From Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ by Jeanne Guyon. This is actually an epilogue from the publisher (The Seed Sowers) that I am quoting from, and the personal author’s name is withheld. I quote from pages 147-151, 153-158 – I left out the sections referring to the book, for simplicity here. (yes, a lengthy quote, but necessary for gaining context and perspective):
THE PRESENT STATUS OF SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE IN THE CHURCH
Since the end of the first century, no century has excelled in spiritual depth. In fact, most centuries since then have been very, very shallow indeed with only a handful of gloriously shining lights — usually no more than a few dozen men and women — to illumine the darkness.
This era — the one you and I live in — has proven to be, unquestionably, the most Bible-centered age since the days of the Pharisees; it also rivals their age for being one of the least in emphasizing spiritual depth! (And men today get just as disturbed as men of that former age did, when someone points out that fact!)
Nor is that the only record our age has set. We are setting a whole raft of records. For instance, until today the 1500s have generally held the trophy for being the most financially corrupt age in church history. That was the day you could — for cash — have your sins erased right out of God’s ledgers. We don’t do that, but with our mass mailing, business reply envelopes, four color brochures, foundations, tax exempt status, and sermons on stewardship, by the time he is 35 years old, many ministers of the gospel have become some of the best promoters and fund raisers around.
The same can be said for intellectualism. The 1700s have usually been considered the high water mark of intellectualism in the Christian faith, but today more men walk the earth with doctorates in theology than in any other age. Unsatisfied with the spiritual depth this intellectual climate has produced, these men cry out that the solution is more, better, and higher Christian education. This is an endless age of endless reams of books and papers on endless varieties of subjects, an age that produces men who deliver mind-boggling lectures on the doctrine of prayer and yet know little of its deeper experience. This age has, generally, never known Christ in a deep way. Sophisticated, disdainful, sterile and passionless, we have wrenched from the hand of the 1700s the trophy for the most intellectual age in church history.
The era between 1100 and 1400 has generally been considered the darkest and most corrupt in church history, an age when the papacy went to the highest bidder and the church was the most powerful political and financial force on the earth.
But we live in a day when churches look like storybook castles. Servants of God today, looking back upon the first century worker’s idea of owning nothing throughout his whole life, might view such an ideology as cultish. They are quite unlike their fathers, the early Christians, who were the natural enemies of their community, who fought for the privilege of living their whole lives owning nothing but the clothes on their backs, and who gloried in dying as might a pauper.
Those of us who are serving the Lord “full time” in this age should prepare ourselves for being remembered, as a whole, as being the wealthiest, most commercial, sophisticated, worldy-minded materialistic and comfortable men in the whole history of religion.
There is one more trophy which this age — above any other — will win (that is, unless a radical change takes place very soon). In every era of church history there have been recorded names of a few devout men and women whose hallmark was awesome spiritual depth and utter devotional abandonment. There were such men even during the bleakest days the dark ages ever witnessed. In every age there have always been at least a few men who knew Him in the depths. Will our age slip by with no such testimony? From a purely historical viewpoint, we must be categorized as the most universally shallow believers ever to cross the pages of history.
It is my studied judgment that some future generation will deem this to be the darkest century, in spiritual depth and spiritual experience, in church history — that is, unless something very radical happens along …. soon.
More corrupt than the dark days before Luther; more impotently intellectual than during the heyday of Calvinism; more financially perverted than the days that caused John the Baptist to explode; more intoxicated with the drive for spiritual power than any age, yet exercising that outward power with less internal transformation than anyone since King Saul; enamored with the gifts, yet hardly knowing the Giver, our age has produced the most commercial, materialistic, fad-oriented people ever to claim His name.
Is this assessment a little too harsh? I would respond to you by pointing to one last trophy this age may win: We seem to be more totally blind to the deprivation of our spiritual depth than all other centuries lumped together.
It is true we have built more buildings and founded more religious organizations than all the past eras combined. It is true that today’s Christianity has won more men to Christ than all other ages combined, but it is also just as true that those converts have set new records for the short length of time they have followed the Lord with abandoned devotion.
If past church history is any guide, we can optimistically look for some sort of a turnaround. Spiritual depth is due for a return! ……
THE ISSUE OF THIS AGE
Jeanne Guyon once made the observation that in every era God raises a spiritual issue. During Paul’s life it was “works and faith”. Every age since then has also had its controversy; and in every age since Constantine, our God has set about restoring those precious experiences of the early church that had been lost. In her own age God used Jeanne Guyon to raise the issue of the indwelling Christ. That is, that the Lord is within you — working from the inside out — that you can know Him and experience Him by living in that inner chamber where He makes His home. (It would still make a good issue today!) She raised the issue of the interior Christ.
But God did not stop raising issues with the 17th Century. He raises yet other issues; He is a restoring God.
Is there a spiritual issue in our age?
Well, if there is not, there should be! If men and women today, by the thousands, began experiencing the depths of Jesus Christ in a real and transforming way, there would be simply no place for their experience to fit in the present-day rites of Christianity, be they Protestant or Catholic forms. Neither movement is presently structured to contain a mass of devoted people who walk in spiritual depths. Or, to put it another way, both movements are structured toward other emphases; it is, by nature, a structure that hinders the torrents of unleashed love meant to be poured out on God. The very element, the very soul, the very composition and structure of present day Protestantism and Catholicism frustrate a deep encounter with the living God!
