Concluding Thoughts on Martyn Lloyd Jones’ “Spiritual Depression”

September 30, 2016 1 comment

A follow-up to this previous post, now that I have completed reading this classic work, with some observations.  As Dan Phillips noted, Charles Spurgeon from the previous century was also helpful and said many of the same things; MLJ’s contribution is the full work as a series on the issue, material compiled together in one place, ideas that with Spurgeon are found in various places while reading his sermons.

Lloyd Jones’ content is arranged in chronological progression of the believer’s walk and maturity, beginning with the basics of having correct doctrine, and Lloyd Jones here gives “the benefit of the doubt” by positively regarding such individuals as really being saved, just confused.  Some of the earlier chapters relate to stages from my early Christian years, things that I “figured out” over time, in the very way here described: study the Bible, work out for yourself what you believe, understand it.

The later chapters in particular are helpful for the mature believer, in dealing with trials, chastening/discipline, and general perseverance and keeping on as life continues.  Along the way are many excellent points about the importance of rational, active thinking as contrasted with mere sentiment and a passive approach to faith and the Christian life.  He notes the idea we tend to have, that faith somehow acts automatically, like setting a thermostat and faith will just automatically work when needed:

Faith, however, is not something that acts magically or automatically.  If it did, these men would never have been in trouble, faith would have come into operation and they would have been calm and quiet and all would have been well.  But faith is not like that and those are utter fallacies with respect to it.

He similarly addressed the idea of the “sentimental approach” to God’s word:

There is nothing that I so dislike and abominate as a sentimental way of reading the Scriptures. There are many people who read the Scriptures in a purely sentimental manner. They are in trouble and they do not know what to do. They say, ‘I will read a Psalm. It is so soothing—“the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”.’ They make of it a kind of incantation and take the Psalms as another person takes a drug. That is not the way to read the Scriptures. ‘The word of exhortation reasons with you’, argues with you. And we must follow the logic of it, and bring intelligence to the Scriptures. We can never bring too much intelligence to our reading of them, they are not meant merely to give general comfort and soothing—follow the argument; let them reason it out with you.

How we deal with life experiences always involves our reasoning out what we believe, and “talking/preaching to ourselves.”  As Lloyd Jones notes, this is what we have to work out individually – not Christ working through the “I” (self) as a passive vehicle:  The Christian life is not a life that I live myself and by my own power; neither is it a life in which I am obliterated and Christ does all. No, ‘I can do all things through Christ’.

I find Lloyd-Jones’ work also keeps the right perspective on the believing individual, in contrast with the present-day Reformed emphasis on the corporate worship service as the most important thing.  Certainly this idea (corporate emphasis) has come out as a reaction to our extremely individualistic evangelical society, the need to point out the importance of the Christian worship as a group, a church body.  But when one’s personal circumstances force one to have local fellowship in a less-than-ideal church, one that does not provide the depth in theological teaching and its application to the Christian life, the individual does need additional help which cannot be provided through the local assembly.  Martyn Lloyd Jones’ work on this topic is a great help in terms of actual life and how to deal with the many things that come against us, externally and internally, and how to work out our ‘own salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil. 2:12), the ongoing work of progressive sanctification.

A few more excerpts of special note, regarding Christian contentment:

Can I be abased without feeling a sense of grudge, or without being worried, or without being anxious? .. can I be abased in my profession or office or work, can I somehow or another be put down and still remain in spirit exactly as I was before! What a difficult thing this is, to take a second place, to be hurt, to be insulted, to see others suffering in the same way, to suffer physical need or pain—to know how to be abased, how to be hungry, how to suffer in some respect. One of the greatest tasks in life is to discover how to suffer any or all of those things without feeling a sense of grudge, without complaint or annoyance or bitterness of spirit, to discover how not to be worried or anxious. Paul tells us that he has learned how to do that. He had experienced every kind of trial and tribulation and yet he is unaffected by them.” – commentary on Philippians 4:10-14

and regarding our uncertain world and ‘International Politics.’  Here, MLJ’s reference point was the generation that experienced two world wars; ours is an age of even greater need, one in which the world situation is far less stable than then, a time when even the recent world power (the U.S.) has wicked leaders and is quickly experiencing the later stages of national destruction:

The business of Christian preaching is to put this to the people: In this uncertain world, where we have already experienced two world wars within a quarter of a century, and where we may have to face yet another and things that are even worse, here is the question—How are you going to face it all, how can you meet it all? For me to give my views on international politics will not help anybody; but thank God there is something I can do. I can tell you of something, I can tell you of a way which, if you but practice and follow it, will enable you, with the Apostle Paul to say: ‘I am strong, I am able for anything that may happen to me, whether it be peace or war, whether it be freedom or slavery, whether it be the kind of life we have known for so long or whether it be entirely different, I am ready for it.’  It does not mean, I must repeat, a passive, negative acquiescence in that which is wrong.  Not at all – but it does mean that whatever may come, you are ready for it.

 

Christian Worldview Conference: Worldview of Human Identity (David Murray)

September 20, 2016 1 comment

From my recent podcast feed, an interesting audio series:  the annual Puritan Conference held at the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, a series of 11 lectures on the theme of the Christian Worldview, with each message titled “A Christian Worldview of (topic)”.  The speakers include faculty staff, including one on the Worldview of the Old Testament from author Michael Barrett (see previous post about him here).  So far I’ve listened to the first five, which include some basic overview including the doctrine of the Trinity and its significance in relationships.  I especially like the fourth lecture, from David Murray of the Head, Heart, and Hand Blog, on the Christian Worldview of Human Identity.  His Scottish accent takes some getting used to, but the message is a good one, on a theme that comes up often at his blog, the issue of counseling and depression.  The following is a summary of it.

Murray suggests making a list of words that describe yourself.  As for example, words such as Christian, sinner, wife, computer programmer, introvert, learner, blogger, insecure, anxious, and so forth.  Then come eight steps to recover and rebuild our true Christian identity.

  1. Reset Priorities

First, my spiritual condition: am I a Christian or not?  Next, my spiritual character: what graces have I received from the Lord.  The third priority is our relationships with others; work and other social relationships in our daily lives comes here, after the higher priorities.

  1. Expand what is incomplete: Expand on number 1 above– what scriptures says about us: justified, forgiven, sanctified, and so forth.  Ephesians 1 is especially good here.
  2. Fill in the gaps – admit our weaknesses, such as being pessimistic, depressed, discouraged. Here reference 1 Cor. 15:9-10, Paul’s description of himself pre- and post- conversion.  Filling in the gaps also means acknowledging our strengths – as gifts from God.
  3. Prosecute falsehoods—“hunt down” and prosecute, and put an end to the lies, things we tell ourselves that aren’t true.  Murray’s example of this was his years of recent illness; now he is better, but was still depressed about it and thinking of himself as really old and ill.
  4. Add balance: I am a sinner.  Also to the other side, that we are now dead to sin. Here reference 2 Cor. 6:9-10.
  5. Re-frame failure, with a gold frame. God sovereignly overrules our failures and brings good about.
  6. Accept change. Our identity is not static. We change; our circumstances, and God’s providence for our lives, change—God-ordained changes. Stop being envious of others.
  7. Anticipate the future.  Instead of thinking about the supposed “glory days” of the past, remember that for us Christians, our best days are ahead.  Reference 1 John 3:1-2.

Prayer According to God’s Will: 1689 Confession Study (Chapter 22)

September 15, 2016 1 comment

The 1689 Baptist Confession exposition series is currently in chapter 22 – the chapter on worship and its elements.  Two paragraphs here address the specifics of prayer – both corporate and private – and thus the 1689 study includes a mini-series on the elements of prayer.  (Now I am caught up to the latest available message in the series; this will continue with future lessons as they become available on Sermon Audio.)  A few thoughts here, regarding the issue of ‘praying according to God’s will,’ from this lesson (March 13, 2016) — three common errors, or points of misunderstanding, regarding interpretation of 1 John 5:14:

  • The “Room Service” view interprets 1 John 5:14 with over-emphasis on the ‘ask.’ Asking is what matters, and therefore to ask about anything is in itself according to God’s will.

