Conversion Sermon Illustrations

Conversion Sermon Illustrations

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The night when he wrestled with the angel marked the turning point, the change, in the life of Jacob. There were other events, no doubt, that prepared for it, but this was the decisive night, the turning point, in the history of his soul.

On some journey you have felt as you went along that you had turned into the wrong road. Yet you were not quite sure, and you continued driving or walking along. At length you came to a dead end, or some other certain intimation that you were off the road; and you turned about and went back. That was the turn­ing point. Although the incidents that had gone before had prepared you for it, there was a definite moment when you turned about.

So is it with repentance, with conversion, with the new birth. The change came for Jacob when, weak and halt and lame, he made the prayer, "I will not let thee go, exceot thou bless me" (Gen. 32:26).

A remarkable example of how Christ can touch man into greatness is found in the life of Augustine, perhaps after Paul and the apostles the most influential of Christians. In his Confessions he tells of his long and desperate struggle with sensuality—how he gave up one mistress only to take another. He desired to become a Christian, and yet feared that the break with his old life would occasion more suffering than he could endure. As Michael and the devil disputed over the body of Moses, so did faith and lust, Christ and the world, dispute over the soul of Augustine. One day, in gloom and sorrow, he heard amid his tears and groanings in the garden at Milan a voice which seemed to say to him, "Take and read." He picked up his New Testament, and this is what he read: "Not in rioting and drunkenness. . . . But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof" (Rom. 13:13-14). There and then the chains fell from him. He had put on Christ, henceforth the strength of his life, and from that day he was a new man in Christ Jesus.

In the year 1643 a young shoemaker's apprentice in Leicestershire, England, on business at a fair, was invited by a cousin and another friend to have a jug of beer with them. Being thirsty, he joined them. When they had drunk a glass apiece, his friends began to drink healths, agreeing that he who would not drink should pay all. This shocked the serious youth; and, rising from the table, he took out a groat and laid it before them, saying, "If it be so, I will leave you." That night he walked up and down and prayed and cried to the Lord. The Lord spoke to him, saying, "Thou seest how young people go together into vanity, and old people into the earth. Thou must forsake all—young and old—keep out of all, and be as a stranger unto all."

In obedience to this command, the young man left his relations and his home and became a wanderer in England. His name was George Fox, and he became the founder of the Quakers.

In a park near Prestonpans, not far from Edinburgh, there is a grave which bears the name of a Colonel James Gardiner, who fell fighting gallantly when the royal army was defeated in the Battle of Prestonpans by the Highlanders under Prince Charles Edward in 1745. His death is related in the pages of Scott's Waverley, and the remarkable story of his conversion and visitation is told by Philip Doddridge, the author of many of our hymns, who was his friend and preached his funeral sermon.

The son of an officer, Gardiner had followed his father in the profession of arms, and through gallantry in action and personal attractiveness he soon rose to be a colonel. On the field of battle he had many narrow escapes from death, but none of these encounters with death sobered his mind or won him from the licentious living to which he had abandoned himself. The prayers of his widowed and devout mother were apparently to go unanswered.

On a July Sabbath evening in 1710 he had been dining with a company of dissolute companions. The company broke up at eleven o'clock. At midnight he had an assignation with a married woman. As he sat in his chambers, impatiently waiting for the clock to strike the hour, he took out of his portmanteau a book which his mother had put in it when he left home. It was The Christian Soldier, or Heaven Taken by Storm—a strange prophecy of what was shortly to happen. As he was glancing through its pages, not heeding what he read, a sudden blaze of light seemed to fall on the book. He glanced up, supposing that some accident had befallen the candle. As he lifted his eyes he saw a visible representation of Christ on the cross, surrounded with glory. Then there came a voice which said, "Oh, sinner, did I suffer this for thee, and are these the returns?"

It is possible, as Doddridge intimates, that it was a dream. But dream or not, it makes no difference as to the moral and spiritual result. At once Gardiner knew himself to be the vilest sinner, who all his lifetime had been crucifying Christ anew by his sins. He was sure that the justice of God required that such an enormous sinner should be made an example of everlasting vengeance. Yet his keenest pangs were not from any dread of hell, but from the sense of having been so ungrateful a monster to him whom he now saw pierced for his transgressions.

Convinced of his doom, Gardiner nevertheless determined that the remainder of his life should be God-fearing and decent, and he cast himself upon the mercy of God. For months no relief came to him; but at once the corrupt fires of his nature sank and went out, leaving him with an abhorrence for the licentious sensualities to which he had been a slave all his life, and to which he had been so devoted that he had said that Omnipotence itself could not reform him without destroying his body and giving him another. But now the chains of his disgusting bondage fell from him. In the course of time the terrors of the law were supplanted by the assurance of peace and forgiveness, and the remaining years of his life were a noble and courageous witness to the Christ who had sought him and found him. As he lay dying on the fatal field of Prestonpans, he said to a Highland officer whom he saw lying near him, also fatally wounded, "You are fighting for an earthly crown; I am about to receive an heavenly."

Admiral Mahan was the great authority on sea power and author of The Influence of Sea Power on History. One day during Lent he chanced to wander into a church in Boston. The preacher, whose name he never knew, in the midst of his sermon lifted up his hands and quoted from Matthew's Gospel, "Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). "Almost the first words of the first Gospel," said Admiral Mahan. "I had seen them for years, but at last perceived them. Scales seemed to fall from my eyes, and I began to see Jesus Christ and life as I had never seen them before."

This is a story which commenced on a bright May day in a shoe store on Court Street in Boston, not far from Boston Common, in the year 1856. Had you and I been standing outside Samuel Holton's shoe store on that morning, we would have seen a young man, Edward Kimball, teacher of a Sunday school class in the Mount Vernon Congregational Church, walking up and down before the store as if hesitating to enter. In the back of the store was a young lad nineteen years old, a country boy from Northfield, Massachusetts, who had been given employment in his uncle's shoe store on condition that he do what he was told—never go anywhere his mother would not like to find him, and attend the services and the Sunday school of Mount Vernon Church every Sunday. At length we would have seen the hesitating young man outside pluck up his courage and enter the store. If we had followed him in we would have seen him go up to Dwight L. Moody, in the rear of the building wrapping up shoes, put his hand on his shoulder, and tell him of Christ's love and the love Christ wanted in return.

It was the word spoken in season, and there in the back of the shoe store Moody gave himself to Christ.

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