Providence Sermon Illustrations

Providence Sermon Illustrations

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A thought which impresses one as he ponders the history of Napoleon Bonaparte is the fact of providence in his life. Jesus Christ came into the world, Paul said, in "the fullness of the time" (Gal. 4:4). So did Napoleon. He was not an accident. He came at the appointed time and to do an appointed work in the world, cruel, evil, and sacrilegious though he was. That is the Bible view of history. Another famous soldier, General Gordon, used to take up the morning newspaper and say, "Let us see what God is doing in the world." When you read your morning newspaper and hear of Hitler and Hirohito, read it in the light of the Bible, and say to yourself, "What is God doing in the world?" Even the worst of men God uses to fulfill his purposes. Cyrus, he said, was his rod. So was Napoleon. Surely, as Psalm 76:10 says, God makes the wrath of man to praise him, and the residue he will restrain.

In 1815 Queen Louise, the Prussian queen, wrote a great letter about Napoleon to her father. In this letter she said: "It were a crime to say that God is with the French Emperor; but he is manifestly an instrument in the hands of the Almighty to bury out of sight the old order, for which He has no further purpose." Whether men execrate or admire Napoleon, they must all acknowledge that he broke down the barriers between men and nations, that he, like Cromwell, shook down in the dust what God had condemned. He told his soldiers that every soldier carried in his knapsack a marshal's baton. He was therefore the preacher and herald of the popular movements that have swept the world since then, sometimes for good, sometimes for evil. He preached a terrific sermon on the text that the nations that forget God shall be cast into hell. He proclaimed, unconsciously, perhaps, the supremacy of the moral order; and even by his own flaming fall, like that of the star Wormwood out of heaven, was a witness that righteousness and judgment are the habitation of God's throne. , . . .

In his chapter on the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, Bancroft throws out this suggestion: "Do nations float darkling down the stream of the ages without hope or consolation, swaying with every wind, and ignorant whither they are drifting? Or is there a Superior Power of intelligence and love which is moved by justice and shapes their forces?" The Bible has a plain answer to that question, for it tells us that God is the Supreme Actor of history, and that the great men and the great nations and the great movements are but the brief embodiment and transient realization of his desires.

On the night before the eighteenth of June, 1815, there was heavy rain in Belgium. So heavy was the rain and so soft were the roads that Napoleon, who had won his battles with his artillery, was not able to get his guns into position until eleven o'clock in the morning. Had it not rained, he could have had his guns up by seven in the morning, instead of eleven; and by two o'clock the battle would have been won—three hours before Blucher and the Prussians put in their determining appearance. "A cloud traversing the sky out of season sufficed to make a world crumble."

The words "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me" (Isa. 45:5) are spoken of Cyrus, conqueror of Sardis and of Babylon, when he diverted the Euphrates from the walls of the city. One of the first acts of this monarch when he overthrew Babylon was to issue a proclamation permitting the captive Jews to return to their own land. Cyrus was a nobler sort of heathen and gained a legendary renown as a paragon of all virtues, but he was a heathen and knew nothing of the true God. Yet he was an agent in the hands of God; and over a century before he appeared on the stage of history he was called by name, and the part that he was to play in the destiny of God's people was predicted. He was to be God's "shepherd" in bringing the people back from captivity. "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." This gives us not only the doctrine of God in history, but God working in history with a wise and beneficent purpose.

In the first days of September, 1862, the Confederate armies, flushed with victory over the armies of McClellan and the armies of Pope at the second Battle of Manassas, crossed the Potomac into Maryland and set out on the first invasion of the North. At Fredericksburg, Lee divided his army, sending sections of it to take the Federal garrisons at Martinsburg and Harper's Ferry, and then join the main army at Hagerstown on the way into Pennsylvania. By one of the chances of war a copy of Lee's orders to his generals was left behind in Fredericksburg, wrapped about a package of cigars.

When the Union army came cautiously into Fredericksburg, a Union man put the orders in the hands of McClellan. Lee's brilliant plan of campaign was in the hands of his adversary. The bugles sounded in the blue ranks, and at the double-quick the Union army marched for the passes of South Mountain to overtake Lee. They drove his army through the passes before he could call back his other divisions, and on September 17, the bloodiest day of the Civil War, defeated it at the fords of the Antietam.

When the baffled army of Lee had crossed the Potomac back into Virginia, Lincoln told his advisers how he had covenanted with God that if the North was victorious in the struggle in Maryland he would show his gratitude by freeing the slaves. A careless staff officer wrapped Lee's order about his tobacco, and the plan of the campaign was in the hands of the adversary; surprise was impossible, defeat certain; the North was freed from invasion, and the Proclamation of Emancipation was issued. And all due, as Thomas Nelson Page puts it in his life of Lee, to "one of those strange events which, so insignificant in itself, yet under Him

Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
A hero perish or a sparrow fall [Alexander Pope]

is fateful to decide the issue of nations."

The author of The Decline and Falll of the Roman Empire, Gibbon, writing of his life and achievements, says that he was fortunate in drawing a high number in the lottery of life. On the surface of things life does sometimes look just like a lottery. Men are born into families, circumstances, and conditions of life which seem to determine to a large degree their place and their work in life. But every now and then we are conscious of some startling exception to that, and even one exception is enough to make us wonder if the lottery theory of life is the true one.

There are many shadows that fall across the earth—the shadows of floating clouds, of trees swaying in the wind, of smoke ascending from chimneys, of birds on the wing, and the shadows of great rocks on mountainsides. But the deepest and longest and kindest shadow which falls over the earth is the shadow of divine providence.

On the morning of one of the great battles of the Civil War a soldier awoke hearing the intense firing of the pickets, and there came to him the conviction that there was going to be a great battle and he was not ready in his soul or in his heart for what the battle might bring. He therefore knelt down, confessed his sins, and committed his soul to the keeping of God, realizing that if it was well with his soul it mattered little what happened to his body. And that is exactly what Christ said in connection with the verse, "Fear not them which kill the body" (Matt. 10:28). Now that the soldier had committed his soul to God and left his body to the incidents and laws of the battlefield, all fear and anxiety left him, although hundreds were falling at his right hand and ten hundred at his left hand. "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him." (Ps. 37:5)

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