Edinburgh City Mission

Edinburgh City Mission

A history from 1832 – 2010

By Paul James-Griffiths

On the 1st March 1832, eight gentlemen met together in the shop of Messrs Young and Miller, 375 High Street, to confer with David Nasmyth in regard to the formation of a City Mission in Edinburgh.

Annual Report, 1895, p.101

Thus began Edinburgh City Mission. It was probably the 19th city mission to be formed by Nasmith, the first having been in Glasgow, the second in Dublin, and probably 16 city missions before Edinburgh City Mission (ECM) in America (ibid., p.10). However, ECM is ranked now as the second oldest surviving city mission in Britain.

As with all city missions, Nasmith set out a clear vision for ECM, because “without a vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).

The ECM Vision

Attached to every Annual Report was a clear constitution, parts of which read:

Article II: The design of the Society shall be to carry the Gospel, irrespective of denominational distinction, more extensively among the inhabitants of this city, by visits for religious conversation and reading the Scriptures, by meetings for prayer and Christian instruction, – by stimulating all persons to a regular attendance upon the preaching of the Gospel, – by increasing Scriptural education, through the medium of Sabbath or Infant Schools, or otherwise, – by the formation of loan libraries, – and adoption of such other means, as the Managers may judge important to attain the designs of the Society.

Annual Report: 1834 – 1835, p.3

Instructions to the Agents (missionaries):

1st: Your business is to visit the inhabitants of the district assigned to you, for the purpose of bringing them to an acquaintance with salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, and by doing them good by every means in your power…..the sole object of the Mission being to bring sinners to the Saviour.

Your work is awfully important: you have to deal with immortal souls, many of whom may never have an opportunity of hearing the Gospel but from you, and whose eternal destiny may depend upon the message which you deliver to them: Be faithful, be simple, keep the Lord Jesus continually before your own mind, and commend Him and His finished work to the people. Never forget the awful possibility suggested by the Apostle, – that after one has preached the Gospel, he himself may ‘become a cast-away.’

Go forth daily to your work with your hearts lifted up to God for the assistance and direction of His Holy Spirit, relying upon his promise for wisdom and strength, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay or resist. Let the glory of God, and the salvation of souls, be your chief – your only end.

ibid., p.4


You can read more about the Edinburgh City Mission from the articles listed below:

Edinburgh City Mission history timeline

Founder: David Nasmith (1799 – 1839) 1832: "On the 1st March, eight gentlemen met together in the shop of Messrs. Young and Miller, 375 High Street, to confer with David Nasmyth in regard to the formation of a City Mission in Edinburgh." (Annual Report, 1895)City...

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The Stirring of the Churches

By 1839 the churches were well aware of what God was doing through ECM, as it spearheaded outreach in the city: In regard, indeed to the whole operations of the Mission, its indirect effects are at least equal to all the other good which it produces. Of these the most...

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The Early Days: 1832 – 1859

In the first year six missionaries were salaried by private individuals and the city was split into 30 districts. The vision was to have missionaries from ECM in all those districts. By 1834, seven of those districts were covered. The first report on ECM in 1834...

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The Influence of ECM on the City Authorities

God gave a promise to Abraham: ....I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the...

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The Great Revival: 1859 – 1861

In 1859 Christians were stirred to pour out their hearts in united prayer across the city, and God answered them with a deep revival: A spirit of fervent prayer and of earnest 'waiting for the promise of the Spirit', has of late years pervaded, in a remarkable manner,...

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The First Revival: 1841 – 1843

The first wave of revival and awakening hit Edinburgh in 1841. The Shelter, in the Grassmarket, had been set up by some Christian ladies in 1840, for the purpose of providing a rehab house for young women who had been involved in crime and prostitution. ECM...

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The Peak Years and the Moody Revival: 1865 – 1900

In 1865 ECM moved its HQ from the High Street (first 375 High St., then 126 High St.) to 5 St. Andrews Square and in this period the number of missionaries either being salaried by ECM, or working in conjunction with it, grew to 33, which was the highest number on...

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Thirty Years On: 1864

ECM celebrated its 30th anniversary with this glowing report: When the Edinburgh City Mission was formed, not one congregation in the city was known to employ and support a missionary; there are now at least forty congregations in town that have a salaried missionary...

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1900 – 2000

The 1898 Report concluded that "Multitudes have been lifted out of the degradation into which they had fallen, and larger numbers have been prevented from falling." (p.10) It had been a glorious time of harvesting; particularly between the years 1840 and 1880. Now ECM...

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The War Years: 1914 – 1945

Amidst the carnage of the First World War, the ECM workers were kept very busy, counselling and encouraging many who had lost loved ones. The 1915 Report says: "Never before have our City Missionaries won and held the confidence...

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Post War Years and into the Swinging Sixties

In 1958 effective work began in the Inch, meetings being held in a primary school, and much District Work was done to reach the locals. Hospital visitation was blessed by God in an extraordinary way, as many elderly people gave their hearts to the Lord Jesus. One ECM...

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The Modern Age: 1970 – 2010

In 1970 there were only four missionaries left running five Mission Halls (Abbeyhill; Dumbiedykes; Broughton; Hay Drive and The Inch), and reaching the Special Classes of Hospitals and Eventide Homes (Retirement Homes), Lodging Houses and Prisons, the Post Office and...

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All Change: 1980 – 2010

A growing God-given desire seemed to grip the hearts of a number of Christians for an outreach to begin on the new West Pilton estate, and so, a new missionary, W. Bullin, was appointed there in 1981 to visit homes. The work became effective and the West Pilton...

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Drunkenness and Poverty

Over and over again the reports tell of multitudes in abject poverty, usually caused by alcoholic addiction. The subhuman existence of people in these places was horrendous: In looking over the names of those I have visited, I believe that one out of every five, is...

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A Diary of the Last Days of Sir James Young Simpson

by Robert Russell Simpson

transcribed by RR Simpson
December 2008


This is a transcription of a diary written by Robert Russell Simpson concerning the last weeks of the life of Sir James Young Simpson. JYS was the uncle of RRS. On the next page is a list of the family, showing the descendants to the third generation (i.e. down to the generation of RRS) of JYS’ father, David (1760-1830).

The diary covers the period from 11th February 1870 to the death of JYS on 6th May 1870. The first dated entry is 8th April 1870, and the part before that (indeed the whole diary) may have been be written as a recollection of events, rather than a contemporary record.

