Manuscript Releases, vol. 18 [Nos. 1301-1359]


MR No. 1347—Guidelines for Choosing a Life Companion; How to Have a Happy Marriage

(Written sometime in 1886 while Ellen White was in Europe.)

Some of your letters to Brother Whitney have been read to me by himself, and I am more than ever convinced that you are not aware of your real state of feeling before God. You are in great need of divine enlightenment. 18MR 303.1

The question is asked, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy word.” In these days of peril and corruption the young are exposed to many trials and temptations. They need an infallible guide, an unerring counsellor. This they will find in the Word of God. Unless they are diligent students of that Word they will make grave mistakes, which will mar their own happiness and that of others, not only in the present but in the future life. 18MR 303.2

There is a disposition with many to be impetuous, headstrong, willful. They have not heeded the unerring counsel of the Word of God. They have not battled with self, and obtained precious victories. Their proud, unbending will has driven them from the path of duty and obedience to wander about in the wilderness of disappointment. 18MR 303.3

My brother, you are sailing in a dangerous harbor. You need a Pilot. Will you scorn to accept the much-needed help, feeling that you are competent to guide your own vessel? Are you not afraid that it will strike some hidden rock, and that you will make shipwreck of faith? The present I regard as the most important period of your life. If you are indeed the young man that was shown me, your picture flatters you. Your features are sharper than the picture represents, but in other respects it correctly represents the young man presented before me who was, with other youth, infatuated with the subject of courtship and marriage, and whose principal burden was to have his own way. 18MR 303.4

Please look back over your past life and faithfully consider your course in the light of God's Word. Have you made your past wrongs right? You have not cherished that strict conscientiousness in regard to your obligations to your parents that the Bible enjoins. The mother that gave you birth and cared for you in your infancy, you have treated with neglect. You have not regarded her wishes, but have brought pain and sadness to her heart by carrying out your own desires and plans. You have been far from happy. Has the truth you profess sanctified your heart, and softened and subdued your soul? I was shown that the young man of whom I write has a close work to do for himself before he will be fitted to teach the truth to others. 18MR 304.1

The Bible presents a perfect standard of human character. This sacred book, inspired by God and written by holy men, is a perfect guide for man under all circumstances of life. It lays out with great distinctness the duties and obligations of both old and young. If made the guide of life, its teachings will lead the soul upward. It will elevate the mind, improve the character, and give peace and joy to the heart. 18MR 304.2

But you, my brother, have in many respects been your own counsellor and guide, and have taken your case in your own hands. As you have not respected and honored the mother who bore you, you have not respected and honored the judgment of men of experience. 18MR 304.3

You need to study more closely the teachings of the Bible. You will find revealed in its pages your duty to your kindred and to your brethren in the faith. The fifth commandment reads, “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” Again we read, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” 18MR 304.4

One of the signs that we are living in the last days is that children are disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy. The Word of God abounds in precepts and counsels enjoining respect for our aged parents who have guided us through infancy, childhood, and youth up to manhood and womanhood. It impresses upon us a sacred duty to love and cherish those who are in a great degree dependent upon us for happiness, peace, and health. The Bible gives no uncertain sound on this subject; nevertheless, its teachings have been greatly disregarded. 18MR 305.1

My brother, had you had that high regard for the Bible that you should have had, you would have acted altogether differently toward your own relatives and toward those with whom you are connected in church relationship. I was shown a man like yourself who had many lessons to learn, and the most important one was to learn to know himself. If you have anything to do with the cause and work of God, you should have correct ideas of the obligations and duties of children to their parents, and should yourself be constantly learning in the school of Christ to be meek and lowly of heart. 18MR 305.2

While you have been exacting and critical with others, you have not been acting a noble, Christian part toward Brother and Sister Vuilleumier. You have done many things in secret which have had a controlling influence over their daughter. She was not your property, although you have acted as though she was. If having secret communications and meetings is the example you are to give to others, the Lord has no use for you in His work. You have not loved and guarded the interest of your brother, neither have you shown that nobility and integrity of soul that everyone who is a child of God will possess. 18MR 305.3

