When General Grant's mother died at Jersey City in 1883, he said to the minister who was to officiate at the funeral: "Make no reference to me. She owed nothing to me, to any post I have occupied or any honors that have been paid me. Speak of her just as she was, a pure-minded, simple-hearted, earnest Methodist Christian."
There is an old tradition that the angel who let Peter out of prison was his mother. Certainly, if such a task is assigned to those who have passed from this world into the world to come, a good mother would qualify for it better than anyone else. And we like to think, at least, that our mothers compass us about and follow us with their prayers, rejoicing over our successes and grieving over our hurts and wounds—grieving most of all when we yield to temptation and turn away from Christ.
Napoleon, whose mother, Madame Mere, was one of the strongest of women, said: "My opinion is that the future good or bad conduct of a child depends entirely on its mother."
When Alexander the Great entertained the kings and nobles at the court of Persia, he appeared wearing only those garments which had been woven for him by his mother, Olympias, who was the daughter of a chieftain, the wife of a king, and the mother of a conqueror. Long ago we discarded the garments that were made for us by a loving mother's hands; and yet, in a certain sense, as to life and character, we are all still wearing the garments that were woven for us by a mother.
Ian Maclaren—Dr. John Watson— when a boy lost his mother, for whom he had a deep devotion. When she was on her deathbed he made with her some mysterious pact or covenant which he was to keep till they met again in the other world. He used to tell his friends how that sacred treaty and covenant between his mother and himself had often kept him safe when assailed by the temptations of life.
There was a woman who had wandered very far from the teachings and example of her Christian home. She was seated at the dinner table, arrayed in the most fashionable and costly style and surrounded by gay and altogether worldly companions, when the butler came up bearing a salver with a note on it. The woman took the note, read it, and immediately excused herself. Presently she came back arrayed in the garb of a waitress—a black dress with white collar and cuffs. Her guests thought that this was a new and novel means of entertainment; but their jokes and laughter soon turned to silence, for the woman said, "I am going home. My mother is dying. She thinks I am a waitress." Then, sweeping the company with scorn, contempt, and remorse, she added, "And would to God I were!"
Said Henry Ward Beecher concerning the influence on him of the sorrows and sufferings of his mother: "Now you may put all the skeptical men that ever lived on the face of the earth on one side, and they may plead in my ears. And all the scientists may stand with them, and marshal all the facts of the universe to disprove the truth of Immanuel, God with us; and yet, let me see my mother, walking in a great sorrow, but from the surface of which sorrow reflecting the
light of cheer and heavenly hope, patient, sweet, gentle, full of comfort for others—yea, and showing by her life as well as her lips that with the consolation wherewith she has been comforted, she is comforting others—and that single instance of suffering is more to me, as an evidence of the truth of Christianity, than all the arguments that the wisest men can possibly bring against it."
What could surpass the beauty and tenderness of the sentence which Thomas Gray wrote for the resting place of his mother? In the old churchyard at Stoke Poges, hard by the elm and yew beneath which Gray wrote the matchless "Elegy," you can read today these words: "In the same pious confidence, beside her friend and sister, here sleep the remains of Dorothy Gray, widow, the careful and tender mother of many children, one of whom alone had the misfortune to survive her."
On the grave of Phillips Brooks's mother is the verse put there by her sons: "O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt" (Matt. 15:28).
In his Journal, in the entry for February 28, 1854, soon after his mother's death, Carlyle tells of a vision he had of the old home, Main Hill, with mother, father, and the others getting dressed for church: "They are all gone now, vanished all their poor bits of thrifty clothes, their pious struggling efforts, their little life—it is all away, it has all melted into the still sea, it was rounded with a sleep. Oh, pious mother, kind, good, brave, and truthful soul, as I have ever found, and more than I have elsewhere found in this world, your poor Tom, long out of his school days now has fallen very lonely, very lame and broken in this pilgrimage of his, and you cannot help him or cheer him any more. But from your grave yonder in Ecclefechan churchyard you bid him trust in God, and that also he will try, if he can understand, and do."
A well-known minister once shared his story on how one of his classmates at Yale, also a well-known minister, came to enter the ministry.
When they were students at Yale a great revival broke out, and many were taking a stand for Christ and the Christian life. This one man appeared to be untouched by the sacred influence; he made no profession of faith and showed no interest in the revival. Long after they had both become ministers, his friend asked him how it was that he had gone into the ministry, especially since he was one of the few students who had not been moved by the revival which swept the college when they were at Yale.
His answer was the story of a mother's prayers. He related how he had been greatly affected and moved by the revival, but steeled himself against it, chiefly on the ground that if he yielded and confessed his faith he would likely become a minister. After he left Yale, he went south to Georgia and entered the law office of a noted Southern lawyer. He tried to put out of his mind all thoughts of the Christian life and the Christian ministry. He progressed so well in his law studies, and was so highly thought of, that his employer proposed to take him abroad for a trip, and when they returned to have him enter his office as his partner.
But one day the young lawyer received a letter from his father far off in New England, telling him that his sister and his mother had died, and that when his mother died her last request was that the father should tell their son that she died praying for his conversion. When he got this letter he went out into the pine forest and, sitting down beneath a tree there, fought his lonely battle. The issue was that he determined to confess his faith in Christ and enter the Christian ministry. He gave up his bright career in the law, returned to the divinity school at Yale, and shortly afterward was ordained as a minister. Before he was ordained, however, there was a baptism to be administered in the little church which he was serving. He had a friend, an ordained minister, come over to take that part of the service which he was not yet licensed to perform. As this old man, his friend and a friend of his father and mother, stood before the parents and their babe, he said: "I am thinking today of a scene long ago. I see a handsome man and a beautiful wife coming up the aisle with their babe in the father's arms. As I prepared to ask the questions and administer the sacrament, the mother handed me a card on which was written the name of the child, the date of his birth, and underneath, 'Given to God and to the gospel ministry.' That child," he concluded, "is now your minister."