By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous…
The text carries us back to the world's youngest days, and it introduces us to the world's earliest brothers, the children of the first man. But how different the after history of the brothers who were thus named! Cain, the fondly imagined destroyer of the serpent, growing up into his slave; Abel, the first to experience death, and the first to triumph over it by a power that was mightier than his own. Cain, the first rebel — Abel, the first pardoned sinner; the one Divinely branded as "that wicked one who slew his brother," the other bearing his appropriate and lasting surname of "righteous Abel."
I. FIRST, HE IS BROUGHT BEFORE US AS OFFERING AN ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICE. Perhaps the main difference will be found in the fact that Cain's was a eucharistic, Abel's an expiatory sacrifice. In the one there was a recognition, in the other there was a refusal of the ordinance of God, that without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sin. Moreover, the apostle declares that the sacrifice of Abel was offered in faith. Now, faith must have respect to some revelation that has been previously given, as well as to some other blessing which the future will reveal. Some have wondered sometimes why, if sacrifice were of Divine origin, there should be no express enactment on record. But even if there be no record of it, it would be rash to conclude that there was therefore no revelation. There lurks in this supposition the fallacy of believing that the book of Genesis bore to the Jewish the same relation which the book of Leviticus bore to the Mosaic dispensation — that it was written not by the historian but by the law-giver. But we cannot imagine that the patriarchs knew no more of truth than is recorded in the historian's narrative. Indeed, we know they did; for Abrabam had revelations of a future state, and Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, as we learn from the New Testament, concerning the coming of the Lord in judgment. Neither of these things is recorded in the book of Genesis. Whatever this promise is, it is a promise of spiritual blessing. You look into it further, and you discover that there is in it a promise of a Redeemer — a promise of a Redeemer of superior nature to the destroyer, and yet to be of the seed of the woman. You look further into the promise, and find that He is to be bruised. If His essential power is greater than the power of His adversary, then any suffering that comes upon Him must be endured by His own consent. If it be voluntary, then this leads you to another step in the argument — it must be vicarious; it must be undertaken for some one else; undertaken as a substitute for some one whom He has voluntarily pledged Himself to redeem. Then here comes the great idea of satisfaction — suffering endured by a Saviour in the room and in the stead of another. But if vicarious, you go further still. In such a Being — in a Being of such acknowledged power, it must be available; it must be efficacious for the destruction of the evils that were introduced by the adversary. Now, if you will just think of this argument, I fancy you will find that it will hold, and that it is not improbable that, in the absence of direct revelation our first parents discovered in the earliest promise the Divine nature of the Redeemer, the mystery of His incarnate life, and outlines of that grand and wonderful scheme of redemption by which He offered Himself, the Just, or the unjust, that He might bring us to God. Here, then, is the foundation of the rite of sacrifice; and you cannot wonder that the faith of Abel, resting upon the scheme of mediation, should find visible expression, analogous to the way in which the offering was to be wrought out, by the offering of the firstling upon the altar, nor that God attesting that sacrifice, and honouring the spirit which prompted it, should have accepted it in the consuming fire.
II. We find, in the second place, THE RESULTS OF THIS FAITH — THAT GOD GAVE HIM A TESTIMONY. He received a Divine testimony: "by it he obtained witness that he was righteous — God testifying of his gifts." God is said to have testified to the acceptance of his offering, and to have witnessed to his own personal acceptance as well. The manner of this testimony is not distinctly stated, but the analogy would be that it was given by fire. God testified to his gifts and to his faith. God testified to his gifts; and those gifts were the gifts of blood. He was the first saved sinner, and he stands typal and exemplary of all the rest. God set His seal thus early upon the one method of reconciliation that all the ages might learn the lesson. Human nature, if it would be accepted in heaven, must not come and stand in its erectness, as if it had never sinned; it must be contrite in its trust; it must be firm in its reliance upon the sacrifice which has purged its sin away. Here is salvation costlier than human price can buy; here is salvation fuller than imagination can conceive; here is salvation lasting through all the ages of eternity; and it is offered — offered upon understood and easy terms. Here is a Redeemer gifted with every qualification, and infinite in His willinghood of love. And this Redeemer wills to save you; He has paid the price; He does not want any paltry price of yours.
III. Abel is presented in the text as EXERTING AN UNDYING INFLUENCE. "By it he being dead yet speaketh." He is brought before us as an historical exemplification of the power of faith. He has gained by it an undying memory; he is thrown by it among the moral heroes of the olden times. There issues from him, because of it, an influence which spreads and grows for ages. He teaches to after generations many great lessons; he teaches the lesson of contrition, and of gratitude, and of humble hope, and of far-sighted reliance which fastens its gaze upon the Cross, and stays its spirit there!
(W. M. Putxshort.)
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.