Genesis 4:1

Another "genesis" is now described, that of sinful society, which prepares the way for the description of the rising kingdom of God.

I. THE DEVELOPMENT OF MORAL EVIL IS CONTEMPORANEOUS WITH HUMAN SOCIETY. We must still bear in mind that the aim of the narrative is not scientific, but religious and didactic. The sketch of the first family in vers. 1 and 2 is plainly an outline to be filled in. The keeper of sheep and the tiller of the ground are out in the broad world. We are not told that there were no other human beings when they were grown up. Probably from their employment it is meant to be inferred that the human family had already grown into something like a community, when there could be a division of labor. The production of animal and vegetable food in quantities can only be explained on the presupposition that man had increased on the earth. Then, in ver. 3, we are led on still further by "the process of time."

II. THE COMMUNITY OF MEN, THUS EARLY, HAS SOME PROVISION FOR RELIGIOUS WORSHIP. The two men, Cain and Abel, "brought" their offerings apparently to one place. The difference was not the mere difference of their occupations. Abel brought not only "the firstlings of the flock," but "the fat thereof," an evident allusion to the appointment of some sacrificial rites. The Lord's respect to Abel's offering was not merely a recognition of Abel's state of mind, though that is implied in the reference to the person, as distinct from the offering, but it was approval of Abel's obedience to the religious prescription which is in the background. The Lord remonstrates with Cain when his countenance fell and he was wroth. "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door" (croucheth like a beast of prey ready to be upon thee). This may be taken either

(1) retrospectively or

(2) prospectively - sin as guilt, or sin as temptation; in either case it is at the door - not necessarily a welcome guest, but ready to take possession. Sin forgiven, temptation resisted, are placed in apposition to acceptance. "Unto thee shall be his desire," - i.e. Abel's, as the younger, - "and thou shalt rule over him," i.e. the natural order shall be preserved. Notice - 50. Divine love providing acceptance in the Divine order, in which religion is preserved, and natural life, with its appointments.

2. Divine mercy rescuing a fallen creature from the results of his own blind disobedience.

3. The righteousness of God maintained in the disorder and passion which spring out of human error and corruption. Sin is at the door; judgment close upon it. Yet God is justified though man is condemned. There is no great sin committed but it has been seen at the door first.

4. Doing not well precedes the direct presumptuous sin. "Cleanse thou me from secret faults." Cain was warned by God himself before his fallen countenance darkened his heart with crime and stained his hand with a brother's blood. What a picture of the gradual degradation of the conscience. Notice -

(1) The disobedience of a Divine commandment in some minor point.

(2) Sense of estrangement from God - loss of his "respect unto us."

(3) Sullen, brooding enmity against God and man.

(4) All these culminating in the violent outbreak of self-assertion, his own works evil, his brother's righteous, therefore he bated him. Ver. 8 is again an epitome. The talk of the two men with one another may represent a long period of angry debate. "It came to pass," on some occasion, in the field, the angry thoughts found their vent in angry words. "Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him." The first blood shed had a religious occasion for its origin. The proto-martyr was slain as a testimony to the truth. Mark the significant omen for the subsequent human history. Marvel not if the world hate those to whom God shows special respect. The type is here of all religious wars. The Cain spirit is not mere bloody-mindedness, but all defiance of God, and self-assertion, as against his will and word. Infidelity has been as bloody as superstition. Both meet in the same perverted worship of self. - R.

Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.


1. In its offerings.

2. In the power which it exercises over the passions.

3. In its sympathy (ver. 9).

III. SPIRITUAL RELIGION ALONE COMMENDS A MAN TO GOD. This is illustrated in the life of Abel.

1. He possessed faith.

2. He offered an acceptable sacrifice to God.

3. Spiritual religion has a favourable influence on character.The quality of Abel's piety, its depth and spirituality, cost him his life, and made him at the same time the first martyr for true religion.

(D. Rhys Jenkins.)

I. The first question to be asked is this: WHAT DID CAIN AND ABEL KNOW ABOUT SACRIFICE? Although we should certainly have expected Moses to inform us plainly if there had been a direct ordinance to Adam or his sons concerning the offering of fruits or animals, we have no right to expect that he should say more than he has said to make us understand that they received a much more deep and awful kind of communication. If he has laid it down that man is made in the image of God, if he has illustrated that principle after the Fall by showing how God met Adam in the garden in the cool of the day and awakened him to a sense of his disobedience, we do not want any further assurance that the children he begat would be born and grow up under the same law.

II. It has been asked again, WAS NOT ABEL RIGHT IN PRESENTING THE ANIMAL AND CAIN WRONG IN PRESENTING THE FRUITS OF THE EARTH? I must apply the same rule as before. We are not told this; we may not put a notion of ours into the text. Our Lord revealed Divine analogies in the sower and the seed, as well as in the shepherd and the sheep. It cannot be that he who in dependence and submission offers Him of the fruits of the ground, which it is his calling to rear, is therefore rejected, or will not be taught a deeper love by other means if at present he lacks it.

