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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ genesis-4.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 4:1-2
I. That it is designed for the numerical increase of humanity. The position of Adam and Eve prior to the birth of their two sons was unique. They were alone in the great world. In Eden they would not be so deeply conscious of this solitude, as there their solitude was filled with God and holy thoughts. But, now, in their altered condition of life, they would feel more keenly the need of earthly companionship. Their intercourse with Jehovah is not so easy and natural as it used to be, and, as they cannot live without fellowship, they would hail with joy the birth of a son. It is the tendency of fallen manhood to supply the place of the Divine with the human, to substitute earth for heaven. Parental loneliness is a grief to many. Their home rings not with the happy voice of childhood. But still it is impossible that any parents now can be lonely as the progenitors of our race. The intellectual, and social, and moral companionships of the outside world are too numerous to leave domestic life in solitude.
2. The position of Adam and Eve prior to the birth of their two sons was interesting. They are now in a great crisis of their lives. They have passed through all the bitter experiences of sin. They have become cognizant of Satanic influence. They are fallen creatures. They have been driven from the supreme enjoyments of a holy life and residence into the struggle of a hard life. Yet they are encircled by Divine mercy. How will they act? In what manner and spirit will they conduct their new and arduous life? Will they push further into sin, or will they begin their domestic life in purity and hope? How will their recent sin affect their rising progeny? These and kindred questions invest the position of Adam and Eve at this time with deep and extraordinary interest. Hence the domestic relations of life were intended to people the country, to provide men from the intellectual, commercial and moral pursuits of life.
II. That it should be careful as to the nomenclature of its children. Eve’s first-born was called “Cain,” her next son was designated “Abel.” We observe that:
1. Child nomenclature should be appropriate. The name Cain signifies possession. Eve regarded her first-born son with delight. He was her property. Some parents only regard their children as so much property, as worth so much to them in the labour market. But Cain was to our first parents a moral possession. They regarded him as the gift of God. Children are the most happy, and yet the most solemn and responsible possession of domestic life. They are not to be regarded as “encumbrances,” but as capable of healthy work and sublime moral destiny. They are to be well cultured. They ought to increase the spiritual value of the home to which they belong. They ought to be trained for the God from whence they came. Give them appropriate names, expressive of their early dispositions, their infantile circumstances, or of some holy thought connected with the providence of God in your history.
2. Child nomenclature should be instructive. While the name of Cain signified possession, that of Abel signified vanity. Many conjectures have been offered as to the reason of the name given to Abel. The probability is that our first parents were getting into the painful experiences of life, and embodied their verdict of it in the name of their child. Thus the name of their second son gathers up the history of their past, and the sorrows of their present condition. It would ever be a monitor to both child and parents. When either is tempted to be led away by earthly things, it would serve to remind them of their vanity. It is well to have Scriptural names in a family. They are deeply instructive.
3. Child nomenclature should be considerate. The names that parents sometimes give to children, while they are appropriate, instructive, and prophetic, should always be in harmony with good taste and refined judgment. Some parents give their children several names, as if one or two were not enough to distinguish them, or as if they wished to give them good practice in writing in future days. How many men are ashamed of the uneuphonious and jawbreaking names that have been given to them in childhood. Hence parents should be considerate in the domestic nomenclature of their offspring. Let their names be pictures of goodness, and patterns of truth.
III. That it should judiciously bring up children to some honest and helpful employments.
1. These two brothers had a daily calling. They were not allowed to idle away their time at home, without instruction to prepare them for the active duties of life, or without work to develop their growing and youthful energies. Every young man, irrespective of his social position, or great expectations, ought to be brought up to some useful employment. The world invites his effort. Commerce is calling for it. Art would prize it. Literature would repay it. Heaven will reward it. Indolence is the curse of family life.
2. Each of these brothers had his distinctive calling. Abel was a keeper of sheep. Cain was a tiller of the ground. Thus the two brothers were not engaged in the same pursuit. It is well for a family to cultivate within itself all the employments of civilized life. Then one member of it becomes the happy compliment of another, and all are in a state of comparative independence. Some men look down on the agriculturalist. They have no reason to. It is the most ancient trade. It is most honourable. It is mediatorial in its character, for it takes the gifts from the hand of God to distribute them to supply the wants of humanity. This should evoke gratitude.
3. These brothers had a healthful calling. Both of them worked in the open air. Some parents allow their boys to be confined in sultry offices, or in ill-ventilated workshops, where physical manhood is weakened by daily labour. Men should study health in their secular pursuits. Work ought to strengthen rather than weaken.
4. These brothers had a calling favourable to the development of intellectual thought. Shepherds, and tillers of the ground, ought to be men of great souls, and sublime ideas. They are students of nature. Their daily occupation brings them near to God. Many of the Psalms are the outcome of a shepherd life.
IV. That it should not be unmindful of its religious obligations. “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.”
1. These offerings are rendered obligatory by the mercies of the past. This first family had received many blessings at the Divine hand. Their spared lives. Their increasing family. Their fruitful gardens. It was natural that they should be inspired with the idea of religious worship. There is not a family in the world but has reason to worship God.
2. These offerings should be the natural and unselfish outcome of our commercial prosperity. Cain and Abel were prosperous in their avocations, and hence it was only natural and right that they should offer to God the fruit of the earth and the firstlings of the flock. The first fruits of trade should be presented to the Lord. They are His due. It would show our unselfish reception of His gifts. It would enrich His church, and aid His moral enterprise in the world.
3. These offerings ought to embody the true worship of the soul. People say that they can worship God without giving him anything. They sing His praise, they pray to Him, but they never give to Him the firstlings of their flocks. They are wealthy, yet they give the Lord nothing. Their worship is a mockery. If their prayers were true, their gifts would be ready. In such a case the gift is the measure of the prayer. The poor widow will give her mite. The penitent heart will give itself. LESSONS:—
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.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 4:1-2. Providence has distinguished men from their first birth into the world.
The propagation of the human race is outside of Paradise, not because it is first occasioned by sin, but rather because it supposes a distinct development of mankind, and is tainted with its sin [Lange].
