Eswine, Zack. Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression. Geanies House, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2014. 144 pages. $9.99. Purchase at Westminster for less or for Kindle.
Note: The review first appeared in The Pathway.
Gary L. Shultz, Jr., Reviewer
Many Christians know what it is like to go through dark times of the soul, whether because of circumstances, disposition, or dryness in one’s relationship with God. Many other Christians know what it is like to watch those they love go through those dark times, wondering how they can help or what they can say. Sometimes those dark times persist, becoming so overwhelming that all of life seems to be a burden and a struggle. Unfortunately, Christians are not immune from depression.
Yet for many in the church, depression is a taboo subject. Some Christians assume that depression is always a result of sin, is really just a bad attitude with another name, or that Christians are immune from depression because of the promises of Jesus Christ. These false assumptions have hurt many people struggling to see how God can help them through their long bouts of grief and anxiety. This is where a book like Spurgeon’s Sorrows is so helpful. Zack Eswine, a pastor in the St. Louis area, uses the experience and preaching of Charles Spurgeon, a well-respected and beloved pastor from the past, to help us understand what depression is and how Jesus Christ offers grace and hope even in the midst of the darkest times.
Charles Spurgeon was the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, a Baptist church in London, for 38 years in the latter half of the nineteenth century. As pastor of one of the earliest megachurches, Spurgeon regularly preached to thousands of people. Early in his ministry, at age 22, Spurgeon was preaching when someone falsely yelled, “Fire!” The panic that resulted left seven people dead and 28 seriously injured. Married for less than a year, with newborn twins, Spurgeon was blamed by many for the disaster. All of this stress had a profound effect on Spurgeon’s disposition, and left him struggling with depression not only in the aftermath, but for the rest of his life. Depression was a subject he returned to in his preaching again and again.
The book is divided into three sections: understanding depression, learning to help those with depression, and learning daily helps to cope with depression. Eswine uses Spurgeon’s experience to help us understand that even the most faithful Christians can battle depression. Sometimes depression results from painful circumstances or spiritual crises, but sometimes depression is a result of a person’s physical chemistry or disposition from birth. Spurgeon believed this about himself, and often encouraged those in his congregation suffering from depression to seek out not only spiritual causes and remedies, but physical ones as well. Yet no matter the cause or the depth of the depression, there is help in Jesus Christ.
So learning how to help those who suffer from depression or working to overcome our own depression means acknowledging that depression does happen, even to Christians, and that there is no one-size-fits-all cure. Coming to see ourselves in Christ, and that his grace is deeper than our sorrow no matter the cause or the depths of our despair, is what brings genuine hope. Jesus Christ himself suffered with us and for us as the “man of sorrows,” and comes to us in our own unique pain and circumstances. Eswine helps us remember that as we strive to remember and pray Jesus’ promises, take advantage of the natural helps he gives us in creation, and choose life over death, we experience his grace. We might even come to a time where we being to see what God is doing in our lives through our suffering.