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CAIN AND ABEL.--SACRAMENTAL.
GENESIS iv. 3, 4, 5.
"And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground
an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and unto his offering : but, unto Cain and to his offering, he had not respect."
All Scripture being given by inspiration of God, and set forth for our learning, contains in it all that can be needed to make us wise unto salvation. From this treasure-house of divine wisdom, we may draw whatever is profitable for religious instruction, and, what should enhance its value to us, no where else can we be sure of saving truth. For it not only comprehends the rules and precepts by which we should regulate our thoughts and words, our affections and conduct in this life ; but, in compassion to our weakness, wilfulness, and inadvertence, it sets before us, as in a glass, the conduct and conversation of our kind—of men of like passions, of the same fallen nature with ourselves, in every variety of condition, from the very commencement of that manifestation of mercy and grace which it pleased God to vouchsafe to a ruined, sin-struck race of beings.
In the numerous examples of faith and holiness, of unbelief and rebellion, which are therein recorded for our warning and admonition, we may readily trace the operation and effect of faith in God, in obedience to his word and commandment; and the influence of unbelief in such a negligent acknowledgment of his supreme majesty and dominion, as leads to a presumptuous disregard and contempt of his commandments, and of the appointed and only means of mercy and acceptance for sinners. Of this we have a most instructive and awakening example given us, in two brothers, the first born of a race of fallen creatures; an example, which I design, with the help of God, to apply for the edification of all present, and to the particular purpose of our meeting together this day.
Assembled, my brethren, for the express purpose of worshipping the God of our salvation--to offer up our united prayers and praises to our heavenly Father—to own and confess our crucified Lord, and to celebrate the solemn memorial of his sacrifice and death for our deliverance from sin and death eternal-it must be profitable for us all, to consider carefully this earliest act of religious worship of which we have any knowledge, lest we also present an offering to which God shall not have respect. For we read in the text, that the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but, unto Cain and to his offering, he had not respect.
The first inquiry that starts in the mind, relative to this portion of Scripture, is, Wherein consisted the difference in their offerings, in the sight of God? We know that God is no respecter of persons; and as to the brothers, there is nothing previously said to mark any difference between them, except in their occupations, the one being a husbandman, the other a keeper of sheep. They both came at the appointed time to perform the religious homage due to Almighty God; the one with the produce of his field, the other of his fold. So far, there appears no difference between them. Was Cain and bis offering, then, rejected because he was a wicked man? Such a conclusion would be hasty, and unwarranted by any thing as yet said in the account given us. On the contrary, though his offering was rejected, Cain himself was not yet a castaway from God's mercy; for we find the Almighty expostulating with him for being angry with his brother because his offering was accepted, and reminding him that there was yet time to retrieve his false step, and be reinstated in the privileges he was entitled to as the firstborn-And the LORD said unto Cain, why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen ? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be the excellency, (as it is in the margin of the Bible,) and thou shalt rule over him. When, therefore, we rest satisfied that Cain's offering was rejected because he was a wicked man, we do not consider the passage with sufficient attention ; but applying what happened subsequently, and we know not how long afterwards, in the murder of his brother, to what was previously, and in itself, deserving of the rejection it met with, we lose the deep instruction, which, otherwise considered, this important passage of Scripture presents to us.
To the offering itself, then, we must look for the true cause of the rejection of the one and acceptance of the other. And to that plan of salvation which God in his infinite mercy provided before the world began, for fallen man, must we go for full satisfaction on this and on every point in religion. In this glorious plan the leading and most remarkable part is that which marks the unsearchable depth of the wisdom and love of God our Saviour in providing a substitute for the sinner, able and willing to bear the full infliction of divine justice, to suffer the penalty of the broken law, and, by the infinite merit of the atonement made, pay the ransom of immortal souls. In the fulfilment of this eternal purpose-His purpose and grace given us in Christ Jesus before the world began—was the gospel, the glad tidings of salvation, preached to Adam when driven from Paradise, in the promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent—that there should, in the fulness of time, be born of the posterity of Eve a Redeemer, or Deliverer, who, by making satisfaction for the sins of men, and restoring them to the love and favour of their offended Maker, should thereby bruise the head, destroy the power and dominion, of that old serpent the devil, who had beguiled our first parents into sin, and thereby brought ruin and death upon them and upon all their posterity. This is the ground-work of all religion, the only foundation on which either worship or offering can be presented to God on the part of man. And to keep alive in the world the knowledge of, and preserve a due regard to, this instituted means of mercy, God was pleased to direct, that in the religious worship henceforth to be paid him, the sacrifice of an animal, slain by the shedding of its blood, should form a conspicuous part; as an acknowledgment of guilt and forfeited life on the part of the worshipper; as a type of that sacrifice for sin, which in due time was to be offered up upon the cross; and for a continual remembrance that without shedding of blood there is no remission.