A well-known scripture example that refutes this error, is the apostle Paul’s request (three times) for God to remove the thorn in his flesh; the answer was no.  Another incident I recall here, brought up in Tom Chantry’s recent Deuteronomy series: Moses’ pleading with God to be allowed to go into the promised land—that too was not allowed, and was not according to God’s will.

  • The “name it and claim it” view, one we’re familiar with from all the false teaching on Christian television, takes the scriptural reference that “if two or more people agree” and concludes that therefore, if at least two people agree to pray about something, God will do it.

R. C. Sproul has referred to this idea as, God as our “celestial bellhop,” at our beck-and-call for anything we want. As Sproul observed (quote available at this blog link):

We are reminded of statements like “Ask, and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7); “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19); and “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21:22). Shorthand summaries like these have provoked bizarre theories of prayer where people have violently isolated these passages from everything else Jesus and the Bible say about prayer. Distortions also abound when we approach these aphorisms simplistically. Consider the earlier statement about any two people agreeing. It would not be difficult to find two Christians who agree that ridding the world of cancer or wars would be a good idea. Their prayer in this matter would not automatically accomplish their desire. The Word of God indicates that wars, poverty, and disease will be present at the time of Christ’s return. To expect their absolute elimination before the appointed time is to grasp prematurely the future promises of God.

The third idea is not so much error, but partly true combined with a misunderstanding regarding God’s decretive versus perceptive wills.  The “Submissive but unsure” doubtful view, submits to God’s will, but remains uncertain as to whether the request being made is according to God’s will.  Here we consider God’s two wills: 1) His decretive will regarding everything that happens, everything that will occur; and 2) His perceptive will, that which is revealed throughout scripture as God’s precepts, God’s moral law, how we should live as Christians.  When we pray for things regarding our future – things not specifically revealed in God’s word – we submit the request to God and His will, with that uncertainty as to what the answer will be.  But when we pray for things that pertain to God’s perceptive will, we know that He will answer. Prayers for greater patience and endurance, for more peace, and other Christian “fruits of the spirit” ARE according to God’s will, prayers that we can have confidence that God will answer.  Indeed it is so, as Hodgins related, that often we can look back at a particular situation and realize, that yes, in this situation, this time I was more patient, this time my temper didn’t flare up – continuing answers to prayers that are according to God’s will.

Studies in Deuteronomy II: Moses, and the Tribes of Reuben and Gad

September 1, 2016 Leave a comment

Continuing in Chantry’s study through the first chapters of Deuteronomy: a look at Deuteronomy 3:12-22, the account of the Trans-Jordan land given to the 2 ½ tribes, in this lesson.

This particular story is mentioned in several places: the original event in Numbers 32, Moses’ reference to it here in Deuteronomy, plus follow-up in the book of Joshua.  Study of the Deuteronomy text includes the original incident; this is a situation regarding “what Moses didn’t know.”  Moses did not know that the Trans-Jordan should even be given to Israel — the promise was always about the land west of the Jordan River; and Moses did not know the heart motives of the men who came to him asking to have that land.  Heinitially suspected them of their motives, as being like the previous generation that discouraged their fellow Israelites to not go in and take possession of the land.  Were they really hoping to get out of helping in the conquest of Canaan?  Or were they honest all along, planning to do as what they explained to Moses after his initial judgment?  Moses, as well as us reading it, do not know their thoughts on this point.  What Moses did was hold them to their words, their vow – and as the story later unfolded, they were true to their words and went out in the lead, at the front of the army.

