Gen. iv. 3~5, and Heb. xi. 4.
At the Gates of Eden.
Read Gen. iv. 3~5, and Heb. xi. 4.
ACROSS the broad expanse of well-nigh sixty centuries, there comes a voice both loud and clear, calling attention to things that happened at the gates of Eden, and bidding us give heed to the momentous truths they teach.
In religious things, the men of this generation are feverish for novelties. Let something fresh be found, no matter whether it be true or not, and multitudes will welcome it as if it bore upon its face the stamp of Heaven. They will speak of it as if they had found great spoil. With loud rejoicings, their new idol is set up, while in imperious tones they cry, "Bow the knee, bow the knee," though on the morrow, it shall crumble to pieces or fall down flat like Dagon of the Philistines before the ark of God.
We want not something new. It is old truths we want—truths so precious that rather than relinquish them, men have parted with their possessions, have willingly suffered themselves to be flung to the lions, tied to the stake and burnt to ashes, or left to rot in the dark dungeons of the Inquisition—truths which have made drunkards sober, thieves honest, and covetous men generous. These are the truths for to-day. They have not lost their force. They are as mighty as ever, and able to accomplish similar results, only they must not be spoken with icy lips and frozen tongues and bated breath, but in power, with burning words, and from the fulness of a heart hot in the faith of them.
The story of Cain and Abel is among the old ones, and it is soon told. Both boys were born outside Eden, the sinful children of parents who had sinned. They were dandled on the same knees, nurtured at the same breasts, carried in the same arms; they listened to the same stories, played the same games, and grew up together to man's estate. In the process of time, Cain brought an offering to the Lord. It was good enough in its way. Flowers and fruits, the best the earth would grow, were laid as a tribute at the feet of God. But his offering was not accepted, and Cain grew angry and his countenance fell.
Abel, too, brought his offering; it was not lovely to look upon like Cain's. No lilies graced his altar, no roses, nothing pleasant to the eye, only a dead lamb with the fat thereof. Yet to that offering, God had respect.
Ah! Cain's offering might have done had there been no sin here. But he essayed to worship God as if nothing wrong had taken place, as if there had been no disobedience, no hiding in conscious guilt behind the garden trees, no expulsion from Eden, where in innocence, his parents had been set. There was no confession of sin, no recognition of its just penalty, no faith which would have led him to place death, as Abel did, between himself and God. There lay Cain's fatal mistake, and that is the mistake so many are making to-day.
Ask of the great crowds that kneel before the altars of Christendom, how many of them know themselves saved, and see what answer you will get. Do they indeed know that they are lost, and as such, needing to be saved? We fear not. And how should they if the truth of their condition, as it is solemnly set forth in God's Word is but faintly seen, if seen at all? They are content to attend "divine service," as it is called, take the sacrament, teach perhaps in the Sunday-school, visit in the district, sing at musical entertainments, assist the charities, and otherwise help on "the cause." An occasional call from their minister, they like as long as it consists of inquiries as to health, remarks about the weather, and any other of the thousand and one subjects of common talk. But we can imagine their surprise were their visitor to show any deep concern about their soul's salvation, and to plainly state his fears that with all their activity, they were but walking in the way of Cain, and marching thoughtlessly towards the place, the name of which must not be mentioned to ears polite. Kind reader, are we describing you?
Do not mistake us. We are not questioning your sincerity, but sincerity will not save you. Cain was sincere for aught we know, zealous and painstaking, yet he was rejected. He did not bring to God an offering that had cost him nothing. With anxious care, he watched the growth of his flowers and fruit. The best of all he had, he brought, and little did he suspect that his best would be worse than useless. Nor is it otherwise at this hour. Your good name, your church membership, your blameless life, your care for your Sunday-school class, your readiness to help another, yea, all the good of every sort that can be laid to your credit —all that comes under the name of "our righteousnesses" are but "filthy rags." Will you lay a handful of filthy rags on God's altar, and base your hope of acceptance on the value of them? That was Cain's error, and from that day to this, in manifold ways, God has been warning us against those fatal rocks, lest we should make shipwreck even as he did.
Abel came not in Cain's way. What he had heard from his parents' lips had not fallen on unheeding ears like the seed by the way-side. If innocence had fled and would be seen on earth no more, if sin was here, yet did he remember that the Lord God had clothed the sinful Adam and his wife with coats of skin—precious shadow of that righteousness in which the believer stands. All these things had Abel heard in common with his brother Cain. But he heard them not with the outward ear alone. A mighty voice had reached his soul and he was not rebellious. If his parents had sinned, he too was a sinner. This he knew and owned, but it did not end there. He brought of "the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof." And he brought it not alive but dead. In that act, we see his faith. For it was "by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain"—faith that confessed both the sin and the justice of the penalty attached to it, and that led him to acknowledge that if he, a sinful man, had to do with a holy God, it could only be done on the ground of the blood-shedding and death of another.
And that other was Christ. Abel's "firstling of the flock" figured Him forth, while "the fat thereof" spake of that inward energy for good, that devotedness to God, which ever distinguished our perfect Saviour here below. The believer in Jesus is not only cleared from his sins by the precious blood of Christ, but he is accepted in all the infinite worth of that blessed One Himself. Have you, my reader, any part in that? Are you thus cleared and accepted? That you are a sinner as Abel was, you are no doubt very willing to admit. Everybody is, for the matter of that. But suffer a stranger, who pens these lines, to ask whether you have had any secret dealings with God in reference to your sins? Have you come to Him, not alone to confess your sins, but to tell Him that you have faith in the blood once shed at Calvary? Oh, how great is the number of those who are ready enough to own their sinnership, but who have not placed, as under the eye of God, their simple trust in the sacrifice of Christ! They are like men on board a sinking ship, who knew their danger, but stepped not into the life-boat, though it had come to their relief.
Great is the mercy of God, who, from the gates of Eden, right on through the passing centuries, has cautioned us against the way of Cain. The history of this unhappy man is like a beacon, to place us on our guard against the rocks and shoals where hidden dangers lie. On the other hand, the example of his brother Abel shines like a star in the sky to guide us across the stormy sea of life into the haven of eternal rest. W. BARKER.
”Simple Testimony” 1920