Past Sermon Illustrations

Past Sermon Illustrations

When Dr. Andrew D. White, once ambassador to Germany and formerly president of Cornell University, commenced his teaching career at the University of Michigan, he was greatly annoyed by an able but impudent and disorderly student in one of his classes. He managed to win the friendship of this student, who, however, was dismissed from the university for participation in a disgraceful escapade in which one of the students was killed. Before he left the university this student came to see Dr. White to thank him for what he had tried to do for him. As he was leaving he said, "I'll make a man out of myself yet." The Civil War was just breaking out, and the expelled student enlisted in a Michigan cavalry regiment.

On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, in the new uniform of a brigadier general, to which rank he had just been promoted for fidelity and gallantry, an officer was ordered by General Kilpatrick to charge the right wing of the Confederate army. It was a mistaken order; but, leading his men in a magnificent, if hopeless, charge, the young officer fell gloriously within the Confederate lines. He was General E. J. Farnsworth, the student who had been expelled from the University of Michigan. He had made good his promise that he would make a man of himself.

No matter what the mistakes or failures or blunders, there is the possibility of noble and honorable success, if the will and the purpose are there.


A man who once applied for a position with a manufacturer began to refer with apology to some unhappy incident in his past. The manufacturer said, "I don't care about the past. Start where you stand."

Start where you stand and never mind the past;
The past won't help you in beginning new.
If you are done with it at last,
Why, that's enough.
You're done with it, you're through;
This is another chapter in the book,
This is another race that you have planned.
Don't give the vanished days a backward look—
Start where you stand.

The world won't care about your old defeats.
If you can start anew and win success,
The future is your time, and time is fleet,
And there is much of work and strain and stress;
Forget the buried woes and dead despairs.
Here is a brand-new trial right at hand;
The future is for him who does and dares—
Start where you stand.

Old failures will not halt, old triumphs aid;
Today's the thing, tomorrow soon will be;
Get in the fight and face it, unafraid,
And leave the past to ancient history.
What has been, has been; yesterday is dead,
And by it you are neither blessed nor banned;
Take courage, man, be brave and drive ahead—
Start where you stand!
—Berton Braley


British army bulletins of 1918 tell of a certain Colonel Elkington, who in the early part of the war was cashiered from the army for conduct unbecoming an officer. The public dispatches do not state the nature of this misconduct, but the inference is that it was cowardice in the face of the enemy.

The disgraced man, with his name dropped from the rolls of the British army, went back to Paris, assumed another name, and enlisted in the Foreign Legion. Wherever the men of the Legion went into action, this man was conspicuous for his daring and gallantry. After one of his feats of heroism he was decorated by the government of France. In some way his real identity was disclosed, and the facts were brought to the attention of the British government. His commission was given back to him; and, resuming his name and title, he again joined his old regiment at the front. By wounds and daring and fidelity he won back the honors and the rank that cowardice had forfeited him.


Frederick Maurice wrote of Carlyle that he believed in a God who lived up to the time of the death of Oliver Cromwell. From the conversation of some men, you would gather that they believe in a God who died when they were boys or who lived in the time of their great-grandfathers, or in the age of Lincoln or Washington. There were giants in the earth in those days, but now all we have is a race of pygmies.


In one of the cathedrals of England there is a beautiful window through which the sunlight streams. It displays the facts and personalities of the Old and New Testament and the glorious truths and doctrines of the Christian revelation. This window was fabricated by the artist out of broken bits of glass which another artist had discarded.


On a hill outside Florence, in a park overlooking that famous city and the river Po flowing through it, stands the great statue by Michelangelo, David slaying Goliath. A marvelous figure of beauty and grace and strength, the young shepherd lifts his arm to hurl the stone from his sling. That statue was cut out of a block of marble which another artist had worked upon and then thrown away as useless.

So out of our sins, out of our mistakes, out of our failures, God's love and power, aided by our repentance, is able to reconstruct that which is forever fair and good and true.


In his Old Mortality Sir Walter Scott tells how the schoolmaster was wont to seek relief on summer evenings from the tedium of the schoolroom by walking to a lonely glen where was a deserted burial ground. The monuments, half sunk in the earth, were overgrown with moss. Daisies and harebells, deriving their nourishment from the dew of heaven, hung over the graves. Some of the tombs were imposing. One bore the effigy of a knight in his hood of mail, with his hands clasped on the hilt of his great sword. On another was the miter and pastoral staff of a bishop. But underneath two stones slept the dust of Covenanters who had perished in that glen by the hand of the troopers of Charles II.

Approaching the deserted mansion of the dead on a certain summer evening, the strolling schoolmaster was surprised to hear sounds other than those which he had been accustomed to hear there—the gentle chiding of the brook and the sighing of the wind in the boughs of the gigantic ash trees. It was the clink-clank of a hammer. Going nearer, the schoolmaster saw an old man seated upon the monument of the martyred Presbyterians, deepening with his chisel the letters of the inscription, which, in the language of the Bible, pronounced the blessings of heaven upon the slain and anathemas upon their murderers. A blue bonnet of unusual dimensions covered the gray hairs of the pious workman. It was none other than Old Mortality, that singular character who wandered up and down Scotland seeking out on remote moors and in wild glens the graves of the martyred Covenanters, renewing with his chisel the half-defaced inscriptions and repairing the emblems of death with which the tombs were adorned.

So it is fitting that with the chisel of historical reminiscence and investigation we should renew the inscriptions upon the graves of those honored ones of the past who have contributed to the great and honorable history of mankind.

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