ACCEPTED AND REJECTED SACRIFICERS.
GREAT WERE the anticipations of mother Eve in connection with her first-born son, Cain. Keenly she recollected the blessings of Eden and their loss through disobedience, and her memory clung to the implied promise contained in Jehovah's words to the effect that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head--should crush the Evil One, and impliedly, in some sense of the word, thus accomplish a victory, and a release from some or all of the evils entailed through the divine sentence. It was in harmony with this that she named her first-born son Cain, which signifies, "acquired." In his birth she seemed to see a beginning of a fulfilment of the divine promise; this much of it had been acquired, for she said, "I have gotten a man from the Lord"--the Lord has given the promised man, the promised seed. But she was mistaken; the divine promise would be fulfilled in due time, but Cain was not the promised seed, nor even in the line of that promise. This was soon manifested.
In due time another son was born, who was called Abel--a feeder or nourisher--he being looked to, probably, [R2777 : page 85] not so much as the deliverer promised as a helper in the battle for bread with the thorns and thistles, etc. The two grew to manhood, the one becoming a tiller of the soil, a farmer and gardener, and the other a herdsman or shepherd. In process of time it became apparent to both of these men that they should make acknowledgement to the Lord, their Creator, and that it would be but a reasonable service that they should present to him offerings expressive of their dependence on, and of their appreciation of his kindness; and naturally each one took as an offering that which was under his care.
Cain took of the fruits of his harvest, the results of his energy, as an offering to the Lord, and Abel took of his flocks as an offering. So far as the record goes, both were alike acceptable to the Lord up to this point; nor can we suppose that God would be displeased with Cain for bringing of the fruit of his labor as an offering. The fact that he had not respect to Cain's offering need not be understood to imply any prejudice on God's part against Cain, nor any intimation that he had sinned in bringing such an offering; neither did the Lord's acceptance of Abel's offering necessarily imply a prejudice in his favor, nor that he was the holier of the two. The acceptance of the one and the rejection of the other was merely designed to show the kind of sacrifice which the Lord was pleased to have offered and the kind which he was not pleased to accept. Cain should have learned the lesson quickly, and should have secured animal sacrifices and have presented his offering in this form to the Lord, and doubtless it would have been accepted as was Abel's.
Probably neither of the brothers knew at the time why the Lord accepted the animal sacrifices only, but later on no doubt they would have been instructed that this was typical, because the Lord intended ultimately to accept of a great antitypical sacrifice for sins which he himself would provide in the person of the man Christ Jesus, and that this sacrifice could best be represented and typified by the sacrifice of animals, and thus the presentation of the thought that [R2777 : page 86] without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sins.--Heb. 9:22.
But Cain, as the first-born, had no doubt already been recognized by his parents as the chief of the two brothers, and no doubt knew of his parents' expectations respecting him, that ultimately he would be the instrument of Jehovah in the crushing of evil. And no doubt this thought had engendered a certain amount of pride in his heart. He felt himself to be the elect of God, the highly honored one of the family; and correspondingly sharp must have been his feeling of disappointment when his offering of the fruits of the field, chosen with great care, and offered no doubt with sincere reverence, met with no sign of divine acceptance, while the offering of his younger brother, whom his parents had viewed as a mere assistant, was accepted of the Lord, probably by fire from heaven consuming the sacrifice. (1 Kings 18:38.) The chagrin of this one who considered himself the priest and mediator of the family, and God's specially chosen agent, may be imagined; and whatever of love and kindness and brotherly feeling had previously prevailed, fell before the combination of giant powers suddenly developed in his bosom--pride, chagrin, envy, --and in the heat of his passion and disappointment he smote his brother and slew him.
We are not to think of Cain's crime as a first-degree murder, deliberately plotted and executed; but rather as "manslaughter," a crime committed on the spur of the moment and under the influence of sharp disappointment. The inspired record tells us, "He was of [the spirit or disposition of] the wicked one, and slew his brother." (1 John 3:12.) He partook of the spirit of the wicked one, of Satan's evil spirit. Satan's spirit was one of ambition and pride. Already highly favored of God as one of the highest angels, he was not content with his great honors and blessings, but was ambitious, desirous of attaining still greater influence and power than God had been pleased to grant him; and this unlawful ambition obtaining control led him not only to rebel against the divine covenant, but led him also to become the "murderer" (John 8:44) of our first parents, that thus he might attain control over them,--the object of his ambition.
So, for aught we know, Cain may not only have felt the chagrin of seeing the younger brother's offering accepted, but may have felt that somehow or other this younger brother stood between him and the attaining of his ambitions, and that his removal would be a means for the maintenance of his own claims and position. How short-sighted was the Adversary, that he should think to out-general Jehovah, and to exalt himself and erect a rival Kingdom! Soon Satan's folly will be manifested, when the Lord's due time shall come, and the one who humbled himself in obedience to the Father's will shall be exalted to kingly power and authority, and to the position at the Father's right hand in the Kingdom of the universe; and when the one who attempted the usurpation shall be bound and utterly destroyed. And how foolish was Cain's supposition that fighting against God would avail him anything, or that the destruction of his brother would leave him the heir of the promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head! And how similarly foolish are all who foster ambition and pride --even in respect to the promises of God. How sure it is to lead to the murder-spirit of brother-hatred. (1 John 3:15.) And, on the contrary, how wise are those who follow the example of our dear Redeemer, quenching all ambition in devotion to God and burying pride under love and humility. Let us, therefore, as the Apostle exhorts--humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt us in due time, even as he highly exalted our Lord Jesus.--1 Pet. 5:5,6; Phil. 2:5-12.