This is true of many of the youth of today. In order to compass their ends, they will work in secrecy, acting a part that is not frank and open and according to the Bible standard. By this course they educate themselves to be untrue to those who love them most and who are trying to be faithful guardians over them. The marriages contracted under such influences are not according to the order of God. Any young man who would lead a daughter away from duty, who would confuse her ideas of God's plain and positive commands to obey and honor her parents, is not one who would be true to the marriage obligations. Ingratitude is one of the greatest sins of the age. 18MR 306.1

The young man who makes the Bible his guide need not mistake the path of duty and safety. That blessed Book will teach him to preserve his integrity of character, to be truthful, and to practice no deception. “Thou shalt not steal” was written by the finger of God upon the tables of stone, yet how much underhanded stealing of affections is done and excused by finite beings! A deceptive courtship is maintained, private communications are kept up, until the affections of the daughter, who is inexperienced and knows not whereunto these things may grow, are fastened upon the one who shows by the very course he pursues that he is unworthy of her love. 18MR 306.2

The Bible condemns every species of dishonesty and demands right-doing in all things. He who makes the Bible the guide of his youth, the light of his path, will obey its teachings in all things. He will not transgress one jot or tittle of the law in order to carry out his will or accomplish his object, even if he has to make any and every sacrifice in consequence. If he believes the Bible, he knows the blessing of God will not rest upon him if he departs from the strict path of rectitude. Although he appears for a time to prosper, he will surely reap the fruit of his doings. 18MR 306.3

The curse of God rests upon many of the ill-timed, inappropriate connections that are made in this age of the world. If the Bible left these questions in a vague, uncertain light, then the course that many of the youth of today are pursuing in their attachments for one another would be more excusable. But the requirements of the Bible are not half-way injunctions. They demand perfect purity of thought, of word, and of deed. We are grateful to God that His Word is a light to the feet, and none need mistake the path of duty. The young should make it a business to consult its pages and to heed its counsels, for sad mistakes are always made when its precepts are departed from. 18MR 307.1

If there is any subject that should be considered with calm reason and unimpassioned judgment, it is the subject of marriage. If ever the Bible is needed as a counsellor, it is before taking a step that binds persons together for life. But the prevailing sentiment is that in this matter the feelings are to be the guide, and in too many cases lovesick sentimentalism has taken the helm and guided the bark to certain ruin. It is here that the youth refuse to be reasoned with. It is here that they show less intelligence than on any other subject. The question of marriage seems to have a bewitching power over many. They do not submit themselves to God. Their senses are enchained and they move forward in secretiveness, as if fearful that their plans would be interfered with by someone. 18MR 307.2

It is this underhanded way that courtships and marriages are carried on that causes a great amount of misery, the full extent of which is known only to God. On this rock thousands have made shipwreck of their souls. Professed Christians, whose lives are marked with integrity and who seem sensible upon every other subject, make fearful mistakes here. They manifest a set, determined will that reason cannot change. They become so fascinated with human feelings and impulses that they have no desire to search the Bible and to come in close relationship with God. 18MR 307.3

Satan knows just what elements he has to deal with, and he displays his infernal wisdom in various devices to entrap souls to their ruin. He watches every step that is taken in these matters, and he has many suggestions to make; and these suggestions are more often followed than the counsels of God's Word. As the result, we see wrecks of humanity everywhere. When will our youth be wise? The Bible, if carefully studied and obeyed, would prove a safeguard against the delusive snares of Satan. 18MR 308.1

My brother, had you had elevated and correct views in regard to the obligations of children to their parents, you would not have pressed your attentions upon the daughter against the known wishes of her God-fearing parents. You would have seen that by urging her to disregard their counsels and to link her destinies with yours, you were influencing her to break the fifth commandment. When she looks at this matter in the light of the Bible, she feels forbidden to dishonor her parents and bring sorrow to their hearts; but when you urge your claims and set matters before her in a perverted light, she is unsettled and feels that she will be miserable if she does not marry you. 18MR 308.2

