Editor’s note: The article was originally published in 2011.1
“The object and aim of the book The Ministry of Healing is to promote comfort and hope to the sick and suffering, and encouragement and counsel to friends, nurses, and physicians who are engaged in the blessed work of ministering to the afflicted ones.” So declared the opening sentence of a small promotional pamphlet designed to interest people in Ellen G. White’s newest book that first appeared 100 years ago on September 12, 1905.
Some four months earlier, at the 1905 General Conference Session held in Takoma Park, Maryland, the assembled delegates had voted appreciation to Ellen White for her generous offer to donate the royalties from the sale of her forthcoming book on health to assist in reducing the debt then being carried by many of the denomination’s sanitariums.2
For many years prior to the publication of The Ministry of Healing, Ellen White had received repeated requests asking for a book on temperance. Before leaving for Australia in 1891, she had published Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene. But requests still continued for something more on the topic.
Health Is Important
There was no dearth of material for Ellen White to draw on when work actually began on the manuscript for what became The Ministry of Healing. Through the years she had written many articles on the topic for the Review and Herald, the Signs of the Times, and the Youth’s Instructor, as well as in various volumes of the Testimonies for the Church. In addition, among her favorite speaking topics was Christian temperance. That theme appeared repeatedly in her many letters to church leaders and others to whom she wrote.
Ellen White’s earliest published writings on the topic of health followed her comprehensive health reform vision given to her on Friday evening, June 5, 1863.3 The following year, her first booklet based upon part of the vision, Appeal to Mothers, appeared. That was followed a few months later by an article entitled “Health” that appeared in Spiritual Gifts, volume 4. It emphasized the benefits of fresh air, water, and other natural remedies. In 1865 Ellen White wrote six chapters entitled “Disease and Its Causes” for inclusion in each of the six pamphlets that eventually comprised the book Health: or How to Live.
Although Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene—half of which was composed of articles from her pen and the other half from articles written by James White—was published in 1890, Ellen White was never fully satisfied with it. And though appreciative of Healthful Living, a compilation from her writings prepared in 1897 by Dr. David Paulson, it also was not exactly what she had in mind.
In anticipation of the fuller book Ellen White envisioned, copies of her published articles on health that had appeared in the various church papers already mentioned, plus The Health Reformer, were collected and set aside. Additionally, Ellen White's staff also had many personal letters and manuscripts from which to draw. In fact, through the years Ellen White had written so much on the topic that the sheer volume of it all became something of a challenge to try to organize.
Ellen White’s longtime friend and editorial assistant, Marian Davis, was invaluable as work began on the new book manuscript. Marian had a keen memory that allowed her to recall places where Ellen White had already written something on the topic. She also was skillful in organizing the increasing mass of material being assembled from Ellen White’s writings.
A Focus and a Mission
As planning for the book intensified, Ellen White took the lead in deciding the book’s focus. Since Christ was the central theme of all her sermons and writings, His ministry as the great medical missionary must also form the basis for the new book. Although the principal purpose of the book was to lead the reader to physical and spiritual life and health, it must also contain specific counsel to medical personnel and caregivers. They needed to understand their privilege of fellowshipping with the Life-giver, and to be encouraged to follow His methods in their ministry. In addition, counsel for health educators was also to be included. Many times, as the book was in preparation, Ellen White and those working with her would gather in her writing room at Elmshaven to discuss the purpose and best plans for the new book.
As the material Ellen White had previously written on the various health-related topics was gathered together for chapters, it was then either read to Ellen White or she would take the typed pages and read them to herself. Doing this often brought to memory other things she had been shown in vision and that now she wanted to include in the book. Sometimes she found it difficult to rewrite material originally written for an Adventist audience but that now would be presented to a more general audience. Nevertheless, work on the new book slowly continued.
Calls to travel sometimes interrupted work on the book manuscript. A trip to the eastern United States in 1904 lasted longer than originally planned, thus delaying work on the manuscript. As portions were completed, they were sent to readers for their input. One such reader was Dr. David Paulson, who several years earlier compiled Healthful Living. Having spent years studying the counsels on health given by God through Ellen White, his advice was solicited both to determine if there were choice quotes on any given topic that Ellen White's office staff had overlooked, or if there were other topics that he thought would be helpful to include in the forthcoming book. As a physician, he also was asked to offer suggestions regarding clearer ways to express the thoughts Ellen White wanted to convey. On February 15, 1905, W. C. White, Ellen White’s son, wrote to Dr. Paulson. In this letter he specifically asked Dr. Paulson to look over the enclosed sections of the book manuscript and to “kindly give us the benefit of your knowledge as to how to express the same thought in a more acceptable way.”
Before the final proofs were approved, Ellen White gave the entire book one final reading. In a letter written May 11, 1905, she reported, “I have just finished reading over the proofs of Ministry of Healing.”4
Selecting and providing illustrations for the book also took time. Ellen White spent more than $3,000 for illustrations and typesetting, even borrowing money to complete the publication of The Ministry of Healing. Even so, she donated all royalties for the book to help eliminate the debts then being carried by many Adventist sanitariums.
A Beloved Volume for Generations
September 12, 1905, the date of publication finally arrived. Initially, 10,000 copies were produced by the Pacific Press Publishing Association (then situated in Mountain View, California). Shortly thereafter, the Review and Herald published its own edition. Then printing plates were supplied to the Southern Publishing Association in Nashville, Tennessee, as well as to the Echo Publishing Company in Australia, and the International Tract Society in London, England.
The central theme of The Ministry of Healing was perhaps best summarized by W. C. White. Christ, he noted, is the “Source of Life . . . the great Healer . . . the very present Minister to the sick and suffering today.” Therefore, the purpose of the book is to “show that there is no sickness outside the range of His love and His power. Furthermore, it should show forth that Christ’s love extended to a
ll—none are left out because of nationality, or class, or because of the character of their transgression.”5
Reflecting on The Ministry of Healing and the good it was accomplishing, Ellen White wrote in 1908: “This book contains the wisdom of the Great Physician. To me, it has been a great privilege to donate my work on these books6 to the cause of God.”7
1 This article is based primarily on information found in the White Estate Document File 51-c, including an article by W. C. White entitled “Ministry of Healing,” and letters from him to Dr. David Paulson, dated February 15, 1905, and to Mrs. Maggie H. Bree, dated May 22, 1934.
2 Review and Herald, June 8, 1905, p. 13.
3 The date is sometimes given as June 6, 1863, because Ellen White received the vision following sundown Friday evening.
4 Arthur L. White, The Early Elmshaven Years (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1981), p. 385.
5 W. C. White to Mrs. Maggie H. Bree, May 22, 1934.
6 “These books” refers to The Ministry of Healing and Christ’s Object Lessons.
7 Review and Herald, Aug. 13, 1908, p. 8.
At the time of the original publication of this article in 2011, James R. Nix served as director of the Ellen G. White Estate. He has recently retired from that position.