Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure

Book Review
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SPIRITUAL DEPRESSION: Its Causes and Cure by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes spiritual illnesses that can cause unhappiness or unfruitfulness in Christians and prescribes a biblical cure. This review was written by Hank Griffith of South Suburban Evangelical Free Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota. This book is good for everyone who struggles with depression and struggles in their faith.

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Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899–1981) was a Welsh  preacher and medical doctor who was influential in the British evangelical movement during the twentieth century. He was especially known for his expository preaching, which drew several thousand worshippers to the weekly morning and evening services at Westminster Chapel in London where he served as pastor for almost 30 years.


Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure consists of 21 sermons, each dealing with a different issue that causes unhappiness or unfruitfulness or both in the Christian life. The author is truly a doctor of the soul. In each sermon he diagnoses the spiritual illness, then prescribes a biblical cure. His prescriptions are insightful applications of the Word of God to real issues.

His sermons are theological without using lots of complicated theological terminology. I would describe them as rational – you really have to follow his line of thinking. I would also describe them as practical – if you put them into practice, they will really help you with the issue at hand. Some of what he says at first seems common sense. In fact, as I read this 300-page book, I would find myself reflecting, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Or, “Why couldn’t I have expressed it that way?” (I supposed that’s what distinguishes a great preacher from the rest of us!)


The relevance of  Lloyd-Jones’ sermons today in the United States decades after they were first preached in the UK can be explained by what he says in the introduction of one of the sermons:

“The Bible is a Book which has been written in order that God’s people may be helped in this world. That is especially true of the New Testament Epistles, which were all written because of some situation that had arisen in the churches, and the way to understand their message is not to think of a man writing a thesis in his study. On the contrary, the Apostle Paul was an evangelist, a man who traveled about, and he generally wrote because of some trouble that had arisen, and in order to help people to understand the cause of their trouble and the way to overcome it. So he dealt with the possible causes as they arose, and we can be quite certain that there is no cause of spiritual depression today that is not dealt with in the Epistles. The ills of the spiritual life are always the same, they never vary. The appearances differ, the particular guise in which the trouble may appear may vary, but the cause of it all is the devil and he never varies in his ultimate objective.”


Each sermon in the book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure is an exposition of a passage of Scripture that the preacher uses as a cure for a particular problem. In addition to the text, he refers to other related Bible verses, and also occasional true stories from his ministry, though in comparison to many American preachers, he doesn’t use many illustrations.


Some of the spiritual problems that the Good Doctor treats include being held in bondage to guilt over past sins, vain regrets over the wasted years before coming to Christ, fear of the future, deception by false teaching, relying on feelings, failing to truly comprehend that salvation is by grace, uneasiness caused by life’s circumstances, bondage to legalism, becoming weary in well doing, little fruit resulting from a lack of discipline in the Christian life, feeling overwhelmed by the trials of life, lack of peace because of the worries of life, and so on.

Let me close this review with a few specifics from the sermon “Mind, Heart, and Will.” It is based on Romans 6:17 (KJV): “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered to you.” (The ESV renders it “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.”)

Lloyd-Jones declares that the particular disease he is treating in this chapter comes in many forms. Here’s one example: “The kind of person who thinks that once you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ all your problems are left behind and that the rest of the story will be ‘they lived happily ever after.’ It is certain that sooner or later this person will suffer from spiritual depression.”


The preacher reminds us that from the moment we become Christians, we become the special object of Satan’s attention. He points out that Paul, in our text Romans 6:17, emphasizes the wholeness of the Christian life. It is a life in which one has ‘obeyed’ (the will) ‘from the heart’ (the emotions) and ‘the form of doctrine’ (the mind). All three are important and must be kept in balance or there will be problems.

Spiritual depression or unhappiness in the Christian life is very often due to our failure to realize the greatness of the gospel. For example, some Christians think of the gospel as merely a message of forgiveness. Others think of the gospel as just a matter of morality. Still others are attracted to its theology, arguments, and discussions, but it doesn’t touch their behavior at all. And still others emphasize the emotional experience and nothing else, thus having no roots to deal with real-life issues.


Lloyd-Jones believes some people are persuaded by an evangelist or a friend to take up Christianity. He believes we should abolish the word ‘decision.’ This kind of Christianity is contradicted by the text and experience. If someone makes a decision to be a Christian without being truly converted, later on Satan will cause them to have doubts, and they have no basis to deal with them. “Let me sum up this point by putting it like this. These are the people who decide to take up Christianity instead of being taken up by Christianity. They have never known this feeling of constraint, this feeling of, ‘I can do no other, so help me, God.’”


Lloyd-Jones ends his sermon on “Mind, Heart, and Will” by declaring, “The heart is always to be influenced through the understanding – the mind, then the heart, then the will. … But God forbid that anyone should think that it ends with the intellect. It starts there, but it goes on. It then moves the heart, and finally the man yields his will. He obeys, not grudgingly or unwillingly, but with the whole heart. The Christian life is a glorious life that takes up and captivates the entire personality. O may God make us balanced Christians, men and women of whom it can be said that we are obviously, patiently obeying from the heart the form of doctrine that has been delivered to us.”



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