In Memory of Mother
May 8th, 1977 @ 8:15 AM
IN MEMORY OF MOTHER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-8-77 8:15 a.m.
There will be a great throng of you who are listening to this service on radio, the radio of the city of Dallas, WRR, and the radio of our Bible Institute, KCBI. We invite you to our services in the course of the day; our Sunday school at nine-thirty, our second service of preaching and worship at ten minutes until eleven, and then our service this evening at seven o’clock, when two famous opera singers and religious singers, Hale and Wilder, are to be present with us.
Now this is the Mother’s Day, one of the sweetest days in all the world. And just as a background text, not to be expounded, in nowise an exegetical and inspired Word presentation, but just as a background:
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister,
And when Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple standing by, whom He loved –
that is, the apostle John –
He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son!
Then said He to the disciple whom He loved, to John,
Behold thy mother! And from that time that disciple took her unto his own home.
The reason for it is most obvious: the brethren of the Lord, the brothers of the Lord, did not believe in the Lord [John 7:5]. They looked upon Him as being beside Himself [Mark 3:21], the Bible says. We would say they looked upon Him as being mad, He had lost His mind. So when the Lord saw His mother at the cross, instead of commending her to James, who later became a Christian, or to Simon or Jude or Joseph, other of His brothers, He commended her to the beloved disciple, the sainted apostle John. And thereafter she lived in his home. "From that hour he took her into his own home" [John 19:27]. Well, just one of the most beautiful things that you could describe in the life of our Lord: the commending of His mother to the care of John, taking care of her, even while He was dying on the cross.
The title of the sermon is In Memory of Mother; and I wish that I had the eloquence to pay tribute worthy of her wonderful goodnesses to me and of course to you, your mother. And so when I speak this morning, I am speaking as typical. I speak of my mother, but I also mean your mother. So I shall just speak of my mother as for all of us.
My mother was committed to taking me, and rearing me in the Lord, and in the world of training and education. She had a fanatical devotion to my education, as well as to my Christian upbringing. When I was a little fellow, it was her thought that I was to be a physician, a doctor, like her father, and that meant of course, to be educated. So there was never any excuse for me not to make the highest grade in the school. Nor was there ever any excuse for me not to attend. Nor was there ever any excuse for me not to study. As far back as I can remember I studied, I prepared the lessons; I was expected to make the highest grade. And I never failed to attend school; not to be tardy, ever; not to be absent, ever. I went to school. And as I shall speak later on, I went to church, and took part in it, just as faithfully as I was encouraged to go to school.
Now, being reared in a very poor family in a very much out of the way place, for me to go to school and for me to have the opportunities that would make it possible for me to be what she thought was a doctor, and later on as a preacher, why I had to be supported. I did not have any way to support myself – being a child, as you grew up, somebody took care of you – that’s why we owe so tremendous a debt to these who did take care of us. So, she worked with her hands: she baked pies and sold them in the drug store. She took in sewing; she was a fine seamstress. And she would rent a big house and sub-rent it in order to live where I could go to school; first to high school, and then to the university. And in later years, when I became more sensitive to her work and her devotion to me, I began to look at her hands. She had labored with them, hard, all of her life. And in later years, they were very gnarled, very, very much plainly old and worn. She had a wedding band that was wide, and plain, and gold; and she could never take it off, the joints in her hands had so enlarged. So when she was buried, she was buried with her wedding band; we couldn’t take it off. I have never seen it off of her hand.
I thought all my life that beauty was some kind of a pretty scene, like an autumn sunset, or slow rolling hills, or a soft running mountain stream. Then I happened to look at my 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, in all kinds of things made by man, I think of the beauty that God made and placed in my mother’s hands. That’s a remarkable thing, how you change as the days grow. And as we come to understand some of the values of life, so much taking for granted when we’re young and inexperienced, and then so precious when you come to realize what these have done for us who gave us their very life.
