Stephen Coss, author of The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics, relates the fascinating story of the first widespread inoculation effort in the fight against the deadly plague of smallpox. At a time when medical practice was steeped in vast misunderstanding and wrongheaded medical treatments (more than half a century later, George Washington’s doctors would facilitate his death by treating his cold and fever through bloodletting!), two unlikely men were able to withstand the withering criticism of the local medical community and superstitious Boston residents who adamantly vilified them both. One was a physician, Zabdiel Boylston, ostracized, threatened, and condemned by his peers and the town’s council. The other was Cotton Mather, forever infamous for his superstitious influence in the Salem witch hunt and trials that led to the execution of over 20 innocent people a quarter-century earlier. Both believed that by infecting a person with a small amount of smallpox, they could prevent death and even a serious, scarring case of the frightening disease. No less than young Benjamin Franklin piled on with criticism and satire against the two men’s campaign, but both were ultimately vindicated as the inoculations proved far superior in saving lives in Boston’s deadliest smallpox outbreak. It took a lot of courage and conviction for these men to persist in the face of resistance from the highest places of their society.
What if there was a disease that threatened one hundred percent of the global population, one that proved one hundred percent fatal if untreated? What if there was a remedy available that was proven to save every patient from otherwise certain death? What if you knew it worked? Would you have the courage and conviction to offer it to the infected, even in the face of intimidation and threat?
Over 600 years before Christ, a prophet wrote, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?” (Jer. 8:22). The balm of Gilead, who was also the Great Physician, came to be the remedy and administer it to the willing (Mat. 9:12; Mk. 2:17; Lk. 4:23; 5:31). He left us in charge of offering this remedy and trying to prevent spiritual death (Jn. 8:21,24) in as many people as possible. Most will reject or at least ignore the offer, unaware of the gravity of their condition. That cannot deter us! Jesus is counting on us to apply His blood to rescue the perishing and care for the dying. A day is coming when there will be no more remedy (cf. 2 Chron. 36:16), but we must be out sharing it until that moment! There are people out there searching for a cure (Mat. 7:7-8). Whatever it costs us, let’s not stop until we’ve helped as many people as we can!