Moses Drury Hoge on the Cause and Cure of Despondency

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On October 2, 1898, Moses Drury Hoge stood to preach to the congregation of Second Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, a church he had planted in 1845 and pastored from that point. He had just turned eighty years of age two weeks earlier, and due to a “severe and serious illness,” it was the first time in many weeks that he had been in the pulpit. His sermon text was Psalm 42:11, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance and my God,” and its title was “Cause and Cure of Despondency.” The sermon is now available on Hoge’s page on the Log College Press website (Andrew Myers was able to photograph this volume thanks to the courtesy of the staff of the rare book room at the William Morton Smith Library, Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia).

What words would this octogenarian give to his people to comfort and cheer them in their distresses? Hoge began by noting that David confronted his deep despondency with “searching inquiries as to the cause of his disquietude.” But his examination was aimed within, for “the soul has a strange power of going out of itself and conversing with itself as with another.” And Hoge saw this self-examination as a vital part of the Christian’s response to suffering:

Well would it be for us if we would cultivate this habit of going out of ourselves to counsel, to examine, to rebuke, or to cheer our own hearts. God has given us memory, and reason, and imagination for this very purpose. We exercise our memory and our reason more frequently than our imagination, and fail to make a proper use of it, because we confound imagination with fancy or fiction, overlooking the fact that imagination is a conception - a realization of the unseen. It pictures to us an unseen Savior, an unseen heaven; and, like faith, it enables us to apprehend the things hoped for as a present possession. We do not make enough of this imagination…Since God has given us these faculties, let us employ them for the purpose for which they were bestowed. We live in an executive, rather than a contemplative, age. As an antidote to this, let us spend more time in self-communion…It is greatly wise to catechize ourselves, to exhort, to scrutinize, to chide, to sit in judgment on our characters and lives.

Hoge declared that all of our despondency may be reduced to one cause: sin. Sometimes that sin lies within our own heart, and must be “searched out, confessed and repented of.” The hiding of a Father’s face due to indwelling corruption leads to “self-scrutiny and self-examination [which are] sad work at the time, but its fruits are precious, and the chastened child never forgets the lessons he has learned in these hours of anguish.” On other occasions our troubles are the result of the sins of others against us, or of the sicknesses that are the result of sin’s entrance into the world, or to “insoluble mysteries…which seem to baffle all investigation and to elude all explanation.” Oftentimes our distress and despair are due to the slow development of our spiritual lives, or to the fact that we see no fruit for our labor, though we have strained to edify our neighbors and glorify God.

What is the cure to all these various forms of despondency? In a word, hope. Whether our own sin or the sin of others against us; whether perplexing providence or crushing bereavement or a seemingly vain attempt at doing good; we must put our hope in a sovereign and forgiving God, who is “our God by covenant, by oath, by indwelling presence.” This hope flows naturally into praise, and Hoge ends his sermon with a expression of desire: “How it would rejoice my heart if this, my first sermon on my return, should be the means of leading some soul to Christ, or of strengthening and comforting one of God’s dear children.” May the Lord do the same for you as you read this sermon.