Had Cain, on the contrary, yielded to an humble and loving spirit, he would have said to his brother Abel, "My brother, I congratulate you, that the Lord has so remarkably accepted your offering; I rejoice with you, and now that I have learned better what things the Lord is pleased to accept in sacrifice, I myself also will hasten to present an offering like yours, and I will gladly exchange with you some of the fruit of my labors for some suitable sacrifice from your flocks." And who can doubt that Cain's offering, if brought in this manner, would have been accepted of the Lord, as was Abel's? The thing lacking was the humble spirit, the spirit of love, without which he could not be acceptable with God, nor appreciate his privilege of offering the acceptable sacrifice.
This same lesson of the first-born occupying the position of favor and opportunity, yet being unworthy and unready to use it, is illustrated in Abraham's sons. First was Ishmael, who for years was looked upon as the heir of Abraham and the promises made to him, and who continued to so regard himself even after Isaac, the child of promise, was born,--mocking and persecuting him. Similarly again, Esau, as the first-born of Isaac, held the birth-right to the same promise, yet not appreciating it rightly, sold it to Jacob for a mess of pottage, and then strove to retain it unjustly to himself, and was angry with the one who did rightly value it.
The Apostle points out to us (Gal. 4:22-31) that these things were allegories or pictures, written aforetime for our admonition and instruction, that we through these illustrations might gather the thought that God foreknew and designed that in bringing in [R2777 : page 87] the true Seed (Christ Jesus, the Head, and the Church, his body) there should be just such an experience as was pictured in these three illustrations. The first seed of promise was Moses and his house, fleshly Israel. These were represented in Cain and Ishmael and Esau--not that there were no exceptions in the nation of fleshly Israel, but that the nation as a whole was thus typified.
Israel, like Cain, considered itself as the first-born and heir of the divine promise, and it brought to the Lord an offering of works under its Law Covenant, represented in Cain's offering of the fruits of the ground, the labor of his hands; but God did not accept the imperfect works of Israel as satisfying unto justification. Israel, like Ishmael, was for years recognized as the heir to the Abrahamic promises, and felt arrogant in connection therewith; yet never was the real seed of Abraham meant by Jehovah when he made the promise that Abraham's seed should be great and should bless all the families of the earth. Nevertheless Israel, like Ishmael, mocked at the spiritual Israel, the true heir of the divine favors, and persecuted those that were born (begotten) after the spirit. Israel, like Esau, had indeed a title to the blessing, as being the first-born, and had they appreciated that blessing they might indeed have been the heirs of the promise; but failing rightly to appreciate it they had more respect and love for earthly comforts and advantages than for the spiritual, and sacrificed the latter for the former, even as Esau sold his birth-right for the mess of pottage. Nevertheless, while not highly esteeming the divine favors represented in the promise made to Abraham, the natural Israelite at the close of the Jewish age was disposed to claim that promise, and to resent the thought that it should pass by them and be given to Spiritual Israel, represented by Jacob, the second-born. And as Esau's anger was so fierce that Jacob was obliged to flee for his life, even so spiritual Israel was put in jeopardy of life by natural Israel. The Isaac-class was persecuted by the Ishmael class, and the Abel class was slain by the Cain class.
It at first seems strange that God's favored ones should thus appear to be worsted in every instance, and be obliged to flee from, or be killed by those whom God rejected. But herein is a great spiritual lesson, for we perceive that as the natural Israel was represented by Moses and his house, so the spiritual Israel [R2778 : page 87] is represented by Christ and his house; and we see that the very method by which Christ and his followers are to gain the victory in this present time is through obedience unto God "even unto death"--and that thus being obedient unto death, Christ and his Church, which is his body, and which the Apostle assures us is to fill up that which is behind of his afflictions (Col. 1:24), become the heirs of the world, the inheritors of the promises. Why? Because there can be no crushing of the Evil One and his power until first of all the sacrifice for sin, the ransom-price for the sinner, shall be paid; even as there can be no blessing of all the families of the earth through the seed of Abraham until, first of all, that Seed of Abraham shall have redeemed all the families of the earth by offering the sacrifice for sins which God has all along indicated must first be paid, and must include a sacrifice of life --for "without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins."
Here, then, we may see not only in the plain declarations of the New Testament, but in all the shadowy pictures which prophesied the same in the Old Testament, that it must needs be that Christ (Head and body) shall suffer and be raised from the dead before these great and precious promises of the Almighty to mother Eve and to father Abraham can have their fulfilment.
