Illustrative Devices for Teaching Truth*

Illustrative Devices for Teaching Truth

The use of illustrative devices constitutes an essential element in preaching and teaching God's message in an effective manner.

By J. L. SHULER, Instructor in Evangelism; S. D. A. Theological Seminary

The use of illustrative devices constitutes an essential element in preaching and teaching God's message in an effective manner. Any minister who would arrest the attention of the multitudes, hold their interest, and forcefully impress the truth upon their minds, must make a proper use of illustrations. In "Gospel Workers" ministers who go forth to preach God's message to the cities of today are advised that if they would be successful in reaching the people, "they must make use of every means that can possibly be devised for causing the truth to stand out clearly and distinctly."—Page 346. Thus the use of illus­trative devices is not merely a matter of choice with the evangelist who desires success. Since he must make use of every proper means that can be devised to impress the truth, he will, therefore, bring all the powers of his mind to bear on the matter of thinking out and utiliz­ing the most effective illustrative devices pos­sible.


The greatest Evangelist of all time has shown the value and effectiveness of the object lesson in evangelism. See Him at Jacob's well in contact with an unsaved woman who came to draw water, and note how He used water as an object lesson, to lead her to drink of the water of life. See how He taught the neces­sity of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by the object lesson of the branch abiding in the vine. After talking to His disciples about how He would dwell in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, He pointed to a grape vine with its luscious fruit glistening in the moonlight, and said: I am the vine, ye are the branches. As the branch has no life and cannot bear fruit except it is joined to the vine, even so you cannot have any spiritual life or live right except as you abide in Me and My life flows into you by the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the entire Bible God has used object lessons to teach the truth. Two more examples will suffice. In Jeremiah 19 :1-11 the prophet broke a potter's vessel into pieces to show how the Jewish nation would be broken and could not be restored. In Revelation 18: 21 an angel cast a great millstone into the sea to show mankind how great Babylon will be thrown down never to rise again.

A brief object lesson, which may require only five minutes to present. may cause the hearers to see the truth on the matter under consideration. It may cause that truth to "go home" to their understanding and register in their souls with much more force than sixty minutes of abstract reasoning, or the reading of a multiplicity of Scripture texts—though such is no substitute for clear Bible preaching. Rather, it is Scripture's indispensable adjunct. In "Gospel Workers" we again read:

"By the use of charts, symbols, and representa­tions of various kinds, the minister can make the truth stand out clearly and distinctly. This is a help, and in harmony with the word of God."—Page 353.

Picturization of Daniel 2

Let us consider how an object lesson can be used on the composite metal man of Daniel 2—that most familiar of all prophecies to Adventist evangelists. A collapsible figure of a man can be made out of plywood or beaver-board and appropriately painted according to the description of the image in this prophecy. I have a wooden figure of a man eight feet tall; yet it folds into a bundle 19 x 30 x 4 inches, When erected, it stands on a small platform of its own, and the feet are visible above the railing on the front of the speaker's platform.

The audience does not see this tall wooden man until I come to the place in my lecture where I am about to tell what the king's dream was. The wooden man is standing on his plat­form close to the stage wall, with his face against the wall. After I have used Daniel 2:28 to show how by means of a wonderful dream God revealed to Nebuchadnezzar what would happen in the latter days, I raise the question, "And what was the king's dream ? What kind of dream would God give a man to show what would happen in the latter days? Daniel 2:31-35 will tell us."

At this point the music director brings this wooden man out to the front of the platform, to one side of the desk. I take my pointer in hand, and begin to read the description of the dream. "Thou, O king, savvest, and behold a great image." Then I point to the wooden man, which has appeared in view just at this time. I continue reading, "This image's head was of fine gold," and point to the head, which has the appearance of gold. And thus on to the end of the description of the dream.

In connection with the interpretation, I find it very effective to have a large cloth diagram, 3 x 9 feet, which drops down from a wire, alongside the man, on which the parts of the man are identified as the four kingdoms, with their respective dates.* On one line the names of the kingdoms appear underneath the name of the particular metal used to represent that power ; on a line above appear the dates which mark the period during which this power ruled the civilized world. After we have traced out the meaning of each division of the man, and have shown that the smiting of the man upon his feet represents the second advent of Jesus Christ, and that we are now living in the final division—the toes of iron and clay—we say:

"What are we coming to in this world? The only way we can know is to see where we are on God's timetable. This man, from his head to his toes, is God's picture of the course of this world's history from the days of ancient Babylon to the end of time. Where are we today?

