Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 014. The Sacrifice

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Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 014. The Sacrifice

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The Sacrifice

Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit 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 unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.- Gen_4:2-5.

1. The first instance of worship subsequent to the Fall of which any Scriptural record has come down to us is described in the text. “The Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.” Here was a very notable distinction made between these primitive worshippers. And the question to be solved is, Whence did this distinction arise, or on what principle can we satisfactorily account for it? The question has been answered already under Cain; it must be answered independently here. For the right answer is the key to the life of each of these men, and the reason why their story is recorded.

(1) Now it is useless to seek an answer to this question in any supposed difference in the value of the things presented. In the sight of that great Lord to whom they were devoted, neither of the gifts had any intrinsic value. To Him they could not in any respect be profitable. If there were any difference between them in the judgment of God, we might with some plausibility have supposed that, of the two offerings, Abel's would have been the less acceptable, inasmuch as there seems at first sight to be something unnatural and incongruous, or, we may even say, something hateful and revolting, in the very attempt to conciliate the great God, whose tender mercies are over all His works, by deliberately putting to death an unoffending animal. On the other hand, as regards the worshippers themselves, we have not the least reason to think that there was any difference in the estimate they formed of the worth of their respective offerings; for if it be alleged that Cain, as being a husbandman, brought what was cheapest and easiest for him, “the fruit of the ground,” it might with equal justice be said of Abel that he also, as being a shepherd, brought what was to him the least costly offering, when he sacrificed “the firstlings of his flock.”

(2) Nor is there much force in the argument that Abel had more correctly performed the ritual of the offering; for at the best that only touches the outer framework of the story. As the narrator has given us the story, omitting the grounds of preference which in the earliest tradition may have been of the childish superficial character indicated by the above suggestions, or of a superstitious character, due to the polytheism of the primitive Hebrews, it is clear that he wishes himself to draw attention to the inner motives, and to the moral characters of the offerers, by which alone the value of their respective offerings could be really distinguished. This thought quite escaped the Septuagint translators, who seemed to suppose that the rebuke contained in verse 7 turned upon Cain's neglect to prepare his offering according to strict ceremonial requirements. The true insight into the matter is found in the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.”

(3) Abel had the faith which enabled him to believe that “God is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him.” His attitude towards God was sound; his life was a diligent seeking to please God; and from all such persons God gladly receives acknowledgment. When the offering is the true expression of the soul's gratitude, love, devotedness, then it is acceptable. When it is a merely external offering, that rather veils than expresses the real feeling; when it is not vivified and rendered significant by any spiritual act on the part of the worshipper, it is plainly of no effect.

Wherein does Moses differ from Xerxes? Both alike lashed the sea; but Moses lashed it in the name of God. Wherein does Rahab differ from Aspasia? Both were harlots. Aspasia reasoned with philosophers; but Rahab trusted in the Divine covenant and let down from her window the scarlet thread. Wherein was Samson better than Hercules? Did not both rend the jaws of lions? Aye; but the long braided locks of Samson were the token of his faith; shear those locks, and he is weak as other men.1 [Note: D. J. Burrell, The Church in the Fort, 227.]

Carlyle in his Reminiscences tells an incident in the life of a worthy of Ecclefechan, in whom the spirit of Abel was shown.

“Old David Hope, that was his name, lived on a little farm close by Solway Shore, a mile or two east of Annan. A wet country, with late harvests; which (as in this year 1866) are sometimes incredibly difficult to save. Ten days continuously pouring; then a day, perhaps two days, of drought, part of them it may be of roaring wind,-during which the moments are golden for you (and perhaps you had better work all night), as presently there will be deluges again. David's stuff, one such morning, was all standing dry again, ready to be saved still, if he stood to it, which was much his intention. Breakfast (wholesome hasty porridge) was soon over; and next in course came family worship, what they call ‘Taking the Book' (or Books, i.e. taking your Bibles, Psalm and Chapter always part of the service): David was putting on his spectacles, when somebody rushed in, ‘Such a raging wind risen; will drive the stooks (shocks) into the sea if let alone!' ‘Wind!' answered David, ‘Wind cannot get ae straw that has been appointed mine; sit down, and let us worship God' (that rides in the whirlwind)!”1 [Note: Carlyle, Reminiscences, ii. 10.]

