Josiah Audette

"Aware of the past, curious about the future, ready to argue the present." Tocqueville

Tag: Depression

King Alfred the Great

alfred the great

Wash you, make you clean, take away the evil of your works from before mine eyes: cease to do evil. Learn to do well: seek judgment, relieve the oppressed: judge the fatherless, and defend the widow. come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins were as crimson, they shall be made white as snow: though they were red like scarlet, they shall be as wool, If ye consent and obey, ye shall eat the good things of the land. But if ye refuse and be rebellious, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

Isaiah 1. 16-20

INTRODUCTION

This passage is increasingly relevant to the plight of western Christendom today. Our local and supreme courts have forsaken the divine justice in its exercise of its judgments, our statist, welfare society has fostered an individualism under which no one fares well, we murder the fatherless, and we commercially institutionalize the widow. Consequentially, as the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it, we are being devoured religiously by immigrant invasion, devoured economically by an all-consuming state, devoured morally by the sexual revolution, devoured ethically by the supreme court zeitgeist, devoured politically by a mobocracy, and aesthetically by a culture of death. However, these things will not be the cause of our nation’s overthrow. They are the result. The result of a lethargic apostasy in the  Christian worship of local churches.

This is not the first time the church, or English speaking peoples have relinquished themselves to be devoured in such a manner. To this end, we may look back 1200 years ago to the time of the England of the Anglo-Saxons under King Alfred the Great. Who took an almost entirely defeated and devoured nation back from the viking invaders, enlightened a practically illiterate and ignorant Christian people, built a diversified and thriving economy, reformed the laws of justice in the land, and revived a latent church. He was a King David in his deliverance of Israel from the vikings, a King Solomon in his teaching and legislating wisdom and justice to the people, and a King Josiah in reforming a dying church. Truly, he was Alfred… the Great.

PROPHET OF NORTHUMBRIA

Alcuin, a native of Northumbria (Northern England) wrote the following indictment depicting the state of the nation to the king of northern England. “Carefully consider, brothers, and diligently note: lest this extraordinary and unheard of evil might be somehow merited by the habit of some unspoken wickedness. I am not saying that the sin of fornication never appeared before among the people. But since the days of King Alfwold, fornications, adulteries, and incest have inundated the land, such that these sins have been perpetrated without any shame, even against nuns who have been dedicated to God. What can I say about greed, robbery, and perverted judgments? When it is clearer than daylight, how much these crimes have flourished everywhere and it is witnessed by a plundered people.” Firstly, what was this extraordinary and unheard evil being merited? It was the viking raids. At the time of Alfred’s birth in 849 the vikings had terrorized the inhabitants of the land in their savage raids of murder, rapine, and plunder. Religious communities especially were their targets of choice. Monasteries and churches full of wealth were plundered by the vikings who then made hasty retreats evading the sluggish saxon military. Their violence was nothing less than terrorizing, where for them the crueler the death the greater the story. They preyed on the Saxon’s weaknesses of community isolation, defenceless monasteries, and Christian holidays. One record depicts the viking execution of the defeated king of East Anglia, king Edward. “First the king was bound to a tree, where he was scourged and beaten. Then the Vikings shot arrows at him until he ‘bristled like a hedgehog.’ Annoyed at his continued calling out to Christ, the Vikings finally beheaded him.” This “extraordinary and unheard evil” referred to by that native of Northumbria is sadly not a foreign reality to us 1200 years later where Christian leaders are still being tortured and beheaded by eastern invaders. No less familiar to our society is this “habit of some unspoken wickedness” in the devoured land of England. What was this unconfessed, secret national sin that the native of Northumbria was referring to which merited such plunder? Prior to the viking invasions, England had witnessed a time of prosperity. To which the Christian people had become both indolent, ignorant, and insolent. Their love of Christian works and Christian work wained so much so that at the time of King Alfred hardly any church or statesman could understand the Latin tongue. This intellectual lethargy in the church gradually digressed into paganism in the society. Paganism marked by sexual revolution, oppression, and the abandonment of justice. Just as the native of Northumbria, who patterned his speech after the prophet Isaiah, passed judgment on the land. The native of Northumbria warns even us today that the cause of this “extraordinary and unheard evil” [of eastern invaders] is merited by our “habit of some unspoken wickedness.” Where sexual revolution has “inundated the land, such that these sins have been perpetuated without any shame.” And what too can we say of the “greed [Of people rich in debt], robbery [Of wealth redistribution], and perverse judgments  [Of the courts and parliament]? When it is clearer than daylight, how much these crimes have flourished everywhere and is witnessed by a plundered people.”

O Guide, if Thou wilt not steer fortune amain

But lets her rush so self-willed and vain,

I know that the world will doubt of Thy might,

And few among men in Thy rule will delight.

My Lord, overseeing all things from on high

Look down on mankind with mercy’s mild eye,

In wild waves of trouble they struggle and strive,

Then spare the poor earthworms, and save them alive!