The diary appears to have been available to (and may have been written at the request of) AC Dun when he wrote his biography of JYS (published in 1873). Since then it had been lost. It was discovered in a batch of books handed to the Shelter bookshop in Edinburgh. The bookshop offered the diary to the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh, where it has been kept since August 2006.

The diary is written in a hard-back notebook about 7x5”. The writing is mostly on the right page, with occasional additional notes opposite. Those notes are included in the text of the transcription between angle brackets (<>). The pages of the manuscript are not numbered, but for our purposes we consider the double pages to be numbered, so that if p1 is open, we see p1 left and p1 right, and on turning the leaf, p2 left and p2 right. The text covers 47 double pages, with some additional comments on p48. Page numbers of the original document are indicated here by a dot in the text (˙) and a marginal number

Spelling and underlines have been left as they are in the manuscript, but abbreviations (such as Feb’y for February and Edinr. for Edinburgh) have been expanded, the idiosyncratic use of capital letters removed, and some punctuation added. At a few points there are gaps or question marks in the text; these points are marked with a single asterisk. In a few other places, the writing is hard to decipher; such points are marked with a double asterisk*.

Descendants to the Third Generation of David Simpson (1760-1830)

David Simpson b. 12-Jun-1760, Winchburgh, occupation Distiller, Baker, m. Mary Jarvey, b. 15-Jul-1770, Carmendean, (daughter of John Jarvey and Mary Cleland) d. 5-Apr-1820, Bathgate. David died 17-Jan-1830, Bathgate, Gelnmavis, Bathgate. Walked to London with his bro George ca. 1783 (see Famous Scots p11).

  1. Thomas Simpson b. 28-Dec-1792, occupation Baker, m. 31-May-1824, in West Calder. Margaret Robertson, b. West Calder, Thomas died 29-Jul-1864, Grangemouth.
    1.1. David Simpson occupation Merchant Seaman, m. Mary Ann Dance. David died 1901, at sea.
    1.2. Mary Jarvie Simpson b. 1830, m. 1857, John Elliot Clarke, b. 2-Oct-1829, occupation Schoolmaster, d. 7-May-1901, Maryhill, Glasgow, Lochmaben. Mary died ca. 1901.
    1.3. Jean Robertson Simpson b. Edinburgh
    1.4. Elizabeth Robertson Simpson
    1.5. Alice Simpson m. ? Martin
  2. John Simpson b. 22-Dec-1794, occupation Writer, Bathgate, d. 13-Feb-1841.
  3. Alexander (Sandy) Simpson b. 7-Aug-1797, occupation Banker, m. 1832, Janet Russell, b. 15-May-1800, (daughter of Alexander Russell and Janet Finlay), d. 12-Feb-1860. Alexander died 20-Jan-1877, Bathgate.
    3.1. David Simpson b. 7-Nov-1833, occupation Banker, m. Janet Turnbull, David died 1916, Bathgate.
    3.2. Alexander Russell Simpson Sir. b. 30-Apr-1835, Bathgate, occupation Professor Midwifery, m. 21-Jul-1852, Margaret Stewart Barbour, b. 1852, Bonskeid, (daughter of George Freeland Barbour and Margaret Fraser Sandeman), d. 1911. Alexander died 8-Apr-1918, Edinburgh University (1870). Laid foundation stone of Warrender Park Free Church, 23/5/1891 Lived at 52 Queen St from death of JYS (with RRS until 1873) until 1916
    3.3. John Simpson b. 23-Feb-1837, Bathgate, occupation Chemist, ptnr Duncan&Floc, m. Christina Petrie, b. 20-May-1840, Peel, IoM, (daughter of Peter Petrie and Elizabeth Grindlay), d. 12-Feb-1933, Edinburgh, 29, Lauder Road & 37 Hermitage Gdns. John died 22-Sep-1876, Edinburgh.
    3.4. Janet Finlay Simpson b. 6-Feb-1839, m. James Wells Rev. DD., occupation Minister UFC, d. 1922, Polockshiels. Janet died 14-Nov-1914. James: Moderator of United Free Church 1911.
    3.5. Robert Russell Simpson Sir. b. 31-Dec-1840, occupation WS., m. 26-Sep-1877, in Park House, Dick Place, Edinburgh, Helen (Ella) Dymock Raleigh, b. 16-Jul-1852, (daughter of Samuel Raleigh C.A. and Catherine (Katie) Eliza Scott), d. 28-Jan-1923. Robert died 14-Dec-1923, Edinburgh. Depute Clerk to GA of Free and UF Kirk Assemblies ca.1877-1920; knighted 1918
  4. Mary Simpson b. 9-Jul-1800, m. John Pearson, ref: 1, Australia. Mary died 12-Feb-1860 (or 1851?), Australia. John: Landed at Hobart with family 1840; moved to Victoria 1846
    4.1. Mary Jarvey Pearson b. 1834, m. 1855, Peter Learmonth, b. 1821, Scotland, occupation Station manager, Miller, d. 1893, Hamilton, Australia, Hamilton, Australia. Mary died 1913, Australia.
    4.2. Marian Johnstone Pearson b. 1835, m. Hugh Arthur Fender Scowcroft, b. 21-Jun-1825, Pembroke, occupation Master mariner, d. 1903. Marian died 1874.
    4.3. John Maurice Pearson b. 1837, m. Jessie Russell Simpson, b. 1838, (daughter of David Simpson and Helen Young). John died 1884.
    4.4. Joseph Johnstone Bell Pearson b. 1840, m. Mary Holdich Abbott, b. 1852, d. 1906. Joseph died 1882.
    4.5. David Pearson b. 1843, d. 1902.
  5. George Simpson I. b. 1802, d. 1802.
  6. David Simpson b. 17-Aug-1804, Bathgate, m. Helen Young, b. 1811, d. 1885. David died 26-Mar-1865, Edinburgh & Australia.
    6.1. Isabella Simpson, m. James Miller Anderson. 2s, one called James? (ref 25b).
    6.2. Mary Jarvey Simpson b. 1834, m. S Lea Allnett. Mary died 1882.
    6.3. Helen Young Simpson b. 1836.
    6.4. Jessie Russell Simpson b. 1838, m. John Maurice Pearson, b. 1837, (son of John Pearson and Mary Simpson), d. 1884.
    6.4.1. (see children above)
    6.5. David Simpson b. 1840, d. ca. 1904, Mexico, Mexico & Queensland. Said that he fell in love with an Indian girl and was shot. Buried at the ranch Mariposa.
    6.6. James Young Simpson Rev. b. 1843, occupation Methodist Minister, m. 1874, Martha Jane* Phillips, b. ca. 1844, (daughter of R.M. Phillips Capt.), d. 1895. James died 1898, Australia.
    6.7. Alexander Simpson infant.
    6.8. Thomas Simpson infant.
    6.9. Grace Ann Simpson b. 1849, m. Robert Phillips. Grace died 1905.
  7. George Simpson II. b. 1807, d. 1814.
  8. James Young Simpson Bt. DCL. MD. b. 7-Jun-1811, Bathgate, occupation Professor of Midwifery, m. 26-Dec-1839, Jessie Grindlay, b. 1812, Liverpool, (daughter of Walter Grindlay and Margaret Scott), d. 17-Jun-1870, Killin, buried: Warriston, Edinburgh. James died 6-May-1870, 52, Queens St, Edinburgh, buried: 13-May-1870, Warriston, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University (1840-1870). Bt. of Strathavon; MD at 19, Prof Midwifery at 29 Discoverer of anaesthetic property of chloroform 4 Nov 1847
    8.1. Margaret Simpson b. 1840, d. 26-May-1844.
    8.2. David James Simpson MD. b. 1842, d. 14-Jan-1866.
    8.3. Walter Grindlay Simpson 2nd Bt b. 1-Sep-1843, m. 13-Jan-1881, Anne Fitzgerald Mackay, (daughter of Alexander Mackay and Unknown), d. 23-Oct-1941. Walter died 29-May-1898.
    8.4. Mary Catherine Simpson b. ca. 1845, d. 16-Feb-1847, aged 2.
    8.5. James Simpson b. ca. 1847, d. 16-Feb-1862.
    8.6. Jessie Simpson b. 1849, d. 15-Feb-1866.
    8.7. William Simpson b. 15-Jun-1850, d. 31-Aug-1911.
    8.8. Alexander Magnus* Retzius Simpson MD. b. 11-May-1852, d. 1890.
    8.9. Evelyn Blantyre Simpson b. 15-Dec-1855, d. 23-Jan-1920.

