Among the numerous saints which Paul mentions in Hebrews 11, as being noted for their faith, Abel occupies a special place. He was the first of the line of faithful servants. In contrast to Cain, Abel’s mode of worship and praise was acceptable to God, and so he obtained a blessing.
From the time of Abel onward, there have been two seed-lines within the visible church. There are those who, like Abel, trust in the merits of atoning blood to reconcile them to God; whereas others, like Cain, seek to approve themselves by their works. Cain and Abel have always stood at the head of the only two religions the world has ever known. One seeks justification by faith; the other seeks justification by the works of the law.
When Cain brought his offering to God, the act of devotion was not in itself bad. Works are not to be thrust aside as if they don’t count at all. James writes that “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” — “for as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2: 17, 26).
In other words, faith is to works as the tree is to the fruit. Every tree planted by God must bring forth its own fruit. So, if a man has real faith, good works will naturally follow. Paul writes: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk therein” (Eph. 2: 10).
But was Cain a child of faith? If not, then what avail could his good works have had? Cain was culpable in that he tried to obtain merit without faith. He sought works alone as a means of justification. This was a reversal of God’s order of worship and devotion.
The sacrifice of an innocent lamb had been first instituted in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3: 21). It was committed to Adam, the first priest of God, who doubtless taught his sons the value of such a sacrifice, and its absolute requirement, now that sin had entered the world. The fact that Cain neglected this all-essential part of worship demonstrates him as a true unbeliever.
I suppose that if Cain had offered a slain lamb first, then his first-fruits offerings from the products of his labors would have been acceptible in the eyes of God. But Cain sought to be justified by works apart from faith. Wherefore his sacrifice was not accepted (Gen. 4: 5).
Cain was angry that God accepted Abel’s sacrifice, and not his own. But if Cain had honored his mother and father, he would have remembered the ordinance which had been committed to him. He failed. The corruption of his own heart caused him to stumble. And we see the outcome when, in a fit of rage, he slew his own brother (Gen. 4: 8).
This makes Abel the very first martyr. And it shows the struggle that would ensue from that time onward in the world. There have been, and can only exist, two kinds of religion. Professing Christians will be found to have the faith of Cain, or the faith of Abel.
There is a kind of religion which at its very center is man-based. It seeks by human effort to bring about the glorious millennium, and desires dominion in the name of Jesus Christ — but without His personal presence. It seeks to postpone his presence as far off as possible — even to the extent of claiming that it is a “very long time” before his second coming. This “very long time” means, in many cases, something like 10,000 years. This is the faith of Rome, which stands complete with its papal powers and dark dungeons.
There is, however, another faith which is the exact antithesis to that of Cain. It looks backward to the cross (first advent) for justification unto God, and forward to the crown (second advent) for the consummation of Christ’s kingdom on earth. It is heavenly in its aspect, and weak and lowly when compared to the religion of Cain. It seeks not worldly power, but is often persecuted and chased from shore to shore. When the former religion gains dominion, its adherents are killed and tortured. Yet should this surprise us? It is only a repeat of what happened at the very beginning of the age.
The faith of Abel contains little of that worldly wisdom of which the puffed-up clerics and clergy pride themselves. It believes the words of God over the interpretations of man, and strives not to wrest words to no profit but to the subversion of the hearers. Would that all professors of Christian religion might have the faith of Cain. But we see it is not so. And so a struggle goes on — a silent struggle, unseen by most, but none the less real.
And what will be the end of this struggle? As in the days of Cain and Abel, so it will be in the final days of the world, prior to the coming of the Son of Man. Despite the faithful preaching of the Gospel by those who follow the faith of Abel, the harlot church will gain its long-sought dominion as Daniel’s 70th week begins (see Revelation 17). The persecution endured by the servants of Christ will be intense. Peter likens it to a fiery trial (1 Peter 4: 12). But those who endure to the end will be saved. Christ has even promised to keep His faithful remnant out of the hour of temptation (Revelation 3: 10). The prospect of this great and glorious prize is not to be treated lightly.
But how many will attain thereunto? We fear, not many at all. As the consummation of the age moves forward, and many fall into the snares of the devil, or succumb to the allurements of the world, the battle becomes one on which life or death hangs. Let us cleanse our hearts and draw nigh to God.