David's Malady and Medicine!
Archibald G. Brown, January 21st, 1872, Stepney Green
"Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God." Psalm 42:11
The psalm, from which I have selected our text, has a beauty all its own. While many others express the same experience — yet none do so in the same style. It has a language peculiar to itself, and the peculiarity is its charm. The beauty of the forty-second psalm is the beauty of an April morning — full of contrasts and surprises. Now everything looks black and lowering — dark clouds heavy with storm come riding on the breeze — they cast a gloom on every side, and then pour down a sweeping torrent. But in a few moments their fury is spent. Then rifts of light widen overhead, the sun breaks through the watery canopy, and every flower of spring glitters with ten thousand brilliants. The light appears more bright through contrast with the black masses still rolling on before the wind. But sunshine does not keep its victory long. Another and a heavier storm gathers on the horizon, sweeps all before it, and in its turn gives way to smiling light.
But never did April weather change so fast as the experiences of the psalmist's heart. Extremes meet in a single verse, and are repeated over and over again, brief though the psalm is. Its beauty is the beauty of light and shade. It resembles a meadow over which the shadows of the clouds are ever gliding. For a moment all seems bright — but now with the speed of a racehorse, the shadow comes; and a second after, its black edge appears fringed with the glory of a meridian sun. There is never a time when the field is either all bright or all black. There is always a bright spot in some part that at one time was dark, and a dark place in another part that at one time was bright.
This psalm is a combination of sighing — and singing; weeping — and smiling through the tears. The sob rises to the song — and the song terminates in another sob. If the psalm is one melody, it has many variations in which the most plaintive minor blends with the most exulting major. As with the psalm, so must it be with the sermon:
"Cast down" must be joined to "hope in God;"
"disquieted" with "I shall yet praise him;"
"tears have been my food" with "the health of my countenance;"
"where is your God?" with "the God of my life."
May the Lord very graciously help us as we meditate upon our text.
I cannot doubt that there are many here to whom the subject will be suitable, for out of so large a number, it cannot be supposed that there are none suffering from David's malady. Depressed souls are to be found in every congregation — sorrowful saints in every assembly. Most earnestly I pray that those of you who are suffering from the psalmist's malady, may be led from tonight to take the psalmist's medicine, "hope in God." I purpose dividing the subject as follows:
1. I will ask you to examine the patient.
2. I will request you to carefully analyze the medicine prescribed.
I. Let us Examine the Patient.There can be no doubt that he is far from well. The whole tenor of his language implies disease, and so distinctly are the symptoms described that we need not be at any loss to find out what is actually the matter. The man is suffering from depression. This is a disease more easily understood, and more readily prescribed for — when anybody other than ourselves is the sufferer. The very presence of the disease seems to take away the power of grappling with it. We have, however, in this psalm so full a description, that it may help us to understand ourselves.
1. Notice first that it is an internal disease.This fact may be learned from the oft-repeated word "soul." "Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you disquieted in me?" "O, my God, my soul is cast down within me." It was no mere superficial malady that the psalmist had — no skin disease where all is apparent and easily reached. The roots of the evil were in the core of his heart. The enemy had not merely carried the outworks and stormed the forts — but lodged himself within the very citadel of the town of Man-soul.
Now of all diseases, internal ones are the worst — and doubly so when of a spiritual nature. Outward trouble will do a man but little harm, so long as it keeps without. It is marvelous what a man can bear so long as he has a good heart within. It is not work that injures — but worry; not outward circumstances — but inward care. A man may lose business, friends, and even physical health — and yet be a stranger to David's malady. This trouble is not the trouble of the sailor when the green waves with crested heads curl over and dash against the sides of the vessel, shaking it from stem to stern; or rising in their wrath, leap upon the deck, and with wild glee pour off again through the portholes. No, his trouble was not that. Bad though that may be, a vessel tight and strong will weather through it. But his trouble is that of the sailor when from one to another the whisper passes through the ship "we have sprung a huge leak!" The water within the boat, is more dreaded than all the ocean without. Such was the case with David. He could say "the waters have come into my soul."
Here then you have the first particular of this disease. Its seat was deep within.
2. But notice next that although inward in its nature, its effects are to be seen in the countenance. In our text we read that God is the health of our countenance; therefore when the manifest presence of God is lacking — the health of the countenance suffers. No inward sorrow can long be hidden. It is sure to betray itself in the countenance; there are a score of tell-tales to reveal the secret. Let a man have however much of the stoic in his nature, and an immense amount of self-command, and all his efforts to hide his depression must at last break down and prove futile. It will come out.
Though consumption (now known as tuberculosis) — that scourge of England — is entirely a hidden disease — yet its shadow can be seen in the face, and its presence heard in the cough. Those pale features with the hectic flush — those thin hands with the blue veins so clearly marked — that cough that sounds like the echo of a grave-vault — all tell their own tale of the inward malady of consumption.
