Providence Sermon Illustrations

Providence Sermon Illustrations

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We owe a great deal of our knowledge concerning the birds of our country to the celebrated American ornithologist Audubon. He spent part of his early life in Kentucky; and when Abraham Lincoln, a gangling country youth, went to the country store to buy calico, or buttons, or groceries for his cabin home, he was, no doubt, waited upon by the young clerk Audubon.

The journal of Audubon is a document of deep human interest. In it we have a recital of the sufferings and hardships and discouragements through which he passed when the world to him was a blank; and yet he writes: "Through those dark days I was being led to the development of the talents I love. One of the most extraordinary things among all these adverse circumstances was that I never for a day gave up listening to the song of our birds, or watching their peculiar habits, or delineating them in the best way that I could; nay, during my deepest troubles I frequently would wrench myself away from the persons around me and return to some secluded part of our noble forests, and many a time at the sound of the wood thrush's melodies have I fallen on my knees, and there earnesdy prayed to God. This never failed to bring me the most valued thoughts, and always comforted me."


This is an unpublished incident in the life of Hudson Taylor. He came to the city of Hangchow. The next day, with a bag of books over his shoulder, he started an evangelistic tour of the city. Great crowds followed him about. At night, weary, he sat down to rest at a tea house in the suburbs on the way to his boat in the river. As he sat at the table he saw peering at him though the gathering gloom an elderly Chinese. The man was evidently seeking someone.

"Are you a foreigner?"

"Yes, I am an Englishman."

"Are there books in that bag on the table?"

"Yes, there are."

"Are you a teacher of a foreign religion?"

"Yes, of the Jesus religion."

The Chinese then told Taylor that he had been an earnest seeker after truth for many years, but could find no religion which could take the burden of guilt from his soul. A few nights before, he had had a vision: a man in white had told him to go to Hangchow, that he would find there a foreigner sitting in an inn, with a bag of books on the table before him. He had visited the inn but had found no such person. Finally, hearing of this inn in the suburbs, he had as a last hope come thither. He asked Taylor to tell him the truth, whereupon he preached the gospel and gave him a New Testament. Two days later Taylor visited his house and found he had destroyed all his idols and was rejoicing in Jesus Christ. Taylor left the man adoring God not only for his power to save, but also for his marvelous and miraculous ways of leading souls to the messenger and the message of the gospel.


Dr. John Witherspoon, signer of the Declaration of Independence and president of the College of New Jersey, which became Princeton University, lived at Tusculum, a country seat at Rocky Hill, about two miles from the college, and drove every day to his duties as teacher and president. One day a neighbor came excitedly into his study at the college and said, "Dr. Witherspoon, you must join me in giving thanks to God for his extraordinary providence in saving my life, for as I was driving from Rocky Hill the horse ran away and the buggy was smashed to pieces on the rocks, but I escaped unharmed!"

"Why," answered Dr. Widierspoon, "I can tell you a far more remarkable providence than that. I have driven over that road hundreds of times. My horse never ran away, my buggy never was smashed, I was never hurt."


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.

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