Genesis 4:3-5

Congregational Marblehead, Massachusetts 1790-11-09, 1793-02-10, 1794-07-20, 1794-08-24, 1795-07-12, 1796-10-12, 1798-07-22, 1798-11-18, 1800-07-06, 1805-09-15, 1811-03-31
Mss. Boxes S, Sermons Collection, 1640-1875, American Antiquarian Society

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No. 483

84 [fsm]


65 C.M

Association Marblehead. [NY]

Story’s Nov 9th. 1790. Present Mess. Forleu, Hott, Barnard, Parsons, Wadsworth, Mackeen, Hubbard, & Story 1

At Home Feb. 10: 1793

Mr. Princes July 20. 94

Mr. McKeen’s Aug. 24. 94

Dr. Barnard’s July 12. 95

Mr. Judson Oct. 12. 96.

1 Rept. July 22. 98

Mr. Wadsworth Nov. 18. 98

Mr. Holyoke Boxford. July 6. 1800

Mr. Lincoln Glosn. Sep. 15. 1805

Rep. March 31. 1811.

And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord: —And Abel he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, & of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel, & to his Offering: — But unto Cain & his to his Offering he had not respect. (Genesis 4:3-5)

Faith in the existence of a Supreme Being is the foundation of all religion; & under every climate this belief has prevailed. Nor, as the Roman orator observes, 2 has the greatest barbarism & ignorance been able to erase those secret notices men have always had of an independent, intelligent

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agent, the original cause of all things. The voice of nature proclaims him aloud, & reason whispers to us that there must be a God. But it is probable that the sons of Adam, if we give credit to the Mosaic account in the beginning of this book, were particularly instructed in the perfections of God & the relation his creatures stand in to him. For it seems in that immediate converse God held with Adam, it is to be presumed Adam was instructed in many particulars, not mentioned in this concise history—& that so important a duty as the worship of God & the manner in which he is to be worshiped, would not have been omitted. The instructions God gave to Adam, that equally concerned his posterity, he, no doubt, taught to his sons.

The Offerings of Cain & Abel are the first of which we have any account & it seems more than probable, that the origin of Sacri-

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fices were of divine institution or appointment. And this, perhaps, after all that can be said upon the matter, is the only rational source from whence they can be supposed to originate. It is true, sacrifices have very generally prevailed among heathen nations; —but if it be admitted that all the human race descended from the same Parents, & we consider the force of custom & habit which rarely varies at all, among uncivilized nations, tradition may account for the prevalence of this mode of worship. The prophet Jeremiah, complaining of the fickle temper of the Jews, with regard to their worship, suggests that the heathen nations [***] never made a change in the Gods they worshiped. “Consider diligently, & see if there be such a thing, says he, Hath a Nato changed their Gods? which are yet no gods” (Jeremiah 2:10-11) — It is easy to conceive why they might change the object of their worship, but their modes of worship remain the same. And it is very difficult to conceive why

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mankind should think of using the fruit of ye ground—or of their flocks, in their worship of God as offerings to him, in order to obtain his approbation & acceptance, unless it was, in some way or another, intimated to them to be his will. There is no natural or merely rational connection between these things. It is said in the text that God had respect unto Abel, & to his Offering, which seems to be a virtual declaration that sacrifices had been instituted. For how can it be supposed that Abel’s offering should have been acceptable to God if he had not appointed such a kind of religious performance? —“In vain do they worship God, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men,” (Matthew 15:9) is an obvious & everlasting truth in all true religion whether natural or revealed—whether Mosaic or Christian. And if there be any truth in this maxim, Abel would have worshiped God in vain; —& God would have had no respect to his offering, if it had been merely a commandment

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of his Father Adam, or an invention of his own. The most natural & rational Account thereon of the origin of sacrifices is the will & pleasure of God —most probably made known first to Adam, & from him transmitted to his immediate Children, & from them to after generations. That Sacrifices were thus early instituted principally with reference to Christ the constituted Savior of men, who, in the fulness of time, as “our passover” was to be “sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7) . appears from many passages in Christian Revelation.

(The text may lead us to notice the following things—1st: The kind of Sacrifices which were offered —2d. The period of time when they were offered. 3d. The place to which they were brought 4th & 3d: the different reception they met with when offered to God.

1st. We are to take notice of the different kind of Sacrifices which were offered.)—

But Our Text informs us, that the sacrifices which were offered by Cain & Abel were of different kinds. Cain, who was an husband man, brought of the fruit of the ground. And Abel, being a shepherd brought of the firstlings of his flock. There seems to have been a propriety in this difference. An offering from the ground, seemed to be was the most suitable for Cain, who was a tiller of it. And an offering from the flock was the most proper

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for Abel, who was a keeper of sheep. The matter of the Sacrifices, simply considered, seem to have been equally valuable. It is, indeed, said, that Abel brought of the firstlings of the flock, & of the fat thereof—but of Cain it is only said, he brought of the fruit of the ground. It has therefore been supposed that he took of that which came first to hand, & did not collect the first & best of the fruits, & for which was thise reason his offering was not accepted. But this is easier said than proved. We have sufficient authority for believing that Cain’s sacrifice was rejected not merely on account of the matter of which it consisted, but the manner in which it was presented to God. It is certain that Abel made choice of the fattest & best of his flock to offer in sacrifice, which may suggest to us that we ought to devote ourselves to the service of God in the best of our times in the earliest & best of our days, while the powers of both body & mind, are in their greatest activity & vigor. We may justly fear the displeasure of God if we neglect his service until we arrive to that period of life, in which the infirmities of a decaying, enfeebled constitution unfit us for the business of glorifying him & serving our own generations. This would be offering that which “is torn, & lame, & sick.”. It would be just with him to say to us “shall I accept this at your hands? (Malachi 1:13)

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“Cursed by the deceiver, who hath in his flock a male, & voweth & sacrificeth to the Lord an unclean thing” (Malachi 1:14) . We should offer to the Lord our sincerest affection, making him the supreme object of our love, & fear— our hope & confidence.

2d But We may further notice the period of time when Cain & Abel brought their offerings to the Lord. “In process of time, Cain brought of the fruits of the Ground & Abel of the firstlings of his flock” (Genesis 4:3-4) by which some have understood the end of the year or the end of harvest. This was undoubtedly a suitable time to make their grateful acknowledgments to God who had given them a fruitful season, & blessed them with the increase of their fields & flocks. But critics have observed that the original words may be rendered that “at the end of the days of the week”—or” the 7th day. which God had consecrated to be the Sabbath. Which may intimate to us, that stated periods for the performance of religious services, were observed in the first ages of the world, & have been continued down through the succeeding ages, to the present time. Were it not for these stated periods for social worship, the duties of piety & devotion, would, ere this time, have been forgotten;—& it is doubtless, in a great measure, owing to this, that so general a sense of religion has been supported, amidst the

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prevalence of so much vice & wickedness as then been in the world.

But the phrase used in the text, in the opinion of some well shrilled in the Hebrew language, is the most literal translation. They suppose, Moses intended "by process of time,” to convey this idea — that when Cain & Abel had arrived to such maturity of age as to form just conceptions of the worship of God & of their duty, they brought their offerings unto the Lord. This is certainly a natural & easy construction, if we consider the words in their connection: for Moses had given us a concise account of their birth & education, in the preceding verses, & then exhibits a general description of their religious character. When they had arrived to an age in which they were capable of attending to the duties of religious worship, they brought their respective offerings unto the Lord. From which, it is obvious to remark, that youth, as soon as they arrive to any considerable ripeness of reason & understanding, ought to attend on the duties of religious worship & offer up their sacrifices of prayer & thanksgiving to God. A just sense of the duties of piety & devotion early impressed upon the minds of youth, may have an happy influence in forming their moral characters. It will tend to put them on their guard against the follies of youth, & lead them to a

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serious attention to the various duties of religion.

