At the beginning of the nineteenth century it was generally believed that the drinking of alcoholic liquors was essential to health, but gradually there came an awakening to the evils of drink. Scientific enlightenment during the nineteenth century has shown alcohol to be a dangerous narcotic drug which possesses remarkable properties for destroying self-control. Prior to these discoveries alcohol was regarded as a necessary stimulant, whereas it has been proved to be the very opposite. Instead of being a stimulant, alcohol is a depressant, which numbs the nerves of the brain and destroys coordination.
When the idea of total abstinence was first launched in England a little over a hundred years ago, the Christian men who began that movement did not possess the scientific facts concerning the evils of alcohol that are now known. Their noble efforts to fight intemperance were prompted because of the dire results of excessive drinking which were everywhere apparent. At that time the Holy Spirit was prompting men to "flee from the wrath to come." This was one of the main planks in the Methodist movement, and in their efforts to overcome sin in the life it was very natural that they should seek to remove one of the principal foes to strong character development.
The first temperance society that we know of was founded in New York in 1808. Ten years later the first British temperance society began to operate in Greenock. At that time, however, those temperance advocates were not total abstainers; they used liquor in moderation. But they soon found that if they wanted to help their fellow men who took too much liquor, they should set the example of abstaining from the use of drink entirely.
The temperance movement began about the same time that this third angel's message began its world-wide work. In the very early years of our movement our people took an advanced position on the question of temperance, and long before we had a regular conference organization our pioneer workers had decided to discard the use of tobacco as well as alcohol.
Having covered very briefly the origin and early development of the modern temperance movement, let us now give some attention. to the part a minister should play in imparting temperance instruction. Very definite counsel has been given to us on this matter by the messenger of the Lord.
"Our ministers should become intelligent on health reform. They need to become acquainted with physiology and hygiene; they should understand the laws that govern physical life, and their bearing upon the health of mind and soul.
"Thousands upon thousands know little of the wonderful body God has given them or of the care it should receive; and they consider it of more importance to study subjects of far less consequence. The ministers have a work to do here. When they take a right position on this subject, much will be gained.
In their own lives and homes they should obey the laws of life, practicing right principles and living healthfully. Then they will be able to speak correctly on this subject, leading the people higher and still higher in the work of reform."—"Testimonies," Vol. VI, p. 376.
Many devices have been tried to restrict the sale of intoxicating drinks, but the "trade" continues its nefarious business in spite of laws and regulations. Experience has taught that the best method of controlling the liquor traffic is to teach the people, and especially the children and youth, the importance of self-control. It is therefore the duty of our ministers to give the people such instruction as that given by Paul to the church at Corinth. "Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things." i Cor. 9:25. Another rendering of this passage reads thus : "Every man that striveth for the mastery restrains himself in all things." Then Paul backs up this admonition by a reference to his own attitude on this great question of self-control, or self-restraint. "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." Verse 27. If so great a man as the apostle to the Gentiles needed to keep his body under and bring it into subjection, how much more is it necessary for us !
Most valuable instruction on the question of temperance has been provided for us through the Spirit of prophecy. Never in the history of the world was the instruction of the people on the importance of temperance more essential than it is now. In these days of rapid travel, of mental stress and strain, of undue excitement caused by so many things which make up our environment, we need steady nerves and steady hands. This condition cannot be maintained by those who indulge in the use of tobacco and alcoholic liquor.
"Every day one in a position of trust has decisions to make on which depend results of great importance. He has often to think rapidly, and this can be done successfully only by those who practice strict temperance. The mind strengthens under the correct treatment of the physical and the mental powers. If the strain is not too great, it acquires new vigor with every taxation."—Id., Vol. VII, p. 199.
The practice of true temperance principles will develop moral power—power to resist the manifold temptations which assail us in these days when Satan has come down, "having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time." In order to fortify ourselves against the unprecedented assaults of the enemy of our souls, we should emphasize in our own practice and teaching the importance of refraining from partaking of narcotics and habit-forming drugs.
In addition to the moral aspect of the temperance question there is another reason why we should do everything possible to develop in our people the faculty of self-control. If we desire to retain the blessings of democracy, it is essential that the people should learn to exercise self-restraint. All past history teaches that when the people, through intemperate habits, failed to control themselves and lost the faculty of political self-government, the republic vanished and a despotic tyranny arose. In our day we have seen nation after nation coming under the power of tyrannical dictators whose will is law, and who care nothing for the desires of the people over whom they rule. In those countries freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press have disappeared. As these three bulwarks of democracy vanish, human degeneracy develops as surely as night follows day.
It is obvious, therefore, that the more we can lead the people to exercise self-control, to develop individual steadfastness and uprightness of character, the longer we shall retain our freedom to think and to worship God according to the dictates of our own consciences. When one sees the bonds of slavery which are shackling men and women today, through their habits of smoking and drinking, one must conclude that the outlook for the world is dark indeed.
Co-operation With Temperance Organizations
Whether or not we should co-operate with other temperance organizations is settled for us by the definite and positive statements of the Spirit of prophecy.
"In other churches there are Christians who are standing in defense of the principles of temperance. We should seek to come near to these workers, and make a way for them to stand shoulder to shoulder with us. We should call upon great and good men to second our efforts to save that which is lost"— Id., Vol. VI, pp. Iro,
Not only do we have this definite exhortation from Mrs. White, but we have her own example ; for in Volume IV, we read of a great meeting held by the Battle Creek Reform Club and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. These organizations were provided by the Michigan Conference with a mammoth tent seating five thousand people. Mrs. White was invited to address the huge congregation on Sunday evening, and she tells us that God helped her that evening, for although she "spoke ninety minutes, the crowd of fully five thousand persons listened in almost breathless silence."—Page 275.
The need for temperance reform is great. Let us one and all determine to throw our weight into the battle against the slavery of appetite which is robbing men and women of their powers of discrimination and self-control.