David Watt Torrance was born 6 November, 1862 on Graham Street in Airdrie, Scotland. He was the son of Dr. Thomas Torrance and Susan Watt who had many children. His grandfather was Rev. Robert Torrance who had founded the Auld Licht congregation in Airdrie. His mother’s father was David Watt an Edinburgh engraver of some note and a friend of Sir Walter Scott. David Watt Torrance was a cousin of the father of Thomas F. Torrance, the theologian, disciple and translator of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics – more of his contribution on another occasion!
Airdrie was a mining town of some repute and David grew up just like any child of the time. He attended Sunday school taught by his great-uncle Robert Watt. He played football and sang in the choir. He loved to listen to stories read by his mother particularly books of adventure, travel and history. Sadly his father died when he was sixteen years of age and his mother moved the family to Glasgow.
Soon after his father’s death, David was accepted into the University of Glasgow for medical studies. While he was studying he worked in the public dispensary. At this time he also experienced a spiritual birth and became active within the Church of Scotland. When he received his medical degree he was approached by the Church to become a medical missionary in Constantinople, a post that he declined. Shortly after, he was once again asked by the Church to accept a mission, this time in Palestine “The Holy land”. Rather than accept immediately he first undertook a rigorous tour of Galilee in 1884 Inspired by the terrible conditions he encountered and by his faith in God, Torrance accepted the mission and in 1885 he established himself in Tiberias.
Tiberias at that time would be described by various visitors with contempt and loathing. It was hot (at time the temperature reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit), dirty, disease ridden and poor. On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the town lies 680 feet below sea level. Its 6,000 residents were almost exclusively Jews and Muslims.
Torrance soon realized that his real responsibility was with caring for the sick and injured. At first he was scorned and spat upon by the local population. But his skill as a surgeon and his compassion overcame their hatred and soon the local population would come to call him a “Hassid” or saintly one. He continued his mission work until his death. Many Hebrew Christians in Tiberias looked to him for support and encouragement, including Sir Leon Levinson, first President of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for the life of David Watt Torrance, his medical skills and service in your kingdom. Thank you for the good report and acceptance he had amongst Jews and Arabs in the Land, and for his model of Yeshua’s love lived out in practical service. Thank you for the significant contribution he made to the development of medical services in the Land of Israel in modern times. Thank you for the distinguished record of the Torrance family in many areas of ministry around the world. May their example of faithful service inspire us to dedicate our lives in your service, and may we be an example of Yeshua’s love for Israel and all nations. In his name we pray. Amen.
W.P. Livingstone, A Galilee Doctor (Hodder and Stoughton, 1925)