The rite of sacrifice being thus established by divine authority, as an integral and essential part of religious worship and the instituted emblem of redemption by the blood of Christ, we now see what constituted the difference between the offerings of the two brothers, and the reason why one was accepted and the other not. We may now understand St. Paul's meaning, when he tells us in the Epistle to the Hebrews, By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God tesifying of his gifts. This it was, my brethren, that made the difference between his sacrifice and that of his brother-the one offered according to God's express appointment, with faith in a promised Redeemer, and from an humble hope of being accepted through his merits, while the other chose to be religious in his own way; for we can never suppose the one to be informed and the other ignorant of what God had appointed. By bringing of the fruit of the ground an offering to the Lord, Cain may be supposed to express his thankfulness for temporal mercies; but he showed no sense either of spiritual wants or of spiritual blessings. He felt not that he was a fallen sinner. He offered no living creature as an atonement for his sin, and whose blood was to he shed as an acknowledgment of the forfeiture of life, and as a type or figure of the all-atoning sacrifice of the Son of God. In short, he conducted himself in this solemn duty as if he had no sin to be atoned for, no need of a Mediator between God and his soul, no faith in what God had most solemnly enjoined. Whereas Abel, conscious of his fallen state and the now sinful condition of man, gladly resorted to the revealed means of mercy and grace, and offered a living creature to God of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof, as the instituted type or emblem of the Great First-born, through whose gracious intercession the life that had been forfeited was spared, and through whose saving grace alone, it could be restored to a blessed immortality.
Thus, my friends and bearers, does a little care and attention bestowed on the word of God lead us into the light of his deal
ings, all whose ways with his creatures are mercy and truth ; while at the same time we are taught the most useful and important of all lessons, that no otherwise than as God himself hath appointed and revealed to us in his word, can we perform any acceptable religious service; that religion in all its appointments is of divine institution, and in all its requirements has an end and a purpose in view, which it should be our most diligent study to understand and to follow. And thus may we see (what I pray God all present may sce, and seeing, take the warning) in the persons of the two brothers, whose history is recorded for our admonition, the two opposite spirits which have ever since divided the world between them. In the one we see a lively representation of the devout and humble Christian, who, after all his most sincere and diligent endeavours to serve and please bis Maker, yet conscious of his many sins and short-comings of his entire unworthiness, in himself, of the reward of eternal life, relies solely on the merits of his crucified Lord for acceptance with God. In the other we have a no less faithful picture of that great multitude under the gospel, to whom the preaching of CHRIST crucified is foolishness—who will not have him to reign over them, and neglect altogether that method of atonement and acceptance through which only God hath declared he will be reconciled to sinners.
From this passage of Scripture we also learn, my brethren, the true nature of saving faith.
In Abel, we see it exemplified in such a belief of God's word as produced an exact and ready obedience to what was commanded, with a steadfast reliance on the truth of that promise, which, though he beheld it yet afar off, he nevertheless trusted would be fulfilled. And discerning, as he was taught, in the blood of the slain animal, that atoning blood which cleanseth from all sin, he received the end of his faith, even the salvation of his soul. And thus St. Paul sets him up as teaching to this day, and exemplifying the faith and obedience required of Christians ; so that by it, by this one act, he being dead, yet speaketh.
While in Cain, the same knowledge of God, and of the worship prescribed to fallen man, which Abel was furnished with the same need of the mercy shadowed out by the vicarious