“A Psalm to God” by King Alfred the Great

BATTLE OF ASHTOWN

As the native of Northumbria forewarned, in the autumn of 866 the kingdom of Northumbria fell to the vikings, followed by the kingdom of Mercia in 867, and the kingdom of East Anglia in 869. The only Anglo-Saxon kingdom remaining was the kingdom of Wessex ruled by king Ethelwulf, whose son was Alfred. Like David of Jesse, Alfred was the youngest and fifth born son of king Ethelwulf. Like Joseph, he was favoured by his parents. Like Christ, he grew in wisdom and stature. Of his childhood the Bishop of Assar writes, “He was loved by his father and mother, and even by all the people, above all his brothers, and was educated altogether at the court of the king. As he advanced through the years of infancy and youth, his form appeared more comely than that of his brothers; in look, in speech, and in manners he was more graceful than they.” Alfred developed a love for the poetry of the Saxon tongue, together with the disciplines of hunting and fighting. All of which would serve him well in his future reign. However, Alfred’s family was plagued by the treachery of the eldest son against the kingship of his father together with the deaths of many of his brothers in battle against the vikings, and ultimately the death of his father in 858. Only Alfred and his older brother Ethelred remained of the royal family. Both of whom would fight valiantly against the vikings. One of the brothers most notable engagements was the Battle of Ashdown. Alfred was a mere twenty-two years of age, neither a king or seasoned soldier. Notwithstanding he lead his men to the place where the vikings had gathered for their attack on the last standing kingdom of Wessex. In this battle Alfred was not only lacking in age, kingship, and experience, but also lacked the better ground in the battle. The vikings had positioned themselves at the top of a hill and thus began the first formality of viking battle to the Saxons assembled bellow, namely, the flyting. Flyting, was an exchange of insults, ranging from accusations of cowardice, to graphic depictions of what would be done to their corpses and womenfolk waiting in Wessex. After this demoralizing assault of words, began the assault advance of the vikings tumbling down the hill towards Alfred’s men. Alfred commanded his men to form a shieldwall where the front line overlaps their shields, brace each other shoulder to shoulder, and the ranks of men behind lean into the front line for support. Once Alfred had commanded such a formation he joined the front line wall. Much to the surprise of both the Vikings and Saxons the shield wall held the initial impact and furthermore began to push the Vikings backwards up the hill from whence they descended. This initial success worked an almost animal rage in Alfred in cutting down the Vikings. His men later would depict him in battle as a wild boar on the battlefield, razing through the enemy lines as a bloody beast. Alfred and his ability to command was stuck in the shieldwall, from which no man could depart lest the vikings break through the gap. As a Saxon fell on the front line another would immediately step up from behind him to fill the wall. Naturally the length of the battle up the hill began to put a strain not he shieldwall. Alfred’s brother, Ethelred, was to join him in battle, but was delayed by a prolonged morning mass. When his aid was most needed, Ethelred accompanied by his men appeared over the ridge and attacked the vikings from the side. The Battle of Ashtown was among the first notable victories for the Saxons. After which the bulk of their men returned home to tend to their home and work leaving the two kingly brothers with a meagre army. Despite this great victory, the armies of Wessex continued to loose in battle with the Vikings. In one of which loses, Ethelred was gravely wounded an shortly went the way of all flesh. Upon the death of his last family member Alfred received the crown of Wessex. He was their only and last defender.

None would think the daylight dear

If dim night they did not fear;

So, to every one of us,

On the broad earth dwelling thus, 

Joy more joyous still is seen

After troubles once have been.

“Uses of Adversity” by King Alfred the Great

A SIGHT OF DESPAIR

One could imagine the sorrow and anguish Alfred must have felt, especially, as melancholy had been his disposition from youth. One record recounts, “The aforesaid Alfred often fell into such great misery, that sometimes none of his subjects knew where he was or what had become of him.” Beyond this mental anguish of internal anxieties, kingly burdens, and continual invasions by the Vikings, Alfred was plagued by physical pain. During his youth, Alfred found himself greatly tempted by the lewdness of the sexual revolution about him and prayed daily for God to give him some sort of physical affliction (So long as it was not deforming or disabling) to curb his sinful affliction. God delivered him from the lusts of a young man with the excruciating disease of piles. Gradually, depleted by the misery and agony of the disease Alfred asked God deliver him, which the Lord was pleased to do. Until the day of his marriage to Ealswith, where in the middle of the marriage feast Alfred doubled over in incapacitating pain. This mysterious internal torment would not leave Alfred until his death. King Alfred took great relief in the Psalms of David and wrote poetry of his own to combat his melancholy. We can glimpse something of his agony in his poem, “A Sight of Despair.”

Alas! in how grim

A gulf of despair,

Dreary and dim

For sorrow and care,

My mind toils along

When the waves of the world

Stormy and strong

Against it are hurled.

When in such strife my mind will forget

Its light and its life

In worldly regret,

And though the night

Of this world doth grope

Lost to the light

Of heavenly hope.

Thus it hath no

Befallen my mind

I know no more how

God’s goodness to find,

But groan in my grief

Troubled and tost,

Needing relief

For the world I have lost.”

Alfred’s contemporary biographer, the Bishop of Assar, wrote of this aspect of Alfred with the following: “But the Almighty not only granted to the same glorious king victories over his enemies, but also permitted him to be harassed by them, to be sunk down by adversities, and depressed by the low estates office followers, to the end that he might learn that there is one Lord of all things, to whom every knee doth bow, and in whose hand are the hearts of kings; who puts down the mighty from their seat and exalteth the humble; who suffers his servants when they are elevated at the summit of prosperity to be touched by the rod of adversity, that in their humility they may not despair of God’s mercy, and in their prosperity they may bot boast of their honours, but may also know, to whom they owe all the things which they possess.”