So is it with inward care. A ploughed heart leaves a furrow on the brow — and a heavy soul puts its stamp upon the countenance. It is seldom necessary to make many minute inquiries as to the state of the soul with a Christian. Look into his face, and read the index there. When deep within there is spiritual depression, the brightness of the eye is dimmed, and the smile of the lip — if there is one — is forced.
I am inclined to take "the health of my countenance" in its most literal interpretation, for I truly believe that physical health is more influenced by inward experience than many imagine. The only doctor that some Christians need is their God, and the only medicine they require is hope.
3. There are several symptoms of this disease mentioned in the psalm, and in examining the patient, we must not overlook them. One is great prostration.
1. How expressive is that word "down." "O, my God, my soul is cast down within me." "Down." Yes, no word could better describe the state or feeling. The disease of depression unstrings the whole man. Doubtless many of us have known what it is to feel, after some sickness, such an intense prostration of the system — such an tedium — I use the word for lack of a better — that the smallest things became a burden, and a great effort was required to do the easiest work. There was a strong temptation to sit in listless idleness.
Precisely the same is the result of spiritual depression. The soul becomes so 'down' that every little burden weighs like a mountain, and the smallest duty requires an effort almost greater than we are capable of making. I will mention a few things by way of illustration.
More than anything else, the depressed soul needs prayer. Not only does he need it — but he knows that he needs it, and knowing it, he wants to pray. But O how difficult it is! To kneel down seems almost more than he can do, and as for throwing any fervor into his cry, he is too 'down' for that. What vexes him is this: knowing that if ever he ought to pray, it is now, he feels destitute of the power to pray, or even to make an effort.
If there are those present to whom this experience is unknown, happy are they; but if the majority of Christians with us this evening are like the speaker, they have often known what it is to weep because they could not weep — and mourn because they could not pray when they wanted to the most.
2. This prostration affects all work for God.
O the effort to go and teach a class of children in the Sunday School — when suffering from David's malady! What weariness there is in the work, and how welcome the sound of the bell announcing school time is over.
Let one suffering this way be called to visit a sick or dying case. What torture it is to go! How you wish something might happen to prevent you, so that conscience and inclination might agree. And when at last you do set out, what slow steps you walk with, and how you hesitate to knock at the door, feeling that of all people, you are most unfitted to administer any consolation.
What about preaching when you have this disease? Ah, the speaker knows something of that. Surely of all misery, there is none greater than having to appear before a number of people and preach — when the heart is like a lump of lead! What an effort it requires! How unable one feels to make it. Instead of riding the subject in, as if in a chariot — you are yoked to it, and have to drag it after you for a weary hour.
To be too weary and enervated for prayer or work, is one sad sign of this disease.
3. Another symptom is that of burning thirst. You get that in the first and second verses, "As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him?"
The illustration used here is very striking and significant. A timid deer has been chased by the hounds — mile after mile it has flown like the wind. Its flanks are wreathed with sweat, and it blows the froth like snowflakes from its nostrils. It has outdistanced the dogs — but a new danger meets it. Burning thirst agonizes it, and gives an unnatural fire to the eye.
Do you see how, pausing in its flight, it turns the head in every direction and sniffs the breeze in hope of scenting water. Do you hear the cry of anguish that comes from the dumb brute (for the word used here denotes the cry of the deer when in distress for water) as it turns and turns again in vain?
That is the picture of the soul when it is full of spiritual depression. It pants for God; it remembers the time when it used to rest beside the waters of quietness, and drink to its full, of communion. But now all has changed. It has been driven by the dogs of depression into a wilderness where there is no water. With agony it turns to the right hand and to the left, and cries "I thirst! I thirst!" It is not a creed, not a doctrine, not a service that it is panting for — but God. Indeed, it is not merely God — but the living God.
Precious though an absent Christ is, the soul yearns after a living Savior. He wants the one with whom he may walk and talk and commune as he used to do in days gone past. Depression of the soul, like fever in the veins, torments with a fiery thirst.
4. Another symptom of the disease is loss of appetite. The psalmist says "My tears have been my food day and night." He felt too bad to enjoy his food; grief satisfied more than food. Now although this appears a contradictory symptom to the preceding one — yet are they both frequently found together in the soul's experience. With an intense desire for God — there may yet be a great loss of appetite for the means of grace.
Have you never known what it is to thirst for God — and yet find no joy in reading His book? Has it never seemed to you in seasons of depression as if all the chapters were alike, and all were equally devoid of comfort to the soul? Surely you have.
