Health and John Wesley

submitted by Rev. Mickey T. McCandless 
Director, Church Connections and Spiritual Care

John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, had an intense desire to improve the lives of people throughout the land of England and then into the entire world. He believed that religion was important to that improvement as lived out in vital piety and social engagement. One of the areas of social engagement in which he was deeply interested was health. In 1747 he published Primitive Physick anonymously and by 1760 placed his name on it. The purpose of this book was to “bring practical medical advice to workers and others who could not afford private doctors.” Since that time Methodism throughout the world has been engaged with people to provide them with the means of health in body, mind and spirit.

Following are some excerpts from Primitive Physick:

“As to the manner of using the medicines here set down, I should advise, As soon as you know your distemper*, (which is very easy, unless in a complication of disorders, and then you would do well to apply to a physician that fears God): First, use the first of the remedies for that disease which occurs in the ensuing collection; (unless some other of them be easier to be had, and then it may do just as well.) Secondly, After a competent time, if it takes no effect, use the second, the third, and so on. I have purposely set down (in most cases) several remedies for each disorder; not only because all are not equally easy to be procured at all times, and in all places: But likewise the medicine that cures one man, will not always cure another of the same distemper. Nor will it cure the same man at all times. Therefore it was necessary to have a variety. However, I have subjoined the letter (I) to those medicines some think to be infallible. Thirdly, Observe all the time the greatest exactness in your regimen or manner of living. Abstain from all mixed, all high seasoned food. Use plain diet, easy of digestion; and this as sparingly as you can, consistent with ease and strength. Drink only water, if it agrees with our stomach; if not, good, clear small beer. Use as much exercise daily in the open air, as you can without weariness. Sup at six or seven on the lightest food; go to bed early, and rise betimes. To persevere with steadiness in this course, is often more than half the cure. Above all, add to the rest, (for it is not labour lost) that old unfashionable medicine, prayer. And have faith in God who "killeth and maketh alive, who bringeth down to the grace, and bringeth up."

The great rule of eating and drinking is to suit the quality and quantity of food to the strength of the digestion; to take always such a sort and such a measure of food as sits light and easy on the stomach. All pickled, or smoked, or salted food, and all high seasoned, are unwholesome. Nothing conduces more to health than abstinence and plain food, with due labor. For studious persons, about eight ounces of animal food, and twelve of vegetable, in twenty hours, is sufficient. Water is the wholesomest of all drinks; it quickens the appetite and strengthens the digestion most. Strong, and more especially, spirituous liquors, are a certain, though slow poison. A due degree of exercise is indispensably necessary to health and long life. Walking is the best exercise for those who are able to bear it; riding for those who are not. The open air, when the weather is fair, contributes much to the benefit of exercise. We may strengthen any weak part of the body by constant exercise. Thus, the lungs may be strengthened by loud speaking, or walking up an easy ascent; the digestion and the nerves by riding; the arms and hams* by strong rubbing them daily. The studious ought to have stated times for exercise, at least two or three hours a day; the one-half of this before dinner, the other before going to bed. They should frequently shave, and frequently wash their feet. Those who read or write much, should learn to do it standing; otherwise, it will impair their health."

Continue to work toward and pray for good health for yourself and all of your brothers and sisters in the human family.