There was no one in the twentieth century more suited to preach, counsel and write on this subject of spiritual depression than Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This subject has always been addressed by pastors, but particularly so from the time of the Reformation when the wrappings of human traditions were removed from biblical Christianity.
The Puritan period especially excelled as an age when sermons were life and power, and many kinds of men and women were drawn to faith in the Lord Christ. They brought their past with them into the kingdom of God and were troubled with doubts and periods of darkness. Their pastors became physicians of the soul and learned to deal with various conditions of spiritual desertion and depression and their books on this subject are read today.
Dr Lloyd-Jones was a living representative of that tradition. He was exceptionally gifted in dealing with this subject, and his book Spiritual Depression has done much pastoral good in the last fifty years. We ministers give it to particular people whom we believe would profit from it. Perhaps we point out to them one of the sermons in the book which we feel could help them.
I am especially fond of the message entitled ‘That One Sin’ and a striking incident recounted there by the Doctor from the days of his ministry in Wales. It has often done homiletical duty for me. Why was Dr Lloyd-Jones so well-equipped to write on a subject like this?
1. He was such a well-rounded, intelligent, and tender personality.
Although a mighty intellect with a formidable presence he was accessible and not at all intimidating. There was not a trace of snobbery in him whatsoever; he loathed that sin. He had a particularly blessed marriage. Mrs Bethan Lloyd-Jones, herself a qualified doctor, came from one of the foremost Calvinistic Methodist families in Wales rooted in the ethos of the local countryside of south Cardiganshire, an evangelical home where warm affection, godly living, the importance of education and reverence for God were prized and natural graces.
Her father was an ophthalmic surgeon and her grandfather was one of the leading preachers in Wales who ministered in one congregation in Newcastle Emlyn for half a century, preaching there throughout both the 1859 and 1904 revivals. Mrs Lloyd-Jones was also a descendant of the Baptist preacher Christmas Evans.
Out of the harmony and affection of that home with the two daughters they were given came the pastoral ministry and counselling that strengthened multitudes. I remember telling the Doctor on one occasion that my parents were moving from South Wales to live just around the corner from us in Aberystwyth, and his face lit up with delight at that news. His family was vitally important to him.
Dr Lloyd-Jones once spoke to a group of doctors about the essentials needed to counsel men and women. He said this: The counsellor ‘is not doing something outside himself. He is giving something of himself and his experience, and there is an exchange taking place between the patient and himself. Hence the most important thing of all in counselling is the character and personality of the counsellor.
‘What is the greatest essential in a counsellor? I would say that it is a quiet mind, and that he is at rest in himself. You will remember how our Lord put this on one occasion — “Can the blind lead the blind? If the blind lead the blind they will both fall in the ditch”. In other words, if a man is in trouble within himself, and is restless, he is really in need of counselling himself. How can he give useful counsel to another?
‘The first requisite, therefore, in a counsellor is that he himself is possessed of a quiet mind, a mind that is restful. It is at that point, of course, that the importance of the Christian faith comes in. I am prepared to defend the proposition that no man ultimately can have a quiet mind, a heart at rest, and at leisure from itself unless he is a Christian.
‘He needs to know a true peace within — the peace of God which is able to keep both mind and heart. The patient comes in to see him in an agitated troubled condition, and can detect if there are similar manifestations in the counsellor’ (D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Doctor Himself, Christian Medical Fellowship Publications, 1982, p. 43).
2. He was also utterly committed to the faith of the Scriptures.
Confessionally he stood in the tradition of the 1823 Confession of the Calvinistic Methodist Church of Wales. In 1952 he began a series of sermons on Friday nights which was to last for three years on the great doctrines of the Bible. They have been published in an 800-page book and they show his grasp of the subtlety of biblical theology, his total trust in the teaching of the Bible and his desire that all his thinking should be controlled by it.
I wish many more knew this book; it is truth that lives and involves you, moving you to doxology through its lucidity and the preacher’s love for his God. Could he have counselled the depressed if he did not know the Bible’s analysis of the human condition, man’s depravity and inability, human responsibility and also God’s sovereignty, the battle in the regenerate man of the flesh and the spirit, the certainty of the work begun by Christ also completed by him, irresistible grace and man’s chief end being to glorify this God?
It is not enough to have an unusual testimony; in itself that will not enable a man to deliver others from spiritual depression. It can even be a hindrance, as Dr Lloyd-Jones told that group of doctors: ‘For example, when Christians have come, suffering from various forms of spiritual depression, they have been treated by other Christians to a thumping slap on the back and the suggestion — “Pull yourself together, cheer up!” But that may do more harm than good, because it is the one thing which the poor man cannot do at the time.
‘I have known problems exaggerated and aggravated by this sheer lack of knowledge of skilled “doctoring”. It is not enough to have had the experience yourself. You need to reason with people and to take them on step by step, until you have brought them out of their difficulty. But you can only do that if your answers, and your whole approach, are governed by an understanding of the Christian life as a whole. It is a whole life’ (Ibid, p. 44).
Dr Lloyd-Jones read theology. He discovered the value of Jonathan Edwards at a time when no one in Britain and few in the USA were reading him. He devoured the volumes of Benjamin B Warfield’s Works, and he followed both those men into the schools of thought of which they were leading lights, Puritanism with Edwards and the Princeton school of Presbyterianism with Warfield.
He did not neglect his own roots. While other thinkers, weary of the rationalism of 20th century religion, opted for Rome, Dr Lloyd-Jones read the two volumes of the M’Cheyne Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales (Banner of Truth) to discover experiential religion. He also kept abreast of contemporary religious thought, for example of Barthian teaching.
There is a happy pen portrait of him in his dark suit sitting on a beach with his family, reading Brunner’s Divine Imperative, but though acquainted with that theology it had no attraction to him. Where has a congregation been revived and multitudes converted through that neo-orthodoxy? Has it raised up any evangelists? Historic Christianity found another of its great champions in the pastor of Westminster Chapel.
3. He was a man who maintained the disciplines of private devotion.
He would preach in our town alternate years and would stay for a couple of days with a local doctor who as a medical student had sat at his feet in London. I was invited to our General Practitioner’s home for coffee with the Doctor on one of these occasions. I came across him completing reading from his pocket Bible with its tiny print, his portion for that day.
He had, from the early days of his ministry adopted Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s daily Bible passages as his own, portions which take the reader through the Scriptures each year, and he commended such a scheme to his congregation.
His special exhortation about praying is significant. This is what he said: ‘This I regard as the most important of all — always respond to every impulse to pray. The impulse to pray may come when you are reading or when you are battling with a text. I would make an absolute law of this — always obey such an impulse.
‘Where does it come from? It is the work of the Holy Spirit. This often leads to some of the most remarkable experiences in the life of the minister. So never resist, never postpone it, never push it aside because you are busy. Give yourself to it, yield to it; and you will find not only that you have not been wasting time with respect to the matter with which you are dealing, but that actually it has helped you greatly in that respect.
‘You will experience an ease and a facility in understanding what you were reading, in thinking, in ordering matter for a sermon, in writing, in everything, which is quite astonishing. Such a call to prayer must never be regarded as a distraction; always respond to it immediately, and thank God if it happens to you frequently’.
He told me smiling of his little room high up in Barts Hospital while he was still working for Lord Horder before he became a preacher, saying ‘I had some good times there’. His counselling and pastoring as much as his preaching came from a man who knew communion with God, and the mark of deliverance from spiritual depression would result in a return to a former blessed fellowship.
Geoff Thomas is a well-known author and conference speaker, and was pastor of Alfred Place Baptist Church, Aberystwyth, for over 50 years.