"Not in the head of gold, for Babylon passed away in 538 B.C." [As this is said, the head of the man is removed by the assistant.] "Not in the breast and arms of silver, for Persia passed away in 331 a.c." [At this juncture the breast and arms are taken away. And so on, until we come to the fall of the Roman Empire in the west in 476 A.D., when the legs of iron are removed.] "Where, then, are we today ? In the final division of the figure or image!

"'Down in the feet of iron and of clay,

Weak and divided, soon to pass away;

What will the next great, glorious drama be?

Christ and His coining, and eternity.'

"When you follow down the figure of a man from his head to his toes, you can go no farther. You have reached the end of the kingdom of man. That is where we are today. We have come to the final stage of this world's history."

Such an object lesson makes an unforget­table impression—an impression such as no chart or slide could make.

Illustrating Conditional Immortality

A small electric table lamp can be used in connection with Genesis 2:7 as a striking ob­ject lesson on the nature of man. The evan­gelist presses the switch on the lamp, and as the light shines forth, he says:

"What produces this light? It is produced by the flow of the electric current into the filament of the globe. The light is the resultant union of the cur­rent and the globe." [He then switches the light off.] "Now where has the light gone? Back to the dynamo ? No. It has not gone anywhere. It is simply nonexistent until we restore the union of globe and current. The electricity is here at the switch ready to make the union if I turn the switch." [Press the switch to bring on the light.]

"As soon as we restore the union of current and globe, the light reappears. Or, we can state it in the following equation: Globe plus electric current equals light. Globe minus current equals no light, or, light gone until the union of current and globe is restored." [As this statement is made, the light is switched on.]

"In Genesis 2:7 we learn that it was the union of the breath of life with man's body that made man a living soul. As the light is the result of the union of the electric current with the globe, so the living soul is the result of the union of the breath of life with the body. We can likewise state it as an equa­tion: Body plus breath of life equals living soul. As the globe minus current equals no light [switch the light off], so the body minus the breath of life at death equals dead soul ; or, the soul has no con­scious existence until the union of the breath of life with the body is restored at the resurrection.

"Anyone can see that since Genesis 2:7 shows that the union of the breath of life with the body made man a living, conscious personality, separation of the breath of life from his body at death is bound to leave .him an unconscious personality until the resurrection.

"God can and will bring man's life back to him at the resurrection, as certainly as I can touch this switch and bring back the light. [The light is turned on again.] I restore the union of the globe and the electric current, and the light comes back. So at the resurrection God will restore the union of the breath of life with the body, and the dead will live again. We have an illustration of this in Luke 8: 52-55. [Tell the story recorded there.]"

All this makes a striking object lesson on the state of the dead, of the spirit's returning unto God who gave it, and on the resurrection of the dead.

Illustrating "Smoke of Their Torment"

A candle can be used as an object lesson to illustrate how the smoke of their torment (the worshipers of the beast), ascending up forever and ever, does not preclude utter consumption in the final fires of God. The procedure is as follows. The evangelist says:

"Let us compare this scripture in Revelation r4:t t with Psalms 37:20 to learn how the wicked are to be consumed by the fires of God. The psalmist says, 'The wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs : they shall con­sume; into smoke shall they consume away.' You will note that God says that the wicked shall be consumed into smoke, as when the fat of lambs is ignited.

"We can illustrate this figure by igniting a candle, which we will say is made from the fat of a lamb." [Here light a small birthday candle, which will likely completely burn up in seven to ten minutes. After the candle is lighted, continue.] "The wicked shall be as the fat of lambs, into smoke shall they consume away. If you were close to this candle, you would observe that there is faint smoke going up from it. Where does this smoke go? It goes up forever and ever. We will never see it again. But will this candle burn forever ? If we wait a little while, we shall find out.

"While we are waiting, let us look at some other texts." [As the candle is being consumed, give other proof texts and thoughts on the destruction of the wicked. When the candle is completely consumed and burned up, continue.] "Where is that candle? It has gone up in smoke that is ascending forever and ever. So it will be with the wicked. God says that they will be as the fat of lambs, and into smoke shall they consume away. As the candle is wiped out of existence forever, so the wicked will be wiped out of existence forever."

________ To be concluded in December

*Partial report of lecture given in Seminary Chapel, August 19, 1940.

*This chart may be identical with the diagram found on page 9 of the 23 lessons used in the "Bible School of Evangelism," prepared by the author of this article and obtainable at Book and Bible Houses. —Editor.

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By J. L. SHULER, Instructor in Evangelism; S. D. A. Theological Seminary

November 1940

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