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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Genesis 4

 

 

Verses 8-10

DISCOURSE: 9

THE DEATH OF ABEL

Genesis 4:8-10. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And He said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.

IT is scarcely to be conceived how much iniquity there is in the heart of fallen man. That we have passions which incline us occasionally to deviate from the path of duty, is nothing more than what all feel and confess: but that we are ready to perpetrate all manner of evil, not excepting even murder itself, few are sufficiently candid or intelligent to acknowledge. This seems an excess of wickedness, of which human nature, unless in very extraordinary circumstances, is not capable. To such a charge most men would be ready to reply, “Is thy servant a dog, that I should do this thing?” But we may behold in Cain a just picture of ourselves. What he was by nature, that are we also. The first-born of Adam, begotten after his own fallen image, shews what all are, till renewed by grace: “they live in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another:” and their contempt of God is equal to all the other odious qualities that defile their souls. We cannot but be struck with this in the history of Cain, who having murdered his brother Abel, presumed even to insult his God. His conduct will come properly under our review, if we consider,

I. The Murder—

In this awful transaction, there are two things to be inquired into:

1. The manner in which it was perpetrated—

[Satan, in his assaults on man, can exert himself only by wiles and stratagems, not being permitted to exercise his power against us in any other way. But when he employs human agents in his service, he stirs them up to combine in their attacks “deceit and violence.” Such were the weapons with which the blood-thirsty Cain sought the destruction of his brother Abel. “He talked with Abel his brother.” What the subject of the conversation was, it would be foolish to conjecture: but that it was of a friendly nature, there can be no doubt. It was evidently with a design to allure him into a place of solitude, where he might effect his murderous purpose without difficulty or detection. Had he disclosed the sentiments of his heart, he would have put his brother on his guard: whereas by feigning affection towards him, he would remove all fear or suspicion from his brother’s mind, and facilitate the accomplishment of the fatal deed [Note: Psalms 55:21.]. To similar means assassins have had recourse in all ages. It was thus that Joab slew both Abner and Amasa: “he sent messengers after Abner, and took him aside in the gate to speak with him quietly [Note: 2 Samuel 3:26-27.]:” “to Amasa he said, Art thou in health, my brother? and took him by the beard to kiss him [Note: 2 Samuel 20:9-10.]:” but his pretences to friendship were only to secure access to them, that he might strike with effect the dagger to their heart. It was thus that Absalom also contrived to murder his brother Amnon: he made a feast for all his family, and expressed particular solicitude to have the company of Amnon: but the whole was a cover, to effect the destruction of his brother in the midst of his convivial mirth [Note: 2 Samuel 13:26-28.].

The murder of a brother is such an atrocious act, that it scarcely admits of being aggravated by any circumstances: but if any thing can aggravate it, surely the treachery of Cain must awfully enhance its guilt. Had it been the effect of sudden wrath, it had even then been criminal beyond the power of language to express: but being the result of premeditation and contrivance, of deceit and treachery, its enormity is increased an hundred-fold.]

2. The motive to the commission of it—

[Gladly would we, if possible, find somewhat to extenuate the guilt of this transaction: but the more minutely we examine it, the more heinous it appears. The Scripture informs us, that Cain, in the commission of this act, was impelled only by envy and hatred. God had been pleased to testify his acceptance of Abel and of his sacrifice, while no such token of approbation was vouchsafed to Cain. The effect of this should have been, to lead Cain into a close examination of his spirit and conduct, and to make him earnest in prayer, that he might know wherefore this preference had been given to Abel, and how he also might obtain the favour of his God. But, alas! his heart was filled with envy and wrath, insomuch that his whole countenance was changed. In vain did God expostulate with him on the unreasonableness of his behaviour [Note:, 7.]. “The spirit that dwelt in him lusted to envy [Note: James 4:5.]:” this malignant passion “was as rottenness in his bones [Note: Proverbs 14:30.],” so thoroughly had it corroded his very inmost soul. The excellence of Abel’s character served only to add fuel to the flame. His virtues were his faults; so “impossible is it to stand before envy [Note: Proverbs 27:4.].” Cain hated in him the divine image, as much as he envied him the divine favour. The light of his brother’s example was offensive to his eyes; and on this account he sought to extinguish it. St. John, having told us that Cain slew his brother, asks, “And wherefore slew he him?” he then answers, “Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous [Note: 1 John 3:12.].”

Such were the motives by which Cain was instigated to this infernal deed. The murder was first committed in his heart; and then completed with his hand; according to that saying of the Apostle, “He that hateth his brother is a murderer [Note: 1 John 3:15.].” Indeed there is such a connexion between “envy, debate, deceit, and murder [Note: Romans 1:29.].” that wherever the first is harboured, the rest would follow of course, if God in his infinite mercy did not interpose to limit the operation of our sinful propensities.]

