The Faith of Our Mothers
May 13th, 1962 @ 8:15 AM
2 Timothy 1:1-8
THE FAITH OF OUR MOTHERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 1:1-8
5-13-62 8:15 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor speaking on Mother’s Day a sermon entitled The Faith of our Mothers. In the reading of the Scripture, in the last letter that Paul wrote before martyrdom, written to a young son in the ministry by the name of Timothy, in 2 Timothy, the first chapter:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus,
To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;
Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears,
Paul is in prison, an aged man; and this young minister grieves over his arrest and incarceration.
Being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy;
When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and in thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.
Wherefore I put thee in remembrance,
[2 Timothy 1:1-6]
Then he continues. For Paul the aged in the dungeon of the Mamertine Prison, facing martyrdom, writes to this young man in the ministry, looking forward to that day when Paul’s translation will be at hand and somebody must continue to preach the gospel. And the way he did it and described it is very telling and significant. As he thinks of the handing of the torch from his own failing hand, and life, and grasp, into the hands of this younger man, as he thinks of that succession, I say, it is significant that he speaks of it in terms of the distaff side of the family. "Thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I thank my God, in thee also" [2 Timothy 1:5]. You will not find that very often; nor would you find it in any faith but the Christian faith; the grandmother, and the mother, and to the son. So this morning from that, I am to speak of the faith of our mothers.
When I was a youth, I went into the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. There was a picture, a portrait, of Billy Sunday who had been converted as a ball player in Chicago, in the Pacific Garden Mission. And there were many other interesting things in that famous rescue for souls.
But the most unusual thing to me was what I saw at the front. On one side, in big letters, on the wall at the front, behind the pulpit was John 3:16, "For God so loved the world," and I thought that’s fine. Then on the right as I looked up there, was a question. And it was this. "When did you last write to mother?" Well, first time I’d ever seen a mission, first time I’d ever been introduced to that kind of a work. And I was very surprised as I looked at it.
John 3:16 on one side, the greatest sentence ever penned, the whole Bible in epitome, John 3:16, I could see that. But I had never thought about that, "When last did you write to mother?" A rescue mission, downtown; well, I thought of it then, and I haven’t forgotten it in the years since. Why, I could see as I thought of it why those godly, saintly men who built that mission and who carried it on through these generations, why they put up there on one side the love of God and on the other side the love of mother.
Many an old boy, weary with the world, lost, lost everything. Many a boy stumble into that mission, a piece of a flotsam and jetsam of life, many a man lost his hold and his grip, stumble into that mission, and there on one side the love of God and on the other side the love of mother. And as you get older, increasingly I can see that and understand that. For this faith that we embrace, in which we trust, is a faith so largely shaped by their hands.
When you begin the story of God’s chosen people, you read the story of Sarah and of her son, Isaac [Genesis 17:15-19, 21:1-8]. You read the story of Rebekah, and her son Israel, Jacob [Genesis 25:21-28]. You read the story of Rachel and her son Joseph [Genesis 30:22-24]. When you begin at the beginning of God’s chosen people as a nation, there again is the story of a great mother. For the Hebrew people were nomadic, they dwelt in tents and they lived here and there according to the seasons of the year but when they went down into Egypt, they became a nation.
And in the days of their captivity and their slavery, when God through trial, and fire, and smoke was welding them, amalgamating them into a nation, there was a lad who was placed on the river of the Nile, that his life might be saved. And Pharaoh’s daughter looked upon the little child in the ark, floating on the bosom of the water. She adopted the little baby [Exodus 2:1-10]. He was learned. He was trained in all of the arts and the sciences of the Egyptians [Acts 7:22]. And yet, in his manhood, chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the fame and the pleasures of the throne of Pharaoh [Hebrew 11:24-25].
I wonder why. You know why, when the little girl Miriam said to the daughter of the king, "Shall I find a nurse who shall bring up the little child for you" [Exodus 2:7], Pharaoh’s daughter bid her Godspeed, and the little girl brought for the nurse the child’s mother? [Exodus 2:8]. And when he was old and a man, and mature, and grown, taught, and learned in all of the sciences and the knowledge and the wisdom of the Egyptians – – and of course that meant paganism, false gods and false religions – – yet he never got away from his mother’s training, and his mother’s teaching, and his mother’s God. And upon a day, when decision was made, he cast his lot with the people of the Lord [Hebrews 11:24-27; Exodus 2:11-12]. That’s his mother.
When you begin the story of the prophets, you have again the story of a great mother. Hannah had no child. She was sterile. She was barren [1 Samuel 1:2]. And she called upon the name of the Lord [1 Samuel 1:10-15], and God heard her prayer; and, according to the time of life, placed in her bosom a little baby boy [1 Samuel 1:19-20]. And she called him, she named him Samuel, "Asked of God" [1 Samuel 1:20]; the first prophet.
And when you begin the story of the kings, once again you have the story of a great woman and a wonderful mother. We read it together. "And Ruth became the wife of Boaz, and the mother of Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David the king" [Ruth 4:13-17]. That’s the reason the story is in the Bible. It’s the introduction to the beginning of the anointed of the Lord, King David [Ruth 4:21-22; 1 Samuel 16:11-13], and that greater King, David’s son, Jesus Christ [2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16].
