Death Sermon Illustrations

Death Sermon Illustrations

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In the introduction to a sermon on the future life, Canon Liddon, the noted English preacher of a generation ago, told of an Indian army officer who had retired from the service and had come home to spend his last days in England. One day his friends persuaded him to give an account of his life and service in India. As he related his battles and sieges, ambushes and surprises, and his experiences in the Sepoy Mutiny, they listened in breathless interest. At the conclusion he said, '"I expect to see something more thrilling than anything I have seen yet . . ." His hearers were surprised at that, for they knew he was well past seventy and had retired from active service. But after a pause he added, in an understone "—the first five minutes after death!"


Azrael, according to tradition, was the angel of death. Here is a beautiful thought concerning Azrael— that the reason he casts such a shadow upon the soul in this world is that, although his feet are planted on the earth, his head is in heaven, aureoled with the splendor of God's light. That is why he casts a shadow over men when he stoops from the unfathomed height of heaven to lift to God those whom we call dead.


An old Greek legend told of the Sphinx at Thebes, which had the body of a lion and the upper part of a woman. It lay crouched on the top of a rock on the highway and propounded to all travelers a riddle. Those who failed to solve the riddle were slain by the Sphinx. None yet had been able to answer it. But when Oedipus came to the Sphinx she asked him the question: "What creature walks in the morning upon four feet, at noon upon two, and in the evening upon three?"

Oedipus replied, "Man, who in childhood creeps on hands and knees, in manhood walks erect, and in old age goes with the aid of a staff."

The Sphinx, mortified at the solution of her riddle, cast herself down from the rock and perished.

So for ages on the highway of human life crouched the cruel sphinx of death propounding to all travelers its unsolvable and unanswerable enigma. No one was able to answer; all perished. Dead reigned. But Christ solved the riddle and overturned the sphinx from her rock. He is the First and the Last, the one whe was dead and is alive forevermore. He conquers death by his own death.


Our English Bible owes more to William Tyndale than to any other man. He is the musician who plays for us in psalms and prophecies, in Gospels and Revelation. In 1535, after he had published his translation of the Bible and smuggled it into England, he was treacherously arrested and confined in the castle of Vilvorde, near Brussels, whence he was taken out and strangled and burned. Before he died he wrote: "I entreat your Lordship that by the Lord Jesus, that if I must remain here for the winter, you would beg the Commissary to be so kind as to send me, from the things of mine which he has, a warmer cap—I feel the cold painfully in my head. Also a warmer cloak, for the one I have is very thin. He has a woolen shirt of mine, if he will send it. But most of all I entreat you and implore your kindness to do your best with the Commissary to be so good as to send me my Hebrew Bible, grammar, and dictionary, that I may spend my time in that pursuit."


Louis XV, King of France, foolishly ordained and ordered that death was never to be spoken of in his presence. Nothing that could in any way remind him of death was to be mentioned or displayed, and he sought to avoid every place and sign and monument which in any way suggested death. Carlyle said of him: "It is the resource of the ostrich, who, hard hunted, sticks his foolish head in the ground and would fain forget that his foolish body is not unseen too."

There is no reason why a brave and sensible man should not face all the facts of life, and one of these—the ultimate fact, so far as this world is concerned—is the fact of death. Therefore, never let death take you by surprise.


In almost the greatest book ever written, the two pilgrims, Christian and Hopeful, received their summons and came down to the river. But when they saw how deep and wide and swift and dark its waters were, they were stunned. They met two men whose raiment shone like gold, and their faces as the light. They asked them if there was no other way to get to the gate of the Heavenly City. Were there no boats, no bridges, no fords, no ferries? But the men said, "You must go through, or you cannot come at the gate." Then they asked the men if the waters were all of a depth and they answered—and that is almost the greatest thing in that great book—"You shall find it deeper or shallower as you believe in the King of the place."

Then they addressed themselves to the water, and when they entered, Christian began to sink. He cried out to his companion, "I sink in deep waters; the billows go over my head; all his waves go over me."

But Hopeful answered, "Be of good cheer, my brother: I feel the bottom, and it is good."

And with that Christian broke out with a loud voice, "Oh, I see him again; and he tells me, 'When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.' "

Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone until they were gone over.


In his Newcomes there is a splendid passage in which Thackeray describes the death of old Colonel Newcome. Just before his passing, at the usual evening hour the chapel bell of the school near by began to toll. The old colonel's hands, outside the bed covers, feebly beat time. Just as the last bell struck a sweet smile lighted up his face; and, lifting his head a little, he said, "Adsum," and fell back. That was the Latin phrase for "present," which the boys had used when their names were called at school. Now the old colonel, his heart again that of a little child, had answered to his name as he stood in the presence of the Master.

So when life's day is over and our name is called, may we answer "Present," as we stand in confidence and faith before our Judge, who is also that one who loved us and gave himself for us?


The hour of midnight approached; and as it drew nigh, on every swart countenance there was a look of wonder and anticipation, from the octogenarian leaning on his staff to the little child in his mother's arms. Then at length it came—what they had been waiting for! Suddenly there arose a great cry—a long wail of woe, a tidal wave of lamentation that swept over the whole land. In his porphyry palace Pharaoh awoke with a sense of dread and called for his prince, only to learn that the prince of the realm, his first-born, was dead. Parents stirred uneasily, and anxiously called for their stalwart sons, only to find them cold in death. Mothers awoke in terror to find that the babes they clasped to their breasts were nothing but corpses. In the dungeon the prisoner shook his chains and turned over to find that his son at his side was dead. In the temples of Isis and Osiris the priests called in vain upon the gods to restore their dead offspring. And even the cattle in the fields moaned over their dead; for that night the angel of the Lord smote the first-born of Egypt, "from the first­born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the first-born of cattle." (Exod. 12:29.) Death reigned! Death! Death! Death! Death in the pal­ace! Death in the cottage! Death, in the temple! Death in the dungeon! Death on the river! Death on the highway! Death in the fields! Death! Death! Death! And everywhere a moan of anguish went up to Egypt's skies.

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