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

After introductory essays by J. I. Packer and Michael Lundy, this book the presents modernized text of Richard Baxter’s writings on depression. The first is “Directions to the Melancholy about Their Thoughts,” the second is “The Cure of Melancholy and Overmuch Sorrow, by Faith,” and the third is on “The Duty of Physicians.”

In the first, Baxter lists no less than 35 symptoms of depression, all of which are related to the spiritual aspect of depression. It’s an astonishingly detailed and accurate insight into the spiritual dimension of depression. I’ve never come across a more insightful x-ray of the depressed mind and soul of the depressed Christian.

Some of the most striking are:

19. Their perplexed thoughts are like unraveled yarn or silk, or like a man in a maze or wilderness, or one who has lost his way in the night. He is looking and groping about, and can make little of anything. He is bewildered, confused, and entangled even more, filled with doubts and difficulties, out of which he cannot find the   way.

22. [Depressed] individuals have lost the power of controlling their thoughts by reason. If you convince them that they should reject their self-perplexing, unprofitable thoughts and turn their thoughts to other subjects or simply be at rest, they cannot obey you. They are under a compulsion or constraint. They cannot push out their troublesome thoughts; they cannot redirect their minds; they cannot think about love and mercy. They can think of nothing but that on which they do think, as a man with a toothache can think only of his pain.

34. Few of them respond positively to any reason, persuasion, or counsel. If it does seem to satisfy, quiet, and cheer them for the moment, the next day they are just as bad as before. It is the nature of their illness to think the way they do. Their thoughts are not cured, because the underlying disease itself remains uncured.

35. Yet in all this distress, few of them will believe that they are depressed, and they hate being told that they are. They insist it is merely a rational sense of unhappiness from being forsaken and under the heavy wrath of God. Therefore, they can hardly be persuaded to take any medication or use other means for the cure of their bodies. They maintain that they are well, being confident that it is only their souls that are distressed.

What’s so helpful about Baxter’s list is that depressed Christians can so readily identify with it. It rings true in their experience. They read it and say, “He gets it. He understands me,” thus making them willing to consider his prescriptions and directions. He obviously had sat with many depressed people and listened so long and so carefully that he could eventually articulate their experience even better than they could. What a door-opener to the reception of his counsel!

How should we respond to Christians with depression? Baxter urges pity and sympathy.

This is the miserable case of these unfortunate people, greatly to be pitied and not to be despised by anyone. I have spoken here only what I myself have frequently observed and known. Let no one look down on these individuals; persons of all sorts fall into this misery: educated and illiterate, high and low, good and bad, as well as some who previously lived in decadent self-seeking and sensuality until God made them aware of their foolishness.

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