Notes about the last illness of Sir James Y Simpson

On Friday the 11th day of February1 1870 J.Y.S. went to London to give evidence in the Mordaunt Divorce Case. At midnight a telegram arrived stating that the trial was put off till Wednesday the 16th but Sir James had left Edinburgh 2 hrs before the telegram arrived. When south, he went to see Lady Mordaunt at Bromley (2) so as to be able to give evidence about her condition, and returned to Edinburgh on the 14th. Sir James was very busy ˙2after his return, and had to go once or twice to the country to see patients between his first and second visit to London. On 15 February he again went to London, and on 16th he was examined as a witness for Lady Mordaunt. Reports of his evidence in all the papers. Description of him as he appeared at the trial in the “Daily News” of 17th February. He returned to Edinburgh fatigued with travel, but wonderfully fresh and vigorous. He gave us a most animated account of the trial and of his visit to London.

On _ _ he was called to Perth (?)3* to ˙see a patient – the last of his countless professional journeys.

On Friday 25th February he took to bed, and never left the house again.

He was alarmingly ill several times – especially at night, and on more than one such occasion during the early part of his illness it was feared he would be taken away.

One Sunday morning, Eva4 told me in church that her Papa had been very ill during the night, and on going to the house at mid-day, I found him in a somewhat critical ˙condition from which however he soon rallied.

Saw him again very often and spent much of my spare time with him. It was always delightful to be with him, in health or sickness, but during this last illness even amid intense pain his wonderful kindness and intense interest in the welfare of all whom he loved were most marked.

One Saturday evening, I spent 3 or 4 hours with him alone. When leaving he said in his loving way, “Thank you for spending so much time with me,” as if he and not I had been the gainer. ˙That same evening he spoke of his letter about the cause of Christ’s death appended to Dr Hanna’s work and said he would like to make some correction on it if republished, and asked me to look out the book for him.

At his request I wrote to Sir T Moncrieffe’s solicitor for £400 in payment of fees for attending as a witness in Lady Mordaunt’s case. Also to Mr. _ _* M.P. for Blackburn with copy of his essays on Hospitalism which were at the time attracting attention.

Took great interest in my future. Constantly asking about my ˙arrangements for commencing business.

Eva was writing an essay on “Animals in History.” She spoke to him about it as was her wont, and reminded her of Bruce and spider etc. He often gave his children suggestions for their essays, when this was allowable, but never composed for them.

I told him of Carubbers Close Conference where the subject of How to deal with the anxious was under consideration. Spoke of difficulties.

Showed me a letter from Rev’d Dr Gray5 about Rome. Told him that ˙Dr Guthrie had gone. “Wished I had known he was going and would have given him introduction to friends there.”

Told him of Mr George Craig** having gone to Spain to see its antiquities. Got books and read a great deal about Spain.

When he felt himself worse that he at first supposed he gave up thought of Spain and spoke of going to Buxton, but that too had to be abandoned.

˙He was removed in end of March or beginning of April from his bedroom to the drawing room. He used the front drawing room for a sitting room, and the back drawing room for his bedroom. He died in the latter.

On 3rd April (Sunday) I spent the day while not at church etc with him. I told him that after my Sabbath Evening School I was going to the home of the Industrial Brigade in Grove Street to speak to the lads in my Sunday School and the Brigade boys. He took a deep ˙interest. He often asked me what my subject was to be and always gave me a story or suggestion, which I found helpful. On this particular night in reply to his usual question I told him that my text was to be “Out of the heart are the issues of life.”6 he told me about the ossification of the heart and showed how I might illustrate my subject by it.

Aunt Jessie read part of the story of Orfie** Sibbald (Christian or family Treasury7) to him. 8 This story (clearing away infidel doubts etc) was greatly appreciated by him, and he had it read ˙to him chapter by chapter during his last illness.

On Tuesday (5 April) he had a severe attack of breathlessness.

Wednesday, Father saw him, and was struck by his increasing illness.

Friday 8 April. Spoke to me as if he would not live long with great calmness, and asked me to write a codicil to his will adding Mr Pender as one of his trustees.

Saturday 9 April. After leaving the office at 2.45 I went to Queen Street with his Trust Deed. ˙Found him suffering and ill at ease.