The principal thing, however, to be observed in this passage of scripture is the difference which God was pleased to make between Cain & Abel, with regard to his acceptance of their persons & offerings i.e. “The Lord had respect unto Abel & his offering; but unto Cain & his offering, he had not respect” (Genesis 4:4-5) . In what way this difference was manifested, we can only form the most probable conjectures. That a respect to Abel & his offering was expressed, in some external & sensible manner, can not be doubted. The temper & behavior of Cain, is a convincing proof that he was sensible of this difference, which he would not have been, if it had remained a secret with God — for we are told that “Cain was very wroth, & his countenance fell” (Genesis 4:5) — So great was his anger, that he avenged himself, by shedding the innocent blood of his Brother. The external sign by which God discovered his respect to Abel, and his Sacrifice, was, perhaps, as probably as otherwise, by fire from Heaven, consuming his sacrifice. — for we are told, that in after times, God was pleased in this way, to manifest his acceptance of the sacrifices which were offered to him. — particularly when Moses offered

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the 1st great burnt offering according to the Law at the Dedication of the Temple by Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:1) — When ye plague was stayed in Israel (Numbers 16:35) — & when Elijah contended with the Prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:38) .

But the most important inquiry is why God made this difference? On what ground he signified his respect to Abel, & his offering, & did not discover the same approbation of Cain & his offering? On this point we are not left to uncertain conjectures. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we have a full explanation, where we are told that “By Faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts (Hebrews 11:4) ”. It was not the difference in the sacrifices, simply considered — for admitting that Abel was careful to take of the best of his flock, while Cain had no regard to the first or best of the fruits of the [symbol: earth], it might not have been a sufficient reason for this distinction; because notwithstanding the greater material value of his Sacrifice, Abel might have been a far more wicked & vicious man than his brother Cain. So far as what he chose to offer in sacrifice was of the best, in its kind, he did well; but his sacrifice might have been, on this very account, the more

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vain & ostentatious. We should, therefore, have been naturally led to inquire for some better reason, & the reason that is given us, is fully sufficient to account for the distinction which God was pleased to make. Abel had a firm belief in the being & perfections & in the moral government of God — & it is probable he had faith “in the promised seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15) . Nor was his faith mere speculation but an active, powerful principle, which had influence on the exercises of his mind, & conduct of his life. This led him to make choice of the “firstlings of his flock, & of the fat thereof” (Genesis 4:4) — & it was in the exercise of this faith that he offered them, in sacrifice, to God. It was not He did not bring his offering religious offering in a merely customary, & formal manner — he did not content himself with the external action — but at the same time yielded to God the internal homage & devotion of his heart;— trusting in him & depending upon him, as his maker, preserver, & benefactor. This gave his offering its real value — was an evidence of his being a righteous man, & procured the divine favor & approbation

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Cain was of a different temper, & actuated by a different principle — his heart was base & his conduct wicked, as appears by the history of the remainder of his life; which fully justifies the distinction made between his, & his brother's Sacrifice. It teaches us this important truth, that God will ever make a distinction between the religious services & devotions of the righteous & the wicked — between those which are merely formal, & those that hearty & sincere which are performed in faith & sincerity. This is as certainly a truth now, as it seems in the days of Cain & Abel.

That it is our duty to worship God has been as universally believed, as it has been believed that there is such a being. But how to many have been the mistaken notions with regard to the form & manner of worship which would be pleasing to him. Hence were derived those senseless superstitions — those absurd & gross opinions that have spread, like a deluge, upon the [symbol: earth].

Amidst the general darkness of ancient times, God was pleased to give particular instruction to his favorite people the Jews. “In Zion God was known, & his name was great in Israel” (Psalms 76:1-2) . To them he prescribed after what manner he would

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be worshiped; but their religion conflicted mostly in typical sacrifices & representation of those inestimable blessings which were reserved to that last dispensation of his will, under the Gospel [*] Our Savior has assured us that those rites & ordinances are now abolished, that “God is a spirit & they that worship him must worship him in spirit & truth” (John 4:24) .

