The Way of Cain!
Archibald G. Brown, February 12th, 1871,Stepney Green
"Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain!" Jude 11
It was no marvel that the heart of Eve rejoiced when a son was born to her. Now that the world teems with its multitudes — the first-born child is always hailed with wonder and delight. But with Eve there was exceeding cause for rejoicing. The child was not only her first-born — but the first-born in the world. In her arms was the first infant that ever smiled or wept. It was more to her than all creation. It was hers as nothing else had ever been. The mother's love, latent until then, at once declared itself. That boy was her treasure! It was in him that she was to find her all, and so she names him Cain, or 'possession.'
Poor Eve! How soon were her joys diminished, her anticipations of perfect happiness in her possession blighted! The name she gave her second son is almost significant of disappointment. She called him Abel or 'vanity.' Was it because she had already found that a mother's experience was one of no unmingled bliss? Perhaps it was. At all events her first-born, her possession, never became what she, with a mother's hope imagined, and with a mother's faith predicted.
Many good names are ill-bestowed. If all the names of the young men here this evening were but indicative of the history and character of those who bear them, there would be happier hearts and happier homes than are represented here. In these ranks of young men, what a number of Johns there must be. But, alas, the name gives us no assurance that he who bears it has ever with the beloved disciple laid his head upon the Savior's bosom. Can all the Peters that are here say with the apostle, "having obtained like precious faith?" Are all the James here to be reckoned as Christ's disciples? Have the Matthews that may be here, heard with the evangelist the voice of Jesus saying to them, "follow me!"
The name by which we are called is no criterion of the nature we possess, and no true prophecy of the end that awaits us.
Cain proved to be a possession — but a very different one to what his happy mother ever thought when, in the moment of maternal joy, she named him. His career was a dark one throughout. I would imagine from the few glimpses we have of his character, that he was from his boyhood, haughty, self-willed, proud, and desperately daring. His was a spirit that could brook no interference, and resented all questioning. Even when called to account by God, he makes a desperate effort to hurl a half-defiance in the face of his Creator! "Am I my brother's keeper?" Gen 4.9, is the language of bold, if despairing rebellion.
The first-born child proved to be a murderer! Who can describe the horror of that scene? And who perhaps more horrified than Cain? In these days, death is commonplace. It surrounds us on every hand. There are remembrances of it visible in every congregation. We know that every moment, someone dies somewhere. Every day, by accident as well as by disease, men are changed to corpses! And as if death moves its scythe too slowly, man has come to its assistance and supplied it with new and devilish weapons of destruction. We have grown almost weary of hearing the oft-repeated tale of tens of thousands strewing the battlefields of Europe.
A human corpse is no novelty now. But it was in the day of Cain, and it is no stretch of imagination to conceive the murderer standing by the bloody corpse aghast with horror and amazement. To quote from another, "It is scarcely to be imagined that Cain would have premeditated Abel's death. If he did, it must have been like an invention to him. He knew indeed that man was to die, and he had seen animals dead; but it was open to question whether he even supposed man was liable to death by violence."
Burning hatred — angry words — a fearful blow — and the deed was done! The first-born man became a murderer — and the second-born a martyr! Fleeing from the field of blood, he is met by his God. His hardened heart refuses repentance. He goes out "from the presence of the Lord," builds a city, and seeks in worldly pleasure to drown his remorse. It is a sad end to a joyful commencement.
"Woe to those who go in the way of Cain." Some are perhaps saying "How does this apply to us? What have we to do with Cain?" I answer 'much.' The way of Cain, although an old one, still remains popular. And as Jude holds it up here as a warning, we cannot be wrong in trying to find out what the Holy Spirit intends to teach by it, and to what practical purposes we can turn it. I will notice:
first, that the way of Cain is the way of lost sinners in general;
secondly, the way of Cain is the way of many professors.
I. The way of Cain is the way of lost sinners in general.
Here I must ask for your careful attention as I try and show WHAT THE WAY OF CAIN TRULY WAS.