III. THE SIN OF CAIN — a sin of which we have all been guilty — WAS THAT HE SUPPOSED GOD TO BE AN ARBITRARY BEING, WHOM HE BY HIS SACRIFICE WAS TO CONCILIATE. The worth of Abel's offering arose from this: that he was weak, and that he cast himself upon One whom he knew to be strong; that he had the sense of death, and that he turned to One whence life must come; that he had the sense of wrong, and that he fled to One who must be right. His sacrifice was the mute expression of this helplessness, dependence, confidence. From this we see —

1. That sacrifice has its ground in something deeper than legal enactments.

2. That sacrifice infers more than the giving up of a thing.

3. That sacrifice has something to do with sin, something to do with thanksgiving.

4. That sacrifice becomes evil and immoral when the offerer attaches any value to his own act and does not attribute the whole worth of it to God.

(F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

From the story of Cain we gather the following thoughts —

I. EVE'S DISAPPOINTMENT AT THE BIRTH OF CAIN SHOULD BE A WARNING TO ALL MOTHERS. Overestimate of children may be traced sometimes to extreme love for them; it may also arise on the part of parents from an overweening estimate of themselves.

II. We see next in the history of Cain WHAT A FEARFUL SIN THAT OF MURDER IS. The real evil of murder (apart from its theftuous character) lies in the principles and feelings from which it springs, and in its recklessness as to the consequences, especially the future and everlasting consequences, of the act. The red flower of murder is comparatively rare, but its seeds are around us on all sides.


1. Because they, like murder, are opposed to the spirit of forgiveness manifested in the gospel of Christ.

2. Because, like murder, they ruthlessly disregard consequences.

(G. Gilfillan.)





1. The secret of right living is faith in God. The acceptable sacrifice is the life of faith.

2. That which makes sacrifice acceptable is faith. A formal sacrifice is a vain thing. It is Cain's offering.

3. Faith prepares men to die well. Be ready to die in faith, for the faith. How much may hinge upon it. Have you religious convictions for which you are ready to lay down your life? When Martin Luther went to his historic trial in the Hall of the Diet at Worms, the people crowded the windows and housetops of the city to see him pass. They knew his danger. But they knew of a higher danger, theirs and his, of the cause of pure religion on the earth. Their concern for him was: "Will he stand firm for us? Will he stand for the faith to the death?" "In solemn words," says Carlyle, "they cried out to him not to recant. 'Whosoever denieth Me before men,' thus they cried to him as in a kind of solemn petition and adjuration." Luther stood for the human race. Would his faith fail? Then the faith of the people would fail. Would his stand? Then theirs would stand, the Reformation would triumph. It was not so important that he should live, as that he should stand in unconquerable faith. How much depended upon one man! How much depended on the faith of Abel! Where should Eve find hope again, with Cain a murderer and Abel dead? Where Seth an example, and Enoch and Noah, and the antediluvian saints? Where Abraham and the patriarchs an inspiration? Abel's faith shone out as a beacon light through all those early centuries. The heroes of faith all lived in loyalty. But how did they die? These all died in the faith. Thank God for that sentence! Covet a faith to live by. But be sure of the faith of Abel to die by.

(G. R. Leavitt.)

She called her eldest Cain, which signifieth a possession, and her second son when she had also borne him, Abel, which signifieth vain or unprofitable. By which diversity of names evidently appeareth a diversity of affection in the namers, and so teacheth us two things. First, the preposterous love that is in many parents, esteeming most oftentimes of those children that are worst, and least of them that deserve better. Their Cains be accounted jewels and wealth, but their Abels unprofitable, needless, and naught. Secondly, it teacheth the lot of the godly in this world many times, even from their very cradle, to be had in less regard than the wicked are. So was here Abel, so was Jacob of his father, so was David and many more. Such and so crooked are men's judgments often, but the Lord's is ever straight, and let that be our comfort: He preferreth Abel before Cain, whatsoever his parents think, He loveth Jacob better than Esau, and He chooseth little David before his tall brethren: He seeth my heart, and goeth thereafter when men regard shows and are deceived. Care away then, if the heart be sound, God esteemeth me, and let man choose.

(Bishop Babington.)

Their trade of life and bringing up we see, the one a keeper of sheep, the other a tiller of the ground, both holy callings allowed of God. Idleness hated then from the beginning, both of the godly and such as had but civil honesty, or the use of human reason. The antiquity of husbandry herein also appeareth, to the great praise of it, and due encouragement unto it. But alas our days! many things hath time invented since, or rather the devil in time hatched, of far less credit, and yet more use with wicked men, a nimble hand with a pair of cards, or false dice, is a way now to live by, and Jack must be a gentleman, say nay who shall. Tilling of the ground is too base for farmers' sons, and we must be finer. But take heed we be not so fine in this world, that God knows us not in the world to come, but say unto us, "I made thee a husbandman, who made thee a gentleman? I made thee a tiller of the ground, a trade of life most ancient and honest, who hath caused thee to forsake thy calling wherein I placed thee? Surely thou art not he that I made thee, and therefore I know thee not, depart from Me, thou wicked one, into everlasting fire."

(Bishop Babington.)

They both offer, but the one thinketh anything good enough, and the other in the zeal of his soul and fulness of his Lord thinketh nothing good enough. He bringeth his gilt, and of the fattest, that is, of the best he hath, and wisheth it were ten thousand times better. This heat of affection towards God let us all mark and ever think of: it uncaseth such as in these days think any service enough for God, half, a quarter of an hour in a week, etc.

(Bishop Babington.)

