In Memory of Mother
May 8th, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
IN MEMORY OF MOTHER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-8-77 10:50 a.m.
The title of the sermon this morning is In Memory of Mother. And as I speak of my own mother, I am but a spokesman for you as we pay loving tribute to these who gave us life and breath; cared for us when we could not care for ourselves; helped us when were helpless. Nor could we ever say words worthy of the memory or the blessing that they have been, and still are, to us. Not as a text for exegetical exposition, but just as a background—in the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of John:
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister… and Mary of Magdala.
When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple standing by, whom He loved—
the apostle John—
He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son!
Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
His brethren did not believe upon Him; James, and Joseph, and Jude, and Simon [John 7:5]. So as the Lord died on the cross, seeing His mother standing by, He commended her into the loving care of the sainted apostle John, who from that moment took her to his own home [John 19:27].
In this tribute for a marvelous mother, I have not eloquent words to describe what my own mother did for me; encouraging me, and seeing to it that I was faithful in my studies in school and no less faithful in my attendance upon the worship of the Lord and the study of God’s Holy Book in the church. I grew up in a very poor home. I doubt much whether my father ever made more than something like a hundred and twenty-five dollars a month. But my mother was very ambitious for me, and especially in the years of my formative training, to attend school. So in order that I might go to high school—which was a hundred and twenty-five miles away from the little town in which I grew up—and then finally to the university, my mother baked pies and sold them in the drug store. My mother sewed, she was a fine seamstress with her fingers and hands. And she would rent a house of size and then sub-rent it to others in order that we might have a way and a place to live. She had in her heart, as I was a little boy, that I was to be a physician, a doctor, like her father. Then when time passed, and I felt called of God to give my life to be a preacher, at first she was very disappointed, but then, praying in the will of God, rejoiced in the favor of heaven upon me.
But her insistence that I go to school and make the highest grade in the class, be never tardy, be never absent; and working hard to make it possible for me to attend school had a profound repercussion in my life and in the habits that I learned to follow, even as a small boy. And as the years passed, I became very conscious of the hands of my mother, old and gnarled. And I thought how many days, and hours, and years was she employed in working and striving and sacrificing for me. My mother’s hands:
I thought all my life that beauty
Was some kind of pretty scene,
Like an autumn sunset, or slow rolling hills,
Or a soft, running, mountain stream.
Then I happened to look at mother,
With her hands that were wrinkled and old,
And I thought of the beauty that lay there,
With the love and the story they told.
. . .
So now when I think of beauty
And all kinds of things made by man,
I think of the beauty that God made
And placed in my mother’s hands.
[from “My Mama’s Hands,” Norman Gammon]
There are four things about her that I would like to speak of this precious and beautiful hour. First: her Bible; in our home—and when I look back over it now, I can hardly realize it—in our home we were so poor that I did not have a nice Bible. The Bible that I had was one that was purchased for a few cents at a dime store. When I began preaching, therefore, at seventeen years of age, my mother felt that I needed a nice leather-bound Bible. So she placed her own in my hand, and I began preaching with that Bible opened in my hand. When she gave it to me, there was not a syllable in it but to her was the inspired Word of God [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. She believed all of it, from the first sentence to the last benedictory prayer: every page and every paragraph, every miracle, every divine promise; the whole revelation of God to her was found in this Holy Book.
After the years had passed and I had preached out of that Bible, I returned it to her after the passing of time. And when I did I believed, as the day when she placed it into my hand, every syllable, and every sentence, and every miracle, and every promise, and every divine, holy revelation of God. And I still do! There is no part of it but to me is the infallible and inerrant, God-breathed revelation of the divine glory found in Jehovah Jesus, our Lord and Savior [2 Timothy 3:16].
As some of you know, all this past week I have been in Virginia preaching at a pastor’s conference there. It was conducted in the church of one of our young interns, Rev. Rich Liner. And while I was there preaching three times a day to that assembly of pastors in Kentucky, and Virginia, and North Carolina, and Tennessee, one of those pastors came up to me, and he said, “Do you know what is the most impressive thing to me about you?” I said, “No.” Well, I knew what he had in his mind because our church is very well known. And our church is by far the biggest church in our Southern Baptist communion, and is by far the most famous of all of the Baptist churches in America. So I knew what he was thinking about, I have been pastor of the church for thirty and three years, following the far-famed Dr. Truett who was here forty and seven years. So I was just looking for something like that, something about our church, something about the ministry of the Lord in this sacred place. “What is the most impressive thing about you?” he said.
