The Puritans and Mental Illness

“Depression is simply a modern idea dreamt up by God-defying psychiatrists, soul-denying psychologists, money-making drug companies, and blame-shifting sinners.”

Thought it?

You’ve almost certainly heard it.

However, depression has been around for much longer than you might think, and it has been accepted as genuine and treated seriously by some of the greatest Christian experts in soul care that God has ever given to His church – the Puritans. Yes, way back then, in days of spiritual revival and reformation, these spiritual giants and geniuses had deep insights into depression’s causes and cures that we would do well to learn from.

Richard Baxter, for example, wrote The Cure for Melancholy and Overmuch Sorrow, By Faith.

“Ah-ha! See. By faith. They saw it as a spiritual problem with a spiritual cure! So much for the Puritans backing up your modern theories.”

Read on, my friend. For sure, most of Baxter’s book is taken up with describing and curing spiritual depression. However, he does this only after carefully distinguishing spiritual depression (which is cured by faith) from physical depression (which is cured “by physic,” or as we would say, “by medicine”). In fact he has a whole section on “Medical care for those with depression” which we’ll get to tomorrow.

Causes and cures
Baxter asks, “What are the causes and cure of melancholy?” and answers:

“With many people most of the cause is in distemper, weakness, and disease of the body, and by it the soul is greatly disabled to any comfortable sense. But the more it comes from such natural necessity, it is the less sinful, and less dangerous to the soul, but still just as troublesome.”

He then goes on to identify “three diseases that cause too much sorrow.”

  • Those that consist in such violent pain as natural strength is unable to bear.
  • A natural passion, and weakness of that reason that should quiet passion (often seen in the elderly or debilitated).
  • When the brain and imagination are impaired, and reason partly overthrown by the disease called melancholy, or depression.

Baxter then goes on to list the signs and symptoms of this third category of disease.

Symptoms of clinical/medical depression
1. The trouble and disquiet of the mind becomes a settled habit. They can see nothing but matter of fear and trouble. All that they hear or do feeds it…In a word, fears, and troubles, and almost despair, are the constant temper of their minds.

2. If you convince them that they have some evidences of Christian sincerity, and that their fears are causeless, they may not disagree, and yet it does not take the trouble away, for the cause remains in their bodily disease.

3. Their misery is so much that they cannot but think of it. You may almost as well persuade a man not to shake in an fever, or not to feel when he is pained, as persuade them to cast away their self-troubling thoughts, or not to think all the enormous, confounding thoughts as they do, they cannot get them out of their heads night or day.

4. And when they are grown to this, they often seem to feel a voice within saying this or that to them, and they will not believe how much of it is a diseased imagination.

5. In this case they often think they have had revelations from God, often confusing Scripture or falsely applying it, and sometimes taking up errors in religion.

6. But the sadder, better sort, feeling this talk and stir within them, are sometimes apt to be confident that they are possessed by the devil

7. Most of them are violently haunted with blasphemous suggestions of ideas about God or Scripture, at which they tremble, and yet cannot keep them out of their mind.

8. When it is far gone, they are tempted to lay some law upon themselves never to speak more, or not to eat, and some of them starved themselves to death.

9. And when it is far gone, they often think that they have apparitions or some spirit touched or hurt them.

10. They avoid company, and can do nothing but sit alone and muse.

11. They cast off all business, and will not be brought to any diligent labour in their callings.

12. And when it comes to extremity, they are weary of their lives, sometimes become strongly tempted to take their own lives, which, alas, too many have done.

13. And if they escape this, when it is ripe, they become quite distracted.

Medical cures?
Tomorrow we will look at the cures Baxter suggests for this kind of melancholy, but note that at least part of it is medical. He says: “Choose a physician who is specially skilled in this disease, and has cured many others.” He advises against consulting “young, unexperienced men” and “hasty, busy, over-worked men, who cannot have time to study the patient’s temper and disease, but choose experienced, cautious men.”

UPDATE: Here’s The Puritans on Medication for Mental Illness

This post is is a contribution to A conversation about faith and mental illness. If you click through, you’ll find links to a number of great posts by Adrian Warnock on this subject.

Other posts in this series:

7 Questions about suicide and Christians
Mental illness and suicide: the Church awakes
Pastoral thoughts on depression
The problem with “mental illness”
Double Dangers: Maximizing and Minimizing Mental Illness
A Medical Test for Mental Illness

Check out

Titus 2 Tuesday
Trillia Newbell interviews my wife, Shona, about being pregnant aged 45. She is now three days overdue!

The Feminist, Pro-Father, and Pro-child case against No-fault Divorce
“In this country you can come home from work and tell your spouse the marriage is over and he or she can do nothing but cry, and fight for the best financial payout possible. Try doing that with Verizon. Or while under contract to buy a home. Or with your gym membership. You’ll get laughed at. Eighty percent of divorces are unilateral. The legal sanctioning of human abandonment must end.”

