The art of healing, and the Bible
From 1184 B.C. to 500 B.C.
We have some account of medical science during the so-called mystical period, extending from the Trojan War, 1184 B.C., to the dissolution of the Pythagorean Society, 500 B.C. This period, too, witnessed the writing of quite a large portion of the Old Testament; not including, however, the books of Moses, which were of earlier date. There is not time in this brief treatise to enumerate the vagaries and errors in physiology and medicine, found extending through these ages; the opinions held are freely confessed by modern medical authorites to be for the greater part false, crude, and senseless.
From 500 B.C. to 320 B.C.
The subsequent period, extending from 500 B.C. to 320 B.C., known as the philosophic era in medicine, has an array of brilliant names. Indeed, nearly all of the scientists and literary men of that period had more or less to say as to physiology, anatomy, and the treatment of diseases. Such names as Pythagorus, Hippocrates, Plato, and Aristotle are familiar. Some of their opinions are found to be correct, but for the larger part they are as unscientific as those of the preceding primitive and mystic periods. In a word, there has been a well-nigh entire revolution of those early opinions, in the light of recent medical science.
Medical practice in recent times.
But more than this: even within the memory of persons now living, medical practice has undergone radical changes. Fifty years ago, (from the time of this writing, 1889) and even later, the physician (we speak extravagantly) was required first to bleed his patient to death; and if he could not succeed in this, then seemingly he would try to drug him to death. But now the lancet is rarely employed, while milk, iced water, gentle nursing, and harmless diversions take the place of much of the contents of the drug shop. The modern theories are, that nature must restore the sick man; that medical practice is meanwhile too busy itself with removing such obstacles as are in nature’s way, or, at most, is to render some aid to nature in her work of restoration; and that the future, or at least the highest, mission of the medical profession, will be to prevent sickness by guarding against its causes.
The Bible, if divine, must not be in error.
Turning our attention to the Bible, we take the position, that, though it was not designed to teach the science of medicine, still, whenever by hint, explicit statement, or commandment there is found in it any thing relating to medicine, disease, or sanitary regulations, there must be no error; that is, provided the Bible in an exceptional sense is God’s book. Now, what are the facts in this case? They are these: Though the Bible often speaks of disease and remedy, yet the illusions, deceptions, and gross errors of anatomy, physiology, and pathology, as formerly taught, nowhere appear upon its pages. This, it must be acknowledged, is at least singular.
The Bible found not to be in error.
But more than this: the various hints and directions of the Bible, its sanitary regulations, the isolation of the sick, the washing, the sprinkling, the external applications, and the various moral and religious injunctions in their bearing upon health, and the treatment of sicknesses, are confessed to be in harmony with what is most recent and approved.
To be sure, the average old-school physician of a century ago would have blandly smiled at our simplicity, had it been suggested to him that his methods would be improved by following Bible hints. “What did Moses know about medical science?” would have been his reply. But Moses, judged by recent standards, seems to have known much, or at least to have written well. A few illustrations are in point.
Certain approved physiological revelations.
“The life [sustenance] of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. Xvii. 11, 14; comp. Gen. ix. 4), are the words of Moses; but they are also the words of modern medical science. And if all that is implied in this fact had been felt, and acted upon, there would have been less blood-letting by the medical profession during the last three thousand years. The effort now in the ordinary run of disease, as everybody knows, is to keep up both the quantity and quality of the blood.
“Out of the heart are the issues of life.” (Prov. iv. 23), is from the book of Proverbs, and, taken in connection with Lev. xvii. 11, 14, affords at least a hint of the fact discovered by Harvey in 1616, that the blood circulates through the human system, proceeding from the heart, and propelled by its muscular energy.
So, too, the artificial production of sleep during surgical operations is thought to be a modern discovery; but it was long ago hinted at in the Book of Genesis: “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof” (Gen. ii. 21). Here was a suggestion which, had it been followed, might have hastened what has been a very serviceable though tardy scientific discovery.
The medical profession now announces these directions for the preservation of health: “Be free from anxiety; be occupied; be temperate.” These injunctions, however, are but an echo of “Diligent in business,” “Take no [anxious] thought for the morrow,” and be “temperate in all things.” By following these Bible requirements, much, perhaps half, of the sickness of the world would be prevented.
Then, too, the law which requires rest one day in seven for ordinary pursuits is now admitted to be founded in a physiological necessity. And in order to save our field from exhaustion, and our bodies from prostration, it may become necessary to re-enact, or at least re-observe, the sabbatical year of the Mosaic code; that is, if our hard-worked professional and business men would one year in seven take relief from mental strain, nervous prostration among them would not much longer be known.
There are other matters enjoined in the ceremonial law, hardly suitable, perhaps, to be presented in a popular treatise, which nevertheless are coming to be acknowledged as of great importance. To the sanitary excellence of those regulations, the general health of the Jewish race is recognized as a standard witness.
Treatment of eminent physicians.