I wrote out a codicil to his will making Mr Pender one of his trustees. When the codicil was signed he was greatly relieved, and having got his worldly affairs arranged as far as possible he unburdened himself about his spiritual concerns. He became calm and collected. Among other things he said to me “I have not lived so near to Christ as I should have liked. I have led a busy and active life and have not had so much time to think about eternal things as I should have wished and should have sought. Yet I know it not my merit that I ˙am to trust to for eternal life. Christ is all.

“I have not got far in the divine life” he added with a sigh of regret.

“But dear uncle” I said “you have learned the one great truth of salvation through the blood of the Lamb. He is made unto us wisdom and righteousness sanctification and redemption. We are complete in Him.”

“Yes that’s it” he replied with a smile. “There is a hymn often on my mind at present which just expresses my thoughts

“Just as I am without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me”9

“I so much like that hymn.”

˙Spoke of not having a mind for theology. “I like the plain simple gospel truth, and do not care for going into questions beyond that.”

He spoke most tenderly and affectionately of all his family – of Aunt, Walter, Willie, Magnus, and Eva.

He seemed much concerned about Eva. Not to be sent to a boarding school as her health might break down. Nor is she to be pressed with work unduly, as her mental energy is greater than her physical strength. Said he intended to write to Mr Pender to get Mrs P to ask Eva to visit them occasionally. ** to this.

˙Asked me to see Mrs Hayes (Ainslie Place) and to write Mrs Close, Killing Castle Dublin, and Mrs Ainsworth about Eva.

Wished Mr McKie (Advocate) to get some memento of him for his great kindness in connection with the Principalship etc. I suggested that he should get the drawing copy of Daniel Webster’s Works. “Just the thing.” Also Mr Imlach etc to get books.

He desired that his Tracts on Hospitalism should be published together. Expressed regret at his inability to complete this work.

As to his Library he saw that his medical tracts were very valuable. ˙Alek welcome to use of all his medical books etc, and to get them if Magnus does not study medicine.

In regard to the letters etc about Principalship, he asked me to keep the printed copies. If occasion arise, they are to be issued, but not unless absolutely necessary. Pender, McKie and I to consider about this.

I asked, “Who is to be your biographer.” “You,” he said, “aren’t you collecting materials?” “Yes, I should be glad to help but some else must write the memoir.”

“I should like Dr Black to write a letter for insertion in it ˙with his estimate of me.” Nothing further was said on this subject, and I did not care to revert to it.

I spoke of Mr Spurgeon’s approaching visit. “It would give me much pleasure to see him, but I fear I will not be able.” I mentioned the subject of his sermon on the previous subject10, having seen in it the dining room. “When they had looked round about they saw no man any more save Jesus only with themselves”11 “Will you get it and read it to me?”

I read part of the sermon. As he was ˙suffering a good deal, he could not listen attentively to all I read, but his face at times lit up with emotion, and he said, “That’s very nice. Read it again.”

Father came in from Bathgate at 7. Uncle was glad, as usual, to see him.

Of Alek he spoke with much affection. Maybe he should come forward as a candidate for the chair, although at first it might be a pecuniary sacrifice to him. “Duncan will of course be a candidate. He would seek to reverse my teaching; Alek would help to perpetuate it.

Uncle dictated to me this evening the letter to Dr Storer Boston (see copy12).

His patience under his severe suffering was very remarkable and his kindness and consideration for all was most notable.

In the course of the evening he said ˙to Walter (who had come home from Cambridge to be with his father and who with Dr Munro and the faithful Jarvis nursed him most tenderly and assiduously during this last illness), “Dr Munro and you did very well last night.”

I left him to go home about 10 o’clock – he was then somewhat easier.

Sunday 10th April
Went to see uncle in the morning before going to church. Rather worse. had not slept well during the night. Dr Munro was giving him a little chloroform to allay pain.

˙Before leaving for the Sabbath school in the evening, I went to his room to say good night. “Come back,” said he, “and stay all night. I do not think I will be long here, and I should like you to remain till the end.” He added, “From extreme pain I have not been able to read or even think much today, but when I think, it is of the words you read yesterday, “Jesus only,” and really that is all that’s needed, is it not? Jesus only.”

On returning from the school between 8 and 9, I found him somewhat ˙better. Asked about the school, and the lessons.

When Eva and I were alone with him, he spoke of the probability of his being taken away. “I’ve been telling Eva and all of them about Jesus only,” he added.

“Read a hymn,” said he after some of the others had come in. I read “Rock of ages.”13 “A beautiful hymn that, but I like ‘Just as I am’ best. Read it please.”

He went to bed about 11 and I was with him till between 1 and 2. He could not rest in bed, and got feverish and breathless. After being, as he thought, ˙impatient, “Excuse me,” he said, “because I am suffering a good deal.” “Dear uncle,” I said, “I am so sorry to see you suffering so much.” He replied with great submissiveness, “It’s all for the best.” I said, “Your sufferings work out for you a far more exceeding, even an eternal weight of glory.” “Yes,” he said, “an eternal weight of glory.”

“Repeat me some nice texts,” he said. Knowing that the 14th chapter of John was a favourite with him, I repeated several verses of it. Though he knew these words of the Lord Jesus so well, some parts seemed as if new to him, ˙new light being shed on the suffering he was undergoing and the prospect of death near at hand. The thought of the many-mansioned home, and of seeing Jesus and the loved ones from his own fireside who had gone before cheered him amidst the paroxysms of pain. When I came to the verse, “I am the way, etc14,” he asked me to stop that he might think of it. After a short pause he said, “What a wonderful redemption this is! Christ’s blood can float a cork or a man of war. It can bear everyone to heaven.”

Continuing as he ˙wished to repeat some portions of scripture, I quoted from 1 Timothy 1 etc. “This is a faithful saying and worthy of acceptance etc.”15

Said he, “If Paul had to speak of himself as chief of sinners, well may I make use of the words too. But it is not a question of degree, for all have sinned.” He then spoke with much enthusiasm of the atoning power of Christ’s blood. I shall never forget our conversation. How he was cheered and comforted amid pain and weariness by his Saviour’s grace I cannot rightly describe. It was heaven begun on earth. He who had seen suffering in so many ˙forms and had done so much to alleviate the pain of others was now in the furnace of affliction. But there he was sustained by the presence of the Son of Man. He who had so often stood by the bed of death and softened so many dying pillows was now face to face with the last enemy. Yet there was no murmuring under suffering, no terror in prospect of death. He had learnt to count these afflictions as but for a moment he had been taught the secret of victory over death. More than once he said to me that he wished it was all over, as he knew from ˙the nature of his disease that he would have to undergo much suffering but he bared with meek submission to the will of God, and looked forward to death without a tinge of fear or alarm. In former illnesses he was sometimes fractious. There was nothing of this in his last illness. Jarvis remarking upon this one day to Dr Wood said he though this was a bad sign.

