the Fourth Week of Lent
Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
I HAVE GOTTEN A MAN FROM THE LORD
CAIN'S mother mistook Cain for Christ. As soon as Eve saw her first-born son she no longer remembered the anguish. What a joyful woman Eve was that, day! For, what a new thing in the earth was that first child in the arms of that first mother! Just look at the divine gift. Look at his eyes. Look at his hands. Look at his sweet little feet. Count his fingers. Count too, his toes. See the lovely dimple in the little man's right hand. What a child! And all out of his own mother's bosom. And all his father's son. Adam's son. A second Adam. A new man all to themselves to keep for their own. Look at him taking his first step. Hear him essaying his first syllable; the first time he says, Mother! and the first time he tries to say, Father! The Garden of Eden, with all its flowers and fruits, was forgotten and forgiven from the day that heaven came down to earth; from the day on which Eve got her first-born son from the Lord God. Nor, if you think of it, is it at all to be wondered at that little Cain's happy mother mistook him for Jesus Christ. Put yourself back into her place. Eve had brought banishment from Eden on her husband and on herself by listening to the father of lies., But the Lord God had come down to Eve in her terrible distress, and, beginning His book of promises with His best promise, had promised to her that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head, and should thus redeem and undo all the evil that she had brought on herself and on her husband. And here, already, blessed be God, is the promised seed! And that, too, sent in such a sweet, heart-satisfying, and heavenly way! A man from God in her own arms! Why, Eve would have been a cold-blooded, hard-hearted atheist if she had not so hailed the birth of her first-born son. She would have made God a liar unless she had said, This is our God: for we have waited upon Him and we have gotten a man from Him. And yet, with all that, it was not so to be. As we know now, Cain was not to be the Christ. No. The angel Gabriel was not sent to Adam and Eve. The Angel of the Annunciation who stands in the presence of God passed by Eve, and Sarah, and Rachel, and Hannah, and Elizabeth, and all the other mothers in Israel, and came to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And then, Cain and Abel as children together,-till their mother's cup ran over. With what motherly love that first mother watched the two little brothers as they played together. Look at them planting a garden in their sport, and putting men and women of clay in the garden and calling the man a father and the woman a mother. Till, tired of their garden and its ever-falling fathers and mothers, the two little angels went off hand in hand to go and meet their own returning father. And then, with a child in each hand, Adam came home to Eve, saying, Surely these same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed.
'And in process of time Abel became a keeper of sheep, but Cain, like his father, became a tiller of the ground. And Cain brought of the fruits of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect to Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering the Lord had not respect. And Cain was very wroth and his countenance fell. And the Lord said to 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.' Look at the seventh verse of the fourth chapter of Genesis, and you will see in that verse, and for the first time in the Bible, that terrible word sin. That word, the most awful word ever uttered in heaven or earth or hell-sin! John Milton is our best commentator on Moses. But Milton's description of sin is far too dreadful for me to repeat it here. Read it yourselves. Read the second book of Paradise Lost, and you will see sin with her father and her son both standing beside her. And read, and read, and read over and over again Moses and Milton and yourself till you both see and feel both sin and her father and her son all in yourself. Moses and Milton write for grownup men, and not for babes who are still on their unskilful milk, as most men and women are.
Envy came to its full maturity all at once in Cain. Some sinful passions have taken time and environment to spring up and to mature to their full fruit in the human heart and in human life. But envy, the wickedest, the deadliest, and the most detestable of all our sinful passions, came to a perfect man all at once. Eve's first-born son envied his brother Abel. Cain envied Abel because of his goodness, and because his goodness had found him acceptance and praise of God. And in his envy and hate of his brother's goodness and acceptance Cain rose up and slew his brother. Envy, surely, even in the end of the world, can no further go than that. I defy the wickedest heart in this house tonight to improve upon the way of Cain. And yet let us not be too sure. Let us look yet closer at Cain; and, all the time, let us keep our eye upon ourselves and see.
Cain envied Abel. He envied his brother, his only brother, his trustful, confiding, affectionate brother, his brother who worshipped him, and who would have given him his altar, and his lamb, and his fire from heaven, and all that he had if Cain would but have laid aside his gloom and taken it all. But no; Cain will not be beholden to his younger brother. Nothing will satisfy Cain now but one thing. A coal from hell has by this time so kindled hell in Cain's heart that all the rebukes and commands of Adam, and all the tears and embraces of Eve, and all the soft answers and submissions of Abel could not quench the wrath in Cain's evil eye, or take the fall out of his sunken countenance. Let the holy man here who has never had this same hell-fire in his heart at his brother, at his dearest and best and only friend on earth, at his old playfellow, at his present fellow-worshipper, let that happy man cast stones at that miserable wretch with murder in his heart at Abel his unsuspecting brother.
'Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.' The offence was aggravated by the motive, says Bacon in one place. And so it was with Cain's offence. For his motive was envy of his brother's goodness, and of the acceptance and the praise that his brother's growing goodness was everv day bringing him from the Lord. 'The Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering.' That was all. But that was quite enough to kindle all hell in Cain's evil heart. And let our brother worship God alongside of our altar also, and let him find more acceptance with God and with man than we find; let him be better gifted of God and better placed by God; more approved of God and of God's people than we are, and you will soon see Cain. Praise the talents, the industry, the achievements of our very best and dearest friend, and it is gall and wormwood to us. But blame him, belittle him, detract from him, pooh-pooh and sneer at him, and we will embrace you, for you have put marrow into our dead bones, you have given wine to him that was of a heavy heart. Praise a neighbouring minister's prayer, or his preaching, or his pastoral activity at another minister's table, and you will upset both him and his listening house for days and for years to come. Of the six sins that are said to forerun the sin against the Holy Ghost, the fourth in the fatal order is 'envy at another's grace.' Take care, then, how you gad about with a tongue in your head that no man can tame, and tempt good men and women toward that sin which shall never be forgiven them.
'And Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.' Abel might have escaped his end, and might have saved his brother, if he had not been so easy, so innocent, and so unsuspecting. If he had even attended to his dog at his heel he would have seen that there was something wrong somewhere that morning. For Cain had not shut his eyes all last night. Cain could not sleep all last night. He had been up and out and all about all night like a ghost. His face was fallen in. His eyes were green and black. Abel's dog growled and barked at Cain as if he had been a vagabond already. Abel had never seen a corpse, else Cain's face that day was like nothing in the world so much as the face of one of our corpses in its coffin. Nor did Cain talk like his usual self that morning. He stammered as he talked. He talked about things he had never, that Abel remembered, talked about before. Were it not that perfect innocence is so blind and so deaf, Abel would have found opportunity and would have turned home again that fatal morning. And even had Abel asked what Cain bad against him that morning, Cain might have admitted fierce anger, or some other evil feeling at something or other, but he would never have admitted envy. No man from that day to this has ever admitted envy. To every other wickedness confession has often been made; but did you ever confess envy? or did you ever have envy confessed to you? No, never I wonder, do the confessors in the confessional get at envy? If they do in the darkness and through the bitter brass, then there is something to be said for that heart-racking and sin-extorting system. No. Only by the stone, only by the dagger, only by the pistol, only by the cup, only by the bitten back and the slandered name is envy ever found out. In his noble answer to Tilken's abominable libel Jacob Behmen says, 'We, poor children of Eve, no longer walk together in the love of God; but, full of passion, we envy, vilify, dishonour, and denounce one another, wishing to one another death and all kinds of evil; we enjoy, as we enjoy nothing else, each other's loss and pain and misery.'
'And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother?' The Lord asked at Cain what He knew quite well, in order that Cain might know that the Lord knew. But, instead of telling the Lord and Adam and Eve where Abel was buried, and instead of crying all his days ever after to the Lord, Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, Cain gave to the Lord the brazen-faced answer, Am I my brother's keeper? 'And the Lord said, What is this that thou hast done? A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.' And not Cain, and all unarrested murderers only. We are all fugitives and vagabonds in the earth. We all are, or we ought to be. For the voice of our brother's blood cries to God against us. And, one day, we shall all be arrested and arraigned on that very same charge before the judgment-seat of Christ; unless, indeed, we surrender ourselves before that seat is set. 'For this is the message that we have heard of Him, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer hach eternal life abiding in him.' It was an old superstition that a murdered man's body began to run warm blood again as soon and as often as its murderer was brought near it. And in this way they used to discover who the real murderer was. Now, just suppose that that was indeed a natural or a supernatural law in the age of the world and in the land in which we live,-how many men still living would begin to be all over with blood in your presence? The man sitting next you at this moment would be like a murdered corpse. The preacher now standing before you; your mother's son; the very wife of your bosom, when she does not flatter and fawn upon you; your own son; your dearest friend. Yes; you would then be what Cain all his days was, and all men finding you would slay you. They would not know, they would be horrified at what it meant, when their throats began to run blood as they passed you on the street, or as you talked with them in the field, or as you sat eating and drinking with them at your table, or at their table, or at the Lord's table. But you know. And you know their names. Let their names, then, be heard of God in your closet every day and every night, lest they be proclaimed from the housetops to your everlasting confusion and condemnation at the last day.
And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and Cain wandered up and down a fugitive and a vagabond, thinking every bush an officer, till a child was born to him in his banishment. Dr. Delltzsch, that old evangelical exegete who is so much at home among all those Old Testament men, tells us that Cain called his child by a name such as the rich man in hell might have called his child by if an heir had been born to him in his place of torment. For Cain said, Let his name be called Enoch, for God hath sent His angel to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue. And little Enoch and his mother somewhat lifted the curse off Cain, and somewhat quieted and rested Cain's vagabond heart., And Cain builded a city and called it Enoch, after his son, for he said, Here will I rest and dwell and hide myself, for God hath refreshed me and hath revived me with my wife and children. And, with that, Cain the murderer of Abel passes out of our knowledge. But let us hope and believe that the presence of the Lord came and dwelt in that city of Cain and his wife and children, according to the splendid psalm-'O Lord, Thou hast searched me and known me. Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me and Thy right hand shall hold me.'
Now, since all this was written for our warning, and for our learning-come, all envious-minded men and women, come with me, and let us offer to God the envious-minded man's prayer. We have never confessed envy to man, but God knows our hearts. 'O dear God, never suffer the devil to rub his vilest leprosy of envy upon me. Never let me have the affections of the desperate and the damned. Let it not be ill with me when it is well with others. Let me have Thy Holy Spirit to promote my brother's good, and to give Thee thanks for all his prosperity and praise. Never censuring his actions curstly, nor detracting from his praises spitefully, nor upbraiding his infelicities maliciously, but pleased with all things that Thou docst or givest. That we may all join together in the communion of saints, both here and hereafter, in grace and in glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.'
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Cain'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​c/cain.html. 1901.