The Faith of Our Mothers
May 9th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
2 Timothy 1:1-4
THE FAITH OF OUR MOTHERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 1:1-4
5-09-82 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled The God of Our Mothers, The Faith of Our Mothers.
Turning to the last epistle of the apostle Paul before his martyrdom, 2 Timothy, and beginning at the first verse—2 Timothy:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in our Lord Jesus,
To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;
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, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and in thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.
[2 Timothy 1:1-5]
I have never been pastor of a church that did not have in it a T-E-L class, a Timothy, Eunice, and Lois class. The very thought of our mother brings us in humble adoration before Mother’s God. As a youth, I visited the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. I wanted to see where Billy Sunday was converted and where so many had been brought to the Lord. And as I walked into the mission, I was surprised to see the two big, large, expansive writings on each side, beyond the pulpit, here and there, against the back wall. On one side was John 3:16. All of us learned the beautiful verse in childhood. And on the other side was a question, “When last did you write to Mother?”
And as I sat there in the service and looked at those two disproportionate words, this one a summation of the whole dispensation of grace, the love of God in Christ Jesus, how we can be saved, John 3:16; and on the other side the sentence—the question: “When last did you write to Mother?” And as I tried to think through why the people who built that mission should have written those two things so disparate, then I came to a realization. When a wayward boy or the flotsam and jetsam of humanity came into the chapel and looked at that query, “When last did you write to Mother?” it would immediately bring back to the heart of the reader Mother’s God, Mother’s faith, Mother’s church, Mother’s Lord, Mother’s prayers, Mother’s intercession. Mother, sort of stands for God and the faith. After all, it is a faith so largely shaped by her.
One of the great rhetorical questions of Isaiah, in the fifty-first chapter of his prophecy, verses 1 and 2. He calls his nation back to a great, deepening consecration to the God of their fathers. And he does it in these resounding words: “Look unto the rock from whence you are hewn, and unto the pit from whence you are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah who bore you” [Isaiah 51:1-2].
After all, the story of the chosen people of God is largely the story of a woman—of a mother. The story of the beginning of the Hebrew race is the story of a woman. Sarah was barren, and God visited her and she became the mother of Isaac [Genesis 21:1-3]. Rebekah is a beautiful, precious, marvelous type of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the story of her betrothal to the child of Sarah is one of the most beautiful love stories in the Bible. And Rebekah became the mother of Israel, of Jacob [Genesis 24:1-67, 25:20-28]. It is no less the story of a woman in the birth of Joseph, whose mother was Rachel, whom Jacob loved [Genesis 29:28-30, 30:22-24].
The story of the beginning of the nation is the story of a woman. When she no longer could hide her little child, she placed him in an ark, and along the flags growing by the side of the river Nile where Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe, there was the little child discovered. And the sister of the baby asked Pharaoh’s daughter would she like a nurse who could take care of the child for her. And when Pharaoh’s daughter acquiesced, Miriam, the older sister, ran and fetched Jochebed, the baby’s mother. And Jochebed, the wife of Amram, nursed the child for Pharaoh’s daughter [Exodus 2:2-10].
It is said in the Bible that Moses was learned in all of the arts, and all of the wisdom of the Egyptians [Acts 7:22]. But when he became heir apparent to the throne and looked upon the travail of his brethren, he chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures and exultations of the throne of Egypt [Hebrews 11:24-25]. Where did he learn that? He learned that in the days of his upbringing as a small child, nursed and taught by his mother [Exodus 2:7-10].
The story of the beginning of the prophets is the story of a woman. Hannah prayed to God in the presence of old Eli, the pastor of the church, the high priest in the tabernacle, that God would give her a son. And if God would answer that prayer, she would lend him to the Lord all the days of his life [1 Samuel 1:9-11]. And when, according to the time of life, God gave to her a little son, she named him Samuel, “asked of God,” and brought the child to the tabernacle where old Eli presided as high priest [1 Samuel 1:20, 26-28]. And there, Samuel, the first prophet [1 Samuel 3:20-21], grew up in the presence of the Lord and delivered to his nation the prophetic messages from heaven.
The story of the beginning of the kings is the story of a woman. Ruth was a Moabitess. But as she gleaned in the fields of Boaz [Ruth 2], in the providence of God, they married and built their home in Bethlehem. And Ruth became the great, great grandmother of David. She was the mother of Obed, whose son was Jesse, whose son was David [Ruth 4:13-22]. Throughout the whole story of the chosen family of God, it is almost astonishing to see. It is the story of a woman.
When I turn to the book of the new covenant, of the new dispensation of this age of grace in which we live, the first sentence of the first book, Matthew, reads like this: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” [Matthew 1:1]. The book of the “genesis.” The Greek word translated here “generation” is “genesis.” The first book in the old covenant is Genesis—the beginning [Genesis 1:1]. The word that describes the introduction of this age of grace is the Greek word “genesis,” the book of the genesis of Jesus Christ [Matthew 1:1].
