Pastoral Treatment of Depression from 1680

Richard Baxter preached The Cure of Melancholy and Overmuch Sorrow, by Faith in 1680. In essences this sermon was his biblical appoarch to dealing and curing depression.

First, he says one of the problems could be a conscience problem. It could be people feel guilty. If you’re violating your conscience in any way, if there’s sin involved, sin can make you depressed. Guilt can make you depressed, and the only way to deal with a conscience, that part of depression, is to decide whether this is true guilt or false guilt.

So you go to the Bible and see whether you are really violating God’s will, or are you just feeling guilty because your mother told you never to do that? You have to decide the difference between true and false guilt. You’ll never know the difference between true and false guilt unless you’re able to go to the Word of God and unless you believe in revelation. He says that might be one cause for depression.

On the other hand, he says there’s another cause, and that is it could be the person has physical problems. Even in 1680, he said there can be physical distempers that can overthrow the heart and overthrow the emotions. What he knows and what he means is there are all sorts of things that can go wrong. We know better than he did. There are all sorts of things that can go wrong with your brain, with your brain chemistry, with the chemistry in your body that can create depression that needs medication and that needs that balance to be reinstated.

Thirdly, Baxter goes on and says, not only that; there may be psychological problems. He says you could have a shock, a grief shock. You could lose a loved one, and the way he puts it is you could have such a terrible shock the mind just sort of shuts down because it can only take in so much at a time.

Lastly, he says there can be a demonic approach. He says, in some cases, he has spoken to people who are finding a stream of blasphemous and violent thoughts just coming through their mind they can’t seem to stop. They turn around, and they say, “I must be an awful person to think that.”

He looks at them, and he says, “I don’t see either a spiritual, psychological, or physical cause for this; therefore, I think what you need to do is you need to realize they’re from the Evil One. You need to realize they’re really not coming out of your heart. God has forgiven you. Don’t be afraid he’s going to cast you off. What you need to do is resist the thoughts, and we need to pray until they go away.”

Here’s what’s interesting about Baxter. He says if the depression is caused by sin, you need to repent. If the depression is caused by physical problems, you need to get your diet balanced and maybe have some medication. If your depression is caused because of shock, you just need gentle love and support. If your depression is caused by demonic activity, you need tremendous prayer, and you need to resist the Devil.

Then he goes so far as to say, in most cases, depression actually has more than one, maybe two, three, or four of these things all involved, and you have to find the key things and deal with them in a multi-dimensional way. When I read books on depression, sometimes even the Christian books, people have a tendency to say, “It’s physiological. Take them to a doctor.” Or they say, “It’s all psychological. All they need is support.” Some of the legalistic books say, “It’s always sin. Just tell them to repent.” Some of the superstitious books say, “It’s always the demons. Just cast them out.”

That’s not the way the Bible goes. The Bible is the least simplistic diagnostic manual for your problems and for the problems of the world. Paul says, “We wrestle not only with flesh and blood.” Until you understand that, until you get that down, you’re going to be defeated. You’re not going to see how many fronts on which the battle is going on.