Chapter 26

Health Principles/3

Quality Improvement in Adventist Health

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James White, the Highly Visible Exception
The Gospel Sieve
The Rochester Vision of Hope and New Territory to Conquer
The Beginning of Adventist Health Institutions
Fifth Health Vision
The Principle of Moderation Avoids Extremes
James Becomes Editor
Applying Common Sense
Study Questions

“You need not go into the water, or into the fire, but take the middle road, avoiding all extremes.”1

Across the Adventist world in the 1860s went the broad message of health reform. Not all joined the march forward. But many did and their hearty gratitude was reported in the church paper.

R. M. Kilgore, former army captain and long-time evangelist-administrator, described the new life of better health shared by many: “As they advanced, they felt their diseases, aches, and pains leaving them, and in return buoyancy of spirit, and glow of health, the greatest earthly blessings. Thus, those in front accepted the offered mercies, not given by commandment or way of urging, but to obtain the blessing resulting from such a course of life and habits; by obeying the laws of their being which God implanted, and cleansing the temple for the indwelling of His Holy Spirit; which will be poured more copiously upon those who are ready to receive it.”2

M. E. Cornell, pioneer evangelist in Michigan and California, penned his gratitude: “I believe the reform came up just in time to save me from becoming a complete wreck. Fourteen years of incessant labor, with all kinds of unhealthy diet and but little attention to the laws of life, had nearly used up a strong constitution. Now I hope to recover, by the blessing of God, and endure to the end. My whole being cries out, Praise God for the health reform. Let those who have adopted the reform hold on. And I exhort all others to take hold of it in earnest.”3

At 68, John Byington, the church’s first General Conference president, wrote that after making “proper changes in diet” he no longer had a severe cough that threatened his survival. Further, he had “gained in flesh, have more warmth in my system, and feel better prepared to endure another cold winter.”4

J. H. Waggoner affirmed: “I thank God for the health reform. It is no cross; it is no hardship; it brings pleasure in pain and gives strength in weakness. . . . When bearing heavy burdens of body and mind, when all looked dark and cheerless in this world, it has come as a messenger of mercy, strengthening the body, cheering the mind, and refreshing the spirits, and bringing the peace of the Saviour to the sorrowing soul.”5

Joseph Clark, a layman, wrote enthusiastically: “Since adopting the health reform, my own health has been so much benefited that I have been at a loss to know whether it was duty to tell others of it, lest they might consider me an enthusiast; but over two years have passed away since we commenced to live out the health reform, and it is proving to be even better than I had imagined at first.”6

Looking back over the previous twenty years, Dr. J. H. Kellogg stated: “Numerous reforms in diet and dress were introduced and quite generally adopted. These reforms were of such a character that, when conscientiously carried out, they invariably produced a decided change for the better on the part of those adopting them. Hundreds who had for years suffered from various chronic ailments were soon relieved of the distressing symptoms which had been endured so long. Many whose cases had been pronounced hopeless were restored to excellent health. Others who seemed to be just on the brink of the grave received a new lease of life and ability for eminent usefulness. The most extraordinary evidences of good resulting from the adoption of health reform principles—results which in many instances seemed little short of miracles—were to be met on every hand. In every community of Sabbathkeepers were to be found those who freely acknowledged that they owed their lives to the light which they had received upon this question.”7

James White, the Highly Visible Exception

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As we noted earlier, pages 54-56, James White since 1844 had been doing the work of several men. By the time he was 44 he was worn out. He had carried the burden of financial accountability when others were slow to contribute; he had almost single-handedly led a “scattered flock” into becoming an organized church with doctrinal unity and a common goal; his pen had become a remarkable expositor of clear gospel teachings; and he was a constant source of encouragement and vision for others. But he did not know how to rest, nor was he temperate in his eating habits.

On August 16, 1865, he suffered his first stroke after a week of unusual stress and little sleep. He was mentally and physically exhausted, virtually incapacitated. Realizing that emergency procedures were needed when he failed to respond to home rest, Ellen White remembered that her health reform principles included a special emphasis on hydrotherapy. But she did not know how this principle would work out in practice, especially for such a serious problem as her husband’s. So, in late September, 1865, she took James to “Our Home,” a health institution at Dansville, New York, that emphasized hydropathic treatments and other medical practices that involved natural methods rather than conventional drug therapy.8

In reflecting on this decision, especially when some church members thought they were not truly trusting James to God in prayer, Ellen White wrote: “While we did not feel like despising the means God had placed in our reach for the recovery of health, we felt that God was above all, and He who had provided water as His agent would have us use it to assist abused Nature to recover her exhausted energies. We believed that God would bless the efforts we were making in the direction of health.

“We did not doubt that God could work a miracle, and in a moment restore to health and vigor. But should He do this, would we not be in danger of again transgressing—abusing our strength by prolonged, intemperate labor, and bringing upon ourselves even a worse condition of things?”9

The Gospel Sieve

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The Whites remained at Dansville for three months although Dr. Jackson strongly advocated six to eight months.10 What did they learn? By late November, Ellen White, convinced that James was not getting better, decided to return to their Battle Creek home.

However, she “did not feel that the three months . . . was in vain.” They had gathered “many things of value from those who had obtained an experience in health reform.” But she concluded that there was no further “necessity of gathering the chaff with the wheat.”11 Here, in a practical setting, her vision-driven understanding of health reform was able to separate worthy principles of her day from the ill-advised. For example:

· Discarding salt at Dansville was not in everyone’s best interest. Because of an emerging digestive problem, Dr. Jackson suggested that Ellen White eat in her room where she could use salt in moderation without raising questions in the minds of others.12

· Overheated lecture halls seriously affected James’s head. Fresh air was needed at all times for clear thinking as well as for physical comfort.13

· Though they considered Dr. Jackson to be a “clear and impressive speaker” and “decidedly thorough,”14 he and the other physicians believed that the Whites were “too intensely religious, and that is the reason why we are invalids.”15 The Dansville program emphasized “amusements and pleasure, dancing, card-playing, theater going, etc.,” which the Whites could not harmonize with the “teachings of Christ recorded in the New Testament.”16 While experiencing severe mood swings and sinking hope, many prayer sessions through the days and nights provided James with the peace of mind that led to sleep.

· Believing that overwork caused James’s physical and mental breakdown, the Dansville physicians strongly promoted complete physical and mental inaction. But Ellen White realized that this dictum was “one of the most serious obstacles to his recovery. Because of her vision-driven insights, she knew that for him “to sink down in aimless inactivity was to foster disease and to become the prey of despondency.”17

Though she often stated that the Dansville “water-cure establishment” was the best institution of its kind in the United States, she soon saw that those accompanying her and James would have to “carry along with them at all times the gospel sieve, and sift everything they hear, that they may choose the good and refuse the bad.”18

Early in December, Mrs. White was convinced that further time at Dansville would not help James recover. She saw his courage and buoyancy of spirit slipping rapidly. Weeks of inaction had brought him to the place where he himself feared physical exercise. Furthermore, she knew that trust in God was the pathway to courage and hope and that Dansville was not the environment to encourage such faith. And so to Rochester, New York, forty miles (24 km) from Dansville, the White party went where they would be surrounded by men and women of faith.

The Rochester Vision of Hope and New Territory to Conquer

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While in family worship Christmas day, December 25, 1865, Ellen White was taken off in vision. This vision ranks with the Otsego vision of June 6, 1863, in unfolding the significance of health reform within the third angel’s message.

The Otsego vision opened up the integrated system of health principles that the Lord wanted the Adventist Church to adopt. The Rochester vision emphasized how feeble had been the response of most church members and gave even more explicit information as to how the church was to coordinate health reform with the gospel message. Ellen White wrote out the vision the next day and gave the document to James. For months they had been wondering why they had seen no progress in his recovery. They now knew why and what they must do about it.