In the Eden prophecy (Genesis 3:15) there was shadowed forth a great conflict between good and evil that should last through coming ages. Of that long conflict this is the first age. It covers the whole time of antediluvian history. It is important for us to keep in our minds the length of the time, sixteen hundred years and more — over sixteen centuries at the very lowest computation. So, of course, we cannot expect anything in the shape of a continuous history. A few chapters cover the whole ground; and while each chapter is undoubtedly historical, the whole is not, properly speaking, history. It is not continuous, but fragmentary. First we have the story of Cain and Abel. We find here a picture, I may say, exhibiting the nature of the conflict that there is to be between good and evil. We see there the early development of evil in its antagonism with good. First, what is the great lesson of Cain's history? Is it not the fearful nature of sin? On the other hand, what is the great lesson of Abel's history? He comes before us, apparently, as an innocent man. There is nothing said against him at all events. Yet he is required to bring an offering. He is accepted, apparently, not on the simple ground of his goodness, but in connection with the offering that he brings. It is the offering of "the firstlings of his flock." Here we have the first record of sacrifice. Next, what is the difference between Cain and Abel? Some are inclined to think it lay entirely in the offering: not in the men at all; but if you look at the narrative you will find there was a difference in the men. "Unto Cain and his offering" the Lord had not respect; but "the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering." Abel and his offering, Cain and his offering. But what was the difference in the men? The great difference in the men, as we are taught in the Epistle of the Hebrews, was faith. "By faith Abel offered unto God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain." So whatever difference there may have been in the men in other respects (and there no doubt was very much), the fundamental contrast between them was, that Abel had faith, while Cain had not.

(J. M. Gibson.)


1. The position of Adam and Eve prior to the birth of their two sons was unique. Alone in the great world.

2. Their position was interesting. A great crisis in their lives. Fallen, yet encircled by Divine mercy.


1. Child nomenclature should be appropriate. "Cain" signifies "possession." A moral possession. The gift of God.

2. Child nomenclature should be instructive. "Abel" signifies "vanity." Our first parents' verdict on life, gathering up the history of their past and the sorrows of their present condition.

3. Child nomenclature should be considerate. In harmony with good taste and refined judgment. Pictures of goodness and patterns of truth.


1. These two brothers had a daily calling.

2. A distinctive calling.

3. A healthful calling.

4. A calling favourable to the development of intellectual thought.


1. These offerings are rendered obligatory by the mercies of the past.

2. These offerings should be the natural and unselfish outcome of our commercial prosperity.

3. These offerings ought to embody the true worship of the soul.LESSONS:

1. That domestic life is sacred as the ordination of God.

2. That children are the gift of God, and are often prophets of the future.

3. That working and giving are the devotion of family life.

(J. S. Exell, M. A.)


1. Because it is the custom of the land so to do.

2. Because men feel that they must pay some regard to social propriety and conscience.

3. Because men feel that their souls are drawn out to God in ardent longings and grateful praises. These are the true worshippers of God. Followers of Abel.


1. The trade of each brother suggested his offering.

(1)Some take their offerings for parade.

(2)They take their offerings to enhance their trade.

(3)They take their offerings to increase their social influence.

(4)They take their offerings with a humble desire to glorify God.


1. The worship and offerings of the one are accepted. "And the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering." And why?

(1)Because it was well and carefully selected. Men should select carefully the offerings they give to God.

(2)Because it was the best he could command. He brought the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof.

(3)Because it was appropriate. His sacrifice preached the gospel, foreshadowed the Cross.

(4)Because it was offered in a right spirit. This makes the great point of difference between the two offerings. The grandest offering given in a wrong spirit will not be accepted by God, whereas the meanest offering given in lowly spirit will be welcome to Him. Thus the younger brother was the best. He was better than his name.

2. The worship and offering of the other was rejected. "But unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect." The men who make their religious offerings a parade, who regard this worship as a form, are not welcomed by God.


1. This envy is wrathful. "Why art thou wroth?"

2. This envy is apparent. "Why is thy countenance fallen?"

3. This envy is unreasonable. "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?"

4. This envy is murderous. "Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him."

(J. S. Exell, M. A.)


1. In their original, as both born of the same parents.

2. In their relation, they were brothers.

3. In their secular condition: both had honest employs, and not only lawful, but laudable particular callings.

4. In their religious concerns: both were worshippers of God, both brought sacrifices to God.(1) Their particular callings (Genesis 4:2).(a) That parents ought not to bring up their children in idleness, but in some honest calling wherein they may both serve themselves and their generation, according to the will of God (Acts 13:36).(b) That every man must have his trade and calling in the world, as those two sons of Adam had. Though their father was lord of the world, yet he brought up both his sons in laborious callings.(c) It is a sin for any man to live without a calling. One that lives in idleness (without an honest calling) is but an unprofitable burden of the earth, and seems to be born for no other end save to spend the fruits of the world as a useless spendthrift. Why Moses recordeth this service done to God (by way of sacrifice) in all its circumstances by those two sons of Adam, Cain and Abel?

1. To demonstrate the antiquity of religion. That it is no new devised fable, but is as ancient as the world. Hence may be inferred —(1) The grossness of atheism.(2) The absurdity of irreligion.

2. The account why Moses records this history, is to show the mixture of religion, that among men who profess and practise religion there ever hath been a mixture thereof.

