Beer, Tea And Coffee

"Intemperance and licentiousness and profanity are sisters. Let every God-fearing youth gird on the armor and press to the front. Put your names on every pledge presented, to give influence to temperance, and to induce others to sign the pledge."

"We hope to carry our brethren and sisters up to a still higher standard to sign the pledge to abstain from Java coffee and the herb that comes from China. We see that there are some who need to take this step in reform. There are some who are nervous, and they should abstain from these nerve-weakening narcotics, that they may place themselves in right relation to the laws of life and health."



Temperance was one of Ellen White's favorite topics. She spoke to the largest crowds on the subject of temperance and wrote profusely about it. In 1893 she wrote of having spoken on temperance "twenty-one times in succession" (Te 284). She saw alcohol and tobacco as twin evils, and also spoke of other substances—tea and coffee for example—that impair the mind. On this page I share some paragraphs from an article based on a talk given in Basel, Switzerland in 1887. In her talk she spoke of the evils of beer, coffee and tea, and encouraged her listeners to sign a pledge against ever using them.


The Conference at Basel


The Swiss Conference commenced here Thursday evening, February 17. There were quite a number present from abroad. Last year the European Missionary Council was held in connection with the Swiss Conference at Basel. Delegates came from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Wales, Scotland, England, France, Italy, and Germany. This year many of these attended the Council held in England last September, and therefore did not come to our Swiss Conference. But we have had delegates this year from France, Switzerland, and Italy, and also a good representation of our brethren and sisters; and as I looked upon the people assembled, and saw such an intelligent, interested congregation as filled our chapel so that extra seats had to be brought in, my heart was filled with gratitude to God to see the marked change, the improvement over one year ago. I knew that the Lord had been at work by his Holy Spirit, and could see that progress had been made in many directions. ... {RH April 19, 1887, par. 1}


Sunday the meeting commenced at half past five in the morning, and continued an hour and a quarter. At half past seven A.M. the seats were again filled, and I spoke to those assembled upon the subject of temperance, from Romans 9:24-27. I never felt more in earnest when addressing a people on the subject of temperance, and we had evidence on this occasion that many hearts were deeply impressed. A request was made for me to speak again on the subject of temperance Sunday evening, which I did. There seemed to be no diminishing of the interest. After the discourse Sunday evening, the pledge was circulated, and one hundred and thirty-seven names were attached. We were sorry to learn that some few names were withheld for that which we consider was no reason that would justify a true child of God. Their excuse was that their work called them into places where wine would be passed to them (as is customary in this country), and they could not refuse to take it for fear of offending those for whom they worked. I thought that here was a very good opportunity for them to lift the cross, and let their light shine forth as God’s peculiar people whom he was purifying unto himself. {RH April 19, 1887, par. 5}

We should never be ashamed of temperance in all things, while we remember Christ’s long and painful fast to break the power of Satan’s temptations over the race upon the point of appetite. Christ fought the battle in painfulness, in weakness, and conquered Satan, making it possible for man to conquer in the name and strength of Jesus Christ. Then why should the followers of Jesus be ashamed to refuse the tempting wine cup. Daniel refused to drink of the king’s wine, or to eat of the meat on the king’s table, because the effect upon his physical and mental powers would not be of that character to give him the strength he needed. At all times and on all occasions it requires moral courage to resist temptation on the point of appetite. We may expect such practice will be a surprise to those who do not practice habits of total abstinence from all stimulants; but how are we to carry forward the work of reform if we are to conform to the habits and practices of those with whom we associate? Here is the very opportunity to manifest that we are a peculiar people, zealous of good works. The beer drinkers will present their glasses of beer, and those who claim to be children of God may plead the same excuse for not signing the temperance pledge,—because they will be treated with beer, and it will not be agreeable to refuse. These excuses may be carried to any length, but they are not of any weight; and we were sorry that any who claimed to believe the truth should refuse to sign the pledge—refuse to put barriers about their souls and fortify themselves against temptation. They choose to leave the bars down, so that they can readily step over and accept temptation without making the effort to resist it. {RH April 19, 1887, par. 6}

