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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. Hebrews 11:4

Righteousness!

The key that unlocks the gates of heaven.

What blessedness to obtain witness that we are righteous.

Without this witness the pains of guilt bring us down to hopeless despair. It is a terrible thing for sinners to be in the hands of the living God. Our God is a con­suming fire against the workers of iniquity. We have sinned and deserve the fire-brand of His wrath. So the Almighty has plucked from your home a loved one, has cast you into a bed of affliction, has stripped you of your material wealth, are these evidences of wrath? Without the witness that we are righteous there can be only one answer, they are!

With the witness that we are righteous, things are so different. It is then that we gaze upon the thrice holy God and beholding Him in our Lord Jesus Christ we cry by faith, “Our Father which art in heaven.” The billows of life may burst all around us, but we know that we are never alone in the storm. Being righteous we behold the smile of God reflected in the balmy sunshine, but no less in the brooding storm. We walk by faith through the valley of the shadow of death with our eye fixed upon the eternal city, where we shall abide with Father forever.

Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous.

Well may we pray that our offering be such a sacri­fice.

Cain was a hypocrite! Oh, to be sure, he was “religious.” After all he had received the same covenant instruction that Abel had received. According to Gen. 4 he joined Abel in bringing an offering unto Jehovah. He believed there was a God; he couldn’t be classified as an infidel, one who rejected the idea of a supreme being. On the contrary, he participated in one of the most intimate forms of worship, that of offering a sacrifice, the Old Testament counterpart for prayer.

Nevertheless we must not be deceived by outward appearance. Cain was brought up within the sphere of the covenant, but despised the very essence of the covenant. We read that he took of the fruit of the ground and brought it as an offering unto the Lord. By this he denied Jesus Christ. He trusted in the works of His hands.

Cain could not plead ignorance for this atrocious deed. Some would interpret this as if there was nothing wrong in Cain coming with the fruit of the ground as a sacrifice to the Lord. He was, after all, a tiller of the soil, and quite naturally he brought that which came to his hand. Abel was a keeper of sheep and therefore he brought a firstling of the flock. Following this line of reasoning, the sin of Cain was not in the sacrifice which he brought, but rather in the attitude of his heart.

This however, is not true. According to the words of Heb. 11:4, the respect which Jehovah had over against these two brothers rested in the sacrifice itself, “God testifying of his gifts, and by it he being dead yet speaketh.” This refers to Abel’s gift upon the altar. This made the difference.

Already in Paradise, God had given instruction concerning the only hope for redemption. Immediately after the fall, God came to Adam and Eve and prom­ised Christ in the words spoken to the serpent, but in their hearing, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” He demonstrated the truth of this by taking an animal and killing it and using the hide as a garment. Before their eyes they saw blood shed for the first time and they were given to understand that through the shedding of blood their nakedness (guilt) would be covered.

It seems but natural that the idea of sacrifice and its importance was understood from this point on. In this tradition Abel came with a lamb as his parents must often have done. But Cain disdained the lamb. He needed not the covering of blood. He was about to take the fruits produced by his own care and offer them as a sacrifice. He must have picked the nicest fruits and the best herbs. He reasoned that God would surely be pleased with such an offering.

By this deed He rejected the need for the atonement and trusted in his own works. He tried to pray to God apart from the cross. This “prayer” God did not hear. God was not deceived. He had no respect unto such an offering and he communicated this to Cain. By this act, God literally ripped the mask of hypocrisy from Cain and exposed him for what he really was. This brought the true spiritual character of Cain to the light. When Abel came to speak with his brother con­cerning his spiritual weakness, Cain rose up and slew him. The blood of Abel cried unto the God of heaven. Proud rejection of the cross led to murder. Sin always bears a terrible fruit.

Cain represents the masses of nominal Christianity throughout the history of the world. He does not stand at the front of the heathen masses; he represents those who pretend to be Christians, but are not. The Cains of our day are not found in darkened heathendom far removed from the influence of the gospel; they are found in the midst of that which calls itself church. The modern Cain believes that man is basically good; he denies total depravity. According to them the very idea of the atonement of Christ is “butcher theology” not worthy of the name of Christianity. If there is any punishment for sin, it is in this world as the price for sin is marked in broken homes, a war-torn country, or a ravished society. Man must grow up and learn that love of our fellowmen is the key to real living, not the love of God in Jesus Christ, only the love of man to man under a vague fatherhood of God. The way of salvation according to such is not a cross as a payment for sin, but rather human reformation.

