Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Charles H. Spurgeon on Depression

Spurgeon, Prince of Preachers
It's a good thing he wasn't born in the 20th century. Many believing brothers and sisters would label his tendency to melancholy sinful, or evidence of a lack of self-discipline, or even the result of shallow faith. A psychologist would probably send him away with a prescription and a self-help book with twelve easy steps to overcome depression. But Charles Haddon Spurgeon, perhaps the greatest preacher of the 19th century, had a different attitude toward his affliction.

Spurgeon knew "by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited therewith at seasons by no means few or far between." He warned his students, "Fits of depression come over the most of us. Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy." Although he said, "Spiritual darkness of any sort is to be avoided, and not desired," he never assumed that a Christian suffering depression must necessarily be in sin. Instead, he wrote, "I note that some whom I greatly love and esteem, who are, in my judgment, among the very choicest of God's people, nevertheless, travel most of the way to heaven by night."

Spurgeon goes on in his book, Lectures to my Students, to give some of the reasons believers fall into sadness. He also provides hope for those so overtaken.

"Is it not first, that they are men?" Spurgeon acknowledged that being a Christian did not make a man or woman immune from suffering. In fact, he said, "Even under the economy of redemption it is most clear that we are to endure infirmities, otherwise there were no need of the promised Spirit to help us in them. It is of need be that we are sometimes in heaviness. Good men are promised tribulation in this world." But he points out that through this suffering, we "may learn sympathy with the Lord's suffering people." Paul says something similar in 2 Corinthians 1:4; "God comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

"Most of us are in some way or another unsound physically." Spurgeon suffered terribly with a joint disorder that was diagnosed as gout. He was forced to stay in bed, sometimes for weeks at a time in excruciating pain. "I have been brought very low," he wrote to his congregation during one long bout, "My flesh has been tortured with pain and my spirit has been prostrate with depression...With some difficulty I write these lines in my bed, mingling them with the groans of pain and the songs of hope."

With characteristic balance, Spurgeon understood that physical pain and natural temperament contribute to depression, but did not allow his students to use them as an excuse for despair. "These infirmities may be no detriment to a man's career of special usefulness," he said. "They may even have been imposed upon him by divine wisdom as necessary qualifications for his peculiar course of service. Some plants owe their medicinal qualities to the marsh in which they grow; others to the shades in which alone they flourish."

"In the midst of a long stretch of unbroken labor, the same affliction may be looked for." Spurgeon's schedule was exhausting. In a typical week, he preached ten times. He answered approximately 500 letters, taught in a ministerial college, administrated an orphanage and dealt with dozens of individuals concerning their souls. He wrote for publications, entertained visitors at his home, taught his own family and encouraged his bedridden wife. It is no wonder that his health suffered under such a workload. Spurgeon's church finally insisted on regular vacations for him each year. Spurgeon told his students, "The bow cannot be always bent without fear of breaking. Repose is as needful to the mind as sleep to the body. . . . Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength."

"One crushing stroke has sometimes laid the minister very low." On October 19, 1856, the 22 year old Spurgeon spoke for the first time in the Surrey Gardens Music Hall in London. The church was no longer big enough to contain the crowds of people who wanted to hear him preach. Thousands packed into the music hall, seating themselves in aisles and stairways after all the regular seating was full, and hundreds more waited outside, hoping to hear part of the sermon through the windows. Just after Spurgeon began to pray, someone in a balcony shouted "Fire!" People pushed and shoved to get out of the building, and a stair railing gave way under the pressure. Seven people were killed and 28 more were injured. The tenderhearted Spurgeon never completely recovered from the emotional impact of this incident. He wrote, "I was pressed beyond measure and out of bounds with an enormous weight of misery. The tumult, the panic, the deaths, were day and night before me, and made life a burden."

Many have experienced a natural disaster, the death of a loved one, devastating financial loss or overwhelming disappointment when a child or a fellow believer has fallen into sin. Spurgeon offers hope from his own experience. "The fact that Jesus is still great, let His servants suffer as they may, piloted me back to calm reason and peace. Should so terrible a calamity overtake any of my brethren, let them both patiently hope and quietly wait for the salvation of God."

