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June 02, 2005

Book review: Spiritual Depression by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

As part of a post on my old weblog, I wrote a brief review of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones book "Spiritual Depression". I'm reposting this here so that it ends up in the "Book reviews" section where it belongs, and as another recommendation of a good book. The name sounds ominous, but it's really excellent, even for those who don't think of themselves as "spiritually depressed". Here's what I wrote:

The fact of the matter is, many Christians get discouraged and depressed. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes the case in his excellent book "Spiritual Depression" that most of this discouragement can be traced to fundamental misunderstandings (or forgetfulness) about what Christ really accomplished on the cross. I really recommend the book, but I want to summarize a couple of points from there that I've found particularly helpful.

  • Romans 3:28 says this: "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.". Lloyd-Jones points out that this means that salvation does not depend on our works, but is offered freely to whoever will trust in Jesus Christ. There are many who will say they believe that this is true, and that they have trusted in Christ alone for salvation, but they say, "I don't feel like I'm good enough to be a Christian." "I would like to be a Christian, but I'm not good enough." It sounds very humble, but it is a rejection of this doctrine. The Bible says, in effect, "Of course you are not good enough. You will never be good enough," [MLJ] but that's the whole point: Salvation is offered in Jesus Christ to those who are not good enough and never will be, and they (we) can receive it simply by trusting in him.
  • Many who become Christians still get discouraged because of some past sin they committed before they became Christians -- it may be a number of sins, or one particular thing that sticks in their minds and haunts them. The problem is, this is fundamentally a rejection of this doctrine, at some level, for the Bible declares clearly (1 John 1:9), "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." This is what we have in Jesus Christ, and if we are discouraged about our past sins, we need to instead realize that God has cleansed us in Jesus Christ, and therefore we have no right to be discouraged.
  • Christianity is based upon the work of Jesus Christ, not on feelings. We must not become discouraged because we do not feel a certain way, or we feel some way we think we should not. To quote Lloyd-Jones, "What we have in the Bible is Truth; it is not an emotional stimulus, it is not primarily concerned to give us a joyful experience." Yes, it affects our feelings -- but they are not the center. The center is the work of Jesus Christ. The question is not how we feel about the work of Christ, but whether we believe in what he did on the cross, whether we've entrusted our salvation to him.
  • Christ brought not only salvation, but also as a result of his work believers have the Holy Spirit. This means that we have the power of God to overcome sin. This is important, because it's easy to begin to focus on living the Christian life and think that we cannot do all that is expected of us. First, God has given believers the Holy Spirit in Christ, so we can live to please God. But second, we can take this too far and begin to live as though Christianity is fundamentally about our own works -- which it is not. Yes, we need to live a holy life -- but that's not what makes us Christians. Faith in Christ alone makes us Christians, and gives us power to overcome sin.
  • We must be careful not to impose other requirements for salvation on ourselves or others, even in our thinking.
  • We need to learn to look at the work of Christ, not at our own works. As long as we focus on ourselves and whether we are living good enough lives, we will be disappointed. Yes, we need to live holy lives, but as the parable of the unworthy servant (Luke 17) says, "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"\ That is, if I obey God completely, I have only done what I was commanded -- and in this life, I will always fall short of that. So I must look always to what Jesus Christ has done, and not try to find satisfaction in having done well myself.

For Christians, I really recommend Lloyd-Jones' book. The title sounds ominous, but I'd really summarize the content more as, "How we can live the joyful lives we ought to live as Christians", or "How to overcome the things that tend to make Christians downcast." I never thought of myself as a particularly "spiritually depressed" Christian, but I benefitted a lot from this book. It is theologically sound, very well written, and definitely worth your time.

Posted by D. Mobley at June 2, 2005 09:20 AM

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Tracked on June 3, 2005 11:46 AM


What place does Lloyd-Jones see for interventions like ECT, antidepressants, etc?

Posted by: Rob at June 2, 2005 06:39 PM


I don't remember him discussing them; if there was any mention, it was only in passing. The book was first published in 1965, so I suspect these things were not as prevalent then as now. Again, as I said in my post, the book really isn't so much dealing with depression in a clinical sense, as with why Christians fail to be as joyful as they ought to be. From what I know of Lloyd-Jones (he was a medical doctor), he believed that God works through medicine, as well. So I suspect that he would have seen such things as one way in which God works to help those who have genuine medical conditions. But the Word of God as he lays it out in his book is also a way in which God works to help people who struggle with depression or discouragement. In other words, there are some people who think that such interventions are wrong, and God alone is the cure. I doubt Lloyd-Jones would be one of them. But I also don't think he would go to the other extreme and think the medical issues are the only ones that need treating. There are spiritual issues (like the misunderstandings he addresses), as well.

Posted by: David M. at June 2, 2005 06:51 PM

Thanks for sharing about Dr Lloyd-Jones' book! As someone who has been diagnosed as clinically depressed and who goes through days when I struggle with the physical and emotional strain of depression, even bipolar disorder, I affirm that there are many facets to this debilidating disease, including spiritual. I address these issues in quite a few posts in my blog, including the one linked above and this one: Depression and Spiritual Healing.


Posted by: thebloke at June 2, 2005 10:30 PM

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