When God comes to such in the preaching of the gospel and rips from them their mask of hypocrisy as He did to Cain, their reaction is the same today. The bitterest enemies of the truth are not the heathen; they are those who apostatize within the nominal church. After all, antichrist himself will not come out of heathendom; he will sit in the church usurping unto himself the authority of Christ, but denying Him. It is this modern Cain as he comes to his own that will bring about the great tribulation in the last days.

Present day denial of the atonement as the covering for the sins of the elect is in the “spirit” of Cain. Let us beware!

The more excellent sacrifice was quite different. Abel slew a lamb. He laid it upon the altar and bowed as the fire consumed it. Gazing upon the burning lamb, his pride was crushed beneath the righteous demands of the sovereign God. His hope rested in the blood of the Lamb who would one day come and expiate his sins before the face of the Almighty.

Abel had a proper understanding of who God is. He knew that it was not a matter of his trying his best to appease some supreme being and do what was commonly expected of him. God is holy and is jealous in His holiness. For this reason He is a consuming fire against the workers of iniquity. His fellowship is rooted in Himself, being the highest good. He expects that all His creatures will recognize Him as the highest and only good. Hence the holy God is also righteous and lays a boundary within which His face smiles with holy approval and outside of which He burns in holy wrath. That boundary is His love, love for Him as God and love of the neighbor for His sake.

Abel understood that all he did or could or would ever do was out of bounds with God. He looked at his life and saw that there was nothing in his works that could possibly serve as grounds for winning God’s approval. In this he was the opposite of Cain who came with his fruits. You see, the difference in their practical religion stemmed from a theological difference. Abel had a different concept of God than Cain did. And Cain’s theological concept was not something to be respected as far as their dealings with each other was concerned; Abel’s was right and Cain’s was wrong and had to be condemned. Abel’s concept of God was rooted in the revelation that God had given them; he bowed humbly before the God Who had spoken to his parents and given instruction concerning proper worship. Cain was proud and had exalted himself over and above this God. Basically, Cain hated God and Abel loved Him. This became so evident in the view that they had of themselves; Abel bowed in confession of sin before the righteous God, but Cain lifted up his head proudly and boasted in his fruits.

This quite naturally led them to a different “way of salvation.” Abel now saw that God’s way out was the only way out. God had in mercy and love promised the Christ upon whom He would lay his iniquities. Abel laid hold of the Christ; he took the lamb and slew it and beheld it consumed by the fire, a sure type of Christ enduring the wrath of God against the sins of His own. How humiliating it was to stand before Abel’s altar. That lamb was a substitute for our being burned in the fire. How Abel looked to the future in hope for the perfect Lamb! How thankful he was to God for promis­ing such redemption and establishing a sure foundation for salvation: the satisfaction of His perfect righteous­ness! By it Abel was righteous in the righteousness of Christ.

You see, if you have the wrong view of God you will have the wrong view of yourself, and this in turn will lead you to a wrong view of salvation. The practical outcome is a false religion. On the contrary, if we have the right view of God we will have the right view of ourselves and understand the only true way of salvation which God established. This, too, will lead to a prop­er form of religion, which brings us near to the heart of God.

Our theology makes all the difference for a more excellent sacrifice.

Abel was blessed, Cain was cursed.

God testified of Abel’s sacrifice that it was pleas­ing in His sight. Notice, God testified not of Abel, but of “his gifts,” that is, He took note of Christ on the altar and upon the basis of Christ’s atonement informed Abel that He was pleased. What objective evidence God gave him we do not know, whether of the smoke, of fire, or even a direct communication by voice. It makes no difference. Abel understood it and Cain resented it.

Abel was slain. At the dawn of history the keynote was already sounded. Those who reject the atonement of Christ will not tolerate those who preach the true gospel. Through this enmity Abel was redeemed fully and taken into the heavenly glory.

Cain was cursed in the most horrible way. He even had to bear a mark that would extend his earthly life, in order that God’s purpose for him might be accomplished and his own measure of iniquity filled. He was destined to be a fugitive and a vagabond to dwell outside of God’s covenant and dwell in His curse, a foretaste of his eternal abode.

Abel yet speaks! Even though he is dead.

How clear that language is. May God give us ears to hear it.

Only the way of the cross leads home!