ŇBy 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 speakethÓ Hebrews 11:4
The second part of the chapter containeth an illustration and proof of the former description by a rehearsal of the most excellent patterns and ensamples of faith which flourished in the church of the Old Testament.
These examples are of two sorts: 1. Such as are set down severally one by one from v.4 to v.32, 2. Such as are set down jointly, many together, from thence to the end.
The examples set down severally are of two sorts: 1. Such as were the natural Israelites, and born members of the church visible, 2. Such as were not naturally members, but strangers from the church of God, till they were called extraordinarily.
Examples of such as were members of the visible church are also of two sorts: 1. Such as lived about the flood, or 2. Such as lived after the flood.
First, of such as lived before or about the time of the flood, there be three faithful men whose faith is here recorded: 1. Abel and 2. Enoch before, and 3. Noah, both before and after. All these three in order.
The excellent and most worthy examples are all grounded on some place of the Old Testament, and are continued from the beginning of the world almost to ChristŐs incarnation; for he beginneth with Abel, which is so near the beginning that he was the second good man that lived in the world, yea, and the first of all that had this true faith as the only means of his salvation. For, as for Adam, he before his fall had not this faith, neither should it have saved him; but when the first means failed him, then came this faith as the second and more effectual means of his salvation. But Abel was never in possibility to be saved by anything but by this faith. And therefore AbelŐs faith hath the first place of commendation, and that in this verse.
And faith is here commended for three things:
I. In that he offered by it a greater sacrifice than Cain.
II. By it he obtained testimony with God.
III. By it, dead Abel yet speaketh.
I. The first effect of AbelŐs faith is thus set down by the Holy Ghost. By faith, Abel offered unto God a greater sacrifice than Cain.
The ordinary exposition of these words is this: that Cain and Abel coming to offer, there was no difference in the matter of their sacrifice, but only in the manner of offering, in that Abel offered by faith, and so did not Cain.
This exposition, though it is good, yet it does not fit the scope of this place, nor of Gen. 4. The right sense therefore seems to be this: Abel having faith, this faith moved him to testify his thankful heart to God. This he did by offering unto God the best and costliest sacrifice that he could, namely, the first-fruits and fattest of his sheep; whereas unbelieving Cain, having no love to testify unto God, brought only of the fruit of his ground, not of the best as Abel did, but whatsoever came first to hand. This being the true meaning of the whole, let us come to the particular points laid down in this effect, and they are three:
1. That Cain and Abel offered, that is served God.
2. That they offered sacrifices.
3. That Abel offered a better than Cain.
The first point contains their service in general, the second their service in particular, the third the difference of their service, wherein especially will appear the excellency of AbelŐs faith.
1. (a) First, Abel and Cain, the two first brethren in the world, offered sacrifice to the true God. How learned they this? For they had no scripture, it was penned many years after, namely, by Moses first of all. I answer, when their parents Adam and Eve had fallen, God gave them (of His infinite goodness) a covenant of grace, that the seed of the woman should break the serpentŐs head (Gen. 3:15). We doubt not but our first parents received this covenant and believed the promise; and this their faith taught them how to worship the true God aright.
You will say, thus Adam and Eve learned of God, but how came this to Cain and Abel? I answer, When they had been thus instructed of God, Adam as a faithful servant of God, taught the same religion and delivered the same doctrine to his children; and by it they were taught what, to whom and in what manner to offer sacrifice. And thus they did it neither by scripture, nor revelation, nor their own invention, but by the instruction of their parents.
Hence let all parents learn a lesson of Adam, the first parent that was in the world; namely, to procure the good of their children. He nurtured his children excellently: 1. He provided for them till they came to age, 2. Then he left them not, but appointed them their callings, for one was an husbandman and the other a shepherd. 3. Not thus only, but he taught them to worship the true God, both in their callings and in the practice of religion, and therefore he taught them to offer sacrifice in a way of thankfulness unto God. All this did Adam.
So must thou do with the children God hath given thee. 1. Provide for them carefully till they are of age. Take heed they miscarry not any way for want of things needful. 2. So bring them up as they may be apt to live in some godly calling whereby to do good in His church; and that calling thou must appoint them according to the fitness of their gifts. Adam appointed them not both one calling, but diverse callings, according to the diversity of their gifts; and thou must see it be a lawful and honest calling, for so are both these. Then 3. (the greatest matter of all these) teach them religion, and the true manner of fearing and worshipping God; that as by the two first, thy child may live well in this world, so by this he may be made an heir of the kingdom of heaven.
