William Law lived in a time (the eighteenth century) and place (England) where he believed a superficial and misguided education usually made young people worse rather than better. Young boys, he said, were fired with ambition and selfishness, trying to make a name by establishing themselves as better than others, which, of course, is the opposite of Christian character that seeks to serve others. Girls, Law complained, were told to find their value in outward appearance rather than character. They were more concerned about learning how to cover a blemish on their face, keep up with current gossip, learn how to excel in empty amusements and silly conversation, and maintain a slim waist, rather than growing in wisdom, building a strong faith, filling their lives with good deeds, and daily repenting of slander and vanity.
Thankfully, things have gotten much better in the last 250 years (ahem…).
When it comes to marriage, Law urges believers to avoid potential suitors who are more concerned with outward appearance—what they wear and the shape of their bodies—than they are with the inner qualities of humility, love, and generosity. Though his language speaks to women in search of men, guys who want to follow his guidance can simply switch the genders. The truth is applicable to both.
Law urges women to let three things in particular guide their search for a husband.
First, Law says your future husband should be a person who has worked as diligently on his own character as you have on yours. If you’ve read Scripture and Christian books, and eagerly pursue sermons and Bible studies, make it your aim to find a man who does the same. If a guy you’re interested in can’t find the time to read, views sermons as a chore and far less interesting than the latest podcast, and if he accepts the vices of pride, lust, slander, malice, and an easily ruffled temper without any concern or effort to leave them behind, he’s not fit to be your husband. In other words, don’t marry a man who takes his character less seriously than you take yours. If he has a strong body but a weak soul; if he can do a hundred push-ups but lacks the power to keep his eyes from undressing that waitress, he’s too weak for you where strength matters most.
Two, William Law says he must be “a friend to all your virtues.” Here’s what Law means by that: a suitable husband should want you to be what Christ wants you to be and value that above all else. Here’s what Jesus desires of you: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Col. 3:12) Does this guy want you to be compassionate, giving your money to those in need? Does he praise you for taking the time to be kind to others or does he want you to be focused only on him? Does he value humility—that you don’t live to be noticed but to notice others, or does he want you to dress in a way that draws attention to yourself because that pleases him? Do you feel comfortable slandering people in his presence, or do you feel conviction? Does he think reaching out to the poor or socially awkward is an embarrassing waste of time and money, something that’s “beneath you,” or does he marvel at how your priorities mirror those of Jesus Christ? Is he proud that you want to share your faith, or embarrassed that your doing so might make others think less of him?
Third, the way you really know he’s a “keeper” is that you can’t imagine living “without the benefit of his example.” If you can say that the way he lives out his faith, worships God and inspires you to do the same is something you never want to lose, you’re making a wise choice based on all the right reasons.
Law thinks so little of romantic feelings that he doesn’t even mention them. I’ve interacted with numerous people who tell me they have found a person of great character and deep devotion, but they don’t have the “spark” or those “over the top” in-love feelings they think they should have. It makes me a bit sad when that’s all it takes to make them walk away. Perhaps there are many more people of character and deep devotion out there than I realize; it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the dating market. But if there’s not a lot out there, I’d be hesitant about letting one go.
What You’re Looking For
Ultimately, it comes down to this: Someone who lives to reflect, worship and enjoy Christ will want most of all to marry someone who has the same goals, aim and desires. Character, faith and priorities matter far more than appearance, income, and emotions. So, find a man or woman who works as diligently on their character as you do yours (even above physical fitness, appearance, and finances); who is a friend to your virtues (encouraging your growth instead of sabotaging it); and whose example of a Christ-like life is so inspiring, you never want to be without it.
(I am rarely asked about a dating situation that isn’t in some way already addressed in The Sacred Search. If you want to explore what it means to make a wise marital choice, I’d urge you to get the book or go through the DVD.)