The field of psychology has been based on a humanistic view of man and God from its inception and cannot be reconciled with God’s Word. (See Christ or Therapy and The Dark Side of Christian Counseling by E.S. Williams; PsychoHeresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity by Martin Bobgan; Manufacturing Victims: What the Psychology Industry Is Doing to People by Tana Dineen,)
Following are some biblical truths about depression and emotional melancholy. The quotes from Charles Spurgeon are from Lectures to My Students unless otherwise noted.
Depression is part of this fallen life and its reason will not always be known.
“My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word” (Ps. 119:28).
“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Ro. 8:22-23).
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations” (1 Pe. 1:6).
“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)
“I am the subject of depression so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to” (Spurgeon).
“Hours after, I have been myself depressed, and I have felt an inability to shake it off” (Spurgeon).
“I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for” (Spurgeon).
“... I need something which shall cheer my heart, why I cannot tell, wherefore I do not know, but I have a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me; my soul is cast down within me; I feel as if I had rather die than live; all that God hath done by me seems to be forgotten, and my spirit flags and my courage breaks down. I need your prayers” (Spurgeon).
“We have our times of natural sadness; we have, too, our times of depression, when we
cannot do otherwise than hang our heads. Seasons of lethargy will also befall us from
changes in our natural frame, or from weariness, or the rebound of over excitement.
The trees are not always green, the sap sleeps in them in the winter; and we have
winters too. Life cannot always be at flood tide: the fulness of the blessing is not upon
the most gracious at all times” (Spurgeon).
“Causeless depression is not to be reasoned with, nor can David's harp charm it away by sweet discoursings. As well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, undefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness. One affords himself no pity when in this case, because it seems so unreasonable, and even sinful to be troubled without manifest cause; and yet troubled the man is, even in the very depths of his spirit. If those who laugh at such melancholy did but feel the grief of it for one hour, their laughter would he sobered into compassion. Resolution might, perhaps, shake it off, but where are we to find the resolution when the whole man is unstrung? The physician and the divine may unite their skill in such cases, and both find their hands full, and more than full. The iron bolt which so mysteriously fastens the door of hope and holds our spirits in gloomy prison, needs a heavenly hand to push it back” (Spurgeon).
“I know that wise brethren say, ‘You should not give way to feelings of depression.’ … If those who blame quite so furiously could once know what depression is, they would think it cruel to scatter blame where comfort is needed. There are experiences of the children of God which are full of spiritual darkness; and I am almost persuaded that those of God’s servants who have been most highly favoured have, nevertheless, suffered more times of darkness than others. The covenant is never known to Abraham so well as when a horror of great darkness comes over him, and then he sees the shining lamp moving between the pieces of the sacrifice. A greater than Abraham was early led of the Spirit into the wilderness, and yet again ere He closed His life He was sorrowful and very heavy in the garden. No sin is necessarily connected with sorrow of heart, for Jesus Christ our Lord once said, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.’ There was no sin in Him, and consequently none in His deep depression. I would, therefore, try to cheer any brother who is sad, for his sadness is not necessarily blameworthy. If his downcast spirit arises from unbelief, let him flog himself, and cry to God to be delivered from it; but if the soul is sighing--‘though he slay me, yet will I trust in him’--its being slain is not a fault. The way of sorrow is not the way of sin, but a hallowed road sanctified by the prayers of myriads of pilgrims now with God--pilgrims who, passing through the valley of Baca [lit: of weeping], made it a well, the rain also filled the pools: of such it is written: ‘They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God’” (Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1881, vol. 27).
Some people are more prone to depression and gloominess than others.
“As to mental maladies, is any man altogether sane? Are we not all a little off the balance? Some minds appear to have a gloomy tinge essential to their very individuality; of them it may be said, ‘Melancholy marked them for her own;’ fine minds withal, and ruled by noblest principles, but yet most prone to forget the silver lining, and to remember only the cloud” (Spurgeon, “The Minister’s Fainting Fits,” Lectures to My Students).
We must trust the sovereignty and goodness of God.
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Ro. 8:28).
“It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity” (Spurgeon).
“If you drink of the river of affliction near its outfall, it is brackish and offensive to the taste, but if you will trace it to its source, where it rises at the foot of the throne of God, you will find its waters to be sweet and health-giving” (Spurgeon).
“As long as I trace my pain to accident, my bereavement to mistake, my loss to another’s wrong, my discomfort to an enemy, and so on, I am of the earth, earthy, and shall break my teeth with gravel stones; but when I rise to my God and see his hand at work, I grow calm, I have not a word of repining” (Spurgeon).
There can be divine purposes for depression.
For preparation to help others
“Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation” (2 Co. 1:4-6).
