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RET 426 : MINISTRY AND MESSAGE OF ELLEN WHITE LECTURE 8: Emergence of the Health Message II
Healthful living principles were given to Ellen White in a vision on May 21, 1863—but she and the Church needed, and took, time to apply those principles. The General Conference and Michigan Conference Committees could not meet in 1865—two of the three members of each committee were ill! James & Ellen White, J. N. Loughborough and Uriah Smith all travelled to Dansville, NY, for treatment by Dr. Jackson. Ellen white agreed with Jackson’s treatments but did not like the “worldly” pastimes (dancing & card-playing etc.) that patients were encouraged to participate in. Jackson did not like Ellen White using salt at the table—so she took her meals in her room!
The issue of eating pig meat is a good example of an important teaching that had to wait until the church was ready for its significance. Some members had argued as early as 1850 that the Bible definitely forbids eating pig meat, but James White thought that some of the Biblical reasoning was inappropriate: “ We do object to a misapplication of the Holy Scriptures in sustaining a position which will only distract the flock of God, and lead the minds of the brethren from the importance of the present work of God among the remnant.” Present Truth , November 1850.
By 1858 the issue was being promoted by the Haskells, to whom Ellen White wrote the following counsel: “ I saw that your views concerning swine’s flesh would prove no injury if you have them to yourselves; but in your judgment and opinion you have made this question a test, and your actions have plainly shown your faith in this matter....If it is the duty of the church to abstain from swine’s flesh, God will discover it to more than two or three. He will teach His church their duty....I saw that the angels of God would lead His people no faster than they could receive and act upon the important truths that are communicated to them.” Testimonies for the Church I , 206, 207.
The Whites were not ready to take a position unless they had clear Biblical evidence or a clear word from the Lord through a vision. Up to the health vision of June 6, 1863, they believed that the dietary restrictions set forth in Leviticus 11 as part of the Jewish ceremonial laws, were no longer applicable following the death of Christ. During the 1850s, Adventists freely ate pork. However, following the June 6 vision, the issue of eating pig meat was settled. Ellen White now wrote: “ God never designed the swine to be eaten under any circumstances....The eating of pork has produced scrofula, leprosy, and cancerous humors. Pork-eating is still causing the most intense suffering to the human race.” Spiritual Gifts IV , 124, 146.
In 1863 Ellen White wrote, “The Lord presented a general plan before me.” Six months later she wrote: “ Our plain food, eaten twice a day, is enjoyed with a keen relish. We have no meat, cake or any rich food upon our table. We use no lard but in its place, milk, cream, and some butter. We have our food prepared with but little salt, and have dispensed with spices of all kinds. We breakfast at seven, and take our dinner at one....My food is eaten with greater relish than before.” Spiritual Gifts IV , 154.
Ellen White did eat meat after 1863—but only occasionally and not as a part of her regular diet. She practised the general principle of eating the best food available. In 1873 the White’s hunted and fished for food while on vacation in the Rockies—because their food supplies were very low. Some excerpts from Ellen White’s diary for September and October of 1873 illustrate this latter point. During this time she and James were virtually marooned, awaiting the return of their host, Mr. Walling, to restock their dwindling store of provisions:
September 22: Willie started over the Range today to either get supplies or get the axletree of the wagon Walling is making. We cannot either move on or return to our home at the Mills without our wagon is repaired. There is very poor feed for the horses. Their grain is being used up. The nights are cold. Our stock of provisions is fast decreasing. September 28: Brother Glover left the camp today to go for supplies. We are getting short of provisions.... A young man from Nova Scotia had come in from hunting. He had a quarter of deer. He had travelled twenty miles with this deer upon his back....He gave us a small piece of the meat, which we made into broth. Willie shot a duck which came in a time of need, for our supplies were rapidly diminishing. Manuscript 11, 1873
October 5: The sun shines so pleasantly, but no relief comes to us. Our provisions have been very low for some days. Many of our supplies have gone—no butter, no sauce of any kind, no corn meal or graham flour. We have a little fine flour and that is all. We expected supplies three days ago certainly, but none has come. Willie went to the lake for water. We heard his gun and found he had shot two ducks. This is really a blessing, for we need something to live on. Manuscript 12, 1873
A few weeks later in California she reported they no longer ate meat but bought it once for May Walling when she was ill. In 1884 while staying at St Helena Health Retreat she found she had but little choice to eat meat as that was all the cook knew. On her return home she found it hard to get back to a vegetarian diet. In 1890, after living in Europe, Ellen White found little excuse for using meat—except in some cases of illness. Arriving in Australia she found it hard to find a cook who could prepare healthy vegetarian meals. From January 1894, while in Australia, she “absolutely banished meat from my table.” Manuscript Releases XIV , 324.
Ellen White also made a distinction between meat and fish. In 1896 she wrote to her niece (Mary Clough Watson): “ Two years ago I came to the conclusion that there was danger in using the flesh of dead animals, and since then I have not used meat at all. It is never placed on my table. I use fish when I can get it. We get beautiful fish from the salt water lake near here. I use neither tea nor coffee. As I labour against these things, I cannot but practice that which I know to be best for my health, and my family are in perfect harmony with me. You see my dear niece, I am telling you matters just as they are.”