3. Moses records this history to declare the disagreements and contentions that do arise about religion in the world.(1) That quarrels about religion are the greatest quarrels in the world. The dissentions about religion are the most irreconcilable dissentions.(2) This affordeth us the clear and true character of the true religion from the false. Outrage and cruelty is the black brand wherewith God's Word stigmatizeth the false and formal religion, and here it begins, showing how Cain did most maliciously oppose Abel, but Abel offered no affront at all to Cain, for the badge and cognizance of true religion is meekness and love. The second inquiry is, concerning the service of those two sons of Adam, what Moses doth record of it. This their service and success thereof, are the two principal parts of this sacred record touching Cain and Abel. Now, concerning the SERVICE two particulars are very remarkable.

1. Of the circumstances of it, which are four.(1) The persons who they were.(2) The second circumstance is, the time when they did so. The Scripture telleth us it came to pass in process of time (Genesis 4:2).

2. What motive they had at this time to sacrifice to God; 'tis probable they did so either —(1) By an express command of God spoken, but not written; otherwise their service had been will worship; so Abel's sacrifice had been rejected of God as well as Cain's; but more of this after. Or —(2) They did it by their father's example, whom God taught so to do, and who might teach his sons to do the like; otherwise, how could they all have coats of skins to clothe them, if they had not the skins of sacrificed beasts for that end? Or —(3) They might do so by the dictates of their own natural reason. Hence the very instinct of nature might suggest to them, that it was but a rational service to offer up to their Creator something of those creatures that God had graciously given them, as a due acknowledgment of their homage to Him who is Lord of all (Acts 10:36).Hence may be inferred —

1. The mischief on mankind by the Fall, to wit, man's dulness to learn anything that is good.

2. The misery of those persons who want instruction in families and assemblies! How blind and brutish must all such be, and how unskilful at this celestial trade!

3. Oh, what a blessing is the ministry to men, which teacheth them this trading and trafficking with heaven, that cannot be learnt all at once, but by degrees!The (3) circumstance is the place where, which the Scripture of truth mentions not.The (4) circumstance is the manner how, which leads me to the second particular, to wit, the substance of their service, wherein this circumstance is spoke to, the SUCCESS OF THEIR SERVICE.The (5) circumstance is the matter what, to be spoke unto, in the substance. Now, as to the substance of it, look upon it in common, and both brothers concerned together therein. So there is still a parity and congruity as to the substance of it.For —

1. Their service was equally personal, they both made their personal address to God, and to His altar of oblation; they did not serve God by a proxy. They did not transmit this their duty to their father Adam. Hence, observe, no man stands exempted from his personal attendance on God's service, but everyone owes a homage which he must pay in his own person. This is proved both by Scripture and reason.(1) By Scripture, every man under the law (whether Israelite or proselyte) was to appear personally and offer to the Lord for himself at the door of the tabernacle, and whoever did not so, was to be cut off from his people (Leviticus 17:3, 4). And in their more public feasts, God expressly enjoined them, that three times in a year all their males shall appear before the Lord in a place which He shall choose, and none shall appear before the Lord empty, every man shall give according to the gift of his hand (Deuteronomy 16:16, 17).The (1) reason is, everyone is personally God's creature, so the bond of creation obligeth all to pay their personal respects to their Creator. No man is his own, but God's; therefore every man must glorify God with their own bodies and spirits (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).The (2) reason is, everyone is a sinner, and sins against God in their own persons; therefore everyone must serve God in their own persons, and sue to Him for pardon and reconciliation. No man can redeem his brother (Psalm 49:7).The (3) reason, everyone hath personal dependency on God for a supply both of their temporal and spiritual wants. Now, 'tis but reasonable service (Romans 12:1), that all persons should carry their own pitchers to this fountain of life, and should turn the cock both of grace and mercy for their own supply.The (4) reason is, every man is already a great debtor to God (his Benefactor); God is behindhand with none, but much beforehand with all, and therefore as we all have received mercy from God in our own proper persons, so we should return duty to God in our own proper persons also.

2. As the service of those two brothers was equally personal, so it was equally warrantable and lawful service. The second inference is, to look for Divine warrant for every part of Divine worship. That primitive simplicity which is in Christ and in His gospel worship, ought not to be corrupted (2 Corinthians 11:3). All modes and rites of worship which have not Christ's stamp upon them, are no better than will worship. How exact was God in tabernacle worship (Exodus 39:43), and will He not be so in gospel worship? The third propriety, in the substance of this service is, it was also costly worship; there was cost in both their sacrifices, they put not God off with empty compliments, and verbal acknowledgments of superficial and perfunctory shows. All men can willingly give God the cap and the knee, yea and the lip too, but when it comes to cost, then they shuffle off His service: men naturally love a cheap religion. The fourth property of their service is, there was unity in their worship. Cain did not build one altar, and Abel another, but one served both; they both offered in one place, and at one time. Hence, observe, it makes much for the honour of religious worship, when it is performed in the spirit of unity. The first inference is — oh, let it not be told in Gath, nor published in Askelon — that there is altar against altar, and prayer against prayer, amongst professors in our day. The apostle presseth to unity with many arguments (Ephesians 4:3, 4, etc.). The second inference is, Yet unity without verity is not unity, but conspiracy. There is no true concord but in truth. The third inference is, that narrow principles undo unity. The fifth property, 'twas equally a solemn service by way of sacrifice; both these sons paid their homage to their Maker, the one in a sheaf, and the other in a sheep.Hence observe, holy sacrifices and services have been tendered and rendered up to the great God in all ages of the world by the Church of God.

