By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous…
I. WHAT WAS THE SPECIAL OCCASION OF THIS SACRIFICE? That may be gathered out of the phrase used (Genesis 4:3). God taught Adam by revelation, and he his son by instruction, that men should at the year's end, in a solemn manner, sacrifice with thanks to God, when they had gathered in the fruits of the earth. This tradition was afterwards made a written law (Exodus 22:29). These solemn sacrifices at the end of days had a double use.
1. To be a figure of the expiation promised to Adam in Christ.
2. To be a solemn acknowledgment of their homage and thankfulness to God.
1. The general use of these sacrifices was to remember the seed of the woman, or Messiah to come, as the solemn propitiatory sacrifice of the Church. And indeed there was a notable resemblance between those offerings and Jesus Christ: Abel offered a lamb; and Christ is the Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). And because of these early sacrifices, therefore is that expression used (Revelation 13:8). And He also is the first-fruits (Psalm 89:27). Though God had other children by creation besides Christ, yet He is the first-born. What shall we gather from hence? That in all our addresses to God we must solemnly remember and honour Christ. We must do duties to God, so as we may honour Christ in them. It may be you will ask, How do we honour Christ in doing of duties?
(1) When you look for your acceptance in Christ, as Abel comes with a lamb in faith.
(2) This is to honour Christ in duties, when you look for your assistance from the Spirit of Christ.
(3) When the aim of the worship is to set up and advance the mediator.
2. The special use of this worship was to profess their homage and their thankfulness to God. They were to come as God's tenants, and pay Him their rent. Therefore God puts words into the Israelites' mouths (Deuteronomy 26:10). The note from hence is — That in the times of our increase and plenty we must solemnly acknowledge God. The best way to secure the farm, and keep it in our possession, is to acknowledge the great Landlord of the whole world — Lord, I have been a poor creature, and Thou hast blest me wonderfully. There is a rent of praise and a thank-offering due to God.
II. The second question is, WHAT WAS THE WARRANT OF THIS WORSHIP? Was it devised according to their own will, or was it commanded by God? The reason of the inquiry is because some say that before the law the patriarchs did, without any command, out of their private good intention, offer sacrifice to God; and they prove it, because the Gentiles that were not acquainted with the institutions of the Church used the same way of worship. But this opinion seemeth little probable —
1. Because this is above the light of corrupt nature to prescribe an acceptable worship to God.
2. It was by some appointment; for no worship is acceptable to Him but that which is of His appointment.
3. There could have been else no faith nor obedience in it, if the institution had been wholly human; there is no faith without some promise of Divine grace, no obedience without some command.
4. The wonderful agreement that is between this first act of solemn worship and the solemn constitutions of the Jewish Church doth wonderfully evince that there was some rule and Divine institution according to which this worship was to be regulated, which, probably, God revealed to Adam, and He taught it, as He did other parts of religion, to His children: therefore it was done by virtue of an institution. Abel looked to the command of God, and promise of God, that so he might do it in faith and obedience.The note from this — That whatever is done in worship must be done out of conscience, and with respect to the institution. But you will say, What is it to do a thing by virtue of an institution? For answer —
1. I shall show you what an institution is. Every word of institution consists of two parts — the word of command, and the word of promise.
2. What is it to do a duty in respect to the institution? I answer, it is to do it in faith and obedience: faith respects the word of promise, obedience the word of command. But now how shall I know when I do duty in faith and obedience?I answer —
1. You come in obedience when the command is the main motive and reason upon your spirit to put you upon the duty. It is enough to a Christian to say, "This is the will of God" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
2. Would you know when you come in faith? when you look to the word of promise? You may know that by the earnest expectation and considerateness of the soul.
III. The third question is, WHEREIN LIES THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO SACRIFICES?
1. In the faith of Abel. Abel's principle was faith, Cain's distrust.
2. In the willing mind of Abel. Cain looked upon his sacrifice as a task rather than a duty; his fruits were brought to God as a fine rather than an offering, as if an act of worship had been an act of penance, and religion was his punishment.
3. In the matter offered. It is said of Cain's offering (Genesis 4:3), "That he brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord." The Holy Ghost purposely omits the description of the offering. Being hastily taken, and unthankfully brought, it is mentioned without any additional expression to set off the worth of them; it should have been the first and the fairest. But for Abel, see how distinct the Spirit of God is in setting forth his offering (ver. 4); not only the firstlings, that the rest might be sanctified, but he brought the best, the chiefest, the fattest. All these were afterwards appropriated to God (Leviticus 3:16, 17).Now observe from hence — That when we serve God, we must serve Him faithfully, with our best.
1. God must have the best of our time. Consider, we can afford many sacrilegious hours to our lusts, and can scarce afford God a little time without grudging. Is not there too much of Cain's spirit in this?
2. With your best parts. You come to worship God not only with your bodies, but your souls, with the refined strength of your reason and thoughts (Psalm 108:1).
(T. Manton, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
WEB: By faith, Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had testimony given to him that he was righteous, God testifying with respect to his gifts; and through it he, being dead, still speaks.