We have here the progress of Cain’s anger, and the issue of it in Abel’s murder, which may be considered two ways:—
I. As Cain’s sin; and a scarlet, crimson, sin it was, a sin of the first magnitude, a sin against the light and law of nature, and which the consciences even of bad men have startled at. See in it, 1. The sad effects of sin’s entrance into the world and into the hearts of men. See what a root of bitterness the corrupt nature is, which bears this gall and wormwood. Adam’s eating forbidden fruit seemed but a little sin, but it opened the door to the greatest. 2. A fruit of the enmity which is in the seed of the serpent against the seed of the woman. As Abel leads the van in the noble army of martyrs (Matt. 23:35), so Cain stand in the front of the ignoble army of persecutors, Jude 1:11. So early did he that was after the flesh persecute him that was after the Spirit; and so it is now, more or less (Gal. 4:29), and so it will be till the war shall end in the eternal salvation of all the saints and the eternal perdition of all that hate them. 3. See also what comes of envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness; if they be indulged and cherished in the soul, they are in danger of involving men in the horrid guilt of murder itself. Rash anger is heart-murder, Matt. 5:21, 22. Much more is malice so; he that hates his brother is already a murderer before God; and, if God leave him to himself, he wants nothing but an opportunity to render him a murderer before the world. Many were the aggravations of Cain’s sin. (1.) It was his brother, his own brother, that he murdered, his own mother’s son (Ps. 50:20), whom he ought to have loved, his younger brother, whom he ought to have protected. (2.) He was a good brother, one who had never done him any wrong, nor given him the least provocation in word or deed, but one whose desire had been always towards him, and who had been, in all instances, dutiful and respectful to him. (3.) He had fair warning given him, before, of this. God himself had told him what would come of it, yet he persisted in his barbarous design. (4.) It should seem that he covered it with a show of friendship and kindness: He talked with Abel his brother, freely and familiarly, lest Abel should suspect danger, and keep out of his reach. Thus Joab kissed Abner, and then killed him. Thus Absalom feasted his brother Amnon and then killed him. According to the Septuagint [a Greek version of the Old Testament, supposed to have been translated by seventy-two Jews, at the desire of Ptolemy Philadelphus, above 200 years before Christ], Cain said to Abel, Let us go into the field; if so, we are sure Abel did not understand it (according to the modern sense) as a challenge, else he would not have accepted it, but as a brotherly invitation to go together to their work. The Chaldee pa 8000 raphrast adds that Cain, when they were in discourse in the field, maintained that there was no judgment to come, no future state, no rewards and punishments in the other world, and that when Abel spoke in defence of the truth Cain took that occasion to fall upon him. However, (5.) That which the scripture tells us was the reason why he slew him was a sufficient aggravation of the murder; it was because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous, so that herein he showed himself to be of that wicked one (1 John 3:12), a child of the devil, as being an enemy to all righteousness, even in his own brother, and, in this, employed immediately by the destroyer. Nay, (6.) In killing his brother, he directly struck at God himself; for God’s accepting Abel was the provocation pretended, and for this very reason he hated Abel, because God loved him. (7.) The murder of Abel was the more inhuman because there were now so few men in the world to replenish it. The life of a man is precious at any time; but it was in a special manner precious now, and could ill be spared.
II. As Abel’s suffering. Death reigned ever since Adam sinned, but we read not of any taken captive by him till now; and now, 1. The first that dies is a saint, one that was accepted and beloved of God, to show that, though the promised seed was so far to destroy him that had the power of death as to save believers from its sting, yet still they should be exposed to its stroke. The first that went to the grave went to heaven. God would secure to himself the first-fruits, the first-born to the dead, that first opened the womb into another world. Let this take off the terror of death, that it was betimes the lot of God’s chosen, which alters the property of it. Nay, 2. The first that dies is a martyr, and dies for his religion; and of such it may more truly be said than of soldiers that they die on the bed of honour. Abel’s death has not only no curse in it, but it has a crown in it; so admirably well is the property of death altered that it is not only rendered innocent and inoffensive to those that die in Christ, but honourable and glorious to those that die for him. Let us not think it strange concerning the fiery trial, nor shrink if we be called to resist unto blood; for we know there is a crown of life for all that are faithful unto death.