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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 4

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-16

Genesis 4:1-16

Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground

The story of Cain and Abel




1. In its offerings.

2. In the power which it exercises over the passions.

3. In its sympathy (Genesis 4:9).

SPIRITUAL RELIGION ALONE COMMENDS A MAN TO GOD. This is illustrated in the life of Abel.

1. He possessed faith.

2. He offered an acceptable sacrifice to God.

3. Spiritual religion has a favourable influence on character.

The quality of Abel’s piety, its depth and spirituality, cost him his life, and made him at the same time the first martyr for true religion. (D. Rhys Jenkins.)

The two sacrifices

The first question to be asked is this: WHAT DID CAIN AND ABEL KNOW ABOUT SACRIFICE? Although we should certainly have expected Moses to inform us plainly if there had been a direct ordinance to Adam or his sons concerning the offering of fruits or animals, we have no right to expect that he should say more than he has said to make us understand that they received a much more deep and awful kind of communication. If he has laid it down that man is made in the image of God, if he has illustrated that principle after the Fall by showing how God met Adam in the garden in the cool of the day and awakened him to a sense of his disobedience, we do not want any further assurance that the children he begat would be born and grow up under the same law.

It has been asked again, WAS NOT ABEL RIGHT IN PRESENTING THE ANIMAL AND CAIN WRONG IN PRESENTING THE FRUITS OF THE EARTH? I must apply the same rule as before. We are not told this; we may not put a notion of ours into the text. Our Lord revealed Divine analogies in the sower and the seed, as well as in the shepherd and the sheep. It cannot be that he who in dependence and submission offers Him of the fruits of the ground, which it is his calling to rear, is therefore rejected, or will not be taught a deeper love by other means if at present he lacks it.

THE SIN OF CAIN--a sin of which we have all been guilty--WAS THAT HE SUPPOSED GOD TO BE AN ARBITRARY BEING, WHOM HE BY HIS SACRIFICE WAS TO CONCILIATE. The worth of Abel’s offering arose from this: that he was weak, and that he cast himself upon One whom he knew to be strong; that he had the sense of death, and that he turned to One whence life must come; that he had the sense of wrong, and that he fled to One who must be right. His sacrifice was the mute expression of this helplessness, dependence, confidence. From this we see--

1. That sacrifice has its ground in something deeper than legal enactments.

2. That sacrifice infers more than the giving up of a thing.

3. That sacrifice has something to do with sin, something to do with thanksgiving.

4. That sacrifice becomes evil and immoral when the offerer attaches any value to his own act and does not attribute the whole worth of it to God. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

Lessons from the history of Cain

From the story of Cain we gather the following thoughts--

EVE’S DISAPPOINTMENT AT THE BIRTH OF CAIN SHOULD BE A WARNING TO ALL MOTHERS. Overestimate of children may be traced sometimes to extreme love for them; it may also arise on the part of parents from an overweening estimate of themselves.

We see next in the history of Cain WHAT A FEARFUL SIN THAT OF MURDER IS. The real evil of murder (apart from its theftuous character) lies in the principles and feelings from which it springs, and in its recklessness as to the consequences, especially the future and everlasting consequences, of the act. The red flower of murder is comparatively rare, but its seeds are around us on all sides.


1. Because they, like murder, are opposed to the spirit of forgiveness manifested in the gospel of Christ.

2. Because, like murder, they ruthlessly disregard consequences. (G. Gilfillan.)

Cain and Abel





1. The secret of right living is faith in God. The acceptable sacrifice is the life of faith.

2. That which makes sacrifice acceptable is faith. A formal sacrifice is a vain thing. It is Cain’s offering.

3. Faith prepares men to die well. Be ready to die in faith, for the faith. How much may hinge upon it. Have you religious convictions for which you are ready to lay down your life? When Martin Luther went to his historic trial in the Hall of the Diet at Worms, the people crowded the windows and housetops of the city to see him pass. They knew his danger. But they knew of a higher danger, theirs and his, of the cause of pure religion on the earth. Their concern for him was: “Will he stand firm for us? Will he stand for the faith to the death?” “In solemn words,” says Carlyle, “they cried out to him not to recant. ‘Whosoever denieth Me before men,’ thus they cried to him as in a kind of solemn petition and adjuration.” Luther stood for the human race. Would his faith fail? Then the faith of the people would fail. Would his stand? Then theirs would stand, the Reformation would triumph. It was not so important that he should live, as that he should stand in unconquerable faith. How much depended upon one man! How much depended on the faith of Abel! Where should Eve find hope again, with Cain a murderer and Abel dead? Where Seth an example, and Enoch and Noah, and the antediluvian saints? Where Abraham and the patriarchs an inspiration? Abel’s faith shone out as a beacon light through all those early centuries. The heroes of faith all lived in loyalty. But how did they die? These all died in the faith. Thank God for that sentence! Covet a faith to live by. But be sure of the faith of Abel to die by. (G. R. Leavitt.)

Naming of children

She called her eldest Cain, which signifieth a possession, and her second son when she had also borne him, Abel, which signifieth vain or unprofitable. By which diversity of names evidently appeareth a diversity of affection in the namers, and so teacheth us two things. First, the preposterous love that is in many parents, esteeming most oftentimes of those children that are worst, and least of them that deserve better. Their Cains be accounted jewels and wealth, but their Abels unprofitable, needless, and naught. Secondly, it teacheth the lot of the godly in this world many times, even from their very cradle, to be had in less regard than the wicked are. So was here Abel, so was Jacob of his father, so was David and many more. Such and so crooked are men’s judgments often, but the Lord’s is ever straight, and let that be our comfort: He preferreth Abel before Cain, whatsoever his parents think, He loveth Jacob better than Esau, and He chooseth little David before his tall brethren: He seeth my heart, and goeth thereafter when men regard shows and are deceived. Care away then, if the heart be sound, God esteemeth me, and let man choose. (Bishop Babington.)

Antiquity of husbandry

Their trade of life and bringing up we see, the one a keeper of sheep, the other a tiller of the ground, both holy callings allowed of God. Idleness hated then from the beginning, both of the godly and such as had but civil honesty, or the use of human reason. The antiquity of husbandry herein also appeareth, to the great praise of it, and due encouragement unto it. But alas our days! many things hath time invented since, or rather the devil in time hatched, of far less credit, and yet more use with wicked men, a nimble hand with a pair of cards, or false dice, is a way now to live by, and Jack must be a gentleman, say nay who shall. Tilling of the ground is too base for farmers’ sons, and we must be finer. But take heed we be not so fine in this world, that God knows us not in the world to come, but say unto us, “I made thee a husbandman, who made thee a gentleman? I made thee a tiller of the ground, a trade of life most ancient and honest, who hath caused thee to forsake thy calling wherein I placed thee? Surely thou art not he that I made thee, and therefore I know thee not, depart from Me, thou wicked one, into everlasting fire.” (Bishop Babington.)

Two kinds of offerings

They both offer, but the one thinketh anything good enough, and the other in the zeal of his soul and fulness of his Lord thinketh nothing good enough. He bringeth his gilt, and of the fattest, that is, of the best he hath, and wisheth it were ten thousand times better. This heat of affection towards God let us all mark and ever think of: it uncaseth such as in these days think any service enough for God, half, a quarter of an hour in a week, etc. (Bishop Babington.)

The first age of the conflict

In the Eden prophecy (Genesis 3:15) there was shadowed forth a great conflict between good and evil that should last through coming ages. Of that long conflict this is the first age. It covers the whole time of antediluvian history. It is important for us to keep in our minds the length of the time, sixteen hundred years and more--over sixteen centuries at the very lowest computation. So, of course, we cannot expect anything in the shape of a continuous history. A few chapters cover the whole ground; and while each chapter is undoubtedly historical, the whole is not, properly speaking, history. It is not continuous, but fragmentary. First we have the story of Cain and Abel. We find here a picture, I may say, exhibiting the nature of the conflict that there is to be between good and evil. We see there the early development of evil in its antagonism with good. First, what is the great lesson of Cain’s history? Is it not the fearful nature of sin? On the other hand, what is the great lesson of Abel’s history? He comes before us, apparently, as an innocent man. There is nothing said against him at all events. Yet he is required to bring an offering. He is accepted, apparently, not on the simple ground of his goodness, but in connection with the offering that he brings. It is the offering of “the firstlings of his flock.” Here we have the first record of sacrifice. Next, what is the difference between Cain and Abel? Some are inclined to think it lay entirely in the offering: not in the men at all; but if you look at the narrative you will find there was a difference in the men. “Unto Cain and his offering” the Lord had not respect; but “the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering.” Abel and his offering, Cain and his offering. But what was the difference in the men? The great difference in the men, as we are taught in the Epistle of the Hebrews, was faith. “By faith Abel offered unto God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain.” So whatever difference there may have been in the men in other respects (and there no doubt was very much), the fundamental contrast between them was, that Abel had faith, while Cain had not. (J. M. Gibson.)

Domestic life


1. The position of Adam and Eve prior to the birth of their two sons was unique. Alone in the great world.

2. Their position was interesting. A great crisis in their lives. Fallen, yet encircled by Divine mercy.


1. Child nomenclature should be appropriate. “Cain” signifies “possession.” A moral possession. The gift of God.

2. Child nomenclature should be instructive. “Abel” signifies “vanity.” Our first parents’ verdict on life, gathering up the history of their past and the sorrows of their present condition.

3. Child nomenclature should be considerate. In harmony with good taste and refined judgment. Pictures of goodness and patterns of truth.


1. These two brothers had a daily calling.

2. A distinctive calling.

3. A healthful calling.

4. A calling favourable to the development of intellectual thought.


1. These offerings are rendered obligatory by the mercies of the past.

2. These offerings should be the natural and unselfish outcome of our commercial prosperity.

3. These offerings ought to embody the true worship of the soul.


1. That domestic life is sacred as the ordination of God.

2. That children are the gift of God, and are often prophets of the future.

3. That working and giving are the devotion of family life. (J. S.Exell, M. A.)

The true and false worshipper of God


1. Because it is the custom of the land so to do.

2. Because men feel that they must pay some regard to social propriety and conscience.

3. Because men feel that their souls are drawn out to God in ardent longings and grateful praises. These are the true worshippers of God. Followers of Abel.


1. The trade of each brother suggested his offering.

(1) Some take their offerings for parade.

(2) They take their offerings to enhance their trade.

(3) They take their offerings to increase their social influence.

(4) They take their offerings with a humble desire to glorify God.


1. The worship and offerings of the one are accepted. “And the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering.” And why?

(1) Because it was well and carefully selected. Men should select carefully the offerings they give to God.

(2) Because it was the best he could command. He brought the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof.

(3) Because it was appropriate. His sacrifice preached the gospel, foreshadowed the Cross.

(4) Because it was offered in a right spirit. This makes the great point of difference between the two offerings. The grandest offering given in a wrong spirit will not be accepted by God, whereas the meanest offering given in lowly spirit will be welcome to Him. Thus the younger brother was the best. He was better than his name.

2. The worship and offering of the other was rejected. “But unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect.” The men who make their religious offerings a parade, who regard this worship as a form, are not welcomed by God.


1. This envy is wrathful. “Why art thou wroth?”

2. This envy is apparent. “Why is thy countenance fallen?”

3. This envy is unreasonable. “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?”

4. This envy is murderous. “Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Cain and Abel


1. In their original, as both born of the same parents.

2. In their relation, they were brothers.

3. In their secular condition: both had honest employs, and not only lawful, but laudable particular callings.

4. In their religious concerns: both were worshippers of God, both brought sacrifices to God.

(1) Their particular callings (Genesis 4:2).

(a) That parents ought not to bring up their children in idleness, but in some honest calling wherein they may both serve themselves and their generation, according to the will of God (Acts 13:36).

(b) That every man must have his trade and calling in the world, as those two sons of Adam had. Though their father was lord of the world, yet he brought up both his sons in laborious callings.

(c) It is a sin for any man to live without a calling. One that lives in idleness (without an honest calling) is but an unprofitable burden of the earth, and seems to be born for no other end save to spend the fruits of the world as a useless spendthrift. Why Moses recordeth this service done to God (by way of sacrifice) in all its circumstances by those two sons of Adam, Cain and Abel?

1. To demonstrate the antiquity of religion. That it is no new devised fable, but is as ancient as the world. Hence may be inferred--

(1) The grossness of atheism.

(2) The absurdity of irreligion.

2. The account why Moses records this history, is to show the mixture of religion, that among men who profess and practise religion there ever hath been a mixture thereof.

3. Moses records this history to declare the disagreements and contentions that do arise about religion in the world.

(1) That quarrels about religion are the greatest quarrels in the world. The dissentions about religion are the most irreconcilable dissentions.

(2) This affordeth us the clear and true character of the true religion from the false. Outrage and cruelty is the black brand wherewith God’s Word stigmatizeth the false and formal religion, and here it begins, showing how Cain did most maliciously oppose Abel, but Abel offered no affront at all to Cain, for the badge and cognizance of true religion is meekness and love. The second inquiry is, concerning the service of those two sons of Adam, what Moses doth record of it. This their service and success thereof, are the two principal parts of this sacred record touching Cain and Abel. Now, concerning the SERVICE two particulars are very remarkable.

1. Of the circumstances of it, which are four.

(1) The persons who they were.

(2) The second circumstance is, the time when they did so. The Scripture telleth us it came to pass in process of time (Genesis 4:2).

2. What motive they had at this time to sacrifice to God; ‘tis probable they did so either--

(1) By an express command of God spoken, but not written; otherwise their service had been will worship; so Abel’s sacrifice had been rejected of God as well as Cain’s; but more of this after. Or--

(2) They did it by their father’s example, whom God taught so to do, and who might teach his sons to do the like; otherwise, how could they all have coats of skins to clothe them, if they had not the skins of sacrificed beasts for that end? Or--

(3) They might do so by the dictates of their own natural reason. Hence the very instinct of nature might suggest to them, that it was but a rational service to offer up to their Creator something of those creatures that God had graciously given them, as a due acknowledgment of their homage to Him who is Lord of all (Acts 10:36).

Hence may be inferred--

1. The mischief on mankind by the Fall, to wit, man’s dulness to learn anything that is good.

2. The misery of those persons who want instruction in families and assemblies! How blind and brutish must all such be, and how unskilful at this celestial trade!

3. Oh, what a blessing is the ministry to men, which teacheth them this trading and trafficking with heaven, that cannot be learnt all at once, but by degrees!

The (3) circumstance is the place where, which the Scripture of truth mentions not.

The (4) circumstance is the manner how, which leads me to the second particular, to wit, the substance of their service, wherein this circumstance is spoke to, the SUCCESS OF THEIR SERVICE.

The (5) circumstance is the matter what, to be spoke unto, in the substance. Now, as to the substance of it, look upon it in common, and both brothers concerned together therein. So there is still a parity and congruity as to the substance of it.


1. Their service was equally personal, they both made their personal address to God, and to His altar of oblation; they did not serve God by a proxy. They did not transmit this their duty to their father Adam. Hence, observe, no man stands exempted from his personal attendance on God’s service, but everyone owes a homage which he must pay in his own person. This is proved both by Scripture and reason.

(1) By Scripture, every man under the law (whether Israelite or proselyte) was to appear personally and offer to the Lord for himself at the door of the tabernacle, and whoever did not so, was to be cut off from his people Leviticus 17:3-4). And in their more public feasts, God expressly enjoined them, that three times in a year all their males shall appear before the Lord in a place which He shall choose, and none shall appear before the Lord empty, every man shall give according to the gift of his hand Deuteronomy 16:16-17).

The (1) reason is, everyone is personally God’s creature, so the bond of creation obligeth all to pay their personal respects to their Creator. No man is his own, but God’s; therefore every man must glorify God with their own bodies and spirits (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

The (2) reason is, everyone is a sinner, and sins against God in their own persons; therefore everyone must serve God in their own persons, and sue to Him for pardon and reconciliation. No man can redeem his brother Psalms 49:7).

The (3) reason, everyone hath personal dependency on God for a supply both of their temporal and spiritual wants. Now, ‘tis but reasonable service Romans 12:1), that all persons should carry their own pitchers to this fountain of life, and should turn the cock both of grace and mercy for their own supply.

The (4) reason is, every man is already a great debtor to God (his Benefactor); God is behindhand with none, but much beforehand with all, and therefore as we all have received mercy from God in our own proper persons, so we should return duty to God in our own proper persons also.

2. As the service of those two brothers was equally personal, so it was equally warrantable and lawful service. The second inference is, to look for Divine warrant for every part of Divine worship. That primitive simplicity which is in Christ and in His gospel worship, ought not to be corrupted 2 Corinthians 11:3). All modes and rites of worship which have not Christ’s stamp upon them, are no better than will worship. How exact was God in tabernacle worship (Exodus 39:43), and will He not be so in gospel worship? The third propriety, in the substance of this service is, it was also costly worship; there was cost in both their sacrifices, they put not God off with empty compliments, and verbal acknowledgments of superficial and perfunctory shows. All men can willingly give God the cap and the knee, yea and the lip too, but when it comes to cost, then they shuffle off His service: men naturally love a cheap religion. The fourth property of their service is, there was unity in their worship. Cain did not build one altar, and Abel another, but one served both; they both offered in one place, and at one time. Hence, observe, it makes much for the honour of religious worship, when it is performed in the spirit of unity. The first inference is--oh, let it not be told in Gath, nor published in Askelon--that there is altar against altar, and prayer against prayer, amongst professors in our day. The apostle presseth to unity with many arguments Ephesians 4:3-4, etc.). The second inference is, Yet unity without verity is not unity, but conspiracy. There is no true concord but in truth. The third inference is, that narrow principles undo unity. Tile fifth property, ‘twas equally a solemn service by way of sacrifice; both these sons paid their homage to their Maker, the one in a sheaf, and the other in a sheep.

Hence observe, holy sacrifices and services have been tendered and rendered up to the great God in all ages of the world by the Church of God.

1. As the sacrifice was a real acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty over the sacrificer (Isaiah 16:1).

2. As it was a sad remembrancer of the sacrificer’s sin, to wit, that he deserved to be burnt (as his burnt offering was) even in everlasting burnings.

3. As it was a solemn protestation of their faith in Christ, whom all their sacrifices did prefigure, as He was the Lamb slain from the beginning of the Revelation 13:18).

4. As it was also an offering of thankfulness; those sacrifices were eucharistical as well as propitiatory, thank offerings as well as sin offerings. What shall I render? saith David (Psalms 116:12).

(1) The gospel sacrifice of repentance, wherein the penitent soul offers itself up on God’s altar.

The (2) gospel sacrifice is praying for what we want, and praising for what we have.

The (3) gospel sacrifice (in a word) is all the good works both of piety and charity. Now, the success of it shows a foul disparity; the one is accepted, the other is rejected. God had respect to Abel, and to his offering, but, etc. Genesis 4:4-5). This disparity is demonstrated by three remarkable passages or particulars.

1. Of the order inverted; until now, it was Cain and Abel, the eldest is named first, the order of nature is observed. Hence observe--

(1) Though amongst many worshippers of God in public worship man can discern no difference, but one is as good as another in both attendance and attention, yet God can, both in intention and retention. All fit as God’s people (Ezekiel 33:31). And no mortal eye can distinguish which is a Cain and which is an Abel, yea, a Cain may be the fore-horse in the team, and be most forward as to personal attendance and attention of body. The fifth inference is, this shows us whom we ought to please in all our works or worship. It must not be man, but God, who knoweth the heart (JohnActs 1:24). The second particular is the ground of that inversion, or the reasons of this disparity; the causes why the one was accepted, and the other rejected. There is a two-fold difference here very remarkable.

1. In regard to their persons; and that is also two fold.

(1) God put or set the difference. And--

(2) He saw the difference betwixt those two persons; unto Abel God had respect, but unto Cain He had not (Genesis 4:4-5). It is the free grace of God that is the main fundamental cause of difference, preferring Abel before Cain.

2. As God putteth the difference, so He beholdeth the difference betwixt good and bad, and here between Cain and Abel.

3. It is the piety or impiety of men’s persons that do commend or discommend their actions and services to God. It is not the work that so much commends or discommends the man, but the man the work. As is the cause so is the effect, and the better that the cause is, the better must the effect be. These are maxims in philosophy, which hold true in divinity also. A good man worketh good actions, and the better the man is, the better are his actions. As the temple is said to sanctify the gold, and not the gold the temple (Matthew 23:17), so the person gives acceptance to, and sanctifies the action, not the action the person. “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight” Proverbs 15:8).

Both do offer, the one a sheaf, and the other a sheep; yet the one is accepted, the other rejected from a threefold difference in the action.

In regard of the matter of their sacrifice, Abel made choice of the best he had to present unto God. Hence observe, it cannot consist with a gracious heart to shuffle off the great God with slight services. Alas! men do but trifle with God, when they think anything will be sufficient to satisfy Him.

1. Such as spend many hours in vanity, yet cannot spare one hour for God and the good of their souls.

2. Such as are profuse in villainy upon their lusts, yet can find nothing to bestow in pious and charitable uses upon the Lord.

3. Such as swatter away all their youth time (while the bones are full of marrow and veins full of blood, both as ponderous sheaves) in ways of both vanity and villainy, and think to put off God with the poor pined sheaf of their old age, as if the great God would be put off with the devil’s leavings. The second difference in their action was in respect of their devotion and affections; Abel offered in sincerity, but Cain in hypocrisy. The third and principal difference that distinguished Cain and Abel’s action was faith, which is indeed the prime cause of all the other differences. Abel offered in faith, but Cain did not so (Hebrews 11:4). It was faith that dominated Abel a righteous man, and Cain was a wicked man, because he wanted faith.

How comes faith to put this difference? There is a two-fold faith.

1. The faith upon God’s precept. Abel offered sacrifice, not so much because Adam, but because God commanded. This is called the obedience of faith (Romans 16:26).

2. There is the faith upon God’s promise. Thus Abel did not only lay a slain sacrifice upon the altar, but he put faith under it. He considered Christ to be the Lamb slain front the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). The inference hence flowing is, it is Christ, and Christ alone, that gives to all our services acceptance with God. It is faith in Christ that pleaseth God Hebrews 11:16).

Now, the third and last particular is the success (which is the second general, as service was the first), or acceptance, which, as to Abel, is evident in three things.

1. The Divine allowance or approbation of Abel. He being a righteous man Matthew 23:35). Both his person and oblation (through Divine grace) was--

(1) Approvable; hence the first observation is, it is a special vouchsafement and condescension in God to look on, and allow of the poor services of man.

(2) As God gave allowance and approbation of Abel’s sacrifice, so He had delight and complacency in it. This also is signified by the word “respect.” But

2. Unto Cain and his offering God had not respect. To demonstrate the equity of God in His dealing with wicked men. His ways are always equal with us (Ezekiel 18:25; Ezekiel 33:17). As Cain respected not God in his sacrifice, so God respected not him nor his sacrifice.

Inferences hence are--

1. If the sweet success of our services be God’s acceptance, then, oh, what an holy carefulness should we all have about our services and duties.

2. Oh, what holy cheerfulness should we have to work all our works in John 3:21), that they may be accepted of Him, and respected by Him.

3. Oh, what an holy inquisitiveness should we all have, whether God accept or reject our duties? Our acceptance may be known by these characters. Hath God inflamed our sacrifice as He did Abel’s, some warm impressions of God’s Spirit upon our hearts, some Divine touch of a live coal from God’s altar? (Isaiah 6:6). The second sign or character of acceptance isthe joy of duty; injections of joy, as well as inspirations of heat, are sweet demonstrations of acceptance; blessed are they that hear the joyful sound of God, they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenancePsalms 89:15; Psalms 89:15). A third sign is, when God gives in any supply of that grace which is sued for, either strengthening it, or weakening sin that wars against it.

As there is no life in a wicked man’s duty, so there is no warmth in it; he puts off God with cold dishes, such as God loves not. As there is no heart, so there is no heat in any of his services; it is not a sacrifice made by fire unto the Lord, so no sweet savour to Him (Leviticus 1:13; Leviticus 1:17; Leviticus 2:2; Leviticus 2:9-10, etc.).

A wicked man (as Cain here) regardeth iniquity in his heart, therefore God regardeth not his prayer (Psalms 66:18). This is the dead fly that spoils never so sweet ointment (Ecclesiastes 9:1). (C. Ness.)

Formal worship an immense curse

IT INVOLVES OFFENCE TO GOD. “He abhors the sacrifice where not the heart is found.”

IT INVOLVES CRUELTY TO MAN. From real, spiritual worship it would be impossible for a man to pass to persecution and murder, for genuine piety is the root of philanthropy. But the distance between formal worship and murderous passions is not great. Formal worship--

1. Implies bad passions.

2. Strengthens bad passions. Selfishness. Superstition. Pride.

Bigotry. (Homilist.)

Cain and Abel


1. Cain’s was no more than a mere thank offering, and such, probably, as Adam himself might have offered in a state of innocence: it implied not any confession of guilt, or any application to the Redeemer.

2. Abel’s offering was a sacrifice presented in faith, not only with respect to the appointment of God, who had ordained sacrifices in representation of that method of redemption by which He would deliver man, but also with dependence on “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” who in the fulness of time “by the sacrifice of Himself should take away the sins of the world.” Abel’s offering, therefore, is to be considered as a type of Christ.



1. Let us examine what is the worship we are offering to God. It is not enough that we are attentive to religious ordinances; but are we, like Abel, worshipping by faith?

2. Let us inquire, Are none among us discovering the temper of Cain? Are there none who, like him, are persecutors of God’s people?

3. Let us bless God that the blood of Jesus Christ “speaketh better things than that of Abel” (see Hebrews 12:24). (Essex Remembrancer.)

The first patriarchal form of the new dispensation--the seat, the time, the manner of worship--the contest begun between grace and nature, between faith and unbelief

There can be no doubt that THE STATED PLACE OF WORSHIP under the new order of things was the immediate neighbourhood of the garden, eastward, within sight of the cherubim and the flaming sword (Genesis 3:24). And it would seem that this primitive holy place was substantially identical with the sanctuary and shrine of the Levitical ritual, and with the heavenly scene which Ezekiel and John saw. It was within the garden, or at its very entrance, and it was distinguished by a visible display of the glory of God, in a bright shining light, or sword of flame--on the one hand, driving away in just displeasure a guilty and rebellious race; but on the other hand, shining with a benignant smile upon the typical emblems or representations of a people redeemed.

The brothers, REPRESENTATIVES OF THE TWO GREAT CLASSES into which, in a religious view, the family of man is divided, manifest their difference in this respect, not in the object, nor in the time, but in the spirit of their worship (verses 3, 4). They worship the same God, and under the same revelation of His power and glory. Their seasons of worship also are the same; for it is agreed on all bands that the expression “in process of time,” or “at the end of days,” denotes some stated season--either the weekly Sabbath or some other festival. Again, their manner of service was to a large extent the same. They presented offerings to God; and these offerings, being of two kinds, corresponded very remarkably to the two kinds of offerings ordained under the Levitical dispensation, the burnt offerings, which were expiatory, and the meat offerings, which were mainly expressive of duty, gratitude, and devotion (Leviticus 1:1-17; Leviticus 2:1-16).

The two brothers, then, worshipped God ACCORDING TO THE SAME RITUAL, BUT NOT WITH THE SAME ACCEPTANCE. How the Lord signified His complacency in the one and His rejection of the other does not appear. It may have been by sending fire from heaven to consume Abel’s offering; as in this way He acknowledged acceptable offerings on different occasions in after times (Leviticus 9:24; Judges 6:21; 1 Kings 18:38). Why the Lord put such a distinction between them is a more important point, and more easily ascertained. It is unequivocally explained by the Apostle Hebrews 11:4). Abel’s sacrifice was more excellent than Cain’s, because he offered it by faith. Therefore his person was accepted as righteous, and his gifts as well pleasing to the Lord. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

The religion of nature, and the religion of the gospel

Introduction: Cain’s religion, in common with many false religions, was one--

1. Which had in it some good.

2. Of expediency.

3. Which lacked faith.

4. Abounding in self-righteousness.

5. That persecuted others.

Abel’s religion--

1. Embodied all the good that was in the other.

2. Surpassed it, even in its own excellencies--“more plenteous sacrifice.”

3. Recognized the existence of guilt, and its merited doom.

4. Was actuated by faith.

5. Was approved of by God. Consider, then--


1. The principle upon which it is founded--practical goodness. This principle is intrinsically excellent, is one upon which all men should act; is one to which no one can object.

2. The standard by which it is to be tested--the moral law of creation, love to God and man. In order to “do well,” the act itself must be perfect; the motive must be good; and the rule must be good.