Adam had, no doubt, already commenced both occupations, and the sons selected each a different department. God himself had pointed out both to Adam—the tilling of the ground by the employment assigned him in Eden, which had to be changed into agriculture after his expulsion; and the keeping of cattle in the clothing which He gave him (Genesis 3:21). Moreover, agriculture can never be entirely separated from the rearing of cattle; for a man not only requires food, but clothing, which is procured directly from the hides and wool of tame animals. The different occupations of the brothers, therefore, are not to be regarded as a proof of the difference in their dispositions. This comes out first in the sacrifice, which they offered after a time to God, each one from the produce of his vocation [Keil and Delitzsch.]
Genesis 4:7. Sin lieth at the door.] Rather: “A sin-offering is crouching at the door, or (more generally) opening”: e.g. “at the opening, or entrance, of thy brother’s fold.” This exegesis supplies a point of departure for the words which immediately follow, and which otherwise seem exceedingly abrupt. The connecting link may be shown by the following paraphrase:—“Though, in order to do well, thou must needs own thyself a sinner, and be indebted to thy brother for a sin-offering out of his fold; yet this will not destroy thy rights as firstborn: NOTWITHSTANDING, TO THEE shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. Let not pride, therefore, deter thee from this better—this only proper—way. Let no obstinacy, no groundless fears, keep thee from thus doing well.” Much has been written on this passage, and many are the views of it that have been propounded; but, without dogmatising, we may express our pretty confident persuasion that no exposition so fully meets the case as the above.—
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 4:3-8
THE TRUE AND FALSE WORSHIPPER OF GOD
I. That both the True and the False amongst Men are apparently Worshippers of God. Both Cain and Abel came to worship God. The false come to worship God.
1. Because it is the custom of the land so to do. The sabbath morning dawns, and the world of mankind awakes to the religious service of the day. All classes and conditions of men are seen wending their way to the temple of God. They reverence not the day. They join not heartily in its worship. They are the slaves of custom. They are the creatures of habit. Hence you cannot distinguish the moral character of men by the mere fact of worship. Attendance to the outward ceremonial of religion is not an infallible index to their piety or heavenly aspirations.
2. Because men feel that they must pay some regard to social propriety and conscience. Men would feel if they did not bring the first fruits of their religious service to God that they were little better than heathens. This to them is a social propriety. They would not disgrace their characters by an avowed neglect of the sabbath, or by a rejection of all moral worship. They always attend church once a day. This is their sabbath etiquette. This silences their conscience, preserves their reputation, and constitutes them moral and respectable people. Hence they bring their firstlings to the Lord. These are the false worshippers of God, and with them the sanctuaries of the world are crowded. They are Cainites.
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. They are in the minority. They are followers of Abel. They gladly welcome all the means of grace. They joyfully present their firstlings to the Lord. They come to God in his appointed way. They are animated by the true spirit of devotion.
II. That both the True and the False amongst men present their material offerings to God. Cain and Abel not merely came together to worship God, but they also brought of their substance to the Lord. Cain brought of the fruit of the ground. Abel brought the firstlings of his flock.
1. The trade of each brother suggested his offering. This was most natural. The trades, the temperaments, and the abilities of men, generally determine their kind of religious service and devotion. The men of great intellect will take to God the firstlings of a splendid literature. The man of great emotion will take to God the offerings of an enthusiastic prayer. The man of great wealth will take silver and gold. The man of leisure will give his time. The man of genius will give his originality. The poor man will give himself. Hence there are few men who neglect to give some offering to the Lord.
(1.) Some take their offerings for parade. They never take small offerings that can be concealed. Their offerings always go in droves, that men may see them, admire them, and inquire about them. They have no true piety to inspire society with respect, hence they substitute ostentation, and a pretence of goodness in its place. They will give ten thousand pounds to build a church, when privately they would not give ten shillings to save a soul.
(2.) They take their offerings to enhance their trade. They want to be known as great church goers, as men of benevolent disposition. Thus they hope to increase their financial returns, and to strengthen their business relationships. Their offerings to God are nothing more than investments for themselves.
(3.) They take their offerings to increase their social influence.
(4.) They take their offerings with a humble desire to glorify God. These are the offerings of a true manhood. They are the outcome of a penitent soul. They only are acceptable to heaven. Thus as you cannot estimate the moral character of a man by his worship, neither can you by the material offerings he presents to the Lord.
III. That both the true and the false amongst men are observed and estimated by God in their worship and offerings.
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. When men are searching their flocks for the Lord’s offering, they generally take the poorest they can find. The threepenny piece is enough.
(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 offerings 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.
IV. That the true, in the Divine reception of their worship and offerings, are often envied by the false.
1. This envy is wrathful. “Why art thou wrath.”
2. This envy is apparent. “Why is thy countenance fallen.”
3. This envy is unreasonable. “If thou doest well, shalt thou be accepted.”
4. This envy is murderous. “Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.”
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 4:3. Sin, however it made man apostate from God, did not extinguish his worship of God.
God and nature teach parents to nurture children in the religion of God.
Set and stated times there have been for God’s worship from the beginning. The Sabbath.
From the fall of man God did teach their recovery by sacrifice.
Wicked ones, even the children of the devil, have made show of religion from the fall.
Hypocrites come without blood, even without sense of their own deserts and self-abasement, to serve God.
Sincere worshippers have been in the Church of God from the beginning.
THE SACRIFICES OF THE ANCIENT DISPENSATION
I. That from the earliest times, the only way of acceptable worship has been by sacrifice. It is impossible to account for the origin and prevalence of sacrifice, but upon the principle of divine appointment. We cannot suppose that this offering of Abel, so highly approved, was uncommanded. Analogy against it. In subsequent times God appointed the whole Jewish ritual. Tabernacle was erected after His pattern. It is not likely that God would leave fallen man without direction in this matter. There is no natural connection, to the eye of reason, between the sacrifice of a brute and the forgiveness of a sinner. Without shedding of blood is no remission.
II. The sacrifice which God accepts must be offered upon principles which God will approve. Abel gave of the firstlings. He offered his sacrifice in faith—in obedience to a divine institution—in dependence upon divine promise—in the exercise of devout affections. A better sacrifice than Cain—better as to the substance, better as to the feeling. Cain considered God as Creator, but Abel as Redeemer.
