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There is a field of usefulness peculiarly his own-a field always “white to the harvest,” and inviting him to thrust in his sickle and reap; I refer, of course, to the chamber of sick
When I speak of this as his field, I have no wish to transfer to the physician the duties and responsibilities of the pastor: but religion binds us to do good to all men, as we have opportunity; and, as Baxter has remarked, what belongs to the pastor ex officio, belongs to the physician ex charitate. He has access to individuals whom no clergyman can reach; he can sometimes prepare the way for the introduction of a clergyman where he would otherwise be excluded; he can choose his opportunities for bringing forward the subject of religion, and select the most suitable mode and form for presenting it; the same counsels uttered by him, would be more likely to produce a good impression than if they came from the lips of a clergyman, because, in the latter case, they might be heard as the promptings of professional duty, while in the other, not only would they be ascribed to a generous and disinterested kindness, but they would derive additional weight from the presumption, on the part of the patient, that they proceeded from one who understood his physical condition. It is also to be considered that the relation in which a physician stands to his patient invites his confidence and awakens his gratitude. He "enters into the privacy of families, and penetrates even to the most retired chamber; he beholds the human character, disrobed, by the rude hands of mental and corporeal suffering, of all the coloring and drapery thrown around it by the forms of society, and thus becomes the depositary of facts which involve the happiness of individuals, and of society."* The feeling of dependence, which reveals itself in the lighting up of the invalid's countenance when he enters the room, and the sense of comparative security he enjoys while he is sitting by his bed-side, shows that his physician has an ascendancy over him which no other person can have—that his imagination (to borrow the expressive language of a learned and venerable professor in one of our medical schools) has "conferred on him the attributes of a tutelary divinity.”+ Would it be any perversion of the power thus placed in his hands, by a
* Dr. Hodge's Introductory Lecture, 1835. | Dr. Chapman's Introductory Lecture, 1838.
wise Providence, to employ it for the spiritual good of his patient? Would it compromise his professional character, while ministering to the body, to minister to the soul, too?-I am aware of the prejudice which is entertained by some respectable physieians, on the subject of pressing the claims of religion upon the sick. An indiscreet zeal may unquestionably do great harm in this way. A physician who should obtrude the subject of religion on all occasions, and upon all sorts of patients, would be likely to do more evil than good. But it is yet to be proved that the sick would receive any injury from having this subject presented to them by their medical attendants, in a judicious way. The form and manner in which it should be done, it is not my province to point out; different cases would require different treatment. In general, a hint or suggestion, kindly and incidentally thrown out, would probably be more useful than a formal argument or appeal. Such suggestions would not only, in most cases, be well received, but are secretly desired. There can be no doubt that the sick sometimes suffer intensely from suppressed anxiety in relation to their spiritual state. Their physicians forbid the mention of religion to them lest it may exacerbate their disease, when this is the very thing that is needed to allay an excitement which is fast precipitating their malady to a fatal issue. A few words of spiritual counsel, kindly offered, have, in some instances of this sort, done much to tranquilize the system, where the best pharmaceutical agents have failed. Besides, the responsibility of physicians is not restricted to their merely technical duties. No man is at liberty to slight a favorable opportunity of doing good to the soul of a fellow creature; and the sin of this neglect becomes more aggravated where, in the ordering of events by Divine Providence, he is the only one who has the opportunity of offering him a word of religious counsel. Am I going too far when I hazard the conjecture that this responsibility is sometimes felt by physicians, who are not pious men, in an intense degree? Are there not occasions, in the experience of such physicians, when all the sensibilities of their nature are stirred into action by the spectacle of a fellow-mortal just going, as they believe, unprepared into eternity—and when the consciousness that they have not even attempted to direct his eyes to “the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world,” is painful beyond expression ? If this be the case, physicians
would consult as well their own peace of mind as the happiness of their patients, by cordially embracing the doctrines of Christianity, and making its precepts their rule of life.- On the whole, it must be too apparent to require further argument, that personal religion is adapted greatly to enlarge a physician's capabilities of usefulness. Its spirit blends with all his scientific attainments, and fosters those principles and habits which are most conducive to professional success; while it qualifies and disposes him to soothe the dying, and comfort the bereaved with the consolations of the Gospel. No man need desire a better eulogy than was once pronounced on a physician of this character-the celebrated Dr. Hey, of Leeds.