God, who “maketh inquisition for blood,” would not suffer the murder to be concealed: he therefore sought out the offender, and commenced,

II. The Inquest—

It is said, that “Whose hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness shall be shewed before the whole congregation [Note: Proverbs 26:26.]:” and where that hatred has proceeded to murder, God in his providence has generally fulfilled this saying. On this occasion, the Governor of the Universe proceeded exactly as he had done upon the first transgression: He summoned the criminal, and made inquiry at his hands. In the trial we notice,

1. Cain’s denial of the fact—

[Being interrogated, “Where his brother Abel was,” he answered with consummate effrontery, “I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” Alas! how inseparable the connexion between guilt and falsehood! But what blindness had sin induced upon his mind, and what obduracy upon his heart! What could he imagine, when he thus flatly denied any knowledge of his brother? Did he suppose that he could deceive his God? Had he forgotten, that omniscience was an attribute essential to the Deity? Yes: such is the atheism which sin produces: he said in his heart, “Tush, God hath not seen: Can he see through the thick clouds [Note: Job 22:14.] ?” Not contented with uttering this impious falsehood, he added an insult, which we should scarcely have thought he would have dared to offer to his earthly parent, much less to his Maker and his God. Behold this murderous wretch presuming to criminate his Judge, and to reprove him as unreasonable and unjust! “Am I my brother’s keeper?” that is, ‘What right hast thou to interrogate me respecting him?’ We stand amazed at this effort of impiety: but, in truth, it is no other than what is daily exemplified before our eyes. If we question men respecting the performance of any of their duties, they will not hesitate to condemn our expectations as unreasonable, and the laws on which they are founded, as absurd: and when the authority of God is urged in support of his law, they will not scruple to arraign the wisdom and equity of the Lawgiver himself. The very manner in which Cain attempted to conceal his crime was of itself a strong presumption against his innocence. What need had he to be offended with an inquiry after his brother, if he really knew not where he was? What occasion was there for all this petulance and profaneness? But it was in vain to deny a fact which the all-seeing God was ready to attest [Note: Psalms 94:7-10.].]

2. His conviction before God—

[He had effectually silenced his brother’s voice; so that no testimony could be borne by him. But the blood which he had shed, had a voice, which cried aloud; a voice which reached the throne of Almighty God, and brought him down to plead the cause of injured innocence. Indeed, every sin has a voice, which speaks powerfully in the ears of God, and calls for vengeance on the head of him who has committed it. It was in vain to dispute the testimony of Jehovah. The criminal stands confounded, and waits the sentence awarded by his Judge. Surely now then at least we shall behold him softened: his obdurate heart must now relent; and he will accept with resignation the punishment of his iniquity. Not so indeed: he expresses no contrition: he asks not once for mercy: he complains indeed, but not of himself, not of the guilt he has contracted, not of the deed he has perpetrated, but of the punishment he has incurred; “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” But let not this be wondered at: It is the effect of sin to sear the conscience, and to harden the heart: and the more heinous our transgressions are, the more shall we be disposed to criminate the authority that calls us into judgment for them. Even in hell itself this disposition is exercised, yea, it rages with uncontrolled and incessant fury: the damned spirits “gnaw their tongues for pain, and blaspheme the God of heaven because of their pains, and repent not of their deeds [Note: Revelation 16:10-11.].”]

Hence then we may observe,

1. How soon did “the enmity which God has put between the Serpent’s and the Woman’s seed [Note: Genesis 3:15.] begin to shew itself!

[It is an undeniable fact, that “all who live godly in Christ Jesus do suffer persecution [Note: 2 Timothy 3:12.]:” and the world, yea sometimes Christians themselves also, are ready to think that the opposition made to them is discreditable to their cause. But our Lord and his Apostles taught us to expect precisely the same treatment which they themselves received [Note: John 15:18-20.]. They inform us also how all the Prophets were used by those among whom they sojourned [Note: Acts 7:52.]: they declare that, in all ages, even from the beginning of the world, “they who have been born after the flesh have persecuted those who were born after the Spirit [Note: Galatians 4:29.] ;” and that all “the blood shed from the time of righteous Abel” to the time that Christ himself was nailed upon the cross [Note: Matthew 23:35.], served to illustrate “the enmity of the carnal mind against God,” and the path in which all must walk who would finally attain to glory. Hence persecutors are emphatically said to “go in the way of Cain [Note: Judges 11.].” Let none then think it strange that they are called to endure a fiery trial, as though some strange thing happened unto them [Note: l Pet. 4:12.] ;” but “let them rejoice and glorify God on this behalf [Note: 1 Peter 4:13-14; 1 Peter 4:16.] ;” knowing that myriads who are now in heaven “came thither out of great tribulation [Note: Revelation 7:14.] ;” and that, “if they also suffer with Christ, they shall in due time be glorified together with him [Note: Romans 8:17.].”]

