December 24: Benjamin Rush, M.D.

A Presbyterian Physician Who Signed —

He has a number of “firsts” associated with signers of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th. He was the only physician who signed that historic document. He was the only Presbyterian signer who was born in America. He was the first professor of Chemistry in America at the Philadelphia College. Who else can claim to have cured an epidemic of yellow fever in Philadelphia? He was considered the father of American Psychiatry.  He was a founder of the Philadelphia Bible Society. Who was he? If you answered Benjamin Rush, pat yourself on the back.

Born December 24, 1745 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this fourth of seven children into an Episcopal home, he often went with his mother after the death of his father to Rev. Gilbert Tennent’s congregation in that eastern Pennsylvania city. Benjamin’s mother, under the latter’s influence, reared her son in Calvinistic principles. He memorized the Westminster Shorter Catechism in his youth.

Early education was provided by Rev. Samuel Finney, later a president of  the College of New Jersey. Indeed, after training at West Nottingham Academy, Benjamin studies and graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1760.

On January 2, 1776, Rush married Julia Stockton, the youngest daughter of Richard Stockton, a fellow signer of the Declaration. They were married by the Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey and a fellow signer of the Declaration as well. On July 4, 1776, Benjamin Rush placed his signature on the Declaration of Independence. Indeed, he followed up that action by serving as a physician with the Continental Army, and in combat at  Trenton and Princeton.

Later in the 1780′s, the good doctor and patriot persuaded his fellow Presbyterians to establish Dickinson College, in Carlisle Pennsylvania.

We must acknowledge in this essay that while he received much training in both youth and adulthood, his convictions about Presbyterians were more passive than an active following. That would explain how he later on in life transferred his membership to the Episcopalian faith and even some branches of the Universalist church before finally coming back to the Presbyterian faith. Still in all of these moves, there was a love for the Bible, which he read daily, an esteem for Christ, to say nothing of Christian conduct. He would often mention the name of Jesus Christ in his writings, lectures, and letters.

He passed away in 1813 and was buried in Christ Church cemetery.

Words to live by:  There seems to be no doubt that Benjamin Rush was a consecrated Christian, albeit there were times when he disagreed with denominational figures. Still the training he received as a youth had a way of coming back into his life and making an impression there for true doctrine. This should encourage all Christian parents to both teach and live Christ, and Hims crucified, before their families. God is faithful, and will bring fruit, although it may be long in coming to our children.  See Proverbs 22:6.

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