By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous…
St. Paul seems to make it part of the recompense of Abel that he speaketh, though dead. The speaking after death appears given as a privilege or reward; and it will be both interesting and instructive to survey it under such point of view.
I. Let us, therefore, examine, in the first place, THE FACT HERE ASSERTED OF ABEL, and then consider it as constituting a portion of his recompense — a recompense which, if awarded to one of the righteous, may lawfully be desired by all. We conclude that Adam was not left to invent a religion for himself when he carried with him from Paradise a prophetic notice of the seed of the woman. In the words which precede our text, the apostle states that "by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain." It would be hard to define wherein the faith was exhibited, if not in the nature of the offering. Cain, as well as Abel, displayed faith in the existence of God, and owned in Him the Creator and Preserver. But Abel alone displayed faith in an appointed expiation, conforming himself, on a principle of faith, to what had been made a fundamental article in the theology of the guilty. So that, by and through his sacrifice and its consequences, was Abel the energetic preacher of the great scheme of redemption, the witness to our race, in the very infancy of its being, of a Mediator to be provided and a Mediator to be rejected. And not only then. He sealed his testimony with his blood, but he was not silenced by death. We still go to his sepulchre when we seek an eloquent and thrilling assertion of the peril of swerving from the revealed will of God. He rises up from the earth, which drank in the blood of his offering and then of himself, and warns the self-sufficient that their own guidance can lead them to nothing but destruction. I hear the utterances of this slaughtered worthy. They are utterances, loud and deep, against any one amongst us who is too philosophical for the gospel or too independent for a Redeemer. They denounce the rationalist who would make his theology from creation, the self-righteous who would plead his own merit, and the flatterer who would think that there may be a path to heaven which is not a path of tribulation.
II. And now let us consider the fact alleged in our text under THE LIGHT OF A RECOMPENSE TO ABEL. The manner in which the fact is introduced indicates that it was part of the reward procured to Abel by his faith, that he should be a preacher to every generation. But that with which a righteous man is rewarded must be a real good, and, as such, may justly be sought by those who copy his righteousness. This opens before us an interesting field of inquiry. If Abel were recompensed by the being appointed, as it were, a preacher to posterity, it seems to follow that it may fitly be an object of Christian desire to do good to after-generations, and that it is not necessarily a proud and unhallowed wish to survive dissolution and be remembered when dead. It cannot indeed become us as Christians to make our own fame or reputation our end; but it is another question whether Christianity afford no scope for the passion for distinction which beats so high and prompts to so much. Let it be, for example, a man's ruling desire that he may be instrumental in spreading through the world the knowledge of Christ, and we may say of him that he is actuated by a motive which actuates the Almighty Himself, and that there is something in his ambition which deserves to be called god-like. It is not possible that a grander aim should be proposed, nor a purer impulse obeyed, by any of our race. And where this ambition is entertained — and it is an ambition in which every true Christian must share — can there lawfully be no consciousness of the worth, no desire for the possession of the recompense awarded to Abel? We believe of this worthy that, having his own faith fixed on a propitiation for sin, he must have longed to bring others to a similar confidence. Would it then have been no recompense to him had he been assured that the memory of his sacrifice was never to perish? Could it have been a recompense only on the supposition that he craved human distinction and longed, like candidates for earthly renown, to transmit his name with honour to posterity? Not so. It has been for the good of the Church that Abel has preached, and still preaches, to the nations. Many, in every age, have been strengthened by his example, many animated by his piety, many warned by his death. Thus the result of his surviving his dissolution has been the furtherance of the objects which we may suppose most desired by Abel. And the like may be declared of others. I take the case of some great champion of the faith, some bold confessor, who zealously published the truth and then sealed it with his blood. The place where this man preached, and that where he died, are hallowed spots; and the tomb in which his ashes sleep is an altar on which successive generations consecrate themselves to God. The martyr survives the stake or the scaffold, and leads on in after-ages the armies of the Lord. The, tyrant who crushed him made him imperishable, and he died that he might be life to the faith of posterity. And is it not reward to the worthies of an earlier time that they are thus instrumental in upholding the doctrines which they contended for as truth; that they still publish the tenets in whose support they lifted up their voices till the world rang with the message; and that districts or countries are so haunted by their memories, that the righteous seem to have them for companions and to be cheered by their counsels? And who further will doubt that a reputation such as this, thus precious and profitable, might be lawfully desired by the most devoted of Christ's followers. There is something grand and ennobling about such ambition. It seems to me that the man who entertains and accomplishes the desire of witnessing for truth after death, triumphs over death in the highest possible sense. I could almost dare to say of such a man that he never dies.
(H. Melvill, B. 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.