Book Review: Spurgeon’s Sorrows, by Zack Eswine
Zach Eswine, Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression. Christian Focus Publications, 2014. 144 pps. $9.99.
There are some books that you have to read. Then there are some that you can thumb through while the baseball game is on, but muted. They are okay to read, but not particularly life-changing. Spurgeon’s Sorrows is a must read for the pastor. I do not say that lightly; after all, I know I am writing to a number of pastors who have stacks of unread books sitting in their office or home. However, if I visited you, I would bring you this book and place it on the top or close to it. Here’s why.
Zack Eswine knows the life of Charles Spurgeon and it is obvious that he has scoured his sermons. Spurgeon was a literary volcano who for years erupted every week spewing forth thousands of pages of sermons and commentary. When hearing about and reading Spurgeon it is easy to picture him as that Baptist British bulldog eloquently and passionately thundering as the Prince of Preachers in the august pulpit of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. But Eswine helps us realize that Spurgeon ministered much of his life as a broken man. He was all too acquainted with depression, though it was certainly not his friend.
As I read this, I marveled again at God’s grace displayed through Spurgeon, and this book was a soul-comforting reminder of how God loves to use broken people to bring life and hope to others. But I recommend this to you for another reason as well. Being a pastor is much like being a husband: it always reveals our sin. There are needy people in our congregations, and needy people take time. Needy people are prone to not believing what you say the first time, or the tenth. Needy people reveal our selfishness. It is sinful and easy to conclude that needy people are not worth your time. But Jesus died for needy people and he called you to be their shepherd. They need to know that they matter to Jesus and they are prone to forget that and doubt that. They need you to remind them. They need you to be interested in their lives and aware of those dark rooms they live in from time to time.
As a pastor, we are used to people listening to us. We preach while people listen. We teach while people listen. We come up with ideas and offer opinions in meetings while people listen. We answer questions while people listen. But being a good pastor is so much more than having something to say. A good pastor must love others and he must love them so much that he listens to them and knows what questions to ask because he is truly interested in their care. In fact, the better we know your people, the more we’ll know how to say what we need to say.
Eswine organizes his book into three sections: 1) Trying to Understand Depression, 2) Learning How to Help Those Who Suffer from Depression, and 3) Learning Helps to Daily Cope with Depression. The author admits up front that it is very difficult to provide a clear definition of depression, and he does a good job of avoiding a prolonged discussion of nature or nurture or the latest research on it. The truth is, there are plenty of people in your church who feel like they are underwater, and there are many unanswered questions about the cause of such emotions. This makes the second section so helpful because it discourages us from making quick judgments and pronouncements. Instead, Eswine points us to the Scriptures and shows us that God has given us a language for sorrow.
To my ear, the only weakness of the book is the brief section that addresses medications. It lists many of the medications for depression on the market today and then speaks to some of the medicinal helps that Spurgeon used. To be sure, the use and abuse of medications for depression and other related issues is a cavernous and complicated issue, and I do not doubt that there is some benefit with some of them. But there are so many examples of serious problems with others that I think he should have issued a much stronger statement than “medication for our bodily and mental illnesses is an aid and gift, but even our best medications remain limited” (113). I would suggest in his next edition that he include some footnotes for some good resources that address this including the many problems and dangers.
If you are prone to melancholy and depression, your soul will find much benefit in this book. If, however, you are not, this book will open your eyes to the dark world that many of your members live in. It will help you know what they think. It will help you love them better by knowing how they feel and by understanding their vulnerabilities. It will help you know what questions to ask them. It will even help you be a better preacher because it will help you describe sorrow better.
Zack Eswine is not a stranger to sorrow and it shows. The tenderness in his heart has spotted and exposed the tenderness in Spurgeon. May God use this book to help all of us pastor more like Jesus.