GOD – THE HOPE OF ALL HIS DOWNCAST CHILDREN
Even the most holy men and women of God have suffered from depression. As noted theologian T. Horton said long ago – “The mind, even of a holy man may be unduly cast down and disquieted.” In addition, many famous men and women were often plagued with “the blues.” Sorrow of mind, despair, sadness, unhappiness, melancholia, gloominess, and dejection – all synonyms for depression, has come on the greatest of personalities throughout time. Some of these people included Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, John Adams, and Queen Elizabeth II. In fact the list is so long, I have included a link to a [long] list of famous men and women who suffered from depression. Even the “crowned prince of preachers” – Charles Haddon Spurgeon, without doubt, among the most notable preachers of the Gospel in history, suffered from chronic depression.Concerning depression – including his, Spurgeon wrote –
“Knowing by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited therewith at seasons by no means few or far between, I thought it might be consolatory to some of my brethren if I gave my thoughts thereon, that younger men might not fancy that some strange thing had happened to them when they became for a season possessed by melancholy; and that sadder men might know that one upon whom the sun has shone right joyously did not always walk in the light. It is not necessary by quotations from the biographies of eminent ministers to prove that seasons of fearful prostration have fallen to the lot of most, if not all, of them.
The life of Luther might suffice to give a thousand instances, and he was by no means of the weaker sort. His great spirit was often in the seventh heaven of exultation, and as frequently on the borders of despair. His very deathbed was not free from tempests, and he sobbed himself into his last sleep like a greatly wearied child.”
Depression is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as – “severe despondency and dejection, especially when long-lasting; a mental condition characterized by severe feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy.” From the Latin – “deprimere” meaning – to “press down,” to “depress” means “to cause to feel utterly dispirited or dejected.” It also means – “to reduce the level of activity in (a system); push or pull down into a lower position.”
Thus, we see depression as being pushed or pressed down. Interestingly, we see this word – “pressed” employed by the Apostle Paul to describe their “troubles” in 2nd Corinthians chapter 1. “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.” [2Co_1:8]
How can an Apostle, or a preacher of the Gospel [or in the case of David as we read in the select verses above – a king and a prophet chosen by God Himself] fall into depression? It seems not only improbable, but also impossible that anyone who walks with God – especially as close as David did and the famous preachers of the Gospel as Spurgeon notes, can become depressed. Yet, much of our bewilderment about this fact of life is based on ignorance. That is, we are lacking in the knowledge of how God works in the lives of His chosen ones, including Israel and the Church. For those who do not know Christ one would consider depression to be the fitting result of sin. Still, how can this be with men and women of God?
In – “God’s Preachers Are Still Frail Humanity,” Rev. Spurgeon goes further to explain why depression at times visits even the preacher himself.
“Is it not first that they are men? Being men, they are compassed with infirmity and are heirs of sorrow. Grace guards us from much of this, but because we have not more of grace, we still suffer even from ills preventable. Ev en under the economy of redemption it is most clear that we are to endure infirmities; otherwise, there were no need of the promised Spirit to help us in them.
It is of necessity that we are sometimes in heaviness. Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others, that they may learn sympathy with the Lord’s suffering people, and so may be fitting shepherds of an ailing flock.
Disembodied spirits might have been sent to proclaim the Word; but they could not have entered into the feeling of those who, being in this body, do groan, being burdened.
Angels might have been ordained evangelists, but their celestial attributes would have disqualified them from having compassion on the ignorant.
Men of marble might have been fashioned, but their impassive natures would have been a sarcasm upon our feebleness and a mockery of our wants.
Men, and men subject to human passions, the all-wise God has chosen to be His vessels of grace; hence these tears, hence these perplexities and castings down.
These infirmities may be no detriment to a man’s career of special usefulness. They may even have been imposed upon him by divine wisdom as necessary qualification for his peculiar course of service.
Some plants owe their medicinal qualities to the marsh in which they grow; others to the shades in which alone they flourish. There are precious fruits put forth by the moon as well as by the sun. Boats need ballast as well as sail. A drag on the carriage wheel is no hindrance when the road runs downhill.
Pain has, in some cases, developed genius, hunting out the soul which otherwise might have slept like a lion in its den. Had it not been for the broken wing, some might have lost themselves in the clouds, some even of those choice doves who now bear the olive branch in their mouths and show the way to the ark.
