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Posts Tagged ‘puritans’

In my first post on Richard Baxter‘s The Cure of Melancholy, I laid out some of Baxter’s practical tips for those in the throes and fog of depression. Now, I want to walk through his tips for those who are trying to help those struggling with depression. Again, he has some great thoughts for us.

1. As far as you can, avoid those things that displease them and cause them to stumble. He has some strong words for us husbands here:

A husband that hath a such a wife [one that is struggling] is obliged to do his best to cure her, both in charity, and by his relatively bond, and for his own peace. It is a great weakness in some men, that if they have wives, who by natural passionate weakness, or by melancholy or infirmity, are willful and will not yield to reason, they show their anger at them to their further provocation. You took her in marriage for better and for worse, for sickness and health… Your passion and sourness towards a person that cannot cure her own unpleasing carriage, is a more unexcusable fault and folly than hers, who hath not the power of reason as you have. If you know any lawful thing that will please them in speech, in company, in apparel, in rooms, in attendance, give it to them: if you know they are displeased, remove it.

2. Divert them and interrupt their drifting thoughts! I appreciate what he says here:

As much as you can, divert them from the thoughts which are their trouble; keep them on some other talks and business; break in upon them, and interrupt their musings; rouse them out of it, but with loving importunity; suffer them not to be long alone; get fit company to them, or them to it; especially, suffer them not to be idle, but drive or draw them to some pleasing works which may stir the body, and employ the thoughts. If they are addicted to reading, let it not be too long, nor any books that are unfit for them; and rather let another read to them than themselves.

He recommends books from Richard Sibbes, also recommended here by my friend and pastor.

3. Set the great truths of the gospel before them which align most with what they’re struggling with. Baxter encourages us to read them encouraging books.

4. Help them find a solid pastor both for counsel and to sit under their preaching.

5. Gently seek to convince them of how much it grieves God to doubt His love. Listen to Baxter’s thoughts here:

Labour to convince them frequently how great a wrong it is to the God of infinite love and mercy, and to a Saviour who hath so wonderfully expressed his love, to think hardlier of him than they would do of a friend, yea, or of a moderate enemy; and so hardly to be persuaded of that love which has been manifested by the most stupendous miracle. Had they but a father, husband, or friend, that had ventured his life for them, and given them all that ever they had, were it not a shameful ingratitude and injury to suspect still that they intended all against them, and designed mischief to them, and did not love them?

6. Introduce them to strangers and strange company. This is an interesting suggestion to say the least! I think part of Baxter’s heart is to help folks struggling with depression to take their eyes off of themselves.

7. Engage them in comforting others that struggling more than they are. Why? Baxter’s thought and experience is that this will help them understand they are not alone in their struggle, that their struggle is not unique or incurable.

8. Do not neglect medicine! Depression may be just spiritual, might be just physical, or it might be both! Baxter encourages us to not rule out either.

The Cure of Melancholy is a great read and I highly recommend you read it, especially husbands. It should encourage us that depression and deep discouragement is nothing new and is not particular to our time and culture even. Baxter was dealing with same things in himself and in ministering to others almost 400 years ago!

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Depression is a very common struggle, even in the church in America. You might call that merely a blanket statement, but in my experience I’ve seen a number of brothers deal with deep discouragement and even more wives of husbands I know. I’ve seen my own wife struggle with the fog of deep discouragement and borderline depression. Personally, I’ve never battled it; I’m more of a thinker and less of a feeler. On top of that, a major weakness and sin in my life has been a lack of empathy for others. For most of my marriage, I feel like I have not been hugely helpful to my wife! I want to grow and God has been working on my heart, using my marriage, my kids, and a slowly growing understanding of the gospel. Countless times I have had to confess my lack of love and there are likely many more times my family has simply given me grace for my coldness and lack of compassion.

Out of my desire to learn and keep growing, I read through John Piper’s When the Darkness Does Not Lift. It’s a worthwhile read with an excellent closing chapter. However, in the book, Piper kept referencing another book, The Cure of Melancholy by Richard Baxter. I looked it up on my Kindle and bought and downloaded it for 99 cents! It didn’t take long for me to realize what a jewel this book is and what wisdom Baxter has for us even 400 years later! Baxter’s book on dealing with depression (melancholy) and discouragement is tremendously insightful, practical, and revealed that depression is not a new struggle. He lists a number of tips for those walking through depression:

1. Listen to folks wiser than yourself and believe them!

2. Trust that God is sovereign even over the purposes of Satan.

3. Avoid prolonged times of thinking and prayer alone! (see quote below)

4. Do not spend much time alone! (see quote below)

Avoid your musings, and exercise not your thoughts now too deeply, nor too much. Long meditation is a duty to some, but not to you, no more than it is a man’s duty to go to church that hath his leg broken, or his foot out of joint: he must rest and ease it till it be set again, and strengthened. You may live in the faith and fear of God, without setting yourself to deep, disturbing thoughts. Those that will not obey this counsel, their friends must rouse them from their musings, and call them off to something else. Therefore you must not be much alone, but always in some pleasing, cheerful company: solitariness doth but cherish musings. Nor must such be long in secret prayer, but more in public prayer with others.

5. As much as you can, think on these things:

  • The infinite goodness of God
  • Christ’s immeasurable love for you and how that love is demonstrated in His redemption and sacrifice
  • God’s offer of grace and free covenant
  • The awesome love and joy which we have in Christ and God has promised.

Do not be given over to complaining but talk of these things. Be honest but run to the gospel in conversations.

6. When you pray, resolve to spend much of that time in thanksgiving and praising God!

7. Do not entertain the thoughts and lies and temptations of Satan nor be troubled by them. Ask for help from trusted friends when losing the battle against these thoughts!

8. Be encouraged that you are even wrestling with sin and the weight of it. This reflects the heart of a believer, not an unbeliever outside of His love. Baxter says this:

Again, still remember what a comfortable evidence you carry about with you that your sin is not damning, while you feel that you love it not, but hate it, and are weary of it. Scarce any sort of sinners have so little pleasure in their sins as the melancholy, nor so little desire to keep them; and only beloved sins undo men.

9. Avoid idleness but seek to work hard. Baxter is not saying to avoid rest or downtime altogether but that idleness is dangerous.

One more immensely practical thought from Baxter for the depressed:

I would give you this advice, that instead of long meditation, or long secret prayer, you will sing a psalm of praise to God, such as the twenty-third, or the one hundred and thirty-third. This will excite your spirit to that sort of holy affection which is much more acceptable to God, and suitable to the hopes of a believer, that your repining troubles are.

I highly recommend this short read and thank God for Richard Baxter, who is known for having been a very practical and a powerful preacher of the gospel in the early 1600s. I want to leave a final sobering thought for those of us whom the fog of depression rarely if ever invades. If you are reading this and struggling with depression, please stop reading, this last note is not for you! Most of us are not dealing with the deep fog that depression can be. Most of us, like me, are dealing with discouragement or discontentment from something else…

The more pleasure you have in sin, usually the more sorrow it will bring you; and the more you know it to be sin, and conscience tells you that God is against it, and yet you will go on, and bear down conscience, the sharper will conscience afterwards afflict you,

Sin does not bring me joy but pain and death. It may bring temporary pleasure, but it won’t last. Much of my wrestling with discouragement is my own battle to let go of sin and cling to greater joy in Christ. In my next post, I’ll delve more into Baxter’s thoughts on how to help others who are wrestling with depression or deep discouragement.

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