Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life

Practical Wisdom by Richard Baxter-Revised, Updated, and Annotated by Michael S. Lundry, MD

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life

The title given to this jewel will do one of two things for the individual passing by. The onlooker will either be drawn in, considering their personal experience and its co-existence with their faith or, it won’t settle well with them due to the notion that these subjects should not be addressed alongside one another. I fell into the first class.

Now in my forties, I recognize depression and anxiety for the persistent pestilences that they have been in my life. I haven’t always been as keenly aware, and honestly, I have probably spent more time denying that they truly existed. This isn’t as uncommon as one might think. Many Christians believe these are choices made and not conditions that can legitimately plague a person.

I snatched this book at a Christian Counseling Conference I attended with my husband. We had spent several days learning about brain health and its connection to our spiritual life. Due to my recent battles with depression and anxiety, I was initially interested in educating myself further. I was intrigued that it included annotations by a medical doctor and determined to make the purchase.

It didn’t take long for me to find that I had to stretch my intellect to follow the writings of Michael S. Lundry. I equate his tone to Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones. In light of these similarities, I was able to push through and I am so glad I did! Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones was a brilliant medical mind who submitted to the ultimate calling of evangelism. In his book, “Spiritual Depression” he had to pull me along for several chapters before I was able to grasp an understanding of his teachings. Soon, I was hooked and wanted to feast daily on his knowledge. My experience reading Michael Lundry, MD and Richard Baxter has been much the same.

Lundry successfully sets the stage for Baxter. I found his approach to be very insightful. This was my first introduction to his writings. I benefited from the background information and appreciated the validation Lundry established for Baxter’s advice to us. I found myself trusting Baxter. I credit this to Lundry’s annotations.

I was impressed by the wisdom of Baxter, first as an ordained Puritan pastor and second as a lay physician. When I learned that he had practiced over 350 years ago, I was reminded of God’s transcendence. Lundry makes a point to remind the reader that although terminology, and the like, may have changed over time, the solutions offered by Baxter are still relevant. Many of these solutions go hand-in-hand with treatments given today.

Baxter’s life convicted me on many levels. He experienced great persecution for his reformed theology and when he was imprisoned and could no longer preach, he chose to write. I was reminded of Jeremiah, the prophet, who said, “his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones...” (Jeremiah 20:9) He would not be quietened. Oh, how we have benefited! If I did not receive anything else from this book, the perspective Baxter provided to those in his care, is priceless. It was said of Baxter, that “he commends his readers first to the care of their faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, and then to the care of faithful friends and family, along with “familiar” physicians.”

Lundry builds a strong case that Baxter’s counsel should be esteemed. As Baxter offered an in-depth explanation of the term melancholy, he gave us a good assessment of those who are prone to suffer from this condition. The findings he noted of the depressed or anxious Christian helped solidify some of my reckonings. We cannot truly understand how to help those with this condition until recognize them in their need. It would be beneficial for our society, but most certainly for our churches, to be aware of these tale-tell characteristics.

Baxter addresses the symptoms by giving us specific directions that should lessen the effects of the conditions. The number one direction he provided is to “Be sure a theological error is not the root of your distress.” He pleads with them to be sure they have a “solid understanding of the covenant of grace and the riches of mercy revealed in Christ.” He is not naive to the enemy’s attack on our belief in God.

I also appreciate his genuine understanding that not all depression and anxiety are from sin assumed in someone’s life. He affirms, many times, they occur in circumstances of overwhelming grief. He doesn’t deny Satan’s potential involvement, but he doesn’t give undue credit to demonic causes. Regardless of the underlying cause, he gives credence to having a sincere desire to assist in the distress rather than attempting to excuse it away or place unnecessary judgment on the inflicted.

Many who have walked through depression and anxiety can attest to their obstinate arrogancy. Arrogance and anxiety create quite the conundrum. This perilous combination requires diligent support “and what they cannot do, their friends must strengthen them to do.” From this point forward, I commit to sharing this wisdom zealously. I am indebted to the voices of truth that stepped into my life to reconnect me to reality when I was incapable of reasoning through my circumstances on my own.

The practical wisdom that I gleaned from Richard Baxter’s counsel was not for myself as the diseased one. The duties that he outlines for those surrounding the inflicted, are essential to restored health. A resolution becomes attainable, for many, when they are willing to submit themselves under the care of others. “When the disease itself keeps them from helping themselves, then most of their help from God will come from others.” I will passionately endorse this great help to all the “others” that I encounter.