“For ye have the poor always with you, but me ye have not always.”— Matthew, xvi. 11.

This Sermon was preacheth according to annual custom, in commemoration of five several Hospitals in London. Their several Annual Reports were read in the course of the Sermon, as indicated by a line drawn across the page towards the end.

Various and multiform are the ills which the charities, whose report you have now heard, set themselves to alleviate. The burden of poverty is sufficiently heavy, even whilst the animal frame is not wasted by the inroads of sickness. But when disease hath laid its hand upon the body, and the strength is fretted by pining maladies, then especially it is that penury is hard to bear; and the man who has wrestled bravely against want, whilst there was vigor in his limbs and play in his muscles, sinks down wearied and disconsolate, when the organs of life are clogged and impeded. Who would refuse to stretch out the hand of kindness, succoring the afflicted in this their hour of aggravated bitterness? Who could be callous enough to the woes of humanity, to be slow in providing that all which the skill and the wisdom of man can effect, towards lightening the pressure of sickness, maybe placed within the reach of those who must otherwise waste away in unmitigated suffering?

Who, in short, could be bold enough to call himself a man, and yet give himself up to a churlish indifference as to whether the pains of his destitute brethren were assuaged by the arts of medical science, or whether those brethren were left to the gnawings of racking disease, with no pillow for the aching head, with no healing draught for the writhing emaciated frame? One malady there is — the greatest, I may call it, to which flesh is heir, the unhappy subjects of which have a more than common claim on benevolence. It is much that accident and sickness should befall the body; but the climax of affliction is not reached until the mind itself is out of joint. So long as the soul retains possession of her capacities, man, however assaulted, however agonized, falls not from his rank in the scale of creation, but rather, by displaying the superiority of the immortal over the mortal, proves himself the denizen of a mightier sphere. Man is, then, most illustrious and most dignified, when his spiritual part rises up unshattered amid the ruins of the coporeal, and gives witness of destinies coeval with eternity, by showing an independence on the corrodings of time. But when the battery of attack has been turned upon the mind, when reason has been assaulted and hurled from her throne, oh ! then it is that the spectacle of human distress, one upon which even the beings of a nither intelligence than our own may look sadly and pitifully ; for the link of communion with the long hereafter seems thus almost dissevered, and that pledge of an unbounded duration, — a pledge of which no bodily decay can spoil us — a pledge which is won by the soul out of the breakings up of bone and sinew — for a while is torn away from man, and he remains the fearful nondescript of creation, dust lit up Deity, and yet Deity lost in dust.

Ye cannot be lukewarm in the support of an institution which, like one of those whose foundation we are met to commemorate, throws open its gates to the subjects of this worst of calamities, and it were to transgress the due bounds of my office, if I should insist further on the claims of those Hospitals which have been reared for the purpose of mitigating the ills attendant on bodily or mental disease.

Henry Melvill, “Hospital Sermon”


Henry Mevill’s sermon was published in 1849. The Wikipedia entry for him says, “The Revd. Henry Melvill (1798–1871) was a priest in the Church of England, and principal of the East India Company College from 1844 to 1858. He afterwards served as Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral.”

Henry Melvill here offers an impassioned plea for hospitals. Apparently he’s just asking for people to financially support a private sector hospital, but have you ever heard such charged rhetoric? “Who, in short, could be bold enough to call himself a man, and yet give himself up to a churlish indifference…?” Can you imagine a modern fundraising appeal using such words? Both liberals and conservatives today tend to shy away from use of spiritual language for spiritual ends. Liberals want religion out of the public square and conservatives try to wallpaper over their religious agenda with talk of secular “values”.

The week I am writing this, a large abandoned building that was once a state psychiatric hospital was the victim of arson. It draws a modicum of attention when the building is aflame, but little worry when a large class of people have now gone uncared for for 30 years. In contrast, it’s been said that one of the great apologetic virtues of the Christian faith has been that it motivated the establishment of hospitals.

Melvill talks vividly of the great physical sufferings of those who are dying from disease aggravated by poverty, and waxes poetic about the spiritual warfare that resultingly attacks the mind. There’s a promise here of the resurrection. He talks of the duties of his office as pastor to commend such charitable action.

PRAYER: Great Physician, give us the passion of Henry Melvill when we consider the great sufferings in mind and body of the sick poor. Let us pray for the poor, sympathize with the undeserved and unnecessary suffering, and help where we can. Bless especially private and public institutions that help these needs. Let us not forget also the specific mental needs that often go unnoticed.

PRAYER FOCUS: Meditate on the meaning of, “dust lit up Deity, and yet Deity lost in dust”

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