The struggle Wesley talks about here is not the wilderness of spiritual darkness as proposed in his previous sermon. This is a weariness, a dysthymia, that affect some believers sometimes in their walk with the Lord. It is an exposition of the first of Peter’s letters, specifically chapters 1 and 4.
Peter is talking to believers that had faith and knew the peace, hope, joy and love of the Lord and kept all those along with remaining holy whilst going through this struggle.
The nature of the struggle outlined is a kind of grief or sorrow, perhaps a little weltschmerz although this has nihilistic connotations. (oh this is getting too big wordy Suzie!) Okay let’s try it like this – it is like a weight pressing on your chest, a heaviness of heart. Like when you try to learn something and every day diligently you apply yourself to the learning but after a year you know no more than when you started. It depresses your enthusiasm. So no matter how zealous you are in the task the end result seems farther and farther away.
Now I have a very close sister in Christ and together we celebrate the Lord in our struggle in a certain aspect of our lives. We are able to do this in spite of the adversity because we have hope, peace, joy and love. As we struggle we rejoice, because we can only imagine going through this without the Lord. So we are not defeated and we are not depressed.
But some people go down in this area, not all the way down to despair. There are various causes – fighting temptation, illness, poverty, bereavement. These all leave us open to the work of the devil. He wants us to sink deeper into the depression of weariness because ultimately he wants us to move to that spiritual darkness.
This weariness can be a test, a time of refining. Temptation can increase our faith and hope, our holiness and helps us set an example. How we behave under persecution or temptation may give someone else hope in their life.
Finally Wesley points out that not everyone is singled out for hardships, it is a gift (in hindsight) and it is possible to turn this adversity to your advantage in that we can allow God to use them to increase our faith, confirm our hope and bring us closer to a state of perfect holiness, we must work with him not against him, trying to grow in the grace of Jesus each day.
So we should embrace a time of testing for what it is. God wants to use us more so if we keep joyful in suffering and persecution we are doing his will. If we can worship when we feel like mud how much more sweet would our worship be when we have got through the storm.
I am not sure that Wesley uses the word depression as we understand it. There certainly weren’t meds in those days and in his book on “doctoring” he suggests a cure for melancholy is a good stout walk. Three hundred and some years later exercise has been proven to increase the natural serotonin levels and therefore raising the spirits.