Visit to the Infirmary

by Legh Richmond

A few months ago, I went to visit a parishioner, then in the County Infirmary, within some miles of which I reside, and was informed that in an adjoining ward there lay a very good old man, confined by a crippling disease in his foot, who would take particular satisfaction in any Christian conversation which time would allow me to afford him.

The nurse conducted me into a room, where I found him alone on a bed. The character of his countenance was venerable, cheerful, contented, and pious. His hoary hairs proclaimed him to be aged, although the liveliness in his eye was equal to that of the most vigorous youth.

"How are you, my friend?" I said.

"Very well, sir, very well. Never better in all my life. Thank God for all his mercies," replied the man, with so cheerful a tone of voice, as at once surprised and delighted me.

"Very well? How so? I thought, from what I heard, you were in much pain and weakness?" said I.

"Yes, sir, that is true ; but I am very well—even for all that. For God is so good to my soul; and he provides everything needful for my body. The people in the house are very kind; and friends come to see me, and talk and pray with me. Sir, I desire nothing—but more grace, to praise the Lord for all his goodness."

"Why, my friend, you are an old pilgrim, and I am glad to see that you have learned thankfulness, as you travel through the wilderness."

"Thankfulness!" quickly returned he; "No, sir; I never did thank the Lord, I never could thank him, no, nor I never shall thank him—as I ought, until I get to glory. And then — O! then — how I will thank him for what he has done for me!" Tears of affection filled his eyes as he spoke.

"What a good Master you serve I" I added.

"Ay, sir—if only the servant was but as good as the Master. But here I am, a poor old sinner, deserving nothing, and receiving everything which I need. Sir, I desire nothing, but more grace to serve him better. I lie here on this bed, and pray and sing by night and day. Sir, you must let me sing you my hymn—I always begin it about four o'clock in the morning, and it keeps my spirits alive all the day through."

Without waiting for my reply, he raised himself up, and in an aged and broken, but very affecting tone of voice, he sang two or three verses, expressive of God's goodness to him, and his own desire to live to God's glory. The simplicity, serenity, and heartfelt consolation, with which this venerable disciple went through it, gave a coloring to the whole, and left an impression on my mind, which it would be impossible to convey to the reader.

As soon as he had finished his hymn, he said, "Do not be offended, sir, at my boldness. I hope you love the Lord, too; if so, then I am sure you won't be angry to hear me praise him. But now, sir, talk to me about Jesus Christ. You are his minister, and he has sent you here today to see a poor unworthy soul, that does not deserve the least of his mercies. Talk to me, sir, if you please about Jesus Christ."

"Neither you nor I are able to talk of him as we ought." I answered, "and yet, if we were to hold our peace, the very stones would cry out."

"Ay, and well they might, sir, cry shame, shame upon us, if we refused to speak of his goodness," said the old man.

"Jesus Christ," I continued, " is a sure refuge, and a present help in time of trouble."

"That's right, sir—so he is."

"Jesus Christ has taken care of you, and watched over you all the days of your life; and he will be your guide and portion in death."

"That's right again, sir—so he will."

"You have committed your soul into his keeping long since, have you not?"

"Over forty years ago, sir. Over forty years ago, (when I first used to hear good Mr. Venn and Mr. Berridge,) he came to seek and to save me, a vile sinner, who deserved nothing but his wrath. I can never praise him enough."

"Well, my friend, and this very Savior Jesus Christ, whom you love, and in whom you trust, lived for you, and died for you; he rose again for you, and has sanctified you by his Holy Spirit, and now lives to make daily intercession for you; and having done all this, do you think he will leave you to perish at last?"

"No, sir!" said the old man, "faithful is he who has promised, and will do it. Mine, alas—is a changing heart; but he changes not. I believe that he has laid up a crown of glory for me; and though the old enemy of souls sometimes tells me I shall not have it—I believe in Christ sooner than in him, and I trust I shall have it at last."

"And do you not find by experience," I added, "that his yoke is easy, and his burden light? His commandments are not grievous, are they?"

"No, sir, no—it is a man's food and drink—if he loves the Lord—to do what he bids him."

"Where were you, before you came into this infirmary?"

"In the county workhouse."

"Have you a wife?"

"She died some years since, and got to her heavenly home before me."

"Have you any children?"

"Yes, sir, I have two married sons, who are settled in the world with families. One of them has been here to see me lately, and I hope that the Lord will save his soul—and that he will bring up his children in the fear of God."

"Have you any worldly cares upon your mind?"

"Not one, sir. I am come to this infirmary, I plainly see, to end my days; for this deadly disease in my leg must, before very long, bring me to the grave. And I am quite willing, sir, to go or to wait, the Lord's own time. I desire nothing, sir, but more grace to praise him." He often repeated these last words in the course of the conversation.

"You have reason," I said, "to feel thankful that there is such a house as this, for poor and sick people to be brought to, for food, lodging, and medicine."

"I am thankful, indeed, sir! It is a house of mercies to me, and I am ashamed to hear how unthankful many of the patients seem to be for the benefits which the Lord provides for them here. But, poor creatures—they neither know nor love him. May the Lord have mercy upon them; and show them the right way. I would never have known that good way, sir—if he had not taken compassion upon me, when I had none upon myself."

Tears ran down his aged cheeks as he spoke these last words. "Here," thought I, "is a poor man—who is very rich, and a weak man—who is very strong."

At this moment the nurse brought in his dinner.

"There, sir, you see, more and more mercies! The Lord takes care of me, and sends me plenty of food for this poor old worn-out body."

"And yet," said I, "that poor old worn-out body will one day be renewed and become a glorified body, and live along with your soul in the presence of God forever!"

"That's right, sir," said the good old man, "so it will—for after the worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God! But come, sir," seeing me look at my watch, "you must speak a word to your Master, if you please, as well as for him. I will put down my dinner while you pray with me."

I did so, the man often adding his confirmation of what I offered up, by voice, gesture, and countenance, in a manner highly expressive of the agreement of his heart with the language of the prayer.

Having ended, he said, "God be with you, sir, and bless your labors to many poor souls! I hope you will come to see me again—if my life is spared. I am so glad to see those who will talk to me about Jesus Christ, and his precious salvation."

I replied, "May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who carried them through the days of their pilgrimage, and brought them safe to a city which has foundations, bring you there too, and bless you all the remaining days of your journey, until you get home. I am going to see several serious friends this evening, who would be glad, I know, to receive a message from one who has had so much experience of a Savior's mercies. What shall I say to them?"

"Tell them, sir, with my Christian love and respects, that you have been to see a poor dying old man, who desires nothing at all, in this world, but more grace to praise the Lord with."

So ended our first interview. I could not help reflecting, as I returned homeward, that as the object of my journey to the infirmary had been to carry instruction and consolation to the poor and the sick—so the poor and the sick were made instrumental to the conveying of both instruction and consolation to my own heart, in a very superior degree.

I saw him four or five times afterward, and always found him in the same happy, patient, thankful, and edifying state of mind and conversation. The last time I was with him, he said, "Sir, I long to be at my heavenly home—but I am willing to remain a traveler, as long as my Lord and Master sees good."

He died not long after my last visit to him, in the steadfast assurance of faith, and with a full hope of immortality.

(The foregoing conversation took place on September 22, 1808, and is faithfully related. J. S., the good old man, died in the infirmary, in December, 1808.)