Frederick W. Robertson

Sermon 90

The Humane Society

A Sermon Preached on Its Behalf

  Frederick W. Robertson

“While he yet spake, there came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house certain which said, Thy daughter is dead; why troublest then the Master any further? As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, be saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe. And he suffered no man to follow him, save Peter, and James, and John the brother of James. And he cometh to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and seeth the tumult, and them that wept and wailed greatly. And when he was come in, he saith unto them, Why make ye this ado, and weep? the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn. But when be had put them all out, he taketh the father and the mother of the damsel, and them that were with him, and entereth in where the damsel was lying. And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, (I say unto thee,) arise. And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment. And he charged them straitly that no man should know it; and commanded that something should be given her to eat.” - Mark 5:35-43


I plead today for a society whose cause has not been advocated in this chapel for many years. It is now exactly ten years since a collection was made in Trinity Chapel for the Humane Society.

Its general objects, as every body knows, are the preservation of the life of drowning persons, by precautions previously taken, and by subsequent remedies. But this vague statement being insufficient to awaken the interest which the society deserves, I propose to consider it in its details, and to view these-as in the pulpit we are bound to do - from the peculiar Christian point of view.

It is remarkable that there is a Scripture passage which, point by point, offers a parallel to the work of this Society, and a special sanction and a precedent, both for its peculiar work and the spirit in which; it is to be done. I shall consider -


I. This particular form of the Redeemer’s work.

II. The spirit of the Redeemer’s work.


I. We find among the many forms of His work -

1. Restoration from a special form of death. I can not class this case with that of Lazarus.

The narrative seems to distinguish this from the other miracle. Christ says, “She is not dead, but sleepeth.” Hence this particular case was one of restoration from apparent death. The other case was that of restoration from real death.

Here, then, is our first point of resemblance.

Before this society was formed, persons apparently suffocated were left to perish. Myriads, doubtless, have died who might have been saved. But the idea of restoration was as far from them as from the friends of Jairus. They would have laughed the proposer “to scorn.” But, Christlike, this society came into the world with a strange message-revealed by science, but vitalized by love - a Christlike message: “Be not afraid: he is not dead, but sleepeth.”

Now the sphere of the society’s operations is thus defined: “To preserve from premature death persons apparently dead from either drowning, banging, lightning, cold, beat, noxious vapors, apoplexy, or intoxication.” They are, consequently, large, taking cognizance not merely of cases of drowning only, but all of the same ‘ generic character-suspended animation, apparent death, asphyxia.


[Causes-foul air, in drains and brewers’ vats, accidental hanging, mines, cellars, wells.]


In England their causes are more peculiarly extensive, because of our sea-girt shores, and because of the variable climate, which to-day leaves the ice firm and to-morrow has made it rotten and unsafe.

2. Here was the recognition of the value of life. The force of the whole petition lay in one single consideration - “she shall live.”

It has been often said that Christianity has enhanced the value of life, and our charitable societies are alleged in evidence; our hospitals; the increased average of human life, which has, been the result of sanitary regulations and improvements in medical treatment. But this statement needs some qualification.

The value attached to life by the ancient Egyptian was quite as great as that attributed to it by the modern English man. When Abraham went into Egypt he found a people whose feeling of the sacredness of life was so great that they saw God wherever life was; and venerated the bull, and the fish, and the crocodile. To slay one of them was like murder.

And again: it could not be said that we owe to Christianity the recognition of the honor due to one who saves life. The most honorable of crowns was that presented to one who had saved the life of a Roman citizen.

Nay more: instead of peculiarly exalting the value of life, there is a sense in which Christianity depreciates it. “If a man hate not his own life he can not be my disciple.” The Son of Man came to be a sacrifice: and it is the peculiar dignity of the Christian that he has a life to give.

Therefore we must distinguish.

It is not mere life on which Christianity has shed a richer value. It is by ennobling the purpose to which life is to be dedicated that it has made life more precious. A crowded metropolis, looked at merely as a mass of living beings, is no more dignified, and far more disgusting, than an ant-hill with its innumerable creeping lives. Looked on as a place in which each individual is a temple of the Holy Ghost, and every pang and joy of whom has in it something of infinitude, it becomes almost priceless in its value.

And again: Christianity differs from heathenism in this, that it has declared the dignity of the life of man-not merely that of certain classes. It has not “saved citizens,” but saved men.

[Consider the worth of a single soul.]

Hence this is appropriately called the Humane Society, that word originally meaning human. It is no Brahminical association, abstaining from shedding animal blood and living on no animal food, but it recognizes the worth of a life in which God moves, and which Christ has redeemed.

It is human life, not animal, that it cares for. The life of man as man, not of some peculiar class of men.