The position we have here taken will not be disputed by any Christian well versed in the Word of God, except, perhaps, that some not having studied the subject from this standpoint, may at first be unable to see how the Church of Christ shares with him in all these pictures, and in the great sacrifice, as well as in the glorious work to follow. However, careful study of the Lord's Word from this standpoint will assuredly prove its correctness; and now we offer in further corroboration, the testimony of the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians. In chapter 3:16 he points out Christ as the promised seed of Abraham, and in verses 27-29he explains to us that all who come into Christ during this age and become members of his body, are thus members of the Seed of Abraham, and heirs with Christ of the promises of God made to Abraham.
Also in Galatians 4:22-31the Apostle explains in detail how Ishmael represented Israel after the flesh, born of the Law Covenant, represented by Hagar, and how, as such, they could not be heirs of the Abrahamic Covenant. He then shows Christ, the son of the free woman, the Abrahamic Covenant, represented by Sarah, and he not only represents the Lord Jesus as being the Isaac seed of promise, but in so many words declares that the elect Church of Christ in this Gospel age is also of this Isaac seed, and heirs with Jesus, and, through his merit, to all the promises made to Abraham--that they should be God's agency in bringing blessing to all the families of the earth. The Apostle's words are, "So, then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman [the Law Covenant], but of the free [the Abrahamic covenant, typified by [R2778 : page 88] Sarah.]" "Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free."
While these pictures and lessons relate chiefly to the Church as a whole, rather than to each member of it as an individual, nevertheless, individual lessons may be gleaned from them also, for altho Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, represented particularly natural Israel and spiritual Israel, we may, nevertheless, find similar characters and similar individual conditions today, in the "tares" and "wheat" of the Gospel Church. The tares, like Cain, have the spirit of the wicked one, the spirit of ambition and of pride, and as a rule they occupy very leading positions in nominal churchianity. They bring to the Lord offerings, and not without a certain form of godliness, yet their hearts are far from the attitude which would be pleasing to the Lord, for the offerings which they present are of their own works--they come not to the Lord solely in the name and merit of the great sacrifice for sins finished at Calvary, and God cannot accept their offerings.
The wheat class of this Gospel age, corresponding to Abel, come before the Lord in greater humility; not trusting in any righteousness or works of their own for their acceptance with him, they present to him, according to his own appointment, the sacrifice of blood--Christ's sacrifice, and these are accepted and God's favor is manifested to them; but so far from this awakening in the tare-class a spirit of contrition, and a desire to learn the way of the Lord more perfectly, it seems to awaken in them hatred, animosity, chagrin, that they, worldly-wise and of worldly influence and fame, should be rivalled and outdone in divine favor and acceptance by those that are nought in their estimation and from the worldly standpoint. And the wheat-class, represented in Abel, must be ready to lay down their lives as the price of their fidelity to the Lord. To these the Lord speaks individually, saying, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." (Rev. 2:10.) Their faithfulness is sure to lead to consecration to death, which ultimately finishes in literal death; for only by thus proving their faithfulness and following the footsteps of their Master to the end of the way can they be accepted of the Lord to joint-heirship with him.
The persecution of Isaac by Ishmael finds a parallel also in the opposition of the tares to the wheat; there is a rivalry between the Church nominal, which holds the place of influence and power, and which ridicules and mocks and persecutes the Isaac class. This persecution may not in every instance go so far as persecution to death, as in the case of our Lord and many of the apostles, and yet it will extend to every member of the Isaac class in some manner, even if it be not a more severe opposition than that of mocking and speaking evil of them. But all these things must be endured, and that with patience; yea, they may be endured with joy, if we can but have the spirit of our Head, and realize the meaning of these oppositions which come to us as they came to him, and of which he said, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. And again, as the Apostle declares, "The world knoweth us not, because it knew him not."--John 15:18,19; 1 John 3:1.
In all of these illustrations it is well that we note the differences of spirit or disposition, that the haughty, the proud, the ambitious and self-confident spirit is the one which leads to disappointment, and is not of the Lord; and that the humble, teachable, obedient spirit or disposition is that which is recognized by the Lord; and in proportion as we are seeking, therefore, to make our calling and election sure to membership in this spiritual Seed of Abraham, represented in Isaac, represented in Jacob, and represented in Abel, let us seek to bring to the Lord such sacrifices as he is pleased to receive (Heb. 13:16), and to be exercised by such a spirit of faith, of trust and of obedience as was manifested by the Head of this body, the Lord Jesus. He is our perfect Pattern; he walked this way successfully, and has not only opened it for us through the merit of his sacrifice, and accepted us as his followers in it, but also he has promised us his grace and help through the Word and by his spirit and by his providence all the journey through; assuring us that having begun a good work in us he is both able and willing to complete it. Let us then, like him, bring unto the Father the acceptable sacrifices of our consecrated lives, made acceptable to the Lord's altar through the atonement sacrifice which our dear Redeemer gave on our behalf. Thus we shall at once and always be accepted in the Beloved.--Rom. 12:1; 5:1,2.