1. As the sacrifice was a real acknowledgment of God's sovereignty over the sacrificer (Isaiah 16:1).

2. As it was a sad remembrancer of the sacrificer's sin, to wit, that he deserved to be burnt (as his burnt offering was) even in everlasting burnings.

3. As it was a solemn protestation of their faith in Christ, whom all their sacrifices did prefigure, as He was the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world (Revelation 13:18).

4. As it was also an offering of thankfulness; those sacrifices were eucharistical as well as propitiatory, thank offerings as well as sin offerings. What shall I render? saith David (Psalm 116:12).(1) The gospel sacrifice of repentance, wherein the penitent soul offers itself up on God's altar.The (2) gospel sacrifice is praying for what we want, and praising for what we have.The (3) gospel sacrifice (in a word) is all the good works both of piety and charity. Now, the success of it shows a foul disparity; the one is accepted, the other is rejected. God had respect to Abel, and to his offering, but, etc. (Genesis 4:4, 5). This disparity is demonstrated by three remarkable passages or particulars.

1. Of the order inverted; until now, it was Cain and Abel, the eldest is named first, the order of nature is observed. Hence observe —(1) Though amongst many worshippers of God in public worship man can discern no difference, but one is as good as another in both attendance and attention, yet God can, both in intention and retention. All fit as God's people (Ezekiel 33:31). And no mortal eye can distinguish which is a Cain and which is an Abel, yea, a Cain may be the fore-horse in the team, and be most forward as to personal attendance and attention of body. The fifth inference is, this shows us whom we ought to please in all our works or worship. It must not be man, but God, who knoweth the heart (John 2:25; Acts 1:24). The second particular is the ground of that inversion, or the reasons of this disparity; the causes why the one was accepted, and the other rejected. There is a two-fold difference here very remarkable.

1. In regard to their persons; and that is also two fold.

(1)God put or set the difference. And —

(2)He saw the difference betwixt those two persons; unto Abel God had respect, but unto Cain He had not (Genesis 4:4, 5). It is the free grace of God that is the main fundamental cause of difference, preferring Abel before Cain.

2. As God putteth the difference, so He beholdeth the difference betwixt good and bad, and here between Cain and Abel.

3. It is the piety or impiety of men's persons that do commend or discommend their actions and services to God. It is not the work that so much commends or discommends the man, but the man the work. As is the cause so is the effect, and the better that the cause is, the better must the effect be. These are maxims in philosophy, which hold true in divinity also. A good man worketh good actions, and the better the man is, the better are his actions. As the temple is said to sanctify the gold, and not the gold the temple (Matthew 23:17), so the person gives acceptance to, and sanctifies the action, not the action the person. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight" (Proverbs 15:8).Both do offer, the one a sheaf, and the other a sheep; yet the one is accepted, the other rejected from a threefold difference in the action.

I. In regard of the matter of their sacrifice, Abel made choice of the best he had to present unto God. Hence observe, it cannot consist with a gracious heart to shuffle off the great God with slight services. Alas! men do but trifle with God, when they think anything will be sufficient to satisfy Him.

1. Such as spend many hours in vanity, yet cannot spare one hour for God and the good of their souls.

2. Such as are profuse in villainy upon their lusts, yet can find nothing to bestow in pious and charitable uses upon the Lord.

3. Such as swatter away all their youth time (while the bones are full of marrow and veins full of blood, both as ponderous sheaves) in ways of both vanity and villainy, and think to put off God with the poor pined sheaf of their old age, as if the great God would be put off with the devil's leavings. The second difference in their action was in respect of their devotion and affections; Abel offered in sincerity, but Cain in hypocrisy. The third and principal difference that distinguished Cain and Abel's action was faith, which is indeed the prime cause of all the other differences. Abel offered in faith, but Cain did not so (Hebrews 11:4). It was faith that dominated Abel a righteous man, and Cain was a wicked man, because he wanted faith.How comes faith to put this difference? There is a two-fold faith.

1. The faith upon God's precept. Abel offered sacrifice, not so much because Adam, but because God commanded. This is called the obedience of faith (Romans 16:26).

2. There is the faith upon God's promise. Thus Abel did not only lay a slain sacrifice upon the altar, but he put faith under it. He considered Christ to be the Lamb slain front the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). The inference hence flowing is, it is Christ, and Christ alone, that gives to all our services acceptance with God. It is faith in Christ that pleaseth God (Hebrews 11:16).Now, the third and last particular is the success (which is the second general, as service was the first), or acceptance, which, as to Abel, is evident in three things.

1. The Divine allowance or approbation of Abel. He being a righteous man (Matthew 23:35). Both his person and oblation (through Divine grace) was —(1) Approvable; hence the first observation is, it is a special vouchsafement and condescension in God to look on, and allow of the poor services of man.(2) As God gave allowance and approbation of Abel's sacrifice, so He had delight and complacency in it. This also is signified by the word "respect." But

2. Unto Cain and his offering God had not respect. To demonstrate the equity of God in His dealing with wicked men. His ways are always equal with us (Ezekiel 18:25, and Ezekiel 33:17). As Cain respected not God in his sacrifice, so God respected not him nor his sacrifice.Inferences hence are —

1. If the sweet success of our services be God's acceptance, then, oh, what an holy carefulness should we all have about our services and duties.

