Louis Albert Banks.

Windows for sermons; a study of the art of sermonic illustration, together with four hundred fresh illustrations suited for sermons and reform addresses online

. (page 1 of 24)
Online LibraryLouis Albert BanksWindows for sermons; a study of the art of sermonic illustration, together with four hundred fresh illustrations suited for sermons and reform addresses → online text (page 1 of 24)
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Louis Albert Banks, D.D.


Author of ''Anecdotes and Morals,'' ''Christ and His Friends,
" The Great Saints of the Bible,''' etc.





Copyright, 1902, by


Registered at Stationers'' Hall, London, England

[printed in the united states of AMERICA]

Published March, 1902

An Opening' Word

For years I have been receiving letters from all
over the country, asking how and where I get my
illustrations for my sermons. It is in response to
this wide interest, evidenced by so many letters,
that these chapters have been prepared. I have
tried therein to answer the many questions that
have been put to me concerning the sources of illus-
trations and the art of using them. I have also
added several hundred fresh illustrations, gathered
from everywhere, but especially from the current
life and discussion of the world. It is the hope of
the author to be useful to his brethren, not only in
furnishing helpful and suggestive illustrative mate-
rial, but also in the greater work of stimulating his
readers to original search for such material in the
ever-new volume of experience and observation
which comes to them with each recurring day.

lyouis Ai^BKRT Banks.

New York City,

December 14, igoi.



Thk Art of Skrmonic Ii,i.ustration . . 3


The; Rejformkr's Quivkr 355

Index 425


The Art of
Sermonic Illustrdwtion

The Art of Sermonic Illustration


DuiyNKSS is no longer regarded as an indication
of either a profound mind or a pious heart. The
day has passed when people will scratch their
heads and lift their hands in admiration over a
sermon which is "so deep ' ' that they can not
understand it. People call it by another name now;
they say the sermon was " muddy," or "dry," or
' ' dull , " or " uninteresting. ' ' The latter-day j udg-
ment is undoubtedly the better. The deep and
profound sermons that nobody could understand
were delivered by men who lacked either clearness
of thought or the wise use of language to set their
thought in a bright and understandable setting.

It is no longer a crime to have a style that can be
at once comprehended. There is no premium on a
book to-day, in any circle, because it is one that
requires half a dozen di(5lionaries and an expert
counselor to find out what it means. In this quick,
alert age in which we are living, men want to see


the truth and grasp it at once. If you have any-
thing worth while to say, you can get an audience
for it only by presenting it so that it may be appre-
hended at the first glance of the intelligent mind.

There is no place where clearness and simplicity
are more absolutely imperative than in the pulpit.
The empty churches of the country are mostly
empty because the man in the pulpit has not found
out that sermons which are not interesting never
win. And a large part of these sermons are unin-
teresting for the lack of the illustrative faculty, or
the proper development and use of it, on the part
of the preacher.

We shall see the importance of illustrations in
sermons very clearly if we consider some of the fig-
ures which are used in the Scriptures to set forth
the mission of the preacher.

In the first place, he is called a fisherman.
Christ put his seal on that wdien he told those
young net-menders by the Sea of Galilee that if
they would follow him he would make them fish-
ers of men.

Now the fisherman knows that fishing is an art
requiring a good deal of self-sacrificing study; and
any man w^ho sets out to go a-fishing with an expert
trout fisherman, or a good black-bass or salmon
angler, will readily find out that it is not so easy to
catch fish as it looks at first. One of the points
where the fisherman's wisdom counts most is in the
choice of bait. He must lure the fish to his hook.


