Cain, his world, and his worship
Man's history reveals a terrible hopelessness, the history of which God has given us in His word (I say history, because we have a setting forth of man's sins and failures from the beginning); but then the blessed grace of God is shewn forth in it, because it tells of Christ.
It is not simply that man's heart is evil - which is true; but it has been proved evil in the presence of everything that ought to have restrained its evil. God has given us the history of man's ways, and of His dealings with man (not merely stated certain dogmas); and in whatever way He has dealt with man, we find of man's heart breaking out in evil, and following that course, despite all.
Man, having sinned against God, is evicted from paradise in Genesis 3. The next thing we read of is the outrageous wickedness of a man against his brother - Cain, Adam's first-born, slayed Abel in Genesis 4.
Then comes the flood sweeping away a whole generation of evil-doers in Genesis 7. Mercy is shown to Noah (he and his house are saved through the flood judgment), immediately afterwards we find him drunk in his tent, and Ham, his son, is mocking and dishonoring him (Gen. 9).
God speaks to Israel at Mount Sinai, thundering with His voice His righteous demands on man; yet, as awful as the presence of God is (and even "Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake"), even before Moses comes down from the mount, the people have made the golden calf. And thereby they have broken the first link that binds them to the service of Yahweh (Exodus 32).
In the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ we see God visiting the Jew, and dealing with sinners in grace, in the Person of His Son - And what of Him? Him they killed and hung on a tree (see Acts 5:30). Israel's history (which is really man's history under the most favorable circumstances) is one scene of violence and evil all the way through. So much so that Stephen (in testifying to them after their rejection of Christ and the descent of the Holy Ghost in witness of Christ's glory), anyway- Stephen says they were just doing like their fathers had always done. "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye," Acts 7:51.
Notwithstanding all the dealings of God with man - despite the voice of God and the judgments of God - man is so hopelessly bad, that the nearer he is brought to God - the more culture there is bestowed upon him by God - still, the more the evil is manifested, and that in darker characters. The sin and desperate wickedness of man's heart, working in spite of all, in sight even of God's judgments.
From the sin in the Garden of Eden we get the character of man's evil as being sin against God; Cain's sin is sin against a neighbor. Of course both are sins against God (all sin is against God); but whilst in the sin of Adam and Eve we see lust and disobedience, in Cain's there is something more - it is sin as exhibited against a neighbor.
Man (regarding his actual condition) is a sinner cast out of paradise, already out of the presence of God. He ought to be conscious of being out, and that the only way of getting back to God is through His Son. We are not in paradise. We have got out of it some way or other; and we are in a world which is under judgment. Death is staring us in the face.
Adam was driven out of paradise, and Cain must have had (through Adam) the remembrance that there was a time when man was not outside of paradise, when he heard God's voice in the garden without fear, when he had not a bad conscience, and when he was without toil.
Saints or sinners (in our own eyes), we have been driven out of Eden, and we are in the wilderness utterly excluded from God's presence. We ought to have the consciousness of being out, and of the misery of our condition. But how can it be that we have lost all remembrance of the place in which we once were, and have become comfortable with the ruin and desolation that came because of that first sin.
Yet this is all true and we cannot deny it, that we are outside of paradise, and are in a world constantly under judgment. We may try to make the best of the world; but we must all feel that something has come in, something that has brought in death and judgment. Happiness cannot be associated with sin, any more than sin can be associated with God. As for man, though he seeks to buoy himself up with his sins, and to delude himself with the lies of Satan. Man must sink, sooner or later, under the power of the sin and death that has come in. He is just spending his energies to make the world pleasant without God, and to make himself comfortable and rich in it, to die and get out of it.
The world he cannot maintain. He may build a city for himself, as Cain did (v. 17), and call it after his own name (Cain called his city after the name of his son); but it will linger with him, just as David speaks, "Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling-places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless man being in honor abideth not; he is like the beasts that perish. This their way is their folly; yet their posterity approve their saying. Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them," Psalm 49.
Cain did not like the sense of the wrath of God lying upon him. Expelled from the presence of God (v. 16), he managed to become so great in the earth that he could build a city. Man never likes to be faced with the truth of his condition. Cain dislikes being "a fugitive and a vagabond," and he tries to build a city, and he does build a city, in the endeavor to make the world as pleasant as he can -without God.
It might be said, What harm was there in building a city?
In the first place there would never have been the necessity for such a thing in paradise. Moreover it was a proof of insensibility as to this sin against God, it exhibited a quiet contentment under the effect of that punishment. Recall this was a judgment against him, which at first he had felt was greater than he could bear. It was the last expression of total alienation of heart and affection from God. Driven out from the presence of God, he sets about to establish himself. He seeks for himself a home, not with God in heaven, but on the earth, the very earth from which God had pronounced him "cursed." He makes himself master of a city, where God had made him "a vagabond."