Adam was the first father, and father of us all; let all then follow him in this practice; and if we follow him in one, follow him in both. Divers will be as careful for their bodies and for their callings as Adam was, but how few are as careful to teach them religion for the preferment of their souls to life eternal? But parents must have care of both these, else they shall answer for their child at the day of judgment; and though he perish in his own sin, yet his blood will God require at the fatherŐs hands. For God made him a father in his room, and he discharged not the duty of a father unto their child.
(b) Secondly, in that Cain offered as well as Abel. Hence we learn divers instructions.
(1). It is a common opinion that if a man walk duly and truly in his calling, doing no man harm, but giving every man his own, and so do all his life long, God will receive him and save his soul; but the truth is this: If men do thus, it is good and commendable and they must be exhorted to continue, but if they stand upon this for salvation, they cast away their souls. For mark here, Cain was a man that walked in an honest calling; and more than that, he took pains and laboured in it (which all men do not that have honest callings). And more than all these, when Abel offered, he came and worshipped God also; and he did outwardly in such sort as no man could blame him, but only God that saw his heart; and for all this, yet he is a wicked Cain, and that is all that the Word of God gives him (1 John 3:12). Then it is manifest, that to walk in a manŐs calling justly and uprightly, doing no man harm, will not serve the turn. Cain did it, and yet was accursed. We must then go further than Cain, else we shall go with Cain to the place where he is.
Reason not with thyself, I work hard, I follow my calling, I hurt no man: thus could Cain reason, and yet but cursed Cain. Thou must then beside these, get that that Cain did not: Learn in thy conscience to see and feel thy sin, to be grieved for it, so as thou mayest say, My sickness, my poverty, my crosses grieve me, but nothing so much as mine own sins, these trouble me above all, and this grief swalloweth up all the rest. And there is another thing which I seek above all, not gold, silver or promotion; but reconciliation with my God and His favour in Jesus Christ. If thou hast these two, then thou goest beyond Cain, then shalt thou stand before God with Abel and be accepted. Remember these two: humiliation for sin, and desire of reconciliation: these two are the sum of religion. If thou hast these, thou art blessed with Abel, if not, cursed with Cain, howsoever thou livest in the world. If thou say, Cain killed his brother, and so would not I do for all the world, I will do no man hurt in body nor goods; this will not serve, for it is said that God had no respect to Cain before he killed his brother, even when he offered his sacrifice; and therefore this duty is most necessary, and there is no shifting it off.
(2). Cain offered as well as Abel; yea, Cain offered before Abel, as it is manifest in Gen. 4:3. And yet AbelŐs sacrifice was better when it came to the proof, and was accepted, and not CainŐs which came first. Hence we learn that a man may be more forward than many other in many outward duties of religion, and yet not be accepted of God. Another may not be so forward to the duty, and yet when he comes, be better accepted. Whence comes this? What? Is forwardness in good duties a fault? Nothing less: but hence it is, he that outwardly is most forward, may come in hypocrisy and without faith; the want whereof makes his forwardness nothing worth. Many such have we in our church: great frequenters of places and exercises of religion, and yet they come but as Cain did, or it may be in worse intents. Thy forwardness is to be commended, but take this with thee also: Care not so much to be first at the sermon, or to be there oftener than other, as to go with true faith, repentance and a heart hungering for grace. If not, boast not in thy forwardness. Cain offered before Abel, and yet was not accepted; and so there may come an Abel after thee, and bring faith with him and be accepted, when thou with thy hypocritical forwardness shall be rejected, as Cain was.
(3). Thirdly, did Cain offer as well as Abel? Hence we learn that the church militant is a mixed and compounded company of men; not of one sort, but true believers and hypocrites mingled together; as here, in the very infancy of the church, there was a Cain worshipping in shew, as well as Abel that worshipped in truth. So was it in the infancy, so in her perpetual growth, and so shall it be in the last age of the church: the good shall never be quite separated from the bad, until Christ Himself do it at the last judgment. Goats shall always be mingled among the sheep, till Christ the great shepherd do separate them Himself (Matt 25:34). And he that imagineth a perfect separation till then, imagineth a fancy in his brain, and such a church as cannot be found upon the earth.
This being so, let no man therefore be afraid to join himself to the visible church; neither let any that are in it go out of it, because the bad are mingled with the good; for so it hath been always, and ever will be. He then that will go out of a church because there be hypocrites in it, must go out of the world, for such a church is not found but triumphant in heaven.
