30 March 2012

Spurgeon on Depression

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. Here are a few resources from the Prince of Preachers on a topic he was intimately familiar with:

From The Soul Winner (chapter 9, "The Cost of Being a Soul Winner"):

ome years ago, I was the subject of fearful depression of spirit. Certain troublous events had happened to me; I was also unwell, and my heart sank within me. Out of the depths I was forced to cry unto the Lord. Just before I went away to Mentone for rest, I suffered greatly in body, but far more in soul, for my spirit was overwhelmed.

Under this pressure, I preached a sermon from the words, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" I was as much qualified to preach from that text as ever I expect to be; indeed, I hope that few of my brethren could have entered so deeply into those heart-breaking words. I felt to the full of my measure the horror of a soul forsaken of God. Now, that was not a desirable experience. I tremble at the bare idea of passing again through that eclipse of soul; I pray that I may never suffer in that fashion again unless the same result should hang upon it.

That night, after sermon, there came into the vestry a man who was as nearly insane as he could be to be out of an asylum. His eyes seemed ready to start from his head, and he said that he should utterly have despaired if he had not heard that discourse, which had made him feel that there was one man alive who understood his feeling, and could describe his experience. I talked with him, and tried to encourage him, and asked him to come again on the Monday night, when I should have a little more time to talk with him.

I saw the brother again, and I told him that I thought he was a hopeful patient, and I was glad that the word had been so suited to his case. Apparently, he put aside the comfort which I presented for his acceptance, and yet I had the consciousness upon me that the precious truth which he had heard was at work upon his mind, and that the storm of his soul would soon subside into a deep calm.

See also:

"Comfort for the Desponding"
"Encouragement for the Depressed"
"Darkness Before the Dawn"
"To the Saddest of the Sad"
"Consolation Proportionate to Spiritual Sufferings"
"The Christian's Heaviness and Rejoicing"
Now hear the sequel. Last night, of all the times in the year, when, strange to say, I was preaching from the words, "The Almighty hath vexed my soul," after the service, in walked this self-same brother who had called on me five years before. This time, he looked as different as noonday from midnight, or as life from death. I said to him, "I am glad to see you, for I have often thought about you, and wondered whether you were brought into perfect peace." I told you that I went to Mentone, and my patient also went into the country, so that we had not met for five years.

To my enquiries, this brother replied, "Yes, you said I was a hopeful patient, and I am sure you will be glad to know that I have walked in the sunlight from that day till now. Everything is changed and altered with me."

Dear friends, as soon as I saw my poor despairing patient the first time, I blessed God that my fearful experience had prepared me to sympathize with him and guide him; but last night, when I saw him perfectly restored, my heart overflowed with gratitude to God for my former sorrowful feelings. I would go into the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit: it is good for me to have been afflicted that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary.

Suppose that, by some painful operation, you could have your right arm made a little longer, I do not suppose you would care to undergo the operation; but if you foresaw that, by undergoing the pain, you would be enabled to reach and save drowning men who else would sink before your eyes, I think you would willingly bear the agony, and pay a heavy fee to the surgeon to be thus qualified for the rescue of your fellows.

Reckon, then, that to acquire soul-winning power you will have to go through fire and water, through doubt and despair, through mental torment and soul distress. It will not, of course, be the same with you all, nor perhaps with any two of you, but according to the work allotted you, will be your preparation. You must go into the fire if you are to pull others out of it, and you will have to dive into the floods if you are to draw others out of the water. You cannot work a fire-escape without feeling the scorch of the conflagration, nor man a lifeboat without being covered with the waves. If Joseph is to preserve his brethren alive, he must himself go down into Egypt; if Moses is to lead the people through the wilderness, he must first himself spend forty years there with his flock. Payson truly said, "If anyone asks to be made a successful minister, he knows not what he asks; and it becomes him to consider whether he can drink deeply of Christ's bitter cup and be baptized with His baptism."

And from the same book, chapter 14:

    often feel very grateful to God that I have undergone fearful depression of spirits. I know the borders of despair, and the horrible brink of that gulf of darkness into which my feet have almost gone; but hundreds of times I have been able to give a helpful grip to brethren and sisters who have come into that same condition, which grip I could never have given if I had not known their deep despondency. So I believe that the darkest and most dreadful experience of a child of God will help him to be a fisher of men if he will but follow Christ.

C. H. Spurgeon


Terry Rayburn said...

While it's blessedly true that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28)...

...and therefore that God may well have worked Spurgeon's depressions to good for himself and others...

...nevertheless, I believe he speaks in error when he says:

"...but hundreds of times I have been able to give a helpful grip to brethren and sisters who have come into that same condition, WHICH GRIP I COULD NEVER HAVE GIVEN if I had not known their deep despondency."