Have you not also known times when the sanctuary not only lost its charm — but almost became dreaded? You had no appetite for singing hymns or listening to sermons. That which at other times was considered a feast, then palled upon the taste. This loss of relish for the ordinances of the Lord's house is one of the surest and saddest signs of the inward disease.
5. The disease of depression is also accompanied with acute pain in the bones. David speaks of feeling as if he had a sword in his bones; and in his fifty-first psalm — also penned amidst much soul-trouble — he describes his experience by broken bones. "Make me hear joy and gladness that the bones which you have broken may rejoice."
Now this is a description of no ordinary agony. It is not the thrust of the sword through the flesh of the arm which might give sharp but short pain — but the blade finding its way into the very marrow. A sword working its way within the bone is suggestive of excruciating anguish, sufficient to make every nerve in the frame vibrate with pain.
The metaphor is not too strong. Let those who have never suffered from it make light of depression; they will change their note once its roots have struck into their soul.
Those of us who have been laid low by it, know it is not child's play to bear it — but stern work. It is all very easy to pour out platitudes into the ear of the sufferer, and tell him he should think about something else and not give way; but it is quite a different thing to act upon them. Anyone can say "Begone dull care" — but dull care does not go just by being told to.
As to the advice of "not thinking about it," we can only say that none but those perfectly ignorant of what they talk about, would utter such nonsense. Not think about it? Tell that to the man who has the sword point in his bones, and he will be ready to curse you for your folly.
"Think about something else?" Imagine giving that counsel to a poor wretch with a crushed arm! Why he would answer, "How can I? Every movement makes the bones grate together and extorts a shriek."
Just so, spiritual depression makes itself felt, and never allows the sufferer to forget its presence. More than any torture of the frame, is the anguish of a soul broken on this wheel.
6. Shivering fits also accompany this disease. David speaks as one who 'had been drenched' to the skin by the floods and billows that flowed over him. Just as the drenched man shivers 'from head to foot' — so the depressed soul trembles exceedingly. Like the man described by Bunyan in the house of the Interpreter, he shakes all over.
A look at the past will bring on one of these fits in a moment. "Ah," he says, "I fear those sins are too great to obtain pardon. I have been no ordinary sinner; indeed, how do I know that the sin against the Holy Spirit is not mine?" Past scenes rise up like horrid corpses from their graves, and he trembles much, not having the assurance of their full forgiveness.
Turning from the past he views the future, and now he shakes all the more. "I shall one day fall by the hand of my enemy!" he sobs. "I can never hold out, and the name I bear will be dragged through the mire." Death has all its old terrors back, and the grave has its gloom. He cannot "stand still," but tremblingly waits to "see the salvation of God." He shivers too much to sing, or if he attempts it — it is difficult to recognize the tune.
7. Another result of the malady, is that it affects both seeing and hearing. Poor David was half blinded by his tears, and deafened by "the noise of the waterfalls."
When the tears get into the eyes it is hard to read, and a depressed soul often finds it more than he can manage to make out clearly his title to the heavenly inheritance. This is sad work, for it cuts off the only consolation left, and does that when it is most needed. Again and again the soul tries to decipher what it has often read with ease before — but the tears prevent it, and at last he cries:
"'Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought,
Do I love the Lord or no?
Am I His or am I not?"
Just as bad is his hearing. There was a time when the still small voice of the Spirit was ever heard making music in the heart, bearing witness that he was a son of God. Now he listens for it all in vain. He hears only the hoarse call of deep to deep and the thunder of the waterfalls.
This disease may arise from many DIFFERENT CAUSES. We have no time to spare, so I will only point out three of the most general.
1. The first is a revelation of our own heart. The saint turning his eye away from Christ for a moment, begins to search the chambers of his soul. What a sight meets his eye! He beholds foul lusts creeping and crawling like lizards. Lusts that perhaps he imagined long since dead. He sees . . .
love for the world still unsubdued,
pride yet predominant,
accursed selfishness still rampant,
and unbelief yet abounding.
The spectacle saddens him. The tempter watching his opportunity mutters in his ear, "What is the use of your trying to be holy? You can never succeed!" Dismay sets in and depression paralyzes him.
2. In other cases the malady can be traced to outside causes. Trouble after trouble has come upon the man until all the buoyancy of hope has become well-near crushed out. Every effort to retrieve the day has only ended in failure, and greater reverses. From without the waters of affliction force their way within, and he wrongly concludes that he is forsaken by God.
3. There are doubtless others of us present who often sink into depression through the condition of the professing church at the present time. On every hand we can see conformity to the world taking the place of non-conformity; the spirit of worldliness is increasing — and the spirit of consecration is decreasing. Half and half Christians are abounding and the love of many is waxing cold.