The position of Christians will be to keep God's glory in view in this matter. They will not urge their views with a persistency that shows pride and self-will. The spirit of truth and righteousness in the heart will not lead to a course directly contrary to the wishes of God-fearing parents. You should both say, even if your affections do go out to each other, “We will not bring unhappiness upon our parents in order to please ourselves. We will never venture another step in this direction, unless these barriers are removed and we have the free consent of our parents.” This is the way all such engagements should be regarded. 18MR 308.3

I cannot see anything unkind or unreasonable in the letter of Brother Vuilleumier to you. The enemy has perverted this matter to your mind. I see in his letter only that which is consistent for a father to write when the interest and happiness of his daughter are concerned. As you have been instrumental in making this matter known to quite a number, and as your feelings toward Brother Vuilleumier have not been as they should have been, and as some in the church have unwisely given you their sympathy and support, this matter has become quite serious, and demands careful consideration. 18MR 309.1

Shall this kind of work go on? Small children consult only their own desires and inclinations irrespective of their parents’ advice and judgment? Some seem never to bestow a thought upon their parents’ wishes or preferences, nor to regard their matured experience. Selfishness has closed the door of their hearts to filial affection. This is not the case with the daughter of Brother Vuilleumier, but another mind is influencing her, and she is being molded to another's will, not in any way to improve her character or to give her a valuable experience. 18MR 309.2

There needs to be an awakening in regard to the matter of courtship and marriage. The fifth commandment is held lightly and even positively ignored by the lover's claim. This commandment is the only one to which is annexed a promise. To slight a mother's love, to dishonor a father's care, is a sin which stands registered against many youth. While there are weighty responsibilities devolving upon the parents to guard carefully the future happiness and interest of their children, it is also their duty to make home as attractive as possible. This is of far greater consequence than to acquire estates and money. Home must not lack sunshine. The home feeling should be kept alive in the hearts of the children, that home will be looked upon by them as a place of peace and happiness next to heaven. Then as they come to maturity they should in their turn try to be a comfort and blessing to their parents. They should not be too ready to leave their parental roof and give their affections and services to a stranger at the very time when they are most needed at home. 18MR 309.3

Parents are entitled to the love of their children, and if the children would manifest more affection in words and acts, it would be a blessing to both. Every kind attention is appreciated by parents. Before a marriage contract is made, every young person should look carefully to see how his or her absence from the home would affect the happiness of the parents. Do they in their feebleness need the help that you alone can give them? Think carefully in regard to who has the strongest claims upon you. Study diligently the character of the one who asks your love. The step you are about to take is one of the most important in your life. It should not be taken hastily. While youth may love, let them not love blindly. 18MR 310.1

Courtship as carried on in this age is a scheme of deception and hypocrisy. It has a bewitching influence upon the minds. I have been shown that had the purposes of many young persons been carried out, there would have been disappointments, estrangements, separation. The enemy of souls has far more to do with match-making than has the Lord, whose property they are. Many youth seem to think that marriage is the attainment of perfect bliss; but if these could see one quarter of the heart-aching letters that I have received from men and women who are bound by the marriage vow in chains that they cannot and dare not break, they would not be surprised that I trace these lines. 18MR 310.2

Marriage to thousands is the most galling yoke that can be worn. There are thousands that are mated but not matched. The books of heaven are burdened with the woes, the wickedness, and the abuse that are hid under the marriage mantle. This is why I warn the young who are of a marriageable age to make haste slowly in the choice of a companion. The path of marriage life may appear beautiful and full of happiness, but you may be disappointed, as thousands of others have been. 18MR 311.1

One of the greatest errors connected with this subject is that idea that the young and inexperienced must not have their affections disturbed, that there must be no interference in this love experience. If there ever was a subject that needed to be viewed from every standpoint, it is this subject. The aid of the experience of others, and a calm, careful weighing of the matter on both sides, is positively essential. It is a subject that is treated altogether too lightly by the great majority of people. Take God into your counsel, young friends. Pray over the matter. Weigh every sentiment, and watch every development of character in the one with whom you think to link your life interest. Examine carefully to see if your married life will be happy, or inharmonious and wretched. Let the questions be raised, Will this union help me heavenward? Will it increase my love for God? And will it enlarge my sphere for usefulness in this life? 18MR 311.2