3. We consider the Saviour’s direction respecting the means of effecting complete recovery. He “commanded that something should be given her to eat.”

Observe His reverential submission to the laws of nature. He did not suspend those laws. It did not seem to Him that where law was, God was not; or that the proof of God’s agency was to be found only in the abrogation of law. He recognized the sanctity of those laws Which make certain remedies and certain treatment indispensable to health.

[Sanitary regulations are as religious as a miracle.]

And in doing this He furnished a precedent singularly close for the operations of this society. It is one great part of the object of its existence to spread a knowledge of the right methods of treatment in case of suspended animation. It has compiled and published rules for the treatment of the drowned, the apparently suffocated, and those struck by sudden apoplexy.

And consider the indirect results of this, as well as the direct.

Such cases occur unexpectedly. No medical aid is near. Friends are alarmed. Presence of mind is lost. The vulgar means resorted to from superstition and ignorance are almost incredible. But gradually the knowledge is spread through the country of what to do in cases of emergency. Many here would be prepared to act if a need arose. I have been present at such a case, and have seen life saved by arresting the rough treatment of ignorance acting traditionally. But in that and most cases, the knowledge had been gained from the publications of this society.

An immense step is gained by the systematic direction of attention to these matters. Every one ought to know what to do on a sudden emergency, a case of strangulation, of suffocation, or of apoplexy; and yet, this forming no definite part of the general plan of education, there are comparatively few who have the least idea what should be done before medical aid can be obtained. Probably thousands would be helpless as a child, and human life would be sacrificed.


II. We consider the spirit of the Redeemer’s work.

1. It was love.

It was not reward-not even the reward of applause which was the spring of beneficence in the Son of Man. He desired that it should be unknown. He did good because it was good. He relieved because it was the expression of His own exuberant loving-kindness.

2. It was a spirit of retiring modesty.

He did not wish that it should be known. But his disciples have made it known to the world.

Now observe, first, the evidence here afforded of His real humanity. Why did Christ wish to conceal, and the apostles wish to publish abroad his miracles? Take the simple view, and all is plain. Christ, the man, with unaffected modesty, shrank from publicity and applause. The apostles, with genuine human admiration, record the deed. But seek for some deeper and more mysterious reason, and at once the whole becomes a pantomime, an unreal transaction acted on this world’s stage for effect, as though we should say that He was wishing to have it known, but for certain reasons He made as if He wished it to be concealed. Here, as usual, the simple is the sublime and true.

Observe, however, secondly: That publication by the apostles sanctions and explains another part of this society’s operations. Its office is to observe, to record, and to reward sets of self-devotion. Certain scales of reward are given to one who risks his life to save life, to the surgeon whose skill restores life, to the publican who opens his house to receive the apparently deal body. And every year lists of names are published of those who have been thus distinguished by their humanity. The eyes of the society are over all England, and no heroic act can pass unnoticed or unhonored by them.

Now distinctly understand on what principle this is done. It is an apostolic office. It is precisely the principle on which the apostles were appointed by God to record the acts and life of Christ. Was this for Christ’s sake? Nay, it was for the world’s good. That sacrifice of Christ recorded, pronounced Divine, has been the spring and life of innumerable sacrifices and unknown self-devotion.

And so the rewards given by this society are not given as recompense. Think you that a medal can pay self-devotion? or a few pounds liquidate the debt due to generosity? or even, that the thought of the reward would lead a man to plunge into the water to save life, who would not have plunged in without any hope of reward? No! But it is good for the world to hear of what is generous and good. It is good to appropriate rewards to such acts, in order to set the standard. It is right that, in a country where enormous subscriptions are collected, and monuments are erected to men who have made fortunes by speculation, there should be some visible, tangible recognition of the worth and value of more generous deeds.

The medal over the fire-place of the poor fisherman is to him a title; and, truer than most titles, it tells what has been done. It descends an heirloom to the family, saying to the children, Be brave, self-sacrificing, as your father was.

3. It was a spirit of perseverance.

They laughed Him to scorn, yet He persisted. Slow, calm perseverance amidst ridicule.

In the progress of this society we find, again, a parallel. When the idea of resuscitation was first promulgated, it was met with incredulity and ridicule. Even in 1773, when Dr. Hawes laid the first foundation of the Humane Society, it was with difficulty be could overcome the prejudice which existed against the idea, and he had to bear the whole cost of demonstrating the practicability of his theory. For one whole year he paid all the rewards and expenses himself, and then attracted by the self-sacrificing ardor with which he had given himself up to the idea of rescuing human life, thirty-two gentlemen, his own and Dr. Cogan’s friends, united together in furtherance of this benevolent design, and thus laid the foundation of the Humane Society.

Here note the attractive power of self-denying work; the Redeemer’s life and death has been the living power of the world’s work, of the world’s life.