It is impossible to speak of encouragement without thinking of its dark opposite – discouragement. All true Christians seem to have to experience something of David’s sorrows in Psalms 42 and 43, and this is the theme of George Whitefield’s sermon on the great question as to the reason for the believer’s dark times of spiritual discouragement.
A brief glance at the following contents of the magazine may cause some to say: ‘It’s all old and out-of-date material’, but it would surely be wrong to think that the best spiritual advice is coming exclusively from modern writers. The modern craze for ‘counselling’ and the many forms of pseudo-Christian psychology would rather cause the sober reaction that ‘the old is better’. Many of the Puritans and those who followed in their footsteps were masters in the art of spiritual analysis and scriptural advice for those who were ‘cast down’.
One particular aspect of their teaching was a proper and serious approach to sin and to the God whom that sin had offended. They saw most clearly that a guilty conscience was the cause of multiplied sorrows and most serious consequences which could never be relieved until the root cause of the pain was removed. Sins forgiven as a conscious experience, by a very real work of the Holy Spirit leading the sinner to the Saviour, bringing to the troubled heart the balm of Christ’s blood and perfect sacrifice, they saw to be the essential starting point in dealing with soul trouble.
Another area of their scriptural approach to the troubles of the soul was what Thomas Brooks has called ‘Satan’s devices’. All believers have a subtle and powerful enemy to contend with. The Christian’s armour is essential even though modern warfare is vastly different to the days of breastplates, swords, and shields. Their solution was a far cry from the false claims of those who think they have miraculous powers and the right to place their hands on a sufferer, pray, and simply command the enemy to go.
No apology, therefore, is made for directing thoughts to the older experts in the complex area of spiritual trouble. The great aim of all true counselling for the soul is that the soul finds its refuge and consolation in the only Saviour as a pardoned sinner being taught by the Holy Spirit and assured that ‘there is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit’.