We behold the evil affecting the pulpit. Mere morality is taking the place of regeneration, and the atonement by blood is a slighted subject. Instead of beseeching men to be reconciled to God, we find ministers wasting their time in giving Sunday evening lectures about all kinds of subjects. Rome is burning and Nero is playing his fiddle! Souls are perishing and ministers are amusing them. There is enough in the professing church of Christ to make any saint cry, "O God, my soul is cast down within me."
4. One thought more, and we leave the patient to look at his medicine. It is that, although his malady is very painful, it is not in any way dangerous. Thank God the disease of depression never endangers the life of the soul. That is quite beyond its reach, being hidden with Christ in God. O beloved, if our safety depended upon our experience — who among us would be safe for two hours together? But uninfluenced either by our circumstances, imaginations, or feelings, it abides ever the same. We are "accepted in the Beloved." We are "complete in Him."
"What?" I think I can hear someone exclaim, "Do you mean to say that I am as safe when miserable, as when happy?" Yes, quite. God only beholds you as you are in Jesus, and that is ever "without spot." Depressed soul, let this thought cheer you: "This sickness is not unto death!" It may be bad to bear, full of pain, and exceedingly distressing — but it does not come near the vital parts. No soul ever died of it, nor ever will!
"Your life is hid with Christ in God
Beyond the reach of harm!"
II. Let us now carefully analyze THE MEDICINE PRESCRIBED.
1. The first thought that suggests itself to our mind is, that the medicine is not to be obtained from any herbs that grow on earth. The world has no true hope, and therefore cannot give it. "Without hope" is Paul's description of the man of the world. True, it has its counterfeit; but it is as delusive as the will o' the wisp that dances over the swamps at night, and as unreal as the mirage that mocks the traveler in the desert by the day. It knows nothing of true hope, "the dearest medicine of the soul."
A young prodigal begins life with plenty of money — and consequently plenty of friends, falsely so called. It is not long before his account is drained of the last farthing, and with that goes his last friend. Bankrupt in resources and friends, he turns to the world for help — it has none to give. Even the swine are not in need of a keeper. One hope remains: he still has his health, and perhaps with that he may retrieve the day. False mirage!! Debauchery has undermined his strength; and stretched upon the bed of death, he turns from the past to the future, and from the future back again to the past, seeking one thing to give him a ray of light and hope; he seeks in vain. Let us not trace him further — but pull the curtains round the bed, and turn from the dread sight of a desperate hopeless man taking the last step from earth.
No, the elixir of hope can be distilled from nothing found below. The language of the psalmist teaches this. Speaking to his depressed soul, he says "hope in God." Turn from all within, and all without — and find your hope on high! Rise from your tears and look to Him, in whom alone there is anything to give you confidence. Do not hope in your throne, your crown, or your armies — but in your God, who amidst all your fears, abides ever the same.
2. This medicine is beautiful in appearance and sweet in taste. To look at, it is clear as the crystal stream that gushes from the throne of God; and no wonder, for it flows from the same fountainhead. While clear as crystal, it sparkles with the light of Heaven. To the taste it is most sweet, causing even "the lips of those asleep to speak." Song 7.9. No language can describe its flavor. To be known, it must be tried. That which is first taken as a medicine, soon becomes the most prized delicacy. It suits all constitutions and gets to the root of the disease. No matter how peculiar the spiritual constitution of the man — hope in God is sure to agree with him well. No sooner is it taken, than it finds its way to the inmost recesses of the heart, and strikes in a moment at the roots of the disease.
From there its blessed influences extend.
A new light flashes in the eye;
the health of the countenance returns fresher than before;
the thirst is satisfied;
the appetite revives, and the plainest food is eaten with a relish;
the sword is taken from the bones, and pain gives way to pleasure;
prostration departs and activity becomes a joy;
it wipes the eye and makes the heavenly title-deed quite easy to read;
it hushes into silence the noises of the waterfalls, and it makes the Spirit's voice clear as a silver bell.
O blessed medicine that works such marvels with such speed and ease!
3. It is equally efficacious whatever the cause of the disease may be.
Is it sin? Hope in God, for "there is forgiveness with Him."
Is it trouble? Hope in God, for He will deliver you out of six trials and in the seventh will not leave you.
Is it the state of the church? Hope in God, for He loves Zion much, and is more jealous of her glory than you can be. He has all power at hand and He can purge her pulpits and refine her people.
4. This medicine should be taken whenever required. Because you do not know when a fit of depression may overtake you, never be without it. Carry it around your person in a scripture-vial. God has given you many that are specially adapted for the purpose. Let me point you to one or two:
Here is one: "My grace is sufficient for you."
Here is another: "Lo I am with you always."
Here is another: "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Here is another, and a large one: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
But take your choice, for there are multitudes. Place one in your bosom; and when David's malady comes upon you, resort at once to David's medicine.
May God help you to, for Jesus' sake — Amen.