(4). Fourthly, in that Cain and Abel offered, hence we learn that the church of God which truly professeth his name, hath been ever since the beginning of the world. For this church was in the household of Adam, when there was no more but it in the world; for sacrifice to God is a sign of the church. Yea, and beside the sacrifice, they had a place appointed where Adam and his family came together to worship God; for so much Cain intimateth in Gen 4:14 and 16. Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, that is, not only out of his favour and protection, but from the place of His solemn service, and where He wonted to manifest His special presence to His children serving Him; and therefore Cain, as being excommunicate, complains (v.14) because he must leave it. Thus the church hath been from the beginning, and therefore is truly called Catholic.
The papists abuse this place notoriously; for whereas the church hath been so ancient, they argue therefore it is above the Scripture; yea, and that we could not know it to be Scripture but by the ancient testimony of the church.
We must know that the Scripture is two ways to be considered: first, as it was written and penned by holy men, and so it is later than the church, for Moses was the first penman of Scripture; but secondly, as it is the Word of God, the substance, sense and truth thereof is much more ancient than the church; yea, without the Word of God there can be no church, for without faith is no church (because the church is a company of believers), and without the Word is no faith; therefore, no word, no faith; no faith, no church. So then the Scripture was before the church, but penned after.
Thus we see that Cain and Abel offered.
2. Now secondly, what offered they? Sacrifices. Sacrifices were used in the worship of God for two ends: (1). When a sacrifice was offered, especially of beasts, when a man saw the blood of the beasts poured out, it put him in mind of his own sins, and the desert of them, and taught him to say thus: Even as this creature is here slain, and his blood distils and drops away, so my sins deserve that my blood should be shed, and my soul drenched in hell forever. This creature can die but one death, for it sinneth not; but my sins deserve both the first and the second death.
(2). Secondly, sacrifices served to put them in mind of the Messiah to come; and the slaying of the beasts shewed them how the Messiah should shed His blood, and give His life for the sins of the people. These are the two principal ends of sacrifices, and for these two ends did Cain and Abel offer: Cain in hypocrisy and for fashionŐs sake, Abel in truth, conscience and sincerity.
As it was in the old sacrifices, so it is in our Sacraments of the New Testament: whereof the sacrifices were all types:
(1). In baptism, sprinkling of the water serves to shew us how filthily we are defiled with our own sins. It signifieth the sprinkling of the blood of Christ upon the heart of a sinner, for his sanctification from sin.
(2). In the Supper, the breaking of the bread signifies: 1. How we should be broken in humiliation for our sins, and the pouring out of the wine, how our blood and life should be shed, and poured out for our sins, if we had that we deserve. And 2. secondly, they represent unto us how the body of Christ was broken, and His blood poured out for our sins: which He was content to suffer under the wrath of His Father for our sakes; so that we see both the sacrifices and sacraments of the Old, as also of the New Testament, all aimed at these two ends: to shew us our sins and our misery by sin, and to foretell, or represent our reconciliation by Christ. Which being so, our lesson is this:
We have all received those two Sacraments, the first once, the second often. Now, if they have been duly received of us, they ought to have this double use unto us: 1. To cause us to make a search of our own sins, and of our misery by sin; and seeing it, to be cast down and humbled, considering how corrupt our hearts are, and how wicked our lives. And 2. secondly, when this is so, then to make us seek for reconciliation with God by faith in Christ, to make us desire it, love it and pray for it, above all things in the world. Abel not only offered, but offered so, as that it put him in mind of his sin, and of his redemption by the death of the Messiah to come. So we must not only outwardly receive the Sacraments, but so receive, as that we may see and be humbled for our sin, and seek to be reconciled to God in Christ.
Such use also ought we to make of hearing the Word, and not to be content with bare hearing of it, or to get a general knowledge out of it; but it must give us a special sight of our own estate by sin, and urge us forward to seek the favour of God in Christ. Religion stands not in hearing the Word and receiving the Sacraments with the congregation, though it be done never so often and never so formally; but so to hear and so to receive as that they may work in us those two things: and that is the pith and life of religion. And whosoever he be that professeth religion and sheweth not the fruit of it in these two, that manŐs profession is in vain, and it will go for no payment at the day of judgment.
Thus we see they offered, and what they offered. It followeth: A greater sacrifice than Cain.
3. The third and last point is the difference of these sacrifices. For although Cain offered as well as Abel; and offered sacrifice as well as Abel; yet was there a difference in their sacrifices, for AbelŐs was better than CainŐs. This is the chief point, for this sets down what was that excellency of his faith for which he is here commended. Abel is not commended for offering by his faith, for so did Cain who had no faith; nor for offering sacrifice by his faith, for so did Cain that had no faith; but because that by his faith he offered a better sacrifice that Cain could.