III. The order of divine procedure is to accept, first the person, and then the offering. The Lord had respect to Abel and his offering. Man first regards the gifts, and then the person according to the gifts, but God the contrary. The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.
IV. The commencement of sacrifice with man’s sin, and the consummation of sacrifice in a Saviour’s death, plainly show that a system of atonement is incorporated with the whole train of Divine dispensation.
1. How important to ascertain our interest in the great sacrifice.
2. That the church on earth has always presented a mixed company, and has always been in a militant state. Cain worshipped in form, Abel in truth. The sheep and the goats, the wheat and the tares, will always be mingled till judgment.
3. How singular is the fact that the first man who died, died a martyr.
4. Let us all learn to scrutinize our motives in religious worship, as we know that God strictly observes them. He is not a Christian who is one outwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart.—(The Evangelist.)
Strange to say that the worship of God was the first occasion of difference amongst men.
God does not accept men according to the priority of their earthly birth.
Persons are accepted before duties can be.
No work of man can of itself find favour with God.
HISTORY OF CAIN AS A BEACON
I. That he was the first-born of the family of man. Who can describe the anxiety and wonder which his birth would produce? The birth of any child is both an interesting and momentous event; but the first, how especially so!
II. He was a worshipper of the true God. We know nothing of the history of his childhood. He recognised:
1. Proprietorship of God;
2. Bounty of God in His gifts;
3. His right to our homage. These were right. He was defective in faith.
III. He was distinguished for his industrious labour. Labour is honourable—healthy. It prevents temptations. Satan may tempt the industrious, but the idle tempt him. It is the real wealth of the commonwealth.
IV. He was the subject of the deadly passion of envy. God had respect to Abel, but not to Cain. His pride was wounded. Who can stand before envy. It sees no excellency in another. It corrodes the soul.
V. He was a murderer.
VI. He was an accursed vagabond.
VII. He was the subject of the Divine mercy and long-suffering.—(Dr. Burns.)
It is proper for hypocrites to be angry with God about his non-acceptance, but never with themselves for their ill performance.
The contrast between Cain and his brothers:—
1. Cain lives and Abel dies.
2. Cain’s race perishes; the race of Seth continues.
3. Cain the first natural born; Abel the first spiritual born.
The countenance an index to the moral sentiments of the heart.
Genesis 4:6. God takes notice of the wrath of the wicked against His saints, and reproves it.
The anger of Cain was probably in part occasioned by the fear that the acceptance of his younger brother before God, might lead to some infringement of the rights of the firstborn. In the next verse he is assured that this should not be the case.
The relations and duties of social life are not altered by a person being admitted into the family of God.
RELIGION OF NATURE AND THE RELIGION OF THE GOSPEL
Genesis 4:7. Cain and Abel, like Sarah and Hagar, may be allegorized: the former was a fair representative of natural religionists, the father of Deism; the latter the representative of those who embrace revealed religion. Cain’s religion, in common with many other false religions, had the following characteristics:—
1. It was a religion that had in it some good. It acknowledged the existence of Divine Providence, and human obligations. There are no religions, however false, which do not contain some elements of good. The evils far preponderate.
2. It was a religion of expediency. It was assumed to keep up appearances. There was no principle underlying it.
3. It was a religion which lacked faith. It concerned itself about the present, but was utterly blind to the future. No faith, no reality.
4. It was a religion abounding in self-righteousness. It ignored the existence of sin. It ignored the existence of a breach between man and his Creator.
5. It was a persecuting religion. It could tolerate no other views but its own. It soon stained its hands with blood; an example followed in subsequent ages. The religion of God is forbearing, that of man vindictive. Abel’s religion had also its characteristics:—
1. The religion of Abel embodied all the good that was in the other. Whatever is of value in Deism is found in Christianity.
2. It surpassed it even in its own excellencies. There is no mention of Cain’s being the best of the kind as of Abel’s. Christianity reveals the truth of Deism with clearer light, and holds them with firmer grasp.
3. It recognised the existence of guilt and its merited doom.
4. It was actuated by faith.
5. It was approved by God.
I. Natural Religion. This consists in “doing well.” Look at the principle on which it is founded. The principle is practical goodness. 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, &c. 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.
II. 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.)
Doing well unto God is only effected by faith in the Divine Mediator.
Guilt and judgment come speedily upon the head of the evil-doer.
Outward rule God sometimes gives to wicked ones over His saints.
Genesis 4:8. God’s convictions and reproofs upon the wicked often occasion greater hardness, and rage in sin.
It is usual for wicked men to disemble their rage toward God and His saints.
The simplicity of the saints often makes them a prey to the hypocrisy of the wicked.
Hypocritical enemies, though they be restrained for a time, opportunity reveals them.
Occasion, advantage, and privacy, make discovery of hypocrisy.
Nearest relatives escape not the violence of hypocrites.
The method of Satan is to draw men from envy to murder.
It is not merely from the influence of bad example, as many think, that vice and misery have so abounded in the world: before that could have effect, this crime presents us with as dreadful an instance of malignant passion as any age can afford; and as convincing a proof that it is from within—“out of the heart proceed evil thoughts and murders.”
THREE EXPERIMENTS AND THREE FAILURES
I. The Family idea won’t keep men right. Cain and Abel were brothers.
II. Religious Ceremonial won’t keep right. Cain and Abel both offered sacrifice.
III. 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 [City Temple].
THE FIRST MURDER
I. 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.
II. It was occasioned by envy in the religious department of life. The two brothers had each presented their sacrifice; only Abel’s was accepted. This awakened the envy of Cain. 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:—
III. That it was avenged by Heaven.
1. By a convicting question.
2. By an alarming curse.
3. By a wandering life.
He, who, according to his mother’s hope was to have been the slayer of the serpent, becomes the murderer of his brother. It is well that parents are ignorant of the future of their children, or they would not entertain such bright hopes concerning them in infancy.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 4:9-16
THE BITTER CURSE WHICH SIN BRINGS UPON AN INDIVIDUAL LIFE
We have been thoroughly educated in the nature and effects of sin by the sacred narrative, not by philosophical instruction, but by the interesting events and transactions of daily life. We saw in the garden that sin consisted in a wandering thought from the word of God, and also in disobedience to the divine command; now we behold it in full development, as a dire passion, and as a social wrong. Sin is a progress in the history of peoples. In different men it manifests itself in different forms. One man sins by disobedience; another man by murder. When once it makes an entrance into a family none can tell how it will affect them, or predict where it will end. But these narratives in Genesis solemnly and emphatically teach that sin makes men wretched, that it is a loss rather than a gain, that it is a delusion, and that it is followed by a life-long curse. Surely such a revelation concerning sin ought to deter men from it. But the curse it will bring in the next life it is impossible for human pen to write. Look at the curse it involves in this life.