2. “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” By faith Abel was accepted of the Lord, by faith he suffered a martyr's death. We have here an illustration of the power of faith. This is the differentiating line which runs through all human life, to separate the dying from the immortal. Faith is living among realities. It is putting things at their proper relative value. It is placing the emphasis on facts as against fancies, on realities as against phantasms. It is making room for God and giving Him His proper place in the economy of life.

(1) Faith, and faith alone, brings a man into touch with God.-The Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering because Abel had faith. There was no other way of approach to God then, and there is no other way now. It is written, “Without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto God: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him.” It is a glorious truth that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and that His blood cleanseth from all sin. But what signifies this to any one who has not faith in Him? Without faith Christ shall profit us nothing. We may have prayed. We may have read the Bible. We may have sat at the Table of the Lord. We may have been zealous as the Apostle Paul. Yet if we lack personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour “we are yet in our sins.” By faith alone can we come to God.

(2) Through faith in God we can do all things.-To bring one's soul into line with the Divine will is to find oneself, and to assume an attitude of power. Those who have done great things in the kingdom of grace have invariably been men of great faith. Had they not been so, the works they accomplished would never have been undertaken. Unbelief always says, “It cannot be done! There is no use trying! It is sure to fail! There is no use going to speak to that man about his soul. He has continued too long in his sinful course, and is too hardened in heart. He would only laugh at you.” Faith says, “I know I cannot change that man's heart, but God can-God is stronger than the devil any day. And if I can only go to Him with a strong enough faith, I go with all the power of God behind me.” Faith links my weakness to God's omnipotence. And so it comes to pass that miracles of grace are achieved by the weakest and most unlikely agents.

It is true that over and over again God has used men utterly weak and foolish and despised in the light of life's common standards. He wants men of the best mental strength, of the finest mental training, and He uses such when they are willing to be used, and governed by the true God-standards of life. But talent seems specially beset with temptation. The very power to do great things seems often to bewilder the man possessing it. Wrong ambition gets the saddle and reins and the whip too, and rides hard. Frequently some man who had not guessed he had talent, born in some lonely walk of life, without the training of the schools, is used for special leadership. It takes longer time always. Early mental training is an enormous advantage. Carey the cobbler had mental talents to grace a Cambridge chair. It took a little longer time to get him into shape for the pioneer work he did in India. Duff's training gave him a great advantage. But God is never in a hurry. He can wait. What He asks is that we shall bring the best we have natively, with the best possible training, and let Him use us absolutely as He may wish. And always remember that every mental power is a gift from Him; that actual power in life must be through Him only; and that mental gifts are not serviceable save as they are ever inbreathed by His own Spirit.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Service, 232.]

She can pluck mountains from their rooted thrones,

And hurl them into ocean; and from pain,

And prisons, and contempt extort the palm

Of everlasting triumph. She doth tread

Upon the neck of pride, like the free wind

On angry ocean. Lo! with step erect

She walks o'er whirlpool, waves, and martyr fires

And depths of darkness and chaotic voids;

Dissolving worlds, rent heavens, and dying suns;

Yea, and o'er paradises of earth's bliss,

And oceans of earth's gold, and pyramids

And temples of earth's glory: all these pave

Her conquering path to heaven-all these she spurns

With feet fire-shod, because her hand is placed

Immoveably in God's; her eye doth rest

Unchangeable on His; nor will she stop

Till, having crossed the stormy waves of pain

And fiery trial, she may lay her head

Upon her Father's breast, and take the crown

From love's rejoicing hand.