By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous…
Very little is known of Abel, of whom this is spoken, except that he represented before God the spiritual element, while his brother represented the carnal and the secular. He must have been a man whose moral nature was impressive, mild, gentle. Yet he produced an effect, not only upon his own time, but upon after times. This living after a man is gone, may almost be said to be a universal aspiration. Almost all men, when they rise out of the savage state, begin to come under the influence of this ambition. We are not content, either, with our individual sphere. We desire to be known and felt outside of ourselves, outside of our household, outside of our neighbourhood. And our satisfaction grows if we find that our life affects the life of larger communities, and goes out through the nation and through the world. To a highly poetic nature, it seems as though it were a kind of earthly immortality. There is, however, a great difference in men's ambitions for such prolonged life. There is a great difference in the moral values of this longing for extended being and influence. If it be the ambition of vanity; if men desire, while alive, to be felt in order that they may be praised; if their thought of other persons is simply how to draw from them revenue for themselves, or how they can make themselves idols, and make men believe that they are gods — if it be this, then it is a base and perverted form of that which is a very good thing in its nobler and higher form. And such men are very poor indeed, and contemptible, after death. Selfishness, by its own law, not only moves in simple circles, but is short-lived. What men do for themselves is soon expended, and is soon forgotten. Only that part of a man's life which includes other men's good, and especially the public good, is likely to be felt long after he himself is dead. The physical industries of this world have two relations in them — one to the actor and one to the public. Honest business is more really a contribution to the public than it is to the manager of the business himself. Who built that old mill which has ground the bread of two generations? Men do not know. His name may be on some mouldering stone in the graveyard. But it is the man who built it that is working in it still. It was his skill and engineering industry that put it up. The builders of stores, and warehouses, and shops, and dwellings, are not building them for wages merely. They build them upon contract, to be sure; but their interest in them does not expire with the fulfilment of that contract. It is not how much these things have done for them that limits their interest in them, but how much they were able, through these things, to make the brain work in the future, and so to incorporate their usefulness into the lower ranges and economies of human life. So not alone are those men benefactors who are warriors, and statesmen, and scholars, and poets. These other men, too, in a humbler way, but really, ought to have a share of our thought and credit. They who promote industry, and make it more prolific of profit, are benefactors. Oh! that men might know how much benefit there is in mechanical operations and in benevolent art! Oh! that men might take comfort in knowing that when they are dead they shall yet speak. Experience shows that these advances in physical things are more beneficently felt by the poor than by others. They are felt by the rich; but everything that contributes to the convenience and prosperity of the community, and so raises it in the scale, is, first or last, a greater benefit to the poor than to any others. It is not the selfish or personal element that prolongs one's life. A man that is dead is not to be remembered simply because he invented something. He is to be remembered because that which he invented goes on working benefit after he is dead. And so long as it is doing good to men, so long he is to be remembered. It is that which we do for the public good that makes our physical industries virtuous and beneficent. Next, men who organise their money into public uses, live as long as the benefaction itself serves the public. There is many a man who, having money, says to his right hand, to which the Lord denied the sculptor's art, "Thou shalt carve a statue"; and he takes some poor unfriended artist from the village, and endows him, and sends him to Rome, and brings him back, and puts him into life. Powers and Jacksons carve beauteous figures to last for generations; and it is the rich man who patronised them who is working through the men that he fashioned and formed. There is many a man who says, "Oh, tongue I thou art dumb; but thou shalt have tongues that shall speak." And he searches out from among the poor those that are ambitious to learn, and that are likely to become scholars, and puts them forward, and sees that they are educated. And thereafter this worthy minister, this true statesman, that wise and upright lawyer, and this unimpeachable judge, become, as it were, an extension of its own self. A man has the gift of wealth-amassing; and he says to himself, "Selfish gains will die with me, and be buried with me so far as I am concerned." And he thinks of the village where as a boy he played, and remembers its barrenness from want of taste and from poverty, and says, "I will go back there, and that