Apprenticeships could help US workers gain a competitive edge
“Think of the approach as “college-plus.” The classroom courses that apprentices take are at least equal to community college offerings in their occupational tracks. But apprentices can immediately apply what they learn, benefit from employment-based advising and mentoring, and have a chance to gain and demonstrate skills such as reliability, teamwork and problem-solving — all while earning money instead of borrowing it.”

Sex after Christianity
Rod Dreher: “Gay marriage is not just a social revolution but a cosmological one.”

The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin
This looks like a fascinating book by one of the most remarkable women in the world.

Not “That”Kind of Housework
Why many contemporary women are embracing knitting, home cooking, and a variety of domestic arts.

The Badge of Honor

It’s easy to forget or ignore the fact that American soldiers are still being killed in foreign lands. Just last Saturday seven American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. Seven precious lives lost and multiple wives, sons, daughters, moms and dads devastated and damaged forever.

I was recently helped to pray anew for our military heroes by a poem my 15-year-old son, Angus, submitted to a poetry slam competition. He explains: “The point of the poem is to describe the ‘Eagle, Globe and Anchor,’ the golden badge that marine cadets receive when they graduate from boot cap after their grueling 54-hour final test. The marine’s struggles are recorded in the poem but it shows that throughout all the tests, the cadet kept going by keeping the image of that badge in his head.”

I’m afraid I couldn’t write a poem like this even if you gave me a million years. I’m also afraid that I could never be the hero of this poem. But I’m thankful to God that He’s still making such heroes in the USA. Semper Fidelis.

The Badge of Honor

The silver and gold circlet
Shining through the fog
As pinned on that military cloth
Like an ornament of the gods.

He’s been through many toils
Pain, sweat, and tears
Searching for that badge of honor
For many, many years.

Even on the range
That gilded badge was that man’s target
Shooting for it with all his might and skill
Wishing to secure it.

That badge kept him going
Through mental n’ physical pain
Because he knew that if he stayed strong
That famous badge would be his gain.

He spent all his strength
Fighting for the image of that bird
The motto of the freedom of his country
The screech of that eagle he heard.

The sphere was in the front of his mind
He could see the continents outlined in gold
And it seemed like the native land of his birth
Was the brightest on that globe.

That ancient tool of the sea
That kept great ships from dying
Was that anchor that was above his heart
Like a bright emblem flying.

He knew that all these attributes
Were now rolled into one
He was receiving that badge of honor
And would soon be going home.

But he knew that he would always be home
In the land of his birth and pride
He remembered all the souls of those
Who fought for that flag and died.

If anyone looked at that man’s heart
I know what you would see
That great flag, “In God we trust”
And a praying man on his knees.

He stood before his instructors
Who had shaped this young man’s life
As they approached this stalwart soul
For his country he would have died.

The leader that took that emblem
And slipped it from it’s case
Gave the smile that’s talked of legends
And came forth in slow haste.

Honorable and honored
Both courageous and caring
Loving then leaving
Disciplined with determination
Scared yet fearless
Courageous, heroic
Resilient and stoic
Fearless and focused
With integrity and trust
Obedient and ingenious
A team player nonetheless.

The circlet was pulled from its pouch
and pinned to that knight’s lapel
But at the same time that Warrior knew
To his heart it was now stapled.

The golden and the silver combined
Made that man’s heart swell with fervor
For he was the marine cadet
Who had just received the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor.

Unwashed hands and the Internet

One year ago I left the internet. I thought it was making me unproductive. I thought it lacked meaning. I thought it was “corrupting my soul.”

It’s a been a year now since I “surfed the web” or “checked my email” or “liked” anything with a figurative rather than literal thumbs up. I’ve managed to stay disconnected, just like I planned. I’m internet free.

And now I’m supposed to tell you how it solved all my problems. I’m supposed to be enlightened. I’m supposed to be more “real,” now. More perfect. 

But instead it’s 8PM and I just woke up. I slept all day, woke with eight voicemails on my phone from friends and coworkers. I went to my coffee shop to consume dinner, the Knicks game, my two newspapers, and a copy of The New Yorker. And now I’m watching Toy Story while I glance occasionally at the blinking cursor in this text document, willing it to write itself, willing it to generate the epiphanies my life has failed to produce.

I didn’t want to meet this Paul at the tail end of my yearlong journey.

So writes Paul Miller in his fascinating concluding article about this digital experiment which has ended up as a modern parable on Matthew 15:17-20.

“Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”

We can cut ourselves off from every potentially corrupting outside influence in the universe, but we can’t cut ourselves off from the corruption inside us. We can cut off one head, and seven others, even uglier, will appear. We can barricade our homes, churches, and schools against the “world,” and the “world” will still bubble up out of our hearts.

Unless we can find a way of creating a new heart.