2. How vain is it to cultivate the friendship of the world!

[If, in any situation, fellowship could have been maintained between a carnal and a spiritual man, we may well suppose that it should subsist between the two first men who were born into the world, educated as they must have been with the strictest care, and necessitated as they were to cultivate a friendly intercourse on account of the contracted state of society in the world: yet not even these could enjoy spiritual communion with each other. It is true, that all natural men do not give themselves up, like Cain, to the dominion of their lusts: but it is equally true, that all men have in their hearts the same envious and malignant passions [Note: James 4:5.], and that, till they are renewed by divine grace, they are enemies to true religion [Note: Romans 8:7.]. Hence we are told to come out from the world and be separate, because there can be no more true communion between believers and unbelievers, than between light and darkness, or Christ and Belial [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-15; 2 Corinthians 6:17.]. And they who, in opposition to this direction, choose the unregenerate for their associates, or form still more intimate connexions with them, are sure to “suffer loss” in their souls; and, if saved at all, they are “saved only so as by fire [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:15.].”]

3. How certainly “will sin find us out” at last!

[We may conceal our iniquities from man; but we can never hide them from God: “There is no darkness nor shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.” God does not often interfere to make known our guilt, as in the case before us; (though the interpositions of His providence in the discovery of murder are sometimes extremely marked and visible;) but in the day of judgment “he will make manifest the very counsels of our hearts.” It will be in vain then to deny our guilt, or to raise those captious, not to say impious, objections, which now appear to us of so much weight: Every thing will be substantiated by the fullest evidence, and be recompensed according to its desert. O that “in that day we may be found without spot, and blameless!” This may be the state of all, not excepting even murderers themselves, provided they wash in the fountain of Christ’s blood, and be renewed by his Holy Spirit. Let us then seek his pardoning and renewing grace. Then shall we be enabled to “stand before our God with boldness,” and “give up our account to him with joy, and not with grief.”]


Verse 26

DISCOURSE: 10

INSTITUTION OF PUBLIC WORSHIP

Genesis 4:26. Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.

OF the various institutions of religion, some were clearly founded on an express appointment from God himself; others appear to have arisen, in the first instance, from the suggestions of holy men, and to have been afterwards authorized and established by divine authority. It is manifest that baptism was practised by the Jews long before it was appointed by Christ as the rite whereby his followers were to be consecrated to his service: but when it was first introduced, or whether by any express command of God, we know not. The change of the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first was sanctioned by the practice of the Apostles: but whether they received any particular direction respecting it, we are not informed. The presumption indeed is, that all the observances which God has sanctioned, originated from him; and that men began to practise them in consequence of some intimations from him: but as this is not declared in Scripture, we must be contented to leave the matter undecided. We are not any where told that God commanded men to meet together for the purposes of public worship. If we take the text in the precise sense that it bears in our translation, it should seem that public assemblies of worship were rather the offspring of necessity; and that they arose out of an increase of population, and a growing neglect of personal and family religion.

The text indeed is, in the margin of our Bibles, rendered differently: “Then began men to call themselves by the name of the Lord:” Nor are commentators agreed to which of the versions we should give the preference. We shall therefore include both; and take occasion from the words to shew,

I. In what manner we should confess God—

The descendants of Cain, who had become “a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth,” soon cast off all regard for God, and addicted themselves to open and shameless impiety. Lamech broke through the restraints which the Creator had imposed in relation to marriage, and “took unto him two wives;” leaving thereby an example, which in process of time effaced the very remembrance of God’s original institution. From these and other abominations arose an imperious necessity for the godly to separate themselves from the ungodly, and to maintain by an open and more visible profession the honour of God in the world. This they did: and in so doing they have taught us,

1. To separate ourselves from the ungodly—

[There is a certain degree of intercourse which must subsist between us and the world. But it is by no means desirable to extend it beyond that which the duties of our calling absolutely require. Our Lord repeatedly declares that his faithful followers “are not of the world, even as He was not of the world [Note: John 17:16.]:” The Apostles also with one voice guard us against cultivating the friendship of the world; [Note: James 4:4.] and teach us to come out from among them [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.], and to live as a distinct “peculiar people [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.],” “shining among them as lights in a dark place [Note: Philippians 2:15.].” We should go to them, indeed, when duty calls, as the physician enters the infected chambers of the sick: but we should never forget, that “evil communications corrupt good manners [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:33.] ;” and that an undue familiarity with them is far more likely to weaken the spirituality of our own minds, than to generate a holy disposition in theirs. In us should be verified the prophecy of Balaam, “Israel shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations [Note: Numbers 23:9.].”]