And here again, the beginning is the story of a woman. The angel Gabriel is sent to Elizabeth. And her husband, Zacharias, is told that in an old age, Elizabeth shall have a child who will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb [Luke 1:13-15]. Six months later, the same angel, Gabriel, is sent from the courts of heaven to Nazareth to announce to a virgin Jewish—a girl—by the name of Mary, that she is to be the mother of this foretold, foreordained Child [Luke 1:26-35]. “For the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” [Luke 1:35]. It is the story of a woman; the genesis of the beginning of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham, the Son of God [Matthew 1:1; Luke 3:38].
When He was raised from the dead, the genesis, the story of His resurrection, His immortality, is the story of a woman. Mary of Magdala, standing before the open tomb, wondering at what had happened; who had rolled the stone away? Why was it empty? Surely she thought someone had stolen His body and taken it away. And as she stood there, grieved, the risen, resurrected, glorified Lord spoke to her. And she, supposing Him to be the gardener, said, “Where have You laid Him that I may take Him away?” [John 20:11-15].
And the Lord pronounced her name as He had in the days of His Galilean ministry, and she recognized Him, the first one to see the Lord raised from the dead. And making her way at the commandment of the Savior, she ran to the apostles, saying, “He is alive. I have seen Him, Jesus lives!” [John 20:16-18]. It is the story of a woman.
When I read in history of the course of Western civilization, it is the gift to Christ, of the faith, the Christian persuasion, commitment of the Western world. And the genesis again is the story of a woman! When Paul and his companions went across the Hellespont into Macedonia, they found there a woman, a professional and businesswoman. She was from Lydia. In Asia Minor, in the Roman province of Asia, she was a seller of cloth to make beautiful garments out of, Lydia [Acts 16:14]. And she, with her women down by the riverside, held each Sabbath day, a prayer service of women [Acts 16:13]. And she was the first convert in the Western world, the first convert in Europe [Acts 16:15]. It began in the story of a woman!
And when I read the letters of the old and sainted apostle John, all of the disciples, all of the other apostles long since martyred, and John alone remains. He’s now a hundred years old. And he writes in this second epistle of John: “The elder, John, unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all that have known the truth say Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God and Jesus, the Son of the Father” [2John 1, 3].
Who is this elect lady? And whose children have been won to the faith and walk in the truth of our Lord? [2 John 1:4]. I don’t know. It but represents the preaching of the gospel in unknown places throughout the Greco-Roman empire. And entering into the heart of a devout woman, the gospel grew and flourished and brought life and light and salvation to humanity, to an elect lady, to a glorious woman somewhere, and her children.
In return, the Christian faith has elevated womanhood and motherhood beyond anything that we who live in Christendom could ever realize. It is hard for us to go back into those ancient days and to be sensitive and aware of how a woman was considered and treated and looked upon in that ancient world.
For example, Socrates, whom I would think would be chosen as representative of the finest in Greek culture, Socrates said, “I thank the gods that I am a Greek and not a barbarian.” All of those people back there divided themselves from others. To the Roman, all others were provincials. To the Jew, all others were Gentiles. To the Greek, all others were barbarians. “I thank God—I thank the gods,” said Socrates, “that I am a Greek and not a barbarian. I thank the gods that I am a freeman and not a slave, and I thank the gods that I am a man and not a woman.” He had cause to be grateful. She was chattel property.
In the Muslim world, a vast, vast, vast area of this globe, I was talking in the Levant to a wealthy Muslim Mohammedan merchant. And I said to him, “How many wives do you have?” He said, “Four. That’s the limit of the law in the Koran. I have four. But my son there”—he pointed out to him—”my son, he has just two. But he will be prosperous also. And when he is, he’ll be able to have four.”
So I asked that Mohammedan merchantman, “You have four? Do you have just four, or can you divorce them and you can have another four?” He said, “Yes. I am limited to four at a time.” Well, I said, “What do you do when you divorce one of the four? You’re tired of her, weary of her, and you divorce her.” He says, “All I need to do is to say ‘You get the’”—and he used a curse word, H-E double L — “‘out of here.’ And that’s all.” And he can divorce that woman with a curse and get him another woman. That is the whole Islamic world!
Have you been to India? The Hindu and its faith is no better. They believe in the transmigration of the soul. And if you’ve been bad, you’ll come back into this world a monkey. If you’ve been worse, you’ll come back as a spider. But if you’ve been terrible, you’ll come back as a woman; Hinduism today.
And so much of this national life in America, and we’re seeing it over here in the new world, so much of it is colored by the onslaught and the colonization and the spread of communism, When the plane landed in Leningrad, I stood there and watched the building of the airport. A big, heavy truck loaded with paving material dumped out; and the concrete being spread for the runways and the taxi aprons, and as I looked at the drivers of the truck and looked at the laborers with their shovels, pouring concrete, every one of them was a woman.