The Holy Ghost calls AbelŐs a better or greater sacrifice, because Abel brought the best and fattest of his sheep, and so bestowed the most cost he could; as signifying that he would have bestowed more cost, had he known how to have done it. For he that gives as he hath, would give more if he had it. And he that doth the best he can in anything, it is certain that he would do better if he could. Cain, contrariwise, brought not the best of his fruits, but either the worst, or whatsoever came first to hand; as thinking that whatsoever he brought was good enough; and therefore worthily is Abel said to have offered a better sacrifice than Cain.
And further, this holy practice of Abel came to be a law written, even one of the commandments of the ceremonial law; namely that the firstborn should be offered to God (Exod. 24:19), and the first-fruits of the corn (Lev. 23:10), etc. and that nothing that was lame, blind, maimed, or had any blemish in it should be offered to the Lord (Deut. 15:21). Abel here did that which even these laws commanded; and these laws commanded the same that he did. Thus God vouchsafed to honour His servant Abel, for his obedient and honest heart; even to make his practice the ground and beginning of one of His own laws; that so the Israelites in all their generations might in their daily practices remember this worthy deed of holy Abel, to his perpetual honour.
Now for us the truth is, this law binds us not; for it was a ceremony, and is ended in Christ. Yet the equity and use of it reacheth even to us; namely, it teacheth us when we will give anything unto God, to give the best we have. This is the equity of these ceremonial laws, which commanded them to give to the Lord their firstborn and their first-fruits and the fattest of their cattle; and so much of them do still bind us. Now from this rule, we are taught divers duties:
(1). To the parent. Hast thou many children, and wilt thou give some to the Lord? namely, to serve Him in the ministry? The practice of the world is to make the eldest a Gentleman, the next a Lawyer, the next a Merchant; he that is the youngest, or least regarded, or that hath some infirmity in wit, or deformity in body, set him to school, let him be a Minister. But AbelŐs sacrifice controls this profanes course of the world. Learn therefore by him, whomsoever of all thy children thou findest fittest in gifts and graces of body and mind, whom thou lovest best, and most esteemest; he is fittest for the Lord, and the Lord is most worthy of him. Consecrate him to the Lord, for His service and the ministry.
(2). To the young man. He being in the strength and ripeness of wit, senses, memory, capacity, and in the best of his age: he saith, I will take my pleasure now I am fittest for it; I will repent at the end of my days, and that is a fitter time. This is a vile policy of the devil, to dishonour God, and to cast away their souls. What a grief is it to give the devil his young years, the strength of his body and wit, and to bring his withered old age unto God? Nay, before, God will not accept thy rotten sacrifice of old age, but rather give thee up to the devil, that he may have thee altogether, which hath had the best: Then follow rather SolomonŐs counsel (Eccl. 12:1), who bids thee, Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Remember AbelŐs sacrifice, it was of the best. So thou hast no sacrifice but thyself to offer: offer then the best; thy young years is the best time, give them unto God.
(3). To all Christians. Abel offered the best. It teacheth us all, if we will profess and serve God, not to do it by the halves, or for shew and fashionŐs sake, or negligently, as not caring how. Thus to do is but to offer the sacrifice of Cain; and that makes most professors go away with their service unaccepted, as CainŐs was. For God will have all or none, He is worthy to have no partner; He must be served with all the heart, with soul and body, so that a man must consecrate himself wholly unto Him (2 Kings 23:25). It is the special commendation of good king Josiah, that he turned unto the Lord with all his heart and soul and might; and for that, he is preferred before all kings before or after him; not that Josiah could fulfil the law perfectly, as is required; but it is meant of the endeavour of his heart and life; by which he strove with all his might to serve God as well as he could. His example is ours.
We profess religion, we must look that our hearts affect it; we profess a turning from sin, we must take heed it be not formal and from the lips, but from the heart. So when we practice any duty of religion, whether we pray or hear the Word, or receive the Sacraments (this is the sacrifice that we can offer), we must not do them coldly and carelessly, but with zealous affection and resolution from the heart. Otherwise, if we serve God for fashionŐs sake, and our hearts are on the world and our own lusts, we offer the sacrifice of cursed Cain, and we, with our formal religion shall go to him. But let us offer the sacrifice of Abel: that is, though it be never so little, yet let it be the best we can, and all we can, and God will accept us, as He did Abel. And thus the parent should give God his best child; the young man his best years; every man his best part, which is his heart. And thus we follow the steps of holy Abel, who offered to God the best sacrifice he had. This was the fruit of his faith: even so, that parent, that young man, that professor that hath true faith, will do so likewise.
Hitherto of the first effect of AbelŐs faith.
