The Dignity of Motherhood
Jabez Burns (1805-1876)
Mother! The name that is associated in every virtuous mind with all that is amiable and delightful. Mother! Most tender, endearing, and expressive of all human appellations! A title employed equally by the royal prince, the sage philosopher, and the untutored peasant—by the savage and the civilized in all nations and through all generations. A relation mercifully founded in the constitution of our nature—universally felt and uniformly acknowledged. And who among all the children of men, except those who in early infancy were bereaved of their anxious parents, has not happily experienced the inexpressible influence of its charming and delightful power? Who of all the great and the mighty upon the earth does not recognize the unnumbered blessings that he has enjoyed through this endeared relation?
His own infinite wisdom and boundless goodness prompted the almighty Creator to ordain this beneficent relation, with all its sweet attractions and happy endearments. Must He not, therefore, have made it honorable, noble, and dignified? And [should] its elevation and importance be forgotten and neglected? Surely it demands our most intelligent consideration and devout acknowledgment. But what mind has ever possessed a capacity enlarged and matured to comprehend fully the true dignity of a mother?
Woman was formed by the glorious Creator as a “help meet” for man (Gen 2:18; cf. 1Ti 2:12-14; 1Co 11:8-10). Whatever dignity, therefore, attaches to him as a rational being and the representative on earth of his Maker is shared by the partner of his life—his other self. Woman is the equal participator of all the honors that pertain to human nature. But woman’s highest dignity and her greatest honors are found in contributing to the perfection of the divine purpose of her Creator in her peculiar character of mother.
A mother’s dignity, however, will but imperfectly appear unless she is considered as bringing into the world a rational offspring, whose existence will affect others and will continue through eternal ages. Adam, by intuitive wisdom imparted from God, perceived this surpassing excellence when “[he] called his wife’s name Eve” because she was “the mother of all living” (Gen 3:20).
Woman must be contemplated as giving birth to those whose principles, characters, and labors will deeply and permanently influence individuals in the domestic circle, which will be felt by large communities and, in some instances at least, by the whole population of the world. Our blessed Lord acknowledges this sentiment, expressed by the woman respecting Him: when having seen His mighty works and heard His wise discourses, she exclaimed, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked” (Luk 11:27). On this rational principle, we cannot separate the greatness that distinguished the worthies of ancient and modern times from the characters of their favored mothers. Isaac Watts, Philip Doddridge…and many others have immortalized their names by their personal virtues and by their imperishable works to benefit their country. But while we contemplate and enjoy the fruits of their extraordinary labors, we cannot fail to reflect upon the influence of their excellent mothers. We cannot refrain from tendering to them the honor that is their due [because of] their noble endeavor to discharge their maternal obligations, rendering them public blessings.
Divine inspiration has directly sanctioned this principle in the case of the Virgin Mary. Congratulated by her venerable relative Elizabeth, mother by miracle of the herald prophet of Messiah, and filled with the Holy Spirit, Who directed [Mary] to look forward to the future greatness of her mysterious Son, her enlightened and pious mind burst forth in devout admiration at the honor that would be ascribed to her [because of] His unspeakable blessings to mankind. She gave expression to her elevated thoughts and said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed” (Luk 1:46-48).
Mothers in our time, though not dignified in the manner of the Blessed Virgin and not warranted to anticipate a similar honor to that which attached to her name, may yet contemplate the influence that their children will have upon society; and their own honor will be secured and promoted by laboring to form their infant minds to religion, to virtue, and to love of their country.
Immortality especially gives dignity to its subjects; [from this] arises, in no inconceivable degree, the exalted honor of a mother. By the sovereign ordination of the Almighty, she gives birth, not to a being of a mere momentary existence and whose life will perish as that of the beasts of the field, but to an immortal! Her sucking infant, feeble and helpless as it may appear, possesses within its bosom a rational soul, an intellectual power, a spirit that all-devouring time cannot destroy—which can never die—but which will outlive the splendors of the glorious sun and the burning brilliancy of all the material host of heaven! Throughout the infinite ages of eternity, when all these shall have answered the beneficent end of their creation and shall have been blotted out from their positions in the immense regions of space, the soul of the humblest child will shine and improve before the eternal throne, being filled with holy delight and divine love and ever active in the praises of its blessed Creator.
Likeness to the infinitely glorious Creator constitutes the chief dignity of our nature. And the intelligent, pious mother looks upon her infant offspring with adoring gratitude to God, as possessing that likeness. Originally, “the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen 2:7). By the same omnipotent and gracious will, God has given being to human souls through all generations as at the first creation; but the mother is honored as the medium of this mysterious creation in the case of every child. And though the moral likeness of its blessed Maker is defaced by the fall of our first parents, still, in thousands of instances, by means of early tuition and the prayers of the faithful mother, the child is created in Christ Jesus in righteousness and true holiness (Eph 2:10; 4:24).
What, then, can be the greatness, dignity, and honor of her who is the appointed medium of such amazing powers and blessings! Must not mothers feel their high distinctions? Should they not frequently be invited to contemplate them? In this, the security, the prosperity, and the happiness of our country, and even the welfare, the regeneration of the world, are involved. He, therefore, who is most successful in leading their minds to a proper, a rational, and scriptural view of this greatest of earthly relations will most effectually engage, as he will most worthily merit, the gratitude and esteem of dignified, happy, and Christian mothers.