Monday, October 30, 2023

Sir James Simpson - Discovering meaning in life

All photographs courtesy of Unsplash

In  Bathgate, a town in Scotland, a boy was born in 1811.  His family were not wealthy, and his mother died when he was nine years old, but he went on to become one of the most famous doctors that has ever lived.  His name was James Simpson, and he was educated at the University of Edinburgh and trained as a doctor.

He attended the operating room soon after starting his medical training and the place was not as clean as it might be, and there were no gowns, masks or gloves worn by those doing the operation. The patient was terrified and had to be held down firmly on the table as the operation took place.  As the surgical knife was used, the screams of the patient echoed around the building as there were no anaesthetics in those days.  The sound of that distressed patient stayed with James Simpson, and he determined to see an end to such suffering and conscious surgery. 
He gained high qualifications in medicine and became a Professor at the University at the unusually young age of twenty-eight.  He had a thriving medical practice and was earning a lot of money, and as a lecturer, his ability was almost without equal.  He was just brilliant in all he did and used unique illustrations to interest students, and had a magnetic personality.  Students heard increasingly about his ability and crowded continually into his lecture rooms to hear him teach.  

Outwardly, everything was going so well, and he even seemed to be a Christian believer as he went to church.  Yet he knew he had no relationship with God, and his questions became very pointed when he saw his young daughter die of a serious illness, and he was helpless to save her life.  Yet he was more concerned with material and monetary aspects of daily living than the important spiritual concerns of the soul.  

In 1846, he heard of the anaesthetic called ether, which was discovered in America. It was tried in Scotland, but its dangers and disadvantages were so great that it was unsatisfactory.  James Simpson set about finding a viable alternative. After trying many, many drugs and recording their effects, he eventually hit upon chloroform.  To begin with, he did nothing with the sample he had obtained, but then he tried it out on himself and two colleagues, and it caused them to lose consciousness and collapse.  This was the discovery of the ‘better anaesthetic’ and was a great success.  It was first used on a mother in labour, and she was so excited by the less painful birth that she named her baby Anaesthesia.  James Simpson was now not only admired and rich but had national fame as the discoverer of chloroform as an anaesthetic.

Yet, for all his fame, fortune and celebrity status, he had not found peace of heart or a relationship with God. He saw his best friend, Dr. Reid, die in extreme pain but with a peacefulness which he envied and wanted to find for himself.  Eventually, it was an invalid woman, a firm Christian, whom he was treating, who showed him the way. She urged him to repent of sin and selfishness and seek Christ as the only Saviour of sinners.  It was on Christmas Day 1858 that James Simpson became a changed man, a new Christian, someone with a deep and real relationship with God.  

He used to say to his students, “In Christ, you will find a Saviour, a companion, a counsellor, a friend, a brother who loves you with a love greater than the human heart can conceive.”  He was later knighted and had royal approval for his discovery when Queen Victoria was attended by James Simpson and used chloroform during the birth of Prince Leopold.  Sir James Young Simpson died at the age of fifty-eight, and 2,000 people attended his funeral.  His final testimony was, “We can do nothing to wash away our guilt before God, but Christ has done all that is required.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”  That can apply to us!

Written by PAUL YOUNG 


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