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Madame Guyon: Catholic, Mystic, Apostate

Fundamental Baptist Information Service
P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061,
866-295-4143, fbns@wayoflife.org

David Cloud
First Published March 21, 2001 & Updated June 9, 2004

Used By Permission

The writings of Madame Guyon (1648-1717) are very popular today in evangelical, charismatic, and ecumenical circles. Guyon was a Roman Catholic who had visions and other mystical experiences and wrote about them in her published works.

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 he husband died in 1676, she gave herself wholly to her mystical pursuits. She joined a group of ascetic Quietist 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.

Guyon claimed that she went through a series of spiritual states through her mystical experiences. 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.

As she fasted to the extreme and often went without sleep, her mystical experiences increased. She experienced what she thought was union with the essence of God. She had mental delusions or demonic visitations such as envisioning "horrible faces in blueish light." She went into trances, which would leave her unable to speak for days. During some trances, she wrote things that she believed were inspired (Guyon, An Autobiography, p. 321-324). She claimed that she and La Combe could communicate with one another for hours without speaking verbally. She believed she could speak in the language of angels.

In 1688, Madame 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 on the estate of her son-in-law.

Her work on prayer, "A Short and Very Easy Method of Prayer," was first published in 1685.

THE POPULARITY OF GUYON’S WRITINGS

After her death, Madame 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.

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.

THE ERRORS OF MADAME GUYON

There are some correct and helpful insights in Madame Guyon’s writings, but taken as a whole they are unscriptural and dangerous. Following are some of the errors:

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). She was referring, of course, to the Catholic Church.

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 (Jn. 20:29). Paul said "we walk by faith not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7). And faith only comes from the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). It does not come from within or from 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 Thess. 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 (Matt. 24:4).

4. SHE EMPLOYED PAGAN METHODS OF EMPTYING THE MIND IN MEDITATION AND PRAYER. >

Note the following quote from Madame Guyon:

"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 offer 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).

One of the types of prayer taught by Madame 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 exactly like Hinduism.

Contrast 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 is not to be employed in prayer. To the contrary, the believer is to gird up the mind (1 Pet. 1:13). We are to 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.

5. SHE LOOKED FOR GOD WITHIN HERSELF, RATHER THAN WITHOUT. >

In her book on prayer, Madame 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." She was a Roman Catholic and she did not confess to a scriptural salvation experience. Instead, she started 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 with Luke 17:21. Jesus was addressing the unsaved Pharisees, and He certainly was not saying that the kingdom of God was inside of them. He was saying, rather, that the kingdom of God was right there in the midst of them, because He, the King, was there presenting Himself as the Messiah and working miracles.

Jesus taught us to pray to God in Heaven, not to God inside of us (Matt. 6:9).

6. 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" (Guyon, p. 73).

To the contrary, the great apostle Paul, who called himself "the chief of sinners," testified that in himself "dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7:18). We are taught in Scripture that the sin nature is not removed after salvation (1 John 1:8-10), and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.

7. 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).

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 note 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 in whom was no sin. 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 Colossians 3:10, "put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him."

8. 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 Catholic sacramental heresy.

This has been one of the great errors of Christian mysticism and monasticism from the second century 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 seeking to put oneself into a mindless, 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. 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 have truth, but it is mixed with error. They are not the wise pattern for prayer and spirituality that God’s people need.
 


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