The key points of the vision were:

· It was God’s will that they went to Dansville, for otherwise they could not have learned what had to be known “in so short a time.”

· The Dansville home is the “best health institution in the United States . . . yet, the leaders there are but men, and their judgment is not always correct.”

· When people who have suffered much “are relieved by an intelligent system of treatment . . . they are often led to conclude” that their physicians who treat them are also “right in matters of religious faith, or at least cannot greatly err from the truth.”

· God could not glorify His name by answering the prayers of His people for the Whites while at Dansville, for “the physicians there would have taken the glory which should be given to God.”

· Through this experience God was “fitting up” James to be a stronger leader in health reform, in that he and others could speak more effectively regarding the “relation which eating, working, resting, and dressing sustain to health.”

· “God requires all . . . to place themselves in the best possible condition of bodily health” to attain a “healthy religious experience,” and that the Lord will not “do for them that which He requires them to do for themselves.”

· James had let fear and anxiety overwhelm his faith and that, by the power of his will and trusting in God’s power, he would regain his health.

· Church members had been “negligent in acting upon the light which God has given in regard to the health reform”; that such work “had scarcely” begun.

· “Few . . . understand how much their habits of diet have to do with their health, their characters, their usefulness in this world, and their eternal destiny.”

· “God’s people are not prepared for the loud cry of the third angel. They have a work to do for themselves which they should not leave for God to do for them.”

· Seventh-day Adventists must develop their own health institution. This institution would be “the means of introducing our faith in new places and raising the standard of truth where it would have been impossible to gain access had not prejudice been first removed.”

· This health institution should provide a home for (1) “the afflicted,” and (2) for those “who wish to learn how to take care of their bodies that they may prevent sickness.”

· This institution must be financially independent, not to be “embarrassed by a constant expenditure of means without realizing any returns.”

· “The great object” of this institution “is not only health, but perfection and the spirit of holiness, which cannot be attained with diseased bodies and minds.”

· The sick are to be taught that “it is wrong to suspend all physical labor in order to regain health.”

· “The greatest danger” would be for the managers to depart “from the spirit of the present truth, and from that simplicity which should ever characterize the disciples of Christ . . . in order to help the feelings of unbelievers, and thus secure their patronage.”19

The Beginning of Adventist Health Institutions

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The implications of this Rochester vision were broad; the principles set forth are still valid. In practice, this vision provided Ellen White with a course of action to help her feeble husband in his slow recovery, a plan to spend the winter of 1866-1867 in northern Michigan.20 Further, this vision became an electrifying call to the young church to advance and establish an Adventist health institution. On one hand, such a thought seemed preposterous; on the other, it was the next logical step in fulfilling God’s plan through the Adventist Church.

Ellen White’s Sabbath sermon at the General Conference session in Battle Creek, May 19, 1866, emphasized, perhaps for the first time publicly, the instruction given her in the Rochester health reform vision. Within days, the leadership responded to the call for a health institution, though with trepidation. J. N. Loughborough, president of the Michigan Conference, recalled: “When this testimony was read to our people, the question arose, ‘How can we, in our condition of limited means, obtain and control a health institution? . . . The committee . . . prayed over the matter, and said, ‘We will pledge to the enterprise, venturing out on what is said in the testimony, though it looks to us like a heavy load for us to hold up.’”21

Within days, property was bought and tanks installed on the roof for hydrotherapy treatments. By September 5 the Western Health Reform Institute was ready for patients under the medical care of Drs. H. S. Lay and Phoebe Lamson.22 Yet, many were the perils that lay ahead. The counsel of Ellen White saved the institutional management from making serious errors, especially in regard to the purpose of the institution: (1) The object is not primarily for “gain,” although it must be financially independent, not drawing on other denominational funds; (2) Standards must not be lowered in order to “patronize unbelievers”; (3) The institution, though not to be a place for “diversion or amusement,” will create an environment free from “diseased imaginations,” “dissatisfied feelings,” and “discontented repinings”; (4) The institution is established to “improve the health of the body that the afflicted may more highly appreciate eternal things”; (5) The institution should not expand any faster than adequate “skill, experience, and finance could be provided.”23