I repeated some verses of the hymn,

“Forever with the Lord.”16

He spoke with joy at being ever with the Lord, and of the re-unions in heaven.

˙He again spoke with great tenderness of Eva, and asked me to take an interest in her. “You know her so. She’s the cleverest of them all, and I should like to see her rightly trained.”

Hoped that Alek would marry Margo Barbour17, of whom uncle spoke very highly.

Of Mrs Barbour , “She’s a dear lady. Write her to say that since my illness I’ve often been thinking of her and that I’ve read her last New Year’s address with much pleasure.”

Spoke of Mrs Close etc etc.

˙Monday 11 April
Read and prayed with him before going to the office. Very ill. Didn’t rest well during the night. Got easier during the day.

It was suggested that Magnus (who was in Geneva) should be telegraphed for, but he was averse to this, as he did not wish to give unnecessary pain.

Dr Duns called. He told me that he enjoyed the doctor’s visit, but felt a remark he made about taking opium.18 “As regards that,” he said, “I am strictly in my doctor’s hands.”

Went to Queen Street ˙at 4.30, and found him calm and peaceful. “I am so very well,” he said with a smile.

Walter, who watched unweariedly during these anxious days, was with him. He employed us in examining the proof sheets of the (2nd) letter to Dr Bigelow, in which he was much interested.

Occasional fits of breathlessness.

Spoke of Walter’s future. Strongly in favour of his joining the bar, unless something specially good in the mercantile line turns up.

Walter left for a walk. He wrote a letter to Mr Pender, which he ˙handed me, and asked me to send off when I thought that all hope of recovery was gone.

Spoke of his unshaken confidence in Jesus. “I have mixed a great deal with men of all shades of opinion. I have heard men of science and philosophy raise doubts and objections to the gospel of Christ, but I have never for one moment had a doubt myself.”

I gave him a message from Mr Jenkinson – for whom he had a great regard – to rest entirely in the finished work of Christ. “That’s it,” he said, “that is what I desire to do.” I repeated a verse ˙of Mrs Cousin’s beautiful hymn which Mr Jenkinson gave me for him.

‘I stand upon his merit,
I know no other stand,
Not e’en where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.’ 19

“Repeat it again,” said he. After repeating it, he said, “Thank him for me. I should so much like to shake hands with him again.”

He asked me to get the whole poem which I afterwards did with an account of Rutherford’s last illness and dying words. he enjoyed the reading of it.

At his request I finished the reading of Spurgeon’s sermon on Jesus only. “Read that again, ˙read that again,” he frequently said, when I came to some passage full of Christ. At the close he said that the sermon, especially the last part of it, had given him great comfort and these words Jesus only were often on his lips.

Walter, Eva and Dr Munro joined us, and at his request I read a chapter from ‘Orfie Sibbald.’

On returning from the office at 9.30, I found him wonderfully well. Dr Wood, Dr Moir, Dr Coghill, Mr Philip and Mr Drummond all saw him. Mr Philip prayed with him.

Walter read part of ˙Oliver Underwood.20

About 11.30 he asked me to read “Just as I am.”

I also read Dr Bonar’s hymn, “I heard the voice of Jesus say.”21 He enjoyed it, especially the first verse about rest22. “Mr Morgan,” said he, “told me to rest my head in Jesus’ bosom as John did at the supper table. I cannot just do that. I think it enough if I have hold of the hem of his garment.”

I read Oliver Underwood until he slept, and I left him with Walter at 1.

Slept well during the night.

˙Tuesday 12 April
Read Romans 8 and prayed.

Alek came from Glasgow to see him. Enjoyed his visit very much.

Mr Morgan also saw him.

I went to Queen Street at 4.30 and found him very well.

Read “Little Will”23 to him – a simple story of a boy’s faith in rhyme. Greatly pleased with it. Dr Park of Andover had told him the story.

Willie arrived from the Isle of Man. Asked all about the friends there and spoke about its future.

Read about Rutherford’s ˙last days.

Dr Wood and Dr Moir came at 10.30. Told them Walter’s intention to study law. Glad they approved of it.

Long talk with them about olden times.

Told me that he had been reading parts of Spurgeon’s sermon Jesus only himself.

I read Ephesians 1 and prayed.

Read Yeddie’s first and last Sacrament24. Liked it greatly. Then Oliver Underwood until he slept from 12 to 8 with slight interruptions.

˙Wednesday 13 April
Read John 3. When I came to the words, “Wind bloweth where it listeth etc”25, “That,” said he, “was the means of Benjamin Bell’s26 conversion.”

When I read the 16th verse27, “Read that again,” said he, “read it again.” Prayed.

Great peace and calmness evening. Read Hebrews 12, and John Ashworth’s Strange Tales28 till he slept.

Thursday 14 April
Passed a good night. Waked between 3 and 4 somewhat heated, but soon fell asleep again.

Read last chapter ˙of Matthew and prayed.

After prayer he said, “Do you know I felt during the worst of my illness that special united prayer was being offered up to God for me and that he heard it.” I then told him about the prayer meetings which had been held for his recovery.

Dr Black came from London in the morning and left in the evening. Greatly pleased to see him.

˙Saturday 16 April
In much the same condition

Sunday 17 April 1870
Before going to school asked me what was to be the subject of my address. I told, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday etc.”29

Gave me story of native preacher in India telling story of redeeming love to his countrymen in the street of one of the large towns, when a British officer rode up and called out to the preacher, “Well (name)* how is your friend Jesus Christ today?” “Jesus Christ,” he replied, is ˙the same yesterday, today and for ever.” The words touched the officer’s heart and led him to seek pardon and peace from this unchanging Saviour.

Read 22nd chapter of Revelation at worship.

Afterwards I repeated to him the hymn

There is a name I love to hear etc.30

New to him and delighted with it.

