Book Review: Spurgeon's Sorrows by Zack Eswine
Author: Zack Eswine
Publisher: Christian Focus
Reading Level: Leisure
“It is Christ and not the absence of depression that saves us.” (39)
“Yet, sometimes the most courageous acts of faith and wisdom look like a human being mentally harassed and wanting to die, collapsed and held before the throne of grace.” (127)
Depression and mental health are sensitive subjects. They are especially sensitive within the church as pastoral education and general congregational awareness seems to remain behind the times. With this in mind Zack Eswine has written Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression. Not an “exhaustive word” on the subject, Eswine hopes his effort is received and read as a “handwritten note by one who wishes you well” (23).
Eswine’s writing, though polished, is an evidentially raw conversation. No chapter exudes this honesty more than “Suicide and Choosing Life” (chapter 11) in which Eswine confesses, “May I say it plainly? Sometimes in our depression we, or those we love, want to die” (120). Starting in the first part (chapters 1-4), Eswine leverages off the personal experience of the “prince of preachers” Charles Spurgeon to describe and explore the details of depression. For those unfamiliar with Spurgeon’s life long struggle with depression, these quotations and subsequent exploration will be shocking. Throughout Spurgeon’s Sorrow it is the quotes of Spurgeon on the subject of depression that hold together the deeply personal and pastoral elements of Eswine’s writing. Written to benefit those who suffer from depression and their counselors, these early chapters remove many misconceptions and false paradigms.
In part 2 (chapters 5-8), Eswine addresses the practice of providing help/counsel to individuals suffering from depressions. The aptly titled “Helps that Harm” (chapter 7) reflects the overarching concern of this section. Eswine provides a starting place of comfort in “Diagnosis Doesn’t Cure” (chapter 5), a call for Biblical poetry and metaphor when discussing depression (chapter 6), and builds mightily on Spurgeon’s assertion that Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane is a model of Christian depression (chapter 8). Throughout these chapters Eswine undermines trite and generic Christian responses to build realistic hope. This includes the frank assertion “that heaven is not always the best consolation for those in depression” and that “when we grow numb toward god-talkers…we needn’t bypass Jesus…Realistic hope is a Jesus-saturated thing” (85).
In the final section (chapters 9-12) Eswine discusses practical ways to “daily cope with depression.” Eswine does not give a false hope in these options. They are merely practices to endure the up and down cycles of depression. Even in “The Benefits of Sorrow” (chapter 12), Eswine does not offer a trite and superficial solution. He quotes Spurgeon who said “I have never heard yet of anybody who derived any good from despair” (136). Eswine instead concludes by stating “our sorrows belong to Jesus” (142).
In conclusion, Zack Eswine’s Spurgeon’s Sorrows trades heavily on the great compassion of Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon speaks from a place of association and Eswine helpfully presents the great preacher’s heart. This short book should be read by individuals who suffer from depression, their family and friends, and counseling ministers.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.