Well, I said, “I don’t know how to reply.”
Well, he said, “It is this, that all through the years and the years, you have stood for the infallible Word of God.”
I also knew the background out of which that came to his mind. For when I wrote that volume, Why I Preach that the Bible Is Literally True, there was an organization of religious Bible teachers in the southeastern states of the United States who had an assembly; who had a meeting, and categorically condemned me and censored me for writing such a book, why I believe that the Bible, Why I Preach that the Bible Is Literally True. And it impressed him that through all of these years of hammering and castigation that I still stood for the inerrant and infallible and inspired Word of God. And I do!
After fifty years of being a preacher and after ten thousand experiences, some of them difficult to wade through and to face: such as when I was nominated for the second term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, that little group of liberal, half-infidels, to me, did all they could to embarrass me. And through all these years I have never swerved, I have never changed; nor have I ever give vent in a written word or in any pronounced syllable here in the pulpit any other thing but that I believe this volume to be inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, without error, and is our safe and secure and certain guide to the eternal life that is yet to come. My mother believed that. To her the Bible was the infallible and inspired Word of the Lord. And after these many, many years I still believe in that Book just like her.
Second: her heart’s prayer for the saving of the lost; my mother was very much given to the persuasion that the services of the church ought to be soul-saving services—that we ought to be out witnessing for the Lord—and that, as we had the opportunity, we ought to testify to others of the goodness of God in Christ Jesus. She believed that people were lost without Christ, that He was our only hope and our only Savior. And as such, as she had opportunity, she was always speaking to others about the Lord and seeking to win them to the faith in Christ. She did that with me. In a revival meeting in which the pastor, the preacher—he was pastor at Dalhart, holding a revival meeting in our little town—stayed in our house. And every night after church he would talk to me about the Lord.
On a weekday morning, having the privilege—a little note from my mother saying that I could be dismissed from the class at school in order to attend the revival meeting—that morning when I went to the morning service, I just happened to be seated back of her. It was not planned, I just happened to sit down when I walked into the little white cracker-box of a church house. I just happened to be seated back of her. And after the service, after the sermon, and we stood up to sing the invitation hymn, and as they were singing, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” my mother turned around, she was crying, and said to me: “Son, today will you receive the Lord Jesus as your Savior?”
I said, “Mother, yes, today I will take the Lord as my Savior.” And I went forward, could hardly see the pastor of the church for the tears.
She was that way all through her life. When I used to visit her in her age, there was a young man, a friend of the family, for whom she was praying and to whom she witnessed at every opportunity. And the last time I was there, she told me that the young fellow had accepted the Lord as his Savior and had been baptized into the fellowship of the church. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? To have a mother who would pray for you; who would take you by name before the throne of God’s grace; who would yearn over your soul that you might be saved, and might live in heaven someday. What a marvelous and precious mother would be a mother like that!
In one of the cities on the eastern seaboard of Florida, I was holding a revival meeting in the First Baptist Church. And on a Sunday morning, the last Sunday morning of the revival meeting, the great auditorium was jammed with people like this. And when the invitation was extended, there came down the aisle an enormous man, a gargantuan man. He was the most famous man in that part of the world. He had developed some of those tremendous developments on the eastern seaboard—a very wealthy and a very famous man in Florida. He was also no less vile and wicked as he was famous and rich. A worldly man: had spent his life out in the world, but the people were praying for him and continued to pray for him. And that morning, when the invitation was given, down the aisle he came, giving his heart to Christ, accepting the Lord as his Savior. I so well remember, standing there in the pulpit when he came forward and the pastor received him, he put his arms around the pastor and just lifted him up, just held him up, embracing him. Then it was though heaven opened, the whole vast throng present that morning just burst into tears of gladness. They didn’t wait for anything; they just lost all decorum in their ecstatic joy and came out of the balcony, walked down the aisle, and hugged him, and kissed him, and patted him on the shoulder, and touched him. It was one of the divinest moments I have ever lived through. He was baptized that night, and then the next day I came back here to Dallas.