"The lesson from wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble." In the end, Spurgeon acknowledged that depression may come to some believers for no discernible reason. He did not consider it an illness, a sin, or surprising condition, but an inevitable season in the life of a Christian and an opportunity to demonstrate trust in the God who will one day wipe away every tear.

Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith's rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide. —Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students

Copyright © 2007 Susan Verstraete. Permission granted for not-for-sale reproduction in exact form including copyright and web address. Other uses require written permission.

I received a few comments on Facebook about this article so I thought I would share one of them along with my response:

Facebook Friend: I agreed with most of what was said, but not the part that depression is not an illness. Really all it said was that he never said it was an illness. I say that it can be as much of an illness as Cancer and other illnesses, but through the illness of depression and any other kind of suffering you can still be used by God.

The Princess Warrior: Hey Friend! =) I also believe that depression, in some instances, is an illness. In my mind, the main point of the article was in the very first paragraph: "Many believing brothers and sisters would label his tendency to melancholy sinful, or evidence of a lack of self-discipline, or even the result of shallow faith."

It is evident that Charles Spurgeon, who has been called the prince of preachers, did not lack self-discipline, nor a lack of faith, nor sinful. He knew from experiencing depression that it could be brought on by physical pain, a painful life experience, or even allowed by God so we "may learn sympathy with the Lord's suffering people" or "have an opportunity to demonstrate trust in the God who will one day wipe away every tear" and "it is most clear that we are to endure infirmities, otherwise there were no need of the promised Spirit to help us in them".

My thoughts on depression as an illness: I do believe some things we bring on ourselves and is a result of our own sin, but I also believe this -- God created man sinless and perfect, but when sin entered in people started experiencing stress, anger, anxiety, fear, loneliness, etc. These are the effects of sin for fallen man. I believe it became a part of our makeup and the more we felt these things the more they became a part of our DNA.

If my great-great-great-great grandmother was an intense worrier or was prone to getting depressed because of anger toward God or lack of faith, or selfishness or whatever, then her daughter did as well and then her daughter and so on and so on and so on, then somewhere along the line children started being born with these tendencies. My father had OCD and suffered with depression. I have the same, but I'm pretty sure mine was "triggered" when I was about 6, but my daughter was born with OCD and ADD. Right after she was born I went to the nursery window to see her. All the other babies were lying in their cribs like normal. She was the only one who was sideways. In her full body, one day old photo, her knees were red from trying to push around in the crib. I was like, "what the world!" Lol! At 2 months old she would break out in hives because I went to work. She has pulled her eyelashes out as long as I can remember.

So, long story short, I believe that mental illnesses can be genetic just like diabetes, heart disease, etc. That makes it even more important that we don't let these things define us and say well that's just the way I am. God can change whatever He sees fit to change in us or He will give us what we need to cope, but either way He will use us for His glory. So, that's my two cents worth. Lol!

Facebook Friend: I like your two cents worth! LOL! Thank you for all you said, I agree with it all. It's so refreshing to read what I just read. Thank you and God bless you! 


Biological Factors of OCD: The brain is a very complex structure. It contains billions of nerve cells -- called neurons -- that must communicate and work together for the body to function normally. The neurons communicate via electrical signals. Special chemicals, called neurotransmitters, help move these electrical messages from neuron to neuron. Research has found a link between low levels of one neurotransmitter -- called serotonin -- and the development of OCD. In addition, there is evidence that a serotonin imbalance may be passed on from parents to children. This means the tendency to develop OCD may be inherited. 

An excerpt from an article @ Web MD


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Copyright © 2009 The Princess Warrior Ministries. All articles are copyrighted on the date they are posted, unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved. Permission granted for not-for-sale reproduction in exact form including copyright and web address. Other uses require written permission. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references are taken from the King James Bible.

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