3. Its reward to its faithful adherents--“shalt thou not be accepted?” Such a religion will command the approval of God; and will secure immortality for all its votaries. Now measure your conduct by this religion; and are you perfect? Think of sin in its nature, its effects, and its ultimate consequences, and see if you have not sinned. And can natural religion justify you? No; something else must be found, and something else is to be found. Look then at--


1. That revealed religion assumes that men are guilty. It also recognizes their liability to punishment.

2. That it has provided a sin offering--a substitution of person, of sufferings.

1. The acceptance of this is accompanied with Divine evidence.

2. It is efficient for all purposes for which it is presented.

3. Having accepted it, the sinner is treated as though he himself had suffered.

4. That the sin offering reposeth at the door.

This implies that Christ’s atonement is accessible to the sinner; that it rests with man to avail himself of it; that men often neglect it; that God exercises great patience towards the sinner; that the sinner cannot go to hell without first trampling on the Cross; and that he wilt be forever deprived of every excuse for his destruction. (D. Evans.)

Cain and Abel

THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE OFFERING DEPENDS ON THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE OFFERER. God had respect to Abel and his offering--the man first and then the offering. God looks through the offering to the state of soul from which it proceeds; or even, as the words would indicate, sees the soul first and judges and treats the offering according to the inward disposition. God does not judge of what you are by what you say to Him or do for Him, but He judges what you say to Him and do for Him by what you are.

Again, we here find a very sharp and clear statement of the welcome truth, THAT CONTINUANCE IN SIN IS NEVER A NECESSITY, that God points the way out of sin, and that from the first He has been on man’s side and has done all that could be done to keep men from sinning. Observe how He expostulates with Cain. Take note of the plain, explicit fairness of the words in which He expostulates with him--instance, as it is, of bow absolutely in the right God always is, and how abundantly He can justify all His dealings with us. God says as it were to Cain, Come now, and let us reason together. All God wants of any man is to be reasonable; to look at the facts of the case. “If thou doest well, shalt thou not (as well as Abel) be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door,” that is, if thou doest not well, the sin is not Abel’s nor anyone’s but thine own, and therefore anger at another is not the proper remedy, but anger at yourself, and repentance. Some of us may be this day or this week in as critical a position as Cain, having as truly as he the making or marring of our future in our hands, seeing clearly the right course, and all that is good, humble, penitent, and wise in us urging us to follow that course, but our pride and self-will holding us back. How often do men thus barter a future of blessing for some mean gratification of temper or lust or pride; how often by a reckless, almost listless and indifferent continuance in sin do they let themselves be carried on to a future as woeful as Cain’s; how often when God expostulates with them do they make no answer and take no action, as if there were nothing to be gained by listening to God--as if it were a matter of no importance what future I go to--as if in the whole eternity that lies in reserve there were nothing worth making a choice about--nothing about which it is worth my while to rouse the whole energy of which I am capable, and to make, by God’s grace, the determination which shall alter my whole future--to choose for myself and assert myself.

The writer to the Hebrews makes A VERY STRIKING USE OF THIS EVENT. He borrows from it language in which to magnify the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice, and affirms that the blood of Christ speaketh better things, or, as it must rather be rendered, crieth louder than the blood of Abel. Abel’s blood, we see, cried for vengeance, for evil things for Cain, called God to make inquisition for blood, and so pled as to secure the banishment of the murderer. The Arabs have a belief that over the grave of a murdered man his spirit hovers in the form of a bird that cries “Give me drink, give me drink,” and only ceases when the blood of the murderer is shed. Cain’s conscience told him the same thing; there was no criminal law threatening death to the murderer, but he felt that men would kill him if they could. He heard the blood of Abel crying from the earth. The blood of Christ also cries to God, but cries not for vengeance but for pardon. And as surely as the one cry was heard and answered in very substantial results; so surely does the other cry call down from heaven its proper and beneficent effects. (M. Dods, D. D.)

Cain and Abel

THE FIRSTBORN OF EARTH, AND THE FIRSTBORN OF HEAVEN. All is expectation of the promised Deliverer that shall destroy the serpent; and Eve says, “I have gotten a man.” Nor is God slow to give a prototype of that great redemption, and to set forth His gospel in earnest and sign, but in far different manner to the anticipations of man, by Abel’s death. This is the deliverance! this is the victory! Here is the promise.

THEIR OCCUPATIONS. These were both conditions of life equally acceptable with God. But the question will occur to us, why it is that through the Scripture there is something of a sacred character on the shepherd. Perhaps owing in some degree to the fostering care and gentleness required in such occupation, or the character of the animal itself; so as to be meet figures of the Good Shepherd who layeth down His life for the sheep. Such were Abel, Abraham, Jacob, and David. Or it may be from their connection with sacrifice itself. But when sacrifices were about to cease, and “the Lamb of God” appeared, then from the fishermen were chosen those who should feed the sheep and lambs of Christ’s flock.

THE INSTITUTION OF SACRIFICE. It must have been, in some manner, originally of God. That “to obey is better than sacrifice,” is a Divine law; so that sacrifice itself would have scarcely been acceptable but as the result of obedience. Add to which, that death itself being then new, presented its awful character more strongly that we can now imagine; it was stamped with all its vivid significancy, and could not have been thus occasioned without a Divine warrant. Nor does the case of Abel stand alone in this respect; for others afterwards in succession accepted of God approached Him with sacrifices, as did Noah, and Abraham, and the patriarchs, without its being mentioned in Holy Writ that it had been so commanded of God. Bat there is what amounts to something like a command in the marked acceptance of God. This knowledge of His will is the mode of access open to the suppliant, which is all that he needs to know. If the Divine appointment is not expressly recorded, yet instances are mentioned where God was pleased with such offerings.

THE ACCEPTED SACRIFICE. What God requires of us is some answer to His own love for us. “My son, give Me thine heart.” This is the return which God required of Adam in paradise; this He renews again, but it must be now through offering and sacrifice, as expressive of his changed condition. God is no respecter of persons, but He looks to the heart of the worshipper. The gifts are nothing to Him, but He prizes the intent of the giver. The heart is the altar that sanctifies the gift.

FAITH IN THE ATONEMENT. It is not given us to infer that Abel had explicitly this knowledge; but the question is how far any sense of this hallowing his heart gave efficacy to that sacrifice. The sacrifice of Christ alone imparted acceptableness to the animal sacrifices of old. And we may inquire how far any instinctive apprehension of this was in that faith of Abel by which he was justified. Our Lord says of Abraham, he “rejoiced to see My day; he saw it and was glad.” The same was probably true of Abel, the first of martyrs. And why should not the secret of the Lord have been in the heart of Abel as it was in that of St. Peter, when our Lord said unto him, “Blessed art thou, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in Heaven”? not by express declaration, but by the secret leading of the Spirit. It would be practically difficult to make a distinction between explicit and implicit acts of this nature. But the sanctifying of the heart under its secret influence is the same, and shown in like actions and feelings. Thus the knowledge of God in Christ became the measure of man’s acceptance; and faith the seal of forgiveness, although as yet they could not understand that He should die. It may be that a sense of the Incarnation is not in itself alone the proof of saving faith; for God appearing as Man was the fond dream of heathen poets; but that there is no access to God but through His atonement, marks the faith of the redeemed. And what is much to be noticed--as with Abel in this sacrifice, with Noah in the ark, with Abraham in the offering of his son, with the children of Israel looking to the brazen serpent in the wilderness--God made the act of faith to be itself a resemblance of Christ; even it may be beyond all thought of those that took part in them. So is it with our lives; they are made of God to set forth great things, which as yet we know not of. “Thou shalt show us wonderful things in Thy righteousness.” They have a connection with Christ crucified more than we can now understand. Seeing what was in the heart of Abel, God led him on to set it forth on the altar in the slain animal, which represented “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world”; and then prepared him for a yet higher sacrifice, even that of his own life; a martyr to God, being slain because his “works were righteous,” whereby “he being dead yet speaketh.” Thus is he lifted up before all the world to the end of time as representing the Great Shepherd of the sheep. (I. Williams, B. D.)

Cain and Abel



THEIR LIVES. (A. Jukes.)

The two offerings

The act mentioned here is evidently not one, but a series of acts, as if it had been said, “they were in the habit of bringing.” Here let us mark such things as the following:

1. Both worship professedly the same Jehovah.

2. Both worship Him at the same place.

3. Both come at the same appointed times and seasons.

4. Both bring an offering in their hands, thereby acknowledging the allegiance which was due to Jehovah.

Thus far they are alike. But now the difference begins.

1. Abel comes as a sinner, having no claim upon God, and feeling that it is only as a sinner that God can deal with him. Cain approaches as a creature only; not owning sin, though willing to acknowledge the obligations of creaturehood.

2. Abel comes acknowledging death to he his due; for he brings a lamb, and slays it before the Lord, as a substitute for himself. Cain recognizes no sentence of death; he brings only his fruits, as if his grapes or his figs were all that he deemed God entitled to. His offering might cost him more toil than his brother’s, but it spoke not of death. It was meant to repudiate the ideas of sin and death, and salvation by a substitute.

3. Abel comes with the blood in his hand, feeling that he dared not appear before God without it; that it would not be safe for him to venture nigh, nor honourable for God to receive him otherwise. Cain brings no blood--doubtless scorning his brother’s religion as “the religion of the shambles”; a religion which increased instead of removing creation’s pangs.

4. Abel comes resting on the promise--the promise which revealed and pledged the rich grace of God. Cain comes as one that needs no promise and no grace. His is what men call “the religion of nature”; and in that religion there is no room, no need for these. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

The best offering

A proud king resolved that he would build a cathedral, and, while most anxious that the credit of it might be all his own, he forbade even from contributing to its erection, and on it his name was carved as the builder. But he saw in a dream an angel who came down and erased his name, and a name of a poor widow appeared in its stead. This was three times repeated, when the enraged king summoned the woman before him and demanded, “What have you been doing, and why have you broken my commandment?” The trembling widow replied, “I loved the Lord, and longed to do something for His name, and for the building up of His church. I was forbidden to touch it in any way; so, in my poverty, I brought a wisp of hay for the horses that drew the stones.” And the king saw that the same God who accepted the offering of Abel and not of Cain regarded the widow as having done more for the building of the cathedral than he had done with all his wealth. So he commanded that her name should also be inscribed upon the tablet.

Verses 4-5

Genesis 4:4-5

The Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect

The two offerings


THE CAUSE OF CAIN’S REJECTION. His total want of the true spirit of faith. Too inflated with pride to see and confess himself a grievous sinner. Could not bring himself to believe the plan God had formed for the salvation of mankind. Preferred his own kind of offering to that ordained by God.

THE CAUSE OF ABEL’S ACCEPTANCE. Abel believed the word of his God, and presented not a thank offering alone, but a sin offering. He cast away all idea of self-justification, and acknowledged the truth of his extreme sinfulness by nature. He came before God with deep convictions of the need of a crucified Redeemer, to save him from the wrath to come. Lessons:

1. The great necessity of using only the means appointed in the Word of God.

2. The value of a right faith.

3. The duty of considering well the motives which lead us to come before God. (R. Jones, B. A.)

Cain and Abel at their worship


1. They both worship the same God.

2. They both bring an offering with them.

3. They both desire that themselves and their worship should find acceptance with God.


1. They differed in their offerings.

2. They differed in the principle which actuated them.

3. They differed in the reception they and their offerings met with from God.


1. Not sorrow or shame--envy takes possession of Cain’s mind; anger and hatred soon follow envy; and though God comes and mercifully expostulates with him, this man, but lately so devout and grateful in appearance before God’s altar, ends with defying God, lifting up his arm, and becoming his brother’s murderer.

2. But look now at Abel. He has been humbly and faithfully worshipping the Lord his God; and what, we may ask, does he get by it? First hatred, and then a cruel death. Hatred, observe, from a fellow worshipper; death from a brother’s hand. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

The rejected offering and the accepted sacrifice

In attempting to assign the true reasons why Cain and his offering were rejected, I would observe, once for all, that that rejection seems to have been attributable entirely to his UNBELIEF, in presenting the fruits of the ground, instead of an animal sacrifice.

PRACTICAL INFERENCES. From the rejection of Cain and his offering, it is clear that God will not be served by just what we choose to give Him. There are some, for example, who place their trust in what they call the goodness of their heart, and their unimpeachable integrity in all the transactions of life; there are many also who content themselves with rendering to God the tribute of a sincere, but imperfect, obedience; there are not a few who rely entirely upon the infinitude of the Divine mercy, forgetting, at the same time, the infinitude of the Divine justice; and while several look forward to repentance, as furnishing thereby an adequate price for their absolution, others there are who make it their boast and their hope that, following the light of revelation, only in subordination to the light of reason, they perform only those actions which their moral principles can approve of, and they believe only those doctrines which their understanding can comprehend.

1. Now, while all these are just so many fallacious grounds, upon which men build their hopes of acceptance with God, they are every one of them in direct opposition to the only divinely appointed way. They are “the fruits of the ground,” if I may so speak, and not the institution of heaven; which institution most plainly is, that by faith alone in the finished work of the Redeemer can the sinner expect to be saved. (J. R. Brown, D. D.)

Cain and Abel


1. They agree in the fact that they are the descendants of a fallen and guilty ancestry.

2. Cain and Abel agree, as they are alike placed under a dispensation of mercy and salvation.

3. They agree also in acknowledging that God had a claim upon them, that He ought to be worshipped, and that stated times ought to be employed for that purpose.


1. They differed in the method of their approach unto God. Cain’s offering was eucharistic, Abel’s piacular. The one was a thank offering, the other sacrificial. It is of importance that we are thankful for providential blessings; but it is of infinitely greater importance that we form correct views of God’s method of justifying the ungodly, and cordially acquiesce in His appointment.

2. They differed in the treatment they met with at the hands of God.

“And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect.”

3. They differed also in the influence by which they were actuated. “Cain was of that wicked one.” He was led captive by the devil at his will. (R. Jackson.)

Abel; or, the language of sacrifice

THE COMPREHENSIVENESS AND COMPLETENESS OF THE SCHEME OF OUR SALVATION. Abel, the leader of the noble army of martyrs, and the first human being that reached that glory that is to be revealed, was saved through that same atonement, and through the very same faith in the same atonement, as Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Paul, Peter, John--as the saint of God who this day winged his triumphant flight to the mercy seat--as the latest human being that shall “wash his robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

HOW POWERFUL AND HOW PRECIOUS IS THE GRACE AND GIFT OF FAITH! Like the philosopher’s stone, like the fabled touch of Midas, it turns into gold all it touches. It is the instrument of our justification, adoption, sanctification; it transforms the inner man, and fits him for communing with God on the heavenly Zion!

HOW INDISPENSABLE WAS THE SACRIFICE, THE SHEDDING OF THE BLOOD, THE TAKING OF THE LIFE! His example is an eminent exhortation. He was dutiful to his parents, and in all the relationships of life, he was “diligent in business”--the keeper of sheep--he was “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord,” not with mere vain and empty words, but with his substance. Let us “go and do likewise.” (J. R. Brown, M. A.)

Abel’s sacrifice

1. First, consider the offerings of Cain and Abel, and the way in which they were received by the Almighty. But very different were the feelings with which they brought them. Cain came with feelings not unlike those of the Pharisee, spoken of by our blessed Lord, when he went up into the temple to pray, thinking neither of his hereditary defilement nor of his personal transgressions; whereas Abel gave evident signs of his deep sense of both, by bringing not only the meat offering as an acknowledgment to God of his obligations to Him for temporal benefits, but also the firstlings of his flock, as an atoning sacrifice for his sins.

2. I will now, in the second place, make a few observations upon this Scripture narrative; and, first, I would observe that it is sufficiently clear, from this passage of Scripture, that not all who worship God are acceptable worshippers, Natural conscience, which cannot be pacified without the observance of the outward forms of religion, leads not a few to join in the public worship of Almighty God, and custom induces still more. “They come unto God as His people come, and they sit before Him as His people, and they hear His words; but,” as the prophet goes on to say, “they will not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness” (Ezekiel 33:31). Now, hence arises an important duty to all the professing people of God, namely, that of examining themselves as to the motives which influence them in all their approaches to the Most High, and in all the services of religion. You are accustomed to pray to God in public and in private. Is this mere habit? Is it the pacification of conscience that causes you thus to bow the knee before Him, and to utter words in which your heart has no part? Or does a sense of your manifold daily wants bring you to His footstool, and does the tongue give utterance to the feelings of the heart? The next observation which I would make upon these offerings of Cain and Abel is, that do we desire to serve God acceptably, we must serve Him with our best. It is the especial commendation of good Josiah, King of Judah, that he “turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might”; and for that he is preferred before all the kings who were before or came after him. I would observe, lastly, that our persons must be rendered pleasing unto God, or our offerings will not be accepted by Him. “God had respect to Abel and to his offering”; first to Abel, and then to his offering. The reasoning of Manoah’s wife was sound, when she said, in answer to the fears of her husband, “If the Lord were pleased to kill us, He would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands” Judges 13:23). She infers the acceptance of the person from the acceptance of the service. It is said, in the Epistle to the Hebrews (11:4), that Abel “obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts.” Thus we read in the Book of Leviticus (Leviticus 9:24), “And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat”; in Ch 7:1, “When Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the house.” And the same we know occurred in the case of the prophet Elijah, when he met the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. This, indeed, was the great prerogative of Abel and the Old Testament saint; but, though we have not this, we have what all will allow to be far better, that of which this was but the figure; for the believer now has assuredly the fire of God, that is, the Spirit comes down into his heart day by day--not visibly, but spiritually--and burns up in his heart his sins and corruptions, and lights up the light of true faith, never to be extinguished.

3. I must now proceed to point out some of the lessons of instruction derivable from this subject. And, first, we may learn from this narrative that none can stand before God with acceptance except through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. It is no uncommon thing to hear people say that if they diligently follow an honest calling, do no one any harm, and pay everyone his due, it is sure to be well with them; that is to say, that they will certainly find acceptance with God at the last, and be received into His kingdom. Learn, secondly, from this subject, that “the visible Church of God hath ever been a mixed company, consisting of the evil as well as the good.” Learn, lastly, from this subject, that a sacrifice has been appointed of God for the sins of the whole world, and that, through it, all who believe shall assuredly be saved. (T. Grantham, B. D.)

Cain and Abel


1. The time of worship. “In the process of time”; literally, “from the end of days.”

(1) This may denote the end of the week, of the year, or of some longer period.

(2) Probably the end of the week--i.e., on the Sabbath day.

(a) This suggests habits of worship taught by their parents.

(b) Regular periods of worship.

2. Cain’s offering.

3. Abel’s offering.

4. God’s dealings with the worshippers.

(1) Both were observed of God.

(2) Abel’s accepted, and Cain’s rejected. Why? Hebrews 11:4 explains. Faith, in Scripture, always signifiesto believe and to obey God’s Word.

(b) Abel’s offering was expressive of both these characteristics of faith.

(c) Cain’s offering was expressive of his wilful rejection of both.

(d) But without faith it is impossible to please God. Hence the acceptance of the one and the rejection of the other.

(e) A Divine revelation of the necessity of blood in an acceptable sacrifice for sin is implied in the Divine acceptance of Abel’s offering, and that this acceptance was conditioned on his faith.


1. Cain’s anger suggests two things:

(1) That the Divine acceptance and rejection were manifested in some outward form which humiliated him--probably by fire from heaven, as on Carmel in Elijah’s time.

(2) That his self-will led him, even in his worship, to insult Him whom he professed to worship.

2. Jehovah’s expostulation.

(1) It was full of mercy; graciously designed to lead him to reflect, to repent, to accept God’s plan.

(2) Full of encouragement to the well-doer.

(3) ABEL MURDERED BY CAIN HIS BROTHER Full of warning to the evil-doer.

1. The dreadful crime and its preliminaries.

2. The retribution.

3. God’s reply to the despairing man.


1. All forms of worship, however sincere, are not equally acceptable.

2. No form of worship is acceptable which does not recognize the guilt of sin and the need of blood for its expiation.

3. The spiritual effect of the religion of faith and the religion of reason upon the moral character is exemplified in Cain and Abel.

4. How vain is the sinner’s hope to escape either the eye or the hand of a just and holy God. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

Cain and Abel

THE FIRST RECORDED SACRIFICE. The need of sacrifice felt, and the nature of it revealed. Without doubt Adam had offered sacrifices in the presence of his children. From him they learned what to select, and how to offer it, and the sign of acceptance. Plain from Hebrews 11:4 that both a right feeling and a right thing are needed to constitute an acceptable sacrifice. The right sacrifice without faith, or faith without the right sacrifice, would have failed. The presence of both made the sacrifice of Abel more acceptable than Cain’s. Cain a daring innovator. He chose what God had not appointed, and offered it in a wrong spirit.


1. A violent death. Death in any form the occasion of deep sorrow. Such a death most appalling. The more so that it was now unprecedented. A serious subtraction from the world’s population at that time.

2. Probably unintentional. Cain evidently meditated violence, but not death. Hence a lesson to us on the consequences of ungoverned rage. What has passion done since this event!


1. Could not undo the deed.

2. His dreadful remorse and despair.

3. The criminality of the act may be judged by the curse pronounced.

4. Cain himself felt that, though his life was spared, he must leave the society of men.

5. At last has a son, Enoch (= dedication). May we not indulge the hope that this was indicative of his true repentance?

6. Ceased to be a wanderer; built a city, also called Enoch. (J. C. Gray.)

Cain and Abel

Cain was not without a kind of religiousness, remember. He did go to the unroofed church sometimes; but he went so unwillingly, so slouchingly, so coldly, that it was no church to him. He begrudged the few roots and fruits that he took, just as we begrudge the weekly offering, and therefore God let him take them home, just as we would do if we could get secretly at the box. God takes nothing from our unwilling hand. He loves a cheerful giver! He will take two mites, He will take a cup of cold water, He will take a box of ointment if given gladly; but none of your grudging, none of your dropping a penny as if it were a half-crown, none of your grunting, none of your porcupinishness: all must be free, glad, honest, open, and joyous; then the fire will come down and take back to heaven the gift of your love. Abel was religious in the right way. He gave the best he had with an open heart, and the Lord said, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Now, observe, if you please, for it will help you through your whole life, that brothers are not necessarily akin. The greatest contrasts I have perhaps ever known have been between brothers. Yes, and they have been utter strangers to one another, have been these very brothers. And if you think of it, the thing is reasonable enough: the human family in all its bearings is one; human nature is not incoherent, but consolidated. We live in flats, and think that one flat has no connection with another; that is our foolish and ruinous mistake. Your brother may be on the next continent; your mate heart may be a stranger you have never seen. Cain and Abel were not akin. Cain did things with his hand; Abel did them with his heart. Cain flung his gifts at you, and if you did not catch them so much the more pleased was he; Abel gave them with a hearty love, and was sorry he had not more to give. So Cain killed Abel, and will kill him to the end of the world, spite of all preachers and moralists, but now in a cunning enough way to escape the gaoler and the gibbet. But he will kill him! The man who lost the prize for which his essay was written will kill the man whose essay was accepted; he will sneer at him, and a sneer may be murder. The man who lost the election, being “defeated, not disgraced,” will kill the man who got in; he will shrug a shoulder when his name is up, and a shrug may be homicide! You and I may have killed a good many people, and a good many people may have tried to kill us; they will take away our trade, they will say unkind things of us, they will close an eye or pucker a lip villainously, and then dry their mouths as those who have been drinking in secret. It is very horrible; it smells sulphurously; hell cannot be far away, and we are not to windward. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The superiority of Abel’s sacrifice

1. Some have said that the superiority of Abel’s sacrifice consisted in this: that he brought the best to God. He brought the “firstlings of his flock,” while, it is said, Cain did not bring the best products of the soil, it being simply stated that “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground,” making no selection of the best. Abel was careful out of his flock to select the firstlings, while Cain was careless, and in the spirit of “anything will do,” “brought of the fruit of the ground.” Now, this looks very much like the invention of an explanation, and is far from satisfactory, for there is no statement to indicate that Cain did not bring as superior a production as the ground afforded, and there is nothing either in the narrative or elsewhere, which shows that the virtue of Abel’s offering consisted in the fact that he brought “the firstlings of his flock.” But while we must reject this as the true explanation, the view here brought before us is deeply suggestive of important practical lessons. We, doubtless, whether Cain did or not, frequently fail to offer God our best. The man of business immerses himself for six whole days out of every seven in exclusively worldly cares, and then on the Sabbath boasts that he gives to God its sacred hours, whereas prudential considerations render it advisable, and physical laws determine it necessary, that he should take one day’s rest in seven. So in reality he gives to God the time that he cannot spare for the world. In the disposal of wealth, too, we sadly fail to think first of God. Men are prodigal of their wealth in providing splendid mansions for themselves, and fruitful fortunes for their families, and only think of giving God what is to spare after these selfish distributions are made.

2. Others affirm that the difficulty is to be solved by referring it to the difference of material used in the sacrifices offered. Abel’s was flesh, and Cain’s was fruit. In this view, Cain’s was merely a eucharistic, while Abel’s was an expiatory sacrifice: the former only a thank offering, the latter an offering for sin. We have failed to find scriptural support for this opinion. It seems to us that the advocates of this theory must, to make it tenable, prove at least three things. First, that there was that in a thank offering which was necessarily offensive to God. Secondly, it must be shown that Cain’s employment was a dishonourable one, for if the fruit of the ground could not be acceptably offered, it must be because to till the ground was an illegitimate occupation. But this cannot be shown, for it was an employment to which God had Himself committed man only in the previous chapter, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” Thirdly, in order to make it believable that the bloodshedding of Abel’s sacrifice was the ground of his acceptance, it must be shown that Abel had been made acquainted with the Divine regulation, “Without shedding of blood is no remission,” whereas there is nothing either stated or implied to show that he had this knowledge, and it is not likely that God would accept Abel’s sacrifice on the grounds of which Abel himself could know nothing.

3. The reason of Cain’s defective and unacceptable sacrifice was to be found in Cain’s defective and unacceptable character, and the cause of Abel’s acceptable and pleasing offering was to be found in Abel’s acceptable and pleasing person. It was his goodness that made his sacrifice “more excellent” than Cain’s. This view seems adequate to account for the difference in Divine estimation, and it only remains to derive arguments in its support from the sources which are available for the purpose, and which, in their cumulative character, will be considered sufficiently conclusive. These are three in number.

(1) The general tendency of Scripture teaching shows that sacrifice is only acceptable to God when the person of the sacrificer is acceptable; that the offering is valueless unless the offerer be in true religious accord.

(2) Let us turn to the narrative itself, and we shall find its testimony to be to the same effect. And the record preserved in Genesis

4. supplies us with two sorts of evidence.

(a) The terms of the statement which sets forth Abel’s acceptance and Cain’s rejection, are proof. From these it appears that their persons as well as their offerings are regarded, nay, that their persons are first regarded. “Unto Abel and to his offering He had respect.” “Unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect.” Obviously Abel’s sacrifice pleased because Abel pleased; Cain’s offering was unacceptable, because Cain’s person was unacceptable.

(b) The explanation offered to Cain is further proof. “And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” Here Cain’s rejection is fully accounted for by God. Had he, like his brother, been a good man, his offering, like his brother’s, would have been accepted. “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” What is this but a declaration that well-doing is the condition of acceptance? “If thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.”

(3) It remains to adduce confirmatory evidence from New Testament writers

(a) The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews abundantly testifies in support of the view now presented. “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”Genesis 11:4; Genesis 11:4). The conclusion can be no other than that Abel’s sacrifice was more excellent, because Abel was himself more excellent. He was righteous, and in sacrificing obtained witness of his righteousness. Cain was unrighteous, and therefore by his sacrifice could obtain no such witness as, on account of the rectitude of his character, was awarded to his brother.

(b) The testimony of St. John may finally be quoted in confirmation of the view that the different moral character of the parties was the reason of the different estimation in which their sacrifices were respectively held. “Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother, and wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” On the plan adopted in this particular instance, God ever proceeds. He is pleased to accept the offerings of righteousness: He refuses to recognize the sacrifices of sin. Let us first realize that rectitude of heart and life, without which all outward efforts at pleasing will be of no avail. And realizing this, we shall be prepared to offer our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service. And this reasonable service of sacrifice is the old institution Christianized. (W. Brooks.)

One sin leads to another

Sins are like circles formed in the water when a stone is thrown into it; one produces another. When anger was in Cain’s breast, murder was not far off. (Eliza Cook.)

