced with a reference to certain definite physical and mental results should continue only for a time In other words, when the end of the austerity or mortification is secured, the act itself should cease.

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

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