So in memory of mother, I have four things out of a multitude that I could recall. I have four things to say about her. First: her Bible; it will be almost unthinkable to you that when I started to preach – seventeen years of age when I started out to preach – I had nothing but a cheap Bible bought at a Woolworth’s store. So my mother gave me her Bible; she had a leather bound Bible. So she gave me her Bible that I might have a presentable Book when I stood up to preach. She believed every word of it. No syllable in it was to her impossible. Whatever God’s Word said, that God did; inspired all of its pages, all of its paragraphs, all of its sentences, all of its miracles, all of its revelation, all of its promise. She believed every syllable of it. And in the after years, when I gave her back her Bible, I gave it to her in the same way that she had given it to me: I believed every syllable of it, every sentence in it, every paragraph on every page. And I still do.
This last week, I have been in Virginia preaching at a pastors’ conference. And one of those preachers, pastors, in Virginia, in talking to me, said, "Do you know what is the most impressive thing to me about you?" I said, "No, I have no idea." Well he said, "When people think about you, they think about the big church and about the things that you have done and been elected to in the convention," and many, many other things he mentioned. But he said, "You know what I think about, when I think about you and the most impressive thing about you?" He said, "To me the most impressive thing about you is this: that through all of the years, and the years, and the years, you have never deviated from standing by the inspired, inerrant, unchanging, God-breathed, Holy Bible. You’ve been that way all through the years; and you still are."
And of course, over there where he lives, I’ve been hammered at, and especially when that book came out, Why I Preach That the Bible is Literally True, it was the professors over there in those southeastern universities that met together and formally voted to condemn and to censor me because I believe the Bible. He speaks from that background. I understood what he was talking about. But he doesn’t know the half of it. You see, I was taught that as a child. My mother, when she gave me that Bible, believed that. And I still do, and always will.
This Book is God’s Book. This Book speaks to us of the heart of the Lord. And if I want to know God, I find Him in this Book. If I would be introduced to Jesus, I find His face in this Book. And if I want to know how to go to heaven, I learn so from this Book. And if someday I have any hope of standing before the presence of God in the forgiveness of sins and in the precious hope of a home in glory, it’s because I learned it from this Book. I am glad to say that I placed that Book back in my mother’s hands, in the same faith and in the same belief as she first placed it in mine. I believe the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God.
Number two about my mother: she was a soulwinner in her humble and precious way; always witnessing when she had opportunity, trying to win others to Jesus. She did so with me. When I was a boy, I was ten years of age, in a weekday revival meeting, having permission to leave school to attend the morning service, I happened to be – had no plan for it, when I walked in to the church house – I happened to be seated back of my mother, in the pew right back of her in that little white crackerbox of a church house. And when the preacher had done his message, and they sang, "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood," while they were singing that hymn, she turned around – she was crying – and asked me, "Son, today, will you receive Jesus as your Savior?" I said, "Yes, Mother, today." Couldn’t see the preacher for crying; that’s my mother, with tears, inviting to the Lord.
In her old age, one of the last things I remember about her, she had been witnessing to a young man who was in the family circle out there where they lived. Not winning him, continuing to pray for him, telling me about him. And the last time I was there, she had won that young fellow to the Lord and had – and the young fellow had been baptized into the church. Ah! That’s a wonderful way for God’s people to be: not offensive, you don’t have to be; not a nuisance, you don’t have to be; but in a beautiful, and prayerful, and loving way to seek after souls that they might be saved. And to have a mother who prays for you, who did pray for you, who rejoiced in your salvation, that is incomparably a gift of God.
I was holding a revival meeting in one of those big cities on the eastern, the Atlantic seaboard of Florida. In that town lived a giant of a man, one of the biggest men I’ve ever seen in my life, a giant of a man. He was a very famous man. He had developed miles of that seacoast; built homes, developed it into towns and cities, a very famous man, but a very wicked man, a worldly man. Well, those people in the church began praying for him in that revival meeting. He came to the services. And Sunday morning, at a Sunday morning service like this, with the church jammed with people in the balcony and on the lower floor, that man came down the aisle at the invitation. He was so big that, when he came to the preacher, he just picked him up in his arms and hugged him; just picked him up, and said to the pastor, "Today, I take Jesus as my Savior, and I want to be baptized, and I want to belong to the church." You would have thought that glory had fell and heaven itself had come down. The people just immediately broke out of their places, out of the balcony, out of the church, and began to hug him, and to kiss him, and to shake his hand, and to pat him on the back; all of them weeping for gladness, for joy. It was one of the happiest scenes I’d ever looked upon in my life. Well, I was over there about a year later, preaching at a state convention. And the pastor came to me, and I asked him about that big man. Well, he said, "Let me tell you." He said, "Sunday morning, you remember, he came down the aisle and in the rejoicing of the people he was saved, and he was baptized that night. Well," he said, "the next morning, he disappeared. Monday morning, he disappeared. I went to see him at his office and his secretary didn’t know where he was; nobody knew where he was. So," he said, "I went to his home, and his wife didn’t know where he was. He just disappeared; and he was gone for three days – Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, disappeared – just disappeared, Thursday he came back." And he said to me, he said, "You’d never guess what happened." What happened was this: Monday morning, after he was converted and baptized on Sunday, Monday morning he went to the airport and flew in an airplane to Ashville, North Carolina. And in the airport at Ashville, North Carolina, he rented a car and he went up to a mountain home. And at a certain cottage, up there in the mountains, he got out of the car; and when he did so, his mother saw him in the cottage of their mountain home. And she came out, and down the walkway to the gate of the picket fence, and looked at that boy. And she looked at him, and she said, "Son, you have never come to see me without first telling me you were coming. You’ve never done this before. Son, what is the matter? What has happened?" And she continued looking up into his face. And then she burst into tears, and said, "Son, you’ve been saved, you’ve been saved. God has answered my prayers. You’ve been saved. You’ve been saved." And the pastor said to me, "That’s what happened when he just disappeared. Before he faced the business world in which he’d lived all those years, first he wanted to tell his mother he had found the Lord." I thought that was one of the dearest things I had ever heard of in my life: first, to tell his mother he had found the Lord.
All right, number three: my mother was a fanatical Baptist; it just beat anything I ever saw in my life. Sometimes she made me wonder whether anybody else was going to be in heaven but just Baptists. It was remarkable to me, the devotion she had to the Baptist church. I asked her, "Mother, how old was I when you first took me to church?" She said, "You were three weeks old." Well, I said – you know we had no nursery, I never heard of a nursery – I said, "How did I do when I went to church so young?" Well, she said, "There came a time when you misbehaved and you, you know, you hollered out and you know, things like little fellows would do. But," she said, "you never did it but just one time. I took you out and attended to you, and thereafter in church you were always a model little boy." She believed in not sparing the rod. Oh, dear! She went to church, and I went to church. And she never failed to attend all of the services, and took me by her side.
My mother, her father, as I said, was a doctor in the Confederate Army. And she was an unreconciled, unreconstructed Rebel to the day of her life. She thought all of those Yankees up there were foreigners. And she had that same fanatical devotion about the Baptist faith and the Baptist church. She was a Baptist. And she taught me into that same faith and fanatical devotion. I sometimes have a little trouble over that. I am so much of a Baptist and so committed to the Baptist faith, and the Baptist communion, and the Baptist doctrine, and the Baptist message, and the Baptist way, until I have a sometimes a tendency to be biased and prejudiced in my judgments about other denominations and other religious communities. But I got that from her. She had an illimitable devotion to the Baptist church. Wherever she was, there she went to the Baptist church, and brought me up, as I say, in the Baptist faith. I could say a whole lot of things about that, about people that you know; but I ought not to do it.
