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, April 1, 2024

Advice from a Stranger

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

[She attends] religious services at the church of Notre Dame in Paris. On her way thither she has an extraordinary interview with a person unknown. His advice to her.

It was at this period of her personal history, that [Madame Guyon] began to have a more distinct and realizing perception of what is implied in a sanctified life. Some portions of her reading, as well as her personal experience, had been favorable to this result. In the Life of Madame de Chantal, which she had read with great interest, she found the doctrine of holiness, so far as it may be supposed to consist in a will subjected to God, and in a heart filled with love, illustrated in daily living and practice, as well as asserted as a doctrine. The writings of Francis de Sales are characterized, in distinction from many other devout writings of the period in which he lived, by insisting on continual walking with God, on the entire surrender of the human will to the divine, and on the existence of pure love. The writings of this devout and learned man seem to have been her constant companions through life. The Imitation of Christy generally ascribed to Thomas a Kempis, Another of the works with which she was familiar, is animated by the same spirit of high Christian attainment. All these writers, in different ways and under different forms of expression, agree in strenuously teaching, that the whole heart, the whole life should be given to God; and that in some true sense this entire surrender, not excluding, however, a constant sense of demerit and of dependence on God, and the constant need of the application of Christ's blood, is in reality not less practicable than it is obligatory. 

Her mind, therefore, had been prepared both by what she had read and by what she had been inwardly taught, to receive promptly, and to confide strongly in, the suggestions and admonitions of the Benedictine Prioress. And her confidence seems to have been very properly placed. It is true we must judge, at the present time, of the character of Genevieve Granger, the individual to whom we now refer, from the few facts which can be gathered from the writings of Madame Guyon. But these are enough to show, that she was a woman who combined strength of intellect with humble piety. The world did not know her, but she was not unknown to Him who made the world. She may be described I think, as one of those who live in the world without the debasements of a worldly spirit, and of whom it can be said, in the language of Scripture, that "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." And it is well for those who are seeking religion, or who are inquiring the methods of progress in religion, to learn of those who have thus been taught.

At this most interesting juncture in her religious experience, an incident occurred, which was somewhat remarkable, and which made a deep impression on her mind. It was an incident, an occurrence, (speaking after the manner of man,) but the hand of the Lord was in it. She went at a certain time; from her residence, to attend some religious services which were to take place in the celebrated church of Notre Dame at Paris. As the weather was inviting, she did not take a carriage as she usually did, but decided to walk, although her house was some miles distant She was attended, however, by a footman, as she generally was at this period of her life whenever she went abroad. Just as they had passed one of the bridges erected over the River Seine, a person appeared at her side and entered into conversation; — a man religiously solemn and instructive in his appearance and intercourse, but so poor and. almost repulsive in his attire, that, at their first meeting, thinking him an object of charity, she offered him alms.

"This man spoke to me," she says, "in a wonderful manner, of God and divine things. His remarks on the Holy Trinity were more instructive and sublime, than I had heard on any other occasion or from any other person. But his conversation was chiefly personal. I know not how it was, but he seemed in some way to have acquired a remarkable knowledge of my character. He professed to regard me as a Christian, and spoke especially of my love to God, and of my numerous charities to the poor. And, while he recognized all that was good said christian-like in me, but felt it his duty to speak to me plainly of my faults. He told me that I was too fond of my personal attractions; and enumerated, one after another, the various faults and imperfections which, characterized this period of my life. And then, assuming a higher tone of religious precept, he gave me to understand that God required not merely a heart of which it could only be said it is forgiven, but a heart which could properly, and in some real sense, be designated as holy; that it was not sufficient to escape hell, but that he demanded also the subjection of the evils of our nature, and the utmost purity and height of Christian attainment. The circumstance of his wearing the dress of a mendicant, did not prevent his speaking like one having authority. There was something in him incapable of being concealed by the poverty of his outward appearance, which commanded my silence and profound respect. The Spirit of God bore witness to what be said. The words of this remarkable man, whom I never saw before, and whom I have never seen since, penetrated my very soul. Deeply affected and overcome by what he had said, I had no sooner reached the church than I fainted away." 

Previously to this period, Madame Guyon had learned the great lesson of recognizing God in his Providences. And under the influence of this indispensable knowledge, she could not doubt who it was that was speaking to her in the voice of his servants. Aroused by what she had experienced of her own weakness, and startled into solemn thought by these repeated warnings, She gave herself to the Lord anew.

 — from The Life of Madame Guyon (1877), Volume 1,  Chapter 10.

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