First it was a way of IGNORANCE. The whole of the wretchedness of his life, including the unnatural murder of his brother, may be traced to this source. He murdered his brother because he hated him; he hated him because his sacrifice was accepted by the Lord, while his own was rejected. His sacrifice was rejected because he offered the wrong offering upon the altar; he gave the wrong offering because he was ignorant of his own state before God, and ignorant of God's requirements. He was willing to worship — but it must be a worship dictated by his taste — and not one in obedience to God's will.
Many greatly err in their judgment as to why Abel was accepted and Cain rejected. They try and find the reason in the men. Now there was no reason whatever in the men, why one should be accepted, and not the other. Both were sinners, both came from fallen parents, both were born outside of Paradise, both were devoid of any righteousness of their own. Yes, if anything in the men had been taken account of, Cain — on the ground of being the first-born — might have been most likely to have received favorable notice. Yet he was the one rejected.
The truth is, dear friends, the difference was not in the men — but in their sacrifices. If you turn to the fourth chapter of Genesis, you will see that in both cases the men are linked with their offerings, "And the Lord had respect to Abel and to his offering; but to Cain and his offering he did not have respect." Gen 4.4-5. What was the difference in the two sacrifices that secured the acceptance of one, and the rejection of the other? The answer to this question will bring before our notice the most important truth it is possible to imagine. It will also expose the most general mistake of the day. The two sacrifices were as follows,
"Cain brought the fruit of the ground,"
"Abel brought the firstlings of his flock."
In the worship of one there was blood; in the offering of the other there was none. Looked at from this standpoint, the two sacrifices were as far removed as the antipodes. The one was expressive of a religion based on atoning blood — and the other ignored atonement altogether.
The curse that fell on man for sin also extended to the ground he was sent out to cultivate. "Cursed is the ground for your sake," were the words uttered by God to Adam.
Now Cain, in his offering to the Lord, presented to Him that on which the curse already rested, and in which there was no blood. He was ignorant of the defilement of sin, and ignorant of the fact that as death was the penalty of sin, there must be the recognition of that fact made by him in his approach to God. Cain never took the place of a condemned sinner before the Lord — he never said by his sacrifice what Abel did, "I deserve to die!" The flowing blood on Abel's altar was eloquent of his conviction of sin, and of his knowledge of his need of an atonement.
The flowers and fruits that bedecked the altar of Cain, however lovely they might have been in themselves, made no such confession. They told perhaps of care and perseverance. They were the results of the sweat of his brow — but not the faith of his heart. They were beautiful, but bloodless. And the sinner has to rest in blood, and not in beauty.
Ignorant of his own sinnership, and ignorant of God's requirements, Cain offered a sacrifice incompatible with either. No doubt reason might find many excuses for Cain, and approve his offering. It might suggest that as he was a tiller of the ground, the most appropriate gift he could make was the fruit of that ground. But reason never did or can find its way to God, and the idea of giving to God is reason's great mistake. The sacrifice was not for man to give to God — but for man to receive from God. It was not reason that led Abel to make the choice he did — but faith. "By faith Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain." Heb 11.4. Faith sees far more clearly of the things of God, than the brightest reason.
Now, the way of Cain is the way of the world now. It has no objection to an intellectual religion. It will willingly give its fruits and its flowers — but it refuses to simply receive through blood. To take the position of a death-deserving sinner, and receive pardon through the death of a substitute — is too humiliating for its pride. Whichever way you look now, even in the professing church of God — the religion of Cain is abounding. Multitudes of sermons are preached without one word in them about the necessity of blood for salvation. Sinners are told to do their best, and give to God from the fruit of their own hands — but they are never told that without blood, there is no remission of sin. Professors abound whom you never hear mention the blood of the atonement as the ground of their confidence.
Cain's religion is now the most respectable and popular religion of the day. It involves no abasement in the dust; no humiliating confession of sinnership; no absolute dependence out of self. It flatters man's pride, exalts his reason, and just suits the carnal heart that wants a religion to make his respectability complete.
Cain's religion is the curse of the day! It drugs men into insensibility and indifference. If they had none, there would perhaps be more hope for them; for when sinners were appealed to, they would feel they were addressed. But as it is, they put themselves down as part of "the religious world," and perhaps a better name could hardly be found to describe them; for they have a religious worldliness — or if you prefer the title, a worldly religiousness.
