Sin Sermon Illustrations

Sin Sermon Illustrations

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In his powerful tale "The Black Veil" Nathaniel Hawthorne told a sad truth about human nature. The congregation had assembled in the New England church to greet their new minister. What was their amazement when their pastor appeared in the pulpit veiled in black! Some conjectured that his face was marred with disease, the ravages of which he would thus hide from his people; others, that he was bearing the burden of a recent bereavement; and others, that it was a token of penitence for sin.

Thus passed the weeks, the months, and the years of a long pastorate, and never once was the black veil lifted from the countenance of the minister. At length his summons came, and he lay dying on his bed. A neighboring minister, who had come in to pray with him, besought him to lift the veil from his face, that its secret might not go down with him into the grave. At that, the dying man raised himself in bed and said, "Why do you tremble at me alone? Tremble also at each other. Have men avoided me, and women showed no pity, and children screamed and fled only from my black veil? What, but the mystery which it so obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crepe so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend, the lover to his best beloved, when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin, then deem me a monster for the symbol beneath which I have lived and died. I look around me, and lo, on every visage a black veil."

The mystery which the black veil was supposed to typify was the mystery of secret and hidden sin.


In his vision Ezekiel saw the glory of God. He beheld a likeness as of the appearance of fire. Out of this appearance of fire came forth a hand which transported the prophet in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the doors of the inner gate that looketh toward the north. Near the door of the inner court of the Temple he saw a hole, or opening, in the wall. At the direction of his angelic guide, Ezekiel digged in the wall until the opening was large enough for him to pass through. When he had passed the first wall he came to a second, and by a door in that wall he entered a hidden chamber. In this chamber he saw every form of creeping things and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel portrayed, painted or carved, upon the walls of the room. Before these filthy pictures, loathsome objects, the inventions of depraved minds, stood the seventy elders, representatives of the people, mumbling their heathen incantations and waving the censers filled with incense. Then said the angel to the prophet, "Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients ... do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? for they say, The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth (Ezek. 8:12).

The vision of Ezekiel was true of the spiritual condition of Israel at the time of the exile. There was a formal adherence to the religion of Jehovah, outward temple and altars, but in their hearts they served other gods. In their secret chambers of idolatry and imagery they bowed down before the grinning images of Baal and Moloch.


Hawthorne came near to the truth when he said: "In its upper stories are said to be apartments where the inhabitants of earth may hold converse with those of the moon, and beneath our feet are gloomy cells which communicate with the infernal regions, and where monsters and chimeras are kept in confinement and fed with all unwholesomeness."

Maeterlinck, too, is talking on the level of our own experience when he asks, "Where is there a soul that is not afraid of another soul?" What would happen, let us say, if our soul were suddenly to take visible shape and were compelled to advance into the midst of her assembled sisters, stripped of all her veils and laden with her most secret thoughts, dragging behind her the most mysterious, inexplicable acts of her life? Of what would she be ashamed? What are the things she fain would hide?


The sense of sin is keenest in Christianity, for the law of Christ reveals sin in the heart of man. When Amfortas drew near to the Holy Grail his flesh quivered. So the proximity of the believer to Christ gives him a sense of his own need and sin.


In his "Two Rabbis" Whittier tells how

The Rabbi Nathan, twoscore yeart and ten,
Walked blameless through the evil world, and then
Just as the almond blossomed in his hair,
Met a temptation all too strong to bear,
And miserably sinned. So, adding not
Falsehood to guilt, he left his seat, and taught
No more among the elders, but went out
From the great congregation girt about
With sackcloth, and with ashes on his head.

In his penitential grief Rabbi Nathan thought of his old friend Rabbi Ben Isaac, and resolved to go to Ecbatanna, where Ben Isaac dwelt, and lay his sins before him. One day at sunset, kneeling in a desert tomb, the Rabbi Nathan greeted kindly a kneeling stranger. It turned out to be the Rabbi Ben Isaac; and the two old friends clasped each other in their arms, praising the providence that had made their paths meet. Then, suddenly, Nathan remembered his sin and tore himself from the embrace, telling his friend that he had sinned and was not worthy to touch him.

This is a true picture of how sin separates friend from friend. These two friends, each discovering himself a sinner and asking the other to pray for him, at length found mutual forgiveness, and saw God's pardon in the other's face. Unfortunately, that happy sequel does not often follow, and man is severed from man by his transgression.


Sin separates man from his friends. It is not meant for man to be alone. But sin drives man out, breaks his contact and union with his fellow man. That is the history of sin in the Bible and in the human race. Cain killed Abel and went out from the presence of the Lord. Jacob deceived Esau and had to flee and go out into a strange land. Gehazi lied to Elisha and went out from his presence a leper white as snow. The prodigal son rebelled against his father and went out into a far country. Peter denied his Lord and went out and wept bitterly. Judas betrayed his Master, and went out and hanged himself. Always out! Sin has never had any other effect in the history of the human heart.


Balaam thought he could turn back at will, whenever his road got uncomfortable; and when he saw the angel standing with a drawn sword, he cried out, "I will get me back again" (Num. 22:34). But the angel said, "Go with the men!" And further and further he proceeded in his journey of equivocation and deceit and guile, until he lay among the dishonored dead upon the field of battle. Oh, dreadful hour, when having been beguiled by sin, having scorned the pleading of conscience and the warning of God, a man arrives at that place in his evil course where evil has ceased to please him, where clouds of retribution and judgment are gathering over his head, when the angel of remorse and woe stands before him with drawn sword, and he would fain turn and go back, but finds that he cannot, that he dare not, that a stern voice bids him march on the path that he has chosen for himself.

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