There is a constant warfare to be maintained between virtue and vice. The discordant elements of one and the pure principles of the other are at work striving for universal conquest. Satan is approaching every soul with some form of temptation on the point of indulgence of appetite, and intemperance is fearfully prevalent. Look where we will in Europe, and we behold intemperance fondly cherished. Beer gardens arranged in the most beautiful style are to be seen at almost every turn, and you will see a beer table in almost every private garden, if it contains a tree large enough to shade a table. In summer this is the favorite place for taking lunches, which usually consist of bread and beer. There is a smooth sunny street close to the mission house, which is sometimes called, “Baby Promenade,” because of the great number of nurses who come there in the middle of the day, to wheel their baby carriages. These generally contain two little occupants; and it is not uncommon to see the nurses stop at the beer gardens or saloons, and present the innocents a foaming glass of beer. The little ones know no better than to take the beverage, and they soon become stupefied and go to sleep. This makes it very easy for the nurses. It is the habit in this country to indulge the children in stimulants from their babyhood, thus educating them to have an appetite for them. {RH April 19, 1887, par. 7}

On Sunday you will meet crowds flocking to the beer gardens, and we have met them again as they returned, some scarcely able to walk straight, while others were talking fast and foolishly, with swaying manners and unintelligent gestures. Reason which God has given them as a sacred trust is beclouded, and as the result, eternal things are not discerned. The efforts of all who claim to believe the truth for this time, both young men and young women, cannot please Jesus unless they meet the evils which have crept in upon society with all their influence, and arrest, if possible, the current of intemperance, with its demoralizing power. While intemperance has its open, avowed supporters, shall not we who claim to honor temperance come to the front and show ourselves firm on the side of temperance, striving for a crown of immortal life, and not giving the least influence to this terrible evil, intemperance, which is carrying both men and women from one degree to another of self-indulgence, and preparing their souls for perdition. Those who claim to believe the truth have not all taken their position in relation to temperance which it is their sacred duty to do. There have been those who have stood aloof from decided committal on the side of temperance, and for what reason? Some say that if wine or beer is passed to them, they have not the moral courage to say, I have signed the pledge not to taste of fermented wine or beer or strong drink. Shall the names of those stand registered in the books of heaven as defending the indulgence of appetite? {RH April 19, 1887, par. 8}

No one could be more decidedly tempted than was Daniel. He was apportioned wine and meat from the king’s table; but Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not drink of the king’s wine, nor eat of the luxuries of the king’s table. Those four Hebrew youth chose to have their mental powers clear and undimmed, and their physical health was to them a matter of the highest consideration. They would not imperil the physical and moral powers for the indulgence of appetite. They saw the perils were on every side, and that if they resisted temptation they must make most decided efforts on their part, and then trust the rest with God. God gave these brave and noble minded youth such wisdom and understanding that they stood higher than all the astrologers and most learned men in the Babylonian Kingdom. {RH April 19, 1887, par. 9}

We as Christians should stand firmly in defense of temperance. There is no class of persons capable of accomplishing more and effecting the object more readily than the God-fearing Bible youth. In this age the young men of our cities should unite in a firm, decided army to set their faces as a flint against every form of selfish, health-destroying indulgence. What a power they might be for good! How many they might save from becoming demoralized because they visit the halls and gardens fitted up with music and every attraction to allure the youth! Intemperance and licentiousness and profanity are sisters. Let every God-fearing youth gird on the armor and press to the front. Put your names on every pledge presented, to give influence to temperance, and to induce others to sign the pledge. Let no feeble, weak excuse be offered to refuse to put your name to the temperance pledge. Work for the good of your own souls and for the good of others. {RH April 19, 1887, par. 10}

