For those who battle depression, and for those who seek to care for them, Zack Eswine’s little book detailing Charles Spurgeon’s struggles will have value. Spurgeon suffered from deep depression for most of his life, and he was very open about his sorrows both in his sermons and writings. That a man of God, so greatly used of the Lord, so respected even to this day, lived often on the edge of despair can bring encouragement and insight to Christians today in similar dark pits.
The author, who has an amazing gift for turning a phrase, devotes Part One to trying to understand depression. Defining or understand depression is slippery: “Grief is depression in proportion to circumstance [while] depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance” Spurgeon proclaims. At times there are not identifiable causes for depression, yet Spurgeon learned from his own pain three things:
- As a sufferer or caregiver, we must take into account the body’s contribution to depression (some depression results from physical causes).
- Depression is not a sin. Sin can result from it, but depression itself is not sin.
- Depression is not unique to us. Many of the finest men and women of faith, found both in Scripture and throughout church history, have known depression (p. 37).
Part Two turns to helping those who suffer from depression. Many helpful suggestions are offered to counselors and caretakers that move them from trite, superficial advice to deeper understandings. Depression arises because of a loss of perspective and hope, sometimes even hope in God. Spurgeon experienced this loss and it became the reason he talked openly about his despair. He was no “dry-land sailor” he assured his audience (p. 89). In Spurgeon’s day scores of discouraged Christians turned to him because they knew he was a spiritual leader who could empathize with them.
Part Three provides practical and biblical aids in the battle against depression. Spurgeon promised that our God will either make “the burden lighter or the back stronger” (p. 105), and that “I have seen more in the dark than ever I saw in the light” (p. 138). Spurgeon exposition on Elijah’s desire for death (in the chapter on suicide) is a jewel. Elijah’s pain lied to him about his future, which was filled with blessing (p. 127).
Five take-aways summarized the theme of the book:
- The truest Christians can experience depression and desire death.
- The truest Christians can do foolish things.
- We must take great care before judging someone who tries to overcome miseries that we ourselves have never encountered.
- The doubting Christian is not God-forsaken.
- We are what we are by the grace of God (pp. 128-130).
Spurgeon’s Sorrows is not the final word on the subject of depression, but it offers encouragement and wisdom to those who are in its grip. It is also one more tool that might prove valuable to biblical counselors, caregivers, and family members who are trying to understand and help the depressed Christian.
by Zack Eswine (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2014) 143 pp, paper $9.99
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel