Faith of Our Mothers
May 11th, 1975 @ 10:50 AM
THE FAITH OF OUR MOTHERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 1:1-5
5-11-75 10:50 a.m.
On radio and on television you are listening to the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas; and the title of the sermon is The Faith of Our Mothers. Reading out of the first chapter of 2 Timothy:
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 day and night;
Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy;
When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, a faith that dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded, in thee also.
[2 Timothy 1:1-5]
T-E-L: Timothy, Eunice, and Lois, a grandmother’s class organized almost in every church; and the name came from this passage; Timothy the son, Eunice the mother, and Lois the grandmother.
I went one time to the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. And as I stood facing the pulpit, there to the right in great block letters they had painted John 3:16. And to the left, back of the pulpit against the wall, they had painted a question, “When last did you write to mother?” At first when I looked at them I thought, “How strange and possibly incongruent there should be the great verse that summarizes the Holy Bible on this side, and then, ‘When last did you write to mother?’ on that side.” And yet as I thought of it further, I could easily see the inspiration that lay back in those two big writings.
When a man came off of the street, a derelict, a piece of the flotsam and jetsam of discarded life, down, destroyed, coming into that mission, looking at John 3:16 he would find the way of salvation, and looking at that question, if he had a Christian mother, he would be brought back to the faith of our Lord. For the faith of our Christ and of the Bible is one so largely shaped and fashioned by her gracious hands. As the dipper holds and shapes the water, so our faith is so largely shaped by her.
In the Book of Isaiah, through which I am preaching in these days, in the fifty-first chapter the mighty prophet calls his people back to a remembrance of their forefathers. And he says it like this:
Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn,
and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.
Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah who bare you.
What a noble exhortation. For the beginning of the chosen family and race of God is found in the father and in the mother to which Isaiah called in remembrance the nation. It is so largely a story of Sarah and her son Isaac [Genesis 17:19]; of Rebekah and her son Jacob, Israel [Genesis 25:20-26]; and of Rachel and her beloved son, a type of Christ, Joseph [Genesis 30:22-24].
It is no less true in the story of the founding and beginning of the nation itself. It is the work framed by a godly mother’s hand. I do not know of a more unusual or impressive phenomenon in history than this: when Moses was the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter and the heir-apparent to the crown, he made a great decision and decided to choose rather to suffer with the people of God than to be exalted to the throne of the Pharaoh [Hebrews 11:24-27]. How could such a thing be? The story is laid bare before our eyes in the Holy Scriptures. When the little baby was retrieved—recovered from the bosom of the Nile River by the daughter of Pharaoh—she hired, unwittingly and unknowingly, the child’s mother to raise up the little lad for her [Exodus 2:1-10].
And in the after years, when Moses was taught, for the Scriptures say he was learned in all of the arts and sciences and wisdom of the Egyptians [Acts 7:22], when the lad was taught all of those books of idolatry and of darkened superstition—texts that we can read today recovered by the archeologists from the hermetically sealed sands of Egypt—when Moses was taught all of the idolatrous arts and sciences of the Egyptians, yet when the time came in the prime of his life for the greatest decision a man could ever face, he chose the family and the people of God [Exodus 2:11-12]. Where did such a thing come from, and how could such a providence happen? It is apparent: that mother who was hired to rear the lad for the daughter of Pharaoh also taught the boy, growing up as a small child, the faith of Jehovah God. And when the years multiply and he came to the prime of life and to the greatest decision he could face, he renounced the throne of the Pharaoh that he might identify himself with the people of the Lord [Hebrews 11:24-26].
When these men say in prayer and in testimony the all important, significant administration and commitment and mandate that we have in taking care of our children, in bringing them up in the nurture and teaching of Christ Jesus, they say an everlastingly and heavenly true thing. It is a faith so largely shaped by the mother in rearing the godly child.
Not only in the beginning of the race, the chosen people, not only in the beginning of the nation, nomadic before Egypt, is it the work of a mother’s, a woman’s hands, but you find the same story in the beginning of the prophets, the last of the judges and the first of the prophets. What is that story? It is a beautiful one that we read in first and second chapters of 1 Samuel. It is the story of Hannah and the little boy Samuel, “asked of God” [1 Samuel 1:20], whom she lent to the Lord all the days of his life [1 Samuel 1:28].