Dr. Richardson, in his work entitled “Diseases of Modern Life,” after speaking of the fact that the Jews, though persecuted and oppressed by every form of tyranny, enduring what no other people have been able to endure, are still potent and on the increase, uses this language: “From some cause or causes, the Jewish race presents an endurance against disease that does not belong to other portions of the civilized communities amongst which its members dwell.” We presume no reader need be told that this singular condition of the Jewish race is attributed to medical authorites to its obedience to those health and religious regulations enjoined in the Bible.
Of more general application are the words of two other writers, whose statements must carry with them great weight, especially to those who are inclined to disregard what clergymen may say upon these subjects.
Renouard, in his “History of Medicine,” translated by Dr. Comegys, makes these statements: “The writings of Moses constitute a precious monument in the history of medicine, for they embrace hygienic rules of the highest sagacity . . . In reading, for instance, those precepts designed to regulate the relation of man and wife, one cannot repress a sentiment of admiration for the wisdom and foresight which made such salutary regulations a religious duty . . . Apart from the religious ceremonies connected with them, might it not be said that they are extracts from a modern work on hygienics?” Mark those words, extracts from a modern work on hygienics. “But,” continues Dr. Renouard, “what more than this excites the astonishment of physicians, is the tableaux that Moses made of the white leprosy, and the regulations he established to prevent its propagation.”
These certainly are highly complimentary words as to the correctness of Bible precept and regulation, especially as they were spoken, not for the purpose of defending the Bible, but from a point of view purely scientific.
In this connection it may be remarked, that leprosy, which no longer ago than 1700 prevailed in England to such an extent that leper-houses, numbering a hundred or more, existed, has now disappeared. “It was stamped out of England,” says medical history, “through a system of isolation.” But that was the biblical method of dealing with leprosy three or four thousand years ago.
The late Dr. Edward Clarke speaks thus in his work on “Sex in Education:” “The instructors, the houses and schools of our country’s daughters, would profit by reading the old Levitical law. The race has not yet outgrown the physiology of Moses.” Surely a few statements like these forever after relieve clergymen from the necessity of defending the physiological code of Moses.
Matters closely related to medical science.
There are other correlated matters that need detain us but a moment. The anatomist, for instance, dissects every part of the physical man; the brain-cells are explored, the nerve-centres located, the nice dependencies and adjustments of part are traced: and when the work is done, the most skillful dissector can find no language that more fittingly expresses his surprise and emotion than the words of the Psalmist, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
The anatomical chemist, with his many instruments and modern appliances, carefully analyzes the human body, but discovers no ingredient in its material make-up which is not found in the dust beneath his feet. In the Mosaic revelation we read: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. ii. 7).
The geologist takes the body of man where the physiologist finds it, traces its lineage back in harmony with the great laws of historic continuity to the soil, and then to the solid geological formations now known as the lower or the foundational strata of the earth. When his investigations are completed, he says, “There is beyond question, and under the eye of a divine intelligence, an unbroken historic connection between this physical body of man, and the granite foundations of the earth upon which he walks.
The latest scientific statements of this fact are these: “From the lower strata of the earth have come the molecular constituents of the human body; and God, in building up our organic nature, has guided the contents of the soil through its many and intricate changes to its final and most sublime destination in the human body . . . We have, in all this, more than the idea of intelligent cause; we have an ever-acting cause; hence evolution, instead of pushing far back the transcendental ground of being, reveals that ground as a present source of phenomena that surround us at every stage of progress. Evolution could not go on without the constant action of this ever-present cause. Evolution, then is simply a method by which the supreme cause acts . . . Creation by law, evolution by law, development by law, or, as including all these kindred ideas, the reign of law, is nothing but the reign of creative force, directed by creative knowledge, worked under the control of creative power, and in fulfillment of creative purpose.
Dr. Townsend’s embrace of evolution here recognizes the need for an ever-acting cause (God) to make evolution work. Many modern creationist theories developed after Townsend’s time reject the need for gradual evolution. – DBS
Turning to a Psalm of David, we read some of these same truths in their beautiful poetico-religious dress: —
“Whither shall I go from my Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?”
“If I ascend up to heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.”
“If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
“Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.”
“If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
“Yea the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
“For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.
“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth me right well.
“My sustenance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. [Moll, Delizch, and Hitzig speak of this language as having reference to man’s origin from the dust.]
“Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
“How precious also are thy thoughts unto me O God! How great is the sum of them! (Ps. cxxxix. 7-17).
When David wrote those words, there was not a man on earth who understood the chemistry of life as it is now understood; and yet the expressions are faultless as to both their great beauty and accuracy.
An important question.
Now does any intelligent man continue to insist that the Bible in these matters relating to medical and physiological science is an antiquated book? But why was it not long since antiquated if written as other ancient books were written, by men liable to make mistakes; by men, as we are told, who lived in a barbarous age; by men without supernatural revelations, and with no special authority? Why is it that these Sacred Scriptures are so much superior to all else of ancient date? And how does it happen that they have anticipated in pathology some of the most remarkable discoveries of modern times, if they are but a book among other books? Have we not a right to ask for an intelligent answer?