The fish is not consumed with anxiety to make his
acquaintance. A young fellow went up into the
Northwest for a summer ' s fishing . He was rich , and
so he got up the most remarkable fishing- rig that had
ever gone into those woods. Such a fishing-suit the
natives never had seen. He had a different rod and
a different sort of line for every kind of fish. He
had hand-nets and gaffs and baskets galore. Ordi-
nary people stood around with eyes wide open.
There was a good deal of interest about the sports-
man's hotel when the young nabob set off with two
guides for his first day's fishing; and there was a
good deal of amusement when he came back empty-
handed at night. When he was asked what was the
trouble, and if he saw no fish, he replied: "Oh,
yes ! I saw a great many fish, and some large ones,
but the difficulty really seemed to be that I somehow
failed to attracft the attention of the fish. ' ' He was
not a good fisherman.

Gospel-fishing is like that. Men are taken up
with worldly things. They are fascinated by the
pleasures of society or they are intoxicated in the
race for wealth. They have been caught, it may
be, in the current of passion and self-indulgence.
The noise and din of fleshly things come in like a
flood to drown out the better intuitions and longings
of the soul. You must attract the attention of these
people and awaken an interest in them before you
can do anything to help them. The preacher may
be good, he may be scholarly, he may be earnest;


but if lie does not seek out the proper bait to catch
the eyQ and ear and heart of men and women who
are indifferent and sinful, he will not catch them for
his lyord.

Again, the preacher is called the messenger of
good tidings. He brings the good news of salva-
tion to men and women who sadly need it, and yet
they do not know the depth of their great need.
He must adl the part of a messenger. The bringing
of great news is sensational. A messenger who
has a reprieve or a pardon for a condemned man
whose life may depend upon the speed of the mes-
senger and upon his making himself known at the
important moment, must make himself heard and
seen. He must announce his mission so sharply
and earnestly that it will at once reach the minds of
the people. The preacher is a messenger from God;
he has good news to tell. Wo be to him if, through
reading his perfumed essays or droning his goody-
goody commonplaces, he fails to get his Master's
message to the people to whom he has been sent !
The messenger must appear in him. There must
be about him a certain atmosphere of haste, and an
intensity of earnestness, a pidluresqueness of speech,
that will change the most indiflferent hanger-on into
an interested listener. He is the best messenger
who will attradl the attention of all the people to
his message, and so present his message that the
people will hear and consider it. He is the best
preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who makes


the most people see Jesus as ' ' the One altogether
lovely," and who forces home upon their con-
sciences the claims of Christ as their divine Lord
and the boundless love of Christ as their divine

The preacher is a prophet. He is not only to
speak the message which God gives him, but he is
to tell forth everywhere the story of God's dealings
with men, and the love which he has even for his
children who have wandered into sin.

He is a story-teller. He is to tell the story of
Jesus Christ — the story of his coming from heaven
to earth, the story of his life on earth, the story of
his sacrificial death, the story of his resurrecflion
and ascension. In a peculiar sense the whole Gos-
pel of Jesus Christ is a series of stories. The man
who can not tell a story well should go to school to
somebody who can teach him, if he wants to be a
successful preacher. There is a true sense in which
the preacher's whole mission is to tell the story of
Jesus. Profound essays or heavy, abstruse lec-
tures are not valuable in telling a story. To tell a
story well you must appeal to the imagination.
Your subje(5l must be incarnated in individuals.
The great passions of love and hope and faith, of
fear and hate, must be pi(5lured in personalities, so
that the men and women who listen to the story may
see it and in a way live it as they listen. You can
never greatly stir men's hearts without this appeal
to the imagination. It is hard to understand how


SO many preachers could have made the great mis-
take they have in fighting shy of the imagination and
of making any appeal to the emotions. Christianity ' s
supreme appeal is to the heart of man. If we get
his heart we shall get his head; but it often occurs
that we capture his head and never get his heart.
Men's lives will never be greatly transformed unless
we stir that great fountain whence the tears flow
and whence the deep emotions rise up into the
white-caps of interest and excitement.

