I had forgotten one of the reasons I love Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ preaching–his straight-forward, systematic, logical statement of things. Lloyd-Jones marches through an argument, assembling texts and data the way you’d expect a physician to assemble test results in forming a diagnosis and treatment. In fact, Dr. Lloyd-Jones described his own preaching in much the same way:
I started with the man whom I wanted to listen, the patient. It was a medical approach really–here is a patient, a person in trouble, an ignorant man who has been to quacks, and so I deal with all that in the introduction. I wanted to get the listener and then come to my exposition. [Typical Welsh preachers] started with their exposition and ended with a bit of application. (see Ian Murray’s, D. Martin Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, pp. 146-147)
So, we should not be surprised that the opening two chapters in Lloyd-Jones’ great work, Spiritual Depression, begin with the clinician’s approach. Chapter 1, “General Consideration,” gives us a basic overview spiritual depression. Using Psalm 42:5, 11 as his text, Lloyd-Jones provides two reasons for the importance of the topic: (1) “for the sake of those who are in this condition, in order that they may be delivered from unhappiness, this disquiet, this lack of ease, this tension, this troubled state…” and (2) “for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the glory of God” (p. 11). Here we see the preacher’s dual focus–help the people and advance the kingdom of our Lord. Those two aims should motivate any sermon.
With this as his stated aim, Lloyd-Jones moves on to consider the general causes of spiritual depression.
1. “First and foremost I would not hesitate to put–temperament” (p. 14).
2. “Let us pass to the second big cause–physical conditions” (p. 18).
3. “Another frequent cause of spiritual depression is what we may describe as a reaction–a reaction after a blessing, a reaction after some unusual and exceptional experience” (p. 19).
4. “Then we come to the next cause. In a sense, and in the last analysis, that is the one and only cause of spiritual depression–it is the devil, the adversary of our souls” (p. 19).
5. “Indeed I can put it, finally, like this: the ultimate cause of all spiritual depression is unbelief” (p. 20).
My aim in these posts is not to give a full summary of the sermons (better that you read or listen to them personally). Rather, I’m trying to benefit my own soul by prayerful reflection on the sermons, some of which I’ll share from time-to-time on the blog. This isn’t morbid introspection–which Lloyd-Jones warns against–not is it lurid, detail exhibition–which we have too much of in the culture. But it’s one man thinking out loud about some aspects of his own soul, hoping those things I can share will be a help and encouragement to others. So here goes….
I’m certain that I’ve experienced spiritual languish at various seasons for each of these causes. Of the five general causes Lloyd-Jones mentions, the first probably rang loudest to my soul.
I know that my own fight for a more expressive joy involves a fight against myself, against my “wiring.” In temperament, I tend toward seriousness, quiet, and reflection. Moreover, I’m an introvert. I love people (a definite work of Christ in my life), but I lose rather than gain energy in social interactions (unlike my lovely wife who grows stronger and stronger the more people time she meets. Never go to the grocery store with the woman!). Lloyd-Jones’ inclusion of temperament reminds us we’re different kinds of people. Some of us have natural temperaments that predispose us to spiritual depression. As the Doctor points out, “temperament, psychology and make-up do not make the slightest difference in the matter of our salvation;… we are all saved the same way, by the same act of God in and through His Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ…” but our temperament “does make a very great difference in actual experience in the Christian life” (p. 15).
That’s helpful application (and a helpful model of application in preaching). We sometimes imagine Christians to be more or less the same kind of being. We imagine that anyone saved by the grace of God ought to be joyful and basically impervious to spiritual depression. While we might expect that Christians “ought to be joyful,” we should not expect that Christians “ought to naturally be joyful.” That little word “naturally” presupposes the same basic temperament for all Christians. But in truth we come in a variety of temperaments, which means that some will have to fight their nature for consistent and expressive joy. It also means that expressions of joy will vary in type and intensity from Christian to Christian. Lloyd-Jones’ simple acknowledgement of differing personalities allows more of his audience and readers to see their place in the Christian family and it empathizes with their fight for joy.
Lloyd-Jones points out that the existence of varying temperaments means “there is nothing which is quite so important as that we should without delay, and as quickly as possible, get to know ourselves” (p. 15). Men are not machines and we do not face life with the same experiences, backgrounds, talents, or personalities. The difficulties, problems, and perplexities we face “are in a large measure determined by the difference of temperament and type.” He asks us to ask ourselves: “Do we know ourselves? Do we know our own particular danger? Do we know the thing to which we are particularly subject?” (pp. 17-18).
Those, I find, are important questions. If we find ourselves repeatedly tripped up into spiritual depression, it may indicate we’re not familiar with our own hearts and states of mind. We may not be familiar enough with how our temperaments enhance or inhibit our joy. Do we know makes us tick, and what makes us stick? That’s the first step in fighting for joy. And it’s a good first step because it allows us to build walls and fences, keeping the good in and the problematic out. “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control” (Prov. 25:28). If we don’t know ourselves, we can’t control ourselves. And like an unfortified city, we’re subject to be over-run by every emotion and spiritual state, including spiritual depression. When I’m attentive to myself, to my state of mind and my emotional reactions, I’m far better able to protect myself from unwanted depressions and to live in a more consistent and expressive joy.
I also benefited from Lloyd-Jones’ discussion of the second big cause–physical condition. In short, I need to take better care of myself physically by eating well, exercising, and resting. No question: When I’m in poor shape, I feel it spiritually. When I’m in better shape, I feel better. I don’t need to prolong this point; I need to get outside and exercise!
So, I’m already thankful for Lloyd-Jones’ Spiritual Depression. I’m reminded of some issues I need to address, and see some solutions I want to apply. Looking forward to more prayerful reading of these sermons.
Of the five things Lloyd-Jones identifies, what would be the area of greatest concern for you?