Through intemperate appetite Adam and Eve lost Eden. If we gain the paradise of God, we must be temperate in all things. Shall any blush with shame to refuse the wine cup or the foaming mug of beer? Instead of this being a dishonorable work, they are doing service to God in the matter of refusing to indulge appetite, resisting temptation. Angels are looking upon both tempter and tempted. While sin is unmanly, indulgence of appetite is weak, cowardly, and debasing; the denial of appetite, honorable. The highest intelligences of heaven watch the conflict going on between the tempter and the tempted. And if the tempted turn away from temptation, and in the strength of Jesus conquer, then angels rejoice, and Satan has lost in the conflict. As Christians, we need experimental piety; and all who understand the great conflict of Christ upon the point of appetite, in the wilderness of temptation, will never lend on iota of their influence to brace up intemperance. {RH April 19, 1887, par. 11}

Jesus endured the painful fast in our behalf, and conquered Satan in every temptation, thus making it possible for man to conquer in his own behalf, and on his own account, through the strength brought to him by this mighty victory gained as man’s substitute and surety. We thank the Lord that a victory was gained upon these points, even here in Basel; and we hope to carry our brethren and sisters up to a still higher standard to sign the pledge to abstain from Java coffee and the herb that comes from China. We see that there are some who need to take this step in reform. There are some who are nervous, and they should abstain from these nerve-weakening narcotics, that they may place themselves in right relation to the laws of life and health. These injurious stimulants are doing great harm to their nervous system. The machinery of nature is aroused to unwonted activity to be followed by reaction, and the coffee and tea must be used by them to keep up their strength and again urge up their powers. Unnatural activity is the result, and by this continual course of indulgence of appetite the natural vigor of the constitution becomes gradually and imperceptibly impaired. If we would preserve a healthy action of all the powers of the system, nature must not be forced to unnatural action. Nature will stand at her post of duty, and do her work wisely and efficiently, if the false props that have been brought in to take the place of nature are expelled. {RH April 19, 1887, par. 12}

Tea is a stimulant. It increases an excitement beyond its natural action, and the whole mental powers are unduly aroused, after which come corresponding languor and debility. There is a nervous trembling which is interpreted to be a need of more vigor. Or, again, the coffee or tea is resorted to for the purpose of recruiting the energies, and thus artificial strength instead of natural deceives the tea-drinker to think that the strength is derived from the charming cup of tea, when it is only the exhausted energies spurred up to unnatural action, wearing away imperceptibly the life forces. They have thus stimulated the brain nerves to unnatural labor. {RH April 19, 1887, par. 13}

Coffee is a hurtful indulgence. It temporarily excites the mind to unwonted action, and the effect is prostration, sadness, exhaustion of the mental, moral, and physical forces. The mind becomes enervated, and unless through determined effort the habit is overcome, the activity of the brain is greatly lessened. All these nerve irritants are wearing away the life forces, and the restlessness caused by shattered nerves, the impatience, the mental feebleness, becomes a warring element against spiritual progress. Then shall not those who advocate temperance and reform be awake in regard to these injurious things? And shall not this pledge paper embrace coffee and tea, as hurtful stimulants? In some cases it is as difficult to break up this tea and coffee habit as it is for the inebriate to discontinue the use of liquor. The money used for tea or coffee as a common drink is worse than wasted. It does the user, be it man or woman, harm and that continually. Shall Christians bring under the control of reason this appetite, or will they continue its practice because they feel so let down without it, like the drunkard without his stimulant? {RH April 19, 1887, par. 14}

But Jesus overcame on the point of appetite, and so may we. Let us move on, then, step by step, advancing in reform until all our habits shall be in accordance with the laws of life and health. The Redeemer of the world in the wilderness of temptation fought the battle upon the point of appetite in our behalf. As our surety he overcame, thus making it possible for man to overcome in his name. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” {RH April 19, 1887, par. 15}