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Benefits of Depression

Thought this might be an encouragement to any who suffer from occasional or chronic depression. Written by Pastor Robert Cosand of Bethel Baptist Church; St. Clair Shores, Michigan.

THE BENEFITS OF DEPRESSION Lessons from the life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon

C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) is often referred to as the 'prince of preachers'. He was, without question, the premier preacher in England in the nineteenth century. For 38 years he was the pastor of only one church, Metropolitan Tabernacle, a Baptist church in London. During his ministry, he was a phenomenal success by most standards of assessment. 5,000 people worshipped at the Tabernacle each Sunday. 25,000 copies of his sermons were sold each week, in 20 languages, resulting in regular conversions from people simply reading them. On his 50th birthday a list was read of 66 organizations that he founded and conducted, including a pastors' college which trained nearly 900 men for the ministry. He produced 140 books and today his collected sermons fill 63 volumes.

We would not think of an incredible man like Spurgeon when we think of the subject of depression, but he experienced great bouts of depression and bore many trials in his short life of 57 years. He suffered from gout, rheumatism and Bright's disease (an inflammation of the kidneys) and these maladies caused him to miss one third of his Sunday sermons for the last 20 years of his ministry. His wife, Susannah, became an invalid at age 33, and seldom was able to hear her husband preach for the next 27 years until his death. After withdrawing from the Baptist Union in 1887 because of its increased doctrinal laxity (it is known as the ‘downgrade controversy’), he was publicly censured by that Union the next year.

In addition to these troubles, Spurgeon was given to fits of depression throughout his life and worked through them and learned from them. This makes him an able teacher for us in our times of sorrow and gloom. After the first experience with depression, at age 24, he wrote, "My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for. Causeless depression cannot 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." How could a man persevere through such inner struggles of soul and still have so productive and stirring a life as he enjoyed?

Some great lessons for us can be derived from his life. Spurgeon saw his depression as the design of God for the good of his ministry and the glory of Christ. Of his trials he said:

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.

I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost fit 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.

For Spurgeon, the notion of the sovereignty of God was not fodder for theological debate . . . it was the means of survival.

He also saw depression as a means of softening his heart toward the suffering of others and equipping him to speak effectively to their needs. He taught his ministerial students to not be afraid of their dark emotions because those experiences made them better ministers. And so it is with us all.

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 sorrow 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.

This is certainly what Paul meant when he spoke of calling on the God of all comfort so we would be able "to comfort others with the comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted by God" (2 Cor 1:4).

Spurgeon nurtured his soul by communion with Christ through prayer and meditation. He warned his students to be diligent in their private fellowship with God.

Never neglect your spiritual meals, or you will lack stamina and your spirits will sink. Live on the substantial doctrines of grace, and you will outlive and outwork those who delight in the pastries of 'modern thought.'

We all have struggles within ourselves which cause us great heartache. We all experience times of 'shapeless, undefinable' depression . . . sometimes without obvious cause. Let us be encouraged that our God fills our bitter cup for grand purposes that we cannot always see . . . that such heartache humbles us and sensitizes our hearts toward the suffering of others . . . that the benefits of sorrows are one hundred fold compared with the lessons of pleasure. We do not welcome depression . . . we do not seek suffering. But when it comes our way, beloved, let us not neglect the sweet communion with our Savior through prayer and meditation on His Word. It is there, sitting at our Savior’s feet, that we come to realize that even depression is part of God’s wondrous plan, as He weaves His mysterious threads through our lives. Listen to three verses of William Cowper's great hymn "God Moves In a Mysterious Way" . . .

Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill God treasures up His bright designs, and works His sovereign will.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.

-- Pastor J. R. Cosand

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