This review is being written from the perspective of a fellow sufferer of depression. The book discusses a condition I have had a bent toward from my early years. I am not a psychologist, theologian, pastor, therapist, counselor, Bible student, professor, or church staff. I’m just a garden variety human being and found this book very readable and appealing.
After reading through Spurgeon’s Sorrows a couple of times I realized that it is a bit different from other books I’ve read that focus on depression. There seemed to be a sub-text that I didn’t understand at first. The marked difference seemed to come from the heart of the author, Dr. Zachary Eswine. The writings indicated a poetic heart, a sensitive nature. What I was missing was the back story of the author’s life that uniquely qualified him to write this book.
The pastors, professionals and Bible students who wrote the recommendations in the book’s opening said as much, but I had no idea what it was. So I spent a little time researching to fill in the gaps. For example, the preview says Mr. Eswine is the pastor of Riverside Church in St. Louis, Missouri. I also learned he was a professor of homiletics and a director of a doctoral program at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. To me, that translates as a pastor’s pastor. He has a community circle where he is known. That explained to me how he had become so thoroughly acquainted with Charles H. Spurgeon, a well-known 19th century theologian. But the author didn’t write this book with the voice of a theologian. His voice is that of an artist and poet.
Still not as informed as I wanted to be, I looked him up on Amazon and YouTube to find more of his back story. YouTube has a clip only four minutes long that provided the background I needed to understand the author’s perspective. I hope you find it useful as well.
I am a person who lives with a condition called Bipolar Disorder or Manic Depression. I experience different mood swings in spite of the use of stabilizing medications. In reading this book, I immediately recognized the author’s sense of empathy for those of us who live with depression as a matter of biology as well as for those who become depressed because of a sensitive nature or troubling circumstances. His non-clinical approach is a breath of fresh air. I didn’t find any judgmental attitudes in any of his chapters. He writes out of a sincere desire to lend a helping hand.
The author’s arsenal is twofold: a gentle nudge toward understanding, and a surprising revelation for Christians who may recognize the prolific works of Charles H. Spurgeon. In the author’s words, “How is it then that this preacher could stand up publicly in a congregation and talk so openly about depression? He was a mega-church pastor, one of the first ever. It was the 1800’s. He was British, Victorian, and Baptist. How was a guy like that talking so openly about a subject like this?” Apparently, there was as much need then as there is today for one believer to stand along side another believer, and any sufferer of depression, in commiserating companionship. It definitely doesn’t come naturally. We all need a push to get us moving in the right direction.
The book is divided into three parts:
Part I: Trying to Understand Depression
Part II: Learning How to Help Those Who Suffer from Depression
Part III: Learning Helps–How to Daily Cope with Depression
It contains numerous quotes from Charles Spurgeon’s sermons, cited at the end of each of the 12 short chapters. I think its greatest appeal would be for pastors, Bible teachers, therapists, counselors and theologians. However, excerpts are short and to the point. For a person studying the Bible and wants to understand how God views depression and sorrow, this makes a fascinating study.
One of the most impressive facets I appreciate in this book is the way Pastor Eswine gives us three godly examples of how depression, heaviness of soul, the troubled spirit and even the mentally ill ought to be understood. First we have Pastor Eswine himself, who has experienced deep sorrow and trouble in his life. Then we have the passionate, fiery, historical figure of Charles Spurgeon whose prolific writings and sermons inspire hundreds every day. Finally, both pastors point to Jesus, a “man of sorrows” who was sorely afflicted on our behalf. He knows and understands the burdens we carry because He carried them too once.
One of my favorite aspects of this writing was learning of Spurgeon’s own torments and melancholy intensified by a tragic incident that occurred while he was preaching. This was part of his life I had never known about before reading this book.
Finally, Chapter 6 caught my interest. It explores the language God uses in the Bible toward the troubled, and the way He communicates His heart to us. He uses metaphors and similes to ease the suffering and help us understand. “Since depression is a condition that is almost unimaginable to anyone who has not known it, its diagnosis (and aid) depends on metaphors.” We endure winters. We are bruised like a cluster of grapes, trodden in the wine-press, waves of agony roll over us, and so on. The use of such word pictures and metaphorical phrases encourages our neighbors and fellow Christians to grow in understanding, empathy and helpfulness.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC)on behalf of Christian Focus Publications. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”