Other considerations here:  though Moses had not known it, clearly God had purposed for this part of the land  — the trans-Jordan (east of the Jordan River) – to be a part of Israel, and thus it would be parceled out to some of the tribes.  Yet the way in which it was distributed, did not come directly from God’s directive, but as a request from the leaders of those tribes.  Looking at the overall situation, their desire to have that land was not really the wisest choice.  They willingly put themselves geographically apart from the heart of Israel – on the frontier and fringe of society.  The Jordan created a natural barrier; at certain times of the year – due to flood stage – the Jordan could not easily be crossed. These tribes isolated themselves, as further away from the place of worship – a situation that Chantry likened to our day in the case of Christians who are more distant and frequently not at church due to their past choices such as their occupation (having to work on Sundays).

Though not mentioned in this lesson, we do see the concern that these tribes later had when, in Joshua 22, they set up a replica of the altar to God on their side of the river, indicating that generation’s desire to stay connected to the rest of the nation.  Later history of Israel, though, does confirm the overall problem, their unwise choice: this area was quick to apostatize, and 2 Kings 10:32-33 tells us that this land was the first area to be taken away by the Assyrians: In those days the LORD began to cut off parts of Israel.  Hazael defeated them throughout the territory of Israel: from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the Valley of the Arnon, that is, Gilead and Bashan.

 

Studies in Deuteronomy — I: The Giants

August 25, 2016 1 comment

I’ve been listening to Tom Chantry’s recent series through Deuteronomy (only completed through Deut. 4, and apparently on break at least for the summer): a good series with many interesting points regarding the first few chapters of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 2:8-23 is one of those seemingly dry narrative texts in which Moses provides detail about various races of giants, historical data of events that had already taken place in which one people group had replaced another.  We tend to ask, why is this in the Bible and what has it to do with us?

The lesson on this text (“There Be Giants”) first considers the issue of “giants,” with some interesting facts concerning the average heights of different people groups throughout history.  The “giants” were people of relative height compared to other groups of people.  Historical evidence such as uniforms on display at museums indicates that even at the time of the U.S. Civil War (150 years ago), people were overall shorter than today; medieval armor indicates the same regarding Europeans of a few hundred years ago.  Throughout history there have been very tall people, those close to 7 feet up to perhaps 8 feet; today we often see them as NFL football players, and Americans today on average are, compared to historical norms, at the higher end.  Because of the relative length of the ancient measurement, the cubit, we don’t know exactly how tall some of these ancient people were.  The bed (or possibly coffin) of Og the king of Bashan describes the largest recorded size, of a ‘giant’ who was not a ‘freak’ (such as Goliath in relation to the Philistines) but an actual ruler.

The more important lesson from this chapter, though, is that of God’s sovereignty over the nations.  Though the book of Daniel is more well known for directly addressing this, in God’s word we find the same truths taught in multiple places, the same teaching that affirms the unity of all scripture.  The Deuteronomy text especially points out that even nations of giants, those people especially gifted with physical strength, were defeated and no longer around.  The people of Israel needed to not fear the inhabitants of Canaan (as their parents of 40 years earlier, at Kadesh Barnea).  We likewise can learn from this: nations which appear as very strong and powerful, will yet topple.  It is God who raises up nations, and God who brings them down to ruin.

As Chantry well observed, as application for us, especially in reference to politics and government, in this (once again) U.S. election year:

The strength of men is meaningless in the face of divine sovereignty. Why did all of these nations fall? Because God said that it was time for them to do so…nations, just like men, live under the decree of God. We do NOT create our own future. Now that’s an important thing for us to contemplate in an election year, is it not? Because every candidate of every political stripe is going to sell that message one way or another. ‘We are going to create our future’, and they’re going to ask you, as a voter, ‘what sort of a future are we going to create?’ It’s a helpful thing for the Christian to sit back and say, no, no, we do not rule the future. God rules the future. God determines. Governments retain their power only so long as God permits. That’s not intended as a rabble-rousing statement. I’m not indicating that we or any other Christian ought to take up arms against the government. I’m merely observing a reality. It is a reality of scripture and a reality of history, that governments retain their power only so far as God permits. And when that power ends, it ends; and sometimes it ends with startling speed. We cannot put confidence in history. … We live under the decree of God, and God does with nations as He does with men. He does whatsoever He wills.