The origin of sacrifice

Respecting the origin of sacrifice, it has been made a point by some to contend strenuously for its being of human device. The argument on which reliance is chiefly placed by those who advocate this view is that no mention is made in Scripture of the Divine institution of sacrifice--an omission which, it is contended, would not have occurred had such been the case. To this it may be replied, That the whole of this argument rests on an unsound assumption, viz., that nothing can be held to be of Divine institution which is not expressly announced as being so in Scripture. Now to this assumed premise we can by no means assent. God has in various ways conveyed to us the intimation of His will in His Word; and whilst in some cases he has explicitly enacted what He would have us believe and practise, He has in other cases left us to gather His will by induction and inference from various statements of His Word. But shall we say that in eases of the latter sort we have less His will than in cases of the former sort? May not the very fact that an institution is of such a kind that, if God had not appointed it, it never would have existed at all, be reason sufficient for omitting all formal announcement of its Divine origin? It may be remarked, further, that if Scripture nowhere expressly asserts the Divine origin of sacrifice, it as little asserts the human origin of it. The question, then, fairly rises before us, Have we any good grounds for the inference that animal sacrifice is of Divine origin? In reply to this the following things deserve to be carefully pondered

1. Reason constrains us to exclude all other possible sources of such a practice. It will occur to you as a safe and guiding principle that no such universally prevalent usage can be accounted for except on one of two suppositions: either that it has been dictated by some conviction or necessity common to all mankind, or that it has been presented by some authority to which all mankind in common have felt themselves bound to defer.

(1) Now, with regard to the former hypothesis, it is to be observed that a universal conviction must be founded in the reason of things, and a universal necessity must arise from some of the original appetites or desires of the human mind. We inquire then, first, whether there is anything in the reason of the thing to induce a universal conviction among mankind that sacrifice is a proper method of approaching and worshipping the Deity. Suppose the earliest tribes of men believed God to be altogether such an one as themselves, does this furnish any grounds for supposing that they would naturally think of seeking His favour by the offering of sacrifice? Would men naturally think of acting so to their fellow men? Would a son seek the favour of his father, a subject the protection of his sovereign, by taking an innocent creature, and killing it and burning it before the party he sought to make propitious to him? Would not men rather naturally recoil from the suggestion of such a thing as more likely to prove offensive to the object of their homage than agreeable? And if so, does not the very supposition that mankind, in the early ages of the world, were under the influence of anthropomorphic notions render improbable the position that they were led by the reason and propriety of the thing to offer sacrifices to the Deity? If they thought God altogether such an one as themselves, how comes it to pass that they were led to seek His favour by methods which they would have recoiled from using in regard to one of themselves? In reply to this question various suggestions have been offered as hypotheses by way of rationally accounting for the human origin of sacrifices.

(a) It has been suggested that sacrifice might have originally been presented as a gift or present to the Deity, and it has been asked whether it might not very naturally occur to man to present of his flocks and herds to God, as a token of acknowledgment of His bounty? To this it may be replied, in the first place, that this is altogether irrelevant, inasmuch as the question relates, not to the offering of gifts, but to the slaying of sacrifices, between which there is no sort of analogy, nor any affinity that might lead to the one growing out of the other; and then, secondly, this is an attempt to remove one difficulty by suggesting another equally great; for it is just as far Item probability that a man should, from the reason of the thing, conclude that the great Being to whom he acknowledged he owed everything would be pleased by his destroying part of what he had received, by laying it on the altar as a present, as it is that He would be pleased by its being destroyed as a sacrifice. It may also be observed that there is reason to doubt whether the idea of sacrifice is not historically anterior to that of a gift. Gifts can come into existence, and the idea of them into men’s minds, only when property is possessed. In the Adamic family there might be differences of occupation, and each might contribute his share to the common fund; but there is no probability that anything of the nature of property was claimed by any of them in what he produced. We cannot conceive of Abel appropriating his sheep, and Cain his fruits, and the one bartering with the other, or bestowing a portion on the other as a gift. At this early period, then, men could have no experience of gifts or of their effects on men, and hence could not have the idea suggested to them from such experience of procuring the Divine favour by a gift. But as sacrifice already was known and practised, the idea of it must have preceded the idea of a gift.

(b) Not less valueless is a second suggestion, viz., that sacrifice arose out of the idea of a friendly meal shared by the Deity and His worshippers. For not only is there nothing in the reason of things to suggest such an idea to the mind, but it seems excluded by the very form in which sacrifice, in its most ancient as well as most solemn and highest form, was presented, viz., in that of a holocaust or whole burnt offering. Where the whole animal was consumed on the altar, it is obvious that the idea of a partition of it between the offerer and his God is excluded. Apart from this, however, this idea seems so little natural that it would be absurd to trace to it the spontaneous origin of this universal usage. The idea is undoubtedly a true one, and we find it to a certain extent recognized in the Mosaic offerings, where the priest, in certain cases, as the mediator between God and the offerer, and who had appeared for the latter, partook of the sacrifice in token of the reconciliation having been effected between God and the worshipper; but the idea, though true, is wholly artificial; it is learned by education and from the sacrificial institute, and can never be regarded as a natural conviction of reason giving spontaneously birth to that act. It may be added, that it leaves wholly unexplained the practice of human sacrifices--a practice which prevailed most in the earliest periods, and extendedthrough nations the most widely separated from each other; as well as the fact that among some nations the highest of all sacrifices were of animals which either are or were never used as food, such as the horse, which among the Brahmanical worshippers is called the King of Sacrifice, and that some of the most important sacrifices were of the same kind, as that of the wolf to Mars, the ass to Priapus, and the dog to Hecate. The considerations are conclusive against the hypothesis that sacrifice arose out of the idea of a friendly feast between God and the worshipper. When the oldest, the most sacred, and the most solemn sacrifices were such as were either wholly consumed or were of animals which never were eaten, it is absurd to say that the practice could have originated in the idea of a feast.

(c) The only other suggestion worth noticing, which has been offered an accounting on grounds of natural reason for the practice of sacrifice, is that of Abraham Sykes, who in an essay on Sacrifice explains sacrifices as

“federal rites,” “implying the entering into friendship with God, or the renewal of that friendship when broken by the violation of former stipulations” (p. 59). In accordance with this he suggests that sacrifices had their origin in the fact that eating and drinking together were common and accredited modes of contracting covenants or cementing alliances among the ancients (p. 73). This theory of the origin of sacrifice rests on the assumption of the theory last considered, viz., that the sacrifice was of the nature of a friendly meal shared between God and the worshippers, and is consequently liable to all the objections which may be urged against that. Sykes’s theory is thus inconsistent with itself. It makes sacrifice at once the procuring cause of the feast of reconciliation; and it makes the feast of reconciliation the source and origin of the sacrifice. If there bad been no reconciliation there would have been no feast; and there would have been no reconciliation had there been no sacrifice. How was it possible in such circumstances for the feast to originate the sacrifice--the effect to give birth to the cause? The futility of these hypotheses shows how untenable is the attempt to find the origin of sacrifice in the reason of the thing itself. As little can it be sought for in any natural and universal conviction or felt necessity of the human mind; for there is nothing in the common natural workings or passions of the mind which would of itself suggest such a mode of serving and worshipping God. On the contrary, to the natural reason and heart of man it is rather repugnant than otherwise.

(2) Having thus disposed of the one side of the alternative formerly proposed, we now come to the other. If sacrifices have not their origin in their inherent reasonableness or in any common affection of the human mind, they must have had their origin in some other authoritative appointment to which all men in common felt constrained to yield.

(a) We cannot assume such an authority to have resided in any priestly body so as to resolve sacrifices into an invention of priestcraft, because

(b) sacrifices were known and practised long before the priesthood became a separate profession; they were practised when each individual acted as his own priest, or when at the utmost each father acted as the priest of his own household; so that there was no room for the operation of any priestcraft in the case.

(3) Any benefit accruing to the priest from the sacrifices brought by the worshippers is so small that we cannot suppose a sufficient inducement to have been found in that to lead to their inventing and inculcating such a usage. And

(a) supposing some one priest or body of priests had fallen on this invention, that will not account for the universality of the practice; it is as difficult to account for all the priests in the world adopting it as it is to account for all the people in the world following it.

(b) But if we exclude the supposition of priestcraft, we are shut up to the supposition of some common father of the race, such as Adam or Noah, by whom the rite was practised, and from whom it was handed down to all mankind. But as the rite was practised in the family of Adam, and as Noah himself derived it from him, we must go back to the very cradle of the human race for the commencement of this practice. From whom, then, did Adam derive it? Only from Him from whom Adam derived everything--from God Himself.

2. In support of the conclusion at which we have arrived we may appeal to the authority of Scripture. It is true that nowhere there is the origin of sacrifice ascribed to God, but there are certain principles laid down and certain facts recorded which lead to the conclusion that this rite was not of human invention, but was one enjoined on man by God. Of these the following may be mentioned:--

(1) There can be no doubt that God approved of this mode of worshipping Genesis 4:4-5; Genesis 8:21). Is it not a principle of true religion distinctly recognized in the Bible that it is God who alone has the right to prescribe how He is to be worshipped, and that, consequently, spontaneous contrivances on the part of man to do Him honour are rather presumptuous invasions of His prerogative than grateful acts of homage to Him? The inference from this is, that had sacrifice been a mere human contrivance it would not have been acceptable to God. The Divine acceptance, therefore, is a demonstration of a Divine institution.

(2) It has been suggested, and there is great probability in the suggestion, that sacrifice was instituted by God on the occasion when, after His first interview with man after he had sinned, He took off the skins of animals and converted them into clothing for Adam and his wife. Assuming the propitiatory and typical character of sacrifice, it cannot be denied that the occasion was a fit one for inculcating the practice of it on man, inasmuch as God had just given to him the promise of that great Deliverer of whose work on behalf of man animal sacrifices were designed to be the memorial, symbol, and foreshadow.

(3) It is worthy of notice that in the Mosaic institute, whilst there are many injunctions concerning sacrifices, all these relate to the mode and occasion of the sacrifice, not one to the ordinance itself as something then newly appointed. In every case the law proceeds on the assumption that sacrifice was already known and practised among the Hebrews; and that all that was needed was discretion as to the proper occasions for the offering of sacrifices, the sacrifices proper for each occasion, and the fitting manner in which the rite was to be observed.

(4) If we assume the Divine origin of the sacrificial rite, and suppose that it was made known to Adam by God as soon as that great event which it was designed to commemorate and prefigure was announced, we can at once see how it would become a rite the observance of which should be co-extensive with the race. Adam would enjoin it upon his posterity, and all who did not assume the position of actual apostasy and infidelity, of which Cain set the example, would religiously observe it. The rite would thus be handed down to Noah, from whom again, as the second father of the race, it would be propagated through the world. In the first place, it is not correct to state that the prohibition to shed human blood formed part, still less an important part, of the covenant made by God with Noah; it was simply a moral injunction rendered peculiarly necessary in consequence of the permission now granted to man to slay animals for food, and formed no condition or part of the covenant at all. What makes this certain is, that it is not until after the injunction had been given that we find mention made of God’s entering into a covenant with Noah; this forms a distinct part of the narrative, and the language employed in it is such as to show that it was with reference to totally different matters that that transaction took place. Now, it is quite conceivable that the nations might remember the covenant and the rites connected with it, whilst they forgot or did not choose to observe the moral prohibitions given by God to their ancestor. Secondly, it is fallacious to argue that because God forbade the shedding of man’s blood, it is impossible to conceive that the nations should come to think they might please and satisfy Him by offering human victims, because the prohibition was not a special prohibition in the case of sacrifices, but a prohibition in general of the taking of human life--a prohibition therefore which, as it admitted of exceptions in the case of war and judicial executions, might be reasonably held to admit of exception in the case of sacrifice. Certain it is that we find the two beliefs harmoniously coexisting in the minds of men; for among those nations which practised human sacrifices there were none who did not at the same time believe that the gods had forbidden the shedding of man’s blood; a fact which could not have occurred had the position assumed been sound. Nay, we may go farther, and say that this very prohibition, instead of deterring men from human sacrifices, was probably the reason which mainly suggested it to them, inasmuch as it was the fence thus placed around human life which made it so precious, and hereby rendered it so valuable as an offering to the gods. Thirdly, it may be admitted that human sacrifices were “of high antiquity,” and yet it may also be maintained that this was “a late abuse” of the primitive tradition; for “high” and “late” are relative terms, and as it is quite possible for the same object to be in space high relatively to one standard and low relatively to another, so in time the same event may be both early and late according as we measure it from one point or another. In fine, it is competent to ask, if human sacrifices were not an abuse of the rite of sacrifice as practised by Noah, to what is their early existence to be attributed? There can be no doubt that Noah would hand down to his posterity the tradition of what he himself religiously practised. Now, of this traditional usage human sacrifice is either an abuse or it is a rite totally distinct in its nature from ordinary animal sacrifice, and having another meaning. But it is not a rite differing in nature and insignification from ordinary animal sacrifice; all history and testimony assure us that it was intended to express in the highest degree the ideas embodied in and adumbrated by that usage. It follows that it must be regarded as a corruption of this usage; for we cannot believe that it is both in nature and signification identical with the usage of animal sacrifice handed down to the descendants of Noah by tradition, and an original independent invention of the nation by whom it was practised. If we suppose the tradition to have existed we render unnecessary the hypothesis of an independent and a simultaneous invention of the rite; if we suppose such an invention, we have to account for the non-preservation by the family of Noah of the most solemn rite of their ancestral worship. It seems impossible to doubt which of these two hypotheses should be adopted as the most probable. (W. L. Alexander, D. D.)

Of the deep hatred some have conceived against their own brethren

Sir Henry Blunt, in his voyage to the Levant, tells us that at Belgrade, in Hungary, where Danubius and Sava meet, their waters mingle no more than water and oil; and though they run sixty miles together, yet they no way incorporate, but the Danube is clear and pure as a well, while the Sava, that runs along with it, is as troubled as a street channel. After the manner of these rivers it is with some brethren; though bred up together, and near enough each other in respect of their bodies, yet their minds have been as distant from each other as the poles are; which, when opportunity hath served, they have shewn in the effects of an implacable hatred. On the death of the Emperor Severus, his two sons, Bassianus and Geta, could not agree about the parting of the empire, nor did they omit any means whereby they might supplant each other; they endeavoured to bribe each other’s cooks and butlers to poison their masters; but when both were too watchful to be thus circumvented, at last Bassianus grew impatient, and burning with ambition to enjoy the rule alone, he set upon his brother, gave him a deadly wound, and shed his blood in the lap of Julia, their mother; and having executed this villainy, threw himself amongst the soldiers, and told them that he had with difficulty saved his life from the malice of his brother. Having parted amongst them all that Severus, his father, had been eighteen years heaping up, he was by them confirmed in the empire. (N. Wanley.)

The man makes the sacrifice

The heathens had a notion that the gods would not accept the sacrifice of any but those who were like themselves; and therefore none could be admitted to the sacrifices of Hercules who were dwarfs, and none to those of merry Bacchus who were sad and pensive. An excellent truth may be drawn from this folly. He that would please God must be like God. (W. Gurnall.)

The true temper of an accepted offering

The offering of Cain was like a beautiful present, but there was no sorrow for sin in it--no asking for pardon--and so God would not receive it. “Mother won’t take my book,” once sobbed out a little boy--holding in his hand a very beautiful little volume prettily bound, with gilt edges to the leaves. It was a pretty present, purchased with the pocket money which he had been for weeks saving for his mother’s birthday; and now she would not have it. But she did take the needle book and purse which her little daughter presented to her. Why did she refuse the beautiful gift of her boy? He had been naughty--selfish, passionate, false--and had not at all repented; and so when hebrought his offering, she put it gently on one side, saying, “No, Charlie.” He turned away sullenly, muttering that he did not care, and beginning to cherish feelings of a bad kind towards his sister. But after a while he came to himself--stole into the room, flung himself on her shoulder, confessed his fault with tears, and found favour with his mother. By-and-by, she tenderly whispered, “You may bring your present.” So God acted with Cain, but he would persist in obduracy of heart. (W. Adamson.)

Unacceptable offerings

Some people are very curious to know what these sacrifices were, and grey-headed commentators, who ought to have known better, have spent no end of time in trying to gratify their idle curiosity. Some have thought that the virtue was in the thing taken, as if that could be! No; you must find out what the heart is, what the motive is, what the will is. “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” It is forever true that God abhors the sacrifice where not the heart is found. If you want to find out Cain’s condition of heart you will find it after the service which he pretended to render; you know a man best out of church; the minister sees the best side of a man, the lawyer the worst, and the physician the real. If you want to know what a man’s religious worship is worth, see him out of church. Cain killed his brother when church was over, and that is the exact measure of Cain’s piety. And so, when you went home the other day you charged five shillings for a three-shilling article, and told the buyer it was too cheap: and that is exactly the value of your psalm singing and sermon hearing. You said you enjoyed the discourse exceedingly last Thursday; then you filled up the income tax paper falsely: and you will be judged by the schedule, not by the sentiment. (J. Parker, D. D.)

If thou doest well, shalt thou not he accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door

Sin lying at the door

The key to the interpretation of these words is to remember that they describe what happens after and because of wrong-doing. They are all suspended on, “If thou doest not well.” The word translated here “lieth” is employed only to express the crouching of an animal, and frequently of a wild animal: “Unto thee shall be its desire, and thou shalt rule over it.” Words like these were spoken to Eve: “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” In horrible parody of the wedded union and love, we have the picture of the sin that was thought of as crouching at the sinner’s door like a wild beast, now, as it were, wedded to him.

THINK OF THE WILD BEAST WHICH WE TETHER TO OUR DOORS BY OUR WRONG-DOING. Every human deed is immortal; the transitory evil thought, or word, or act, which seems to fleet by like a cloud, has a permanent being, and hereafter haunts the life of the doer as a real presence. This memory has in it everything you ever did. A landscape may be hidden by mists, but a puff of wind will clear them away, and it will all be there, visible to the farthest horizon.

The next thought is put into a strong and, to our modern notions, somewhat violent metaphor--THE HORRIBLE LONGING, AS IT WERE, OF SIN TOWARD THE SINNER: “Unto thee shall be its desire.” Our sins act towards us as if they desired to draw our love to themselves. When once a man has done a wrong thing it has an awful power of attracting him and making him hunger to do it again. All sin is linked together in a slimy tangle, like a field of seaweed, so that the man once caught in its oozy fingers is almost sure to be drowned.

THE COMMAND HERE IS ALSO A PROMISE. “Sin lies at thy door--rule thou over it.” The text proclaims only duty, but it has hidden in its very hardness a sweet kernel of promise. For what God commands God enables us to do. The words do really point onwards through all the ages to the great fact that Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, came down from heaven, like an athlete descending into the arena, to fight with and overcome the grim wild beasts, our passions, and our sins, and to lead them transformed in the silken leash of His love. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Sin, guilt, and retribution

Sin finds in the very constitution of the human mind the enginery of its own retribution.

The very consciousness of sin is destructive of a sinner’s peace.

Sin tends to develop sin.

The consciousness of guilt is always more or less painfully attended with the apprehension of its discovery.

A foreboding of judicial and eternal retribution is incident to sin.

From all this we see the preciousness of the work of Christ. He becomes a reality to us, only because He is a necessity; He gives Himself to blot out the past. (A. Phelps.)

God’s expostulation with Cain

THAT THOSE WHO DO WELL CANNOT FAIL TO SECURE DIVINE ACCEPTANCE. What is it to do well? We must not suffer our judgments to be biased by the opinions of men. To do well, with some, is to succeed in business. “He is doing very well,” is a common phrase applied to a successful tradesman. Jonah thought he did well to be angry even unto death. To do well, in the sense in which the expression must be understood here, is--to bring an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord, and to offer it in an acceptable manner.


1. Those neglect to do well who offer to God no acceptable sacrifice. Sinners offer to God nothing but insults. Their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eves of His glory; their souls and bodies, time and talents, are all desecrated from their original purpose.

2. Those neglect to do well who offer their sacrifices in an unacceptable manner.

Cain did this in conclusion we observe;

1. God’s expostulation with Cain reminds us of His willingness to save sinners. Expostulations, containing similar sentiments, may be found, Ezekiel 18:29; Ezekiel 18:31; Hosea 11:8; Matthew 23:37.

2. It also serves as a ground of encouragement for those who have been doing ill, but wish to do better; If thou doest well, shalt not thou be accepted? Let not the evil actions of the former part of thy life discourage thee.

3. It leaves sinners without reasonable excuse. (Sketches of Sermons.)

The croucher at the door

Cain is here warned that, while he is nursing his angry, jealous thoughts, sin, like a ravening beast, as crafty as it is cruel, is crouching outside the door of his heart, only waiting for the door to be opened by any touch of passion to spring in; and he is admonished to keep the door shut lest he be overcome of evil. He is warned that the “desire” of the sin, which looks so fair and tempting to the eye stained and discoloured by passion, is against him, that his only safety consists in subduing and ruling over it.


1. Craft. Sin is subtle, full of wiles and “all deceivableness.”

(1) Like a wild beast, beautiful in outward seeming, lithe and graceful in its motions; its feet shod with velvet, its strength robed in a coat of many colours.

(2) Like a stealthy crouching beast, lurking in ambush, stealing unheard and unseen from thicket to thicket, or gliding softly through the long tangled grass, availing itself of every inequality of the ground, hiding behind every trunk or bush, approaching its victim like a fate--silent, invisible, unerring.

2. Cruelty, no less than craft, characterizes the croucher at the door. The most crafty beasts are the most cruel. They crouch that they may spring, and rend, and tear. And sin is cruel, and fatal in its cruelty. If it crouch, it is that it may spring; if it spring, it is that it may destroy.

THE WARNING. “If thou doest not well, sin is a croucher at the door; and his desire is against thee, but thou shouldest rule over him.”

1. The warning points out our danger.

(1) He who does not well, is very near to doing ill. A merely negative virtue is in peril of becoming positive vice. He who neglects opportunities of doing good, by his very neglect of them does evil. The holy war admits no neutrals; we must be for God, or against Him.

(2) The warning suggests another thought of a much more hopeful cast. For it implies that sin is external to man, not an essential part of his nature, but a foreign, adverse power which has only an usurped authority; it represents evil as a croucher without the door, and capable of being kept out. We need to remember and to emphasize the fact that sin is not of the essence of our nature; for much depends upon it. It makes redemption possible; for how should they be redeemed from evil of whose nature evil is an essential and inseparable quality?

2. The warning indicates our safety. “His desire is against thee, but thou shouldest rule over him.” The croucher cannot be tamed. It must be caged, starved, slain. But how is this wily foe to be caught? how are the strength and fierceness of this cruel foe to be subdued? Truly, if we were called to the task alone, we might well despair. Sin has too firm a hold on us to be readily dislodged. But our comfort is that we are not called to the task alone. He who warned Cain that the croucher was at his door, would have helped Cain to repel him. And He who warns us that sin is our subtle and implacable antagonist, will help us to detect its wiles and to withstand its assaults. It only needs that Christ show Himself on our side, and evil will not court another overthrow. (S. Cox, D. D.)

To those who are angry with their godly friends

Sinners are not all of the laughing sort: Cain’s mind was angry, and his heart was heavy. The short life of the vicious is not always a merry one. The present does not content them, and they have no future from which to borrow the light of hope. They have a religion of their own, even as Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground; but it yields them no comfort, for God has no respect to their offering, and therefore they are displeased about it. They would like to have the enjoyments of religion very much, they would like to have peace of conscience, they would like to be uplifted beyond all fear of death, they would like to be as happy as Christian people are; but they do not want to pay the price, namely, obedience to God by faith in Jesus Christ. They are in a bitter state of heart, and it is fair to ask each one of them, “Why art thou wroth?” Alas! they are not angry with themselves, as they ought to be, but angry with God; and often they are angry with God’s chosen, and envious of them, even as Cain was malicious and vindictive towards Abel. “Why should my neighbour be saved, and not I? Why should my brother rejoice because he has peace with God, while I cannot get it?” Now, I want to call attention to a very gracious fact connected with this text; and that is, that, although Cain was in such a bad temper that he was very wroth, and his countenance fell, yet God, the infinitely gracious One, came and spoke with him, and reasoned with him patiently. God gives none up until they fatally resolve to give themselves up, and even then His good Spirit strives with them as long as it is possible to do so, consistently with His holiness.

I shall take the last sentence of the text first: “Unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” In these words God argues with Cain, and answers the charge of favouritism which was lurking in his mind. He tells him, in effect, that NO DIFFERENCE IS MADE IN THE ARRANGEMENT OF SOCIAL LIFE BECAUSE OF THE ARRANGEMENTS OF GRACE. Notice that He says to him, “Unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him”--which I understand to mean just this: “Why are you so angry against Abel? It is true that I have accepted his offering; it is true that he is a righteous man, and you are not; but, for all that, you are his elder brother, and he looks up to you, his desire is toward you, and you shall rule over him. He has not acted otherwise than as a younger brother should act towards an elder brother, but he has admitted your seniority and priority.” Observe this, then--that if a man shall be angry with his wife because she is a Christian, we may well argue with him, Why are you thus provoked? Is she not a loving and obedient wife to you in all things, except in this matter touching her God? Is she not all the better for her religion?

1. Now, this is an important thing to note, because first of all it takes away from governments their excuse for persecution. Christianity does not come into a nation to break up its arrangements, or to break down its fabric. All that is good in human society it preserves and establishes. It snaps no ties of the family; it dislocates no bonds of the body politic. Let all who are in authority, whether as kings or petty magistrates, beware of wantonly molesting a people who cause them no trouble, lest they be found in this matter to be fighting against God.

2. That being so in the broad field of national life, it is just the same if you bring it down to the little sphere of home. There is no reason why Cain should be so angry with Abel because God loves him; for the love of God to Abel does not take away from Cain his right as an elder brother. It does not teach Abel to refuse to Cain the rights of his position, nor lead him to act rudely and wrongfully to him. No: Abel’s desire is unto Cain, and Cain rules over him as his elder brother. Wily, then, should Cain be wroth, and his countenance fall? I could hope, my angry friend, that God means to give a greater blessing still to you--that He means to entice you to heaven by showing your wife the way; or He means to lead you to Christ by that dear child of yours. I have known parents brought to repentance by the deaths of daughters or of sons who have died in the faith. I hope you will not have to lose those you love that you may be brought to Jesus by their dying words. But it may be so: it may be so. It will be better for you to yield to their gentle example while yet they are spared to you, than for you to be smitten to the heart by their sickness and death.

Now let us advance farther into the text. There is no room for being angry, for THOUGH THE DIFFERENCE LIES FIRST WITH THE GRACE OF GOD, YET IT LIES ALSO WITH THE MAN’S OWN SELF. “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.”

1. First, then, if you are not accepted, and you are angry because you are not accepted, is there not a just cause for it? If you do not enjoy the comforts of religion, and you grow envious because you do not, you should cool your wrathfulness by considering this question--“If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” That is to say, will you not be accepted on the same terms as Abel? You will be accepted in the same way as your brother, your sister, your child. How is it that the one you envy is full of peace? It is because he has come to Jesus and confessed his sin, and trusted his Redeemer. If thou doest this, shalt not thou also be accepted? Has not the Lord said, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out”? Instead of being angry with another, for believing and rejoicing, taste for thyself the joys which faith secures. May infinite grace lead thee to do so now!

2. God’s second word with Cain was, however, “If thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” That is to say, “If religion does not yield thee joy as it does thy brother, what is the reason? Surely sin stops the entrance, as a stone blocking the doorway. If you cannot gain an entrance to mercy, it is because sin like a huge stone, has been rolled against it, and remains there.

(1) Is it unbelief? You will not believe God’s word. You reject the testimony of God concerning His Son Jesus, and thus you put away from you eternal life.

(2) Is it impenitence? Are you hardened about your sin? Do you refuse to quit it? Is there no sorrow in your heart to think that you have broken the Divine law, and have lived forgetful of your God? A hard heart is a great stone to lie in a man’s way; for he who will not own his sin and forsake it is wedded to his own destruction.

(3) Or, is it pride? Are you too big a man to become a Christian? Are you too respectable, too wealthy, too polite? Are you too deep a thinker? Do you know too much?

(4) Alas! there are some who have another sin, a hidden sin.

(5) We have known persons practise dishonesty in business, and this has shut them out from acceptance.

(6) Some cannot get peace because they neglect prayer.

(7) Not a few harbour enmity their hearts towards their brother or neighbour.

(8) Then there are some who keep evil company.

