The Way Back To God
Abel was the first man to die. He died at his brother’s hand. He was murdered. The record of his short history is given in Gen. 4 while in Heb. 11 we have the inspired commentary on it. His last words were uttered several thousand years ago, but the divine record says “having died, he yet speaks” (Heb. 11: 4). His voice is never silent. Abel has something to say to us today. His is the oldest preaching in the world.
In the first chapter of Genesis we have the creation of man. In the second chapter we have man in communion with God. In the third chapter we have the fall of man and man driven out from the presence of Jehovah. In the fourth chapter we have the way back to God made known. This is the first thing that is revealed after the fall. It stands on the forefront of revelation. It is no mere fragment of Hebrew folk–law to be dismissed as an “old–wives’ tale”. It takes its place here in God’s revelation, as being the first and earliest event, not only chronologically, but in experimental order as well. It is the first great lesson that is written down in the Scriptures of truth—“for our instruction” (Rom. 15: 4).
Abel and Cain both sought to approach God but one was accepted and the other rejected. The divine commentary is “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained testimony of being righteous, God bearing testimony to his gifts, and by it, having died, he yet speaks” (Heb. 11: 4). Now we are explicitly told in Rom. 10: 17 that “faith then [is] by a report, but the report by God’s word” and again we read of the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1: 5; 16: 26). Thus as Abel acted in faith he must have had God’s Word: it wasn’t as a result of his imagination. God must have spoken and hence both Abel and Cain must both have heard from God and known how He was to be approached—otherwise it would have been by fancy, and not by faith, and there would not have been room, either for obedience on the one hand, or for disobedience on the other. God must have spoken of the way by which those who had been driven out might return back, and have access to Himself. The lesson which is taught us by this first example of faith is that Abel believed that which he had heard from God on this all important subject and Cain did not.
It is worthy of remark that in the historical order in Gen. 4: 3, 4, Cain is mentioned first, but in the experimental order in Heb. 11: 4, Abel is mentioned first. Cain is mentioned first in the history because he was the elder. He brought his “offering to Jehovah”. He was not godless as is often represented. On the contrary, he was most religious, and the offering which he brought cost him much more than Abel’s. He sought access to the same Lord and looked for the same blessing as Abel. The point is that the way back, the approach that he took, was his own way, while the way which Abel took was God’s way, a way which God had revealed and laid down. Cain had heard the “report” as well as Abel, but he did not believe God. He invented what he must have supposed was a better, or more excellent way.
“Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to Jehovah” (Gen. 4: 3)—the very ground that God had before put under the curse for man’s sin, saying to Adam “cursed be the ground on thy account” (Gen. 3: 17). Cain therefore brought, as his offering to the Lord, that which the Lord had pronounced to be “cursed”. Abel, on the contrary, brought “of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat” (Gen. 4: 4).
What was it that made Abel’s a more excellent sacrifice than Cain’s? Commentators have speculated much, and differed widely as to this. But there is no room for more than one interpretation the moment we remember what the words “by faith” mean. They mean that God had spoken, that Cain and Abel had heard, and that Abel obeyed God and Cain did not! The whole matter is perfectly simple. And the lesson it brings home to our hearts today is just as simple and clear. It was a question, as we have seen, of believing what had been spoken as to the way back to God. God’s way back (which Abel took) was by sacrifice, by the death of a substitute, by blood.
Man’s way back (which Cain invented) was without blood, and a way which he had devised out of his own heart despite the fact that “without blood–shedding there is no remission” (Heb. 9: 22)! Cain might have brought his sin–offering just as easily as Abel. It lay at his door (see JND footnote to Gen. 4: 7): it was ready to his hand. If he did not well, and sinned, then God would have had respect to his offering just as He had had to Abel’s.
Cain’s idea was the New Theology of his day: it consisted in not believing what God had spoken; and in inventing a ‘new’ way of his own. In this lay his sin. That is why God “did not look” (v5) on his offering, however much Cain may have worked to produce it. “The sweat of thy face” (Gen. 3: 19) could not be a substitute for the “blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7: 14).
In all this we are shown the great fact that there never have been but these two ways of approach in the world’s history, however many and however various may be the religions of the world. All may be reduced to these two. Whatever may be the additional abnormalities and eccentricities of man’s imagination, there is always this ‘reversion to type’ (as the geneticists say). Here we have the typical embryo of all the subsequent History of Religions.
Man may talk but when all his talking is done, there is a reversion to type, and we come back to these two primal facts, and to these two ways of approach. One is God’s way and the other is man’s, one is by faith, the other is by fancy, one is of grace, the other is of merit, one is of faith, the other is of works, one (in our day) is Christianity, the other is religion. The one rests on what God has said, the other rests on what man thinks. The one rests on what Christ has done, the other rests on what man can do. These two words sum up and embody the two ways—DONE and DO. As to what man is to do there is no end to the variety and in no sphere is evolution seen to such a remarkable extent.