II. It followeth, By the which he obtained witness that he was righteous.
This is the second effect of AbelŐs faith, whereby it is commended. For the meaning. by faith, he means saving faith, which makes a man just before God, and no other. For whereas he had said before that by faith our elders had obtained a good report. He proves that general, by this example of Abel; therefore that saving faith which was meant there, is also meant here.
These words set down two benefits which Abel had by his saving faith: 1. First, he was just by it; 2. Secondly, God testified that he was so.
1. For the first, AbelŐs faith made him just and righteous, not because his faith was an excellent quality of that virtue in itself, as to make him just; but because it was an instrument whereby he apprehended and applied to himself the righteousness of the Messiah to come, whereby he might stand just before God. This was his righteousness, which he had by faith; for he trusted not to any holiness of his own, though (it is out of the question) he knew he was the son of man who once was perfectly righteous: but the trust and confidence of his heart was in the righteousness of that blessed seed which, God had promised, should break the serpentŐs head. This promise he knowing, believed it, applied it to himself, and this faith made him righteous.
Here we learn a worthy lesson of Christianity; namely, that the true and the undoubted way to heaven is a holy and lively faith in Jesus Christ; for this faith makes a man righteous, and that righteousness opens him the gate of heaven. To this end (saith the apostle) being justified by faith, we have peace with God. But by whom? Through our Lord Jesus Christ.
For the use of this doctrine, we must renew our former exhortation, which indeed cannot be too often pressed to the conscience. There is none of us so vile, none so profane, but we desire salvation. If we do, then we must tread the beaten way to it. For we are not born heirs of it; neither can we come hither by chance; but there is a way that must be taken, and that way is but one; all others are misleading by-ways. Again, the way must be taken in this life, else it is too late. Now, this way is to be a just and righteous man. With this, never man failed; and without this, never man attained to salvation, for no unclean thing can come into the kingdom of heaven (Rev. 21:27). Never was man justified there, which was not just before; and that must here be begun, which in heaven is to be perfected. In this life, therefore, we must seek to be just. Now, our good works will not serve to make us just, for they are all unable to endure the trial of GodŐs justice. And if we stand in them, and they prove not able to satisfy GodŐs justice, then instead of saving us, they will condemn us. Therefore, with Abel, let us go out of ourselves, deny ourselves and cleave only to ChristŐs righteousness in life and death; this is the way that never will deceive us.
But some will say, We walk in this way. I answer, He that walketh in a way may be traced by his steps. So then, show your steps of holiness, of devotion, of charity, etc. These must show your faith. Leave these steps behind you, and then your faith is good. Thus did holy Abel: believe thou it, acknowledge it, and follow thou after him; and renounce all by-paths which the papists, or thy own brain imagineth. Let this one doctrine sink into thy heart instead of many, and let not the devil strake it out. For if thou walk in this way, my soul for thine it will bring thee to heaven. If not, at the last day this doctrine will condemn thee, because it shewed thee this way, and thou wouldest not walk in it.
Secondly, observe: He saith, Abel was approved and accepted of God. How proves he that? Because his work pleased God: as who say, his works cannot please God unless his person do; therefore in that his works do, thence he concludeth that his person did: it is the reason of the Holy Ghost, and therefore infallible.
In the framing of this reason, the Holy Ghost teacheth us a great point of our religion: namely, that first a manŐs person must please God before his actions can. And after the person, then the actions. This is plain in these words, for it is said, he first obtained witness that he was righteous himself, and then God testified of his gifts. So likewise more plainly in Gen. 4:4. God had respect first to Abel, and then to his offering. So that the truth is manifest, No work pleaseth God before the worker does. This being so, hath excellent uses:
First, it overthroweth a main pillar of Romish religion; Justification by works. For how can a man be justified by his works when he himself must be just before the works can be? Unless he be just, his works be wicked. If they be wicked before his person be just, how can they then justify him? And if the person be once just, what needs it then to be again justified by works? Good works make not a man good, but a good man makes a work good; and shall that work that a man made good return again and make the man good? 1. That is absurd in reason, and 2. It is needless: For the man is good already, else the work could not have been good. We may therefore say, works are rather justified by the person of a man, than his person by the works; and it is a most vain thing to look for justification from that which thou thyself must first justify before it be just. If we had no other reasons against justification by works but this, this would be sufficient.
Secondly, here we learn, that till a man is called, and his person justified and sanctified, all that ever he doth is sin. 1. His common actions, his eating, drinking, sleeping, walking, talking, are all sins. Yea, 2. The works of his calling, and his labour in the same, though never so just, equal and upright. 3. Further, his civil actions, namely, the practice of civil virtues, his outward gravity, meekness, sobriety, temperance, quietness, uprightness, and all outward conformity, are all sins. Yea, more than all this, his best actions, namely his practising of the parts of GodŐs worship, or his deeds of charity, his prayer, his hearing the word, his receiving of the sacraments, his giving of alms; they are all sins unto him, if he have not a believing and penitent heart. Yea, such sins as shall condemn him, if he had no other.
Objection. This should seem strange divinity, that the most holy actions as prayer etc. should be damnable sins. I answer, they are in themselves holy and good, and as far forth good as God hath commanded them; yet in the doer they are sins, because he doth them from a foul and unholy heart; for the same action may be holy in itself, and in regard of God the author of it, and yet a sin in him that is the doer of it. As clear water, pure in the fountain, is corrupted or poisoned by running through a filthy and polluted channel, so are even the best actions sins; as even the preaching of the word to a minister whose heart is not cleansed by faith and his person accepted of God; it is a sin unto him, and (if he repent not) shall be his condemnation. Cain sinned not only in hating and murdering his brother, in lying and dissembling with God; but Cain sinned also even in offering sacrifice. And AbelŐs sacrifice had been a damnable sin, but that his person was justified before God. And the reason of all this is good; for nothing in the work is able to make an action acceptable to God, but only the acceptation of the person by Christ. This being so, it stands us every one in hand to look to ourselves, and to labour above all things for faith and repentance; that so our persons may be accepted righteous before God, and thereby our actions accepted also. If it be a miserable thing that all thy actions, even holy actions, should be sins, then labour to be justified, for that only can make thy works accepted. If not, then though thou labour never so much to be approved in the world, and set never so glorious a shew upon thy works to the eyes of men, they are all abominable sins in the sight of God; and at the day of judgment they shall go for no better. Preach and teach all thy life long; nay, give thy life to die for religion. Give all thy good to the poor; deprive thyself of all delights. Build churches, colleges, bridges, highways, etc.; and there may come a poor shepherd, and for his keeping of sheep be accepted, when thou with all this pomp of outward holiness mayest be rejected. And why this? Only because he had faith, and thou hast none; his person was justified before God, and thine is not. Therefore, let this be my counsel from Abel: Labour not so much to work glorious works, as that which thou doest, do in faith. Faith makes the meanest work accepted; and want of faith makes the most glorious work rejected; for so saith the text: Abel must be accepted, else his sacrifice is not. Thus we see Abel was just, and God so accounted him.
2. The second point is, that God gave testimony he was so, in these words: God giving testimony.
What testimony it was that God gave of Abel and his gift, it is not expressed in the Word, and so it is not certain; but it is very likely that when he and Cain offered, God in special mercy sent fire from heaven and burned up AbelŐs sacrifice, but not CainŐs; for so it pleased the Lord often afterward when He would shew that He accepted any man, or his work, He answered them by fire from heaven. So he burned up the sacrifice that Aaron offered (Lev. 9:24). So He answered Solomon (2 Chr. 7:1. And so, Elias (2 Kin. 18:28). And so it is likely that he gave this testimony that he accepted Abel and his offering. This was a great prerogative that Abel and the fathers in the Old Testament had. We have not this, but we have a greater, for we have that that is the substance, and truth, and body of this; for we have also the fire of God, that is, His Spirit comes down into our hearts every day, not visibly but spiritually, and burns up in the heart of a believer his sins and corruptions, and lights the light of true faith, that shall never be put out.
The use hereof is this: As no sacrifice in the old law pleased God but such as was burned by fire from heaven, sent down either then or before; so our sacrifices of the New Testament (that is, our invocation of GodŐs name, our sacrifice of praise, our duties of religion, our works of mercy and love) never please God, unless they proceed from a heart purged by the fire of GodŐs Spirit, that is, from a believing and repentant heart; both which are kindled and lighted and daily continued by that fire of GodŐs Spirit. Therefore it is that Paul saith (1 Tim. 1:4), Love must come out of a pure heart, and good conscience, and faith unfeigned. The duties of religion and works of love coming from this purged heart, ascend into the presence of God as a smoke of most acceptable sacrifices, and are as a sweet perfume in the nostrils of the Lord.
Now, of what did God thus testify? Of his gift.
It may be here asked at the first: How can Abel give a gift to God: hath the Lord need of anything, and are not all things His? I answer, God is sovereign, Lord of heaven and earth and all creatures; yet hath He so given His creatures unto man to use, as that they become manŐs own, and so He may esteem and use them; and being manŐs, a man may in token of his thankfulness return them again to God; especially seeing God accepts them being so offered as most free gifts.