Yahweh 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. And now art thou cursed from the earth [not merely, "Cursed is the ground for thy sake," etc. as to Adam], which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand: when thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. And Cain said unto Jehovah, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth," etc. (v. 9-14).}
And notice further the ability man has of making himself happy even in his estrangement from God. We find among the family of Cain not only "the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle" (v. 20), but "the father of such as handle the harp and the organ" (v. 21), and "the instructer of ever artificer in brass and iron" (v. 22).
Now there is nothing wrong in working brass and iron; neither is there any harm in sweet musical sounds (we read in the book of Revelation of harpers in heaven); but what Cain was doing was this - he was making the world pleasant without God.
These are the efforts of man, who has settled himself down in a world where judgment has placed him, and who is trying to make himself as happy, and the world as pleasant, as he can without God, until death and judgment overtake him.
If I saw a man who committed some wicked crime against his father, and the next day saw such a man playing a musical instrument, would I say there was no harm in that? Such was Cain's world. And is it not like your world, reader? Is there any difference between your soul and Cain's world? Is it a better world now because God's Son has been crucified in it?
Has that act on the part of man made it more acceptable to God? (recall that has happened since the days of Cain). Where is the difference? They had their "harps and organs"; and so have you. They had their "artificers in brass and iron"; and so have you. It was Cain's world then away from God? and it is Cain's world still.
The like tree produces like fruit. Man is carrying on the world by himself, and for himself, endeavoring to keep God out of sight, as much as possible- to do all without Him, lest God should reach his conscience and make him miserable.
Can you find any difference between Cain's world without God- and your world without God? You may object and say that you are not without God, that you are called by the name of Christ - are Christians, and have a religion also.
But Cain had a religion. He was a religious man, as religious as Abel. But he had no love of God; he had no faith. He was a religious man, but not a godly man.
It is a strange introduction to this whole picture, this setting forth of Cain as a worshipper, and a worshipper moreover of the true God. We read, "And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto Yawheh," v. 2, 3.
There is no mention made of false gods before the flood. Cain was a worshipper of the one living and true God. Soon after the flood there were idolaters; and then God called out a separate people (Israel) as witnesses of His character to make good His name and grace. But there is not any mention made of false gods before Joshua 24:6-8, "Your fathers worshipped other gods": a fresh crime, a fresh snare of the enemy, which called for new measures on the part of God. Satan had come and slipped himself in between man and God, and was the one that was really worshipped, though under the name of gods; and the call of Abram was the call and witness of "the most high God."
Your "artificers in brass and iron" are worshippers of the true God. So was Cain. And he took some pains too. He offered that which he had been toiling for in "the sweat of his brow." He was a "tiller of the ground," and he "brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto Yahweh." He did not bring that which cost him nothing (2 Sam. 24:24); nay, his worship cost more of toil than that of Abel.
He came in the way of nature, offering the fruit of his toil and labor; and you have done the same. This is ever the character of false worship. Religiousness does not take a man out of having the character of Cain; it the rather brings him into it. So that you have not got one step in that way out of the character God has marked as that of Cain.
Observe, I do not charge you with being hypocrites, for I do not say that Cain was not sincere. There is no doubt indeed of his sincerity; but then his sincerity only evidenced the blind hardness of his heart. Human sincerity means nothing; it is often but the greatest proof of the desperate darkness in which a man is.
Those men were sincere of whom Christ said, "He that killeth you will think he doeth God service." Saul of Tarsus was thoroughly sincere when he thought he "ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth." He consulted moreover the chief priests and elders, the religious authorities of the day. He was zealous for his religion, and thoroughly sincere, but sincere as a man, and totally blind as to God and the things of Christ, thinking to do God service by fighting against and slaying His saints.
Cain in his sincerity brought to the Lord that which cost him something, that which was the fruit of his toil. He came to God as a worshipper, and in so doing offered to God that which he had brought honestly as a man, but which proved him to be ignorant of his state as a sinner.
What then is man to hope for? you will say. The answer is man is to hope for nothing in himself. Did he not get removed out of paradise because of sin? What possible ground can he have as a sinner for hoping to get into heaven?
What ground did Cain have for hoping that God would accept either himself or his offering? God had driven man out of paradise because of sin: what ground did he have to expect by the works of his hands to get back into the presence of God?
You may say, It was not the works of his hands, but the fruits of God's creation he was offering. But what would you think of the man who was hoping to get into heaven by offering his corn and his wine to God, supposing, like Simon Magus (Acts 8), that the gift of God may be bought?
It would show that his conscience was as hard as the nether millstone, utterly ignorant and insensible to the condition he was in, as well as to the character of God. The very worship of Cain proved the desperate utter lack of awareness in his heart as to the judgment of God against sin, and to those mighty things which had just happened, the effects and consequences of which he was now experiencing.