˙Wednesday 20 April 1870
Got offer of partnership with Mr Gifford.

Told Uncle of it. Greatly delighted and advised me to accept it. Talked very cheerily.

Thursday 21st April 1870
(Fast Day)

Went out to Bathgate to see father. Took good accounts of Uncle.

Friday 22nd April
Arranged finally with Mr Gifford.

Uncle could talk of nothing else almost.

Told all the doctors and others seeing him about it.

˙Saturday 23 April
Uncle very well and happy today.

Sunday 24 April
(Communion Sabbath)
Told Uncle about the service.

Read John 10 at worship.

Monday 25 April
Willie and Eva left for Killin. Uncle, who was wonderfully well, embraced Eva with great affection. “God help you, my darling,” he said and as she left the room his eyes followed ˙her with melting tenderness. It was the last time they spoke together on earth.

Tuesday 26 April
Father came in at night.

Wednesday 27 April
Uncle very well. Slept better than he had done for a week.

Slept in front drawing room in a sitting attitude.

Thursday 28 April
Went to conference at Glasgow.

Uncle sent his love ˙to all there.

He slept in the front drawing room.

Friday 29 April
Remarkably well.

Read Luke 15 in the evening.

Told uncle I proposed to go to Killin next morning if he felt well. Said, “Go by all means,” and gave me messages to Eva.

Read him asleep.

Saturday 30 April
Left early for Killin without seeing Uncle.

Alek came from Glasgow today to ˙see him.

Got suddenly much worse in the evening.

Mind wandered sometimes.

Sunday 1st May

Monday 2nd May
No signs of improvement.

Tuesday 3rd May
I returned from Killin in the evening. Having had no news of uncle in my absence I was horrified to find him so much worse. He knew me however, and asked kindly ˙about Eva. Then relapsed in torpor.

Wednesday 4 May
Father came in, Alek also.

Uncle’s mind wandering very much.

Father sat up most of night with him. Sat in the pillow with Uncle’s head on his knee. It was a most touching sight to see the elder brother – 14 years older than the younger, and who had watched his progress with such fond affection – watching by the ˙death bed. “Oh Sandy, Sandy,” Uncle repeatedly said, showing he knew who was beside him. Said little more.

Thursday 5 May
Went to Killin and brought Eva home, but he didn’t know us.

Dr Hanna and Mr Morgan saw him during the day and prayed at his bedside.

Friday 6 May 1970
Gradually sinking.

After dinner I went up to his room (back drawing room) ˙where Aunt Jessie and Miss Grindlay were watching.

While Aunt and I were whispering together, we heard a longer drawn sigh than usual. Saw he was dying. Aunt rang the bell for the others to come up. I moistened his lips and while the others came in, he passed away. No struggle – no pain.

˙Besides the chapters above noted, I read to him, among others:-

Ephesians 2, 3, 4 and 5
Isaiah 53rd (favourite), 55th
John 1, 14
1 Peter 1-2
1 Corinthians 3

Also such books as: England 100 years ago (Ryle)31
“Just like me” (story)

A Scientist’s Testimony: Sir James Young Simpson, Pioneer Of Anaesthetics

A Scientist’s Testimony: Sir James Young Simpson, Pioneer Of Anaesthetics

Sir James Young Simpson (1811-1870) was born at Bathgate, Linlithgowshire. Like most Scots children of his time he was brought up on the Bible and the Shorter Catechism. In 1840 he was elected to the Chair of Obstetric Medicine in Edinburgh University. Here he carried out a series of hazardous experiments upon himself in the use of anaesthetics, resulting in the epoch-making medical discovery of chloroform. An interviewer once asked him: ‘What did you consider was the greatest discovery you ever made?’ The professor replied without hesitation: ‘That I have a Saviour?’ (E.B. Simpson, Sir James Young Simpson, Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1896, p. 127)

Sir James Young Simpson was an elder at St Columba’s Free Church (formerly called Free St John’s) in Edinburgh and ran a free medical dispensary for the poor at Carrubbers’ Close Mission on the Royal Mile. Below is his own testimony, reproduced with the kind permission of the Sovereign Grace Union.


When I was a boy at school I saw a sight that I can never forget – a man tied to a cart and dragged before the people’s eyes through the streets of my native town, his back torn and bleeding from the lash. It was a shameful punishment. For many offences? No; for one offence. Did any of the townsfolk offer to share the lashes with him? No; he who committed the offence bore the penalty alone. It was the penalty of a changing human law, for this was the last instance of its affliction.

When I was a student at the University I saw another sight that I can never forget – a man brought out to die, His arms were pinioned, his face was already pale as death while thousands of eager eyes gazed on him as he came up from the gaol.

Did anyone ask to die in his place? Did any friend come and loose the rope and say: ‘Put it around my neck and let me die instead’? No; he underwent the sentence of the law. For many offences? No; for one offence. He had stolen a parcel from a stage coach. He had broken the law at one point and must now die for it. It was the penalty of a changing human law in this case too; it was also the last instance of capital punishment for that offence.

I saw another sight – it matters not when – myself a sinner standing on the brink of ruin, deserving nought but hell. For one sin? No; for many sins committed against the unchanging laws of God. But again I looked and saw JESUS, my substitute, scourged in my stead and dying on the cross for me. I looked and cried and was forgiven. And it seems to be my duty to tell you of that Saviour, to see if you will not also look and live:

Bound upon th’ accursed tree,
Faint and bleeding, who is he?
By the eyes so pale and dim,
Streaming blood and writhing limb,
By the lash with scourges torn,
By the crown of twisted thorn,
By the side so deeply pierc’d,
By the baffled burning thirst,
By the drooping death-dew’d brow,
Son of Man, ‘tis thou! ‘tis thou!

Bound upon th’accursed tree,
Dread and awful, who is he?
By the sun at noon-day pale,
Shiv’ring rocks and rending veil,
By earth trembling at his doom,
By the saints who burst their tomb,
By Eden promis’d ere he died
To the felon at his side,
Lord, our suppliant knees we bow;
Son of God, ‘tis thou! ‘tis thou!

How simple it all becomes when the Holy Spirit opens the eyes! A friend from Paris told me of an English groom there, a careless old man who during a severe illness had been made to feel that he was a sinner. He dared not die as he was. The clergyman for whom he sent grew tired of visiting him, having often told him the way of salvation.