"One Sabbath morning, I preached from the text, 'My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?' and though I did not say so, yet I preached my own experience. I heard my own chains clank while I tried to preach to my fellow-prisoners in the dark; but I could not tell why I was brought into such an awful horror of darkness, for which I condemned myself. On the following Monday evening, a man came to see me who bore all the marks of despair upon his countenance. His hair seemed to stand up right, and his eyes were ready to start from their sockets. He said to me, after a little parleying, 'I never before, in my life, heard any man speak who seemed to know my heart. Mine is a terrible case; but on Sunday morning you painted me to the life, and preached as if you had been inside my soul.' By God's grace I saved that man from suicide, and led him into gospel light and liberty; but I know I could not have done it if I had not myself been confined in the dungeon in which he lay. I tell you the story, brethren, because you sometimes may not understand your own experience, and the perfect people may condemn you for having it; but what know they of God's servants? You and I have to suffer much for the sake of the people of our charge ... You may be in Egyptian darkness, and you may wonder why such a horror chills your marrow; but you may be altogether in the pursuit of your calling, and be led of the Spirit to a position of sympathy with desponding minds” (Spurgeon, An All Round Ministry, pp. 221-222).
“I 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” (Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, chapter 14).
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Co. 12:7-10).
“Those who are honoured of their Lord in public have usually to endure a secret chastening, or to carry a peculiar cross, lest by any means they exalt themselves, and fall into the snare of the devil” (Spurgeon)
“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed” (Heb. 12:6-13).
For spiritual growth
“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Ro. 5:3-5).
“I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable ... Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister's library” (Spurgeon).
The ministry brings special cares and sorrows.
“For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears” (2 Co. 7:5).
“Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Co. 11:28).
“For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick” (Php. 2:26).
“Passionate longings after men's conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin—are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth? The kingdom comes not as we would, the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep. How can we be otherwise than sorrowful, while men believe not our report, and the divine arm is not revealed? All mental work tends to weary and to depress, for much study is a weariness of the flesh; but ours is more than mental work—it is heart work, the labour of our inmost soul. How often, on Lord's-day evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break” (Spurgeon).
Depression can be associated with spiritual warfare.
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:10-12).
Depression can precede times of victory. Many times the devil will fight hardest and send dark times prior to great spiritual breakthroughs and victory.
“This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord's richer benison” (Spurgeon).
Depression can also follow times of victory, as with Elijah who was so downcast after his great victory at Mt. Carmel that he wanted to die.
“Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers” (1 Ki. 19:2-4).
We must look to our spiritual health.
“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” (2 Pe. 1:5-9).
If you are not growing, you are going backwards, and backsliding can cause depression
Don’t neglect the daily quiet time with God in serious Bible study and prayer, walking in communion with Christ, yielding to the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18), putting off the old man and putting on the new (Eph. 4:22-24).
Sin can cause depression. Though not all depression is caused by sin (e.g., Christ in Psalm 69:20), much of it is. We all have a fallen nature and a deceitful, wicked heart, and we all live under the curse of death because of sin, so there is no such thing as perfect health as God originally intended it. Paul spoke of “the body of this death” (Ro. 7:24), and life in that body is the reality even for born again Christians.
Sin grieves the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) and brings divine chastening (Heb. 12:6). Sin can even lead to premature death if not repented of (1 Jo. 5:16-17).
A great many cases today that are diagnosed as clinical depression are doubtless the products of sin and false doctrine, though such things are rarely acknowledged.
In modern psychology, sin is typically dismissed as a result of depression, rather than the cause of depression. One drinks, abuses drugs, and commits adultery because he is depressed. Depression is treated as a disease, never an effect of one’s sinful lifestyle. The depressed is a hapless victim of circumstances.
Tina Campbell, of the black gospel duo Mary Mary, contemplated murder and suicide in 2013 after her husband committed adultery. She said, “I’m sad; I’m broken, I’m insecure. ... I considered taking my life. I considered taking me, my children. I was just like, ‘I don’t want to leave a legacy of suicide to them, so maybe I should just take all of them.’ ... I was like, ‘Maybe I should take out these people who did me wrong and then take us out, and leave my husband here to figure it out, so that he can realize, ‘look what you did’” (“Mary Mary’s Tina Campbell,” TheGrio.com, Mar. 3, 2016). The violence was not limited to her thoughts. She used a hammer and scissors to destroy her husband’s car. In public testimony, Tina never acknowledged her worldly “after your own lusts,” 2 Timothy 3:3-4 lifestyle and her false charismatic theology as a possible factor in her depression. She was just a victim.