How did man get into the condition of toiling on earth by the sweat of his brow? This very toil told the story of the curse. They had been driven out of Eden because of sin. But in Cain we see utter recklessness with regard to the judgment of God. He had forgotten the very nature and being of that God who had set man perfectly happy in the garden in the beginning. Man was in Eden to keep it and to enjoy its fruits (fruits yielded to his hand without toil or labor); and now fallen man supposed that by toil and labor (the judicial consequences of sin) he could produce something that God would accept. There was utter desperate recklessness to the judgment of God.
Cain's worship was the worst thing he did. It was in fact the denying that he had sinned; such blindness to what he had been, such hardness of conscience in supposing that he could get into the presence of God in his sins as if nothing at all had happened! Such wretched assumption that because he was a "tiller of the ground," that therefore tilling of the ground was all right!
But did it ever come to be all right? Because God had cursed the ground. He, a defiled sinner driven out of paradise, brings "of the fruit of the ground" which the Lord had cursed, "as an offering unto Yahweh "; that is, he brings into the presence of God the very sign and seal of the sin that had driven him out from God!
And how comes a man to be going Sunday after Sunday, as he says, to 'worship God'? What is all this toil? To 'make peace with God?' God is "the God of peace"; He "preaches peace" - a made peace through "the blood of the cross"; yet man goes on seeking to carry something else into God's presence as 'a duty,' 'to make peace' without once asking about God's way of peace.
Cain was a worshipper of God; but there was no faith in Cain. There was no faith to recognize his own ruin and sin, no faith to apprehend the judgment of God against sin: he had no business in the presence of God as he was (as a sinner), no title to be a worshipper of God. He had not a bit of faith to recognize his own condition as being one driven out of paradise, his sin and estrangement from God, or, that blood - death - was necessary, in order for him to approach God.
That is just the world's worship; and are you any the better for it? Are you any the nearer to God? Tell me, dear friends, what if God does not receive your worship? Suppose that, after all your well doing and toil for God, God rejects it, for that is what Cain's toiling met with from God - "Unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect" (v. 5) - would you be content?
How was it with Cain? "Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell." And it is ever thus. The moment God exposes and puts man on the true ground of his actual condition before Him, the enmity of the natural heart breaks out against God. Cain was "very wroth," exceeding angry; and why? Because his heart was opposed to grace. He had not grasped or embraced the first principle of sin in the presence of God.
And you, when the sovereign grace of the gospel comes to you, are "very angry." What! a man does his best, you exclaim, and is not accepted !? So thought Cain. And so thinks every man naturally; that is, he thinks that God must accept him just as well as he accepts God, bringing down God to his own measure of holiness. And then the wrath of man breaks out, and he rejects the righteousness that God holds out to him; such a man will not have God's Son.
There is not a principle in Cain that is not found in all men.
There is no evil in brass and iron, nor is there any harm in sweet musical sounds; the evil and the sin are in this when men are using these things to hide God from themselves. If you are worshippers of the true God on such terms, so was Cain. We may put a terrible name on that which we see in Cain, and yet approve of the same thing in ourselves; the light tells us that was sin in Cain which the spirit of self-love tells us is not sin in our own case.
What difference is there between you and Cain? Take the Bible and see if you can make out any difference. The only real difference is this, that you have a further and more developed knowledge of "the Seed of the woman" (Christ), and therefore that of the two you are the more guilty.
Having sinned against God, abused His goodness, and refused His Son, man turns to please himself as if nothing had happened. It is more terrible to a spiritual eye to see insensibility after sin has been committed, it is a far deeper shade of sin than even the commission of the original crime. The returning of a soul to God is being awakened to a sense of the awfulness of this state.
There is yet another feature in the Cain character - open hostility to those who know God's principle of grace, to those whom God does accept. See what follows: "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," v. 8. Abel as a poor helpless man should have demanded Cain's sympathy, but Cain hates the one whom God delights in.
And so it is now. Why is it that you are so angry at a fault in a Christian which you readily excuse in a man of the world, if it be not hatred to the name he bears? If it ought to produce better fruits in him who is a Christian, why do you not adopt it yourselves? If you are expecting better from him than from the world, why not follow that which you profess to believe will produce the better fruit?
But you have not merely hated the name of Christ, you have been guilty of hating that which God has established in Christ. And here is the same principle that crucified Christ, the desperate recklessness of sin.
You cannot deny that the world has crucified Christ; God's Son is not now in the world. He has been in the world. He became a man amongst men (" the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," John 1:14) - our neighbor. Man saw and hated Him, and summed up his evil in killing Him. I ask you therefore, Has God no such question with you as He had with Cain, "Where is thy brother?" (v. 9). Christ has become man's "brother" (it is not the question of God's purpose and counsel here); and is not God demanding of the world, Where is Christ?