Her dream of a mighty man of God was George W. Truett. And there came many times discussions in our church, in our family, about the things that were going on in our denomination that are long since forgotten. When J. Frank Norris was in Fort Worth and George W. Truett was in Dallas, my father was a great admirer of Frank Norris. Oh! Frank Norris, to my father, was like a crusader; he fought gambling, and he fought liquor, and he fought drunkenness, and he fought corruption in politics, and my father just was an inveterate disciple of J. Frank Norris. Now my mother was just the opposite: my mother was a devout believer in and follower of George W. Truett. Now this is in the day – and I thank the Lord this is all past – this is in the day when there was bitter castigation, and bitter recrimination, and bitter forensics between Dr. Norris and the Baptist people of the Southern Baptist Convention in Texas and in the South. But oh, dear! The devotion that my mother had to this church, and to that great pastor, and to the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and to the Southern Baptist Convention was just as high as heaven itself. And I often think about that. Isn’t it unbelievable that I should be standing here in this pulpit, where her hero of the faith, and of the preaching ministry, and of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and of the Southern Baptist Convention, that I should be standing here in his pulpit, preaching the gospel where he labored and ministered for forty and seven years?
Last: her home in heaven; when she grew older – she died when she was eighty-six years of age – when she grew older she began to talk to me about heaven. Never go see her but that as we visited together she would begin talking about heaven.
I am grateful that I learned something in the years before, or I would have fallen into the same mistake as this young minister did. He was a young pastor, as I was, and when people would talk to him about heaven, older people, he’d try to change the subject lest he gave the impression that they were going to die, and it was a lugubrious subject, a melancholy subject. So he tried to brighten up the conversation. Instead of talking about heaven, as though they were going there soon – going to die – well, he would try to brighten up the subject by changing it to something else.
And an older pastor, an older pastor talked to the young fellow and said, "Young man, tell me, if you were going on a long journey, wouldn’t you be interested in asking about where you’re going and what you’re going to see, if you were making a long journey? Say you were going to Europe, or you were going to the Orient, wouldn’t you be interested in where you were going?"
And the young fellow said, "Why yes." And the old man, the old preacher said, "Son, that’s exactly the way with these. They’re going on a long journey, and they’re interested, and they want to talk to you about it, and they want to ask you questions about it." And he says, "Don’t change the subject,, talk to them. Talk to them." And I remembered that in the years that passed, when she became older, she began to talk to me about heaven. And I answered the best that I knew.
What is it like? And when do we go? Do we go immediately when we die? Unequivocally, yes! Close our eyes in this world, and open them in glory. And, oh! So many other things, talking about heaven.
In a tragic illness, invalid for seven years, oh, dear! When I look at our people now, who fall into invalidism, they can’t get out of the house, they – some of them – cannot get out of the bed and they lie there, and the days are long and the nights are longer, and the days become months and the months become years. When I see that now, I live through every syllable of it. Seven years my mother was invalid, and just fell asleep in the Lord after those years; no struggle, no convulsion, just quietly fell asleep in the arms of Jesus, and is buried on a hillside overlooking the San Fernando Valley.
And I close with this poem entitled, "The Morning and Evening of Life":
A lad stood by his mother’s grave, his heart was dear and sad,
He had no home, he had 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 had come; the sun was sinking away,
An old man stood upon a hill, beside a mound of clay.
His form was bent, his hair was white, the tears stood in his eyes,
As once again, he knelt and prayed, 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."
He knelt there, by his mother’s grave as in the years gone by,
He said "Dear Lord, please guide me home, to Mother in the sky."
And I pray, Lord, it’ll be that way with us. If mother is in heaven, may God grant it that we not fail of that beautiful rendezvous. Make way for us, Lord, in our day and in our time. That God will grant to us a home with her in heaven. I do not know of a sweeter faith, a more precious promise, or a brighter hope than that someday we can be together in glory.
We’re going to stand in a moment now, and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing that song, I have chosen it because I have heard my mother sing this song a thousand times a thousand times; washing the dishes, washing the clothes, cooking the meal, singing this song. And while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just one somebody you, to give your heart in faith to the Lord, or to come into the fellowship of the church, as the Spirit would press the invitation, answer with your life. Down a stairway, down an aisle, "Here I am, preacher, I make it now." Do it. Come, while we stand and while we sing.