THE RESURRECTION OF ALFRED

This despair was only the beginning for King Alfred. Of the many battle and skirmishes waged against the raiding army after Ashdown, the victory had gone to the Viking marauders, whose ultimate victory seemed eminent. However, of all the other Saxon kingdoms none other had resisted the Vikings so strong or cost them so much as King Alfred’s Wessex. But neither resistance nor extortion payment could keep them off, so that in the end (Or what seemed to be the end) the nobles of Wessex betrayed King Alfred and took oaths of Submission to the Viking commander, Guthrum. As one biographer morbidly notes, “Cut off from his throne, his court, and his armies, Alfred, betrayed and abandoned, wandered into the moors, wastelands, and fens of Wessex, moving into the marshes and woods of Somerset.” As once King David was, so too now was King Alfred cut off and betrayed by his own people. Nonetheless, he refused to abandon his kingdom as they had abandoned him. Alfred conducted a rather successful campaign of guerrilla warfare against Guthrum from his secret headquarters in the marshlands. Alfred’s resistance at this time where he was hid away in the dark, black forest of the moors engendered a Robin Hood like fame of him among the oppressed and those still loyal to the king. One biographer records the legend of “How Alfred dressed himself up as a juggler and walked openly into the camp of the Danes, who, not recognizing him and thinking he was some sort of entertainer, welcomed him into their camp and demanded that he perform. The disguised king obliged them and performed for the Viking camp for several days, delighting them thoroughly. During this time he was able to walk freely through the camp, spying out their numbers, checking on their state of readiness, and collecting all the information necessary for forming his own straggles of attack.” Such tales inspired those loyal to the throne, both peasant and noble, and discomforted those base nobles who had betrayed Alfred. During these darkest days the betrayed king used surprise attacks, secret networks of communication with nobles still loyal, spying, and surveillance to raise an army once again to face Guthrum in battle.  Alfred’s legendary example instilled a nobility and principle in the people of Wessex. Through the continued inspiration of Alfred and the persecution of the Vikings it was clear to the people that freedom would be worth fighting for. Their sense of self-rule had been reinstated by their secret king’s example of self-discipline, preparation, and retrospection. Alfred sent a secret communication summoning those loyal to battle. The secret reunion of Alfred with his loyal nobles and armies of 5,000 men in the misty forest was a spectacular moment. “It was as if the king had been restored to life after a terrible tribulation.” 

“He that wishes power to win,

First must toil to rule his mind,

That himself the slave to sin

Selfish lust may never bind:

Let him haste to put away

All that fruitless heap of care:

Cease while they sighs to-day,

And thyself from sorrow spare.

How shall he seem great or strong,

If himself he cannot save,

Word and deed against all wrong,

But to sin is still a slave?”

“Of Self-Rule” by King Alfred the Great

DELIVERANCE OF ENGLAND

King Alfred and his army of 5,000 met the Viking tyrrant, Guthrum to wage battle. The two enemies formed their respective shieldwalls and marched on each other. When they were within a short distance, both sides flew javelins into the sky destined for their enemies ranks. The silent soar of so many spears was said to blacken the sky as they slowly rose and then dove into the arms, torsos, and shields of those fateful souls in their trajectory. Both shield walls were weakened as the dead and wounded fell to the ground, quickly being replaced by those from behind. Axes were readied for the next stage of combat. At this juncture the Vikings unleashed a special force of maniacal madmen called the Berserkers. Before battle these men would conduct a heathen dancing ritual and consume a hallucinogenic mushroom turning them into a ravenous craze with the strength of wolves and beasts. They painted their faces into distorted, grotesque forms and went naked into battle. Yet now the men of Wessex remained noble to their great nobleman, King Alfred, and quickly dispensed with the demonic lives of the Berserkers, broke the Viking shieldwall, and gained the victory over Guthrum after so many long years of oppression. What Alfred was to do next though would be more marvellous to the people of Wessex than any battle victory could display. Guthrum offered total surrender to Alfred, never before had such terms been submitted by an invading Viking. Any time an English king had surrendered to a Viking no mercy was shown. The Vikings had in previous victories bound the king of East Anglia to a tree and packed his body with arrows and in Northumbria they ritually sacrificed the defeated king. If Alfred was to exact the same treatment on Guthrum which Guthrum had exacted from Alfred’s brethren, he too would be brutally executed. Alfred had been merciful before in his terms of surrender; settling for oaths, hostages, and extortion payments, but the Vikings continually break such oaths of peace. Alfred shocked all when he demanded Guthrum and his thirty best men be baptized into the Christian faith. This was no mere outward ceremony though. The medieval church believed as we do that the Christian faith was a rebirth. Alfred and the Christians of his day took this imagery seriously and incorporated many elements of the first, physical birth. As in the first, physical birth their are physical parents, so too in the second, spiritual rebirth their are spiritual parents. Consequently, at each baptism there was a man or woman who sponsored the new baptized Christian as a sort of spiritual godparent. This too was no empty ritual. To be a spiritual godparent was much the same as to be a physical parent. You accepted them into your family, your home, your wealth, influence, and power. Hence, when Alfred summoned Guthrum, his mortal enemy, to be baptized he was entering into a spiritual covenant, a spiritual adoption, and become a spiritual mentor to this viking. Guthrum accepted Alfred’s gesture and was baptized by Alfred himself. One biographer records, “Alfred treated his godson, along with Guthrum’s thirty Danish companions, to twelve days of Anglo-Saxon feastng. The Viking guests, once the mortal enemies of the Wessex throne, now sat in Alfred’s races mead hall, white-robed, banqueting on roasted boar and veinison draining horns of mead, and listening to the Saxon stop thrumming on his lyre and singing poems of the glory of long-dead warriors, mingled with lyrics of praising the most high God who had created the wonder-filled world.” Guthrum’s testimony of faith remained true to his death. In the future he refused to join viking raiders in planned attacks on Wessex, he preserved peace with Alfred, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records his death as King Alfred’s godson with no mention of his life as a Viking or his wars against Alfred. From his youth, Alfred, despite all odds against him, discipled himself in the Christian faith though he was racked in pain and misery. He discipled a disloyal, difficult, people in the Christian faith. He discipled his greatest nemesis in the Christian faith and delivered England as King David.

