Love relationships, work relationships, and even our relationship with God can often be confusing. We may need a listening ear. Ellen White wrote many letters to people, giving practical advice. People quickly came to value her advice in these areas and wrote asking questions ranging from the profound to the ridiculous.1
Ellen White, however, did not give all the answers. “She wanted to wean Christians away from leaning on her for quick, mistake-free decisions regarding their personal lives. She encouraged her contemporaries to become secure in their relation to God as He spoke to them individually.”2
She provided case studies in which she encouraged readers to find and prayerfully apply principles involved in relationships. These principles are still relevant to our relationships in the twenty-first century. Before we look at one of these principles, let’s look at the context of courtship and marriage during the time Ellen White lived.
Early Nineteenth-Century Romance
The idea of “following your heart,” “finding a soul mate,” or even falling in love was a foreign concept in the early part of the nineteenth century. Courtship was supposed to be a relatively unemotional affair, and factors such as social status and finances were considered much more important for a suitable marriage than being in love.
However, this concept began to change rapidly in the early years of the twentieth century. The tremendous social and economic changes in the United States had a profound impact on society and even courtship and marriage. The focus of dating shifted to falling in love rather than finding a good match. Although parents were generally still consulted, young men and women began to be more independent when choosing a marriage partner.
But still the goal of all courtship was marriage. This stands in stark contrast to today: dating couples may not bring up the topic of marriage for years, or an engaged couple often will not see any need to set a wedding date.3
As printing became cheaper, romance novels became very popular. And romantic love rather than suitability became the objective in dating. Ellen White counseled against the reading of this kind of literature, as it promoted “lovesick sentimentalism” and made the identification and growth of true love hard to identify. Most of these novels focused on different exotic courtship scenarios and ended with the wedding in which two love-struck characters, miraculously transformed by the wedding vows, begin the “happily ever after” part of life. Ellen White had a more realistic view of marriage.
“No one can so effectually ruin a woman’s happiness and usefulness, and make life a heartsickening burden, as her own husband; and no one can do one hundredth part as much to chill the hopes and aspirations of a man, to paralyze his energies and ruin his influence and prospects, as his own wife. It is from the marriage hour that many men and women date their success or failure in this life, and their hopes of the future life.”4
It was in the context of this courtship culture that Ellen White expounded on many biblical principles to help in the selection of a marriage partner. The importance of this topic can be seen in the significant number of letters she wrote to people seeking advice. The Adventist Home has an entire section dedicated to the topic of courtship and marriage (pp. 435-464). Let’s look at just one of these principles.
Looking for Love
While culture may equate love with an unexpected burst of passionate attraction, a Christian will know that strong passion may not be true love. Rather than waiting to be swept off his or her feet by love, a Christian will look carefully at potential partners. Ellen White defines love as a principle and not a mere feeling.
“Love is a precious gift, which we receive from Jesus. Pure and holy affection is not a feeling, but a principle. Those who are actuated by true love are neither unreasonable nor blind.”5
Notice that the above statement does not mean that love is devoid of feelings, but rather that true love has a firm grasp of reality and knows the person they are choosing to love. Here is another which helps define love:
“Love . . . is not unreasonable; it is not blind. It is pure and holy. But the passion of the natural heart is another thing altogether. While pure love will take God into all its plans, and will be in perfect harmony with the Spirit of God, passion will be headstrong, rash, unreasonable, defiant of all restraint, and will make the object of its choice an idol. In all the deportment of one who possesses true love, the grace of God will be shown. Modesty, simplicity, sincerity, morality, and religion will characterize every step toward an alliance in marriage. Those who are thus controlled will not be absorbed in each other’s society, at a loss of interest in the prayer meeting and the religious service.”6
In the above quote Ellen White makes an interesting statement. She points out that when we make the other person an idol, we are in danger. An idol is anything or even anyone that takes the place of God in our first affections. This is an important concept counterbalancing many of the unrealistic expectations pushed by media and culture when looking at a life partner.
Ellen White also points out an easy test that may shed light on whether true love is growing in a relationship. If we find ourselves losing interest in spiritual things, then unhealthy passion and not love is probably motivating the relationship. A relationship that draws us closer to God, in which both partners can worship God together, offers a good starting point for love to grow in.
Perhaps the saddest reality is that many people decide the writings of Ellen White are irrelevant before they even read them. Space does not allow me to include all the helpful contributions her writings can make regarding how to find a marriage partner who will complement instead of diminish us. The only way to discover these insights and principles is to dig into Ellen White’s counsels personally.
1 See Ellen G. White, “Our Supply in Christ,” General Conference Bulletin, Apr. 4, 1901.
2 Herbert E. Douglass, Messenger of the Lord (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1998), pp. 419, 420.
3 B. Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth Century America (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1989).
4 In Review and Herald, Feb. 2, 1886.
5 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 358.
6 Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1952), pp. 50, 51.