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Water of Life and Other Sermons, 2 - THE PHYSICIAN'S CALLING

By Charles Kingsley


      (Preached at Whitehall for St. George's Hospital.)

      ST. MATTHEW ix. 35.

      And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.

      The Gospels speak of disease and death in a very simple and human tone. They regard them in theory, as all are forced to regard them in fact, as sore and sad evils.

      The Gospels never speak of disease or death as necessities; never as the will of God. It is Satan, not God, who binds the woman with a spirit of infirmity. It is not the will of our Father in heaven that one little one should perish. Indeed, we do not sufficiently appreciate the abhorrence with which the whole of Scripture speaks of disease and death: because we are in the habit of interpreting many texts which speak of the disease and death of the body in this life as if they referred to the punishment and death of the soul in the world to come. We have a perfect right to do that; for Scripture tells us that there is a mysterious analogy and likeness between the life of the body and that of the soul, and therefore between the death of the body and that of the soul: but we must not forget, in the secondary and higher spiritual interpretation of such texts, their primary and physical meaning, which is this--that disease and death are uniformly throughout Scripture held up to the abhorrence of man.

      Moreover--and this is noteworthy--the Gospels, and indeed all Scripture, very seldom palliate the misery of disease, by drawing from it those moral lessons which we ourselves do. I say very seldom. The Bible does so here and there, to tell us that we may do so likewise. And we may thank God heartily that the Bible does so. It would be a miserable world, if all that the clergyman or the friend might say by the sick-bed were, 'This is an inevitable evil, like hail and thunder. You must bear it if you can: and if not, then not.' A miserable world, if he could not say with full belief; '"My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him. For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth." Thou knowest not now why thou art afflicted; perhaps thou wilt never know in this life. But a day will come when thou wilt know: when thou wilt find that this sickness came to thee at the exact right time, in the exact right way; when thou wilt find that God has been keeping thee in the secret place of His presence from the provoking of men, and hiding thee privately in His tabernacle from the spite of tongues; when thou wilt discover that thou hast been learning precious lessons for thy immortal spirit, while thou didst seem to thyself merely tossing with clouded intellect on a bed of useless pain; when thou wilt find that God was nearest to thee, at the very moment when He seemed to have left thee most utterly.'

      Thank God, we can say that, and more; and we will say it. But we must bear in mind, that the Gospels, which are the very parts of Scripture which speak most concerning disease, omit almost entirely that cheering and comforting view of it.

      And why? Only to force upon our attention, I believe, a view even more cheering and comforting: a view deeper and wider, because supplied not merely to the pious sufferer, but to all sufferers; not merely to the Christian, but to all mankind. And that is, I believe, none other than this: that God does not only bring spiritual good out of physical evil, but that He hates physical evil itself: that He desires not only the salvation of our souls, but the health of our bodies; and that when He sent His only begotten Son into the world to do His will, part of that will was, that He should attack and conquer the physical evil of disease--as it were instinctively, as his natural enemy, and directly, for the sake of the body of the sufferer.

      Many excellent men, seeing how the healing of disease was an integral part of our Lord's mission, and of the mission of His apostles, have wished that it should likewise form an integral part of the mission of the Church: that the clergy should as much as possible be physicians; the physician, as much as possible, a clergyman. The plan may be useful in exceptional cases--in that, for instance, of the missionary among the heathen.

      But experience has decided, that in a civilized and Christian country it had better be otherwise: that the great principle of the division of labour should be carried out: that there should be in the land a body of men whose whole mind and time should be devoted to one part only of our Lord's work--the battle with disease and death. And the effect has been not to lower but to raise the medical profession. It has saved the doctor from one great danger--that of abusing, for the purposes of religious proselytizing, the unlimited confidence reposed in him. It has freed him from many a superstition which enfeebled and confused the physicians of the Middle Ages. It has enabled him to devote his whole intellect to physical science, till he has set his art on a sound and truly scientific foundation. It has enabled him to attack physical evil with a single-hearted energy and devotion which ought to command the respect and admiration of his fellow- countrymen. If all classes did their work half as simply, as bravely, as determinedly, as unselfishly, as the medical men of Great Britain--and, I doubt not, of other countries in Europe--this world would be a far fairer place than it is likely to be for many a year to come. It is good to do one thing and to do it well. It is good to follow Christ in one thing, and to follow Him utterly in that. And the medical man has set his mind to do one thing,--to hate calmly, but with an internecine hatred, disease and death, and to fight against them to the end.

