Singles seeking to marry well can learn so much from a man who got married four hundred years ago. He made a supremely wise choice for all the right reasons and benefitted immensely because of it.
Don’t be freaked out that he was a Puritan.
Richard Baxter (1615-1691) lived half his life as a single man because he believed a zealous clergyman was “married to his congregation” and didn’t have time for a wife. When his church fired him and he was forced to make his living as a writer (he became the most popular writer of his day, sort of a Max Lucado and Tim Keller rolled into one person), he thought having a wife would be a very good thing indeed, and he soon entered into a very happy and fulfilling marriage to a young woman named Margaret.
They had an incredible marriage.
In making his choice, Richard was already a wise man who, as a pastor, had seen the folly so many others had fallen into to. Thus he was determined to “avoid the foolish passion which the world calls love.”
He didn’t eschew love, but sought a higher love: “I know you must have love for those [you marry],” he wrote, but he was insistent that it be a “rational” love that discerns “worth and fitness” in the loved, not “blind…lust or fancy.”[i]
Richard had seen how “blind lust and fancy” (sex appeal and romantic infatuation) could make seemingly wise people curiously blind to a person’s poor worth and low character so he determined early on that he would not be guided by those things.
Instead, he was determined to find a “worthy” spouse, and a “fit” spouse.
If you find yourself crazy with infatuation, and your highest desperate desire is to hear that they feel the same way about you, force yourself to ask two rational questions: “Is this a worthy person? Are they fit for marriage?”
Let’s look at each in turn.
First, are they worthy of you having such interest in them? Force yourself to look at them objectively. If you didn’t have such strong feelings for them, would you still like them, admire them, and respect them? If you can’t answer “yes” to all three questions you’re falling prey to “blind fancy.”
If you’re at all embarrassed by them, or constantly finding yourself having to explain away and excuse the faults and character flaws that everyone else sees and points out to you, you’re in the midst of “blind fancy.” They’re not truly worthy of you; you shouldn’t be afraid that they don’t feel the same way about you; you should be afraid of why you’re feeling that way about them.
Next, ask yourself, “Are they fit?” That is, do they have the necessary relational, emotional, and spiritual skills to be a superlative spouse? Can they handle conflict? Are they humble and gentle and patient? Are they a giver or a taker? Is God the center of their life? Do they pray and do they seek to grow in righteousness? Would they be a good parent and a true friend? Can you trust them in every way?
If the answer is no, they’re not “fit” for marriage.
Feelings are loud and strong, and they come and go. Asking questions about “worthiness” and “fitness” will help you to be objective and make a wise choice.
Dr. J.I. Packer summarizes the best of Puritan thought on making a wise marital choice by stressing that Christians were urged not to look for someone one does love romantically but rather for one whom one can love “with steady affection on a permanent basis.”
Because marriage is all about the future and feelings are only about the present, it makes the most sense to choose someone you can love in the future because they are worthy of your love and fit for marriage. Those things usually last; feelings never do.
Among the most stupid things said on a stupid reality television program is when the Bachelor or the Bachelorette keep saying, “I’ve just got to explore my feelings; I don’t know if I feel the right way about him/her.”
No, you don’t. That’s a stupid way to evaluate a relationship. It’s being guided by “blind lust or fancy” (and explains why that show has such a pathetic “success” rate for couples who get together).
Find out first if the person you are interested in is worthy and fit. Then ask yourself, “Is this someone I’d enjoy spending time with? Is this someone I’m attracted to physically enough so that I’d desire to be with them sexually?”
Sexual desire and “fancy” aren’t enemies—they can be delightful “spices” in life. If you make them the main course, however, you’ll end up relationally hungry, as they can’t satisfy on their own. I sprinkle cinnamon in my chai tea every morning, but I don’t take a spoonful as a substitute for breakfast. That’s what you’re trying to do when you let “blind lust and fancy” be the main factors in determining who to date and, ultimately, who to marry.
Worthy and fit.
That’s what you want to look for. That’s what you should evaluate.
[i] I’m taking these quotes from J.I. Packer’s A Grief Sanctified, pg. 25.