If these reflections present no drawbacks, then in the fear of God move forward. But even if an engagement has been entered into without a full understanding of the character of the one with whom you think to link your destiny, do not think that the engagement makes it a positive necessity for you to pronounce the marriage vow, and link yourself for life to one whom you cannot love or respect. Be very careful how you enter into unconditional engagements, but better, far better, break the engagement before marriage than separate after marriage, as many do. 18MR 311.3

Few have correct views of marriage. They make light of this Heaven-appointed institution, and after it has been entered into thoughtlessly, without a true sense of its sacredness, the obligations it imposes are often shamefully disregarded. Ignoring the personal rights of women, the husband becomes unkind and authoritative. The individuality of the wife is submerged in that of the husband. She becomes the slave of his caprice and passions, as though she had naught to do but to obey his whims. He quotes texts of scripture to show that he is the head, and that he must be obeyed in all things, claiming that his wife must have no will separate from his. He acts the tyrant. But the same Bible that prescribes the duty of the wife prescribes also the duty of the husband. He is to be kind and affectionate, to love his wife as a part of himself, and to cherish her as Christ does His church. 18MR 312.1

This question of marriage should be a study of both parties instead of a matter of impulse. Obedience to the last six commandments requires this. Crimes of every kind may be traced to unwise marriages. Then should they be entered into blindly, by ignorant and inexperienced children? Should not the parents feel their responsibility to guard the interest of their daughter when their own mature experience teaches them that should she marry the one who solicits her affections it would only result in lifelong unhappiness? 18MR 312.2

True love is a plant that needs culture. Let the woman who desires a peaceful, happy union, who would escape future misery and sorrow, inquire before she yields her affections, Has my lover a mother? What is the stamp of her character? Does he recognize his filial obligations to her? Is he mindful of her wishes and happiness? If he does not respect and honor his parents, he will not manifest respect and love and kindness and attention towards his wife. When the novelty of marriage is over, will he love me still? Will he be patient with my mistakes, or will he be critical, overbearing, and dictatorial? True affection will overlook many mistakes; love will not discern them. 18MR 312.3

The youth trust altogether too much to impulse. They should not give themselves away too easily, and be captivated too readily by the winning exterior of the lover. Good common sense is needed here if anywhere; but the facts in the case are [that] it has little to do with courtship and marriage nowadays. There is serious, earnest reflection to be done before marriage, if you would not have the most miserable, unhappy reflections after marriage. This step, taken unwisely, is one of the most effective means of ruining the usefulness of men and women. Life becomes a burden, a curse. 18MR 313.1

No one can so effectually ruin a woman's happiness and usefulness as her own husband. Heaven has registered the words and actions of men who have tyrannized over their wives. And no one can do one hundredth part as much to chill the hopes and aspirations of a man, no one can paralyze his energies and make life a heart-sickening burden as [can] his own wife; and she may ruin his influence and his prospects. From the marriage hour many men can date their success or their failure. 18MR 313.2

When so much misery results from marriage, why will not the youth be wise? Why will they continue to feel that they do not need the counsel of older and more experienced persons? In business, men and women manifest great caution. Before engaging in any important enterprise they prepare themselves for their work. They devote time and money and much careful study to the subject, lest they shall make a failure. How much greater caution should be exercised in entering the marriage relation, a relation which affects future generations and future life? But this holy relation is entered upon with jest and levity, with impulse and passion, with blindness and want of calm consideration. 18MR 313.3

The only explanation of this is that Satan weaves this net to entangle souls. He loves to see misery and ruin in the world. He rejoices to have these inconsiderate souls lose their enjoyment of this world and of the one to come. Often a man who is entirely ignorant of the wants of woman, and of the treatment she should receive, takes her under his proposed protection when his influence and his temperament are to her as a desolating hail, beating down her will and her aspirations, and leaving her no freedom of mind or judgment. She is his slave to do just as he may decide. While women want men of strong and noble characters whom they can respect and love, these qualities need to be mingled with tenderness and affection and patience and forbearance. 18MR 314.1