I. That it renders a man subject to the solemn and convincing enquiries of God. “And the Lord said unto Cain, where is Abel thy brother?” All men are liable to the solemn interrogations of God, even when their lives are pure and good, but especially when they have involved themselves in guilt. Thus Adam was questioned after his disobedience. The good welcome these divine questionings as moments of glad communion with the Infinite; the guilty tremble before them as the herald of yet more terrible doom. The questions of God touch the inner vitalities of our moral life and conduct. None can evade them, though many try. They demand an immediate reply. In the case of Cain:—
1. This enquiry was solemn. God did not ask Cain about his tillage of the ground, or about the fruits of his manual toil. He does not ordinarily question men on such topics. These are the subject of human interrogations rather than divine. God questions men about their moral feelings, about their conduct. He is cognizant of every sin we commit, and may at any time inquire of us its meaning and intention. It is well for the moral safety of society that wicked men are arraigned before authoritative tribunals, or human passion would depopulate the world. It is certainly a most solemn experience for a human soul to be interrogated by God about its sins.
2. This enquiry was convincing. It implies that although the question was asked, that God knew all about the murder which the passionate brother had committed. God does not interrogate human souls to obtain information respecting their sins, as though he were ignorant of them. His inquiries are intended to produce deep conviction of mind, to awaken men to a proper sense of guilty shame, and sometimes to lead them to Himself, that they may be forgiven. A question from God, like the look from Christ, has broken many souls into refreshing tears. It is well for a man to confess his sins to Heaven. This is the best way to get rid of them.
3. This enquiry was retributive. It was not merely intended to awaken Cain to a consciousness of his late deed, but also to vindicate the memory of Abel. God does not allow his saints to be slaughtered at the caprice and passion of man, without a retributive interview with the murderer. When nations have slain the good, then it is that God has held terrible controversy with them. It is not always the law of heaven to prevent or turn aside the stroke of anger, but it is always the law of heaven to avenge it. It is foolish as well as criminal of the world to slay its best worshippers; to put out its brightest lights. Cain deeply felt the retribution of this inquiry.
4. This enquiry was unexpected. Cain felt the passion of envy. He slew his brother. He probably expected that that would be the end of it, or, it may be that he did not calculate as to the consequence of his deed. However, no sooner was the wicked murder perpetrated, than God appeared to avenge it. The dream of sin is soon dispelled by the dawning light of the Divine presence. Sinners are always exposed to the intrusions of heaven. They cannot hide themselves from God. They must listen to His voice. They feel a condemnation they cannot remove.
II. That it sends a man on through life with the most terrible memories of wrong doing within his soul.
1. Cain would never forget the hour in which he slew his brother. The circumstances of the deed would ever remain new and vivid in his remembrance. The whole picture would live within him. He would be the constant spectator of it. None could blot it out, none could hide it, and none could give him relief from its awful torment. Such mental pictures are the anguish of a wicked life. What more terrible curse could come upon a man than this. Then this deed would be aggravated to himself by the thought that he had slain his brother. No long standing enemy had fallen victim to his rage, no foreigner, but the son of his own mother. Surely this was an aggravation of his crime. It would also be aggravated to himself by the thought that his envy toward his brother, had been occasioned by the superiority of his brother’s service to God. The purity of his brother’s character and the fidelity of his offering would rise to the vision of his remorseful soul. He would feel that he had slain the innocent. But the deed was done. He could not alter it. It must remain the dread companion of his life. This is one of the greatest sources of punishment to the sinner.
(1). It is rendered so by the memory of man. There is no forgetfulness to man. Though the days pass, he carries their moral history in his soul for ever.
(2). It is rendered so by the conscience of man. The mere remembrance of a deed would be but little torment to a man, if his conscience did not refer him to its moral wrong. Conscience always points the murderer to his innocent victim.
(3). It is rendered so by the will of God. God has so ordered the faculties of man that they shall inflict punishment upon the wrong-doer. Truly then Cain is introducing an element of sadness into his life by this crime, the poignancy of which he is little aware. By one sinful act men may make themselves wretched for ever.
III. That it often ruins the temporal prosperity of a man.—“And now art thou cursed from the earth which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; when thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength.” Thus the temporal prospects of the murderer were to be ruined. Sin often destroys the trades and professions of men:—
1. It destroys their reputation. In business, reputation is worth as much to a man as capital. If he is once detected in wrong doing or dishonesty of any kind, his trade will decline. Goodness is an enriching policy.
2. It wastes their earnings: There are multitudes of men who would be rich if they were only morally good and steady. What they earn by industry, they spend in revelling at night. They are drunken. They are improvident. They are reckless. Trade cannot long survive this.
3. It enfeebles their agencies. The ground was not to yield Cain its wonted produce. By sin men weaken their bodies, their minds, their souls, and all their instrumentalities of trade. Thus their temporal prospects are ruined thereby.
IV. That it commits a man to a wandering and a restless life.—“A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.”
1. Sin makes men restless. It awakens within them restless impulses, ever changing moods, and strange fancies. They are as the great billows sweeping on from one rock to another in their ceaseless flow. Piety alone can render manhood stable and strong. But of this the wicked are destitute. Hence they are unpeaceful. Sin makes men restless:—
(1). Because they have in a very brief term to seek new employments. Wicked men cannot remain long in the employment of one master, they are soon detected. Their past character follows them.
(2). Because they have soon to find new friends. The friendships of wicked men are not enduring. They are transient. They soon terminate in feud. And residence is very much determined by friendship, and the social feeling that is known to prevail amongst a people.
(3). Because he has to avoid old rumours. Whenever the fugitive is conscious that the story of his past life and conduct has followed him, another change of locality becomes necessary. Hence wicked men are the world’s fugitives.
V. That it crushes man with a heavy burden and almost renders him despairing.—“And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.” The sinner is deeply conscious of his punishment, knows that it is equitable, and has no power whatever to resist it. Sin is a burden oppressive to the soul. It marks men so that the world knows and avoids them. It sends them into solitude. It fills them with despair. Their misery few can pity. The murderer should dwell alone. LESSONS:—
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.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
THE TWO BROTHERS; OR, EARTHLY RELATIONSHIP THE MEDIUM OF SPIRITUAL INFLUENCE
“Am I my brother’s keeper?”—Genesis 4:9.
“And he brought him to Jesus.”—John 1:42.
Genesis 4:9. Of the first two brothers who lived on this earth, the one hated and slew the other; and when arraigned before God and his own conscience, denied the obligation of fraternal care. Of the first two brothers mentioned in the New Testament, the one, having found the Messiah, hastened to fetch the other. These brothers are representative men. Cain is the embodiment of the spirit of hatred—selfishness—the world. Andrew of the spirit of love—self-sacrificing zeal—of Christ.
I. 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.
II. 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.
III. 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.
IV. That concerning the performance of this duty an account will be required. And the Lord said unto Cain, &c. Vain will be excuse. God will speak. So will conscience.
V. That earthly relationships, according to the manner in which they are used, become an eternal blessing or bane.—(Homilist.)
Hypocritical persecutors think to bury the saints and all their persecutions out of sight.
Jehovah will have an account of His saints, though He leave them to be killed by such cruel ones.
Hypocrisy and infidelity make men as impudent in denying sin as bold in committing it.
Hypocrisy makes sinners deal proudly with God.
Genesis 4:10. When Cain thought that he had won, that he was now alone the beloved child, that Abel was wholly forgotten, then did the latter still live, stronger and mightier than before. Then does the Majesty on High assume His cause; He cannot bear it. He cannot keep silence when His own are oppressed. And though they are crushed for a little while, they only rise to a more glorious and stronger state; for they still live [Cramer].
It is not for slaughtered sheep and cattle slain that God asks; it is for a slain man that He inquires. It follows that men have the hope of a resurrection, the hope in a God who out of the bodily dearth can bear them up to everlasting life, and who asks after their blood as a very dear and precious thing. (Psalms 116:15). What can be that still small voice which comes up from the earth, and which God hears high up in heaven? Abel had, hitherto, whilst yet in life, endured violence with gentleness and silence; how is it that now when he is dead, and rudely buried in the earth, he is impatient at the wrong? How is it that he who before spake not one word against his brother, now cries out so complainingly, and, by his cry, moves God to action? Oppression and silence are no hindrance to God in judging the cause which the world so mistakenly fancies to be buried [Luther].
When man is in covenant with God nothing can overcome him; he has Omnipotence on his side. Jehovah is the God of His dead saints.
Genesis 4:11-12. God followeth sin close to the heel with vengeance.
The person of the sinner must bear the punishment of his sin.
The earth will not be quiet till murderers receive their doom.
The place of sin God sometimes makes the place of vengeance.
Adam had already become a stranger in the earth; Cain is now a fugitive [Calvin.]
Genesis 4:13-16. God’s sentence upon sinners makes them sensible, however senseless before.
Terrors come invincibly upon hypocritical persecutors of the Church.
Man’s habitation can give him no shelter when it is cursed by God.
Jehovah is the Sovereign Dispenser of the life and death of His enemies; it hangs upon His word.
Jehovah may exempt persecutors from the stroke of man, but not from His own wrath.
Mysterious is the providence of God in continuing and taking away the lives of His saints and enemies. That Abel should die and Cain live, and yet Cain be cursed of God and Abel blessed.
God’s threatenings of wrath end in execution of the same.
Banishment from God’s favour, temporal and eternal, is the doom of impenitent persecutors.
In all this it is evidently implied that the law according to which the murderer is to be slain by his fellows, is the original law of conscience and of nature. Cain, when his conscience is in part awakened by the dreadful denunciation of Divine wrath (Genesis 4:11), has enough of feeling to convince him that his fellow-men will consider themselves entitled if not bound to slay him. And he does not—he dares not quarrel with the justice of such a proceeding. God, on the other hand, clearly intimates that but for an express prohibition, the murderer’s fear would infallibly and justly have been realized [Dr. Candlish].
When God is against a man the whole world is against him.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 4:16-18
THE FUTURE OF A GOD-FORSAKEN LIFE
I. That a God-forsaken man is not cut off from the mitigating influences of domestic 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. It is dangerous for their future. We should pity and strive to aid the little ones who are brought up in godless homes. They start in the world at a great peril. Thus Cain had the comfort of domestic life. One ray of mercy gleams even through the dark history of a God-forsaken man.
II. 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. Here he could dwell in safety, and without annoyance. Society would be much benefitted if many men of kindred spirit to Cain would to-day bid it farewell, to erect their own city in the present solitudes of nature. We could spare them without serious loss. They would be better in a city alone. The contagion of their wicked life would then be stayed. It was no easy task for Cain to build a city. But when men are going to enrich themselves they think not of ease. They would rather build a city for themselves, than even a church for God. Many men are energetic in worldly enterprise, who have altogether fallen away from God.
III. 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 to-day 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.
IV. That men whose names are not written in heaven are very anxious to make them famous on earth. They build cities rather than characters. They hope thus to awe the world by their exploit. To gain the admiration of men by their enterprise. A man who establishes a city is useful to society. But the man who does it may be a fugitive murderer. Whereas a man who builds up a good, noble life is doing a grand social work, and will be God-remembered. LESSONS:
1. Earth cannot give the soul a true substitute for God.
2. Family relationship is unsanctified without Him.
3. Cities are useless without Him.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 4:16-18. The geographical situation of the land of Nod, in the front of Eden, where Cain settled after his departure from the place or the land of the revealed presence of God, cannot be determined. The name Nod denotes a land of flight and banishment, in contrast with Eden, the land of delight, where Jehovah walked with men. There Cain knew his wife. The text assumes it as self-evident that she accompanied him in his exile; also, that she was a daughter of Adam, and consequently a sister of Cain. The marriage of brothers and sisters was inevitable in the case of the children of the first men, if the human race was actually to descend from a single pair, and may therefore be justified in the face of the Mosaic prohibition of such marriages, on the ground that the sons and daughters of Adam represented not merely the family but the genus, and that it was not till after the rise of several families that the bands of fraternal and conjugal love became distinct from one another, and assumed fixed and mutually exclusive forms, the violation of which is sin. [Keil and Delitzsch.]