Even more amazing, in addition to establishing a medical institution, was the decision to publish Health Reformer, a periodical that Dr. H. S. Lay would edit. Shortly after its introduction, Ellen White wrote: “The Health Reformer is the medium through which rays of light are to shine upon the people. It should be the best health journal in our country. It must be adapted to the wants of the common people, ready to answer all proper questions and fully explain the first principles of the laws of life and how to obey them and preserve health.”24

Fifth Health Vision

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The fifth of the health vision series occurred in Bordoville, Vermont, on December 10, 1871.25 Visions were not given frivolously or merely to repeat the message of previous visions. God dispenses wisdom as fast as men and women can appreciate it, especially after they have obeyed known duty. Prophets also learn step by step, even as church groups advance step by step in joining divine instruction with practice.26

By 1871 the Western Health Reform Institute had been operating for five years. The leaders were working in untried territory and mistakes were made, even to the point of failure. Without the Whites, the Institute would have died under a load of debt and extremist policies.27

In the Bordoville vision Ellen White again reiterated the primary purpose of Adventist health institutions—a purpose that had become fuzzy in the interim: Adventist health work is as “closely connected with the third angel’s message as the hand is with the body.”28 Further, Adventist health work was not to be done in some quiet corner: Adventist health principles should “be agitated, and the public mind deeply stirred to investigate.”29 Mrs. White reiterated that Adventist institutions are “established upon different principles” from health centers that are “conservative, making it their object to meet the popular class half way . . . that they will receive the greatest patronage and the most money.”30

Other explicit principles relating to Adventist health institutions included:

· Adventist health institutions are to unite Biblical principles with the care of the sick. But Adventist distinctives “should not be discussed with patients,” even in the weekly prayer meetings. “Silent witness will do more than open controversy. . . . We must meet people where they are.”31

· Wise health-care workers realize that many sufferers have more than physical pain. “Many carry a violated conscience, and can be reached only by the principles of Bible religion.”32

· The home church at Battle Creek must live up to its “greatest responsibility,” and when church members do not live up to the light that health-care workers are giving to the patients, confusion and discouragement are the result.33

By the early 1870s Adventist interest in health reform, with its first medical institution and health journal plus its emphasis on training quality physicians, had now become highly visible and effective in reaching out to all classes of society.34

The Principle of Moderation Avoids Extremes

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The credentials of a prophet are seen often in the common sense of his or her message. God is not unreasonable, neither are His prophets. Ellen White provides a classic example of common sense35 in her relation to health reform. After she had emphasized the need for health reform through her writings for a few years, after the first few years of the Battle Creek health institution, and after a few years of the Health Reformer, she recognized that some caution was needed: “In reforms, we would better come one step short of the mark than to go one step beyond it. And if there is error at all, let it be on the side next to the people.”36

One of the problems that had developed in Battle Creek was the extremism fostered by Dr. Russell T. Trall and advocated by William Gage, resident editor of the Health Reformer. Dr. Trall advocated absolute discontinuance of salt, sugar, milk, butter, and eggs. This extremism caused confusion and a loss of subscriptions. When Ellen White returned from her west-coast camp meeting assignments, she saw why the Health Reformer was about dead: “The position to entirely discontinue the use of these things [salt, sugar, milk, butter, and eggs] may be right in its order; but the time had not come to take a general stand upon these points.”37

Worse! The editor of the Health Reformer was ill. Why? Because he and those who were supporting these extreme positions for that time were not following a balanced program in their own homes! The confusion and subsequent despair among church members in their attempts to meet these extreme positions opened the door to much backsliding in the whole area of health reform. So Ellen White set forth several points for her fellow church members to consider:

· Meet people “where they are.”38

· Allow others “as much time as we have required” to reach our present understanding.