Before I pass on to the second description of Cain's way, I want everyone present to test and try his own heart before the Lord. Do I have the religion of Cain, or of Abel? Am I resting on the Blood, or is my religion a bloodless one? Do I have only the external fashionable religion of the day, or am I among those who, taught by faith rather than reason, approach God through the medium of the atoning blood of Jesus?
These questions may appear to many to be of little importance — but the day is fast coming when eternity will depend on the answer we are able to give to them. The polite superficial religion of the world, that acknowledges no sinnership and trusts no atoning blood of Jesus, will at last be rejected by the Lord, as was Cain's sacrifice.
My dear brother and fellow young man, if you are resting on anything that you are, or anything you can give — it is only because, like Cain, you are yet ignorant of your sinfulness, and dark as to what God requires. I can but mourn over you and say, "Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain."
I want now, by God's help, to point out to you the second particular concerning the way of Cain, and that is, it is a way of worldliness. I have already said that shortly after the murder of his brother, God spoke to him. The words were surely sufficient to have struck conviction and terror into any heart less soft than a nether millstone. "Where is Abel your brother?" How this question must have rung in the ears of the guilty wretch, and brought up before his vision that ghastly form still lying in a pool of blood. "Where is he?" Dumbfounded by the directness of the question and convicted by an accusing conscience, he stammers out a lie: "I do not know," and then, growing bolder in his desperation, he retorts, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
Vain was the attempt however to keep up a bold front before Jehovah. The reply was a crushing one that bore down the impudence of the sinner. "The voice of your brother's blood cries to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened her mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand; a fugitive and a vagabond you shall be in the earth."
From recklessness he turns to despair, and groans out, "My punishment is greater than I can bear," or as it may be translated, "my iniquity is greater than may be forgiven." Is there no hope for him now? Will he not yet seek mercy through the blood?
One passage in the commencement of the fourth chapter of Genesis may be so translated as to teach that after the Lord had rejected Cain's sacrifice, he yet pointed out to him the way by which he might find mercy. The passage "and if you do not do well, sin lies at the door," Gen 4.7, may be translated, "and if you do not do well, a sin-offering lies at the door." In other words, God pointed out to him that there was a provision made for the pardon of sin. Convinced now of greatest crime, will Cain seek forgiveness through an offering for sin?
Alas no! Hardened and despairing, he goes out from the presence of the Lord, builds a city, and seeks to drown his remorse in pleasure. He and his descendants busy themselves in trying to make this world a pleasant place of residence, and with the sound of the harp and the flute, the guilty man tries to drown the voice of his brother's blood. This is the way of Cain.
This is just what the vast majority of mankind is doing. It is trying in the business and pleasures of the city, to find its all — forget its God — and drown unpleasant thoughts. Guilty Cain, with all his energies devoted to the building of a city, away from the presence of God — is but a type of tens of thousands of the present day.
Who can walk through our city in the daytime, and mark the haggard, anxious faces of the bustling throng without seeing that, to multitudes of them, this world is everything. They have no world apart from the mart, the exchange, the office, or the shop. Life to them means but a little time in which to scrape wealth together. They are busy building their own cities, and building them outside of the presence of the Lord.
Go through the streets at night, and you will see the same thing in another form. Look at the crowds pouring into our operas, theaters, music halls, and worse! What do they teach? Why that the mass of mankind finds its joy away from the presence of the Lord, in its own city. Its pleasure is to get away from God, and all that could remind it of God; and the further away, the greater its pleasure!
True, the blood that speaks better things than that of Abel has been shed upon this earth; but what does the world care about that? Speak to them of it, and they will laugh at you for being a fanatic — or else tell you not to spoil their pleasure by talking of such a dreary subject. The world — the world — the world — this is the way of Cain. Never mind the past — don't trouble about the future — enjoy the present. Get rid of dull thoughts; and if ever a qualm of conscience does arise through the memory of the past, strangle it at once by some new mode of dissipation.
But I can imagine some young man replying, "We must keep up with the times; we are living in a different age than the Puritans. This is a fast progressive age, the age of novelties, and you cannot expect us to be behind the times." Stop a moment, dear friend; the way of the times, as you call it, is a very old way; it dates back to the day of Cain! It is no novelty that you are indulging in. The first murderer set the fashion — and you are but keeping it. He went from the presence of the Lord to find his joy in a city — and you are acting the same.
