A very impressive thing about history is the sudden, unexpected collapse of evil systems and evil tyrants and evil nations. We are familiar with Voltaire's satirical remark about God's being on the side of the heaviest battalions, and with Napoleon's remark that Providence is on the side of the last reserve. In 1812, when Napoleon seemed to be in the hour of his greatest power and influence, and his word was law from Sweden to the Mediterranean, he invaded Russia—mysterious, ominous, prophetic Russia. Today the pyramids of French cannon and cannon balls that you see piled up before the Kremlin at Moscow show the high-water mark of Napoleon's career of conquest. From Moscow to the Nieman his legions lay scattered in the snow, frozen in the rivers, dead on the successive fields of battle. In a single campaign the greatest victories of history were suddenly succeeded by one of the greatest military disasters of all time.
To this day—at least until the godless Russian Revolution—the Russian people, realizing that in their deliverance there was something more than the genius of Kutuzov, and what they called "General Winter," celebrate that overthrow by chanting in their churches the great song which the Hebrews chanted when the hosts of Sennacherib, without an arrow shot against them, melted away before the walls of Jerusalem: "God is our refuge and strength. . . . The heathen raged, he uttered his voice, the earth melted" (Ps. 46:1, 6).
In his History of the English People Green relates the fall of Cardinal Wolsey, the man who, in Shakespeare's words, said:
Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my king, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies.
The career and fall of Wolsey is an example of how God permits wicked ambition to swell and advance until the hour of reckoning strikes. "Slowly," writes the historian, "the hand had crawled along the dial plate; slowly as if the event would never come; and wrong was heaped on wrong, and oppression cried, and it seemed as if no ear had heard its voice, till the measure of the wickedness was at length fulfilled. The finger touched the hour, and as the strokes of the great hammer rang out above the nation, in an instant the whole fabric of iniquity was shivered to ruins."
That hour struck for Cardinal Wolsey; it struck for Herod. It strikes for every doer of iniquity.
Opposite St. Philip's Church in Charleston is an old, ill-kept cemetery. It is also on this cemetery that one can find the grave of John Calhoun. It was in 1850 that his friends laid him there, a time when it seemed that the Union was going to pieces and the principles that he advocated would prevail. There by that tomb of Calhoun, with the branches of the ancient elms and live oaks playing their shadows across it, is a good place for one to sit and think of this conflict that goes on between light and darkness.
When Charleston was occupied by troops from Sherman's army a service of jubilee was held in that cradle of secession and nullification. The editor of the Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison, was among those who attended the exercises. As he went out of the desolate city, sitting defiantly amid her ruins, he visited that same cemetery and stood by that same tomb and thought of that same conflict between good and evil, in one battle of which he had borne so great a part. Men naturally stood back and waited to see what Garrison would think and say about John C. Calhoun, who was the very soul of the institution against which Garrison had waged his long warfare. What he said, with one hand resting upon the marble slab, was this: "Down, into a deeper grave than this, slavery has gone; and for it there is no resurrection." The stars in their courses fought against slavery.
Man has no chance when the stars are against him. Sisera had on his side the vast host of the Canaanites and nine hundred chariots of war. But the stars were against him; hence he fell. The final end came by the hammer stroke of a woman who nailed him to the floor of her tent; but that had not been possible unless the stars had been against Sisera.
In his vision John stood upon the sand of the sea and saw a beast coming up out of the sea. The monster had seven heads and ten horns. Upon the horns were ten diadems, and upon the seven heads names of blasphemy. The beast was a fearful composite of leopard and bear and lion. The power which he was able to exercise he owed to the dragon who sent him forth On one of the seven heads of the beasl there was the scar of a terrible wound: but his death stroke had been healed And the whole earth wondered after tht beast and worshiped the beast, saying "Who is like unto the beast?" (Rev 13:4).
The horrid scar on the beast's head— the death stroke that had been healed— suggests to us the perduring power of this antihuman and antidivine spirit of the world, and how, desperately wounded in one generation or one century, this beast returns with undiminished fury in another.
Everywhere we are confronted by the tragic story of evil done just for the sake of those who sit at meat with us. Abraham Lincoln was a man of easy access, anecdotical and friendly. Yet there was one incident in his career to which he never permitted anyone to refer, and of which he was thoroughly ashamed, and that was his almost duel with Shields on an island in the Mississippi River.
On the roadway which traverses the highlands between Weehawken and Hoboken, overlooking the Hudson River and the sky-reaching temples of mammon in New York, one can see a low stone monument on which are these words: "Here on July 11, 1804, Alexander Hamilton fell in a duel with Aaron Burr." When Burr challenged Hamilton to fight the duel, the first inclination of Hamilton was to refuse, for dueling was abhorrent to him as a man and as a Christian. But lest the refusal to fight should injure his future usefulness, just for the sake of pleasing a depraved public opinion, Hamilton accepted the challenge; and on the very spot where his son had fallen a year before he met his tragic and lamented end.
"Evil communications corrupt good manners" (I Cor.15:33).
Roaming in the woods, some boys found a nest containing two linnet fledglings, which they managed to capture and take home. Securing some plain, wooden birdcages, they put one of the linnets in each and hung them on either side of a canary. They explained to their mother that they hoped the linnets, being so young, would learn to imitate the canary, instead of cheeping as linnets ordinarily do. The mother smilingly questioned the likelihood of the plan succeeding.
The next day the boys entered the room, and exclaimed, "Mother, come here, our canary is cheeping like a linnet!"
And so it was. The canary had to be separated from the wild birds of the wood and kept under cover for a time before he regained his song. Surely there is a lesson here for all Christians. Fellowship with the world does not lead the godless to take the way of the Lord, but generally results in the believer losing his joyous song and taking on the speech and manners of the world.