2. Oh, what holy cheerfulness should we have to work all our works in God (John 3:21), that they may be accepted of Him, and respected by Him.

3. Oh, what an holy inquisitiveness should we all have, whether God accept or reject our duties? Our acceptance may be known by these characters. Hath God inflamed our sacrifice as He did Abel's, some warm impressions of God's Spirit upon our hearts, some Divine touch of a live coal from God's altar? (Isaiah 6:6). The second sign or character of acceptance is the joy of duty; injections of joy, as well as inspirations of heat, are sweet demonstrations of acceptance; blessed are they that hear the joyful sound of God, they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance (Psalm 89:15). A third sign is, when God gives in any supply of that grace which is sued for, either strengthening it, or weakening sin that wars against it.

II. As there is no life in a wicked man's duty, so there is no warmth in it; he puts off God with cold dishes, such as God loves not. As there is no heart, so there is no heat in any of his services; it is not a sacrifice made by fire unto the Lord, so no sweet savour to Him (Leviticus 1:13, 17, and Leviticus 2:2,9,10, etc.).

III. A wicked man (as Cain here) regardeth iniquity in his heart, therefore God regardeth not his prayer (Psalm 66:18). This is the dead fly that spoils never so sweet ointment (Ecclesiastes 9:1).

(C. Ness.)

I. IT INVOLVES OFFENCE TO GOD. "He abhors the sacrifice where not the heart is found."

II. IT INVOLVES CRUELTY TO MAN. From real, spiritual worship it would be impossible for a man to pass to persecution and murder, for genuine piety is the root of philanthropy. But the distance between formal worship and murderous passions is not great. Formal worship —

1. Implies bad passions.

2. Strengthens bad passions. Selfishness. Superstition. Pride. Bigotry.


Essex Remembrancer.

1. Cain's was no more than a mere thank offering, and such, probably, as Adam himself might have offered in a state of innocence: it implied not any confession of guilt, or any application to the Redeemer.

2. Abel's offering was a sacrifice presented in faith, not only with respect to the appointment of God, who had ordained sacrifices in representation of that method of redemption by which He would deliver man, but also with dependence on "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," who in the fulness of time "by the sacrifice of Himself should take away the sins of the world." Abel's offering, therefore, is to be considered as a type of Christ.



1. Let us examine what is the worship we are offering to God. It is not enough that we are attentive to religious ordinances; but are we, like Abel, worshipping by faith?

2. Let us inquire, Are none among us discovering the temper of Cain? Are there none who, like him, are persecutors of God's people?

3. Let us bless God that the blood of Jesus Christ "speaketh better things than that of Abel" (see Hebrews 12:24).

(Essex Remembrancer.)

I. There can be no doubt that THE STATED PLACE OF WORSHIP under the new order of things was the immediate neighbourhood of the garden, eastward, within sight of the cherubim and the flaming sword (Genesis 3:24). And it would seem that this primitive holy place was substantially identical with the sanctuary and shrine of the Levitical ritual, and with the heavenly scene which Ezekiel and John saw. It was within the garden, or at its very entrance, and it was distinguished by a visible display of the glory of God, in a bright shining light, or sword of flame — on the one hand, driving away in just displeasure a guilty and rebellious race; but on the other hand, shining with a benignant smile upon the typical emblems or representations of a people redeemed.

II. The brothers, REPRESENTATIVES OF THE TWO GREAT CLASSES into which, in a religious view, the family of man is divided, manifest their difference in this respect, not in the object, nor in the time, but in the spirit of their worship (vers. 3, 4). They worship the same God, and under the same revelation of His power and glory. Their seasons of worship also are the same; for it is agreed on all bands that the expression "in process of time," or "at the end of days," denotes some stated season — either the weekly Sabbath or some other festival. Again, their manner of service was to a large extent the same. They presented offerings to God; and these offerings, being of two kinds, corresponded very remarkably to the two kinds of offerings ordained under the Levitical dispensation, the burnt offerings, which were expiatory, and the meat offerings, which were mainly expressive of duty, gratitude, and devotion (Leviticus 1 ).

III. The two brothers, then, worshipped God ACCORDING TO THE SAME RITUAL, BUT NOT WITH THE SAME ACCEPTANCE. How the Lord signified His complacency in the one and His rejection of the other does not appear. It may have been by sending fire from heaven to consume Abel's offering; as in this way He acknowledged acceptable offerings on different occasions in after times (Leviticus 9:24; Judges 6:21; 1 Kings 18:38). Why the Lord put such a distinction between them is a more important point, and more easily ascertained. It is unequivocally explained by the Apostle Paul (Hebrews 11:4). Abel's sacrifice was more excellent than Cain's, because he offered it by faith. Therefore his person was accepted as righteous, and his gifts as well pleasing to the Lord.

(R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Introduction: Cain's religion, in common with many false religions, was one —

1. Which had in it some good.

2. Of expediency.

3. Which lacked faith.

4. Abounding in self-righteousness.

5. That persecuted others.Abel's religion —

1. Embodied all the good that was in the other.

2. Surpassed it, even in its own excellencies — "more plenteous sacrifice."

3. Recognized the existence of guilt, and its merited doom.

4. Was actuated by faith.

5. Was approved of by God. Consider, then —


1. The principle upon which it is founded — practical goodness. This principle is intrinsically excellent, is one upon which all men should act; is one to which no one can object.