· We must not “advocate positions” that are not put to “a practical test” in our own homes.

· “A free use” of items such as salt, sugar, and milk is “positively injurious to health” and “if they were not used at all, a much better state of health would be enjoyed.”

· But, for the present, “our burden is not upon these things [salt, sugar, milk, butter].”39

· Because so many people were so far behind on health reform, they were advised to “bear positive testimony against” the most “injurious indulgences and stimulating narcotics . . . [such as] tobacco, spirituous liquors, snuff, tea, coffee, flesh meats, butter, spices, rich cakes, mince pies, a large amount of salt, and all exciting substances used as articles of food.”40

James Becomes Editor

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Because the editor of the Health Reformer was ill, and because the paper needed resuscitating, James White took over as editor. In his first editorial, he wrote: “the Reformer proposes to reach the people with all their prejudices, and their ignorance of the laws of life, where they are. It will avoid extreme positions, and come as near those who need reforming as possible, and yet be true to the principles of health reform.”41

Under his leadership, confidence was restored in the magazine and in the broad health principles that Ellen White advocated. Within the first year, subscriptions increased from 3,000 to more than 10,000.42

Every reform movement since New Testament times has had to contend with extremists. Their message may contain truth, but their timing, methods, and ensuing consequences do much to weaken the impact of their message. At a New York conference in 1868 Ellen White wrote that some who were health reform advocates “were extremists, and would run the health reform into the ground. . . . Their influence would disgust believers and unbelievers.”43

Before pointing out some of the inconsistencies of these “extremists,” Mrs. White insightfully analyzed typical reactions to a health reform message: “The masses will reject any theory, however reasonable it may be, if it lays a restriction upon the appetite. The taste is consulted instead of reason and health. All who leave the common track of custom, and advocate reform, will be opposed, accounted mad, insane, radical, . . . [even if they] pursue ever so consistent a course.”44

Then she spoke plainly to several of these extremist spokesmen. One man, “aided by items gathered from books,” had demanded that his family come up immediately to his “high” standards, but in so doing he “failed to bring himself to the mark, and to keep his body under.”

His marital relations were more like the unleashing of “animal propensities” than those of a considerate husband. His wife was not in a condition to give birth “to healthy children.” Why? Because “he did not provide the quality and quantity of food that was necessary to nourish two lives instead of one.” Her children were born with “feeble digestive powers and impoverished blood.”

Applying Common Sense

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Note how Ellen White applied her principle of common sense and moderation: “Her system craved material to convert into blood; but he would not provide it. A moderate amount of milk and sugar, a little salt, white bread raised with yeast for a change, graham flour prepared in a variety of ways by other hands than her own, plain cake with raisins, occasionally, and many other dishes I might mention, would have answered the demand of appetite. If he could not obtain some of these things, a little domestic wine [for medicinal purposes] would have done her no injury; it would have been better for her to have it than to do without it. In some cases, even a small amount of the least hurtful meat would do less injury than to suffer strong cravings for it.”45

She then turned to another family who had lost a loved one because of a physician guilty of “maltreatment” under the guise of health reform. Apparently a young man had died after a severe fever. After recognizing that “abstinence from food for a short time will lessen the fever,” she noted that when the fever is broken, “nourishment should be given in a careful, judicious manner.” However, each person should be treated on an individual basis. “If there is a great desire expressed for food, even during the fever, to gratify that desire with a moderate amount of simple food would be less injurious than for the patient to be denied.”46

In the case of this young man, Ellen White specifically pointed to mismanagement that led to his unnecessary death: “A little good wine and food would have brought him back to his family.” The father also would have died if it had not been for the “presence and timely counsel of a doctor from the Health Institute.” Doing the best possible under the circumstances was a basic health principle with Ellen White.47