The wife should in her turn be cheerful, kind, and devoted, assimilating her taste to that of her husband as far as it is possible to do without losing her identity, her individuality, in her husband. Both parties should cultivate patience and kindness and that tender love for each other that will make their married life pleasant and enjoyable. Those who have such high ideas of the marriage life, whose imagination has wrought out an air-castle picture that has naught to do with life's perplexities and troubles, will find themselves sadly disappointed in the reality. When real life comes with its troubles and cares they are wholly unprepared to meet them. They expect in each other perfection, and find weakness and defects, for finite men and women are not faultless. Then, in the place of helping each other, they begin to find fault and express their disappointment. We all need practical godliness to help us to fight the battle of life valiantly. Our daily prayer should be, Help us to help each other, Lord, each other's woes to bear. 18MR 314.2

My heart is drawn out for you, my brother, because God has given you talents to be improved; but you will need to overcome the defects in your character in order to use your ability with success. You have not seen and understood that the inconsistencies in your character were great drawbacks to your usefulness, and that unless you war against these tendencies, which have thus far controlled you to a greater or less degree, they will surely stand in the way of your attaining the future life. There must be with you and with many others the right discipline of the mind. This is the way to true happiness, faith, and confidence in God. 18MR 315.1

Those who have not taken themselves in hand to control impulse, to subdue self and bring themselves in obedience to the principles of the law of God, will not, can not, be happy or at peace and rest. They need the meekness and lowliness of Christ. They need to learn daily in His school, to wear His yoke, to lift His burdens, to deny inclination, to sacrifice a seeming present good to a future good, a personal advantage for a general advantage. 18MR 315.2

The fountain of content must spring up in the soul. He who seeks happiness by changing his outward surroundings without changing his own disposition, will find that his efforts will only produce fresh disappointments. He carries himself with him. His unrest, his impatience, his uncontrollable thoughts and impulses, are ever present. The great trouble is in himself. He has never learned of Christ the lesson of meekness and lowliness of heart. He has never fallen upon the Rock and been broken. Self has been cherished. The will has never been trained to submit. The unyielding spirit has never been brought into subjection to the will of God. 18MR 315.3

There are many youth who, because they cannot find happiness in plans of their own devising, will not accept it in God's appointed way. They wonder over their unhappiness, and count their best friends—those who discern their difficulties—their enemies. They cling with tenacious grasp to their impressions and their ideas of just what they must have and what they must do in order to be happy, but they lose sight of the fact that the Lord rules alone, and that He is shaping circumstances. 18MR 316.1

God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways.... For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Then let finite beings be humble and submissive in their desires, realizing that God uses many influences which it is beyond their power to control. We must take self in hand; we must do our duty faithfully; and in this work peace and rest and happiness will come. We must discipline self, seeking to bring it under the control of intelligent reason. We must have a true sense of what the last six commandments mean. There are opportunities daily of practicing forgetfulness of self, and being a blessing to those around us. 18MR 316.2

We will surely find the peace and rest that Jesus has promised, if we learn to wear His yoke and bear His burdens. “Learn of Me,” says the great Teacher, “for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” 18MR 316.3

Now is our probation; now is your probation. Time is valuable. You have an eternity of bliss to gain, a perdition to shun. Do not fritter away your God-given opportunities by trying to accomplish your own desires. Up to duty and to work for the Master. You have lessons to learn that you have not yet dreamed of. The books of heaven now reveal many things that you can have blotted from its pages by coming to God with a truly repentant heart and faith in the blood of Christ as the atoning sacrifice. The life that was once lived to the flesh must now be lived by faith in the Son of God. 18MR 316.4

The question now is, What education are you receiving at the present time? What advancement are you making in the divine life? The education of all is now going on. Some are educating themselves for lofty positions where they may receive the praise and honor of men. Some are training in the school of vice and deception, receiving an education that will unfit them for this life and the future immortal life. Some are educating themselves in Christ's school, seeking goodness and truth, aiming to meet God's great moral standard of righteousness, and fitting for the high school above. 18MR 317.1