This sheweth us: (1). First, the wonderful mercy of God, that whereas we can offer Him nothing but His own, He vouchsafeth to accept a gift offered of His own, even as though we had of our own to offer.
(2). See here a difference betwixt the sacrifices of the Old, and sacraments of the New Testament. In their sacrifices, they gave something to God, and therefore they are called gifts; in our sacraments we receive daily grace from God.
(3). In that the sacrifices of the Old law are called gifts, we must know that it is typical, and hath excellent significations unto us:
(a) It signifieth that the Messiah should be given of God freely, for the salvation of His elect; and that Christ the Messiah should willingly give Himself to be a redeemer.
(b) It signifieth that every man that looks for salvation by Christ, must give himself to God, and all that is in him. So Paul exhorteth (Rom.6:13), Give yourselves unto God, and your members weapons of righteousness. When we give anything to a man, we make him Lord of it. If we then give our souls and bodies to the Lord, we must give them so, as that they may obey and serve Him, and be ruled by Him, and serve for His glory, howsoever he shall use them. We profess religion; and make great shews; but to give ourselves in obedience to God is the life of religion. But contrary is the course of the world. For most professors are given up to sin and Satan. Their bodies given to drinking, gaming, uncleanness, injustice; their souls to envying, hatred, malice, revenge, lust, pride, self-love. God hath nothing escpt it be a face. But that will not serve the turn. He will have all, body and soul; for He had made all, and he redeemed all. We go against equity: Christ gave His body and soul for us; why should we not give our again to Him? Again, this gift is not as other gifts; for here all the profit redounds to the giver; the glory indeed in His, but the gain and profit is our own. Why then should we withhold ourselves from God? It argueth, we know nor feel not what Christ hath given us; for if we did, if we had ten thousand lives, we would think them all too little for Him.
And thus much of the first and second effect of AbelŐs faith; the third followeth.
By which Abel being dead, yet speaketh.
The third effect whereby AbelŐs faith is commended is laid down in these words. Concerning the meaning whereof there is some difference, which is briefly to be examined. Some think the words should be thus translated: By which also Abel being dead, is yet spoke of; making the meaning to be that by his faith he obtained a good name to all posterity; but it seems this cannot stand, for two causes: First, because that is already affirmed of Abel and all the rest, in the second verse, that through faith, they had obtained a good report; which therefore might seem needless so soon to be repeated again. Secondly, for that afterwards ChristŐs blood and AbelŐs compared together, it is not said that ChristŐs blood is better spoken of that AbelŐs, but that it speaketh better things than AbelŐs did. Therefore the words are rightly translated.
Now, for the true sense of them, it is likely the Holy Ghost here hath relation to the story whence it is taken; where, upon CainŐs murder, God saith to him, The voice of thy brotherŐs blood crieth to me from the earth. And why crieth it? .Namely, for vengeance against so monstrous a murder; and crieth to all men to behold it, and to abhor the like; and so after a sort he continueth to speak to this day. So that the words, in the true and full sense of them, do import these two points:
1. That Abel spake when he was dead,
2. That in a sort, Abel still speaketh.
1. For the first, Abel spake and cried when he was dead. But how? Not with a vocal speech, but the phrase is figurative and imports thus much, as if the Lord had said to Cain, Thou hast killed thy brother closely, and it may be hast hid him in the sand or buried him and thinkest no man knoweth of it; but thou must know Cain, this thy fact is evident to me, as if Abel had told me; I know thou killedst him; and if thou wonder how I know, I tell thee his blood told me, for it cried in my ears, and yet it crieth out against thee; for though Abel be dead, his blood yet speaketh. And this is true of AbelŐs, so of all menŐs blood; and as of blood, so of all other oppressions, though done by never so great men. Murders, oppressions, and all wrongs done to GodŐs children, they cry to God against the oppressors, though the poor oppressed men dare scarce name them; they need not, for their blood doth; yea, even their very tears cannot be shed but God takes them up, and puts them in His bottle (Psa. 56:8), and will know who shed them. This blood crieth against them that shed it, yea, tears cry against them that cause them. This affordeth us a double instruction: First; here it is apparent that God seeth and knoweth the sins of men, though the men be never so mighty, or their sins never so secret. For though men convey them never so closely, and labour to hide them with all the means that the wit of man can devise, yet the very dead creatures cry out and do proclaim the sins and sinners in the ears of God, as fully as the voices of living men, can discover anything unto men. Privy oppressions and goods gotten by deep deceit, lie hid to the world; but (Hab. 2:11,12), the stone out of the wall shall cry, and the beams out of the timber shall answer it, Woe be to him that buildeth his house with blood, and directs a city by iniquity; as though he had said, God knoweth every stone and every piece of timber in their stately houses, which they have gotten by deceit or oppressing of the poor. Privy conspiracies and plots of treason are laid against princes and magistrates; and often in so secret manner as in manŐs reason not to be discovered. But God hath many ways to find them out, and they never escape His privy search; and therefore the Holy Ghost adviseth, Curse not the king, no not in thy thought, nor the great ones in thy bedchamber; for the fowls of the heaven shall carry thy voice, and that which hath wings shall declare the matter (Eccl. 10:20). So that whatsoever is plotted never so privily, or conspired in the secret closets of ungodly men, God knows it, and hath means enough to disclose it to the world. And in our daily experience, God magnifieth Himself mightily in revealing murders. For, bring the murderer before the dead corpse, and usually it bleedeth, or giveth some other testimony whereby it speaketh even as AbelŐs blood did, This is the murderer. Nay more, for AbelŐs blood spake to God, but here even to men also.