Thus quoth Alfred, England’s love,

‘Would ye live for God above?

Would ye long that He may show

Wiselike things for you to know,

That you may world’s worship gain,

And your souls to Christ attain?’

Wise the saying Alfred said:

‘Christ the Lord I bid thee dread

Meekly, O mine own dear friend,

Love and like him without end;

He is Lord of life and love,

Blest all other bliss above,

He is man, our Father true,

And a meek mild Master too;

Yea, our borther; yea our king;

Wise and rich in everything,

So that nought of His goo will

Shall be aught but pleasure still

To the man who Him with fear

In the world doth worship here.’

Thus quoth Alfred, our delight:

‘He may be no king of right

Under Christ, who is not filled

With book lore, in law well skilled,

Letter he must understand,

And know by what he holds his land.”

REVIVAL AND REFORMATION

Alfred sought to know by what he held the land. Having secured the deliverance of England as King David he sought as King Solomon in times of peace to retrieve the lost scholars, revive the floundering education, restore the justice system, raise the debased church, restart a broken economy, and reinstate a better currency, reinforced broken defences, retrained a new army, and rectify a new navy. Alfred understood as the native of Northumbria that the vikings were not the cause of England’s overthrow. They were the result. The result of an apostate people dwelling on formally Christian soil. He devoted himself as King Josiah to a revival of Christian learning and Christian worship. He translated several great works of Christendom into the Anglo-Saxon tongue such as The Consolation of Philosophy, Soliloquies of Augustine, Pastoral Care, and the first fifty psalms of the Bible. He also tasked the nobles to learn the scholarly Latin tongue. One biographer records, “Alfred orchestrated a tremendous revival of literacy, a revival that culminated in the greatest literary renaissance ever experienced in Anglo-Saxon Britain.” The end of literacy for Alfred was the Solomon-like, kingly virtue of wisdom. Thus any man presently holding or aspiring to office must attain this royal skill. Alfred composed the most comprehensive set of laws in his Domboc, or Book of Dooms. These would set the foundation for the English Common Law, the Magna Carta, and the legal systems of Canada, America, Australia, and New Zealand. His Domboc drew from the ten commandments and other prohibitions of Moses for sins and transgressions which would doom the nation of Israel. He applied the principles of Moses’ dooms and commandments to the nation of England. Justice was thereby established on the Bible and Law of God. “Of this one law” wrote Alfred, “a man can think, that he must judge all in justice; he needs no other book-book. He thinks that he should not judge to any man which he would not have judged to himself; if he then sought judgment over him.” Alfred’s laws were marked by the principle of restitution, and that the punishment must fit the crime. His laws insisted on keeping oaths and pledges, forbidding sedition and treason, offenders making restitution to victims, sexual morality, ending honour killings and family feuds. After twenty eight years of reigning, at the age of 50, in 899 King Alfred echoed Isaiah in his dying words to his throne heir and son.

“Thus quoth Alfred: “My dear son, come near;

Sit thou beside, and I will teach thee here.

I fell mine hour is well-nigh come, my son’

My face is white, my days are almost done:

And thou in all my state shalt stand alone:

I pray thee, for mine own dear child thou art,

Lord of this people, play their father’s part,

Be thou the orphan’s sire, the widow’s friend,

Comfort the poor man, and the weak defend;

With all thy might

Succour the right,

And be strong

Against the wrong:

And thou, my son, by law thyself restrain,

So God shall be thy Guide, and glorious Gain;

Call thou for help’s Him in every need,

And He shall give thee greatly to succeed.”

Thoughts on Suicide

SuicideThe famous Scottish atheistic philosopher, David Hume, wrote in favor of suicide. He said, “When I fall upon my own sword, I receive my death equally from the hands of the Deity, as if it had proceeded from a lion, a precipice, or a fever.”

William Plumer thoroughly refuted him:

If this sentence has any meaning, it is that the wilful, deliberate taking of our own lives is the same as dying by the providence of God, when he permits us to fall under the influence of pestilence, or of wild beasts. And if that is true, then we are no more criminal for killing a man than we are for seeing him die of fever.

The whole argument in favour of suicide goes on the supposition of the truth of the principles which are clearly false. 1, That man has the right to dispose of his own life; whereas none but the Author of our existence can lawfully do so; 2, That we are competent judges of the question whether we have lived long enough or not; whereas a large proportion of mankind have been very useful after they supposed they could do no more good; 3, That we owe no obligations to parents, or children, or others, who may be dependent upon our exertions; whereas we may entail upon them untold miseries by taking our own lives; 4, that God has not legislated on the subject; whereas the sixth commandment clearly forbids it; 5, that salvation is not an object worth seeking, whereas it is the only thing claiming our supreme attention; 6, That it is heroic to sink under distress or play the coward in suffering wrong; whereas a large part of the best moral lessons, taught by example, has been delivered to mankind in the depths of affliction.