      The medical man is complained of at times as being too materialistic- -as caring more for the bodies of his patients than for their souls. Do not blame him too hastily. In his exclusive care for the body, he may be witnessing unconsciously, yet mightily, for the soul, for God, for the Bible, for immortality.

      Is he not witnessing for God, when he shows by his acts that he believes God to be a God of Life, not of death; of health, not of disease; of order, not of disorder; of joy and strength, not of misery and weakness?

      Is he not witnessing for Christ when, like Christ, he heals all manner of sickness and disease among the people, and attacks physical evil as the natural foe of man and of the Creator of man?

      Is he not witnessing for the immortality of the soul when he fights against death as an evil to be postponed at all hazards and by all means, even when its advent is certain? Surely it is so. How often have we seen the doctor by the dying bed, trying to preserve life, when he knew well that life could not be preserved. We have been tempted to say to him, 'Let the sufferer alone. He is senseless. He is going. We can do nothing more for his soul; you can do nothing more for his body. Why torment him needlessly for the sake of a few more moments of respiration? Let him alone to die in peace.' How have we been tempted to say that? We have not dared to say it; for we saw that the doctor, and not we, was in the right; that in all those little efforts, so wise, so anxious, so tender, so truly chivalrous, to keep the failing breath for a few moments more in the body of one who had no earthly claim upon his care, that doctor was bearing a testimony, unconscious yet most weighty, to that human instinct of which the Bible approves throughout, that death in a human being is an evil, an anomaly, a curse; against which, though he could not rescue the man from the clutch of his foe, he was bound, in duty and honour, to fight until the last, simply because it was death, and death was the enemy of man.

      But if the medical man bears witness for God and spiritual things when he seems exclusively occupied with the body, so does the hospital. Look at those noble buildings which the generosity of our fellow-countrymen have erected in all our great cities. You may find in them, truly, sermons in stones; sermons for rich alike and poor. They preach to the rich, these hospitals, that the sick-bed levels all alike; that they are the equals and brothers of the poor in the terrible liability to suffer! They preach to the poor that they are, through Christianity, the equals of the rich in their means and opportunities of cure. I say through Christianity. Whether the founders so intended or not (and those who founded most of them, St. George's among the rest, did so intend), these hospitals bear direct witness for Christ. They do this, and would do it, even if--which God forbid--the name of Christ were never mentioned within their walls. That may seem a paradox; but it is none. For it is a historic fact, that hospitals are a creation of Christian times, and of Christian men. The heathen knew them not. In that great city of ancient Rome, as far as I have ever been able to discover, there was not a single hospital,--not even, I fear, a single charitable institution. Fearful thought--a city of a million and a half inhabitants, the centre of human civilization: and not a hospital there! The Roman Dives paid his physician; the Roman Lazarus literally lay at his gate full of sores, till he died the death of the street dogs which licked those sores, and was carried forth to be thrust under ground awhile, till the same dogs came to quarrel over his bones. The misery and helplessness of the lower classes in the great cities of the Roman empire, till the Church of Christ arose, literally with healing in its wings, cannot, I believe, be exaggerated.

      Eastern piety, meanwhile, especially among the Hindoos, had founded hospitals, in the old meaning of that word--namely, almshouses for the infirm and aged: but I believe there is no record of hospitals, like our modern ones, for the cure of disease, till Christianity spread over the Western world.

      And why? Because then first men began to feel the mighty truth contained in the text. If Christ were a healer, His servants must be healers likewise. If Christ regarded physical evil as a direct evil, so must they. If Christ fought against it with all His power, so must they, with such power as He revealed to them. And so arose exclusively in the Christian mind, a feeling not only of the nobleness of the healing art, but of the religious duty of exercising that art on every human being who needed it; and hospitals are to be counted, as a historic fact, among the many triumphs of the Gospel.

      If there be any one--especially a working man--in this church this day who is inclined to undervalue the Bible and Christianity, let him know that, but for the Bible and Christianity, he has not the slightest reason to believe that there would have been at this moment a hospital in London to receive him and his in the hour of sickness or disabling accident, and to lavish on him there, unpaid as the light and air of God outside, every resource of science, care, generosity, and tenderness, simply because he is a human being. Yes; truly catholic are these hospitals,--catholic as the bounty of our heavenly Father,--without respect of persons, giving to all liberally and upbraiding not, like Him in whom all live, and move, and have their being; witnesses better than all our sermons for the universal bounty and tolerance of that heavenly Father who causes the sun to shine on the evil and the good, and his rain to fall upon the just and on the unjust, and is perfect in this, that He is good to the unthankful and the evil.