Where in body and mind there are predisposing causes to lowness of spirit, it is no marvel if in dark moments the heart succumbs to them; the wonder in many cases is—and if inner lives could be written, men would see it so—how some ministers keep at their work at all and still wear a smile upon their countenances.
Grace has its triumphs still, and patience has it martyrs—martyrs nonetheless to be honored because the flames ki ndle about their spirits rather than their bodies and their burning is unseen of human eyes.”
Therefore, as Mr. Spurgeon wrote – “grace has its triumphs still.” With this, we turn to our texts, particularly the phrase – “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?” This inquiry is used three times in Psalms 42 – 43.
Obviously, it is a question, a query David answers for himself. Thus, he says – “I will yet praise him!” From this we glean the wisdom that in this world, in this life, nothing lasts forever. Whether good or evil, nothing we encounter lasts for eternity. Only that which we choose – God’s life, or Satan’s death endures. Therefore, in addition to the joy we can expect in the world to come for having been chosen by Christ and ordained to eternal life through faith in Him, we can take solace that no evil lasts forever in this life.
First, God will not permit it. 1Cor 10:13 – “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
Second, the nature of the temporal world is transience. Nothing lasts forever except God and His love. We know love remains. It will never be corrupted or destroyed.
David wrote of his [own] downcast soul, and in so doing, being moved of course by the Holy Spirit to do so, he offers hope to all who are downcast or dejected in spirit. It seemed fitting to consult Mr. Spurgeon on this text, not only because he was a consummate preacher and theologian, but also because he was under the dark cloud of depression so frequently.
“Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” As though he were two men, the Psalmist talks to himself. His faith reasons with his fears, his hope argues with his sorrows. These present troubles, are they to last forever? The rejoicings of my foes, are they more than empty talk? My absence, from the solemn feasts, is that a perpetual exile? Why this deep depression, this faithless fainting, this chicken-hearted melancholy? As Trapp says, “David chideth David out of the dumps;” and herein he is an example for all desponding ones. To search out the cause of our sorrow is often the best surgery for grief. Self-ignorance is not bliss; in this case it is misery. The mist of ignorance magnifies the causes of our alarm; a clearer view will make monsters dwindle into trifles.
“Why art thou disquieted within me?” Why is my quiet gone? If I cannot keep a public Sabbath, yet wherefore do I deny my soul her indoor Sabbath? Why am I agitated like a troubled sea, and why do my thoughts make a noise like a tumultuous multitude? The causes are not enough to justify such utter yielding to despondency. Up, my heart! What aileth thee? Play the man, and thy castings down shall turn to liftings up, and thy disquietudes to calm. “Hope thou in God.” If every evil be let loose from Pandora’s box, yet is there hope at the bottom. This is the grace that swims, though the waves roar and be troubled. God is unchangeable, and therefore his grace is the ground for unshaken hope. If everything be dark, yet the day will come, and meanwhile hope carries stars in her eyes; her lamps are not depende nt upon oil from without, her light is fed by secret visitations of God, which sustain the spirit.
“For I shall yet praise him.” Yet will my sighs give place to songs, my mournful ditties shall be exchanged for triumphal paeans. A loss of the present sense of God’s love is not a loss of that love itself; the jewel is there, though it gleams not on our breast; hope knows her title good when she cannot read it clear; she expects the promised boon though present providence stands before her with empty hands.
“For I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.” Salvations come from the propitious face of God, and he will yet lift up his countenance upon us. Note well that the main hope and chief desire of David rest in the smile of God. His face is what he seeks and hopes to see, and this will recover his low spirits, this will put to scorn his laughing enemies, this will restore to him all the joys of those holy and happy days around which memory lingers. This is grand cheer. This verse, like the singing of Paul and Silas, looses chains and shakes prison walls. He who can use such heroic language in his gloomy hours will surely conquer. In the garden of hope grow the laurels for future victories, the roses of coming joy, the lilies of approaching peace.”
Let us all look for the smile of God! That demeanor of His beautiful countenance that says – “You shall yet praise Me!” Let us pursue for the beam that speaks of better days to come. Surely – they shall come! For He is the health of my countenance! Jer_17:14 Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for Thou art my praise!