It is no different in the story of the beginning of the kings of Israel. It begins in one of the most precious, pastoral, idyllic romances to be found in human literature: it is the story of Ruth, who reaped in the fields of Boaz [Ruth 2:3, 8-9], and who became the mother of Obed, of Jesse, and of David [Ruth 4:21-22]. It is the story of a wonderful woman, a pagan Moabitess, but who said to one of the daughters of Judah, “Entreat me not to leave thee, nor to return from following after thee . . . for thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” [Ruth 1:16]. This is the story of the beginning of the kingdom that shall last forever: the throne of David [2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16].
Nor do you find any other departure from that paragon and pattern in the life of our Lord and in the New Testament, evangelization of the world. The story begins, written by a beloved physician, as Paul called him, Dr. Luke [Colossians 4:14]; and it is the story of a mother, a woman [Luke 1:26-35, 2:7-16]. And when you read it as Luke wrote it, you easily sense that the story is told, poured out of the heart of Mary, the mother.
As He began His life raised from the dead, immortalized and glorified [Matthew 28:1-6], it is the story of a woman. The first to announce He was raised from the dead was a woman, Mary Magdalene [John 20:11-18]. And the first to greet Him and salute Him raised from among the dead was the group of women [Matthew 28:9-10].
It is no less the same story in the evangelization of the ancient world. It began in Europe, in a town named Philippi, in a woman’s prayer meeting. And in the home of Lydia, the first convert in Europe [Acts 16:14-15], changing the whole destiny of Western civilization, in her home did Paul and his fellow companions live as they preached the gospel of the grace of the Son of God [Acts 16:14, 40]. And beyond what we could ever know, how many times known but to God in heaven was the message of Christ introduced though a godly woman.
The sainted apostle John, in his age, in his second letter, addresses in the first verse, “The elder unto the elect lady and her children” [2 John 1:1]. Who is that elect lady? Nobody knows. If you belong to the Eastern Star, one of those points is elekta —that is the name here, “elect lady,” the Greek, elekta—“The elder unto the elect lady and her children.” Who? We do not know. Somewhere in the Greco-Roman world there was an introduction of the Christian faith in a pagan community, and it was through a godly mother and her children. But if the Christian faith has been so largely shaped by mothers’ hands, it is no less so otherwise: the Christian faith exalts her, the Christian faith exalts the woman and the mother.
I want to show that, if I may, by contrast. In the ancient world, the world of the Greek and the Roman, a woman was a chattel piece of property. She was looked upon as no higher in status than a slave; just as in many, many parts of Africa today; you buy a woman, you buy a wife for a goat; her price is a goat. If she’s an unusually fine and attractive woman with a whole lot of brawn and muscle, she might bring a cow; she’d be worth a cow. If she were unusually endued and endowed, and could work twenty hours a day in the field, as well as bear children that she carries on her back while she plows, she might be worth a cow and a calf. That is the ancient world’s valuation of the woman. Nor do you find any difference in that in most of the rest of the world.
Do you ever think about Greek culture and all of those marvelous things that come out of the genius of the Greek world? And yet, unthinkably their attitude toward the woman was one of lowest valuation. Socrates said—the great, famous philosopher of Athens Socrates said, “Whatever gods there be, I thank the gods for three things: I thank the gods that I’m a Greek and not a barbarian, I thank the gods that I’m a free man and not a slave, and I thank the gods that I am a man and not a woman.” To be a woman was to be cursed in the ancient world.
And the religions outside the Christian faith are hardly any better. Mohammed had a vision from God by which, in the religion of the Muslim, each man is limited to four wives at the same time. Mohammed himself had I don’t know how many wives—beyond count—but he had a vision limiting all of his followers to four wives. I was speaking with one of the affluent Mohammedan merchants of the East. And I said to the young man, who was working by him, I said, “How many wives does he have?”
He says, “He just has two, but when he becomes more affluent he’ll have four.”
Well I said, “How is it that you get along just limited to four wives?”
“Oh,” he said, “that’s simple, that’s simple. By my religious faith, Muslim, the Mohammedan, Islam, I cannot have but four at the same time.” But he says, “That’s easy. When I find one, why, I just get get rid of one of those four and then I get that other woman. And I always keep it at four.”