About a year later I was preaching at the state convention over there in the east. And the pastor came up to me, and I asked about that big man. And he said: “Let me tell you what happened the next day.” He said, “The next day, Monday, he disappeared. I wanted to see him and tell him how happy we are and how the whole world rejoiced with us, but I couldn’t find him. I went to his place, to his office, and his secretary didn’t know where he was. I went to his palatial home and his wife didn’t know where he was. He had just disappeared and he was gone for three days, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.”
And the pastor said to me, “On Thursday he reappeared.” He said: “Do you know what he had done? On Monday morning, early Monday morning, he had gone to the airport, and in a plane he flew to Asheville, North Carolina. And in Asheville, at the airport, he rented a car and he drove up into the mountains of western North Carolina, to a certain home, to a certain cottage. And as he drove up in front of the house, the mother in the house, looking out the window, saw the car drive up and saw the boy get out of the car. She came out of the house, and down the walkway, and to the gate of the picket fence, and looking up into the face of her boy said: ‘Son, you’ve never done this before. You’ve always called me when you were coming to see me. Son, what has happened? What is the matter?’ And looking steadfastly into his face, she burst into a cry, saying, ‘Son! Son, you’ve been saved, you have found the Lord!’”
And the pastor said to me, “That’s what happened on Monday morning. First thing he did was not to face the world of business in which he was so heavily involved. But the first thing he did was to go to his mountain home in North Carolina and tell his mother what had happened to him.”
What a glorious thing! What a precious thing—the answer to prayer on the part of a devout and consecrated mother! O God, that there would be ten thousand raised up like that dear mother, that mountain mother, and that the Lord might raise up a new generation in the earth, men and women, boys and girls, over whose souls mothers had prayed and believed God for salvation.
Number three: her devotion to the Baptist faith; my mother was a fanatical Baptist. Sometimes, as I watched her and listened to her, I came to the conclusion that, I do believe that she thinks there will be nobody in heaven but Baptists! It was amazing to me, the devotion she had to the Baptist church. I mean Baptist church. I asked her, “When did I first go to church?” She said, “I carried you to church when you were three weeks old.” Well, I never heard of a nursery; I was half grown before I ever saw one. Well, I said, “Mother, taking me to church so young, didn’t I disturb the service? Didn’t I holler, and yell, and ruin the preacher’s sermon?” She said, “You did just one time and I took you out, and then you never did it again.” My mother believed in “not sparing the rod,” and I grew up like that.
She went to church. She went to every service. We all went to church. We never missed. There was no thing ever had at the church in which we were not involved, and in which I was not involved. I grew up like that. And her devotion to the Baptist faith and communion was, as I say, almost unbelievable. She was as fanatical a Baptist as she was a fanatical Confederate. Her father was a doctor in the Confederate Army. And all of her life she was an unreconstructed, irreconciled Rebel; all of her life! She thought Yankees were traitors and foreigners. And she thought the Republican Party was unspeakable. My mother would turn over in her grave if she knew about me today—literally so. She was devoted to the Democratic Party, and devoted to the Confederate cause in the South, and devoted to the Baptist church!
You know—if I can be brazen enough—it was an interesting thing in our home. When I grew up, there was a deep schism in the Baptist work and life in the state of Texas that was led by two tremendously gifted men. One was J. Frank Norris, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, and the other was led by George W. Truett, pastor of the First Baptist Church here in Dallas. And that schism was carried on publicly over radio. Night after night sometimes, you could hear that bitter and acrimonious discussion. Now in our home, my father was a devout disciple of and follower of J. Frank Norris. My father thought he was the greatest champion for righteousness that ever lived. Frank Norris fought liquor, and Frank Norris fought gambling, and Frank Norris fought corruption in politics, and Frank Norris was standing up there championing the cause of God. And my father was a disciple of Frank Norris till the end of the way.
My mother was just the opposite. My mother thought that George W. Truett was the greatest hero that ever lived to champion the cause of Christ. And she looked upon Dr. Truett, and the men with Dr. Truett, and our Baptist General Convention of Texas, and our Southern Baptist Convention, as being the very instruments through which God was doing His work. She was so much that way—so much given to the Baptist communion in, like the First Church in Dallas and in the Baptist Convention and in our Southern Baptist Association of churches.
Well, as I look back over those days and think of the inordinate and indescribable love and admiration that my mother had for Dr. Truett, and this church, and all that Dr. Truett stood for—as I think about that I can hardly believe that the time should have come when, upon the death of the far-famed pastor, I should have been invited to be a successor to that world-famous minister of Christ. Ah, mother, in how many ways did you make an everlasting impression upon my heart and my life?