One Sabbath afternoon, however, the groom’s daughter waited in the vestry after church, saying: ‘You must come once more, sir; I cannot see my father again without you.’ ‘I can tell him nothing new,’ said the clergyman, ‘but I may take the sermon I have been preaching and read it to him.’

The dying man lay as before in anguish thinking of his sins and whither they must carry him. ‘My friend, I have come to read you the sermon that I have just preached. First, let me tell you the text: ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him and with his stripes we are healed’ (Isaiah 53 verse 5). Now I will read…’

‘Stop! said the dying man, ‘I have it! I have it! Read no more. He was wounded for my transgressions. That is enough!’ Soon afterwards he died rejoicing in Jesus.

When I heard the story I remembered Archimedes running through the streets of Syracuse straight from the bath where he had discovered in bathing the secret of testing whether King Hiero’s crown had, or had not, been alloyed by the goldsmith in making it – and as he ran he cried: Eureka! Eureka! (I have found it! I have found it!)

Poor philosopher! You had merely found out a new principle in science. Happy groom! You had found in JESUS Christ a crown of glory that fadeth not away.’

Sir James Young Simpson.’

Sir William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907)

Sir William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907)

This great scientist was born in Belfast of Scottish parents and was a professor at Glasgow University for fifty-four years. He was also the president of the Royal Society in Edinburgh. His contribution to science included developing the Kelvin temperature scale that measures temperatures down to absolute zero, formulating the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, inventing a reliable ship’s compass and leading the team that designed and laid the first transatlantic telegraph cable.

Lord Kelvin was an elder in the Church of Scotland and the Chairman of the Christian Evidence Society, in London. On May 23rd, 1889, he addressed the audience in his role as chairman with the following:

My primary reason for accepting the invitation to preside was that I wished to show sympathy with this great Society which has been established for the purpose of defending Christianity as a Divine Revelation.

I also thought something was due from Science. I have long felt that there was a general impression in the non-scientific world [that] believes Science has discovered ways of explaining all the facts of nature without adopting any definite belief in a Creator.  I have never doubted that impression was utterly groundless.

It seems to me that when a scientific man says – as it has been said from time to time – that there is no God, he does not express his own ideas clearly.  He is, perhaps, struggling with difficulties; but when he says that he does not believe in a creative power I am convinced he does not faithfully express what is in his mind.  He is out of this depth…

I may refer to that old but never uninteresting subject of the miracles of geology.  Physical Science does something for us here.  Peter speaks of scoffers who said that ‘all things continue as they were from the beginning,’ but the Apostle affirms himself that ‘all these things shall be dissolved.’

It seems to me that even physical science absolutely demonstrates the scientific truth of these words.  We feel that there is no possibility of things going on forever as they have done for the last six thousand years.  In science, as in morals and politics, there is absolutely no periodicity.’

Lord Kelvin’s address as the Chairman of the Christian Evidence Society, in London, at its nineteenth anniversary, May 23, 1889 Stephen Abbott Northrop, D.D., A Cloud of Witnesses (Portland, Oregon: American Heritage Ministries, 1987), pp. 460-461

At the end of his presidential address for the British Association for Science in 1871 he stated:

‘Overpoweringly strong proofs of intelligent and benevolent design lie all around us and if ever perplexities, whether metaphysical or scientific, turn us away from them for a time, they come back upon us with irresistible force, showing to us our nature, the influence of free will, and teaching us that all living beings depend on one ever-acting Creator and Ruler.

At University College in London, he stated:

Do not be afraid of being free thinkers. If you think strongly enough you will be forced by science to the belief in God, which is the foundation of all Religion. You will find science not antagonistic, but helpful to Religion.

(The Times, May 2, 1903, Lord Kelvin on Religion and Science, corrected by Lord Kelvin himself in The Life of William Thompson, Baron Kelvin of Largs, by S.P. Thompson)

Sir David Brewster (1781-1868)

Sir David Brewster (1781-1868)

Sir David Brewster, permission from the Free Church, © Hollie McIntosh

David Brewster was born in Jedburgh, Scotland, and at the age of 12 went to Edinburgh University. In 1813 he submitted a paper to the Royal Society on scientific instruments and on the evidence of 200 substances that can refract or disperse light. The result was that he was made a fellow of this Society in 1815 and he won many awards for his scientific work. He is particularly remembered for what we call Brewster’s Law, which led to the invention of laser technology later. ‘Brewster’s Law showed that a beam of light can be split into reflected and refracted portions at right angles to each other, both beams retaining full polarization.’ (Dan Graves, Scientists of Faith, p.94, Kregel Resources, ©1996)

Brewster was a tireless supporter of science in education and of setting up financial provision for scientists and was a key person in establishing the British Association for the Advancement of Science with his friend, Rev William Vernon Harcourt. Amongst his other scientific work was the invention of the kaleidoscope and the improvement of the stereoscope. He also helped to develop the science of producing photographic images on paper. Brewster’s scientific endeavours led to a knighthood.

He grew up as a dedicated Christian, firstly in the Church of Scotland, and then in the Free Church in 1843, and was a licensed preacher. He would often rise early to pray and he was convinced of the truth of the Bible and disagreed with Darwinism. Concerning his certainty of Christ he said, ‘It can’t be presumption to be SURE [of our forgiveness] because it is Christ’s work, not ours; on the contrary, it is presumption to doubt His word and work.’Before he died he said, ‘I shall see Jesus, and that will be grand. I shall see Him who made the worlds.’ (ibid, p.95).

Professor Thomas Young (1773-1829)

Professor Thomas Young (1773-1829)

Thomas Young was a genius. At the age of two he had learnt to read and by the age of four had read through the Bible twice; by the age of six he was a scholar in Latin. He seemed to absorb information like a dry sponge and became a private tutor in the classics by the age of fourteen. His Christian faith was very much a part of his scientific work.

In 1792 he began to study medicine and went to Edinburgh University. He was called ‘Phenomenon Young’ by his classmates because of his extraordinary abilities. Young was the first person to develop the double-slit experiment to study the behaviour of light and show that light acted as a wave and not just as a particle. This discovery was vital for our later understanding of physics. Besides this he was a professor of medicine and also became a key man in deciphering the Rosetta Stone and was the first person to publish the translation from the Egyptian hieroglyphs.

