"A farmer went out to sow his seed" (Jesus: Lk.8:5).
C.H.Spurgeon likens illustrations to windows in a house and states that
every room, or main division, should have at least one (Lectures to my
Students). Illustrations can illuminate a sermon and support its
1. THE USES OF ILLUSTRATION
Seven uses W.E.Sangster says that illustrations have seven
They make the message clear. Illustrations should give
light on dark points (Mt.7:14-23).
They make the truth impressive. You can gain the interest
and attention of all ages by using illustrations.
They make preaching interesting. Illustrations can give
life to a
sermon. Sometimes the explanation of a biblical custom or idiom can be
rewarding (compare the rendering of 1 Pet.1:13 in the AV and NIV).
They ease the congregation. They enable the mind to relax
and then reapply itself to the message being heard.
They make sermons memorable. Any method that helps the
mind to grasp
and retain truth is worth using. Consider Paul's picture of a burnt-out
city (1 Cor.3:10-15).
They are persuasive. Stories can be used to clarify
thought, touch the
emotions and challenge the will. Illustrations can be used when making
They make repetition possible with being boring. Good
sermons know the art of recapitulation.
2. THE TYPES OF ILLUSTRATION
The significance and importance of sermon illustration is
indicated by the statement, "Imagination rules our lives" (MacNeile
Dixon). But illustration includes more that just stories. Consider the
Figures of speech
Languages are rich in shades of meaning, similes, synonyms, musical
sounds, and so on. As John Stott says: "We can talk of God 'breaking
through our defences' or the Holy Spirit 'prising open' our closed
minds to new truth" (I Believe in Preaching). We can paint mental
pictures by the words we use. So, study the use of words. Be aware of
the richness adverbs and adjectives can bring to speech.
People of all ages love a good story. Anecdotes are short stories
perhaps drawn from observation and experience - either your own or
someone else's. Paul uses his own testimony in Acts 22:2-21 and
26:2-29. Joyce Meyer does the same today.
This is a story describing one thing in order to explain or teach
something else. The Song of Solomon may be seen as an allegory of
Yahweh and his Wife (Israel) or of Christ and his Bride (the Church:
see Eph.5:23-27). John Bunyan used allegory to great effect in his
Jesus used analogy when he spoke of himself as the Door and the Good
Shepherd (Jn.10). The parables of Jesus make use of nature and
everyday experience. Emulate the Master - the prince of preachers.
A story or comparison may teach or illustrate a point. The prophet
Nathan's use of the parable featuring the rich man who took the poor
man's ewe lamb is powerful (see 2 Sam.12:1-14). Notice the three
parables of lost things in Luke 15.
Fables about animals, birds and trees can be used with effect. See
Judg.9:8-15; 2 Kgs.14:9; Ezek.17:1-24. Could we utilise any of Aesop's
fables in our sermons?
3. THE SOURCES OF ILLUSTRATION
T.P.Ferris, not the engineer, says, "One picture is worth a
thousand words". This being so, collect and use them. Here are some
Let the Bible illustrate its own truths. Bear in mind that today's
generation is unacquainted with the Bible and its stories. So use them!
Recall and apply the teaching and example of the Lord Jesus. But be
careful not to over-elaborate Bible stories. They are generally simply
W.E.Sangster advises the preacher to go through life with a trawling
eye. Your own illustrations will be the best. So, keep a notebook -
make a habit of capturing illustrative material.
Use biographies. Stories with human interest are the best. Draw from
your own experience - but avoid ostentation.
Preaching should be adventurous. Use your imagination. You can invent
stories, and use them honestly by prefacing them with the word
Talk with people. Stories will come from sharing. Visiting people at
home or in hospital will supply lots of interesting stories. Pastoral
visitation will suggest subjects for pastoral sermons.
Books are a rich source of sermon illustration. Newspapers can keep us
in touch with local and world news. Read widely, and use your notebook
to create an index of subjects which relate to pages in the books you
Radio, Television and the Web
Television dominates people's thinking. Use illustrations from the
media. But use these sparingly and keep a good taste. You don't want to
leave the impression that you spend most of your time watching TV! Make
Phil.4:8 your benchmark for personal viewing and sermon content. Use a
good search engine to surf the world wide web. There are now hundreds
of Christian web sites which will serve you as a Bible student and
4. LIMITS OF ILLUSTRATION
Illustration has its limits and dangers. Here are some pearls
of good advice. Don't mix your metaphors. Don't use too many stories.
Don't be self-centred. Don't use illustrations that need explaining.
Don't be dishonest with facts. Don't build sermons around llustrations.
Don't major on humour. Steve Chalke says preachers can amuse
congregations to death (Alpha magazine).