“ Those means which med'cine and the Gospel give,
More useful that which taught him how to die." Such physicians cannot go unrewarded. The blessing of many who were ready to perish” will be upon them, and they will hereafter share in the honor and felicity of those who, having “turned many to righteousness, shall shine as the stars forever and ever."
I feel that I have done little more than glance at my subject, but I will not trespass upon your patience by pursuing it further. I should be unfaithful, however, to the trust I have ventured to assume this evening, were I to close this discourse without again adverting to that view of the subject which, after all, is of paramount importance. “Nothing," says the great Pascal,* "is so important to any man as his own condition; nothing so formidable as eternity. They, therefore, who are indifferent to the loss of their being, and to the risk of endless misery, are in an unnatural state. They act quite differently from this in all other matters: they fear the smallest inconveniences; they anticipate them; they feel them when they arrive; and he who passes days and nights in indignation and despair, at the loss of an employment, or for some fancied blemish on his honor, is the very same man who knows that he must lose all by death, and yet continues satisfied, fearless, and unmoved. Such an insensibility to things of the most tremendous consequences, in a heart so keenly alive to the merest tri
* Thoughts on Religion, Ch. vi.
fles, is an astonishing prodigy, an incomprehensible enchantment, a supernatural infatuation."
I am not about to arraign the medical profession as peculiarly fruitful of the moral “ prodigies” so graphically delineated in this sketch; but medical men are equally liable with others to become absorbed in merely temporal objects and interests, to the utter and fatal neglect of the eternal consequences involved in our present probation. Standing as many of you do upon the threshold of your noble profession, and panting for the acquisition of its now distant honors, you will need frequently to be reminded that
" It is not all of life, to live,
Nor all of death, to die."
“At thirty, man suspects himself a fool ;
Resolves, and re-resolves; then, dies the same !"
man with gratitude and reverence: and in proportion to the love and veneration we feel for him, are we pained by the apprehension that he may possibly defer the great work of life until it is forever too late. A similar contingency is involved in every man's case, who enters upon his professional life without piety. It is the dictate as well of sound reason as of revelation, that we "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." This is the only wise or safe course—the only course which befits our circumstances, or accords with our relations to the Author of our being.
Let the question, then, propounded by our Saviour, be written not merely upon your text-books but upon your hearts :" What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul ?” The laurels which reward an honorable professional career, are among the most laudable objects of human ambition. But they are a poor equivalent for the loss of the soul. The soul need not ought not to be lost. "Life and immortality have been brought to light in the Gospel.” It is true, there are ten thousand avenues which lead down to hell, and only one strait and narrow path that conducts to heaven. But this is all we require. “Believe on the Lord
6 Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." Men have their schemes of salvation. Faith in Christ is God's way. This, and this alone, meets our case. Others may, in a certain sense do to live by; this will do to live and die by. Every physician present might be called upon to testify to the sustaining and triumphant power of the Christian's faith in a dying hour. Let me give you, in concluding this discourse, the testimony of one whose name and fame must be familiar to you all, and whose early death science had so much reason to deploreI refer to the late Dr. Godman. You will hear him as an impartial witness, and his words will carry a weight with them which no testimony of mine could have.
Dr. Godman was, for many years, a confirmed infidel. After his conversion, he had occasion to write to a professional brother of high reputation, who “had no confidence but that of the skeptic—no hope but that of ceasing to be.” He was sinking into the grave, the victim of a lingering and incurable disorder, and had long been “arming himself to meet the king of terrors with composure, that he might die like a philosopher, with 'manly firmness.?” He was in this state when Dr. Godman's