By building a city we cannot fail to detect Cain’s desire to neutralize the curse of banishment, and create for his family a point of unity, as a compensation for the loss of unity in fellowship with God, as well as the inclination of the family of Cain for that which was earthly. [Delitzsch.]
Genesis 4:23. Adah and Zillah.] Probably the oldest fragment of poetry extant. With a slight freedom of translation, we may perhaps thus approach the metrical cast of the original:—
“Adah and Zillah! hear ye my voice,
Ye wives of Lamech! give ear to my tale:
A MAN have I slain in dealing my wounds,
Yea, a YOUTH in striking my blows:
Since SEVENFOLD is to be the avenging of Cain,
Then, OF LAMECH, seventy and seven!”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 4:19-26
Genesis 4:23-24. “And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech; for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt; if Cain shall be avenged seven-fold, truly Lamech seventy and seven-fold.” The longevity of the antediluvian patriarchs serves to keep pure tradition, the only way in which religious truth was then transmitted. It also caused character to be very fully developed—the righteous and the wicked—this instance.
I. The case of Lamech shews the effect of an abandonment of the Church’s fellowship. 1st. The end and use of ordinances. 2nd. These are enjoyed only in the Church. 3rd. Cain and his posterity forsook the fellowship of the Church, and lost its privileges. 4th. 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.
II. The case of Lamech shews that outward prosperity is no sure mark of God’s favour. 1st. We have seen Lamech’s character. 2nd. He was remarkable for family prosperity (Genesis 4:20-22). 3rd. God’s dealings with His people have all a reference to their spiritual and eternal good. 4th. Hence they have not uninterrupted prosperity. 5th. To the ungodly, temporal good is cursed, and becomes a curse—increased responsibility, increased guilt. 6th. Splendid masked misery—embroidered shroud—sculptured tomb. 7th. The graces of poetry given here—speech of Lamech.
III. The case of Lamech shews that the dealings of God are misunderstood and misinterpreted by the ungodly. 1st. God protected Cain by a special Providence, that his sentence might take effect. 2nd. Lamech argues from this, that he is under a similar special Providence. 3rd. 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” &c. “Because sentence against,” &c. Ecclesiastes 8:11. 4th. Satan thus uses something like the sword of the Spirit—infuses poison into the Word of Life. 5th. The Scriptures are thus by men made to injure them fatally. They wrest 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.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 4:19-22. Wives and offspring may be given to the most wicked in great number.
All arts and endowments, liberal and mechanical, may be vouchsafed to ungodly men.
Wicked men may be renowned for external inventions.
All such endowments leave men without grace and without God.
God’s curse works through such providential privileges to the wicked.
In the sixth generation from Cain, his descendants are noticed as introducing great improvements and refinements into the system of society. Not only farming and manufactures, but music and poetry flourished among them. In farming, Jabal gave a new form to the occupations of the shepherd and the herdsman; “he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle” (Genesis 4:20). In manufactures, Tubal Cain promoted the use of scientific tools, being the “instructor of every artificer in brass and iron” (Genesis 4:22). Jubal, again, excelled in the science of melody, standing at the head of the profession of “all such as handle the harp and organ” (Genesis 4:21). And Lamech himself, in his address to his two wives, gives the first specimen on record of primæval poetry, or the art of versification in measured couplets, or parallel lines redoubling and repeating the sense (Genesis 4:23-24).
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice!
Ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech:
For I have slain a man to my wounding,
And a young man to my hurt.
If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
Truly Lamech, seventy-and-sevenfold.”
Thus in the apostate race, driven to the use of their utmost natural ingenuity, and full of secular ambition, the pomp of cities, and the manifold inventions of a flourishing community, arose and prospered. They increased in power, in wealth, and in luxury. In almost all earthly advantages, they attained to a superiority over the more simple and rural family of Seth. And they afford an instance of the high cultivation which a people may often possess who are altogether irreligious and ungodly, as well as of the progress which they may make in the arts and embellishments of life [Dr. Candelish].
Genesis 4:23-24. Polygamy from the first has brought intestine vexations into families.
A lustful spirit will be tyrannical also.
God’s forbearance of some wicked ones makes others impudent to sin.
Lust will make men pervert the righteous word of God to their destruction.
Genesis 4:25-26. The character of the ungodly family of Cainites was now fully developed in Lamech and his children. The history, therefore, turns from them to indicate the progress of the godly race. After Abel’s death a third son was born to Adam, to whom his mother gave the name of Seth, the appointed one, the compensation.
We have here an account of the commencement of that worship of God which consists in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, or in the acknowledgment and celebration of the mercy and help of Jehovah. While the family of Cainites, by the erection of a city, and the invention and development of worldly arts and business, were laying the foundation for the kingdom of this world; the family of the Sethites began, by united invocation of the name of the God of grace, to found and to erect the Kingdom of God [Keil and Delitzsch].
There is a time to break off sad lament for departed saints.
Men’s names are sometimes as prophecies and doctrines to God’s church.
God has set His church to grow and none can hinder it.
God has stated times of renewing His worship where it has declined.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Difficulty! Genesis 4:1. This was an hour of great difficulty—of intense anxiety—of appalling perplexity to Adam. Was he to be left alone—burdened with a weight of woe—abandoned to his own blind guidance—allowed to wander anywhere amid the Dædalian mazes of ignorance and folly? No; God would help him, if he would but take hold of His Divine Hand. “Papa! It is dark! Take my hand!” I reached out my hand, and took her tiny one in my own, clasping it firmly. A sigh of relief came up from her little heart. All her loneliness and fear were gone, and in a few moments she was sound sleep again. It was the voice of my little daughter sleeping in the crib beside my bed—at the very moment that I was awake amid the darkness of Providence. I lay awake thinking, until my brain grew wild with uncertainty. Again and again I took up and considered the difficulties of my situation—looking to the right and the left for ways of extrication; but all was dark. Presently my little girl’s timid voice broke faintly on my ears; and I, too—in an almost wild outburst of feeling—cried: “Father in Heaven, it is dark; take, oh! take my hand.” Then a great peace fell on me. The terror of darkness was gone. So with Adam; perplexed at first, he learned to take the proffered hand of God:—
“Child! take MY hand,
Cling close to Me: I’ll lead thee through the land;
Trust My all-seeing care; so shalt thou stand
’Midst glory bright above.”