Martyn Lloyd Jones’ “Spiritual Depression” Book and Series

August 16, 2016 2 comments

I have often heard Martyn Lloyd Jones recommended, though in my studies so far had not yet read anything from him.  Recently I revisited a link to the MP3 collection of his “Spiritual Depression” series.  As noted at the beginning of the first message, the audio quality is not that great, restored as best as possible from old recordings – and so I’m reading the Kindle book version instead.

Dan Phillips provided a helpful review of this work a few years ago, and the ‘chronological qualifier’ comment is spot on, in reference to Lloyd Jones for the 20th century and Spurgeon from the 19th century.  I too have found Spurgeon helpful in this area, one he was so well acquainted with.  The foreward included in the edition that Phillips reviewed, can also be read here (Banner of Truth article).

The introductory chapter, General Consideration, is quite helpful.  As MLJ pointed out (and no real surprise here), some of us have the personality-temperament (of introverts) that is naturally more pre-disposed to depression.  He observed that sometimes depression has a physical cause—and attributed the well-known case of Spurgeon’s frequent depression to his physical problem of gout.  A closer look at Spurgeon’s life, though (see this article), tells us that Spurgeon’s experiences with depression began several years before the gout.  It is generally recognized today that Spurgeon’s depression came from a combination of factors, not just the  gout.  Another cause of depression is the “reaction” that comes after an especially intense moment: the familiar story of Elijah victorious over the priests of Baal, and then downcast and running away to hide is a classic example of this.  (I can also relate to this situation at various times in my life.)

From the biblical material, as well as Lloyd Jones’ experience as a pastor, the problem of spiritual depression is fairly common.  Psalm 42 is a guide to the experience, and provides the key to the cure.  When feeling down, I often sing the familiar scripture words to a well-known praise song, “Why so downcast, oh my soul?  / Put your hope in God.”    Going beyond just a simple song tune, though, the real point here is that “we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us.”

This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?  Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning.  You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc.  Somebody is talking.  Who is talking to you?  Your self is talking to you.  Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks.  His soul had been depressing him, crushing him.  So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for a  moment.  I will speak to you.’

The following chapters (different sermons) consider many different types of people that experience spiritual depression, relating each to a passage of scripture.  For some, the problem is due to an incomplete knowledge of the doctrines of God, or imbalance in the doctrines, and along the way Lloyd Jones makes strong statements regarding the sufficiency of scripture and the Christian faith, such as the following samples:

The gospel is not something partial or piecemeal: it takes in the whole life, the whole of history, the whole world.  It tells us about the creation and the final judgment and everything in between.

and

It is doctrine first, it is the standard of teaching first, it is the message of the gospel first.  We are not concerned simply to attract people emotionally or in the realm of the will, we are concerned to ‘preach the Word’. …. Truth comes to the mind and to the understanding enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  Then having seen the truth, the Christian loves it.  It moves his heart.  He sees what he was, he sees the life he was living, and he hates it.  If you see the truth about yourself as a slave of sin you will hate yourself.  Then as you see the glorious truth about the love of Christ you will want it, you will desire it.  So the heart is engaged.  Truly to see the truth means that you are moved by it and that you love it.  You cannot help it.

This work is well worth reading, for all Christians, as a great book about Christian living and appreciating the truth and greatness of the Christian life.

Biographies of Common Christians: The Young Cottager and the Dairyman’s Daughter

August 8, 2016 1 comment

From my recent Spurgeon sermon reading comes an interesting reference to then-popular Christian literature.  From this sermon in the 1865 volume  (text Psalm 113:7-8):

 Some of the sweetest biographies of Christians have been the lives of the lowly culled from the annals of the poor. Who has not read, The Young Cottager, and, The Dairyman’s Daughter?