Cain replied, "I know not: am I my brother's keeper?"
Here is a much worse character of sin than Adam's. It is the haughtiness and recklessness of sin. "Am I my brother's keeper?" Not only has there been sin against God, sin that has exiled man from Eden and separated him from the presence of God in peace. But there has been sin also that has led to the hatred and destruction of a brother (blessed and perfect in His ways) whom man has seen.
Your disclaiming this displays, and is the proof of, the recklessness of your hearts. "If I had not come and spoken unto them," said Jesus, "they had not had sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause," John 15:22-25.
The coming of the Son of man into the world has shown the real state it is in. Why was Christ rejected by man, except that man hated God? That was the only reason that Christ was slain in this world. They hated God, and therefore they hated Him. They hated the light - " Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God," John 3:20, 21. "They loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil "; and this is their sin, that they have put the Light out of the world.
Like Cain, they were "of that wicked one," and slew their brother; 1 John 3:12. Like him too in the motive - "And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous." "Which of you convicts me of sin?" (John 8:46). Even Pilate said, "I find no fault in him," John 18:38; chap. 19:4, 6. The world has sinned against God in crucifying and slaying Jesus. They hated God, and therefore turned God's Son out of the world, when sent to it in love.
But there is another thing. It is not simply a question of man's having killed the Lord Jesus Christ; the world has now to answer for its resistance of the Holy Spirit. "Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost," etc. The testimony of the Holy Spirit, present in the world as witness of the glory of Christ, is a conviction of the world of sin; John 16:7-15.
He has been sent down because Christ has been killed. The necessary testimony of His very presence in the world is this: He would not have been here on earth if Christ had not been killed. He is come in condemnation of the whole world before God. 'I am here,' He says, as it were, 'because you have killed your Abel.' It is not a question about particular sins; you have killed God's Son, you are a sinner by birth, but also because you have not believed on Him.
Well then, dear friends, are you the daily companions of those who have rejected Christ, who have killed Christ? Are you of that world, and found with that world in its pleasures and profits, its religion and its lusts, which has done this, and which is still against God and against His Christ, vainly trying to make yourselves pleasant without God?
Or have you taken your stand with those who are "of God," who have God with them and God for them, though the whole world that lies in the wicked one (Satan) be against them? The efforts that are being made merely to improve the world are really the sign of the insensibility of Cain. The Spirit of God has come into the world to awaken us to a sense of what has happened in the world, and of the truth of our condition as men.
In contrast, how was poor Abel accepted worshipper? "And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And Yahweh had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain," etc. (v. 4). Abel was accepted by blood. There was this testimony in his offering: I cannot go to God as I am; I am driven out of paradise, sin has come in between me and God, and death, "the wages of sin," must come in between me and God, or I cannot go to God - I cannot go as I am. He took the place of a sinner, and put by faith between himself and God -the blood of a victim that had been slain.
Unless in his going to God he had understood and agreed to the necessity that he could not get into the presence of God at all except by blood, he would not have been accepted any more than Cain. But he knew and grasped that he could not get to God without blood: he was of faith, and faith ever sees that "without shedding of blood there is no remission," Heb. 9:22.
He put death - judicially inflicted death (by slaying the victim) - between himself and God, and then he comes into the presence of God as an accepted worshipper. "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," Heb. 11:4.
But further, in a sense Abel suffered with Christ. Having held that he could not come into the presence of God without the blood of the lamb slain, he takes his place and portion with Christ in rejection. He is a sufferer from the wicked men of the world. That is how it must end. That is all that the Christian is to expect at the hands of a world departed from God. "Marvel not if the world hate you," 1 John 3:13.
"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest," says the apostle, "by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God, let us draw near," etc. (Heb. 10:19, 22).
All who try to come but not through Him, are rejected, because they do not know that they are so utterly sinful that they cannot come into God's presence except through the blood of His Son.
And on the other hand, all who say, I cannot draw near except through blood, such men see and have learned that this is the perfectness of love - God's own perfect blessed love - that to meet man's need, - spared nothing-, not even His only-begotten Son. "He hath made him to be a sin offering for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him," 2 Cor. 5:21.
This is the language of faith. He is the only God who, when I was the chief of sinners, gave His Son to die for me. I know of no God but a God of perfect love, bringing me out of all my vileness, embracing my neck despite my vileness, as did the father to the returning prodigal (Luke 15), and bringing me into His house to rejoice with Him in the exceeding riches of His grace.
We get perfect blessed peace through the blood of Christ, without one pang of conscience left. "The worshipper once purged has no more conscience of sin." Heb. 10. The apostle does not say that he is not a sinner, that he is not vile; but - - that God has so loved the vile and sinful as to give His Son unto death, to wash away their vileness and their sin.
-from jnd, lightly edited