Employment! Genesis 4:2. Lord Tenterden was proud to point out to his son the shop in which his father had shaved persons for a penny. But men, as Beecher comments, seem ashamed of labour. They aim to lead a life of emasculated idleness and laziness. Like the polyps that float useless and nasty upon the sea—all jelly and flabby, no muscle or bone; it opens and shuts—shuts and opens—sucks in and squirts out—such are these poor fools. Their parents toiled and grew strong—built up their forms of iron and bone; but they themselves are boneless, without sinew of mind or muscle of heart.
“Better to sink beneath the shock,
Than moulder piecemeal on the rock.”—Byron.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Types! Genesis 4:3. Reflected light has the marvellous power of painting the object from which it is thrown; hence our photographic likenesses. Thus the light of the Lord Jesus, radiating on our souls from the mirror of the Word, fixes His image there. The photographic discovery is a modern one, but God the Spirit has been painting the likeness of Christ upon souls from the beginning. They are one
“With Him, and in their souls His image bear,
Rejoicing in the likeness.”—Upham.
Fire! Genesis 4:4. Fire was a symbol of the Divine Presence; and in the literature and customs of the East the same thing is asserted. In the ancient writings, where the marriages of the gods and demi-gods are described, it is always said the ceremony was performed in the presence of the God of Fire. In respectable marriages in India, fire is an important element in their celebration. It is made, says Roberts, of the wood of the mango-tree; and is kindled in the centre of the room, while round it walk the bride and bridegroom amid the Brahmin incantations. Is this a perversion of the primæval truth that God’s appearance by fire was His witness to the mystical union between Abel’s soul and His Son Jesus Christ?
“The smoke of sacrifice arose, and God
Smell’d a sweet savour of obedient faith.”
Atonement! Genesis 4:4. The startling word “blood” would be the last a man would select for a symbol of peace and purity. While blood would render whatever it touches impure, it is the only thing that takes away the stain of sin. Nearly every heathen nation has had this “moral intuition” of the necessity of atoning blood. It remained for Christianity to have an excrescence such as that of the Unitarians, who declaim against “a religion of blood, and atonement of blood.” And yet is not the blood of atonement the leading idea in the Bible? It is like the scarlet thread which runs through all the naval cloth—cut it where you please, that vein of crimson is visible. The word “atonement” is constantly used to signify the reconciliation to God by bloody sacrifices. The priest made atonement by sacrifice—first for his own sins, and then for the sins of all the people.
“With blood—but not his own—the awful sign
At once of sin’s desert and guilt’s remission,
The Jew besought the clemency divine,
The hope of mercy blending with contrition.—Conder.
Disappointment! Genesis 4:5. 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 he brought 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, of which one might say:—
“You may as well do anything most hard,
As seek to soften that (than which what’s harder?)”—Shakespeare.
Blood! Genesis 4:7. In nearly every country, men have felt that bloodshedding was an essential element of religious belief. A Thug at Meerut, who had been guilty of many murders, was arrested and placed in prison. Whilst there, a missionary visited him—brought him to embrace the Gospel, and to consent to confess his crimes. On his trial, he accordingly avowed the sins of his dreadful life—and after recounting murder after murder, he declared that he had committed them in the full belief that, by the shedding of the blood of each victim, he would not only please the dreadful goddess Kali, but also procure her favour for the life to come. He then took out a Bible from his linen vest, and said: “Had I but received this book sooner, I should not have done it, for I find that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.”
“Lord, I believe Thy precious blood,
Which at the mercy-seat of God
Forever doth for sinners plead,
For me—e’en for my soul—was shed.”—Wesley.
Murder! Genesis 4:7. “Blood will out” is the blunt phrase of an old proverb or saw. Did Cain hide the body? Yet no matter, whether the lifeless corpse lay with its face open to the noonday sun, or buried in the leafy recesses of some thickset grove, or shrouded in the gloomy damps of some subterranean cavern: God could see it. He could hear the call of Justice. 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.”—Hood.
Conscience! Genesis 4:8. Away in the wilds of New Zealand, a noble champion of the Cross, once overheard a native voice from amid a tangled maze of brushwood praying that God would make sin as sensitive to his soul as a speck of dust is to the apple of the eye. Keep your conscience tender, tender as the eye that closes its lids against an atom of dust; or as that sensitive plant which shrinks when its leaves are touched, ay, even when the breath of the mouth falls on it. Had Cain but heeded this! Had he only taken notice of the first speck of dust that fell, of the first prick of the pin that reached, of the first breath of sin that rested on his conscience, all might have been well. There is a species of poplar, whose leaves are rustled by a breeze too faint to stir the foilage of other trees; and such should have been the conscience of Cain, easily moved by the “little sins” of envy and dislike. There would then have been no cry of brother’s blood, no need for him to wander forth—
“Like a deer in the fright of the chase,
With a fire in his heart, and a brand on his face.”
Retribution! Genesis 4:8. The deed is done, and blood stains the hand of Cain, a brother’s blood. The ocean, with all its fierce and furious waves, cannot wash out the scarlet dye. Agonies of remorse cannot recall it. And yet these probably were not slight. Some have supposed that he showed no compunction for the cruel crime, and that his heart was ice. But if it was ice, it was that of the Arctic, beneath whose thick crust throb the waves, and move the reptiles of the deep. Far down within his breast, the waters of remorse were surging and muddy; and—
“From that day forth no place to him could be
So lonely, but that thence might come a pang
Brought from without to inward misery.”—Wordsworth.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Conviction! Genesis 4:9. When Richard the Lion was on his return from the Holy Land, he was taken captive by his enemy the Archduke of Austria, and thrown into an unknown dungeon. His favorite minstrel went in search of him, having only the clue that his master was imprisoned in a castle in some mountain-forest. At last his music found out the prison, for one day when Blondel was playing his favorite air beneath the castle wall, Richard recognized the music and voice. When Adam was captive in Satan’s dungeon, God’s Divine voice called him forth to penitence in vain. Now the same voice of Divine music seeks to awaken echoes in the heart of Cain, to arouse him to contrition by the consciousness of conviction. But all in vain! No; the hardened heart breaks not. The sullen lips pour forth no cry for pardon. No contrition asks for mercy. Rather does his answer imply reproach, as when Adam said: The woman whom THOU gavest me—
“The unclean spirit
That from my childhood up, hath tortured me,
Hath been too cunning and too strong for me.
