A Meditation:

Taking the Pulse

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Upon a Physician’s Feeling the Pulse,

by William Spurstowe (1666)


How often and how exactly do physicians feel the pulse of their patients?  Not a day passes without a strict observation of the motions that it makes, according to which they judge both of the greatness and danger of the distemper, and what the issues are like to be both in respect of life and death.  They do not as other visitors, merely ask the patient how he is doing, but inform him rather how he is, and from the report which they make of his malady, the patient’s fears and hopes are the more or less.  And yet, how rarely do they feel their own pulse, who are so seemingly anxious about another’s?  Days, weeks, months do elapse, and pass away without any such studious heeding of themselves, as they continually in their profession exercise towards others. 

They occasion me to think of the practice of many who cannot so easily be acquitted:  those who are severe observers of other men’s ways and actions, and as great neglectors of their own; who are far more glad that they can espy a fault in others, than grieved that it is committed; who presume to look into the breast, and to discover how the affections, which are the pulse of the soul, do beat and work in every duty.  In some they mistake the heat of their zeal as too much resembling a high and vehement pulse, whose strength and quickness comes not from health, but from a fever.  In others they condemn lukewarmness, an indifferency, whose affections they judge to be as a weak and slow pulse, or as the spring of a watch that is well-nigh down, which clicks and moves very faintly.  In some again, they observe an inequality in their profession, which is accompanied with frequent stands and pauses that they make.  Like asthmatical and short-breathed persons, they run a while and blow longer, before they can move again.  And upon these, they look with as sad a countenance as a physician does upon his patient that has a false and intermitting pulse.  Few or none can be found to escape their censure, who observe the failings of others, as some ancient critics did the imperfect verses of Homer, which they learned by heart, not at all regarding the many good.

But what can be more contrary to the law and rule of Christianity than such practices?  How many prohibitions are gone out of the court of heaven to stay such irregular proceedings?  Are we not by Christ forbid to judge lest we be judged?  To judge nothing before the time until the Lord come?  And yet what if any man could know the true temper of the affections of others, as fully as a physician can distinguish a well and a sick pulse, would this knowledge be any advantage to him which he is both ignorant and regardless of his own estate?  Would he thereby find such joy and comfort in himself, as he that by an impartial examination of himself can discover the truth and sincerity of his own heart to Christ, though he can say nothing of others?  Surely this man, as the hungry, would be filled with good things, when the other, as the rich, should be sent empty away.  He, as the humble publican, would be justified, when the other, the proud Pharisee, should be condemned.

Let others then, physician-like, study the condition of others, I shall look upon it as my duty, and make it my work, not to find out what others are, but what I am in regard of my unfeigned love and affection to Christ, who has transcendently merited my love, though I am wholly unworthy of his.  Erasistratus is famed in history for discovering the love of Antiochus to his mother-in-law which shame forced him to conceal, by the motion of his pulse, which he observed to move differently in her presence from what it did at other times.  O how happy should I deem myself if I could find the pulse of my affections always working more quick and lively in me whenever I behold my Savior present in the feast of love, in which he is pleased not only to let me see him, but to enjoy him; or when I hear his name mentioned in a duty, or when I read his name written in his Word, which is therefore the sweeter because his name is so often in it; but I have cause to be ashamed at the uneven temper of my heart, which discovers itself in those intermissions of love and affection that I too often labor under.  How often am I chill and cold in the same duty?  At what poor trifles do I often stick, when my love to him should blush at the name of difficulty?  Can I ever do, or suffer for him too much, whose perfections render him wholly incapable of being loved too much?  If I were melted in the flames and ardors of divine love, might I not say still there are degrees and intentions of heart, which I want, and others have?  Christians should be the rivals of Seraphim; whose name expresses them to be of a flaming nature, and whose employment, in Isaiah’s mysterious vision, is to cry one to another, holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.  He is the object to which those flames that warm them do aspire and tend.  O that my heart, like the prophet’s lips, were touched by some Seraphim, that I might love Christ, which is the best of duties, with a heart flaming with the fire of heavenly love, which is the best of tempers.




This article is taken from:  Spurstowe, William.  The Spiritual Chymist: or, Six Decads of Divine Meditations on Several Subjects. London: Philip Chetwind, 1666.  A PDF file of this book can be downloaded, free of charge, at     http://www.ClassicChristianLibrary.com