February Sermon Illustrations

February 10, 2010

It is a cold, bleak, dark night on the Pennsylvania Canal; the Evening Star, a towboat, is gliding along through the dark waters. As the boat approaches one of the locks a bugle is sounded and a boy in his teens awakens out of his sleep and, pulling his jacket about him, comes to the deck to take his turn at the bowline. As he is uncoiling the line, the slack of the rope catches in a crevice on the edge of the deck. The boy, half asleep, gives it one pull, then another, but it does not yield. Then a harder pull, and it comes loose; but the strength of the pull on the rope throws him backward off the deck into the water. As he sinks beneath the water he has a feeling that only a miracle can save him. Instinctively he clutches at the rope that has fallen with him into the water. Once again the slack of the rope catches in the crevice on the deck, and holding to the rope the boy is able to pull himself on deck, hand over hand. As he sits there, cold and dripping, reflecting on his escape, he is convinced that only a miracle has saved him.

To prove this he takes the same rope and tries to fling it into the crevice where twice it had caught, once to throw him into the water, the second time to pull him out of his grave. As many as six hundred times, he tells us, he tried to throw the rope into the crevice. But not a single time out of the six hundred did it catch. Ten times six hundred, he calculated, would be six thousand; therefore the chance of his being saved was one to six thousand. Convinced that God had saved his life, he felt, therefore, that his life must be worth saving; he resolved to go home, get an education, and be something else than a hand on a tow-boat.

He left the boat and started for his mother's cabin home in the woods of Ohio. It was evening when he arrived; and, looking through the window, he saw his mother before the fire, with her Bible on her knee. She was not reading the words, but rather repeating them, and the words which he heard were these: "O turn unto me, and have mercy unto me; give thy strength unto thy servant, and save the son of thine handmaid" (Ps. 86:16), The boy entered the cabin and told his mother what had happened, that he had given himself to God, and that he proposed to make a man of himself.

Years pass, and the young boy has become the president of a college. The drums of the Civil War are beating. He has a wife and children, and is not sure whether it is his duty to go to the front. To decide the matter, he takes his Bible and goes apart. At the end of that watch with God he comes out to say that he regards his life as belonging to his country, and goes off to the front, where he becomes a distinguished soldier and a major general.

The war is over; but rejoicing has been turned into sorrow, all the stars of hope have been obscured by the clouds of a great calamity. The president whose patience and gentleness and forbearance and unshaken faith in justice and truth have led his country through the terrible years of war has fallen by the assassin's bullet. In the narrow street in front of the Exchange in New York a great crowd has assembled. Passions are running high, and the mob is getting ready to vent its wrath upon the property and lives of all those who have opposed the administration.

At that moment a man steps out between the great pillars and, waving what seems to be a telegram in his hand, cries, "Another telegram from Washington!" The crowd becomes quiet to hear what the message is. But instead of reading a telegram, this is what he said: " 'Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne' (Ps. 97:2). Fellow citizens! God reigns, and the government at Washington still lives." The speaker is the boy whose life had been saved by the rope catching in the deck of the towboat—James A. Garfield.

Subjects: Providence, God's Love

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