I have been so brought up in the faith and in the church that when I ever see a woman doing hard, manual work, there is something on the inside of me that rises up against it. I have been so brought up in the Christian faith that somehow I look upon a woman as being above, somebody to reverence, to fight for or die for or help or stand for, but not to be common and doing a hard man’s labor.
Well, where did I get that idea and that attitude toward womanhood? Somehow it is sacred and holy and set apart, the finest of God’s creations, the last and the dearest and the sweetest, the most beautiful and the best. Where did I get that idea?
It was to a woman that the Holy Spirit revealed the wonder and beauty of this Christ Child. She was a prophetess by the name of Anna. And the Holy Spirit revealed to her that this Child should be the Savior of the world, to a woman [Luke 2:36-38].
It was to a woman—and they can be unworthy, and this one was, she was a harlot of Sychar in Samaria. But to her, to her, to an audience of just one, the Savior preached the greatest sermon on spiritual worship in the history of human literature to a woman, to a woman [John 4:7-29].
It was to a woman that the Lord called the attention of his apostles and said, “Look at her. These who are more affluent out of their abounding superfluity have given to the work of the Lord. But she, look at her, she has given everything she has, even all her living.” She was so poor, her gift was two little pence; half of a modern penny. “Look at her,” said the Lord. Look at her, a woman [Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4].
It was for a woman that He stopped the funeral procession in Nain and gave back to her broken widow’s heart this only son [Luke 7:11-15]. It was for a woman whose brother had died that he returned Lazarus, raised from the grave [John 11:43-44]. It was for a woman that the Lord said: Wherever this gospel is preached, this also shall be told of her as a memorial, breaking the alabaster box; a woman [Mark 14:3-9].
And it was for a woman that the Lord spoke from the cross, addressing her, “Look, this is your son,” pointing to John and saying to John, “This is your mother.” And from that moment on, John took her to his own home and cared for her [John 19:26-27]. That’s the Lord. In the agony of His dying, seeing before Him the cry and the heartbreak of His mother, He gave her into the care and keeping of the sainted apostle John, who from that moment on took her to his own home. That’s our Lord.
And He is no different today than He was then. He is just glorified today. But He has the same heart, and the same love, and the same abounding grace, and it includes beautiful motherhood and precious womanhood. It is hard for us to realize today there was a time in Roman history when it looked as though the entire Roman civilized world would follow Mithra, Mithraism. You never heard of Mithra; you never read about Mithraism. Yet there was a time when it looked as if the god Mithra would be the universal religion of the civilized world. Why did it fail? Because it was only open to men. The Roman soldiers spread the faith of Mithra from one side of the world ruled by Rome to the other side. But it failed because it excluded mothers and sisters; woman.
The Christian faith is a woman’s faith. It’s a woman’s religion. And all of us who grew up in a Christian home—when I say it—a thousand, thousand memories come back to our hearts. This is my mother. This is Mother’s God. This is Mother’s church. This is Mother’s faith.
I talked one time to a brilliant scholar. I asked him, “How is it that these around you are infidels and atheists, but you, in the same intellectual world, are so Christian and so devout? How is that?” And his reply was one into which I could personally so deeply enter, “With all of the arguments and all of the forensics and all of the reasonings, I can never get away from the faith of my mother.”
By the thousands we witnessed to that everlasting persuasion. Whatever the splendid arguments of infidelity, somehow we can never forget the faith, and the God, and the prayers, and the love of our mothers. And to pay tribute to them today is one of the wonderful things I would love to do. And I am just your spokesman. If you were here, you’d say the same, “I praise God for my Christian mother.” Now may we stand together?
Our precious Lord in heaven, You had a mother, and in loving care, dying on the cross, said words of an affection that would move any heart, however hardened. And the beautiful example that we have seen in our own mothers bows us in deepest, humblest gratitude today for their love and care when we were helpless, our upbringing when we were small, and the goodnesses by which our lives have been enriched in their sacrifice and in their beautiful remembrance. And our Lord, what a wonderful day if this could be an hour when we praise God and show gratitude to our Lord for a Christian mother; some of us accepting Jesus as our Savior [Romans 10:9-13], some of us following Him through the waters of the Jordan [Matthew 3:13-17], some of us coming into the fellowship of His church.
And in this moment when our people pray and wait, make that decision in your heart, “Pastor, today we have decided for God, and here we stand.” In the balcony round, down one of those stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, we’re coming. The whole family of us, we’re coming.” Just a couple you, “We’re coming.” Or just one somebody you, as the Spirit shall open the door and lead in the way, make the decision in your heart. And on the first note of this first stanza, that first step will be the finest you’ve ever made in your life.
And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You give us, and for angels attending our way, and for the joy and gladness of a commitment to Christ. Unashamed, open, public, here we stand. God bless in Thy wonderful name, amen. Come and welcome, while we sing.