When you visualize a people who love Christ with a passion, who are utterly abandoned to Him, a people who know Him well and know nothing else on earth but Him, does a Sunday morning church service come to your mind? A people such as I have just described simply cannot fit — not for long anyway — into the structured mold of mainstream Christianity.
A revival of an experience of Christ in the depths will naturally issue into a longing for this indefinable thing sometimes called “church life”.
What is “church life”? I do not know how to give a definition, but it is the church glorious, stunning and all-consuming; the church jealous, devouring your whole life; the church magnetic, claiming every moment of your being; the church living and free; the church winged in flight. Not a place, but a people — living in the heavenlies, constantly consumed with Him and blind to all else. The church as she once was, ought to be, can be, will be! A bride — passionate, wooing and madly in love with her Lord and her Love. A people who know and experience Him!
Consider this dear reader: Jesus Christ loves you. He saved you. You love Him. That is one reason you are reading this book: to know Him better. You, an individual, wish to know Him. But God never intended for you to pursue Him solely as an individual.
Please remember that half the New Testament is written to churches not individuals! (Laying aside the four biographies of the Lord, nearly all the New Testament is addressed to churches. Churches: vibrant, free, loose. Churches that met in homes, whose people shared each other’s lives and loved one another — and their Lord — indescribably.) Those churches were incredible — not so much in being free of problems, or in being morally perfect, but in their corporate, daily pursuit and experience of Jesus Christ, in the sheer joy of knowing Him together, daily, constantly.
May this become the issue of someone’s age! Yes, the issue of the restoration of the experience of that beautiful thing called the church.
You and I have no alternative if we plumb the infinite depths of Jesus Christ; eventually we will be driven to the issue of the life of the church. God’s ultimate desire is not that you be rich and happy, or that you have a nice devotional life, or a thousand other things you might think. Reread the record. The passion, the centrality of the Scripture is Christ and the church. You and I cannot know Christ as we should without also knowing the living experience of the church.
You cannot have salvation without a living Christ. You cannot have the full ends of the deeper Christian life without a living experience of Christ and a living walk inside the experience of church life.
God simply set up His grand design with Christ and the church as the center. He made it the very nature of things. You can fight it if you choose but you cannot beat it; God made Christ and the church central. That fact is in the very bloodstream of the universe. You can try some other approach, but it won’t work. You are moving against God’s designs. Christ and the church are the sum total of God’s schemes. The universe flows in that direction; any other way is upstream.
You need Christ — not in your mind, but in a consuming encounter. You need the church — not as a stone building, but the very outliving of your whole day, your whole life.
So, dear reader, this book goes forth for all of God’s people, but this time it goes forth mostly for those who wish to experience the depths this book speaks of in the context of the life of the church. It will be only the Christian who places himself in the atmosphere of church life who will know the full depths of Christ. It seems the Lord made things so that His fullness is known only there.
The Old Testament told all about Christ, but when men of old read the Old Testament, they did not see Him there. God is like that. He keeps His highest revelation slightly veiled. Why? So men will not trample it underfoot.
But then one day Christ came! All at once God lifted the veil. Men could turn to the Old Testament and so easily see Christ all through it! But at the same time God lifted the veil on the old, He did something else! He placed a veil over the new. While Christ lived on the earth, men who heard Him could not quite get the full meaning of His words. Christ was veiled to all except His handful of disciples (and even His disciples did not fully understand Him until their Lord came into them).
Since the days of Constantine (325 A.D.), a great deal of God’s original purpose has been lost. Since the Reformation, since Luther, God has been restoring those things, but He continues the principles of veiling His present work on the earth. While He lifts the veil on the last thing He restored, He turns and veils His newest activity. He does this to keep the things dear to Him from being cheapened.
We are told, for instance, that 80 percent of all evangelical and fundamental teachings today came from the Plymouth Brethren movement of the early 1800s. That seems to be an established historical fact. But you could never have convinced theologians in the early 1800s that!
It was not until the mid-1800s that the mainstream of Christianity began to read the writings of the Brethren and, finally, realized the wealth that was there. Forthwith ministers began preparing sermons based on what they read of Brethren writings. The Sunday morning congregations were very impressed. But structure could not handle everything the Brethren had said. What they taught had to be watered down a bit to fit.
The problem was easily solved; men simply left out the main point. (Now you know why God veiled His work among the Brethren for a whole congregation.)
But why did the Lord ever allow the work of the Brethren to come into public view anyway? Why did He ever allow their wonderful insight and experience to become common and diluted? It seems that when the Brethren’s message became good sermon material for Sunday morning sermons, their major contribution to church history began to end.
Why? Because He had moved on. God had moved on, leaving brethren as one of His past works. He had moved on to do a work of recovery somewhere else, a deeper work, and a work hidden from full view.
The Lord has moved on through several Christian movements since then. What is hidden in one generation is preached as Sunday sermons during the next generation. The Lord then moves on, giving to a new work the original insight of the first and adding to that revelation…giving them whole new realms to discover, to experience, and to restore.
Today ministers all over the earth are proclaiming things revealed to obscure little groups of the last generation.
(Today’s ministers are also bringing breathtaking messages on things they know absolutely nothing about and have never experienced. Essentially, they are repeating what they have read in books. And the people sitting in the pews listening are very impressed. The cutting edge, of course, has been left out.)
Do not mourn or weep. It is all right. Somewhere on the earth today our God is moving onto higher revelation and to new plateaus of restoration!
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