Not that the external service of God is to be excluded — not that we are to show no outward reverence to him, but as under the law, the service of God was chiefly external & corporeal, so now it should chiefly be inward & spiritual.

By worshiping God in spirit & truth, must intend that we perform all those duties of piety & devotion which we owe to him, in a firm belief of his being & perfections with such sincerity & integrity — such zeal & fervency, as to exclude all indifference, lukewarmness & hypocrisy. For it is the service of the Lord, & the devout & honest intention of the heart, which God will chiefly regard. “My son (says God by the inspired writer) give me thy heart” (Proverbs 23:26) . God respects not so much the form & ceremony of the external performance, as the inward disposition,

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& the spirit from whence it proceeds. All sacrifice — all worship — & every religious act, without this, is displeasing to him.

It was the complaint of God himself against the Jews, that they played the hypocrite — that “they honored him only with their mouth, but their heart was far from him” (Isaiah 29:13) . So cold and insipid were their devotions, that he abhorred his own ordinances in their performance of them. “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me, the new moons & the Sabbaths the calling of Assemblies, I can not away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meetings. When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from your, & when ye make many prayers I will not hear” (Isaiah 1:13, 15) . And then he proceeds to tell them what was necessary to be done in order to make their worship acceptable. “Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings, cease to do evil & learn to do well” (Isaiah 1:16-17) . If they would carefully perform these things, he would not only accept their sacrifices & devotions oblations — but pardon all their sins — their most flagrant impieties. “Tho’ your sins be as scarlet, yet they shall be as

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“white as snow, tho’ they be red as crimson they shall be as white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18) .

A penitent disposition ought ever to accompany acts of piety & devotion in order to render them acceptable to God. “The sacrifices of God says the Psalmist are a broken spirit; a broken & contrite spirit heart O God thou wilt not despise” (Psalms 51:17) . The feelings of penitence, when they take possession of the mind, naturally & unavoidably tend to alter the disposition & have a direct influence in reforming the conduct. It puts the soul in a proper frame for receiving the impression of piety & virtue in general. They are friendly to all the lessons of virtue & religion. When the soul is softened with repentance then is the hour to inculcate the maxims of purity & holiness & to animate to a virtuous conduct.

It was, probably, the natural tendency of a contrite spirit which induced our Savior to make it indispensably requisite in those, who would come to him. He called not the righteous — those who had an high opinion of their own merit, but sinners—those who were deeply affected with a sense of their guilt.

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He declares that he was the Physician, not of the whole, but of the sick (Matthew 9:12) . And many of his parables represent the same truth in the strongest manner.

The least of men are far below the standard of perfection—they are too sensible of their defects to plead their virtue at the tribunal of justice, or challenge, as their right, the friendship of God. With what contrition should we view our review our past offenses, when we approach that beeing whom we have offended? But if we have a proper sense of sin—if we perceive the beauty of holiness—if we love it & resolve to practice it, we may come to God in humble confidence of his mercy, thro’ Jesus our redeemer thro In whom, we are assured, we shall be accepted.

It might be well to impress it on our minds as a sure & everlasting truth, that God’s approbation of men, & of what ever they do in religion, is not the effect of mere arbitrary will & pleasure, but inseparately connected with their characters as righteous & virtuous. Were we to attend to this truth—it is probable we should not be so often

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mistaken in our expectations of favor & acceptance with God while our own characters dispositions are such, as render it impossible God should have respect unto us & our services. We may deceive our selves, & we may deceive others—but that God, who searches the heart, cannot be deceived. He sees us as we really are. And if we serve him in sincerity & truth—if we engage in the duties of piety & devotion, in the exercise of such a faith in him, as has a governing influence on all our conduct, we may be assured of his approbation; for it will be consistent with his perfections & Government.