CCM artist Sheila Walsh, then co-host of Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, was hospitalized in 1992 and underwent psychiatric therapy, including drug treatment, because she was “wrestling with a disease of the mind.” She says that it is wrong to assume that “your behavior or a perverse lack of faith brought it on” (“Sheila Walsh Escapes the Darkness of Depression,” The 700 Club, n.d). She says that we should always say to those suffering from depression, “It’s not your fault” (“Sheila Walsh Thanks God Every Day for Her Mental Health Treatment,” Assist News Service, Oct. 21, 2015). She was diagnosed with severe clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, as if she had been in fierce military combat, and more than 20 years later Walsh continues on medication. Again, in her public testimonies there was no acknowledgement of the possibility that her ecumenical philosophy and worldly lifestyle, including her disobedient marriage to an immoral, divorced man, had anything to do with her mental condition.
We don’t know what really caused these women’s mental issues and depression, but we do know that it is wrong to leave out the possibility that sin and false teaching had anything to do with it.
Depression is often the result of alcohol and drug abuse.
Depression can also be caused by the sin of other people who effect me. “A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother” (Pr. 10:1).
We must look to our physical health.
Bad health can cause depression.
“Has it not often happened that dyspepsia has been mistaken for backsliding, and bad digestion has been set down as a hard heart?” (Spurgeon).
Spurgeon suffered terribly from gout, sometimes bedridden for weeks at a time, racked in pain. He said, “I have been brought very low. 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.”
Lack of sleep can cause depression. When I am tired, I am much more subject to depression. I have learned not to make decisions late at night. I know that things will look much darker then.
Lack of rest can cause depression. Some people need more rest than others. We need to understand ourselves and be wise with our lives, but we must also be careful not to pamper ourselves.
“It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less. On, on, on for ever, without recreation may suit spirits emancipated from this 'heavy clay', but while we are in this tabernacle, we must every now and then cry halt, and serve the Lord by holy inaction and consecrated leisure. Let no tender conscience doubt the lawfulness of going out of harness for a while” (Spurgeon).
Lack of physical exercise can cause depression. It is important to get regular physical exercise to keep the body as healthy as possible.
David Brainerd, famous missionary to the American Indians, tended toward great emotional extremes, sometimes feeling spiritual passion and love for God, but often being afflicted with dark depression. At least 22 times in his diary he expressed a wish for death. At the beginning of his Journal he wrote, “I was, I think, from my youth ... inclined rather to melancholy than the other extreme.” Doubtless Brainerd’s tuberculosis, which took his life at age 29, contributed to his depression.
I recall a preacher friend who had kidney failure and it brought him into a deep spiritual depression. He told me that whereas the Bible had been his delight, it now mocked him. When he had a successful kidney transplant, this condition was resolved.
We think of Eric Liddell, the famous Scottish Olympic runner who became a missionary to China and died in a Japanese prison camp. He was known to be an exceedingly cheerful person, but in his final sickness he was thrown into depression.
“In the evening especially, shortly before lights out in his room, the melancholy threatened to drown him. This wasn’t unusual among the men in his dorm as the war dragged on. What became noticeable, however, was that Liddell couldn’t shake himself out of it the next morning. His depression wouldn’t go away. ... The doctors mentioned the possibility of a ‘nervous breakdown’” (Duncan Hamilton, For the Glory).
It turned out that Liddell had a brain tumor. He soon had two strokes and died at age 43.
We must cry out to God for help.
“In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul” (Ps. 138:3).
“Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you” (1 Pe. 5:7-10).
“When I was racked some months ago with pain, to an extreme degree, so that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go from the room, and leave me alone; and then I had nothing I could say to God but this, 'Thou are my Father, and I am thy child; and thou, as a Father art tender and full of mercy. I could not bear to see my child suffer as thou makest me suffer, and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him, and put my arms under him to sustain him. Wilt thou hide thy face from me, my Father? Wilt thou still lay on a heavy hand, and not give me a smile from thy countenance?' ... So I pleaded, and I ventured to say, when I was quiet, and they came back who watched me: 'I shall never have such pain again from this moment, for God has heard my prayer.' I bless God that ease came and the racking pain never returned” (Spurgeon).
We must have the upward look.
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).
We must have the long look.
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Co. 4:17-18).
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Ro. 8:18).
We must understand that heaviness can be spiritually beneficial.
“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (Jas. 4:8-10).
We must keep our eyes upon God and our faith in His promises.
“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him” (Job 13:15).
“I am the subject of depression so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to. But I always get back again by this–I know that I trust Christ. I have no reliance but in Him, and if He falls, I shall fall with Him. But if He does not, I shall not. Because He lives, I shall live also, and I spring to my legs again and fight with my depressions of spirit and get the victory through it. And so may you do, and so you must, for there is no other way of escaping from it” (Spurgeon).
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