Dear young man, let me for a moment speak to you in all kindness as a young man myself. I do pity you with all my heart, dear friend; and it is only because this heart is so abominably hard, that I am not weeping. I pity you for this reason: burying yourself in this world's pleasures does not remove the brand of Cain from your brow!
Do you startle, and feel to see if there is a brand on your forehead? There is dear friend, although no one but God can read it. It reads thus, "Condemned already!" "He who does not believe," the scripture tells us, "is condemned already!" John 3.18. "The wrath of God abides on him." John 3.36. Cain may go from the Lord — but he carries his mark with him. He may build a city, and listen to the sound of the harp and the flute — but the music does not smooth the brand away.
Dear friend, so it is with you. You cannot run away from your condemnation; it abides on you. You may forget it — but it is there all the same.
I ask you in all candor, can a more pitiable object be imagined than the man who, with condemnation written on him, still spends his whole time seeking to forget it? Poor worldling, you who are living for earth and nothing else, and spending all your energies to make this world an agreeable and pleasing place of residence. Do listen to the text, "Woe to them, for they have gone in the way of Cain."
Thirdly and lastly on this division of my subject, the way of Cain is the way to Hell. It is from no desire merely to try and frighten you, that I use these words. As God's servant I am bound to tell you the whole truth, however unpalatable it may be. If I did not warn you in all faithfulness of the end of the way of Cain, I might hear addressed to me the solemn words, "Your brother's blood cries to Me from the ground!" Besides which, how could the subject be complete without it? How is it possible to speak fully of any way, without telling where it leads to?
The way of Cain is, I repeat, the way to Hell! No scripture sheds one gleam of hope upon the way of Cain. Direct reference is only made twice to him in the New Testament, and in both instances he is held up as a warning, and nothing else. The first you will find in the first epistle of John, the third chapter and twelfth verse, "Not as Cain who was of that wicked one;" and the second is found in our text and the verses following, "These" (that is those who are like Cain) "are spots in your feast — clouds without water; trees whose fruit withers — twice dead, plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever." Thus you see no hope is even hinted at. The end of the way of Cain is blackness of darkness forever.
Alas! how full of horror is the thought that the way of Cain has been trodden by thousands, and that perhaps numbers of those who have frequented this tabernacle have already discovered its bitter termination. My dear friend, if you have Cain's religion — it is a bloodless one; and if you revel in Cain's pleasures, and if you die like Cain — do not be surprised if you have Cain's end! Cain's religion can only result in Cain's Hell. I do indeed pray to God with all my heart, that this warning may result in the salvation of some young men this night.
II. One particular in Cain's way, which is the way of many professors.
I have been trying thus far to reach the hearts and consciences of sinners. I desire now for a few minutes to have words given to me that will wake to life the sleeping consciences of some of God's people. I grant that Jude had no reference to the matter when he wrote our text; I only use the incident as an illustration. The particular in the way of Cain that I refer to now, was his indifference about his murdered brother.
"Where is Abel your brother?" These were the words that arrested Cain's attention. May they arrest yours. My dear friend, I am glad to see you here this evening — but where is your brother? Christian young men, where have you left your brethren this evening? Where are those who are related to you by ties of blood? Where are those bound to you by friendship? Where are those who are your brethren in daily labor — those who work with you in the office, shop, warehouse, or docks? Where is he?
You are here singing God's praise and listening to God's Word — but where did you leave him? Is he in the sanctuary — or is he in the ale-house? Is he in Christ — or out of Christ? Is he saved — or unsaved? What is your brother's condition in the sight of God? You profess to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, one whose life is supposed to be a copy of Christ's. You are one bearing the name of Him who, when surrounded by a rejoicing group, still wept when he looked down upon a guilty city and thought of its doom. Well then, as a Christian I ask you, "Where is your brother?" What answer do you give?
