The provisions of God often speedily arrests the success of wicked men.
The following sermon begins with a wonderful treatment on how the seeming triumph of wickedness is always temporary and brief, by God’s mercy and by His sovereign design. This opening section, reproduced below (pp. 3-7 in the original), stands on its own and has an abiding relevance. I think you will find it valuable.
As the title indicates, this sermon was delivered on February 26, 1854, in opposition to the Nebraska Bill, a piece of legislation which threatened to expand the reach of slavery across the developing western states. It is in the second half of Rev. Crowell’s sermon where he turns to specifically address the outrage of this legislation. (page 7-15 in the original publication).
The Wickedness of the Nebraska Bill. A Sermon preached in The Second Presbyterian Church, Orange, N.J., February 26th, 1854, by John Crowell, pastor of the church. (New York: M. W. Dodd, 1854)
“The triumphing of the wicked is short.” — Job xx. 5.
That the wicked often do triumph can neither be doubted nor denied. Thus they themselves are able to boast over the righteous, and the righteous are perplexed, and sometimes ready to repine. “I was envious at the foolish” (confesses one long ago) “when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. Behold, these are the ungodly that prosper in the world : they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washing mine hands in innocency.”
The text furnishes part of the solution to this perplexing problem of the providence of God.
THE TRIUMPHING OF THE WICKED IS SHORT.
It is generally short, even with reference to this life, and always with reference to the life to come. I wish to speak of it at present only with reference to this life; and without attempting to discuss fully even this last important branch of the subject, I would briefly offer a single general remark.
The triumph of the wicked man’s success is short.
A moment’s reflection will show us that the success of wicked men and wicked plans is at least as likely to be temporary as that of the righteous and their plans. If it is the common lot of earthly things to be transient and uncertain, no exemption surely can be claimed in favor of wicked plans.
But there are causes peculiar to wickedness, which tend to the speedy interruption of its success.
1. The rival plans of other wicked men.
These will often clash with each other. And as some will prevent the success of their rivals, so they will speedily break in on the career of the prosperous. All wickedness springs from selfishness, which from its very nature tramples upon every object weaker than itself. Success in one instance will excite the desires of other wicked men; will inflame their envy; will teach their ignorance, opening a path which they can easily follow; affording a model for their imitation, and supplying light to guide them on their way. Thus the very success of the wicked man tends to his destruction. “Every hand of the wicked shall come upon him.“
The history of wickedness would supply many instances of rivals pursuing, supplanting, destroying those who formerly followed in the rear of another, overwhelming his rival, a little time on the pinnacle of success. One conqueror is seen raising for a moment the shout of triumph, but he himself is soon struck down by a mightier arm. Thus the great battlefield of history presents, to an unpractised eye, a confused and discordant assemblage of nations, costumes, and languages; one banner for a moment waves triumphantly, but soon is trampled in the dust, and another is advanced on high; and this is repeated over and over again, from the most remote period, where the shadows of time almost conceal the vision, down to the spot upon which the strong light of the present age is concentrated—where for a moment Napoleon triumphed and fell. And on the same spot new hosts are assembling for a new and perhaps more extended and fearful conflict than any which the world has yet seen.
The same thing often happens among a less splendid and less lauded class of wicked men. One dishonest man speedily arrests the triumph of another’s success. Some may for a time pursue an iniquitous business with what they call brilliant good fortune, but this will attract others as unscrupulous as they, and their occupation may soon be gone. Let any man adopt unfair practices in a lawful business, and, escaping all the hazards incident to success, rejoice in his gains; he will soon find that others can be equally dishonest and equally adroit, and his triumph in the monopoly of fraud is but for a moment.
2. Success increases the desire of the wicked man, and prompts to new and greater efforts. These often fail, and thus frequently all is lost that had been gained. A wicked career is like a game of chance, where small winnings entice to greater risks, till at length on one venture all may be lost.
Success in wickedness renders a man reckless. It excites his mind, inflames his passions, hardens his heart, and overwhelms his judgment. Thus, being madly impelled upwards on slippery places, by one false step he may be plunged into the lowest depths. “Knowest thou not this of old, since man was placed upon earth, that the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment? Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds, yet he shall perish for ever; they which have seen him shall say, ‘Where is he?’ “
3. There are also many barriers against which success will drive a wicked man, and which will speedily arrest his triumphant career.
I have already said that he will entice and provoke the opposition of rivals in wickedness, who are anxious to share his spoils. But in addition to this, we are told that “oppression makes even wise men mad.” We may add, as equally true, that it makes gentle men fierce, and weak men strong. A tyrant may triumph over a weak and gentle person or nation, but his cruelty, his injustice will be goading the gentleness into opposition, and nerving the weakness into strength. Thus his success is creating the materials for its own destruction.
Success in wickedness also combines opposition. The wicked man seeks to extend the sphere of his triumph and the number of his victims. Thus many will be united against him by common sufferings, and many others, through fear that their turn may next come.
The wicked man must also encounter the sense of justice which is lodged deep in every breast. It exists even in the breasts of the wicked themselves. The ability to distinguish right from wrong is never entirely destroyed by transgression; sometimes, on the contrary, it is increased. Men may be keen-sighted to detect evil in others, though it exists in themselves; yes, in proportion as it exists in them; and the worst may love justice, provided it be not inflicted on their own heads. Thus the opposition of the wicked against the wicked is strengthened when one can plead the claims of justice against the other. When does cruelty revel and riot so fiercely as when the abandoned and the vile, maddened by wrongs, trample down the barriers of law, and take the infliction of vengeance into their own hands? Then the innocent share the fate of the guilty—the pure fall with the corrupt and the infant with the man; then the adroitest executioner and the most rapid stroke are too slow for the work of death; and the nearest lampposts receive their victims; the rivers flow with blood. Then, indeed, it is “the reign of terror” over the land. The very “Furies” of hell are lost spirits, armed as the ministers of justice.
But it is the opposition of the upright and pure which is chiefly aroused by the success of the wicked, and which proves the most effectual barrier against their continued triumph. The strong among the good are alert and determined in defence of the weak. Physical strength is quickly by the side of the feeble; intellectual strength pours forth its treasures in behalf of the ignorant, and moral strength encounters its greatest risks to uphold the innocent.
The provisions of God often speedily arrests the success of wicked men.
All the influences which I have mentioned are parts of His providential arrangement. But, in addition to the ordinary operation of these, we often find God manifestly overruling and controlling them, giving them special efficiency. Sometimes He interferes by an unusual and unexpected agent, or without any visible agency whatever. The only verdict that the strictest investigation can render is, that the mighty have fallen by the hand of God.
The close of the chapter in which the text is found, thus sums up the influences by which the success of the wicked is brought to an end; combining the superintendence of God’s providence with the instrumentality of God : “The heaven shall reveal his iniquity, and the earth shall rise up against him. The increase of his house shall depart, and his goods shall flow away in the day of his wrath. This is the portion of a wicked man from God, and the heritage appointed him by God.”
To read the remainder of Rev. Crowell’s sermon, click here.