Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Baxter on Melancholy (or Depression)

What is “Melancholy”? I hesitate to answer that and soon Baxter will speak for himself, but since that may be the question in your mind, I want to address it now. If you disagree, please feel free to reasonably (and briefly) let me know why or how I should change this post. Do read on in Baxter as I post him for a better understanding. Until then, basically Melancholy is an old term for some of what we generally call depression now. The word melancholy has some advantages, even though most people aren’t familiar with it, simply because it doesn’t have the baggage that the term depression has.

At any rate, my dad has a bunch of piles of books sitting on the dining room table at the moment, and recommended to me that I should look there for fodder for this site. What I found is something I’ve wanted for a while: a puritan view, help, and analysis of, loosely speaking, depression. This small book is a compilation of various other works, put together after his death and never reprinted. I hope that the extracts I post here are as encouraging and helpful to you as I have found the book to be already. Melancholy (“depression”) is not just a modern phenomenon – it was a problem 400 years ago as well as now – and there is both hope and help.

The book is made up of six sections, the first by Samuel Clifford & the rest by Richard Baxter.

  1. To the Reader: Advice directed to those who have suffered from Melancholy in the past but no longer suffer from it, by Samuel Clifford. Excerpt 1, Excerpt 2.
  2. Chap. I: The Nature of Melancholy.
  3. Chap II: The Signs of Melancholy.
  4. Chap III: The Causes of Melancholy.
  5. Chap IV: Directions to the Melancholy.
    1. Direction 1: Take notice of worldly sorrows and discontents: don’t put so much value in earthly things to that they can disquiet you: but learn to cast your cares upon God. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
  6. Chap V: Directions to those who are concerned in the care of Melancholy Persons.

I am including the compilers’ and editors’ recommendation as the intent with which it was written.


The Signs and Causes of Melancholy, with directions suited to the case of those who are afflicted with it. Collected out of the works of Mr. Richard Baxter, for the sake of those, who are wounded in Spirit. By Samuel Clifford, minister of the Gospel London, Bible and Three Crowns, 1716.

The Epistle Recommendatory.

The subject of this treatise, and the manner in which things are laid together in it, is such as will render it of standing service to many in the world. There are few as become real Christians, but, at one time or other are exercised with something of that melancholy which is here described: and we believe there are none that have chosen to be the companions of them that fear God, who do not meet it in the cases of others, however free from it they are in themselves. Where it prevails to a high degree, ‘tis one of the most deplorable cases in the world; and even the least degree of it requires good help, and some pains to get rid of it.

Such a book as this, must be greatly valuable to those, who are either afflicted with melancholy themselves; or desirous to relieve and assist others under such a disorder. There is not anywhere yet published, that we know of, so full, and distinct, and orderly a consideration of this case, as in the following collection.

We need not say anything of the Author from whose Writings this collection is made; since we have it already as the concurrent sentiment of 34 ministers, (who have all subscribed a Recommendation of Mr. Baxters Practical Works) That the things treated on, “are most accurately handled, and at the same time with greatest plainness, suited to the capacities, and pressed home upon the consciences of readers with inimitable life and fervor.” [...]

Now may that God, who comforts those that are cast down, make this Book useful to such an End...

Samuel Wright

W. Tong, T. Reynolds, Simon Brown, John Evans,
W. Harris, T. Bradbury, B. Grosvenor.