Did Mrs. White get her Message from Other People and Claim it came from God?
Dr. Clive McCay, a noted nutrition authority half a century after Mrs. White's day, said that you could not account so easily as this for what she wrote. Dr. McCay, a Unitarian who taught the history of nutrition at Cornell University, received a copy of Counsels on Diet and Foods from an Adventist graduate student. He was astonished at what he read there, each statement identified by the year of its publication. For any given year, Dr. McCay knew who had been writing on nutrition and what they had written. "Who was this Ellen G. White," he asked, "and why haven't I heard of her before?"
Dr. McCay was so impressed by Ellen White's writings on nutrition that he authored a three-part series of articles for the Review and Herald. Note a portion of his summation at the end:
"To sum up the discussion: Every modern specialist in nutrition whose life is dedicated to human welfare must be impressed . . . by the writings and leadership of Ellen G. White.
"In the first place, her basic concepts about the relation between diet and health have been verified to an unusual degree by scientific advances of the past decades. Someone may attempt to explain this remarkable fact by saying: `Mrs. White simply borrowed her ideas from others.' But how would she know which ideas to borrow and which to reject out of the bewildering array of theories and health teachings current in the nineteenth century? She would have had to be a most amazing person, with knowledge beyond her times, in order to do this successfully! . . .
"In spite of the fact that the works of Mrs. White were written long before the advent of modern scientific nutrition, no better over-all guide is available today."1
In the years since Dr. McCay made his observations, scientific advances have confirmed his conclusionsand Ellen White's concepts about the relation of diet and healthall the more strongly.
Dr. McCay referred to the difficulty of successfully selecting the right counsel from the mass of incorrect teachings afloat in Mrs. White's day. One example is the use of salt. Some physicians were literally killing their patients with large doses of salt. Others, such as Dr. Trall, a health reformer popular with Seventh-day Adventists, recognized the cause of these deaths and reacted by forbidding any salt at all, saying that it was a poison.
What was Mrs. White's stance? "I use some salt, and always have, because from the light given me by God, this article, 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). She was not always given the reason, the "whys and wherefores," but the counsel was sound and safe to follow.
And her counsel has stood the scientific test of time. Confirmation, however, is not always immediate. It took about 120 years for science to establish the truth of her warnings about tobacco. And some things she taught have not yet been confirmed by science. But her "track record" is strong enough that we need not reject those counsels just because science hasn't proven them yet. And this track record also makes it untenable to say that she just got her ideas from others and called them her own. As Dr. McCay observed, she could not have done this so successfully.
Some Seventh-day Adventists have believed mistakenly that Mrs. White's health counsels were new ideas, unheard-of prior to her receiving them. We have seen already that this was not usually the case. Our pioneers, in fact, specifically denied that in health matters Mrs. White was first to set forth the principles she taught. In 1866, Elder J. H. Waggoner wrote in the Review and Herald, "We do not profess to be pioneers in the general principles of the health reform. The facts on which this movement is based have been elaborated, in a great measure, by reformers, physicians, and writers on physiology and hygiene, and so may be found scattered through the land. But we do claim that by the method of God's choice [the visions given to Ellen White] it has been more clearly and powerfully unfolded, and is thereby producing an effect which we could not have looked for from any other means."
Elder Waggoner went on to make an important point about her health principles: "As mere physiological and hygienic truths, they might be studied by some at their leisure, and by others laid aside as of little consequence; but when placed on a level with the great truths of the third angel's message by the sanction and authority of God's Spirit, and so declared to be the means whereby a weak people may be made strong to overcome, and our diseased bodies cleansed and fitted for translation, then it comes to us as an essential part of present truth, to be received with the blessing of God, or rejected at our peril."1
This connection between health and holiness provided a strong motivating factor which helped people to make the needed changes in diet and living. Other health reformers of Mrs. White's day, and since, did not offer such motivation, and their work showed far less effect. Dr. McCay commented on the difference, apparently without recognizing its origin. One of his other summary points was, "Everyone who attempts to teach nutrition can hardly conceive of a leadership such as that of Mrs. White that was able to induce a substantial number of people to improve their diets."1
As a result of the instruction she received in vision, Mrs. White had a God-given message to convey. Others might have made some of the same points before. She could even use or adapt their language for making those points. But she put the material into a structure that was her own, and thus it had new import and new power.
1. Clive M. McCay, "Adventist Health Teachings Further Confirmed," Review and Herald, February 26, 1959, p. 10. A reprint of all three articles is available from the Ellen G. White Estate.
2J. H. Waggoner, "Present Truth," Review and Herald, Aug. 7, 1866, p. 77, emphasis his. Elder Waggoner was a prominent minister and editor. His son E. J. Waggoner is better known today for his part, with A. T. Jones, in presenting fresh views of righteousness by faith at the 1888 General Conference session.