3. I think this word of Divine expostulation bears another meaning. “If thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” That is to say, not only as a stone to block your way, but as a lion to pounce upon you. It is true that sin is hindering you from peace, but it is also true that a greater sin is lurking at the door ready to spring upon you. What a warning this word ought to have been to Cain! Perhaps at that moment he had not seriously thought of killing his brother. He was angry, but he was not yet implacable and malicious. But God said, “There is a sin lying at your door that will come upon you to your destruction.” May it not be the same with you?

4. But there is yet another meaning which I must bring out here, and that is one which is held by many critics, though it is questioned by others. I am content to go with a considerable fallowing, especially of the old divines, who say that the word here used may be rendered, “If thou doest ill, a sin offering lieth at the door.” And what a sweet meaning this gives us! God graciously declares to angry Cain, “Thou canst bring a sin offering, as Abel has done, and all will be well. Thou canst present a bleeding sacrifice, typical of the great atonement: a sin offering lies at the door.” This should be an encouraging assurance to anyone who is anxious, and at the same time greatly afraid that pardon is not possible. “Where can I find Christ?” says one. He standeth at the door: He waiteth for thee. The offering is not far to seek. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The personal causes of human misery

I do not understand the same thing by the words misery and calamity. Calamities may be occasions for sorrow, and they may become ingredients in misery; but they do not become misery until they have taken a certain hold upon the whole constitution of the man. Perhaps I might illustrate this distinction by comparing the character of Cain, referred to in the text, with that of the Apostle Paul. Paul was the subject of numerous afflictions, as here stated; yet we cannot call him a miserable man. But Cain exclaims in the bitterness of his soul, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” His spirit was broken down under the influence of his circumstances; and we call him miserable, whilst we only say that the Apostle Paul was afflicted. It is, then, into the causes of this breaking up of the inward peace of a man’s mind in the condition which God has been pleased to assign him, that we have to inquire. But before I name the causes, and describe to you their operation severally, permit me to point out one or two conjectures, by which individuals endeavour to account for their misery, but to which it cannot properly be attributed. There are several mistakes of this kind. And, in the first place, I do not think that human misery can be ascribed to the personal organization of a man’s constitution. For the frame of man is most delicately constructed by a wise and benevolent hand, devised by One who was capable of contemplating the end from the beginning of our existence; there is no part in all its original constitution, which seems to have been formed for the purpose of producing misery. In the second place, we cannot ascribe the misery that is found in this world to any order of circumstances connected with an individual’s station in life. Some people are almost ever ready to attribute their sorrows and miseries to the position which they occupy. “Raise me,” they say, “to another station in society, and I shall be happy enough.” But all experience tells us that men are commonly as happy in the lower situations of life as in the higher. In point of fact, happiness and misery are not at all deducible from an individual’s position in society. Let me add one other remark to this explanation: I do not think that you can ever trace the misery of this world to any diseases of the human frame. It is true that disease may become very painful; but yet the man in disease is not always a miserable man. He may be a dying man, but yet not a miserable man. That, then, which breaks down the spirit of a man in the midst of this world’s affairs, must be bred within him. It is not misfortune, but sin, which, operating in diverse kinds, is like a brood of scorpions nursed within the breast, which spend their first life in devouring the very heart that cherished them. Yes, it is to sin cherished within the heart of man, that you must trace the misery of his present condition. In the first place, observe what is accomplished by the teaching and guidance of a father. So soon, therefore, as a man has broken away from the governance and guidance of his Father in heaven, what is the result? What is it that he throws away? The commandment of God brings down the wisdom of infinity for the direction of human affairs; and the man throws away infinite wisdom, to prefer in its stead his own most futile and childish speculations. They are, in fact, vain wishes; and vain wishes must occupy the mind that has let go the Deity, and ceased to find its happiness in God. But there is a second cause of sorrow, more bitter, which operates in conjunction with this; I mean the indulgence of known sins--or rather the seeking our happiness in known sins. Let me take three examples: first, avarice; secondly, lust; and in the third place, pride. All these are sources of misery which are personal, because they exist and operate in the man’s own mind. Consider, then, the other mode by which men pursue their happiness; and suffer man to cultivate his pride. And when pride is gratified perfectly, man becomes a devil. Our great poet has shown this in making it the sin of the master devil. Avarice, then, makes a man a stone; lust makes him a beast; and pride makes him a devil; and thus the whole creation of God becomes blasted by the sinful pursuits of His creature, and misery must be the inevitable result. Let me add, further, the effect which these sins have in provoking the Divine anger. Much of the misery which results to men in this world flows from the effect of their personal guiltiness in the sight of heaven. In conclusion; if human misery thus flow from ourselves, you can see that human happiness must be obtained by the cultivation of our own hearts. It is not in a change of circumstances; it is not in modifying the organization of your bodies; it is not in passing from earth to heaven, for if you were to take with you into heaven the vices which you pursue on earth, they would make even heaven itself a hell. And further, if these views of the personal causes of human misery be just, you may perceive the extreme kindness of Divine chastisement, and even of Divine judgment. (C. Stovel.)

Natural and revealed religion

NATURAL RELIGION. This consists in “doing well.” Look at the principle on which it is founded. The principle is practical goofiness. This principle is intrinsically excellent. Man was created to do well. It is to be desired that all men should act upon this principle. The world would be different if men were to. No need of police--prison. It is a principle to which none can object. Let us look at the standard by which it is to be tested. The standard is the moral law of creation. In order to do well, man must love God with all his heart, etc. There must be no omission. The act must be perfect. It must be a gem without a flaw. The motive must be good. The rule must be good. It must be done as God directs. Look at the reward, “Shalt thou not be accepted?” Such a religion will command the approval of the Almighty. It will secure immortality for its votaries. Had Adam continued to do well, he would have continued to live. This, then, is the religion of nature--is glorious. Have you performed its requirements? Think of sin--its nature, its effects, its ultimate consequences. How can we escape them? Ask natural religion. Will she suggest repentance? Will repentance replace things as they were--reformation? This cannot alter the past. An offering--man has none to present--the mercy of the Eternal? God is merciful,but how can He show it to the sinner, in harmony with justice? Nature has no reply.

REVEALED RELIGION. “A sin offering lieth at thy door.”

1. That revealed religion assumes that men are guilty. If there is no sin, there can be no need of a sin offering; and if there is a sin offering, it is presumed that there is sin. Men have not done well. They are sinners. They are liable to punishment.

2. That revealed religion has provided a sin offering. Three kinds of sacrifices were offered by the Jews: eucharistic--peace offerings--atoning. The last the most prominent. Type of Calvary. In the sin offering there was a substitution of person--a substitution of sufferings--the acceptance of the sin offering was accompanied with Divine evidence. This sacrifice is efficient.

3. That this sin offering reposeth at the door. The atonement of Christ is accessible to the sinner--it rests with man to avail himself of it--men neglect it--God exercises great long suffering--sinners cannot go to hell without trampling on the sacrifice of the Cross--they will be deprived of exercise if they neglect it. (Homilist.)

Three experiments and three failures

The FAMILY idea won’t keep men right. Cain and Abel were brothers.

RELIGIOUS CEREMONIAL won’t keep men light. Cain and Abel both offered sacrifice.

RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION won’t keep men right. Cain killed his brother, but a voice cried against him. What will keep men right? The love of God through Jesus Christ. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The principles of the Divine government

The text declared a great and lasting truth to the mind of Cain thousands of years back, as it does to each of us this day. It grounds its appeal upon the immutable principles of right and wrong, and projects its Divine authority through every generation from the birth of man to the very end of time. It speaks to the conscience as well as to the judgment of an intelligent being, and it leaves him to act as a free agent in accordance with its dictates.

In the first place we notice the EXTREME CONDESCENSION of the Most High in thus expostulating with Cain, who, it appears from the context, was angered at the reception of his brother’s offering and the rejection of his own. Then observe the gentleness of manner with which God is pleased to address Cain. It does not appear that Cain was startled or overwhelmed with terror at the voice of God. There were no thunderings, no earthquakes, no supernatural wonders, but all was gentle and kind on the part of Deity. And it is in this way He continues still to appeal to the hearts and consciences of His people. The plague and the pestilence, the famine and the sword, the blight of earthly hopes and the sadness of the death-chamber, are only the agencies through which He speaks. The voice of God itself heard within us is yet calm and inviting.



The great practical lesson we derive from the text is this: that God, through every period of man’s existence, down to the very date of our first creation, HAS EVER DEALT WITH MAN AS A FREE AGENT; as a moral and responsible being, endowed with the power of will, and with faculties which place him above the mere animal world. This is a great and very important truth, and we commend it specially to your consideration. According to the unchangeable laws or principles of moral government, you perceive it is impossible for any man to commit sin with impunity. True, judgment does not always immediately follow crime. The seeds of evil are permitted to grow and develop themselves in their different forms of iniquity, but they are uprooted at last, as the destructive weed is torn up from the earth and cast into the fire. (W. D. Horwood.)

Sin ready to enter

A young friend was one day calling upon an old Christian woman, nearly eighty years of age, just waiting for the summons. Said this friend, “Oh, granny, I wish I was as sure of heaven, and as near it, as you are!” With a look of unspeakable emotion, the old woman answered, “And do you really think the devil cannot find his way up an old woman’s garret stair? Oh, if He hadn’t said, ‘None shall pluck them out of My hand.’ I would have been away wandering long ago!” (Old Testament Anecdotes.)

Verse 8

Genesis 4:8

Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him

The first murder


IT WAS THE MURDER OF ONE BROTHER BY ANOTHER. We should have thought that the members of this small family could have lived on amicable terms with each other. We should never have dreamed of murder in their midst. See here:--

1. The power of envy.

2. The ambition of selfishness.

3. The quick development of passion.

IT WAS OCCASIONED BY ENVY IN THE RELIGIOUS DEPARTMENT OF LIFE. Brothers ought to rejoice in the moral success of each other. Envy in the church is the great cause of strife. Men envy each other’s talents. They murder each other’s reputation. They kill many of tender spirit. You can slay your minister by a look--a word--as well as by a weapon. Such conduct is:--

1. Cruel.

2. Reprehensible.

3. Astonishing.

4. Frequent.


1. By a convicting question.

2. By an alarming curse.

3. By a wandering life. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The beginning of the fatal operations of sin on human society

THE FIRST RECORDED ACT OF WORSHIP OCCASIONS THE FIRST MURDER. Is not that only too correct a forecast of the oceans of blood which have been shed in the name of religion, and a striking proof of the subtle power of sin to corrupt even the best, and out of it to make the worst? What a lesson against the bitter hatred which has too often sprung up on so-called religious grounds!

SIN HERE APPEARS AS HAVING POWER TO BAR MEN’S WAY TO GOD. Much ingenuity has been spent on the question why Abel’s offering was accepted and Cain’s rejected. But the narrative itself shows in the words of Jehovah, “If thou doest well, is there not acceptance?” that the reason lay in Cain’s evil deeds (See 1 John 3:12; Hebrews 11:4). Plenty of worship nowadays is Cain’s worship. Many reputable professing Christians bring just such sacrifices. The prayers of such never reach higher than the church ceiling.

Note in one word THAT WE HAVE HERE AT THE BEGINNING OF HUMAN HISTORY THE SOLEMN DISTINCTION WHICH RUNS THROUGH IT ALL. These two, so near in blood, so separate in spirit, head the two classes into which Scripture decisively parts men, especially men who have heard the gospel.

The solemn Divine voice reads the lesson of THE POWER OF SIN, WHEN ONCE DONE, OVER THE SINNER. Like a wild beast, it crouches in ambush at his door, ready to spring and devour. Or, by another metaphor, it hungers after him with a longing which is a horrible parody of the wife’s love and desire (comp. Genesis 3:16 with Genesis 4:7). The evil deed once committed takes shape, as it were, and waits to seize the doer. Remorse, inward disturbance, and, above all, the fatal inclination to repeat sin till it becomes a habit, are set forth with terrible force in these grim figures.

What a menagerie of ravenous beasts some of us have at the doors of our hearts! The eternal duty of resistance is farther taught by the words. Hope of victory, encouragement to struggle, the assurance that even these savage beasts may be subdued, and the lion and adder (the hidden and the glaring evils which wound unseen, and which spring with a roar), may be overcome, and led in a silken leash, are given in the command, which is also a promise, “Rule thou over it.”

THE DEADLY FRUIT OF HATE IS TAUGHT US IN THE BRIEF ACCOUNT OF THE ACTUAL MURDER. Notice the impressive plainness and fewness of the words. “Cain rose up against his brother, and slew him.” Observe the emphasis with which “his brother” is repeated in the verse and throughout. Observe, also, the vivid light thrown by the story on the rise and progress of the sin. It begins with envy and jealousy. Cain was not wroth because his offering was rejected. What did he care for that? But what angered him was that his brother had what he had not. So selfishness was at the bottom, and that led on to envy, and that to hatred. Then comes a pause, in which God speaks remonstrances, as God’s voice--conscience--does now to us all, between the imagination and the act of evil. A real or a feigned reconciliation is effected. The brothers go in apparent harmony to the field. No new provocation appears, but the old feelings, kept down for a time, come in again with a rush, and the man is swept away. Hatred left to work means murder.

MARK HOW CLOSE ON THE HEELS OF SIN GOD’S QUESTION TREADS. How God spoke, we know not. Doubtless in some fashion suited to the needs of Cain. But He speaks to us as really as to him, and no sooner is the rush of passion over, and the bad deed done, than a revulsion comes. What we call conscience asks the question in stern tones, which make a man’s flesh creep. Our sin is like touching the electric bells which people sometimes put on their windows to give notice of thieves. As soon as we step beyond the line of duty we set the alarm going, and it wakens the sleeping conscience.

CAIN’S DEFIANT ANSWER TEACHES US HOW A MAN HARDENS HIMSELF AGAINST GOD’S VOICE. It also shows us how intensely selfish all sin is, and how weakly foolish its excuses are.

THE STERN SENTENCE IS NEXT PRONOUNCED. First we have the grand figure of the innocent blood having a voice which pierces the heavens. That teaches in the most forcible way the truth that God knows the crimes done by “man’s inhumanity to man,” even when the meek sufferers are silent. According to the fine old legend of the cranes of Ibycus, a bird of the air will carry the matter. It speaks, too, of His tender regard for His saints, whose blood is precious in His sight; and it teaches that He will surely requite. Then follows the sentence, which falls into two parts--the curse of bitter, unrequited toil, and the doom of homeless wandering. The blood which has been poured out on the battlefield fertilizes the soil; but Abel’s blasted the earth. It was a supernatural infliction, to teach that bloodshed polluted the earth, and so to shed a nameless horror over the deed. We see an analogous feeling in the common belief that places where some foul sin has been committed are cursed. We see a weak natural correspondence in the devastating effect of war, as expressed in the old saying that no grass would grow where the Turk had stabled his horses. The doom of wandering, which would be compulsory by reason of the earth’s barrenness, is a parable. The murderer is hunted from place to place, as the Greek fable has it, by the Furies, who suffer him not to rest. Conscience drives a man “through dry places, seeking rest, and finding none.” All sin makes us homeless wanderers. Every sinner is a fugitive and a vagabond. But if we love God we are still wanderers, indeed, but we are “pilgrims and sojourners with Thee.”

CAIN’S REMONSTRANCE COMPLETES THE TRAGIC PICTURE. We see in it despair without penitence. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The first murderer


1. Selfishness overlooks the means employed by others to become great.

2. Destroys the sacredness of natural ties.

3. Considers the virtues of others hostile to itself.

4. Is not scrupulous in injuring the innocent.



1. A righteous Judge sitting on the judgment seat.

2. An opportunity will be offered to the accused to prove his innocence.

3. Only integrity can stand the investigation.


1. No prosperity.

2. No home.

3. No peace. (Homilist.)

Cain the murderer



1. The history affords a melancholy instance of the disappointment which sometimes follows parental hopes.

2. The history teaches that no professions of religion are acceptable to God if they be unaccompanied with faith.

3. We learn from the history, the rapid and extensive progress which sin is capable of making.

4. The history suggests to us the awful criminality which is connected with the murder of a soul!--the infusion of a deadly poison, or the infliction of a deadly blow on the character, and happiness, and hopes of an immortal spirit!--the perdition of a soul by our influence and by our instrumentality! Oh! this is a solemn thought for the minister, and for the parent, and for everyone who possesses any degree of influence in society. “Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God.”

5. You also perceive from the history, that the sinner who is bold in crime becomes a coward in the presence of punishment. This was strikingly exemplified in the case of Cain. In the field he was courageous--brave enough to shed a brother’s blood! But how he fled trembling when the deed was done. How he endeavoured to persuade Jehovah that he had not been guilty of the crime. And though his punishment was mild and merciful for such a monster of iniquity, yet when it is pronounced he faints, and cries, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” Nor is there in punishment alone, anything that is calculated to soften the heart or to reform the character.

6. Again, the history is connected with the gospel truth that “the blood of sprinkling speaketh better things than the blood of Abel.” Both of these are represented in the Scriptures as endowed with speech. The blood of Abel was not sacrificial; the blood of sprinkling is the propitiation for our sins. The blood of Abel proclaims the depravity and malevolence of man; the blood of sprinkling proclaims the purity and the love of God. The blood of Abel cried for punishment on the murderer; the blood of sprinkling cries for pardon and salvation. The blood of Abel produced wretchedness and terror in the mind of Cain; the blood of sprinkling produces joy unspeakable and full of glory.

7. The history teaches that the death of a believer, under whatever circumstances it occurs, is always safe and happy. Such was the death of Abel. (J. Alexander.)

The first murderer

Our text presents us with a narrative which happened nearly six thousand years ago; a period almost bordering upon that golden age of the world’s infancy, when the bowers of Eden still blossomed as the garden of the Lord, and when man yet walked in innocence. But already had “the gold become dim”; and a little space of time had sufficed to change each scene. “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?” It may be useful, too, to make this also our first inquiry--the cause of Cain’s sorrow. Our second will be, how God sought to remove it.

In inquiring into THE CAUSE OF CAIN’S SORROW, we may be sure that sin was the first cause; for to that source alone we ourselves may trace our every trouble. Cain possibly, as we often do, might impute it to what he considered God’s harsh and unjust treatment of him, in having no respect to his offering; he should, however, have looked further, and considered his sin. Cain’s sin appears to have been of a three-fold character, and consisted first in this: that, though he was a sinner both by nature and by practice, yet, as if unconscious that he was such, he made no acknowledgment of guilt. Scripture everywhere speaks of two distinct classes of offerings. In the New Testament the apostle calls them “gifts”; where, in speaking of one of the particular duties of priests, he mentions both kinds of offerings: “For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices” (Hebrews 8:3; Hebrews 5:1). In these gifts, or thank offerings, to have offered blood would have been the grossest abomination; a sin, however, into which the heathen fell. So David says: “Their drink offerings of blood will I not offer.” God, therefore, instituted the ordinance of sacrifice, typical of that blood which should one day be shed upon the cross; and therefore it was only when a sacrifice had been first offered, by way of typical atonement, that then God could delight in the thanksgiving of the reconciled sinner. Now, Cain brought a thank offering only; clearly, then, he was practically unconscious of his guilty state before God. In this respect, every unconvinced and every self-righteous sinner resembles Cain; born in Cain’s nature, and alas! still unchanged. If you have never yet felt yourself to be a lost sinner, and have never yet by faith washed your guilty soul in the blood of Christ’s sacrifice, which alone can cleanse from sin, then, in that case, your best offerings, your prayers and your praises, your charities, or even your sacramental eucharists, are but the offering that Cain brought; and God can neither respect you nor your offering: He does not accept you. But let us now go on to observe the next particular in Cain’s sin. It was want of faith in God’s method of acceptance. It is just in this way that thousands now, who, like Cain, are without faith, argue respecting God’s ordinances, especially respecting His great ordinance, Christ. Some will satisfy themselves with an ideal or speculative faith, who nevertheless have never really come to Christ, have never pleaded earnestly the merit of His sacrifice, or sought, as Abel did, the blood of sprinkling. Others altogether exclude from their religion faith in Christ as the only means by which they can be accepted of God; and this they do, not avowedly perhaps, but by a garbled sophistry. Whilst they profess to hold the fundamental doctrine of justification by faith alone, they so mix up with it the nonsensical quackeries of some thing of their own fancied merits, and so-called inherent righteousness, that they weaken it, and fritter it down into a mere unscriptural idea. We have yet to trace another particular in Cain’s sin, and one which is the certain result of being in an unconvinced and unbelieving state--it is disobedience. Unconscious of need, and exercising no faith in God’s ordinance, he thought to serve God after his own fashion. And here you have the test by which to try the character of your faith. The true believer has respect to all God’s commandments, and would not willingly pass by one, even the most seemingly trifling; for he is aware that, however apparently unimportant it may be in itself, yet the mere fact of its being a Divine command invests it with infinite sanction, and with a claim to most unreserved obedience. The unbeliever, on the other hand, is for serving God according in his own loose notions of morality, by endeavouring to distinguish between duties which are essential and duties which are not essential, as well as also between great sins and little sins.

We have seen that there were three particulars in this sin: in answering our second inquiry as to how God sought to remove Cain’s sorrow, we shall find THAT THERE WERE THREE CORRESPONDING PARTICULARS IN THE OFFER OF MERCY WHICH GOD MADE TO HIM. The first particular in Cain’s sin was that he was unconvinced of his sinfulness and impenitence: the first step, therefore, in God’s exhibition of mercy towards him was an endeavour to lead him to true repentance by convincing him that he was a sinner. God usually seizes the most convenient seasons for the operations of His mercy. He comes to knock at the sinner’s heart when His visits might seem to be most welcome; and, if in the sinner’s sorrow there is any even the most remote semblance of repentance, oh, then a gracious and loving Father steps forth to meet him. God comes to Cain when in trouble, and when vexed in spirit with disappointment, and then mildly expostulates with him: “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?” Surely these questions should have touched him, and reminded him of his sin. Cain sorrowed; but, alas! it was not after a godly sort: it did not prove to be that “godly sorrow which worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of.” This is one reason “wherefore serveth the law”; and the result is blessed, when it comes with such power to a sinner’s heart as to convince him of sin. Such it proved to St. Paul (Romans 7:7-11). We have already observed that the second particular of Cain’s sin was want of faith in God’s appointed method of acceptance, namely, in the shedding of blood. The second particular, therefore, in the exhibition of God’s mercy was the assurance of pardon and acceptance through faith in the blood of a sacrifice: “And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door”; that is, “If, in consequence of the utter corruption of your nature, you are unable to make amends to My law already broken, or in future to fulfil all its spiritual requirements, yet in mercy I have provided a remedy, the use of which will restore you to My favour. And now, that I have brought your sin to your knowledge, go to the door of your tent, and see lying there the goat on which, typically, I am ready to lay all your sin: take, and offer it for a sin offering” (Leviticus 4:23-24). In support of this interpretation, I would first remark that, in the language of Scripture, sin and its punishment, or atonement, are so intimately connected together, that the same word of the original (chattath)

represents both ideas; and this word, which in our text has been translated “sin,” is in other parts of the Old Testament rendered one hundred and twenty-four times “sin offering.” We may further add, in support of the interpretation which we have given, that the literal meaning of the verb “lieth” is in the original “coucheth,” and is, moreover, of the masculine gender; whereas the name “chattath” is feminine; thus proving that the verb refers both in its meaning and its gender to the male animal connected with the idea of the sin offering. From what we have said, then, it will appear that God’s gracious offer of mercy to Cain consisted in this, that, though he was unable himself to fulfil God’s requirements, yet a substituted victim which would be accepted for him was at hand. This, however, was not the only promise of mercy which God made to Cain. The third particular of Cain’s sin was disobedience; and, in consequence, he, although the firstborn, forfeited the blessing of birthright. The third particular, therefore, in the exhibition of God’s mercy was that, if he would be obedient, he should still enjoy his forfeited preeminence: “And unto thee shall be his [Abel’s] desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” As though God had said, “Why should you be angry, and imagine that I deal harshly or unfairly with you in choosing your brother and rejecting you? It is true, indeed, that he is My chosen, My elect, and that I have given him that preeminency which is yours by nature; so that, if he lives, from him shall descend My chosen seed, and of him Messiah shall be born--not of you. But do not think that this can furnish you with excuse, or that this My election of him to the rights of the firstborn shall, for one moment, stand in your way. I now pledge My word to you that, if you will be obedient, and propitiate My anger by the sacrifice of the sin offering which is near at hand, even at the door--then Abel shall indeed regard you as the eldest born: ‘his desire shall be towards thee’; and thou shalt still enjoy the preeminence, ‘thou shalt rule over him.’” To offers so full of mercy the hardened Cain turned a deaf ear, determining to obtain the preeminence--which, possibly, he thought rightly belonged to him--in his own way, not God’s way; and, spurning the victim of God’s choice, which was crouching at his feet, and whose offered blood, crying for mercy on his behalf, might have saved him, he chose his own victim, and with a brother’s hand he shed a brother’s blood, blood which cried for vengeance on the murderer’s head. How short the step from the richest offers of mercy to a final reprobation! Reject the preaching of the cross today, and tomorrow you may be sealed in final impenitency. And let the believer learn from this narrative how to present all his offerings to God. They must all have reference to the blood of Christ. (C. P. Carey, M. A.)


Beware of envy; it was one of the first windows that corrupt nature looked out at; a sin that shed the first blood. Cain’s envy hatched Abel’s murder. (W. Gurnall.)

The first murder

CAIN’S CRIME. Anger and hatred are the seed of murder. We need to pray always: “Incline our hearts to keep this law.”

CAIN’S QUESTION. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

1. Defiance of God.

2. Disregard of humanity.


1. Fruitless toil.

2. A restless life.

CAIN’S REMORSE. If we wish to avoid the way of Cain, let us--

1. Subdue angry feelings.

2. Love our neighbour.

3. Confess our sins to God, instead of trying to conceal them.

4. Ask God for pardon, instead of trying to flee from His face. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)

Unbelief working by wrath, malice, and envy

THE LORD DID NOT ALL AT ONCE FINALLY REJECT CAIN; on the contrary, He gave him an opportunity of finding acceptance still, as Abel had found it. The very intimation of his rejection, made to him immediately upon the first offence, was a merciful dealing with Cain, and ought to have been so received by him, and improved for leading him to humiliation, penitence, and faith. Instead of being humbled, however, he is irritated and provoked. Still, the Lord visits him, and graciously condescends to plead and expostulate with him. “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?” Wilt thou mend matters by thine angry and sullen gloom? Nay, there is a more excellent way. Retrace thy steps. Do as Abel did. And if like him thou doest well, thou canst have no doubt of thine acceptance. Thy rueful and downcast looks will be elevated into the gladness of a spirit in which there is no guile. But, on the other hand, beware. If thou rejectest the only true and effectual remedy--if thou doest not well--think not that any passionate complaints or moody discontent of thine will avail for thy relief. Sin--the sin to which by complying with its solicitations thou hast given the mastery over thee--is not thus to be got rid of. Nay, thou canst not keep it at a distance, or even at arm’s length. It lieth at thy door; ever crouching for thee; ever ready to fawn upon thee for further concessions, or to grasp thee in its fangs of remorse and shame and terror. Cain would not be subject to the law of God--nor would he submit himself to the righteousness of God. He thought that he did well to be angry. And as his wrath could not reach the great Being of whom chiefly he complained, he vented it on his brother, who was within his reach. Being of the wicked one, he slew his brother.

Returning from the field, CAIN SCRUPLES NOT, APPARENTLY, TO REVISIT THE SANCTUARY--the very “presence of the Lord”; for it is afterwards said that upon receiving his sentence he went out from thence (Genesis 4:16). He seems to think that he may calmly meet both his parents and his God. He even assumes an air of defiance. Thus the infidel regards religion, in the persons of its professors, as insulting and injurious to himself. He is not its keeper. It is no concern of his to save its credit or its character; rather he may be justified in putting it out of his way as best he can.