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)

Statue of James Clerk Maxwell, George St, Edinburgh, © Hollie McIntosh

In 2010 James Clerk Maxwell was voted as Scotland’s greatest scientist, which was an amazing accolade in this nation that has produced many brilliant scientists. Maxwell was born in Edinburgh and went to Edinburgh University in 1847. His first scientific paper was published at the age of 15 and then he published two more papers at the University. Later he studied maths at Cambridge University where he won a prize for his research on the rings of Saturn. He demonstrated that the rings were neither completely solid, nor completely fluid, and that the rings were made of small solid particles. This work was confirmed through the investigation of Saturn by the Voyager over a hundred years later.

For a while Maxwell taught optics and hydrostatics at Cambridge University and in 1856 he was appointed professor of physics at Marischal College in Aberdeen (now Aberdeen University), Scotland. He was made redundant a year later because of the merger of Marischal College with King’s College in Aberdeen. This led to him being appointed professor of physics at King’s College, London, until his father died and he inherited the family estate in Scotland. It was here that he focused his attention on research into electricity and magnetism. His goal was to show that Faraday (the Christian who invented the electric generator and transformer) was correct in his ‘force field theory’, but he needed to prove the maths for this. Maxwell’s famous four equations (known as Maxwell’s Equations) showed that electricity and magnetism were waves manifested in different ways. The foundation for much of the technology we have today was built upon his equations.

In 1887 Heinrich Hertz produced the first man-made radio waves as a result of Maxwell’s work, and later X-rays also confirmed his predictions, as did quantum physics. If you use anything that involves electromagnetism, such as a radio, television, computer, mobile phone or Ipod, you can be grateful to Maxwell. Universally he is so highly regarded that he is put together with Newton and Einstein for his contribution to science. Besides this he was one of the first scientists to develop colour photography and he became the professor of physics at Cambridge University and supervised the building of the Cavendish laboratory.

Since childhood he had been a strong Christian and loved to memorise the Bible. As an adult he became an elder in his local church in Glenlair, Scotland, and would regularly visit the sick and housebound to encourage them and pray with them. One of the prayers he wrote shows that his science was based on his faith:

‘Almighty God, who has created man in Thine own image, and made him a living soul that he might seek after Thee, and have dominion over Thy creatures, teach us to study the works of Thy hands, that we may subdue the earth to our use, and strengthen the reason for Thy service; so to receive Thy blessed Word, that we may believe on Him whom Thou has sent, to give us the knowledge of salvation and the remission of sins. All of which we ask in the name of the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.’

Ann Lamont, 21 Great Scientists who believed the Bible, p.208, Creation Science Foundation, © 1995

Maxwell was rigorous in his scientific methodology and encouraged others to be the same. This passion for ‘doing good science’ inspired him to investigate two theories from his era and reject them both on scientific grounds. The first was Laplace’s popular ‘nebular hypothesis’. Laplace said that the solar system began as a gas cloud which contracted over millions of years to give birth to planets and so there was no need of a Creator. Maxwell proved mathematically that Laplace’s theory was bad science.

Secondly, he debated with the supporters of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Maxwell accepted the scientific understanding and evidence that natural selection, adaptation and variation within the species can occur, but he rejected the belief that all living things have evolved from a common ancestor without a Creator. In a paper he read out in 1873 at the British Association for the Advancement of Science he said:

No theory of evolution can be formed to account for the similarity of molecules, for evolution necessarily implies continuous change…. The exact equality of each molecule to all others of the same kind gives it… the essential character of a manufactured article, and precludes the idea of its being eternal and self-existent

ibid, p.207

The Christian Medical Missionary Movement

The Christian Medical Missionary Movement

In the 19th century there were at least three waves of Christian revival in Edinburgh and Scotland, which transformed our culture. Out of this movement Christians came to study or teach medicine at Edinburgh University and they then combined their faith and skill as missionaries in many nations.

In 1841 Dr John Abercrombie (1780-1844), the Royal Physician, founded the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society and became its first President. Out of this grew the Cowgate Medical Missionary School (1853) where Christian doctors were trained and sent out to establish healthcare all over the world. This training base was also used as a medical centre for the local population. This closed in 1952 as the Christian vision for a state National Health System became a reality when the government established it.

Sir James Young Simpson (1811-1870)

Sir James Young Simpson (1811-1870)

Sir James Young Simpson © Lothian Health Services Archives, SCAHMS

Queen Victoria’s favourite doctor was Sir James Young Simpson. Although another Christian, Dr James Millar, first used chloroform on a patient during a medical operation, Simpson used chloroform on the Queen when she gave birth to Leopold, which made the practice publically acceptable. He is regarded as the father of anaesthetics and he was also a professor of midwifery. An active Christian, he set up the Medical Dispensary for the poor in Carrubbers Close Mission on the Royal Mile. He was an elder at St Columba’s Free Church.

Once a journalist asked him what was his greatest discovery. He replied clearly, ‘That I am a sinner and that Jesus is a great Saviour!’ Simpson wrote in his personal testimony: ‘But again I looked and saw JESUS, my substitute, scourged in my stead and dying on the cross for me. I looked and cried and was forgiven. And it seems to be my duty to tell you of that Saviour, to see if you will not also look and live: How simple it all becomes when the Holy Spirit opens the eyes!’ From his own personal testimony, Free Church

Plaque in St Giles’ Cathedral, © Paul James-Griffiths

Lord Joseph Lister (1827-1912)

Lord Joseph Lister (1827-1912)

Lord Joseph Lister © Lothian Health Services Archives, SCAHMS

This man was a giant amongst medical scientists. Lord Lister pioneered the use of antisepsis and hugely advanced surgical methods, inventing many surgical instruments. He was a dedicated Christian who once said:

I am a believer in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.

Back in 1860 the Roman Catholic scientist, Louis Pasteur, had demonstrated that life did not spontaneously arise from non-life (a belief held for centuries) and that germs were carried from outside the body. Lister communicated with Pasteur and translated the new ‘germ theory’ to the medical field of surgery. By disinfecting all surgical instruments with carbolic acid and following a rigorous sterilisation process, Lister discovered the way to save the lives of millions. At that time between 50-80% of surgical operations ended in death in Europe because scientists believed that nothing could be done to stop infections that they assumed arose internally.

In 1869 Lister returned to Edinburgh and was appointed Professor of Clinical Surgery. His antiseptic methods spread like wildfire throughout Europe; for example, in Munich the death rate of patients after surgery dropped dramatically from 80% to almost zero! Queen Victoria was so grateful to him that he was made the first Lord in medical history.