Pre-Ellen White Health Reformers
Was Ellen White Really Ahead of Her Time?
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Contrary to popular myth, Mrs. White brought few, if any, new health reforms to the world. Other popular health reformers were promoting most, if not all of her teachings on health, before she began teaching them.
Having been raised up in the Methodist church, Mrs. White was most likely familiar with the writings and practices of church founder John Wesley. Wesley believed that health and healing were an integral part of the gospel message. In 1746, as a young evangelist Wesley studied medicine and began visiting the sick, prescribing various natural remedies for their health problems. By 1753 he was testing the curative powers of electricity, which he described as the "most efficacious medicine, in nervous disorders of every kind, which has ever yet been discovered."
He authored a number of books on health reform. Here are some of the health reforms he practiced and advocated in the 1700s:
Health reform was an important subject amongst the Adventist pioneers, particularly to Captain Joseph Bates. There is no doubt that Bates had a strong influence on the Whites and the early Adventist church. Bates was a health reformer who crusaded against "tobacco and snuff boxes, and pipes." He further decried the use or trafficking of "alcoholic drinks, from brandy to cider, and beer." (The Sealing Message, pp. 67-68)
In 1833, thirty years before Ellen White's first health reform "vision", the Prophet Joseph Smith received his health reform vision. In Doctrine and Covenants (section 89, verses 5-17) Smith reveals the following health reforms:
Sylvester Graham, in his Lectures on the Science of Human Life, (published in 1849, pp. 224-286) expounded on the following:
Furthermore, Graham was opposed to both marital excess and self-abuse (masturbation). Graham believed that stimulating foods aroused the sexual passions. Therefore, he concluded that one of the best ways to control sexual urges was to adopt a vegetarian diet and forsake condiments, spices, alcohol, tea, and coffee (Lecture to Young Men on Chastity, pp. 83, 144-148).
In the 1850's Dio Lewis became a nationally known lecturer on health reform. He taught many of the same things as Graham, but he added the reform of eating only two meals a day. The Whites were well acquainted with Dr. Lewis. In Mrs. White's biography, grandson Arthur notes that in the early 1860's:
"The Review and Herald, edited by James White and Uriah Smith, occasionally carried items on rest, fresh air, exercise, et cetera, selected from other journals or from the writings of a Dr. Dio Lewis. Quite often articles and admonitions discouraging the use of tobacco, tea, and coffee were included." (Ellen White, vol. 2, p. 73)Not only were the Whites familiar with Dr. Lewis' health writings, in 1871 they actually visited his home in Boston and held a private discussion with him (see letter 15, 1871 to Edson and Emma White, November 15, 1871, 5MR 397.1}
Larkin B. Coles was less known than Graham or Lewis. However, he is of special interest to Adventists because he was a Millerite preacher-physician. Before his death in 1856 he authored two books on health. In his books he advocated fresh air, exercise, a vegetarian diet, non-use of stimulants, reform in dress, sexual purity, and drugless medicine. A number of Mrs. White's writings on health reform appear strikingly similar to Coles' writings.
Coles not only warned against meat eating because it increased the animal propensities, but he also discussed the connection between meat-eating and disease. He was notable for sounding a warning (which others health reformers had already voiced) that there was a relationship between tobacco use and carcinomas. (The Beauties and Deformities of Tobacco-Using, 1853, p. 142)
Ellen White was a "late-comer" to health reform. She did not receive her first "vision" on health reform until 1863, a full 30 years after Prophet Joseph Smith's vision. While Mrs. White was still feasting on pork in the early 1850s the health reform movement was in full swing in America. Health and temperance lecturers traveled throughout the country, speaking in churches and halls, promoting the vegetarian diet, and warning against alcohol, tobacco, and corsets. A full decade before Mrs. White received her "vision" on health reform, all the major tenets of her health teachings were being taught by nationally-known non-Adventist Christian health crusaders.
Mrs. White's first attempt at health reform was to write a book called Appeal to Mothers, published in 1864. Like Sylvester Graham's efforts two decades earlier, Mrs. White decided her church members needed to be warned about the health dangers of masturbation. On the first page she warns of the astonishing numbers of deaths caused by masturbation:
"Have you observed the astonishing mortality among the youth?" (Appeal, p. 5)According to Mrs. White, not only does masturbation cause death and a wide range of physical ailments, it also causes mental health problems:
"The mind is often utterly ruined, and insanity takes place." (Appeal, p. 27)Needless to say, Appeal to Mothers is no longer available in print. Like so many other of her writings and visions that were proven incorrect, this book simply disappeared from the public sight. (If you want to learn more about what Mrs. White wrote in this book and other early health writings, click here.)
While she never achieved the fame in the health reform arena attained by fellow prophet Mary Baker Eddy--whose first book Science and Health, published in 1875, sold over 10 million copies--Mrs. White's later efforts proved more successful. With the assistance of her staff of professional writers and editors, she was able to produce a much better health reform book which is still available today: Ministry of Healing. Perhaps Mrs. White had the opportunity to read Mrs. Eddy's book:
|Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health, 1875||Ellen G. White|
|Prayer cannot change the Science of being, but it tends to bring us into harmony with it. (p. 1)||Prayer is not to work any change in God; it is to bring us into harmony with God. (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 143, 1900)|
|...will mould and fashion us anew, until we awake in His likeness. (p. 4)||Then He will mould and fashion us after the divine likeness... (Signs of the Times, 3/11/1903)|
|Their imperfections and impurity felt the ever-present rebuke of his perfection and purity. (p. 52)||To all things untrue and base His very presence was a rebuke. In the light of His purity, men saw themselves unclean... (Education, p. 79, 1903.|