If I were asked to give an opinion as to what is the most prevailing disease in the Church today, I would suggest that it is discouragement.
One reason for this is the whole state of the world and of society. We live in difficult and discouraging days. Some people, however, do not feel any discouragement. Their eyes are not open; they are not sensitive; they are probably so interested in their own activities that they cannot take a general view. But, speaking generally, these are very discouraging days for the Church and for the individual Christian, and the devil constantly works on this particular aspect of the Christian’s life and experience. Much space is given to a consideration of this matter in the Bible itself.
Many of the psalms are entirely devoted to it; the psalmist is discouraged and he addresses his soul: ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ Many psalms deal with this trial in a wonderful way. But it is equally present in the New Testament. The attempt to differentiate between the Old and the New in this respect is quite false; much attention is paid to the subject in the pages of the New Testament also.
Discouragement has many causes. The first is the matter of temperament. Certain people are more subject to discouragement than others. You cannot help this, you are born with your temperament, and there is nothing wrong with temperament. It would be an interesting discussion to know which ultimately is the best kind of temperament to have, that of the extrovert or that of the introvert; that of the phlegmatic person with his tendency to be somewhat melancholic, or that of the complete extrovert, sanguine and optimistic.
However, if one is born with the temperament that tends towards the more serious and despondent type, then the devil is likely to take full advantage of that fact.
One of the first things therefore that we all have to learn in the Christian life is to know ourselves. You cannot live properly with yourself if you do not know yourself. There are many people, it seems to me, who have never really known themselves. They have never looked at themselves truly, they have never recognized the type to which they belong, and therefore they are not aware that they have to be unusually careful at certain points.
Get to know yourself, talk to yourself, and put up special guards at certain points. If you find it difficult to do this for yourself, then you must consult with others and ask their help. It is always easier to see things in other people than in ourselves. You must get to know your weaknesses, and your tendencies; and then, once you have known them, and can watch them, you are already a long way towards a complete victory over the devil and his wiles.
We start with a general principle: depression is always wrong. A Christian has no right to be depressed. I put it like that deliberately because the realization of that truth is often the door of escape and of liberty. The tragedy is that when the devil plagues us and gets us into this state, we are not aware of it. We are so pre-occupied with self-analysis, and the cataloguing of the details of our deficiencies, that we do not see ourselves as a whole. Sometimes that is all that is necessary — we suddenly come to see ourselves, in the reading of the Scripture, or the listening to a sermon, or in conversation. We suddenly see ourselves as depressed and miserable Christians, sitting in a corner, while the men and women around and about us are going heedlessly to hell. We are so pre-occupied with ourselves that we are utterly useless.
Not only so, we realize that we are also obviously giving the impression that there is not much point in being a Christian if this is what it leads to. So we are not only not helping others, we are barring the gate of entry into the kingdom of God against them. You suddenly see yourself in that way, and you rise up and say, ‘No more of this!’ That is the way to start. Then go on to meet the devil with his own weapon. He will have been quoting Scripture: ‘Examine yourselves, prove your own selves, that you may know whether you are in the faith or not’. Reply saying, ‘Quite right, I must do this’. But then you must turn on the devil and say, ‘But there are other scriptures’. And one that surely comes in immediately at this point is justification by faith only.
Why is a Christian depressed? It is because he has examined himself or herself in this minute way — it is always a matter of details, fine points, feeling the spiritual pulse, taking the spiritual temperature. Every conceivable investigation is carried out, and then the results are tabulated. Here, then, is the record; and it is very bad. The obvious conclusion drawn is, ‘Well, am I a Christian at all? Have I ever really been a Christian? Is it possible?’
The devil’s objective is to get us to entertain such a feeling. If he can make us examine ourselves in such a manner that it not only becomes introspection but leads us to the conclusion that we have never been Christians at all, he is perfectly satisfied. I am reminding you that the fundamental answer to him is that, whatever we may feel like, we are still Christians. But how do we prove that to ourselves? That is the real need at this point. The way to do so — and it is the reason why the Protestant Reformers saw that this is the fundamental article of a standing or a falling Church — is to remind yourself of justification by faith only! The devil says, ‘Look at your record, there is only one conclusion to draw, you are not a Christian, you have never been a Christian’. Answer the devil by telling him that what makes a man a Christian is not anything that he finds in himself, it is ‘Jesus’ blood and righteousness’.
Thank God for this, for if we all examined ourselves truly and tried to decide on the basis of our own life’s record whether we are Christians or not, there would not be a single Christian! There is only one thing that makes us Christian — his righteousness, and nothing else:
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress.
So you must turn round on the devil and say, ‘Yes, all that is absolutely true; but it does not prove that I am not a Christian, because, even as I am, I am still looking only unto him and relying upon him alone’. If you fail to do that, you are being defeated by the wiles of the devil, and you are guilty of introspection and morbidity
What you must never do is to sit in a corner, going round and round in that whirlpool, that vortex of failure and defeat and self-condemnation. Introspection and morbidity are wrong, and indeed sinful, and the Christian has no right to be depressed in that way. Deliverance comes as you realize what the devil is trying to do with you, and that he has blinded you temporarily to justification by faith only. Justification by faith is always the place where you can get a foothold. Whenever you find yourself slipping down that slope of depression, the place at which you will always recover stability and get a foothold is justification by faith only. It defeats most of the wiles of the devil. Let us then be very certain about this, for it is the royal remedy, the invariably successful remedy against morbidity and introspection.
– to be continued