MLJ: General Considerations on Spiritual Depression

Introduction by me

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) lived 82 years from 1899 to 1981 and served as minister of Westminster Chapel in London for almost 30 of those years. He was first a physician but over time devoted more and more time to the ministry. He was known for his preaching ability which was replete with sound, biblical theology along with practical application.

This work, Spiritual Depression, was first published in 1965 and could be used as a manual for the Christian life. MLJ wanted to help Christians move out of such emotional states and enjoy more of their rightful inheritance of “peace and joy”. The book was based on a series of 24 sermons preached by MLJ. (summarized from book cover).

Chapter one General Considerations

Psalms 42:5 and 42:11

The Psalms are revelations of God’s truth in “terms of human experience”. We hear the inner struggles of God’s people, always the honest feelings. In Psalm 42, these verses reflect spiritual depression. David was unhappy in 42 and 43, in some form of trouble. This condition of spiritual depression was not confined to David’s day, but is common today. We are to look first at Bible teaching and then at principles from Biblical illustrations for the answers to such emotional turmoil. This is done to both help those in it and to prevent their depression from being a negative witness towards Christ (I wonder if this places more guilt on the already guilty conscious?).

As evidenced by Psalm 42, depression will ultimately been witnessed on our faces. The Psalmist cannot his emotions, even losing his appetite. As does the Psalmist, the depressed person should consider themselves as objectively as possible as motivation for coming out of depression (MLJ is urging self reflection, something very hard for the depressed to do, especially alone).

The first factor to consider is temperament. Though temperament plays no part in salvation, it can affect the Christian experience of life. For this reason, we should examine our own temperaments and how it affects the manifestations of our struggles. There are no universals, only nuances, but the categories of introverts and extroverts are worth studying. Introverts are more prone to depression, yet some of the church’s greatest figures were introverts. The difficulty for introverts is often not crossing the fine line between self examination and morbid introspection.

The second general factor concerns physical conditions of the person. For example, Charles Spurgeon’s gout weighed heavily upon him and played a part in his ongoing depression. Neither temperament nor physical conditions finally determine one’s emotions, but they interact as we are body, mind, spirit. While we cannot use physical conditions as excuse, we should make allowances for it in ourselves and others.

A third factor addresses how we respond after a spiritual high. Elijah after his confrontation with the Baal prophets exemplifies how one can quickly become despondent after a spiritual high.

The final factor in spiritual depression is no other than the Devil himself. Depression is an effect of the curse of the Fall. The Devil uses our temperaments and our physical conditions to harm us and lead us to depression. MLJ would then attribute all depression to unbelief in that we listen to the Devil rather than God. We listen to our circumstances.

In response, we combat spiritual depression by talking to ourselves rather than listening to ourselves. As the Psalmist does in these verses, we tell ourselves to “hope thou in God” and we praise Him. We in a sense defy all circumstance and feeling to praise God.

My commentary:

I respect MLJ’s insight as both a physician and a preacher. I agree with his overall assessment, but as one who has tasted depression and walked through it with close family members, he makes it sound easy. There are nuances and emphases I would add while still agreeing with his assessment and therapy.

The admonition that depression is a poor witness to Christianity is true, but one in the midst of depression may not be ready to hear that. It may add guilt to their already over-guilted, self-imposed burden. It is a good therapy, but must be applied at the right time to the right place. It seems a better therapy to prevent depression or to treat early depression before hopelessness and despair settle in.

The self-reflection that MLJ urges can be either productive or damaging as the depressed person is very prone to morbid introspection. I might venture to add that having someone to walk gently alongside them as a guide to self-examination could lessen this risk. This could be where many counselors and friends are called to enter a depressed Christian’s life and gently reflect a true view of the person rather than allow the depressed person’s own perceptions to over convict their conscious.

In the end, I heartily agree with the need to “talk to ourselves” with truth. Too often, we can allow circumstances and our emotions to overrule God’s promises for our lives. We doubt God’s Word applies to our circumstance. Again, this is where a fellow Christian can bend down to pick us up with gentle Words of truth. We should preach God’s Word to each other in season and out of season, but should avoid being preachy or self-righteous in that work of mercy. Only by God’s grace do any of us bear the fruits of the Spirit.

Spiritual Depression, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Granted Ministries Press, Hannibal, Missouri.

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