It is needless to say that the greatest preachers
have always understood these fadls, and by the use
of illustrations of every kind have sought to catch
the imagination, arouse the interest, and stir the
hearts of their listeners. Christ is the supreme
story-teller among all the great teachers of man-
kind. After hearing long sermons of his the
reporter sometimes summed it up by saying,
"Without a parable spake he not unto them."
Christ embodied his supreme message in stories
that the people could understand. Paul and Peter
were good story-tellers. The great preachers of the
Reformation knew the power of illustrations, and
many of them added to it a marv^elous development
of the dramatic gift. In our own time men like
I^iddon and Spurgeon and Farrar and Pearse and
Simpson and Phillips Brooks and Beecher and
Moody and Talmage have been the men who knew
the power of talking in picftures.

It is folly to fight against God as revealed in all


history by continuing to be careless or indifferent
to the subject of illustrations in sermons. The old
cry that illustrations weaken a sermon is solemn
nonsense. Sermons are weak which do not have
illustrations to let the light into them and illumi-
nate them. That is a weak sermon which fails to do
the work for which a sermon is made, and that is a
strong sermon which reaches the objedl of sermons
— the bringing of a man to God or building him up
in the faith.

There is one other thought worth noting, and
that is that we are living in an age of pi(5lures.
Never before have the common people had so good
an opportunity of seeing as well as of hearing about
the interesting things of the world. It is forming
a habit of mind which requires and demands illus-
trations. It emphasizes the reasons for following
the footsteps of our Master and attra(5ling and hold-
ing the attention of the multitude by a skilful use
of parables.




lyiFE begets life. lyiving men are always interested
in what other living men have done and are doing.
People may differ in their appreciation of scientific
or natural-history illustrations, but a living man can
not be found anywhere who is not interested in a
pertinent anecdote or incident which conveys an
important lesson. Sometimes we hear men speak
of an address as being ' ' very uninteresting ' ' and
"hard to listen to," but yet "profoundly logical ";
while another address which has been enlivened by
incidents of human life and spicy anecdotes that
went sharp to the point is described as ' * most
charming" and "fascinating," tho somehow the
reporter thinks the dull address is the one which
has the logic. I think that the fadl that there are
such people restrains many preachers from making
their sermons interesting by the use of anecdotes.
Now, the facft is, an anecdote is often the very
essence of logic. While Abraham lyincoln was alive
most men regarded him rather as a great story-teller
than as a logical debater; but no one now fails to
recognize that his most logical and powerful speeches
were those in which he relied more upon anecdote
and incident than upon anything else to convey his
thoughts and persuade his audiences to vote as he


wished. lyincoln knew that a good story set in the
middle of a speech, a story which contained the gist
of the great principle he wished to instil into the
minds of his audience, would remain fresh and green
and bear fruit long after any eloquent statement he
might make would be forgotten. When he had his
debate with Douglas, which lasted through a great
campaign, the most famous in American history, he
planted more good stories in the minds of the people,
that went on repeating themselves with a thousand
variations, than had ever been told in the same
length of time before. These stories were repeated
over and over again at the fireside, and where men
met together about their work, and at all sorts of
public meetings, and they bore fruit in his ele(5lion
to the Presidency of the United States.

I have used Mr. lyincoln as an illustration some-
what at length, because his is a very conspicuous
case about which nearly all will agree. I think you
may lay down this principle : that if you want a
principle or a truth to vitalize in the human heart
you must get it incarnate, so that the hearer will
carry it away with something human in the pidlure.
Our lyord evidently thought that the best way to
cause a great truth to eat like leaven into the heart
of mankind was to put it into the form of a story.
When he wished to make clear and abiding forever
the great duty of neighborly kindness, he did not
give voice simply to a few eloquent statements like
the Golden Rule, but he told the story of a man who


took a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and was way-
laid by thieves on the road, robbed of all he had, and
left wounded and helpless. A priest came along, but
he decided not to be troubled with him, and passed
by on the other side of the road. A Levite came
that way, and did have a surface impulse of sym-
pathy or curiosit}^ that made him come close up to
the spot where the vi(5lim lay and look at him for a
while; but he concluded that it was too much
trouble to take it on himself to interfere, and so he
passed on. And now there comes jogging along,
down the road, a Samaritan, another traveler, and
he sees the plight into which his fellow traveler has
fallen. He knows at a glance that there is no tie of
nationality to bind them together, but he recognizes
the higher tie of human brotherhood. And so he
ministers to him, gets him up on to his own beast,
and brings him to an inn. When he must continue
on his journey, he leaves money and credit that will
care for him until he is well.

