Adversity Sermon Illustrations

Adversity Sermon Illustrations

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Heroic witness to the strength that is latent in human nature has been borne by men who were sick or frail in body, but who fused the salient energies of the soul and called upon their souls and all within them to do the work at hand. Most people in the physical condition of the Apostle Paul would spend their days in a home for the incurable, yet Paul, animated by a mighty love for Christ, traversed the Mediterranean world and survived incredible hardships.

John Calvin, the intellectual genius and the real organizer of Protestantism, was a man who hardly knew a well day; but his indomitable spirit carried him through almost unbelievable labors. "And so he continued," in the words of Bancroft, "solitary and feeble, toiling for humanity, till after a life of glory he bequeathed to the world a fortune in books and furniture, in stocks and bonds, not exceeding $200, and to the world a purer Reformation, Republican liberty, and the kindred spirit of Republican institutions.


I have two books in my library that I like to take up, for both their interesting narration and their style. One is Parkman's Pioneers of France in the New World. In the preface the distinguished author relates how it has taken him eighteen years to write the brief volume, and how through those years he has secured access to all records of value that bore upon his subject. "The extreme slowness," he says, writing of himself, "was unavoidable." During the past eighteen years, he says, the state of his health has exacted throughout an extreme caution in regard to mental application, reducing it at best within narrow and precarious limits, and often precluding it. Indeed, for two periods, each of several years, any attempt at bookish occupation would have been merely suicidal. A condition of sight arising from kindred sources has also retarded the work, since it has never permitted reading or writing continuously for more than five minutes.

The other books are the writings of Prescott. In his preface to one of his volumes he craves the indulgence of the readers as to possible errors in the text, for, he says, "Owing to the state of my eyes, I have been obliged to use a writing case made for the blind, which does not permit the writer to see his own manuscript." There they are on the shelves, brightly burnished monuments to the power of the energized spirit to overcome obstacles, to make blind men write better than men who see.—Clarence E. Macartney


Let those who think they are handicapped by some affliction in body or in spirit for a noble work in life remember Paul. And let them also remember:

Milton the blind, who looked on Paradise!
Beethoven, deaf, who heard vast harmonies!
Byron, the lame, who climbed toward Alpine skies!

Who pleads a handicap, remembering these?


Steel is made in the furnace, and there is no wine until the grapes are crushed. In a day when his struggles and hardships were behind him, Charles Lamb wrote of those struggles and contrary winds against which he and his sister Mary had fought together: "That we had much to

contend with as we grew up together, we have reason to be most thankful. It strengthened and knit our compact closer together. We never would have been what we have been to each other if we had always had the sufficiency which you now complain of."

The strongest characters are those who have faced the contrary winds. "They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep."


I know of no writer who has dealt so tenderly and in so helpful a manner with the misfortunes of men as Saint-Pierre, the author of the immortal Paul and Virginia. He chose for his motto the line from Vergil, "Taught by calamity, I pity the unhappy." In Indian Cottage he not only comments on the spiritual gain from his own misfortunes but throws out this exquisite suggestion for all who may need it: "Misfortune resembles the Black Mountain of Bember, situated at the extremity of the burning kingdom of Lahore; while you are climbing it, you see before you only barren rocks; but when you have reached its summit, you see heaven above your head, and at your feet the kingdom of Cashmere."

By the discipline of adversity we learn sympathy, and sympathy leads to usefulness.


At the end of his great book The Republic Plato tells of the dream of the Greek soldier Erus, who had fallen in battle, and, according to his story, was transported into the future world, where he saw the wicked condemned and the righteous rewarded. He tells how after a period of years those who had been sent to the lower regions and punished, and those who came down from heaven to commence life over again, were given an opportunity by Lachesis, the Daughter of Necessity, to choose their own lot in a new life. Some very strange choices were made out of those which Lachesis cast down on the plain before this multitude of souls. Some of the worst choices, Socrates says—or rather Plato, who put the words in his mouth—were made by those who had come down from heaven and had never had the discipline and experience of trouble. Those who came up from the earth and the lower regions were much more careful in their choices. So trouble is one of life's great teachers.


Out of adversity and trial come the virtues of a Christian life, such as patience, courage, kindness, sympathy. Power and influence are won out of the struggles of life. In his Heredity and Environment Professor Conklin writes "What is needed in education more than anything else is some means or system which will train the powers of self-discovery and self-control. Easy lives and so-called 'good environment' will not arouse the dormant powers. It usually takes the stress and strain of hard necessity to make us acquainted with our hidden selves, to rouse the sleeping giant within us. How often it is said that the worthless sons of worthy parents are mysteries; with the best of heredity and environment they amount to nothing, whereas the sons of poor and ignorant farmers, blacksmiths, tanners and backwoodsmen, with few opportunities and with many hardships and disadvantages, become world figures. Probably the in­\heritance in these last named cases was no better than in the former, but the environment was better."


A traveler in Africa saw one of the large butterflies of the tropics struggling to free itself from the cocoon. He took pity on its struggles and with his knife cut the cords at which it was straining, and it came safely and easily out. But all the brilliant coloring was gone! The anguish of the struggle was necessary for that. The beautiful colors of the soul are won in the struggle with, and the victory over, trial and adversity.


On the shores of the Baltic Sea, after a great storm has passed, the fishermen go down into the water and rake the beach for the precious ambergris which has been cast up on the shores by the tumult of the waves. Life's storms have their treasures that they bring with them, and we are wise fishermen if we go out after the great billows have been raging and gather up the heavenly ambergris with which they have strewn the shores of our life. Who knows but this is the real treasure that we are intended to glean in life, instead of those lesser things whose destruction we so lament but the possession of which brings us no abiding joy.

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