But Cain, though thus far spared, WAS MADE FULLY AND TERRIBLY AWARE OF THE DIVINE DISPLEASURE. He had hitherto been a tiller of the ground; and the ground, though cursed for man’s sake, yielded a return to his toil. This employment of a cultivator of the soil seems originally to have possessed a certain preeminence of rank, and it had this manifest advantage, that it was a stationary occupation--a settled line of life. It permitted those who engaged in it to remain quietly resident in their hereditary domains, and to exercise their hereditary dominion. Above all, it left them in the neighbourhood of the place where the Lord manifested His presence--the sanctuary--the seat and centre of the old primeval religion. But Cain was henceforth to be debarred from the exercise of his original calling; at least on the spot where he had previously enjoyed his birthright privileges. For not only is the ground cursed to him--he is “cursed from the earth.” (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

The progress of sin

The last chapter described the origin of sin; our narrative develops its progress. Eve was tempted by an external object of pleasure. Cain allowed his heart to be impregnated with the poison of jealousy; the mother was disobedient in the hope of obtaining a high intellectual boon, the son sinned merely to destroy the happiness of another without thereby increasing his own; the former brought death into the world, the latter murder. The sin of Eve marked the period when the innocence of childhood is endangered by the consciousness of good and evil, and when the first act of free will is also the first error; the deed of Cain describes the more advanced epoch of manhood when the strife and struggle with practical life is hottest; when the heart is assailed by numberless perils and collisions; when ambition excites the imagination; and the welfare of competition taxes and stimulates all the energies of man. The first sin was against God; the second both against God and a brother. But the source of either was the covetous desire of the heart. The Bible reminds man, incessantly, that within himself is the spring of life and death. (M. M.Kalisch, Ph. D.)

Murder of a brother

Sir George Sands, a gentleman living in Kent, had two sons, grown up to that age wherein he might have expected most comfort from them; but in the year 1655, the younger of them, without any apparent provocation, did in a most inhuman manner murder his brother, as he lay sleeping by him in bed; first, he beat out his brains with a hatchet, and then, observing his poor victim to be still lingering in life, he stabbed him seven or eight times in and about the heart; after which, he went to his aged father and told him of it, glorying in his in human and dastardly deed. (N. Wanley.)

Verse 9

Genesis 4:9

Am I my brother’s keeper?

Exaggerated individualism

The feeling of our sonship to God in Christ is a topic which requires to be constantly dwelt upon, because our conventional acceptance of such a relationship is apt to be compatible with a life which has no real apprehension of it.

Of the dangers which are partly rooted in our animal nature and partly fostered and intensified by the drift of our time, the one likely to press most heavily on us is that of exaggerated Individualism. Where this is not tempered by an infusion of the religious spirit, we find it working with a disintegrating power, and in various ways vitiating both our personal and social life.

Almost every advance of civilization which distinguishes our century has tended to give this principle some new hold on the common life. There is no corner of society, commercial or social, political or artistic, which it does not invade. The volume of its force is intensified as wealth increases and easy circumstances become more common. Our time is preeminently a time of materialistic egoism.

The evolutionist, telling us of the growth of all our sentiments, taking us back to germinal forms and then leading us upward through struggle and survival, makes the ruling motive in every early life essentially egoistic. The question arises, Where and how is this motive to change its character? Is this last utterance to be still but an echo of the primeval question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

But we cannot rest in this conclusion. There is no possibility of rest until we have settled it with ourselves that our higher consciousness gives us touch of the reality of the Divine and everlasting, when it declares that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs, joint heirs with Christ. This we believe to be the last word for us on the mystery of our being and destiny. (J. Percival.)


The first time the relationship of brotherhood is brought before us in Scripture does not present it in the most harmonious or endearing aspect, and yet the very rivalry and resentment which were engendered by it give an incidental sign of the closeness of the tie which it involves.

The brother tie is one whose visible and apparent closeness of necessity diminishes under the common conditions of life.

Although it is a link whose visible association vanishes, it ought never to be an association which fades out of the heart. There is always something wrong when a relationship like this disappears behind maturer attachments.

Whether from the hearth of home or from the wider range of brotherhood which the commonwealth supplies, the pattern and inspiration of true brotherhood is found in Christ, the Elder Brother of us all. (A. Mursell.)

The gospel of selfishness

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” This is the very gospel of selfishness, and a murderer is its first preacher. The gospel of selfishness is, that a man must take care of his own interests; and out of that universal self-seeking, provided it be wise and restrained, will come the well-being of all.

This is an age of rights rather than of duties. It is very notable that there is almost nothing about rights in the teaching of Christ. The Lord seeks to train the spirit of His followers into doing and suffering aright. By preaching love and duty, the gospel has been the lawgiver of nations, the friend of man, the champion of his rights. Its teaching has been of God, of duty, and of love; and wherever these ideas have come, freedom and earthly happiness and cultivation have followed silently behind.

Our age needs to be reminded that in one sense each of us has the keeping of his brethren confided to him, and that love is the law and the fulfilling of the law. The rights of men to our love and consideration, rest upon an act of Divine love. Their chartered right to our reverence is in these terms: That God loved them, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for their sins; and the Saviour set to it His seal, and signed it with His blood. (Archbishop Thomson.)

Cain and Abel

LET EVERY CHRISTIAN FULLY AND WILLINGLY RECOGNIZE THE FACT THAT HE IS HIS BROTHER’S KEEPER. There is an old French proverb to the effect that “nobility has its obligations,” the neglect to remember and act upon which resulted in the rapine and blood of the French Revolution. Position has its special responsibilities, which can not safely be disregarded, and when one is fully convinced of the fact that he is “his brother’s keeper,” he will be anxious to meet the liabilities of the situation. And a right-minded person will not merely accept the fact under compulsion. He will be glad that things are as they are. What wide ranges of usefulness are open before him. What an opportunity he has to impress himself for good upon multitudes around him, and even upon times remote. And that empire of gracious influence is the lordliest and most satisfying of all sovereignties. How the world loves to keep alive the names of single men who have made their personality felt in helpful directions. Scores of Union generals deserved well of their country, but Sheridan, riding “from Winchester twenty miles away,” and turning disaster into victory by the simple power of his presence, receives the applause of thousands who have forgotten the names of equally loyal leaders. It is a great thing to have an efficient part in determining the destiny of others, to have control of the rudder that may steer them away from dangerous coasts and out into wide seas of prosperity.

EVERY CHRISTIAN OUGHT TO MAKE THE DISCHARGE OF HIS DUTY AS HIS BROTHER’S KEEPER A MATTER OF CONSTANT THOUGHT AND PRAYER. It is not enough merely to accept our responsibility as an article of creed, and then lay it away on the shelf as a matter proved and concluded. How will this thing, if I do it, or leave it undone, affect others? is a question that ought to be asked and answered all the time. And especially ought we to take counsel of God, not as to how little we can consistently d ,, but as to how much we can possibly do in this direction.

IN MATTERS OF DOUBT, A CHRISTIAN SHOULD LEAN TO THE SAFE SIDE. It was a rule of President Edwards never to do anything about whose influence he had a question unless he was equally in doubt as to whether the not doing it might not have as bad, or a worse, effect. That is a hard rule to follow, but it is certainly a safe one. Men will never be turned away from God and religion because we deny ourselves what seem to us legitimate pleasures for fear of the evil influence we may exert. That very sacrifice will evidence a genuineness and depth of conviction which is the strongest of all arguments to the truth and worth of religion. (E. S.Atwood, D. D.)

Earthly relationship the medium of spiritual influence

THAT EARTHLY RELATIONSHIPS INVOLVE THE DUTY OF SPIRITUAL CARE. Relation, taken in its widest sense, if not the ground of all moral obligation, is certainly intimately connected therewith. No man can be a parent, a son, or a master, without being specially bound to care for his own. Men have to provide for their households in earthly things, and ought to in spiritual. In proportion to the closeness of the relationship is the force of the obligation.

THAT EARTHLY RELATIONSHIPS AFFORD PECULIAR OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE DISCHARGE OF THIS DUTY. God has constituted the varied relationships of life for purpose of promoting the moral good of man. Opportunity and power should be voluntarily used. Families have little thought of the opportunity they have of bringing each other to Jesus.

THAT ACCORDING AS THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST OR OF SELFISHNESS IS POSSESSED, WILL THIS DUTY BE FULFILLED OR NEGLECTED. Sin, whose essence is selfishness, is a severing principle. But Christ’s spirit is a spirit of love. We must come to Christ ourselves to get the incentive to this duty.

THAT CONCERNING THE PERFORMANCE OF THIS DUTY AN ACCOUNT WILL BE REQUIRED. And the Lord said unto Cain, etc. Vain will be excuse. God will speak. So will conscience.


The word of Cain

All men, the poor, the ignorant, the fallen, the heathen, are our brethren. Such is the Christian notion of humanity. We are, therefore, the keepers of our brethren. Man is two fold; he has a body and a soul. Thence for us a two-fold mission: we are called to alleviate the miseries of the body, and to save souls. Jesus Christ has been brought into contact with both these forms of suffering. Let us examine His conduct in reference to them.

THE SUFFERINGS OF THE BODY. Christ has come into contact with them under their two most common forms--sickness and poverty. What He has done for their victims all the gospel tells. We see Him ever surrounded by the poor and the sick. He has a partiality for their society. With what tender solicitude He treats them! And mark the results of this sublime teaching. The faithful Church has always regarded the poor as the representatives of Christ.

That is what Christianity has done towards alleviating the miseries of the body; but that is only a part of its mission. ABOVE THE BODY THERE IS THE SOUL. The soul is man eternal. If we must sympathize with the temporal interests of our fellow men, what shall it be when their souls are in question? But if I have understood what is my soul, if I have felt that it constitutes my dignity, my greatness, and my true life, then will I endeavour to awaken that life in others.

THIS MISSION, HOW DO WE FULFIL IT? What, in the first place, shall we say of those who do not fulfil it at all? There are people who believe they are saved and who have never loved. If selfishness has never prompted you to utter the words of the text, have you never uttered them from discouragement? There are times when the thought of all that ought to be done pursues and paralyses us. Let us therefore learn of Christ. But I hear your final objection: Yes, say you, we are ready to work, but on condition that our labour shall produce some results. And then follows the sad story of those vain efforts, of those humiliating failures, of those discouragements which every Christian knows and might in his turn recount. To all these objections let me again reply, “Look to Jesus!” Did He succeed on earth? (E. Bersier, D. D.)

My brother’s keeper


1. For their temporal welfare.

2. For their moral condition.

3. For their religious well-being.


1. By attending to their bodily condition. Hospitals, almshouses, refuges, etc.

2. By caring for their souls. (Homilist.)

The claims of a perishing world upon Christian zeal and liberality founded in human fraternity

THAT THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE ARE ONE FAMILY AND STAND IN RELATION OF BRETHREN TO EACH OTHER. To prove this, it is necessary only to remark two things--

1. God has made us all of one blood.

2. We have all proceeded from the same pair.


1. The law of consanguinity requires it. This law dictates affection and sympathy.

2. The law of God requires it. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

3. Our common Christianity requires it. It enjoins love to God; but we cannot love God without loving our brother also (1 John 4:20). It enjoins an imitation of the example of Christ; but Christ so loved the world as to die for it. It enjoins obedience to Christ; but He commands His gospel to be preached in all the world.


1. That any of your brethren were compelled to perform a long and dangerous voyage, and that they were total strangers to navigation, and without a single chart or compass; and suppose that you abounded in charts and compasses, and in skilful navigators; and that you refused to grant them either the one or the other; and suppose these should all perish, to whom would their loss be ascribed? To you. Or suppose--

2. That they were compelled to journey through a land of pits and precipices, abounding in beasts of prey; and that they were ignorant of the path to be pursued, and knew not where the pits and precipices were, and had nothing by which they could defend themselves from the beasts; and suppose you had it in your power to furnish them with a guide and a sufficient defence, but did not, and that they should in consequence perish; their blood would be upon your head. Or suppose--

3. That they were dying of disease, without the knowledge of any remedy; and suppose you were in possession of an infallible one, and that you withheld it; their death would be at your door. In each case the consequences would be as fatal as if you had by some positive act, as that of Cain, destroyed them.


God’s question and man’s answer

GOD’S QUESTION--“Where is Abel thy brother?” Has God a right to expect this knowledge at our hands? He has; and that on many accounts.

1. For instance, there is the constitution of our nature. When man was created, the whole race were involved in one parent, they all sprang from one root; so that there was provision made for forming a family, and for brotherly feeling among them. God, therefore, reasonably expects that we should all feel a kindly interest and concern in one another’s welfare.

2. We might argue the same from the covenant in which we were all wrapped up, to stand or fall together; from the law, which requires us to love our neighbour; and, above all, from the gospel. Has the great God loved me, pitied me, been patient with me, and at a great, unspeakable cost saved me; and shall I not be ready to deny myself and make sacrifices, in order to save and bless my fellow men?

MAN’S ANSWER--“I know not; am I my brother’s keeper?” Here is a two-fold plea--the first, ignorance; the second, an insinuation that God has no right to expect such knowledge at his hand.

1. Cain excused himself on the ground of ignorance. This is either true or false.

(1) If true, then he is guilty, because he has had abundant opportunity of knowing, and ought to know. And so with yourselves. You know about your neighbour’s outward estate; should you not know about his spiritual condition?

(2) But Cain’s plea, “I know not,” was really false. He did know where Abel was. And so you do know that many around you, perhaps closely connected with you, are tempted, ensnared, perishing.

2. Cain denies that God has a right to expect that he should take trouble about Abel. “Am I my brother’s keeper? Have I anything to do with him, any charge of him? Can he not take care of himself?” Is not this the feeling in many hearts? You say, Am I that poor wretch’s keeper? What have I to do with him? He has no claim upon me. I have other work to do, other interests to attend to. But look again, Is he thy brother; and has he no claim upon thee? (J. Milne.)

The examination of Cain

The world was yet young, and there were no judicatories to take cognizance of offences; therefore did God, who, though His creatures had rebelled against Him, still hold in His hands the government of the world, come forth from His solitude, and make “inquisition for blood.” But why--omniscient as God was, and, by His own after statement, thoroughly cognizant of the guilt of Cain--why did He address the murderer with the question, “Where is Abel thy brother?” in place of taxing him at once with the atrocious commission? Assuredly there could have been no need to God of additional information: it was in no sense the same as at a human tribunal, where questions are put that facts may be elicited. And in following this course, God acted as He had done on the only former occasion when He had sat, as it were, in judgment on human offenders (see Genesis 3:9; Genesis 3:11; Genesis 3:13). But the method of question is again employed, so soon as there is again a human offender to be tried. “The Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother?” It can hardly be doubted that, in all these instances, the gracious design of God was to afford the criminals opportunity of confessing their crimes. You must be aware how, throughout Scripture, there is attached the greatest importance to confession of sin, so that its being forgiven is spoken of as though it depended upon nothing but its being acknowledged. “If we confess our sins,” says the evangelist, “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And did the crime, then, of Cain come within the range of forgiveness? Supposing it to have been confessed, might it also have been pardoned? The crime had been fearful; and we must believe that, in any case, the moral Governor of the universe would have so treated the criminal as to mark His sense of the atrociousness of that which he had done. But there is no room for doubt that there was forgiveness even for Cain; even then there was blood which spake better things than that of Abel, the blood of Him who, on the cross, besought pardon for His murderers, and who, in thus showing that His death made expiation even for its authors, showed also that there was no human sin which its virtue would not reach. But if Cain might have been pardoned, had he been but penitent, where was the contrite sinner who need despair of the forgiveness of his sins? Ay, it is thus that the questions under review might have served as a revelation, during the infancy of the world, of the readiness of the Almighty to blot out our iniquities as a cloud, and as a thick cloud our sins. But let us now observe the manner in which Cain acted, whilst God was thus graciously endeavouring to lead him to repentance. If we had not abundant evidence, in our own day--yea, in our own cases--of the hardening power of sin, we might wonder at the effrontery which the murderer displayed. Did he, could he, think that denial would avail anything with God, so that, if he did not confess, he might keep his crime undetected? It may be that it was not in mere insolence that Cain affirmed to God that he knew nothing of Abel; he may have been so blinded by his sin as to lose all discernment of the necessary attributes of God, so that he actually imagined that not to confess would be almost to conceal. Under this point of view, his instance ought to serve as a warning to us of the deadening power of wrong-doing, informing us that there is no such ready way of benumbing the understanding, or paralysing the reason, as the indulging passion, and withstanding conscience. But Cain did more than assert ignorance of what had happened to Abel: he taxed God with the unreasonableness of proposing the question, as though it were a strange thing to suppose that he might concern himself with his brother. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” There were then no brothers in the world but Cain and Abel; and he who could insolently ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” when that brother was missing, might have been convicted, by those very words, of a fierceness which was equal to murder, and an audacity which would deny it even to God. But we wish to dwell for a moment on this question of Cain as virtually containing the excuse which numbers in our own day would give, were God to come visibly down, and make inquisition for blood. But we have how to consider to what God appealed in the absence of confession from the murderer himself: He had striven to induce Cain to acknowledge his guilt; but, failing in this, He must seek elsewhere for evidence on which to convict him. And where did He find this evidence? He made the inanimate creation rise up, as it were, against the assassin, and dumb things became eloquent in demanding his condemnation. “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.” Who has not read, who has not heard, how murderers, though they have succeeded in hiding their guilt from their fellow men, have seemed to themselves surrounded with witnesses and avengers, so that the sound of their own foot tread has startled them as if it had been the piercing cry of an accuser, and the rustling of every tree, and the murmur of every brook, has sounded like the utterance of one clamorous for their punishment? It has been as nothing that they have screened themselves from those around them, and are yet moving in society with no suspicion attaching to them of their having done so foul a thing as murder. They have felt as though, in the absence of all accusation from beings of their own race, they had arrayed against themselves the whole visible creation, sun and moon and stars and forests and waters growing vocal that they might publish their crime. And I know not whether there may be anything more in this than the mere goading and imaging of conscience; whether the disquieted assassin, to whose troubled eye the form of his victim is given back from every mirror in the universe, and on whose ear there falls no sound which does not come like the dying man’s shriek, or the thundering call of the avenger of blood--whether he is simply to be considered as haunted and hunted by his own evil thoughts, or whether he be indeed subjected to some mysterious and terrible influences with which his crime has impregnated and endowed the whole material system. I cannot help feeling, when I consider the language of our text, as though there might be more than the mere phantasms of a diseased and distracted mind in those forms of fear, and these sounds of wrath, which agitate so tremendously the yet undiscovered murderer. It may be that, fashioned as man is out of the dust of the earth, there are such links between him and the material creation that, when the citadel of his life is rudely invaded, the murderous blow is felt throughout the vast realm of nature; so that, though there be no truth in the wild legend that, if the assassin enter the chamber where the victim is stretched, the gaping wounds will bleed afresh, yet may earth, sea, air, have sympathy with the dead, and form themselves into furies to hunt down his destroyer. But it is not exclusively, nor even chiefly, as indicating a possible, though inexplicable. Sympathy between material things and the victim of the murderer, that we reckon the statement before us deserving of being carefully pondered. Setting aside this sympathy, there is much that is very memorable in the appeal of God to a voice from Abel’s blood, when there were other witnesses which might have been produced. Had not the soul of Abel entered the separate state? was not his spirit with God? and might not the immortal principle, violently detached as it had been from the body, have cried for vengeance on the murderer? We read in the Book of Revelation of “the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held.” And of those souls we are told that “they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” It may, therefore, be that the souls of the dead cry for judgment upon those who have compassed their death: why, then, might not the soul of Abel, rather than his blood, have been adduced by God? Even had it been silent, surely its very presence in the invisible world gave a more impressive testimony than the stream which had crimsoned the ground. In answer to this, we are to consider, in the first place, that it did not please God to vouchsafe any clear revelation of the invisible state, during the earlier ages of the world. That Abel had fallen by the hand of his brother was the most terrible of all possible proofs that the original transgression had corrupted human nature to the core. But it would have done much--not indeed to counterbalance this proof, but to soften the anguish which it could not fail to produce--had there been any intimation that the death of the body was not the death of the man, and that Cain had but removed Abel from a scene of trouble to one of deep repose. This, however, was denied them: they must struggle on through darkness, sustained only by a dim conjecture of life and immortality. Indeed, indeed, I know not whether there be anything more affecting in the history of our first parents. Oh, bless God, ye who have had to sorrow over dead children, that ye live when life and immortality have been brought to light by the gospel. Yours has not been the deep and desolate bitterness of those on whom fell no shinings from futurity. Unto you have come sweet whisperings from the invisible world, whisperings as of the one whom you loved, telling you of a better land, where “the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.” But alas for Adam and Eve! theirs was grief, stern, dark, unmingled. But, indeed, there are better things to be said on the fact that it was Abel’s blood, and not his soul, which found a voice to demand vengeance on the murderer. We know not how Abel, the first martyr, died. Oh, I cannot but think that in God’s reference to the blood of Abel as the only accuser there was a designed and beautiful lesson as to the forgiveness of injuries. You know that, in the gospel, our obtaining forgiveness from God is made conditional on our forgiving those by whom we may be wronged. “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” And was not the same truth taught, by example, if not by word, from the earliest days, seeing that, when God would bring an accusing voice against Cain, He could only find it in the dumb earth reeking with blood, though the soul of Abel was before Him, and might have been thought ready to give witness with an exceeding great and bitter cry? Abel forgave his murderer, otherwise could he not have been forgiven of God; and we learn that he forgave his murderer from the fact that it was only his blood which cried aloud for vengeance. Thus is there something very instructive in the absence of any voice but the voice from the ground. There is also matter for deep thought in the fact that it was blood which sent up so penetrating a cry. It was like telling the young world of the power which there would be in blood to gain audience of the Most High. What was there in blood that it could give, as it were, life to inanimate things, causing them to become vocal, so that the very Godhead Himself was moved by the sound? The utterance, we think, did but predict that when one, to whom Abel had had respect in presenting in sacrifice the firstlings of his flock, should tall, as Abel fell, beneath the malice of the wicked, there would go up item the shed blood a voice that would be hearkened to in the heavenly courts, and prevail to the obtaining whatsoever it should ask. Blessed be God that this blood does not plead for vengeance alone. It does plead for vengeance on the obdurate, who, like Cain, resist the invitation of God; but it pleads also for pardon of the murderers, so that it can expiate the crime which it proves and attests. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Am I my brother’s keeper?

The cool impudence of Cain is an indication of the state of heart which led up to his murdering his brother; and it was also a part of the result of his having committed that terrible crime. He would not have proceeded to the cruel deed of bloodshed if he had not first cast off the fear of God and been ready to defy his Maker. Having committed murder, the hardening influence of sin upon Cain’s mind must have been intense, and so at last he was able to speak out to God’s face what he felt within his heart, and to say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” This goes a long way to explain what has puzzled some persons, namely, the wonderful calmness with which great criminals will appear in the dock. I remember to have heard it said of one who had undoubtedly committed a very foul murder, that he looked like an innocent man. He stood up before his accusers as calmly and quietly, they said, as an innocent man could do. I remember feeling at the time that an innocent man would probably not have been calm. The distress of mind occasioned to an innocent man by being under such a charge would have prevented his having the coolness which was displayed by the guilty individual. Instead of its being any evidence of innocence that a man wears a brazen front when charged with a great crime, it should by wise men be considered to be evidence against him. Save us, O God, from having our hearts hammered to the hardness of steel by sin; and daily keep us by Thy grace sensible and tender before Thee, trembling at Thy word. The very same thing, no doubt, lies at the bottom of objections to Bible truths. There are some who do not go to Scripture to take out of it what is there, but seeing what is clearly revealed, they then begin to question and judge and come to conclusions according to their notions of what ought to have been there. Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? If He says it, it is so. Believe it. Now, let us look quietly at what Cain said. He said to the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” May the Holy Spirit guide us in considering this question.

First it is to be noted that MAN IS NOT HIS BROTHER’S KEEPER IN SOME SENSES. There is some little weight in what Cain says.

1. For instance, first, every man must bear his own responsibility for his own acts before Almighty God. It is not possible for a man to shift from his own shoulders to those of another his obligations to the Most High.

2. And again, no one can positively secure the salvation of another, nay, he cannot even have a hope of the salvation of his friend, so long as that other remains unbelieving.

3. And here let me say, in the next place, that those do very wrongly who enter into any vows or promises for others in this matter, when they are quite powerless.

4. It is proper here to say that the most earnest minister of Christ must not so push the idea of his own personal responsibility to such an extreme as to make himself unfit for his work through a morbid view of his position. If he has faithfully preached the gospel, and his message is rejected, let him persevere in hope, and not condemn himself.

So now, secondly, IN A HIGH DEGREE WE ARE, EACH ONE OF US, OUR BROTHER’S KEEPER. We ought to regard ourselves in that light, and it is a Cainish spirit which prompts us to think otherwise, and to wrap ourselves up in hardheartedness and say, “It is no concern of mine how others fare. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Far from that spirit let us be.

1. For, first, common feelings of humanity should lead every Christian man to feel an interest in the soul of every unsaved man.

2. A second argument is drawn from the fact that we have all of us, especially those of us who are Christians, the power to do good to others. We have not all the same ability, for we have not all the same gifts, or the same position, but as the little maid that waited on Naaman’s wife had opportunity to tell of the prophet who could heal her master, so there is not a young Christian here but what has some power to do good to others. Converted children can lisp the name of Jesus to their sires and bless them. We have all some capacity for doing good. Now, take it as an axiom that power to do good involves the duty of doing good.

3. Another argument is very plainly drawn from our Lord’s version of the moral law. What is the second and great commandment according to Him? “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

4. Yet again, without looking to other men’s souls, we cannot keep the first of the two great commands in which our Lord has summarised the moral law.

5. Once more. To the Christian man, perhaps, the most forcible reason will be that the whole example of Jesus Christ, whom we call Master and Lord, lies in the direction of our being the keeper of our brother; for what was Jesus’ life but entire unselfishness? What was said of Him at His death but that “He saved others: Himself He could not save”?

6. Let the thought next rise in our minds that we are certainly ordained to the office of brother keeper, because we shall be called to account about it. Cain was called to account. “Where is Abel thy brother?”

(1) Take first those who are united to us by the ties of flesh, who come under the term “brethren,” because they are born of the same parents, or are near of kin. Where is John? Where is Thomas? Where is Henry thy brother? Unsaved? Without God? What have you ever done for him? How much have you prayed for him? How often have you spoken to him seriously about his state? What means have you used for his instruction, persuasion, conviction? See to this, that ye begin at once earnestly seeking the salvation of relatives.

(2) But, beloved, we must never end there, because brotherhood extends to all ranks, races, and conditions; and according to each man’s ability he will be held responsible about the souls of others whom he never saw. Where is Abel thy brother? Down in a back street in London. He is half-drunk already. Have you done anything, friend, towards the reclaiming of the drunkard? Where is your sister?--your sister who frequents the midnight streets? You shrink back and say,” She is no sister of mine.” Ay, but God may require her blood at your hands, if you thus leave her to perish. Have you ever done anything towards reclaiming her? City merchant, where are the poor men that earned your wealth?

(3) One thing more upon this calling to account. The more needy, the more destitute people are, the greater is their claim upon us; for according to the account book--need I turn to the chapter? I think you recollect it--they are the persons for whom we shall have mainly to give an account: “I was an hungered, and ye gave Me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink; I was sick and in prison, and ye visited Me not; naked, and ye clothed Me not.”

7. Now, I close this second head about our really being our brother’s keeper by saying this--that there are some of us who are our brother’s keeper voluntarily, but yet most solemnly, by the office that we hold. We are ministers. O brother ministers, we are our brother’s keepers.


1. I will set it very briefly in a strong light. It will be denying the right of God to make a law, and to call upon us to obey it, if we refuse to do as we are bidden.

2. Notice, next, that you will be denying all claim on your part to the Divine mercy; because if you will not render mercy to others, and if you deny altogether your responsibility to others, you put yourself into the position of saying, “I want nothing from another”--consequently, nothing from God. Such mercy as you show, such mercy shall you have.

3. Indeed, there is this about it too--that your act is something like throwing the blame of your own sin upon God if you leave men to perish. When Cain said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he meant, probably, “You are the preserver of men. Why did You not preserve Abel? I am not his keeper.” Some throw on the sovereignty of God the weight which lies on their own indolence.

4. And again, there is to my mind an utter ignoring of the whole plan of salvation in that man who says, “I am not going to have any responsibility about others,” because the whole plan of salvation is based on substitution, on the care of another for us, on the sacrifice of another for us; and the whole spirit of it is self-sacrifice and love to others. If you say, “I will not love”--well, the whole system goes together, and you renounce it all. If you will not love, you cannot have love’s benediction.

5. Last of all, it may turn out--it may turn out--that if we are not our brother’s keeper, we may be our brother’s murderer. Have any of us been so already? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Responsibility for welfare of others

That an enlightened regard to the spiritual and eternal interests of others is recognized as a duty by nature and revelation, none of you, I trust, is disposed to question. You have only to look into the law, written by the finger of God, to know that six out of the ten requirements are based upon this very principle. Nor must this interest in the well-being of others be confined to the narrow circle of relatives and friends. How different is the world--contracted, selfish, and reckless of the misery of others, inasmuch as it does not regard the sufferings it may produce, provided its own imagined interests are secured!