Alas, in the way of Cain, I hear some of you reply, "I do not know!" Stop, sir! That answer will never do. I do not know! I think I see Cain as he utters the words. A burning blush crimsons his brow, and his downcast eyes and quivering face all give a lie to the assertion. He did know. Christian, such a miserable falsehood as Cain's is unworthy of you. You feel it as you try to tell it. You do know where your brother is, and even if you were ignorant, your ignorance is a crime. You ought to know. Come, be bold, speak out the truth, even though it condemns you. Do you still hesitate? Then I will answer for you.
Like Cain, you have left your brother in his blood. His soul is dead even if his body lives. In his blood — yes, that is where your brother lies tonight. O strange, unaccountable, inexcusable indifference! All the while you have been here listening about Cain, the thought of a brother in his blood has never crossed your mind. Believer in Jesus, is it not astonishing how cold-hearted we may become concerning the salvation of our brethren? How little have we yet caught the spirit of that noble apostle who could say, "I say the truth in Christ, I do not lie, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that I was accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." Romans 9.1-3
Indifference about lost souls is the crying sin of the church!
Parents, are your children converted — you must know — and if they are not, what are you doing to bring them to Christ? Young man, are you a Christian? Is your younger brother one? What are you doing for him? Are you turning your back on him, like Cain, and deliberately leaving him in his blood? May God have mercy on you, if you are. His blood cries to the Lord from the ground.
But perhaps some, instead of pleading ignorance, are boldly asking, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Yes, in a certain sense you are. You are not responsible for his ultimate salvation. I know that and praise God for it. If the saints were responsible for the sinner's salvation, I might well be crushed with despair as I look round upon this throng. But you are responsible for doing all you can to lead to his conversion; and from this responsibility there is no escape. O that God might enable each of us to say at last, I am clear from the blood of souls!Perhaps we have in our midst this evening, some godless professors who are actually soul-murderers! Parents! any godly impressions your child ever had, have been effaced by your godless life. He has seen you in the sanctuary looking like a saint--and he has followed you home and seen you act like a devil. Under the withering influence of your example, his soul has become ten-fold blighted. When asked to come to Jesus, his answer has been your life. You have encased him in an armor of steel from which all the shafts of conviction glance off. Often he has said, pointing to you, "If that is religion, may God save me from it!" O hypocrites, you have dealt him a murderous blow!
Surely he will fall deepest into Hell, who drags others with him!
O wretched man, "What have you done?" what a deed is yours!! It a diabolical deed. It is a brother you have slain; one of your own flesh and blood is lying stricken by your hand.
"What have you done?" A deed you can never undo. Cain may wring his hands in anguish, and mingle his tears with the blood — but no tears, no frantic cries of his, can give poor Abel life again. His hand could give the fatal blow — but not avert the consequence.
Professor you may have slain a young man — but you can never give him life. The deed is done. May God have mercy on you and on your victim also!
Do you say "But I never meant to do it"? Perhaps not; nor did Cain. But it is done. It is a deed that cries for vengeance. God heard the cry of Abel's blood; it was "revenge." Its prayer was answered. Surely he will fall deepest into Hell, who drags others with him! If there are unholy professors here tonight, holding the truth in unrighteousness, may God help them to take this warning.
And now, to conclude, I turn again to the lost sinner who is yet in the way of Cain. I noticed some of you evidently relishing the remark I made about inconsistent professors. You quite agreed with them; and I have no doubt pictured different people whose loose walking you often make use of as an excuse.
Wait a moment, friend. Suppose they are hypocrites, and at last even have the hypocrite's doom; will it be any consolation to you in Hell, to know they are with you? The inconsistencies of professors are no excuse for your unbelief, and they cannot save you from its consequences. Where are you, dear friend? That is the question that concerns you most. Are you still walking in the way of Cain, trusting in his religion, and seeking his pleasures?
Let me show you a more excellent way. It is the way of Christ. Jesus said "I am the way." John 14.6. As a sinner, take the sinner's place, and plead the blood that speaks better things than the blood of Abel. Plead the blood that tells of pardon, peace, joy, and Heaven. It was shed on Calvary's cross, and it is from there, that the way to Heaven commences. O, from this night, be done with Cain and cry Christ. Turn your back on Cain's bloodless religion and trust the precious blood of Jesus. Do not go from this place to drown the voice of Calvary in the noisy mirth of the city! But here, now, leave the way of Cain, and trust the way of Christ. May God grant it — Amen.