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Preach the Word


"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 application.


Seven uses W.E.Sangster says that illustrations have seven uses:

  1. They make the message clear. Illustrations should give light on dark points (Mt.7:14-23).

  2. They make the truth impressive. You can gain the interest and attention of all ages by using illustrations.

  3. 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).

  4. They ease the congregation. They enable the mind to relax and then reapply itself to the message being heard.

  5. 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).

  6. They are persuasive. Stories can be used to clarify thought, touch the emotions and challenge the will. Illustrations can be used when making an appeal.

  7. They make repetition possible with being boring. Good sermons know the art of recapitulation.


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 following:

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 Pilgrim's Progress.

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?


T.P.Ferris, not the engineer, says, "One picture is worth a thousand words". This being so, collect and use them. Here are some sources:

The Bible
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 told.

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 'suppose'.

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 have read.

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 preacher.


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).

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Copyright 2007 Vernon Ralphs

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