village shall be made beautiful." And not only does he build there, within moderation, and with taste and beauty, a dwelling, but his house becomes the measure and the mark of all the houses in the neigbourhood. It is his fence that set all the people in the village putting their fences right. And more generous ideas in regard to houses and grounds are instilled into the minds of the young. And the young men and maidens, when they get married and settle down in life, exercise better taste in fitting up their homes. Their houses, though small and plain, are more tastefully planned, and there are more trees about their grounds, and more flowers in their gardens. There springs up on every side an imitation of that rich man's example. And in the course of twenty or twenty-five years, he will have generated the taste of the community. Or he goes beyond that. He inspires in all the neighbourhood a disposition for beauty by planting trees along the highway. And when he shall have been dead a hundred years, he will be remembered as the man who made that long walk of beauty. Not only may wealth be organised into institutions of secular pleasure and comfort and beauty, but it may be organised still more potently into institutions of mercy — into houses of refuge; into retreats for the unfortunate; into hospitals for the sick; into orphan asylums; into houses of industry and of employment. You will die in a score of years, perhaps; but not a score of centuries need slay the institution which you have reared. Oh I what a benefaction for any man that has money, and has faith to see how it can work after he has gone, and a heart to set it to work. Being dead, he speaks, and speaks chorally. But even more important are those institutions which go before society, march ahead, as it were, and by distributing intelligence and promoting virtue, prevent suffering. Take, for instance, that single foundation, the Bampton Lectures. A New England man, dying, left a fund the income of which every year was to be devoted to paying for a course of lectures which were to vindicate the authenticity of the Scriptures and the divinity of our Lord, and the evangelical religion. From that fund there has sprung a line of lectures that constitutes one of the most noble monuments of learning and piety that has been known in any language on the globe. Could money be made to work such important results in any other way? These endowments have in them immortality on earth. This is the reason why I say that men ought not to be poor if they can be rich. We may rise to a higher grade and to a more familiar ground, therefore, since it is more frequently inculcated in the pulpit. As virtue and spirituality are higher than physical qualities; as the wealth of society lies more in the goodness of Christian institutions and Christian men than in ease, or abundance, or pleasure, so he most wisely prolongs his life to after-days who so lives as to give form and perpetuity to spiritual influences. Whoever makes the simple virtues more honourable and attractive among men, prolongs his own life. The evil of untruth I need not expound to you. He who makes truth beautiful to men in his day; he who makes men want to be true, and seek after truth, and believe in it, becomes a benefactor. So that I think one single character in Walter Scott's novels is worth more than all the characters put together of many more fashionable novels. All who have opened the Divine nature to men; all who have developed to men higher moral truths, and made them like their daily bread; all who have lifted the life of the world up into a higher sphere — they, although dead, yet speak. They may not be spoken of; but, what is more to the point, they themselves speak, and speak the same language; and all the better, because when a man is dead the prejudices. and the imperfections that fingered about him are dead too. And then his voice becomes clearer, and his testimony is more widely received. Lastly, those who have the gift of embodying moral truths and noble experiences (which are the best truths that ever dawn on the world) in verse; those who have the power to give their higher thoughts and feelings the wings of poetry — they, being dead, speak far back. We hear Homer chanting yet, and chanting the best things that men knew in his day. And the world is still willing to listen to the oldest poet. And: he who has had permission to write one genuine hymn, to send forth one noble sonnet, to sing one stately epic, may well fold his wings and his hands, and say, "Now let Thy servant depart in peace." What are you doing? Young man, what do you propose? Will you build pyramids of stone, or will yon build pyramids of thought? He that puts his life into doing good; he that would purify men; he that would suffer for the sake of suffering men; he that puts the enginery of feeling and the power of business into the work of beneficence in this world, though he may be subject to obloquy, though he may be under a cloud, though he may lose himself, will be remembered when he is dead. The time will come when his name will shine out brighter than the morning star.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
WEB: By faith, Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had testimony given to him that he was righteous, God testifying with respect to his gifts; and through it he, being dead, still speaks.