In 1876, Ellen White wrote her husband who was traveling, “We have not had a particle of meat in the house since you left and long before you left. We have had salmon a few times. It has been rather high” Letter 13, April 24, 1876.
In 1876, Ellen White stated in a letter to A. O. Tait, “we seldom have any fish upon our table,” and she went on to give in detail her reason for decreasing her consumption of this food: “ In many localities even fish is unwholesome, and ought not be used. This is especially so where fish come in contact with sewerage of large cities....These fish that partake of the filthy sewerage of the drains may pass into waters far distant from the sewerage, and be caught in localities where the water is pure and fresh; but because of the unwholesome drainage in which they have been feeding, they are not safe to eat.” Testimonies IX , 163.
In 1882, Ellen White wrote to her daughter-in-law Mary: “ If you can get me a good box of herrings, fresh ones, please do so….If you can get a few cans of good oysters, get them.” Letter 16, 1882. What do we make of such a request? Aren’t oysters unclean by the standards of Leviticus 11?
It seems that for SDAs in the 1880s, the question was still being debated. In 1883, W. H. Littlejohn, pastor of the Battle Creek Tabernacle stated in the Review and Herald : “ It is difficult to decide with certainty whether oysters would properly come under the prohibition found in Leviticus 11: 9-12. It would, however, seem from the language, as if they might. If they do, then there would be undoubtedly some natural reason for the discrimination against them. Some have thought that such a reason is found in both their habits in the matter of feeding and the circumstance that it is necessary to eat them just as they are found in the native state without separating from them the viscera.” Review and Herald , August 14, 522.
Repeatedly, Ellen White said, “In countries where there are fruits, grains, and nuts in abundance, flesh food is not the right food for God’s people.” What conclusion can we draw then, for countries in which there are not, “fruit, grains, and nuts in abundance”?
Ellen White advised, “to avoid meat eating, not because it is regarded as a sin to eat meat [that is, not a principle] but because it is not healthful [but a good practice].” The idea of distinguishing between PRINCIPLES and PRACTICES (or APPLICATIONS) is a helpful one when we are reading Ellen White.
One of the most sensible things Ellen White ever wrote on the subject of health reform was the following: “ Those who understand the laws of health and who are governed by principle, will shun the extremes, both of indulgence and of restrictions. Their diet is chosen, not for the mere gratification of appetite, but for the upbuilding of the body. They seek to preserve every power in the best condition for the highest service to God and man....no one should criticize others because their practice is not, in all things, in harmony with his own. It is impossible [in matters of diet] to make an unvarying rule to regulate everyone’s habits, and no one should think himself a criterion for all.” Ministry of Healing , 319, 320.
Not only did Ellen White not wish to be a model for church members, she did not wish to be a model even for the members of her immediate family: “I do not hold myself up as a criterion for them.” Letter 127, 1904
Just prior to the opening of the 1901 General Conference Session, Ellen White met with a handful of denominational leaders in the library of Battle Creek College, where she spoke concerning those who made her their criterion in their dietary practice. Here are her remarks as recorded by Clarence C. Crisler, her secretary: How it has hurt me to have the [roadblocks] thrown in the way in regard to myself. They will tell [you] . . . “Sister white ate cheese, and therefore we are all at liberty to eat cheese.” Well, who told them I ate cheese?...I never have cheese on my table.
There was but...one or two times I have tasted cheese [since I gave it up]. That is a different thing from making it a diet, [an] entirely different thing.... But there was a special occasion in Minneapolis where...I could get nothing, and there were some little bits of cheese cut up on the table, and the brethren were there, and one of them had told me, “If you eat a little of that cheese, it will change the condition, and I did. I took a bit of that cheese. I do not think that I touched it again the second time.... Sister White has not had meat in her house or cooked it in any line, or any dead flesh, for years and years. And here is [what] the health reform [fanatic says:] “Now I have told you Sister White did not eat meat. Now I want you not to eat meat, because Sister White does not eat it.”
Well, I would...not care a farthing for anything like that. If you have not got any better conviction—you won’t eat meat because Sister White does not eat any—if I am the authority, I would not give a farthing for your health reform. What I want [is] that every one of you should stand in your individual dignity before God, in your individual consecration to God, that the soul-temple shall be dedicated to God. “Whosoever defileth the temple of God, him will God destroy.” Now I want you to think of these things, and do not make any human being your criterion. Manuscript 43a, 1901.
REFERENCES: Roger W. Coon, Ellen White and Vegetarianism , Boise: Pacific Press, 1986. Lester D. Divine, Lecture Notes, Database and Resources , 2004. EGW Research Centre, Avondale College, Australia. Herbert E. Douglass, Messenger of the Lord , Nampa: Pacific Press, 1998. Ronald L. Numbers, Prophetess of Health , New York: Harper and Row, 1976. D. E. Robinson, The Story of Our Health Message , 3 rd ed. Nashville: Southern Publishing, 1965.
This PowerPoint presentation has been produced by Jeff Crocombe for a class on SDA Church History at Helderberg College in Semester 1, 2008. It should not be used without giving credit to its compiler, nor reproduced in any way without permission. You may contact Jeff Crocombe at: [email_address]