The Sincere Faith of Mothers

Dr. Brian Allison

This past week, a Christian brother and I were talking about our mothers. While growing up, each of us had a good, close relationship with our mothers. We both reflected on the loyal love of our mothers. Rudyard Kipling, the Indian-born English writer, wrote a poem entitled, "Mother O' Mine" which plainly captures this theme of maternal loyal love. He writes:

If I were hanged on the highest hill,

Mother o' mine, O Mother o' mine!

I know whose love would follow me still,

Mother o' mine, O Mother o' mine!

If I were drowned in the deepest sea,

Mother o' mine, O Mother o' mine!

I know whose tears would come down to me.

Mother o' mine, O Mother o' mine!

If I were damned of body and soul,

I know whose prayer would make me whole.

Mother o' mine, O Mother o' mine!

The loyal love of a mother! My mother tremendously influenced, and greatly motivated, me as a young boy and a young man. When I was six months old, my mother left my father because of infidelity, and she alone had to raise my brother and me. I often did well in school because I wanted to please my mother. I remember on various occasions going home and showing her my report card with one or two poor marks. She would only have to say something like this, "Now, Brian, I know that you can do better than that;" and the next term I would often do better than that. One of the reasons I went to university was because mother had gone to university, and I thought that she would be proud of me. I became interested in communication and public speaking because mother first became interested in communication and public speaking. So my mother has had a tremendous impact on me.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) once said, "All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), the American essayist and poet, said, "Men are what their mothers made them." Daniel Webster (1782-1852), the American lawyer, politician, and perhaps one of the greatest orators in the history of the United States, claimed that his masterful use of the English language was the result of his mother's teaching. Many great men and women owe their greatness to great mothers. Mothers can make a tremendous impact in the different areas of the lives of their children, especially in the area of spiritual growth. D. L. Moody (1837-1899), the evangelist from Northfield, Massachusetts, attributed all of his accomplishments to the influence of his mother. William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), the Christian American journalist and abolitionist, credited all his merits to his mother's teaching.

The spiritual influence of Lois and Eunice

The Scriptures themselves teach that mothers can have a tremendous spiritual impact on their children. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, "For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well" (2 Tm. 1:5). Timothy was a man with a nervous disposition, a man characterized by timidity and fear. Yet Timothy was an effective missionary, pastor, and evangelist. I believe that his accomplishments and productivity were, in part, due to the influence of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. Though we are not given the actual record, I believe that Timothy's grandmother and mother had a tremendous spiritual impact on his life. I believe that his mother and his grandmother laid a sure spiritual foundation on which this young man could build and develop his own spiritual life. I believe that they shaped his heart and mind, and thus prepared him for the work that the Lord had ordained for him. I doubt that Timothy was a self-made man. I think that he was nurtured on the knees of his mother and at the feet of his grandmother, witnessing their faith, and subsequently through that witness, he himself came to faith.

The apostle Paul took note of the sincerity of Timothy's faith. The Greek word in this text (2 Tm. 1:5), from which is translated 'sincere,' basically means 'not hypocritical.' The apostle thus identifies Timothy's faith as a genuine faith, the real thing, as opposed to a pretentious faith, a mere facade. Now the apostle uses this particular phrase a few times in writing to his spiritual son, Timothy. For instance, in writing his first epistle to him, Paul says, "But the goal of our instruction [or Bible teaching] is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tm. 1:5). For Paul, sincere faith is the only true faith. He contrasts this kind of faith with an empty, temporary, or ineffectual faith. He writes, "This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so they may be taught not to blaspheme" (1 Tm. 1:18-20). A sincere faith continues to secure salvation.

A spiritual foundation

Again, Timothy's sincere faith had some connection with, and some roots in, his godly heritage. His grandmother and mother laid the spiritual foundation for his faith (though the apostle Paul himself may have been the specific instrument for the actual realization of that faith). So the apostle could say of Timothy, "And that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (1 Tm. 3:15). Timothy had a spiritual family history. His believing grandmother and mother, no doubt, instructed him in the Old Testament Scriptures, which spiritually prepared him for salvation.

Seemingly, Timothy had only one believing parent. On his second missionary journey, the apostle Paul retraced the steps of his first one. We read, "Then he [Paul] came also to Derbe, and to Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek" (Acts 16:1). Timothy's father apparently was an unbeliever. Hence, the obvious implication is that Eunice's faith was of such sterling quality and effectual force that it countered and annulled the adverse effects of her husband's unbelief on the life and development of their son. I would suppose that her faith shone brightly and that it was of such a dynamism as to significantly impact Timothy. Her faith apparently served to shield his soul from the negative sociological influences exerted upon him, so that in due time out of that soul a similar faith would spring.

A godly heritage

By way of practical application, first, a godly or Christian heritage is vitally important, and is of inestimable value and worth, in the lives of children. The parental-spiritual effect is incalculable. Parents should seriously consider this fact. Mom (and dad), the way you live your life in your home, and the testimony that you present to your family, has eternal effect on the lives of your son or daughter. Richard Cecil (1748-1810), perhaps one of the most influential London preachers in his day, said that he tried unsuccessfully to be an infidel. The one argument he could never answer was the beauty, elegance, and power of the Christian life of his mother. Mom, you can be a beautiful model for your children. You can wear the Gospel, even when you do not speak the Gospel, and through the winsomeness of your life, through that sweet fragrance of grace that emanates from your soul, your children can be drawn to the Lord and experience the joy of Christ's life. Mom, you have a godly heritage that you can pass on to your children, which is perhaps the greatest gift, as well as the supreme legacy, that you can give to your children. This gift and legacy of a Christian heritage brooks no rivals. Material goods fail; university degrees rot; position and status will disappear, but a godly heritage lives on.

