William Bridge, a seventeenth century Puritan minister, and author of A Lifting Up for the Downcast, fills his book with ways to be encouraged when you are under discouragement or depression. In one particular chapter titled “A Lifting Up in the Case of Great Sins” he outlines several ways to be lifted up even after committing great sins.
One of the reasons he recommends for not being discouraged over your sins is that discouragement itself is a sin against the gospel. Countering the question, “Shouldn’t I be discouraged because of such and such a sin?” He answers, “No! for discouragement itself is a sin, another sin, a gospel sin.” (68). The biggest problem with discouragement is that it doubts the gospel. Depression over sin believes that sins power is greater than gospel power. Consequently, we must fight proneness toward discouragement and depression with all our might.
The biggest problem with discouragement is that it doubts the gospel. Depression over sin believes that sins power is greater than gospel power.
In the following I summarize and elaborate on some of Bridge’s reasons for Christians not to be depressed and discouraged over their besetting sins:
1. You will never be condemned for your sin because Christ was condemned for you. Since Christ was made sin for his saints, Bridge argues, “…sin shall not hurt them” (69). He quotes Luther, who wrote, “‘Christ is made sin-damning, our sin is sin damned: I confess, indeed…that I have sinned, but sin-damning is stronger than sin-damned, and Christ was made sin-damning for me'” (69).
2. You will never be forsaken by God for your sins even though you may lose a sense of the presence of God because of your sins. Your “sins may hide God’s face…but shall never turn God’s back” (70). God’s covenant of mercy with his people is unalterable, and as a part of the people of God mercy is yours forever. You will be disciplined for sin, but never experience God’s wrath for your sin. The comforts of God’s presence may be felt as lost, but the privileges of the believer remain. “This sin of mine, indeed, it is a pest, and the plague of my soul, and a leprosy…[and] although I cannot come to the use of Him as I did before, yet I have right unto Jesus Christ now, as I had before” (73).
3. Your abundant sins are overruled by God’s superabundant grace. Paul, in Romans 11:32, says that God “shut up all to disobedience” in order to have mercy on all. Therefore “God never permits His people to fall into any sin but He intends to make that sin an inlet unto further grace and comfort to them” (71). Furthermore, “He never permits any of His people to fall into any sin, but He hath a design by that fall to break the back of that sin they do fall into” (72).
4. Your power for great sin is not as strong as God’s greater power to forgive. Bridge asks, “Is your sin as big as God, as big as Christ? Is Jesus Christ only a Mediator for small sins? Will you bring down the satisfaction of Christ, and the mercy of God, to your own model?” (74). David sinned greatly and confessed it in Psalm 25:11, and if David’s great sins can be forgiven so can yours.
Discouragement sees only God as Judge, while humility sees God as a just Judge and loving Father.
5. The commandment you have broken by sinning always has a promise attached to it. He states,
God has joined commandment and promise together; the promise and the commandment are born twins. There is never a commandment that you read of but has a promise annexed to it, a promise of assistance, a promise of acceptance, and a promise of reward. If you look upon the commandment itself without a promise, then you will despair; if you look upon the promise without the commandment, then you will presume: but look upon the promise and the commandment…together, then you will be humbled if you have sinned, but you will not be discouraged (83-84).
6. You should be humbled by your sins but not be depressed by them because God is a forgiving Father. The author continues,
God is not pleased with grief for grief, God is not pleased with sorrow for sorrow. The purpose of all our sorrow and grief is, to embitter our sin to us, to make us prize Jesus Christ, to wean us from the delights and pleasures of the creature, to reveal the deceitfulness and naughtiness of our own hearts (79).
The difference between humility over sin and depression over sin is the difference between a God-centered view of sin and a man-centered one. Man-centered views of sin bring massive discourgament because one is primarily focused one their own condition and says, “I have sinned; I have thus and thus sinned, and therefore my condition is bad, and if my condition be bad now, it will never be better; Lord what will become of my soul? (81). On the other hand, God-centered views of your sin are primarily focused on sin as an offense against God. Since sin is an offense against the God who is revealed also as a forgiving God, one can be forgiven and humbled for sin instead of discouraged and proud. Discouragement sees only God as Judge, while humility sees God as a just Judge and loving Father. Humility and discouragement have an inverse relationship. Bridge states, “…the more you are discouraged, the less you will be humbled; and the more humbled you are, the less discouraged you will be” (83). Therefore labor to seek true humility by focusing on the God-centered nature of your sin and seeking to know your Father more.