Now when I turn to the New Covenant, the New Testament, I find the same pattern. As the beginning of the chosen race, as the beginning of the nation, as the beginning of the prophets and the kings, so I find in the beginning of the days of His flesh; I find the story of a mother. The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the book of the birth roll, the nativity of Jesus Christ, and it is the story of two devout mothers. It is written intimately.
No one could write that story as deftly, as beautifully, as purely, pristinely, chastely, as Doctor Luke, the beloved physician. And he writes the story from the point of view of those two women. One was named Elizabeth; the wife of Zacharias the priest, and the mother of John, who later became the Baptist preacher [Luke 1:5-25, 57-80]. And the other was the virgin girl named Mary, who lived in the little town of Nazareth. And the story is the story of a beloved physician as he writes of the nativity of our Lord [Luke 1:26-38, 2:1-20]. And that’s the beginning of the book of the birth roll of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the Son of God.
Then it continues. In the story of the beginning of His immortality, there are the women, Mary Magdalene and the other women [Luke 24:1-10]; and in the story of the preaching of the gospel in Europe [Acts 16:11-12], there the story of a woman, Lydia, a merchant woman, a seller of merchandise, of purple, of goods [Acts 16:14-15, 40]. And in how many places in this earth known but to God was the gospel first embraced by godly women.
The second epistle of John, "The elder unto," and you have it translated, "the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only but also all they that have known the truth" [2 John1]. If you are a member of the Eastern Star, one of the points of the star is named for a glorious woman, Electa. You have it translated here "The elder unto the elect lady"; it could also be, as the Eastern Star accepts it, her name, Electa, "The elder unto Electa and her children." Where did she live? Nobody knows. What town, what place? Nobody knows. But she is typical of the great women who in that ancient day opened their hearts to the receiving of the gospel of the Son of God.
Now may I make another avowal? This faith of ours, the Christian faith, is a faith that supremely honors womanhood and motherhood. When you go through a Muslim country, when you travel through the Islamic world, the first thing that will impress you and the most noticeable thing that you will see is the status of the woman. She’s a piece of chattel property.
She is one of four at a time who belongs to some man somewhere. And he can change her on a moment’s notice. He can set her out in the street with a sentence. Abject, downtrodden, under the heel of a despotic household, she lives her life in misery. When you travel through India, with that strange doctrine of the transmigration of the soul, to be born again and cursed of God is to be born again as a woman. To be born as an insect is higher. The greatest curse in Hinduism is to be born again, reincarnate as a woman. I could continue, but it’s sad to my heart even to think upon it, much less to speak of it.
I come to another world. Like out of darkness into light, like out of the mire and the dirt into the glorious presence of the eternal God, I come to the faith of Jesus Christ. Ah, what a difference, what a light, what a glory, what a blessing. This is mother’s religion, and it honors womanhood. To a woman of age, the Lord God in heaven revealed the nature of the little Child; the prophetess Anna in the temple [Luke 2:36-38]. To a woman, Jesus spoke the greatest words of spiritual revelation in worship [John 4:7, 10-26].
When the disciple came back from the city having bought bread, you have it translated, And they were surprised. They were marveled. They were amazed that He spoke to the woman. That’s not correct. "When they returned, they were amazed. They were astounded. They marveled that He spoke with a woman" [John 4:27], a woman, any woman. That was beneath the dignity of a rabbi, of a great raban teacher, to speak, to condescend to teach a woman.
Yet Jesus sat by the well [John 4:6], and even though she was not of the finest background and reputation [John 4:17-18] – – isn’t that the strangest thing, how the love and goodness and grace and mercy of God transcends our little barriers, takes them all in, sinner and saint alike? What a faith; what a glorious gospel – – and He sat there on the well, and to that woman preached the greatest sermon on spiritual worship the world has ever heard [John 4:10-26].
It was in behalf of a weeping mother whose only son was dead that He stopped a funeral procession, and gave back into her arms the boy that she’d lost [Luke 7:12-15]. Some of these days, Jesus is going to do that for some of you; going to give you back these you have loved and lost for a while. In behalf of a weeping family of two sisters, Jesus raised their brother from the dead and restored the home in its happiness and glory [John 11:32-44].
It was to a woman that the Lord called attention in the temple, when the people gave their gifts, "Look at her," He said, "Look at her, out of her need and her necessity and her want and her poverty, giving all that she has" [Mark 12:41-44]. It was to a woman that He said, "Wherever this gospel is preached, this also shall be told as a memorial unto thee"; the breaking of the alabaster box [Mark 14:3-9].
I could continue on and on. To a woman first He appeared raised from the dead [John 20:11-18]. To the women He appeared next [Matthew 28:9-10]. Oh, it is a story of devout, dedicated womanhood.