The salvation of children

Secondly, through a sincere faith and godly life, mothers can be responsible (from a human perspective) for the salvation of your children, either directly or indirectly. What a wonderful privilege! Mom, you can be used of God to bring your children into the kingdom of God and to glory. Though the apostle Paul may have pulled the salvation trigger on Timothy, Lois and Eunice aimed the loaded gun. The notable Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) once said that he owed much of his spiritual direction and tone to the words of his mother. When he and his siblings were quite young, his mother would keep them home from church on Sunday evening in order to spiritually instruct them. She would seat them around the table and would proceed to read and explain Bible verses to them. She followed this by asking such questions as: "Are you ready to seek the Lord now?" "Are you ready to consider your spiritual condition now?" Then she would close in a word of prayer.

Hudson Taylor (1832-1905), founder of the China Inland Mission, went into his father's library when he was 18 years old and found a Gospel tract. He read that tract and was deeply convicted. He unsuccessfully tried to resist the message, but eventually fell to his knees and accepted Christ as his Saviour. Now his mother was away on a trip at that time. Ten days later Mrs. Taylor returned and Hudson, being so excited about his new faith, shared the good news with his mother, to which his mother responded, "I know. Ten days ago I spent the whole afternoon in prayer to God pleading that my wayward son would become a member of the fold." Mom, you can have a tremendous ministry to your children, and it is never too late. You should take time to minister to your children. To be sure, we live very busy lives, but if we view this ministry as important enough, we can make time every week, even every day, to exert some spiritual influence on our children. What will it matter if they do financially well in the world by affluent society's standards, but are spiritually poor in the after-world by heaven's standards? Will you on that final day of judgement, wiping the tears from your eyes, regret the wrong emphasis, focus, and direction that you provided for your children. Decide and act now how you then would wish you had decided and acted. Not a few Christians have come to a saving knowledge of Christ through the godly witness and testimony of their mother.

An unbelieving husband

Thirdly, mothers can be instrumental in bringing their children to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ even within a domestic context of unbelief. Mom, maybe you are saying, "Well, my husband is an unbeliever. He is not the spiritual leader." That was the case with Eunice, but she had such a faith that the negative sociological influences exerted upon Timothy seemed to pale into insignificance. Again, her faith shone brightly and, no doubt, countered and corrected the paganistic understanding and practices. Mom, take encouragement. Monica (c. 331-387), the mother of the great Church Father Augustine (354-430), is perhaps the most saintly mother that the Christian Church has ever known. Augustine refers to her in his Confessions. At one time, she was the only believer in her family. For awhile, Augustine lived a life of debauchery and licentiousness, but he could never get away from the force of the prayers and words of his saintly mother Monica. Her prayers and words finally overtook him. He was converted and became one of the most notable of church theologians. Maybe, Mom, your husband, the father of your children, lacks a sincere faith, or maybe he is not the spiritual leader of your home. Take heart. The power and dynamic of your faith can shine through the deepest darkness of your home and into the life of your son or daughter; and through that light, your son or daughter may come to know the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Preparing children for Christian service

Fourthly, mothers can be instrumental in guiding their children into Christian service. Again, I surmise that Timothy was thrust into the Christian ministry, and subsequently used effectively by the Spirit, as a result of the godly influence of his mother and grandmother. Mom, you can be used of God to prepare your son or daughter for some ministry; and God may use them to make a powerful impact on this age, and even on the ages to come. I believe that the highest vocation is that of the Christian ministry. I know that some Christians may not share this conviction. Moms (and dads) may have grand dreams of their children becoming lawyers, doctors, politicians, etc. How many Christian parents have the desire for their son or daughter to enter into the Lord's work? Robert Moffat (1795-1883), the Scottish missionary to South Africa, acknowledged that he became a missionary through the influence of his mother. I am personally encouraged by my own mother's response to my involvement in Christian ministry. She continually expresses how proud she is that her son is a minister of the Gospel. Parents should be proud of their children entering the Lord's work; and parents can be instrumental in guiding their children into that work.

John Wannamaker (1838-1922), an American merchant, philanthropist, and Sunday School promoter, wrote a letter in the twilight of his life, when he had withdrawn from the great store that he had built and from his many public duties. The contents of his letter succinctly summarizes the essence of the central place of a mother in a son or daughter's life. He wrote, "My first love was my mother, and my first home was on her breast. My first bed was upon her bosom. Leaning my arms upon her knees I learned my first prayers. A bright lamp she lit in my soul, that never dies down nor goes out, though the winds and the waves of fourscore years have swept over me. Sitting in my mother's old armchair which she loved because her firstborn son gave it to her forty years ago, I am writing this in the evening twilight. With the darkness falling I seem to lose myself in a flood of memories, and to feel that the arms of the chair have loosed themselves to become my very own mother's arms around me again, drawing me to her bosom, the happiest place on the earth, just as she used to do in the days and nights long gone by. I feel the touch of her little hand on my brow, and I hear her voice as she smoothes my hair and calls me her boy, her very own boy."

Let us truly thank the Lord for every remembrance of our mothers, and may their faith greatly inspire us.