In the books of heaven are kept an accurate record of the manner of our education and what use we have made of our probationary golden moments. Every day we are learning lessons for time and eternity. Every thought cherished, every impulse indulged, leaves its impressions on the mind. We are under obligation to God to be constantly learning of Christ how to guide and control our thoughts, our feelings and passions. Oh, how fearfully lax we are in our duty to ourselves to let ourselves be molded by our own ideas and our own faulty will. We are running great risks in allowing ourselves to be thus controlled by circumstances. 18MR 317.2

We must study the Pattern, Jesus Christ. Self-culture and divine grace will strengthen us in moral power. Every faculty should be employed to make of us all that Christ has made provision that we should become. How many are losing the balance of their mind for want of heart culture. All goodness commences in the heart. God has entrusted you with abilities. With these entrusted talents you may do a good work for the Master, if they are consecrated wholly to His service. But there must first be an overcoming of obstinacy and self-sufficiency. There must be a cultivation of kindness and affection. This will have a transforming influence on the character. 18MR 317.3

The critical and censorious spirit that is ever ready to find occasion for reproof and condemnation in others, shows a narrow mind, and plainly reveals a man who has never carefully studied and correctly read the pages of his own heart. God is in earnest with us. We should come in such close connection with Jesus Christ as is represented by the branch that is grafted into the living vine. Then we shall be partakers of the sap and nourishment from the vine, and shall bear fruit to the glory of God. 18MR 318.1

You are now passing through a critical experience. I entreat of you not to be hasty, not to be discouraged, but to submit your case to God. Wait upon the Lord and do His will, and in this hour of trial He will work for you and you will obtain a precious experience. Give God a chance to work. Lay low at the foot of the cross, and God will teach you precious lessons. 18MR 318.2

Self-denial must be practiced in the home. Every member of the family should be kind and courteous, and should studiously seek in all their words and actions to bring peace, contentment, and happiness. Not all members of the family have the same disposition, the same stamp of character, but through self-discipline one can help another, bringing them near, binding them together by words of love and forbearance. 18MR 318.3

But, my brother, in your family there has not been that cultivation of courtesy, Christian politeness, and deference and respect for one another that would prepare its members to marry and make happy families of their own. The lessons that should have been learned in tender sympathy and in patience, kindness, and respect for the members of the family, have not been learned. In the place of tenderness, courtesy, and love there have been sharp words, clashing of ideas, the combative spirit, the criticizing, dictatorial spirit. There has been a great want of the spirit of Christ. 18MR 318.4

In every family there should be, and will be, if Christ is abiding in the heart, affection and love for one another; not a spasmodic love expressed in fond caresses, but a love that is abiding. It is an abiding principle which distinguishes the grace of love, a principle high and elevated, sacred and holy, of altogether a different character than that love awakened by impulse, a passion that is fitful and that dies suddenly when tested and tried. 18MR 319.1

The home is a place where we are to prepare for the home above. If there are such temperaments in the family that they cannot live in harmony here, they would not, unless converted, be in harmony in the heavenly family. There is altogether too much careless talking, censuring, faultfinding, in families that profess to love and serve God. The unkind words, the irreverence and disrespect in many families, make angels weep. What a record is made upon the books of heaven of unkind looks and words that sting and bite like an adder, and it is not the record of one day only in the year, but of day after day. 18MR 319.2

Oh, that these families would consider that angels of God are taking a daguerreotype of the character just as accurate as the artist takes the likeness of the human features; and it is by our deeds that we will be judged, whether they be good or whether they be evil. We should cultivate patience by practicing patience. We should be kind and forbearing, that we may keep love warm in our hearts and thus develop qualities that Heaven shall approve. Those who go forth from such families to stand at the head of other families will know how to advance the happiness of the one whom they have selected as a companion for life. There will be mutual love, mutual forbearance. Marriage, in the place of being the end of love, will then be the very beginning of love. 18MR 319.3

We have but one life to live, and nothing should be considered of sufficient value to lead to unhappy words or deeds. We must come into close relationship and be partakers of the divine nature in this life, if we would be a member of the holy family in heaven above.—Letter 3, 1886. 18MR 320.1

Ellen G. White Estate

Washington, D. C.,

January 22, 1988.

Entire Letter.