Well I said, “How do you divorce one of your wives?”
Now you’ll find the word that he used by they first letter that I’m going to say. That affluent merchant says to me, “Of those four wives, if I find one that I like better than one of these, I just tell that one to get the “H” out of here, and then I bring in the other wife.”
“It’s that simple?” I said.
He said, “Yes, it’s that simple.”
“And that’s what you do?” He said, “Yes, I’ve been doing that for many years.” He was a prosperous merchant. That is the woman in the eye of a Muslim devotee.
You wouldn’t find anything any different if you went to visit the Hindus. And how many hundreds of millions are Hindus. Over there, as I looked at that world, it is easy to understand why India starves to death. The attitude they have toward the animal world and the attitude they have toward the woman. Their basic doctrine is the transmigration of the soul. That is, when you die, you come back in another form. So this is what they say, “If you’ve been bad in this life, you’ll come back as a monkey; if you’ve been real bad in this life, you’ll come back as a black spider; but if you have been abominable in this life, you’ll be really cursed, you’ll come back as a woman.” That’s their attitude toward the woman. It is unbelievable and unthinkable!
So much of this present world is being overrun by the communists, the dark, threatening, ruthless, merciless communists. One of their tenets is, “We are to be communal; all of us are to be exactly the same.” So all of these women in America who are striving for all of their so-called equal statuses, they’d be very much at home in the communist world, very much. The whole communist world— and I’ve been through it for thousands of miles. I see the woman working as a ditch digger, I see her with a hammer, those trip hammers, power hammers, working on the pavement, I see her shoveling coal, I see her plowing out in the field, I see her doing the work of the man everywhere. That is the communist evaluation of a woman.
And apparently, the secular heart of America delights to do the same thing over here. That’s a funny thing to me. There’s something way down on the deep inside of me that rebels when I see women doing what I think is a work that a man ought to do. There’s a difference when God made us, and a woman is different from a man; and to make them exactly alike, to me is a travesty on the creation of Almighty God. I’m not denying that there are some women who prostitute their holy position God has made; but how ever a woman may prostitute it, may drag it in the dust and lower it, I think a man who loves God and who worships Jesus ought to look upon womanhood and motherhood with great reverence and great deference. They are somehow just above the ordinary slaving, workings of the ditch digger, and of all of the others who like ox, plows in the field. Christianity exalted woman.
It was to a woman that God revealed that this Child is the Messiah promised; her name was Anna [Luke 2:36-38]. It was to a woman that the Lord spoke, even an unspeakable woman, when He revealed His Messianic identity in the fourth chapter of John, and spoke to her the greatest sermon ever delivered on spiritual worship; how God wanted those to worship Him in spirit and in truth [John 4:7-26]. It was to a woman that the Lord called the attention of the apostles and said, “Look at her, she hath given more than they all; she dropped in to the treasury of the Lord all of her living, just trusting God” [Mark 12:41-44]. It was for a woman that the Lord stopped the funeral procession of Nain and gave back into her arms her only son [Luke 7:11-15]. It was for a woman that Christ raised her brother from the dead [John 11:32, 43-44]. And when she anointed Him and wiped His feet with the hair of her head [John 12:3].
It was for a woman He said, “As long as this gospel is preached, this shall be told as a memorial for her” [Matthew 26:13]. And I am helping fulfill that prophecy this sacred hour. And as one of the men said in his prayer, it was for a woman that the Lord stopped His dying for our sins, and said to the apostle John, “John look at your mother; she is your mother from now on, take care of her. And mother, this is your son”; and from that moment on the apostle John took her into his own home, and cared for her [John 19:26-27]. It would be impossible to disassociate the faith of our mothers from the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Faith of our mothers, guiding faith,
For youthful longing, struggle and doubt,
How blurred our vision, how 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 manmade creeds,
Still serve the home and save the church,
And breathe thy spirit through our deeds:
Faith of our mothers, Christian faith,
We will be true to thee till death.
[adapted from “Faith of Our Mothers,” A. B. Patten]
This is the commitment of my heart forever. This is the commitment of the heart of the thousands in God’s presence in this sanctuary today. To give your heart in trust to Christ [Romans 10:8-13], to come into the fellowship of the church, to rear your children before the Lord, as God shall press the appeal to your soul, answer with your life. Do it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.