Fourth and last: I speak of her home in heaven. As the days multiplied and the years went by, and she came into age, she began to talk to me about heaven. I would never see her but that by and by the conversation would come to a question, to a discussion, to a visiting about heaven. And I was very grateful for something that had happened in my earlier life that had guided me into how I should do.
It was like this: there was a young minister who, when the older people would ask him about heaven, or talk to him about the world that is to come, he looked upon it as being a melancholy subject, and he ought to change it to something brighter. So when a dear, old saint was facing death and that child of God would ask something, or say something, or want to talk about heaven, he immediately would change the subject, to something, you know, brighter, or livelier, or something of the day. And an old preacher, seeing that in the young man, the old minister said to the young pastor, he said, “Son, you make a mistake in doing that.” He said, “Son, if you were going on a long journey—say, you are going to Europe, or you’re going to the Orient, or you’re going to India; you’re going on a long journey—wouldn’t you be interested in where you’re going? And wouldn’t you ask questions about the way, and what you’re going to see, and what you are going to experience? Wouldn’t you be interested if you were making a long journey?”
And the young fellow said, “Well, of course.”
Then the old minister said, “Well, son, these are facing a long journey. And they are interested in how is it going to be, and what will I see when I get there? And when they ask you and talk to you, you answer.”
I remembered that. So, when in the last years of her life she would talk to me about heaven: what is it like? And how will it be? I would talk to her the best I knew. So much of heaven God has not revealed to us. He just says that eye has not seen, and ear hath not heard, and heart has not imagined those good things God hath prepared for them who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. He just revealed some things about heaven. It’s a beautiful city; it has streets of gold; it has gates of pearl; it has walls of jasper, diamond [Revelation 21:9-21]. It has a throne of God [Revelation 22:1]; it has a river of life; it has a tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the people [Revelation2 2:1-2]. And Jesus is there. And the redeemed of God’s kingdom are all there [Revelation 22:3-5].
She would talk to me and I would talk to her. Then the day came when she fell invalid and ill. And for seven years she lingered as an invalid. When I look at our older people who can’t walk; some of them unable to rise from a bed; they’re old, and they’re ill, and they’re invalid, I know all about it. I know the hurt, and the sorrow that it bears. I’ve lived through every step of that way. And then, when she was six and eighty years of age, she just fell asleep in the Lord: without struggle, just closed her eyes and went to be with Jesus. She is buried on the side of a beautiful hill overlooking the San Fernando Valley. And I close with a poem that is so meaningful to me. It is entitled “The Morning and the Evening of Life.”
A lad stood by his mother’s grave.
His heart was drear and sad.
He had no home. He had no friends
To make his young heart glad.
He knelt there on his knees and prayed,
Beside his mother’s grave.
He said, “Dear Lord please guide me now,
Through life’s long, weary day.”
Long years passed by, the eve has come,
The sun is sinking away.
An old man stands upon a hill,
Beside a mound of clay.
His form is bent. His hair is white.
The tears stand in his eyes,
As once again, he kneels and prays,
And unashamed cries,
“O, God! the evening now has come,
And death is drawing nigh.
“I thank Thee for Your holy care
Through all the years gone by.”
Knelt there beside his mother’s grave,
As in the years gone by.
He said, “Dear Lord, please guide me home
To mother in the sky.”
[“The Morning and Evening of Life,” author unknown]
And that is my prayer with yours—a Christian mother who is at home with the Lord. And dear God, when the time comes for my translation, may God’s angels carry me home to my sweet mother in the sky. What a preciousness is the Christian faith. How incomparably dear is the hope we have in our blessed Lord.
And that is our invitation to you this beautiful Sabbath morning’s day. To give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10]; to put your life with us in the communion of the saints; to look forward not with dread or foreboding or disaster, but to look forward in triumph to that coronation when God shall gather us together around His throne of love and grace, there to be with Him and one another, world without end [John 14:3]. How could one refuse so precious an invitation as God extends to us in Christ Jesus? And that is our appeal to your heart this day. Down a stairway at the front or the back, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, today I’m giving my heart to the precious Jesus. I’m putting my life in the fellowship of this dear church. I want to be numbered with the people and family of God, and I’m coming.” Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand answering with your life. Do it now, make it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.