21 February 2012

Book review — Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures (re-issued and enhanced), by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

by Dan Phillips

Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
(Hannibal, Missouri: Granted Ministries Press, reissue of 1965 ed; 300 pages plus CD)

I first read the Eerdmans edition of this book (pretty surely) in the 1980s, and I read out of personal interest. That is, I was depressed. As I have shared, I have battled depression now and again all my life. So the title caught my eye on the shelf of the local Christian bookstore, and I looked to Lloyd-Jones hoping for help.

This classic work has now been reissued by Granted Ministries Press (and provided me for review) in an enhanced edition. That is, the book has the original text, plus a foreword by Geoffrey Thomas, and the terrific bonus of an MP3 audio disk of actual sermons on the topic by the beloved physician himself.

Let's begin with this edition's value-added features. In his Forword, Thomas begins with the assertion, "There was no one in the twentieth century more suited to preach, counsel and write on this subject of spiritual depression than Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones." (I take it that the chronological qualification is meant to exclude Charles Spurgeon, who in the 19th century wrote and preached vividly, evocatively, frequently, and very helpfully on the subject.)

Thomas goes on to substantiate his assertion with eight specific points qualifying Lloyd-Jones for writing this book. A number of these points reflect Thomas' own personal acquaintance with the late Doctor. These specifics form a terrific little study in themselves.

In addition, the disk provides some of the sermons preached by Lloyd-Jones himself, which formed the basis for this book. If you've never heard Lloyd-Jones, he takes some getting used to; plus, the recordings are at times rough, not having been made with modern equipment. But it is worth every bit of the effort. Lloyd-Jones' preaching is searching, rich, and profitable. I'd say the Foreword and sermons alone warrant the price of purchase.

But then we come to the book itself, which has already been used, recommended, and reviewed by many over the past near half-century. What are some of the highlights?

Lloyd-Jones, himself a medical doctor, well brings out the truth (also reflected in the Bible) that physical issues can produce depression. In such cases, depression is not primarily a spiritual issue but one of health or diet or rest. Memorizing a Bible verse, while always a good idea, won't substitute for needed refreshment, nutrition, or other medical intervention.

Lloyd-Jones was driven by a conviction of the sufficiency of Scripture, and this sends him to the Word for the truth that depressed folks need. Accordingly, he dives at length into Psalms 42-43, finding in them both an analysis of and a cure for much spiritual depression. I found particularly helpful Lloyd-Jones' development of the idea of preaching to oneself. Here's a snippet:


But that is only a taste. Lloyd-Jones writes with a pastoral heart born of long experience. He shows from the Bible that it is not a brand-new phenomenon, and he shows in the Bible that God has given guidance and resources to encourage the downhearted. He speaks from the conviction that there is in the Gospel and in the Word of God as ministered by the Holy Spirit both help and hope and counsel for the spiritually depressed.

Pastors should of course avail themselves of this edition, as should anyone who either helps the depressed, or suffers himself.

Dan Phillips's signature

28 comments:

Kerry James Allen said...

Thanks for the recommendation Dan. As a normally high energy Type A, I found myself a few years back mired in lethargy and depression. Fortunately a doctor diagnosed it as hypothyroidism and a natural supplement called Armour Thyroid has helped tremendously. I just read a great little book on the subject of depression called Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray. Every Christian can benefit from it and of course, DMLJ. And from CHS: "Better to have a Christian's days of sorrow, than a worldling's days of mirth."

DJP said...

Yes, in one of my odd Jobs On The Way To Here, I met a lady who languished for years in serious depression. Pastors might have frustrated both themselves and her by prescribing various things which, no doubt good in themselves, would have been useless for her depression. A doctor found (iirc) a thyroid issue. A supplement was prescribed, and she described it as waking out of a deep sleep. Purely physical.

donsands said...

"..defy yourself...the devil and the world"

Made me think on Bonhoeffer: "“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”


Thanks for this timely post. I shall have follow up here for some well needed wisdom. I may be dealing with some depression as well. Mainly from the pressure of my business, I think. And there are other factors. I have had some memory loss. Weird.

Have a terrific day in our Lord's sovereign grasp, where all the devils in the universe could not loosen even a small tad. What a Lord we have who loves us, deeper than we can ever fathom.

stratagem said...

I am glad to read that DMLJ and DJP both recognize the potential physical aspect of this - some preachers I've heard, don't, and condemn anyone who (for instance) uses an antidepressant. And I think it's probably always good to keep in mind that some health issues cannot be treated medically, and yet can result in certain kinds of depression, too.

I think it must be terribly frustrating for people who have something that is real and not easily treated, if they happen to have fellow believers constantly expecting them to just be healed, presto-chango.

DJP said...

Strat, in the review I'm not saying anything up or down about antidepressants. An antidepressant (per se) does not address a physical problem such as thyroid or vitamin deficiency or other physical disease or condition. The "serotonin" explanation often given for antidepressants isn't the slam-dunk that it's sometimes been portrayed as being.

Kerry James Allen said...

This is one area where the venerable Jay Adams has probably overstayed his welcome. At least two books out now (the one I mentioned earlier and another that a friend of mine is reading) are taking a dim view of his hypothesis that no depression is organic and you are just in sin or not reading the Bible enough. I confess and read my Bible regularly but it didn't stop my thyroid problem!

stratagem said...

Dan, yes I'm aware that it isn't a slam-dunk. All I'm saying is that because the physical cause is still unclear, then some people conclude that it must be a spiritual problem, which conclusion is both a non sequitur and probably harmful to the person being treated.

DJP said...

Troo dat, strat.

stratagem said...

