Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy: Mrs. Sarah McIlwaine

A True Heroine of Faith

The true value of those who have brought blessing to the world will not be disclosed until the coming day. The world has been made immensely richer by the presence of God-fearing heroines. Some were nurses, some doctors, some teachers, and some mothers. Some are Deborah-like “mothers in Israel,” some Dorcas-like whose motto is “others.” Some are single sisters who have given all to Christ and served in foreign lands. Some lie in distant graves awaiting the resurrection morn; they died where they served! All are invaluable in the extension of God’s kingdom, jewels in heaven’s reckoning. All will find a place in heaven’s honor list and many will rise to call them blessed. The unknown will be well known. The poor will be rich. The “givers” down here will be “given much” up there.

The name of a beloved sister, Mrs. L. K. McIlwaine, comes to mind. Her impact in personal, private, and public life was of tremendous value in the harvest field. This godly woman left a fragrance wherever she went and her countenance possessed the glow of another world, the heavenly. The late Mr. Albert Ramsay expressed it well when at the viewing of our departed sister he remarked (all could hear him), “She did more for Nova Scotia than the Premier!”

In 1930, with her husband Lennon Knox McIlwaine and three small children, she crossed the Atlantic Ocean. When they arrived in Nova Scotia, there was no crowd awaiting their arrival. Only godly Mr. Brennan was there (whom they had never met) waving high his Bible among the crowded platform so they could identify him. What motivated this couple? What filled and flooded their vision? The early thirties were tough and rough times. The only answer is, “They were sent and they went.” In 1932 their early labors took them to places of poverty and spiritual darkness on the South Shore of Nova Scotia, far removed from local churches. Someone remarked, “They will never survive so far away from local assemblies!” The husband of this remarkable woman quoted the words of a beloved servant of God, Mr. Joseph Stewart, who once said, “When God dies I’ll go back to work.” Is this a voice to young men and women of today? The early times took them through the depression years. This mother in Israel, this faith-heroine, cared, toiled, wept, fed, and prayed for the lost they had come to seek. Indeed, we cannot think of the work on the South Shore with its abiding results without mention of this Christ-like woman. She was not only BEHIND the work, but she was IN the work! They lived “trusting in the living God” and proved the sufficiency of the ONE Who said, “The world is Mine and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 50:12).

She was a soul-winner, a teacher of good things, always looking out for others, even when her health was not good. She was loved by all; even the enemies of the gospel were impressed with her saintliness. Mrs. McIlwaine had trying times with sickness, necessitating her return to her native land to recuperate. Her dear sister Mrs. Workman (N.I.) substituted for her, caring for the children in her absence. In the Lord’s time, Mrs. McIlwaine returned to her family again and with fresh vigor was diligent in advancing the gospel preached by her husband. She often spoke privately to others about the Savior she loved. This rather unique lady had a spiritual skill and discernment to pour oil on troubled waters. When problems arose, she was there to bring peace in trouble. This heroine of faith (and this is a true estimation of this beloved saint) was a real complement to her husband’s tireless labors. When assemblies were formed, she was the prime mover in guiding and encouraging the young believers. Many could, and still can, testify of her tender voice, her winsome ways, her serene countenance, her love for her Lord, His people, and the perishing world around her. Mrs. McIlwaine was marked by:

1) Grace. Her presence was always felt wherever she went. She carried with her a heavenly fragrance. Many a community visited in Nova Scotia mentioned her name with respect, honor, and appreciation. She was a gracious woman in word and deed and “in her tongue [was] the law of kindness” (Proverbs 31:26).

2) Wisdom. Many a believer went to her for counsel and herein she shone in advice and instruction. She had that uncanny insight into the problems and perplexities that Christians faced and her words were often the answer. Proverbs 31:26, “She opens her mouth with wisdom.”

3) Sacrifice. This quality marked her whole life, always giving of herself, a complement to her pioneer husband. She stood by him, with him, and for him. Even when her health was not good she would visit the sick, the poor, and the needy, depriving herself of luxuries to meet the needs of others and show by example in sacrificing for others. The work in the South Shore, Nova Scotia, while attached predominantly to Mr. L. K. McIlwaine, has another name alongside his: Sarah McIlwaine, his wife. Proverbs 31:20, “She stretches out her hands to the poor, yes, she reaches forth her hands to the needy.”

4) Faith. It is obvious that they lived on the principle of FAITH and that God lives! God provides! God honors faith! This sister was motivated by love to Christ, and lived a “faith-life.” Our sister’s trust in the living God was telling to all who knew her. The McIlwaines never looked to man but to God and were most thankful for the instruments God used to provide for them. Proverbs 31:20: “But the woman that fears the Lord, she shall be praised.”

Mrs. McIlwaine was triumphant in life and in death. “Blessed are those who die in the Lord … they rest from their labors and their works do follow them” (Rev 14:13).