It is not a mere profession of religion, or the formalities of external acts of devotion that will procure us the divine acceptance. Cain brought of the fruits of the ground an offering unto the Lord as well as Abel, but it was a vain oblation. Our Lord has told us that “not every one that sayeth unto me Lord Lord shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Many, says he, will say unto me, in that day, Lord have we not prophesied in thy name in thy name cast out devils, & in thy name

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done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them I never knew you; depart from me ye workers of iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23) . It was by faith that Abel offered an excellent sacrifice unto the Lord (Hebrews 11:4) , & it is eminently by faith, that we who live under the Gospel dispensation are to look for acceptance with Heaven. Without faith “He that cometh to God must believe that he is & that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6) . But it must be a faith that works by love, purifies the heart, & overcomes the [symbol: world].

Remarks on the Subject

To worship God, then, in a manner acceptable to him is to worship him with the utmost integrity of our souls—to be truly sincere & fervent in every solemn act of devotion, whether public or private— to draw near to his the courts of his house with due reverence & awe, & sensible of our own unworthiness—humbly imploring pardon for our past offenses, & grow to be more obedient in future. to return our unfeigned thanks for every mercy we have already received, & to beseech his care & protection — his blessing & favor to the

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end of our lives. This we are to perform in such an humble frame & disposition of mind both of body and mind, as a consideration of our being under his more immediate presence ought to excite in us. And in a steadfast hope & full reliance on his mercy & goodness thro the mediation, & intercession, of our great redeemer.

We read when God had finished the works of creation, which was at the end of six days, he made the 7th a day of rest forever, calling it his Sabbath, commanding it to be reverenced & kept holy thro’ all generations. It has been the sense of all Christians, that a 7th part of time ought to be observed for the purposes of public, social worship, & instruction in the duties of piety, religion & virtue. The happy effects which the due observance of those days has had upon the mind & morals of men is much greater than can be readily conceived. How necessary, how conducive is it to the peace & welfare of human society, to assemble one day in 7—mutually to recognize the great Author of our being— to offer up our joint prayers & petitions,

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& to show forth the loving kindness of the Lord in the courts of his house? And attend to those instructions which concern our present & future happiness. Were we entirely left to our selves & at liberty to call upon God when we please in this public & solemn manner then is just reason to fear it would be very seldom done—& that we should soon forget our maker, preserver, constant & beautiful benefactor. But as long as we make those frequent returns to the places of solemn worship, we keep up in our minds some sense, at least of the divine perfections & Government of our duty and obligations. [*]. A sense of the glorious perfections of the deity—& our accountableness to him has a powerful influence on the minds & conduct of men. As soon as men forget their obedience to God they presently forget their duty to man, & reason & Conscience lose their influence, & the way is prepared for the practice of every vice.


How excellent is the Christian dispensation? We have no burdensome rites & ceremonies, nor are surrounded with an apparatus of figures & types. But an amiable

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simplicity in our modes of worship. Our forms of religion beautify the scene, when the professors of the Gospel meet together, & join in social duties, & in like manner excel in all the private offices of the Christian institution.

Let us therefore consider it as our privilege & happiness, frequently to visit the temple of the Lord & worship there in the beauty of holiness. There may we hope to “receive a blessing from the Lord & righteousness from the God of our salvation” (Psalms 24:5) . Let us feel a secret complacency upon the sight of a Congregation, that are all met upon one common interest, & who come all to partake of the same spiritual advantages —Let us consider we are invited by God himself, & that he hath promised to be in the midst of us. In a word, let us ever set the Lord before us. Thus shall we prepare our selves make advances to a state of perfection. And if we are his sincere worshipers whenever it shall please God to call for us, we shall be admitted to mansions of Glory.



1. This sermon may have been delivered for the first time at the home of Isaac Story, a minister of the Second Congregational Church in Marblehead, Massachusetts between 1771 and 1802. The "Hubbard" mentioned may be Ebenezer Hubbard, another minister who served the town in the late eighteenth century.

2. Unidentified source.