In his devotional commentary on Genesis Matthew Henry wrote that man was dust refined, but woman being taken out of man, was dust, double refined.” In thus saying, Henry sensed the purpose of God creating the nature of a woman that He could use her to refine His people. One of the most famous and influential of God’s Refiners was Madam Jeanne Guyon.
Madam Guyon was born Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte on April 18, 1648. When she was 16 years old, she married a wealthy man called Jacques Guyon who was thirty eight. During her twelve years of an unhappy marriage, she suffered miserably after losing her half sister, her mother, her beloved son, her daughter and father who all died within days of each other.
Guyon accepted this as God’s perfect plan and she believed that she would be blessed in suffering. In the end, she was blessed when she bore another son and daughter shortly before her husband’s death. After twelve years of that unhappy marriage, Madame Guyon had become a widow at the age of 28.
At the time when the Church focused on external works, Madame Jeanne Guyon looked inward and found that the prayers of the soul are all that God desires. This principle revolutionized her life and the lives of many others. She was called “the woman who loved Christ too much.”
As many people wanted to be taught this art of praying, so did her critics. She was later imprisoned and given a lifetime of exile for heresy. Although she had wealthy parents and even married a wealthier man, her life was filled with hardships and persecutions because of her determination to love God with all her heart and all her soul.
She was imprisoned from 1695 to 1703 after publishing a book on the topic, A Short and Easy Method of Prayer. For the first three years she was kept in a prison in Vincennes, then in 1698, she was transferred to solitary confinement in the infamous French Bastille in Paris. It has been said that in the cell next to her was the famous “prisoner in the mask,” who was rumored to be Louis the Fourteenth’s twin brother, who he imprisoned for fear he would someday wrest the crown from him.
The damp, unheated, and poorly ventilated cell where she was confined so weakened Madame Guyon’s always frail constitution that she remained in ill heath the rest of her life. Few could have withstood, even as she did, those long, solitary, hours, the days and nights that could hardly be distinguished from each other, the damp walls, the cold of the winters, and blistering heat of the summers.
Her only view of the outside world for four years was a high small window that showed a bit of the sky during the day and a few stars at night. Her only food and clothing were whatever she or her friends could pay for and the guards did not steal. Of her imprisonment someone wrote, “Her only crime was loving God.”
Madam Guyon spent four years in the Bastille. She was released from there in 1702. At the time of her liberation, she was fifty-four years old. When she was first released, she was allowed to visit her daughter, the Countess of Vaux, who lived either in Paris or in the immediate vicinity.
But the people connected with her personal history and name were so many in that area, and so strong was the influence she was still capable of exerting, that she was only permitted to remain there for a short time.
Though she had already suffered so much for her teachings, afflictions continued to be pressed upon her in a new form. The sorrows of a distant exile followed the anguish of four years of solitary confinement, during which she was not allowed contact with any of her family, friends, or acquaintances.
She was banished by Louis 14th to Blois, a large city one-hundred miles southwest of Paris, on the Loire River. The banishment was for life, and she was warned that if ever left that city she would be returned to the Bastille for the rest of her life. She remained in Blois until her death fifteen years later on June 9, 117, at the age of sixty-nine. Her banisher, Louis 14th, died two years before she did.
During her years at Blois, thousands traveled to her home to sit at her feet and be taught the inner life of peace and contentment through inner prayer and absolute trust in God for everything. Exile could not silence the apostle John, and neither could it silence Madame Guyon.
Until a few weeks before her death, she wrote daily to others, encouraging and guiding them in their spiritual quest. While at Blois she also completed her autobiography, which was written in obedience to the commands of her director, Father La Combe. That book alone has inspires hundreds-of-thousands to seek the deeper life.
Her book, A Short and Easy Method of Prayer teaches the simple and easy method of inner prayer that ultimately leads to union of the soul with God. Not long after it was published, the religious leaders of her church could well have said about her what was said about Paul and Silas, “This woman has turned our world upside down.” Harold J. Chadwick describes how her book was published, in her own words:
Among my intimate friends was a civilian, a counselor of the Parliament of Grenoble, who might be described as a model of piety. Seeing on my table my manuscript treatise on Prayer, he desired me to lend it to him. Being much pleased with it, he lent it to some of his friends. Others wanted copies of it. He resolved, therefore, to have it printed. The proper ecclesiastical permissions and approbations were obtained. I was requested to write a Preface, which I did. “Under these circumstances this book, which within a few years, passed through five or six editions, was given to the world.
The Lord has given a great blessing to this little treatise; but it has caused great excitement among those who did not accede to its principles, and has been the pretence of various trials and persecutions which I have endured. “Books are God’s instruments of good as well as sermons. He who cannot preach may talk; and he who cannot do either, may perhaps write. A good book, laid conscientiously upon God’s altar, is no small thing.
Like the apostle Paul, her heart hungered “to know Him.” Her increasing experiences in Jesus Christ brought her such contentment and peace that not even illness, privation, or prison could take them from her. Indeed, it was out of these very hardships that she learned that if here is no rest in God, there is no rest anywhere.
As the years passed, she developed faith in God for everything. Not only for salvation, but for every material necessity and every situation and circumstance in her life. She literally abandoned herself to God. “Great faith,” she wrote, “produces great abandonment.” No matter what happened to her, she saw it all as the Hand of God ridding her of her self-life so that the resurrected life of Christ could have predominance in her.
Madame Guyon believed, lived, and taught that practical and complete inner peace was possible for everyone, and all this, she insisted, was obtainable by faith alone, and not by any external works or religious ceremonies or rituals.
It is been reported that during her lifetime, Madame Guyon wrote forty books—paraphrases of several of them are still available. She gave birth to much of the piety and holiness that characterized the life and doctrines of John Wesley–who personally translated her book from the original French into English-and consequently, the early Methodists.
John Wesley wrote about her in this way:
We may search many centuries before we find another woman who was such a pattern of true holiness. How few such instances do we find of exalted love to God, and our neighbor; of genuine humility; of invincible meekness, and of unbounded resignation.
Among her other admirers were Count Von Zinzendorf, leader of the Moravians, who were the first missionaries. The early Quakers and their leader George Fox. Hudson Taylor, who founded the “Inland China Mission” and established one-thousand faith missions in China. Watchman Nee had her book on prayer translated into Chinese for distribution to all new converts of “The Little Flock.” Paul Billheimer, the late author of “Destined for the Cross,” said only the apostle Paul and Madame Guyon truly exemplified the life of Jesus.