May 1, 2024

Moderation in All Things

A few years ago, as I was reading through Ellen G. White’s letters and manuscripts in the early 1860s, I observed that she frequently advised people to “tax” their energies but also to avoid “overtaxing” them. Further, she adapted her counsel depending on the circumstances. 

For example, the acclaimed pastor-theologian, J. N. Andrews, was frequently advised by her to avoid overtaxing his brain and to take time for rest and relaxation. She gave the same advice to J. N. Loughborough and Moses Hull, who overtaxed their minds in book study. She also encouraged them to strengthen their relationship with God to receive divine wisdom and guidance for the salvation of souls.1 On the contrary, others in the Review and Herald office were to tax their brains more, thus allowing her husband, James White to tax his brain less and avoid it becoming overcrowded with too many things.2 R. F. Cottrell, a well-known minister, disliked manual labor and spent much of his time in indolence and resting. As he had not sufficiently exercised his muscles, he was quickly wearied out. Ellen White advised him to gradually tax his strength, a little more every day, so that he could labor without injury and regain his strength. In contrast to many other ministers, his brain had not been wearied and could tax it more. She encouraged him to engage more in writing and thus convince people of the truth.3 

Others were overtaxing their energies and nervous system by too much physical labor, resulting in frequent sickness. Ellen White observed that Hiram Edson had exhausted his physical strength in sacrificing for God’s work, opening him up to questions, doubts, and regret.4 She advised her close friends, Ira and Rhoda Abbey, as well as their children, against too much physical labor that did not leave much time for devotion, prayer, and intellectual improvement.5 Similarly, she advised Abram T. Andrews to aid his wife, Mariam L. Andrews, as much as possible in caring for their eight children because they were taxing her patience, wearying her nerves, and making her easily irritable.6 

After she received her comprehensive health reform vision in June 1863, she became aware of another dimension of the results of overloading ourselves. She noted that when we overtax, overlabor, and weary ourselves much, we may catch a cold and be in danger of contracting more serious diseases. The better our health, the better we can labor for God.7 In Ellen White’s view, the human body was a wonderful machinery of interconnected parts and overtaxing one part would cause to suffer the entire machinery.  

Denis Kaiser is an associate professor of church history at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.