2. The standard by which it is to be tested — the moral law of creation, love to God and man. In order to "do well," the act itself must be perfect; the motive must be good; and the rule must be good.

3. Its reward to its faithful adherents — "shalt thou not be accepted?" Such a religion will command the approval of God; and will secure immortality for all its votaries. Now measure your conduct by this religion; and are you perfect? Think of sin in its nature, its effects, and its ultimate consequences, and see if you have not sinned. And can natural religion justify you? No; something else must be found, and something else is to be found. Look then at —


1. That revealed religion assumes that men are guilty. It also recognizes their liability to punishment.

2. That it has provided a sin offering — a substitution of person, of sufferings.

1. The acceptance of this is accompanied with Divine evidence.

2. It is efficient for all purposes for which it is presented.

3. Having accepted it, the sinner is treated as though he himself had suffered.

4. That the sin offering reposeth at the door.This implies that Christ's atonement is accessible to the sinner; that it rests with man to avail himself of it; that men often neglect it; that God exercises great patience towards the sinner; that the sinner cannot go to hell without first trampling on the Cross; and that he wilt be forever deprived of every excuse for his destruction.

(D. Evans.)

I. THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE OFFERING DEPENDS ON THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE OFFERER. God had respect to Abel and his offering — the man first and then the offering. God looks through the offering to the state of soul from which it proceeds; or even, as the words would indicate, sees the soul first and judges and treats the offering according to the inward disposition. God does not judge of what you are by what you say to Him or do for Him, but He judges what you say to Him and do for Him by what you are.

II. Again, we here find a very sharp and clear statement of the welcome truth, THAT CONTINUANCE IN SIN IS NEVER A NECESSITY, that God points the way out of sin, and that from the first He has been on man's side and has done all that could be done to keep men from sinning. Observe how He expostulates with Cain. Take note of the plain, explicit fairness of the words in which He expostulates with him — instance, as it is, of bow absolutely in the right God always is, and how abundantly He can justify all His dealings with us. God says as it were to Cain, Come now, and let us reason together. All God wants of any man is to be reasonable; to look at the facts of the case. "If thou doest well, shalt thou not (as well as Abel) be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door," that is, if thou doest not well, the sin is not Abel's nor anyone's but thine own, and therefore anger at another is not the proper remedy, but anger at yourself, and repentance. Some of us may be this day or this week in as critical a position as Cain, having as truly as he the making or marring of our future in our hands, seeing clearly the right course, and all that is good, humble, penitent, and wise in us urging us to follow that course, but our pride and self-will holding us back. How often do men thus barter a future of blessing for some mean gratification of temper or lust or pride; how often by a reckless, almost listless and indifferent continuance in sin do they let themselves be carried on to a future as woeful as Cain's; how often when God expostulates with them do they make no answer and take no action, as if there were nothing to be gained by listening to God — as if it were a matter of no importance what future I go to — as if in the whole eternity that lies in reserve there were nothing worth making a choice about — nothing about which it is worth my while to rouse the whole energy of which I am capable, and to make, by God's grace, the determination which shall alter my whole future — to choose for myself and assert myself.

III. The writer to the Hebrews makes A VERY STRIKING USE OF THIS EVENT. He borrows from it language in which to magnify the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice, and affirms that the blood of Christ speaketh better things, or, as it must rather be rendered, crieth louder than the blood of Abel. Abel's blood, we see, cried for vengeance, for evil things for Cain, called God to make inquisition for blood, and so pled as to secure the banishment of the murderer. The Arabs have a belief that over the grave of a murdered man his spirit hovers in the form of a bird that cries "Give me drink, give me drink," and only ceases when the blood of the murderer is shed. Cain's conscience told him the same thing; there was no criminal law threatening death to the murderer, but he felt that men would kill him if they could. He heard the blood of Abel crying from the earth. The blood of Christ also cries to God, but cries not for vengeance but for pardon. And as surely as the one cry was heard and answered in very substantial results; so surely does the other cry call down from heaven its proper and beneficent effects.

(M. Dods, D. D.)

I. THE FIRSTBORN OF EARTH, AND THE FIRSTBORN OF HEAVEN. All is expectation of the promised Deliverer that shall destroy the serpent; and Eve says, "I have gotten a man." Nor is God slow to give a prototype of that great redemption, and to set forth His gospel in earnest and sign, but in far different manner to the anticipations of man, by Abel's death. This is the deliverance! this is the victory! Here is the promise.

II. THEIR OCCUPATIONS. These were both conditions of life equally acceptable with God. But the question will occur to us, why it is that through the Scripture there is something of a sacred character on the shepherd. Perhaps owing in some degree to the fostering care and gentleness required in such occupation, or the character of the animal itself; so as to be meet figures of the Good Shepherd who layeth down His life for the sheep. Such were Abel, Abraham, Jacob, and David. Or it may be from their connection with sacrifice itself. But when sacrifices were about to cease, and "the Lamb of God" appeared, then from the fishermen were chosen those who should feed the sheep and lambs of Christ's flock.