Antidotes to Melancholy

Angst

Q. What are God’s works of providence?

A. God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing of all his creatures, and all their actions.

PROVIDENCE & JOY

The foregoing doctrinal thesis is a fundamental understanding of Christendom. One which we at Grace Haven are more than familiar with. Acknowledging simply, that providence is the collation of the Divine Provision and the Divine Government of God exercised in His righteousness, wisdom, and omnipotence. It is a necessary doctrine due to the doctrine of Creation (Which the Catechism most wisely explained in the question and answer before). Creation and Providence are intimate doctrines of an inseparable relationship to be preserved to the utmost degree. Just as all creatures were called into being by the creative act of God in Creation, so they instantaneously fall under the sovereignty of God in Providence. This is antithetical to modern man’s philosophy. They are incompatible, and when held in error are egregious. No philosophical idea is religiously neutral. No idea is without consequence. Thus, philosophy and theology answer the same questions, but in different manners. If we were to imagine an atheistic catechism on the question of teleology or meaning we could read thus. Existentialism believes all creatures and all their actions are governed by free will. Nihilism believes all creatures and all their actions are governed by meaninglessness. Platonism – by social engineers. Rationalism – by science. Pragmatism – by the polls. Socialism – by total equality. Environmentalism – by nature. Evolutionism – by chance. These  are all summarily anthropocentric ideas of meaninglessness and purposelessness. Such philosophies are exhibited in the Oxford and Cambridge comedians of Monty Python’s film, “The Meaning of Life.” In the film the meaning of life is dramatically alluded to but never discovered. Contrarily, life is portrayed in the film as absurd and meaninglessness due to the total absence of a discovered purpose. Such abandonment of teleology ought to leave us the audience with an intense emotion of apprehension and anxiety. To overcome this anxiety, Monty Python induces in the audience amusement and comedy, which is nothing less than artificial joy. Neil Postman was absolutely correct when he wrote we a-muse (literally, not-think) ourselves to death. Only a sick and twisted world can come to the most sobering conclusion that there is no meaning and laugh at it. The resulting emotion of anxiety from existential thought was so widely and strongly felt 19th century society that it was given its own word. The term given to depict something of the inner turmoil which terrorized the minds of adherents to existential philosophy was “Angst.” The social ill still persists to this day on a massive scale, just we now call it “mental illness.” Indeed everything and anything outside God’s control leaves man in Edvard Munch’s “infinite scream passing through nature.” Whereas the true realization of providence produces eternal joy in the heart of the believer, an ultimate denial of providence and acceptance in its stead of chaotic chance produces only angst.

ORTHODOXY & ORTHOPRAXY

Therefore, doctrine of Providence may be applied to combat despondency and depression in our lives. It mercifully provides a promised future, not a meaningless chaos. It relieves us of the angst that the philosophies of man will helplessly leave us in. Despondency is fought by preaching the truth of God’s providence to ourselves concerning God and his promised future. Providence is a not just a profound truth, but a profound reality. Morecraft explained this possibility as follows, “In theory it is easy to understand the premise of all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose, but to get this into our blood-streams is another matter. It is one of the most difficult tasks of the practicing Christian. It involves not only believing in God but believing God.” In other words, just shelving this doctrine in your orthodoxy does not permit you to “Pass Go and Collect $200.” It must also affect our orthopraxy. True orthodoxy results in right orthopraxy. Orthodoxy is concerned with believing what is true where Orthopraxy is concerned with doing what is correct. Simply interpreted, what you believe will affect what you do. To have one without the other is hypocrisy and potentially heresy. The great scholastic Robert Burton wrote, “By ignorance we know not things necessary, by error we know them falsely. Ignorance is a privation (Omission), error a positive act (Commission). From ignorance comes vice, from error heresy.”  Without applying the orthodox doctrine of Providence to our orthopraxy, whether through ignorance or error, we will still experience that inner angst. However, if we do apply it the result is a glorious doxology.

DOXOLOGY

The glorious result of true orthodoxy subjoined with right orthopraxy is doxology, that is, praise to God. Piper expounds upon this notably, “There is a deep release and a relief that comes when we find a way of seeing and saying some precious or stunning reality that comes a little closer to closing the breach between what we’ve glimpsed with our mind and what we’ve grasped with our heart.” No matter the intentness of your listening, length of your notes, or eloquence of my speech can the joy of God’s providence be unleashed in our lives. It is a work of the Holy Spirit, requested through prayer, when the heart embraces the true doctrine in the mind. So my prayer today is that God would be pleased to move from an intellectual acceptance of believing in God to a wholehearted embracement of the foundational Scripture to the doctrine of God’s providence. “Also we know that all things work together for the best unto them that love God, even to them that are called of his purpose.” Romans 8:28