Am I to blame for this?”
Remorse! Genesis 4:9. 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 enquiry 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. Enquiring 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:—
“O 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.”
Guilt! (Genesis 4:12.) Pilkington very excellently likens the pangs of conscious guilt to the groundswell after a storm, which mariners tell us appears long after the storm has ceased, and far off from its locality. They come up in awful vividness; as when a flash of lightning reveals but for a moment the dangers of a shipwrecked crew. They have long been covered up, but only covered like the carvings of some old minster, or like that invisible ink which needs but the fire to bring out legibly the handwriting on the wall of conscience. For a moment are the stings of some; but not so Cain’s—there they remained, acute and anguished; and of him we may say figuratively:—
“As he plodded on, with sullen clang
A sound of chains aloud the desert rang.”
Martyrs! (Genesis 4:12.) “How early,” says Bishop Hall, “did martyrdom come into the world!” The first man that died—died for religion; and the greatest lesson, as Green remarks in this chapter, is that the first man saved went to heaven just as all of us must do—if we are to be saved at all. It must have been a strange, yet happy day for the angels of God when His spirit came among them from this far-off world. He had sinned—they had never fallen. He had laboured and sorrowed—they had never shed a tear for themselves. He had died—they knew not what death was. But now his soul is among them—singing, not their song, but a new one—one all his own. As he sings, how every seraphic harp is silent, and every seraphic heart is still to hear
“The song that ne’er was sung before
A sinner reached the heavenly shore;
And now does sound for evermore.”
Disclosure! (Genesis 4:9.) How long it was before God met him, we are not told—some suppose that it was on his way back from the deed of blood. Others think that probably days and weeks elapsed—that the parents, like Jacob, had come to believe Abel dead at the hands of the wild beasts, and that possibly Cain was all the more fondly cherished. If so, was Cain’s conscience at ease? Or, did he have his hours of moodiness, when his wondering parents heard him start and mutter:—
“Too late! Too late! I shall not see him more
Among the living! That sweet, patient face
Will never more rebuke me?”
Very recently, a murderer buried his victim in the warehouse attached to his business premises. For months, the disconsolate parents sought their daughter far and near—besought her paramour to disclose the secret of her absence; but in vain. For twelve long weary months no trace of the missing one could be discovered; and then a trivial act of carelessness revealed the mystery of death. Yet, he had been heard to wish at times that he had never been born, or was dead:—
“It were a mercy
That I were dead, or never had been born.”—Longfellow.
Condemnation! Genesis 4:13. 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 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 were 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”—Knox.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Godless Prosperity! (Genesis 4:20.) How pitifully foolish, exclaims Law, are the votaries of the world! They may have gifts, which glitter splendidly; but it is only for a speck of time. Their brightest sun soon sets in darkest night. Their joys are no true joys, while they remain; but their continuance is a fleeting dream. Their flowers have many a thorn, and in the plucking fade. Their fruitless blossoms soon decay. Their eyes stand out with fatness, they have often more than heart could wish; and yet all this has its end—like the pampered sacrificial victim described in Prescot’s History of Mexico. For twelve months, the intended sacrifice was allowed to revel in every luxury—to indulge in every pleasure; only to be laid on the altar and have his palpitating heart torn from his breast. “What shall I come to, father,” exclaimed a young man, “if I go on prospering in this way?”—to which enquiry the parent tersely and tritely responded: “The grave.” The tinsel glare, says Secker, is too apt to offend the weak eyes of a saint. Alas! why should we envy him a little light, who is to be shrouded in everlasting darkness? For
“When Fortune, thus has tossed her child in air,
Snatched from the covert of an humble state,
How often have I seen him dropped at once!
Our morning’s envy! and our evening’s sigh!”—Young.
First Step! Evil once introduced spreads as a flame amongst dry stubble. The weed—once rooted—can hardly be eradicated; and, like that great aquatic plant introduced from America, will spread on all sides. Mortify the first sin; for by yielding to it you may found a pyramid of misery. One fault indulged in soon swells into a deepening torrent, and widens into a boundless sea. One little leak may sink the boldest ship. It is said of Tiberius that, whilst Augustus ruled, he was no way tainted in his reputation; but that, when once he gave way to sin, there was no crime to which he was not accessory. When Lamech was yet a youth, he probably displayed no disposition to great crimes; but no sooner had he married two wives in violation of the Divine command than he gradually loosened all moral restrictions, and gave full vent to his passions—culminating in homicide. Avoid the first step!
“One mischief entered brings another in;
The second pulls a third—the third draws more,
And they for all the rest, set ope the door.”—Smith.
Church! (Genesis 4:26.) The little seed which prophecy planted in Eden grows age by age more vast than that tree which the prophet beheld in vision, whose height reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth. “There are lofty heights in nature,” says Bate, which catch the morning sun before it has risen in the valleys, and which stand up glowing in the golden light when the shades of evening have wrapped these in deepening dusk. And so there are countries in which the Church has shed her light far and wide, while others remain in gloom of heathen ignorance. But as the sun before it has completed its circuit lights up every vale and hill, so the Church shall grow to her full dimensions in spite of all hindrances. It has entwined its roots through all the shadowy institutions of the elder dispensation, and standing tall and erect in the midst of the new, it defies—to use the sentiment of Wiseman—the whirlwind and the lightning, the draught and scorching sun. Like the prophet’s vine—it will spread its branches to the uttermost parts of the earth, to feed them with the sweetest fruits of holiness.
“Long as the world itself shall last,
The sacred Banyan still shall spread,
From clime to clime—from age to age,
Its sheltering shadow shall be shed.”