That all are furnished with means and opportunities less or more available for the discharge of this duty. This duty, as enjoined on human beings, presupposes many evils to be removed, many wants to be supplied, and much suffering to be mitigated and relieved. And where is the individual to whom God has not, in some degree, imparted the means of promoting this great end? (J. MacGilchrist.)

Man his brother’s keeper

One of the most terrible effects of sin on humanity is the obliteration of the sense of personal responsibility.

The tendencies of infidel science in our day are strongly in the line of this perverse and morally stultifying effect of depravity.

The family institution was ordained as the first and fundamental condition of society, in order to imbed the idea of responsibility in the very foundation and structure of society.

The strongest tendencies of the times are antagonistic to the sense of personal responsibility.

Jesus came into the world to restore and enthrone again in the human mind and conscience the great doctrine of strict individual accountability to God on high. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)

Man, the keeper of man

The person who first asked this question was a man whose heart was, at the time, filled with evil passions, and his hands stained with a brother’s blood. It was Cain. Yes, thou guilty Cain, thou art thy brother’s keeper. He was given thee to love. He was given thee that thou mightest do him good.

1. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” each one should say to himself. It is answered, “Yes, you are.” But how? Take the following as some of the instances in which your brother has a claim upon your kindly offices. You are your brother’s keeper, inasmuch as you are bound by ties, both of humanity and religion, to care for him, and to do him all the good you can. The humblest and the poorest can, in some way or other, help forward every agency for good, in the prosperity of which they take a hearty interest. Money may be given--if ever such a trifle, it betokens the mind of the giver. Trouble may be given--wherever pains are bestowed with a good intent, God will return some fruit. And the most destitute can always give prayer--when this comes from a fervent heart, it does great things. In your private sphere you can do much for your brother’s good. You can show him little acts of kindness: you can relieve some of his smaller wants: you can help him in one or more of those numberless ways which readily suggest themselves to a benevolent disposition. You are your brother’s keeper in the exercise of your influence. Every man has influence. The good man has influence, and the bad man has influence. The rich man has influence, and the poor man has influence. The aged person has influence, and the veriest child has influence.

2. But we will pass on to notice, secondly, the good results which may reasonably be expected to follow a more general and more conscientious observance of this Christian duty. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” A little moral, godly principle constantly manifested before the eyes of those with whom you mix, could not fail of diffusing itself, even though it should be your manner of life rather than your words that indicated your possession of it. Your brother would be made to feel that you are his keeper, although he might not openly acknowledge you to be so. You would be the best of preachers, the best of patriots, the best of philanthropists; and many whom your silent influence had won would be sure, at the judgment day, to rise up with you and confess their obligation. (F. W.Naylor, B. A.)

Social duties

Such was the answer of the first Deist, the first infidel, and the first murderer, to God’s inquiry, “Where is thy brother?” It was not only a lie (for the father of Cain was a liar from the beginning), but it was a daring jest upon his brother’s employment. “Am I his shepherd? Am I answerable for his life? Am I to take care of him as he does of his sheep?” Such is infidelity. It is sin that makes the infidel. He does not believe, not because he cannot, but because he will not. He may talk of morality, and sport himself in his own deceiving, when, like Cain, he says he can worship God as well with the flowers of the field and the fruits of the earth as through the blood of atonement; but when we cut into the core of his heart, we shall find the worm of all rottenness still there, the love of self--we shall find that the only principle of true morality is wanting, the love of God and our brother--we shall find the very element of murder there, the dislike of God and those who love and are like Him. And is not the truth he denied and the principle he rejected this: that man is answerable for his brother’s life and his brother’s soul as far as his positive acts can injure, or his neglect destroy? I will not stay to prove this. Cain’s rejection of it is a proof. Parents, how nearly does this principle affect you in your important relation!--the very relation in which God Himself is pleased to place Himself with regard to His own obedient people, His redeemed ones from earth; for while the angels are called “the sons of God,” “the Father hath bestowed on us” this wonderful love, “that we should be called the sons of God” also; and His Spirit--the Spirit of His Son--teaches us to cry, “Abba, Father.” God has made you parents. Beings who can never die are entrusted to your care. Your children’s character is greatly in your hands. Their eternal destiny hangs on your discharge of duty. Watch for their souls as those who must give account. Masters and mistresses, the principle of which we have spoken bears powerfully on your relation. (W. W.Champney.)

Five questions

1. The first question is this: Is there no one who stands related to you as a brother?--

(1) By kindred.

(2) By religion.

(3) By civil community.

(4) By the common claims of nature.

“Have we not all,” says Malachi, “one father,” Adam? and have we not all one mother, Eve? Have we not all the same animal wants? Are we not all exposed to the same infirmities and diseases? Are we not all capable of the same improvements? Are we not all to turn to the same dust? Are we not all heirs of the same immortality? Are we not all redeemed by the same blood of the Lamb? Nothing, therefore, that is human should ever be deemed or felt alien with regard to you.

2. The second question: If you were asked, Where is thy brother? what would truth compel you now to answer? We know what truth would have constrained Cain to answer--“Oh! I hated him, I envied him; I drew him into a field, and I murdered him; and he lies there dead.” What would you say, if you spoke truth, in answer to this question, Where is thy brother? Perhaps you would be constrained to say, “Living a few doors off from the subject of want and indigence and hunger, and I having all this world’s goods, and more than heart could wish, I never send him any supplies.” Or perhaps you would say, “I have calumniated, I have run down his religion; I have called him a hypocrite, or an enthusiast, or a mercenary.” Or perhaps you would say, “Oh! I have poisoned his mind with error”; or, “I have seduced him by my wicked example.” Or perhaps you would say, “He hath sinned, and instead of reproving him, I have ‘suffered sin upon him’”; “Hellas been a stranger to the advantages of religion, while I was well acquainted with it; and I have never gone to him and said, ‘Oh! taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that trusteth in Him’”; “Oh! he is ignorant, and I have not been trying to enlighten him.” Where is he? Why, living in such and such a dark village, where they are perishing for lack of knowledge; or living in the sister island, enslaved by a vile superstition.

3. The third question: Will not your conduct towards your fellow creatures be inquired into as well as Cain’s? Can you imagine that you are to live as you please even with regard to your fellow creatures? Is not God your

Governor as well as your Maker? Are you not God’s subjects as well as God’s creatures?

4. The fourth question: If you are guilty, will not your guilt be followed by punishment? Why should God deal with Cain, and suffer you to escape?

5. The last question we have to ask is, If you are guilty and exposed to all this, what should be your concern now? Should it be to seek to deny or to palliate your transgressions? Should you not rather confess your sin, and exclaim with Joseph’s brethren, “We are verily guilty concerning our brother”? (W. Jay.)

Cain’s answer

1. The falsehood of it--“I know not.” We feel astonished that a man can dare to lie in the presence of his Maker; yet how many lies are uttered before Him by formalists and hypocrites 1

2. The insolence of it--“Am I my brother’s keeper?” This man had no fear of God before his eyes; and where this is wanting, regard to man will be wanting also. Even natural affection will be swallowed up in selfishness. (A. Fuller.)

Human brotherhood

Man is ever a questioner. Man even questions God. But there are different kinds of questioners, as there are of questions. There are docile questioners, there are defiant questioners. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

1. Human sin says mournfully, “Yes.” See how this was confirmed by Cain’s vile action. If you have a right (assumed) to sin against a man, you have a right to love him. If he comes into your life and sphere, all reasonable law claims for him blessing rather than blows.

2. Human sorrow says pathetically, “Yes.” We have a common heritage of sorrow.

3. Human joy says hopefully, “Yes!” We cannot tell how much of the joy of life depends upon others.

4. Human success says triumphantly, “Yes!” No such thing as independence. We only succeed so far as our fellow man will let us succeed.

5. Human philanthropy says benevolently, “Yes.” Look at the development of philanthropy!

6. Human conscience says righteously, “Yes!” Conscience is the voice of God within us. But no “quiet conscience” for him who denies that he is his “brother’s keeper.” (J. E. Smallow.)

Personal relations

Am I my brother’s keeper? The success or failure of this world turns on the question, Is the law of self or the law of love adopted? The same is true of individuals. Is it mutual help of all, or every man for himself against all? Is it Ishmael, hand against every man, or Jesus, bearing others’ burdens, that gives the law of being? Man is constitutionally made to work for and with others. He is full of sympathy, finds in union strength; hence families, railroads, civilization. A thousand minister to the comfort of every breakfast table. Mutual help is the law of angelic nature--they are ministering spirits. Christ carries our sickness and our sins. God is love, and the whole outgoing of love is service. Heaven, the greatest product of the universe, is the outcome of the united effort of men, angels, and God. Cain tries the other way; he destroys what differs from him, that his littleness need not appear, instead of joining the great, and becoming a part of it. That act not only puts away the ideal, destroys the possibility of its help, but also dwarfs him still more. Cain slays himself more than Abel. Sin ravages him more than he can bear. An aristocrat requires a thousand serfs to support him, but slavery harms the master more than the slaves. The latter is simply arrested in his development, the former is developed awry. He cannot see that all art, architecture, agriculture, and literature perishes. So Cain sees not sin, thinks nothing of separation, asks not for pardon, but says, I am punished more than I can bear. He goes from God; all his own nobility is murdered, all his possibility of aspiration after God lies slain. Of the two, the one to be envied is Abel. It is better to have our bodies slain by others, than to slay our own souls. In every relation of life, to servants, workmen, neighbours, households, our nation, all nations, envy must be banished, lest we dwarf ourselves; murder in every degree must be spurned, lest we murder ourselves; love and mutual help must be exercised; for thereby we greaten ourselves. (H. W. Warren, D. D.)

Care for the fallen

A writer in one of the English reviews relates that during a conversation with George Eliot, not long before her death, a vase toppled over on the mantelpiece. The great writer quickly and unconsciously put out her hand to stop its fall. “I hope,” said she, replacing it, “that the time will come when we shall instinctively hold up the man or woman who begins to fall as naturally and unconsciously as we arrest a falling piece of furniture or an ornament.”

Verse 10

Genesis 4:10

The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth

The first prayer on record

God taught Cain that all facts which take place here, are recorded too; aye, that they need no kind of attendant watcher, who supervising their proceedings shall note them in a book (though for ought we know to the contrary, this is true as well); but that they each have that peculiar quality attached by God to themselves that not a deed of any kind can happen but it becomes a witness in itself and bears record of its own occurrence.

The general principles of revelation intimate this idea, and the promise of God that “He will bring every work and every secret thing into judgment, whether good or bad,” confirms it. And such, I conceive, was the truth conveyed to this fratricide when he heard the appalling words, “Thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.” Perhaps he had carefully concealed all beneath the sod, and with the greatest attention removed every visible trace to the superficial examiner of any record of his foul proceeding, but he now learnt that things which he thought dumb could raise their voice in the ear of Omnipotence, and that the blood of a brother which he had shed, could rise vocal in the words of prayer. Yes, depend upon it, that each act of your moral life leaves enough of a trace behind it, to give a proof that it has been performed. Nature, ever ready as the handmaid of religion, may instruct us here--let science not precede, but follow after faith: let it be used as I feel it ought to be; not to prove Scripture doctrines, but to illustrate and confirm them, and you will then find what I have so often asserted, that the best commentary on the Word of God will be found in His works! I have said then that, in the moral world, each moral deed leaves enough of evidence behind it in its effects, to bear witness of the fact here after; that each act of man’s history leaves a record behind it in its effects upon his soul who does it, upon other individuals and upon society, by which it may be traced out, and traced up to its originator. Now look to nature. The astronomer will demonstrate to you, not by a worn pathway in the heavens, but yet with as much certainty as though this existed, the exact line in which divers planets have moved through many thousands of years. The geologist digs into the crust of the earth, and proves beyond all question the former existence of animals long since extinct, and incapable of living in the earth in its present condition, and can show also what food, and what state of earth and atmosphere they enjoyed. Nay, he will descend with you into the quarry, and there point out, to your amazement proofs as clear as you can desire them, which shall satisfy you of the showers of rain which in past ages watered the fair garden of the earth with refreshing distillation. And when accompanying you into the coal shaft, he shall almost bewilder you with yet more mysterious revelations, as he shall point out the mighty forest of gigantic plants, once waving in grandeur and elegance upon the boundless prairie, and which have engraved their beauteous forms upon the solid carbonaceous block; you will then acknowledge (but perhaps only because you cannot longer deny it), that such a principle exists at least in nature that events record themselves. Or, once more, and to speak of things known to most of you. We are told that the Red Indian traces, without doubt or difficulty, the devious path by which the puny game he is pursuing has sought to escape him, and that accustomed to the rapid investigation of the tiniest footprint, he can do so with an ease and accuracy which astounds the traveller. Or, see again the power of chemical analysis! Blend together as many gases or as many fluids as you choose, and lo, obedient to the laws of Him who first created them, they call be severed each again into their respective characteristics, and each component particle shall stand forth in its own pristine original condition. Here assuredly, brethren, we have enough to illustrate, and (I think) to confirm our position. Shall the astronomer tell me the path in which yon planet walked in past centuries, and think you then that it is a difficult task for Him who made that planet to discover the actions of His creatures there? Shall the geologist unfold, from the dark recesses of the deep, the deeds and proceedings of former ages and of former existences, and even show the mark of the falling rain drop; and shall I hope to conceal my sins, either outwardly in the earth or inwardly in my heart, when God shall call them forth? Shall the habit of rapidly tracing out the smallest footstep so strengthen the unlettered Indian that he does so free from trouble, and shall we deem it inconceivable that the moral footprints of human life are trackless through any one step of our probationary way? Shall the hunter follow with unerring precision until he overtakes the victim whom he has resolved to make his prey; and can I look to escape the avenger of God’s holiness by avoiding him, when, all the while, every step I take in my moral course leaves a record (whether I will it or no), plain and unerring, of the course of life I am leading? Shall the chemical investigator untangle the compounds which ingenuity has mixed, and, setting all free again, distinctly point out the proportions which each component part had in the whole conglomerate, and shall I, by a mingling of bad actions with outwardly good ones, or by an amalgamation of my sins with those of other men, hope thus to prove myself free from all because I may be innocent of some? Ah, no! All nature too shuts me up in difficulty! Each loop hole is barred up and there is no escape I Sinner, sinner, I must confess myself; and, oh, whither shall I flee? The heights of heaven, the depths of hell, the mysteries and mazes of darkness, the rapidity of flight, each, all, fail me together I Fool, madman that I was, shall the sceptic cry out when (too late) he discovers his error presently: for he must learn then that every action of his life has recorded itself even when it was performed; a truth, a principle which nature confirms and illustrates in every particular, and which God taught him when He said to Cain long ago, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.” (G. Venables, S. C. L.)

Sin coming back upon the sinner

Two brothers started to go West to seek their fortune. One had money, the other had not. When they got to the frontier, the one without money murdered the other, and taking his money fled to California. Doctors took the head of the murdered man and preserved it in alcohol. No ]proof of the murder could be found. No one was present when the deed was done. The brother was accused, but declared his innocence. No one was there but he and God. He was brought before jury and judge and declared his innocence. The dead face of his brother was brought into court. He gazed on it, he fainted and fell to the floor, and confessed his sin. There is a time when all these unconfessed sins will come in before us, tramp, tramp, tramp, till they all come back. (Dr. Talmage.)

Sin its own detective

One night in Edinburgh a person awoke to find that his house had been plundered. The alarm was raised, nor was it long ere the officers of justice found a clue. The thief, wounding his hand as he escaped by the window, had left a red witness behind him. The watchman flashed his lantern upon the spot. Drop by drop the blood stained the pavement. They tracked it on and on and ever on, till their silent guide conducted them along an open passage and up a flight of steps, stopping at the door of a house. They broke in and there they found the bleeding hand, the booty, and the pale criminal. And so unless they be forgiven, washed away in the blood of Jesus, shall your sins find you out. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

The punishment of sin

We might illustrate the evil of sin by the following comparison: “Suppose I were gems along a street and were to dash my hand through a large pane of glass, what harm would I receive?” “You would be punished for breaking the glass.” “Would that be all the harm I should receive?” “Your hand would be cut by the glass.” Yes; and so it is with sin. If you break God’s laws, you shall be punished for breaking them; and your soul is hurt by the very act of breaking them. (J. Inglis.)

Everlasting punishment

If you cut a gash in a man’s head you may heal it; but you can never rub out, nor wash out, nor cut out, the scar. It may be a witness against you in his corpse: still, it may be covered by the coffin, or hidden in the grave; but then it is not till decomposition shall take place that it shall entirely disappear. But if you smite a soul, the scar remains: no coffin or grave shall hide it; no revolution, not even the upturning of the physical universe, shall obliterate it; no fire, not even the eternal furnaces of hell, shall burn it out. (Dr. Thomson.)

Blood will out!

How strangely deeds of blood are disclosed! Two French merchants, relates Clarke, were travelling to a fair, and, while passing through a wood, one of them murdered the other, and robbed him of his money. After burying him to prevent discovery, he proceeded on his journey; but the murdered man’s dog remained behind. His howling attracted passers-by, who were led to search the spot. The fair being ended, they watched the return of the merchants; and the murderer no sooner made his appearance than the dog sprung furiously upon him. “Be sure your sin will find you out.” How terribly was this exemplified in the case of Eugene Aram, whose very conscience at last unfolded the tale:--

“He told how murderers walk the earth

Beneath the curse of Cain,

With crimson clouds before their eyes,

And flames about their brain.”

The blood of Abel and the blood of Jesus

In the first place, JESUS’ BLOOD SPEAKS BETTER THINGS IN GENERAL. What did the blood of Abel say?

1. Was it not the blood of testimony? When Abel fell to the ground beneath his brother’s club, he bore witness to spiritual religion. Our Lord Jesus Christ, being also a testifier and witness for the faith of God, spake better things than Abel because He had more to speak, and spake from more intimate acquaintance with God. He was a fuller witness of Divine truth than Abel could be, for He brought life and immortality to light, and told His people clearly of the Father. Our Lord Jesus Christ had been in the bosom of the Father, and knew the Divine secret; this secret He revealed to the sons of men in His ministry, and then He sealed it by His blood.

2. Moreover, the blood of Abel spake good things in that it was the proof of faithfulness. His blood as it fell to the ground spake this good thing;--it said, “Great God, Abel is faithful to Thee.” But the blood of Jesus Christ testifies to yet greater faithfulness still, for it was the sequel of a spotlessly perfect life, which no act of sin had ever defiled; whereas Abel’s death furnished, it is true, a life of faith, but not a life of perfection.

3. Moreover, we must never forget that all that Abel’s blood could say as it fell to the ground, was but the shadow of that more glorious substance of which Jesus’ death assures us.

4. It is well to add that our Lord’s person was infinitely more worthy and glorious than that of Abel, and consequently His death must yield to us a more golden-mouthed discourse than the death of a mere man like Abel.

Now we will enter the very heart of our text, while we remember that THE BLOOD OF JESUS SPEAKS BETTER THINGS TO GOD than the blood of Abel did. Now, what did Abel’s blood say to God? It said just this, “O God, one of Thine own creatures, the product of Thy matchless skill, has been dashed in pieces, and barbarously destroyed.” Yet the blood of Abel said more than this; it said, “O God, the blood shed here was shed for Thee.” It seemed to say, “If it were not for love of Thee, this blood had not been shed!” Do you hear, what a cry the blood of Abel must have had, and with what power it arose to heaven? But we are not left to conjecture as to the power of that cry, for we are told that God heard, and when He heard it He came to reckoning with Cain, and He said, “What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to Me from the ground.” Can you stand at Calvary now and view the flowing of the Saviour’s blood from hands, and feet, and side? What are your own reflections as to what that blood says to God? Think now at the cross foot. That blood crieth with a loud voice to God, and what doth it say? Does it not say this? “O God, this time it is not merely a creature which bleeds, but, though the body that hangs upon the cross is the creature of Thy Holy Spirit, it is Thine own Son who now pours out His soul unto death. O God, it is Thine only-begotten One, dear to Thyself, essentially one with Thee, one in whom Thou art well pleased, whose obedience is perfect, whose love to Thee has been unwavering--it is He who dies. O God, wilt Thou despise the cries and the tears, the groans, the moans, the blood of Thine own Son? Most tender Father, in whose bosom Jesus lay from before the foundations of the earth, He dies, and wilt Thou not regard Him? Shall His blood fall to the ground in vain?” Then, moreover, the voice would plead, “It is not only Thy Son, but Thy perfectly innocent Son, in whom was no necessity for dying, because He had no original sin which would have brought corruption on Him, who had moreover no actual sin, who throughout life had done nothing worthy of death or of bonds. O God, it is Thine only-begotten, who, without a fault, is led as a lamb to the slaughter, and stands like a sheep before her shearers. Canst Thou see it, Thou God of all, canst Thou see the infinitely holy and just Son of Thy heart led here to die--canst Thou see it, and not feel the force of the blood as it cries to Thee? “Yet over and above this the blood must have pleaded thus with God:--“O God, the blood which is now being shed, thus honourable and glorious in itself, is being poured out with a motive which is Divinely gracious. He who dies on this cross dies for His enemies, groans for those who make Him groan, suffers for those who thrust the dart into His soul, and then mock at the agony which they themselves have caused. O God, it is a chain for God in heaven which binds the victim to the horns of the altar, a chain of everlasting love, of illimitable goodness.” Now, dear friends, you and I could not see a man suffer out of pure benevolence without being moved by his sufferings, and shall God be unmoved? the perfectly holy and gracious God, shall He be indifferent where you and I are stirred to deep emotion? Abel’s blood had mighty prevalence to curse, but Jesu’s blood has prevalence to bless the sons of men.

Furthermore, JESUS’ BLOOD SPEAKS BETTER THINGS TO US IN OUR OWN HEARTS than the blood of Abel. Oh, it must have been a remembrance clinging like a viper around the murderer wherever he might be! He might well build a city, as we are told he did, in order to quench these fiery remembrances. Then would the thought come upon him, “You slew him though he was your brother.” The innocence of his victim, if Cain had any conscience, must have increased his uneasiness, for he would recollect how inoffensively he had kept those sheep of his, and had been like one among them, so lamblike, that shepherd man himself, a true sheep of God’s pasture. “Yet,” would Cain say, “I slew him because I hated God, the God before whose bar I am soon to stand, the God who set this mark on me.” Can you picture the man who had thus to be daily schooled and upbraided by a brother’s blood? It needs a poet’s mind to teach him. Think how you would feel if you had killed your own brother, how the guilt would hang over you like a black cloud, and drop horror into your very soul. Now, brethren, there is more than equal force in the cry of the blood of Jesus, only it acts differently, and it speaketh better things. Let it be remembered, however, that it speaks those better things with the same force. Comforts arise from the blood of Jesus as powerful as the horrors which arose from the blood of Abel. Just in proportion as thought of murder would make Cain wretched, in the same proportion ought faith to make you happy as you think upon Jesus Christ slain; for the blood of Christ, as I said at the beginning of the sermon, cannot have a less powerful voice; it must have a more powerful voice than that of Abel, and it cries therefore more powerfully for you than the blood of Abel cried against his brother Cain.

Two or three words to close with. JESUS’ BLOOD, EVEN IN MY TEXT, SPEAKS BETTER THINGS THAN THAT OF ABEL. It speaks the same things, but in a better sense. Did you notice the first text? God said unto Cain, “What hast thou done?” Now, that is what Christ’s blood says to you: “What hast thou done?” My dear hearer, dost thou not know that thy sins slew the Saviour? If we have been playing with sin, and fancied it to be a very little thing, a trifle to play with and laugh at, let us correct the mistake. Our Saviour hangs on the cross, and was nailed there by those sins of ours; shall we think little of them? What I want mainly to indicate is this. If you notice in the second text, this blood is called “the blood of sprinkling.” Whether Abel’s blood sprinkled Cain or not I cannot say, but, if it did, it must have added to his horror to have had the blood actually upon him. But this adds to the joy in our case, for the blood of Jesus is of little value to us until it is sprinkled upon us. Faith dips the hyssop in the atoning blood and sprinkles it upon the soul, and the soul is clean. There is another matter in the text with which I conclude. The apostle says, “We are come to the blood of sprinkling.” He mentions that among other things to which we are come. Now, from the blood of Abel every reasonable man would flee away, He that has murdered his fellow desires to put a wide distance between himself and the accusing corpse. But we come to the blood of Jesus. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Am I clear of his blood?

First, we are to MAKE A SEARCHING INQUIRY FOR THE CRIMINALS. There are many persons whose brother’s blood cries to God from the ground.

1. There is the seducer; he spake with honeyed words, and talked of love, but the poison of asps was under his tongue, for lust was in his heart.

2. Then there are men who educate youth in sin, Satan’s captains and marshals; strong men with corrupt hearts, who are never better pleased than when they see the buds of evil swelling and ripening into crime. Beware, ye who hunt for the precious life!

3. Ay, and I know some base men who, if they see young converts, will take a pride in putting stumbling blocks in their way. They no sooner discover that there is some little working of conscience, than they laugh, they sneer, they point the finger.

4. Then there is the infidel, the man who is not content to keep his sin in his own breast, but must needs publish his infamy; he ascends the platform and blasphemes the Almighty to his face; defies the Eternal; takes Scripture to make it the subject of unhallowed jest; and makes religion a theme for comedy.

5. And what shall I say of the unfaithful preacher--the slumbering watchman of souls; the man who swore at God’s altar that he was called of the Holy Ghost to preach the Word of God; the man upon whose lips men’s ears waited with attention while he stood like a priest at God’s altar to teach Israel God’s law; the man who performed his duties half-asleep, in a dull and careless manner, until men slept too and thought religion but a dream? What shall I say of the minister of unholy life, whose corrupt practice out of the pulpit has made the most telling things in the pulpit to be of no avail, has blunted the edge of the sword of the Spirit, and turned the back of God’s army in the day of battle?

6. To come yet closer home to this present audience. How much of the blood of man will lie at the door of careless professors. You that make a profession of being Christians and yet live in sin, you are the murderers of souls by thousands.

But to pass on; I was, in the second place, to HOLD UP THIS CRIME TO EXECRATION, the chief point being whose blood it is; it is the blood of our brethren. “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.”

1. Perhaps, young man, it is your natural brother’s blood that cries against you.

2. It may be, however, it is the blood of your father or mother. Some of you young people have come to London, and God has met with you in this house of prayer; you still have ungodly parents in the country, have you quite forgotten them? What if your grey-headed sire should die!

3. But what shall I say to those who are not only careless of parents, but are neglecting their own children? Mother, what if the voice of your child’s blood should cry to God against you!

We are in the third place TO EXPECT THE JUDGMENT. “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.” It does not cry to a deaf ear, but to the ear of One who hears and feels the cry, and will certainly make bare His arm to smite the offender and to avenge the wrong.

I hope that these terrible things have prepared our minds to hear the better THE VOICE OF EXHORTATION. If there be the voice of blood crying against us today, and we affirm that none of us can altogether escape from it, what shall we do to be rid of the past? Can tears of repentance do it? No. Can promises of amendment make a blank page where there are so many blots and blurs? Ah, no! Nothing that we can do can put away our sin. But may not the future atone? May not future zeal wipe out past carelessness? But a sweeter and a louder cry comes up--“Mercy, mercy, mercy”; and the Father bows His head and says, “Whose blood is that?” and the voice replies, “It is the blood of Thine only-begotten, shed on Calvary for sin.” The Father lays His thunders by, sheathes His sword, stretches out His hand, and crieth to you, the sons of men, “Come unto Me, and I will have mercy upon you; turn ye, turn ye; I will pour out My Spirit upon you and ye shall live.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Blood crying to God

Thus from the days of Abel has pleaded the blood of the saints:--“How long, O Lord, wilt Thou not judge and avenge our blood?” Thus the voice has been going up for ages from the ground, from the cell, from the cave, from the rock, from the glen, from the moorland, from the flood, from the flame, from the scaffold. What spot of Europe, not to take in more, is there from which this cry is not ascending? From the plains of Italy, from the valleys of Piedmont, from the dungeons of Spain, from the streets of Paris, from the stones of Smithfield, from the fields of Ireland, from the moors of Scotland; from all these has been ascending for ages the cry, “How long!” a cry unsilenced and unsatisfied; deepening and swelling as the ages roll on; a cry which will ere long be fully answered by the coming of Him who is the great avenger of blood and rewarder of His saints. (H. Bonar, D. D.)