BLACK DOG

As stated earlier it is not a difficulty to believe  Providence in Romans 8:28. (There have been many a quixotic and romantic sermon done upon it.) But the Providence of God in Romans 8:28 is a lifetime struggle to believe in and take joy from. The realities of our lives, feelings, and emotions seem so very far from the idealism of the mind. Our lives are so riddled with problems and burdens to carry. We are encumbered with thoughts pensive upon sin in and all around us. Life is ultimately too much work for too little a result, a vanity and futility at best. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What remaineth unto man in all his travail, which he suffereth under the sun?” Such at least is the pattern of my own thoughts and while I adhere to Question 11 of the Westminster Catechism I still experience that angst of the unbeliever. As I am aware, this spiritual depression has proven itself to be the predominant sin and battle in my Christian life. Martin Lloyd Jones prophetically wrote, “I have no hesitation in asserting again that one of the reasons why the Christian Church counts for so little in the modern world is that so many Christians are in this condition [of spiritual depression]… The greatest need of the hour is a revived and joyful Church… Unhappy Christians are to say the least, a poor recommendation of the Christian faith.” Lloyd Jones’ assessment has been a painful indictment even in my own life. Countless times family, friends, coworkers, even complete strangers have remarked on my melancholy attitude and countenance. I am not alone in such depression and by far not the furthest overwhelmed. Such spiritual hero’s as the missionary David Brainerd, preacher Charles Spurgeon, and hymn writer William Cowper experienced ineffable suffering under depression. Try as these powerful Christians might, they could not shake throughout their lives their angst. Missionary to the North American Indians, David Brainerd, journaled, “Was so overwhelmed with dejection that I knew not how to live: I longed for death exceedingly: My soul was “sunk in deep waters,” and “the floods” were ready to “drown me”: I was so much pressed that my soul was in a kind of horror.” Spurgeon wrote of it, “Causeless depression cannot be reasoned with, nor can David’s harp charm it away by sweet discoursings. As well fight mist as with this shapeless, undefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness… the iron bolt which so mysteriously fastens the door of hope and holds our spirits in gloomy prison, needs a heavenly hand to push it back.”  Winston Churchill throughout his life referenced personal depression as his “black dog.” It is said that his capacity to rally those who felt overwhelmed by the Nazi threat was built after his sixty years of personal adversity with his black dog and acquaintance with the darkness of horror. In 1621, Oxford Scholar, Robert Burton wrote his encyclopedic monograph on clinical depression called, “The Anatomy of Melancholy.” It was and is an exhaustive and heavy theological, medical, and philosophical compendium on the subject. His reasoning for writing such a work was, “I write of melancholy by being busy to avoid melancholy.” Oliver Cromwell’s chaplain, Richard Baxter, preached extensively on depression “Lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.”  Lloyd Jones noted, “Some of the greatest saints are introverts; the extrovert is generally a more superficial person. In the natural realm there is the type of person who is always analyzing himself, analyzing everything he does. The danger for such people is to become “morbid.” Introspective individuals seem to be highly centred on themselves.” So if you find yourself experiencing something of the same, you are by no means the only soul followed by this “Black dog.”

ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY

As a matter of fact, if you as a Christian have not or are not now experiencing depression be sure that you shall in good time. This black dog attacks without discrimination, mercy, or end. Some of you have a mind that is habitually troubled and disquieted. Some of you may know personally a fellow brother or sister in Christ that sees nothing but matters of fear and trouble and all that they hear or do only feeds it. Because they are constantly accused by what they read and learn they cant find delight in anything. Richard Baxter further described depression’s syndrome with, “Fearful dreams trouble them when they sleep, and distracted thoughts do keep them long walking; it offends them to see another laugh, or be merry; they think that every beggars case is happier than theirs; they will hardly believe that any one else is in their case they have no pleasure in relations, friends, estate, or anything..” Men like William Cowper and John Bunyan struggled with the apprehension of God having forsaken them and that their day of grace was past or mind’s were haunted with deprived and blasphemous suggestions. “In a word” finished Baxter, “fears, and troubles, and almost despair, are the constant temper of their minds.” Probably the most fearful reality of this depression is that in many cases those suffering, cannot be consoled nor say anything against those that attempt to convince them of the sincerity of their faith in God. Encourage them as you may, it relieves them of not of the slightest degree of their trouble. “Quiet them a hundred times, and their fears a hundred times return.” “Thy life shall hang before thee, and thou shalt fear both night and day, and shalt have none assurance of thy life. In the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were evening, and at the evening thou shalt say, Would God it were morning, for the fear of thine heart, which thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes, which thou shalt see.” Deuteronomy 28:67. And so it seems to the poor Christian that “all things work together for their worst.”

UNBELIEF

The causes of despondency are as complex and numerous as their syndromes. Depression is never a simple thing. It can be as much spiritual as physical. Lloyd Jones clarified, “You cannot isolate the spiritual from the physical for we are body, mind and spirit.” Psalm 73:26 reads, “My flesh faileth and mine heart also…” Both Burton and Baxter go to great lengths in their respective monographs to address the physical causation and reliefs of melancholy. Says Burton, “Now the instrumental causes of these our infirmities, are as diverse as the infirmities themselves; stars, heavens, elements, &c. And all those creatures which God hath made, are armed against sinners. They were indeed once good in themselves, and that they are now many of them pernicious unto us, is not in their nature, but our corruption, which hath caused it.” There is no simple or single cause of despondency, however it is safe to say there is an ultimate one. Unbelief. Unbelief in God. Unbelief in His providence, His justification, His expiation, His imputation, His grace and such like is the ultimate cause of all spiritual depression. A believer may experience grave depression and it is only unbelief that would let it take its course without resistance. But is it a sin to helplessly  feel depressed? John Piper clarifies this quandary, “The first shockwaves of the blast of despondency are not the sin. The sin is not turning on the air-raid siren, and not heading for the bomb shelters, and not deploying the antiaircraft weapons. If Satan drops a bomb on your peace, and you don’t make ready for war, people are going to wonder whose side you’re on.” So when the believer experiences a spirit of melancholy, however anatomized, they must wage war on it by activating their belief. It is not a sin to feel that sickening rush of depression come suddenly upon you, or to struggle months on end in its clutches, yet it is a sin to not give up a fight at the least. It is not a sin to be as Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:8, “afflicted on every side, yet we are not in distress: we are in doubt, but yet we despair not.” When we permit without resistance for our situations, condition, feelings, or emotion to control us we are implying a lack of belief in God’s Providence. Lloyd Jones warned, “A Christian should never, like the worldly person, be depressed, agitated, alarmed, frantic, not knowing what to do.” God’s abundant grace still remains to take up that which we did not. The Christian is not impervious to pressure and suffering, its only that the Christian is the one who can rise above such things. Christianity is not a monastical repression of feelings. The more Christian you are does not mean the greater absence of feelings you will experience. On the other hand, the further your walk with Christ the more feelings you will experience, both good and bad. As one poet wrote,

