Life is often accompanied by a multitude of labels — depression, introvert, ADHD, Aspergers. It can be important to identify your own issues so as to better understand yourself and your reaction to things, but it is similarly important to not rely too heavily on those labels as defining characteristics of yourself: focus too much on being an introvert and you’ll become a hermit; dwelling too often on having depression will only serve to increase that depression.
But there needs to be some middle-ground, and while that is most often found in your own mind, it is also helpful when external-helps similarly treat a label with the appropriate degree of importance — not too much, and not too little.
In his book Spurgeon’s Sorrows, Zach Eswine follows through on the book’s tagline: “Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression”, and he does so almost entirely by quoting from, and referring to, the life of famed Christian preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon — the Prince of Preachers.
I had not heard of Zack Eswine before I found his name adorning Spurgeon’s Sorrows, but as a writer myself I was immediately drawn to his writing style and ability. Eswine has a lyrical quality to his writing that makes reading this book a joy — a dichotomy that makes the difficult nature of this book’s material so much more accessible.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon spent his entire life suffering from depression, so unsurprisingly he had a lot to say on the topic — for those who suffer from it, and for those who help those who do. One early-November Sunday morning, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, at the fresh young age of 22, was preaching when a twisted-mind in his congregation yelled, “Fire!” As Eswine notes, “The resulting panic left seven dead and twenty-eight seriously injured.” This nearly broke young Charles’ mind, and left him with lasting effects that would haunt him all his life. At the time, Charles’ wife Susannah said that, “My beloved’s anguish was so deep and violent, that reason seemed to totter in her throne, and we sometimes feared that he would never preach again.”
Thankfully, we know the end of that story. Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached again, and again, and again, and would become known as the Prince of Preachers. And many times, Spurgeon would preach and write about depression, and it is from these sermons and notes that Eswine draws out a Biblical means to understanding depression, coping with it, and helping those who suffer from it.
Over 12 short chapters, Eswine walks us hand-in-hand with Spurgeon through the the Bible’s teaching on depression.
Eswine begins by explaining depression, walking us intimately through Spurgeon’s suffering and his experiences. This close relationship with Spurgeon’s sorrows is the guide for Eswine’s hopes in writing this book — a “handwritten note of one who wishes you well.” Spurgeon’s experiences and his preaching then lead us through an understanding of ways in which depression can manifest; through circumstances, as separate from circumstances, and as a spiritual affliction. But importantly, diagnosis is not the cure — in fact, depression is “a kind of mental arthritis” which hangs on with “malignant patience.” Instead, Spurgeon, through Eswine lends us timely advice, a caring and wise sufferer who has gone before us, and offered us insights and help. Spurgeon provides a gentle hand to those who deal first-hand with this “mental arthritis”, and the book concludes with four chapters dedicated to active coping mechanisms that stem from the Bible and Spurgeon’s experiences.
Spurgeon’s Sorrows isn’t a topic-specific biography of Spurgeon’s life, but rather a comprehensive though brief (and therefore beautifully executed) treatment on living with depression. Eswine hasn’t left the reader wondering what to do, nor confused as to whether depression is somehow punishment or un-Biblical; depictions of Spurgeon’s experiences with depression invite the reader to find companionship upon that dark road, while simultaneously promising help from above.
This book does not profess to cure us from our depression, nor does it have all the answers — in many cases, there is no substitute from professional help. But in a day and age where medicine has veered further away from the spiritual — and what spiritual remnants remain are not of God — Spurgeon’s Sorrows provides a healthy respite for those looking to hear what God has to say.