“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.” -- Hebrews 11:4
Because he believed God Abel brought the sacrifice God required of him, trusting the Lord Jesus Christ alone for righteousness, redemption and acceptance with the holy Lord God. Paul’s declaration of Abel’s faith in Christ arises from that which is recorded in Genesis 4:1-10. Here the Holy Spirit tells us three things about Abel and his faith. (1.) Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. (2.) He obtained witness that he was righteous. And (3.) Though he is dead, he yet speaks.
A More Excellent Sacrifice
First, we are told, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” -- We must not presume, as many have, that since Adam and Eve are not mentioned in this chapter as examples of faith they must have been unbelievers. There are many men and women of true, saving faith who are not mentioned in this chapter. It appears to me that this inspired list of the great examples of faith begins with Abel because Abel was the first man mentioned after the fall who exemplified true faith in the worship of God and because he was the first person martyred because he believed God.
An Act of Faith
Abel’s sacrifice was superior to Cain’s because Abel’s sacrifice was a sacrifice of faith looking to Christ. He offered the kind of sacrifice God required and because he offered his blood sacrifice upon the altar of God as an act of faith. Abel looked through his sacrifice to the sacrifice of Christ. -- Cain, in his sacrifice, looked only to himself and his works. Abel’s sacrifice was a lamb, a type of Christ, the Lamb of God. Abel offered the Lord a firstling of the flock, a picture of Christ who is the firstborn of every creature. He also offered the fat of the lamb, or one of the fattest of his flock, which speaks of the excellence of Christ. His sacrifice was offered up, “in the process of time” (at the end of days), as Christ came “in due time,” “when the fulness of time was come,” in the end of the world, “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” The Lord God accepted Abel’s sacrifice, “had respect” to it, and rejected Cain’s sacrifice.
Abel’s sacrifice of faith was the response of his heart to the Word of God. Faith in Christ presupposes divine revelation. I said, we must not infer, because Adam is not mentioned in this chapter, that he was an unbeliever. There are many reasons for believing otherwise. One reason is this: “Faith cometh by
hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Abel learned the gospel from someone. He did not come up with the idea of blood atonement by a whim of his mind. Abel learned how to worship God from his father. The Word of God is always operative in the conversion of sinners, in the worship of God, and in faith. Faith is the response of the heart to the Word of God (Rom. 1:15-17; 1 Cor. 1:21-23; Heb. 4:12; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23-25).
The Lord God revealed four specific things to Adam and Eve in the garden that are clearly manifest in Abel’s worship (Gen. 3:15-21). (1.) In order for a sinner to stand accepted before the thrice holy God he must have a covering. – The Righteousness of Christ! (2.) That which is of human manufacture (fig leaves) is worthless before the Lord. (3.) God himself must provide the covering (righteousness) for us. The sinner’s only righteousness before God is the righteousness God gives by imputation. (4.) The covering God requires can only be obtained by death. -- By Blood-Shedding. – The Blood Of An Innocent Victim!
“In Genesis 3:15 and 21 we have the first Gospel sermon which was ever preached on this earth, and that, by the Lord Himself. Life must come out of death. Cain and Abel, and the whole human race, sinned in Adam (Rom. 5:12, 18, 19), and the wages of sin is death, penal death. Either I must pay those wages and suffer that death, or another — an innocent one, on whom death has no claim — must pay those wages in my stead. And in order to my receiving the benefit of that Substitute’s compassion, there must be a link of contact between me and him. Faith it is which unites to Christ. Saving faith, then, in its simplest form, is the placing of a Substitute between my guilty self and a sin-hating God.” – (A. W. Pink)
What was wrong with Cain’s offering? In Genesis 4:3 we read, “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.” Cain was not an open infidel. He acknowledged the existence of God He was not irreligious. He came before God as a worshipper; but he refused to conform to the Word of God. Clearly, four things were amiss in his sacrifice. (1.) It was a bloodless sacrifice; and “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). (2.) It was but the fruit of his hands, the product of his work. (3.) Cain deliberately ignored the curse of God upon the ground (Gen. 3:17). (4.) He despised the grace and trampled under his feet the blood of Christ made known in Genesis 3:15-21.
Cain was a hypocrite. He refused to comply with the revealed will of God. Yet, he attempted to cover his rebellion by coming before God as a worshipper. He would not obey God’s revelation. Yet, he brought an offering to the Lord. He did not believe God. Yet, sought to patronize him. This is the “way of Cain” spoken of by Jude (Jude 11). It is the way of self-will, self-righteousness, unbelief, disobedience, and religious hypocrisy.