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Words: Emily Anne Eliza Shirreff (b. Nov. 3, 1814; d. Mar. 20, 1897)
Music: Motherhood, by Lewis Meadows White (b. circa August, 1860; d. Dec. ___, 1950)
Note: It appears this hymn is little known, though the Cyber Hymnal does have some basic information on the author and composer. Miss Shirreff, with her sister Maria were active in promoting women’s education, and women’s suffrage. Lewis White, composer of the tune, was a pastor and concert organist. The song was apparently published in the late nineteenth century.Early publications of it add a fifth stanzas, said to be “suitable for Mother’s meetings.” It says:
Bless our union: through its members
Worldwide may Thy work be wrought;
Through the homes in every nation
Many to Thy fold be brought;
Fathers, mothers, children be
Led to live true life for Thee.
What thought first comes to your mind when you read the word “mother”? All of us except Adam and Eve have had one, and it’s not surprising that moms have significantly touched our lives at many points. Sometimes gloriously, sometimes shamefully.
Some mothers are known for their love and self sacrifice; others for their cruelty and hateful abuse. There is the mother lauded in the book of Proverbs, whose “children rise up and call her blessed” (Prov. 31:28). But there is also the notorious Ma Barker (Arizona Clark Barker), reputed leader of a gang of vicious criminals in the first half of the twentieth century.
Far be it from me to deny the important role of pastors, but there’s an element of truth in the words of one who said, “An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.” Foundations are laid in early family life that will have a powerful influence ever after. A saying that originated with Alexander Pope (in 1732) puts it this way: “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”
As to biblical history, mothers are mentioned in the Scriptures over three hundred times. Their spiritual influence for good or ill is apparent. The first one mentioned by name is Eve and, with amazing prescience, “Adam called his wife’s name Eve [meaning Life], because she was the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20). She was the mother of murderous Cain, but also of faithful Abel. A later mother named in Scripture is Eunice, the godly mother of Timothy. She is described as a woman of “genuine faith” who taught her son the Word of God (II Tim. 1:5; 3:15).
Other than Eve, the most famous mother in history is Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. Elizabeth correctly addresses her, before the birth of Christ, as “the mother of my Lord” (Lk. 1:43). But in spite of the privilege granted her, we know relatively little about Mary. She was a spiritually minded peasant girl, living in Nazareth, a descendant of the Davidic family line. But after the birth of Christ she enters the account only briefly.
Mary is spoken of in connection with the visit of the shepherds (Lk. 2:16, 19), at the circumcision of the Baby (Lk. 2:34), and the visit of the wise men later on (Matt. 2:11). She is also numbered among other women standing before the cross of Jesus. It’s then that Jesus commits her future care to the Apostle John (Jn. 19:25-27). The final reference to her comes with others in the upper room, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:14).
Through Mary’s significant role in the birth of Christ, in a real sense, all motherhood is sanctified. She carried in her womb the incarnate Son of God (Lk. 1:31-32, 35). It was this particular truth that impressed itself upon author and educator Emily Shirreff .
Emily Shirreff, the daughter of a British rear admiral, was far ahead of her time in promoting the education of women. She became a teacher of teachers, and helped to found a college for women. The titles of a couple of her books will give you some idea of her advanced thinking: Thoughts on Self-culture Addressed to Women (1850), and Intellectual Education and Its Influence on the Character and Happiness of Women (1858).
Her beautiful hymn exalting motherhood takes its title from the opening line. The song begins:
CH-1) Gracious Saviour, who didst honour
Womankind as woman’s Son;
Very Man, though God begotten,
And with God the Father One;
Grant our womanhood may be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
CH-2) Jesus, Son of human mother,
Bless our motherhood, we pray;
Give us grace to lead our children,
Draw them to Thee day by day;
May our sons and daughters be
Dedicated, Lord, to Thee.
1) What, in your view, are the greatest dangers to godly motherhood in our day?
2) What can be done about these things?