Featured in the February, 2017 Issue of the Ashburn Baptist News
Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) was a physician with a huge private practice who taught 2,872 medical students and authored 65 scientific publications.
He wrote the first American chemistry textbook and risked his life as a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Rush graduated from Princeton University when only 15 years old and received his M.D. from the University of Edinburgh in 1768. In 1812, he published “Medical Inquiries and Observations Upon the diseases of the Mind” and became known as the “Father of American Psychiatry”.
The Rush Medical College chartered on March 2, 1837, was the earliest component of Chicago’s famed Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center.
Besides coming from a godly family, Benjamin Rush received his early education in an academy run by his uncle, Samuel Finley, who was a Gospel minister. Finley had a life-long influence on his nephew and was responsible for him changing from law to medicine.
In spite of his pious upbringing, Rush says, “The early part of my life was spent in dissipation, folly, and in the practices of some of the vices to which young men are prone.” However, he came under deep conviction of sin and tells of his conversion to Christ, saying, “I was first led to seek the favor of God in His Son in the 21st year of my age.” He lived his commitment to Christ by devoting his life to others. Often without pay the young physician tended to the medical needs of the poor making house calls in shacks, cellars, and lofts where there was such filth that when he came home he had to pick the lice from his clothes and hair.
The Philadelphia physician selflessly helped the sick in the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 when 10% of the city’s population died He said, “I had resolved to perish with my fellow citizens rather than dishonor my profession or religion by abandoning the city.” He himself fell sick but survived. In 1786, he established the Philadelphia Dispensary for the poor.
As a compassionate Christian, there was scarcely a worthy cause that he did not promote. Rush founded the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. For a year, he was Surgeon General in the Continental Army and promoted military hygiene. He labored for prison reform.
When education was only for the wealthy, he advocated free public schools with the Bible as a school book. When education was only for men, he insisted that women should also have an equal opportunity.
When black slaves stood helpless on wooden casks in front of Philadelphia’s popular coffee house and were publicly auctioned, Benjamin Rush spoke out against slavery and founded the first anti-slavery society in America.
Though at forty, Benjamin Rush was America’s most prominent physician and internationally known, he never was bashful about moral issues. His views on Christian morality were stated in numerous pamphlets. He pioneered alcohol education urging a curb on whisky and strong liquor writing an “Enquiry Into the Effects of Spiritus Liquors Upon the Human Body”, a classic that was reprinted for decades. In opposition to “Spiritus Liquors”, he said, “Ardent spirits impair the memory, debilitate the understanding, and prevent the moral faculties. They produce not only falsehood, but fraud, theft, uncleanliness, and murder.”
Rush condemned a list of sins, including smoking, drinking, horse racing, cock fighting, and disregard for the Lord’s Day.
Should it not be alarming that from the founding of this country this prominent physician gives us straight talk about sin? Yet, there are some who profess to be born-again Christians who quibble about these matters, not concerned about the physical, mental and spiritual consequences of these sins. Sensible people take sensible advice.