“Ah my dear angry Lord,

Since thou dost love, yet strike;

Cast down, yet help afford;

Sure I will do the like.

I will complain, yet praise;

I will bewail, approve:

And all my swore-sweet dayes

I will lament, and love.”

So the Christian is always engulfed in feelings. Overall, as stated earlier, when we believe in the Providence of God in our own lives to “work all things together for the best” will we experience victory over angst. In angst, the imagination runs wild and we spend ourselves in a mad dream chasing and arguing imaginations all the while depriving ourselves of the joy of the Lord.  “Peace, peace, there is no peace.” But, we may assure ourselves that we can and shall be revived by God if applied. “The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” Ps 19:7He restoreth my soul.”  Ps 23:3 “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is the fullness of joy: and at they right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” Ps 16:11 “Joy cometh in the mourning.” Ps 30:5. The difficulty is not in intellectually accepting Question 11 of the Catechism, nor agreeing with the testimony of Scripture, but in applying it as a weapon against our depression or helping others apply it in their own struggles.

SOLILOQUIZE

Martin Luther wrote, “Preach the gospel to yourself every day because everyday you forget it.” There is a radical method herein and it is “Soliloquy.” Soliloquy is the act of speaking one’s thoughts when by oneself. It is a notable pattern in the Psalms to read soliloquy phrases as Psalm 42:5, “Why art thou cast down, my soul, and unquiet within me?” Lloyd Jones acutely observed, “Notice the psalmist addresses himself – “he talks to himself,” and herein he discovers the cure.” It is mainly when our feelings and emotions and perception control our lives that we succumb to  depression and melancholy. Our emotions are as Delilah’s pleading to Samson.  They are importunate upon us with their wailing words continually, and vex us, and our souls are pained unto death. The psalmist recognized the main issue of spiritual depression is that we permit our “self” to do the talking instead of “talking to ourself.” Lloyd Jones goes on to describe this inner soliloquy, “Most unhappiness in life is due to the fact that we ‘listen to ourselves’ instead of ‘talking to ourselves.’ David, in effect, says, ‘Self, listen for a moment to what I have to say – why are you so cast down?’ The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself, question yourself, and preach to yourself – you must remind yourself who God is, and what God has done, and what God has promised to do – this is the essence of the treatment in a nutshell. We must understand that this ‘self’ of ours – this other man within us has got to be handled; do not listen to him! turn on him! speak to him! remind him of what you know! So rather than listening to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you – you must take control!” When depression hits, someone is doing the talking. Someone is doing the convincing. The question is who is? When your eyes open in the morning and stare at the ceiling who is reintroducing you to all your problems? When you read your bank statement who is reciting all your failings in your head? When you read your Bible who is reminding you of all your guilt? When you fellowship who is saying how unworthy you are to receive? Who is instilling unbelief in your soul? Be as the soliloquizing psalmist and preach to yourself everyday the providence of God, because everyday you forget God’s providence.

WHAT TO SAY?

You must preach Christ to yourself. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness” not happiness. “Seek for happiness” says Lloyd Jones, “and you will never find it; seek righteousness and you will discover you are happy!” Preach so that you may have an understanding of justification, not sanctification. Piper cautions, “Confusing justification and sanctification will kill joy.” See with John Bunyan that “Thy righteousness is in heaven… I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he lacks my righteousness, for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it is was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, “The same yesterday, today, and forever.” Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful Scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.” A common issue in spiritual depression is a sense of our own unworthiness. Preach to yourself the difference of the kingdom of God to the kingdoms of men. “So the last shall be first, and the first last.” Leave off your bargaining spirit and remember “I am who I am by the grace of God.” Lloyd Jones encourages, “Do not keep a record or an account of your work! Give up being a bookkeeper… Leave the bookkeeping to Him and to His grace. Let Him keep the accounts. The truth is, there is nothing so gracious as God’s method of accountancy. Be prepared for surprises in this Kingdom. The truth is, you never know what is going to happen! The last shall be first! What a complete reversal of our materialistic outlook – everything in God’s kingdom is upside down!” Preach to yourself James 1:2, “Count it exceeding joy, when ye fall into divers tentations.” Philippians 1:29, “For unto you it is given for Christ, that not only ye should believe in him, but also suffer for his sake.” John 16:33, “In the world ye shall have affliction, but be of good comfort: I have overcome the world.” Acts 14:22 “We must through many afflictions enter into the kingdom of God.”

HAVE FAITH

Christian faith is a very concrete, logical, and intelligent act. Christian faith is never blind.

“Blind unbelief is sure to err,

And scan his work in vain;

God is his own interpreter,

And he will make it plain.”