Thanks Dan. Of course as you've pointed out many times in the past, if a person is not a Christian, then they ought to be depressed! So I'm not suggesting that it's always a physical problem, either.

Rhology said...

Thanks DJP.
Someone dear to me is suffering in this way. I have bought them the book.

This person has tried numerous physical remedies; no dice so far.

DJP said...

I'm sorry, Rho. It's a miserable go.

In a sideways way, Piper's Future Grace was actually very helpful to me.

Jules LaPierre said...

Thank you for this resource, Dan. I've only experienced depression during the last year, due to menopause. They physical and psychological changes are profound.

jules

Barbara said...

Thank you. As I am studying for NANC certification, I needed to order this book anyway. Having the audio sermons to go along with it is just the little push I needed to go ahead and order it now.

DJP said...

Great, Barbara; then do get this edition. The sermons are really worth it. Gives you some pastoral insight in his anecdotes, as well. You'll never forget the man who's in a submarine at the bottom of the ocean.

JG said...

Thanks for this review, DJP. I have a specific friend in mind as I read this. I'd like to get her this book, but she's not a believer. We don't live near each other, so I'd basically be ordering it and shipping it to her, and not be able to sit down and discuss it with her. She's Mormon, has suffered from depression as long as I've known her, and has insisted to me time and again that "she's a Christian, just a different kind of Christian." (I know, I know) I guess my question is, would this book profit a person not in a relationship with Christ by pointing to Him, or is it written with the assumption that the reader is already a believer? That's a poor way to say it, but I think you know what I mean.

DJP said...

You want my serious answer? Get her The World-Tilting Gospel. See what she does with that.

If she is a genuine believer and is attending that cult... yeah, well, that's definitely depressing. But the first thing to get square on is the Gospel, and I'm hopeful that book might help. Others are saying so.

JG said...

That answers my question. Thanks!

Chip Van Emmerik said...

Kerry,

I have used Adam's material for 20 years. He absolutely makes a case for organic depression. His advice in all counseling situations is to rule out physical ailments first.

Kerry James Allen said...

"Apart from those who had organic problems like brain damage, the people I met in the two institutions in Illinois were there because of their own failure to meet life's problems. To put it simply, they were there because of their unforgiven and unaltered sinful behavior." Competent to Counsel, Jay Adams, xvi. Unless brain damage and thyroid problems are the same, Adams advice to me would be get right with God, evidently. Chip, no doubt Dr. Adams has done much good, but I see some flaws. I might also add I heard him once in person, and the pastor who was with me agreed it had been a while since we had heard someone as full of himself as Adams was that day. To sweeten my comments I will say his book Preaching with Purpose is excellent and I highly recommend it.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Dan, I read and much enjoyed this book some time ago. It seems to me the good doctor anticipated cognitive therapy, which is the only valid form of psychotherapy IMO. By grounding it in Scripture, of course, he placed the ultimate answers in the right place.

DJP said...

I see exactly what you mean, Johnny.

Phil said...

On the diet front,there are plenty of people who question the lipid hypothesis, it's basis in good science, and consequences since it's public dissemination.The Weston Price Foundation, Mark Sisson at Mark's Daily Apple, et cetera.

Might be worth looking into for those who aren't aware. Many people seem to benefit in various ways from going lower carb, cutting grains, eating more animal fat,ditching the processed omega 6 oils,and having more omega 3 (Lower carb with it is more Sisson et al than WAPF).

Hope this is fine to post.

Michael Wright said...

I just got this same edition last week, the book so far is excellent, and the disk is a wonderful addition to the package. Great review, I hope to get deeper into this book soon.

mikeb said...

See that's the problem with us. We see it mentioned that a small percentage of depression cases may be due to physical problems and we try to make it sound like all depression cases are due to a physical cause. Then we equate physical to low brain chemicals and whala, "It's so nice to see Martin Lloyd-Jones say we need to take antidepressants!"

CR said...

Great series. Good review.

Darlene said...

A friend lent me this book quite some time ago - back in the 90's. I read to a certain point and then laid it aside. I couldn't finish it, and the reason why I can't recall. Perhaps I should revisit Mr. Jones writing again.

I have come to discover just how much the role logismoi (the onslaught of thoughts - those that assault and tempt us) has in the area of depression. How do we take every thought captive to obey Christ? It must be with prayer, and the kind of prayer that remains with us and which we practice throughout the day. This is no easy task, but it is the mind and the dark thoughts of our passions that run through it, which can deeply effect our spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being.

Raine said...

@ JG

I recently listened to a sermon on counseling and it was said that the aim of counseling is to present everyone complete in Christ (Col. 1:28). It was helpful for me to hear someone else say that we distinguish in the way we counsel nonbelievers and believers. The emphasis in counseling the lost is to assure them there is no certain ground in this life besides Christ. Our word of encouragement to the lost, no matter how bleak their situation is, is that God is being patient with them so that they may repent (Rom. 2:4).

You seem to be on the right track from the questions you're asking, this is just a word to tell you to persevere in your conversations with your Muslim friend. : )

As a sidenote since Future Grace was mentioned, a new edition will be released this fall and I too highly recommend it to those struggling with depression.

donsands said...

Last night at Ash Wednesday Service, I fellowship with a sister in Christ, who is having the same problems with her loss of memory that I am having. She explained that it may be "depression".

I then talked with my pastor today at a men's morning get together at Spring Grove Cafe, and shared about your post, and he told me he has two copies of this book!

I share all this to give our sovereign Savior and Friend glory for His love, that passeth all knowledge! Praise His holy name!

Thanks once again for the post, and I shall send it on to my church so they can share with even more fellow believers.