      And, therefore, the preacher can urge his countrymen, let their opinions, creed, tastes, be what they may, to support hospitals with especial freedom, earnestness, and confidence. Heaven forbid that I should undervalue any charitable institution whatever. May God's blessing be on them all. But this I have a right to say,--that whatever objections, suspicions, prejudices there may be concerning any other form of charity, concerning hospitals there can be none. Every farthing bestowed on them must go toward the direct doing of good. There is no fear in them of waste, of misapplication of funds, of private jobbery, of ulterior and unavowed objects. Palpable and unmistakeable good is all they do and all they can do. And he who gives to a hospital has the comfort of knowing that he is bestowing a direct blessing on the bodies of his fellow-men; and it may be on their souls likewise.

      For I have said that these hospitals witness silently for God and for Christ; and I must believe that that silent witness is not lost on the minds of thousands who enter them. It sinks in,--all the more readily because it is not thrust upon them,--and softens and breaks up their hearts to receive the precious seed of the word of God. Many a man, too ready from bitter experience to believe that his fellow-men cared not for him, has entered the wards of a hospital to be happily undeceived. He finds that he is cared for; that he is not forgotten either by God or man; that there is a place for him, too, at God's table, in his hour of utmost need; and angels of God, in human form, ready to minister to his necessities; and, softened by that discovery, he has listened humbly, perhaps for the first time in his life, to the exhortations of a clergyman; and has taken in, in the hour of dependence and weakness, the lessons which he was too proud or too sullen to hear in the day of independence and sturdy health. And so do these hospitals, it seems to me, follow the example and practice of our Lord Himself; who, by ministering to the animal wants and animal sufferings of the people, by showing them that He sympathised with those lower sorrows of which they were most immediately conscious, made them follow Him gladly, and listen to Him with faith, when He proclaimed to them in words of wisdom, that Father in heaven whom He had already proclaimed to them in acts of mercy.

      And now, I have to appeal to you for the excellent and honourable foundation of St. George's Hospital. I might speak to you, and speak, too, with a personal reverence and affection of many years' standing, of the claims of that noble institution; of the illustrious men of science who have taught within its walls; of the number of able and honourable young men who go forth out of it, year by year, to carry their blessed and truly divine art, not only over Great Britain, but to the islands of the farthest seas. But to say that would be merely to say what is true, thank God, of every hospital in London.

      One fact only, therefore, I shall urge, which gives St. George's Hospital special claims on the attention of the rich.

      Situated, as it is, in the very centre of the west end of London, it is the special refuge of those who are most especially of service to the dwellers in the Westend. Those who are used up--fairly or unfairly--in ministering to the luxuries of the high-born and wealthy: the groom thrown in the park; the housemaid crippled by lofty stairs; the workman fallen from the scaffolding of the great man's palace; the footman or coachman who has contracted disease from long hours of nightly exposure, while his master and mistress have been warm and gay at rout and ball; and those, too, whose number, I fear, are very great, who contract disease, themselves, their wives, and children, from actual want, when they are thrown suddenly out of employ at the end of the season, and London is said to be empty--of all but two million of living souls: --the great majority of these crowd into St. George's Hospital to find there relief and comfort, which those to whom they minister are solemnly bound to supply by their contributions. The rich and well-born of this land are very generous. They are doing their duty, on the whole, nobly and well. Let them do their duty--the duty which literally lies nearest them-- by St. George's Hospital, and they will wipe off a stain, not on the hospital, but on the rich people in its neighbourhood--the stain of that hospital's debts.

      The deficiency in the funds of the hospital for the year 1862-3-- caused, be it remembered, by no extravagance or sudden change, but simply by the necessity for succouring those who would otherwise have been destitute of succour--the deficiency, I say, on an expenditure of 15,000l. amounts to more than 3,200l. which has had to be met by selling out funded property, and so diminishing the capital of the institution. Ought this to be? I ask. Ought this to be, while more wealth is collected within half a mile of that hospital than in any spot of like extent in the globe?

      My friends, this is the time of Lent; the time whereof it is written,--'Is not this the fast which I have chosen, to deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the poor that is cast out to thine house? when thou seest the naked that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? If thou let thy soul go forth to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday. And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul, and make fat thy bones, and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and as a spring that doth not fail.'

      Let us obey that command literally, and see whether the promise is not literally fulfilled to us in return.

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