Here we have, I. The devotions of Cain and Abel. In process of time, when they had made some improvement in their respective callings (Heb. At the end of days, either at the end of the year, when they kept their feast of in-gathering or perhaps an annual fast in remembrance of the fall, or at the end of the days of the week, the seventh day, which was the sabbath)--at some set time, Cain and Abel brought to Adam, as the priest of the family, each of them an offering to the Lord, for the doing of which we have reason to think there was a divine appointment given to Adam, as a token of God’s favour to him and his thoughts of love towards him and his, notwithstanding their apostasy. God would thus try Adam’s faith in the promise and his obedience to the remedial law; he would thus settle a correspondence again between heaven and earth, and give shadows of good things to come. Observe here, 1. That the religious worship of God is no novel invention, but an ancient institution. It is that which was from the beginning (1 John 1:1); it is the good old way, Jer. 6:16. The city of our God is indeed that joyous city whose antiquity is of ancient days, Isa. 23:7. Truth got the start of error, and piety of profaneness. 2. That is a good thing for children to be well taught when they are young, and trained up betimes in religious services, that when they come to be capable of acting for themselves they may, of their own accord, bring an offering to God. In this nurture of the Lord parents must bring up their children, Gen. 18:19; Eph. 6:4. 3. That we should every one of us honour God with what we have, according as he has prospered us. According as their employments and possessions were, so they brought their offering. See 1 Cor. 16:1, 2. Our merchandize and our hire, whatever they are, must be holiness to the Lord, Isa. 23:18. He must have his dues of it in works of piety and charity, the support of religion and the relief of the poor. Thus we must now bring our offering with an upright heart; and with such sacrifices God is well pleased. 4. That hypocrites and evil doers may be found going as far as the best of God’s people in the external services of religion. Cain brought an offering with Abel; nay, Cain’s offering is mentioned first, as if he were the more forward of the two. A hypocrite may possibly hear as many sermons, say as many prayers, and give as much alms, as a good Christian, and yet, for want of sincerity, come short of acceptance with God. The Pharisee and the publican went to the temple to pray, Luke 18:10.
II. The different success of their devotions. That which is to be aimed at in all acts of religion is God’s acceptance: we speed well if we attain this, but in vain do we worship if we miss of it, 2 Cor. 5:9. Perhaps, to a stander-by, the sacrifices of Cain and Abel would have seemed both alike good. Adam accepted them both, but God, who sees not as man sees, did not. God had respect to Abel and to his offering, and showed his acceptance of it, probably by fire from heaven; but to Cain and his offering he had not respect. We are sure there was a good reason for this difference; the Governor of the world, though an absolute sovereign, does not act arbitrarily in dispensing his smiles and frowns.
1. There was a difference in the characters of the persons offering. Cain was a wicked man, led a bad life, under the reigning power of the world and the flesh; and therefore his sacrifice was an abomination to the Lord (Prov. 15:8); a vain oblation, Isa. 1:13. God had no respect to Cain himself, and therefore no respect to his offering, as the manner of the expression intimates. But Abel was a righteous man; he is called righteous Abel (Matt. 23:35); his heart was upright and his life was pious; he was one of those whom God’s countenance beholds (Ps. 11:7) and whose prayer is therefore his delight, Prov. 15:8. God had respect to him as a holy man, and therefore to his offering as a holy offering. The tree must be good, else the fruit cannot be pleasing to the heart-searching God.
2. There was a difference in the offerings they brought. It is expressly said (Heb. 11:4), Abel’s was a more excellent sacrifice than Cain’s: either, (1.) In the nature of it. Cain’s was only a sacrifice of acknowledgment offered to the Creator; the meat-offerings of the fruit of the ground were no more, and, for aught I know, they might be offered in innocency. But Abel brought a sacrifice of atonement, the blood whereof was shed in order to remission, thereby owning himself a sinner, deprecating God’s wrath, and imploring his favour in a Mediator. Or, (2.) In the qualities of the offering. Cain brought of the fruit of the ground, any thing that came next to hand, what he had not occasion for himself or what was not marketable. But Abel was curious in the choice of his offering: not the lame, nor the lean, nor the refuse, but the firstlings of the flock—the best he had, and the fat thereof—the best of those best. Hence the Hebrew doctors give it for a general rule that every thing that is for the name of the good God must be the goodliest and best. It is fit that he who is the first and best should have the first and best of our time, strength, and service.
3. The great difference was this, that Abel offered in faith, and Cain did not. There was a difference in the principle upon which they went. Abel offered with an eye to God’s will as his rule, and God’s glory as his end, and in dependence upon the promise of a Redeemer; but Cain did what he did only for company’s sake, or to save his credit, not in faith, and so it turned into sin to him. Abel was a penitent believer, like the publican that went away justified: Cain was unhumbled; his confidence was within himself; he was like the Pharisee who glorified himself, but was not so much as justified before God.
III. Cain’s displeasure at the difference God made between his sacrifice and Abel’s. Cain was very wroth, which presently appeared in his very looks, for his countenance fell, which bespeaks not so much his grief and discontent as his malice and rage. His sullen churlish countenance, and a down-look, betrayed his passionate resentments: he carried ill-nature in his face, and the show of his countenance witnessed against him. This anger bespeaks, 1. His enmity to God, and the indignation he had conceived against him for making such a difference between his offering and his brother’s. He should have been angry at himself for his own infidelity and hypocrisy, by which he had forfeited God’s acceptance; and his countenance should have fallen in repentance and holy shame, as the publican’s, who would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, Luke 18:13. But, instead of this, he flies out against God, as if he were partial and unfair in distributing his smiles and frowns, and as if he had done him a deal of wrong. Note, It is a certain sign of an unhumbled heart to quarrel with those rebukes which we have, by our own sin, brought upon ourselves. The foolishness of man perverteth his way, and then, to make bad worse, his heart fretteth against the Lord, Prov. 19:3. 2. His envy of his brother, who had the honour to be publicly owned. Though his brother had no thought of having any slur put upon him, nor did now insult over him to provoke him, yet he conceived a hatred of him as an enemy, or, which is equivalent, a rival. Note, (1.) It is common for those who have rendered themselves unworthy of God’s favour by their presumptuous sins to have indignation against those who are dignified and distinguished by it. The Pharisees walked in this way of Cain, when they neither entered into the kingdom of God themselves nor suffered those that were entering to go in, Luke 11:52. Their eye is evil, because their master’s eye and the eye of their fellow-servants are good. (2.) Envy is a sin that commonly carries with it both its own discovery, in the paleness of the looks, and its own punishment, in the rottenness of the bones.