The Rev. Rowland Hill, preaching on one occasion from this text at Cowes, began his sermon as follows: “In my way to your island, I visited the county jail at Winchester, and there I saw many who were accused of heavy crimes, but who seemed careless and indifferent, and to have but little sense of their awful situation. But one young man attracted my attention: he kept separate from the rest, and seemed very much troubled. I went up to him and said, “And what have you done, young man?” “Sir,” said he, deeply affected, “I have done that which I cannot undo, and which has undone me.” This, my dear friends, said the minister, “is the situation of every one of you. You have each of you done that which has undone you, and which you cannot undo.”

The stain of blood

The mind of man has been compared to a white sheet of paper. Now, it is like a white sheet of paper in this, that whatever we write upon it whether with distinct purpose or no, nay, every drop of ink we let fall upon it, makes an abiding mark, a mark which we cannot rub out without much injury to the paper; unless, indeed, the mark has been very slight from the first, and we set about erasing it while it is fresh. In one of the grandest tragedies of our great English poet, there is a scene which, when one reads it, is enough to make one’s blood run cold. A woman, whose husband had made himself king of Scotland by means of several murders, and who had been the prompter and partner of his crimes, is brought in while in her sleep, and continually rubbing her hands, as though she were washing them, crying ever and anon, “Yet here’s a spot . . . What! will these hands ne’er be clean?. . .here’s the smell of blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” In these words there is an awful power of truth. We can stain our souls; we can dye them, and double dye them and triple dye them; we can dye them all the colours of bell’s rainbow, but we cannot wash them white. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten them, all the fountains of the deep will not wash one little spot out of them. The usurping Queen of Scotland had been guilty of murder; and the stain of blood, it has been very generally believed, cannot be washed out. But it is not the stain of blood alone; every stain soils the soul and none of them can be washed out. Every speck of ink eats into the paper; every sin, however small we may deem it, eats into the soul. If we try to write over it, we make a deeper blot; if we try to scratch it out, the next letters which we write on the spot are blurred. Therefore is it of such vast importance that we should be very careful of what we write. In the tragedy which I was quoting just now, the Queen says, “What’s done, cannot be undone.” This amounts to the same thing as what I have written, in the sense in which I am now calling upon you to consider these words. What’s done cannot be undone. You know that that is true. You know you cannot push back the wheels of time, and make yesterday come again, so as to do over afresh what you did wrongly then. That which you did yesterday, yesterday will keep: you cannot change it; you cannot make it less or greater; if it was crooked you cannot make it straight. (J. C. Hare.)

Horror of a murderer

Coleridge tells of an Italian who assassinated a nobleman in Rome, and fled to Hamburg for safety. He had not passed many weeks before, one day, in the crowded street, he heard his name called by a voice familiar to him; he turned short round, and saw the face of his victim looking at him with a fixed eye. From that moment he no peace: at all hours, in all places, and amidst all companies, however engaged had he might be, he heard the voice, and could never help looking around; and whenever he so looked round he always encountered the same face, staring close upon him. The Italian said he had struggled long, but life was a burden which he could now no longer bear; and he was resolved to return to Rome, to surrender himself to justice, and expiate his crime on the scaffold.

Verses 11-12

Genesis 4:11-12

A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be

Cain cursed by God

“Cursed art THOU.

” Fearful words, coming straight from the lips of God into the very ear of man, standing in the presence of God. No lightning bursting on him from the clouds could be half so terrible. The blessing is revoked, and the curse goes forth. It is a curse because of innocent blood, as if foreshowing the curses which the shedding of innocent blood was yet to bring upon men. This curse is represented as coming up from the ground, as if the ground which had been moistened with the blood were to be the instrument of inflicting the curse. In Ezekiel we read of the “mountains devouring men” (36:12-14), and elsewhere of the land “spewing out” (Leviticus 18:28; Leviticus 20:22); so here the very ground is impregnated with evil to Cain, and sends up its curses on him. The soil is to cast him off; the earth is to loathe him! inanimate nature, more tender-hearted than he (inasmuch as it drank in the blood), is to set its face against him. It had received the innocent blood into its bosom, and it was to send up unceasingly on the murderer an endless curse. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

The fruits of envy

Such are the fruits of envy. Burden upon burden, stroke upon stroke, sorrow upon sorrow! From above, from beneath, and from around, the torment, and the terror, and the bitterness pour in. There is no peace to the wicked, no rest, no settlement. How sin uproots and unsettles, making a man to flee hither and thither, in order to get away from himself! How vain! O SIN, sin! what horrid things are all wrapt up even in its smallest indulgence! An unkind thought, a harsh word, an envious feeling,--then sullenness, anger, murder--a brother’s murder!
How little do we know sin, or reckon on its results, or calculate the fruits that come from its womb! (H. Bonar, D. D.)

The bitter curse which sin brings on an individual life




1. It destroys reputation.

2. Wastes earnings.

3. Enfeebles agencies.



1. That sin is the greatest curse of human life.

2. That God is the avenger of the good.

3. That the sinner is the greatest sufferer in the end.

4. That good men go from their worship into heaven. (J. S.Exell, M. A.)

Verses 13-14

Genesis 4:13-14

My punishment is greater than I can hear

Cain’s despair


Behold, Thou hast cast me out this day from (or from upon)

the face of the ground. Thou hast driven me! He sees it to be Jehovah’s own doing. He who drove Adam out of paradise, now drives Cain out of Eden. Adam’s sin brought expulsion from the inner circle, Cain’s from the outer. He is to be cast out from the land where he had been born, where was his home; from the ground which he had tilled. He was now doubly banished; compelled to go forth into an unknown region, without a guide, or a promise, or a hope.

2. From Thy face I shall be hid. God’s face means, doubtless, the Shekinah or manifested glory of Jehovah at the gate of Eden, where Adam and Eve and their children had worshipped, where God was seen by them, where

He met them, and spake to them as from His mercy seat. From this place of Jehovah’s presence Cain was to go out. And this depresses him. Not that he really cared for the favour of God, as one “in whose favour was life”; but still he could not afford to lose it, especially when others were left behind to enjoy it. And all his religious feelings, such as they were, were associated with that spot.

3. I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth. Unchanged from his primeval home, he was now to drift to and fro, he knew not whither. He was to be a leaf driven to and fro, a man without a settlement and without a home. Poor, desolate sinner! And all this is thine own doing! Thy sin has found thee out. Thine own iniquities have taken thee, and thou art holden with the cords of thy sins (Proverbs 5:22). (H. Bonar, D. D.)

The severity of self-inflicted punishment

The punishment which a man inflicts upon himself is infinitely severer than any punishment that can be inflicted upon him. “A wounded spirit who can bear?” You remember how you ill-treated that poor child now dead; you saw the anguish of his soul, and he besought you and you would not hear; and now a great distress is come upon you, and your bread is very bitter. Who is punishing you? Not the magistrate. Who then? You are punishing yourself. You cannot forgive yourself. The child touches you at every corner, speaks to you in every dream, moans in every cold wind, and lays its thin pale hand upon you in the hour of riot and excitement. You see that ill-used child everywhere; a shadow on the fair horizon, a background to the face of every other child, a ghastly contrast to everything lovely and fair. Time cannot quench the fire. Events cannot throw into dim distance this tragic fact. It surrounds you, mocks you, defies you, and under its pressure you know the meaning of the words, which no mere grammarian can understand--“The wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment.” All this will come the more vividly before us if we remember that a man who has done wrong has not only to be forgiven, he has to forgive himself. That is the insuperable difficulty. He feels that an external view of his sin, which even the acutest man can take, is altogether partial and incomplete; and, consequently, that any forgiveness which such a man can offer is also imperfect and superficial. That is so philosophically, but, thank God, not evangelically. God’s forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Lord, is not mere forgiveness, however abundant and emphatic. It is not merely a royal or even a paternal edict. It is an act incomplete in itself; it is merely introductory or preparatory, as the uprooting of weeds is preliminary to a better use of the soil. It is an essential act, for in the absence of pardon the soul is absolutely without the life that can lay hold of any of the higher blessings or gifts of God. To what, then, is forgiveness preparatory? To adoption, to communion with God, to absorption into the Divine nature, to the witness of the Holy Ghost. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Impenitent misery

There is a great change since he spoke last, but not for the better. All the difference is, instead of his high tone of insolence, we perceive him sinking into the last stage of depravity, sullen desperation. Behold here a finished picture of impenitent misery. What a contrast to the fifty-first Psalm! There the evil dwelt upon and pathetically lamented is sin; but here is only punishment. See how he expatiates upon it . . . Driven from the face of the earth . . . deprived of God’s favour and blessing, and, in a sort, of the means of hope . . . a wanderer and an outcast from men . . . to all which his fears add, “Wherever I am by night or by day, my life will be in perpetual danger!” Truly it was a terrible doom, a kind of hell upon earth. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!” (A. Fuller.)


Tiberius felt the remorse of conscience so violent, that he protested to the senate that he suffered death daily; and Trapp tells us of Richard III that, after the murder of his two innocent nephews, he had fearful dreams and visions, would leap out of his bed, and catching his sword, would go distractedly about the chamber, everywhere seeking to find out the cause of his own occasioned disquiet. If, therefore, men more or less familiarized with crime and deeds of blood, had the fangs of the serpent ever probing their breasts, is it unreasonable to conclude that Cain knew seasons of sad regrets? If he had not, God’s inquiry soon stirred up the pangs! The cruel Montassar, having assassinated his father, was one day admiring a beautiful painting of a man on horseback, with a diadem encircling his head, and a Persian inscription. Inquiring the significance of the words, he was told that they were: “I am Shiunjeh, the son of Kosru, who murdered my father, and possessed the crown only six months.” Montassar turned pale, horrors of remorse at once seized on him, frightful dreams interrupted his slumbers until he died. And no sooner did God address the first fratricide, than conscience roused herself to inflict poignant pains:--

“Oh, the wrath of the Lord is a terrible thing!

Like the tempest that withers the blossoms of spring,

Like the thunder that bursts on the summer’s domain,

It fell on the head of the homicide Cain.”


Very little idea can be formed of the sufferings of Cain, when we read that God visited him with life-long remorse. John Randolph, in his last illness, said to his doctor: “Remorse! Remorse! Remorse! Let me see the word! show it to me in a dictionary.” There being none at hand, he asked the surgeon to write it out for him; then, having looked at it carefully, he exclaimed: “Remorse! you do not know what it means.” Happy are those who never know. It gives, as Dr. Thomas says, a terrible form and a horrible voice to everything beautiful and musical without. It is recorded of Bessus--a native of Polonia, in Greece--that the notes of birds were so insufferable to him, as they never ceased chirping the murder of his father--that he would tear down their nests and destroy both young and old. The music of the sweet songsters of the grove was as the shrieks of hell to a guilty conscience. And how terribly would the familiar things of life become to Cain a source of agony!

“The kiss of his children shall scorch him like flame,

When he thinks of the curse that hangs over his name,
And the wife of his bosom--the faithful and fair,
Can mix no sweet drop in his cup of despair:
For her tender caress, and her innocent breath,

But still in his soul the hot embers of death.”

Wakeful conscience

Though in many men conscience sleeps in regard to motion, yet it never sleeps in regard to observation and notice. It may be hard and seared, it can never be blind. Like letters written with the juice of lemon, that which is written upon it, though seemingly invisible and illegible, when brought before the fire of God’s judgment shall come forth clear and expressive. (J. MCosh.)

Sin and punishment

Cain said, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” Saul, king of Israel, had a minstrel to soothe him when the evil spirit rose within him. King Richard III of England, after he killed his two nephews, had horrible dreams. He thought all the devils in hell, in terrible shapes, were coming to pull him about; and, in his fright, he leaped out of bed, and seized the naked sword which he kept beside him, to find and punish the cause of his trouble. Charles IX, of France, had similar anguish after he had ordered the massacre of St. Bartholomew.

A ruined life

Sailing down the Thames one occasionally sees a green flag, in tatters, inscribed with the word “wreck,” floating in the breeze over a piece of the mast or the funnel of a steamer which is just visible above the water. How many lives might thus be marked, and how needful that they should be so labelled, lest they prove ruinous to others!

Verse 15

Genesis 4:15

The Lord set a mark upon Cain.

The mark upon Cain

What this mark was we cannot tell. It might be his name affixed by the pen of the lightning in red characters upon his brow, or it might simply be the stain of his brother’s blood left by his own fingers, which he had raised up while yet wet and reeking to cover his forehead, rendered miraculously indelible; or it might be some general aspect of grief and guilt, which told too plainly that he had become the first murderer; or, perhaps, it was written on his brow, “Kill not this man, murderer as he is, lest thou thyself be punished.” (G. Gilfillan.)

A sign given to Cain

Render--“Gave a sign to Cain.” It is difficult to conceive of any visible mark which should warn men not to touch Cain, and a mark which should merely identify him would of course be rather a danger than a benefit. An interesting parallel occurs in the “Laws of Men,” which enjoin branding as a punishment of certain crimes:--

“Let them wander over the earth

Branded with indelible marks,
They shall be abandoned by father and mother,
Treated by none with affection:
Received by none with respect.”

(M. Dods, D. D.)

Cain’s preservation by God

But why is God so anxious to preserve Cain from death, and to give him the assurance of this security? Some reasons are obvious, besides those which run us up directly to the sovereignty of God.

1. God’s desire is to manifest the riches of His grace, and the extent of His forbearance, and that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but wishes by His long suffering to lead him to repentance.

2. Death would not have answered God’s end at all. It was needful that Cain should be preserved alive as an awful monument of sin, a warning against the shedding of man’s blood.

3. Cain was spared, too, because of this partial repentance. God accepted Ahab’s repentance (1 Kings 21:29), poor and hollow as it was; so does He Cain’s; for He is gracious and merciful, looking for the first and faintest sign of a sinner’s turning to Himself, willing to meet him at once without upbraiding, and putting the best possible construction on all he says and does. To what length is not the grace of our God able to gel Sin abounds, but grace superabounds. How desirous is Jehovah not to curse, but to bless; not to smite, but to heal; not to destroy, but to save. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

God’s mode of dealing with Cain

This passage unfolds to us a mode of dealing with the first murderer which is at first sight somewhat difficult to be understood. But we are to bear in mind that the sentence of death has been already pronounced upon man, and therefore stood over Adam and all his posterity, Cain among the rest. To pronounce the same sentence therefore upon him for a new crime would have been weak and unmeaning. Besides, the great crime of crimes was disobedience to the Divine will, and any particular form of crime added to that was comparatively unimportant. Wrong done to a creature even of the deepest dye was not to be compared in point of guilt with wrong done to the Creator. The grave element in the criminality of every social wrong is its practical disregard of the authority of the Most High. Moreover, every other sin to the end of time is but the development of that first act of disobedience to the mandate of heaven by which man fell, and accordingly every penalty is summed up in that death which is the judicial consequence of the first act of rebellion against heaven. We are also to best in mind that God still held the sword of justice in His own immediate hands, and had not delegated His authority to any human tribunal. No man was, therefore, clothed with any right from heaven to call Cain to account for the crime he had committed. To fall upon him with the high hand in a wilful act of private revenge, would be taking the law into one’s own hands, and therefore a misdemeanour against the majesty of heaven, which the Judge of all could not allow to pass unpunished. It is plain that no man has an inherent right to inflict the sanction of a broken law on the transgressor. This right originally belongs only to the Creator, and derivatively only to those whom He has entrusted with the dispensation of civil government according to established laws. (Prof. J. G. Murphy.)

God’s dealings with Cain

We may ask, with some degree of surprise, why God granted this uncommon indulgence to a murderer, who had insidiously killed his own brother? Did not God Himself give the distinct precept: “He who sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed?” Why was it necessary to take such anxious precautions to save a life forfeited according to human and Divine rights? We hesitate to speak with decision where the text is entirely silent. But we may venture the supposition that, if Cain’s blood was to be “shed by man,” it would also have been by the hand of a brother, for no other man existed; the firstborn of Adam’s strength, and the pride of his mother, would have perished by a cold law of retaliation; the avenging of the crime would, in the result, have been as horrible as the crime itself; and the human family, just called into being, would have perpetrated self-destruction in its first generations. It was thus necessary that God should Himself exercise the duty of punishment, and dispense a chastisement commensurate with the unnatural and fatal offence. A long, laborious life in exile, with the fear of sanguinary retribution perpetually impending, was deemed equivalent to death; and the lamentations of Cain, when he heard the verdict of his flight, prove the bitterness of his pangs. And this is the other side of a profound Biblical idea which we have above pointed out. As the early death of Abel was no curse, so was the long life of Cain no blessing. He was permitted to protract an existence, veiled by the gloom of the past, and uncheered by any hope of the future. No earthly boon, not even long life, the greatest of all, is, in itself, either a pledge of happiness, or a mark of the Divine favour. (M. M.Kalisch, Ph. D.)

Marks on conscience

Whatever was the mark which Cain carried upon his person after that murderous deed, there is no doubt that the mark on his conscience was more deep, more tormenting, more irremovable. Men who sin in these days often carry a mark upon them by which others know them to be sinners; but could you read the inner man you would see stronger marks there, by which they themselves know and feel that they are sinners more sensibly than you see it. (John Bate.)

Marks of crime

We may find, in this part of our narrative, the important practical and philosophical truth, that the traces of crime are indelibly visible in the person of the criminal; the “human form divine” is degraded and corrupted by vice; it loses that sublime dignity with which a pure and noble soul never fails to impress it; the shy look, the uncertain step, the sinister reserve, the lurking passion, these and many other symptoms of the highest interest for the physiognomist, mark the outcast of society, and make the man conspicuous upon whose conscience weighs the burden of an enormous misdeed. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)

Verses 16-17

Genesis 4:16-17

Cain went out from the presence of the Lord

The future of a God-forsaken life



1. Here the future of the cursed life has some relief. Cain had his wife to share his sorrow, and, for all we know, to help him in it. The domestic relationship is a great relief and comfort to a sad life. When all goes wrong without, it can find a refuge at home.

2. The children of a cursed life are placed at a moral disadvantage. They are the offspring of a God-forsaken parent. It is awful to commence life under these conditions.

THAT A GOD-FORSAKEN MAN IS LIKELY VERY SOON TO SEEK SATISFACTION IN EARTHLY EMPLOYMENTS AND THINGS. Cain built a city. This would find occupation for his energies. It would tend to divest his mind of his wicked past. It would enrich his poverty. It might become the home of his posterity.

THAT OFTEN A GOD-FORSAKEN MAN IS DISPOSED TO TRY TO BUILD A RIVAL TO THE CHURCH FROM WHENCE HE HAS BEEN DRIVEN. If he has been driven from God, he will engage his energies to build a city for Satan. In this work some wicked men are active. And today the city of evil is of vast dimensions, is thickly populated, but is weak in its foundation, and will ultimately be swept away by the prayerful effort of the Church, and the wrath of God..


1. Earth cannot give the soul a true substitute for God.

2. Family relationship is unsanctified without Him.

3. Cities are useless without Him. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Cain going out from God’s presence

It is an awful thought, that of the lost, to the sound of the dead march, “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire,” flocking away from the judgment seat. But scarcely inferior in horror is the sight of Cain going out from the presence of the Lord. He goes out alone, save for his poor weeping wife, for children as yet he had none. He goes out in silence, without venturing to utter one word of remonstrance or regret. He goes out withered and accursed, although not utterly crushed. He goes out bearing, and showing that he is conscious of bearing, his character burnt and branded on his brow. He goes out, preserved indeed, but preserved as the criminal on the scaffold is preserved from the guns of the soldiery and the missiles of the crowd, that he may abide the executioner’s axe, or feel the hangman’s gripe. He goes out alone, but you see in him the representative of the giant race of transgressors, who are yet in his loins as he goes forth. He goes out into a thinly peopled earth, but into an earth where he knows that every man is aware of his crime, and would kill him but for a mark which identifies and renders infamous while it secures him. He goes forth into the young world, a region as silent as it is vast; but hark! as he leaves the presence of the Lord a peal of harsh thunder behind proclaims the departure of the murderer, and worse than this still, the trembling hollows of his ear (like the sea shell by the sound of the deep) are filled with the cry, which he feels is forever his music, “Cain, Cain, where is thy brother?” (G. Gilfillan.)

Cain’s banishment

Like Judas from the presence of Jesus, so does Cain go out from the face of God, from the place where the visible glory of God, the Shekinah, had its abode. Partly troubled at his banishment, and partly relieved at getting away from the near presence of the Holy One, he goes forth, a banished criminal, whose foot must no longer be permitted to profane the sacred circle of Eden; an excommunicated man, who must no longer worship with the Church of God, round the primeval altar. He goes out, not like Abraham to the land of promise, the land flowing with milk and honey, but to the land of the threatening, the land where no divine presence was seen and on which no glory shone, and where no bright cherubim foreshadowed redemption, and proclaimed restoration to paradise, and the tree of life. He goes out to an unknown and untrodden land; a land which, from his own character as “the wanderer,” received in after days the name of Nod. He goes out, the flaming sword behind him, driving him out of his native seat, and forbidding his return. A banished man, an excommunicated worshipper (the sentence of excommunication pronounced by God Himself)--one “delivered over to Satan” (1 Timothy 1:20), he takes up his abode in the land of Nod. There he “sits down,” not as if at rest, for what had he to do with rest? Can the cloud rest? Can the sea rest? Can the guilty conscience rest? He sits down in Nod, but not to rest, only to drown his restlessness in schemes of labour. He went towards the rising sun. He and his posterity spread eastward, just as Seth and his posterity spread westward. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

The land of Nod

The land of Nod

Cain settled “in the land of Nod, in the east of Eden.” It is evident that the name Nod expresses the nature and character of the locality; it signifies flight or exile; and the same root means, sometimes, grief and mourning. Nod is, therefore, the land of misery and exile. But, although this appellative signification of Nod is clear, it is not less certain that the historian intended to describe thereby a distinct country. He designates its position in the east of Eden, and he mentions a town which Cain built in that land of flight, Nod is, therefore, as little as Eden itself, a mere abstraction, or a fictitious name, invented for the embodiment of a myth. But, as it is only described by its relative position to Eden, its situation is, naturally, as disputed as that of paradise itself. It has been placed in Susiana, Lydia, and Arabia; in Nysa and China; in the mountains of the Caucasus and the vast steppes in the east of Cashmere; in Tartary, in Parthia, or any part of India. However, it appears that the whole extent of Asia eastward of Eden, was comprised under the name of Nod. Cain was expelled to the east of paradise, where the cherubim with their flaming swords forever prevented the access; we are, thus, expressly reminded that the murderer who with one audacious step ascended the whole climax of crime, was removed far from the seat of blessedness and innocence. (M. M.Kalisch, Ph. D.)

Verses 17-24

Genesis 4:17-24

Built a city

The first city

It was a very decided step towards civilization, when the idea of building a city was first conceived and realized.

The roaming life of the homeless savage was abandoned; social ties were formed; families joined families, and exchanged in friendly intercourse their experience and observations; communities arose, and submitted to the rule of self-imposed laws; the individuals resigned the unchecked liberty of the beasts of the forest, and felt the delight of being subservient links in the universal chain. Social and personal excellence depend on and strengthen each other. Therefore, when the first communities were organized, the way to a steady and continuous progress was paved, and the first beams of dawning humanity trembled over the night of barbarism and ferocity. It is a deep trait in the Biblical account to ascribe the origin of cities to none but the agriculturist. Unlike the nomad, who changes his temporary tents whenever the state of the pasture requires it, the husbandman is bound to the glebe which he cultivates; the soil to which he devotes his strength and his anxieties becomes dear to him; that part of the earth to which he owes his sustenance assumes a character of holiness in his eyes; and if, besides, pledges of conjugal love have grown up in that spot, he is more strongly still tied to it; he fixes there his permanent abode, and considers its loss a curse of God. Thus, even in the “land of flight,” the agriculturist Cain was compelled to build houses and to form a city. Many inventions of mechanical skill are inseparable from the building of towns; ingenuity was aroused and exercised; and whilst engaged in satisfying the moral desire of sociability, man brought many of his intellectual powers into efficient operation. Necessity suggested, and perseverance executed, inventions which safety or comfort required; and when man left the caverns which nature had beneficently provided for his dwelling place, to inhabit the houses which his own hands had built, he entered them with that legitimate pride which the consciousness of superior skill begets, and with the consoling conviction that, although God had doomed him, on account of his own and his ancestors’ sins, to a life full of fatigue and struggles, He had graciously furnished him with a spark of that heavenly fire which strengthens him to endure and to conquer. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)

The generations of Cain

1. Nothing good is said of any one of them; but, heathen-like, they appear to have lost all fear of God and regard to man.

2. Two or three of them became famous for arts; one was a shepherd, another a musician, and another a smith; all very well in themselves, but things in which the worst of men may excel.

3. One of them was infamous for his wickedness, namely Lamech. He was the first who violated the law of marriage; a man giving loose to his appetites, and who lived a kind of lawless life. Here ends the account of cursed Cain. We hear no more of his posterity, unless it be as tempters to the sons of God, till they were all swept away by the deluge! (A. Fuller.)


In Cain’s building a city, and calling it after his son’s name, we see the care of the wicked, ever more to desire to magnify themselves than to glorify God, more to seek after a name in earth than a life in heaven, more to establish their seed with towns and towers than with God’s favour. But such course is crooked and like Cain’s here. If we desire a name, the love of God and His word, the love of Christ and His truth is the way. You remember a silly woman that, in a true affection to her Lord and Master, poured upon Him a box of ointment, and what got she: “Verily,” saith Christ, “wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the world, this shall be told of the woman for a remembrance of her.” Here was a name well gotten, and firmly continued to the very world’s end. The memory of the righteous shall remain forever, and the name of the wicked, do what they can, in God’s good time shall rot and take an ending. For which cause Moses, if you mark it, maketh no mention of the time that either Cain or any of his sons lived, as he doth of the godly. Filthy polygamy, you see, in this place began with wicked Lamech, that is, to have more wives than one at a time: so old is this evil, that from the beginning was not so. That mention that is made of the children here of the wicked, telleth us how they flourish for a time with all worldly things whom yet God hateth. The last words show you what eclipses true religion suffereth often in this world, and let us mark it. (Bp. Babington.)

The race of Cain

IT IS SINGULAR HOW MENTAL EFFORT AND INVENTION SEEK CHIEFLY CONFINED TO THY RACE OF CAIN. Feeling themselves estranged from God, they are stung to derive whatever solace they can from natural research, artistic skill, and poetic illusion. It is melancholy to think that so many of the arts appeared in conjunction with some shape or other of evil. The music of Jubal in all probability first sounded in the praise of some idol god, or perhaps mingled with some infernal sacrifice. The art of metallurgy and its cognate branches became instantly the instruments of human ferocity and the desire of shedding blood. Even poetry first appeared on the stage linked with the immoral and degrading practice of polygamy. Gifts without graces are but lamps enabling individuals and nations to see their way down more clearly to the chambers of death.


1. Ingenuity.

2. Violence.

3. Great corruption and sensuality.

4. Distinguished by the striving of the Spirit of God. (G. Gilfillan.)

Cain’s descendants

The natural man is fertile in all things pertaining to this present evil world; and Satan, the god of this world, sharpens and quickens his ingenuity and skill.

1. Pastoral pursuits make progress. Jabal was the father of such as dwell in tents, and have cattle (Genesis 4:20). Jabal takes the lead as the great shepherd of his day--gentler, perhaps, and more peaceful in his nature--morn like Abel in his disposition. The Spirit of God does not here cast censure on such employments, as if there were sin in them. He simply points out these children of Cain as sitting down contented with earth, and engrossed with its pursuits. These children of Cain seem to have shrunk from tillage. The soil was too full of terror, as well as of toil, for them to attempt its tillage. How a man’s sin finds him out! How it traces him out wherever he sets his foot!

2. The fine arts. Jabal had a brother by name Jabal, who betakes himself to the harp and the organ. Yes--music--the world must soothe its sorrows or drown its cares with music! The world must cheat its hours away with music! The world must set its lusts to music (Job 21:12). Yet, sweet sounds are not unholy. There is no sin in the richest strains of music. And God, by bringing into His own temple all the varied instruments of melody, and employing them in His praises, showed this. But these Cainites make music of the siren kind. God is not in all their melodies. It is to shut Him out that they devise the harp and the organ. Yet these inventions He makes use of for Himself afterwards; employing these men as the hewers of wood and the drawers of water for His temple.

