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CAUSES AND CURE OF MELANCHOLY,
PSALM xlii. 11.
Why art thou cast down, O my soul! and why art thou dis
quieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
This psalm was probably written at the time when David was obliged, by the rebellion of Absalom, to flee from Jerusalem. From the land of Hermon he looks back upon the holy city, where he had enjoyed the ordinances of religion: wherë, instead of the taunts and jeers of the profane, which he now had to suffer, he had gone with the multitude and held communion with God. This retrospection, together with the external afflictions he was suffering, filled him with pain; but his chief distress arose from the cloud of spiritual desertion : he had no longer a sense of the favour and love of his God. (ver. 7.) But instead of yielding to his grief, he reasons, he expostulates, and endeavours to rouse up his former confidence: “ Why art thou cast down, O my soul ! And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my
God." My brethren, there are always two classes of men in the church whom we regard with pity. The first consists of those unhappy men who, though the slaves of Satan, and the heirs of sorrow, have a false comfort and an unfounded hope; who have a peace nurtured only by presumption, that shall perish when God taketh away the soul.”. Such are not interested in this text, or this discourse. They must be disquieted and alarmed before they have any warrant to use these words. On the contrary, there are many pious but timid believers, who are always full of fears; who live below their privileges; whose souls are ever “ cast down and disquieted within them.” Though the Lord is the - God of comfort," though the Saviour died that they might have peace, though the Spirit is so often termed “ the Spirit of grace and consolation,” though all the ordinances of religion were appointed that“ their joy might be full," yet they still remain dejected and afflicted. Let them learn from David their duty; let them imitate his example; and like him experience again “ the joy of God's salvation.”
Our discourse shall have three parts :
I. What are the causes why the pious are sometimes, like David, afflicted with religious melancholy and distress of soul, which cause them to be dejecte ed and cast down.
If. Why should they, with the Psalmist, endeavour to rise from this state. And,
III. What are those means whereby they may again obtain peace, comfort, and a calm trust in God.
I. The causes of religious melancholy are various, Sometimes they spring from without us, and from the
agency of other beings upon us; sometimes they arise from within, and solely from ourselves.
1. Sometimes our compassionate Father, who in mercy visits us so often with external afflictions, is pleased, for the same benevolent reasons, to make us suffer internal sorrows. The beams of his countenance no longer shine upon his children; the witness of the Spirit is withdrawn; the sense of the love of God is intermitted ; and then the strongest and most confirmed Christian must droop and be disquieted. Then he will understand in a degree the feelings of his Saviour, when he exclaimed, “ My God,
God! why hast thou forsaken me?” As when the sun is eclipsed, all nature appears to mourn, so every thing is gloomy to the believer, when any thing interposes between his soul and the gracious countenance of his God.
2. Sometimes Satan is permitted to disquiet and distress the children of God. This apostate spirit, hating holiness and happiness, delights to harass and torment those that are escaped from his bondage; as he cast down innocent man, so he desires to depress the pardoned sinner; as he withered the beauties of Eden, so he endeavours to bring trouble into the calm and approving conscience, the paradise of the soul. And the Lord, who from intended evil can educe good, permits the adversary sometimes to depress the souls of his followers : and then wisely, powerfully, and mercifully, overrules his designs for their increase in the divine life, and their preparation for richer joys.
3. With Satan, wicked men often concur to depress and cast down the pious. This was the case with David on the present occasion. They sneered at his religion, at his hopes, and at his God. “ As with
a sword in my bones mine enemies reproach me; my tears have been my meat day and night, while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?” (vers. 3 and 10.) Alas! do we not still see the same efforts made by the ungodly, by sneers and scoffs, by reproaches and ridicule, to shake the peace of those who have walked comfortably with their God?
But the great causes of our dejections and melancholy are to be found in ourselves. If there were nothing within us on which Satan and wicked men could operate, their assaults would be harmless. And if there were no corruptions within us that needed to be mortified, no feeble and languishing graces that needed quickening, the light of God's countenance would never be withdrawn. Were we perfectly holy, like those in heaven, like theirs, « our sun should never go down, but the Lord should be our • unceasing' light." Let us then consider what are those circumstances in ourselves which so often cause Christians to go mourning and bowed down.
1. There can be no doubt, that in many persons, religious melancholy arises from the temperament of the body. As those of a sanguine disposition are too apt to entertain hopes unwarranted by the word of God, so those of a melancholy frame too often“ write bitter things” against themselves, and reject those comforts to which they have a title. And when the body is disordered by disease, from its intimate and mysterious sympathy with the soul, this also is frequently affected. So common did the experienced and excellent Richard Baxter suppose this ground of melancholy, that he remarks, “ Of a hundred melancholy persons of real piety, with whom I converse, I find ninety-nine who have more need of the physician than of the divine." Painful and distressing as
is the gloom resulting from this cause, it is not sinful. “ The Lord knoweth whereof we are made ; he remembereth we are dust;" and he will no more im. pute to us as a crime, what results from the power of a bodily disease, than he will condemn us for wandering thoughts or idle words in the delirium of a fever, or in raging madness.
2. Ignorance and error are very frequent causes of religious melancholy. Every part of the gospel is calculated to give comfort to the sincere believer; but, alas ! there are many who, from misconceptions of its general tenor, or some of its particular doctrines, pass their lives in sorrow. Intellectual as well as natural darkness, is the parent of many false fears. This one is bowed down from mistakes as to the nature of godly sorrow for sin. Because his grief has not been so profound, attended with so many tears, and continuing for so long a time as that of some others with whom he is acquainted or of whom he has heard, he supposes he is still impenitent; although he has had such an humbling sense of his sin, his danger, and his misery, as to make him feel his indispensable need of Christ and mercy, and bring him to an unfeigned desire and consent to be the disciple of the Saviour, and be saved on the terms of the covenant; and though his humiliation and self-loathing continue and increase. This one supposes he has no right to hope, because he is not al ways full of joy : as if a weeping Mary was not dear to the Redeemer as well as a rejoicing Thomas. This one will receive no comfort, because he is a babe and not a father in Christ; because he has not attained to the same maturity of grace as older and more experienced Christians : as if there were not different
in the church as well as in the world;