Spiritual Depression

            In the early 1960’s, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached several sermons at Westminster Chapel on the subject of depression. They were taken down in shorthand by a member of the church and edited for publication by Bethan Lloyd-Jones, his wife. I believe I am correct in stating that sermon series came to Lloyd-Jones as he was looking over a group of outlines he had made from various passages of Scripture before going on holiday. It was his habit whenever a passage of Scripture struck him in his daily reading to work out a basic outline for a sermon. In that way, he knew he would always have a ready supply of outlines that could more easily be developed into a sermon. In gathering together his sermon outlines, he noticed that several of them were on the subject of depression. The sermon series he preached at Westminster Chapel became his book, Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cures. It is a book very much worthy of your reading. 

            In the Foreword to that volume, Lloyd-Jones wrote: “Unhappy Christians are, to say the least, a poor recommendation for the Christian Faith; and there can be little doubt but that the exuberant joy of the early Christians was one of the most potent factors in the spread of Christianity.”[1]

            The subject of depression is one which evokes several different responses from Christians. Sadly, I have known Christians who state that no Christian should ever suffer depression. I am not one of them. Some Christians will be temperamentally more inclined to depression than others. It will take more grace for them to conquer their depressive moods. They will be more like one of Jesus’ disciples who acquired the moniker of ‘Doubting Thomas.’ Other Christians seem to live perpetually on the sunny side of the street, but that is not true of all Christians. Indeed, depression is a problem that most people face at some time in their lives, whether they are believers or not. 

            In the Bible, there are many saints who had severe bouts of depression. Depression was certainly the problem for Job after Satan’s attacks on him. His three miserable friends and the nagging of his wife did not help him either. David knew depression and wrote Psalms 42 and 43 to help himself and us deal with the matter. Jeremiah went through depression and often wished that his head was a fountain of waters so he could cry day and night for the lost people of Judah. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was tormented by depression. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 7:6– “But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” All of that second epistle to the Corinthians deals with the matter of depression in one way or another. 

            There have also been great saints and ministers who have suffered depression. Charles Spurgeon is chief among them. The great orator often had to slip away from his duties in the pulpit until his tormenting bouts of depression had been temporarily conquered again. Sometimes, he would go to France for relaxation and rest. Depression is no respecter of persons. One of America’s greatest leaders had a severe case of depression in his early life. He lost his mother, his wife, and his daughter on the same day. He went away to the west to work on a horse ranch. One night he told a confidant: “My life is over. I will never be anything.” That man responded: “You ought not to think that way. You will not always feel that way.” His friend was right. That man was Teddy Roosevelt. 

            Once again, I mention Paul. When he was saved, the Lord said that He would show him “what great things he must suffer.” His suffering began almost immediately. The citizens of Damascus plotted against him and he only escaped death by being lowered in a basket through a hole in the wall of the city. He went to Jerusalem, but the disciples were afraid of him until Barnabas introduced him to the apostles. Some of the Hellenistic Jews plotted to kill him and he escaped the city through the help of the brethren. At that point, Paul went to Tarsus, the city of his birth. We are not told in Scripture what Paul was doing in Tarsus, but I feel he was recovering from his depression. Perhaps, he thought his life was over after people in both Damascus and Jerusalem had tried to kill him. Barnabas found Paul in Tarsus and took him to Antioch where the church commissioned the two of them to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. They were the first Christian missionaries. 

            Paul was to meet with the same hostilities on his three missionary journeys that he faced in Damascus and Jerusalem. He described his trials in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29. His early trials strengthened him to be able to accept suffering as the Via Dolorosa that every Christian must walk. As he wrote in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Paul’s sufferings, and ours also, have no redemptive value. There is nothing lacking in that perfect atonement of Christ for our sins. But the hostility of sinners against Christ is often directed at His people. We suffer for Him. We suffer because we are Christians. Christ endured that hostility and suffered greatly. His people also endure such suffering. That is what Paul learned. Therefore, he did not wilt under the persecution he faced. He learned to rejoice in his sufferings and tribulations. We must learn to do the same.  

            None of us ever need feel that our sufferings are too great if we carefully read Paul’s description of his own sufferings in 2 Corinthians. Yet, sadly, we are often surprised by suffering. We meet with difficulties and we do not know what to do. About 30 years ago, I went through some very difficult circumstances in the ministry. I will not recount them here. For several years, I struggled along on an income below the poverty level. I was able to survive only through the extra money I received from being an army reserve chaplain and through my wife’s work. By God’s grace, I determined that I was not going to give into my depressing circumstances. There were feelings in my heart that I never shared with anyone— not even my wife. I tried to do what Jesus advised in Matthew 6:16-18 and anoint my head and wash my face. Nonetheless, there were times I felt like young Teddy Roosevelt, that my life was over before it had hardly begun. Yet, that was not the end of the story for my life. 

            When we are faced by circumstances that try our souls, we need to remember that there are others have suffered more, far more, than we have. Look at Job. He lost so much in such a short time. Look at Paul. His whole Christian life was a life of suffering and it ended with his martyrdom. Look at the apostles. Only John was spared from being martyred. Look at the great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 and all that they suffered. And then look at Christ— He suffered more than any other because He suffered for all the sins of all His people. That was a great punishment and a great suffering. 

            That is not the end of the story, though. Hebrews 12 tells us about “the general assembly and the church of the first born” in that city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. In heaven, we will dwell in a kingdom that cannot be shaken and we will see God who is a consuming fire and who dwells in unapproachable light. Suffering is not the end, but the beginning for the Christian. Suffering will not last. It will endure only for moment. The eternal life of believers will be a life without suffering or want or tears or depression or sin. Then there will be victory in Christ forever. These light, momentary sufferings that we endure now will soon be forgotten when we have the joy of living with Christ for eternity. 

Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL

You can send donations to Vanguard Presbytery to the following address: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540. www.vanguardpresbytery.com


[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its causes and Cure(Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), Foreword. 

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