|Posted by John Suttles on November 2, 2014 at 9:40 PM|
Dear Friends of the Sad and Anxious
In 1688, the sunlight of peace was just beginning to break through for Christians in England. A fiercely Catholic monarchy was about to be removed by the so-called Glorious Revolution that resulted in great liberties for Protestants. But in 1688, in the life of one Protestant minister in England, there was nothing but darkness. His days and nights were only bitterness – pain and sickness in his body, agony and desperation in his spirit. His name was Timothy Rogers, and he continued in this miserable state for two long years.
While Rogers’ bodily disease was a great trial to him, it was not the presence of bodily affliction alone that so wrecked his joy. It was that, while his body was being afflicted, his soul also was being tried in God’s furnace. And when both are afflicted together the result is often exceedingly bitter. As he later noted, “there is a very great difference between such as are only under trouble of conscience and such whose bodies are greatly diseased at the same time”. Those in this condition find little rest at all. So it was with Rogers.
But his writings after his time of affliction make one thing clear. The Master intended to teach him things in the fire that would make him able and willing to minister to others in such desperate circumstances. And, once restored to health and his faith renewed, this is exactly what Rogers did. But being a minister of the Gospel and not a physician, he made no attempt to speak to the best medicinal remedies for any particular physical affliction. Instead, he labored much to prepare spiritual medicine for souls in agony as he had been – agony from the guilt of sin, agony over whether he was or could ever be forgiven, agony over the thought of entering eternity as a condemned soul, agony over not knowing when or if his physical torment would ever end. We would say that he was deeply depressed and anxious. But in those days such a state was referred to as melancholy.
Thus, one of the most precious works written by Rogers after his return to health was entitled, A Discourse Concerning Trouble of Mind and the Disease of Melancholy, a book still available in facsimile reprint. While I heartily recommend the entire work to anyone who is or has suffered with the “soul disease” of melancholy, it is actually only the Preface of that book that I wish to highlight here. While there are many good things written by capable writers like Rogers on the subject of melancholy, they are usually written to the person suffering. There is far less practical writing on the subject that directly targets those around the person suffering, offering them sound wisdom as to the care of the distressed souls in their lives. Rogers does this wonderfully with thirteen “advices” to the companions of melancholy persons. I give them to you here only in summary form with some use of Rogers’ own words, again, encouraging you to read them in their fuller context in Rogers’ book.
1. “Look upon your distressed friends as under one of the worst distempers to which this miserable life is obnoxious”. A chronic melancholy is truly one of the worst things a person can endure. When it has taken over, says Rogers, “the force of briskness and courage cannot help”.
2. “Look upon those that under this woeful disease of melancholy with great pity and compassion.” They are, Rogers says, “usually walking in the midst of fire … and most frequently under the very pangs of death … their burden is often heavier than their groaning; their sighs are deep, their hearts are sunk … your friends under this disease … ought much more to move you, for … they are continually dying, and yet cannot die.” And you ought to consider that “you yourselves are in the body, and liable to the very same trouble."
3. “Do not use harsh speeches to your friends when they are under the disease of melancholy.” Being harsh or demanding to them “causes many poor souls to cherish and conceal their troubles to their greater torment, because they meet with harsh entertainment from those to whom they have begun to explain their case.”
4. “You must be so kind to your friends under this disease as to believe what they say.” Notes Rogers, “It is a foolish course … to answer all their complaints and moans with this, that it is nothing but fancy; nothing but imagination … It is a real disease … and if it be fancy, yet a diseased fancy is as great a disease as any other … truly … because melancholy persons do not always look very ill … other persons that know nothing of the distemper, are apt to think they make themselves worse than they are … this makes the grief … to strangle them within, because when they speak of it, they find it to be pointless because they are not believed."
5. “Do not urge your friends under the disease of melancholy to things which they cannot do.” Depending upon the severity of the case, they may be quite incapacitated both mentally and physically.
6. “Do not attribute the effects of mere disease to the Devil.” Some are quick to say to such people that they are just giving place to Satan and that they need to lay down their struggle and tell the Devil to be gone since the Scriptures promise that if we resist the Devil he will flee from us. But, notes Rogers, you may be assuming the Devil is involved in something with which he has nothing to do.
7. “Do not much wonder at anything they say or do.” Says Rogers, “What strange extravagant actions do you see those do that are under the power of fear! And none are so much afraid as these poor people are; they are afraid of God, of hell, and of their own sorrows.”
8. “Do not mention to them any formidable things, nor tell, in their hearing, any sad stories; because they do already meditate terror”. You ought to avoid mournful and grievous talk in their presence, “and yet you must not be too merry before them either; for then they think you slight their miseries and have no pity for them.”
9. “Do not think it altogether needless to talk with them; only when you do so, do not speak as if their troubles would be very long”. As Rogers well knew, “It is the length of their trouble that amazes them, when after a week or month without sleep, or hope, still the next week and month is as painful and as terrible to them as the former was … revive them, therefore, by telling them that God can create deliverance for them in a moment; that He has often done so with others; that He can quickly cure their disease”.
10. “Tell them of others who have been in such anguish … and yet have been delivered.” There are volumes of such examples of the grace and glory of God in the history of the church, not the least of which is the Bible itself – scores of such persons before who “went forth weeping, they sowed in tears, but they reaped an harvest of wonderful joys afterwards.”
11. “The next kindness you are to show your melancholy friends is to heartily pray for them.” You are better composed and less distracted and so more able to intervene on their behalf before the throne of mercy. Do so, and “you know not but that His light, at your request, may begin to shine on those who have bewailed His absence with many dreadful groans”.
12. “Not only pray for them, but get other serious Christians to pray for them also.”
13. “Put your friends in mind of the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ”. Whenever you can, “teach them as much as you can to look up to God by the great Mediator for grace and strength and not too much to pore on their own souls, where there is so much darkness and unbelief.” For, said a contemporary of Rogers’ who had also suffered greatly with melancholy, “the fountain of all my misery hath been that I fought for that in the law, which should have been found in the Gospel; and for that in myself, which was only to be found in Christ.”
It is my earnest prayer that these nuggets of practical wisdom from Timothy Rogers will be of use to you, either in your own suffering or in your efforts to support and guide others who may be suffering with the “disease of melancholy”. This sad sickness of soul that is so often attended with great bodily affliction is always present among the saints of God somewhere, sometime, and to some extent. If you have not suffered under it yourself, you likely know someone who has, or is. May God give us all grace to more wisely and compassionately bear one another’s burdens.
(Timothy Rogers lived from 1658-1728 and authored many other works while also being a minister of the Gospel. There is good reason to believe that his soul is now at rest forever. May Christ be praised!)
W. Luke Suttles