To make an open profession of our attachment to Christ—

[The godly, in the antediluvian world, called themselves Children of God, as distinct from those who were only children of men: and it was foretold that a similar distinction should obtain among the followers of Christ [Note: Isaiah 44:5.]. If in one instance Peter failed in acknowledging his Lord, on other occasions he witnessed a good confession, and manfully withstood the threatenings of his enemies [Note: Acts 4:8; Acts 4:10; Acts 4:19-20.]. It may be thought perhaps, that, because Christianity is the established religion of the land, there is no occasion for such boldness now: but the sons of Cain and of Ishmael are yet amongst us [Note: Judges 11; Galatians 4:23; Galatians 4:29.]: there are in every place those who deride all vital godliness: and it requires almost as much fortitude to withstand their sneers and contempt, as it does to brave more cruel persecutions. There is the same necessity for us to “take up our cross and follow Christ,” as there was for the primitive Christians: and the command given to them to “be faithful unto death,” is equally to be regarded by us: for the same conduct will be observed by the Judge towards men of every age and nation; “he will confess those before his Father who have confessed him in the world,” and “deny before his Father those who have denied,” or been ashamed of him [Note: Matthew 10:32-33; Mark 8:38.].]

But the text instructs us also,

II. In what manner we should worship him—

We cannot doubt but that Adam and his pious offspring maintained the worship of God both in their families and their closets: but till the human race were considerably multiplied, there was no occasion for what may be called public worship. But when the families became so numerous that they were obliged to separate, then it was necessary to call them together at stated times and seasons, that, by forming different congregations, they might all receive instruction at once, and keep up in their minds an habitual reverence for God.

The necessity for public ordinances is obvious; and the benefit arising from them is incalculable.

1. They preserve the knowledge of God in the world—

[There is reason to fear, that if there were no public ordinances of religion, the very name of God would be soon forgotten. Notwithstanding the establishment of such institutions, the generality are “perishing for lack of knowledge:” darkness has overspread the land, even a darkness that may be seen and felt [Note: Exodus 10:21 with Isaiah 9:2.]. But there is some light shining in the world; and that is diffused almost exclusively by the public ministry of the word. Occasionally, God is pleased to instruct men by his word and Spirit, without the intervention of human agents: but, as he has set apart an order of men for the express purpose of propagating his truth, so he delights to honour them as his instruments to convey his blessings to the world [Note: Compare Zechariah 4:11-14 and 2 Corinthians 4:7 with Acts 8:26-39; Acts 10:9-44.]. Doubtless he vouchsafes his blessing to those who read and pray in secret, provided they reverence, as far as their circumstances admit, his public institutions: but never did he, from the foundation of the world, impart his blessing to those who continued to live in an avowed contempt of his ordinances: No: “he loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob [Note: Psalms 87:2.].”]

2. They are the means of perfecting his work in his people’s hearts—

[God has told us that this was a very principal end for his ordaining men to preach the Gospel [Note: Ephesians 4:11-15.] ; but it is by means of the public ordinances chiefly that Ministers can address the people: and consequently the ordinances themselves are the means by which God accomplishes his end. We have said before, that God will also reveal himself to his people in secret: and it sometimes happens that their communion with him in private is more sweet and intimate than in the public assembly: but may we not ask, on the other hand, whether, when the heart has been cold and formal in the closet, it has not often been warmed and animated in the church? And is not much of the enjoyment experienced in secret, the result of instructions administered in the public ordinances? In the one they gather the food; in the other they ruminate and chew the cud: but the pleasure and nourishment derived to their souls must be acknowledged, in part at least, as originating in their public duties. To these has God promised his peculiar blessing [Note: Exodus 20:24; Matthew 28:20.] ; and therefore we should “reverence his sanctuary,” and join with one consent in a public surrender of ourselves to God [Note: See Zephaniah 3:9; Zechariah 8:20-22.].]

Address,

1. Those who have others under their control—

[Parents, and Masters, you are responsible to God for the exercise of your power and influence. Will you then, either by precept or example, encourage a conformity to the world, or a disregard of the worship of your God? O “destroy not their souls, for whom Christ died!” Employ your authority for God: and, whatever opposition you may meet with in the world, learn to say with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord [Note: Joshua 24:15.].”]

2. Those who are acting for themselves—

[If you have “chosen the good part,” be careful that it “be not taken away from you,” either through the love of this world, or through the fear of man. Be steadfast, and “endure unto the end, that you may be saved at last.” If you lose your life for Christ’s sake, you shall find it unto life eternal. But if you are “walking in the broad road,” think whither it leads: and begin to serve your God in this world, that you may be honoured by him in the world to come [Note: John 12:26.].]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Genesis 4:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/genesis-4.html. 1832.

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