3. The mechanical arts. Zillah bare Tubal-Cain to Lamech: and this Tubal-Cain was an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron. The arts flourish under Cain’s posterity. They can prosper without God, and among those in whose hearts His fear is not. God suffers them to go on forgetting Himself, and occupying themselves with these engrossing employments. He does not interfere; and this not only because He is long suffering, but because one of His great purposes is, that man shall have full scope to develop himself mentally, morally, and physically. Man has torn himself off from God; and God will let it be seen how the branch can unfold its leaves and fruit, or rather what kind of leaves and fruit it can put forth when thus severed from Himself. God will let the world roll on its own way, that it may be seen what a world it is. What is earth without the God that made it, or the Christ by whom it is yet to be made new? What are the arts and sciences; music, painting, statuary? What are the wisdom, skill, energy, power, genius of the race, developed to the full? What are the mind’s resources, the heart’s fulness, the body’s pliant power, man’s strength or woman’s beauty, youth’s fervour or age’s grey-haired wisdom? What are all these in a world from which its Creator has been banished; a world whose wisdom is not the knowledge of Christ, and whose sunshine is not the love of God? (H. Bonar, D. D.)

The first city and the last

In the Book of Genesis we have the first city built by Cain, in the Book of the Revelation the last city built by Christ. Now, what I specially wish to show is how the spirit of Christ will purify and exalt city life, how it will arrest the evil of the multitude within the city walls, how it will develop the good, and bring the corporate life to a glorious perfection. It was said of Augustus that he found Rome brick and left it marble; but Christ shall work a far grander transformation, for, finding the cities of the earth cities of Cain, He shall change them into new Jerusalems, holy cities, cities of God. We must not look for the city that John saw in some future world strange and distant; we must look for it in the purification of the present order, that city is already coming down from God out of heaven, it is even now purging and beautifying the cities of the earth, and it will never cease coming down until the corrupt cities of the nations are built up in the crystal and gold of truth and justice and peace. The city of Cain is the city of the past; it is also, alas! to a large extent the city of the present. It is impossible to think of London, Paris, Berlin, St. Petersburg, New York, without being deeply impressed by the spectacles they present of human genius and power and splendid aspiration. And yet in these very cities how much there is to give us pain! How much there is of ignorance, poverty, crime, suffering--of low life, sad life, shameful life. Now, what makes a great city a sad sight, what is the cause of its terrible and perplexing contrasts, and how will Christ cure these evils and bring the clean thing out of the unclean? Let us see.

1. The spirit of Cain was the spirit of ungodliness. It was the spirit of worldliness, it was the fastening to the earthly side of things and the leaving out of the spiritual and divine; it made material life a substitute for God, and in all things aimed to make man independent of God. It was government without God. “Cain builded a city”--he laid the foundation of the worldly rule, and laid it in the spirit of pride and independence. It was culture without God. It was wealth and power without God. It was fashion and pleasure without God. The names of their women signify their appreciation of personal beauty and adornment. The spirit of Cain was, throughout, the spirit of ungodliness, the acceptance and development of all the gifts of God yet ignoring the Giver, and in this spirit Cain built his city. The consciousness of God is the salt of our personal life, and the consciousness of God is the salt of our social and national life. National atheism, whether practical or theoretical, works national ruin. There is no adequate check then to our pride, our selfishness, our license. Without God, the more power we have the sooner we destroy ourselves; without God, the richer we are the sooner we rot. In opposition to this Christ brings into city life the element of spirituality. “Coming down out of heaven from God.” It is in the recognition of the living God that Christ creates the fairer civilization. He puts into our heart assurance of God’s existence, government, watchfulness, equity, faithfulness. It is comparatively easy to see God in nature, in the landscape, the sky, the sea, the sun, but Christ has brought God into the city, identified Him with human life and interests and duties and joys and sorrows, and just as we accept and enforce the divine element in city life so shall our cities flourish in strength and happiness. We cannot do without God in the city--here where temptation is most bitter, pleasure most enticing, sorrow most tragical, where material is most abundant, opportunity most common, secrecy most practicable, passion most excited, where character suffers most fiery trial, here can be no good thing except as we are kept in awe of God’s majesty, comforted by His sympathy, strengthened by His government, inspired by His love. We cannot build cities without God, and if we do they fall to pieces again.

2. The spirit of Cain was the spirit of unbrotherliness. “Cain slew his brother.” It was Cain who asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” He specially denied the brotherly relation, he specially affirmed the selfish policy. And in Lamech you see how the hateful spirit has prevailed. The first city was built in the spirit of a cruel egotism, built by a fratricide, and Cain’s red finger marks are on the city still. The blood stains of the old builder are everywhere. The rich things of commerce are stained by extortion and selfishness--the bloody finger marks are not always immediately visible; but they are generally there. There are red fingerprints on the palaces of the great, red stains on the gold of the opulent. Look at the gorgeous raiment of fashion, and the dismal blot is there. Go into the flowery paths of pleasure, and you will see selfishness spilling blood for its indulgence. And what is the outcome of this selfishness? It creates everywhere weakness and wretchedness and peril. It throws a strange black shadow on all the magnificence of civilization. The spirit of Christ is the spirit of brotherliness. “Cain slew his brother.” “Christ died for us.” Christ brings a new spirit and a new law into society; we must love one another. There are red marks once more on the new city, but this time they are the Builder’s own blood teaching us that as He laid down His life for us so we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. Oh! what a mighty difference will the working of this spirit make in all our civilization. Can you measure it? How it will inspire men, soften their antagonisms, lighten their burdens, wipe away their tears, make rough places smooth, dark places bright, crooked places plain.

3. The spirit of Cain was the spirit of unrighteousness. “Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” Cain acted in untruthfulness, injustice, violence. And in that spirit he built his city. “He was of that wicked one.” The devil was the architect of the first city and Cain its builder, and the spirit of faction, lying, robbery, and fratricide has prevailed in the city ever since. Our great populations are full of wretchedness because there is everywhere such lack of truth and equity and mercy. The spirit of Christ is the spirit of righteousness. Christ comes not only with the sweetness of love, but with the majesty of truth and justice. He creates, wherever He is received, purity of heart, conscientiousness, faithfulness, uprightness of spirit and action. And in this spirit of righteousness shall we build the ideal city. Some time ago, in one of the Reviews, a writer gave a picture of the London of the future when all sanitary and political improvements shall have been perfected. No dust in the streets, no smoke in the air, no noise, no fog, spaces everywhere for flowers and sunlight, the sky above always pure, the Thames running below a tide of silver; but think of the city of the future in whose life, laws, institutions, trade, polities: pleasure, the righteousness of Christ shall find full and final manifestation Let us have great faith in the future. We say sometimes, “God made the country and man the town,” but God will make the town before He finishes, and the town that He makes shall outshine all the glory of nature as much as living immortal beings are beyond all material things. Let us be co-workers with Christ. Put your chrysolite in somewhere. In our personal life, in our domestic life, in our public life, in our evangelistic life let us put in some real work. We are poor creatures if we have no part in this. We must have a brick in this time. Let us be true to the grand Master Builder, and when the earth in her beauty is taken to the breast of God we shall sit down at the bridal feast and share the immortal joy. (W. L. Watkinson.)

The city of Cain

Cain is a type of the worldling, cut off from God, whose all is in this life, and who has no hope of heaven.

His thought is of living here always. A city is a settled place of residence meant to endure long.

His ambition and pride. Great pomp and state in cities.

His covetousness. Money made and hoarded in cities.

His luxuriousness. Cities are scenes of luxury and vice. There is Satan’s seat. (T. G. Horton.)

Cain’s life

It is not difficult to detect the spirit he carried with him, and the tone he gave to his line of the race. The facts recorded are few but significant. He begat a son, he built a city; and he gave to both the name Enoch, that is, “initiation,” or “beginning,” as if he were saying in his heart, “What so great harm after all in cutting short one line in Abel? I can begin another and find a new starting point for the race. I am driven forth cursed as a vagabond, but a vagabond I will not be; I will make for myself a settled abode, and I will fence it round with knife blade thorns so that no man will be able to assault me.” In this settling of Cain, however, we see not any symptom of his ceasing to be a vagabond, but the surest evidence that now he was content to be a fugitive from God, and had cut himself off from hope. His heart had found rest, and had found it apart from God. It is in the family of Lamech the characteristics of Cain’s line are most distinctly seen, and the significance of their tendencies becomes apparent. As Cain had set himself to cultivate the curse out of the world, so have his children derived from him the self-reliant hardiness and hardihood which are resolute to make of this world as bright and happy a home as may be. They make it their task to subdue the world and compel it to yield them a life in which they can delight. They are so far successful that in a few generations they have formed a home in which all the essentials of civilized life are found--the arts are cultivated and female society is appreciated. Of his three sons, Jabal--or “Increase “--was “the father of such as dwell in tents and of such as have cattle.” He had originality enough to step beyond all traditional habits and to invent a new mode of life. Hitherto men had been tied to one spot by their fixed habitations, or found shelter, when overtaken by storm, in caves or trees. To Jabal the idea first occurs, I can carry my house about with me and regulate its movements, and not it mine. I need not return every night this long, weary way from the pastures, but may go wherever grass is green and streams run cool. He and his comrades would thus become aware of the vast resources of other lands, and would unconsciously lay the foundations both of commerce and of wars of conquest. For both in ancient and more modern times the most formidable armies have been those vast moving shepherd races bred outside the borders of civilization and flooding as with an irresistible tide the territories of more settled and less hardy tribes. Jubal again was, as his name denotes, the reputed father of all such as handle the harp and the organ, stringed and wind instruments. The stops of the reed or flute and the divisions of the string being once discovered, all else necessarily followed. The twanging of a bowstring in a musical ear was enough to give the suggestion to an observant mind; the varying notes of the birds; the winds expressing at one time unbridled fury and at another a breathing benediction, could not fail to move and stir the susceptible spirit. The spontaneous though untuned singing of children, that follows no mere melody made by another to express his joy, but is the instinctive expression of their own joy, could not but give, however meagrely, the first rudiments of music. But here was the man who first made a piece of wood help him; who out of the commonest material of the physical world found for himself a means of expressing the most impalpable moods of his spirit. Once the idea was caught that matter inanimate as well as animate was man’s servant, and could do his finest work for him, Jabal and his brother Jubal would make rapid work between them. If the rude matter of the world could sing for them, what might it not do for them? They would see that there was a precision in machine work which man’s hand could not rival--a regularity which no nervous throb could throw out and no feeling interrupt, and yet at the same time when they found how these rude instruments responded to every finest shade of feeling, and how all external nature seemed able to express what was in man, must it not have been the birth of poetry as well as of music? Jubal, in short, originates what we now compendiously describe as the fine arts. The third brother, again, may be taken as the originator of the useful arts--though not exclusively--for being the instructor of every artificer in brass and iron, having something of his brother’s genius for invention and more than his brother’s handiness and practical faculty for embodying his ideas in material forms, he must have promoted all arts which require tools for their culture. Thus among these three brothers we find distributed the various kinds of genius and faculty which ever since have enriched the world. Here in germ was really all that the world can do. The great lines in which individual and social activity have since run were then laid down. This notable family circle was completed by Naamah, the sister of Tubal-Cain. The strength of female influence began to be felt contemporaneously with the cultivation of the arts. Very early in the world’s history it was perceived that, although debarred from the rougher activities of life, women have an empire of their own. Men have the making of civilization, but women have the making of men. It is they who form the character of the individual and give its tone to the society in which they live. (M. Dods, D. D.)

The cultivation of the fine arts

The inexorable necessaries of daily life absorbed no more the whole attention or the entire strength; the soul and the heart, also, demanded and obtained their food and nurture! Lamech was the first poet (Genesis 4:23-24), and his son the first musician; the “sweat of the brow” was temporarily dried by the heavenly sunshine of art; the curse of Adam was, in a great measure, conquered by the perseverance and the gentleness of his descendants. Everybody will readily admit that this was a most important step in the advancement of society; for, materialism with its degrading tendencies of cold expediency was, in some measure, dethroned; it became a co-ordinate part of a higher striving, which found its reward, not in selfish utility, but in a free and elevating recreation. It is true that most of the ancient nations ascribed the invention of musical instruments to their deities: the Egyptians believed that Thor, the god of wisdom and knowledge, the friend of Osiris, invented the three-stringed lyre; the Greeks represented Pan or Mercury as the first artists on the flute; and music was generally considered a Divine gift, and an immediate communication from the gods. But our context describes the invention of these instruments in a far deeper manner; it embodies it organically in the history of the human families, and assigns to it that significant place which its internal character demands. It is not an accidental fact that the lyre and the flute were introduced by the brother of a nomadic herdsman (Jabal). It is in the happy leisure of this occupation that music is generally first exercised and appreciated, and the idyllic tunes of the shepherd find their way, either with his simple instruments, or after the invention of others of a more developed description, into the house of the citizen and the palace of the monarch. But we must not be surprised to find here Jabal described as “the father of those who dwell in tents, and of those who have cattle” (Genesis 4:20), although Abel had already followed the same pursuits (Genesis 4:2). Every single remark proves the depth of thought, and the comprehensiveness of the views of the Hebrew writer. Abel had been murdered, most probably without leaving children; yet his occupation could not die out with him; breeding of cattle is a calling too necessary, and at the same time too inviting, not to be resumed by some later born individual. But in the family of Cain rested the curse of bloodshed; the crime was to be expiated by severe labour; in the fourth generation it was atoned for (Exodus 20:5); and now were the Cainites permitted to indulge extensively in the easy life of herdsmen; the blood of Abel was avenged, and with the restored guiltlessness returned affluence, and--mirth, which is aptly symbolized by the invention of music. Jabal and Jubal were Lamech’s sons with Adah; but he had another wife, Zillah, who bore him also a son, Tubal-Cain. He was a “sharpener of all instruments of braes and iron”; and this seems to imply that he continued the ancestral pursuit of agriculture, but that he also improved the necessary implements; he invented the practical art of whetting ploughs, and of making, by the aid of fire, other instruments materially mitigating the toil and hardship which the cultivation of the soil imposes upon the laborious countryman. And are we not justified in finding in this alleviation of the manual labour also, a relaxation of the severe curse pronounced against his ancestor Cain? (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)

I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt

The song of the sword

It may be translated thus:--

“Adah and Zillah! hear my voice;

Ye wives of Lamech I give ear to my speech:
I will slay men for smiting me,
And for wounding me young men shall die.
If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,

Lamech seventy and seven.”

This is the most antique song or poem in the world, the only poem which dates from before the Flood, the sole literary relic of the antediluvian race. Of course, it has been read in many different senses, and its meaning has at times been darkened by those who assumed to explain it. According to some, Lamech is a murderer stung by remorse into a public confession of his guilt. According to others, he, the polygamist, acknowledges that his sin will bear a more fruitful progeny of ills than that of Cain, that polygamy will prove more fatal to human peace than murder. But the interpretation which the ablest critics are rapidly adopting, and which I hold to be incomparably the best, is that which names it “the Song of the Sword.” Whatever else may be doubtful, this seems certain, that Lamech is in a vaunting humour as he sings: that he is boasting of an immunity from vengeance superior to that of Cain; and that, because of some special advantage which he possesses, he is encouraging himself to deeds of violence and resentment. Now, just before the song of Lamech we have the verse which narrates that Tubal-Cain had learned to hammer out edge-tools in brass and iron. Suppose this great smith to have invented a sword or a spear, to have shown his father how effective and mortal a weapon it was, would not that have been likely to put Lamech into the vainglorious mood which inspires his poem? May we not rationally conclude that his song is “the Song of the Sword”; that, as he wields this new product of Tubal-Cain’s anvil, Lamech feels that he has a new strength and defence put into his hand, a weapon which will make him even more secure than the mark of God made Cain? (S. Cox, D. D.)

The case of Lamech


1. The end and use of ordinances.

2. These are enjoined only in the Church.

3. Cain and his posterity forsook the fellowship of the Church, and lost its privileges.

4. Mark the effect of this in Lamech.

(1) In his government of himself, unrestrained by Divine precepts, a polygamist.

(2) In household government, a tyrant.

(3) In his character as a member of society, a murderer. One sin leads to another.


1. We have seen Lamech’s character.

2. He was remarkable for family prosperity (verses 20-22).

3. God’s dealings with His people have all a reference to their spiritual and eternal good.

4. Hence they have not uninterrupted prosperity.

5. To the ungodly, temporal good is cursed, and becomes a curse--increased responsibility, increased guilt.

6. Splendid masked misery--embroidered shroud--sculptured tomb.

7. The graces of poetry given here--speech of Lamech.


1. God protected Cain by a special providence, that His sentence might take effect.

2. Lamech argues from this, that he is under a similar special providence.

3. Common--they who despise Divine things still know as much of them as is convenient for their reasonings. Doctrines--depravity, election, justification by faith. Incidents--Noah, David, Peter, malefactor on the cross--“All things work,” etc. “Because sentence against,” etc. Ecclesiastes 8:11).

4. Satan thus uses something like the sword of the Spirit--infuses poison into the Word of Life.

5. The Scriptures are thus by men made to injure them fatally. They rest them to their own destruction--food in a weak stomach--a weed in a rich soil.

(1) See the effects of a departure from God.

(2) Avoid the first step. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)


Without professing to regard him as either “an antediluvian Thug--a patriarchal ‘old man of the mountain’--the true type of the assassin in every age, whose sacrificial knife is a dagger, whose worship is homicide, and his inspiration that apostate spirit who was a liar and a murderer from the beginning” (Revelation J.B. Owen, M.A., “Pre-Calvary Martyrs,” p. 97); or, on the other band, “the afflicted one, a type and prophecy, in the first ages of the world, of afflicted Israel in the hour of Jacob’s trouble, when they shall look on the pierced Saviour with godly sorrow” (Revelation T.R. Birks, M.A., in Family Treasury, February, 1863, p. 85); we see in him--

A VIOLATOR OF THE DIVINE LAW OF MARRIAGE. Lamech was a polygamist. Monogamy was the Divine law of marriage, and in all likelihood this rule had been observed till Lamech’s time. Dr. Cox says, “He is the first of the human race who had more wives than one. The father of a family of inventors, this was his invention, his legacy to the human race--a legacy which perhaps the larger half of men still inherit to their cost and ours” (Sunday Magazine, 1873, p. 158)

. Kitto quaintly remarks, “Lamech had his troubles, as a man with two wives was likely to have, and always has had; but whether or not his troubles grew directly out of his polygamy is not clearly disclosed.”

A PROOF THAT WORLDLY PROSPERITY IS NO NECESSARY SIGN OF THE DIVINE FAVOUR. Lamech was a prosperous man, as things went in those primitive times. His family was numerous and rarely gifted (Genesis 4:20-22). But gifts and graces do not necessarily go together.

A CASE OF GOD’S DEALINGS BEING MISCONSTRUED AND PERVERTED. “If Cain be avenged sevenfold.” The mark set on Cain was not only a protection but a punishment. Whilst it saved him from death, it confined him to a vagabondage almost worse than death. Lamech, however, sees in it not punishment, but only protection. He interprets Cain’s case as a premium put by God upon violence; as a Divine connivance at murder. “If God,” he argues, “took the part of a homicide, I need not scruple to destroy with my glittering blade any man, old or young, who dares to molest me. God is merciful to murderers.” A true case of turning the grace of God into licentiousness, of sinning that grace may abound.

AN INSTANCE OF CULTURED AND CIVILIZED GODLESSNESS. Lamech argues that, if God avenged Cain sevenfold (Genesis 4:15), he, with his new weapon, the sword, will not need nor ask a Divine avenger. He will act for himself on the principle, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” and that not merely seven fold but seventy-and-seven times. The song thus “breathes a spirit of boastful defiance, of trust in his own strength, of violence, and of murder. Of God there is no further acknowledgment than that in a reference to the avenging of Cain, from which Lamech argues his own safety” (Edersheim). Looked at in the light of this savage “sword song,” we cannot but see that the culture and civilization introduced by Lamech and his family were essentially godless; “of the earth, earthly.” (T. D.Dickson, M. A.)


1. As the first violator of God’s primeval law of marriage. That law most strictly enjoined one wife; and doubtless had been observed till Lamech’s time. It was the foundation of family peace, of true religion, of social order, of right government in the state. Take away this foundation, or place two instead of one, and the whole fabric shakes, the nation crumbles to pieces.

2. As a murderer. Lust had led to adultery, and adultery had led to violence and murder.

3. As a boaster of his evil deeds. He does the deed of blood, and he is not ashamed of it; nay, he glories in it--nay, glories in it to his own wives. There is no confession of sin here, no repentance, not even Cain’s partial humbling. Thus iniquity lifts up its head and waxes bold in countenance, defying God and vaunting before men, as if the deed had been one of honour and not of shame (2 Timothy 3:2; Psalms 52:7; Psalms 10:3).

4. As one taking refuge in the crimes of others. He makes Cain not a warning, but an example.

5. As one perverting God’s forbearance. He trifles with sin, because God showed mercy to another. He tramples on righteousness, because it is tempered with grace. He sets vengeance at nought, because God is long suffering.

6. As a scoffer. He believes in no judgment, and makes light of sin’s recompense. Is not this the mocking that we hear on every side? No day of judgment, no righteous vengeance against sin, no condemnation of the transgressor! God has borne long with the world, He will bear longer with it still! He may do something to dry up the running sore of its miseries; but as for its guilt, He will make no account of that, for “God is love”! But what then becomes of law, or of righteousness, or of the difference between good and evil? And what becomes of God’s past proclamations of law, His manifestations of righteousness, His declarations of abhorrence of all sin? (H. Bonar, D. D.)

Verse 25

Genesis 4:25

Another seed, instead of Abel


To Eve is born a third son; and he comes to them as the gift of love and the pledge of hope.

Eve names him Seth, which means “set” or “placed” or “appointed,” as being expressly given to her in room of Abel, whom Cain slew. In this her faith shows itself again; for in the ease of her three sons it is she herself who gives the names, and in them displays her faith. In Cain, it was simple and triumphant faith, that had not yet entered into conflict, nor known what trials and crosses are. In Abel’s, it was the utterance of hope deferred making the heart sick, and realizing strangership on earth and “vanity” in creation. And now, in Seth, it is faith reassured and comforted, brought to rest in God, as able to fulfil to the uttermost all that He had promised.

1. She recognizes God in this. It is not the mere “law of nature”; it is the Lord. It is in the fulfilment of His sovereign purpose that He is doing this.

2. She gives a name expressive of her faith. She calls her infant the appointed one, the substituted one. She saw God making up her lose, filling up the void, providing a seed, through which the promised Deliverer was to come.

3. She fondly calls to mind her martyred son. The way in which she does this, shows the yearning of her heart over him who was taken away, as if his place was one which needed to be supplied, as if there were a blank in her bosom which God only knew how to supply. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

Verse 26

Genesis 4:26

Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord


Prayer is speaking to God--on any subject, with any object, in any place, and in any way.

PRAYER SO REGARDED IS AN INSTINCT. It seems to be natural to man to look upwards and address himself to his God. Even in the depth of lost knowledge and depraved feeling, the instinct of prayer will assert itself. A nation going to war with another nation will call upon its God for success and victory; and an individual man, from the bedside of a dying wife or child, will invoke the aid of One supposed to be mighty, to stay the course of a disease which the earthly physician has pronounced incurable and mortal. Just as the instinct of nature brings the child in distress or hunger to a father’s knee or to a mother’s bosom, even so does created man turn in great misery to a faithful Creator, and throw himself upon His compassion and invoke His aid.

BUT PRAYER IS A MYSTERY TOO. The mysteriousness of prayer is an argument for its reasonableness. It is not a thing which common men would have thought of or gone after for themselves. The idea of holding a communication with a distant, an unseen, a spiritual being, is an idea too sublime, too ethereal for any but poets or philosophers to have dreamed of, bad it not been made instinctive by the original Designer of our spiritual frame.

PRAYER IS ALSO A REVELATION. Many things waited for the coming of Christ to reveal them, but prayer waited not. Piety without knowledge there might be; piety without prayer could not be. And so Christ had no need to teach as a novelty the duty or the privilege of prayer. He was able to assume that all pious men, however ignorant, prayed; and to say therefore only this--“When ye pray, say after this manner.” (Dean Vaughan.)

The first public revival of religion

Consider THE STATE OF THE TIMES HERE REFERRED TO. “Then”--“then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.” What was the state of the times, when this revival of religion took place? It was very bad. There were evidently two parties--the children of men and the sons of God--the men of this world and the men not of this world--the faithful in Christ Jesus and the unbelieving and ungodly. And these, it seems--the worldly-minded and corrupt--were growing greatly in boldness and recklessness of crime. They congregated in cities, and so kept each other in countenance; they had their unions for pleasure, for business, for sin; they poured contempt on God and godliness. Meanwhile the godly seed were few and separated. They worshipped God in privacy in their families. They wanted more of union with each other. It was now necessary to make a stand for true religion. What they believed with their heart, it was high time to confess with their lips.

Consider THE PUBLIC REVIVAL OF RELIGION WHICH THEN TOOK PLACE. The pious found it necessary and desirable to unite more closely together; and they found their bond of union in “the name of the Lord.” “They began,” the margin of our Bible says it may be rendered--“they began to call themselves by the name of the Lord.” Probably the expression includes both ideas; they “began to call themselves by the name of the Lord,” and they also “began to call upon His name.”

1. They “called themselves by His name.” They owned themselves openly His people. They were not ashamed of Him--of His name, of His truth, of His cause, nor of His people. They knew God in His grace, in the promise of the Messiah, by the help of the Spirit. What they knew, they believed; what they believed, they confessed; they “called themselves by the name of the lord.”

2. And then they also “called upon the name of the Lord.” We cannot think that so many years had passed away, and men had not yet begun to pray by themselves in secret, or with their households in family worship. But “then men began to call upon the name of the Lord” in social, united, and public worship. This probably is the meaning. The enemies of God were publicly united, and the people of God began publicly to unite. Those, for ungodly purposes; these, to promote vital godliness. The former, for profaneness; the latter, for prayer. This was a decided step; when they came out of their family circles and closets, to join together in public worship. Doubtless it attracted much observation, and excited much ridicule. Can you not fancy the ungodly of that day mocking the men of God as they went to their place of worship? disturbing (it may be) the little band when assembled, or following them with their taunts? But in vain. The Spirit of God brought His children to unite as brethren.

Consider our OWN INSTRUCTION in this subject. What is the state of our times? Is it good or bad? It is very mixed--much as it was then. Numbers have altogether erroneous views of the way of salvation. Numbers advocate another gospel than that of Jesus Christ. Infidelity also prevails to a fearful extent. But, still, there is a bright side also. There are more than a few now who know and who believe from the heart the promise of the Seed of the woman, and all its glorious fulfilment in the person, in the work, in the doctrine, in the grace of Jesus Christ. These also do “call upon the name of the Lord” in private. Oh! we are not of their number, if we neglect private prayer. Then, also, most persons of true piety do now call upon God in their families. But would we see religion revived? We must “call ourselves after the name of the Lord”; confess Christ faithfully before men; be not ashamed of Christian principles. And there must also be revived delight in public worship. This has ever been the case in revivals of true religion. Religion never flourishes without diligent and faithful use of the appointed means of grace. (J. Hambleton, M. A.)

A change in mode of worship

Some change is here intimated in the mode of approaching God in worship. The gist of the sentence, however, does not lie in the name of Jehovah. For this term was not then new in itself, as it was used by Eve at the birth of Cain; nor was it new in this connection, as the phrase now appears for the first time, and Jehovah is the ordinary term employed in it ever afterwards to denote the true God. As a proper name, Jehovah is the fit and customary word to enter into a solemn invocation. It is, as we have seen, highly significant. It speaks of the Self-existent, the Author of all existing things, and in particular of man; the Self-manifest, who has shown Himself merciful and gracious to the returning penitent, and with him keeps promise and covenant. Hence it is the custom itself of calling on the name of Jehovah, of addressing God by His proper name, which is here said to have been commenced. Growing man now comprehends all that is implied in the proper name of God, Jehovah, the Author of being, of promise, and of performance. He finds a tongue, and ventures to express the desires and feelings that have been long pent up in his breast, and are now bursting for utterance. These petitions and confessions are now made in an audible voice, and with a holy urgency and courage rising above the depressing sense of self-abasement to the confidence of peace and gratitude. These adorations are also presented in a social capacity, and thereby acquire a public notoriety. The father, the eider of the house, is the master of words, and he becomes the spokesman of the brotherhood in this new relationship into which they have spontaneously entered with their Father in heaven. The spirit of adoption has prompted the confiding and endearing terms, Abba, Father, and now the winged words ascend to heaven, conveying the adorations and aspirations of the assembled saints. (Prof. J. G. Murphy.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/genesis-4.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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