III. THE INSTITUTION OF SACRIFICE. It must have been, in some manner, originally of God. That "to obey is better than sacrifice," is a Divine law; so that sacrifice itself would have scarcely been acceptable but as the result of obedience. Add to which, that death itself being then new, presented its awful character more strongly that we can now imagine; it was stamped with all its vivid significancy, and could not have been thus occasioned without a Divine warrant. Nor does the case of Abel stand alone in this respect; for others afterwards in succession accepted of God approached Him with sacrifices, as did Noah, and Abraham, and the patriarchs, without its being mentioned in Holy Writ that it had been so commanded of God. Bat there is what amounts to something like a command in the marked acceptance of God. This knowledge of His will is the mode of access open to the suppliant, which is all that he needs to know. If the Divine appointment is not expressly recorded, yet instances are mentioned where God was pleased with such offerings.

IV. THE ACCEPTED SACRIFICE. What God requires of us is some answer to His own love for us. "My son, give Me thine heart." This is the return which God required of Adam in paradise; this He renews again, but it must be now through offering and sacrifice, as expressive of his changed condition. God is no respecter of persons, but He looks to the heart of the worshipper. The gifts are nothing to Him, but He prizes the intent of the giver. The heart is the altar that sanctifies the gift.

V. FAITH IN THE ATONEMENT. It is not given us to infer that Abel had explicitly this knowledge; but the question is how far any sense of this hallowing his heart gave efficacy to that sacrifice. The sacrifice of Christ alone imparted acceptableness to the animal sacrifices of old. And we may inquire how far any instinctive apprehension of this was in that faith of Abel by which he was justified. Our Lord says of Abraham, he "rejoiced to see My day; he saw it and was glad." The same was probably true of Abel, the first of martyrs. And why should not the secret of the Lord have been in the heart of Abel as it was in that of St. Peter, when our Lord said unto him, "Blessed art thou, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in Heaven"? not by express declaration, but by the secret leading of the Spirit. It would be practically difficult to make a distinction between explicit and implicit acts of this nature. But the sanctifying of the heart under its secret influence is the same, and shown in like actions and feelings. Thus the knowledge of God in Christ became the measure of man's acceptance; and faith the seal of forgiveness, although as yet they could not understand that He should die. It may be that a sense of the Incarnation is not in itself alone the proof of saving faith; for God appearing as Man was the fond dream of heathen poets; but that there is no access to God but through His atonement, marks the faith of the redeemed. And what is much to be noticed — as with Abel in this sacrifice, with Noah in the ark, with Abraham in the offering of his son, with the children of Israel looking to the brazen serpent in the wilderness — God made the act of faith to be itself a resemblance of Christ; even it may be beyond all thought of those that took part in them. So is it with our lives; they are made of God to set forth great things, which as yet we know not of. "Thou shalt show us wonderful things in Thy righteousness." They have a connection with Christ crucified more than we can now understand. Seeing what was in the heart of Abel, God led him on to set it forth on the altar in the slain animal, which represented "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world"; and then prepared him for a yet higher sacrifice, even that of his own life; a martyr to God, being slain because his "works were righteous," whereby "he being dead yet speaketh." Thus is he lifted up before all the world to the end of time as representing the Great Shepherd of the sheep.

(I. Williams, B. D.)




(A. Jukes.)

The act mentioned here is evidently not one, but a series of acts, as if it had been said, "they were in the habit of bringing." Here let us mark such things as the following:

1. Both worship professedly the same Jehovah.

2. Both worship Him at the same place.

3. Both come at the same appointed times and seasons.

4. Both bring an offering in their hands, thereby acknowledging the allegiance which was due to Jehovah.Thus far they are alike. But now the difference begins.

1. Abel comes as a sinner, having no claim upon God, and feeling that it is only as a sinner that God can deal with him. Cain approaches as a creature only; not owning sin, though willing to acknowledge the obligations of creaturehood.

2. Abel comes acknowledging death to he his due; for he brings a lamb, and slays it before the Lord, as a substitute for himself. Cain recognizes no sentence of death; he brings only his fruits, as if his grapes or his figs were all that he deemed God entitled to. His offering might cost him more toil than his brother's, but it spoke not of death. It was meant to repudiate the ideas of sin and death, and salvation by a substitute.

3. Abel comes with the blood in his hand, feeling that he dared not appear before God without it; that it would not be safe for him to venture nigh, nor honourable for God to receive him otherwise. Cain brings no blood — doubtless scorning his brother's religion as "the religion of the shambles"; a religion which increased instead of removing creation's pangs.

4. Abel comes resting on the promise — the promise which revealed and pledged the rich grace of God. Cain comes as one that needs no promise and no grace. His is what men call "the religion of nature"; and in that religion there is no room, no need for these.

(H. Bonar, D. D.)

A proud king resolved that he would build a cathedral, and, while most anxious that the credit of it might be all his own, he forbade even from contributing to its erection, and on it his name was carved as the builder. But he saw in a dream an angel who came down and erased his name, and a name of a poor widow appeared in its stead. This was three times repeated, when the enraged king summoned the woman before him and demanded, "What have you been doing, and why have you broken my commandment?" The trembling widow replied, "I loved the Lord, and longed to do something for His name, and for the building up of His church. I was forbidden to touch it in any way; so, in my poverty, I brought a wisp of hay for the horses that drew the stones." And the king saw that the same God who accepted the offering of Abel and not of Cain regarded the widow as having done more for the building of the cathedral than he had done with all his wealth. So he commanded that her name should also be inscribed upon the tablet.

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