She warned concerning extremists: “It is impossible for the best qualified advocates of health reform to fully relieve the minds of the public from the prejudice received through the wrong course of these extremists, and to place the great subject of health reform upon a right basis in the community where these men have figured. The door is also closed in a great measure, so that unbelievers cannot be reached by the present truth upon the Sabbath and the soon coming of our Saviour.”48

In 1868 James White wrote an editorial pointing out that extremists made the work of Mrs. White unnecessarily difficult: “While Satan tempts the many to be too slow, he always tempts these [some with more zeal than caution] to be too fast. Mrs. W.’s labors are made very hard, and, sometimes perplexing, by reason of the course of extremists, who think the only safe position is to take the extreme view of every expression she has written or spoken upon points where different views may be taken.”49

Both James and Ellen White recognized individual differences.50 They were patient with others because they knew how long it had taken them to see the logic and beauty in health principles that were affirmed by vision.51

They further knew that they could not be conscience for anyone else. They could lead only by example and clear teaching.


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1. Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 211.

2.Review and Herald, Sept. 10, 1867.

3.Ibid., Jan. 15, 1867.

4.Health Reformer, Dec. 1866.

5.Review and Herald, Jan. 1, 1867.

6.Health Reformer, Feb. 1867.

7.Review and Herald, Jan. 5, 1886.

8.One year earlier, in September, 1864, James and Ellen White had spent three weeks at Dansville, after she had completed Volumes III and IV of Spiritual Gifts. Volume IV contained the unfolding of her Otsego health vision of June 6, 1863. The principles contained in this Otsego vision were clear and the times were urgent; how to assimilate them and incorporate them into practical living would take time and experience.

A timely article by Dr. James C. Jackson, “Our Home’s” administrator, on the treatment of diphtheria was reprinted in the church paper in February, 1863, and greatly impressed the Whites. At a time when terrified parents watched their children die without medical hope, the Whites employed the water treatment method advocated by Jackson, and three children, Moses Hull’s boy and the Whites’ Edson and Willie, survived diphtheria. Yet, later in November 1863, Henry’s cold became pneumonia and was treated with conventional drug therapy with no positive results. Although the Whites understood the principle of hydrotherapy when it applied to diphtheria, they had not yet seen its application to other diseases. The theory needed time and experience before it became a compelling principle in practice.

The Whites sensed this need for a practical understanding of the full application of the Otsego health vision. Certain dietary changes were immediately made in regard to meat-eating, butter, healthier bread, less salt, and two meals a day, but other changes were yet to be made as the principles became clearer over time. Thus, off to Dansville in September 1864, not only for their health after so much stress of travel and publication, but “to see what we could see and hear, so as to be able to give to many inquiring friends a somewhat definite report.”—James White, in How to Live, cited in Bio., vol. 2, p. 83.

9.Review and Herald, Feb. 20, 1866.

10. Review and Herald, Oct. 3, 1865.

11. Manuscript 1, 1867, cited in Robinson, Our Health Message, p. 135.

12. “A moderate use of salt is necessary to you; without it you will become a dyspeptic.”—Letter 19a, 1891, cited in Robinson, op. cit., p. 136; “From the light given me by God, this article [salt], in the place of being deleterious, is actually essential for the blood. The whys and wherefores of this I know not, but I give you the instruction as it is given me.”—Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 344. Obviously, at times certain medical conditions (such as high blood pressure) may indicate that the use of salt should be reduced until good health is recovered. Ellen White is here speaking of a moderate use of salt in a healthful, maintenance diet. In modern times, because salt is frequently present in packaged foods, this should be taken into consideration when assessing one’s daily need of a “moderate” use of salt.

13. Bio., vol. 2, p. 121.

14. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 86.

15. Manuscript 1, 1867, cited in Bio., vol. 2, p. 122.

16. Review and Herald, Feb. 20, 1866.

17. Life Sketches of Elder James White and Mrs. Ellen G. White (1888), pp. 353, 354, cited in Robinson, Our Health Message, p. 138.

18. Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 490.

19. Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 485-495, 553-564, 612-620.

20. Bio., vol. 2, pp. 157-175.

21. Bio., vol. 2, p. 141.

22. Robinson, Our Health Message, pp. 145-155; Bio., vol. 2, pp. 139-142, 174, 176.

23. Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 564-567; Bio., vol. 2, pp. 192-204; Robinson, Our Health Message, pp. 172-190.

24. Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 552, 553.

25. Prior to the vision in Bordoville were the visions of 1848 and 1854; Otsego, Michigan, June 5, 1863, and Rochester, New York, Dec. 25, 1865.

26. See pp. 34, 282, 304, 311, 422.

27. Bio., vol. 2, pp. 301-311.

28. Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 161.

29. Ibid., p. 162.

30. Ibid., p. 165.

31. Ibid., pp. 166, 167.

32. Ibid., p. 168.

33. Ibid., pp. 170, 171.

34. Robinson, Our Health Message, pp. 203-212.

35. See pp. 95-97, 306.

36. Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 21. But no real erring is necessary: “You need not go into the water, or into the fire, but take the middle path, avoiding all extremes.”—Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 211.

37. Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 19. “We know that a free use of these things is positively injurious to health, and in many cases we think that if they were not used at all, a much better state of health would be enjoyed. But at present our burden is not upon these things. The people are so far behind that we see it is all they can bear to have us draw the line upon their injurious indulgences and stimulating narcotics.”—Ibid., p. 21. Ellen White saw that Dr. Trall’s counsel in the Health Reformer was too extreme when he wrote: “Salt, being a poison, should not be used at all.”—July, 1869. Her position is best stated in The Ministry of Healing, p. 305: “Do not eat largely of salt.” Recent research strongly indicates that unexplained high blood pressure is often found in persons who use too much salt. See p. 334.

38. For many in the nineteenth century, hygienic standards, “balanced” meals, and refrigerated food were not even thought of. “The masses were forced to subsist on a crude and scanty diet of which tea and bread were staples, supplemented now and then by a soup or stew of questionable origin. . . . Nostalgia even for the food of most rural Americans cannot survive the light of truth. While to a degree substantial, their diet was very simple, monotonous and often far from healthful. . . . Harper’s Weekly complained in 1869: ‘The city people are in constant danger of buying unwholesome meat; the dealers are unscrupulous, the public uneducated.’ . . . In the absence of electric refrigeration, perishable goods were subject to the whims of the weather. . . . One is tempted to believe that with meat and fish so unreliable the urban Victorians sustained themselves by consuming an abundance of fruit. But that was not the case. They had a lingering suspicion of fruit—and vegetables—that had its origins in a cholera epidemic of 1832 which was believed to have been caused by fruit. In fact, following the epidemic, the New York City Council had forbidden the sale of all fruits, and though the ban had been lifted some years later the mistrust was to remain.”—Otto Bettmann, The Good Old Days—They Were Terrible! (New York: Random House, Inc., 1974), pp. 109, 110, 113.

39. This advice was primarily to Ellen White’s agrarian readers. For those who had to buy milk, it was a hazardous undertaking. “It was common knowledge to New Yorkers that their milk was diluted. And the dealers were neither subtle nor timid about it; all they required was a water pump to boost two quarts of milk to a gallon. Nor was that the end of the mischief: to improve the color of milk from diseased cattle they frequently added molasses, chalk, or plaster of Paris. No wonder, that in 1889 New York’s public health commissioner reported seeing in certain districts a ‘decidedly suspicious-looking fluid bearing the name of milk.’

“Bacteria-infected milk held lethal possibilities of which people were unaware. The root of this problem was in the dairy farms, invariably dirty, where the milch cows were improperly fed and housed.

“It was not unusual for a city administration to sell its garbage to a farmer, who promptly fed it to his cows. Or for a distillery to keep cows and feed them distillery wastes, producing what was called ‘swill milk.’ This particular liquid, which purportedly made babies tipsy, caused a scandal in the New York of 1870 when it was revealed that some of the cows cooped up for years in filthy stables were so enfeebled from tuberculosis that they had to be raised on cranes to remain ‘milkable’ until they died.