Did you know – – and it’s hard to realize – – did you know that there was a time in that ancient first few centuries when it looked as if Mithraism was going to possess and conquer the entire civilized world? You never heard of Mithraism. Mithraism was the worship of the Persian god Mithra. A tauribolium, the slaying of a sacrificial animal above, and these underneath who were bathed with the outflowing blood were cleansed of their sins and were born into a new life. That was Mithraism. And you never heard of it.
Why didn’t you ever hear of it? There was a time, I repeat, when it looked as if it would conquer the entire civilized Roman world. The reason you never heard of it was, only a man could join it. Only a man could be saved in it. Only a man could be initiated. How different the Christian faith, which is mother’s religion, mother’s faith, mother’s God, mother’s Bible, mother’s church, mother’s songs, mother’s hope, and mother’s heaven.
And now, in this last word, may I speak of mother honoring the faith? Womanhood, motherhood, dedicated to God; there were some men who were talking about the translations of the Bible. One fellow said that he greatly admired and loved the beauty of the King James translation of the Word of God. And in that I do deeply, humbly, reverently, heartily concur. I love the King James Version of the Bible.
Another man spoke, and being of a scholarly turn he spoke of the wonderful accuracy of the Revised, of the American Standard Revision of 1901. And he spoke of its merits. And another one spoke of some of these modern translations that help a great deal, like Williams and Mrs. Montgomery’s and the centenary translation, and Weymouth translation and Goodspeed, and they were discussing that.
And one of the men, as the discussion went on, who didn’t have quite maybe the scholarship that the others, said, "Well, he thought the best translation of the Bible that he ever read was his mother’s." And I suspect there’s a lot of us that’d be like that. We don’t know Greek, and we are not proposing to learn Hebrew, and we may not be able to enter into the theological distinctions between a certain word translated this way or that way, but I tell you every last one of us can sure wax eloquently when it comes to talking about the Word of God as we saw it translated into the life, and soul, and character of a godly Christian mother; Mother’s translation of the Word of God.
And to this faith have our mothers devoted so much of the heart, and soul, and sinew, and prayer, and devotion, and tears of this life; sometimes, through tears and great sorrows. You know there’s a mystery of sorrow into which I cannot enter, of which I cannot speak. I don’t see. I don’t understand. But beyond that sorrow and that tear is a working elective hand and purpose of God that sometimes I can see a little of.
When I was a pastor out in the country in Kentucky, right above me was a little town named Rock Hill. And the L & N, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, ran through that little town. And they had a crack train – I presume they still have it – going from Cincinnati to New Orleans, called the Pan-American Limited.
And in the cold wintertime, about Christmas, when they were decorating the house with the Christmas tree, and stringing popcorn, and putting up the ornaments, oh, at that season of the year, and it was cold there, this dear mother and that precious family, they had three children, and all of them were in school. And being well-to-do people, why, they had bought a coupe, a Ford coupe, for the children to go to school in. And the oldest boy drove it, and the other two children would get in the little coupe, and they would drive to school and come back home. And on this cold day, and nobody knows what happened unless it was, being cold, the windows were up and the boy didn’t see or hear the train, but he drove the little car up on that track, going to school, and that fast moving Pan-American Limited hit it, and snuffed out all three of the lives of those children at one time. And they had the service there, and those three caskets, and a grave, wide, and buried them. And that mother went back home to look at the Christmas tree, the popcorn, and the ornaments, and the presents. Ah, it just makes you, "Lord, Lord, what? And why?"
Well, I watched her for the years I was there. I was pastor of that little church six years. I watched her. What she did was, she lifted up her spirit out of the depths, and she gave her life to all the children of the association. She set up Sunbeam bands in every little church. She organized R.A.’s and G.A.’s and children’s work in every little church. And whenever you went to the associational meeting, whenever you went to the workers’ conference, whenever you went to our Baptist gatherings, there’d be that little mother. I said to her one day, I said, "I do believe you’re the greatest Christian I’ve ever seen or known in my life." And maybe the reason it happened – – I go back to that mystery, that inscrutable providence of life, the mystery of sorrow – maybe the reason it happened was on account of there were lots of boys and lots of girls that nobody cared for, and out of her sorrow she became the mother of them all.
May God bless the memory of our Christian mothers. May God bless and sanctify those who in prayer today intercede for us. I want to close with a copy of a poem. We sing "Faith of our fathers, living still, in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword"; somebody wrote "Faith of our Mothers." And these are two of the stanzas:
Faith of our mothers, guiding faith,
For youthful longing, struggle and doubt,
How blurred our vision, blind our way,
Thy providential care without:
Faith of our mothers, guiding faith,
We will be true to thee till death.
Faith of our mothers, Christian faith,
In truth beyond our man-made creeds,
Still serve the home and save the church,
And breathe thy spirit through our deeds:
Faith of our mother, Christian faith!
We will be true to thee till death.
[adapted from "Faith of Our Mothers," A. B. Patten]
And that’s our proposal, God being our witness, walking in the way to the end.
Now while we sing our song of appeal, somebody you trusting the Lord as Savior; a family you coming into the fellowship of this precious church; as the Spirit of God shall lead in the way and as the Lord shall open the door, make it now. On the first note of this first stanza, "Here I come, preacher, and here I am," while we stand and while we sing.