Now that is an anecdote not a whit more dignified
or different in any respedl from anecdotes and inci-
dents which are in the reach of the ordinary preacher
every week — incidents happening in the town where
he lives, the accounts of which are being brought to
him by every day's paper. And yet out from that
story has gone a stream of benevolence and charity
that has filled the world with hospitals and houses
of mercy and peace; and millions of money are given
every year now because of it. Surely Christ knew


what he was doing when he used that anecdote as a
seed of charity to plant in the heart of the world.

There is something about a story of human hap-
penings that will quicken into some sort of adlivity
the most dull and heavy mental temperament.
Many people are lethargic, and it is hard to force
them in their thinking up to the a(5ling point. With
such people a story will be more valuable than any-
thing else, because it has life in it. On the other
hand, it can not fail to be valuable to the quick and
alert mind which catches the point of the story at a
glance and surrenders instantly to its logic. In
revival work, in all earnest evangelistic preaching,
where the purpose is to produce immediate personal
decision on the part of the people who are listening,
nothing is ever so effec5tive with the average indi-
vidual as the story of how a certain man or a cer-
tain woman became a Christian. I have personally
known in my own ministry of more than twenty
young men who have been led to happy and vital
decision to accept Christ through the telling of that
very brief little incident, so often repeated, of how
Wendell Phillips heard layman Beecher preach in
Boston, when he was fourteen years old, and went
home and locked the door, and threw himself on the
floor and surrendered himself to God that night.
The story is very brief, but it is a very intense little
story, and it shows how one boy did it, and that it
turned out well with him. Something of the tre-
mendous will-power of Wendell Phillips seems to get


into 5'oung men who are halting and undecided
when the}^ hear that story. I never fail to cherish
every incident of that kind which occurs in my own
ministry, or which comes to me through the press
or through correspondence, because such incidents
mean the irresistible bait by which other men may
be caught for the Master.

Of course, everybody will admit that all the great
and successful evangelistic preachers of our own
time are dependent very largely on this class of
illustrations. No man has ever known how to use
such illustrations better than D. ly. Moody. I have
heard him preach for an hour, and looking back
it seemed like one single string of stories with
scarcely anything between. And yet they had all
been pertinent to his subjedl; they had been told
not for the story, but because they made his subjedl
live in the minds and in the hearts of the people
before him. If anybody says he was not a great
preacher, then all I have to sa}^ is that I pray God
most devoutly to give us in America some thousands
of men of the same kind who are not great preachers,
men whose sermons, pulsating with heart and life,
incarnate in anecdote and incident, grapple the
attention and the conscience of men and win them
to the lyord.

It is a comforting thing that, while anecdote and
incident furnish by far the most powerful illustra-
tions within the reach of the preacher for arousing
men to immediate decision, they are also the easiest


for the average preacher to get hold of. lyife is
going on forever. Every home, every community,
every workshop is teeming with illustrations; every
day's history as chronicled in the newspapers fur-
nishes inexhaustible sources of incident and anec-
dote to the man who is awake and alive in his
search for feathers with which to trim his arrow
for its flight to the heart of the sinner whom he
must win to Christ.

