Providence Sermon Illustrations

Providence Sermon Illustrations

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On February 26, 1844, occurred one of the major disasters in the history of our navy. The Princeton, the most powerful warship of that day, commanded by Captain Stockton, was taking members of Congress and government officials down the Potomac. On board were the president of the United States, and the secretaries of state and navy. For the entertainment of the guests the great gun on the Princeton, called the Peacemaker, was fired. At the second discharge the gun burst, killing the secretary of state, the secretary of the navy, and a number of others.

Just before the gun was fired, Senator Thomas Benton of Missouri was standing near it, when a friend laid a hand on his shoulder. Benton turned away to speak with him, when, much to his annoyance, the secretary of the navy, Gilmore, elbowed his way into his place. At that moment the gun was fired and Gilmore was killed. That singular providence had a great impression upon Benton. He was a man of bitter feuds and quarrels, and recently had had a fierce quarrel with Daniel Webster. But after his escape from death on the Princeton Benton sought reconciliation with Webster. He said to him, "It seemed to me, Mr. Webster, as if that touch on my shoulder was the hand of the Almighty stretched down there, drawing me away from what otherwise would have been instantaneous death. That one circumstance has changed the whole current of my thought and life. I feel that I am a different man; and I want, in the first place, to be at peace with all those with whom I have been so sharply at variance.

Benton answered that "touch of God" on his shoulder. God has many ways of touching your shoulder, many ministries by which he speaks to your heart; and when he does, then is the time to act. Resist not that touch.


One bleak autumn day a lad from New England was making his way westward—leaving home, starting out in life, facing the world. He felt lonely and homesick and sad and troubled about his future. Just then he happened to see a waterfowl winging its way southward. That waterfowl, guided by its wonderful instinct, preserved and upheld by its Creator, made young William Cullen Bryant think of God's care for his own life, and so he wrote:

He who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must trod alone,
Will lead my steps aright.


We see the hand of God in the rise and spread of nations. Paul was talking to a group of philosophers on Mars Hill at Athens, giving them the true and only philosophy, when he made that memorable statement that God had made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell in all the face of the earth, and had "determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation" (Acts 17:26). This means not merely that God presides over the destinies of nations and overrules their crimes and their follies to hasten forward that one far-off and divine event toward which the whole creation is moving but that he has actually willed and decreed the rising of nations, the exact length of time they shall endure, and the limits of their boundaries.

Calvin, exposing a halfway view of God and his providence in the world, writes that some people think of God as if he sits hidden in a watchtower on the battlefield of time, waiting anxiously to see if what men and nations do will fit in with his plan and purpose. Thus, God's plan would be contingent upon what men and nations do. But the Scriptural truth and teaching is far more than that—God acts before the nations act; he has determined from the beginning the course of their history.


Napoleon had a saying, "Providence is always on the side of the last reserve." What he meant was that the army which in the midst of desperate struggle can call at the critical moment—those few minutes which decide victory for one side or the other—upon a reserve regiment or brigade, will win the battle. His own last great battle demonstrated the truth of that Napoleonic epigram. All day long on that nineteenth of June, 1815, Napoleon had been hammering with artillery and cavalry and infantry at the English lines. Evening had come, Blucher was up with the Prussian army, but Grouchy with the French reserves had not yet put in an appearance. With one mighty stroke Napoleon had planned to break the English lines and re-establish himself as the despot of Europe. To deliver this blow he had called upon the flower of his army, the Imperial Guard. Now, on they came in the gathering gloom, every battalion commanded by a general, and all of them led by the heroic Marshal Ney. The attack was directed at the right center of the English lines, where lay the fine troops, the Guards, under General Maitland. These troops had been lying on the ground while the fire of the French artillery plunged over them; and when the advance of the French column were within fifty yards of the crest of the ridge all the Frenchmen could see was a group of officers, one of whom was Wellington. Then suddenly they heard a voice cry out, "Up, Guards, and at them!" It was the voice of Wellington. The troops of Maitland sprang to their feet, and, rushing upon the Imperial Guard, tore it to pieces. Napoleon was vanquished, and the history of the world was changed.

Napoleon was right—Providence was on the side of the last reserve.


"Their rims, they . . . were full of eyes." (Ezek. 1:18.) This is a sentence from Ezekiel's great vision of the "four living creatures," the wheels, and the throne of God. By the banks of the Chebar Ezekiel saw emerging from the whirlwind and the amber cloud the four living creatures, with four faces—the face of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. The living creatures, which ran with outstretched wings and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning, were attended by four wheels. These wheels moved with the living creatures, not only forward, but backward and to either side, and the rims of the wheels, high and dreadful, were full of eyes. Above the living creatures was the likeness of a sapphire throne, and upon the throne was the appearance of a man, which was the appearance of the glory of the Lord.

This magnificent vision has always been taken to express not only the majesty and the glory of God but also the sovereignty of God, his activity in history, and his rule among men and nations.

The rims of the wheels were full of eyes. This expresses God's perfect knowledge and the absolute wisdom and justice of his doings. At first glance the history of the world seems to be—and sounds just like—a rush and roar and clash of wheels of events, getting nowhere, guided by no intelligence, accomplishing no great end. We seem to see nothing but the monotonous cycle of war and invasion, the rise and fall of empires, one crowding another down into its grave. But when we look at history in the light of the truth of God's government, we discern something more than chaos and confusion; we discover that these ever-turning and ever-flashing wheels of the world's events are full of the eyes of intelligent purpose, and that just as the movement of the four living creatures and the four wheels was sometimes backward and sometimes to either side, yet ever straight forward, so the chariot of divine providence moves ever on to its great goal.

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