It's a common error that one must experience someone else's malady in order to help them.

One might say of a young unmarried Pastor that he can't counsel or teach on marriage; one might say of a Christian who was saved early and lived a relatively sedate life that he can't "identify" with a drug-crazed biker/murderer looking for forgiveness; "You can't understand, because you're not a woman!"; etc., etc.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." 2 Tim. 3:16

The Word of God, especially in the hands of a spiritual person, is sufficient.

Only God knows if Spurgeon would not have been even more effective if he had avoided his own depression through greater understanding of its causes and "cures".

(I'm not faulting him. We operate according to the light we have, or lack, as I theorized here).

Many of us who have taught or counseled others have heard the plaintive cry, "You can't understand my problem, because you never went through it."

That is simply a cry that the Word of God is not sufficient.

I don't agree.

The Blainemonster said...

I have portions of this piece taped to the bookshelf near my pillow, and I refer to it as needed :)

Josh said...

Terry, I understand what you're saying to a certain degree. But I don't think Spurgeon is saying, for instance, that a single pastor can't help a married couple. He's saying that a married pastor, armed with the same truth as the single pastor, can help the married couple BETTER. This truth is supported by God's Word itself. Just read 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 where Paul says that his afflictions enabled him to comfort and minister to the Corinthians. Spurgeon's story is one big illustration of that passage. Or consider what the book of Hebrews teaches about the necessity of Christ being made like us in order to sympathize with our weakness.

Anonymous said...

"... who 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." http://esv.to/2Cor1.4

L said...

I have only recently come out of a long period of depression, and in fact I still have a few steps to go. It was inspiring to read Spurgeon's words. I have often thought myself that I want to use my experience with overcoming depression to encourage other Christians (and non-Christians) who are struggling with the same problem. Anyway, thanks again.

L said...

Re Terry and Josh: I don't even think that Spurgeon claims that the married pastor can help the married couple better than the single pastor. Instead, I think that Spurgeon claims nothing more than this: his own personal experience with depression helped him to minister to one depressed man. That's it. Anything more than that is an over-reading of the text.

Deejay said...

There are some things one has to go through and experience I believe to be able to help another believer. Depression would be one of them. There are more ignorant Christains out there doing harm while thinking they do good, than I can count. Why? because they have never experienced it. Same as spiritual melancholia or spiritual terrors. Only someone who has experience it and know the intricacies of how it works will be equipped to help another IMO. Ignorant Christians who believe they know and are able when they aren't not equipped do more harm than good.
I hae a piece by Spurgeon on my Website too on Despondency: http://www.apuritanatheart.com/?p=10941

Deejay aka A Puritan At Heart

donsands said...

Thanks for this post. And I thank our Lord CH wrote this down for us to glean from.

I have been in a "funk" as of late. Depression, and even memory loss and seizures.

This word helps me in a good way. Thanks. And I will personally thank Pastor Charles when i see him in glory, as we both give all the glory to Jesus.

Linda said...


It is true that God can use anyone he chooses. Like Francis Schaeffer pointed out in his book "No Little People", "God used Moses' Staff when he told him to throw it down and it turned into a snake and then picked it up by the tail and it turned back into a staff again, to show him that if he can take something ((more dead)) than we are and make it alive, HE surely can use us."

However Terry, I don't see Spurgeon is wrong (at all).

People who have walked with Jesus Christ through times of depression sympathize, are more merciful and appreciative of Jesus Christ comforting them in ways that a person who has never gone through such horrid times and pain could ever know or understand. People who have never gone through such refining do not have that level of deep love and compassion and are incapable of manufacturing what can ONLY be known by walking with Jesus through it. People who have actually walked WITH Jesus through depression know Jesus Christ in ways that we cannot know Christ if we ourselves never have.

I don't know about you, but I'd rather console in a person who has actually been there walking with Jesus than to pour out my heart to someone who has never been there.

Same thing applies with our daily lives. If someone is going to build your house, you want someone who knows, who has experienced building a house. You don’t want someone who just knows intellectually by just mere book knowledge.

Isaiah 45:3 I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.

we cannot know the treasures in the darkness if we ourselves have never been there. We cannot appreciate the cold water until we have been in the driest desert and dying of thirst, and we cannot appreciate the light unless we have gone through the deepest darkest pits, and we cannot appreciate and freely accept what God chooses to give us that becomes so sweet even when it's bitter.

Hebrews 4:15 "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.

the greatest most encouraging truth that Spurgeon knew and for any Christian to know is that God in ALL things- "works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."-Rom.8:28.

Spurgeon said something so remarkable and so true when it comes to thinking about ----,,,"whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things"-Phil 4:8 ,

Spurgeon said-“The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.”He argued that thinking about God improves and expands the mind.1