It is worthy of note that it is always interesting
to couple with the anecdote and incident, when it
can be done, that which is important and striking
in personality or place. An incident connected
with some great man or some woman who is beloved
by many will often have a much greater effe(5l than
an anecdote connedled with an unknown person-
ality. The preacher must take advantage of all
these things. To the last limit of our power we
are to be like our Master and * ' know what is in
man. ' ' For next to knowing ' ' the secret things of
God, ' ' that is the supreme knowledge of the Chris-
tian minister. Many ministers know creeds, know
languages, know philosophies, until they are ex-
perts, and preach to empty pews because they do
not know the human heart and have no power to
make vital with personality the elaborate and pro-
found message which they prepare. The preacher
must not be ashamed to be a story-teller. How dare
he be when that was the r61e assumed by his Master ?
' * The servant is not greater than his lyord. ' '




Thk real poet and the true preacher are very
closely akin to each other. Their purpose and
method are much the same. All the great poets
are also preachers. They have a message from God
which they seek to convey to their fellow men.
The greatest poem comes to us with much of the
power and undlion of a sermon, for poetry never
reaches its highest flights except on the wings of a
supreme purpose to help men and lift them up
toward heaven. One can not imagine such a thing
as a great preacher who finds no comfort or inspira-
tion among the poets. While none of the great
preachers have been poets themselves, I do not now
recall one who has not been a great lover of poetry.
Most of them have drunk deep at that fountain of
feeHng and inspiration.

The benefit to the preacher himself of earnest
study of the poets is apparent at a glance. In the
first place, it is the preacher's business to paint pic-
tures. The fatal defecfl in the ministry of any age
or time is the lack of the power so to present the
Gospel that men will see its message incarnate in
pi6lures that they can not shake off and can not for-
get. Nowhere else can the preacher get so much


help in this power of painting pidlures by the use
of words as among the poets. That is the poet's
peculiar power. To be poetry at all, so as to stir
the soul, it must have this picfturesque, picflorial
quality. The greatest painters have not been men
who made pi(5lures with a brush. Shakespeare and
Browning and Wordsworth and Dante and our own
Whittier and Lowell among poets, and South and
Robertson and Spurgeon and Beecher and Storrs
among preachers — these are the great painters, the
men who paint picftures on a canvas that will never
fade or wear out.

Another important service which the poet will
render the preacher who comes into close fellowship
with him is that he will teach him how to feel. He
will open the flood-tides of his heart and let his
emotions have free play. The poet is the one man
left in this artificial and so-called pra(5lical age who
is allowed to feel without being sneered at as senti-
mental and gushing. The poet who does not feel is
not a poet. All of us feel what we do not find lan-
guage in ordinary prose to describe. We are taught
from the time we are born until we die to build
dams against this feeling and shut it back, and men
do this until they are hardened and the great foun-
tain of sympathy is dried up. The poet teaches
men the value of feeling. Now, next to the poet,
the preacher, of all men, must feel and must make
other men feel. The preacher who does nothing
but instrud: the people, who appeals only to their


intelligence through his sermon, will, after all, do
but little good. He will be a very feeble warrior in
any attempt to tear down the works of the devil and
a very unattracftive personality in seeking to win a
man to Christ. Above and beyond the intelligence
there is a world of feeling and emotion. The people
may not know exadlly what it is, but they see that
there is about the preacher a glow, an uncftion, that
warms their hearts, that entrances their imagina-
tion, that compels them to turn from sin and yield
to the attradlion of righteousness. The poet is the
man who will largely help the preacher to be a man
of feeling.

But, after all, the important phase of our theme
for this discussion is the effedliveness upon the audi-
ence of the poetical illustration used in the preach-
er's sermon. In the first place, it will always at-
tradl attention. I have watched this very closely
during my entire ministry. I have never noticed in
an audience, either under my own preaching or that
of any other preacher, an unattentive listener dur-
ing the quotation of an apt and pertinent poem.
At the very name of the poet there is an added
alertness on the faces of the people, and if the
preacher has carefully committed to memory the

Online LibraryLouis Albert BanksWindows for sermons; a study of the art of sermonic illustration, together with four hundred fresh illustrations suited for sermons and reform addresses → online text (page 1 of 24)