Though generally unknown today, these books are available online now, the writings of Legh Richmond: his accounts of conversions among the young, rural poor in England – the Isle of Wight specifically – in the late 18th and early 19th century.  A brief biography on Legh Richmond, from Amazon:

LEGH RICHMOND (1772–1827) was born in Liverpool, England. He attended Trinity College in Cambridge and received his B. A. and M. A. degrees. The young clergyman entered the ministry at the Isle of Wight. When he read Wilberforce’s “Practical View of Christianity,” he had a spiritual awakening, and respectfully named his son Wilberforce. On the Isle of Wight he met ‘The Dairyman’s Daughter,’ ‘The African Servant’ and ‘Little Jane.’ After seven years he moved to London and then to Turvey, where he wrote, “The Fathers of the English Church.”

“The Young Cottager” and “The Dairyman’s Daughter” are each slightly over 100 pages; both are available free from Gracegems.org:  Young Cottager and the Dairyman’s Daughter (also available for free in Kindle version from Amazon, here).  Both of these are accounts of young women who came to saving faith in Christ, and then experienced the decline and slow death of consumption (now known as tuberculosis).   Both were very serious about their faith, and instrumental in the salvation of family members — parents as well as younger siblings.  The Young Cottager, “little Jane,” was twelve years old, one of a group of junior-high age students that the minister had been teaching on Sunday afternoons.  A point that some of us at least can certainly relate to: Jane was in the background, not one of the students that particularly stood out to the teacher.  Her absence, at the beginning of her sickness, was not even noticed by him; an adult neighbor came to the minister, and  and told him of Jane’s desire to see him.  The Dairyman’s Daughter (Elizabeth Waldridge) came to saving faith in her twenties, while working as a servant girl for another household.  She later came back to her parent’s home to assist her elderly parents.  (As an aside, the description of her very aged father at first glance would seem to us as that of a man in his 80s – he was not yet 70; the hard life of poor people, doing physical work in the sun, takes its toll at an earlier age, compared to modern-day city dwellers.)  The content of this book includes many actual letters from Waldridge, who lived some distance from the minister and often sent letters to him by personal messenger.

Wegh Richmond’s style includes many details of the scenery — an appreciation for the details of the natural creation as the setting for his meditations.  Occasionally he commented on the act of meditation and his style and approach to his writings, as with these excerpts from The Dairyman’s Daughter:

How much do they lose who are strangers to serious meditation on the wonders and beauties of nature! How gloriously the God of creation shines in His works! Not a tree, or leaf, or flower, not a bird or insect, but it proclaims in glowing language, “God made me.”

And

Do any of my readers inquire why I describe so minutely the circumstances of prospect and scenery which may be connected with the incidents I relate?  My reply is, that the God of redemption is the God of creation likewise; and that we are taught in every part of the Word of God to unite the admiration of the beauties and wonders of nature to every other motive for devotion.

The stories from both Jane and Elizabeth, regarding their conversion experience, their apprehension of divine truth, and their insights and maturity, are fascinating to read, and even humbling, in comparison to our modern-day life.  No superficial understanding, but very deep comprehension of God’s grace, is seen in these spiritual babes, recent converts, along with spiritual growth of a much quicker pace than is usual in our modern day Christian experience.  It is well here to remember, that not every person’s salvation experience is going to be exactly the same, or to the same level of growth within so short a time.  Indeed, Wegh Richmond himself observed this, that not everyone (even in his day) showed such spiritual maturity in the same way:

It has not unfrequently been observed, that when it is the Lord’s pleasure to remove any of his faithful followers out of this life at an early period of their course, they make rapid progress in the experience of Divine truth.  The fruits of the Spirit ripen fast, as they advance to the close of mortal existence.  In particular, they grow in humility, through a deeper sense of inward corruption, and a clearer view of the perfect character of the Saviour.

Richmond’s works include a third title, also free on Kindle:  Annals of the Poor, which includes the account of the African servant.  As Spurgeon said, these are sweet biographies, the stories about common Christians.  We are so familiar with the lives of the spiritual giants, the Luthers, Calvins, and Spurgeons, but these accounts remind us of the many other people we will meet one day.  So many Christians have passed through this world, unknown by all but a few.  It is nice to read about some of these poor saints, who were so rich in faith and serve as examples to us, of those who have gone before us.