Amazingly and gloriously and wonderfully, that’s exactly what God promised in both the Old and New Testament:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them (Ezek. 36:26-27).

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17).

Check out

A Biblical Basis for the Multi-ethnic Gospel
Multiple verses from the Psalms and prophets could be added.

The new legalism
How the push to be ‘radical’ and ‘missional’ discourages ordinary people in ordinary places from doing ordinary things to the glory of God. Along similar lines is The Radical Nature of a Quiet Life.

When can mother relax?
Kim Shay: “This is the reality of parenting; it’s a life long vocation. And we can be thankful for it, because it causes us to draw closer to God, and it gives us opportunity to grow.”

How should we teach our children about the Trinity
Here’s something I wrote on the same challenge: How can I explain the Trinity to a child?

21 skills of great preachers
“For most of my life, when sitting under a great preacher, I’ve taken dual sets of notes, including content on one list, and a separate set of notes on their communication skills. What have I discovered in these 40 years worth of notes? Here’s my summary.”

Want to talk to non-Christians?
Here are six tips from an atheist!

Top 60 Online Resources for Battling Porn

Previous posts in this series:  Top 200 Online Preaching ResourcesTop 200 Online Leadership Resources, and Top 300 Online Counseling Resources. Now, here’s the Top 60 Online Resources for battling Porn.

Usual disclaimer: Link does not imply full agreement or endorsement.

Raising a Pure Son In a Sex-Crazed World — We are THAT Family

The Bible and the Brain: Scripture strengthens neurological pathways

F.L.E.E.—A Strategy for Pursuing Sexual Purity – The Gospel Coalition Blog

A Warped Worldview: Another Moral Effect of Pornography | Al Mohler

Raising Kids in a Pornified Culture | Take Your Vitamin Z

How do you counsel a husband who has revealed a struggle with pornography to his wife? | Practical Shepherding

How do you counsel a wife who has been harmed by her husband’s struggle with pornography? | Practical Shepherding

The Science of Porn Addiction | Take your Vitamin Z

“What Do I Do If My Child Is Looking at Pornography?” | Biblical Counseling Coalition Blogs

Porn and the contemplative life | Joel Miller

Book Reviews: Sexual Sanity For Men | The Gospel Coalition

Why is Porn Addictive? | Covenant Eyes

I Get By With A Little Help From My Readers…-Housewife Theologian

Porn-Free Church: Sex, God, and the Gospel – The Gospel Coalition Blog

How to Confess the Sin of Pornography to Your Wife (And How Not To), Part 1 | Biblical Counseling Coalition Blogs

The Urban Gospel Mission – THE PORN GATEWAYS

Sex in the Media – The Price Our Kids Pay | Covenant Eyes

Pornopoly – The Gospel Coalition Blog

Counseling Single Men (and Men in General) Toward Lasting Freedom from Pornography | Covenant Eyes

Is bad sex killing the great commission? Between The Times

The Seduction of Pornography and the Integrity of Christian Marriage, Part One | Al Mohler

Fake Love, Fake War: Why So Many Men Are Addicted to Internet Porn and Video Games – Desiring God

D.A. Carson on Overcoming Porn Temptation | Take your Vitamin Z

Overcoming Sexual Sin (Video 1 of 9) | Brad Hambrick

Porn-Free Church | Free E-book for Pastors | Covenant Eyes

Raquel Welch Says Pornography “Annihilates” Men | Denny Burk

Take Your Vitamin Z: Teens and Porn: 10 Stats You Need To Know

Free E-book: Your Brain On Porn | Covenant Eyes | Covenant Eyes

Escaping pornography | The Briefing

Closing the Window | Challies Dot Com

Confessing Lust to Your Wife: How Detailed Should You Be? | Covenant Eyes

ANTHEM: Strategies for Fighting Lust – Desiring God

Piper, Keller & Carson on How the Gospel Helps Us Overcome Pornography – From Age to Age

Spiritual Healing in the Midst of a Husband’s Addiction to Pornography | Challies Dot Com

For Pastors Who Struggle with Pornography | Covenant Eyes

This Is Your Brain on Porn – Justin Taylor

Pornography and Gypsy Moths – Pure Church by Thabiti Anyabwile

The Weight of smut | First Things

Counting the costs | Warren Cole Smith

Girls Snared by Porn and Cybersex

Breaking Pornography Addiction – Part 1 | CCEFIt’s Not Just a ‘Guy Problem’

Break Pornography Addiction – Part Two | CCEF

The Brain on Lust 

Forgiving Your Spouse After Adultery

Sexual Sin in the Ministry

Counseling Stories

Confessing Lust to Your Wife: How Detailed Should You Be?

Hijacking the Brain — How Pornography Works

Breaking Pornography Addiction – Part 1

Discussing and Dealing with Pornography

Sexual Integrity Resources for Teens

Sex Before Marriage: How Far Is Too Far?