Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter on Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life

“…[We] came to think that a mini-treatise by Baxter that, at its heart, sought to serve the depressed would, if republished in a modern edition, be a valuable resource for pastoral care of depressed persons in today’s churches.”

Baxter helps us understand why counseling a depressed soul is important: “…the disease we call melancholy–depression–is opposed to the very sense of the gospel….under the influence of depression, all that Christ has accomplished, purchased, offered, and guaranteed appears to be of only dubious repute and, even where true, a cause more for sadness than for joy” (Baxter, 112). Depression robs us of the joy we inherit as the beneficiaries of God’s reconciliatory act in Christ. It is through this frame that I offer this book as an immensely helpful guide to aid us in carrying one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2) and a means by which we may help one another to fight our depressive tendencies.

 

Written by J.I. Packer and Michael Lundy, Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life helps to counteract the mode in which sin and death can express themselves in our lives (namely, depression). They view the works of Baxter to be integral to this counteractant. In the Preface (note to reader: always read the Preface of a book), Packer states, that “…[we] came to think that a mini-treatise by Baxter that, at its heart, sought to serve the depressed would, if republished in a modern edition, be a valuable resource for pastoral care of depressed persons in today’s churches” (Packer, 9). I am not sure I could muster a more hearty “Amen.”

We evangelicals are living in an era where we are rediscovering the responsibilities Christians (especially those in covenant church membership) have to one another. And among our church members are those beset by depression and anxiety– and we are failing our church members if we simply outsource our counseling ministry (though there is a place for that). Part of speaking the truth (the content of our communication) in love (the mode and impetus of our communication) is counseling one another. Baxter helps us understand why counseling a depressed soul is important: “…the disease we call melancholy–depression–is opposed to the very sense of the gospel….under the influence of depression, all that Christ has accomplished, purchased, offered, and guaranteed appears to be of only dubious repute and, even where true, a cause more for sadness than for joy” (Baxter, 112). Depression robs us of the joy we inherit as the beneficiaries of God’s reconciliatory act in Christ. It is through this frame that I offer this book as an immensely helpful guide to aid us in carrying one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2) and a means by which we may help one another to fight our depressive tendencies.

Exposing the Puritans for What They Were

All at once, the book helps to dispel myths that surround the Puritans. The populace, armed with an understanding of the Puritans informed by a cursory reading of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God in their high school English class, conclude that the Puritans were emotionally immature at best and emotionally violent at worst. I defy you, however, to read this book and tell me that the Puritans were incapable of warm and affectionate emotion. Read Baxter, “Where you find yourselves incapable of private devotions, don’t be too hard on yourselves. Instead, go at a pace that is not too uncomfortable. Why? Because every effort that does not enable you only hinders you, makes duty wearisome to you, and further disables you by worsening your condition” (Baxter, 87). Baxter’s work does not read like a diatribe, but a letter from a loving shepherd to his hurting sheep. The Puritans, unsurprisingly enough, have a rich history of pastoral care. A book like this helps our brothers and sisters feel the warmth and love that oozes from men like Baxter, Sibbes, Burroughs, or even Edwards. And, hopefully, after seeing their pastoral love and concern for their soul, they are encouraged to dive deep into the well of Puritan soul care.

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