“When in 1902 the city’s Health Commission tested 3,970 milk samples, it was found that 2,095, or 52.77 percent, were adulterated.”—Bettmann, The Good Old Days, pp. 114, 115.

40. Testimonies, vol. 3, pp. 20, 21. The phrase “excessive use of butter” might well have been used in this statement to express her view more precisely, because a few paragraphs earlier, she indicated that part of the confusion and distress brought about by the extreme view of the Reformer editors was their position advocating the “entire disuse of milk, butter, and sugar.”

41. Health Reformer, March, 1871.

42. Robinson, Our Health Message, p. 202; see Bio., vol. 2. pp. 306-309.

43. Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 377. See Counsels on Diet and Foods, pp. 195-213.

44. Ibid.

45. Ibid., p. 384.

46. Ibid., pp. 384, 385.

47. See p. 310.

48. Ibid., pp. 386, 387.

49. Review and Herald, Mar. 17, 1868. James White continued regarding his wife’s challenge: “She works to this disadvantage, namely: she makes strong appeals to the people, which a few feel deeply, and take strong positions, and go to extremes. Then to save the cause from ruin in consequence of these extremes, she is obliged to come out with reproofs for extremists in a public manner. This is better than to have things go to pieces; but the influence of both the extremes and the reproofs are terrible on the cause, and brings upon Mrs. W. a three-fold burden. Here is the difficulty: What she may say to urge the tardy, is taken by the prompt to urge them over the mark. And what she may say to caution the prompt, zealous, incautious ones, is taken by the tardy as an excuse to remain too far behind.”

In 1871, James White again set forth his wife’s balanced counsel as they both led church members step by step, even as they themselves were advancing step by step in their adjustments to advancing light: “While she [Ellen White] does not regard milk, taken in large quantities, as customarily eaten with bread, the best article of food, her mind, as yet, has only been called to the importance of the best and most healthful condition of the cow possible where milk is used. . . . She cannot unite in circulating publications broadcast which take an extreme position on the important question of milk, with her present light upon the subject. . . . Mrs. W. thinks that a change from the simplest kinds of flesh meats, to an abundant use of sugar, is going from ‘bad to worse.’ She would recommend a very sparing use of both sugar and salt. The appetite can, and should be, brought to a very moderate use of both.”—Review and Herald, Nov. 8, 1870.

50. “Our diet should be suited to the season, to the climate in which we live, and to the occupation we follow.”

The Ministry of Healing, p. 297; “There is a wide difference in constitutions and temperaments, and the demands of the system differ greatly in different persons. What would be food for one, might be poison for another; so precise rules cannot be laid down to fit every case. I cannot eat beans, for they are poison to me; but for me to say that for this reason no one must eat them would be simply ridiculous.”—Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 494.

51. “Some of us have been years in arriving at our present position in health reform. It is slow work to obtain a reform in diet. . . . If we should allow the people as much time as we have required to come up to the present advanced state in reform, we would be very patient with them and allow them to advance step by step, as we have done, until their feet are firmly established upon the health reform platform. But we should be very cautious not to advance too fast, lest we be obliged to retrace our steps.”—Testimonies, vol. 3, pp. 20, 21.

Study Questions

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1. What did Ellen White mean by the “gospel sieve”?

2. What practices at the Dansville “Home” were incompatible with the broad principles of healthful living that Ellen White was beginning to see more clearly?

3. In her counsel to those launching the church’s first medical institution, what fundamental principles did Ellen White advocate that could apply to all later institutions?

4. What common-sense principles were reemphasized when the Health Reformer needed rescuing?

5. Review some of the obvious improvements in health that Adventists in the 1860s soon enjoyed when they incorporated health principles into their daily program. How do those principles apply today?

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