And of this it is hard to give any reason at all, but the secret and immediate hand of God, thereby shewing Himself to know all secret sins, and to be able to disclose them by strange means.
The use of this doctrine is to fear all men from sinning, though they think it possible to conceal their sins from the world; for this is one of the strongest and commonest encouragements that men take to live in a sin, if they think it likely to be concealed. But here they see how false a ground that is. For if they can conceal it from men, yet can they not from God; and if God know it, then can He reveal it to the world when it pleaseth Him.
Again, whereas AbelŐs blood cried when he was dead, it teacheth us that God hath a care of Abel both living and dead; for it were nothing to say that his blood cried, if God heard not that cry. But it is apparent He heard it, for He revenged it, and punished Cain when Abel was dead and could not revenge it himself. And this care God hath not over Abel alone, but over all his children; and as the psalmist saith, Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints (Psa. 116:15); that which is vile and of no regard in the world, is precious with God. Tyrants make havoc of the church, and kill them up by heaps; but God records up every one, and will not fail to revenge it when they are dead. For if God hath bottles for the tears of His servants, surely much more hath He bottles for their blood.
The use whereof is to teach us to all extremities of danger or distress, to learn patience; yea, though we be sure to die, yet (as Christ saith), To possess our souls with patience (Luke 21:19). For we have one who will hear the cause and revenge our quarrel when we are gone; so that if we be patient we lose nothing, but if we be impatient, we get nothing. Let us therefore hold our tongues; for the wrong done to us crieth loud enough to God for revenge, who will hear it as assuredly as He did AbelŐs. And thus we see how Abel spake then, even after he was dead.
2. The second point is that he speaks also yet; and that three ways:
(1). First, his faith yet speaketh because it admonisheth all men everywhere, who either hear or read this story, to become such as Abel was, namely, true worshippers of the true God; for in AbelŐs example, it provokes all men to be like him, because it assureth them of the same regard and reward with God that Abel had; and so AbelŐs faith is a never-dying preacher to all ages of the church.
Here we learn that the holy examples of GodŐs children are real teaching, and loud preaching to other men. For there is a double teaching, namely, in word or deed.
It belongs to the minister to teach in word; and to all men to teach by their deeds and good examples; and if the minister teach not thus also, it is the worse both for him and his hearers.
It sufficeth not for him to teach by vocal sermons, that is, by good doctrine; but withal by real sermons, that is by good life. His faith, his zeal, his patience, his mercy and all other of his virtues must speak, and cry, and call other men to be like to him; which if he practice carefully in his life as Abel did, then shall his virtues speak for him to posterities when he is dead.
(2). Again, Abel, though dead, may be said to speak, because howsoever his body be dead, yet in soul and spirit he liveth with God in heaven. And thus the word speaketh may be understood, because it is here opposed to death; by which he being dead yet speaketh; that is, being dead in body, yet liveth in soul; which life with God was obtained unto by his true and saving faith.
(3). Thirdly, he may be said to speak yet, as all other of GodŐs martyrs are said to cry in the Revelation, from under the altar, How long Lord, holy and true, dost thou not avenge our blood on them that dwelleth on the earth? (Rev. 6:10). As this is true of all martyrs, so especially of Abel, the first martyr of all; which words are not spoken, neither by him nor them vocally with utterance of voice, but it is so said to signify what fervent desire the servants of God have in heaven, of the full manifestation of GodŐs glory in their bodies, and of an utter abolishment of sin in the whole world; which their desire they doubtless utter to God in a more excellent manner than in this world we can utter anything with our voice; and thus Abel speaks yet, and shall speak till the worldŐs end.
Hitherto of the first example, the example of Abel.