Temperance is a commonly misused word. One is amazed at the varying shades of meaning implied by it, from total abstinence to questionable moderation. Some will declare their temperance in this way : "I smoke moderately and drink only occasionally." Others will say, "I don't drink, but I must admit I am a heavy smoker, although I never go to excesses." Then there are others who feel they are truly temperate, avoiding the use of tobacco and alcohol, but consuming large quantities of caffein-containing beverages. However, the mere avoidance of alcohol, tobacco, and caffein-containing beverages does not comprise true temperance.
Ellen G. White has expressed it thus: "True temperance teaches us to dispense entirely with everything that is hurtful, and to use judiciously that which is healthful."—Patriarchs and Prophets. p. 562. It should be realized that true temperance includes the intelligent use of all that is beneficial to body, mind, and soul. Thus temperance leaves the mere realm of restraint and enters the sphere of positive action. There cannot be room for any activity which might in its action or tendency be detrimental to the physical, mental, or spiritual health of the individual. And even beyond the restrictive, every healthful practice must be incorporated into the daily life in right amounts to be of the utmost benefit.
True temperance, therefore, is found governing every activity of life. For example, it not only asks you what you eat, but why you eat it, how much you eat, and when you eat. It is the WHAT, the WHEN, and the HOW MUCH of everything you do. It is a constant interrogator, demanding of your God-endowed intellect the answer to such questions as: Do you exercise enough? Are you overworking ? Do you have sufficient leisure and recreation? Is the time you allot to sleep sufficient? Is your food of high quality ? And is it what you need?
True temperance not only deals with the physical but also delves into the mental and spiritual phases of your life. It calls in question the thoughts you think, asks you why you think them, and whether they strengthen or destroy. It makes you analyze your underlying passions and motives of life, the soul-governing forces, asking whether they are right with God and man, and whether the factors that control behavior are weakening or strengthening your physical, mental, and spiritual life.—(Counsels on Health, p. 28.)
As in various games that are played, that they might be enjoyed to their full, rules are drawn up to modify and regulate the different activities of the players, so in your life, temperance is the SUMMUM bonunt of those rules for regulating all your many activities, which work to produce a fit temple. "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" 1 Cor. 6:19.
A Recurring Question and Its Answer
The way one lives has a definite effect on the span of life, influencing not only the number of years, but also their quality. It is in this connection that one often hears the remark, "Well, if he can smoke and drink and live to the ripe old age of seventy, enjoying good health and strength, why can't I?" Although this question may not spring from a sincere desire to know the real reasons, nevertheless it deserves careful analysis and a definite answer. The accompanying illustration may be helpful in the problem. [See page 311]
It is recognized that individuals are born with, or inherit, different degrees of constitutional force. In the accompanying diagram these initial endowments of the reserve strength of three individuals, A, B, and C, have been indicated as 95, 90, and 85 per cent respectively. As a person advances in years, there is a steady decline in his reserve strength. For purposes of simplicity this normal degeneration, which may vary in individuals, has been indicated as equal in all three subjects, as 1 percent for the first decade shown, 2 percent for the second, 3 percent for the third, and so on.
In addition, there may be a variable extra loss of reserve because of diseases and the manner of living. The intemperances of individuals A and B are identical in the diagrammatic illustration, but the effect of this indulgence on their respective reserve strengths is different. A, having a greater initial reserve, is affected less than B, but both A and B are affected more in their advancing years as their constitutional forces gradually diminish.
The graphic curves fall more steeply as their ages advance. Then disease—pneumonia, and later influenza—strikes each individual with the same severity. It is their reserve strength that supports them until the crisis is past, and they are again able to assimilate food and regain strength. But one of them did not have the required reserve, therefore did not recover. What made the difference? Since the severity of the infection was the same for each, the deciding factor was the reserve strength, which in turn was dependent upon the individual's initial reserve and the rate at which it was depleted by normal degeneration and intemperance. Degeneration may be outside one's control, but temperance is within it.
An infection depletes a certain amount of a person's reserve. The arbitrary figure of 2 percent has been taken here and made to apply equally to each subject. Actually, however, this would differ in each individual, being proportionally greater for those possessing less reserve strength.
Individual C had his reserve strength depleted only by the infections and the constant normal degeneration already alluded to. Thus his curve is considerably flatter. Also shown is the curve of subject A had he lived a temperate life. His initial reserves were such that he no doubt would have resisted infections in such a case, even if exposed to them. Thus, at the age of seventy, his constitutional stamina might have been the same as that at which individual C started, instead of failing him and causing him to reach an untimely end.
The arbitrary level of reserve strength below which death occurs has been set at 70 per cent. This is for purposes of illustration. A person may, however, fall below this minimum level and live on until a chance infection finding him without reserve assuredly results in a fatal outcome.
It thus becomes evident that those who; on occasion, show remarkable health and longevity despite an intemperate life, do so, not because of their intemperate habits, but rather in spite of them. Had it not been for the unusual degree of initial health and strength which they inherited, their destructive habits of life would rapidly bring them to an untimely end. It also becomes apparent that one having only an average degree of initial health may, by the adoption of sound health principles, live not only an active but also a long life. This was illustrated in the case of individual C, who by conserving his constitutional forces, outlived others who had far greater endowments of initial reserve strength.
The game of life is a game of life and death. Hence each should, for best results, conserve his forces. Just because one man endowed with exceptional health can indulge in all forms of intemperance during a long lifetime and live to boast of it, another man has no excuse for dissipating his energies, weakening his physical and mental forces, and consequently dying a premature death.
God in His wisdom and love has constructed our bodies with a wide margin of safety, but we are not to squander our strength.
A Bulletin of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company says:
"Perhaps the best proof is that we ourselves, without being consciously aware of it, conduct our lives on the assumption that our bodies are run according to an economy of abundance rather than an economy of scarcity. Not until we are forced to economize on bodily strength, not until we lose several feet of intestine or a kidney or a lung, do we realize that we have been endowed by Nature with more than enough to live on.
"Here the old adage 'willful waste means woeful want' may be inserted as a warning. Factors of safety are for unlooked-for contingencies. By and large we get along much better if we have all our parts in place and working properly. It is not wise to spend reserves recklessly or to invest them in risky ventures simply because we have them. It is a very comfortable feeling to know they are there ready to be drawn on when the need arises. Thus, the fact that our bodies are constructed on an extravagant scale is no reason for sacrificing our reserves to ambition, carelessness, ignorance, preventable infection, or whatever else exacts the tribute that leads toward untimely death." (Bulletin 12:38, 1940)
True temperance is self-control in life—engaging in only those activities which are to the best physical, mental, and spiritual interests. It is to maintain the body, mind, and soul at utmost capacity. It is the promotion and maintenance, at all times, of maximum physical function so that the intellectual and religious faculties may be of the highest quality. It is a life guided and molded by Christian principles.
Ellen G. White, epitomizing the place true temperance should have in the Christian's life, says : 'He [God] desires that mind and body be preserved in the best condition of health, every power and endowment under the diitine control, and as vigorous as careful, strictly temperate habits can make them."—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 375.