Faith is by nature an act or action, and must be manually started and put into operation. Faith is not a feeling. Faith is not “feeling assured” or “feeling at peace.” Feelings are fleeting, moment to moment and cannot be faith itself. “Faith is perpetual unbelief kept quiet” is has been defined. Faith does not oblige or intreat the temptation, it rejects it without deliberation. How it does so is far from blind, but incredibly logical and intelligent. The foundation of true, logical, intelligent faith is naturally the truth, God’s Scripture. Baxter wrote, “Hold to God’s word, the sacred Bible, written by the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost… It is not divine faith if it rest not on divine revelation, nor is it divine obedience which is not given by divine government or command.” Faith rejects just as naturally the temptation’s lie as it naturally affirms the truth. Faith considers, agrees, and logically thinks through all that we know to be true and then applies the truth against the onslaught of lies. 1 John 5:4, “This is that victory that overcomes this world even our faith.” Faith is a immune system to the soul, a logical algorithm which carefully calculates all the statements of our temptations and puts them into antithesis with all the propositions of Scripture and concludes the temptations to be logically invalid. The key is to only consider and preach to yourself God’s providential plan. “Looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” The moment you pensively consider and permit your self to do the talking you loose ground. As with the Apostle Peter, the moment you take your eyes of Christ and start “focusing on those things that are in juxtaposition to faith” such as the billowing waves, the temptation gives birth to sin and you sink. So the cure to spiritual depression is knowledge of Christ and we hear that in Scripture and we receive Scripture by faith. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” “For ye have not received the Spirit of bondage, to fear again” “He that hath begun this good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” “Now not him that is able to keep you that ye fall not, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with joy, That is, to God only wise, our Saviour be glory, and majesty, and dominion, and power, both now and forever, Amen.” Faith refuses to be tyrannized by circumstances, reactionary on an extreme level, or dependant upon conditions we desire to control. Burton wrote, “the actions of the will are belle and nolle, to will and nil.” Faith wills contentment and nils anxiety. Faith even refuses to “Just suck it up” and repress emotion from the conscious mind to the subconscious. Faith also does not mean we will “feel better” or that our situation will “change.” Paul learned by faith to be content in all situations not controlling of all situations. Lloyd Jones summed it up as follows, “Conditions are always changing, therefore I must not be dependent upon them. What matters supremely is my soul and my relationship with God. God is concerned about me, and nothing happens to me apart for His approving it. God’s will and God’s way are a great mystery, and whatever He permits is for my good. Every situation in life is the unfolding of some manifestation of God’s love and goodness. I must regard circumstances and conditions as a part of God’s perfecting my soul. Whatever my conditions may be at the present moment, they are only temporary.” Summarily, don’t just believe in Question 11, believe God’s providence.

MEANS OF GRACE

Give thanks in all things. Richard Baxter in a message on melancholy instructed, “Resolve to spend most of your time in thanksgiving and praising God. If you cannot do it with the joy that you should, yet do it as you can. You have not the power of your comforts: but have you no power of your tongues?… Doing it as you can is the way to be able to do it better. Thanksgiving with the mouth started up thankfulness in the heart.” Now you may say that to your weak and weary soul all of this speaking, faith, prayer, and thanksgiving in the battle against the depression of your mind sounds exhausting. Well, you are absolutely correct. Exercising the very practical methods and means of waging war on despondency will deplete you of almost everything, but it is more exhausting not to resist and remain in your disquieted state. It is more devastating to listen to yourself to you than for you to address your self. Baxter stressed that, “A delight in God and goodness, and a joyful, praising frame of soul, from the belief of the love of God through Christ, is far more to be desired than grief and tears, which do but sweep away some dirt, that love, joy, and thankfulness may enter, which are the true evangelical, Christian temper, and likest to the heavenly state.” Behold in this, the example of Christ in Gethsemane who took with himself his close disciples. So too, use with thankfulness the help of men. For others, be not unwilling to support those suffering in such wise. “There is no wasted work in loving those without light” says Piper. Again to the despondent, do not be alone. Burton wrote of solitude, “When I would solace myself with a fool, I reflect upon myself, and there I have him.” Baxter encouraged, “Though lawyers, as such, have none of the legislative power, you need their help to understand the use of the law aright. And though no men have power to make laws for the church universal, yet men must be our teachers to understand and use the laws of God.” Refuse the confusion and despondency of man’s anthropocentric philosophies. Refuse to confuse. “Never set a doubtful opinion” said Baxter, “against a certain truth or duty; reduce not things certain to things uncertain.” Faithfully serve Christ as far as you have attained remembering that “I am who I am by the grace of God.” Never stop learning the truth of God to preach to yourself. Continue as Christ’s scholars in learning more and more. Remember the difference between justification and sanctification. Remember, “It is not by some extraordinary act, good or bad, that we may be sure what state the soul is in, but by the predominant bent, and drift, and tenor of the heart and life.” Forget not also to pray,

“When all things seem against us,

To drive us to despair,

We know one gate is open

One ear will hear our prayer.”

CONCLUSION

William Cowper, a dear Christian sustained through his life by the his Christian brother John Newton was immersed in depression for all his days. He wrote the following hymn:

“God moves in a mysterious way 

His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps in the sea

And rides upon the storm.

Of never failing skill

He treasures up his bright designs

And works his sovereign will.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take,

The clouds you so much dread

Are big with mercy and shall break

In blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,

Unfolding every hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste,

But sweet will be the flower.”

To end with Baxter, “Digest these truths, and they will cure you.”