By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous…
Faith is spiritual sight. It is the apprehension of the unseen. It is the realisation of the Invisible. "By faith," by an exercise of that soul's sight which faith is, "Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain." The Searcher of hearts saw in Abel, saw not in Cain, that sight of the Invisible which is the condition of worship. The difference lay not in the form of the offering, but in the spirit of the offerer. In vain we obtrude our poor human assistance for the discrimination of the two sacrifices. God required no outward sign, no visible or tangible material, to inform or to guide His judgment. His eye could pierce, at once and by intuition, to the discerning of soul and spirit. And here we read what He judged by — not the substance of the sacrifice, but the heart's heart of the worshipper. "By faith" — by that soul's sight of which the Omniscient alone can take knowledge — "Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain." "By which" sacrifice — or, "by which "faith — for the relative is ambiguous in the Greek — "he obtained witness that he was righteous" — "he was attested as righteous" — the testimony of God, in Holy Scripture, was borne to him as being righteous — "God testifying of his gifts." It was not the sacrifice which made him " righteous" — it was the "righteousness" which offered, and which consecrated the offering. "He was attested as righteous, God testifying of His gifts." We know not how, by what visible or invisible token, the acceptance, the " respect," was evidenced to the one offerer, and its absence indicated to the other. The reference of the text is to the record in Scripture. "And by it he being dead yet speaketh." The same ambiguity rests upon "by it" as upon "by which" above. "By the sacrifice"? or, "by the faith"? By the sacrifice offered in faith? or, by the faith in which the sacrifice was offered? It is a distinction without a difference as regards the doctrine. We have three lessons to learn.
1. "By faith Abel offered." Faith has a province in the present. The past belongs wholly to her — the future belongs wholly to her — the present belongs to her in part. There are things present of which sight and sense can take notice. But the spiritual, the heavenly, the Divine, is ever present — and of this the senses tell nothing. There are two kinds of worship, as there are two characters and classes of worshippers. There are those who come to worship with "earthly, sensual, diabolical " minds. There are those who bring something in their hands — it may be a few herbs or flowers, it may be a sheaf of corn or a bag of money, it may be the bread and wine of a Sacrament, it may be the bended knee or the uttered liturgy of a Church calling itself Reformed, calling itself Evangelical — and who yet never "stir up themselves to lay hold of" the Invisible and the Eternal — come together with earthward eyes and earth-bound souls — do not speak one word to God Himself as Spirit and Life and Love — do not breathe really into His ear one syllable of deep heartfelt confession, praise, or prayer — go as they came, self-satisfied or else murmuring, earth-filled or else empty, giddy and trifling or else disconsolate — at all events, without that faith which is the realisation of God Himself — and therefore to them and to their offering He has not, cannot have, respect.
2. "God testifying of His gifts." There is a worship to which God "has respect." That worship varies in shape and form. Once it was embodied in ritual. A service of rule and ceremony, of incense and vestment, of gift and sacrifice. Now it is a service of greater simplicity — of words read from a book, of Psalms recited or chanted, of hymns sung and accompanied, of instruction and exhortation spoken and listened to. Yet the idea of worship is one and the same. Six thousand years ago Abel worshipped: we worship to-day. The idea, as the object, of worship, is unchanged. If it is effectual, if it is successful, God "testifies" of it still. Generally, in His Word — assuring us of its acceptance if it be this and this. Personally, in the soul — giving an answer of peace — calming, satisfying, strengthening, comforting, according to the need of each one.
3. Finally, "he being dead yet speaketh." The immortality of faith is a voice also. Abel speaks still. He, you will say, has a place in the Bible — and the text is of course exceptionally true of Scripture saints. Those to whom God hath borne witness in that Book which hath immortality, of course share the immortality of the Book and of its Author. It is true even of the wicked — even of the bad immortality which a place in the Bible gives if it give not the good. It is true of the Cains as well as the Abels — of the Ahabs as of the Elijahs — of the Gallios and the Demases as much as of St. Luke and of St. Paul. But we speak now of the undying voices of the faithful. Is it not true of them that they almost gain in audibility by distance? When did Paul himself ever speak as he spoke in the great Reformation, fifteen hundred years after he fell on sleep, quickening Luther and Calvin, quickening Germany and England, with that life which has carried mind and might with it across two hemispheres? Nor is it only of inspired men, or of Bible characters, that the words of the text are true. "Being dead he yet speaketh" has an application, not to heroes of faith alone, but to very common inmates of very obscure homes. This will be in exact proportion as they have been enabled to live and to die in the light of a Divine revelation which is no respecter of persons. It is not only where biographies have kept alive the memory, and made the example of some Brainerd or Swarz, some Martyn or Patteson, vocal for ever to Christian homes and Christian Churches.
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.