Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

Three Authors

J. I. Packer writes a chapter introducing Baxter. Michael Lundy is a clinical psychiatrist who has modernized two texts of Baxter on the subject of depression. Richard Baxter was a Puritan with many pastoral interests, but one of his primary concerns was to relieve depression, as reflected in two of his addresses on the subject published together in this book, together with a shorter essay in the appendix.

The Authors’ Definition

The books provides a dictionary definition of depression:

A recent dictionary defines depression as “a state of extreme dejection or morbidly excessive melancholy; a mood of hopelessness and feelings of inadequacy, often with physical symptoms such as loss of appetite, insomnia, etc.”

But it then supplies J I Packer’s extensive and vivid definition:

Fretful heaviness seizes the mind, sometimes slowing it down to a point of virtual paralysis where thought ceases, sometimes driving it into unfruitful randomness, or a fixed attitude of gloom, or an incessant harping on things felt to be incurably wrong. Depressed persons feel themselves isolated and distant from others— even their nearest and dearest— and from projects in which hitherto their hearts had been fully engaged. Conduct may become eccentric, randomness or inaction may set in, focused creativity may fade away, or sadness may become habitual. Feelings of anxiety, worthlessness, and hopelessness develop, and defensive pessimism takes over. Upset by others’ cheerfulness, the depressed may seem cross-grained and combative. Some depressions are cyclical, low points in bipolar mood swings, where they may be followed by bursts of energetic overconfidence. What medication can do to modify these extremes varies from person to person.

The Authors’ Aims

Why did Packer and Lundy write this book? They wrote it for two reasons.

1. They want Christians “to live as far as possible in the outgoing love, stability, and joy— along with patience, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control—that form the moral profile of Jesus Christ in his disciples. We see such living as true human flourishing, and the promotion of it as central to all forms of pastoral care, church worship and fellowship, personal therapy, and Christian family life. And we see depression in all its forms as a prima facie obstruction to this, in which Satan regularly has a hand.”

2. They believe that mental and emotional thorns in the flesh, such as depression, “may become means of spiritual advance that would not otherwise take place..”

3. “We believe that greater wisdom in this matter than we are used to is found in the pastoral heritage of seventeenth-century Puritanism. Supreme here is the wisdom of Richard Baxter, who in his day was viewed and consulted as a top authority regarding ministry to Christians afflicted by what was then called “melancholy,” but would today be labeled depression. Our hope is that by presenting what Baxter wrote in this field we may contribute to wise pastoral care in Bible-believing, gospel-centered, Christ-honoring churches at this time.

The Authors’ Rejection

Packer and Lundy reject the idea of some Christians that depression in Christians is always a sign of unbelief or some other major sin.

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.