Evolution consists of unbelief and in departure from God. Hence it is that we see its germ first exhibiting itself especially in the religious sphere of human affairs. In the animal or vegetable kingdoms, we look in vain for any trace of its action. In man we see it working in the medical, legal, military, social and artistic spheres and in every department of science. However, it is in the religious sphere that it was first seen, and it is in the history of Cain and Abel that God shows us its beginning. A host of others soon followed in “the way of Cain” (Jude 11). “The way of Cain” was the first step in the evolution of religion. Its development and ramifications are today innumerable.
In the way of Abel there never has been any evolution. Substitution and the shedding of blood remain the only way for the remission of sins to the present moment, and will remain the same to the end. These are the two ways of approach which are set before us here in Cain and Abel. In the one no change has ever taken place; it is the only way back to God. Christ suffered “[the] just for [the] unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3: 18). This is its end and it is headed up in Christ. In the other, there has been nothing but change. Evolution has run its constant and persistent course and will continue so to do until it reaches its end in the deification of man, and is headed up by the Antichrist.
All who are in “the way of Cain” (Jude 11) are labouring on behalf of man, and for man’s improvement. They are ready with their own ideas as to what man must do to be saved. Whatever may be the varieties evolved from man’s imagination they are all one in asserting that man must do something. Whatever their differences or their controversies, they all agree in that man must do something. Where they do differ is only in what the ‘something’ is to be. It is this which accounts for the vast number of different systems of religion which have been evolved in the world’s history. All these are rightly called religions. Even the religion that calls itself Christian is only one of them, and has as many sects and divisions as any of the others. However numerous may be these differing forms, they are all one in doing.
Christianity is of God, and consists of a Person—Christ. Religion is of man, and is carried on for man, and in his interests. It consists of men’s forms, rites, ceremonies, articles, creeds, confessions, doctrines, traditions, churches and synagogues. If your ‘something’ does not agree with that of others, then be careful, or you may be killed, as Abel was, by one of these Cains. There is nothing in the world so cruel as religion. It was religion that murdered Abel. It was religion that killed the prophets, crucified Christ, and produced the noble army of martyrs. It was religion that delivered Jerusalem to the sword and the power of Rome. It was religion that afterward wrested Jerusalem from Rome, and terrified Europe by the threatened advance of the Saracen’s sword. It was religion that deluged the Holy Land with the blood of the Crusaders. It was the religion of pagan Rome that cried ‘the Christians to the lions’. It was the religion of Papal Rome that gave Christians to the stake, that invented all the tortures of the Inquisition, that sent forth Armadas with its instruments of torture, and has ever since been engaged in conspiracies and plots in order to obtain and secure its ascendancy.
It is religion that lies at the root of, and pervades the world’s political strife. It is in the struggle for religious supremacy that the greatest bitterness, envy, hatred and malice are manifested and exhibited in the political controversies of the present day. The question of 1 John 3: 11, 12 brings out the contrast between Christian love and religious hate. “For this is the message which ye have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another: not as Cain was of the wicked one, and slew his brother; and on account of what slew he him? because his works were wicked, and those of his brother righteous”. Cain’s works were wicked because they were his own, and of the wicked one, who had ruined his parents by the same unbelief in God’s words. Abel’s works were righteous, because they were “by faith”, and according to what God required. Hence Cain’s hatred, and hence Abel’s murder.
It will be found that religion has shed more blood, and produced more sorrow and crying that all the wars and desolations caused by the politics and dynasties of the world put together. The fact remains most solemnly true that all these various religions are one in origin, in character, in outcome, and in cruelty. In the vital matter of salvation they unite, and are one, saying with one voice: ‘Something in my hand I bring’, whereas in Christianity, which is Christ, the convicted sinner acknowledges the existence of the great dividing gulf, and says: ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling’. This puts nothing between the sinner and the Saviour, whereas it is the essence of all religions to put something there, whether it is a priest, or sacraments, or creeds, or ceremonies of some kind or another. Something has to be said, or done, or believed, or felt, without which, they say, you cannot be saved.
Cain’s way is that “way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof is the ways of death” (Prov. 14: 12), whereas Abel ‘s was “the way that leads to life” (Matt. 7: 14). In one of those two ways each one who reads these lines stands today. Either he is trusting to something instead of Christ, or to something in addition to Christ; or, he is trusting wholly in the merits of that Substitute whom God has provided, even the precious blood of that Lamb “speaking better than Abel” (Heb. 12: 24).